Monday, September 28, 2009

Los! Hau Bele! -- `Yo! Si Puedo' comes to Timor Leste: Cuba assists the eradication of illiteracy

In Timor Leste [East Timor], which is one of the world’s newest countries and Australia’s poorest Asia-Pacific neighbour, Cuba is delivering an educational aid program which aims to eradicate illiteracy, currently affecting nearly 50% of the adult population, within a period of less than 10 years. The Timor Leste national literacy campaign, utilising the Cuban-developed Yo! Si Puedo (Yes! I can) audiovisual teaching method, opened its first classes in the capital Dili in June 2007.
Eighteen months later, by December 2008, nearly 18,000 adults had completed a course of 65 lessons, led by local village monitors who work under the close supervision of 36 Cuban education advisers deployed throughout the country. If it continues at this rate, the literacy campaign can be expected to have a major impact on the stabilisation and development of Timor Leste, providing a model for other Pacific countries struggling to overcome their educational disadvantage.
This paper, based on an ongoing evaluation being undertaken as part of a larger Australian Research Council project on adult education in Timor Leste, describes the origins and development of the program and the work of the Cuban advisers. It reviews the achievements to date, and compares the Cubans' work with education aid projects sponsored by other donor countries and international agencies. The paper concludes by reviewing the challenges the Cubans still face in assisting Timor Leste to overcome the problem of illiteracy.
The paper has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with Bob Boughton's permission. Bob Boughton is an associate professor at the University of New England in Australia.
Download the full article in PDF format by clicking HERE, or read on screen below.

Samburu Massacre On Tuesday 15th September 2009

Report by:
P.O. BOX 66

Tel: +254-720-857285

On Tuesday 15th September 2009 at dawn 300 armed raiders attacked a Manyatta at PND ranch in Laikipia North District killing 25 people. Many of those killed were women and children most of them found still sleeping.

The following were the names of the families that lost their loved ones on the fateful morning;
1.    Leterewa-      2 people
2.    Lekirenyei -   2
3.    Lesaibile  -    2
4.    Lesoilan   -    2
5.    Lekadaa    -    2
6.    Lekaldero –   2
7.    Lengupae –   2
8.    Lenero---      2
9.    Lengolooni  -2
10.    Leiriro
11.    Lekulal
12.    Loltienya
13.    Lolpetai
14.    Letoore

The raids began in 2006 when the Pokot (a neighboring tribe) encroached on land in PND farm of Laikipia District .This land had been legally allocated to the Samburu and Laikipia Maasai by the previous government. The pokot began guided and well planned raids on the residents of the PND farm. These communities are heavily armed with sophisticated guns and even bombs. In the initial rapid attacks, the Samburu lost more than 7 people so they left their farms and relocated to Louwa Ngiro in Isiolo District and other parts of Samburu. They fled from their homes after losing hundreds of livestock Thousands were displaced from their homes but the government did not recognize them as IDPs .The government worsened the situation by declaring all Samburu persona Non-Grata in Laikipia District .During the same time in November 2006,a retired General of the Kenya army Gen Lengees, was attacked by government forces with the intention to kill him because they insinuated that his presence in Laikipia was an impediment to removal of Samburu. This led to a public demonstration led by the speaker of the national assembly Hon Francis Ole Kaparo against the governments move. The public outcry nationally, caught the government unaware hence, they halted the move.

In 2007, before the general election, 6 more Samburu who remained in the said farm were killed by the Pokot.The remnants of Samburu in the farm fled for their lives and abandoned the farm completely. 

From that time the Pokot occupied the farms in full view of the government forces. This farm acted as a base from where they would organize future raids against the Samburu.As a result of the Pokot settling on the farm the Maralal-Rumuruti Road became very insecure and dangerous with frequent attacks on travelers. The government established two administration police posts on the road due to the frequency of the attacks. Prominent people in the government were not spared by the attackers-they once attacked the former speaker Hon Ole Kaparo who is a resident of Pnd farm. Many people have lost their lives on the said road and residents now call it the HIGHWAY OF DEATH.
Many reconciliatory meetings have been held between the two communities over the years to restore peace to the troubled area. The first was organized by Hon Kaparo whose farm neighbors both communities. The Samburu side was always suspicious that the government was siding with the Pokot to displace the Samburu from Laikipia. The Pokot argued that they deserve to live in PND which is a better environment than their original land in Baringo. This mutual suspicions and mistrust made realization of peace in this area very difficult.

In July 2009 the Samburu decided to return to their farms at PND farm which is their legally owned land since they have title deeds. They came from Samburu, Laikipia North and Isiolo Districts and settled in one big Manyatta (village) for security at Kanampiu in Pnd ranch. They had hardly stayed for one month when the raiders struck.

Since most of the victims were women and children, there is a lot of trauma among the affected families and disruption of family ties. There is a severe drought currently ravaging the country hence this people need the following;
Short term 
1.    Water 
2.    clothes
3.    Food
4.    Medicine 

Long term
1.    Restocking of livestock-most people have been left destitute following cattle raids,
2.    Provision of water through boreholes, water pans and Dams.
3.    Establishing a sustainable conflict management/peace building process.
4.    Provision of schools, hospitals and ammenties to enable the people to settle on the land.

The Drama and the Farce: The Waldorf-Astoria Summit

September 23, 2009


NO POINT denying it: in the first round of the match between Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu, Obama was beaten.

Obama had demanded a freeze of all settlement activity, including East Jerusalem, as a condition for convening a tripartite summit meeting, in the wake of which accelerated peace negotiations were to start, leading to peace between two states - Israel and Palestine.

