Category Archives: Venezuela

Canada brings Venezuela to International Criminal Court

Requesting the International Criminal Court to investigate Venezuela’s government is a significant escalation in Ottawa’s campaign of interference in the domestic affairs of another country.

Supported by five like-minded South American nations, it’s the first time a member state has been brought before the ICC’s chief prosecutor by other members.

In Canada the campaign to have the ICC investigate the Nicolás Maduro government began in May. “I would like to see the states from the G7 agreeing to refer the matter of crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court for a prospective investigation and prosecution,” said Irwin Cotler at an Ottawa press conference to release a report on purported Venezuelan human rights violations. The former Liberal justice minister added, “this is the arch-typical example of why a reference is needed, as to why the ICC was created.”

Cotler was one of three “international experts” responsible for a 400-page Canadian-backed Organization of American States (OAS) report on rights violations in Venezuela. The panel recommended OAS secretary general Luis Almagro submit the report to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC and that other states refer Venezuela to the ICC. In a Real News Network interview Max Blumenthal described “the hyperbolic  and propagandistic nature” of the press conference where the report was released at the OAS in Washington. Cotler said Venezuela’s “government itself was responsible for the worst ever humanitarian crisis in the region.”

Worse than the extermination of the Taíno and Arawak by the Spanish? Or the enslavement of five million Africans in Brazil? Or the 200,000 Mayans killed in Guatemala? Or the thousands of state-murdered “subversives” in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, etc.? Worse than the tens of thousands killed in Colombia, Honduras and Mexico in recent years? Worse than the countless US (and Canadian) backed military coups in the region?

Or perhaps Almagro, who appointed Cotler and the two other panelists, approves of the use of military might to enforce the will of the rich and powerful. He stated last month: “As for military intervention to overthrow the Nicolas Maduro regime, I think we should not rule out any option … diplomacy remains the first option but we can’t exclude any action.” Even before he mused about a foreign invasion, the former Uruguayan foreign minister’s campaign against Maduro prompted Almagro’s past boss, former president José Mujica, to condemn his bias against the Venezuelan government.

For his part, Cotler has been attacking Venezuela’s Bolivarian government for a decade. In a 2015 Miami Herald op-ed Cotler wrote that “sanctions” and “travel-visa bans … isn’t enough.” The US government “must increase the pressure on Maduro to respect the fundamental human rights of all Venezuela’s people.” The next year Venezuela’s obstructionist, opposition-controlled National Assembly gave Cotler an award for his efforts, notably as a lawyer for right-wing coup leader Leopoldo Lopez. When he joined Lopez’ legal team in early 2015 the Venezuelan and international media described Cotler as Nelson Mandela’s former lawyer (a Reuters headline noted, “Former Mandela lawyer to join defense of Venezuela’s jailed activist”). In response, South Africa’s Ambassador to Venezuela, Pandit Thaninga Shope-Linney, said, “Irwin Cotler was not Nelson Mandela’s lawyer and does not represent the Government or the people of South Africa in any manner.”

In 2010 Cotler called on a Canadian parliamentary committee to “look at the Iranian connection to Chávez”, asking a representative of Venezuela’s tiny Jewish community: “What evidence is there of direct Iranian influence, or involvement, on Chávez and the climate of fear that has developed? Is there any concern in the [Jewish] community, with some of the Iranian penetration that we know about in Latin America with respect to terrorist penetration, that it’s also prospectively present for Venezuela?”

A year earlier “Mandela’s lawyer” accused president Hugo Chavez of anti-Semitism. Cotler co-presented a petition to the House of Commons claiming an increase in state-backed anti-Semitism in Venezuela. At the time Cotler said Venezuela had seen a “delegitimization from the president on down of the Jewish people and Israel.” These unsubstantiated accusations of anti-Semitism were designed to further demonize a government threatening North American capitalist/geopolitical interests.

As for the sincerity of his commitment to ending humanitarian crises, Cotler has devoted much of his life to defending Israeli human rights violations, including its recent killing of unarmed protesters in Gaza. His wife, Ariela Zeevi, was parliamentary secretary of Likud when the arch anti-Palestinian party was established to counter Labour’s dominance of Israeli politics. According to the Canadian Jewish News, she was a “close confidant of [Likud founder Menachem] Begin.”

Cotler was no doubt angered by Chavez’s criticism of Israel. In 2009 Venezuela broke off relations with Israel over its assault on Gaza that left 1,400 Palestinians dead. Beyond Israel, Cotler has made a career out of firing rhetorical bombs at the US and Canada’s geopolitical competitors and verbal pellets at its allies.

Of course, it is not surprising to see such hypocrisy from someone leading a hypocritical Canadian campaign to destabilize and overthrow an elected government.

Order and Progress was Never a Civilian Slogan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Security, Safety, Security! Dictatorship by Democracy

The other day, checking in at a European airport for an international flight, within about an hour it took to deposit my luggage, going through airport security, the metal detectors, body screening machines, the automatic passport reading procedure, waiting at the gate and finally boarding, I have heard or read the words security and safety, honestly speaking, more than a hundred times. There are now countless primitive videos – in fact, insultingly primitive videos – that show you the precise procedures to follow to keep you safe and secure. All you have to do is follow them to keep your life safe and in secure hands. It is a constant indoctrination that we are in danger and that the democracy around us keeps us safe.

Some paper in my shirt pocket and a handkerchief I didn’t remove from my pocket had to go through a special ‘dust reader’; my hands were also ‘dusted off’ and the special tissue used for it also went through the ‘reader’ only then, when indeed the result was negative, was I free to collect my things and get redressed. I wondered aloud how many valuable items, like cell phones, laptops, cameras and so on – ‘disappear’ – or get ‘lost’ in the hassle, and I could not shut up making my comments about the nonsense – the George Bush invented 9/11 endless war on terror, that itself was based on a false flag; i.e., the  self-imposed 9/11 – and that prompted this forced submission to an ever-more degrading and harassing security procedure. About three security agents descended on me – this time politely, I must say, assuring me that all this was for my own safety. Naturally. How could it be different. We want you to be safe and secure, Sir. Bingo. It’s difficult to protest against so much protective kindness.

Does anybody have an idea on what this security and safety industry – the machines and apparatuses, and ever newly invented security gadgets – cost?  And the profit they bring to the war and security industry and their shareholders, many of whom are former high-ranking US and other western government officials?  The airport security business alone is estimated at between US$ 25 and 30 billion per year. What can I say? These airport security employees have jobs; they have been trained to use these billions-worth devices to intimidate and harass people into fear, into obeying, into blindly, no questions asked, following the dictate of democracy. Most of these security agents don’t know much about what they are doing. They have a noble job: protecting the world from terrorists, a job that keeps them proudly off an ever-growing mass of unemployed, or underemployed, lowly-paid workers. Free thinking is not allowed, lest you are pushed out into the cold, to join the ranks of beggars, of the socially unfit, who depend on government handouts.

Once on the plane, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a flight attendant by the name of “security and safety”. Well, that was her title, instead of a real name. Lovely, I thought. It doesn’t stop. Security and safety brainwashing permeate every fiber 24/7 of our lives.

Security and safety über alles! – Heil to the neocons, heil to the neonazis that have taken over the reins of our every-day life. And I’m not talking about the political parties of the extreme ‘right’ in France or Germany, they are just puppets for the invisible elite, for those ‘deepstaters’ that pull the strings behind the Trumps, Macrons, Merkels and Mays of this world. – Of course, it’s all for your security, my security, at best, for national security – not theirs, the ones who impose these nonsensical rules, rules that serve strictly for no other purpose than to oppress the common citizen, to brainwash the populace into believing that they are under a constant threat of attack.

