Vijay Prashad

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Whither Colombia’s fragile struggle

137 views
6 mins read

Each year, in the last weeks of September, the world’s leaders gather in New York City to speak at the podium of the United Nations General Assembly. The speeches can usually be forecasted well in advance, either tired articulations of values that do not get acted upon or belligerent voices that threaten war in an institution built to prevent war.

However, every once in a while, a speech shines through, a voice emanates from the chamber and echoes around the world for its clarity and sincerity. This year, that voice belongs to Colombia’s recently inaugurated president, Gustavo Petro, whose brief remarks distilled with poetic precision the problems in our world and the cascading crises of social distress, the addiction to money and power, the climate catastrophe and environmental destruction. ‘It is time for peace’, President Petro said. ‘We are also at war with the planet. Without peace with the planet, there will be no peace among nations. Without social justice, there is no social peace’.

Colombia has been gripped by violence since it won its independence from Spain in 1810. This violence emanated from Colombia’s elites, whose insatiable desire for wealth has meant the absolute impoverishment of the people and the failure of the country to develop anything that resembles liberalism. Decades of political action to build the confidence of the masses in Colombia culminated in a cycle of protests beginning in 2019 that led to Petro’s electoral victory. The new centre-left government has pledged to build social democratic institutions in Colombia and to banish the country’s culture of violence. Though the Colombian army, like armed forces around the world, prepares for war, President Petro told them in August 2022 that they must now ‘prepare for peace’ and must become ‘an army of peace’.

When thinking about violence in a country like Colombia, there is a temptation to focus on drugs, cocaine in particular. The violence, it is often suggested, is an outgrowth of the illicit cocaine trade. But this is an ahistorical assessment. Colombia experienced terrible bloodshed long before highly processed cocaine became increasingly popular from the 1960s onwards. The country’s elite has used murderous force to prevent any dilution of its power, including the 1948 assassination of Jorge Gaitán, the former mayor of Colombia’s capital of Bogotá, that led to a period known as La Violencia (‘The Violence’). Liberal politicians and communist militants faced the steel of the Colombian army and police on behalf of this granite block of power backed by the United States, which has used Colombia to extend its power into South America. Fig leaves of various types were used to cover over the ambitions of the Colombian elite and their benefactors in Washington. In the 1990s, one such cover was the War on Drugs.

By all accounts – whether of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime or the US government’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) – the largest consumers of illegal narcotics (cannabis, opioids, and cocaine) are in North America and Western Europe. A recent UN study shows that ‘cocaine use in the United States has been fluctuating and increasing after 2013 with a more stable trend observed in 2019’. The War on Drugs strategy, initiated by the United States and Western countries, has had a two-pronged approach to the drug crisis: first, to criminalise retailers in Western countries and, second, to go to war against the peasants who produce the raw material in these drugs in countries such as Colombia.

In the United States, for instance, almost two million people – disproportionately Black and Latino – are caught in the prison industrial complex, with 400,000 of them imprisoned or on probation for nonviolent drug offences (mostly as petty dealers in a vastly profitable drug empire). The collapse of employment opportunities for young people in working-class areas and the allure of wages from the drug economy continue to attract low-level employees of the global drug commodity chain, despite the dangers of this profession. The War on Drugs has made a negligible impact on this pipeline, which is why many countries have now begun to decriminalise drug possession and drug use (particularly cannabis).

The obduracy of the Colombian elite – backed by the US government – to allow any democratic space to open in the country led the left to take up armed struggle in 1964 and then return to the gun when the elite shut down the promise of the democratic path in the 1990s. In the name of the war against the armed left as well as the War on Drugs, the Colombian military and police have crushed any dissent in the country. Despite evidence of the financial and political ties between the Colombian elite, narco-paramilitaries, and drug cartels, the United States government initiated Plan Colombia in 1999 to funnel $12 billion to the Colombian military to deepen this war (in 2006, when he was a senator, Petro revealed the nexus between these diabolical forces, for which his family was threatened with violence).

As part of this war, the Colombian armed forces dropped the terrible chemical weapon glyphosate on the peasantry (in 2015, the World Health Organisation said that this chemical is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ and, in 2017, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that its use must be restricted). In 2020, the following assessment was offered in the Harvard International Review: ‘Instead of reducing cocaine production, Plan Colombia has actually caused cocaine production and transport to shift into other areas. Additionally, militarisation in the war on drugs has caused violence in the country to increase’. This is precisely what President Petro told the world at the United Nations.

