Brian's Morning Newsletter
Tuesday, May 31 2011
Nell and the Pups (that's Buddy on the right)
Buddy's Dad, Bo
Socialist Green Bus, hehe. Austin and his gang painted the old bus in our yard yesterday, thank you son!
All I hear is crap when I speak of socialism. Americans have been completely brainwashed by capitalists fat-cats. I don't watch broadcast television,but we've seen excerpts from Fox News and CNN and it is obvious that they are the mouth pieces for the ultra-rich. Am I being cynically obvious again when I note that the capitalists will tell any and every lie they think gullible Americans will believe to stay in power?
Somebody stated this weekend after I said South American socialist movement looked pretty good to me,"I don't want to be told what to do by a dictator."Socialists generally don't have dictators,in fact all south American socialists including,Hugo Chavez are democratically elected presidents. This didn't stop GW Bush and his ultra-rich capitalist crones from trying to remove Hugo Chavez as president. The truth is Bush and the oil companies wanted Chavez out when he made good on his socialist campaign promise to give the natural remorses of Venezuela to his citizens,in the form of free education and health-care,not to mention jobs for the most needy people in the country.
The only way these things can be construed as evil is if your are a sucker for capitalism. Capitalism sells us education and health-care. They don't want anybody giving it away,so socialism in this regard is bad. Although if one was to look a little more closely, socialism is bad for the rich and good for the people. all people not just the poor. Socialism is good for everyone,except mega-corporations. People can still own land,businesses,everything is the same as here,except socialist won't let mega-corporations,especially anti-union companies do their nasty business.
I'm going to ask my group to please give the following article a chance. If you're busy,pick a country read a little,prove to yourself that you can think with an open mind. Don't let Fox News make up your mind for you. At the very least, America should have a third party:21st Century Socialist Party. Give us a choice to decide if we want corporations to rule our country. Imagine an America where we owned our own natural gas. How many jobs would this create if we cut out the corporations and their $250K a year CEOs? Quite a few good paying jobs I would guess.
21st Century Socialism
In recent years a new pattern has arisen, as exemplified by Bolivia, Ecuador and of course Venezuela: the rejection of US political domination and the neo-liberal economic model; advances in healthcare and education; the possibilities opening up for democracy and the state to be vehicles for the interests of the poor and working class majority, enhanced by constitutional changes, and endorsed by the people in elections and referendums.
This pattern, though it has become entrenched since 2007, is far from even or universal, and is being bitterly resisted by the local elites with US support. Nevertheless, the process of regional integration, giving the nations and people of South America more control of their resources and potential for joint development, has gained momentum even in the countries in which there have been no radical reforms; the four-part summit in Brazil in December clearly showed this. Especially notable was Cuba becoming a full member of the Group of Río, which now includes all of Latin America.
On January 26th 2009 Bolivia's voters approved, with 60% support, a new constitution for the country. Among its provisions, the new constitution enshrines the rights of the indigenous groups, establishes that the country's natural gas reserves and other key natural resources are the property of the people, and sets a limit of 5,000 hectares on private land ownership. The passing of the constitution also means that Bolivia's President Evo Morales of the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) party will be able to stand for election again after the completion of his current term in office.
The referendum, which was originally due to be held in May 2008, had been posponed twice in the context of legal and illegal challenges by the country's right wing and economically privileged minority forces.
Playing on the cultural, economic and and political differences between the east and west of the country, separatism was fomented in the west, principally in Santa Cruz department (province). The big landowners and business interests there, together with the US Embassy, created a strong movement in the western 'crescent', the richest part of the country, for 'autonomy' including control of Bolivia's main income, oil and gas revenues. If successful, it would have left the big majority of the population in poverty with little hope of development. It is no coincidence that Philip Goldberg, the US Ambassador to Bolivia, held responsibility in the US State Department for the ongoing break-up of the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, and was posted to Kosovo from 2004 to 2006, assisting the separation of Kosovo from Serbia.
