Saturday, February 11, 2006

Eyewitness to a revolution 'Venezuelans are getting their 40 acres and a mule, and more'

Education for these students in an education co-op is free, as it is for students all the way through university level in Venezuela.

To the uninformed, the negative attacks on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez by televangelist Pat Robertson, who called for Chavez’s assassination, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who last week compared the popular Latin American president to Adolph Hitler, are a major cause for alarm.
"I mean, we've got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money. He's a person who was elected legally – just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally – and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr. Morales and others," said Rumsfeld during a recent National Press Club address recently.
Pat Robertson, host of Christian Broadcasting Network’s The 700 Club and founder of the Christian Coalition of America, called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, during an Aug. 22 broadcast.
"You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it .... And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability," said Robertson.
In the Afro-Venezuelan village of Telmas, artisans sell their artwork and jewelry in a community gift shop. Under President Chavez, all Venezuelans are taught that Africa is their motherland.

During the Feb. 2 edition of Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes, Robertson reiterated his call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

However, to observers of President Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution, it’s clear that what U.S. officials and right-wingers like Robertson fear most about the quiet revolution taking place in Venezuela is the "Robin Hood effect" that country’s constitution is bringing to the grassroots and indigenous people there.

As a result of the constitution adopted in 1999 the grassroots are poised to receive an array of benefits once reserved only for the rich and bourgeoisie.

However, it was the constitution which led to the failed 2002 coup — the kidnapping of Chavez and the three-day installation of Pedro Carmona, president of Fedecámaras, the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce.

In short, Chavez scuttled the capitalistic society once prevalent in Venezuela in favor of a democracy based on redistribution of the wealth and free social services to poor and indigenous Venezuelans.

Carmona and the opposition's short-lived moves during the temporary coup lend credence to Chavez's belief that the U.S. government and private corporations were so determined to retain the old guard — the oligarchy of which Carmona was a member — that President Bush, whom Chavez calls "Mr. Danger," and his administration secretly supported the coup.

Carmona's first decree reversed all of the major social and economic policies that comprised Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution," including loosening Chavez's credit controls and ending his oil price quotas by raising production back to pre-Chavez levels. Carmona also dissolved both the National Assembly and the Venezuelan judiciary, while reverting the nation’s name back to República de Venezuela.

But it was the grassroots, women, primarily, who came down from the mountains by the thousands and surrounded the palace demanding the return of Chavez. After a failed election recall waged by the opposition, the work of redistributing the wealth and the land, as well as turning over control of social services to the grassroots, began in earnest.

"As of mid-2005, the National Technical Office has issued over 84,000 titles to 126,000 families, benefiting about 630,000 barrio inhabitants. With a total estimated barrio population of around 10 million, the project still has a ways to go. Once most barrio inhabitants (not all can receive titles because many homes are on unstable ground or have competing ownership claims) have received titles, though, this will be one of the government's greatest impact programs, aside from public health and public education. This would be a far greater impact than the public housing project could ever hope to have," the Council on Hemispheric Affairs reported.

Recently, while touring Venezuela with the Global Women Strike! and representing the SF Bay View National Black Newspaper, this writer became an eyewitness to history, to the social revolution that continues to unfold in Venezuela.

Chavez's pronouncement that the "Revolution has the face of a woman" reverberated from the teeming Venezuelan capital of Caracas to the suburbs of Los Teques and as far away as Talmas.

Leading the revolution on the ground and taking the Strike on tour to see the revolution in action was Juanita Romero, called "Madre" (mother). Romero is over the technical office that regulates the Urban Land Committee based in Guacaipuro. "Fight, fight, fight, until you win. The power belongs to the people," Madre chanted.

"Gender equality is a reality here. In the new South America, we are trying to build another world, because humankind is in danger. We must fight for the native, indigenous people, the Navajos, Arapas," Nora Castenedas, founder of Banmujer (Women’s Bank), told participants at a workshop on Latin American organized by the Global Women Strike!

"Africa is our motherland. We were told Spain was our motherland. That's not so. It's Africa." The Strike coordinated the activities of a delegation of 70 men and women, representing 11 countries, worldwide, and held several workshops during the recent World Social Forum in Venezuela.

The Strike had last year arranged a tour of the U.S. for Castenedas, which included addressing the United Nations.

"We just passed our constitution." That constitution was constructed by our people, who became sovereign through the struggle of our African ancestors more than 500 years ago. They fought the Europeans.

"As for women, we have done a lot for women in our country. It was the women who asked our president to create the National Women’s Institute and the Women’s Development at the Banmujer. We promote the grassroots and we know that if these women succeed, we will succeed," said Castenedas.

In addition to the announced 900 land titles to be awarded in March 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez last Thursday announced that the provisions of Article 88 would be enforced, without interference from advisory councils, which previously made all the decisions about implementation and handled the money given by the president for various projects. The president affirmed that such decisions must be made by both the council and the grassroots committee leaders.

According to Article 88, "The State guarantees the equality and equitable treatment of men and women in the exercise of the right to work. The state recognizes work at home as an economic activity that creates added value and produces social welfare and wealth. Housewives are entitled to Social Security in accordance with law."

Members of the Global Women Strike! shouted with joy upon hearing the news that the law adopted the basic goal of the Strike, which it has worked for since 1972, to compensate women who have done unwaged, caring work for free.

Other articles in the constitution guarantee free health care, education — at all levels — food security and land titles. In other words, the Venezuelans are getting their 40 acres and a mule, and more.

Juanita Romero, or "Madre," the director of the Urban Land Committee in Gupicaipuro, took Strike members on tour to see the revolution first hand. At the Land Committee designated building, Romero explained that several community leaders would oversee the land titles in their respective communities.

Traveling by bus, observers were brought to a military installation where Madre explained that people who live in houses that are in danger of being washed away by the rain are housed there until permanent housing can be found.

"If a person is homeless, the government will give that citizen 5 million bolivars ($2,610.70 U.S. dollars) to put down on a house or to purchase a home," Madre explained.

Health Clinics serve residents in the barrios or the suburbs. All health care is free.

At a local university, Strike members learned that all education, even college education, is free.

"We are working on changing decades of discrimination in education to make it possible for students to go to college. State policy is prepared to save education for all our citizens," a university official said.

"We are changing the way students look at professions. For example, if you are studying to be a lawyer, don’t expect to make millions of dollars. We are training lawyers to provide integrated community services and to work for justice."

The food security co-op serves at least 150 children up to age 12 and expectant mothers every day. Families can work at the food co-op for three months and feed their families with the food that is prepared. They also receive on the job training in culinary arts.

The food comes from the state in its raw form, and organic meals are cooked from scratch. Another food program feeds people who have specific illnesses and need specific diets, such as those with diabetes.

Each program is run by committees formed by nine members and nine substitutes, including a president and vice-president, from each participating community. The committees focus on providing direct services to the people in the areas of health, employment, education, culture, sports, environment and water quality.

The last stop on the tour was to Talmas, a village of Afro-Venezuelans. The co-op in Talmas focused on artisans who were being trained to make art, artifacts and jewelry. They sold their goods at the community gift shop.

"Fight, fight, fight until you win. Those who organize have the power. The power belongs to the people," Madre began chanting. “Don’t assume something is impossible just because you’ve never tried it before,” she said of the Bolivarian Revolution.

CC Campbell-Rock, a native New Orleanian, veteran journalist and Katrina evacuee, is the new editor of the Bay View. She has just returned from nearly two weeks in Venezuela, the first attending the World Social Forum and the second touring the countryside to see the revolution in action. Email her at

Pentagon document mentions Venezuela as a concern

Pentagon document mentions Venezuela as a concern


WASHINGTON - A new Pentagon long-term planning document for the first time mentions Venezuela as a concern, reflecting Washington's mounting sense that President Hugo Chavez's fiery populism represents a challenge to U.S. security.

The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review says poor income distribution and weak democratic institutions have led to a "resurgence of populist authoritarian political movements in some countries, such as Venezuela.''

"These movements ... are a source of political and economic instability,'' added the QDR, issued last week. Put out every four years, the QDR serves as a strategic guide for future U.S. troop allocations and weapons purchases.

