Archive | South America

‘Imperial Interests’ Behind UN Call to Release Political Prisoners in Venezuela

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  • Venezuelan ambassador Jorge Valero speaks at the U.N.
    Venezuelan ambassador Jorge Valero speaks at the U.N. | Photo: UN
Many so-called political prisoners are high-ranking opposition leaders who have instigated violence in the country, leading to the deaths of many citizens.

Venezuelan Ambassador Jorge Valero has called out a high-ranking U.N. official who demanded the release of “political prisoners” as acting in favor of imperial interests.

RELATED: 74 Percent of Venezuelans Don’t Trust the Opposition: Survey

U.N. official Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein expressed “concern about the extreme polarization in Venezuela with continued restrictions on freedom of movement, association, expression and peaceful protest,” as Venezuela Analysis reported. He called for the alleged political prisoners’ release and parroted mainstream media’s condemnations of Venezuela and the supposed lack of fundamental rights for all in the country.

Valero rejected the high official’s comments, describing them as an echo of “the international media campaign against Venezuela, hatched by imperialist interests,” as reported by Venezuela Analysis.

“It is deplorable that those responsible for crimes are presented by you (Al-Hussein) as peaceful demonstrators and political opponents,” Valero said, addressing Al-Hussein during the U.N. Human Rights Council session.

He also added that “human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected in Venezuela. Everyone can freely express their own viewpoints. Peaceful declaration is a constitutional right.”

RELATED: The Venezuela ‘Opposition’ We Never Hear About

According to the Venezuelan Penal Forum, FPV, there are 97 “political prisoners” in the country. But in fact, many are high-ranking opposition leaders who have instigated violence in the country, leading to the death of many citizens in their attempt to remove the elected government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Of these alleged political prisoners, Leopoldo Lopez has gained the most international attention after he was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in jail in September 2015 for his role in the violent anti-government protests known as “The Guarimbas” in 2014, which led to the death of 43 people.

Last month, Lopez’s wife Lilian Tintori visited U.S. President Donald Trump and other U.S. congressmen to demand his release. Since then, the United States has ramped up sanctions against Venezuela.

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Ecuador Denies Entry to Venezuela Opposition Figure Visiting to Campaign for Right Wing

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  • U.S. President Donald Trump has met with Lilian Tintori, an outspoken opponent of Nicolas Maduro.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has met with Lilian Tintori, an outspoken opponent of Nicolas Maduro. | Photo: Twitter / Donald Trump
“Change is coming to Ecuador,” Tintori said, referencing the campaign slogan of right-wing presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso.

Ecuador denied entry Wednesday morning to Venezuelan opposition figure Lilian Tintori, traveling to meet and campaign with right-wing Ecuadorean presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso — an activity that is banned by the country’s immigration law.

IN DEPTH: Ecuador Elections 2017

Tintori, wife of jailed Venezuelan opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez, arrived at the airport in Guayaquil from Miami at 1:30 a.m. local time Wednesday morning. On her social media accounts she reported that immigration authorities had retained her passport and denied her entry, a move she claimed amounted to a violation of her “human rights.”

An official immigration document circulated online by local journalists showed that Tintori’s entry was denied for her failure to justify her immigration status and explain the reason for her visit.

According to Ecuador’s Human Mobility Law, “Temporary visitors in Ecuador will not be able to interfere in matters of Ecuador’s internal politics.” The law also states that foreigners can be deported for eight reasons, including for “being a temporary visitor in Ecuador who engages in issues of Ecuador’s internal politics.”

The law also outlines that lack of a valid visa when required or failure to justify immigration status — as in Tintori’s case — will result in “immediate departure of the inadmissible person” from the country “without the need for administrative processing.” It also states that such travelers can return to the country when the reason for which they were denied entry is resolved.

On social media, Tintori made references to her political motivations for visiting Ecuador, writing on her Facebook account that Ecuadoreans “have an opportunity for change” on April 2, referring to the date of the presidential runoff election between governing party candidate Lenin Moreno and opposition leader Guillermo Lasso. “They are not letting me enter because they know that change is coming to Ecuador,” she said in a video posted on her Facebook and Twitter accounts, referencing the Lasso’s campaign slogan. “They are not letting me in because they do not want me to help my Ecuadorean brothers and sisters.”

In response to Tintori being denied entry, Lasso also confirmed that the Venezuelan had planned to enter the country to support his bid for president. “A few weeks ago we agreed that she would come for a few days to accompany Maria de Lourdes and I in this campaign,” Lasso said in a video message, referring to his wife, who stood beside him in the video.

RELATED: Ecuador Indigenous Movement Split as Leader Embraces Right-Wing Presidential Candidate

In a press conference on Tintori’s case in Quito Wednesday, Interior Minister Diego Fuentes explained that when immigration authorities asked Tintori about the reason for her travels, she stated that she was “going to perform certain acts within a political agenda at the invitation of right-wing candidate Guillermo Lasso” and intended to enter with a tourist visa.

Fuentes stated that immigration authorities had acted in accordance with the law. He highlighted the article of the Human Mobility Law banning foreigners from participating in political activities and also pointed to a separate article of the same law stating that the Ecuadorean state has the power to “deny entry to a foreign person on the basis of an action or omission committed.”

Tintori, who arrived in Ecuador on an American Airlines flight from Miami, was put on a flight back to Miami at 6:45 a.m. local time Wednesday.

Fuentes confirmed that Tintori returned to Miami on the earliest available American Airlines flight. He welcomed Tintori to return to the country on a tourist visa if she intended to conduct tourist activities, saying, “she is invited with her tourist visa to carry out the activities she would like to carry out within the framework of the law and for the activist and political activities she must process the corresponding visa.”

On her Twitter account, Tintori, who frequently describes Venezuela as a “dictatorship,” claimed that she was denied entry to Ecuador because the country is “complicit in (Venezuelan President Nicolas) Maduro’s dictatorship.”

Leopoldo Lopez was jailed in 2013 for his role in violent protests that claimed the lives of 43 Venezuelans. Since then, Tintori and leaders from Lopez’s right-wing Popular Will Party have been campaigning around the globe for his release, calling him and others involved in the violent protests “political prisoners.”

Lasso, a former banker who came in distant second to front-runner Moreno in the first round of presidential elections last month, said the denial of Tintori into the country was evidence of “dictatorship.”

“Not allowing the entry of Lilian Tintori, wife of Leopoldo Lopez, confirms the dictatorship Ecuador is living the dictatorship of a political party,” Lasso said in his video message.

Lasso also misleadingly referenced the article of the constitution that allows foreigners to vote — a civil right accorded to foreign residents “as long as they have resided legally in the country for at least five years,” according to the constitution — as well as the principle of “universal citizenship,” which promotes free movement to “transform the unequal relations between countries, especially those between North and South.” While Ecuador’s widely celebrated “no one is illegal” policy — applauded by the U.N. Refugee Agency — offers a framework to decriminalize irregular immigration status, not override other sections of the immigration law barring foreigners from interfering in local politics.

RELATED: ‘In Second Round, We Will Defeat Them Again’: President Correa

A high-profile case amid opposition protests in 2015 brought similar migration laws to light and offers a precedent for application of Ecuador’s law barring foreigners from participating in local politics. French-Brazilian academic Manuela Picq, living in Ecuador with a cultural exchange visa, was deported in August after participating in opposition protests that at times turned violent. Her visa was revoked, according to then-Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, for “carrying out political activities” not allowed under the cultural exchange immigration status. Picq’s case similarly sparked accusations of human rights violations from the ranks of the opposition, including Lasso’s running mate Andrez Paez, who accompanied Picq during the legal process leading up to her deportation.

Despite Lasso’s defense of the legality of Tintori’s planned visit, as the governor of Guayas in 1999, he ordered a foreigner be expelled for less. Months after the 1999 banking crisis — which Lasso is also accused of played a role in — the then-governor called for the deportation of Venezuelan economic analyst, Jose Luis Cordeiro. The Venezuelan analyst had criticized the economic policies of the government of then-President Jamil Mahuad, under whom Lasso went on to serve as minister of finance. Lasso argued at the time that Cordeiro’s statements showed a “lack of respect” against Mahuad, adding that “it is not possible to allow foreigners to threaten the national honor” of Ecuador.

Tintori’s main political activities have also including building relationships with other right-wing figures in the region, including conservative Argentine President Mauricio Macri and more recently, U.S. President Donald Trump.

Just weeks ago, she met Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Senator Marco Rubio in the White House. After the meeting, she thanked Trump on her Twitter account for “standing with the Venezuelan people.”

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Beverly Bell on Berta Cáceres: “There Will Not Be Change as Long as the US Sends Military Aid to Honduras”

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By Janine Jackson, FAIR

Image result for Honduras ARMY PHOTO

Janine Jackson:  March 2 marks a year since the killing of Honduran indigenous rights and environmental activist Berta Cáceres. The private and state actors believed responsible for her murder never made any secret of the threat they saw from Cáceres and her group COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras — the threat to the ability of extractive industries to steal land and water out from under indigenous people with state sanction. Such predations and the accompanying violence have been exacerbated by the 2009 coup in Honduras, a coup that the US, critically, supported.

If history is guide, what coverage you may see of the anniversary of Cáceres’ death will acknowledge her as a human rights leader but won’t discuss US complicity in her fate, and that of many others killed, attacked or jailed in Honduras for standing up for themselves and their communities.

Beverly Bell is coordinator of the group Other Worlds Are Possible, and associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She worked and traveled with Berta Cáceres and COPINH for many years. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Beverly Bell.

Beverly Bell: Thank you, Janine.

Well, in May of 2015, when we spoke to you last, corporate media in the US were largely overlooking Berta Cáceres and COPINH being awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, a sort of “green Nobel.” And we talked about that as a missed chance to bring to light connections between US-based corporations and US aid dollars, and the violence against indigenous communities and environmental advocates, among others, in Honduras. I remember that at the time, you said that because of her work, Berta’s life “hung by a thread.”

Well, that missed opportunity to talk became an ominous silence, it seems, just as it’s been made painfully clear how important it is to make just those connections. I’d like to ask you to tell us about Honduras since the assassination, and what still stands in the way of justice for Berta Cáceres and for all of those others.

The first thing that stands in the way of justice is that the Honduran government continues to be an imposed government, and completely unaccountable. It reigns with full impunity, as have the administrations which preceded it, ever since 2009 — when, as you say, the US very strongly backed a coup d’etat against Manuel Zelaya, who was the last elected government of Honduras. Since then, there have been two other elections, and both have been total shams. They were certified by both the US and Canada, but very few other governments. And so the government pretends to be a democracy, and is certainly touted as such up here, but it is in fact a dictatorship, and acts like one.

The group Global Witness, a very well-known and well-respected international human rights group, just put out another report saying that Honduras continues to be the most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental activist, and certainly the record of the last year proves that to be true. There have been dozens and dozens of assassination attempts, and at least six high-level indigenous activists — just indigenous activists — have been killed or almost killed, just in the past year since Berta Cáceres was killed.