Back to the airport. At the hand baggage x-ray control, where everybody has to put their cosmetics in a transparent plastic bag, pull out their laptops, tablets and cameras, and are being told what items are not allowed on board, ridiculous stuff, absolutely hilariously ridiculous – if it wasn’t that serious – and all for your own safety, naturally – I was being pushed aside for a service man who delivered a case of bananas to the restaurant in the waiting hall. His bananas had to be cleared by the x-ray machine. Imagine!  They could be objects of terror, maybe even weapons of mass destruction – WMDs.

The real WMDs that kill millions on an every-day basis, in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan – and the list goes on – nobody talks about. They have become common staple of our “secure” and “safe” world. The UN, during the ongoing Annual Meeting in New York, declared Yemen a country governed by terror – yes, the Yemenis, who are starved to death like no other nation in recent history, with – also according to the same UN – 5 million children at high risk of death by famine. Not the Saudis, or the United States of America, or the UK, the French, the Spaniards, who feed the Saudis with war planes and bombs, with real weapons of mass destructions are the terror nations. No, it’s Yemen. What world have we ended up with?

We are governed by a bunch of criminals and crooks, who benefit from our ignorance and mentally challenged brains. In the submissive west, the utterly brainwashed and by now almost brainless populace is reminded that we are screened for security purposes, for our own security. Every time the screws of security are tightened a little more, the arms are twisted a bit further, just a tiny bit – never forget, it’s only for our security and safety. By the time, my dear fellow citizens, we realize that our arms are broken and our skulls and brains smashed beyond repair, it’s too late.

As we are reminded by our masters that keep us secure and safe, we are also reminded that we are living in the only democracy that exists on the planet, namely western style democracy. Never mind, this democracy is often, most often, in fact, imposed to the rest of the world by sledgehammer, or even by WMDs. We, of course, don’t know that; we are made believe that all those countries that are being ‘regime-changed’, or destroyed for the sake of democracy are being destroyed for the betterment of their citizens living conditions. That’s what we are made believe. There is no other set of nations – with a thousand years of horrific history of exploitation, killing, raping, looting, lying – than the west. And the west, to this day, continues lying and manipulating peoples’ minds in a more sophisticated way than even Goebbels could have dreamed of.

Can you imagine – the “Peru Six”, the neocons – very close to neonazis – of the Americas – (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Perú and Canada), of course, all in the pockets of Washington, have had the unbelievable audacity to file a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice of The Hague against Venezuela for torturing and oppressing her people to the point that 2 million had to leave the country. This is such a flagrant multiple lie – it is actually a crime against humanity, against the only – yes, the very only real democracy left in the west, Venezuela – to make one’s stomach churn.

The maximum 500,000 to 700,000 Venezuelans, who, according to UNHCR and the International Organization of Migration, have migrated to neighboring countries, because of the foreign imposed – yes, totally foreign imposed, sanctions of the US and the EU – plus shamefully neutral Switzerland – horrendous economic conditions of the country. The Maduro Government is struggling to reverse that situation by de-linking Venezuela’s economy from the dollar economy, by creating new alliances with the east, in particular China and Russia. And as there are signs that the wheel may be turning favorably for Venezuela, some of the migrants are already returning.

But can you imagine what these six Latin American Washington bootlickers do to the reputation of Venezuela? And they may actually be welcome in The Hague, especially after John Bolton, Trump’s neocon “Security Adviser” – again Heil-Heil Security! – has warned the judges of this once-upon-a-time noble-intentioned international court, to beware and behave, and never pursue (war) crimes committed by the United States and Israel, meaning in clear text – obey and do what is in the interest of the exceptional nation(s), or else. So, the ICJ may actually be compelled to consider the malicious and totally fake and deceitful complaint of the Peru Six seriously.

And all that under the name of democracy.

Wake up, dear co-citizens! Its high time. We are living in an abject Security Dictatorship, called Democracy. It imposes an ever-increasing militarization, becomes an ever more brutal police state, or better, an association of brutal police states, to be sure, that if and when you wake up, your awakening will be smashed with visceral power of a legalized, totally legitimate Security Dictatorship. If we don’t act now – and acting starts at these dreadful, humiliating and harassing security stupidities we accept every day at airports around the world – we will be fried for good. Stand up, folks! Stand up for your rights and against the day-in-day-out brainwashing of keeping you secure. Let’s take back our security sovereignty. We, and only we, as citizens, colleagues and comrades, are responsible for our own security. Let not security and safety be imposed by criminal, warmongering, children-killing Security Democracies, namely our western governments.

World Laughs at Trump as He Boasts About Himself in U.N. Address Threatening Iran, Venezuela

World leaders in the United Nations General Assembly burst out laughing when President Trump boasted about his accomplishments. Trump praised North Korea, attacked Germany and accused Iran of “sowing chaos, death, and destruction,” drawing scorn from Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. “What’s amazing is not that this hall of seasoned professionals laughed at him, but that he doesn’t get more laughter, and in the United States, these news programs take him seriously, and he should be laughed off the screen everywhere,” says Juan Cole, historian and author of Engaging the Muslim World.

Does Canada Support an Invasion of Venezuela?

In their obsession for regime change, Ottawa is backing talk of an invasion of Venezuela. And the NDP is enabling Canada’s interventionist policy.

Last week 11 of the 14 member states of the anti-Venezuelan “Lima Group” backed a statement distancing the alliance from “any type of action or declaration that implies military intervention” after Organization of American States chief Luis Almagro stated: “As for military intervention to overthrow the Nicolas Maduro regime, I think we should not rule out any option … diplomacy remains the first option but we can’t exclude any action.” Canada, Guyana and Colombia refused to criticize the head of the OAS’ musings about an invasion of Venezuela.

In recent weeks there has been growing tension on the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Some believe Washington is pushing for a conflict via Colombia, which recently joined NATO.

Last summer Donald Trump threatened to invade Venezuela. “We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” the US President said.

Talk of an invasion encourages those seeking regime change. At the start of August drones armed with explosives flew toward Maduro during a military parade in what was probably an attempt to assassinate the Venezuelan president. Two weeks ago the New York Times reported that US officials recently met members of Venezuela’s military planning to oust Maduro. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the military to oust Maduro in February and other leading Republican Party officials have made similar statements.

Alongside these aggressive measures, Canada has sought to weaken the Venezuelan government. Since last September Ottawa has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Venezuelan officials. In March the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the economic sanctions the US, Canada and EU have adopted against Venezuela while Caracas called Canada’s move a “blatant violation of the most fundamental rules of International Law.”

Over the past year and a half Canadian officials have campaigned aggressively against the Venezuelan government. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has prodded Caribbean countries to join the Lima Group’s anti-Venezuela efforts and made frequent statements critical of Caracas’ democratic legitimacy and human rights record. In June Freeland told the OAS General Assembly, “we must act immediately on the situation in Venezuela to force the exit of the dictatorship.”

Ottawa has encouraged its diplomats to play up human rights violations and supported opposition groups inside Venezuela. A 27-page Global Affairs report uncovered by the Globe and Mail noted, “Canada should maintain the embassy’s prominent position as a champion of human-rights defenders.” Alluding to the hostility engendered by its interference in that country’s affairs, the partially redacted 2017 report recommended that Canadian officials also “develop and implement strategies to minimize the impact of attacks by the government in response to Canada’s human rights statements and activities.”