Venezuela's mention in the QDR was unusual because the document typically discusses broad trends and seldom mentions individual countries. Cuba, for example, was not mentioned. The 2001 QDR did not mention any Latin American country.

The QDR's reference to Venezuela was the latest in a steady drumbeat of U.S. statements criticizing the leftist Chavez as an increasingly authoritarian ruler at home, a buyer of massive new weaponry and exporter of an aggressive brand of populism that could destabilize Latin America.

Earlier this week, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte said Venezuela posed the most serious threat to U.S. interests in Latin America and was seeking closer ties with North Korea and Iran - both accused of having or seeking nuclear weapons. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compared Chavez to the also democratically elected Adolf Hitler.

Ryan Henry, the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, asked later by a reporter about the Venezuela reference in the QDR, said "we do view with concern what's happened in Venezuela, we think that that's going in the wrong direction.''

In November, defense analyst William Arkin reported in his Washington Post blog that a Pentagon budget planning document, known as FY08-13 POM and dated in October, had listed Venezuela as a ``rogue nation'' along with Syria. Pentagon officials confirmed the document's existence to The Miami Herald, but denied it represented an official policy view of Caracas.

Venezuela's ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, says his country is only promoting alternatives to the Bush agenda of development for Latin America. ``We are not a threat to the national interest of the United States,'' he told a group of journalists Thursday.

Chavez has repeatedly alleged that the Bush administration supported a 2002 coup attempt against him and is now plotting to either assassinate him or invade his oil-rich country. Late last month he alleged that Washington was considering declaring Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism, but gave no details. Washington has just as repeatedly denied all the charges.

The Bush administration has been wary of the populist leader for some time. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has voiced her concern that governments elected democratically may then govern undemocratically.

"It is a greater threat than if you're dealing with an illegitimate authoritarian regime,'' said Steve C. Ropp, a Latin American and national security specialist at the University of Wyoming.

The paradox, he added, is that such populist challenges are likely to get worse as more countries become democracies and elect leaders that offer quick-fix solutions for income inequality and corruption, and often blame Washington's policies for their troubles.

In the QDR, Venezuela is mentioned in a section titled "shaping the choices of countries at strategic crossroads,'' which argues that major and emerging powers will affect the future strategic position of Washington and its friends.

"The United States will attempt to shape these choices in ways that foster cooperation and mutual security interests,'' the QDR says. ``At the same time, the United States, its allies and partners must also hedge against the possibility that a major or emerging power could choose a hostile path in the future.''

Friday, February 10, 2006

CIA engaged in flying heroin out of Afghanistan for operating capital.

February 10, 2006 -- It's "back to business" for Porter Goss and "his" CIA. Informed intelligence sources report that the CIA's rendition and other "support" aircraft are ferrying around more than "Al Qaeda" suspects and flying spies in and out of remote countries.

CIA aircraft operating under the cover of post office box firms and a humanitarian assistance operation are reportedly engaged in flying heroin out of Afghanistan as part of a 1980s-style covert operation to sell drugs for off-the-books operating capital. The narcotics smuggling operation also maintains a presence in Geneva, Switzerland where cash can be easily laundered. A reputed relative of CIA Director Porter Goss (last name is Goss), who is based near Geneva, is reportedly involved in the drug smuggling operation. Sources confirm that Goss has re-engaged a number of CIA assets from the Iran-Contra scandal to participate in the operation.

Goss's CIA: Back to business -- the illegal drug business

The Pentagons plans for controlling all information

The National Security Archives have just published a declassified document of the Pentagon in which the approach of the United States with regard to the world media context is redefined.

The main principle of «Information Operations Roadmap», signed by Donald Rumsfeld in 2003, is that there’s no limit to the information warfare for, in the future, «operations devoted to propaganda, Psyops, are consumed by the American public and vice versa». Thus, the plan includes numerous military activities going from «the adversary’s manipulation» to the attack against the enemy’s communication networks.

The priority is «to combat Internet» and be prepared for the virtual war. According to the document, the Department of Defence should create a centre for this purpose.
«We should improve our electromagnetic capacity of attack and communication networks. In order to dominate an information centre in a combat, our troops must know the electromagnetic spectrum with the capacity to attack». (3.Executive Summary - A. Conclusions)

The use of Psyops, a military branch specialized in psychological operations, is frequently mentioned: «Great efforts must be made to characterize the potential audience of the adversary and, specially, that of those who have the power to make decisions and their priorities. If these efforts are not made, the launching of effective PSYOPS’ themes and messages aimed at changing the behaviour of the adversary won’t be possible». (3.Executive Summary - A. Conclusions)

Even when the United States has always admitted propaganda, no government had authorized the media intoxication of its own voters: the document specifies that «the Psyops messages will be usually spread by the media of larger audiences, including the American public».

The CIA conduit: National Endowment for Democracy - EXPORTING non-DEMOCRACY

Americans have fair reason to be wary of the National Endowment for Democracy. After all, this is a private nongovernmental organization, dedicated to the promotion of democracy abroad, that receives nearly all its funding from Congress yet wants to be seen as independent of the federal government.

Recent disclosures about endowment grantees becoming entangled with shady characters in Haiti who were involved in the 2004 coup against then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide suggest it is all too easy for such nongovernmental foundations to act at cross purposes with United States foreign policy or in conflict with American ideals. As reported recently in The New York Times, a right-wing adventurer in the International Republican Institute one of the four core grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy schemed with drug dealers and death-squad thugs to topple Aristide. Since the adventurer had backing from highly placed conservatives in the Bush administration, it is not certain his actions ran counter to administration policy. The US ambassador to Haiti at the time thought they did, and so did then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. It can happen, however, that the government has one presentable official policy for a country such as Haiti and another, covert policy that might be too incompatible with democratic mores to be acknowledged.

Whether or not the Haiti misadventures of one right-winger contradicted US foreign policy, the episode does raise justified questions about the larger mission of the National Endowment for Democracy and about the behavior of its four core grantees. Besides the International Republican Institute, these are the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and the Center for International Private Enterprise, a pro-business organization connected to the US Chamber of Commerce.

These four foundations are meant to demonstrate a bipartisan political symmetry and to balance business interests against those of organized labor. No matter how much leeway each grantee might have to concentrate on projects abroad that it finds congenial, they are all expected to avoid choosing sides in foreign elections. They certainly are not supposed to be involved in the overthrow of elected governments, no matter how corrupt or unsavory those governments might be.

The National Endowment for Democracy has been criticized from the left largely because its grantees seemed to step over this line not only in supporting a coup against Aristide in Haiti, but in allegedly collaborating with groups that staged a short-lived coup in 2002 against President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. At the time of the Venezuelan coup, the president of the International Republican Institute issued a revelatory statement, saying, "Last night, led by every sector of civil society, the Venezuelan people rose up to defend democracy in their country."

This was precisely the sort of partisan meddling in another country's politics that the foundations funded by the National Endowment for Democracy cannot be allowed to practice. Not only did it make the International Republican Institute look as though it were cheering defiance of democratic values rather than helping strengthen democratic institutions, but it implicitly told skeptics around the world that the Endowment's grantees were performing the same dirty work the clandestine arm of the CIA once did.

To his credit, the Endowment's president, Carl Gershman, wrote a letter to the institute leader chastizing him for interfering in "the sensitive politics of Venezuela" and making it "more difficult for the IRI to work in Venezuela and the region as a whole." True as this criticism was, it was a polite understatement.

There is a historical background to the Venezuelan coup that affects the way any US interference in the countries of Latin America is perceived "in the region as a whole." Endowment foundations were accused of partisan and selective backing of Nicaraguan opponents of the Sandinista Front leading up to the 1990 election that the Sandinistas lost. And Endowment grantees looked like vindictive partisans when they backed the opposition to former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who offended conservatives in the Reagan administration by dissenting from US sponsorship of the Nicaraguan contras.

