Category Archives: Mexico

Can President-elect Lopez Obrador pull Mexico out of slumber?

After decades of stagnation, corruption and deadly dependency on the United States, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is considered by many ordinary people, as well as by intellectuals, to be the last chance for Mexico.

His only hope is Obrador

Two important news developments are circulating all over North America: US President Donald Trump will not attend the inauguration of the Mexican left-wing President elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). And, yes, despite all tensions and disagreements, the new deal to replace NAFTA has been reached. It is called the USMCA – the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Paradoxically, if Obrador is to fulfill at least half of his electoral promises, it would inevitably lead to a clash between Mexico and both the United States and Canada. The US absorbs around 80 percent of Mexican exports. Various Mexican intellectuals believe that their country was, until now, nothing more than a colony of their ‘big brother’ in the north. Canadian mining companies are brutally exploiting Mexico’s natural resources, and united with local politicians and paramilitaries, are tormenting almost defenseless native people.

National Folcloric Ballet of Mexico marching, joining revolution

After decades of inertia and decay, Mexico is ready for dramatic, essential change which, many argue, will this time not arrive directly under red banners and through revolutionary songs, but with the carefully calculated, precise moves of a chess player.

Only a genius can break, without terrible casualties, the deadly embrace of the United States. And many believe that President-elect Obrador is precisely such leader.

‘Not a poker player, but a chess player’

Mexico is in a ‘bad mood’, despite the victory of a left-wing leader. Hope is in the air, but it is fragile hope, some even say ‘angry hope’. Decades of stagnation, corruption and deadly dependency on the US, have had an extremely negative impact on the nation.

John Ackerman, US-born, Mexican naturalized legendary academic at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico) explained during our encounter in Coyoacan:

This has been a long time coming. Throughout Latin America there has been great transformation, except in Mexico. Mexico has been the same since 1946 since PRI was created… Education, healthcare, serious commitment to social system, infrastructure; he promises to improve all this… in terms of working-class population, he expresses great interest in the union democracy, which could be a true vehicle of revolution … unions could be used to create democratic participation in the country.

We both agree that Obrador is not Fidel, or Chavez. He is pragmatic and he knows how dangerous the proximity of Mexico to the US is. Governments get overthrown from the north, and entire socialist systems get derailed, or liquidated.

Professor Ackerman points out:

Obrador is not a poker player, like Trump; Obrador is a chess player.

He is extremely well informed; on his own and through his wife, an accomplished Mexican academic from a prominent left-wing family, Irma Sandoval-Ballesteros. She will soon become Minister of Public Administration in the Obrador administration, which means she will fight against endemic Mexican corruption.  This will be, no doubt, one of the toughest jobs in the country.

The author and Irma Sandoval-Ballesteros

Among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries Mexico has the second highest degree of economic disparity between the extremely poor and extremely rich. According to the government, about 53.4 million of Mexico’s 122 million people were poor in 2016.

Crime is out of control, and so is corruption. According to Seguridad Justicia y Paz, a citizen watch dog NGO in Mexico, five out of ten cities with the highest homicide rates in the world are located in Mexico: Los Cabos (1), Acapulco (3), Tijuana (5), La Paz (6), and Ciudad Victoria (8).

Gang land, Tijuana

Some 460,000 children have been recruited by the drug rings in Mexico, according to the incoming Minister of Public Security of the Obrador government. As bodies are piling up and insecurity grows (recently, at least 100 dead bodies have been found in the state of Jalisco), the Mexican police continues to be hopelessly corrupt and inefficient. But it is now everywhere, ‘true reason for astronomic crime rate’, say many.

Misery everywhere

It is all elegance and style at one of an old hacienda, lost in time in the middle of jungle, in the State of Yucatan. Some twenty years ago I used to live very near this place, working on my novel, in self-imposed-exile. Even then, Yucatan was poor, conservative, and traditional. But there was pride and dignity even in the poorest of the villages.

Things changed dramatically, and not for the better. Now naked misery is everywhere. Just two kilometers from the hacienda Temozon, traditional rural houses have holes in the roofs, and many dwellings have already been abandoned. People are not starving; not yet, but that is mainly due to the fact that in Yucatan, there is still a great sense of community and solidarity.

Don Alfredo Lopez Cham and Dona Consuelo

Don Alfredo Lopez Cham lives in a village of Sihunchen. Half of the roof of his house is missing. He is blind in one eye. He is dirt poor. I asked him how things have been here, since I left. He just nodded his head, in despair:

You just saw my house, there… You can imagine how it is…I cannot fix anything. For years I did not have any work. And now I am old.

Senora Consuelo Rodriguez, his neighbor, jumps in. She is an outspoken, tough but good-hearted matron, always surrounded by a flock of chickens:

Look, he has really nothing! Here, we are trying to help those in need, but ourselves we have close to nothing. Few years ago, the government sent some people to help to fix our houses, but they never came back again.

In theory, Mexico has free education and health care, but in practice, it is just for those who hold government or good private jobs. President-elect AMLO  is promising to fix all that, but people all over the country are skeptical, including Senora Consuela.

If we get sick, we have to pay, unless we have insurance from our work. And most of us, here, don’t have any steady job.

Do people here have faith in the new government? She shrugs her shoulders:

We will see.

This is what I hear everywhere, from coast to coast of this enormous and potentially rich country, which is the 15th largest economy in the world. There is very little enthusiasm: the majority of people adopted a ‘wait and see strategy’.

Don Rudy Alvarez who has worked for more than 20 years at one of the luxury hotels in Yucatan, is only cautiously optimistic about the future.

Even we who have permanent jobs at the multi-national establishments, cannot dream very big. I can feed my family well, and I can send one son to study law at the university. But no bigger dreams. My family would never be able to afford a car or any other luxury. We hope that Obrador (AMLO) will change things. Here, many people feel that Yucatan has been sold to tourists as the ‘Mayan Disneyland’, with very little respect for our culture.

Mexico is the second most visited country in the Western hemisphere, right after the United States. But income from tourism very rarely brings a better life for local people.

Crime and drug wars are far from being the only concerns. In the center of the indigenous and historic city of Oaxaca, the armed forces are blocking the entrance to the Governor’s Palace. Why? The graffiti protesting against disappearances and extrajudicial killings of the activists, as well as forced evictions of indigenous people by the multinational companies.

Ms. Lisetta, who lives with many others, as a protest, in a tent right in front of the palace, explained:

For 9 years we have no home. Paramilitaries and the government forces came and threw us out of our dwellings, in San Juan Copala. Some people were killed, women raped, many disappeared. We are here to demand justice.

Recently, police came, broke my cell phone, and then injured my arm…

She showed me her bruises.

At night, live bands are playing old ballads, all over the city center. People are dancing, drinking and promenading. But displaced men, women and children living in the tents are brutal reminder of real Mexico, of true suffering of many poor and almost all native people.

Sra. Lorena Merina Martinez, Spokesperson of the Displaced Persons from the Autonomous Community of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca State.

I found Sra. Lorena Merina Martinez, Spokesperson of the Displaced Persons from the Autonomous Community of San Juan Copala, Oaxaca State. She spoke to me bravely, coherently and with passion:

In 2007, San Juan Copala declared autonomy and became autonomous municipality.  There was much peace and tranquility in our community. Then in 2009 the PRI-led government of Oaxaca started making noise as San Juan Copala is the ‘head’ of 32 communities of Trique District. The PRI-government did not want autonomy of San Juan Copala, thus unilaterally finished it in 2009. From 2010 we resisted for 10 months so that we could bring food to our children. They had blocked our roads. We didn’t have anything to eat anymore. They were killing our colleagues, but also children. Women were raped as they went looking for food and brought it back to their children. They cut off their hair as well. I am talking about the rape of a 65-year-old community member, for instance.  Another woman was gravely injured. The attackers and rapists all escaped.

For ten months we resisted with no water, no food, no electricity as the PRI-government had cut us off from everything. The date of 16 September 2010 was when PRI-backed paramilitaries entered our community, first to the municipality building, and used big microphone to tell us to leave our houses. We were not given any time at all to leave. Because they saw smoke come from houses, which was basically because we were cooking, they were shooting at our houses and us. We just had to escape with nothing and were forced to find a way to survive with our children, with nothing at all, not even our id cards. We needed to make sure to escape with our children because we were warned that if we didn’t, then they would burn alive our children. By 18 September 2010, PRI-backed paramilitaries started entering our houses, burning and destroying them.  We fled as by then they had killed another community member who had been resisting forced displacement. This is when a group of women started demanding the State Government to intervene in our community. The State nor Federal Government ever intervened.  We demanded that something is done, so that we could safely return to our community. Since September 2010, we have been here.  But they have never done anything to let us return, nor to get rid of those who displaced us because they were the accomplice of those paramilitaries who made us forcibly displaced.

I asked her why it happened? Were multi-national companies involved?

Yes, there are mineral resources. The government wants to take charge of this community. We have very futile lands. Lots of water, vegetables, fruits. The government wants to suck everything from our community.

I recalled massacres in Chiapas, that I covered some two decades ago and later described, under different name in my revolutionary political novel Point of No Return  (Point of No Return – ebook).

At the Center of Photography Manuel Alvarez Bravoin Oaxaca, Mr. Leo (who only gave his first name), confirmed:

It is terrible what happened to those people. Imagine that you are at home, and suddenly someone comes, with armed forces, and kicks you out. But in Mexico it’s normal, and not only in this area. Multinational companies, particularly Canadian ones, are controlling around 80 percent of the mining in this country. People, particularly indigenous ones, are treated brutally. Mexico suffered terribly from the Spanish colonialism, but it often feels that things didn’t change much. We are not in full control of our country!

And the new administration of Obrador? Leo and his colleagues are only moderately optimistic.

We are not sure he would dare to touch essential problems: the dependency of this country on the North, and the horrendous disparities between the rich and poor, between the descendants of the Europeans and the majority, which consists of the indigenous people. Until now you can see it everywhere: Westerners and their companies come and do what they want, while the native people are left with nothing.

But many others remain hopeful. AMLO’s left-wing Moreno Party will soon govern in a coalition with PT (Partido del Trabajo) and the conservative Social Encounter Party. Again, it is unlikely that Mexico will follow the path of Cuba or Venezuela, but the Bolivian model is very likely. It could be a silent revolution, a change based on an extremely progressive and truly socialist constitution of the country, remarkably dating back to 1916.

A Mexican academic, Dr. Ignacio Castuera who teaches at Claremont University in California, explains:

I believe Obrador has to bring several factions together to implement some of what he wants to achieve. No individual alone can solve the problems of a nation. I hope many rally around him, if that happens then significant changes can be brought about. The long shadow of the US policies and corporations will continue to exert major influence.

*****

Construction of US-Mexico wall

In Tijuana I witness absolute misery. I visit multinational maquiladoras that pay only an equivalent of $55 USD per week to their workers. I manage to enter gangland, and I see how the US is building a depressing wall between two countries.

Sra. Leticia facing the wall

I spend hours listening to stories of Sra. Leticia, who lives just one meter away from the wall.

They are cutting across our land, and it harms many creatures who live here. It also prevents water from circulating freely.

All this used to be Mexico. North Americans had stolen several states from us. Now they are building this wall. I visited their country on several occasions. And let me tell you: despite all our problems, I like where I am, at this side!

Then, late at night, I listen to a man who knows his country from north to south, from east to west. We are sitting in a small café; sirens are howling nearby, another murder has just taken place. He faces me squarely and speaks slowly:

Mexico has its back against the wall. This situation cannot continue. This is our last chance – Andrés Manuel López Obrador. We will rally behind him, we will help him. If he delivers what he promises, great; then Mexico will change and prosper. If not, I am afraid that our people will have no other choice but to take up arms.

From the revolutionary days

• Photos by Andre Vltchek

• This is extended version. Essay was originally published by RT.

Trump Trade Revealed: Another Rigged Corporate Deal

Since the Clinton era, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was created, global trade has been written by and for big corporations at the expense of people’s health, worker’s rights and the environment. Trump Trade – through the renegotiation of NAFTA – continues that approach.

In some areas, people might argue the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) makes improvements over NAFTA, although many details are still being withheld. From what we do know, overall, it is a step backward for people and planet. And it undermines the US’ relationship with Canada and Mexico, as Geoffrey Getz of the neo-liberal Brooking’s Institution writes, “Trump’s aggressive, threatening approach succeeded in eliciting modest concessions from two of its closest trading partners.”