The Cochabamba Department Governor thought he would wrong-foot Evo Morales by challenging him to a recall election. Evo called his bluff, but included the governors of the departments in the process. In the elections on 10th August 2008, Evo was re-elected President with a massive 67% vote, and two opposition governors were defeated, including the one in Cochabamba who started the process.
It was after this process that the right-wing, centred in Santa Cruz, stepped up the separatist campaign for 'autonomy', virtually a breakup of the country. Shock brigades were organised to intimidate MAS supporters, occupy airports and wreck government offices. This was denounced as an attempted 'civilian coup' by the government. A pro-government march to the capital of Pando Department was the target of a massacre organised by the Governor, with 20 killed. Evo moved to arrest the Governor and declare a 'state of siege' in the Department.
Another important factor was the total isolation within South America of the separatists. In this, UNASUR played a major part, and it was President Michelle Bachelet of Chile's finest hour yet. UNASUR is the political organisation of all South American countries, only properly established last year. Faced with the crisis in Bolivia it made its first important move. Bachelet responded rapidly to requests for a summit and took a leading role, against the wishes of her Foreign Office, which is dominated by right-wing Christian Democrats.
At two day's notice, all the Presidents of South America, except García of Peru, met in Santiago on 15th September, and agreed a unanimous statement condemning the separatists and giving full support to Evo Morales' government. Evo expelled the US Ambassador, and with more mobilisations by MAS supporters, including a march that started towards Santa Cruz, the uprising was squashed.
Despite the crisis, among other things the literacy campaign, which had been carried out with the assistance of Venezuela and Cuba, continued. The official end to illiteracy was declared on 20th December 2008.
In Ecuador, a new and very progressive Constitution, which establishes the people's rights to clean water, universal healthcare and pensions, as well as giving the state the power to control natural resources, was approved in a referendum in September 2008, winning the endorsement of 65% of voters. Here also, as in Bolivia and Venezuela, separatism was imperialism's chosen weapon to try to destabilise and roll back political advance. The hopes were placed on Guayaquil, the most prosperous city and region. These hopes were dashed.
President Rafael Correa, a politically astute economist, has emerged much strengthened. He has carefully linked his moves against transnational corporations (including recently Brazilian companies) with the promotion of national dignity. He has also worked to defend the rights of Ecuadorian emigrants in Spain and the USA, and many Ecuadorian emigrants in Chile feel much better about their country now, and plan to return. The new constitution allows Rafael Correa to stand for re-election for a further two terms.
Correa has recently announced a moratorium on foreign debt repayments. This is a powerful step, repudiating 'immoral and illegal' debts incurred by previous governments which were puppets of imperialist financial interests, and which in collusion with them sold the country down the river, as long as they could steal a good portion of the loans. Correa has said he will propose a way of restructuring the debt; this promises to be an excellent precedent for other dependent countries that have been severely damaged by neoliberal, neocolonial practices.
The revolutionary process advanced in 2008 with the further nationalisation of foreign companies, land reform with big advances in agriculture, and the development of the United Socialist Party (PSUV) as the mass membership party of '21st Century Socialism'. The headline event was the local and regional election in November, in which the PSUV won 5.4 million votes, and the right-wing opposition 4 million.
Within that great victory, however, there were some warning signs, as President Hugo Chávez has recognised. The PSUV lost Caracas (the capital) and Miranda, an important state nearby. This showed the need for the revolution to achieve more to improve the lives of Venezuelans, and to apply more evenly the best practices of popular power, real participation in decision-taking.
Following the election success, Chávez has decided to go for a referendum, seeking to win approval for an amendment to the Constitution, to remove the current term limits for popularly elected positions. This, if successful, would permit Mayors, Governors and regional and national assembly members to stand again for election after serving two terms; but the reason behind this proposed constitutional amendment is to allow the Venezuelan people to decide, at the next and subsequent presidential elections, whether they want Hugo Chávez to continue as leader of the country. After a massive campaign of door-to-door collection of signatures in support of the constitutional amendment, the date of the referendum has been set for 15th February.