In the words of the ancient proverb, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Netanyahu has tripped Obama on his first step. The President of the United States has stumbled.

* * *

THE THREEFOLD summit did indeed take place. But instead of a shining achievement for the new American administration, we witnessed a humbling demonstration of weakness. After Obama was compelled to give up his demand for a settlement freeze, the meeting no longer had any content.

True, Mahmoud Abbas did come, after all. He was dragged there against his will. The poor man was unable to refuse the invitation from Obama, his only support. But he will pay a heavy price for this flight: the Palestinians, and the entire Arab world, have seen his weakness. And Obama, who had started his term with a ringing speech to the Muslim world from Cairo, now looks like a broken reed.

The Israeli peace movement has been dealt another painful blow. It had pinned its hopes on the steadfastness of the American president. Obama's victory and the settlement freeze were to show the Israeli public that the refusal policy of Netanyahu was leading to disaster.

But Netanyahu has won, and in a big way. Not only did he survive, not only has he shown that he is no "sucker" (a word he uses all the time), he has proven to his people - and to the public at large - that there is nothing to
fear: Obama is nothing but a paper tiger. The settlements can go on expanding without hindrance. Any negotiations that start, if they start at all, can go on until the coming of the Messiah. Nothing will come out of them.

For Netanyahu, the threat of peace has passed. At least for the time being.

* * *

IT IS difficult to understand how Obama allowed himself to get into this embarrassing situation.

Machiavelli taught that one should not challenge a lion unless one is able to kill him. And Netanyahu is not even a lion, just a fox.

Why did Obama insist on the settlement freeze - in itself a very reasonable demand - if he was unable to stand his ground? Or, in other words, if he was unable to impose it on Netanyahu?

Before entering into such a campaign, a statesman must weigh up the array of
forces: What power is at my disposal? What forces are confronting me? How determined is the other side? What means am I ready to employ? How far am I prepared to go in using my power?

Obama has a host of able advisors, headed by Rahm Emanuel, whose Israeli origins (and name) were supposed to give him special insights. George Mitchell, a hard-nosed and experienced diplomat, was supposed to provide sober assessments. How did they all fail?

Logic would say that Obama, before entering the fray, should have decided which instruments of pressure to employ. The arsenal is inexhaustible - from a threat by the US not to shield the Israeli government with its veto in the Security Council, to delaying the next shipment of arms. In 1992 James Baker, George Bush Sr's Secretary of State, threatened to withhold American guarantees for Israel's loans abroad. That was enough to drag even Yitzhak Shamir to the Madrid conference.

It seems that Obama was either unable or unwilling to exert such pressures, even secretly, even behind the scenes. This week he allowed the American navy to conduct major joint war-games with the Israeli Air Force.

Some people hoped that Obama would use the Goldstone report to exert pressure on Netanyahu. Just one hint that the US might not use its veto in the Security Council would have sown panic in Jerusalem. Instead, Washington published a statement on the report, dutifully toeing the Israeli propaganda line.

True, it is hard for the US to condemn war crimes that are so similar to those committed by its own soldiers. If Israeli commanders are put on trial in The Hague, American generals may be next in line. Until now, only the losers in wars were indicted. What will the world come to if those who remain in office are also accused?

* * *

THE INESCAPABLE conclusion is that Obama's defeat is the outcome of a faulty assessment of the situation. His advisors, who are considered seasoned politicians, were wrong about the forces involved.

That has happened already in the crucial health insurance debate. The opposition is far stronger than anticipated by Obama's people. In order to get out of this mess somehow, Obama needs the support of every senator and congressman he can lay his hands on. That automatically strengthens the position of the pro-Israel lobby, which already has immense influence in Congress.

The last thing that Obama needs at this moment is a declaration of war by AIPAC and Co. Netanyahu, an expert on domestic American politics, scented Obama's weakness and exploited it.

Obama could do nothing but gnash his teeth and fold up.

That debacle is especially painful at this precise point in time. The impression is rapidly gaining ground that he is indeed an inspiring speaker with an uplifting message, but a weak politician, unable to turn his vision into reality. If this view of him firms up, it may cast a shadow over his whole term.

* * *

BUT IS Netanyahu's policy wise from the Israeli point of view?

This may well turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.

Obama will not disappear. He has three and a half years in office before him, and thereafter perhaps four more. That's a lot of time to plan revenge for someone hurt and humiliated at a delicate moment, at the beginning of his term of office.

One cannot know, of course, what is happening in the depths of Obama's heart and in the back of his mind. He is an introvert who keeps his cards close to his chest. His many years as a young black man in the United States have probably taught him to keep his feelings to himself.

He may draw the conclusion, in the footsteps of all his predecessors since Dwight Eisenhower (except Father Bush during Baker's short stint as hatchet
man): Don't Mess With Israel. With the help of its partners and servants in the US, it can cause grievous harm to any President.

But he may also draw the opposite conclusion: Wait for the right opportunity, when your standing in the domestic arena is solid, and pay Netanyahu back with interest. If that happens, Netanyahu's air of victory may turn out to be premature.

* * *

IF I were asked for advice (not to worry, it won't happen), I would tell

The forging of Israeli-Palestinian peace would mean a historic turnabout, a reversal of a 120 year old trend. That is not an easy operation, not to be undertaken lightly. It is not a matter for diplomats and secretaries. It demands a determined leader with a stout heart and a steady hand. If one is not ready for it, one should not even start.