Trump is claiming a political victory merely by reaching an agreement, but it is not a victory for people or planet, as will be described below. Trump Trade should be rejected. If we are to achieve a new model of trade that protects the environment, workers and democracy, we need to demonstrate that rigged corporate trade will be rejected every time it is brought forward. The time to organize to stop this agreement is now.

Energy and the Environment

Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) because a mass social movement made it unacceptable and it could not pass in Congress. Some of the provisions in the TPP are included in the USMCA.

Like the TPP, the USMCA contains polluter-friendly non-binding terms on the environment; e.g., the text “recognizes that air pollution is a serious threat to public health,” but includes no single binding rule to reduce air pollution.

The Sierra Club reports the USMCA takes a significant step backward from environmental protections included in the last four trade deals by failing to reinforce a standard set of seven Multilateral Environmental Agreements that protect everything from wetlands to sea turtles. The absence of environmental enforcement continues the failed corporate trade of the Clinton-Obama eras.

Trade agreements could be designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but climate change is not even mentioned in the USMCA. Greenhouse gas emissions will increase. The Sierra Club reports the deal’s lack of binding environmental standards allows corporations to evade US environmental laws by shifting jobs and toxic pollution to Mexico where environmental policies are weaker. It reinforces the US’ status as the world’s largest outsourcer of climate pollution.

Some keys to preventing greenhouse gas emissions are ‘Buy American’ and ‘Buy Local’ laws that provide incentives for locally-produced goods. The USMCA negates those laws, requiring that industries based in Canada and Mexico be given equal access to US government contracts.

The USMCA exempts oil and gas corporations that have, or may have, government contracts for offshore drilling, fracking, oil and gas pipelines, refineries, or other polluting activities from reforms to Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. These intensely polluting corporations would be allowed to challenge environmental protections in rigged corporate trade tribunals.

Trump Trade preserves a NAFTA rule that prevents the US government from determining whether gas exports to Mexico are in the public interest. This creates an automatic gas export guarantee, which will increase fracking, expand cross-border gas pipelines, and increase dependency on Mexican climate-polluting gas.

The USMCA gives corporations extra opportunities to challenge proposed regulations before they are final, and to repeal existing regulations. This makes it harder to put in place environmental regulations or rollback the pro-polluting regulations of the Trump era.

Food and Water Watch summarizes:

The energy provisions will encourage more pipelines and exports of natural gas and oil that would further expand fracking in the United States and Mexico. The text also provides new avenues for polluters to challenge and try and roll back proposed environmental safeguards, cementing Trump’s pro-polluter agenda in the trade deal.

Food and Health

The USMCA undermines food safety and health by making it more difficult to regulate and inspect foods. It limits inspections and allows food that fails to meet US safety standards to be imported. Food and Water Watch states that it requires the US to “accept imports from Mexico with less scrutiny than from other countries. The deal even creates new ways for Canada and Mexico to second-guess US border inspectors that halt suspicious food shipments, which would have a dangerously chilling effect on food safety enforcement.”

USMCA does not require Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL), nor dolphin-safe labeling and makes GMO labeling more difficult. It uses the requirement that food labels reflect ‘sound science’ to prevent accurate labeling.

USMCA serves Monsanto and other giant agro-chemical corporations by allowing unregulated GMOs, rolling back Mexico’s regulation of GMOs, and letting chemical giants like Monsanto and Dow keep data on the safety of their pesticides secret for 10 years. USMCA is designed for agribusiness, not family farmers and consumers.

Like the TPP, the USMCA increases the cost of pharmaceutical drugs through intellectual property protections that go “significantly beyond” NAFTA. USMCA gives pharmaceutical companies at minimum 10 years of market exclusivity for biologic drugs and protects US-based drug companies from generic competition, driving up the price of medicine at home and abroad.

Worker Rights and Jobs

The Labor Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Trade Negotiations (LAC) explained they do not oppose trade, but, “We oppose a set of rules made largely by and for global corporations that reward greed and irresponsibility at the expense of hardworking families across the globe.” They describe the USMCA as moving backwards from the original NAFTA in many areas important to working families:

including with respect to ‘Good Regulatory Practices’ (code for using this trade agreement to attack important consumer, health, safety, and environmental protections), Financial Services (providing new tools for Wall Street to attack efforts to rein in its continuing abuses), and affordable medicines (extending monopolies for brand name pharmaceuticals at the expense of affordability).

Similar to the environment sections, the labor sections do not provide enforcement mechanisms. Citizen’s Trade Campaign writes:

“There is a ground breaking labor annex that could help eliminate Mexican protection contracts and boost labor rights there — but only if currently absent enforcement mechanisms are added.”

As the Labor Advisory Committee states, “Unenforced rules are not worth the paper they are written on.”

Summarizing the impact of USMCA, Citizen’s Trade Campaign states:

Mexican workers will continue to be horribly exploited, American jobs will continue to be outsourced, the environment will continue to be degraded and the wages for workers in all three NAFTA countries will continue to decline.”

Corporate Trade Tribunals

A major area of concern has been ISDS, trade tribunals where corporations can sue governments if new laws or regulations undermine their profits. ISDS empowers corporations to attack environmental and health laws in trade tribunals made up of three corporate lawyers and receive monetary judgments worth billions from tax dollars. The USMCA reduces but does not eliminate the unjustifiable and indefensible ISDS settlement mechanism, which privileges foreign investors over communities regarding access to justice.

After three years, ISDS would be eliminated with Canada and dramatically scaled back with Mexico with some unacceptable exceptions. After that, US and Canadian investors would use domestic courts or administrative bodies to settle investment disputes with another government. Are there workarounds to this ISDS reform that protect investors; e.g., will domestic courts seize assets within their country to repay investors, as a US court did for a Canadian mining company this year?

Regarding Mexico, the new process is designed to protect oil and gas industry investors from the privatization of Mexico’s oil and gas sector. Global Trade Watch writes, “several additional sectors were added, including railways and infrastructure. . . followed by an open-ended list, which could provide problematic flexibility for investors to argue that their investments qualify.” In other words, what looks like ISDS reform contains a giant loophole for corporations to continue to sue governments.

Under NAFTA, corporations can receive exorbitant awards for “expected lost profits.” Under USMCA, investors can only be compensated for losses that they can prove on the “basis of satisfactory evidence and that is not inherently speculative.” How this is interpreted is up to the courts.

USMCA Continues US Imperialism and Corporatism

Popular movements in Mexico urge the incoming government to reject USMCA in an Open Letter To Andrés Manuel López Obrador And The Legislators Of MORENA. They decry the secret nature of the negotiation and the agreement as an attack on Mexico’s sovereignty. They argue the agreement will “further open up our economy for the sole benefit of the large U.S. transnational corporations, with an even greater subordination of our government to the dictates of U.S. foreign policy and its measures of internal security and migration.”

The letter describes the election of MORENA and Obrador as the people voting “to expel the oligarchy that has governed us, along with their paid servants.” The incoming government was given a clear mandate that includes rejecting corporate trade agreements. To create the transformation promised in the election requires Mexico to have full control of its resources and wealth to ensure the well-being of the population, with full rights and liberties. They see rejection of USMCA as a “first step toward reclaiming our nation.”

They urge incoming President Obrador to see this as part of the “mafia of power” that he ran against. They describe how Trump pressured the weakest negotiator, Mexico, with the right wing Peña Nieto administration, and used that to threaten Canada with exclusion and 25% tariffs if they did not agree.

Roger Jordan writes, the new agreement is an act of corporate imperialism by the United States:

Under the new deal, both Mexico, a country historically oppressed by US imperialism, and Canada, a lesser imperialist power that has long been a key US ally, made significant concessions in the face of US demands that the continental pact be refashioned to make it an even more explicit US-led protectionist trade bloc.

As the US struggles to retain power as a global empire, UMCA shows that “through ‘America First’ economic nationalism and the ruthless assertion of its interests against ostensible allies and rivals alike,” it will do what it must “to prevail in the struggle for markets and profits.”

Just as the TPP was President Obama’s attempt at economic domination of Asia, USMCA is part of President Trump’s economic war against China, which has already included “tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods.” Jordan explains how USMCA sent a message to China, writing:

It grants the US effective veto power over any attempt by Canada or Mexico to negotiate a free trade pact with a ‘non-market economy,’ a clear reference to China. This includes the right to transform USMCA into a bilateral agreement, excluding the third member if it has ratified such a free trade deal.

Stop Corporate Trade

There is still time to stop USMCA. Leaders are expected to sign the deal on December 1 at the G-20 meeting. Then President Trump has 60 days to report to Congress on changes to US law that are required by the agreement. Within 105 days of the agreement being signed, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) must complete a study of the agreement’s economic impact. Congress will have to pass legislation to implement USMCA.  After Congress receives the final bill from the president, it has 90 days of being in session to act on it under Fast Track rules. It is unlikely that all this can be accomplished before the 2019 legislative session.

Now that we know more about the contents of the new NAFTA, we need to mobilize to stop its ratification and implementation by Congress. If we are to win a new model of trade that raises the bar on protection of workers, the environment and democracy, we must show, as we did with the TPP, that rigged corporate trade will be stopped by a popular movement.

Even in “Revolutionary Countries” Mass Media is Still in the Hands of the Right

How could a country win her fight against Western imperialism?  How could it become truly independent, if its people are fully conditioned, through the mass media and education, by the North American and European doctrines and world view?

Wherever I work and struggle in this world, I am always amazed, even shocked, by how powerful the Western tools of indoctrination are, how effective its propaganda is.

Even in such countries like Vietnam, where one would think, Communism won at a tremendous cost of millions of lives, people are now increasingly indoctrinated by the West. They are apathetic and progressively ignorant about the world. Yes, of course, officially the country is in solidarity with so many struggling and oppressed parts of the world, but ask common people on the streets of Hanoi what they know about the horrific things that are being done by multi-nationals in Africa or even in Indonesia; the great majority would say that they know close to nothing. And if you press harder, chances are that you will be told that they do not really care. It is because the Western official narrative has already infiltrated, entered everything here, from social media to NGOs. It also began influencing arts, television and education.

Ideological war is on, and it is real. It is tough, ruthless and often more destructive than a war fought by conventional weapons.

The victims of this war are human brains, human minds, culture, and sometimes entire political systems.

Your country loses an ‘ideological battle’, then another one, and soon you can find yourself living in a system which is totally foreign to you and to your people; to their history, traditions and desires.

*****

I am writing this essay in the city of Puebla, in Mexico. You know, the people of Mexico just recently voted, and overwhelmingly, they elected the left-wing Presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

For three weeks I travelled all around the country. I spoke to hundreds of people. Most of them were hopeful; most of them were instinctively longing for socialism. Usually, they do not call it ‘socialism’, because for decades they were told not to use this word in any positive context, but what they describe when they dream, is clearly a form of socialism, nevertheless.

But how can they define the position of their country in the world, or even their own position inside their country? You turn on the television set, and all you see is CNN in Spanish (‘Mexican edition’), or the extreme right-wing FOX, or some corporate-owned local TV station. Almost all international news in Mexican newspapers is taken from the Western press agencies.

Can socialism be built like this, based on the Western indoctrination, disinformation system?

Telesur is not even available on most of the cable television systems, so how?

*****

Again, this is really nothing new. For instance, since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, the mainstream media outlets were firmly in the hands of the right-wing individuals, and big business. Not all, but definitely most of them.

It used to be truly grotesque, and it still is: while most of the journalists supported Chavez, and later Maduro, they were too scared to write anything positive about the government, fearing that they would lose their jobs.

The insults (and lies) they were paid to regurgitate against the revolutionary system, would easily land them in jail in the United States and definitely in the UK – a country with draconic defamation laws. In Venezuela, most of them were allowed to write – to write garbage and outright lies. The more uncensored the hostile outburst were, the more ‘unfree’ the West called the Venezuelan media environment. The usual stuff, the usual logic of the propaganda: black is white, and cats are rats. Repeat it thousand times, and millions will believe it.

Revolutionary Bolivia is facing the same problems, and so was Ecuador during the previous, socialist administration (now, there, it is ‘business as usual’, with the Western media openly operating in the country, almost unopposed).