The most recent DEA report notes that cocaine use in the United States remains steady and that ‘deaths from drug poisoning involving cocaine have increased every year since 2013’. US drug policy is focused on law enforcement, aiming merely to reduce the domestic availability of cocaine. Washington will spend 45% of its drug budget on law enforcement, 49% on treatment for drug addicts, and a mere 6% on prevention. The lack of emphasis on prevention is revealing. Rather than tackle the drug crisis as a demand-side problem, the US and other Western governments pretend that it is a supply-side problem that can be dealt with by using military force against petty drug dealers and peasants who grow the coca plant. Petro’s cry from the heart at the United Nations attempted to call attention to the root causes of the drug crisis:

According to the irrational power of the world, the market that razes existence is not to blame; it is the jungle and those who live in it that are to blame. Bank accounts have become unlimited; the money saved by the most powerful people on Earth could not even be spent over the course of centuries. The empty existence produced by the artificiality of competition is filled with noise and drugs. The addiction to money and to possessions has another face: the drug addiction of people who lose the competition in the artificial race that humanity has become. The sickness of loneliness is not cured by [dousing] the forests with glyphosate; the forest is not to blame. To blame is your society educated by endless consumption, by the stupid confusion between consumption and happiness that allows the pockets of the powerful to fill with money.

The War on Drugs, Petro said, is a war on the Colombian peasantry and a war on the precarious poor in Western countries. We do not need this war, he said; instead, we need to struggle to build a peaceful society that does not sap meaning from the hearts of people who are treated as a surplus to society’s logic.

As a young man, Petro was part of the M-19 guerrilla movement, one of the organisations that attempted to break the chokehold that Colombia’s elites held over the country’s democracy. One of his comrades was the poet María Mercedes Carranza (1945–2003), who wrote searingly about the violence thrust upon her country in her book Hola, Soledad (‘Hello, Solitude’) (1987), capturing the desolation in her poem ‘La Patria’ (‘The Homeland’):

In this house, everything is in ruins,

in ruins are hugs and music,

each morning, destiny, laughter are in ruins,

tears, silence, dreams.

The windows show destroyed landscapes,

flesh and ash on people’s faces,

words combine with fear in their mouths.

In this house, we are all buried alive.

Carranza took her life when the fires of hell swept through Colombia.

A peace agreement in 2016, a cycle of protests from 2019, and now the election of Petro and Francia Márquez in 2022 have wiped the ash off the faces of the Colombian people and provided them with an opportunity to try and rebuild their house. The end of the War on Drugs, that is, the war on the Colombian peasantry, will only advance Colombia’s fragile struggle towards peace and democracy.

Source: Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. Click here to read the original

Four Straight Years of Nonstop Street Protest in Haiti

310 views
5 mins read

A cycle of protests began in Haiti in July 2018, and—despite the pandemic—has carried on since then. The core reason for the protest in 2018 was that in March of that year the government of Venezuela—due to the illegal sanctions imposed by the United States—could no longer ship discounted oil to Haiti through the PetroCaribe scheme. Fuel prices soared by up to 50 percent. On August 14, 2018, filmmaker Gilbert Mirambeau Jr. tweeted a photograph of himself blindfolded and holding a sign that read, “Kot Kòb Petwo Karibe a???” (Where did the PetroCaribe money go?). He reflected the popular sentiment in the country that the money from the scheme had been looted by the Haitian elite, whose grip on the country had been secured by two coups d’état against the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (once in 1991 and again in 2004). Rising oil prices made life unlivable for the vast majority of the people, whose protests created a crisis of political legitimacy for the Haitian elite.

In recent weeks, the streets of Haiti have once again been occupied by large marches and roadblocks, with the mood on edge. Banks and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—including Catholic charities—faced the wrath of the protesters, who painted “Down with [the] USA” on buildings that they ransacked and burned. The Creole word dechoukaj or uprooting—that was first used in the democracy movements in 1986—has come to define these protests. The government has blamed the violence on gangs such as G9 led by the former Haitian police officer Jimmy “Babekyou” (Barbecue) Chérizier. These gangs are indeed part of the protest movement, but they do not define it.