An American President who wants to undertake such a role must formulate a clear and detailed peace plan, with a strict timetable, and be prepared to invest all his resources and all his political capital in its realization.
Among other things, he must be ready to confront, face to face, the powerful pro-Israel lobby.

This will not succeed unless public opinion in Israel, Palestine, the Arab world, the United States and the whole world is thoroughly prepared well in advance. It will not succeed without an effective Israeli peace movement, without strong support from US public opinion, especially Jewish-American opinion, without a strong Palestinian leadership and without Arab unity.

At the appropriate moment, the President of the United States must come to Jerusalem and address the Israeli public from the Knesset rostrum, like Anwar Sadat and President Jimmy Carter before him, as well as the Palestinian parliament, like President Bill Clinton.

I don't know if Obama is the man. Some in the peace camp have already given up on him, which effectively means that they have despaired of peace as such. I am not ready for this. One battle rarely decides a war, and one mistake does not foretell the future. A lost battle can steel the loser, a mistake can teach a valuable lesson.

* * *

IN ONE of his essays, Karl Marx said that when history repeats itself: The first time it is as tragedy, the second time it is as farce.

The 2000 threefold summit meeting at Camp David was high drama. Many hopes were pinned on it, success seemed to be within reach, but in the end it collapsed, with the participants blaming each other.

The 2009 Waldorf-Astoria summit was the farce.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch's book The Politics of Anti Semitism.

Is Obama a socialist? Reflections on the degradation of politics and the ecosystem by Robert Jensen

[This is an expanded version of a talk given to the University Democrats student group at the University of Texas at Austin, September 23, 2009.]
For months, leftists have been pointing out the absurdity of the claim that Barack Obama is a socialist. But no matter how laughable, the claim keeps popping up, most recently in the form of the Republican Party chairman's warning of "a socialist power grab" by Democrats.
Within the past year, Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has called Obama "the world's best salesman of socialism." Conservative economist Donald J. Boudreaux of George Mason University has acknowledged that Obama isn't really a socialist, but warns that the "socialism lite" of such politicians "is as specious as is classic socialism."
Silly as all this may be, it does provide an opportunity to continue talking about the promise and the limits of socialism in a moment when the economic and ecological crises are so serious. So, let's start with the basics.
As with any complex political idea, socialism means different things to different people. But there are core concepts in socialist politics that are easy to identify, including (1) worker control over the nature and conditions of their work; (2) collective ownership of the major capital assets of the society, the means of production; and (3) an egalitarian distribution of the wealth of a society.
Obama has never argued for such principles, and in fact consistently argues against them, as do virtually all politicians who are visible in mainstream U.S. politics. This is hardly surprising, given the degree to which our society is dominated by corporations, the primary institution through which capitalism operates.
Obama is not only not a socialist, he's not even a particularly progressive capitalist. He is part of the neo-liberal camp that has undermined the limited social-democratic character of the New Deal consensus, which dominated in the United States up until the so-called "Reagan revolution." While Obama's stimulus plan was Keynesian in nature, there is nothing in administration policy to suggest he is planning to move to the left in any significant way. The crisis in the financial system provided such an opportunity, but Obama didn't take it and instead continued the transfer of wealth to banks and other financial institutions begun by Bush. Looking at his economic advisers, this is hardly surprising. Naming neo-liberal Wall Street boys such as Timothy Geithner as secretary of the treasury and Lawrence Summers as director of the National Economic Council was a clear signal to corporate America that the Democrats would support the existing distribution of power and wealth. And that's where his loyalty has remained.
In short: Obama and some Democrats have argued for a slight expansion of the social safety net, which is generally a good thing in a society with such dramatic wealth inequality and such a depraved disregard for vulnerable people. But that's not socialism. It's not even socialism lite. It's capitalism -- heavy, full throttle, and heading for the cliff.
In reaction to the issues of the day, a socialist would fight to nationalize the banks, create a national health system, and end imperialist occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That the right wing can accuse Obama of being a socialist when he does none of those things is one indication of how impoverished and dramatically skewed to the right our politics has become. In most of the civilized world, discussions of policies based in socialist principles are part of the political discourse, while here they are bracketed out of any serious debate. In a recent conversation with an Indonesian journalist, I did my best to explain all this, but she remained perplexed. How can people take seriously the claim that he's socialist, and why does applying that label to a policy brand it irrelevant? I shrugged. "Welcome to the United States," I said, "a country that doesn't know much about the world or its own history."

