Category Archives: United States

Canada’s Indifference to Brazilian Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scourging Yemen

On May 10, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia informed the UN Security Council and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that Saudi Air Defenses intercepted two Houthi ballistic missiles launched from inside Yemeni territory targeting densely populated civilian areas in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. No one was killed, but an earlier attack, on March 26, 2018, killed one Egyptian worker in Riyadh and an April 28 attack killed a Saudi man.

Unlike the unnumbered victims of the Saudis’ own ongoing bombardment of Yemen, these two precious, irreplaceable lives are easy to document and count. Death tolls have become notoriously difficult to count accurately in Yemen. Three years of U.S.-supported blockades and bombardments have plunged the country into immiseration and chaos.

In their May 10th request, the Saudis asked the UN to implement “all relevant Security Council resolutions in order to prevent the smuggling of additional weapons to the Houthis, and to hold violators of the arms embargo accountable.” The letter accuses Iran of furnishing the Houthi militias with stockpiles of ballistic missiles, UAVs and sea mines. The Saudis’ letter omits mention of massive U.S. weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Security Council resolutions invoked by the Saudis name the Houthis as a warring party in Yemen and call for an embargo, so the Houthis can’t acquire more weapons. But these Resolutions don’t name the Saudis as a warring party in Yemen, even though Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since March 2015, orchestrated Saudi involvement in the war, using billions of dollars of weapons sold to the Saudis and the UAE by the U.S. and the UK.

The Saudis have an undeniable right to call on the UN to work toward preventing the Houthis from acquiring ballistic weapons that could be fired into Saudi Arabia, but the air, sea and water blockade now imposed on Yemen brutally and lethally punishes children who have no capacity whatsoever to affect Houthi policies. What’s more, the U.S. military, through midair refueling of Saudi and Emirati warplanes, is directly involved in devastating barrages of airstrikes while the UN Security Council essentially pays no heed.

As Yemeni civilians’ lives become increasingly desperate, they become increasingly isolated, their suffering made invisible by a near-total lack of Western media interest or attention. No commercial flights are allowed into the Sana’a airport, so media teams and human rights documentarians can’t enter the areas of Yemen most afflicted by airstrikes. The World Food Program (WFP) organizes a weekly flight into Sana’a, but the WFP must vet passengers with the Saudi government. Nevertheless, groups working in Yemen, including Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Save the Children, Oxfam, and various UN agencies do their best to report about consequences of the Saudi-Emirati led coalition’s blockade and airstrikes.

On May 18th, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a report about airstrikes against the Saada governorate which notes that “in the past three years, the coalition has carried out 16,749 air raids in Yemen; i.e., an average of 15 a day. Almost a third of the raids have hit non-military sites.”

Earlier in May, MSF responded to a series of Saudi-Emirati coalition led airstrikes on May 7th which struck a busy street in the heart of Sana’a, killing six people and injuring at least 72.

“Civilians, including children, were killed and maimed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said João Martins, MSF head of mission in Yemen. “No-one should live in fear of being bombed while going about their daily life; yet again we are seeing civilian victims of airstrikes fighting for their lives in hospitals.”

Lacking access to food, clean water, medicine and fuel, over 400,000 Yemeni children are, according to Save the Children, at imminent risk of starvation. “Most of them will never see a health clinic or receive treatment,” says Kevin Watkins, the organization’s UK Director. “Many of those who survive will be affected by stunting and poor health for the rest of their lives.” Watkins says the Saudi-UAE led coalition is using economic strangulation as a weapon of war, “targeting jobs, infrastructure, food markets and the provision of basic services.”

On March 22, 2018, Amnesty International called for an end to the flow of arms to the Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen. “There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians,” their statement says. “But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms.”

The UN Charter begins with a commitment to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. The UN Security Council has miserably failed the Yemeni people by allowing the scourge of war to worsen, year by year. By approving biased resolutions that neglect to even name the most well-funded and sophisticated warring parties in Yemen — Saudi Arabia; the United Arab Emirates; the United States — the Security Council promotes the intensification of brutal, apocalyptic war and enables western war profiteers to benefit from billions of dollars in weapon sales. Weapon manufacturers such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing then pressure governments to continue selling weapons to two of their top customers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Earnest, honest and practical steps to stop the war are urgently needed. The U.N. must abandon its biased role in the Yemen conflict, so it can broker a peace in which the Houthi minority can retain some dignity and representation in majority-Sunni Yemen, which even before the Houthi uprising lacked any legitimate elected leader. The Houthis must be given an option to lay down arms without landing in any of the clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen, reported to be little more than torture camps. Even more urgent, the violence and economic strangulation by foreign invaders must cease.

At the very least, citizens in countries supplying weapons to the Saudi-Emirati coalition must demand their legislators forbid all future sales. The time for determined action is running out in the U.S. as the State Department is already taking preliminary steps toward a massive, multibillion-dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The package is said to include tens of thousands of precision-guided munitions from Raytheon.

Yemeni civilians, especially children, pose no threat whatsoever to the U.S. Yet, U.S. support for airstrikes, blockades and the chaos inevitably caused by prolonged war threatens Yemeni civilians, especially vulnerable children. They have committed no crime but are being punished with death.