It is a shame that the democracy-building mission of the Endowment has been undermined in these and other instances, all the more so because its core foundations do valuable work in many parts of the world. The National Democratic Institute, for example, has provided training and support for democratic and refugee groups under undemocratic regimes such as those in Burma and Cambodia. In the newly established democracies of East Timor and Afghanistan, the institute works with civic and political leaders to help develop representative institutions, encourage grassroots citizen participation in politics, and aid political parties to forge a code of conduct for elections.

The National Endowment for Democracy has earned a reputation for being more effective and more accountable than government departments that do overlapping work. There is nothing wrong with the purpose and mission of the Endowment. And there is a lot right with the work it does in some of the most blighted parts of the world.

To preserve its role in helping build the civil society foundations of democracy in those places, the Endowment must root out any recipient of funds that acts to thwart the democratic movements and values the Endowment was meant to cultivate.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Lapdog Blair sides with his Bushmaster in attacking Venezuela

After more than a week of intense sabre-rattling by Washington against Hugo Chavez in which diplomats have been expelled, Pat Robertson, the notorious American Christian fundamentalist, has renewed his call for Chavez's assassination and Rumsfeld has compared Chavez to Adolf Hitler, now Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister and lapdog of US imperialism, has joined the affray.

Late on Wednesday in the House of Commons Colin Burgon, a Labour MP representing Elmet, asked the following question: "I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister shares the satisfaction that is felt by many on the Labour Benches about the shift to the left that has taken place in Latin America. To use a phrase, this is bringing Governments into power who will be in the interests of the many and not the few. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that it would be bad news for all concerned if we allowed our policy towards those countries, especially Venezuela, to be shaped by a really right-wing US Republican agenda?"

As usual, the Prime Minister used the occasion not to welcome "the shift to the left" in Latin America, which is abhorrent to George W Bush and the reactionary clique that controls the White House, but to attack President Chavez. Adopting a high moral tone, Blair, like some pompous second-rate school master, proceeded to lecture the naughty Mr Chavez on his bad behaviour for daring to stand up for the Venezuelan people against the dictates of US imperialism. "Up to a point", stated the PM. "It is rather important that the Government of Venezuela realise that if they want to be respected members of the international community, they should abide by the rules of the international community." In other words, Venezuela must learn to buckle down and accept the wishes of American imperialism and its great leader and moralist, George W Bush.

Then Blair went for the throat, in the nicest possible way, as is the cant of the British House of Commons. “I say with the greatest respect to the President of Venezuela”, said Blair meaning the reverse, "that when he forms an alliance with Cuba, I would prefer to see Cuba a proper functioning democracy." Here Blair, smiling like a Cheshire cat, fully supports Bush's line over Cuba. In other words, he favours the overthrow of Castro, the restoration of the Miami gangsters and the introduction of capitalism into Cuba, all under the "principles of democracy". They want to transform Cuba, as well as the rest of Latin America, into a colony of the United States and are grinding their teeth at the warm relations between Caracas and Havana.

These "democratic" principles, so highly praised by the imperialists, were used to invade Iraq and subjugate Afghanistan. They are used as a cover for imperialist aggression around the world.

In response, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused Tony Blair of opening up a European front in his attacks on Venezuela. He correctly described Blair as "a pawn of imperialism, trying now to attack us from Europe", and "the main ally of Hitler", a clear reference to George Bush.

Relations between Venezuela and the US worsened last week when both countries expelled one another's diplomats, after Venezuela accused the US embassy in Caracas of spying. Afterwards US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compared the Venezuelan president with Adolf Hitler. Chavez hit back saying:
"The imperialist, genocidal, fascist attitude of the US president has no limits. I think Hitler would be like a suckling baby next to George W Bush."
Chavez then turned to Britain in the latest twist of events, and retorted:
"Stay in your place, Mr Blair, you do not have the morality to call on anyone to respect the rules of the international community.

"You are precisely the one who has flouted international law the most... siding with Mr Danger [Bush] to trample the people in Iraq."

"Venezuela is a free nation. Do you believe we're still in times of imperialism and colonialism?"
Chavez noted the statement came shortly after Bush had called for increased funding for a US radio station broadcasting pro-American messages in Latin America. "This is not a coincidence, this a part of the imperial aggression," he said.

The ranks of the British Labour and Trade Union movement look with great sympathy on the Chavez government. They instinctively understand what is at stake. That explains why so many trade unions and trade unionists have given their support to the Hands Off Venezuela campaign. They compare the genuine reforms, in education, healthcare, help for the poor, they see the expropriations of several companies that have been placed under workers' control in Venezuela and they compare this to what we have in Britain, i.e. cuts in education, healthcare, privatisation of almost everything that could be privatised. They know which side they are on.

Blair also sees these things but his reaction is different, in fact it is the complete opposite. He sees the reforms in Venezuela as a threat, a threat to the profits of his masters. He sees Venezuela as a dangerous example that is infecting the whole of Latin America and also getting an echo around the world. He sides with Bush against the workers and poor people of Venezuela. We side with the Venezuelan masses against imperialism.

"The Devil Wears Prada: " Maria Corina Machado and Washington's Indecent Game Against Venezuela

With the State Department's unwarranted recent expulsion of Venezuelan diplomat Jeny Figueredo from her post as second-in-command of that country's Washington's embassy, its conflict with Caracas has reached its most stressful phase yet. Building on a diplomatic tug of war over a widening range of issues, including Washington's efforts to frustrate the Chavez government's desire to purchase upgraded military equipment for its modestly equipped armed forces, the quid-pro-quo expulsion of the Venezuelan official was just one more instance where the Bush administration calculatedly poured salt on the deepening wound affecting the two nations’ relations. This step followed Venezuela's public accusation that U.S. naval attache John Correa was engaged in espionage, which led to his ejection from the country (Venezuela had no reason to invent this claim and Washington, every reason to deny it). The scorched earth diplomacy with which Washington responded, made certain that Washington’s strategy was more that just one more hostile sortie against an admittedly abrasive Chavez. Hemispheric public opinion now deserves to be sharply focused on the expulsion issue as an example of using diplomacy to worsen, rather than improve, relations between the two growing antagonists.

Washington's actions lacked all proportionality and broke with diplomatic convention that, under normal circumstances, if one nation is expelling a person on the resident diplomatic list of that country, one should closely match it only with a person of comparable rank and station, as a candidate for retaliation. In this instance, the State Department decided to make its harsh point by choosing to expel the second highest ranking diplomat at the Venezuelan embassy in Washington. These perpetual aggressive negative demarches deserve to be seen as part of the Bush administration's unremitting campaign against Chávez. One component of Washington's larghetto attempts to undermine Venezuela's constitutional rule has been the channeling of funds to anti-Chavez cabals being mixed in Venezuela, and then reacting with cultivated outrage when the leaders of such a movement are threatened with prosecution. No clearer example of this exists than the events surrounding Maria Corina Machado, the leader of the profoundly anti-Chavez Caracas group, Sumate.

Indignation Misplaced

In one of his earliest initiatives after becoming Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Thomas Shannon appeared before the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere in November, where he denounced Venezuela’s "persecution" of Machado and Alejandro Plaz, leaders of the Súmate electoral organization. The two are currently facing prosecution for "conspiracy against the republican form of the nation," a charge stemming from Sumate's acceptance of a $31,000 National Endowment for Democracy grant. As for Shannon’s rhetoric, any hope that Shannon might bring some professionalism and moderation to his job is now rapidly evaporating. The White House's ideological extremism that has done so much damage to U.S.-Latin American relations apparently is scheduled to continue.

While Washington is attempting to portray the Sumate trial as a case of a political vendetta by an authoritarian government against a bona fide democratic leader, the truth is that the established norm in many countries – including in the U.S. – is that locally-based political groups are forbidden from accepting financial contributions from foreign sources for election purposes. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration is enthusiastically toasting the work of Sumate and Sra. Machado's contributions to the group’s efforts. The case has become something of a litmus test for the status of Washington’s relations with the Chavez government. In order to advance this strategy, the Bush administration brought Machado up to Washington last May where she had a high visibility Oval Office photo-op session with President Bush, and was also given a press conference on Capitol Hill. On each of these occasions the opportunity was taken by the White House to bash the alleged authoritarian tendencies of the Chavez government.