Let's take a moment to remember. Socialist and other radical critiques of capitalism are very much a part of U.S. history. In the last half of the 19th century, workers in this country organized against expanding corporate power and argued for worker control of factories. These ideas were not planted by "outside agitators"; immigrants at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries contributed to radical thought and organizing, but U.S. movements grew organically in U.S. soil.
Business leaders saw this as a threat and responded with private and state violence. The Red Scare of the 19-teens and '20s tried to wipe out these movements, with considerable success. But radical movements rose again during the Great Depression, eventually winning the right to organize. In the boom times after WWII, management was willing to buy off labor (for a short time, it turned out) with a larger slice of the pie in a rapidly expanding economy, and in the midst of Cold War hysteria the radical elements of the mainstream labor movement were purged. But radical ideas remain, nurtured by small groups and individuals around the country.
One of the reasons that "socialist" can be used as a slur in the United States is because that history is rarely taught. If people never hear about socialist traditions in our history, it's easy to believe that somehow socialism is incompatible with the U.S. political and social system. Add to this the classic tactic of presenting "false alternatives" -- if the Soviet Union was the epitome of a socialist state and the only other option is capitalism, then capitalism is preferable to the totalitarianism of socialism -- and it is easy to see how people might wonder if Obama is a Red to be Scared of.
This long-running campaign to eliminate critiques and/or critics of capitalism -- using occasional violence and relentless propaganda -- has always been a threat to basic human values and democracy. The promotion of greed and crass self-interest as the defining characteristics of human life deforms all of us and our society. The concentration of wealth in capitalism undermines the democratic features of the society. Socialist principles provide a starting place to craft a different world, based on solidarity and an egalitarian distribution of wealth.
But capitalism is not only inhuman and anti-democratic; it's also unsustainable, and if we don't come to terms with that one, not much else matters. Capitalism is an economic system based on the concept of unlimited growth, yet we live on a finite planet. Capitalism is, quite literally, crazy.
But on this question it's not fair to focus only on capitalism. Industrial systems -- whether operating within capitalism, fascism, or communism -- are unsustainable. The problem is not just the particular organization of an economy but any economic model based on high-energy technology, endless extraction, and the generation of massive amounts of toxic waste. Extractive economies ignore the health of the underlying ecosystem, and a socialist industrial system would pose the same threat. The possibility of a decent future, of any future at all, requires that we renounce that model.
This reminds us that one of capitalism's few legitimate claims -- that it is the most productive economic system in human history in terms of output -- is hardly a positive. The levels of production in capitalism, especially in the contemporary mass consumption era, are especially unsustainable. We are caught in a death spiral, in which growth is needed to pull out of a recession/depression, but such growth only brings us closer to the edge of the cliff, or sinks the ship faster, or speeds the unraveling of the fabric of life. Pick your metaphor, but the trajectory is clear. The only question is the timing and the nature of the collapse. No amount of propaganda can erase this logic: Unsustainable systems can't be sustained.
To demand that we continue on this path is to embrace a kind of collective death wish. So, while I endorse socialist principles, I don't call myself a socialist, to mark a break with the politics associated with industrial model that shapes our world. I am a radical feminist anti-capitalist who opposes white supremacy and imperialism, with a central commitment to creating a sustainable human presence on the planet. I don't know any single term to describe those of us with such politics.

I do know that the Republican Party is not interested in this kind of politics, and neither is the Democratic Party. Both are part of a dying politics in a dying culture that, if not radically changed, will result in a dead planet, at least in terms of a human presence.
So, socialism alone isn't the answer. In addition to telling the truth about the failures of capitalism we have to recognize the failures of the industrial model underlying traditional notions of socialism. We have to take seriously the deep patriarchal roots of all this and the tenacity of white supremacy. We have to condemn imperialism, whether the older colonial style or the contemporary American version, as immoral and criminal. We have to face the chilling facts about the degree to which humans have degraded the capacity of the ecosystem to sustain our own lives.
I'm not waiting for Obama or any other politician to speak about these things. I am, instead, working in local groups -- connected in national and international networks -- to create alternatives. There is no guarantee of success, but it is the work that I believe matters most. And it is joyful work when done in collaboration with others who share this spirit. But to get there, we have to find the strength to break from the dominant culture, which is difficult. On that question, I'd like to conclude by quoting Scripture. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." [Matt. 7:12-14]
I end with Scripture not because I think everyone should look to my particular brand of radical, non-orthodox Christianity for inspiration, but because I think the task before us demands more than new policies. To face this moment in history requires a courage that, for me, is bolstered by tapping into the deepest wisdom in our collective history, including that found in various religious traditions. We have to ask ourselves what it means to be human in this moment, a question that is deeply political and at the same time beyond politics.
At the core of these traditions is the call for humility about the limits of human knowledge and a passionate commitment to justice, both central to finding within ourselves the strength to pass through that narrow gate.
My advice to any of you who want to be part of a decent future: Find that strength wherever you find it, and step up to the narrow gate.
Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism of the University of Texas at Austin and a board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center, His latest book is All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice (Soft Skull Press, 2009). He also is the author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002).
Jensen can be reached at and his articles can be found online at

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mérida, September 8th 2009 ( -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez walked the red carpet alongside film director Oliver Stone on Monday at the Venice Film Festival for the premiere of Stone's documentary, "South of the Border," which features interviews with Chavez and several other progressive leaders in South America.

Through one-on-one and group interviews with the presidents of Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Cuba, and Paraguay, the full-length documentary seeks to reveal the truth beyond the distorted portrayals of these leaders in the mainstream media in the U.S. and around the world.

"I think he is an extremely dynamic and charismatic figure. He is open and good-hearted, as well as a fascinating personality," Stone said of Chavez. "But when I return to the U.S. I only hear these stories about the ‘dictator,' the ‘bad man,' the ‘threat to American society.'"

Stone added that "the film was a liberating experience," and that Chavez "was the first Latin American head of state who challenged the International Monetary Fund... for that I consider him a hero."

A large crowd of supporters held up signs, asked for autographs, and cheered for Chavez as he arrived at the festival. Greeting reporters, Chavez quoted the Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti. "Like Benedetti said, the South exists too," he said. "In this festival the South is placed on the highest levels with Europe and the world, with high quality and a great respect for the truth."

"There is a renaissance underway in Latin America, and [Stone] has captured this renaissance, which is spiritual and moral first and foremost, with his camera and his genius," Chavez told an Italian news agency through a translator.