As part of its campaign against the elected government, Ottawa has amplified oppositional voices inside Venezuela. Over the past decade, for instance, the embassy has co-sponsored an annual Human Rights Award with the Centro para la Paz y los Derechos Humanos whose director, Raúl Herrera, has repeatedly denounced the Venezuelan government. In July the recipient of the 2018 prize, Francisco Valencia, spoke in Ottawa and was profiled by the Globe and Mail. “Canada actually is, in my view, the country that denounced the most the violation of human rights in Venezuela … and was the most helpful with financing towards humanitarian issues,” explained Valencia, who also told that paper he was “the target of threats from the government.”

In another example of anti-government figures invited to Ottawa, the former mayor of metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, called for “humanitarian intervention” before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development last week. He said:

If the international community does not urgently activate the principle of humanitarian intervention for Venezuela — which developed the concept of the responsibility to protect — they will have to settle for sending Venezuelans a resolution of condolence with which we will not revive the thousands of human beings who will lose their lives in the middle of this genocide sponsored by Maduro.

In November Ledezma escaped house arrest and fled the country.

The NDP’s foreign critic has stayed quiet regarding the US/Canadian campaign against Venezuela’s elected government. I found no criticism by Hélène Laverdière of US/OAS leaders’ musing about invading or the August assassination attempt on Maduro. Nor did I find any disapproval from the NDP’s foreign critic of Canadian sanctions or Ottawa’s role in the Lima Group of anti-Venezuelan foreign ministers. Laverdière has also failed to challenge Canada’s expulsion of Venezuelan diplomats and role in directly financing an often-unsavoury Venezuelan opposition.

Worse still, Laverdière has openly supported asphyxiating the left-wing government through other means. The 15-year Foreign Affairs diplomat has repeatedly found cause to criticize Venezuela and has called on Ottawa to do more to undermine Maduro’s government.

Is Canadian political culture so deformed that no party represented in the House of Commons will oppose talk of invading Venezuela? If so, it’s not another country’s democracy that we should be concerned about.

Production and Conflict in El Maizal Commune

Commune or Nothing – Free Men and Free Land,” mural in El Maizal. (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

In this article we examine the productive activities of El Maizal Commune, based on our visit in May. We also look at the relation between the commune and state companies, and explore the contradictions that emerge as the communal project moves forward.

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El Maizal Commune spreads over the states of Lara and Portuguesa, grouping 22 communal councils (10 in Portuguesa, 12 in Lara) and some 9000 people. Beyond its productive activity, the commune is a reference for its political activity, holding assemblies on a regular basis, having a very efficient communicational policy, and working as a reference for the Venezuelan communal movement, so that even foreign militants such as ourselves are drawn to the experience.

El Maizal has also conquered political space outside its territorial borders; for example, electing a member to the Lara legislative council in the elections of May 20. Nevertheless, the most important recent episode has been the controversial municipal election of December 2017, in which Ángel Prado, commune spokesperson and member of the National Constitutional Assembly, stood as a candidate.1 But the latter controversy has not held back the political project, the next step of which is the constitution of a communal city, alongside neighboring communes2, in the path to consolidating popular power in the territory.

Productive locomotive

The commune’s productive capacity has grown year by year. Out of the 2300 hectares of its territory, 900 are dedicated to its two main activities: 600 for the growth of corn and 300 for cattle raising. The agriculture company, which bears the name of Ezequiel Zamora, the 19th Century campesino revolutionary leader, focuses on growing corn, with production increasing steadily. In 2018 the goal was to sow, alongside small producers in the area, 1300 hectares and to harvest 9000 tonnes of corn.3

The company dedicated to cattle raising is named after communist guerrilla commander Argimiro Gabaldón, and it currently has 800 heads of cattle, some dedicated to the production of meat and the rest to milk and cheese. The levels of production, of course, fluctuate.

In addition to the production of corn, meat and milk we should mention the production of other goods by the commune or by associated campesinos in the area. This includes black beans, quinchoncho, pumpkins and other vegetables.

To top it off, the commune has another company, called Camilo Cienfuegos, that distributes PDVSA natural gas cylinders to 120 communal councils in Lara and Portuguesa. There is also a brick-production plant called Simón Bolívar, which makes bricks that have been put to use in the construction of 400 houses, a school, pavement and much more.

All this allows the population of the commune and those living nearby to acquire all these products at non-speculative prices through communal food fairs. This satisfaction of the population’s most basic needs is what sustains the political project of the commune.

Production of bell peppers in the greenhouses taken over from FONDAS and recovered by the commune. (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

After our visit and conversations with several communards, it is no overstatement to claim that El Maizal is nothing short of a locomotive for production in this entire region. Its relation with neighboring small producers, around 80, is a good case in point. The commune has a credit model for production which consists in supplying seeds and supplies, preparing the land with its tractors, sowing and harvesting. The producer is then responsible for taking care of their plot and ensuring that the corn, or other product, grows.

At harvest the small producers keep part of the production for their own consumption, and everything else is gathered by El Maizal, to be sold in bulk, and a small percentage of this sale is kept to pay back the initial credit. Until recently the harvest was sold to the state’s silos, through the company Agropatria, but this will no longer be the case, as we will explain below. Similar credit agreements are in place for other products, for example, with coffee producers in the higher altitude areas.

During our visit we witnessed one of these agreements being hammered out “live.” With an almost hyperactive pace, Ángel Prado went over the peasants’ situation, reminded them of their responsibilities, and redacted the agreement document through which they would receive credit in the form of seeds and supplies. In the end a photo was taken to spread the news on social media, since these peasants are growing corn on land left idle, and the support of El Maizal is important to dissuade those who might consider coming to evict them.

The growth of El Maizal’s productive capacity has reflected itself in a growing conflict with Agropatria. This state company, nationalized by Chávez in 2010, is responsible for the supply of seeds, fertilizers and agrochemicals for agriculture. In the case of El Maizal, the relation with Agropatria meant that the latter would supply seeds and supplies for sowing, and in the end El Maizal would sell the harvest to the state. But it is a relation that has drifted towards conflict in recent times.

On the one hand, the fact that the harvest was handed over to Agropatria, which then goes on to sell it to other state or private companies, represents a contradiction with the communal project. That is because the construction of popular power in the territory involves taking over more means of production, which in this concrete case would mean that the commune itself would begin to process corn to produce cornflour. In the commune’s facilities there is a mill, and recently the building of an artisanal plant to produce pre-cooked flour was approved, with the capacity to process one tonne per day. However, the commune proposal to build an industrial plant to process 30 tonnes daily is still waiting for institutional approval.

It is not hard to see how a bigger productive and political capacity of the commune presents a threat to private interests and to those who defend such interests inside the state. The political coherence of the commune and its merciless attitude towards idle means of production threatens landowners and those that have become lax in their positions. Thus, in recent times, we have witnessed multiple acts of sabotage such as not handing out the necessary supplies for sowing.

These acts of “passive” sabotage go hand in hand with harassment from security bodies. Having not had access to the necessary supplies, and with a limited window of time for sowing, the commune was forced to buy supplies in the black market, where the Agropatria supplies were being sold! To top it all off, a unit from the Anti-extortion and Kidnapping National Command (CONAS) came to investigate and arrest Ángel Prado and two other communards for buying black market supplies! A swift campaign ensured their release. Shortly after, the nearest Agropatria facilities were occupied. This action revealed that seeds and supplies were being hoarded instead of being handed over to peasants, and thus a collective claim for restructuring the company emerged.