Brazil is living through the aftermath of something that could be loosely described as a ‘constitutional coup’ perpetrated by the right-wing establishment, against Dilma and her highly successful PT (socialist) government. The coup was only possible, because the mass media of Brazil, fully backed and fueled from abroad, consistently smeared all the great achievements of the left-of-center administration, putting individuals under a microscope, while describing as ‘corruption’ things that would be absolutely acceptable in Europe or the United States, not to speak about the right-wing countries all over the Latin America.

The smear campaign against Cristina in Argentina, is another example of the right-wing madness which pays.

But how would people know all this, if almost all sources of information are coming exclusively from one – right-wing – camp?

They feel something is happening – they feel it intuitively – but they find it extremely difficult to formulate what they feel precisely.

I witness this all-over Latin America, all over Africa, Asia Pacific, India and the Middle East.

It is a confusion, an unhealthy confusion, manufactured somewhere else, somewhere far away.

*****

Let’s face it: this is a truly bizarre situation.

The Western public is ‘discovering’ new and powerful media outlets, which are coming from the non-Western countries. Many people in London or New York are now hooked on RT, CGTN, Press TV, or Telesur. Masses are reading magazines like NEO (New Eastern Outlook, edited in Russia), or Countercurrents (India).

But in those countries that are clearly victims of the Western interventions and brutal neo-colonialist policies, almost all information sources available come from the West – from the very centers of the present world order.

*****

What can be done?

Lately there was plenty of ‘poor us’, or ‘they are after all of us’ statements in the alternative press, at least in the West.

Of course, they are!

Well, Comrades, war is war, even an ideological one!

What did you expect? That after we start attacking the system that has been literally raping the planet for several centuries the system would quietly die, or go away? That is not realistic.

The news that is actually lately coming our way is very good:

Many powerful media outlets that are opposed to the official Western narrative are already in place, or emerging.

In the non-Western world, there are above mentioned RT, PressTV, CGTN, Al-Mayadeen, Telesur. There is New Eastern Outlook (NEO), Sputnik, TASS, Countercurrents, and hopefully soon, Prensa Latina will rejuvenate itself.

They are all on air, already running, fully functional and counting on some of the best writers and thinkers on this Planet, as their contributors.

So, what is next?

We have to, and this is absolutely essential, reach people in the non-Western countries.

Some new media, even if it is totally anti-imperialist and in support of the oppressed world, is still using ‘old methods’, like interviewing almost exclusively people with either British or US accents, as if this would be giving them some enhanced credibility.

Also, there is too much accent on covering the West, and too little on covering what is happening in Africa, Latin America, Asia or the Middle East.

The people of Africa have had enough of Europeans and North Americans telling them ‘what they really are’, and what they should do. They have plenty to say about their own lives and their own countries. The same goes for the Asians.

In order to reach Africans, we have to talk to the African thinkers, revolutionaries, and, of course, to their common people; to talk to them “on the record”, not to listen to ourselves preaching to them.

Our media outlets should be different – truly global but above all, ‘internationalist’.

Chinese CGTN has adopted precisely this philosophy, and it works wonders. People are watching – all over Africa and all over Asia. RT did a tremendous job through their Spanish language broadcast. NEO’s greatest strength is in its in-depth coverage of Asia – the biggest continent on Earth.

Above all, we have to reach as many people in the entire occupied and oppressed world. If some big television stations with substantial budgets (like RT or CGTV) can afford to advertise, they should. And if they cannot convince the cable or satellite providers in Latin America, Asia or Africa to carry their broadcasts, they should concentrate on convincing millions of individuals to watch their programs online, through the internet, as I am doing right now, in Mexico.

*****

Things can be turned around, when there is dedication, enthusiasm and professionalism.

Russia, China and Iran are great examples. Soviet media during Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras was totally humiliated and forced into submission. For several dark years, all that the West was saying and writing was expected to be considered as pure gold by millions in both Russia and the former Soviet republics. But the West did not come to Russia with an olive branch. Dependency on the Western narrative was most likely one of the main reasons why the Soviet Union, and then Russia itself, virtually collapsed. Western propaganda was aiming at bringing the Russian people to their knees. It was clearly a vehicle of hostility and destruction.

But Russia soon regrouped. It got back to its feet. And its media has completely and brilliantly reinvented itself. Now, it is strong, brave and intellectually superb.

China also went through a period when ‘everyone educated’ was expected to parrot Western dogmas. Chinese universities and media outlets got infiltrated from abroad. Hostility towards Communism was steadily injected into Chinese students who were graduating from the European and North American universities. The main goal of the West has always been to derail the Chinese socialist system, and to make China subservient to the West. In the end, it did not happen. China quickly identified the subversion, and since then, has been taking appropriate measures. Its media, too, reformed. The once out-of-date CCTV changed into a sleek, attractive, informative one, a clearly left-wing CGTN. Its newspapers have improved as well.

Now Russian, Chinese, Venezuelan and Iranian international (and internationalist) media outlets are on the correct track. They are broadcasting in various languages, offering non-Western, anti-imperialist alternatives. The distribution of the messages is, however, still limping behind the quality of the news bulletins.

I am working all over the world, often in such ‘corners of the planet’ where hardly any journalist goes. And this is my friendly ‘warning’: our interpretation of events, our worldview, our coverage of the world events in not reaching many of the places where such coverage is desperately needed.

Not everywhere, but often: the poorer the country, the more it is at the mercy of Western propaganda.

It is our obligation, our internationalist duty, to reach the people who are suffering the most.

We are slowly but surely winning the ideological war. Now let us reach out to our brothers and sisters in the poorest, most devastated, as well as the most indoctrinated parts of the world. If we don’t, then what are we fighting for? Therefore, we will.

First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

Even in “Revolutionary Countries” Mass Media is Still in the Hands of the Right

How could a country win her fight against Western imperialism?  How could it become truly independent, if its people are fully conditioned, through the mass media and education, by the North American and European doctrines and world view?

Wherever I work and struggle in this world, I am always amazed, even shocked, by how powerful the Western tools of indoctrination are, how effective its propaganda is.

Even in such countries like Vietnam, where one would think, Communism won at a tremendous cost of millions of lives, people are now increasingly indoctrinated by the West. They are apathetic and progressively ignorant about the world. Yes, of course, officially the country is in solidarity with so many struggling and oppressed parts of the world, but ask common people on the streets of Hanoi what they know about the horrific things that are being done by multi-nationals in Africa or even in Indonesia; the great majority would say that they know close to nothing. And if you press harder, chances are that you will be told that they do not really care. It is because the Western official narrative has already infiltrated, entered everything here, from social media to NGOs. It also began influencing arts, television and education.

Ideological war is on, and it is real. It is tough, ruthless and often more destructive than a war fought by conventional weapons.

The victims of this war are human brains, human minds, culture, and sometimes entire political systems.

Your country loses an ‘ideological battle’, then another one, and soon you can find yourself living in a system which is totally foreign to you and to your people; to their history, traditions and desires.

*****

I am writing this essay in the city of Puebla, in Mexico. You know, the people of Mexico just recently voted, and overwhelmingly, they elected the left-wing Presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

For three weeks I travelled all around the country. I spoke to hundreds of people. Most of them were hopeful; most of them were instinctively longing for socialism. Usually, they do not call it ‘socialism’, because for decades they were told not to use this word in any positive context, but what they describe when they dream, is clearly a form of socialism, nevertheless.

But how can they define the position of their country in the world, or even their own position inside their country? You turn on the television set, and all you see is CNN in Spanish (‘Mexican edition’), or the extreme right-wing FOX, or some corporate-owned local TV station. Almost all international news in Mexican newspapers is taken from the Western press agencies.

Can socialism be built like this, based on the Western indoctrination, disinformation system?

Telesur is not even available on most of the cable television systems, so how?

*****

Again, this is really nothing new. For instance, since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, the mainstream media outlets were firmly in the hands of the right-wing individuals, and big business. Not all, but definitely most of them.

It used to be truly grotesque, and it still is: while most of the journalists supported Chavez, and later Maduro, they were too scared to write anything positive about the government, fearing that they would lose their jobs.

The insults (and lies) they were paid to regurgitate against the revolutionary system, would easily land them in jail in the United States and definitely in the UK – a country with draconic defamation laws. In Venezuela, most of them were allowed to write – to write garbage and outright lies. The more uncensored the hostile outburst were, the more ‘unfree’ the West called the Venezuelan media environment. The usual stuff, the usual logic of the propaganda: black is white, and cats are rats. Repeat it thousand times, and millions will believe it.

Revolutionary Bolivia is facing the same problems, and so was Ecuador during the previous, socialist administration (now, there, it is ‘business as usual’, with the Western media openly operating in the country, almost unopposed).

Brazil is living through the aftermath of something that could be loosely described as a ‘constitutional coup’ perpetrated by the right-wing establishment, against Dilma and her highly successful PT (socialist) government. The coup was only possible, because the mass media of Brazil, fully backed and fueled from abroad, consistently smeared all the great achievements of the left-of-center administration, putting individuals under a microscope, while describing as ‘corruption’ things that would be absolutely acceptable in Europe or the United States, not to speak about the right-wing countries all over the Latin America.

The smear campaign against Cristina in Argentina, is another example of the right-wing madness which pays.

But how would people know all this, if almost all sources of information are coming exclusively from one – right-wing – camp?

They feel something is happening – they feel it intuitively – but they find it extremely difficult to formulate what they feel precisely.

I witness this all-over Latin America, all over Africa, Asia Pacific, India and the Middle East.

It is a confusion, an unhealthy confusion, manufactured somewhere else, somewhere far away.

*****

Let’s face it: this is a truly bizarre situation.

The Western public is ‘discovering’ new and powerful media outlets, which are coming from the non-Western countries. Many people in London or New York are now hooked on RT, CGTN, Press TV, or Telesur. Masses are reading magazines like NEO (New Eastern Outlook, edited in Russia), or Countercurrents (India).

But in those countries that are clearly victims of the Western interventions and brutal neo-colonialist policies, almost all information sources available come from the West – from the very centers of the present world order.

*****

What can be done?

Lately there was plenty of ‘poor us’, or ‘they are after all of us’ statements in the alternative press, at least in the West.

Of course, they are!

Well, Comrades, war is war, even an ideological one!

What did you expect? That after we start attacking the system that has been literally raping the planet for several centuries the system would quietly die, or go away? That is not realistic.

The news that is actually lately coming our way is very good:

Many powerful media outlets that are opposed to the official Western narrative are already in place, or emerging.

In the non-Western world, there are above mentioned RT, PressTV, CGTN, Al-Mayadeen, Telesur. There is New Eastern Outlook (NEO), Sputnik, TASS, Countercurrents, and hopefully soon, Prensa Latina will rejuvenate itself.

They are all on air, already running, fully functional and counting on some of the best writers and thinkers on this Planet, as their contributors.

So, what is next?

We have to, and this is absolutely essential, reach people in the non-Western countries.

Some new media, even if it is totally anti-imperialist and in support of the oppressed world, is still using ‘old methods’, like interviewing almost exclusively people with either British or US accents, as if this would be giving them some enhanced credibility.

Also, there is too much accent on covering the West, and too little on covering what is happening in Africa, Latin America, Asia or the Middle East.

The people of Africa have had enough of Europeans and North Americans telling them ‘what they really are’, and what they should do. They have plenty to say about their own lives and their own countries. The same goes for the Asians.

In order to reach Africans, we have to talk to the African thinkers, revolutionaries, and, of course, to their common people; to talk to them “on the record”, not to listen to ourselves preaching to them.

Our media outlets should be different – truly global but above all, ‘internationalist’.

Chinese CGTN has adopted precisely this philosophy, and it works wonders. People are watching – all over Africa and all over Asia. RT did a tremendous job through their Spanish language broadcast. NEO’s greatest strength is in its in-depth coverage of Asia – the biggest continent on Earth.

Above all, we have to reach as many people in the entire occupied and oppressed world. If some big television stations with substantial budgets (like RT or CGTV) can afford to advertise, they should. And if they cannot convince the cable or satellite providers in Latin America, Asia or Africa to carry their broadcasts, they should concentrate on convincing millions of individuals to watch their programs online, through the internet, as I am doing right now, in Mexico.

*****

Things can be turned around, when there is dedication, enthusiasm and professionalism.

Russia, China and Iran are great examples. Soviet media during Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras was totally humiliated and forced into submission. For several dark years, all that the West was saying and writing was expected to be considered as pure gold by millions in both Russia and the former Soviet republics. But the West did not come to Russia with an olive branch. Dependency on the Western narrative was most likely one of the main reasons why the Soviet Union, and then Russia itself, virtually collapsed. Western propaganda was aiming at bringing the Russian people to their knees. It was clearly a vehicle of hostility and destruction.