Cartoon: S. Reynolds CC BY-SA 4.0

Europe’s Response to Secondary Sanctions Threats

French economy minister Bruno Le Maire, in response to U.S. threats to apply secondary sanctions to European companies trading with Iran, asks: Est-ce que nous acceptons que les USA soient le gendarme économique de la planète ? La réponse européenne doit être clairement non.

“Do we need to accept the USA as the economic policeman of the planet? The European response clearly must be no.”

Mais bien sur. The U.S. stands in violation of an agreement not just confirmed by Iran, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany but by the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. is now the international outlaw, demanding that others abandon their legitimate trade arrangements with Iran in order to indicate their continued submission to U.S. imperial fiat.

The abrasiveness and inconsistency of Trump himself. The contradictions within his staff and their multiple announcements on foreign policy. The manifest deference of the U.S. president to a very backward support base and the Israel Lobby.  These have little appeal in European capitals where leaders generally want peace in the Middle East, no more refugee floods, and adherence to a modicum of consultation within the Atlantic Alliance before Washington does something crazy.

Trump responds: Screw you free-loaders, avoiding your 2% NATO expenditures! We like the Saudis and Israelis more than you, and they both want confrontation with Iran. Who cares about your auto manufacturing deals or airline deliveries? You’re supposed to be on our side for god’s sake. We liberated you from the Nazis or somebody, once. Now we want you on board as we restart the pointless conflict with Iran. Why can’t you just cooperate, Angela and Emmanuel and Bruno?

The tone of dissent intensifies. Europeans are saying: Who are you, at this point, at your level of relative decline, when our EU GDP exceeds yours, when we have healthier more peaceful societies should we take your lead on Iran relations? Or back off from our lucrative deals because you object, and stupidly want war with Iran?

Maybe this will be the tipping-point. May inter-imperialist contradictions intensify, not to produce war as usual but to discourage it. A common European front against U.S. bullying on Iran, along with the rise of populist and nationalist parties in Europe and mounting discontent with the Russia sanctions demanded by the U.S. after the Ukraine coup in 2014, and growing anxiety about the madness of U.S. policy (as in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital) could weaken NATO.

Think of it this way. The U.S. effort from 1999 to expand NATO culminated in a failed effort to draw in Ukraine and the (arguably defensive and premptive) Russian reassertion of sovereignty over Crimea and support to Russian-speaking separatists in the Donbas region. U.S. leaders treated this as a crime comparable to Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 and demanded that Europe join it in applying sanctions on Russia. (The irony here is that Victoria Nuland, the odious State Department official who helped engineer the coup, told the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine just before the coup, “Fuck the EU!” because of differences over Ukraine’s political future. Europe has been expected to bear the pain of sanctions and counter-sanctions on their continent, demanded by the power across the ocean experiencing minimal pain from them. This is despite the fact that many Europeans sympathize with the Russian position; former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder has, for example, expressed understanding and objected to the sanctions.)

That 2014 moment, following the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia (arguably, provoked by Georgia’s crazy president Saakashvili dreaming of NATO back-up), resulted in the depiction of Russia as an “adversary.” Not because it threatens the U.S. in any way other than by sometimes trying to thwart U.S. imperial expansion.

The bullying of Europe in connection with Russia relations is joined with the bullying of Europe to accept the millions of refugees generated by USA wars.  And the bullying of Europe to spit up 2% of GDP annually on military expenditures, regardless of legislators’ views about budget priorities, in order to satisfy Washington. Even though the last thing on their minds or even imaginable to intelligent people is a Russian invasion or Iranian missile attack. The bullying of Europe to cut Iran ties under threat of secondary sanctions could be the last straw. Not so much because of the money involved. It’s the arrogance, ignorance, and strong-arming by people who don’t realize the U.S. has declined a lot from the 1950s and can no longer control its allies, much less the whole world. Europe’s a very old place with lots of proud people. So is Iran. The two are bound by an international agreement signed by the European Union itself as well as by the UK, France and Germany. The U.S. is in violation. Why should it be able to sabotage the deal?

It’s all about freedom, surely. U.S. freedom to use its market access as an intimidating tool to prevent other nations’ free trade with one another.

Secretary of State Pompeo is going today to announce the administration’s plans for “the strongest sanctions in history” on Iran (to “crush” it). He seems to assume European cooperation. May they say Fick dich! to Pompeo. May they say a loud NO! and enjoy the advantages of national independence and independent multilateral ties in what should be a multilateral world.

Vassals and Victims

Nothing better illustrates the disaster of Britain leaving the EU than Donald Trump. Once we’re no longer able to enjoy the huge benefits of the European single market we will be compelled to try to arrange favourable independent trade deals with other countries, the largest of which will almost certainly be the USA. Having to rely on the US for our primary trading partner is the truly nightmare scenario of Brexit, and one example of why this is so was provided last week.

It was reported that the US will “use trade talks to force the NHS to pay more for drugs“. No matter that many medicines are already vastly overpriced, it’s still not enough for the giant drug companies who net billions of dollars profiteering from desperately sick people. They want to make even more because their greed knows no limit, and Mr Trump will “not be cheated by foreign countries” (1).

The US has a long and inglorious history of reneging on its promises and treaties. Ask Native Americans. More recently we’ve seen the US turn its back on its own Transpacific Partnership agreement, pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and effectively scrap the Iran Nuclear Deal, ignoring the fury of European counter-signatories. The US government has, of course, always totally ignored international law, as well as its own laws and federal constitution, whenever it felt like it. Henry Kissinger once infamously quipped, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.”  It imposes vicious trade sanctions whenever it wants (more often than any other country), and last year this champion of free trade slapped a 200% trade tariff on Bombardier. This is the country we’ll be relying on after Brexit.