Even taking their implausible story at its word, what Machado and Plaz admit that they have done would have been met with comparably raised legal eyebrows in the U.S., where the Federal Electoral Code expressly prohibits donations to U.S. campaigns from foreign nationals or governments. It was precisely this prohibition which was a central part of the 1997 John Huang scandal when the Democratic fundraiser was accused of funneling donations from Chinese authorities wanting favors to Democratic Party officials. Yet somehow Washington believes that similar restrictions under Venezuelan law lack comparable validity or application. In fact, Caracas authorities accuse Machado of being a lynch-pin of the disloyal local political opposition. This group, composed of well-placed members of the middle class, was ready to risk irreparable and possibly permanent damage to Venezuela's political system in order to topple the government of the day it happens to despise.

It's the Law

The case against Plaz and Machado seems to be clear cut: Venezuela's Ley de Partidos Politicos, Reuniones Publicos y Manifestaciones (Political Party Law), which dates to 1965 contains the clause in Article 25 that parties "may not accept donations or subsidies...from foreign companies...or from foreign governments or organizations." Caracas authorities claimed, then, that the organization's acceptance and administration of a $31,000 grant from the NED was precisely that, and that Súmate’s behavior in the 2004 referendum – actions which were funded by the grant – constituted political organizing rather than non-partisan "democracy promotion."

NED's Generosity to the Rich

Of course, it should be noted that even a cursory examination would reveal that the NED is far from being an ordinary charitable organization. In fact, the word "endowment" was meant to be something of a conceit. The NED has always operated as a quasi-intelligence agency whose main purpose was to launder funds to ultra-right wing overseas groups needing seed money to launch their coups and assassinate their opponents. Reagan planners were originally able to muster Congressional budgetary support – even from liberal Democrats – by setting up a quadripartite system meant to deliver pork to both the Republicans and Democrats. This was done by the division of funds: half to ostensibly centrist operations like the National Democratic Institute, which was meant to be the self-respecting liberal deodorant to relieve the foul scent of the three other right wing core grantees, whose funds mainly go to extremist causes. NED was chartered by congress and nearly all of its $80.1 million 2004 annual budget comes from U.S. taxpayers. It also should be noted that the NED was founded by President Reagan at the height of the Cold War and was meant to fund controversial back-door Cold War projects with which the State Department didn’t want to be publicly associated. NED's president since its founding has been Carl Gershman, who was one of the most rightwing ideologues of the Reagan Administration (he was a deputy to hardliner Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the Bolton-esque U.S. ambassador to the UN at the time). Throughout its history, the organization, whose core grantees, including the International Chamber of Commerce and the International Republican Institute (IRI), have been involved in controversial projects linked to the heavy ideological purposes to which their grants are directed – skillfully earmarked its funds to extremist causes. In Haiti, for example, the IRI was intimately involved with the paramilitary "thugs" (as described by then Secretary of State Powell) who eventually overthrew constitutional President Jean-Betrand Aristide. Those types of unsavory involvements were made evident in a recent New York Times article, which suggested that the IRI partisanly worked against Aristide rather than behaving in a non-partisan fashion. It is not too far of a stretch to argue that the IRI’s backing of Sumate was the mirror image of its earlier, very controversial, activities in Haiti.

Tall Tales of Innocence

While Sumate's defenders argue that it is technically an NGO, it is undeniable that, since its founding, it has been an archly political organization with a clear ideological bias. Echoing the millions of dollars in NED funding that was surreptitiously earmarked for the victorious 1990 presidential campaign of Violetta Chamorro against Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the language of the NED’s Súmate grant is unabashedly cast against the Chávez government, declaring that "once in office, President Chavez's revolutionary rhetoric, public disregard for democratic processes and institutions and vitriolic attacks on his opponents, escalated political and social tensions and hardened the opposition."

Machado on the Offensive

Claims by Sumate's leadership of their ideological impartiality and autonomy from foreign influence are laughed off the stage when one considers that Machado, a founding member of the organization and a lethal Chavez foe, met for 50 minutes last May with President Bush in the Oval Office – an honor that, as of yet, has not been extended to Venezuela's democratically-elected president or to many domestic NGOs. Such cordiality regarding Machado was based on a harmonious special view of the world and a shared odium for leftist values, between the U.S. president and Venezuela's Madam Defarge, aka Maria Corina Machado.

At this point, it is important to recognize what Machado wasn't. She was not a housewife called to arms by some Joan D'Arc-like vision. Since Chavez's rise to power, she has evolved into a deadly political player. She didn’t just happen to be accidentally present, as she claims, when the backers of the failed 2002 anti-Chavez coup joined Machado in signing their names on the coup document, and proceeded to shut down the country’s basic institutions, like the Supreme Court and the legislature, while elsewhere Chavez was being physically seized.

As the Machado and Plaz trial proceeds, Washington will attempt to paint the deceptive picture of a Stasi-like authoritarian regime hounding the democratic opposition. A truer picture would find that Sumate has been operating in highly dubious legal territory. If it was a U.S. organization receiving funding from Chavez, its compromising actions would most likely have been questionable under the U.S. electoral code in the same manner that it deserves to be classified as of questionable legality under Venezuelan jurisprudence.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Foro Social Mundial 2006 - World Social Forum 2006


Foro Social Mundial 2006 - World Social Forum 2006


Foro Social Mundial 2006 - World Social Forum 2006


Foro Social Mundial 2006 - World Social Forum 2006


Foro Social Mundial 2006 - World Social Forum 2006


Foro Social Mundial 2006 - World Social Forum 2006


Foro Social Mundial 2006 - World Social Forum 2006


Historic demonstration in Caracas commemorating the 7th anniversary of the Bolivarian Revolution

Saturday, February 4 marked the 14th anniversary of the 1992 coup headed by the then army officer Hugo Chavez Frias against the murderous and corrupt government of Carlos Andrés Pérez, the IV Republic and the Punto Fijo agreement as well as the 7th anniversary of the Bolivarian Revolution.

A truly gigantic demonstration took place to celebrate the event, covering the 12 kilometres that separate La Cota Mil, in the eastern part of Caracas, to the Avenida Bolivar. Hundreds of thousands of people, from all over Venezuela, marched in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and revolutionary joy. On the demonstration you could see whole families with their small children, a multitude of young people with their red t-shirts and caps and with banners in favour of socialism in Venezuela.

The most popular T-shirts were those carrying the slogan “Go for the 10 million”, the target that president Chavez has set for the upcoming presidential elections that will take place on December 3 of this year. All this fused into one red tide, accompanied by the music of the revolutionary singer Ali Primera, and gave a feeling of strength and optimism. Chanting “¡Viva Chávez!” and “¡Uh!, ¡Ah! ¡Chávez no se va!”, the Venezuelan people returned to the streets once more to celebrate the anniversary and to defend the revolution against the counter-revolution and imperialist aggression. Thus the masses clearly demonstrated that they maintain their vigilance and militant energy.

This demonstration was the best answer the masses could give to the campaign of US imperialism against the Bolivarian Revolution. The expulsion of the Venezuelan diplomat Jenny Figueredo, on Friday February 3, in response to the expulsion of the Naval attaché of the US Embassy, John Correa, accused of espionage, was the latest act of aggression of imperialism. Correa was gathering and obtaining secret information from officers within the Venezuelan armed forces and conspiring against the government of president Chavez.

After the expulsion of Correa, the reactionary clique in Washington wasted no time in responding. The US Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld compared Chavez to Hitler. Other high positioned functionaries in the US administration adopted the same line, in an attempt to criminalise the Venezuelan government.

The demonstration that started at 9.00 in the morning marched to the Avenida Bolivar. A graphic expression of the tremendous success of this march was the fact that at 4.00 in the afternoon, with the Avenida Bolivar already packed full, there were still people marching from Cota mil.