As a consequence of the actions of Agropatria, El Maizal is devoting part of its land to seed production, and in an assembly the commune decided that it would not sell this year’s harvest to the state or to private companies. Instead, it will put the harvest directly in the hands of the organized pueblo, through direct distribution initiatives such as Pueblo a Pueblo. In El Maizal, the conflict between constituted and constituent powers is not merely an academic matter, and the communards are not going to back down. This also reveals how fundamental it is to control the entire production chain, from the seed all the way to consumption.
Buffalo in the former UCLA facilities. (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

“Ven a mi que tengo flor!”4

We had the chance to visit what was once an unproductive state project, taken over and recovered by the commune: the  greenhouses of Sabana Alta. Originally belonging to FONDAS (Socialist Agrarian Development Fund), only 12 of the 18 planned greenhouses were ever built. The existing structures were in a state of deterioration until the commune took over and had them handed over through a legal process. With much investment from the commune, there are now seven greenhouses functioning, producing cucumbers and bell peppers. These products grow in a matter of weeks and yield several harvests yearly.

The workers told us that this productive unit has the capacity to produce 100 tonnes of bell peppers per year. If we take into account the production of scallions and cilantro in garden beds, the project allows for a significant supply of vegetables to local communities at fair prices. The workers were eager to point out that the productive capacity still has plenty of room to grow, not just by restoring the remaining greenhouses and getting them producing, but also through qualitative advances, for example, by carrying out seed research.

A second case of occupation and rescue took place in the experimental unit of the Center-West Lisandro Alvarado University (UCLA). With an area of almost 100 hectares, the center had a few buffalo and dozens of Carora cows, an advanced genetic breed. When the commune recovered the practically abandoned facilities, the animals were dying and being stolen.

The cattle was recovered and, as we witnessed, there is now daily production of milk and cheese, which is still far from the maximum capacity of the milk-producing plant. We should add that a part of El Maizal’s cattle was taken over to the UCLA facilities after a “mysterious” fire that destroyed 200 hectares of grazing land during Ángel Prado’s electoral campaign in December 2017.

In the UCLA facilities, the communards also found a brand new, unused refrigeration system and laboratories that were never finished. The commune plans to get all this up and running soon. Another possibility being explored is fish farming (mainly of cachama) in the eight UCLA lagoons f, an activity which is now under way. We should point out that the commune has relied on the support of experts, some of them foreign (for example from Argentina) in this process of recovering the productive capacities of the formerly UCLA‐owned facilities.

Newborn piglets in the Argimiro Gabaldón unit, formerly Porcinos del Alba. (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

The final and perhaps most significant example of a productive project recovered by El Maizal is the local Porcinos del Alba farm. This state company emerged out of an accord with Cuba, which established several pig-raising farms throughout the country. Nevertheless, in June 2017 the situation was catastrophic. The farm had been reduced to 400 pigs which were starving to death or being stolen, while animal feed was being hijacked before reaching its destination. Together with the project’s workers, the commune took over the farm, creating a company that is called Argimiro Gabaldón (like the above-mentioned cattle project). The animals were seen by vets and an agreement was struck with umbrella project of Porcinos del Alba.

Six months later, at the time of our visit, the situation was completely different. The 400 pigs had become over 3000, to the point where this farm was actually supplying other Porcinos del Alba centers. Nevertheless, these facilities have a still-to-be-reached operational capacity of 10000 animals. When we visited the farm (May 2018), we could see hundreds upon hundreds of healthy animals, including pregnant females and others that had just given birth. This center’s recovery has allowed the communities in the region to acquire animal protein at fair prices, which has been one of the main struggles during the economic war underway in Venezuela.

The main problem, as the communards told us, continues to be the access to animal feed. Based on soy, it is very expensive and there is sometimes a need to sacrifice animals due to the inability to feed them all. The animal feed should be supplied by the state, but the commune has repeatedly denounced that it has not received the agreed-upon quantities. Finally this past June there was a decision to sever ties with Porcinos del Alba and sell or sacrifice the majority of the pigs, keeping only those that can be fed until the commune is able to produce its own animal feed, which will occur after the corn harvest in a few months.

Going forward and confronting contradictions

In summary, we can say that land or productive units left idle in a radius of several miles around El Maizal commune, be it private or state-owned, are under threat of expropriation. To dispel all lingering doubts, we should point out that this is extremely positive! As opposed to the capitalist accumulation processes, nothing is being expropriated for the benefit of private individuals or groups. It is purely, and has been from the very beginning, a conflict between production based on human need and the sacrosanct character of private property.

Nevertheless, the conflicts between El Maizal and state companies (in these cases Agropatria and Porcinos del Alba) are manifestations of fundamental contradictions between the project of constructing socialism and the bourgeois state. It is undeniable that Chávez managed to lead the way, alongside the organized pueblo, in overcoming some of these contradictions, which is why the socialist hope remains alive in the midst of this unprecedented crisis. Nevertheless, other contradictions simmering under the surface, hidden by high oil prices and other causes, were simply postponed until they exploded.

Mural in El Maizal Commune. (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

When analyzing the Venezuelan situation, there is a tendency to point towards individual shortcomings: people selling products on the black market, managers that strike deals with big businessmen, and directors that misappropriate funds… All of this is grave, even more so when it becomes generalized, but it is an illusion to believe that the issue is purely a matter of ethics. Put another way, a monopolistic company such as Agropatria would function in an obvious way were it a private company. Yet for it to work as a state company, there is a need not just for careful planning and transparency from above but also for accountability from below. Otherwise, the tendency, which becomes worse in times of crisis, is to go on handing out supplies mainly to large producers and for workers to engage in black market activities.

The bourgeois state, be it in its institutions or companies, has an internal logic, which is for the most part vertical, with well-established hierarchies. This verticality becomes even more pronounced when management is in the hands of the military, which is the case for several state companies in the food and agriculture sector. Hence, there needs to be a constant effort to subvert this logic from the inside, because the structures are not designed for accountability from below, and even less so for the construction of popular power. We only need to recall that, when takeovers and rescues of land occur, the state, especially through the judicial sector and security forces, has been much more agile in acting in defense of the landowners than of peasants.

We do not want to promote the fantasy that one can move towards socialism on the margins of the state, ignoring its existence. But neither can we believe that everything will be solved by changing the management of state companies or providing new political orientations, which is not to say that there is not much that can be done in this regard. Only stronger worker and popular control in these companies (and along the entire productive chain), alongside other revolutionary measures, will allow a reorientation of the Bolivarian Revolution.

This is where the “Commune or Nothing!” slogan comes in. It is not a romantic chant or a childish demand to create a communal state by decree. It is a recognition of Chávez’s legacy and of his proposal for the construction of socialism. But beyond that, this is a rallying cry for all efforts to be put behind the communes and other popular power organizations. Because these are the sectors that have demonstrated, in the most difficult of circumstances, their political capacity and their ability to produce to satisfy the needs of communities near and far. With more resources, support, and power, communes like El Maizal can breathe new life into the revolutionary project.

• Originally published by Venezuelanalysis

• Source: Investig’Action

  1. After overcoming multiple obstacles, the commune managed to propose Ángel Prado as a candidate to the Simón Planas mayorship in the December 2017 elections. But his victory was not recognized and his votes were attributed to the PSUV candidate. There have been appeals filed before the National Electoral Council and the Supreme Court, but up to now there has been no decision. The interview with Ángel Prado (part I and part II) examines this struggle in greater detail.
  2. The issue of the communal city is also discussed in detail in our interview with Ángel Prado (part I and part II).
  3. Cornflour is used to make arepas, the most common food in the Venezuelan diet.
  4. This is an expression from a Venezuelan card game, used by Chávez when referring to expropriations.