The most recent was on February 20, when José de los Santos Sevilla, who was a leader of the Tolupan indigenous people, who are fighting their own battles against the theft of their land and resource extraction, was killed. So he is only the last. I don’t even have all the figures; they haven’t even all been tracked.

But what we know is that until there is a change in the actions of the Honduran government, and a respect for lives, human rights and democracy, indigenous and other environmental actors will not be safe. And we know, furthermore, that there will not be this change, vis-a-vis the Honduran government, as long as the US continues to send many, many, many millions of dollars of military aid to Honduras every year.

When Berta Cáceres was killed, papers like the New York Times covered it, and they talked about how the coup, in fact, had made Honduras more dangerous for activists, but then they left out the US role in the coup. Well, since then, US media have gone, if you will, further. They’ve actually worked to sell a whole different idea to US citizens about the role that the US has played and is playing in Honduras. What can you tell us about that?

Well, you mentioned the investigation into the events of March 2 a year ago, which is when Berta Cáceres was assassinated. Also that night, also in her house, a guest from Mexico, a very powerful indigenous and environmental defender in his own right, Gustavo Castro Soto, was shot and was almost killed. One bullet just missed his skull by a millimeter, and took off part of his ear instead. He was also shot in the hand. He was then held illegally by the Honduran government and tortured for one month. And we do know, we actually have corroboration from the State Department in a written email, that they were part of that investigation. Gustavo escaped just by a hair with his life, and he and his family are now living in exile in Europe.

So both Gustavo and the family of Berta Cáceres have been trying to have a fair investigation. This investigation, much like Berta’s own killing, is really a window into the role of the United States government. And I’ll just spin that out for you a little bit, because it’s part of the story that has been kept from the US public, and certainly the Honduran public.

So these two entities, one of them a direct survivor — Gustavo Castro Soto from Mexico; he’s actually the director of Friends of the Earth Mexico in Chiapas — and then the family of Berta Cáceres, have been trying to gather evidence. The Honduran government has blocked them at all turns, and then last September actually disappeared every shred of evidence that those two parties had spent six months collecting. Every document, every photograph, every scrap of paper that had the name of a lead, all disappeared.

And, of course, the Honduran government said that it was a theft. Of course, we know that it wasn’t. Furthermore, the Honduran government has refused to share any information with these players, including with Berta’s very own daughters, and they have refused the offer of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to help out and to come in as a neutral player. That is not at all surprising.

And then what the US has done is only surprising in how far it goes. It’s so egregious; what the US did has been to arrest, through a special unit that is deployed to the Honduran government, the US has made arrests at strategic times of suspects, and then has gone to the US Congress — we know this for a fact — and said, oh, no no, you can’t cut off US military aid to Honduras, because then there will be no way to go forward with the investigation into Berta Cáceres’ killing, because the US is the only team that is doing anything serious.

The US began doing this immediately after Keith Ellison introduced into Congress last year the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act, which called on all US military aid to be cut until there was significant improvement in human rights. And so it was immediately in response to this bill going into the US Congress that we then saw the US being so duplicitous, and convincing Congress that US aid had to continue flowing.

That would seem to dovetail nicely with the piece that some listeners may remember from August of last year in the New York Times, which was about how the US is involved in Honduras and making things safer in Honduras. I mean, “How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth Got Safer” was the headline over this Week in Review piece, and the subhead, I thought, was very interesting: “Programs Funded by the United States Are Helping Transform Honduras. Who Says American Power Is Dead?” This seems to me to fit precisely with this effort to fight back against any plans to stop aid by saying, no, no, no, the US is actually the force for justice here — including justice for Berta Cáceres.

Yes, that piece that you mentioned that came out last August is really extraordinary, and the same journalist did one the same week on National Public Radio. And both of them show one tiny little micro example of a little community where apparently — who knows if it’s true, I doubt it, but — where apparently US government funding helped one small community center. And so this journalist extrapolated, and said that all of Honduras is getting better — as you say, Janine — thanks to US funding.

What’s extra interesting about those two pieces is that they appeared just weeks after the president of Honduras, in response to the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act moving forward in the Congress, the president had come up to Washington to do a big PR blitz to ramp up the Honduran government’s image, using the convenient tool of US media.

We’ve been speaking with Beverly Bell of the group Other Worlds. They’re online at OtherWorldsArePossible.org. Thank you so much, Beverly Bell, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Janine, I’m delighted to speak with you, and I hope that all US people listening will take responsibility for our government, such as it is, and get in touch with their congresspeople to push for this act that can truly make a difference for all Hondurans.

Posted in USA, South America0 Comments

The Venezuela “Opposition” We Never Hear About

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This “opposition” has loyalties that lie with the Bolivarian Revolution and nothing else.

At 35 years of age, he is tall and slim, and his imposing stature moves about in a subtle swagger that exudes confidence tempered with a humility that does not succumb to his good looks and natural charisma. As a deputy, he is the leader of a block of 55 deputies in the Venezuelan National Assembly. From all appearances, his personality and the important position he holds should attract the sensation-seeking U.S. corporate media that hangs on to every word and is so eager to capture images of the deputies and their supporters to make a “story.”

There is, however, a problem for them and for Washington. Héctor Rodríguez is the leader of this minority block of 55 Chavista-led deputies, Bloque de la Patria, which is an outcome of the Dec. 5, 2015 legislative election that saw the ruling socialist party, the PSUV, lose its majority in the National Assembly.

Rodríguez opposes the majority in what has become a bourgeois national assembly, to paraphrase the words that Nicolás Maduro used in a talk in Caracas to national and international guests on March 7, 2017.

In the U.S. Congress, depending on its composition, the minority Democrats or Republicans oppose the majority. However, this “opposition” is always within the framework of the capitalist status quo, preserving the racist state as a vestige of slavery, negating the genocide of the Indigenous peoples (which is still under way in different forms) and sacrificing the working people on the altar of capitalist globalization, which itself is a key component of a foreign policy based on imperialist aggression and wars.

In parliamentary systems, such as in Canada and Britain, the establishment consensus adds a shameful British slant to the “opposition” charade, which would be a comedy if it were not so tragic. In these other countries in the North, the “loyal opposition” (as they are actually formally recognized) can feel free to oppose as long as they are loyal to the head of state, which in both Canada and Britain is the Queen of England.

“Extraordinary meeting with leaders of different nationalities! Only united will we build a just world!|
Count on our solidarity!” | Source: Twitter of Hector Rodriguez

However, Rodríguez’s loyalty lies with the Bolivarian Revolution and nothing else. On March 6, in Caracas, he participated in a more intimate meeting with delegates of the international Network of Intellectuals, Artists and Social Movements in Defense of Humanity. It took place in a small hall in the Foreign Affairs building. During the course of this encounter, an exchange between the participants and the deputy naturally evolved. It was so engrossing that the banal act of taking notes would have failed to do justice to the content or the style in the best Chavista tradition exhibited by Rodríguez, which is also increasingly being demonstrated by President Nicolás Maduro and other leaders.

The discussion covered many themes. One, for example, was an incredibly lucid explanation of the view that the Bolivarian Revolution, which the block of deputies are part of, is based in words and deeds on opposition to U.S. imperialism and capitalism. While the Revolution is flexible in terms of tactics, for example, in negotiating with the majority pro-capitalist, pro-U.S. force in the National Assembly in order to strive for a peaceful solution to the crisis, when it comes to the question of principles and objectives, there is no compromise possible.

No wonder that those in the North, who rely on the corporate media, never hear about this “opposition” as personified in Rodríguez. This censorship takes place even though the establishment media must be in dire straits in the hunt for a new face to replace the bland dinosaur-type politicians in the National Assembly. Washington and its media would rather sink into the swamp of Venezuelan political oblivion, even though they should pay formal attention to the “opposition” as they do so faithfully not only in other countries but also, of course, in the U.S. Congress. If they ever decide to focus on Venezuela’s opposition to the National Assembly majority, Rodríguez and other such deputies would no doubt steal the show.

Another distinguishing feature of the Bolivarian Revolution opposition is that its rejection of the status quo is defined more by what it is in favor of than what it is against. The goals of the Bolivarian Revolution comprise social and economic equality, housing, food, health, education, culture, sports and a participatory and protagonist democracy, the very essence of which is blocked by imperialism and the neoliberal status quo.

Those of us who came of political age in the 1960s felt right at home as the deputy zeroed in on the imperialists, gringos and Yankees while making crystal clear what we already know. The conflict is not with the people of the U.S., who were duly represented in red those days in Caracas, but rather with the ruling circles who, as Martí and Bolívar said in their own respective ways, are destined to plague the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean with hardship and misery.

Moreover, the U.S. is doubling-down on its reprehensible destiny as the peoples in the South strive to finally break free from the shackles of the most forceful and aggressive military and economic power in the history of mankind (or surely since the fascism of WWII), represented by Republicans and Democrats. Thus, it was encouraging to hear President Maduro on that memorable evening in Caracas telling the truth: Venezuela has not been attacked by any U.S. president as much as during the eight years of Obama. Let that sink in.

In this context, the intransigent Bolivarian opposition to U.S. imperialism is no small matter. Venezuela, at the forefront of anti-U.S. imperialism today, is thus writing another chapter in modern world history, as the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro have done in safeguarding their sovereignty, dignity and the social system they have chosen.

For his part, Rodríguez walked the audience very carefully and deliberately, repeating as if to test our determination (and looking us in the eyes), that while the battle is at present still mainly in the realm of ideas, if necessary – if necessary – Venezuela will also fight militarily. There is no doubt that if forced to do so, the Bolivarian Revolution will resist in this way as well. This is why all of humanity must today more than ever stand with Venezuela

During the course of the exchange with Rodríguez, what stands out is his deep political conviction illuminated by clarity in theory. This is not merely manifested by ideas and words. When ideas and words combine with action, they become a material force in society. Material force means that the ideas become an organic part of society: the ideas in the minds of individuals such as Rodríguez and other leaders and activists at all levels are socialized and thus evolve into a common movement replete with diversity. Yes, diversity – but always and only within the wide framework of broad-based Chavismo.

Thus, the minority in the National Assembly — and perhaps still a minority of 40 percent, or even half of the population in the shifting sands, of Venezuelan society – represents the future of Venezuela and that whole region. A material force such as the Bolivarian Revolution cannot be snuffed out. Yes, it can suffer setbacks, but it cannot be eliminated.

Nevertheless, Chavismo is not an electoral movement but a revolution in the making and constantly redefining itself. It does so to the extent of fearlessly organizing revolutions within the revolution, striving to carry this out in conjunction with the people and activists at all levels. With this fresh approach so singularly characteristic of the Bolivarian Revolution, the irresistible material force of socialism to replace capitalism and foreign dependence increasingly takes root and grows in Venezuelan society and on its political scene.