Of course, it’s easy, and true, to say that Donald Trump will not last forever, but Trump isn’t the main problem. The main problem is the whole US system of government, which appears to see the US as the only country in the world of any importance. The president is a distraction, designed to suggest that better days will come once the current one moves on. But the better days never come. Presidents come and go but the empire gets ever stronger, and more catastrophically dystopian.

Most of the people who voted for Brexit don’t understand this global reality. Most Brexit supporters have a worldview shaped almost entirely by deceitful tabloids and Hollywood propaganda movies. They think America is our friend. It isn’t. It has no friends, it only has vassals and victims, and neither of those is a very pleasant prospect for post-Brexit Britain.

Cold War Mentality Alive and Well in Australia

Writing in The Australian newspaper under the headline “Red Threats to Render White Paper just about Passé” (18 May 2018) ANU emeritus professor Paul Dibb offers a commentary that exemplifies much of what is wrong with Australian strategic thinking. The problem is all the more acute because Dibb is regularly quoted in the mainstream media and his views are considered influential. In this latest article he calls for a re-evaluation of the premises underlying the Foreign Policy White Paper released only six months ago.

That White Paper was certainly flawed, although not in the manner that Dibb suggests in underestimating what Dibb calls “an aggrieved and newly assertive Russia, as well as an aggressive rising power in China.”

The White Paper failed to grasp the realities of a newly emerging multipolar world, and in particular failed to perceive how Australia might best respond in a manner consistent with both its national security and economic interests.

That challenge is not assisted by Dibb’s contribution, which is full of faulty assumptions, factual errors, and grievous misinterpretations, not only of post-World War II history, but the current inevitable realignment away from the singularly dangerous exercise of hegemonic power by the United States.

Dibb quotes United States Secretary of Defence James Mattis with evident approval, saying “China and Russia wanted to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”  China is alleged to be seeking “regional hegemony and the displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.”

The “evidence” Dibb cites for these assertions are China’s buildup of its military capabilities in the South China Sea; Russia’s territorial expansionism in Crimea and Ukraine; Putin’s aggressive attitude in defending Syria and its use of chemical weapons; and Moscow’s State sponsored assassination attempts in Britain reflecting Putin’s contempt for the sanctity of State borders. He even cites the “reports” of Beijing seeking to develop a military base in Vanuatu.  That the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Vanuatu and also the Chinese government have denied the latter report is of little consequence to Professor Dibb.

There is much more in Professor Dibb’s commentary in this vein, but those examples illustrate not only the fact free environment that strategic advisors such as Dibb operate in, but also are reflective of “strategic thinking” in the Australian defence, foreign policy and defence establishments.

In the cited example of China’s buildup of its military capabilities in the South China Sea there are several components of this allegation that put it in a different context from the viewpoint usually advanced in the Australian media. The so-called Nine Dash Line within which China has made unspecified claims was, in fact, the first formulated in 1946 by the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai Shek. That government’s successors now rule Taiwan, and the Taiwanese government makes the same South China Sea claims as does the PRC.

Taiwan similarly rejected the findings of the UNCLOS Tribunal they ruled on a complaint by the Philippines1, a con complaint incidentally that was arguing exclusively by American and British lawyers.

It is correct that the PRC has fortified some of the eight artificial “islands” it has constructed in the South China Sea, but so has Vietnam, about which Dibb is silent. Taiwan has also fortified Taiping Island in the Spratly Group, more than 1000 km to its south.

Dibb makes no attempt to analyse why China should be taking steps to increase its military presence in the South China Sea. Those reasons would include China’s defensive reaction to being encircled by 400 US military bases; the US declaring that China is a major threat to the US, as it did and last year’s National Defence Strategy document; and the carrying out of provocative military exercises by the US in the South China Sea.

Australia, along with the United States, carries out a regular joint military exercise (Operation Talisman Sabre) which practices blocking the narrow (2.5km) Malacca Straits through which more than 80% of China’s oil imports currently pass.

Dibb claims also that Russia engaged in “territorial expansionism” in Crimea and Ukraine. Crimea is an example of consistent misrepresentation in the Australian media. It was for centuries part of Russia until 1954 when Soviet leader Khrushchev unilaterally “gifted” Crimea to Ukraine without consulting anyone, least of all the Crimean people.

Following the US organized and financed coup against the elected government of Ukraine in 2014, the Crimean people, who are predominately Russian speaking and culturally aligned with Russia, held a referendum. More than 90% of Crimeans voted in that referendum, and more than 90% of them voted for reunification with Russia. Crimea’s request to Russia for reintegration into the Russian Federation was in due course voted on in the Russian Parliament.

People’s right to self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter, and was recognised by the West, for example, in supporting the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. Quite apart from illustrating the extraordinary demonization of Russia, the treatment of the Crimea question is a classic illustration of western hypocrisy.