But Russia soon regrouped. It got back to its feet. And its media has completely and brilliantly reinvented itself. Now, it is strong, brave and intellectually superb.

China also went through a period when ‘everyone educated’ was expected to parrot Western dogmas. Chinese universities and media outlets got infiltrated from abroad. Hostility towards Communism was steadily injected into Chinese students who were graduating from the European and North American universities. The main goal of the West has always been to derail the Chinese socialist system, and to make China subservient to the West. In the end, it did not happen. China quickly identified the subversion, and since then, has been taking appropriate measures. Its media, too, reformed. The once out-of-date CCTV changed into a sleek, attractive, informative one, a clearly left-wing CGTN. Its newspapers have improved as well.

Now Russian, Chinese, Venezuelan and Iranian international (and internationalist) media outlets are on the correct track. They are broadcasting in various languages, offering non-Western, anti-imperialist alternatives. The distribution of the messages is, however, still limping behind the quality of the news bulletins.

I am working all over the world, often in such ‘corners of the planet’ where hardly any journalist goes. And this is my friendly ‘warning’: our interpretation of events, our worldview, our coverage of the world events in not reaching many of the places where such coverage is desperately needed.

Not everywhere, but often: the poorer the country, the more it is at the mercy of Western propaganda.

It is our obligation, our internationalist duty, to reach the people who are suffering the most.

We are slowly but surely winning the ideological war. Now let us reach out to our brothers and sisters in the poorest, most devastated, as well as the most indoctrinated parts of the world. If we don’t, then what are we fighting for? Therefore, we will.

First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

Trump Threatens WTO Exit

Transcript: PressTV Skype Interview with Peter Koenig
31 August 2018

Introduction

U-S President, Donald Trump, has threatened to withdraw from the World Trade Organization.

Trump, in an interview with Bloomberg News, said he will pull out from the organization if it “does not shape up”. The U-S president warned that he could even take action against the WTO. Trump has complained that the US is being treated unfairly in global trade and has blamed the World Trade Organization for allowing it to happen. Regarding tariffs, Trump said he will enact import duties on 200-billion dollars-worth of Chinese goods as early as next week. Following his remarks, Asian stock markets dropped and partially erased gains made in this week’s global rally. Trump has ignited a global trade war by slapping sharp tariffs on goods from the EU, Canada, Mexico, and China.

PressTV: What is your take on this?

Peter Koenig: Well, it looks like this latest threat to exit WTO goes into the same direction as his trade war with the EU and with China, and also with the new NAFTA Agreement – which so far was negotiated only with Mexico and does not include Canada; it eventually would have another name.

The new trade agreement with Mexico was negotiated like all trade agreements with the US, behind closed doors. Canada was invited to also join, but as far as I know, no decision has been taken yet. At the outset it looks like the new “draft” agreement with Mexico is worse than the original – with all the rights and benefits going to big US corporations.

In the case of Mexico, it is really only a “draft”; nothing has been accepted yet. It will be subject to Mexican approval once the new President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador is sworn-in in December 2018.

What Trump is doing – or attempting to do – with tariffs and with sanctions is dividing the world, breaking up alliances; i.e.. trade alliances in the case of WTO. It’s the old rule: “Divide to Conquer” – and conquer in this case means that when alliances like WTO, in the creation of which – by the way – the US and the EU were instrumental, are broken up, the US will engage in bilateral agreements with individual nations, like in the case of the “new NAFTA”, negotiating with Mexico alone, dictating her terms to weaker nations. If Canada will be ready again for a NAFTA-like agreement, the process will be similar, with Washington in the driver’s seat.

What transpires from these negotiations, or tariff impositions – like China and the EU, or even the reneging of the Iran Nuclear Deal – is Make America Great Again, meaning really American Corporatism, not the people.

New bilateral trade deals will continue to allow bilateral outsourcing to cheap labor countries, for example, between the US and Mexico, and the export of highly subsidized US goods. In the case of agriculture, NAFTA killed hundreds of thousands of small farming businesses in Mexico which was one of the key reasons for the massive increase of illegal migration to the US.

This will hardly be different in a new agreement. That’s why nothing is done yet. The progressive new President, López Obrador, may not easily submit to a flagrant one-sided agreement.

The case of tariffs on China for 200 billion worth of merchandise – has a different purpose, namely, to degrade the value of the Chinese currency, the Yuan, which is emerging rapidly as one of the world’s foremost reserve currencies, to the detriment of the US dollar. The Trump move is meant to discourage countries to adopt the Yuan among their reserve currencies. Some success was indeed registered by Trump’s announcement – the Asian markets dropped drastically wiping out much of the gains made during last week’s rally. This, however, will be short-lived, as investors realize the hot air behind the threat and that these tariffs will really make hardly a dent in China’s economy which is dominating the Asian market and doesn’t really depend on exports to the US.

If the US would indeed exit WTO – which is by no means sure, since Trump likes to play god, threatening, fearmongering – and then negotiate under conditions of intimidation and coercion – so, if the US would actually get out of WTO, they – the US – might set themselves up as sort of a competitor to WTO, negotiating individual bilateral deals with nations, especially weaker ones. They would no longer be under the oversight of WTO – and as with the International Court of Justice – to which the US does not belong – complaining would be meaningless.

But we are not there yet.

Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle

All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and [humans are] at last compelled to face with sober senses [our] real conditions of life, and [our] relations with [our] kind.

— Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto

An unfolding trade war pitting the United States simultaneously against China, the European Union, Canada, and Mexico has begun. The economic and political consequences – intended and unintended – are now unfolding.  How this trade war develops and “ends” is a political question that cannot be predicted concretely. But the framework to foresee what is coming down the road is coming into focus.

There is no letup in the continued erosion and breakdown of the post-World War II, post-“Cold War” eras characterized at their core by the predominance of US capital in the institutions of world capitalism and in world politics.

China

On June 15, 2018 the Donald Trump Administration announced it will be adding a 25% tariff-tax on some $50 billion worth of Chinese goods imported into the United States. On June 18 Trump then threatened another 10% tariff-tax on $200 billion worth of additional Chinese commodities, raised to $500 billion on July 5, affecting virtually every Chinese product throughout the US-China production-to-exchange chain.

The first-round of tariffs, $34 billion worth, took effect on July 6, applying to 818 commodities and products. The second round, $16 billion on an additional 284 items, await “reviews,” that is vetting by the major industrial and financial oligopolies whose profits may be more or less directly affected. They are lobbying Trump and his enforcers for exemptions, waivers, and dilutions individually and collectively.

Trump’s threats to escalate were presented as being contingent on any Chinese government and state counter-tariffs on US goods and services. These, of course, were bound to happen; there could be no other political choice for the Xi Jinping government. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce immediately announced counter-measures “of the same scale and the same strength.” The statement further announced as “invalid” the recently reported “progress” on a deal that would have led to an additional $70 billion in US imports to China, based on a negotiated reduction of Chinese tariffs and other legal barriers to selected US commodities and services, including energy, agricultural, and high-tech products. Agricultural commodities were an initial focus of Chinese counter-tariffs, since China is a major market for US agricultural products, especially soy beans.

Trump’s announcement was rolled out with provocative and jingoistic rationalizations. Uncle Sam as bumbling sucker, the victim of nefarious Chinese practices. They are stealing our technology. They carry out “state subsidies” of industries and dump surplus production stealing the jobs of American workers. And so on…as if the entire system of world capitalist production, finance, and exchange were not lubricated and dependent as a whole on such practices. Practices by which the most advanced capitalist states and industrialized economies – the United States, the former colonial powers of western Europe, and Japan – are the historic masters and mentors.

At a July 5 campaign rally in Montana which drew thousands, Trump thundered:

We are bringing back our wealth from foreign countries that have been ripping us off for years…For too long we watched and we waited and we saw as other countries stole our jobs, cheated our workers, and gutted our industry.

With his trademark national chauvinism and demagogy, Trump continued:

The United States of America was the piggy bank that everybody else was robbing. Our allies in many cases were worse than our enemies. We opened our country to their goods, but they put up massive barriers to keep our products and our goods the hell out of their country because they didn’t want that competition.

Trump is upending the decades-long, highly profitable arrangements between the US capitalist class, its various governments in Washington, and the Chinese state. US capital would invest in commodity production inside China for sales to the US and other developed capitalist markets. It has been an arrangement that has been crucial in the formation and accumulation of state and private capital in China by Chinese business owners and government officials.

While it is very difficult to calculate precisely balance-of-trade surpluses and deficits of nation-states within globalized production chains, as well as calculating so-called “services” onto the balance sheets, China’s trade “surplus” in finished goods with the United States has been in the low-to-mid 100s of billions of dollars range for many years. A good slice of which is recycled and parked in US Treasuries. This greatly cushions the impact for US debt markets, making it easier for US federal and private banking institutions to obscure, dilute, and hide dollar-denominated debt. It also helps the US Federal Reserve suppress higher interest rates, and keeps low or non-existent tax rates and outlays for billionaires, millionaires, and US-style oligarchs.

China today owns nearly $2 trillion in US Treasury securities, which makes it the largest US “foreign creditor” and the second largest owner of US bonds, after the Federal Reserve itself. No one can know for sure what the impact of the unfolding trade war will be on Chinese purchases of US Treasuries, insofar as the US-China balance of trade numbers and those of China’s purchases of US government debt have become the intertwined sine qua non of the entire economic and financial relationship. China’s vast holdings register both leverage and vulnerable dependency. China’s decades-long massive economic expansion and growth (high single-digit to low double-digit GDP rises every year since 1991!) has been strongly predicated on maintaining China’s access to US markets for the wholesale and retail sales of these commodities.

Over the decades US-China economic ties and exchange led to the massive expansion of Chinese factory manufacturing and industrial development, as well as huge profits for US capitalists and their Chinese state and private partners.

This process also contributed mightily to the large expansion of the Chinese industrial proletariat, including a super-exploited sector of migrant workers, and urban petty bourgeoisie, with the concurrent reduction in the size of China’s peasant population. All of this has led to the massive production and reproduction of surplus value in the country based on the application of labor power to produce commodities to be exchanged, that is, sold in the US and world markets.

This massive production and reproduction of real value, real social wealth, and real capital was certainly siphoned off disproportionately and corruptly by Chinese bureaucrats and capitalists. But it has also been massively invested in infrastructure and urban development projects, led by high-speed rail production and construction.

Two giant Chinese initiatives in the past period highlight these historical developments. First, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative which promotes regional “connectivity” through infrastructure and other economic projects, and second, the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which finances infrastructure and other economic projects in the Asian-Pacific region. AIIB is headquartered in Shanghai and has 86 members, including a number of US NATO “allies.”  Washington, from Barack Obama to Trump, has so far declined to be any part of it. Moreover, China has publicly issued its Made in China 2025 plan to be world leaders in future industrial applications in artificial intelligence, robotics, and chip manufacturing, which is viewed with hostility in Washington.

Looming Recession?

Washington – and this is a largely bipartisan cry – gets particularly worked up over so-called state aid and subsidies to Chinese industries and companies that are themselves state or quasi-state-owned or nominally private. China also attempts to get around efforts led by Washington to pressure companies to restrict Chinese access to some technologies by making such access a condition for sales and commercial exchanges in the vast Chinese markets themselves.

A June 29 column in the Financial Times (“Bond markets send signals of a looming recession”) by University of Chicago “Professor of Finance” Raghuram Rajan states:

[E]conomic metric estimates of the effects of one or two rounds of tariff rises are small. But the models do not capture the intertwined nature of global supply chains. Moreover, the effect on business sentiment, as well as the pall of uncertainty cast over investment will be considerable, A trade war will be costly.

Rajan points to the political difficulties for any governments and national leaderships today “to be seen [as] giving in to threats, making trade conflicts more likely.” He then continues with:

… a final reason for concern. China is cleaning up its financial system, an immensely complicated task given the debt that has built up. Growth has slowed, the cost of riskier loans has been rising, as have defaults. The Chinese authorities are working to spread losses across the system, but this needs to be managed carefully to avoid panic. If China is caught in a trade war while it is still restructuring its financial system, its difficulties could spread abroad.