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Venezuela Cash Reserves Reach New Low Amid U.S.- Led Sabotage

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Venezuela Currency Slide

From 1958 up until Chávez’s presidency began in 1998, Venezuelan politics rigidly conformed to U.S. political and economic interests on all strategic issues. For nearly 40 years, Venezuela was at the U.S.’ beck and call – following Washington’s lead in breaking off relations with Cuba, supporting U.S. invasions of other Latin American nations and backing U.S. counter-insurgency policies throughout the region.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Venezuelan government moved to make the nation’s economy subservient to U.S. interests by committing to programs promoted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that privatized the majority of the nation’s resources  and introduced drastic austerity programs.

While U.S. corporations reaped massive profits,Venezuela’s inflation hit triple digits, its unemployment rate spiked and poverty rates hovered around 50 percent. As a result, these policies fostered caustic resentment against U.S. domination of Venezuela’s political and economic structures, resulting in the rise of Hugo Chávez.

Chávez, upon becoming president, worked to unchain Venezuela from U.S. influence, passing numerous reforms and nationalizing key utilities that had been privatized decades earlier. These efforts, which translated into dwindling U.S. influence, earned him the ire of the Bush administration, whose efforts to oust Chávez culminated in the failed coup attempt of 2002.

Emboldened by the U.S.’ failed regime change efforts, Chávez then moved to nationalize Venezuelan oil and even more utilities, ejecting numerous U.S.-based multinational corporations in the process. Though the U.S. refrained from attempting to overthrow him, the Venezuelan government has accused them of being responsible for Chávez’s untimely death in 2013 – claiming that they induced the cancer that claimed his life as a covert means of assassination.

In the years since Chávez’s death, his successor Maduro has been fighting wave after wave of destabilization attempts. Most of these efforts have manifested economically, including widespread shortages of goods and basic necessities. However, on more than one occasion, Venezuelan authorities have caught businesses hoarding food, medicine and other goods in order to create the appearance of scarcity while raising profits through massive price increases and the smuggling of goods to Colombia.

The Venezuelan government has also accused these businesses of intentionally creating scarcity with the goal of fueling unrest that could destabilize the government. If history is any indication, this is quite likely, considering the same tactics were used against the Allende government in Chile in the 1970s.

However, the most destabilizing influence of all has been lower global oil prices. Venezuela’s economy is largely dependent on oil exports, which represent 90 percent of its total exports. Thus, the decline in oil prices has done a number on the nation’s economy – even forcing them to import oil due to the financial difficulties plaguing the country’s refineries.

This decrease in oil prices has not been based on the whims of the market, but rather a concerted effort led by the U.S. and its ally Saudi Arabia. The artificial lowering of oil prices has several benefits for the U.S.-Saudi alliance due to the economic harm it inflicts on the Saudi’s oil-producing competitors – chief among them Iran, Russia, and Venezuela. These are also countries that the U.S. aims to contain.

Maduro was well aware of the situation when he asked rhetorically: “What is the reason for the United States and some U.S. allies wanting to drive down the price of oil? To harm Russia.” But Venezuela has arguably been much harder hit than any other country targeted by the price drop.

Another tactic employed by the U.S. to force Maduro out of power has been the imposition of sanctions. In 2015, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Venezuela, asserting that the South American nation was a direct threat to U.S. national security, despite no evidence offered to support this claim. At the time, many journalists and analysts noted that the timing was odd, as it coincided with the Obama administration’s attempts to normalize relations with Cuba.

“President Barack Obama … has personally decided to take on the task of defeating my government and intervening in Venezuela to control it,” Maduro said in a televised address soon after the sanctions were announced.

Despite Venezuela’s resilience against U.S.-led sabotage for nearly two decades, they may not be able to hold out for much longer. Venezuela’s cash reserves have dwindled to a mere 10.5 billion dollars, 7.2 billion of which they must use this year just to pay off outstanding debts. These latest figures, based off of data recently released by the nation’s central bank, show that the South American nation’s reserves have declined dramatically. For instance, in 2015, Venezuela had 20 billion dollars in reserves and, in 2011, it held over 30 billion dollars.

Venezuela is running out of time, as the country is set to run out of cash within a year or two. But the day of reckoning could come sooner if the U.S. and the Saudis choose to collude once again in slashing global oil prices, as this would further crippling Venezuela’s economy.

Some of Venezuela’s more powerful allies may try to keep the Maduro-led government afloat. But if Venezuela’s government were to run out of funds and subsequently collapse, it would only be the latest leftist government to fall in a nearly century-old U.S. government effort to eradicate socialism and democracy in Latin America.

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Reading Marx’s Capital Today: Lessons from Latin America

south america

This paper was presented at the International conference 150 years Karl Marx’s Capital – Reflections for the 21st century held in Athens, Greece on January 14-15, 2017. Organized by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung – Athens Office in cooperation with Theseis, the conference discussed the actuality of Marx’s theoretical system of the critique of political economy 150 years on from the publication of CapitalVolume I.

The video of this presentation is available on YouTube. This article first published by Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

It reproduces much of what I have outlined in my book A World to Build. New Paths Toward Twenty‑First Century Socialism, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2015.

1. One hundred and fifty years ago, Karl Marx published his book Capital, an intellectual effort of great breadth, with the aim of revealing the logic of capitalist production and providing workers with theoretical instruments for their liberation. Having discovered the logic of the system, he was able to foresee with great anticipation much of what is happening in the world capitalist economy today. But, we cannot mechanically apply what is outlined in Capital to the current reality of Latin America.

2. As Marx explained in the preface to the first edition, the goal of his research was not to study a concrete social formation; England was only taken as an illustrative example of the most advanced concrete expression of capitalist production at that time.

3. Marx’s major intellectual effort was directed to studying “the capitalist mode of production and the forms of intercourse that correspond to it,” in order “to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society.” That is why “it is not a question of the higher or lower degree of development of the social antagonisms that springs out from the natural laws of capitalist production. It is a question of these laws themselves […].”

4. We must be able to distinguish between the study of the capitalist mode of production, a theoretical abstract object, and the concrete historical study of a social formation and the study of the class struggles within it. Not keeping in mind these different levels of abstraction and applying Marx’s concepts mechanically as if reality has not changed over the last 150 years, led many of our Latin American Marxist intellectuals and activists to try to insert our reality in the classic concepts, thereby preventing them from understanding the new phenomena occurring in our region outside those parameters.

5. The object of this paper is to look at these new phenomena and to carry out some reflections on what has happened in our region in the last decades, looking at the ways they approach and differ from what Marx outlined in Capital.

I. Latin America: Pioneer in the Rejection of Neoliberalism

6. Today, when there is a growing rejection of neoliberalism in the world, we should remember that Latin America was the first region to implement neoliberal policies. Chile, my country, was used as a testing ground for neoliberal policies before Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government implemented them in the United Kingdom. But it was also the first region in the world after the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the USSR, that gradually came to reject these policies that only served to increase poverty, aggravate social inequalities, destroy the environment, and weaken working class and popular movements in general.

Horrors of neoliberalism

7. Our situation in the 1980s and 1990s was in some way comparable to that experienced by pre-revolutionary Russia in the beginning of the twentieth century. What the imperialist war and its horrors were for Russia, neoliberalism and its horrors was for Latin America. In these circumstances, our peoples said “Enough!” and began to struggle, resisting at first, and then going on the offensive, making possible the victory of left-wing presidential candidates with anti-neoliberal programs in our region.

Popular movements: the main protagonists. The labour movement: the great absentee

8. We can say that in each and every country, albeit in different ways, popular movements, and not political parties, were at the forefront of the struggle, especially rural and indigenous movements. The disastrous effects of neoliberalism led them in many cases to shift their focus from isolated issues to national matters, which not only enriched their struggles and demands but also enabled them to call on support from highly diverse social sectors, all of them negatively affected by that same system.

* Hit by neoliberal measures

9. Missing in much of the Latin American political scene, was the traditional workers’ movement.

10. This was due in great measure to the implementation of neoliberal economic measures such as precarious labour conditions and subcontracting and its strategy of social fragmentation that divided the working class internally.[1] Nevertheless we cannot deny that ideological differences and the personalism of their leadership also contributed.

* Domestication through debt

11. Another form of weakening the working class has been the promotion of consumerism. In making the superfluous a necessity[2](something intrinsic to capitalist development, as Marx points out in Capital) and in promoting credit loan, a new “mechanism of domestication” was created.[3]

12. As Tomas Moulián, a Chilean sociologist, says, “indebtedness” worsens the panic of losing employment and is therefore an important “factor of social demobilization.”[4]

A mechanical application of the structure of classes in Capital

13. The critical emphasis placed on the industrial working class led Marxists to pay no attention to the specific characteristics of the continent’s revolutionary social subject, ignoring the reflections that had been carried out in this respect by Latin American thinkers such as Jose Mariátegui and Haya de la Torre. For many years we were not able to perceive the role that indigenous people and Christians can play in revolutions in Latin America.

14. We applied, in a very mechanical way, the categories of classes employed by Marx in Capital to our reality in Latin America, not knowing about his later analyses regarding Russia’s situation, where he could verify the important role played by peasants in a country where the industrial working class was a minority.

A wider concept of the revolutionary subject

15. It was the Salvadoran guerrilla’s commandant, Schafik Jorge Handal, general secretary of Communist Party of that country, who indicated in the ’80s that the industrial working class couldn’t be considered the only revolutionary social sector, that new social sectors should also be considered revolutionary subjects.

II. Actual Correlation of Forces

Changes in Latin America’s political landscape

16. We all know Latin America’s political landscape has been radically altered since Hugo Chávez was elected in 1998. Within a few years, progressive or left candidates were elected in most of the region’s countries.

17. A new correlation of forces has been established that makes it more difficult for the United States to achieve its objectives in the region.

18. But, as could be expected, the U.S. government has never ceased in its intents to stop the advance of our processes, intents that have achieved some important temporary successes in this last few years. Taking advantage of the big economic difficulties arising because of the world crisis of capitalism, and especially the drop in the prices of our raw materials, ultra neoliberal rulers had been installed in Argentina and Brazil and they are trying to block the advances of the Bolivarian revolution. Nobody can deny that the correlation of forces today is not as favourable as it was a few years ago. [Ed.: see Bullet No. 1293.]

Alternative

19. In our region, we have governments of a very different type. A minority defend neoliberalism, but it is a minority with significant economic and political weight. The majority are progressive or leftist that are looking for alternative solutions to this system.

20. These last governments, even though very different from each other, have at least four identical planks in their platforms: the struggles for social equality, for political democratization, for national sovereignty, and for regional integration.

21. We can divide them into governments that, without breaking with neoliberal policies, emphasize social issues (until recently Brazil and Argentina), and those governments that are trying to break with neoliberal policies using the support of popular mobilization (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador).

III. Chávez’s Role

Courage

22. It was Hugo Chávez who had the courage to call this alternative to capitalism – socialism, in spite of its negative connotations. He called it Twenty-First Century Socialism, adding the adjective twenty-first century to differentiate this new socialism from the errors and deviations that occurred in implementing twentieth-century socialism. This new socialism should not fall into “the errors of the past” and commit the same “Stalinist deviations” whereby the party became bureaucratized and ended up eliminating popular protagonism.