The proposed amendment raises the issue of the role of individuals in history. Chávez is not only the leader but the symbol of the revolutionary process. His view, and that of the PSUV members, is that without him as President Venezuela would lose an important factor in the political direction of the country.
Like Fidel Castro in Cuba, Hugo Chávez is a figure of unity for the various strands of the revolutionary forces. It is likely that the move towards socialism will continue with less danger of being derailed while he is the reference point.
This situation has weaknesses and also dangers of its own but the continued enthusiasm of the Venezuelan people for transformations is the best guarantee of continued progress. The right-wing forces have launched aggressive efforts to roll back the gains of the revolutionary process in the areas they won in the recent elections, and the people are having to mobilise again to defend them. If the constitutional amendment is passed on February 15th, one long-term threat might be the promotion of separatism in the right wing-controlled and economically very important state of Maracaibo.
Under President Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva (popularly known as Lula), Brazil has taken a leading role in the integration trend. Lula, of course, is very different politically from Hugo Chávez. He was a militant trade union leader and a leader of the left-wing Workers' Party (PT). The workers' movement was severely weakened by neo-liberal policies in the '90s, and in order to get elected in 2002, Lula sold a part of his soul to the devil, made an alliance with a right-wing party, and promised to maintain the neo-liberal economic model.
Brazil is the industrial and economic giant of South America. With about 200 million people, it has half the population of the whole sub-continent. Traditionally however, it was separated from the other countries, by speaking Portuguese and not Spanish; and the local elite looked to the USA and not Brazil's neighbours for 'culture' and economic ties. But its industrialists are now striving for Brazil to be independent of the USA, and to be a strong force regionally and even globally. The disputes between Brazil and the USA in world trade bodies, and moves to form new international alliances to end US unipolar world domination, are testimony to this.
This plays a part in Lula's strong support for regional integration; it also meshes nicely with the moves against imperialism and big business in other countries, and extends to the recent creation of a South American Defence Council, after the USA provocatively re-formed its 4th Fleet and sailed it round the South American continent.
Lula has improved life for the poorest people. His big election slogan was 'Zero Hunger'; and a social spending programme appears to have achieved this, while not threatening capitalist rule or significantly changing the very unequal distribution of income (the worst in the region, along with Chile). Opinion polls show a very high level of support for him.
Brazilian banks are very powerful and real interest rates are among the highest in the world (having close ties to US financial markets, they have suffered a lot in the recent financial crisis). Brazil has big companies eager to invest in other countries in the region, including Petrobras, the oil company, formerly nationalised but now a private company with a government stake, much like BP used to be in Britain.
The workers' movement is weakened by divisions but the five trade union federations recently joined forces to resist job cuts resulting from the crisis, and make demands including cuts in interest rates. The popular movements in Brazil suffer, as in the USA, from the social divisions caused by racism. Slavery was only abolished in 1888, and the large numbers of people of African descent are still the poorest workers, often in precarious employment, and suffer severe discrimination. The resulting problems of drugs and criminalisation, especially in the big cities, are well known.
Racism is said to be declining but remains a challenge for the trade union movement. Recently there have been important strikes, including by one of the police forces in Sao Paulo.
Another important progressive movement is the MST, the Landless Workers' Movement. This organises a million and a half rural people to occupy unused or poorly used land, force its expropriation from the landowners, and establish settlements, preferably collectively farmed. The MST grew out of previous Communist-organised farmers' movements and Liberation Theology, and has a strong ethical basis. Many MST members are also in the PT but Lula has done it no favours. Its aim is to end the large landed estates in Brazil but Lula supports agri-business, whose exports of soyabeans and meat, along with coffee and sugar, are very important.
Argentina is the other industrial giant in South America. Since 2003, the governments of Néstor Kirchner and his wife Cristina Fernández Kirchner have been strongly interventionist in the economy and have stood up to the IMF and other foreign interests.