There is zero evidence of any Russian territorial expansionism in Ukraine. There is obviously profound concern about Ukraine’s treatment of its Russian speaking eastern region of Donbass. An attempted resolution of the Donbass problem brokered by Germany, resulting in the Minsk Accord of 2015, has been repeatedly violated. According to the OSCE, more than 80% of the violations of the Minsk II Accord have been by the Ukrainian government. This is a government where neo-Nazi elements have undue influence, a fact of obvious legitimate concern to the Russian government given the history of 26 million Russian deaths at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

Dibb also refers to Putin’s “aggressive attitude in defending Syria and its use of chemical weapons.”  This is simply bizarre. It was Russia who negotiated Syria relinquishing its chemical weapons and the OPCW has verified that the disarmament of chemical weapons by Syria is complete.

The alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government have been comprehensively debunked by independent experts.2

Dibb does not mention it, but Russia is in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate sovereign government of Syria. Thanks to Russia’s intervention in 2015 the US-Israeli-Saudi Arabia backed terrorists are on the verge of being completely defeated.

Russia is acting entirely within international law in their support of the Syrian government, unlike the United States and its ally Australia who have no legal justification for being in Syria at all. It is an illustration of the United States’ imperial agenda that they have set up military bases in Syria where they are neither invited nor wanted.

Dibb is completely unable to recognise that the greatest sponsor and perpetrator of terrorism in the world is the United States. Since 1945 it has been almost continuously engaged in warfare against self defined “threats” and “enemies;” has bombed, invaded, or overthrown the governments of more than 70 nations; and killed more than 30 million people in the process.3

In many of these activities, for example, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it has been actively supported by Australia, whose “joined at the hip” alliance with the United States is arguably Australia’s most dangerous and counter-productive foreign policy.

Dibb further claims “Moscow’s state-sponsored assassination attempts in Britain reflects Putin’s contempt for the sanctity of state borders.”  This is presumably a reference to the recent Skripal case, although with Dibb’s casual and sweeping defamatory denunciations one cannot be sure.

If it is the Skripal case to which he refers, then not only have the United Kingdom claims been both ludicrous and overblown in their multiple variations, there is absolutely zero evidence of Russian involvement and considerable evidence of motivations by other actors.

Since the admission to hospital and now with the discharge of both of the Skripals the British government has refused to permit consular access by Russian officials. This is a direct violation of, inter alia, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and a separate treaty between Russia and the United Kingdom. The British are also in violation of the International Convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance (23 September 2005). The United Nations Human Rights Committee has also held that for persons to be held incommunicado for 15 days or more constitutes a violation of human rights law. In Dibb’s world these factors never rate a mention.

As for Mr Putin’s alleged contempt for the sanctity of state borders, he might like to compare the respective records of Russia since 2000 (when Putin first came to power) and his US counterparts over the same period.  There is simply no contest.

What Dibb and similar commentators in Australia fail to recognise is that the American dominated unipolar world order of the past 70 years is rapidly being transformed into a multipolar world.4

Australia’s adherence to the Pax Americana view, however, is potentially greatly to Australia’s detriment, economically and politically. If the new Cold War policies being pursued by the Trump administration deteriorate to a hot war, which is far from unrealistic, the devastation wrought upon Australia will be, to borrow Trump’s phrase, fire and fury like in the world has never seen.

  1. Shannon Tiezzi, Taiwan: South China Sea Ruling ‘Completely Unacceptable‘, The Diplomat, 13 July 2016.
  2. Dr. Theodore Postol, “Assessment of White House Intelligence Report About Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria“, Global Research, November 18, 2017.
  3. William Blum, Americas Deadliest Export: Democracy, Zed Books, 2013.
  4. Alfred W. McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century, Haymarket Books, 2017.

Notes on Some Classical Thinking

Notice the “notes” in the title. Part 3 is no textbook. Part 3 is a miniscule “Cliff Notes.” Notice, too, that the title reads “classical” thinking, not “early” thinking. There’s a difference. Since I regard human transactions as the bedrock of any economy and economic system, were I to choose the latter over the former qualifier I would have a lot of ground to cover, namely, that of early humans and their thinking as deduced from artifacts. An impossible task for me.

It’s not at all impossible for me, however, to skim the thinking of three classicists, Aristotle (384-322 BC), Adam Smith (1723-1790) and Karl Marx (1813-1883). Of the three, Marx came the closest to being a quasi-economist. He wrote about his vision of socialism 19 years before he wrote his Das Kapital, yet he began his career as a radical journalist that got him expelled by the governments of three countries. The same experience might have befallen me had I not kept my mouth mostly shut during my career.

Aristotle’s Thinking

Aristotle (384-322 BC) may just be the premium thinker of all time. And he thought a lot about the economies of his era. It behooves me, therefore, to “consult” with him through his writings and their interpretations since great minds (his, certainly not mine) live on.

In his day the Greek word for economy meant “household management” within the context of the community. Today in the USA economy means banksters and Wall Street.

Economic activity in his view consisted of individuals doing things necessary for survival and for the good life, which to him meant a moral life of virtue that leads to happiness. He criticized money-making as a way of gaining wealth, thought it was unnatural for people to use money to make more money — the essence of capitalism-and considered usury, or predatory lending, to be the most immoral form of economic activity. Seeking wealth is justifiable, Aristotle thought, only if it amounted to no more than an accumulation of material goods sufficient for the household.

While there were banks in his day, there is a running debate by scholars over whether or the extent to which lending was done productively, that is, with the intent of making money from the loans. I can’t imagine, though, any banking business done then as criminally as it is done today.