Popular protagonism

23. The need for popular protagonism was a recurring theme in the Venezuelan president’s speeches and was an element that distinguished his proposals for democratic socialism from others where the state solves problems and the people are accustomed to receiving benefits like a gift.

24. He was convinced that socialism could not be decreed from above; that it was necessary to build it with the people. And, like Marx, he understood that protagonistic participation is what allows human beings to grow and achieve self-confidence, to develop themselves as human beings and build a new life.

Kropotkin

25. I always remember the first “Theoretical Aló Presidente,” broadcast on television and radio on June 11, 2009, where he quoted at length from a letter that Peter Kropotkin – the Russian anarchist – wrote to Lenin on March 4, 1920.

“Without the participation of local forces, without an organization from below of the peasants and workers themselves, it is impossible to build a new life.

“It would seem that the Soviets were going to fulfill precisely this function of creating an organization from below. But Russia has already become a Soviet Republic in name only. The party’s influence over people has already destroyed the influence and constructive energy of this promising institution – the Soviets.”[5]

Chávez coined the term “twenty-first century socialism”

26. We can say, without a doubt, that Chávez was the person who coined the phrase “Twenty-First Century Socialism.” I say he “coined” it in the sense that he was responsible for popularizing the name, because some authors had already used it, for example, the Chilean sociologist, Tomas Moulián, in his book Twenty-First Century Socialism: The Fifth Way, which was published in 2000.

27. Conscious of the negative baggage that came with the term, the Bolivarian leader decided to explain to his people, via numerous public interventions, all the benefits that this new society would bring them, contrasting this with the situation created by capitalism. His pedagogical efforts were so successful that, according to polls before Chávez’s death, more than half of the Venezuelan population preferred socialism to capitalism.

What to understand about twenty-first century socialism

28. When we use the term Twenty-First Century Socialism we are thinking of a humanist and solidarian society, with full popular protagonism. A society that applies an ecologically sustainable model of development. A model that satisfies in an equal way the population’s true necessities and not the artificial necessities created by capitalism in its campaign to obtain more profit. A society in which the organized people decide what, how much and how to produce.

29. As we will see later on, many of these ideas recover Marx’s original thought, synthetically expressed in some lines of Capital and expanded in later works.

30. Chávez was not naive, as some might think. He knew that the forces opposed to this project were tremendously powerful. However, being a realist does not mean one must accept the conservative vision of politics that sees it as simply the art of the possible. For Chávez, the art of politics was to make the impossible possible, not by sheer willpower, but by taking the existing reality as one’s starting point and working to build favourable conditions and a correlation of social forces capable of changing that reality. He knew that to make possible in the future what today appears impossible required changing the correlation of forces at both the national and the international level. While in government, he worked masterfully to achieve this, understanding that to build political power, agreements among top leaders were not enough. The most important task was building up social forces.

31. The Venezuelan leader understood that an alternative society to capitalism simultaneously required an alternative globalization to neoliberal globalization. He never sought to build socialism in one country. Chávez was completely clear that this was not possible, which is why he put such an emphasis on shifting the correlation of forces at both the regional and international level.

IV. A Transition Starting with the Conquest of Government

Transition in advanced countries

32. The most common interpretation of Marxism up until the Russian Revolution maintained that socialism would start with the more advanced countries, where capitalism itself had created the material and cultural conditions for it, as Marx himself outlined in Capital: the concentration of capital every day into fewer and fewer hands contrasts with the ever greater “socialization of labour,” the huge development of the productive forces, “the conscious technical application of science, the planned exploitation of the soil,” “the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and, with this, the growth of the international character of the capitalist regime,” “a [working] class constantly increasing in numbers, and trained, united and organized by the very mechanism of the capital process of production,” a growing contradiction between productive forces / relations of production, collective work.[6]

33. This situation should lead, according to Marx, to a revolutionary conquest of state power that was thought to be the sine qua non that would make it possible to expropriate the expropriators, arriving at “cooperation and possession in common of the land and the means of production produced by labour itself.”[7]

34. This idea of transition – which never actually took place – has been used as an argument against Marx, but this only reflects that those who raise this issue have not read his later writings, in which he modified his initial vision and began to focus much more on the political, rather than economic, conditions for revolution.

35. In his September 27, 1877 letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, Marx maintained: “This time the revolution will begin in the East.” Why did he say this? Due to the political situation he could see brewing in Russia at the time, everything seemed to indicate that a war between Russia and Turkey would break out, and that the Russian government would be defeated, with grave economic and political consequences flowing out of this defeat.[8]

36. But Marx not only foresaw the possibility of political revolution in a backward country; he also saw the possibilities arising out of the tradition of collective property in the countryside, which could provide the basis for a transition from the commune to socialism that bypassed a period of capitalist agriculture.[9]

Transition in underdeveloped countries

37. History demonstrated that Marx was right. The construction of socialism did not begin in advanced capitalist countries that had a large and experienced industrial working class but in countries where capitalist development was only just beginning, whose population was predominantly peasant, and whose working class was a minority of the population.

38. Why did it happen like that? Because political conditions out-stripped economic conditions.

39. The outcome of the February 1917 Russian Revolution was considered by Lenin to be “the first stage of the first of the proletarian revolutions which are the inevitable result of war.” According to Lenin, it was the horrors of the imperialist war that led to these proletarian insurrections and these evils could only be cured if the proletariat took power in Russia and adopted measures that, even if not yet socialist, were steps toward socialism.

40. And, as I already said, something like this happened in Latin America.

The institutional road to socialism: a difficult transition

41. In Latin America the transition process is occurring under very different social conditions to those imagined by Marx in Capital and – even though there are some similarities – very different to those of the Russian revolution.

42. Chávez perceived early on the particularities of this transition process that he initiated in his country, and which was to become a precursor of similar processes in other countries in Latin America. Among them, that they had only been able to conquer government and not all state power, and that because of this the process of transition would begin with an inherited state apparatus with characteristics that were functional to the capitalist system, not the advancement of socialism.

43. Nevertheless, practice has demonstrated that – contrary to the theoretical dogmatism of some sectors of the radical left – you can use this inherited state and transform it into an instrument that collaborates with building the new society.

44. But this is only possible if two conditions are met. First, state institutions run by revolutionary cadres willing to adopt measures to transform these institutions. Second, an organized popular movement able to control its actions and to press for that transformation.

Changing the rules of the game

45. But we must be clear that this does not mean we can simply limit ourselves to using the inherited state. It is necessary to build the foundations of a new institutional body and of a new political system.

46. And a first step for achieving this goal is changing the rules of the institutional game. Therein lies the importance of the constituent processes that occurred in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia and enshrined those new rules in new constitutions.

47. I am convinced that it is not possible to build socialism via the peaceful road without carrying out a constituent process. But this does not mean that we can deal with this issue in a voluntaristic manner. It only makes sense to promote a process of this type once revolutionary forces believe they can obtain the electoral support required to ensure the approval of the necessary changes. It makes no sense to promote a constituent process if the end result is the approval of a new institutional framework that will act as an obstacle to change.

48. This was precisely why the Popular Unity (UP) in Chile decided against convoking a constituent assembly: they were unsure they could win. But I have always wondered, what would have happened if we had pushed our forces to the limit and gone door-to-door promoting this issue? It is important to remember that when the opposition in Venezuela proposed a recall referendum as a means to remove Chávez from power, the polls indicated they had a majority, and that there was a real risk that the vote against Chávez would win. Nevertheless, Chávez decided to accept the challenge and campaigned hard to build a correlation of forces capable of ensuring his victory.

49. That is why I have asked myself, what are the possibilities for converting the generalized discontent that exists among Chileans today toward the current institutional framework – something the youth of my country have so brilliantly exposed with their struggles – into a demand for a constituent assembly that no politician could oppose, if we were to tap into this discontent by carrying out a consciousness-raising campaign on this issue, going door-to-door, classroom to classroom, workplace to workplace?

Create new institutions (missions)

50. Apart from changing the rules of the institutional game, it is necessary to look for unexplored roads to confront the inherited bureaucratic apparatus. To provide medical assistance to the most neglected sectors, Chávez decided to create institutions to run programs outside of the old state apparatus. This was the objective of the different social missions created by the government: health, education, distribution of essential products on lower prices, etc.

51. For example, the Ministry of Health’s bureaucratic apparatus was not able to respond to the healthcare demands of the very poor who lived in far away places or areas that are hard to get to, such as the poor neighbourhoods located on hillsides in Caracas, small rural towns, etc.

52. Where did that inability come from?

53. On one hand, because doctors working in the inherited health system didn’t want to go to these places – they weren’t really interested in providing healthcare; their aim was to make money. Additionally, they were not prepared to provide the type of healthcare that was needed, since they were basically educated as specialists and not as general practitioners.

54. While a new generation of Venezuelan doctors was being educated to meet this demand, the government decided to create Misión Barrio Adentro, building medical clinics in the cerros (hillsides) and barrios (shanty towns) to provide basic healthcare to the poorest people. The government sought the collaboration of Cuban doctors to help them in this endeavour. The Misión has had such positive results and an excellent reception from the Venezuelan people that the opposition is now saying in their electoral campaigns that it will keep the missions but will make them much more efficient.

Transform inherited institutions (the military)

55. The government is not only capable of creating new institutions more suited to the new tasks; it is also capable – up to a point – of transforming the inherited state apparatus, for example, the armed institution.

56. And a factor that can help very much in this sense is a new constitution that enshrines in its articles new ways for organizing society and establishes a new social order that serves the majority of the population, not the elites. Such a constitution can ensure that the natural wealth of a country, previously ceded to transnational companies, returns to state hands. It can ensure the construction of independent and sovereign states in which different forms of popular protagonism are promoted. And as one of the functions of the armed forces is to defend the order of a country, by defending this new order, they will thus be defending the homeland and the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population, not the interests of the elites.

57. That is what happened in Venezuela. The new constitution became an important ally of the process, because defending the constitution means nothing if not defending the changes undertaken by the Chávez government. It was this constitution that allowed the majority of the Venezuelan military to rebel against the coup-supporting officers and decide to disobey the orders of their superiors.

58. For reasons of time I cannot expand here on a series of other measures for transforming important state institutions.

V. Other Important Tasks and the Problems that Emerge

1. Changing the relations of production

59. These governments are capable of going about implementing a coherent strategy toward changing the relations of production, materializing Marx’s idea that the producers of social wealth are the ones who should take their destiny into their own hands.

What to understand by social wealth?

60. But, what do we mean by social wealth?[10] Marx argued there were only two sources of wealth: nature and human labour, this last one being the most decisive. Without its intervention, the potential wealth contained in nature would never be able to become real wealth.[11]

61. Marx noticed that along with “living human labour,” there is also what the author of Capital called “dead labour.” The labour embodied in the tools, machines, improvements made to land, and, of course, intellectual and scientific discoveries that substantially increased social productivity are a legacy passed down from generation to generation; they are a social heritage – a wealth of the people.