As left-wing Peronists, they have had good relations with the powerful trade unions, talk of redistribution of incomes, and therefore have terrible relations with the business sector. The worst thing for the pro-imperialist right-wing is that the economy has been very successful since 2003, making a strong recovery from the disaster which was provoked by the policies of the neo-liberal government in 2001.
Before the election of Cristina Kirchner, business interests and right wing commentators were expressing the hope that she would be more 'moderate' than her husband. But these hopes have been dashed by Mrs Kirchner's actions since she succeeded her husband as president in December 2007.
Argentina has been very important in the regional integration process, where national capitalist and socialist interests coincide. The 'Kirchners', as they are called, have been more opposed to 'free trade' than Brazil. After breaking decisively from the influence of the IMF (with financial assistance from Venezuela), the Kirchner governments have re-nationalised the national airline; in October 2008 Cristina Kirchner announced proposals to re-nationalise Argentina's pension system which has been privatised since 1994.
Colombian politics have been stained with bloody violence for 60 years now, and President Uribe, who was George W Bush's most slavish ally in the region, seems content to keep it that way. Both active guerrilla groups, the FARC and ELN, have been frustrated in attempts to negotiate peace.
Uribe's calculation is that were a negotiated peace to transpire, the way could open up for a renewal of the left in the country. If the forces of the potentially-former guerillas were linked to those of the increasingly militant workers and indigenous peoples, real change could occur.
There have been recent major strikes by sugar cane cutters, transport workers and public employees, and a big march on the capital Bogotá by indigenous people. This, despite continued paramilitary assassinations of trade union leaders. Indeed, just after that march an important indigenous leader was killed, his pick-up riddled with bullets.
For the moment, Peru has, with Colombia, the most servile President in South America. Alan García has no interest in regional integration but plenty of interest in 'world' integration, a 'free trade' agreement with the USA, and attracting imperialist investments. García, by the way, was a supposedly left-wing President in the 1980s. He nationalised the banks but, as it turned out, not to strengthen national development but as a way to get his hands on the money.
García faces strong opposition to his pro-big business policies, however, from trade unions and regional organisations in the south, especially. Cusco is a lovely well-preserved city and major tourist centre, near all the Inca ruins. It has no high-rise buildings in the centre but many small, confortable and cheap hotels.
García wants to 'modernise' the tourist industry for the international hotel groups, but has met determined opposition. A regional assembly of 18 organisations called a two-day strike in February 2008 which was a real general strike – no lorries, no cars, no flights, no trains, no movement in the whole region.
Major recent strikes have included miners and health workers. The left-wing candidate for president in 2007, Ollanta Humala is an ex-army officer with some parallels to Hugo Chávez, but seemed rather more nationalist than socialist. After a press scare campaign, he lost but got 47% of the votes, with strong support in the south of the country.
This poor country, victim of the longest brutal dictatorship, has also joined the trend of rejecting unbridled capitalism. The new President Lugo, working with a very broad coalition, faces tremendous challenges, with strong pressure for agrarian reform and large 'modern' landowners, often Brazilian, on the best land.
Paraguay is a by-word for corruption, contraband and piracy. A literacy program has been started, with Cuban advisers and education workers now moving in after finishing their work across the border in Bolivia.
Although he is a former leftist guerrilla fighter, President Tabaré Vasquez of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) coalition has been a disappointment to those who wanted a challenge to neo-liberal policies or even attitudes. However, the constitution of Uruguay prevents its presidents from standing for consecutive terms and therefore the Frente Amplio has chosen another candidate for the presidential election in October 2009, José Mujica.
Mujica is also an ex-Tupamaro guerilla; he served 14 years in prison under the previous dictatorship of the country. Since becoming a minister in the Frente Amplio government, he
has showed that he kept some class feeling; when, as Minister of Agriculture, he was asked how he would treat farmers who came to him with demands, he said – first of all, I would look at their hands.