If the dynamic of a large-scale US-China trade war is unleashed, then it will have critical economic and commercial – and therefore political — consequences for the trade and diplomatic regime that has been built up and stabilized over many decades between Beijing and Washington – and Wall Street and China.1

The EU, Canada, and Mexico

The tariffs on China set in motion by Trump and his Executive Branch team of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came on top of tariffs on steel and aluminum exports carried out against Canada, the European Union, and Mexico, announced with great hoopla, earlier in the June month. These ostensibly aim at boosting US domestic steel and aluminum production, but also led to immediate retaliatory measures of equal reach and value by all. So far, every dollar-value of US tariff-taxes have been met with an equal value in counter-tariffs. Can that be sustained?

On June 29, 2018 Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freedland defiantly announced Canada’s response to the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum. “We will not escalate — and we will not back down,” said Freeland. (Before her current gig as Foreign Minister for the Justin Trudeau government, Freedland was a leading editor of the Financial Times, the quintessential organ of British and world capital.)

She unveiled counter-tariffs on US goods entering Canada, including whiskey, toilet paper, washing machines, and motorboats. Altogether, Canada will tax $12.6 billion worth of American goods, which matched the value of the US tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

“I cannot emphasize enough the regret with which we take these countermeasures,” Freedland added. She emphasized that the only way Canada might reverse them would be if the Trump White House rescinded first. There are always political dangers when many faces need saving at once.

Trump’s Executive Orders were invoked under the cover of “national security.” This provoked umbrage from Canadian, EU, and other US post-World War II era NATO “allies.” They pointed to the various imperialist wars they fought over the years hand-in-glove with Washington.

The current framework and regime for the regulation of tariffs and the resolution of trade disputes is the World Trade Organization (WTO). The US tariffs are already being contested in WTO bodies in a likely bruising battle. The WTO as an “objective” arbiter and judge, is clearly in danger of losing authority and fraying under great pressure. Trump’s back-to-back measures are bound to accelerate a breaking down of world capitalist trading norms and stability.

Allies and Competitors

The EU bloc, most of its individual nation-state components, and Canada are military allies of Washington — still by far the predominant military power with the most firepower and global reach on Earth – through the NATO alliance. But, at the same time, all are home bases for some of the fiercest competitors of US based multinationals and other capitalist firms in world markets. In a time of intensifying, cutthroat global competition, with financial volatility and turbulent waters ahead, the “competitors” side is being more sharply expressed and rising to the fore. The political fallout from policy choices and decisions on trade, tariffs, currency manipulations, debt and capital flows are, at the very least, posed more sharply in today’s world. Old trading blocs and ties come under pressure and weaken, rebooting political policies and alliances.

Consequences, Intended and Unintended

While Trump’s public utterances – “Trade wars are good and easy to win” – exude typical flippant political confidence on his part, these policies are highly contentious within the broader US capitalist class. Within these circles there is growing anxiety and dread that Washington will not be able to drive things through without serious political consequences in the world arena.

The shift that Trump looks to realize registers the political erosion internationally of the “neoliberal globalization” regime which greatly benefited many US-based giant corporations, banks, and businesses – and the mounds of capital behind their brands – as they set up shop in China, Mexico, and elsewhere with greatly increased profit rates. The major benefit of this inside the United States for US capitalists was the lowering of the value of labor and the evisceration of industrial jobs and industrial unions. The decisive factor involved is relatively cheaper (usually very much so) labor costs, which outweigh other disadvantages and extra costs for US-based capital in production outside the US, such as in transport costs, management training, and so on.

Of course, US capitalists couldn’t care less about the social devastation in working-class communities in the US.2

US Capital is Divided

Opposition to Trump’s measures is strongest among business groups and elected officials from both the Republican and Democratic parties who have been identified with the general “free trade” neoliberal policies worldwide that have dominated trade pacts and mainstream bourgeois economics for decades. These anti-working-class policies have increased in unpopularity since the so-called Great Recession and financial crisis of 2007-08 and are now widely discredited and hated in the US and around the world, especially among working people. But the opposition to them takes varied “populist” forms – left and right — that have done and can do little to effectively counter them or provide any program and perspective of mobilization and independent working-class political action and power. In the face of popular hostility and battered credibility, almost by inertia, the “neoliberal model” limps on.

What will be the impact on world economic developments of Trump’s tariffs? Does it give a push to the next – inevitable – financial jolts and economic downturn-recession? Will the EU, Canada, and Mexico have the political will and strength to counter them? Is there space for increasing domestic US assembly and manufacture of commodities, finished products, and capital goods (machinery, etc.) that have been “farmed out” for decades now that US labor value and costs has been driven down in recent decades? Can increased US domestic manufacturing (up 36,000 in June 2018 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics) sustain sales volume and profit rates?

Diminished US Political Power

There are wide layers in top US business, financial, and social circles who do worry that Trump is accelerating and deepening the deterioration in US political influence worldwide. They are anxious that Trump’s course, rather that restoring the post-World War II full-spectrum dominance of US capital – capsulized in his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” – will do the opposite and actually accelerate US decline.

There is considerable substance to this anxiety. Under Trump there has been a striking US political isolation in world political forums on one major international political question after another: Washington’s withdrawal from the (fairly toothless, in any case) Paris climate change accords; Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear production and activity, an agreement which was ratified by China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the EU as a body; Washington’s humiliating isolation every year in the UN over its criminal and hated blockade of revolutionary Cuba; and issues around Israel and Palestine that might ameliorate Palestinian conditions and advance a two-state solution.

Korea is Hardly a Trump Triumph

Trump’s escalating moves on US trade and exchange with China were announced when the ink was hardly dry on the document issued, amid great world attention and hoopla, after the June 12 Summit between Donald Trump and the Kim Jong-un government in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

While the Trump White House has been eager to spin the Summit results as a feather in its cap, his ability to do so was necessarily predicated on the US suspension of “war games” and other joint US-South Korean military maneuvers off the North Korean coasts. Maintaining Washington’s “right” and political will to do so became politically untenable following the Kim government’s ending of missile launches, atmospheric and underground tests, and even the verified destruction of one nuclear site while at the same time the two Korean governments deepened relations through friendly encounters amid popular enthusiasm. No one can seriously doubt that the Moon Jae-in government in South Korea favored and pushed for the US suspension of the “joint” war games.

It seems apparent that China and South Korea forcefully intervened behind the scenes to keep the US-DPRK talks on track. In reality, Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (with National Security Advisor John Bolton kept in the shadows) found themselves in an isolated diplomatic and political corner and risked a politically unwinnable confrontation with both China, South Korea and the United Nations large majority. This became even more dangerous politically for Washington on the heels of the US withdrawal from JCPOA treaty with Iran.

As this article was being finished, the US-DPRK negotiations had a negative public eruption after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with top North Korean authorities in Pyongyang. The DPRK Foreign Ministry issued a detailed statement on July 7, calling the meetings “regretful” and Pompeo’s apparent sole focus on unilateral DPRK denuclearization “gangster-like.” The DPRK statement promoted, “in the spirit of” the Singapore Summit and its written statement signed by Trump and Kim, an interconnected focus on issues like a formal peace treaty replacing the “Armistice” ending military combat in 1953; improved US-DPRK bilateral relations; and building a “peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” that is, building on the momentum of improving relations between the two Korean governments and states. Pompeo and Trump have both downplayed the DPRK statement, with Trump on July 9 spinning that China “may be exerting pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese Trade – Hope Not!”

Of course, as the DPRK statement said, “suspension of one action called exercises is a highly reversible step which can be resumed at any time or any moment as all of its military force remains intact in its previously held positions without scraping even a rifle.” Nevertheless, for the Trump Administration to revert to a “maximum pressure” policy while demanding North Korean capitulation and permanently subordinating all other political issues, starting with formal and actual bilateral and multilateral peace, is not politically tenable, starting with South Korea and China and, overwhelmingly, world public opinion.

Mexico

The July 1 landslide election in Mexico of left-wing “populist”Andres Manuel Lopez Abrador (AMLO) is also setting Washington’s nerves on edge. It is not Lopez Obrador’s political orientation and program, per se, that is setting off (mostly muted) alarms. While he is solidly progressive with anti-imperialist instincts flowing from Mexican and Latin American historical experience, AMLO has sent out clear signals that he is loath to directly promote anti-capitalist measures and policies. His campaign focused on the corruption of private capital and the Mexican capitalist state and the intertwined, massive violence and death associated with the illegal capitalist drug cartels.3

What is worrying for the US (and Mexican) ruling classes is the tremendous enthusiasm and mobilizations around AMLO’s campaign, which points to the rising expectations among Mexican working people and youth who want action and who are saying Enough is Enough! Rather than channel mass political combativity into harmless electoralism and parliamentary wrangling, it is more likely that any significant progressive measures promoted by the Lopez Obrador government and its clear majority in both houses of Mexico’s legislature, will spur on the class struggle. This is particularly worrisome for the guardians of US imperialism, given the remarkable history of gratuitous, patronizing insults and anti-Mexican demagogy employed by Donald Trump since the beginning of his campaign for US president. And his reactionary and brutal anti-migrant policies once in office.

In any case, a window into the arrogance of the US ruling rich came with a short editorial in the July 3 Wall Street Journal, titled “The Peso Federales.” Acknowledging Lopez Obrador’s “landslide” and “mandate,” the Journal’s editors warn of the pressure coming from a “different sort of election – the one that takes place daily in financial markets.” Pointing to a 1% drop in the Mexican peso (that “recovered” the next day) following the election, the editorial continued “the president-elect now has to worry what the markets think if he wants to improve the lives of Mexicans.”

One of the biggest concerns for the academic, journalist, and big-business monitors of world economic developments today, prior to the next sharp economic crisis and recession-depression, is that there has been a significant and growing outflow of capital from so-called “emerging” countries into the capital markets of the most advanced capitalist economies, especially the US. This is reversing a mild trend otherwise in recent years.

Sharp turns down for the Argentine peso is the starkest expression of this tendency. In June 2018 the IMF came up with a $50 billion “loan,” a bail out for austerity package, that has already provoked the biggest labor mobilizations in that country for over a decade.

The Class Struggle Will Ratchet Up

When you enter a period like the current one, within the transition from one era-epoch to another, old truisms become stale, alliances and allies can and do change, traditional state-to-state relations become strained and even boil over. No one can doubt that class struggle, social polarization, and political volatility is likely to be ratcheted up considerably in the context of the coming global economic downturn. This will happen everywhere and anywhere. In the United States itself we can expect more massive working class and popular eruptions – seemingly coming out of nowhere – like the wave of solid, disciplined, and victorious teacher’s strikes in the US states of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona in early 2018.

The unfolding trade wars unleashed by Donald Trump are now facts on the ground. To cite the great socialist pioneer Frederick Engels:

Those who unleash controlled forces, also unleash uncontrolled forces.

  1. The origins of the contemporary US-China relationship and the deeply intertwined  economic ties between both came during the final period of the Vietnam War. US President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger carried out a secret diplomacy with the Mao Zedong-Zhou Enlai Chinese government in the early 1970s to establish mutually beneficial ties. The context was the sharp crisis and looming defeat of the US war effort in Vietnam and Indochina. Nixon and Kissinger were under tremendous pressure to end all US military operations and withdraw US troops from Vietnam and Southeast Asia. They were keen to preserve the “South” Vietnamese neo-colonial state and hoped to manipulate China (and China’s fierce political antagonist, the Soviet Union) to pressure the Vietnamese revolutionaries – who they both gave crucial military aid to — to make concessions to Nixon. This failed and Washington went down to final military defeat in 1975. Nevertheless a de facto political alliance and the foundations for the massive expansion of economic exchange between the United States and China was consolidated over four decades under both Republican and Democratic White Houses and Congresses.
  2. Before retiring in 2016, I was a Locomotive Engineer for Amtrak and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the teamsters Union. I operated the high-speed Acela and other passenger trains between New York city and Washington, DC. For some 25 years, I would see, along the main line tracks from the locomotive cab, on the Northeast Corridor tracks, especially along the stretches between Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia towards Trenton, New Jersey, mile after mile of rotted out and abandoned industrial facilities, factories, plants, mills, metal shop, giant behemoths and myriad smaller ones in what were once, in the world War 2 era and subsequent decades, I imagined thriving working-class communities employing many tens and hundreds of thousands of workers. Today they really look like documentary films from the Battle of Stalingrad on the World War 2 Eastern Front. The authorities, decade after decade, never even bothered to tear them down. I would joke to younger workers in my cab qualifying on the physical characteristics of the territory – track speeds, interlocking rules, industrial sidings, and so on – when we would pass these areas, that the state should put a giant bubble over it all and open up “The Museum of American Industrial Glory.”
  3. The stunning failure of Mexico’s “war on drugs” has left hundreds of thousands dead and mutilated without making a dent in the production, consumption, or the profits of the cartels, and the corrupt wealth of officials up and down the supply chain. The production, marketing, and commercial exchange of cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, cocaine, opium, and heroin is a major component of the Mexican capitalist economy as a whole, counting for perhaps up to 10% of GDP, as well as propping up Mexican banking.