The government of Haiti—led by acting President Ariel Henry—decided to raise fuel prices during this crisis, which provoked a protest from the transport unions. Jacques Anderson Desroches, president of the Fós Sendikal pou Sove Ayiti, told the Haitian Times, “If the state does not resolve to put an end to the liberalization of the oil market in favor of the oil companies and take control of it,” nothing good will come of it. “[O]therwise,” he said, “all the measures taken by Ariel Henry will be cosmetic measures.” On September 26, trade union associations called for a strike, which paralyzed the country, including the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince.

The United Nations (UN) evacuated its nonessential staff from the country. UN Special Representative Helen La Lime told the UN Security Council that Haiti was paralyzed by “[a]n economic crisis, a gang crisis, and a political crisis” that have “converged into a humanitarian catastrophe.” Legitimacy for the United Nations in Haiti is limited, given the sexual abuse scandals that have wracked the UN peacekeeping missions in Haiti, and the political mandate of the United Nations that Haitian people see as oriented to protecting the corrupt elite that does the bidding of the West.

The current President Ariel Henry was installed to his post by the “Core Group” (made up of six countries, this group is led by the United States, the European Union, the UN, and the Organization of American States). Henry became the president after the still-unsolved murder of the unpopular President Jovenel Moïse (thus far, the only clarity is that Moïse was killed by Colombian mercenaries and Haitian Americans). The UN’s La Lime told the Security Council in February that the “national investigation into his [Moïse’s] murder has stalled, a situation that fuels rumors and exacerbates both suspicion and mistrust within the country.”

Haiti’s Crises

An understanding of the current cycle of protests is not possible without looking clearly at four developments in Haiti’s recent past. First, the destabilization of the country after the second coup against Aristide in 2004, which took place right after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010, led to the dismantling of the Haitian state. The Core Group of countries took advantage of these serious problems in Haiti to import onto the island a wide range of Western NGOs, which seemed to substitute for the Haitian state. The NGOs soon provided 80 percent of the public services. They “frittered” considerable amounts of the relief and aid money that had come into the country after the earthquake. Weakened state institutions have meant that the government has few tools to deal with this unresolved crisis.

Second, the illegal U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuela crushed the PetroCaribe scheme, which had provided Haiti with concessionary oil sales and $2 billion in profits between 2008 and 2016 that was meant for the Haitian state but vanished into the bank accounts of the elite.

Third, in 2009, the Haitian parliament tried to increase minimum wages on the island to $5 per day, but the U.S. government intervened on behalf of major textile and apparel companies to block the bill. David Lindwall, former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Port-au-Prince, said that the Haitian attempt to raise the minimum wage “did not take economic reality into account” but was merely an attempt to appease “the unemployed and underpaid masses.” The bill was defeated due to U.S. government pressure. These “unemployed and underpaid masses” are now on the streets being characterized as “gangs” by the Core Group.

Fourth, the acting President Ariel Henry likes to say that he is a neurosurgeon and not a career politician. However, in the summer of 2000, Henry was part of the group that created the Convergence Démocratique (CD), set up to call for the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Aristide. The CD was set up in Haiti by the International Republican Institute, a political arm of the U.S. Republican Party, and by the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy. Henry’s call for calm on September 19, 2022, resulted in the setting up of more barricades and in the intensification of the protest movement. His ear is bent more to Washington than to Petit-Goâve, a town on the northern coast that is the epicenter of the rebellion.

Waves of Invasions

At the UN, Haiti’s Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus said, “[T]his dilemma can only be solved with the effective support of our partners.” To many close observers of the situation unfolding in Haiti, the phrase “effective support” sounds like another military intervention by the Western powers. Indeed, the Washington Post editorial called for “muscular action by outside actors.” Ever since the Haitian Revolution, which ended in 1804, Haiti has faced waves of invasions (including a long U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1930 and a U.S.-backed dictatorship from 1957 to 1986). These invasions have prevented the island nation from securing its sovereignty and have prevented its people from building dignified lives. Another invasion, whether by U.S. troops or the United Nations peacekeeping forces, will only deepen the crisis.

At the United Nations General Assembly session on September 21, U.S. President Joe Biden said that his government continues “to stand with our neighbor in Haiti.” What this means is best understood in a new Amnesty International report that documents the racist abuse faced by Haitian asylum seekers in the United States. The United States and the Core Group might stand with people like Ariel Henry, but they do not seem to stand with the Haitian people, including those who have fled to the United States.