Stone said the South American leaders featured in the film have more in common than the press reports. "The press in America has divided the Latin American continent into the ‘bad left' and the ‘good left,'" he said. "They have labeled [Ecuadoran President Rafael] Correa as the bad left, along with [Bolivian President Evo] Morales and Chavez, and they call Lula [da Silva, the president of Brazil] the good left... I think these differences are erroneous."

Writer Tariq Ali, who collaborated with Stone to write the script of the documentary, said, "the idea is to show the U.S. public who these presidents are so they can decide, form their own opinion."

"In Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, there are governments that are using their countries' resources to help the poorest people. In the past, the poor were invisible," Tariq Ali added.

A previous documentary about Venezuela that grabbed international attention was "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Released in 2003, the film revealed key video footage from the April 2002 coup d'etat that the mainstream media had omitted in an apparent attempt to implicitly justify the coup.

Claudio Katz on Latin America, the right and imperialism: `The solution to the crisis of capitalism has to be political'

July 10, 2009 -- The exit from the systemic crisis of capitalism needs to be political and "a socialist project can mature in this turbulence". So says the Argentine economist, philosopher and sociologist Claudio Katz, who also warns that the "global economic situation is very serious and is going to have to hit bottom, and now we are but in the first moment of crisis".

Katz, a prominent professor at the University of Buenos Aires in the areas of economics, philosophy and sociology, is both a human rights activist and researcher with the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) of Argentina. Author of numerous texts interpreting contemporary capitalism, he has focused his studies on the regressive impact of neoliberalism in Latin America. He participates actively in continent-wide forums that challenge foreign debt. His book The Future of Socialism won an honourable mention award in the Venezuelan 2005 Libertador Prize for Critical Thought. He is also a member of the international collective Economists of the Left (EDI) and currently serves as an external advisor to the Venezuelan government.

We met in one of the cozy cafes of Buenos Aires, and Professor Katz spoke about the global economic reality, the political process in Latin America, the threat of an eruption of the right in the region, and what he called "the great media inquisition" referring to the manipulation of information and communication by the giant media conglomerates.

Fernando Arellano Ortiz: Economic theorists have argued that capitalism's current crisis is systemic and not cyclical, but what is striking is that no solution has been proposed to implement a new model or an alternative capable of replacing the capitalist system. Do you think that finding a solution to this crisis is more of a political than an economic problem?

Claudio Katz: I think that the big problem is definitely political, because all major economic crises to date have been resolved positively or negatively along political paths, depending on whether or not popular majorities were involved in the process. This is a very deep crisis that neo-liberals have tried to minimise by blaming "greed", in that way veiling financial speculation. Also, heterodox economists present the crisis as a failure of regulation.

But this is a crisis of the system, a crisis of capitalism. And it seems to me that it is a crisis of the capitalist model of the last 20 or 25 years, the neoliberal model, whose consequences we are seeing now. We had two, three decades of the complete neoliberal program: privatisations, deregulation, expansion of the scope of transnational corporations to the former Soviet Union, China, to the whole planet. And now we see the consequences of this expansion of capital, overproduction, overaccumulation, and the resulting poverty, misery and unemployment -- which the International labour Organization has predicted shall be very burdensome in the coming years. So it seems to me we are in the first moment of the crisis, the beginning of the crisis, the debut.

You mean we're going to have to hit bottom?

Yes, we're going to have to hit bottom, and especially the people of Europe and the United States, who are not accustomed -- unlike the Latin Americans -- to such economic disasters. They will have to process this and it will take a while. Recall that the latter decades of neoliberalism have weakened trade unions in developed countries, politically and ideologically weakened the left -- the progressive forces in Europe and the United States -- and they will have to reconstruct the experience of social mobilisation. We are beginning to see this, more in Europe than in the United States. In France, in Greece, in countries where there have been popular mobilisations, their political climate is already changing. But we are going to have several years of unemployment, poverty, and social exclusion, and we will have to see how people react.

What is your vision of the socioeconomic and political process that is taking place in Latin America?

I think the process is different from that in the United States and Europe, and that is especially so because, first, we have already experienced this kind of crisis, not in the 1930s, but in the 1980s and 1990s: this type of financial debacle led to the explosion of poverty, as we have seen in Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador. Then, there is already a certain experience of people with this type of neoliberal social disaster.

At the same time, probably -- it is not certain but it is probable -- the economic impact of the crisis won't be as serious as in the developed countries. Because we have lived through a crash that was quite similar, because the banks were recapitalised and now have portfolios that are a little cleaner, the process will probably not be so traumatic. But in Latin America it is our political experience that is most important. It seems to me that what is interesting about our region is that there was resistance to neoliberalism and the resistance moreover had results. We had uprisings in many countries and have new governments -- Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador -- which have changed the agenda of Latin American societies.

In this sense, I believe that the nationalist, radical and progressive governments of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia are quite different from those like Lula's in [Brazil], or Kirchner's [in Argentina], which in the final analysis merely restore the dominant power.

Is it not a fact then that in Latin America the appearance of such governments is a symptom of the reconfiguration of the political subject?

Yes. But there are symptoms, and there are symptoms. One symptom is that which leads Venezuela to take control over their national resources and decide on nationalisations, measures of income redistribution, regional integration promoting the principles of ALBA, the principles of equitable trade. And another type is very different: MERCOSUR, UNASUR, policies that restructure in the interests of the giant economic groups dominant in Latin America rather than the genuine interests of popular majorities.

The case of Argentina now is that there have been major changes and transformations, but the distribution of income remains as regressive as, or more regressive than, in the 1990s. The changes that really interest the people are those that improve the living standards of the population and reduce inequality. And this popular improvement and reduction in inequality is only beginning be seen in some Latin American countries, not across the region.