The Millstone around Trump’s Neck?

This Bible passage (Matthew 18:1-6) is getting a lot of attention recently. Let me use the King James Version so beloved by evangelicals:

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

This text has been used to criticize Trump’s grotesque child-abusing border policy by a range of Christian groups, pro- and anti-Trump and maybe some others. Anyway the passage occurred to me as I watched the news, and I’m not even Christian, just familiar from childhood with gospels. I can understand why it might have crossed a few million other minds simultaneously as this horror story unfolded.

Some of the most moving passages in the New Testament deal with the treatment of children. When the chief priests in the Temple in Jerusalem hear children cheering Jesus and complain, he cites Psalm 8:2 about how praise for the Lord comes out from the mouths of babes and sucklings (Matthew 21:16). In Mark 10:13-16 Jesus, in response to protests he is spending too much time with children, says famously, “Suffer the little children to come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Et cetera.

This is why Karl Marx told his daughter Eleanor (after, as she recounted, “patiently elucidating the story of the carpenter whom the rich men killed”): “We can forgive Christianity much because it taught us the worship of the child.” (Not once but often in her childhood, according to her account.) Marx was very pro-child.

In 1975 McGraw-Hill published a volume in its Karl Marx Library series entitled On Education, Women and Children. I don’t have it on hand and can’t readily cite it now but remember feeling impressed by Marx’s psychological insights about how children grow up.

Socialist societies, to the extent that societies deserving that designation have ever existed, have placed priority on the care of children. Certainly children’s housing, security, education, medical care. These efforts have been widely studied in this country and sometimes inspired “socialist” institutional changes. One could mention the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a federal assistance program begun during the New Deal in this country in 1935 (but ended during Bill Clinton’s tenure in 1996).

The International Year of the Child pronounced by UNESCO in 1979 led to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ten years later. (One must mention, however, that the U.S. withdrew from UNESCO last October—in protest of its bias against Israel, surprise, surprise—and the U.S. Congress has never ratified the Convention.)

In the U.S. groups like Focus on the Family depict themselves as protectors of children (or imagined children, including every human egg fertilized as we speak). One of the most horrible pieces of recent U.S. legislation is referred to as the “No Child Left Behind” act. Hillary Clinton ran twice as a mother—-so warmly maternal, did you notice?—who had told us it takes a village to raise a child.

The worship of the child, that is to say, passed from Christianity into Marxism and the socialist experiments that prompted in response global reforms. But in the 90s triumphant capitalism became crueler; most notably, the 1994 crime bill endorsed by Clinton virtually criminalized a generation of black youth. Still, there remained a thin veneer of humanitarianism. Clinton’s attorney general had the good sense to let Elian Gonzalez return to his dad in Cuba, for example, in 2000.

But now the world hears these reports and sees these images of the U.S.A. that had once said: “Give me your tired and your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Now the message is: You tired, poor people, hardly breathing after your 1000-mile trek, need to be detained as criminals, the children among you held separately and dispersed all over the country pending some possible reunion somewhere at some point, there being no guarantee parents won’t be deported while their children remain in confinement. That’s not as evil as stuff terrorists have done to children in Iraq and Syria. ICE is not ISIS. But it’s shockingly bad.

All of Latin America knows that Trump is a racist buffoon using anti-immigrant (especially anti-Hispanic immigrant) sentiment and the issue of the wall to maintain his appeal to his base. The “zero policy” is overwhelming supported by Republican Party voters.

But It’s one thing to inveigh against Mexican advantages within NAFTA or accuse Mexico of sending its rapists to the U.S. It’s one thing to insult leaders of neighboring nations. That’s just adults, acting childish.

It’s another to cruelly treat Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan families including those seeking asylum, ripping parents from their kids after their hazardous 1000-mile trek. It’s another thing to compound childhood trauma with more trauma, to show the state of the power to enforce obedience to its laws.

In a CIA study of world infant mortality rates, the U.S. stands at 170 out of 225—behind virtually all of Europe, and, of course, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Macao, Hong Kong. It is tied with Serbia. Trump’s stand on Planned Parenthood promises no improvement.

How can you more alienate normal humanity than inflicting pain on children, wrenching them from their mother’s arms? There are several millstones around Trump’s neck, but this could be the one that drags him down.

How the “Bernie of Mexico” Won the Presidency

This is Trump’s nightmare.I’m writing minutes after the victory of the Bernie Sanders of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Everyone calls him, “AMLO.” This is actually AMLO’s re-election: He first won the presidency in 2006. But back then the thieving, scheming, blood-stained criminal gang that rules Mexico (and I’m being polite), declared AMLO’s dissolute opponent the winner.

In 2006, rather than concede to vote thievery, lick his wounds and toddle off on a book tour, AMLO took his supporters into the streets, raised hell, blocked the capital’s central square for months, held a People’s Inaugural, and vowed to never, ever concede.

And tonight, twelve years later, AMLO has won a crushing, too-big-to-steal victory in Mexico’s presidential election.

And while the Good and Great told him he’d be finished if he kept protesting the stolen election, he made counting every vote the very first of his five-point campaign platform. He understands that even those with empty stomachs also hunger for democracy.

And there’s a lesson here. Are you listening, Al Gore? Mr. Kerry and Mrs. Clinton?

Bernie or Hugo?

And AMLO gave the people something to vote for. The rest of his platform included expanding free college education, raising the minimum wage, fighting income inequality and creating a massive infrastructure-fixing jobs program.

If that sounds like Bernie Sanders, that’s no accident. AMLO, like Bernie, said he is taking his program from that great Mexican hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Nevertheless, Mexican media blared apoplectic prophesies that AMLO would be the Second Coming of Hugo Chavez, with mass nationalizations to follow. (The hysteria was parroted in the New York Times, not coincidentally, owned by Mexico’s richest man.)

I can tell you, AMLO is way more Bernie Sanders than Hugo Chavez (and I’ve known all three).

Both AMLO and Sanders were mayors who ran their cities as what I’d call, “Pothole Populists.” It’s get-the-job-done socialism with the emphasis on social not –ism.

AMLO proved he could tamp down corruption, keep a stingy hold on budgets while increasing pensions and providing education grants. Mayor AMLO, unlike a certain Mr. Trump, completed major city infrastructure projects—all out of the savings from cutting waste and corruption.

But unlike Bernie, who did his good works in the mean streets of Burlington, Vermont, AMLO worked nothing less than a miracle in Mexico City, which is bigger than New York and ten times as ungovernable.

(And like Bernie, AMLO is a working class kid who worked in the social movement trenches: Sanders as a SNCC organizer in Chicago, while Lopez Obrador spent six years living with, sharing the lives of and fighting for the poorest Mayan families.)

But they are stealing it right now

Let’s not get carried away with our democracy high. This election is being stolen as I write.

Not the presidency. AMLO’s poll lead of 52% to 25% for his nearest competitor, is just too much to steal. But every seat of the Mexican Congress is up for grabs, and the Powers that Be, the laughably named Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) are fighting for their lives – and sometimes they fight with bullets.

So, far, 132 officials and candidates have been murdered in this election cycle. I spoke with voting rights activist (and movie star) Yareli Arizmendi in Mexico City, who told me that the old guard politicians were tied up with the Zetas and other drug gangs.

In all fairness, I should note that many victims were not just AMLO allies but also PRI, Green Party and independents who challenged the control of their cities and states by narco-traficantes.

Indeed, AMLO’s campaign gained fuel when, in 2014, the public learned of the disappearance of 43 students (and 3 investigating journalists). Evidence now indicates they were hacked to pieces and dissolved in acid by the Guerreros Unidos gang – on orders from a politician connected to the ruling party.

Arizmendi reports that ballots have been burnt in gang- and ruling-party controlled districts. She sent me a video of a woman pre-marking a stack of ballots.

I saw this game up close in 2006 when I was sent by the Guardian and Democracy Now to investigate AMLO’s shock loss by just half a percent of the vote.

On election night, AMLO was way ahead when the official count was halted—then resumed with a massive reversal in the final count. Our investigators found massive ballot-box stuffing, ballot box dumping and intimidation of voters at gunpoint. There were games with electoral rolls apparently orchestrated by the Bush Administration which, I found, had used the same company that helped Katherine Harris rig the 2000 election in Florida, ChoicePoint, to steal Mexico’s entire voter roll! (Watch this Democracy Now! report, “Florida con Salsa,” from Mexico City.)

And this time, the incumbent PRI hired Cambridge Analytica. Trump’s social-media manipulators and data thieves were paid $7.2 million on their promise—I can’t make this up—to repeat a Mexican variant of their “Corrupt Hillary” campaign to smear AMLO.

It was a hard sell, especially as the wife of the current President, PRI man Enrique Peña Nieto, was caught taking a $7 million condo from a government contractor.

As I write, it looks like AMLO has crushed the second-highest candidate vote two-to-one and swept the House of Deputies. However, his coalition of parties is, as of the moment, showing poorly in the Senate race, way below pre-election polling data.

AMLO: Arrest Trump
Mexicans have had enough of the Trump-ito grifters who have held the Mexican presidency, usually by theft, for decades.

President Peña Nieto made his nation cringe with his invitation to Trump during the US Presidential campaign, boosting Trump’s candidacy. And he’s not had much to say about the caging of children on the border.

Although Trump’s child prisoners and their families detained at the border are not Mexican citizens (most come from Central America), AMLO has called for Trump’s arrest for the kidnappings as violating international law.

That’s just one indication AMLO’s victory is Trump’s nightmare. AMLO has shown he is not afraid of privileged pricks, even if they try to make themselves look fierce by staining themselves orange.

NAFTA
Weirdly, Lopez Obrador has also been called “The Trump of Mexico,” simply because they both speak to the desperation of their nation’s working classes. And both have few good words for NAFTA.

But Trump’s act, the billionaire turned class warrior, was always a fake. AMLO is for real.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has demanded that Mexico raise the wages of all auto workers so that the US can better compete within NAFTA.

AMLO is calling Trump’s bluff: he said, “yes” – which may come as a shock to Secretary Ross… Ross owns eight of those auto factories.

Hope and Danger

The slogan of AMLO’s coalition is, Juntos Haremos Historia. Together, we’ll make history. But history has a way of bleeding to death in Mexico.

In March 1994, Luis Donaldo Colosio was on the cusp of winning Mexico’s presidency. But his political turn to the Left infuriated his PRI bosses. At a public rally where he supposedly had government protection, one assassin, and possibly a second, put two bullets in his head.

I hope AMLO’s story will have a happier ending.

Rocking the G7: Trump Stomps His Allies

Disruption, disturbance, eruption, the words crowning the presidency of Donald J. Trump, who has effectively demonstrated an idea made famous by Nazi doodler of law and political theorist Carl Schmitt: politics is defined, not by identifying with friends in cosy harmony but with enemies in constant tension.

There are many ways that Trump might be seen as a creature of Schmittian reaction.  Alliances may well be lauded as good (the diplomat’s clichés of “eternal friendship”, “special bonds” and the treacly covering that comes with it), but then again, potential adversaries can also be considered in accommodating fashion.  In every enduring friendship between states is a potential enemy in wait, a dormant instinct that, given certain circumstances, might awake.  In every alliance, a potential shift might undermine, if not threaten, the national interest.

In short, the current US president likes the bruising, the bullying and the cajoling in the abstract name of US self-interest. Forget the distinctions and the similarities.  There are no values in any shared sense.  There is only his road.

The press conference concluding the summit with Kim Jong-un on Sentosa Island provided the platform for Trump to round on his supposed allies even as he praised Little Rocket Man as his newly made friend, Chairman Kim, no less.  The spectacle was terrifying for groupies of the US empire, those who have praised the virtues of alliances and bonds with Washington as necessary for the Pax Americana.  Before them, the spectacle of US hegemony was being challenged with a brazen confidence. The Chairman seemed to be getting what he wanted, even if it all seemed a touch vague.