Options for the Haitian people will come from the entry of trade unions into the protest wave. Whether the unions and the community organizations—including student groups that have reemerged as key actors in the country—will be able to drive a dynamic change out of the anger being witnessed on the streets remains to be seen.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Without Culture, Freedom Is Impossible

353 views
6 mins read

In 2002, Cuba’s President Fidel Castro Ruz visited the country’s National Ballet School to inaugurate the 18th Havana International Ballet Festival. Founded in 1948 by the prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso (1920–2019), the school struggled financially until the Cuban Revolution decided that ballet – like other art forms – must be available to everyone and so must be socially financed. At the school in 2002, Castro remembered that the first festival, held in 1960, ‘asserted Cuba’s cultural vocation, identity, and nationality, even under the most adverse circumstances, when major dangers and threats loomed over the country’.

Ballet, like so many cultural forms, had been stolen from popular participation and enjoyment. The Cuban Revolution wanted to return this artistic practice to the people as part of its determination to advance human dignity. To build a revolution in a country assaulted by colonial barbarism, the new revolutionary process had to both establish the country’s sovereignty and build the dignity of each of its people. This dual task is the work of national liberation. ‘Without culture’, Castro said, ‘freedom is not possible’. 

In many languages, the word ‘culture’ has at least two meanings. In bourgeois society, culture has come to mean both refinement and the high arts. A property of the dominant classes, this culture is inherited through the transmission of manners and higher education. The second meaning of culture is the way of life, including beliefs and practices, of a people who are part of a community (from a tribe to a nation). The Cuban Revolution’s democratisation of ballet and classical music, for instance, was part of its attempt to socialise all forms of human life, from the economic to the cultural. Furthermore, the revolutionary processes attempted to protect the cultural heritage of the Cuban people from the pernicious influence of the culture of colonialism. To be precise, to ‘protect’ did not mean to reject the entirety of the coloniser’s culture, since that would enforce a parochial life on a people who must have access to all forms of culture. Cuba’s Revolution adopted baseball, for instance, despite its roots in the United States, the very country that has sought to suffocate Cuba for six decades.

A socialist approach to culture, therefore, requires four aspects: the democratisation of forms of high culture, the protection of the cultural heritage of formerly colonised peoples, the advancement of the basic elements of cultural literacy, and the domestication of cultural forms that come from the colonising power. 

In July 2022, I delivered a lecture at Cuba’s Casa de las Américas, a major institution in Havana’s cultural life and a heartbeat of cultural developments from Chile to Mexico, that centred on ten theses on Marxism and decolonisation. A few days later, Casa’s director, Abel Prieto, also a former minister of culture, convened a seminar there to discuss some of these themes, principally how Cuban society had to both defend itself from the onrush of imperialist cultural forms and from the pernicious inheritance of racism and patriarchy. This discussion provoked a series of reflections on the process of the National Programme Against Racism and Racial Discrimination announced by President Miguel Díaz-Canel in November 2019 and on the process that led to the 2022 Family Code referendum (which will come to a popular vote on 25 September) – two dynamics that have the capacity to transform Cuban society in an anti-colonial direction.

Dossier no. 56 (September 2022) from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and Casa de las Américas, Ten Theses on Marxism and Decolonisation, contains an expanded version of that lecture with a foreword by Abel Prieto. To give you a taste of it, here is thesis nine on the Battle of Emotions: 

Thesis Nine: The Battle of Emotions. Fidel Castro provoked a debate in the 1990s around the concept of the Battle of Ideas, the class struggle in thought against the banalities of neoliberal conceptions of human life. A key part of Fidel’s speeches from this period was not just what he said but how he said it, each word suffused with the great compassion of a man committed to the liberation of humanity from the tentacles of property, privilege, and power. In fact, the Battle of Ideas was not merely about the ideas themselves, but also about a ‘battle of emotions’, an attempt to shift the palate of emotions from a fixation on greed to considerations of empathy and hope.

One of the true challenges of our time is the bourgeoisie’s use of the culture industries and the institutions of education and faith to divert attention away from any substantial discussion about real problems – and about finding common solutions to social dilemmas – and towards an obsession with fantasy problems. In 1935, the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch called this the ‘swindle of fulfilment’, the seeding of a range of fantasies to mask their impossible realisation. The benefit of social production, Bloch wrote, ‘is reaped by the big capitalist upper stratum, which employs gothic dreams against proletarian realities’. The entertainment industry erodes proletarian culture with the acid of aspirations that cannot be fulfilled under the capitalist system. But these aspirations are enough to weaken any working-class project.