Slap in the face of neoliberalism

What do you think about the nationalisations the Chávez government is carrying out in Venezuela?

First, I think they are very promising because it puts an end to the idea that things can be only privatised. It's like a slap in the face of neoliberalism. It is the complete reversal of the neoliberal principles that demand that the country's vast natural resources be managed by private groups. I think what is interesting is the fact that Chávez promised nationalisations and fulfilled the promise. Overall in Latin America we are accustomed to having something promised and then not done. And then I think it is a necessity for a country like Venezuela, because it is a country that lacks even a minimally integrated industrial structure. It totally lacks an industry in the sense that we can talk about in Brazil, Mexico or Argentina.

Venezuela is a mid-level country, but based on oil wealth and with a rentier culture derived from the exploitation of that wealth. And the only change possible in a society like that of Venezuela is industrial development done by the state, or not done at all. The Venezuelan bourgeoisie did not do it in the past and will not do it in the future. It is a social group that has always lived on the oil revenues, a true parasite, one that is always given to capital flight, waste, consumption, Miami lifestyle, lack of investment, so there could be an industrialisation process only if the state takes the reins.

The only danger I see is the cost, how much is paid in compensation to the owners of the nationalised companies, because therein lies a very complicated equation. If oil prices remain high, then you can handle it. But if in the coming years oil prices begin to decline, as they have been declining over the past year, it seems to me that the use of the resources of the treasury in compensation to these companies can become problematic, considering that popular management, which Chávez calls workers' control, can be put into practice, nationalising without state ownership. I see a problem there, but the process seems very promising.

Is Argentina going in the same direction as Chavez in Venezuela?

No. The government of Cristina Kirchner has adopted some measures of nationalisation, for instance, pension funds, which had been privatised and were again taken into state hands, and a set of small companies also went into the orbit of the state. But first, they are not strategic enterprises, this is the first key difference with Venezuela. Not only are these non-strategic businesses, but the most striking thing is that, when a nationalisation in Venezuela has a direct impact on Argentina, such as the nationalisation of the Argentinean firm Techint, Kirchner's government has come to support the claims and criticisms made by the business groups after the nationalisation.

Battle against the right

Do you think that the political process in Latin America shall continue forward, given the experience of so-called progressive governments, or that, as Fidel Castro said, a counter-offensive of the right may erupt?

I think the right is taking the offensive. And this is seen in the existing international media campaign against Chávez, against Ecuador's Correa, and in the attempt to re-elect Uribe in Colombia, in the attempt to move Chile to the right with Piñera, what you see in Peru with the government of Alan García, in Mexico with Calderón, and Panama with the recent victory of Martinelli. That is, the right wing in Latin America retreated a bit, but it still has its strongholds.

The main stronghold, no doubt, is Uribe in Colombia and Calderón in Mexico, and this is maintained. There is a significant pressure on Argentina, which we saw in the conflict in the countryside last year, to resume the right-wing offensive. But I would say that the main objectives of the right were not achieved.

The right last year sought to overthrow the government of Evo Morales through a coup and failed, and failed in the attempted secession of the provinces of eastern Bolivia, and also failed in the attempt to defeat electorally both Chávez in Venezuela and Correa in Ecuador. That is, in the three countries where the political process has advanced furthest, the right has failed to rebuild their power.

In other places the situation is gray. The right won in Panama but lost in El Salvador, where the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front won the election. It is a balance, but I think you have to avoid the impression, the idea, that the right is coming back.

We are almost at the start of the bicentenary of the emancipation of Latin America. In this bicentennial might we see Spain enthroned again in the hemisphere?

No, I think the moment when Spain was again enthroned here was the fifth centenary of the discovery in 1992. At that time, in the 1990s, Spain deployed its investments in the region, buying oil and telecommunications, making powerful inroads. In contrast, in the past year we have seen the reverse, because the crisis is hitting Spain more severely than any other country with interests outside Europe. Unemployment and public debt in Spain are at record levels, and the economic, industrial and financial crisis is probably among the most serious in Europe. I think this is going to greatly affect Spanish investments in Latin America in the medium term.

We are approaching our bicentenary at a time when a crisis of North American domination is very evident throughout the region -- a crisis of domination in South America, and a policy of closer ties in Central America. It is as if the continent has been divided into two parts. The United States reinforced its dominance, its control, over Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, Colombia, Peru, but lost its ability to influence the southern cone.

Do not forget that in the past year the US ambassadors to Venezuela and Bolivia were expelled, and both countries were for twelve months without the heads of diplomatic missions in Washington. Then, at the meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, one saw an Obama policy of trying to return to the Clinton format, a more diplomatic policy. And this makes visible the real difficulties the United States has from its economic crisis and the military quagmire it faces in the Middle East.

Immanuel Wallerstein speaks of the decline of the United States as an empire...

I'm rather averse to the idea of the inexorable decline of the US empire. It can decline and it can restore itself. It has recovered many times. I think it is like a philosophy of inevitable victory. It seems to me to be a story of the predestined succession of ascending and descending powers. I do not believe the cycle of contemporary history is marked by inevitability. I think that different outcomes are possible.

Paradox of capitalism

Given that the United States is weak on the global stage, does it still have many years to continue to govern as the great global hegemon?

The United States is the military power of the whole world. And it is the protector of all the capitalists in the world. There is no capitalist country that is willing to, or has the ability to, replace the Pentagon in control of hundreds of military bases around the world. The United States has NATO, and Europe and Japan both depend on NATO. The United States maintains military supremacy, and that is the great instrument of domination which persists.