Chile still has a 'protected' democracy, kept safe for neo-liberal capitalism by a combination of fear and deceit. Fear of a military coup has mainly be replaced by fear of losing your job, being black-listed by the powerful business groups, national and foreign.
The once-powerful and militant Socialist Party is a shadow of its former self. Its small membership often looks like a job club more than a political party, holding office to administer the system with no struggle to change things. A number of members who would like some changes have recently left, and discussions are taking place with the Communist Party about an electoral alliance. Even the Communist Party, however, does not raise the spectre of socialism.
The mass media is heavily self-censored. It is common to see groups of workers on strike in Santiago, without a mention in the press or on TV, which concentrates on crime, accidents and show business. In 2008 the government newspaper was on strike; a placard read: “Skilled technician, 300 pounds a month, General Manager 8,000 pounds a month”. And that is the norm. No wonder that government policies are aimed at giving the poor just enough subsidies to avoid a 'social explosion'; a strategy thus far successful.
Chile's President Michelle Bachelet is the daughter of a heroic Chilean air force general who worked with Salvador Allende's left wing Popular Unity government in the early 1970s. In revenge for this, the Pinochet junta which overthrew Allende had General Bachelet imprisoned and tortured until he died. Michelle Bachelet herself was also subjected to imprisonment and torture by the regime.
After becoming president, Ms Bachelet put on golden handcuffs by appointing an 'orthodox' (ie, neo-liberal), Harvard professor as Finance Minister, and accepted almost all his pro-business vetoes. Her good intentions have generally been sabotaged by him and other right-wing ministers in the 'Concertación' coalition government, or by the Congress (parliament), where an outragously undemocratic electoral system (put in place by Pinochet) gives the right-wing and 'centre-left' blocs almost equal numbers.
Bachelet's main achievement has been an amended pension scheme, with a minimum of 75 pounds a month (bare survival) from this year, and a tapering government subsidy from that level up to 200 pounds a month. The system is still based on personal pension funds.
The education system is still largely privatised, thanks to a voucher system, with the municipal schools left as 'sink' schools. The quality levels are deplored by everyone but no-one seriously raises the need to change the system. All universities charge high fees, with loans not covering the cost of expensive courses like medicine or prestigious economics courses.
The health service also has a private element that covers the richest 20% of the people, so the public service is grossly under-funded – only 1.6% of GDP, compared with 8% in the UK and or 9% or more in other European countries.
The Minister of Labour was Bachelet's only consistently good appointee; and he has now resigned, frustrated as his proposals, backed by Bachelet in words, have been blocked by other ministers. The new Labour Minister has the blessing of the Finance Minister. A law to make collective bargaining easier was promised by Bachelet last year but is unlikely now to be passed.
The Foreign Minister, another right wing Christian Democrat, has largely ignored regional integration- his interest is in 'free trade' treaties across the (capitalist) world. He even reportedly advised Bachelet against taking a leading role in the UNASUR summit in September 2008, which played an important role in supporting Bolivia in its political crisis.
Resisting this pressure, Michelle Bachelet hosted the UNASUR summit and her actions there were key in mobilising the unanimous support of South American governments behind democracy in Bolivia.
On February 13th 2009, the Chilean president will make an official visit to Cuba. This will be the first visit of a Chilean leader to that country since Salvador Allende went there in 1972. Bachelet will meet with Cuban government ministers and will attend the annual Havana Book Fair, at which Chile is the 'guest of honor' country of the 2009 event. The book fair will include a concert dedicated to the memory of Violeta Parra and Victor Jara, two outstanding Chilean singers and composers whose work has been inspirational to the people, particularly during the Popular Unity government. Victor Jara was tortured and then shot to death by the Pinochet regime in 1973.
Despite a campaign by the Christian Democrats, other right wing parties and the media, Michelle Bachelet has refused to agree to their demands that she should meet with the US-funded anti-communist dissidents during her trip to Cuba.