A degraded society under capitalism produces a social life that is suffused with atomisation and alienation, desolation and fear, anger and hate, resentment and failure. These are ugly emotions that are shaped and promoted by the culture industries (‘you can have it too!’), educational establishments (‘greed is the prime mover’), and neo-fascists (‘hate immigrants, sexual minorities, and anyone else who denies you your dreams’). The grip of these emotions on society is almost absolute, and the rise of neo-fascists is premised upon this fact. Meaning feels emptied, perhaps the result of a society of spectacles that has now run its course.

From a Marxist perspective, culture is not seen as an isolated and timeless aspect of human reality, nor are emotions seen as a world of their own or as being outside of the developments of history. Since human experiences are defined by the conditions of material life, ideas of fate will linger on as long as poverty is a feature of human life. If poverty is transcended, then fatalism will have a less secure ideological foundation, but it does not automatically get displaced. Cultures are contradictory, bringing together a range of elements in uneven ways out of the social fabric of an unequal society that oscillates between reproducing class hierarchy and resisting elements of social hierarchy. Dominant ideologies suffuse culture through the tentacles of ideological apparatuses like a tidal wave, overwhelming the actual experiences of the working class and the peasantry. It is, after all, through class struggle and through the new social formations created by socialist projects that new cultures will be created – not merely by wishful thinking.

It is important to recall that, in the early years of each of the revolutionary processes – from Russia in 1917 to Cuba in 1959 – cultural efflorescence was saturated with the emotions of joy and possibility, of intense creativity and experimentation. It is this sensibility that offers a window into something other than the ghoulish emotions of greed and hatred.

In the early years after 1959, Cuba convulsed with such surges of creativity and experimentation. Nicolás Guillén (1902–1969), a great revolutionary poet who had been imprisoned during Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship, captured the harshness of life and the great desire for the revolutionary process to emancipate the Cuban people from the wretchedness of hunger and social hierarchies. His poem ‘Tengo’ (‘I Have’) from 1964 tells us that the new culture of the revolution was elemental – the feeling that one did not have to bow one’s shoulders before a superior, to say to workers in offices that they too are comrades and not ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’, to walk as a Black man into a hotel without being told to stop at the door. His great anti-colonial poem alerts us to culture’s material foundations:

I have, let’s see,
I’ve learned to read,
to count.
I’ve learned to write,
and to think,
and to laugh.
I have, yes, I have
a place to work
and earn
what I have to eat.
I have, let’s see,
I have what I have to have.

At the close of his foreword to the dossier, Abel Prieto writes, ‘we must turn the meaning of anti-colonial into an instinct’. Reflect on that for a moment: anti-colonialism is not just the ending of formal colonial rule, but a deeper process, one that must become ingrained at the instinctual level so that we can build the capacity to solve our basic needs (such as transcending hunger and illiteracy, for instance) and build our alertness to the need for cultures that emancipate us and do not bind us to the flashy world of unaffordable commodities.

Source: The Tri Continental.Org

Samarkand Spirit

/
361 views
4 mins read

In mid-September 2022, the nine-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, for its 22nd Meeting of the Council of Heads of State. Because China, India, and Pakistan are members of the SCO, the organization represents about 40 percent of the world’s population; with the addition of Russia, the SCO countries make up 60 percent of the Eurasian territory (the other member states of the organization are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and now Iran). In its Samarkand Declaration, the final declaration of this meeting, the SCO represented itself as a “regional” organization, although the sheer scale of the SCO would allow it to claim to be a global organization with as much legitimacy as the G-7 (whose seven countries comprise only 10 percent of the world’s population, although the group accounts for 50 percent of the global net wealth).

The keyword in the Samarkand Declaration seemed to be “mutual”: mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual consultation, and mutual benefit. There is an echo in these words of the final communiqué of the Asian-African Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955, which led to the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. The Samarkand Spirit mirrors, for a different period, the Bandung Spirit with an emphasis on sovereignty and equality. Words like “mutual” are appealing only if they provide tangible benefits for the people who live in these countries.

As if on cue, eyes rolled in the Western press, which either did not give much weight to the meeting in their media coverage or emphasized the divisions between the countries that attended the meeting. Remarks by China’s President Xi Jinping and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi about their views on the Russian war in Ukraine shaped the headlines of the Western media. Certainly, the countries that attended the Samarkand meeting do not see eye to eye on each of the issues discussed, but they have built trust with each other and are interested in increasing their diplomatic and economic ties, particularly related to trade.