As the Kim-Trump show unfolded, the rubble at the G7 seemed to be growing, a sentiment captured by the satirical Borowitz Report in The New Yorker.  The meeting preceding the gathering in Singapore had put many a nose out of joint.  After leaving the Quebec summit, Trump got his fingers busy by tweeting that he had asked US representatives not to endorse the customary joint communiqué from the G7 leaders calling for “free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade” over the devil of protectionism.

The cooling towards Canada’s Justin Trudeau was a case in point, mixed with the usual air of berating condescension and sulkiness.  Much of it had arisen because of a disagreement on whether a sunset clause would find its way into any renegotiated trade agreement between Mexico, Canada and the United States.  Trump’s own version of reality was that negotiators were “pretty close on the sunset provision”.  Trudeau differed on such a reading, wanting nothing of the sort.  The bad blood was taking time to dry.

“Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our US farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our US reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at tariffs on automobiles flooding the US market!”

In Singapore itself, Trump wished to add some flesh to the remarks, getting a few jocular asides in.  “When I got onto the plane,” considered Trump, “I think that Justin probably didn’t know that Air Force One has about 20 televisions, and I see the television.  And he’s giving a news conference about how he will not be pushed around by the United States.  And I say, push him around?  We just shook hands.  It was very friendly.”

Then came that picture, poured over by aroused pundits and eager commentators, showing Trump sitting down like a bemused, bright coloured Buddha, seemingly defiant, with Germany’s Angela Merkel leaning across with grave school teacher disapproval. “In fact,” he explained, “the picture with Angela Merkel, who I get along with very well, where I’m sitting there like this, that picture was we’re waiting for the document because I wanted to see the final document as changed by the changes that I requested.”

For Trump, the visuals are nigh everything, and this titillates the pundits he lures like starving waifs to a banquet.  Academics are also getting on board, being brought into Trumpland’s sordid undergrowth.  “Critics of President Trump say this is President Trump isolated,” suggested Dan Nexon of Georgetown University on the G7 snap, “so it feeds into the pre-existing narrative.”  But then came the other side, those supporters who considered the show “a sign of American strength, status and position in the dominance hierarchy.”

Others have also fallen for tissue-like substance and liberal readings, suggesting that Trump is seducing those who should know better.  “The symbolic meaning of a 13-second handshake in the visual form is the establishment of a physical and therefore a personal bond between the two leaders,” came the distinctly unscientific observation of political science professor Bruce Miroff.  The G7 meeting did the opposite of the Sentosa Island summit, suggesting a spectacle “of alienation, opposition and even international condemnation of Trump.”

Any amount of time might be spent on such performances, but Trump, for all the displays, remains heartily consistent in what superficially seems to be jolting anarchy.  On the issue of mistrusting, badgering, even punishing allies economically, he has remained true to his word, carrying through attitudes nursed since the 1980s. “I’d throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country,” he claimed in his 1990 Playboy interview should he ever become President, “and on all Japanese products, and we’d have wonderful allies again.”  And, prophetically, he promised a Schmitt-inspired attitude: don’t “trust our allies” and “perfect” that “huge military arsenal”.

Dangerous Liaison: Corporate Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset

Food and agriculture across the world is in crisis. Food is becoming denutrified and unhealthy and diets less diverse. There is a loss of biodiversity, which threatens food security, soils are being degraded, water sources polluted and depleted and smallholder farmers, so vital to global food production, are being squeezed off their land and out of farming.

A minority of the global population has access to so much food that it can afford to waste much of it, while food insecurity has become a fact of life for hundreds of millions. This crisis stems from food and agriculture being wedded to power structures that serve the interests of the powerful global agribusiness corporations.

Over the last 60 years, agriculture has become increasingly industrialised, globalised and tied to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market, indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank).

This has resulted in food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on (US) agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the Global South mirror food surpluses in the North, based on a ‘stuffed and starved’ strategy.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes related to debt repayment as occurred in Africa (as a continent Africa has been transformed from a net exporter to a net importer of food), bilateral trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture.

Integral to all of this has been the imposition of the ‘Green Revolution’. Farmers were encouraged to purchase hybrid seeds from corporations that were dependent on chemical fertilisers and pesticides to boost yields. They required loans to purchase these corporate inputs and governments borrowed to finance irrigation and dam building projects for what was a water-intensive model.

While the Green Revolution was sold to governments and farmers on the basis it would increase productivity and earnings and would be more efficient, we now have nations and farmers incorporated into a system of international capitalism based on dependency, deregulated and manipulated commodity markets, unfair subsidies and inherent food insecurity.

As part of a wider ‘development’ plan for the Global South, millions of farmers have been forced out of agriculture to become cheap factory labour (for outsourced units from the West) or, as is increasingly the case, unemployed or underemployed slum dwellers.

In India, under the banner of a bogus notion of ‘development’, farmers are being whipped into subservience on behalf of global capital: they find themselves steadily squeezed out of farming due to falling incomes, the impact of cheap imports and policies deliberately designed to run down smallholder agriculture for the benefit of global agribusiness corporations.

Aside from the geopolitical shift in favour of the Western nations resulting from the programmed destruction of traditional agriculture across the world, the Green Revolution has adversely impacted the nature of food, soil, human health and the environment.

Sold on the premise of increased yields, improved food security and better farm incomes, the benefits of the Green Revolution have been overstated. And the often stated ‘humanitarian’ intent and outcome (‘millions of lives saved’) has had more to do with PR and cold commercial interest.

However, even when the Green Revolution did increase yields (or similarly, if claims about GMO agriculture – the second coming of the Green Revolution – improving output is to be accepted at face value), Canadian environmentalist Jodi Koberinski says pertinent questions need to be asked: what has been the cost of any increased yield of commodities in terms of local food security and local caloric production, nutrition per acre, water tables, soil structure and new pests and disease pressures?

We may also ask what the effects on rural communities and economies have been; on birds, insects and biodiversity in general; on the climate as a result of new technologies, inputs or changes to farming practices; and what has been the effects of shifting towards globalised production chains, not least in terms of transportation and fossil fuel consumption.

Moreover, if the Green Revolution found farmers in the Global South increasingly at the mercy of a US-centric system of trade and agriculture, at home they were also having to fit in with development policies that pushed for urbanisation and had to cater to the needs of a distant and expanding urban population whose food requirements were different to local rural-based communities. In addition to a focus on export-oriented farming, crops were also being grown for the urban market, regardless of farmers’ needs or the dietary requirements of local rural markets.

Destroying indigenous systems

In an open letter written in 2006 to policy makers in India, farmer and campaigner Bhaskar Save offered answers to some of these questions. He argued that the actual reason for pushing the Green Revolution was the much narrower goal of increasing marketable surplus of a few relatively less perishable cereals to fuel the urban-industrial expansion favoured by the government and a few industries at the expense of a more diverse and nutrient-sufficient agriculture, which rural folk – who make up the bulk of India’s population – had long benefited from.

Before, Indian farmers had been largely self-sufficient and even produced surpluses, though generally smaller quantities of many more items. These, particularly perishables, were tougher to supply urban markets. And so, the nation’s farmers were steered to grow chemically cultivated monocultures of a few cash-crops like wheat, rice, or sugar, rather than their traditional polycultures that needed no purchased inputs.

Tall, indigenous varieties of grain provided more biomass, shaded the soil from the sun and protected against its erosion under heavy monsoon rains, but these were replaced with dwarf varieties, which led to more vigorous growth of weeds and were able to compete successfully with the new stunted crops for sunlight.

As a result, the farmer had to spend more labour and money in weeding, or spraying herbicides. Furthermore, straw growth with the dwarf grain crops fell and much less organic matter was locally available to recycle the fertility of the soil, leading to an artificial need for externally procured inputs. Inevitably, the farmers resorted to use more chemicals and soil degradation and erosion set in.

The exotic varieties, grown with chemical fertilisers, were more susceptible to ‘pests and diseases’, leading to yet more chemicals being poured. But the attacked insect species developed resistance and reproduced prolifically. Their predators – spiders, frogs, etc. – that fed on these insects and controlled their populations were exterminated. So were many beneficial species like the earthworms and bees.

Save noted that India, next to South America, receives the highest rainfall in the world. Where thick vegetation covers the ground, the soil is alive and porous and at least half of the rain is soaked and stored in the soil and sub-soil strata.

A good amount then percolates deeper to recharge aquifers or groundwater tables. The living soil and its underlying aquifers thus serve as gigantic, ready-made reservoirs. Half a century ago, most parts of India had enough fresh water all year round, long after the rains had stopped and gone. But clear the forests, and the capacity of the earth to soak the rain, drops drastically. Streams and wells run dry.

While the recharge of groundwater has greatly reduced, its extraction has been mounting. India is presently mining over 20 times more groundwater each day than it did in 1950. But most of India’s people – living on hand-drawn or hand-pumped water in villages and practising only rain-fed farming – continue to use the same amount of ground water per person, as they did generations ago.

More than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. For example, one acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. The sugar factories too consume huge quantities.

From cultivation to processing, each kilo of refined sugar needs two to three tonnes of water. Save argued this could be used to grow, by the traditional, organic way, about 150 to 200 kg of nutritious jowar or bajra (native millets).

If Bhaskar Save helped open people’s eyes to what has happened on the farm, to farmers and to ecology in India, a 2015 report by GRAIN provides an overview of how US agribusiness has hijacked an entire nation’s food and agriculture under the banner of ‘free trade’ to the detriment of the environment, health and farmers.

In 2012, Mexico’s National Institute for Public Health released the results of a national survey of food security and nutrition. Between 1988 and 2012, the proportion of overweight women between the ages of 20 and 49 increased from 25% to 35% and the number of obese women in this age group increased from 9% to 37%.

Some 29% of Mexican children between the ages of 5 and 11 were found to be overweight, as were 35% of youngsters between 11 and 19, while one in 10 school age children suffered from anemia. The Mexican Diabetes Federation says that more than 7% of the Mexican population has diabetes. Diabetes is now the third most common cause of death in Mexico, directly or indirectly.

The various free trade agreements that Mexico has signed over the past two decades have had a profound impact on the country’s food system and people’s health. After his mission to Mexico in 2012, the then Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, concluded that the trade policies in place favour greater reliance on heavily processed and refined foods with a long shelf life rather than on the consumption of fresh and more perishable foods, particularly fruit and vegetables.

He added that the overweight and obesity emergency that Mexico is facing could have been avoided, or largely mitigated, if the health concerns linked to shifting diets had been integrated into the design of those policies.

The North America Free Trade Agreement led to the direct investment in food processing and a change in the retail structure (notably the advent of supermarkets and convenience stores) as well as the emergence of global agribusiness and transnational food companies in Mexico.

The country has witnessed an explosive growth of chain supermarkets, discounters and convenience stores. Local small-scale vendors have been replaced by corporate retailers that offer the processed food companies greater opportunities for sales and profits. Oxxo (owned by Coca-cola subsidiary Femsa) tripled its stores to 3,500 between 1999 and 2004. It was scheduled to open its 14,000th store sometime during 2015.

In Mexico, the loss of food sovereignty has induced catastrophic changes in the nation’s diet and has had dire consequences for agricultural workers who lost their jobs and for the nation in general. Those who have benefited include US food and agribusiness interests, drug cartels and US banks and arms manufacturers.

More of the same: a bogus ‘solution’

Transnational agribusiness has lobbied for, directed and profited from the very policies that have caused much of the above. And what we now see is these corporations (and their supporters) espousing cynical and fake concern for the plight of the poor and hungry.

GMO patented seeds represent the final stranglehold of transnational agribusiness over the control of agriculture and food. The misrepresentation of the plight of the indigenous edible oils sector in India encapsulates the duplicity at work surrounding the GM project.

After trade rules and cheap imports conspired to destroy farmers and the jobs of people involved in local food processing activities for the benefit of global agribusiness, including commodity trading and food processor companies ADM and Cargill, there is now a campaign to force GM into India on the basis that Indian agriculture is unproductive and thus the country has to rely on imports. This conveniently ignores the fact that prior to neoliberal trade rules in the mid-1990s, India was almost self-sufficient in edible oils.

In collusion with the Gates Foundation, corporate interests are also seeking to secure full spectrum dominance throughout much of Africa as well. Western seed, fertiliser and pesticide manufacturers and dealers and food processing companies are in the process of securing changes to legislation and are building up logistics and infrastructure to allow them to recast food and farming in their own images.