Empire Journalism: Venezuela, the US and John McCain

The US political commentator Michael Parenti once observed that:

Bias in favor of the orthodox is frequently mistaken for “objectivity”. Departures from this ideological orthodoxy are themselves dismissed as ideological.

Once you understand the truth of that remark, seeing the daily biases and distortions of the corporate media becomes obvious. Thus, there is plenty of space on the BBC News website, and plenty of time on the BBC’s airwaves, to discuss the Venezuela migrant crisis, hyper-inflation and food shortages. Rob Young, a BBC News business correspondent, wrote:

Venezuela, now in its fourth year of recession, has joined a sad list of other countries whose economies imploded as hyperinflation tore through them.

Young quoted a senior official of the International Monetary Fund:

The situation in Venezuela is similar to that in Germany in 1923 or Zimbabwe in the late 2000s.

A BBC News clip headlined, ‘Begging for food in Venezuela’, emphasised:

Food has become so scarce in Venezuela after the economy collapsed that people are getting desperate.

Likewise, there has been ample heart-wrenching coverage of Venezuelans fleeing to other countries. But you will struggle to find any substantive analysis of the severe US sanctions and long-standing threats to bring about a US-friendly government in Caracas, including an attempted coup in 2002 to remove Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s then president.

On August 19, BBC South America correspondent Katy Watson reported for BBC News at Ten:

President Nicolas Maduro is doing little to stop his country’s economic freefall. Last week, he announced plans to devalue the country’s currency; an attempt to rein in inflation that the International Monetary Fund says could hit one million per cent by the end of the year.

But there was next to no context. BBC viewers were led to believe that the blame for the crisis in Venezuela lay squarely at Maduro’s door.

By contrast, consider the analysis of Gabriel Hetland, an expert academic on Latin America. He stated that the Venezuelan government’s actions – and inactions – have made the crisis ‘far worse’. But crucially:

The government has not acted in a vacuum, but in a hostile domestic and international environment. The opposition has openly and repeatedly pushed for regime change by any means necessary.

On August 4, there was even an attempt to assassinate President Maduro, with responsibility claimed by a clandestine opposition group made up of members of the Venezuelan military.

Hetland continued:

The US government has not only cheered, and funded, these anti-democratic actions. By absurdly declaring that Venezuela is an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security and pressuring investors and bankers to steer clear of the Maduro administration, the White House has prevented Venezuela from obtaining much-needed foreign financing and investment.

The Morning Star’s Tim Young pointed out that:

Sanctions now form a key part of what is a strategic plan by the US to ruin the Venezuelan economy.

These US sanctions have even impacted Venezuela’s health programme, with the country’s vaccination schemes disrupted, dialysis supplies blocked and cancer drugs refused. Young added:

It is clear that the US sanctions — illegal under international law — are part of an overall strategy to bring about what the US calls “regime change.”

Its aim is to undermine and topple the elected government of President Nicolas Maduro and secure control of Venezuela’s vast oil reserves and other natural resources and wealth.

In a news report in the Independent last year, Andrew Buncombe quoted remarks by Mike Pompeo, then head of the CIA, suggesting that:

The agency is working to change the elected government of Venezuela and is collaborating with two countries [Mexico and Colombia] in the region to do so.

As Buncombe observed:

The US has a long and bloody history of meddling in Latin America’s affairs.

That is an accurate and truthful headline you are very unlikely to see on BBC News.

To realise how incomplete and distorted is BBC News coverage, you only have to listen to the superb independent journalist Abby Martin, who has risked her life to report what the corporate media is not telling you about Venezuela. It is little wonder that, as she discusses, her important news programme, ‘Empire Files‘, is currently off-air as a result of US sanctions against left-leaning TeleSUR, the Venezuela-based television network.

A report by media analyst Gregory Shupak for US-based media watchdog FAIR, notes the repeated usage of the word ‘regime’ to describe Venezuela by the US corporate media. As Shupak observes, a ‘regime’ is, by definition, a government that opposes the US empire. He goes on:

Interestingly, the US itself meets many of the criteria for being a “regime”: It can be seen as an oligarchy rather than a democracy, imprisons people at a higher rate than any other country, has grotesque levels of inequality and bombs another country every 12 minutes. Yet there’s no widespread tendency for the corporate media to describe the US state as a “regime.”

In short, if you rely on the corporate media, not least the BBC, for what’s going on in Venezuela, you will get the US-friendly version of events, downplaying or simply ignoring the crippling effects of US sanctions and threats.

On Venezuela, as with so many other issues, BBC News regularly violates its own stated ‘Editorial Values‘:

Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right; when necessary, we will weigh relevant facts and information to get at the truth.

The notion that BBC News journalists perform a balancing act, sifting through ‘facts and information’ to present ‘the truth’ to the public is simply pure fiction, as the ample evidence presented in our forthcoming book, ‘Propaganda Blitz‘, makes clear.

‘A Human Landmark; an American Hero’

Consider coverage of the recent death of US politician John McCain. McCain was the Republican nominee in the 2008 US presidential election which he lost to Barack Obama. In 1967, during the Vietnam War, he was shot down while on a bombing mission over Hanoi and was seriously injured. Captured by the North Vietnamese, he was tortured during his incarceration, before being released in 1973. In later years, the media would call him a ‘war hero’ and depict him as a political ‘maverick’ in not always supporting Republican Party policy on certain issues.

Theresa May declared:

John McCain was a great statesman, who embodied the idea of service over self. It was an honour to call him a friend of the UK.

Con Coughlin, the Telegraph’s defence editor and chief foreign affairs columnist, echoed the mantra that McCain was a ‘war hero’.

In similar vein, ‘neutral’ and ‘impartial’ Nick Bryant, the BBC’s New York correspondent, intoned loftily on BBC News at Ten on August 27:

Washington without John McCain is a lesser place. He was a human landmark; an American hero whose broken body personified the Land of the Brave.

Senior reporters from Channel 4 News and ITV News added their own eulogies to warmonger McCain, dubbed ‘McNasty’ by people who had observed his ‘inexplicable angry outbursts’. C4 News political correspondent Michael Crick said via Twitter:

I’ll always be grateful to John McCain. When I was #C4News Washington Correspondent in the late ’80s, he was one of the few senators happy to do interviews with us, and always very friendly & accommodating.

Robert Moore, ITV News Washington Correspondent responded:

Agreed. And that continued almost until the end – for the foreign press, McCain was the single most accessible political figure in Washington. He always had time for an interview, and a joke – including teasing me for my choice of ties.

Other Twitter users put things in stark perspective:

My thoughts are entirely with his victims and their families.

And:

How hard did you grill him about the decisions he made that killed innocent civilians in hundreds of thousands?

It would be hard to find an exchange on Twitter that better exemplifies the divide between sycophantic journalists fawning before power, and members of the public refusing to whitewash a politician’s ugly record.

Patrick Martin, writing for the World Socialist Website, makes a vital point:

The overriding feature of McCain’s career […] was his reflexive hawkishness on foreign policy. He supported war after war, intervention after intervention, always promoting the use of force as the primary feature of American foreign policy, and always advocating the maximum allocation of resources to fuel the Pentagon.