The SCO states contribute 24 percent to the world’s gross domestic product and accounted for 17.5 percent of world trade in 2020, a volume of activity that is enticing for poorer states in Eurasia. The locomotive of this economic activity continues to be China, which is the largest trading partner of IranKyrgyzstanPakistanRussiaIndia, and Uzbekistan. The advantages of trade among the countries—including energy purchases from Russia—anchor the SCO, which has become one of the key institutions for the integration of Eurasia.

Iran became a full-fledged member of the SCO at the Samarkand meeting. Over the course of the past decade, U.S. sanctions on Iran and Russia as well as the U.S.-driven trade war against China have drawn these three countries closer together. In April 2021, China and Iran signed a 25-year agreement on trade, which Iran’s ambassador to China Mohammad Keshavarz-Zadeh said “is not against any third country,” meaning the United States. Similar sentiments, but with a stronger anti-Western tone, could be heard at the seventh Eastern Economic Forum held in Vladivostok, Russia, in September 2022, where Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said, “the West is failing, the future is in Asia.”

The SCO is not merely the consolidation of Asian countries heavily sanctioned by the United States and the European Union. India, an SCO member, is a non-sanctioned state, and Türkiye, another non-sanctioned country, is seeking to join the SCO, belying such an easy dismissal about the reason for the existence of the organization. India is a full-fledged member of the SCO and has taken over the presidency of the organization till it hosts the next meeting in 2023. India’s Modi played an active role at the Samarkand meeting, and, according to an op-ed written by India’s former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, he suggested that India’s membership to the SCO is part of “our commitment to a multipolar world.”

Türkiye, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is a dialogue partner of the SCO and is now seeking to upgrade its status to become a member of the organization. In 1987, Türkiye applied to join the European Union and “was declared eligible to join the EU” in 1999. Told that the process is necessarily slow, Türkiye’s senior officials watched with dismay as Ukraine applied to join the European Union in February 2022 and then was accepted as an EU candidate in June, jumping far ahead of Türkiye, whose candidacy has not moved forward and the accession negotiations have “effectively frozen.” The Samarkand meeting was the first SCO meeting that was attended by Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who spoke about the SCO region being the “ancestral homeland” of the Turkish people and a natural fit for his country. India’s leadership in the SCO and the possibility of Türkiye’s entry into the organization show that the SCO is increasingly becoming an instrument for Eurasian integration.

“The situation in the world is dangerously degrading,” noted the Samarkand Declaration. “[E]xisting local conflicts and crises are intensifying, and new ones are emerging.” As the SCO met, Azerbaijan attacked Armenia—replaying the conflict of 2020—opening further tension between Russia (which is in the Collective Security Treaty Organization with Armenia) and Türkiye (which is a close ally of Azerbaijan). Adding to the confusion, clashes broke out at the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with Putin hastily calling the presidents of both countries to settle their differences. Modi and Xi met at the Samarkand meeting for the first time since the May 2020 clash between Chinese and Indian troops in the high mountain region of Ladakh. No real progress has been made on the decades-long border dispute between these two large Asian powers. Such existing local conflicts not only threaten the security of the people who live in those countries but also pose a challenge to the SCO becoming more than a regional organization.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

The Roar of a U.S. Warplane Over a Civilian Airport

/
480 views
5 mins read

“This is not a regular airport,” Margaretta D’Arcy said to me as we heard a C-130T Hercules prepare to take off from Shannon Airport in Ireland after 3 p.m. on September 11, 2022. That enormous U.S. Navy aircraft (registration number 16-4762) had flown in from Sigonella, a U.S. Naval Air Station in Italy. A few minutes earlier, a U.S. Navy C-40A (registration number 16-6696) left Shannon for the U.S. military base at Stuttgart, Germany, after flying in from Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia. Shannon is not a regular airport, D’Arcy said, because while it is merely a civilian airport, it allows frequent U.S. military planes to fly in and out of it, with Gate 42 of the airport functioning as its “forward operating base.”