It’s interesting to note that a totally free market was not the custom in ancient Greece. For instance, public officials monitored measurements, levied taxes on various transactions, and even fixed retail prices! Ancient Greece survived without a free market, America’s corpocracy couldn’t survive with it! Ancient Greece had a fair market. America has an unfair market.

I feel a special bonding with Aristotle. Why? To him human action was the fulcrum of an economy. That is precisely my thinking! Please recall that in Part 1 I wrote this: “Economics, any economy, and any economic system such as capitalism are not what orthodox thinkers in general and economists particularly think they are. They are first and foremost human inventions and human actions—.”1 And, if I may be so smug, I thought of it before doing some additional reading on Aristotle where I read that: “Aristotle then goes on to derive a number of economic ideas from axiomatic concepts including the necessity of human action (emphasis mine).2  And, if I may be so smug one more time, my pal Aristotle and I are unorthodox thinkers (actually, throughout my career I was regarded as an “iconoclastic” organizational psychologist)!

Adam Smith’s Thinking

Dialogue from the Netherworld

Democracy requires unfettered capitalism.
— Milton Friedman (1912-2006)

No, it’s your corpocracy that requires it.
— Adam Smith (1723–1790)

I begin this by imagining a dialogue “overheard” from somewhere between the putative father of capitalism, Adam Smith, and the Nobel laureate in economics and guru of free-market capitalism, Milton Friedman. The views of the two gentlemen have little in common, and I can imagine a lively debate.

Adam Smith’s espousal of a free market has been far overblown. He made only a passing reference to “the invisible hand” in his Wealth of Nations and never once in it used the term “capitalism.”3 He would have recoiled at today’s corpocracy and its capitalism, for he thought the emerging corporations of his time posed threats emanating from their unlimited life span; unlimited size; unlimited power; and unlimited license. Look familiar, don’t they? He foresaw corpocratic capitalism. I foreswore it.4

But Smith and I part company when it comes to his view of the human nature underlying capitalism.  It is, in my opinion, an immoral view even though, ironically, he is known as a moral philosopher.

Read this passage of his and see if you agree with me:

[M]an has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, . . . It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.5

Since self-love and selfish behavior are at odds with what I know to be the universal moral values found (usually more in words than deeds) throughout time and place, I am leaving Smith quickly to move to the next classical thinker.6

Karl Marx

I have never been, or will I ever be a communist or a socialist because of their downsides, such as centralized or state planning and the diminution of individualism. But I feel a special affinity to Karl Marx and would place him far above Adam Smith in my pantheon of brilliant, radical and humane thinkers. I feel this way about him because his primary objective in life was “to integrate extensive knowledge of the past and present with a moral imperative in order to provide a goad and a guide for contemporary action to create a more humane and equitable culture—he had the dream of people making their own history as individuals creating a community.”7 Marx, in other words, was heads and shoulders above Smith when it comes to propounding economic and political ideas that if implemented would lead to a more humane way of life.

In at least one respect, Marx is like all other human beings. What he thought and wrote was influenced by events of his era, with the most significant being the industrial revolution that was enslaving workers in dehumanizing factories with deplorable working conditions and paltry wages. The industrial revolution had a significant impact on his thinking and writing.

I will give you here my succinct interpretation of his magnum opus, Das Kapital. I will zero in on just two of his ideas, the nature of the worker and the work day, because his ideas vibrate within my very being.

The worker, like any human being, has needs to be met as best as possible; security needs, social needs, leisure needs, etc. Given capitalism, to Marx (and to me) the worker becomes an entity, not a human being, commodified by the capitalist.

As for the work day, if the worker takes some time off to attend his mother’s funeral, the capitalist sees it as the worker stealing value from the capitalist, and Marx and I see it as a thieving capitalist. I am reminded of a major war contractor giving a 10-year employee a layoff notice the very day the employee returned from bereavement leave following the death of the employee’s young son.8

In Closing

Three classical thinkers all thinking on the same topic, economies and economic systems. Of the three, one will mostly be cast aside as we continue through this series, Adam Smith.

As you can probably tell, I’m a Marxist without being a communist or a socialist. If Marx were alive today and read my writings he surely would agree with all of them and might not mind being called a “Brumbackist” if he could forgive my shunning communism and socialism. Maybe he could even accept a theme of this series, namely, that there’s bad capitalism everywhere, but there could also be good capitalism.

Read Part 1 here; Part 2 here;

  1. Brumback, GB. “Economic Sanity and Alternative Economic Systems”, Part 1. Introduction to the Series. OpEdNews, May 16; Dissident Voice, May 17, 2018.
  2. Younkin, EW. “Aristotle and Economics”, quebecoislibre.org, September 15, 2005 paper number 158.
  3. Smith, A. The Wealth of Nations, 1776.
  4. See my books, The Devil’s Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave it in the Lurch; and Corporate Reckoning Ahead.
  5. Smith, A. Op. Cit., p. 638.
  6. See Josephson, M. Teaching Ethical Decision Making and Principled Reasoning. Ethics: Easier Said than Done. 1988, 1, pp. 27-33.
  7. Williams, AW. “The Legacy of Karl Marx: Or, the Inheritance We Dare Not Squander”, A talk presented at a symposium marking the one-hundredth anniversary of Marx’s death, Oregon State University, 1983.
  8. Brumback, GB. America’s Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying, 2015, p. 117.

Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution

The inevitable stop, start and stuttering of the Korean peace process was bound to manifest itself soon after the hugs, expansive smiles and sympathetic back rubs.  Dates have been set – the Kim-Trump summit is slated to take place in Singapore on June 12, though there is much time for disruptive mischief to take place.

One field of possible disruption lies in air exercises between the US and South Korea known as Max Thunder.  Such manoeuvres have been of particular interest to the DPRK, given their scale and possible use as leverage in talks.

The latest irritation was occasioned by claims in Pyongyang that the US had deployed B-52 Stratofortress bombers as part of the exercise despite denying that this would take place.  This was construed, in the words of Leon V. Sigal, “as inconsistent with President Trump’s pledge at President Moon’s urging to move toward peace in Korea.”

The position against using such nuclear-capable assets had been outlined in Kim Jong Un’s 2018 New Year’s Day address.  The South, he insisted, should “discontinue all the nuclear war drills they stage with outside forces,” a point reiterated in Rodong Sinmun, the Party newspaper, ten days later: “If the South Korean authorities really want détente and peace, they should first stop all efforts to bringing in the US nuclear equipment and conduct exercises for nuclear warfare with foreign forces.”

While these matters were unfolding, President Donald Trump’s national security advisor was being his injudicious self, doing his bit for global insecurity.  Never a diplomat in the true sense of the term, John Bolton remains a traditional head kicker for empire, the rustler of discontent.

Bolton, history teacher incarnate, wants to impress upon the North Koreans certain jarring examples.  A favourite of his is the so-called Libyan solution. How well that worked: the leadership of a country maligned but convinced in its international rehabilitation to abandon various weapons programs in the hope of shoring up security.  More specifically, in 2003, Libya was convinced to undertake a process US diplomats and negotiators parrot with steam and enthusiasm: denuclearisation.

“We should insist that if this meeting is going to take place,” claimed Bolton on Radio Free Asia with characteristic smugness, “it will be similar to discussions we had with Libya 13 or 14 years ago: how to pack up their nuclear weapons program and take it to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.”

The problem with this skewed interpretation lies in its false premise: that US threats, cajoling and sanctions has actually brought North Korea, tail between legs, to the diplomatic table.  Being firm and threatening, according to Bolton, has been rewarding.  This reading verges on the fantastic, ignoring three years of cautious, informal engagement.  It also refuses to account for the fact that Pyongyang made firm moves in Washington’s direction after the insistence on firm preconditions was abandoned by Trump.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also been rumbling on the issue of a firm line, suggesting that he, like Bolton, has a preference for the stick approach.  Despite speaking about “warm” and “substantive” talks with Kim, he claims that any agreement with Pyongyang must have a “robust verification program” built into it.

The suggestion of the Libyan precedent was enough to sent Pyongyang into a state, given their developed fears about becoming the next casualty of unwarranted foreign intervention.  Libya did denuclearise, thereby inflicting what could only be seen subsequently as a self-amputation.  As missiles rained down upon Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, launched by the British, French and the US ostensibly for humanitarian reasons, a sense of terrible regret must have been felt.  Soon, the mad colonel would be butchered, and his state torn asunder in a sectarian reckoning.

As the air assault was taking place, the North Korean foreign ministry identified the problem: the bargain between Libya and the western powers to surrender its nuclear weapons program was “an invasion tactic to disarm the country”.  The intervention “is teaching the international community a grave lesson”.

The state news agency KNCA took note of Bolton’s remarks, issuing an official rebuff highlighting the status of the DPRK as a true, fully fledged nuclear weapon state: the “world knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq, which have met a miserable fate.  It is absolutely absurd to dare compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya, which had been at the initial stage of nuclear development.”

The DPRK’s vice foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan, was unequivocal in warning.  “If the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-US summit.”  Bolton received specific mention: “We do not hide a feeling of repugnance toward him.”

The Trump White House preferred to give different signals.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders is claiming that the president will be his own man on this, though Trump’s own reading of the “Libya model” has proven confusingly selective.  In any case the leverage brought by US ultimatum to disarm without genuine concessions is hardly likely to gain traction. The response from Pyongyang will be simple: resume missile testing and further enlarge the arsenal.

United Nations: Celebrating 70 Years of Human Rights and Condoning 70 Years of Israel Massacring Palestine

On 14 of May 1948 Israel declared unilaterally her independence in a foreign land called Palestine, supported by a UN Resolution sponsored by the UK (the United Nations “Partition Plan of Palestine” at the end of the British Mandate (euphemism for British ‘colony’), was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 29 November 1947 as Resolution 181 II). 1948 was also the year of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year, 2018, the UN declared Human Rights are, like Israel, celebrating their 70th Birthday (United Nations General Assembly, Paris, 10 December 1948, General Assembly Resolution 217 A). During 70 years of Human Rights, the UN has tacitly allowed Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, who lived in their own land, Palestine.

The UN has allowed Israel’s massacre of Palestine against dozens of UN Resolutions to restrain Israel from their aggressions on Palestine, killing tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinians, women, children and men. Destroying their livelihood, schools, hospitals and living quarters. Worse, confining 2 million Palestinians in an open torture and terror camp, called Gaza.