Peace activist Medea Benjamin told Amy Goodman in a Democracy Now! interview:

We had constantly been lobbying John McCain to not support all these wars. Amy, I think it’s so horrible to be calling somebody a war hero because he participated in the bombing of Vietnam. I just spent the last weekend with Veterans for Peace, people who are atoning for their sins in Vietnam by trying to stop new wars. John McCain hasn’t done that. With his life, what he did was support wars from not only Iraq, but also Libya.

Benjamin founded Code Pink: Women for Peace, a grassroots peace and justice movement that McCain once disparaged as “low-life scum“.

She continued:

He called John Kerry delusional for trying to make a nuclear deal with Iran, and threw his lot in with the MEK, the extremist group in Iran. He also was a good friend of Mohammad bin Salman and the Saudis. There was a gala for the Saudis in May when the crown prince was visiting, and they had a special award for John McCain. He supported the Saudi bombing in Yemen that has been so catastrophic. And I think we have to think that those who have participated in war are really heroes if they spend the rest of their lives trying to stop war, not like John McCain, who spent the rest of his life supporting war.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, made clear his empathy for McCain for having suffered through brain cancer. But he castigated the corporate media phenomenon of ‘obit omit—obituaries that are flagrantly in conflict with the real historical record.’

He told Goodman:

We really have to fault the mass media of the United States, not just for the last few days, but the last decades, pretending that somehow, by implication, almost that John McCain was doing the people of North Vietnam a favor as he flew over them and dropped bombs. You would think, in the hagiography that we’ve been getting about his role in a squadron flying over North Vietnam, that he was dropping, you know, flowers or marshmallows or something. He was shot down during his 23rd mission dropping bombs on massive numbers of human beings, in a totally illegal and immoral war.

As Branko Marcetic noted in an accurate assessment of McCain’s political legacy:

John McCain’s greatest achievement was convincing the world through charming banter and occasional opposition to his party’s agenda that he was anything other than a reactionary, bloodthirsty war hawk.

In a recent article, Joe Emersberger, an insightful writer on foreign affairs, notes that corporate media coverage of both Venezuela and John McCain illustrates two main features:

  1. The uniformity of empire-friendly reporting across the corporate media.
  2. The complicity of major human rights groups in this empire-friendly ‘journalism’.

As an example:

Amnesty International has refused to oppose US economic sanctions on Venezuela, and has also refused to denounce flagrant efforts by US officials to incite a military coup.

Emersberger also points to a statement on John McCain’s death from Human Rights Watch:

Senator McCain was for decades a compassionate voice for US foreign and national security policy.

For anyone able to think critically and speak openly, such statements are risible. Brutal imperialism will continue for as long as empire-friendly journalism and tame public opposition exist.

Traditional Fantasies: US Designs on Venezuela

The irresistible allure of invasion and interference has never been far from US law makers.  The imperium needs its regular feed and what a feed it has been over the decades, notably within the sphere of influence discomfortingly termed Washington’s backyard.  The current US president has shown himself a keen follower of the idea that the US military, that old, and not yet diminished strongman of capitalism, might come into play to rid Washington of various irritations in Latin America.  Venezuela has featured very highly in that regard.

It was Venezuela’s Chávism that turned so many policy makers off in Washington, spurred on by an attempt to quell what Dan Beeton and Alexander Main described as “Latin America’s resistance to the neoliberal agenda”.  Any policy reeking of poverty alleviation tends to set bad precedents for those in the United States.  The poor must be kept in docile ignorance of their lot as the money is made.

Interest in Venezuela has verged between cognisance and complicity.  In 2002, when dissident military officers and members of the opposition in Venezuela were chewing over the prospects of a potential coup against President Hugo Chávez, the Central Intelligence Agency swooned: this more than mildly disruptive man might be on his way out. And he was, if only briefly, returning to power on April 14 emboldened and popular.

The Agency noted then that “disgruntled senior officers and a group of radical junior officers are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chávez, possibly early as this month.”  The level of detail, and insight into the mind of the plotters, was extensive.  Those involved would attempt to “exploit unrest stemming from opposition demonstrations slated for later this month”. The response from the Bush administration was a plea of ignorance: the leader had brought it all upon himself.

The Latin America WikiLeaks files go further, showing the habitual nature of Washington’s interference in the internal affairs of countries in the region.  They show threats and cajoling to left-wing populist government figures, and logistical support for right wing dissenters wishing to cause mayhem. As one cable noting the words of the US ambassador to Bolivia, David L. Greenlee, goes, “When you think of the IDB (International Development Bank), “you should think of the US.”  Not that this was “blackmail”, continues the ambassador. This was “simple reality”.  President Evo Morales had been put on notice.

The campaign against Caracas over time has been characterised by variously fashioned weapons, most notably sanctions.  Destroy the economy, and you foment the basis for reaction.  These have been weapons of choice for the policy planners in Washington, featuring such blows as those against the state oil company PDVSA in 2011 and the state arms manufacturer CAVIM in 2013.  The following year, specific government officials were also targeted.

In 2017, Trump added his little cameo in entertaining options for overthrowing the Maduro government.  This was yet another example of Trump as the apotheosis, high-water mark of US aggression, outing the nastier habits of the imperium.  No soft treading required, nor the graceless posture of non-interference, just an open use of force with charging marines.

Statements in August about an outright invasion were coupled with other possibilities.  As he told his staff, “We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option.”  Then secretary of state Rex Tillerson was perplexed; then national security adviser H.R. McMaster recoiled.  The next day, Trump elaborated his views at his New Jersey golf course at Bedminster: “We’re all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away, Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and dying.  We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary.”

When these suggestions made the light of day, they were treated as acts of dizzy lunacy, the fantasies of an insane steward of empire.  As José Miguel Vivanco, America’s director for Human Rights opined on August 11, “No one had helped Maduro as much as Trump and this nonsense that he said today.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has been the latest voice to join an already heavily laden bandwagon, giddy from the rum of democracy he hopes to export.  In an interview with Univision 23 in Miami, he explained how he had for years “wanted the solution in Venezuela to be a non-military and peaceful solution, simply to restore democracy.” While the US armed forces “are only used in the event of a threat to national security”, an argument could be made “at this time that Venezuela and the Maduro regime has become a threat to the region and even to the United States.”

Such fairy floss logic barely withstands scrutiny, taking the issue of desperation within Venezuela as the starting point for regional instability and threat to US security, an instability, it should be added that has not been helped by the more than occasional fiddle by US authorities.

This fantasy of military backed intervention comes with a slight twist: the comments from Cruz grudgingly acknowledged the prospects of a multilateral negotiated transition, one that might permit perpetrators to get away in a new Venezuelan order. “We’ll have to bite our lips a little bit and watch a solution that has perhaps some form of forgiveness.”  Ever the sentiment of the imperial brute, appropriating the means of molestation, punishment and ultimate forgiveness.

Credit Suisse Freezes $5 billion of Russian Money due to U.S. Sanctions

A few days ago, Reuter reported that Switzerland’s second largest bank, Crédit Suisse, has ‘frozen‘ about 5 billion Swiss francs of Russian money, or about the same in US-dollars, for fear of falling out of favors with Washington – and being ‘sanctioned’ in one way or another. Crédit Suisse, like her bigger sister, UBS, have been amply punished already by Washington for facilitating in the US as well as in Switzerland tax evasion for US oligarchs. They want to be good boys now with Washington.