The international press has tried to underestimate its success. For example the Spanish daily “El Pais”, known for its support for the April 2002 coup and its hostile attitude towards the Bolivarian Revolution, in its Sunday edition argued that only “tens of thousands” of people took part in the Bolivarian march, while “thousands” went on that of the opposition. This is yet another manipulation on the part “El Pais”. The truth is that the Opposition’s demonstration was miniscule. There were around 2000 to 3000 people on it, compared to the hundreds of thousands on the Bolivarian demonstration.

At the end of the demonstration, president Chavez spoke to the participants. In his four-hour speech, he denounced the tactics of US imperialism which is trying to prevent his re-election, by spreading the idea that his governing of the country is not working. He called upon everyone to remain alert and not to let the media succeed in their campaign against his re-election. In the same way, he appealed to the masses to struggle against bureaucracy, inefficiency and corruption.

He warned US imperialism that if they try to attack Venezuela he would “make them bite the dust” and he would close all Venezuelan refineries that are on North American soil. “If the US government wants to break all relations, that is up to them. For my part, it won’t cost me anything to close the refineries. Then we will see how high the price of oil will reach. We do not want it to come to that, we want them to leave us in peace. Imperialism must accept the truth, that Venezuela will not be a colony of the United States. We govern ourselves”.

At the same time he proposed to accelerate the formation of a military reserve to better defend the country. He re-iterated the point that the purchase of 100,000 rifles is not enough to face up to the threat of US imperialism. He has put forward a proposal to the National Assembly to buy more arms and distribute them among the people. “Because the gringos want us to remain unarmed. Well no! I will accelerate the process of integration of the national reserve together with the territorial guard, we need more guns. Venezuela needs one million well equipped men and women”.

To meet the challenge of the presidential elections in December and reach the target of 10 million votes, he issued an appeal for a second Battle of Santa Inés. With this aim in mind, he made an appeal to the rank and file of the Bolivarian Movement to organise once more the UBEs (Unidades de Batalla Electoral, Electoral Battle Units), in the same way as was done during the August 15, 2004 referendum campaign.

This march represents a new turning point in the revolution. It clearly demonstrates the enormously favourable correlation of forces in favour of the masses, for the socialist transformation of society, and the level of consciousness and revolutionary instinct. This year will be a decisive one: only through the organisation and mobilisation of the working class, the urban poor, the peasants and the youth, can the re-election of Chavez be assured.

The Bolivarian movement must use the organisation of the people into UBEs, not only to guarantee the victory of Chavez, but also to put an end to capitalism itself. With this aim in mind, it must push from below for the expropriation of the commanding heights of the economy (banks, industries and landed estates) under the control of the workers and the local communities. This is necessary in order to break the economic stranglehold of the counter-revolution and imperialism and to fight the economic capitalist sabotage that will increase during this election year.

At the same time, this will only be possible if the bourgeois state apparatus inherited from the Fourth Republic - and that is still present within the Fifth - which is the main centre of corruption and bureaucratism disappears and is substituted by a state based on rank-and file assemblies made up of elected and recallable delegates, coordinated throughout the country. That is to say, that only by completing the revolution by moving to socialism, can the revolution be defended against the conspiracies of imperialism and also guarantee the overwhelming victory of president Chavez on December 3.

Caracas, February 7. 2006

Is Chavez a Dictator? Bush is, Chavez isn't!

Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro have often met as the leaders of their countries, and they have clearly developed a warm personal friendship as well. The Bush administration, Fox News, and the Venezuelan opposition try to use this as "proof" that Chavez is taking orders from Castro, that Chavez intends to turn Venezuela into a "communist dictatorship," with capitalism severely curtailed, and freedom of speech limited.

In reality there has been a lot of cooperation between Cuba and Venezuela. Cuba is a world leader in many aspects of medicine, and Venezuela has oil, so they have traded oil for doctors, and also for technical assistance in education, agriculture, and other areas. But the idea that capitalism is under attack in Venezuela is simply absurd. I was there for a month before Christmas, and the scene I saw was more like capitalism on steroids. Venezuela has huge malls with atriums and half a dozen floors, stores just like ours, and lots of stuff made in China, just like in the U.S.

Venezuela also has a huge "informal economy," including thousands upon thousands of street vendors selling just about everything. Food, produce, clothing of all kinds, watches, jewelry, books, luggage, copies of CD’s and DVD’s, little figures to put in crèches (crèches were everywhere), makeup, cell phones, office supplies… Before Chavez the police used to clear them off the streets and take their merchandise. Now they completely fill the sidewalks in many parts of the city, and nobody bothers them. This year people were buying a lot! Ironically the prosperity that led to all this consumption has led to a huge surge in the flow of trash. There were little mountains of it in Caracas streets when I arrived. By the time I left a month later they were just starting to get it under control.

I saw McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, TGI Friday’s, Subway, and Little Caesar’s, demonstrating that franchising is functioning well. One of the tackier symbols of international capitalism is the huge red coffee mug inscribed with the word "NESCAFE" on top of a tall building in the heart of the city. Venezuela has signed joint venture agreements with 19 international oil companies, and is negotiating with the 20th, ExxonMobile. The government is vigorously supporting small businesses in the form of cooperatives. In cities across the country neighborhoods are organizing, with help from the government, to draw up maps of the settlements where poor people have built houses on public land so they can get titles to their houses, thereby creating massive amounts of private property in the form of titled real estate. The government has been quite encouraging to capitalist development in general, seeing it as fundamental to a prosperous society.

Chavistas make it clear that they are not following any model from Russia, China, or Cuba, or any other scheme or theory of how society should be organized. They often talk about socialism, but they don’t mean nationalizing industry or eliminating private property. By "socialism" they simply mean basing decisions on what is good for the whole of society. Chavez frequently refers to Jesus as a great teacher of socialism, with his message of love and caring for the least among us.

The army runs mega-mercados in various parts of town. These are big open air fairs, where the soldiers sell pork hindquarters at a very low price. Hundreds of people line up for meat, and they also buy things from farmers, fishmongers, and other private merchants at a big open air market. The prices of basic commodities are regulated, and low. But the fun part is all the "non-basic" commodities, like the machine that squeezes fresh sugar cane into a cup of juice, served with a squeeze of citron. Blocks of something like brown sugar, but more delicious. Honey in the comb. All the usual vendors of food clothing, and everything else. And the Venezuelan music that turns everything into a party.

This is one of the ways the army promotes national security. It sells food that everyone can afford, and it provides small businesses with a secure location (patrolled by soldiers!) and a guaranteed clientele. Moreover, these are customers who might have some money left in their pockets after buying basic commodities. The Venezuelan army promotes the nutritional security of the nation, and the people create the fun and profit.

Venezuelans say that their Bolivarian Socialism is a "process," something that they are inventing, discovering, and creating. There are some basic ideas: participatory democracy, social justice, Latin American integration, and independence from the empire to the north. Education, health care, adequate nutrition, and decent housing seen as fundamental rights. But there is no formula for achieving these ends. The process is experimental and open ended.

Chavez is the president because millions of people see themselves as directly connected to this process. Nearly all of the poor people, and a lot of the middle class, are benefiting from the educational, health, and food missions. But many are also connected to a broad social movement consisting of neighborhood committees, cooperatives, and unions of many kinds (such as the housewives’ union.) These people are the ones who took to the streets when the oligarchy kidnapped Chavez and tried to set up its own government. They know that they put him back in the palace, and they approve of what he is doing there.

The oligarchy, and the portion of the middle class that looks to them for leadership, see this state of affairs as the world gone crazy. An egomaniacal demagogue supported by a bunch of malcontents and troublemakers. Votes bought with cheap food and Cuban doctors. Worst of all, it’s being paid for with money that used to go to them.

The big newspapers and the private TV and radio stations are relentlessly opposed to Chavez. They extensively quote Chavez’s critics, putting the worst possible spin on everything he does, often treating him with disrespect and derision. Nevertheless, there has not been any attempt by the government to censor them.

The election for the National Assembly on December 4 was a good example of how the opposition press operates. Since the constitution of 1999 has been in effect, elections for the National Assembly have not been at the same time as the election for the president. Therefore, turnout has been low, around 30% of registered voters. Polls gave pro-Chavez candidates a big lead, predicting a 70/30 split in the legislature. Opponents of the government raised various fairness issues, and the election authorities made changes in the procedures that completely dealt with those issues, in the opinion of delegations of independent observers from the European Union and the Organization of American States.