All this under the “watchful eye” of the United Nations, thousands of Blue Helmets patrolling ‘disputed’, aka Israeli stolen territory from Palestine and surrounding Arab nations. And the world at large, by now 193 member-nations that make up the UN, watching, observing, but not saying beep loud enough to be heard.

New York Times 1945

It is a shame. Israel is a miserable and criminal disgrace but a worse shame is the United Nations, the collectivity of 193 countries who hide behind the mantle of the UN. Those who have dared to protest in the defense of human rights and in defense of Palestinians’ self-determination are few and far between, risking the sword of the emperor and his poodles. Most have bent to, and are still bending to. the king bull, Washington, and to its master, Israel. This is what is lamentable, that humanity has become a spineless bunch of nations all kneeling in front of the big Satan, the torturing and killing monster, the US-armed to the teeth killing machine – the little dog that counts on the unlimited support from the most horrific bulldozer. That is an atrocious and unspeakable shame. At least one honorable country, South Africa, has expelled Israel’s Ambassador over these most recent bloody atrocities.

That is the ignominy of our humanity in the 21st Century. Yes, there are Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Syria… and a few more sovereign nations that stand-up in protest, trying to use the corrupted UN system to right the wrongs to no avail. Of course not. The majority counts, and the majority is being blackmailed by Washington on behalf of Israel into submission or else sanctions loom in the form of blocked trade, blocked international monetary transfers, confiscation of assets abroad or worse.

Where are all the so revered Human Rights that nobody dares to even cite, let alone enforce, in the case of Israel’s atrocities on Palestine, with the explicit support of the United States and most of her puppet “allies”?

When Trump in December 2017 declared that the US will transfer its Embassy to Jerusalem, he endorsed just once more a promise made over the last 30 years by several US Presidents, from the Bush dynasty to Clinton to Obama but none of them implemented that promise, lest it would undermine peace negotiations. These promises by Washington were, of course, full of hypocrisy, as Washington always knew that peace was not on the table, that neither Israel or Washington were in favor of peace. Peace would have meant, as per the 1993 Oslo Accord, a two-state solution, meaning Israel and Palestine would live side-by-side in peace; two sovereign nations with equal rights.

The Oslo Accords are a number of agreements between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO]. The Oslo Accord, signed in Washington DC in 1993; and the Oslo II Accord, signed in Taba, Egypt, in 1995. These Accords marked the start of the Oslo process, aimed at achieving a Peace Treaty, based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, fulfilling the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The Oslo Accords are valid to this day. They counter then and today the larger objective of Israel and the United States of a “Greater Israel”, stretching from the Euphrates to the Nile, a nuclearized Israel, dominating the Middle East and disposing of the energy and other mineral riches of the entire region.

Well, Trump, has made his campaign promise true. He, ordered by his darkest handlers, has cut the hypocrisy, using Israel’s 70th birthday, 14 May 2018, to make Israel’s obsessive and oppressive dream come true, officially inaugurating the US Embassy in Jerusalem to the detriment of peace and the total destitution of Palestine. The Oslo Accords saw Jerusalem as the final jewel in the mosaic for peace in a two-state solution – the Capital of both Palestine and Israel.

Trump’s decision, although refuted vehemently by the UN, has not only pushed peace light-years away into a phantom distance, but it has brought about a massacre – an unpardonable massacre – with Israeli soldiers armed to the teeth killing with live ammunition. Tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinians were protesting on the Gaza-Israeli border, in the middle of nowhere, at least 100 km away from the US Embassy inaugural celebration in Jerusalem. Israeli soldiers and police killed at least 60, twenty or more of them children and women, and injuring about 3,000, people who could not be properly treated at hospitals. Israel has blocked the shipment of medication and is systematically bombing Palestinian health facilities.

The protesters were far away from Jerusalem, where the inaugural US-Embassy celebrations took place, cordoned-off by armed security forces and where the protesters could do no harm. The demonstrations were an expression of anger, of helplessness in the face of so much injustice which nobody, but nobody, on this planet manifestly and effectively objected and intervened against. Palestinians know this will mean more oppression, more subjugation to Israel’s terror tyranny, more killing, more starvation as Israel is blocking vital food shipments to Gaza where 50% of children below 5, are already chronically malnourished.

What happened on 14 May 2018 in Palestine, those who are behind the apartheid, ethnic cleansing and outright Holocaust Israel has imposed on Palestine during the last 70 years, belong, no doubt, before a Nuremberg-type tribunal with sentences as harsh as those inflicted by the allies after WWII on the Nazis and their Holocaust.

Trump and his Zion-handlers are responsible for a massacre of unprecedented dimensions since Israel’s war on Gaza in 2014. And how many vassals of the tyrannical and criminal pair, United States and Israel, will now also shift their Embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem just to stay in the limelight of US favors, and, of course, to cement this universal Wrong?

And where are the UN declared Human Rights, ironically also celebrating their 70th Birthday this year? Under the Human Rights Act the UN has a right to intervene in countries and situations where massive human rights infractions are committed, like in Palestine. Dozens of such resolutions had been submitted to the UN Security Council, they were all vetoed by Washington. What good is the UN? None, whatsoever. No longer, not today, the system is totally corrupted, bought and blackmailed into submission to the wishes and political whims of the US and Israel.