Switzerland’s banking watchdog, FINMA, does not require Swiss banks to enforce foreign sanctions, but has said they have a responsibility to minimize legal and reputational risks. Crédit Suisse is cautious. In 2009, it reached a $500 million settlement with U.S. authorities over dealings with sanctions-hit Iran. And most every major bank remembers the 2014 settlement of France’s BNP Paribas for a record $8.9 billion fine for violating U.S. sanctions against Sudan, Cuba and Iran.

When asked, two other Swiss banks, UBS and Julius Baer, who are known to deal with Russian clients, declined a straight forward answer whether they too will resort to sanctioning their Russian customers. An UBS spokesman said evasively, they were “implementing worldwide at least the sanctions currently imposed by Switzerland, the U.N., the EU and the U.S.”

What doesn’t stop amazing me is how the western world just accepts such horrendous US fraud, or better called, outright theft of other countries resources, be it monetary or natural resources. And all that is possible only because the entire western world and all those African and lately again, Latin American countries – many of them developing countries, including some of the major oil producers – are still tied to the US dollar. All international money transactions, regardless whether they concern the United States, or simply two completely independent countries, have to transit through a US bank either in London or New York. This is what makes it possible for the US to implement financial and economic sanctions in the first place.

A few days ago, the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, dared proposing that the EU detach itself from the international, totally privately run, Belgium registered SWIFT transfer system, as it is fully controlled by the US banking oligarchy, is operating in more than 200 countries and territories. He suggested that the EU create an independent transfer system, much like Russia and China have done, to free themselves from the financial slavehood to Washington. The reaction of one of his right wing German countryman and parliamentarian was swift – it was not the right time to even think of de-coupling the EU from Washington, now where Russia is in dire straits and Germany and the rest of Europe needs the US more than ever.  Can you imagine!

In this pathetic, gutless Europe, it is highly questionable whether Mr. Mass’s excellent idea will survive and actually gain support. Hardly at this stage.

Irrespective of the spineless behavior of the EU and the Swiss Government, the latter unable even to stand up to its own neutrality – let them rot in their submissiveness to empire and its EU vassals – gutlessness, which by the way they, the Swiss Government, has also demonstrated vis-à-vis Venezuela – more important, much more important is, what does this all mean for Russia?

To begin with, the Crédit Suisse ‘frozen’ 5 billion dollars, you may as well call it what it is in reality: Totally illegally “confiscated” Russian assets. It is rare, if ever, that the US government returns so called ‘frozen’ assets of any sanctioned country. And under the current scenario, Trump and his masters and the pressure of the corrupt Hillary swamp, will not let go of demonizing and ‘sanctioning’ Russia, regardless of the real impact of these sanctions, and regardless of the total lawlessness of these actions, regardless of the manufactured and lie-based reason for these sanctions, regardless of the fact that everybody with a half-brain knows about the manipulated and false pretexts for sanctions, and regardless of another fact, namely, that these actions are contributing to an ever accelerating suicide of the empire and its corrupt system that eventually will drown in its own Washington swamp. Good riddens!  The sooner the better.

And the impact of these sanctions is hardly what they pretend to be. They are foremost a call on the Atlantists – or call them Fifth Columnists, of which there are still too many embedded in the Russian financial sector – to counteract the internal measures Russia is taking to escape the dollar slavehood. They will not succeed. The vessel is turning and turning ever faster; turning from west to east.

Despite the constant demonization of the ruble, how it lost 50% of its value because of the sanctions, the Russian currency is worth way more than all the western fiat currencies together. The western dollar-dependent moneys are based on hot air, or not even – on zilch, nada, zero; they are literally produced by private banks like casino money. The ruble is doubly-backed by gold and by Russia’s well-recovered economy and so is the Chinese Yuan.

So, what does a 50% loss of the ruble mean? Loss against what? Loss against the US dollar and the currencies of Washington’s vassal allies? With a de-linked Russian economy from the western economy, the western concept of ‘devaluation’ is totally meaningless. The ruble doesn’t need to compare itself anymore to the western dollar-enslaved currencies.

So, the urgent call by the nature of things for Russia to delink from the western economy, from the western fraudulent dollar-based monetary system, is being heeded by Russia.  I cannot but repeat and repeat again that the dollar economy and the enslaving monetary system it produced is an absolute fraud. It is a crime that would be punishable by any international court that deserves the name of a court of law, that is not bought and whose judges are not threatened if they don’t fold to the dictate of Washington. But upholding the laws of ethics and moral, the laws that our more honest and humble forefathers not too long ago crafted, is a thing of the past. The corruption in everything accompanied by intimidations and coercions, have been accepted by just about everybody as the new normal. This, in itself, is not normal. It creates a pressure cooker that eventually will simply explode.

To move away from this ever-increasing stench of cultural decay, a de-dollarization is a must, is a recipe for survival. And survive, Russia will. Russia is buying massively gold, shedding US treasury bonds from its reserves, replacing them with gold and Chinese Yuan, an IMF-accepted official reserve currency. In July 2018 Russia purchased a record 26 tons of gold, leading up to gold reserves of close to a total of 2000 tons, quadrupling her gold inventory since 2008. This makes Russia the world’s fifth largest gold holder.

As Mr. Putin said already a few years ago, the sanctions are the best thing that happened to Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It forced us to rehabilitate and boost our agricultural production for food self-sufficiency and to rebuild and modernize our industrial park. Today Russia has a cutting-edge industrial arsenal and is no longer dependent on “sanctioned” imports. Russia is not only food-autonomous but has become the world’s largest wheat exporter. And take this – according to Mr. Putin, Russia will supply the world with only organic food, no GMOs, no toxic fertilizers and pesticides.

Russia has clearly and unstoppably embarked on an “Economy of Resistance”: Local production for local markets with local money based on and for the development of the local economy; trading with friendly nations who share similar cultural and moral values.  It’s called regaining economic sovereignty. That’s key. That’s what most countries in the west under the yoke of the US empire and its puppets, enforced by NATO, have lost in the steadily increasing stranglehold of globalization. Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, Syria, North Korea, Pakistan, soon Mexico, and others are breaking loose from the fangs of the Washington Consensus that brought the world almost three decades of pure misery, exploitation and monetary enslavement.

Russia is strengthening her ties with China, with whom she has already for years a ruble-yuan swap agreement between the respective central banks, indicating a strong economic and trading relation. Both are members of the SCO – Shanghai Cooperation Organization. And Russia is also an integral part and link in President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative – BRI – a multi-trillion-yuan economic development scheme for the next at least hundred years, that will span the world with several transport routes, including shipping lines, ports and industrial expansion, as well as cultural exchange, education and research centers on the way. Members of the SCO encompass half the world’s population and account today already for about a third of the globe’s GDP and growing fast, both in members as well as economic output.

Russia as part of this block of sovereign nations doesn’t need the west anymore, doesn’t need the Crédit Suisse confiscated 5 billion dollars anymore. Freedom is priceless. Sanctions are like the fiat currency they are based on; not more than rotten smelling hot air, and dissipating fast into oblivion.

Sanctions Backfire: US Is Being Left Behind

Image from Creative Resistance by Natasha Mayers, Artists Rapid Response Team (ARRT)

The United States has a long history of dominating international economic institutions and has been able to use that power in the past to control other governments and enrich its industries. At present, the United States is waging an economic World War targeting much of the world economy, including allies who refuse to comply with US mandates.

Among the nations included in the US economic war are China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Venezuela, Nicaragua and North Korea. The European Union is being threatened with economic sanctions if it does not obey US demands to blockade the Iranian economy.