In economic and financial affairs, the thing is more complex because, paradoxically, the United States is the centre of the current crisis, but the refuge of all the capitalists in the world is the US dollar. Thus there is a paradox: the most threatened country is the refuge, while at the same time the United States remains the country seeking to replenish the IMF while imposing global monetary policy through the US Federal Reserve. We must separate the conjunctural from the medium term. The United States is in a very acute crisis, but it still holds the key resources of global geopolitics.

One sees an ability to influence Latin America by the Spanish right through the FAES Foundation of José María Aznar, the fascist Popular Party, and their spokespeople in the region such as Vargas Llosa, Enrique Krause, Mariano Grondona, Jorge Castañeda. Can the intervention of these types cause some disturbance for the progressive governments?

I would say that the Latin American right is more disruptive than the Spanish. The Latin American right is more than reactionary and conservative enough, and it has sufficient reserves and resources such as Mariano Grondona, Piñera, Vargas Llosa and the heirs of Octavio Paz. The Latin American cultural neo-conservative right has ruled the region for decades, nourished the military governments and has an elitist, liberal, europensante [accepting European opinion as the only possible truth], Eurocentric worldview.

The `great media inquisition'

And they have the ability to manipulate the media...

Sure, that is the new thing. They ruled historically through the church, their wealth, their schools, and now they have the means of communication under their control and exercise a despotic influence over them.

The media today is what the Catholic Church was?

They are the great inquisition and exert an evil influence. That's why Chávez's decision to remove the licence of RCTV seems to me so healthy and transformative. I believe that this measure is far more important than any nationalisation of a steel company.

But with that answer the right in countries like Colombia, Peru or Mexico is going to say that Claudio Katz is a totalitarian type. How do you respond?

They say that because for them a monopolistic group controlling the means of communication is an example of democracy. This is absolute hypocrisy. The owners of the media are a handful of people, a tiny group that is not responsible. It is a paradox: a parliamentarian must be elected, any president, mayor and governor, as well, but the media, which has a power much stronger and substantial than all the elected officials of any country, no one chooses their owners, they are the pure power of the divine. They say they compete with each other through changing channels, but the choice is minuscule. That is, the viewer can choose between CNN and Globovision, but this is not a real option.

How can the media in Latin America be democratised?

Just as any institution can be democratised. There need not be some special thing about the media compared to any other institution. We must democratise political life, schools, institutions, armed forces, society, everything. This is a daily concern, to end discrimination of gender, race, ethnicity.

In Latin America we are changing the constitutions of many countries to include new rights, to incorporate the neglected rights of Indigenous people, youth, children. That is to say, the development of society is the extension of rights. The only right that we cannot talk about is the right to communicate. It wants to be untouched.

The Brazilian political analyst Emir Sader said that, for the media to be democratised, it must necessarily be nationalised. Do you agree?

I think you have to have public ownership, but control of what is seen and said cannot be operated directly by a government because that would lead to totalitarian ways. There are many experiences in the past 50 or 60 years of public institutions that are independent of government. The case of the BBC in London is often mentioned. I have not studied it, I cannot say, but I know that there is, for example, a lot of experience where the key thing is a governing statutory scheme that prevents government manipulation. We cannot move from media manipulation by capitalist groups to media manipulation by the government. There must be freedom of information, but also public property. I believe that the mechanisms of democratic ownership of the media must be discussed.

Do you have the feeling that Latin America is undergoing a process of political reconfiguration?

I have the feeling that it is a long-term process and will face significant obstacles. It will not be linear. And we are coming to a point where our battle against the right will be very hard, the right of Uribe, Calderón and Alan García, of the right-wing military. The United States maintains its military bases. We cannot get carried away with the image of Obama as transforming the US relationship with the region. The Southern Command bases remain intact with a structure of military control across the region, even minimal measures such as closing Guantanamo are not implemented, the embargo on Cuba remains unchanged. That is to say, the major problems of political sovereignty in our region in the bicentennial are all still on the agenda.

Colombia, a militarised society

How do you analyse Colombia in respect to its internal conflict and the direct impact on the economy of that country?

The worst thing about Colombia is that this hideous expenditure, this waste of funds on military spending, is not to defend national sovereignty, not a need to defend the country's borders against external aggression, which is the only real justification a nation can have to devote such resources to the war effort. Only if the country's sovereignty and the lives of its citizens are threatened is this justified.

Colombia is on the eve of the formation of a militarised society to serve the interests of the dominant groups that control the wealth of that country. I believe there is a tendency toward militarisation in Latin America, evident not only in Colombia but also in Brazil, where a high percentage of the budget is devoted to military spending, to manufacturing submarines, where agreements are signed with France for extremely large investments in the military sector, and at present its military forces are occupying Haiti.

We must take care to criticise the Pentagon, imperialism, the North Americans, but also the military spending in the region that doesn't serve the people's purposes. We must be very attentive to that and remain vigilant.

But, for countries that produce weapons, that is an excellent business...

They live on that. War is a necessity of imperialism, a structural necessity, not an option. If weapons are manufactured, they have to be used. There is a group of contractors who live directly off this. The United States and all its military partners: Israel, Colombia, Egypt, Australia.

For the United States it is the need to maintain its military supremacy as a permanent warning to other countries like China, in the sense of a demand to stay quiet, do not dare to challenge. There is a reproduction of wars and a tendency to endless war, an unequal war, as a permanent form of exercise of supremacy, warning the rest of the world that no one dare defy the imperialist power. We must fight against that.