At the age of 88, D’Arcy, who is a legendary Irish actress and documentary filmmaker, is a regular member of Shannonwatch, comprising a group of activists who have—since 2008—held monthly vigils at a roundabout near the airport. Shannonwatch’s objectives are to “end U.S. military use of Shannon Airport, to stop rendition flights through the airport, and to obtain accountability for both from the relevant Irish authorities and political leaders.” Edward Horgan, a veteran of the Irish military who had been on peacekeeping missions to Cyprus and Palestine, told me that this vigil is vital. “It’s important that we come here every month,” he said, “because without this there is no visible opposition” to the footprint of the U.S. military in Ireland.

According to a report from Shannonwatch titled “Shannon Airport and 21st Century War,” the use of the airport as a U.S. forward operating base began in 2002-2003, and this transformation “was, and still is, deeply offensive to the majority of Irish people.”

Article 29 of the Irish Constitution of 1937 sets in place the framework for the country’s neutrality. Allowing a foreign military to use Irish soil violates Article 2 of the Hague Convention of 1907, to which Ireland is a signatory. Nonetheless, said John Lannon of Shannonwatch, the Irish government has allowed almost 3 million U.S. troops to pass through Shannon Airport since 2002 and has even assigned a permanent staff officer to the airport. “Irish airspace and Shannon Airport became the virtual property of the U.S. war machine,” said Niall Farrell of Galway Alliance Against War. “Irish neutrality was truly dead.”

Pitstop of Death

Margaretta D’Arcy’s eyes gleam as she recounts her time at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, located in Berkshire, England, and involving activists from Wales, who set up to prevent the storage and passage of U.S. cruise missiles at this British military base. That camp began in 1981 and lasted until 2000. D’Arcy went to jail three times during this struggle (out of a total of at least 20 times she was in prison for her antiwar activism). “It was good,” she told me, “because we got rid of the weapons and the land was restored to the people. It took 19 years. Women consistently fought until we got what we wanted.” When D’Arcy was arrested, the prison authorities stripped her to search her. She refused to put her clothes back on and went on both a hunger strike and a naked protest. In doing so, she forced the prison authorities to stop the practice of performing strip searches. “If you act with dignity, then you force them to treat you with dignity,” she said.

Part of this act of dignity includes refusing to allow her country’s airport to be used as part of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 2002, several brave people have entered the airport and have attempted to deface U.S. aircraft. On September 5, 2002, Eoin Dubsky painted “No way” on a U.S. warplane (for which he was fined); and then on January 29, 2003, Mary Kelly took an axe onto the runway and hit a military plane, causing $1.5 million in damage; she was also fined. A few weeks later, on February 3, 2003, the Pitstop Ploughshares (a group of five activists who belonged to the Catholic Worker Movement) attacked a U.S. Navy C-40 aircraft—the same one that Mary Kelly had previously damaged—with hammers and a pickaxe (a story recounted vividly by Harry Browne in Hammered by the Irish, 2008). They also spray-painted “Pitstop of Death” on a hangar.

In 2012, Margaretta D’Arcy and Niall Farrell marched onto the runway to protest the airport being used by U.S. planes. Arrested and convicted, they nonetheless returned to the runway the next year in orange jumpsuits. During the court proceedings in June 2014, D’Arcy grilled the airport authorities about why they had not arrested the pilot of an armed U.S. Hercules plane that had arrived at Shannon Airport four days after their arrest on the runway. She asked, “Are there two sets of rules—one for people like us trying to stop the bombing and one for the bombers?” Shannon Airport’s inspector Pat O’Neill replied, “I don’t understand the question.”

“This is a civilian airport,” D’Arcy told me as she gestured toward the runway. “How does a government allow the military to use a civilian airport?”

Extraordinary Renditions

The U.S. government began illegally transporting prisoners from Afghanistan and other places to its prison in the Guantánamo Bay detention camp and to other “black sites” in Europe, North Africa, and West Asia. This act of transporting the prisoners came to be known as “extraordinary rendition.” In 2005, when Dermot Ahern, Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs, was asked about the “extraordinary rendition” flights into Shannon Airport, he said, “If anyone has any evidence of any of these flights, please give me a call and I will have it immediately investigated.” Amnesty International replied that it had direct evidence that up to six CIA chartered planes had used Shannon Airport approximately 50 times. Four years later, Amnesty International produced a thorough report that showed that their earlier number was deflated and that likely hundreds of such U.S. military flights had flown in and out of the airport.