Today, governments continue to collude with big agribusiness corporations. These companies are being allowed to shape government policy by being granted a strategic role in trade negotiations and are increasingly framing the policy/knowledge agenda by funding and determining the nature of research carried out in public universities and institutes.

As Bhaskar Save wrote about India:

This country has more than 150 agricultural universities. But every year, each churns out several hundred ‘educated’ unemployables, trained only in misguiding farmers and spreading ecological degradation. In all the six years a student spends for an M.Sc. in agriculture, the only goal is short-term – and narrowly perceived – ‘productivity’. For this, the farmer is urged to do and buy a hundred things. But not a thought is spared to what a farmer must never do so that the land remains unharmed for future generations and other creatures. It is time our people and government wake up to the realisation that this industry-driven way of farming – promoted by our institutions – is inherently criminal and suicidal!

Save is referring to the 300,000-plus farmer suicides that have taken place in India over the past two decades due to economic distress resulting from debt, a shift to (GM)cash crops and economic ‘liberalisation’ (see this report about a peer-reviewed study, which directly links suicides to GM cotton).

The current global system of chemical-industrial agriculture, World Trade Organisation rules and bilateral trade agreements that agritech companies helped draw up are a major cause of food insecurity and environmental destruction. The system is not set up to ‘feed the world’ despite the proclamations of its supporters.

However, this model has become central to the dominant notion of ‘development’ in the Global South: unnecessary urbanisation, the commercialisation and emptying out of the countryside at the behest of the World Bank, the displacement of existing systems of food and agricultural production with one dominated by Monsanto-Bayer, Cargill and the like and a one-dimensional pursuit of GDP growth as a measure of ‘progress’ with little concern for the costs and implications – mirroring the narrow, reductionist ‘output-yield’ paradigm of industrial agriculture itself.

Agroecology offers a genuine solution

Across the world, we are seeing farmers and communities pushing back and resisting the corporate takeover of seeds, soils, land, water and food. And we are also witnessing inspiring stories about the successes of agroecology.

Reflecting what Bhaskar Save achieved on his farm in Gujarat, agroecology combines sound ecological management, including minimising the use of toxic inputs, by using on-farm renewable resources and privileging natural solutions to manage pests and disease, with an approach that upholds and secures farmers’ livelihoods.

Agroecology is based on scientific research grounded in the natural sciences but marries this with farmer-generated knowledge and grassroots participation that challenges top-down approaches to research and policy making. However, it can also involve moving beyond the dynamics of the farm itself to become part of a wider agenda, which addresses the broader political and economic issues that impact farmers and agriculture (see this description of the various modes of thought that underpin agroecolgy).

Jodi Koberisnki’s nod to ‘systems thinking’ lends credence to agroecology, which recognises the potential of agriculture to properly address concerns about local food security and sovereignty as well as social, ecological and health issues. In this respect, agroecology is a refreshing point of departure from the reductionist approach to farming which emphasises securing maximum yield and corporate profit to the detriment of all else.

Wei Zhang – an economist focusing on ecosystem services, agriculture and the environment – says:

that ‘worldview’ is important to how you conceptualise issues and develop or choose tools to address those issues. Using systems thinking requires a shift in fundamental beliefs and assumptions that constitute our worldviews. These are the intellectual and moral foundations for the way we view and interpret reality, as well as our beliefs about the nature of knowledge and the processes of knowing. Systems thinking can help by changing the dominant mindset and by addressing resistance to more integrated approaches.

Agroecology requires that shift in fundamental beliefs.

A few years ago, the Oakland Institute released a report on 33 case studies which highlighted the success of agroecological agriculture across Africa in the face of climate change, hunger and poverty. The studies provide facts and figures on how agricultural transformation can yield immense economic, social, and food security benefits while ensuring climate justice and restoring soils and the environment.

The research highlights the multiple benefits of agroecology, including affordable and sustainable ways to boost agricultural yields while increasing farmers’ incomes, food security and crop resilience.

The report described how agroecology uses a wide variety of techniques and practices, including plant diversification, intercropping, the application of mulch, manure or compost for soil fertility, the natural management of pests and diseases, agroforestry and the construction of water management structures.

There are many other examples of successful agroecology and of farmers abandoning Green Revolution thought and practices to embrace it (see this report about El Salvador and this interview from South India).

In a recent interview appearing on the Farming Matters website, Million Belay sheds light on how agroecological agriculture is the best model of agriculture for Africa. Belay explains that one of the greatest agroecological initiatives started in 1995 in Tigray, Northern Ethiopia, and continues today. It began with four villages and after good results, it was scaled up to 83 villages and finally to the whole Tigray Region. It was recommended to the Ministry of Agriculture to be scaled up at the national level. The project has now expanded to six regions of Ethiopia.

The fact that it was supported with research by the Ethiopian University at Mekele has proved to be critical in convincing decision makers that these practices work and are better for both the farmers and the land.

Bellay describes another agroecological practice that spread widely across East Africa – ‘push-pull’. This method manages pests through selective intercropping with important fodder species and wild grass relatives, in which pests are simultaneously repelled – or pushed – from the system by one or more plants and are attracted to – or pulled – toward ‘decoy’ plants, thereby protecting the crop from infestation. Push-pull has proved to be very effective at biologically controlling pest populations in fields, reducing significantly the need for pesticides, increasing production, especially for maize, increasing income to farmers, increasing fodder for animals and, due to that, increasing milk production, and improving soil fertility.

By 2015, the number of farmers using this practice increased to 95,000. One of the bedrocks of success is the incorporation of cutting edge science through the collaboration of the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and the Rothamsted Research Station (UK) who have worked in East Africa for the last 15 years on an effective ecologically-based pest management solution for stem borers and striga.

But agroecology should not just be regarded as something for the Global South. Food First Executive Director Eric Holtz-Gimenez argues that it offers concrete, practical solutions to many of the world’s problems that move beyond (but which are linked to) agriculture. In doing so, it challenges – and offers alternatives to – prevailing moribund doctrinaire economics and the outright plunder of neoliberalism.

The scaling up of agroecology can tackle hunger, malnutrition, environmental degradation and climate change. By creating securely paid labour-intensive agricultural work, it can also address the interrelated links between labour offshoring by rich countries and the removal of rural populations elsewhere who end up in sweat shops to carry out the outsourced jobs.

Thick legitimacy

Various official reports have argued that to feed the hungry and secure food security in low income regions we need to support small farms and diverse, sustainable agroecological methods of farming and strengthen local food economies (see this report on the right to food and this (IAASTD) peer-reviewed report).

Olivier De Schutter says:

To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available. Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live, especially in unfavorable environments.

De Schutter indicates that small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years in critical regions by using ecological methods. Based on an extensive review of scientific literature, the study he was involved in calls for a fundamental shift towards agroecology as a way to boost food production and improve the situation of the poorest. The report calls on states to implement a fundamental shift towards agroecology.

The success stories of agroecology indicate what can be achieved when development is placed firmly in the hands of farmers themselves. The expansion of agroecological practices can generate a rapid, fair and inclusive development that can be sustained for future generations. This model entails policies and activities that come from the bottom-up and which the state can then invest in and facilitate.

A decentralised system of food production with access to local markets supported by proper roads, storage and other infrastructure must take priority ahead of exploitative international markets dominated and designed to serve the needs of global capital.

It has long been established that small farms are per area more productive than large-scale industrial farms and create a more resilient, diverse food system. If policy makers were to prioritise this sector and promote agroecology to the extent Green Revolution practices and technology have been pushed, many of the problems surrounding poverty, unemployment and urban migration could be solved.

However, the biggest challenge for upscaling agroecology lies in the push by big business for commercial agriculture and attempts to marginalise agroecology. Unfortunately, global agribusiness concerns have secured the status of ‘thick legitimacy’ based on an intricate web of processes successfully spun in the scientific, policy and political arenas. This allows its model to persist and appear normal and necessary. This perceived legitimacy derives from the lobbying, financial clout and political power of agribusiness conglomerates which set out to capture or shape government departments, public institutions, the agricultural research paradigm, international trade and the cultural narrative concerning food and agriculture.

Critics of this system are immediately attacked for being anti-science, for forwarding unrealistic alternatives, for endangering the lives of billions who would starve to death and for being driven by ideology and emotion. Strategically placed industry mouthpieces like Jon Entine, Owen Paterson and Henry Miller perpetuate such messages in the media and influential industry-backed bodies like the Science Media Centre feed journalists with agribusiness spin.

When some people hurl such accusations, it might not just simply be spin: it may be the case that some actually believe critics are guilty of such things. If that is so, it is a result of their failure to think along the lines Zhang outlines: they are limited by their own reductionist logic and worldview.

The worrying thing is that too many policy makers may also be blinded by such a view because so many governments are working hand-in-glove with the industry to promote its technology over the heads of the public. A network of scientific bodies and regulatory agencies that supposedly serve the public interest have been subverted by the presence of key figures with industry links, while the powerful industry lobby hold sway over bureaucrats and politicians.

The World Bank is pushing a corporate-led industrial model of agriculture via its ‘enabling the business of agriculture’ strategy and corporations are given free rein to write policies. Monsanto played a key part in drafting the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights to create seed monopolies and the global food processing industry had a leading role in shaping the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (see this). From Codex, the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture aimed at restructuring Indian agriculture to the currently on-hold US-EU trade deal (TTIP), the powerful agribusiness lobby has secured privileged access to policy makers to ensure its model of agriculture prevails.

The ultimate coup d’etat by the transnational agribusiness conglomerates is that government officials, scientists and journalists take as given that profit-driven Fortune 500 corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. These corporations have convinced so many that they have the ultimate legitimacy to own and control what is essentially humanity’s common wealth. There is the premise that water, food, soil, land and agriculture should be handed over to powerful transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

Corporations which promote industrial agriculture have embedded themselves deeply within the policy-making machinery on both national and international levels. From the overall narrative that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed the world to providing lavish research grants and the capture of important policy-making institutions, global agribusiness has secured a perceived thick legitimacy within policymakers’ mindsets and mainstream discourse.

It gets to the point whereby if you – as a key figure in a public body – believe that your institution and society’s main institutions and the influence of corporations on them are basically sound, then you are probably not going to challenge or question the overall status quo. Once you have indicated an allegiance to these institutions and corporate power, it is ‘irrational’ to oppose their policies, the very ones you are there to promote. And it becomes quite ‘natural’ to oppose any research findings, analyses or questions which question the system and by implication your role in it.

But how long can the ‘legitimacy’ of a system persist given that it merely produces bad food, creates food deficit regions globally,  destroys health, impoverishes small farms, leads to less diverse diets and less nutritious food, is less productive than small farms, creates water scarcity, destroys soil and fuels/benefits from World Bank/WTO policies that create dependency and debt.

The more that agroecology is seen to work, the more policy makers see the failings of the current system and the more they become open to holistic approaches to agriculture – as practitioners and supporters of agroecology create their own thick legitimacy –  the more willing officials might be to give space to a model that has great potential to help deal with some of the world’s most pressing problems. It has happened to a certain extent in Ethiopia, for example. That is hopeful.

Of course, global agribusiness nor the system of capitalism it helps to uphold and benefits from are not going to disappear overnight and politicians (even governments) who oppose or challenge private capital tend to be replaced or subverted.

Powerful agribusiness corporations can only operate as they do because of a framework designed to allow them to capture governments and regulatory bodies, to use the WTO and bilateral trade deals to lever global influence, to profit on the back of US militarism (Iraq) and destabilisations (Ukraine), to exert undue influence over science and politics and to rake in enormous profits.

The World Bank’s ongoing commitment to global agribusiness and a wholly corrupt and rigged model of globalisation is a further recipe for plunder. Whether it involves Monsanto, Cargill or the type of corporate power grab of African agriculture that Bill Gates is helping to spearhead, private capital will continue to ensure this happens while hiding behind platitudes about ‘free trade’ and ‘development’.

Brazil and Indonesia are subsidising private corporations to effectively destroy the environment through their practices.  Canada and the UK are working with the GMO biotech sector to facilitate its needs. And India is facilitating the destruction of its agrarian base according to World Bank directives for the benefit of the likes of Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill.

If myths about the necessity for perpetuating the stranglehold of capitalism go unchallenged and real alternatives are not supported by mass movements across continents, agroecology will remain on the periphery.