Nevertheless, four days before the election all of the opposition parties agreed to boycott the election, and they told their supporters not to vote. Of course with the opposition not voting, and with government supporters seeing no contest for their candidates, the turnout hit an all-time low of 25%. The next day the headlines of the two biggest newspapers in Caracas triumphantly proclaimed: "Abstention at 75%!"

In other words, the opposition had told its people not to vote, and since 75% of registered voters did not vote, they claimed that it was a great victory for their side. In reality it was probably a rough measure of Chavez’s hard core, because who else would bother?

Because of the boycott, 100% of the new National Assembly supports Chavez. Already opposition figures have begun to sneer at the legislature as a mere rubber stamp for Chavez, more proof that he is a dictator, because only a dictator would have no opposition in the legislature.

50 out of 167 National Assembly members are women, by the way, a world record. Just think of their task: creating laws to enable a peaceful revolution.

So, is Chavez a dictator? Bush, Fox, and the Venezuelan oligarchy will tell you that he is. But they live in a looking-glass world where conquest is called liberation, aggression is called defense, and economic domination is called free trade. A world where real democracy is called dictatorship.

Israeli "art students", Mossad and 9-11

February 8, 2006 -- WMR previously reported on the activities of a group of some 120 Israeli "art students" in the United States prior to the 9-11 attacks. At least a year before the attacks, the art students caught the attention of agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), who prepared a lengthy report of their activities in June 2001. The DEA report specifically concluded that the Israelis may have had "ties to an Islamic fundamentalist group.” That group turned out to be Al Qaeda. The DEA report was supplemented by reports from agents of the Marshal's Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and local police departments.

WMR's report on the suspicious activities of Israeli art students and movers concludes that these individuals were involved in surveillance of the 9-11 hijackers in locations such as Hollywood, Florida; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; Venice, Florida; Laurel, Maryland; San Diego, California; and Jersey City and Paterson, New Jersey.

Israeli intelligence veteran confirms that Israeli art students who shadowed 9-11 hijackers were part of a major Mossad intelligence operation

WMR can now report that a long-serving member of the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, has confirmed that the Israeli art students were, in fact, part of a major Israeli intelligence operation and that they were conducting surveillance of the activities of the 9-11 hijackers. They also worked with the Israeli Urban Moving System employees in New Jersey who were seen in at least two Jersey City locations -- Liberty State Park and The Doric apartment building -- celebrating the impact of the first plane into the World Trade Center.

The Israelis at Liberty State Park were dressed in Arab-style clothing when they were witnessed celebrating the first attack. The FBI later confiscated a videotape they filmed of the first attack. All the Israeli art students and movers who were detained, arrested, or jailed were freed and allowed to return to Israel. The Israeli movers in New Jersey were freed after intense pressure was brought on the Bush administration by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. After the news of the Israeli art students and their intelligence ring was reported by the AP and other media outlets, including Fox News, the Israeli embassy in Washington and The Washington Post called the story an "urban myth." It is also of note that John Miller, the ABC News reporter who covered the Israeli movers story for 20/20 and concluded that the movers were not involved in the 9-11 attacks, is now the spokesman for the FBI. WMR can also report that there are a number of FBI agents, some veterans of the New York-New Jersey Joint Terrorism Task Force, who know about the Israeli role in surveillance of the 9-11 hijackers but have been "gagged" by senior levels of the FBI not to talk about what they know.

The leadership of the Justice Department is incredibly "stupid."

February 8, 2006 -- A Department of Justice prosecutor emphatically told this editor that the leadership of the Justice Department is incredibly "stupid." His statement was in respone to this editor's contention that criminal conspiracy appeared rife within the Justice Department and FBI. However, one statement in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's February 6 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee supports the Justice Department prosecutor's contention about rampant stupidity within DOJ. Gonzales testified that "President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance on a far broader scale" than George W. Bush. It is noteworthy that Gonzales failed to mention Richard Nixon's massive wiretapping program involving the NSA and CIA. But Gonzales's contention that President Washington engaged in electronic surveillance confirms the stupidity factor within the upper echelons of the Justice Department. Perhaps Washington was intercepting the lightning strike that was transmitted to Benjamin Franklin's kite key. We just hope Washington had a Clipper chip to decode the key.

A Night at the WSF: Speeches as Spectacle in Chavez's Venezuela

Venezuelans love a spectacle. They love watching one. They love creating one. Their fanatical passion for baseball is an example of this. The crowd, the stadium, and the audience in the street create a mass energy that has to be seen to be believed.

The night after the 2006 World Social Forum ended, the Caracas Baseball team, Los Leones, won the national championship. Immediately the city exploded with celebrations. There were cheers, car horns, fireworks and even gun shots. Crowds poured into the streets.

Days before, thousands of other Venezuelans and some foreign visitors had created another spectacle. This one was about the World Social Forum, and more about the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias.

So much about the event was surreal, or maybe, “magically real.” When I have become bewildered by the extremes of Caracas, Venezuelans often tell me, “You know Isabel Allende? She is from Caracas. You know magical realism? This is it.”

The location was definitely surreal. The Poliedro is a huge domed building with thousands of seats and a large arena in the center. It is located on the edge of the city. Green tropical hills flow to one side. Fields of slum buildings on the other.

VIPs on the stage included Cindy Sheehan, Richard Gott, Chavez (center), Blanca Chancoso, and Ignacio Ramonet (far right).
Credit: Alex Holland
It was hard to reach, miles away from the metro, through the slums. People came anyway. Thousands of people. They queued for hours.

Inside, the atmosphere was like the build up to a mega-star rock concert. The banner over the stage helped with this impression. It read like the name of a rock group, “The Social Movements and Hugo Chavez.”

Different musicians from across Latin America were the warm up acts. Chavez had not arrived yet. The scheduled start time was 3 and by 5 there was still no sign. The Venezuelans in the crowd did not seem to need him to entertain themselves, though.

Before the music started, they were singing, chanting, and dancing for hours. The large group of Cubans did too. They looked like a single, shaking, creature made up of red white and blue Cuban flags.

It all reminded me of an England football match. The fans drum themselves into a fury of excitement while they wait. They chant songs including the names of the star players wanting to see them score. The Poliedro chanted, “Chavez, friend, the people are with you!”

The foreigners were quieter, especially in the press section. Anti-capitalist and alternate media reporters from all over the Americas crowded into a corner of the stadium’s seating. International corporate media and Venezuelan opposition reporters sat quietly and uncomfortably amongst them.

A long table on the arena stage started to fill up with people. Some of them could be recognized. There was Cindy Sheehan, the US anti-war campaigner whose son was killed in Iraq, as well as Ignacio Ramonet, the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique. There were nine more.

The person sitting beside me said, “Are all 11 going to speak before Chavez?” Feelings of dread came into me. It was now 7 and if they all spoke the event was not going to finish until some time the next day.

Just then the main act arrived. Chavez walked on kissing and hugging all the people on the panel. There was huge applause from the crowd. Chavez introduced those he had been kissing. Everybody sat.

Suddenly there was the recorded sound of gunfire and bombs. From a side entrance people appeared carrying large, black, banners with corporate media images on them. The sounds of gunfire continued.

Just as suddenly a group of dancers dressed as peasants emerged holding fake machetes, or swords, in their hands. They jumped on the people holding the corporate banners and attacked them, chopping them down.

Then people emerged with large white banners saying, “For peace and against war and corporate greed.” Everyone seemed a bit confused by this, considering the violent way the corporations were defeated. They clapped anyway.

But it was not over. Now a couple walked forward into the arena. One was a heavily pregnant pale woman with a naked stomach. She was walking arm in arm with a darker man carrying a child.

Dozens of dancers in colored robes jumped in to the arena around them. They held up baskets of fruit and corn. Then they left. Chavez and the panel watched them, politely smiling but looked a bit confused. The person sitting on the other side of me said, “this is weak.”