62. But who owns this wealth, these social assets? Capitalism, through a process of mystification, has convinced us that the rightful owners of this wealth are the capitalists. Socialism, by contrast, begins by recognizing that wealth incorporating the labour of generations is a social heritage; it does not belong to specific people or specific countries, and because of that must be used in the interests of society as a whole rather than to serve private interests.

63. The question is: how do we ensure this happens? The only way is to de-privatize these resources, transforming them into social property.

From state property to collective property
State property: only a juridical change

64. But, social property is not the same as state property. During the initial phase of socialism, the placement of the principal means of production in state hands represents nothing more than a juridical change of property; the process of labour suffers very few variations. The alienated status of the workers in the production process remains unchanged, the subordination to an external force – the new socialist managers – continues. This is formally collective property, because the state represents society, but real appropriation (ownership) is still not collective.

65. That is why Engels argues:

“State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution. This solution can only consist in the practical recognition of the social nature of the modern forces of production, and therefore in the harmonizing of the mode of production, appropriation and exchange with the socialized character of the means of production. And this can only come about by society openly and directly taking possession of the productive forces which have outgrown all control, except that of society as a whole.”[12]

66. This is what Marx conceived of as the exercise of a “conscious and planned control.”[13]

Participatory planning: How society takes possession of social wealth

67. These ideas exposed by Marx and Engels were interpreted in twentieth-century socialism as the necessity of a central authority to fix goals and the means by which to reach them, coordinating from above all efforts to build the new society. This led to bureaucratic planning that ignored people’s needs.

68. The process of planning in twenty-first century socialism should have a very different focus. It should be an eminently participatory process where the people in their neighbourhoods and in their work places lead the process.

69. It is here that Pat Devine’s contribution seems important to me. He distinguishes different levels of participation in relation to the different levels of social ownership. Each level is associated with those “affected by decisions over the use of the assets involved, in proportion to the extent to which they are affected.”

70. According to this logic, a bakery that produces bread and sweets for a given geographic area (for example, a commune), whose workers live in that area and whose raw material also comes from nearby farmers within the local area, should be owned by that commune. It makes no sense for that bakery to be owned by the nation as a whole.

71. In contrast, in the case of a strategic sector such as oil, it would be absurd for the oil workforce to claim ownership of a resource that belongs to all inhabitants of the country (or even to humanity as a whole). The surplus that is produced cannot only be dedicated to improve the conditions of their workers’ lives, but rather it should also be dedicated to new investments in the company, to support the development of the communities, and, as a wealth that belongs to the whole nation, a significant part of that surplus should contribute to the national budget. The legal ownership of this enterprise should be in the hands of the state; the effective possession or control of the process of production should be in the hands of the enterprise’s workers; but the destination of the product, once investments and labour remuneration have been deducted, should be defined by society as a whole.

72. I share with Pat Devine the idea that the actors in participatory planning will vary according to the different levels of social ownership. In the case of the community bakery, decisions on how much to produce, with what raw materials, what quality, what variety, when the product should be ready, how to distribute it, how much to invest in maintaining or expanding the enterprise, etc., should be made not only by those who work in the bakery but also by the people who produce the raw material used and by the consumers of bread and sweets in the little town.

73. Although the oil workers should participate in the management of the process of production of their company, decisions concerning reinvestment, new investment, marketing, the destination of the rest of the surplus, etc., must involve the entire society. In both cases, the local society or the national society should be present through its various representatives or spokespersons.

74. I am convinced that the process of participatory planning is an instrument for ensuring that property that has legally passed into the hands of the state (one of the central characteristics of socialism) is transformed into real social property. The modalities will depend on the level of social property.

Strategy for changing the relations of production

75. If we understand that changing the relation of production does not mean simply placing companies into the hands of the state; that it is not simply about a juridical change of property ownership to new owners (the popular state), we will understand that it is not an easy task. To change the relations of production means to change attitudes and ideas[14] and these changes cannot be carried out from one day to the next. It is a complex process that requires time.

76. It is therefore necessary to design a coherent strategy aimed at transforming the existing relations of productions into the new relations that are the hallmark of twenty-first century socialism. The steps to be taken and the speed with which these can be implemented will depend on the starting point and on the existing balance of forces.

77. To explain this more clearly, I have listed below some of the steps that will have to be taken – following the lead of Michael Lebowitz – when dealing with state-owned companies, when dealing with cooperatives, and when dealing with capitalist companies.

State companies

78. It goes without saying that the easiest transition is the one that can take place in state companies, since these are formally owned by society in general and are explicitly directed toward serving the interests of society.

79. In such companies it will be possible to move from formal ownership to real appropriation by:

  • creating workers’ council that allow workers to play a part in running the company;
  • organizing production to satisfy communal needs;
  • opening the books and ensuring complete transparency, thereby allowing workers to exercise a social accounting function and combat waste, corruption, and bureaucratic interest;
  • electing managers who share this vision and who have the trust of the workers;
  • applying a new type of efficiency in these companies that, as productivity improves, makes it possible for the workers to achieve more and more human development (introducing a workday that includes time for worker education so involvement in management is truly effective and not merely formal), and also respects the environment.

80. According to Michael Lebowitz, it is possible that specific companies that follow this type of social policy may not initially be profitable, but because these policies can be thought of as social investment, all of society should cover their costs.

Cooperatives

81. Cooperatives must be encouraged to overcome their narrow focus on the interests of the group that makes up the cooperative. How can this be achieved? One way to do it is to develop organic links with the rest of society.

82. In order to do this it is important to encourage:

  • forging links between cooperatives so they relate to each other in a cooperative and not a competitive way. In some cases it might be possible to integrate their activities directly without them being separated by commercial operations, and
  • forging relations between cooperatives and the communities. This is the best way to begin to move away from the private interests of each cooperative and focus on the interests and needs of people in general.

Capitalist companies

83. It may be possible to gradually transform capitalist companies by finding various ways to subordinate their economic activity to the interests of the national economic plan. Michael Lebowitz has called this “socialist conditionality.”

84. These measures could include:

  • demanding transparency and open books so communities and workers can inspect them;
  • using a system of prices and taxes that obliges companies to transfer a portion of their surpluses to other sectors of the economy, thus making it possible to set up new companies or to improve social services for the population;
  • using competition with state companies or subsidized cooperatives to oblige the capitalist companies to lower their prices and reduce their profits;
  • using government regulations that require companies to transform the workday so that a given number of hours is set aside for educating workers, and requiring them to implement specific ways for workers to participate in decision-making about how the company will be run.

85. But why would capitalist companies accept such impositions if they can move to other parts of the world where these costs do not exist? They might be willing to do so if the owners have a strong patriotic consciousness and if the revolutionary government rewards their collaboration with the national development plan by giving them easy credit from state banks and by guaranteeing that state companies or the state itself will purchase their products at prices acceptable to them. That is, the state can use its power to change the rules of the game under which capitalist companies can survive.

86. But if the government’s aim is to begin to move toward a society without exploiters and exploited, why design a strategy to incorporate capitalist companies into the national plan, if they continue to exploit workers?

87. The reason is very simple: the state is not capable of running all of these companies overnight. It has neither the economic resources nor the managerial experience needed. Nevertheless, we must never lose sight of the fact that capitalist companies placed in this situation are continually going to try to reduce the burden of the aforementioned “socialist conditionality.” At the same time, the revolutionary government, with the cooperation of workers and communities, will try to introduce more and more socialist features into these companies. There will therefore be a process of class struggle in which some will try to recover lost ground by returning to the capitalist past and others will try to continue to replace capitalist logic with a humanist, solidarity-based logic that makes it possible for all human beings to fully develop.

88. In general, we must strive to ensure that ownership of the means of production becomes increasingly social, while also ensuring that small-scale private property is allowed to exist.

2. A development model that respects nature

89. Another important task our governments face is implementing an economic development model that is not based on the indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources – as Marx points out in Capital[15] – but instead seeks to gradually re-establish the necessary harmonic metabolism between humans and nature.

Overcome poverty and respect nature

90. This is far from an easy task. The big dilemma our countries face is how to raise our people out of poverty and attend to their basic needs, while respecting nature. To aim for some kind of “zero growth,” as some propose, and to avoid the consumption of polluting energy and its degrading consequences for the environment, would mean enshrining existing inequalities between rich and poor countries, that is, between developed societies that have reached a high standard of living and the majority of humanity that are a long way from reaching those conditions. It is much easier to ask others to stop growing if one’s own needs are already satisfied.

91. I believe that in order for a fruitful debate to occur on this topic we should accept two facts. The first is that we should begin by recognizing that human beings have had to extract from nature since the dawn of time and that there is every likelihood that they will have to continue doing so, to one degree or another. The problem is not whether or not to extract but how to extract in a way that maintains what Marx termed the healthy metabolism between humankind and nature. The first inhabitants of the planet extracted fruit from trees, fish from the seas, etc., but in those times and in later centuries they extracted from nature in a manner that maintained that healthy metabolism. However, when the capitalist system arose, the profit motive inherent to it led it to prioritize the exploitation of nature to the maximum regardless of the effects its economic activity had on nature, thereby destroying the healthy metabolism that had existed previously. In this context, more and more is extracted, and natural resources are becoming depleted, with all the additional consequences that this behaviour has on climate change.

92. My second point is that in order to be able to initiate a productive debate, I think it is essential to understand that the resources located in a particular territory – minerals, petroleum, gas, aquifer springs, forest reserves – should not be considered resources that belong to the inhabitants of those places. The oil in Venezuela and Ecuador, the gas in Bolivia, and copper in Chile are gifts from heaven. They are resources that belong to society as a whole, so it is society as a whole that should decide whether to extract or not. Of course it is necessary to engage in serious dialogue with those who live in the area to ensure that their concerns are addressed and their needs met to the best of our ability. But they need to understand that interests are at stake in such situations that transcend those of particular communities.

The need for a different kind of development

93. If we can agree on the two previous points, then we need to look at concrete proposals for how to use our natural resources under today’s prevailing circumstances in order to advance, little by little, toward building an economic development model that allows us to re-establish that healthy metabolism between human beings and nature.

94. It is therefore not about saying no to development, but instead “conceiving and making reality genuinely human models of development,” those that satisfy “in an equal way the necessities of their inhabitants without putting in danger the satisfaction of the necessities of the future generations,” a society in which it is the organized people who decide what is produced and how it is produced.

95. In this sense our governments have made advances and taken some significant steps in this regard. Nevertheless, we should recognize that there is still a big gap between the discourse and practical steps taken so far. But, at least, they have demonstrated that there is an intention of advancing in that sense.

96. An important step has been to use extractive resources to tackle poverty. By doing so we are also creating better environmental conditions, because in many cases, poverty is a big contributing factor to environmental degradation. Illegal logging for firewood to use in cooking and to keep warm is one of the clearest examples of this.