Finally, do you discount the possibility that in this process we will end up with, if not a world war, a series of peripheral conflicts as a strategy to overcome the current systemic crisis of capitalism?

Yes, it is possible. But there is one major difference from the 1930s and it is that war is not between powers of the kind such as France against Germany, the United States against Japan. There is a collective associated imperialism that makes war against peripheral fronts and makes war as a warning to peripheral countries that threaten to rise up. It seems to me we are going to have many conflicts because imperialism needs them, with or without financial crisis.

The United States finished devastating Iraq, is now preparing to devastate Afghanistan, and is permanently warning Iran of a possible invasion, as it is doing with North Korea. The crisis accentuated this tendency to war, because it is in the nature of the system, and for this reason the alternatives are so important, such as the World Social Forum, and all the anti-war coalitions around the world. Various small collectives have arisen and emerged in Europe and in Latin America to resist war, and I think they are going to continue to develop.

[The original interview "Entrevista con el economista argentino Claudio Katz: 'La solución a la crisis del capitalismo tiene que ser política'" was published by on July 10, 2009. This translation first appeared on the website of the International Institute for Research and Education (IIRE), an Amsterdam-based centre providing activists and scholars around the world with opportunities for research and education.]

Monday, September 21, 2009

The art of demeaning: Zapiro’s cartoon of Semenya by Rod MacKenzie

I am a fan of Zapiro but he has taken it too far this time. He is way out of line. His latest cartoon shows Caster Semenya with the words “No ovaries” above her head. I find this visual and verbal depiction of Ms Semenya exceptionally abusive and degrading. It is not a joke; perhaps Zapiro did not intend it to be but one does get confused when it is a cartoon.

In a previous blog I argued that Caster Semenya should decide on her gender, based on the fact that she does display both “traditionally accepted” aspects of the genders. My argument was implicitly based on humanitarian and moral grounds; she is a human being and she decides her gender. She has chosen to be a woman and that must be respected. Zapiro has not respected that; in this cartoon she is stripped of all dignity. She might as well be naked, on her knees, covered in mud, people laughing at her. This highly publicised cartoon will probably just force her to going deeper into hiding.

I used the words “traditionally accepted”. It is a passive term and does not disclose who does the accepting or creating of that gender norm acceptance. We just go along with the signifiers of femininity and masculinity a particular culture has encoded into us. There are other forms of gender norms throughout the world and, for example, here in Shanghai, China, there is a different set of gender standards.

Here the men are — to my cultural and societal coding as a Westerner and a South African — often feminine. Androgynous is sometimes the better word. (I have made the mistake several times in teaching children of thinking the girl was a boy and vice versa. My perceptual conditioning is that different.) Many of the Chinese women like in their men what I perceive to be androgynous and I have slowly learned that the women look for different visual cues as to what is attractive or not. Men with long necks are deemed attractive. Michael Scofield, the star of the Prison Break TV series is regarded as extremely handsome except that he has a short neck. I could not really tell for a while a short neck from a long one in China. I never really noticed before. But I must admit I notice now some men have really long necks. In SA schools they would have got nicknames like giraffe.

Western women in Shanghai get lonely for male company: they simply do not find Chinese men attractive as they are not masculine in the typical Western sense. Extremely rarely do you see a Chinese man with a Western woman. But the women here fit in with the Western “traditionally accepted” signifiers of attractiveness men require. Pretty faces, slender figures, or, in the Mandarin: “Dada de yanjing, changchang de toufa, gaogao de gezi, xiao de tiantian de.” This roughly translates as “large eyes, long hair, tall (and thus the suggestion of wolf-whistle shapeliness and long legs) and a sweet smile”. According to my teachers this is almost a common expression here. It is common to see a lot of Western white men with Chinese girlfriends and wives. These remarks of mine are not sexist or anti-feminist; they are neutral, statistical observations. Nor am I suggesting that physical attractiveness should be a primary value; to state the obvious emphasises too much. This is especially so in billboard posters and adverts of products that use handsome men and lovely women: they are usually emotionless, expressionless, almost zombies. In Shanghai this look on billboard ads is commonplace. There is no person, no soul, just a limiting, brittle stereotype of acceptable, surface, gender beauty.

The issue of Semenya being accepted by the IAAF as a woman is a separate issue from my discussion so far. The gender determination by the IAAF is a complex issue and I don’t think there is a simple answer. For example, if a man were to have a sex change and became a woman, should he be aloud to compete in IAAF competitions as a woman when he has all the physical advantages of a man except for sex, which is not a professional sport though some would lobby for it to be a sport? Surely not. He has decided to be a woman, perhaps for various psychological and/or biological issues. That needs to be respected. But it is surely not so easy when it comes to being allowed to compete in sports at a professional level, where one’s biological make-up, male or female, is often crucial to the outcome of the competition. Somewhere the IAAF has to draw the distinction; that is common sense. Good luck to them. I have no solution other than that each case taken on needs to be respected for its uniqueness and the particular cultural context.

What is perhaps missing in the debate over Semenya is the lesson(s) we can learn from this. Our norms for femininity and masculinity can be hidebound and limiting, too stereotypical and do not allow for freedom of expression and identity. She should be allowed her dignity while at the same time we evaluate ourselves, our values, the various subconscious ways that we judge or perceive events.

The Zapiro cartoon does nothing to add to the evolution of our consciousness on gender scripts. However, it may shock some of us into giving our perceptions and gender prejudices an overhaul.