The strangeness had not stopped, though. A Brazilian monk in brilliant white robes got up to the microphone and spoke. He urged the crowd to live with peace and love. At one point, he asked everyone in the Poliedro to hug each other. They did.

I started to think it could not get any stranger. Seeing the other 10 panelists I also thought about how much longer it was going to take. Just then, the monk stopped preaching and introduced Chavez. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and applauded.

The international notaries of the anti-capitalist movement, along with indigenous and peasant activists on the panel, were there just for decoration. I thought this was strange, but was also pleased I would not have to listen to them all talk.

Venezuela's President Chavez addressing the WSF crowd.
Credit: Alex Holland
The Venezuelan President spoke like he normally does. Charming, totally at ease, seemingly speaking without preparation. He talked in circles, starting a topic and going off on a tangent and then returning. Rather than being annoying, this was strangely quite endearing.

The content of his speech was a mix of political denunciation, intellectual comment, needless listing and song.

The name of the event was, “The struggle of the peoples against imperialism,” and his talk was full of attacks against it. Greek, Roman and Spanish Imperialism were all denounced. Special anger, as always, was saved for the US.

George Bush is “Mr. Danger.” For attacking Iraq, Mr. Danger is the, “greatest terrorist in the world.” Chavez said the US is, “the most perverse, murderous, genocidal, immoral empire that this planet has known in 100 centuries.”

Venezuela’s oil is why, “The US wants to impose its empire on us.” The 2002 coup against Chavez was part of their, “Imperialist strategy to do this.” Chavez has apparently not given up on the US, though.

Chavez asked the audience to imagine, “what if the US government with all its resources and technology was actually sincere about the struggle against hunger and poverty. If it joined with poor governments and eliminated these things from the world.”

The Social Forum also came under Chavez’s gaze. The Venezuelan President said, “It must not become a tourist activity.” He went on to say, “We must have diversity and autonomy, but also unity in a great anti-imperialist front.”

At the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2005, Chavez said, “many talks were occurring without conclusions. We are not here to waste our time. We must urgently build a new socialist movement.”

The reason for this was based on intellectual reflections. Through the speech he quoted anti-capitalist darling Noam Chomsky, 17th century English state theorist Thomas Hobbes, and German Socialist Rosa Luxemburg.

Chavez supported his call for urgent action by quoting from the British Philosopher Bertrand Russell. Chavez said Russell knew, “the human race is the only one that can commit self-genocide.” For this reason time is of the essence. If capitalism is left to itself, it could wipe out humanity.

The accuracy of Chavez’s other intellectual quotes was more questionable. He said the great Karl Marx also understood the danger to human existence under capitalism. Chavez said that is why, “Karl Marx famously wrote, socialism or death!”

Even if his knowledge of Marx’s writings is shaky, Chavez’s support is not. The thousands gathered in the Poliedro loved it. Applause was loud, especially at the end.

For a European like me, all of this was extremely strange and maybe magically real. It was also a bit disturbing at times. The setting, the numbers and the focus reminded me at times of some of the worst elements of my continent’s past.

As a foreign observer, I often feel torn between denouncing a cult of personality and not patronizing a people who are loving and living their politics with flair and passion.

For the pro-Chavez Venezuelans, even the critical ones, these doubts do not seem to appear. Crowds, singing, dancing and high emotions are fun not frightening. At a baseball game or a political rally they want vibrancy, eccentricity, excitement. It’s simple. Venezuelans love a spectacle. They love watching one. They love creating one.

President Jonah (redux) By Gore Vidal

While contemplating the ill-starred presidency of G.W. Bush, I looked about for some sort of divine analogy. As usual, when in need of enlightenment, I fell upon the Holy Bible, authorized King James version of 1611; turning by chance to the Book of Jonah, I read that Jonah, who, like Bush, chats with God, had suffered a falling out with the Almighty and thus became a jinx dogged by luck so bad that a cruise liner, thanks to his presence aboard, was about to sink in a storm at sea. Once the crew had determined that Jonah, a passenger, was the jinx, they threw him overboard and—Lo!—the storm abated. The three days and nights he subsequently spent in the belly of a nauseous whale must have seemed like a serious jinx to the digestion-challenged whale who extruded him much as the decent opinion of mankind has done to Bush.

Originally, God wanted Jonah to give hell to Nineveh, whose people, God noted disdainfully, “cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand,” so like the people of Baghdad who cannot fathom what democracy has to do with their destruction by the Cheney-Bush cabal. But the analogy becomes eerily precise when it comes to the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico at a time when a president is not only incompetent but plainly jinxed by whatever faith he cringes before. Witness the ongoing screw-up of prescription drugs. Who knows what other disasters are in store for us thanks to the curse he is under? As the sailors fed the original Jonah to a whale, thus lifting the storm that was about to drown them, perhaps we the people can persuade President Jonah to retire to his other Eden in Crawford, Texas, taking his jinx with him. We deserve a rest. Plainly, so does he. Look at Nixon’s radiant features after his resignation! One can see former President Jonah in his sumptuous presidential library happily catering to faith-based fans with animated scriptures rooted in “The Simpsons.”

Not since the glory days of Watergate and Nixon’s Luciferian fall has there been so much written about the dogged deceits and creative criminalities of our rulers. We have also come to a point in this dark age where there is not only no hero in view but no alternative road unblocked. We are trapped terribly in a now that few foresaw and even fewer can define despite a swarm of books and pamphlets like the vast cloud of locusts which dined on China in that ’30s movie “The Good Earth.”

I have read many of these descriptions of our fallen estate, looking for one that best describes in plain English how we got to this now and where we appear to be headed once our good Earth has been consumed and only Rapture is left to whisk aloft the Faithful. Meanwhile, the rest of us can learn quite a lot from “Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire” by Morris Berman, a professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

I must confess that I have a proprietary interest in anyone who refers to the United States as an empire since I am credited with first putting forward this heretical view in the early ’70s. In fact, so disgusted with me was a book reviewer at Time magazine that as proof of my madness he wrote: “He actually refers to the United States as an empire!” It should be noted that at about the same time Henry Luce, proprietor of Time, was booming on and on about “The American Century.” What a difference a word makes!

Berman sets his scene briskly in recent history. “We were already in our twilight phase when Ronald Reagan, with all the insight of an ostrich, declared it to be ‘morning in America’; twenty-odd years later, under the ‘boy emperor’ George W. Bush (as Chalmers Johnson refers to him), we have entered the Dark Ages in earnest, pursuing a short-sighted path that can only accelerate our decline. For what we are now seeing are the obvious characteristics of the West after the fall of Rome: the triumph of religion over reason; the atrophy of education and critical thinking; the integration of religion, the state, and the apparatus of torture—a troika that was for Voltaire the central horror of the pre-Enlightenment world; and the political and economic marginalization of our culture…. The British historian Charles Freeman published an extended discussion of the transition that took place during the late Roman empire, the title of which could serve as a capsule summary of our current president: "The Closing of the Western Mind."

Mr. Bush, God knows, is no Augustine; but Freeman points to the latter as the epitome of a more general process that was underway in the fourth century: namely, ‘the gradual subjection of reason to faith and authority.’ This is what we are seeing today, and it is a process that no society can undergo and still remain free. Yet it is a process of which administration officials, along with much of the American population, are aggressively proud.” In fact, close observers of this odd presidency note that Bush, like his evangelical base, believes he is on a mission from God and that faith trumps empirical evidence. Berman quotes a senior White House adviser who disdains what he calls the “reality-based” community, to which Berman sensibly responds: “If a nation is unable to perceive reality correctly, and persists in operating on the basis of faith-based delusions, its ability to hold its own in the world is pretty much foreclosed.”

Berman does a brief tour of the American horizon, revealing a cultural death valley. In secondary schools where evolution can still be taught too many teachers are afraid to bring up the subject to their so often un-evolved students. “Add to this the pervasive hostility toward science on the part of the current administration (e.g. stem-cell research) and we get a clear picture of the Enlightenment being steadily rolled back. Religion is used to explain terror attacks as part of a cosmic conflict between Good and Evil rather than in terms of political processes.... Manichaeanism rules across the United States. According to a poll taken by Time magazine fifty-nine percent of Americans believe that John’s apocalyptic prophecies in the Book of Revelation will be fulfilled, and nearly all of these believe that the faithful will be taken up into heaven in the ‘Rapture.’