Popular participation in the defence of the environment

97. As the challenge is enormous and the temptations are many I find very interesting what the Bolivian constitution proposes in terms of “popular action” against any violation or threat to a series of rights, including among them, those of the environment.[16] It also proposes the creation of a tribunal dedicated exclusively to agro-environmental issues.[17] Authorities to this tribunal were elected by the people in unprecedented elections held in October 2011.

3. Government actions should always consider the double product of every human activity

Transforming nature and transforming oneself

98. We have said that one of the fundamental characteristics of twenty-first century socialism is that it cannot be decreed from above but rather it has to be built by the people.

99. Again here we find Marx’s original thought. He affirmed that not only does labour transform nature but, at the same time, it transforms the person that executes that labour.[18] Whereas the worker is alienated and crushed in the case of capitalism,[19] the society of associate producers will allow a higher form of society, a society in which “the full and free development of every individual [is] the ruling principle.”[20]

100. Michael Lebowitz has widely explored this idea in a number of his books dedicated to the issue of twenty-first century socialism. He has identified the relationship between human development and revolutionary practice as the “key link” in Marx. According to him[21] every human activity has two products: “both the change in the object of labour and the change in the labourer herself.”[22]

101. Sharing his perspectives, I prefer to speak of a material, objective product (the object produced), and a subjective or human product (the change in the person that carries out that work or that practice).

102. Given I previously referred to the very important role participatory planning plays in the construction of socialism, I wanted to use this example to illustrate the idea of the double product. When the inhabitants of a community design their community plan, this activity results in a double product. The first product is the plan itself, which is an objective, material product that has been elaborated in a participatory manner and is tangible in the sense that it is there for all to see. The second is a subjective, spiritual product that is much less tangible and can only be seen through discerning eyes. It is the transformation of the people, their growth as human beings, which occurs as a result of their involvement in this process.

103. This is an educational process in which those that participate learn to enquire about the causes of things, to respect the opinion of others, to understand that the problems they face are not exclusive to their street or neighborhood but are related to the overall situation of the economy, the national social situation, and even the international situation. They learn that everyone’s problems and every community’s problems should be examined within the context of the reality that other people and other communities face, which may be much more difficult and urgent than theirs. Through this, new relations of solidarity and complementarity are created that place an emphasis on the collective rather than the individual.

104. All this means that those who participate in this process are politicized, in the broader sense of the term, and develop an independent mind that can no longer be manipulated by a media that remains overwhelmingly in the hands of the opposition.

105. When people become involved in the planning process, they grow as human beings; it gives them dignity, it increases their self-esteem and broadens their knowledge on political, cultural, social, economic and environmental issues. And most importantly, they no longer feel like beggars demanding solutions from the state. They become the creators of their own destiny and the destiny of their communities.

106. This subjective product is what the technocrats never keep in mind. They prefer perfect documents to those of smaller quality but that have the merit of having been made by the people.

107. I believe that after this explanation we can better understand why popular participation plays such a central role in twenty-first century socialism. Participation, protagonism in all spaces, is what allows people to grow, to win self-confidence, that is, to achieve full human development.

108. I find it interesting to note that the Bolivarian constitution (draft via a Constituent Assembly and approved in a referendum in 1999) is probably the only one of its kind in terms of drawing a direct relationship between protagonism and integral human development, both individual and collective.

109. How different would the current situation in Latin America be if our progressive governments had always had in their mind, in the different actions they have adopted, this idea of the double product; if instead of solving problems from above, they appealed to the participation of the people to solve them!

110. Unfortunately, many times technocratic vision has dominated: “If the top cadres have clear and right ideas, why lose time in discussions with the people, what matters is quick solutions.” They have never considered the subjective, human result obtained when they execute such actions. They have realized too late that without the participation of the people many measures have not achieved the prospective effectiveness and, what is worse, they have not prepared the people to defend the conquests; they have not created the capabilities for fighting new successful battles.

111. To conclude, Marx’s purpose in Capital – published 150 years ago – was to widely expose the logic in which the capitalist mode of production functions. He did so after dedicating years to investigating what was happening in the more advanced capitalist countries. But, as we know, he recognized a difference between the Western European path and the Russian path. Our purpose, as Latin American revolutionary activists, should be to develop a Latin American path for the construction of socialism, looking for solutions without the blinders of dogmatic Marxism.

112. Even though the objectives we intend to reach are identical to those briefly outlined by Marx in Capital, especially the one about seeking full human development, this, without a doubt, requires an original path. We are obliged, as Simón Rodríguez says, “to invent in order not to commit errors.” But to build a solid economic base that allows us to realize that full human development, we should also keep in mind the logic of the capitalist mode of production and its effects on the current world, as described by Marx in his masterpiece.

Endnotes:

1. The number of workers in precarious, insecure jobs, and those excluded by the system, increases day by day. The industrial and mining working class has greatly diminished. The strategic companies subcontract many of the tasks that previously undertook, thereby vastly decreasing the weight of the labour force in strategic places, many of which have passed into the hands of foreign capitals.

2. Herbert Marcuse, El hombre unidimensional. Ensayo sobre la ideología de la sociedad industrial avanzada, Ed. Planeta/Agostini, Barcelona, 1993 (1ª ed. 1954) p. 39.

3. T. Moulián, Chile actual, anatomía de un mito, Ed. Arcis / LOM, Stgo de Chile, p.105.

4. Op. cit.

5. See: Kropotkin Letter to Lenin,” March 4, 1920.

6. Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, Vintage Books, New York, 1977, p. 929. Marx adds: “The centralization of the means of production and the socialization of labour reach a point at which they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” (Ibidem).

7. Op. cit. p. 929.

8. Karl Marx, “Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge,” Londres, September 27, 1877 in: Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, p.308.

9. On this topic see: Teodor Shanin and others, Late Marx and the Russian Road, Marx and the Peripheries of Capitalism, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1983.

10. Michael Lebowitz has an entire chapter dedicated to analyze this topic in his book: The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development, Monthly Review Press, New York, Chapter 1: The wealth of people, pp. 31-45.

11. “Labour,” Marx said, “is the father of material wealth, the earth is the mother.” (Capital, Volume I. p. 134.

12. F. Engels, Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, p. 90.

13. Marx imagined “the material process of production” that will replace capitalism as “the production of free associated men [that] stands under their conscious and planned control” (Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, 171), “[…] an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending there many different forms of labour‑power in full self awareness as one single social force. […] The total product of our imagined association is a social product. One part of this product serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another part is consumed as means of subsistence. This part must be divided among them. Labour‑time would in that case play a double part. Its apportionment in accordance with the definitive social plan maintains the correct proportion between the different function of labour and the various needs of the associations. On the other hand, labour‑time also serves as a measure of the part taken by each individual in the common labour, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption, […] (pp.171‑172) In the Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx will specify more the characteristics that this distribution should have.

14. Michael Lebowitz, “Building New Productive Relations Now,” in The Socialist Imperative, From Gotha to Now; Monthly Review Press, New York, 2015. Most of the ideas that I outline here are developed with more depth in this text.

15. “[…] all progress in capitalist agriculture recent progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress toward winning the more long-lasting sources of that fertility. […] Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original of sources of all what is wealth – the soil and the worker.” (Capital, Volume I, p. 638).

16. Article 135 of the Bolivian constitution proposes that the organized people can and should react via what the constitution calls “popular action” to any violation or threat against a series of rights, including among them, those of the environment.

17. Articles 187-190 allows for the creation of a tribunal dedicated exclusively to agro-environmental issues. Authorities to this tribunal were elected by the people in unprecedented elections held in October 2011 for the entire judicial system.

18. “[…] Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changed it, and in these way he simultaneously changes his own nature,” Karl Marx, Capital, Volume One, Op. cit, p. 383.

19. “[…] the capitalist transformation of the process of production also appears as a martyrology for the producer; the instruments of labour appear as a means of enslaving, exploiting, and impoverishing the worker; the social combination of labour process appears as an organized suppression of his individual vitality, freedom and autonomy.” (Capital, Volume I, p.638). In Chapter 15: Machinery and Large Scale Industry, Marx dedicates more than 150 pages to analyze the different effects capitalist system has had in the working class. (Op. cit. pp. 492-642).

20. Op. cit. p. 739.

21. See his book: The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2010, Chapter 2. The production of people, pp. 47‑63.

22. Op. cit. p. 52.

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Foreign-Funded NGOs in Ecuador: Trojan Horse for Intervention?

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teleSUR

Ecuador has come under fire for scrutinizing non-profits like Accion Ecologica, many of whom get millions from Europe and North America.

Ecuador, the tiny South American nation sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, rarely makes waves in the English-speaking world’s corporate mediascape. Last year, news traveled far on at least two occasions.

First, with an earthquake that killed at least 673 people. Second, when the government moved to investigate and potentially dissolve a nonprofit called Accion Ecologica in connection with deadly violence between members of an Amazonian tribe and police sent to protect a Chinese-operated mining project.

Ecologists and prominent activists friendly to the group, including heavy-weights such as Naomi Klein, called out what they characterized as a callous repression and criminalization of Indigenous people protecting the unparalleled richness of the Amazon and alleged state prejudice against an underdog non-profit organization that was only there to save the rainforest and its inhabitants.

Ecuador’s socialist government, on the other hand, sees the “underdog” label as misplaced.

NGOs may be seen as do-gooders, but that’s not always the case. As a country historically vulnerable to the whims of powers in the North, Ecuador has, under the administration of the outgoing President Rafael Correa, put up a guard against a new kind of public diplomacy from abroad that focuses on gaining the favor of civil society to indirectly execute their political priorities.

NGOs are flagged when they operate outside the bounds of the law and their stated objectives, indicators of potential pressure from outside funders to protect their interests rather than those of nationals.

“We’re an Ecuadorean NGO, born here in Ecuador and working for 30 years in the defense of the rights of the environment and of communities across the country, and for that work we are very well known, even at an international level,” Alexandra Almeida, president of Accion Ecologica, told teleSUR.

“But that doesn’t mean that a foreign organization could manipulate us with anything — with funds, with nothing — that’s how we operate.”

NGOs have rarely had to justify their work to anyone, let alone prove that they act for the good of the people only. But Ecuador is not an ordinary country. Rich in resources but export dependent, authorities are attempting to manage the many foreign hands trying to pull the country’s development in their favor.

Silent Action Meets Loud Reaction

This government is the first to scrutinize NGOs, but their scrutiny has not been limited to Accion Ecologica.

In 2012, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa boldly declared that NGOs have been entering the country like never before during the previous decade. Many, backed by foreign states and foreign money, are out to destabilize the state, Ecuadorean leaders stated.

“Their interest is not the country, impoverished sectors, natural resources or strengthening democracies,” said Paola Pabon, director of the National Ministry of Political Management, which is responsible for tracking NGOs, in an interview with teleSUR last year. “What interests them is having control over governments, having influence over civil society to create elements of destabilization.”

Executive Decree 16, which went into effect in 2013, created a system to catalogue the financing, decision-making and activities of every registered social organization — a total of over 46,000 in the country, including non-profits, unions and community organizations, among others.