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The US’ power and influence are waning. Measured by the real economy; i.e., people’s ability to purchase goods,the CIA’s World Factbook ranks China as the largest economy in the world, $4 trillion larger than the United States, which ranks third after the EU. Also in the top 20 are Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

US tools of economic domination are failing and are causing the country to be isolated as the rest of the world moves in a multi-polar direction. Countries are cutting the US out of their markets and building independence from US-dollar domination.

This is a time for the US to change its strategy, but the power elites and Pentagon do not seem to know any other way. Military spending continues to rise, now consuming 61% of federal discretionary spending. The social safety net is unraveling, leaving people in the US vulnerable to the impacts of a world economy that increasingly leaves the US out. It is up to us, the people, to organize and mobilize for a modern foreign policy and economy that takes the new global dynamics into account.

David Zalubowski, AP file

Fundamental Flaws In The US Economy Worsen

The global economic war the US has begun is already undermining the US economy. Rather than address decades of failed policies, the US is looking for a quick fix by taxing foreign goods and isn’t investing in building a sound economy. The US economy is not on firm ground.

Much of the real economy of the United States, producing goods, has gone overseas. Combined with new technology, this has resulted in the US losing 5 million jobs since 2000, after peaking in 1979Manipulated unemployment figures hide the reality but cannot be trusted as they do not count the long-term unemployed, discouraged and displaced workers or underemployed workers. They count people with part-time jobs as being fully employed. In addition, wages remain low as Pew reported this week, real wages have not increased since 1974.

US farms were forecast to reach a 12-year-low in profits in 2018, according to the Department of Agriculture. Now, the US agriculture sector is being further threatened by the Trump tariff trade war. For example, one third of US total soybean production, $14 billion-worth in 2017, was exported to China, but is now at risk due to retaliatory Chinese tariffs.

The millionaires and billionaires who run the government like to point to the raging stock market as a sign that the US economy is strong, but how real is that? This stock market is inflated because corporations are engaging in destructive stock buybacks, which hit a record $1 trillion this year. This increases the stock value even though no new goods are created. Stock-value inflation is causing a surge in CEO incomes without a similar increase for workers, widening the gaping wealth divide.

From Strategic Culture.

Countries Respond by Creating New Alliances, Building Independence

US sanctions are causing countries to cut the United States out of their markets, conduct trade without US dollars, create alliances between sanctioned countries and build their independence from US dollar hegemony.

Venezuela is feeling the impacts of the US economic war especially because it has been combined with low oil prices and a poorly managed oil industry. Venezuela has overcome ongoing US-supported regime change operations: violent protests, massive propaganda against it, efforts to undermine its democracy, an assassination attempt against President Maduro by Colombia and the US, and threats of a military coup. The linchpin of the US strategy in Venezuela is the economic blockade by the US and western nations. Two weeks ago, on behalf of a Canadian mining corporation, a US court approved the seizure of Citgo’s assets in the United States. The economic war is causing hardship for Venezuelans and preventing access to food and medicine.

This week, Venezuela created the Sovereign Bolivar (Bs.S.), a new currency anchored to the cryptocurrency, Petro, and backed by Venezuela’s oil reserves. It is not tied to the US dollar in order to break the grip of US economic power and operate independently of US imperialism.

There is new a campaign against the Venezuela sanctions (Popular Resistance is participating in this campaign). The real threat to the United States will be if Venezuela shows other nations they can break from US economic domination.

Turkey is also taking actions to break from US dollar domination. Turkey’s economy is feeling the impact of a 20% US tariff on aluminum and 50% tariff on steel. The US is using economic distress against Turkey because the country is not freeing a US pastor, Andrew Brunson, who is accused of terror and espionage against Turkey. Peter Koenig writes, “It is widely believed that Mr. Brunson’s alleged 23 years of ‘missionary work’ is but a smokescreen for spying.”

President Erdogan is looking for new trading partners; e.g., Russia, China, Iran, Ukraine and the EU, and “his country is planning issuing Yuan-denominated bonds to diversify Turkey’s economy, foremost the country’s reserves and gradually moving away from the dollar hegemony.” Last October, the Turkish and Iranian central banks formally agreed to trade in local currencies.

Reuters reports, “Russia backs using national currencies, not the U.S. dollar, in its trade with Turkey.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “Identical processes have been happening in our relations with Iran. Not only with Turkey and Iran, we’re also arranging and already implementing payments in national currencies with the People’s Republic of China. I am confident that the grave abuse of the role of the U.S. dollar as a global reserve currency will result over time in the weakening and demise of its role.” They also report there have already been settlements in national currencies between Russia and the BRICS countries, Brazil, India, China and South Africa.

The unilateral US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran and putting in place economic sanctions, without any legal justification, is further spurring independence from the United States. Koenig writes that Iran has embarked on developing a “‘Resistance Economy,’” meaning de-dollarization of their economy and moving towards food and industrial self-sufficiency, as well as increased trading with eastern countries, China, Russia, the SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organization] and other friendly and culturally aligned nations, like Pakistan.”

Iran was a topic of a friendly meeting between Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel last week. Preserving the Iran nuclear deal is one area where Russia and Germany agree. They also agreed to continue the expansion of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which the US opposes. Forbes reports that the European Union said it is urging its businesses to continue investing in Iran. As the US threatens to sanction European companies, the EU promises to protect them. The EU is planning to provide economic aid, intended to fuel private sector growth and trade promotion in Iran.  Russia is creating a regional payment network designed to blunt the impact of US sanctions. The US economic war on Iran is intended to prevent the integration of Eurasia, but it is actually spurring that integration.

The biggest economy in the world, China, is also fighting back against the US economic war with tariffs on the United States. China dominates Asian markets and is growing its economic influence in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. China is building relationships with countries hit by US sanctions. At the late July BRICS summit, President Xi called out unilateral actions by the United States and called for a new type of foreign policy urging a “BRICS plus”; i.e., the five BRICS members and other emerging markets/developing nations.

By David Swanson

How will the US End the Spiral Of Military Bloat, Economic and Political Decline?

The recent passage of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which provides an unprecedented $716 billion in Pentagon spending, shows the US is doubling down on its failed strategy of relying on militarism to avert the loss of power. The Pentagon’s 2017 Post-Primacy report recognized the decline of US military and economic hegemony and urged more spending on the military.

This year, the US announced a new national security strategy, which focuses on China and Russia, in recognition of the decline of unitary US power. The constant increases in military expenditures come amid “what late world-systems theorist Giovanni Arrighi called the ‘terminal crisis of U.S. hegemony.’”

We remember being concerned about US military spending when it represented 50% of the federal discretionary budget, now it is 61%. At what point will the US public say “Enough!”? Will it be when the Pentagon budget reaches 70%? 75%?

We need a strategy now to avert further harm being inflicted by a failing US empire and empire economy on people in the US and around the world. One opportunity to develop that is occurring this November. More than 250 organizations worked together this year to stop the military parade. Now that the parade has been stopped, organizers are planning next steps.

On November 10, the day the parade was scheduled, there will be a Peace Congress – a gathering of people from the many organizations in Washington, DC to map out a strategy and actions to end the wars at home and abroad. The Peace Congress is in its early stages of planning. If your organization is interested in participating, sign up at the NoTrumpMilitaryParade.us website.

We also have opportunities for mass mobilizations this fall, an #AntiwarAutumn, at the October 20-21 Women’s March on the Pentagon and the November 11 March to Reclaim Armistice Day.

And, if you are looking for tools to be more effective in your activism, check out the final class, “Tools for Movements,” in the Popular Resistance School course, “How Social Transformation Occurs.”