“Finally, we shouldn’t be surprised at the antipathy toward democracy displayed by the Bush administration…. As already noted, fundamentalism and democracy are completely antithetical. The opposite of the Enlightenment, of course, is tribalism, groupthink; and more and more, this is the direction in which the United States is going…. Anthony Lewis who worked as a columnist for the New York Times for thirty-two years, observes that what has happened in the wake of 9/11 is not just the threatening of the rights of a few detainees, but the undermining of the very foundation of democracy. Detention without trial, denial of access to attorneys, years of interrogation in isolation—these are now standard American practice, and most Americans don’t care. Nor did they care about the revelation in July 2004 (reported in Newsweek), that for several months the White House and the Department of Justice had been discussing the feasibility of canceling the upcoming presidential election in the event of a possible terrorist attack.” I suspect that the technologically inclined prevailed against that extreme measure on the ground that the newly installed electronic ballot machines could be so calibrated that Bush would win handily no matter what (read Rep. Conyers’ report (.pdf file) on the rigging of Ohio’s vote).

Meanwhile, the indoctrination of the people merrily continues. “In a ‘State of the First Amendment Survey’ conducted by the University of Connecticut in 2003, 34 percent of Americans polled said the First Amendment ‘goes too far’; 46 percent said there was too much freedom of the press; 28 percent felt that newspapers should not be able to publish articles without prior approval of the government; 31 percent wanted public protest of a war to be outlawed during that war; and 50 percent thought the government should have the right to infringe on the religious freedom of ‘certain religious groups’ in the name of the war on terror.”

It is usual in sad reports like Professor Berman’s to stop abruptly the litany of what has gone wrong and then declare, hand on heart, that once the people have been informed of what is happening, the truth will set them free and a quarter-billion candles will be lit and the darkness will flee in the presence of so much spontaneous light. But Berman is much too serious for the easy platitude. Instead he tells us that those who might have struck at least a match can no longer do so because shared information about our situation is meager to nonexistent. Would better schools help? Of course, but, according to that joyous bearer of ill tidings, the New York Times, many school districts are now making sobriety tests a regular feature of the school day: apparently opium derivatives are the opiate of our stoned youth. Meanwhile, millions of adult Americans, presumably undrugged, have no idea who our enemies were in World War II. Many college graduates don’t know the difference between an argument and an assertion (did their teachers also fail to solve this knotty question?). A travel agent in Arizona is often asked whether or not it is cheaper to take the train rather than fly to Hawaii. Only 12% of Americans own a passport. At the time of the 2004 presidential election 42% of voters believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. One high school boy, when asked who won the Civil War, replied wearily, “I don’t know and I don’t care,” echoing a busy neocon who confessed proudly: “The American Civil War is as remote to me as the War of the Roses.”

We are assured daily by advertisers and/or politicians that we are the richest, most envied people on Earth and, apparently, that is why so many awful, ill-groomed people want to blow us up. We live in an impermeable bubble without the sort of information that people living in real countries have access to when it comes to their own reality. But we are not actually people in the eyes of the national ownership: we are simply unreliable consumers comprising an overworked, underpaid labor force not in the best of health: The World Health Organization rates our healthcare system (sic—or sick?) as 37th-best in the world, far behind even Saudi Arabia, role model for the Texans. Our infant mortality rate is satisfyingly high, precluding a First World educational system. Also, it has not gone unremarked even in our usually information-free media that despite the boost to the profits of such companies as Halliburton, Bush’s wars of aggression against small countries of no danger to us have left us well and truly broke. Our annual trade deficit is a half-trillion dollars, which means that we don’t produce much of anything the world wants except those wan reports on how popular our Entertainment is overseas. Unfortunately the foreign gross of “King Kong,” the Edsel of that assembly line, is not yet known. It is rumored that Bollywood—the Indian film business—may soon surpass us! Berman writes, “We have lost our edge in science to Europe...The US economy is being kept afloat by huge foreign loans ($4 billion a day during 2003). What do you think will happen when America’s creditors decide to pull the plug, or when OPEC members begin selling oil in euros instead of dollars?...An International Monetary Fund report of 2004 concluded that the United States was ‘careening toward insolvency.’ ” Meanwhile, China, our favorite big-time future enemy, is the number one for worldwide foreign investments, with France, the bete noire of our apish neocons, in second place.

Well, we still have Kraft cheese as of today and, of course, the death penalty.

Berman makes the case that the Bretton-Woods agreement of 1944 institutionalized a system geared toward full employment and the maintenance of a social safety net for society’s less fortunate—the so-called welfare or interventionist state. It did this by establishing fixed but flexible exchange rates among world currencies, which were pegged to the U.S. dollar while the dollar, for its part, was pegged to gold. In a word, Bretton-Woods saved capitalism by making it more human. Nixon abandoned the agreement in 1971, which started, according to Berman, huge amounts of capital moving upward from the poor and the middle class to the rich and super-rich.

Mr. Berman spares us the happy ending, as, apparently, has history. When the admirable Tiberius (he has had an undeserved bad press), upon becoming emperor, received a message from the Senate in which the conscript fathers assured him that whatever legislation he wanted would be automatically passed by them, he sent back word that this was outrageous. “Suppose the emperor is ill or mad or incompetent?” He returned their message. They sent it again. His response: “How eager you are to be slaves.” I often think of that wise emperor when I hear Republican members of Congress extolling the wisdom of Bush. Now that he has been caught illegally wiretapping fellow citizens he has taken to snarling about his powers as “a wartime president,” and so, in his own mind, he is above each and every law of the land. Oddly, no one in Congress has pointed out that he may well be a lunatic dreaming that he is another Lincoln but whatever he is or is not he is no wartime president. There is no war with any other nation...yet. There is no state called terror, an abstract noun like liar. Certainly his illegal unilateral ravaging of Iraq may well seem like a real war for those on both sides unlucky enough to be killed or wounded, but that does not make it a war any more than the appearance of having been elected twice to the presidency does not mean that in due course the people will demand an investigation of those two irregular processes. Although he has done a number of things that under the old republic might have got him impeached, our current system protects him: incumbency-for-life seats have made it possible for a Republican majority in the House not to do its duty and impeach him for his incompetence in handling, say, the natural disaster that befell Louisiana.

The founders thought two-year terms for members of the House was as much democracy as we’d ever need. Therefore, there was no great movement to have some sort of recall legislation in the event that a president wasn’t up to his job and so had lost the people’s confidence between elections. But in time, as Ecclesiastes would say, all things shall come to pass and so, in a kindly way, a majority of the citizens must persuade him that he will be happier back in Crawford pruning Bushes of the leafy sort while the troops not killed or maimed will settle for simply being alive and in one piece. We may be slaves but we are not unreasonable.

Reason requires that we explain to the media and to this self-anointed “war-time president” whose “inherent” powers, to hear him babble, transcend the Constitution itself. But they can’t: First, we are not at war with another country; second, presidential powers are enumerated in the constitution, not inherent--despite the weird legal misreadings by ambulance-proud White House lawyers.

Nevertheless, our neo-totalitarians are planning new wars in the Middle East, Far East, Conga Line! while his latest State of the Union speech justifies eavesdropping (without judicial warrants) on anybody in the United States that he wants to listen in on. This is what we call dictatorship. Dictatorship. Dictatorship. And it is time we objected.

Can we wait till the next election? Only if the electronic voting machinery has paper trails or, perhaps, honest old-fashioned paper ballots. In any case, with one voice let us say, "We’ve had enough of you. Go home to Crawford. We’ll help you raise the money for a library, and you won’t ever have to read a book. We the folks are not cruel even though we must now echo our spiritual ancestor Oliver Cromell’s order to the infamous long Parliament: 'You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately in the Ninth Ward. Depart, we say; and let us have done with you. In the name of the God who created that whale – Go!'"