The resulting action saw 26 foreign NGOs expelled from the country for a lack of transparency and compliance with national law; in brief, for declaring themselves “non-governmental organizations” while acting on behalf of foreign governments. Among the more high-profile cases was Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical missionary relief organization that received funding and support from USAID. Fifteen others were given two weeks to get their activities in order.

A handful of Indigenous organizations, which had previously mobilized against Correa’s government, attacked the decree via the Constitutional Court. Two years later, Ecuador reformed the regulations with Executive Decree 739, which fine-tuned the reasons for closing an NGO — the main one, “diverting from stated objectives” — and, caving to demand, eliminated the requirement for organizations to register projects financed from abroad.

Donor Nations: Generous or Greedy?

The trend that prompted Ecuador’s law was not without precedent.

Through the U.S. Agency for International Development, known as USAID, and the linked but publicly independent National Endowment for Democracy, known as NED, the United States pumped over US$100 million into Venezuela to create 300 new organizations credited with contributing to the coup d’etat against Hugo Chavez in 2002. In a similar move, USAID admitted that it tried to provoke a “Cuban Spring” by setting up Zunzuneo, a kind of Cuban Twitter, to circulate calls to protest.

The most common nonprofits close to foreign governments and private interests are those that stand tallest against their states. In Ecuador, that tends to be groups that work closely with Indigenous communities, with those protecting their right to their land and with those defending women and the environment. Funding by private foundations and corporations, while more widespread, is far less transparent and tougher to quantify. Big names like the Ford Foundation and Open Society, however, are well known for injecting funds into NGOs in the global south to advance specific political visions.

But the United States isn’t the only country to have funneled funds to Ecuador through NGOs.

Official numbers from Ecuador’s Chief Administrative Office of International Cooperation, or SETECI, show that since Correa assumed office in 2007 until 2015, foreign NGOs have managed over US$800 million from abroad. Top givers include the U.K. and Spain, followed by several European states.

No one, however, beats the United States. In that same period, the U.S. sent over twice the amount of money of the next-highest donor, with a total of over US$282 million and 780 projects, or 35 percent of all funding.

Of those funds, which only count NGOs based abroad that invested in local or regional projects, 13 went to projects in the Amazon led by non-profits like Care International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Wildlife Fund, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas. Projects based in Morona Santiago, the province where the anti-mining protests that led to the death of a police officer broke out, brought in over US$1 million from the U.S. since 2007.

The flow of funds is indicative of a broader attitude between receiver and giver, who “take advantage of the assumption that they have a perfect democracy, which is completely false – there’s a paternalistic attitude that must be regulated,” said Fernando Casado, research fellow at the National Institute for Higher Studies on public administration in Ecuador and Venezuela. Conversely, a flow in the opposite direction would immediately raise suspicion from developed countries, he added.

Yet money itself doesn’t tell the full tale: the funds are tied directly to foreign policy objectives, Casado told teleSUR. “The powers of the North have changed strategy.”

Each state has its own way. Germany, which has had 151 NGO projects in Ecuador since 2007, is known for meddling in affairs of developing countries through its Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, or BMZ. When SETECI found that three-quarters of its funds went toward stopping another mining project in the Amazon’s Yasuni region last March, it kicked the German agency out of Ecuador.

The United States has several agencies do its work, the most prominent being USAID, NED — funded through money allocated to USAID by Congress — and the Broadcast Board of Governors. The stated missions: to promote development, democracy creation and a free press, respectively, while strictly adhering to U.S. foreign policy priorities.

“We should not have to do this kind of work covertly,” said former head of NED Carl Gershman on CIA missions to the New York Times in 1986. “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA. We saw that in the 60s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.”

What Givers Want

The “work” the United States has set out for Ecuador — according to a 2016 Office of Inspector General report on the U.S. embassy leaked by WikiLeaks — is “to mitigate the effects of the contentious political environment created by the Ecuadorean Government” with the help of other government agencies, which play a “critical role.”

The report, intended for the eyes of the BBG and Congress, said the embassy was “actively engaged with civil society leaders and nongovernmental organizations to increase Ecuadorean awareness of and support for U.S. policies and values, promote Ecuadorean civil society and government accountability, and strengthen environmental initiatives.”

To set up a climate conducive to U.S. meddling, the U.S. Government Accountability Office included Ecuador on a shortlist with Colombia, Egypt and the West Bank/Gaza the year Correa was elected to closely study public opinion in “specific, targeted public awareness campaigns.”

It also either commissioned or was the beneficiary of a study from Stratfor, a secretive intelligence company contracted by the State Department and the U.S.’s multinational titans, which evaluated the extent to which Ecuador is manipulable by NGOs. The 2013 report, leaked by WikiLeaks, focused especially on how NGOs can influence trade policy and corporate regulation. Its conclusion: based on a scale likely defined in relation to other developing nations, Ecuador is fairly resilient to NGO pressure but has submitted in certain instances.

USAID sends hundreds of millions to local projects in Ecuador, some less explicitly political, but some indirectly benefiting opposition groups, according to U.S. Ambassador in Ecuador Adam Namm. BBG affiliate, TeleAmazonas, has been accused of fomenting strong opposition rhetoric against Correa. And the NED spends over US$1 million annually on dozens of local programs with broad objectives like “promoting citizen oversight of elected officials,” “monitoring due process and the independence of the judicial system,” “monitoring the use of public resources in government advertising” and “facilitating dialogue and consensus on democracy.”

Both Germany’s BMZ and USAID are back in Ecuador following a deluge of NGO activity after the April earthquake. The workload of the National Ministry of Political Management has peaked ever since, said Pabon.

The Sneaky Alliance With Mother Earth

One pet project of USAID was the Conservation in Managed Indigenous Areas, or Caiman, which ended before Correa took office but was among several USAID programs to conserve the country’s biodiversity and promote alliances between Indigenous communities and private businesses.

Caiman worked with various groups working in ecological and Indigenous rights, including Accion Ecologica. For several years, Caiman had Accion Ecologica help them battle against the Ministry of the Environment and train park rangers to oppose contamination from oil and mining.

Whether or not USAID or foreign foundations have funded Accion Ecologica directly is unclear. Unlike many others in the industry, the non-profit does not publish its financial information on its website, and refused multiple requests from teleSUR for copies of audits. When asked, the organization’s president said she does not know specifics on foreign funders and could not answer.

Almeida did say that Accion Ecologica receives funds from Europe — from individuals, “small organizations, alliances, groups that form” around fundraising events on ecological issues. She did not say how much or cite specific names but mentioned Italy and Belgium.

A 2012 investigation from Andes, an Ecuadorean state publication, found that both Accion Ecologica and the Regional Foundation of Human Rights Advising, another powerful nonprofit, are financed by the European Commission, Oilwatch, the Netherlands embassy and a few international ecological networks. Almeida said the accusations were false.

While Europe may be the principal interested party in the success of Accion Ecologica, the U.S. is also well known to have played an active role in similar battles.

In 2013, the year after Correa took the lead against foreign NGOs and a year before he expelled USAID, Bolivia accused USAID of spending US$22 million to divide Indigenous groups on the exploitation and nationalization of oil in their lands.

“Since the right can’t find arguments to oppose the process of change, it now turns to campesino, Indigenous and native leaders who are paid by several NGOs and foundations with perks to foment a climate of conflict with the national government to deteriorate the process of unification that the country is experiencing,” said Morales as he gave USAID the boot.

Beyond Accion Ecologica

“Theoretically speaking, NGOs shouldn’t exist,” said Casado. NGOs operate within a logic of narrowing, minimizing and weakening the role of the state so they can keep filling holes in public services and keep their jobs, which are at risk of disappearing if the state works as it should, added Casado.

“They elect themselves representatives of civil society in general,” and yet their role is limited and entirely reliant on and responsive to funding, which at the end of the day remains in their pockets. Other social organizations and popular movements, said Casado, operate only on conviction.

If an NGO is completely free to operate without regulations, a country would open itself to any corporate and foreign interest that found an open hand, he argued. Latin America is intimately familiar with that process — of consolidating power in the monied class — and NGOs back similar corporate interests, only with a more benevolent face.

It’s near-impossible to identify the perfect case of foreign intrusion — and, as in Accion Ecologica’s case, near-impossible to prove. Multiple factors are always at play, from the ideology of individual members to the decision-making process to however events play out on the ground. Casado said that the first step to uncovering hidden interests is financial transparency — a move that faces stiff opposition precisely for the interests that it could reveal.

Ecuador’s answer is to carefully collect records and draw a clear line between what is acceptable and what is not. Foreign NGOs, state the decree, cannot participate “in any form of party politics, any form of interference or proselytism, any threat to national security or public peace or any other activity not permitted under their migratory status.”

Case Closed?

When Accion Ecologica testified before the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of the Environment, it argued that it had been doing the same work — protecting the rainforest — for decades, always in a peaceful manner. The evidence presented showing they provoked violence through a series of tweets in and around the time of violent clashes was “a bit absurd, very absurd,” said Almeida.

In the end, the government’s case did not hold, and the Environment Ministry concluded there was not enough credible evidence to shut down the group. Accion Ecologica credited “pressure” from its supporters, as its representatives continue to urge for a deregulation of NGOs.

“It’s not only NGOs, but also any organization that will be at risk, especially their right to free expression and the right to free association” if the decree regulating NGOs remains intact, said Almeida.

Her position echoes those taken up by opposition politicians, whose one commonality is their depiction of Correa’s government as one systematically trouncing on citizens’ rights and freedoms.

In an election year, rhetoric makes the difference.

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Venezuelan VP Releases Open Letter to US Treasury as Parliament Demands Resignation

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By Lucas Koerner | Venezuelanalysis 

Caracas – Venezuelan Vice-President Tareck El Aissami published an open letter to the US Treasury Department in the New York Times Tuesday in which he lambasted the body’s recent drug trafficking accusations as an attempt to further derail bilateral relations.

On February 13, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) froze all of El Aissami’s alleged assets in the US under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Act, making the vice-president the top-ranking official of any country to be sanctioned in this way. In particular, the OFAC accused El Aissami of having “facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela” allegedly in collusion with the Las Zetas Cartel in Mexico.

In the letter, El Aissami charged the OFAC of being “deceived” by certain US political factions “whose fundamental interest is to prevent Venezuela and the United States from restoring their political and diplomatic relations on the basis of mutual recognition and respect”.

The vice-president further lambasted the drug trafficking allegations as a “false positive” which he said was intended to “criminalize – by way of my person – the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela”. The US Treasury Department has yet to release concrete evidence buttressing the accusations; meanwhile no US court has indicated that it is opening an investigation into the case.

El Aissami also highlighted the 62 percent increase in Venezuelan drug busts following the expulsion of the US Drug Enforcement Agency in 2005, which he said evidences Washington’s “egregious failure in the fight against drug trafficking”.

“How many heads of drug trafficking organizations has the US captured in its territory? How many banks and tax havens has the US closed for serving as a financial base for this gigantic business and crime against humanity? … The United States should reflect and rectify,” he wrote in the New York Times.