Likewise have all the related UN agencies been corrupted and swayed to favor the Exceptional Nation and the Chosen People. There is no way that the International Courts of The Hague would ever prosecute a war crime committed by the west, let alone by the west’s chief criminals, the US and Israel. It’s simply not going to happen. Not while the current power structures are in place. Why, then, even believe in this fake justice system? And who still dares quoting them as beacons of international justice? This is a farce, if there has ever been one.

The noble ideas behind the creation of the United Nations and the Declaration of universal Human Rights have in the last 70 years  been corrupted to the point of non-recognition. Corrupted by political pressure, blackmailing, by fear of sanctions, or actual economic sanctions, all of which is only possible because the west is also living with a totally fraudulent US imposed fiat dollar-based monetary system that controls every financial transaction of every “sovereign” nation, hence can block any monetary move, seize assets abroad, and block international contracts, as they (almost) all are written in US dollars.

The latter is gradually fading, as nations are aware of their vulnerability by sticking to the US dollar. Many are now dealing directly in their own currencies, trying to circumvent the US monetary control. But that recognition, again, is weakened itself by the fear of sanctions, or condemnation by US courts which have, in fact, absolutely no jurisdiction in another sovereign land. But, since under the current western Ponzi fiat scheme all financial transactions have to flow through a US bank either in New York or London, potential non-adherence to the rule is “punishable”, and that mostly by economic strangulation, regime change or death.  It’s a vicious circle, under which Human Rights are just a slogan and a farce; and under which the rights of sovereign nations, for example, of Palestine, remain not more than a pipe dream.

But despite all war crimes and massacres – JUSTICE – as human spirituality is still there, cannot be killed. It may be pushed away, subjugated, ignored, castrated and violated, but it doesn’t go away. It’s in all of us; just deep down and asleep in western minds, indoctrinated and brain washed by daily propaganda lies.

The combined neoliberal onslaught with impunity from all sides reaches a level of increasing awareness and rejection; the fearlessness of diabolical actions by neofascist governments is about to cause an awakening, a consciousness that dares to say enough is enough. Take France’s Macron’s labor reforms. Since February this year France has been plagued by strikes no-end and no end is in sight. This is the worst – or the best – France has known since the 1968 student up-raisings. France, under Macron, the Rothchild-implant, is also the most militarized country in Europe. The European Union, at least for now, and since Washington’s stepping out from Iran’s Nuclear Deal, is distinctly distancing herself from the extremist, unfettered neoliberal politics of Washington. It’s perhaps too soon to call Victory, but this abject, unjustified and criminal slaughter of Palestinians, of another blow of violent oppression of Palestine (there is no word that can properly describe what happened on 14 May 2018), may signal that the monster vessel on high sea is losing notch-by-little-notch its diabolical North.

Democrats Confirm Torturer As Director Of CIA

How did a person who should be in the criminal dock both in the US and in the International Criminal Court for running a torture prison get appointed the Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency? What is all the Washington talk about defending human rights when a torturer is put in charge of covert operations?

Slobodan Milošević, the Serbia leader who tried to defend his country from Washington’s aggression, was sent by Washington to the war crimes tribunal or some such place that only tries victims of Washington’s aggression. He died in prison, some say he was murdered by Washington. The court ended up clearing him of the faked American charges. But little good that did a dead man.

But now Washington has a real criminal, a real person who has committed without any doubt “crimes against humanity” confirmed by the US Senate as CIA director. That tells us a lot about the hypocrisy, double standards, and utter mendacity of the government in Washington.

As some Republicans voted against the torturer in chief, it was the Democrats that put a torturer at the head of the CIA.

Listen to their excuses:

West Virginia’s Joe Manchin said: Haspel prioritizes the safety of America. She is “an unbelievable public servant.”

North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp said that Trump had picked the directer best suited to the job. Heidi said she would make sure that Congress conducts oversight of Haspel’s job, an ambivilent statement if the job is torture, which seems to be enshrined in US practices.

Indiana’s Senator Joe Donnelly said that he believed Haspel “has learned from the past, and that the CIA under her leadership can help our country confront serious international threats and challenges.”

What threats? What challenges? This is bla-bla talk. Think about it for a minute. Imagine a criminal before the judge saying “I have learned from my past crimes and am now fit to be an upstanding citizen who can help our country.”

Florida’s Bill Nelson covered his collapse as a moral person by meeting with Haspel personally and arriving at the conclusion that she was fit to serve.

According to Newsweek these four US Democratic senators face tough re-elections and voted to clear Haspel in order to appease the Trump deplorables. In other words, these four senators think that the deplorables, who voted for Trump because he said he was for peace in Syria and with Russia and was against the US being policeman of the world, want to have a torturer confirmed as CIA director. The Democrats voted for a torturer because they are afraid of Trump voters. If Trump voters want a torturer in office, the senators would be honor bound to stand up to the Trump voters.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D, NH) said that she believes Haspel that she won’t torture again. “Your honor,” said the murderer in the dock, “I promise I won’t murder again. Just give me this plumb appointment as chief of police.”

Virginia’s Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, put Haspel in the job with his assurance that she would stand up to Trump if he ordered her to torture. In other words, Warner associates Trump with torture, not Haspel who has actually tortured.

Please, let us not hear again about America liberating other nations and defending human rights, or having a moral conscience, or being a light unto the world.

Amidst Threats and Defiance, Venezuelans head to the Polls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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