While El Aissami has received resounding support from President Maduro as well as the nation’s armed forces, the number two official has come under fire from the opposition-controlled National Assembly (AN), which has demanded that he resign from his post.

On Wednesday, a special parliamentary commission headed by Popular Will party legislator Freddy Guevara announced that it was opening an inquiry into the US Treasury allegations and called on the vice-president to step down in order to “facilitate the investigation”.

The AN moreover resolved to formally solicit from the US Congress and the US Treasury Department “the precise information that backs up the claims made so the AN can carry out the corresponding inquiry”.

The legislature additionally called on the Public Prosecutor’s office to provide all information relevant to the case.

Neither the executive branch nor the Public Prosecutor’s office have yet responded to the AN’s resolutions.

Venezuela’s parliament has been declared “null and void” by the Supreme Court over the body’s failure to unseat three legislators from Amazonas state under investigation for alleged electoral fraud.

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5 Social Movements Resisting Repression in Latin America

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    Honduras’ National Popular Resistance Front. | Photo: Reuters
On World Day of Social Justice, teleSUR spotlights a few of the many social justice movements resisting repression in Latin America.

Leftist governments across Latin America have fought tooth and nail to create more socially just societies.

RELATED: Human Rights Violations Persist After Peace in Colombia: Report

Countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Uruguay have improved conditions for marginalized people after years of political and armed struggle. They’ve won rights for workers, peasants, women and members of the Black, Indigenous and LGBTQ communities.

Despite murders and death threats, oppressed communities struggling for equality continue to stand up and fight back.

Today, on World Day of Social Justice, teleSUR spotlights a few of the many social justice movements resisting repression in Latin America.

Argentina’s Anti-Austerity Movement

Anti-Macri protests in Argentina. | Photo: Reuters

Since right-wing Argentine President Mauricio Macri replaced former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in December 2015, Argentines have experienced nonstop austerity.

Gas and electricity prices are rising. Jobs are being cut. Government institutions are downsizing. Private companies linked to the ruling administration are getting tax cuts.

But Macri’s rollback of social programs implemented by Kirchner’s populist government is breeding resistance.

RELATED: Is Argentina’s Macri Trying to Top Trump Immigration Policies?

Since early February, thousands of Argentines have led daily protests across the country against the “Tarifazo,” the national increase in gas and electricity prices. Armed with pots, pans and whistles, demonstrators have been calling for the resignation of Argentine Energy Minister Juan Jose Aranguren and a corruption probe against Macri. Protesters have been hosed down by water cannons, beaten with police nightsticks, and arrested en mass.

Simultaneously, thousands of Argentines have protested alongside 380 printing plant workers who were laid off earlier this year amidst spending cuts. The workers, who are demanding for their jobs to be reinstated, have also been met with violence, facing rubber bullets from police.

Brazil’s Indigenous Land Rights Movement

Anti-Temer protests in Brazil. | Photo: Reuters

The United States-supported removal of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in August 2016 has introduced nonstop austerity, similar to Argentina’s economic shock therapy. But in Brazil, austerity is disproportionately affecting Indigenous communities trying to protect their land from neo-liberalism.

Center-right Brazilian President Michel Temer proposed legislation earlier this month that aims to lift limits on foreign purchases of agricultural land in the country’s northern Amazon region. Currently the world’s largest rainforest, it is also home to thousands of Indigenous communities that have lived in the area for hundreds of years.

The legislation would allow foreign multinational corporations to buy out what remains, tear down existing trees, extract natural resources, and send profits back to billionaires living outside of the country. It would also forcibly displace the Indigenous communities living in Amazonia without giving them a share of profits made from privatization.

RELATED: Brazilian Army Orders 9,000 Troops on Streets of Rio de Janeiro

Since the bill was introduced to the Brazilian Congress, protests have erupted in the northern states of Amazonas, Para and Piaui. Indigenous, environmental and socialist activists protesting the proposed legislation have been beaten and arrested by police.

And three months ago, when Temer announced plans to privatize Brazil’s Amazon, dozens of police led a preemptive raid on the Landless Workers’ Movement’s Guararema headquarters. Police stormed their way into their facility by forcing their way through the main gate shooting live bullets, and threatening people, the Centre for Global Research reports.

Colombia’s Campesino Movement

Colombians protesting human rights abuses against peasants. | Photo: EFE

Colombia’s peasants have a long history of resisting repression.

In 1928, the U.S.-backed Colombian military massacred over 1,200 United Fruit Company workers leading a union strike for better working conditions. Populist leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and survivors of the massacre led mass protests against the ruling Conservative Party government.

Then, between 1948 and 1958, in the years that were referred to as “The Violence,” subsequent Conservative Party administrations are estimated to have killed over 5,000 peasants. This led to the formation of communist guerilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, and National Liberation Army, ELN, which have been fighting government and right-wing paramilitary groups alongside peasants ever since.

RELATED: FARC Troops Help Boost Colombia’s Landmine Removal Effort

Attacks on Colombia’s peasants, however, continue to this day.

Last week, armed paramilitaries threatened Indigenous Bari families in the country’s northern Catatumbo region. And earlier this month, Indigenous Wiwa activist Yoryanis Isabel Bernal Varela was shot and killed by paramilitaries.

More than 110 peasants and human rights activists have been murdered since the FARC signed a peace deal with the Colombian government last year.

Honduras’ Environmental Movement

Honduras’ National Popular Resistance Front. | Photo: Reuters

Honduras is the deadliest country for environmental activists, a report released by environmental rights group Global Witness confirmed in January 2017.

Since the 2009 U.S.-backed coup that removed democratic socialist President Manuel Zelaya from power, 123 environmental activists in Honduras have been killed. By now, you’ve probably heard some of their names: Margarita Murillo, Berta Caceres and Jose Angel Flores.

Murillo, the leader of a peasant’s association in northern Honduras, was shot and killed by members of a right-wing death squad in 2014 for her political activities. Along with fighting to win higher wages for workers, she protected Indigenous Lenca territories from wealthy landowners planning to deforest the areas for profits.

RELATED: The Fight for Gender Equality Continues on Honduran Women’s Day

Caceres, an Indigenous Lenca leader of one of Honduras’ largest environmental groups, was murdered in 2016. She gained prominence for leading her native people in a struggle against the Agua Zarca Dam, a controversial development project in the community of Rio Blanco that was launched without consent from local communities.

Flores, a leader of the Unified Peasant Movement of Honduras, was shot and killed last October outside of his organization’s office. He led protests against land grabs committed by the same wealthy landowners connected to Murillo’s assassination.

Murillo, Caceres and Flores were all members of the National Popular Resistance Front, the grassroots socialist movement that has protested Honduras’ right-wing coup government since 2009.

Mexico’s Teachers Movement

Dissident teachers marching down Mexico City. | Photo: teleSUR

Teachers are among the most persecuted workers by industry in Mexico.

“Normalistas,” teachers of working-class origin who train high school graduates to become educators, have been targeted for decades. They’ve been involved in leading important student movements across the country since Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa led the Mexican Revolution in 1910. State university professors have also led mass protests against the pro-U.S. administrations that have ruled the country since the fall of the Revolution.

In recent years, Mexican teachers resisting state repression have made headlines.

RELATED: Parents of Ayotzinapa 43 Resume Talks with Mexican Government

In 2014, when 43 leftist students from Ayotzinapa’s Normalista school were abducted, teachers across the country immediately protested the Mexican government, whom many believe was responsible for the abduction. Although many of the protesting teachers have been harassed and threatened by federal police, they continue to seek answers for the kidnapping of the 43 students to this day.

Revolutionary Mexican teachers also made headlines last June when the National Coordinator of Education Workers, CNTE, protested education privatization reforms implemented by President Enrique Peña Nieto. CNTE teachers set up blockades on major streets in Oaxaca and led nationwide strikes. Mexican police, however, killed over 12 teachers and injured hundreds more with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Normalistas, the CNTE and educators from across the country are currently participating in mass protests against Mexico’s “Gasolinazo,” a nationwide hike in gas prices also implemented by Peña Nieto.

Posted in South AmericaComments Off on 5 Social Movements Resisting Repression in Latin America

FARC Finish Demobilization as UN Confirms Paramilitary Activity

NOVANEWS
  • FARC rebels marching towards a designated "safe zone" in the Cauca mountains, Colombia.
    FARC rebels marching towards a designated “safe zone” in the Cauca mountains, Colombia. | Photo: EFE
The last of almost 7,000 FARC rebels entered designated “safe zones” on Saturday, completing a key first step in the peace agreement.

As FARC rebels completed their final demobilization on Saturday and entered the last of the 26 designated safe zones, U.N. monitors reported that right-wing paramilitary groups are moving into former rebel-controlled areas displacing almost a hundred families.

RELATED: Paramilitary Groups Fight To Take Over Lands Left by FARC

Both FARC leader Timoleon Jiménez and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos celebrated the completion of “three weeks of day and night movement” which brought almost 7,000 FARC troops to U.N. supervised “green zones” — a key step in the peace agreement which ended the countries 52-year civil war — where the former left-wing guerillas will disarm.

en este día el último guerrillero y la última guerrillera se suman a la ZVTN. y eso no nos falta.

Today the last guerrillas arrived in the Green Zones. Peace is Compromise, and we have not let it down.

Es histórico que las Farc estén próximas a su desarme y reinserción. Gratitud y reconocimiento a quienes demostraron que . https://twitter.com/comisionadopaz/status/832727776633368576 

It’s historic that the FARC are close to disarming and transitioning. Gratitude and recognition to those who have demonstrated that The Peace Advances

The U.N. mission in Colombia also praised the development, noting that the Colombian government had not fully lived up to its promises to prepare the safe zones for the almost 7,000 FARC soldiers who will now disarm and begin their transition to civilian life.

“The FARC-EP leadership’s decision to group its forces in these Zones—despite the lack of preparation of the camps in the vast majority of these areas— was positive,” the mission said in a statement released earlier this week.

However, the U.N. mission expressed deep concern over the arrival of right-wing paramilitaries in Northern rural areas vacated by the FARC, which has led to the displacement of 96 families, according to the BBC.

RELATED: Indigenous Bari Campesinos Face Colombia Paramilitary Violence

“During the visit to La Gabarra, the Mission noted similar concerns to those heard in other departments about the insecurity of communities in places that have historically been affected by violence, in particular of new threats linked to the entry of illegal armed groups,” said a spokesperson for the U.N. mission which is supervising the implementation of the peace accord signed last November.

The BBC reported that unnamed U.N. officials say the paramilitary groups are trying to take over mining and cocaine cultivation operations which had previously been taxed and regulated by the FARC.

The Colombian government denied the U.N. report, with Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin telling local press there was “no certainty of any such displacement.”

Last week Campesino organizations in the area attempted to prevent FARC troops from leaving the area over concerns that they would be left vulnerable to violence from the paramilitary groups.

During the 52-year civil war in Colombia more than six million people have been displaced, the second-highest number in the world after Syria.

Posted in South AmericaComments Off on FARC Finish Demobilization as UN Confirms Paramilitary Activity

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