While the Irish government over the years has said that it opposes this practice, the Irish police (the Garda Síochána) have not boarded these flights to inspect them. As a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights (signed in 1953) and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (adopted in 1984 and ratified in 1987), Ireland is duty-bound to prevent collaboration with “extraordinary rendition,” a position taken by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. In 2014, Irish parliamentarians Mick Wallace and Clare Daly were arrested at Shannon Airport for trying to search two U.S. aircraft that they believed were carrying “troops and armaments.” They were frustrated by the Irish government’s false assurances. “How do they know? Did they search the planes? Of course not,” Wallace and Daly said.

Meanwhile, according to the Shannonwatch report, “Rather than take measures to identify past involvement in rendition or to prevent further complicity, successive Irish [g]overnments have simply denied any possibility that Irish airports or airspace were used by U.S. rendition planes.”

In 2006, Conor Cregan rode his bicycle near Shannon Airport. Airport police inspector Lillian O’Shea, who recognized him from protests, confronted him, but Cregan rode off. He was eventually arrested. At Cregan’s trial, O’Shea admitted that the police had been told to stop and harass the activists at the airport. Zoe Lawlor of Shannonwatch told me this story and then said, “harassment such as this reinforces the importance of our protest.”

In 2003 and 2015, Sinn Féin—the largest opposition party in the Northern Ireland Assembly—put forward a Neutrality Bill to enshrine the concept of neutrality into the Irish Constitution. The government, said Seán Crowe of Sinn Féin, has “sold Irish neutrality piece by piece against the wishes of the people.” If the idea of neutrality is adopted by the Irish people, it will be because of the sacrifices of people such as Margaretta D’Arcy, Niall Farrell, and Mary Kelly.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

The Bewildering Vote in Chile That Rejected a New Constitution

/
313 views
5 mins read

On September 4, 2022, more than 13 million Chileans—out of a voting-eligible population of approximately 15 million—voted on a proposal to introduce a new constitution in the country. As early as March, polls began to suggest that the constitution would not be able to pass. However, polls had hinted for months at a narrowing of the lead for the rejection camp, and so proponents of the new constitution remained hopeful that their campaign would in the end successfully convince the public to set aside the 1980 constitution placed upon the country by the military dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet. The date for the election, September 4, commemorated the day that Salvador Allende won the presidency in 1970. On that date, those who wanted a new constitution suggested that the ghost of Pinochet—who overthrew Allende in a violent coup in 1973—would be exorcized. As it happened, Pinochet’s constitution remains in place with more than 61 percent of voters rejecting the new constitution and only 38 percent of voters approving it.

The day before the election, in the municipality of Recoleta (a part of Chile’s capital city of Santiago), Mayor Daniel Jadue led a massive rally in support of passing the new constitution. Tens of thousands of people gathered in this largely working-class area with the hope, as Jadue put it, of leaving behind the “constitution of abuses.” It, however, was not to be. Even in Recoleta, where Jadue is a popular mayor, the constitution was defeated. The new constitution received 23,000 more votes than Jadue had received in the last election—a sign that the number of voters on the left had increased—but the vote to reject the constitution was larger, which meant that new voters made a greater impact on the overall result.

On September 7, Jadue told us that he was feeling “calm,” that it was a significant advance that nearly 5 million Chileans voted for the constitution and that “for the first time we have a constitutional project that is written and can be transformed into a much more concrete political program.” There is “no definitive victory and no definitive defeat,” Jadue told us. People voted not only on the constitution but also on the terrible economic situation (inflation in Chile is more than 14.1 percent) and the government’s management of it. Just as the 2020 plebiscite to draft a new constitution was a punishment for former President Sebastián Piñera, this was a punishment for the Boric government’s inability to address the problems of the people. Jadue’s “calm” stems from his confidence that if the left goes to the people with a program of action and is able to address the people’s needs, then the 5 million who voted for the constitution will find their numbers significantly increased.

Within hours of the final vote being announced, analysts from all sides tried to come to terms with what was a great defeat for the government. Francisca Fernández Droguett, a member of the Movement for Water and Territories, wrote in an article for El Ciudadano that the answer to the defeat lay in the decision by the government to make this election mandatory. “Compulsory voting put us face to face with a sector of society that we were unaware of in terms of its tendencies, not only its political tendencies but also its values.” This is precisely what happened in Recoleta. She pointed out that there was a general sentiment among the political class that those who had historically voted would—because of their general orientation toward the state—have a viewpoint that was closer to forms of progressivism. That has proven not to be the case. The campaign for the constitution did not highlight the economic issues that are important to the people who live at the rough end of social inequality. In fact, the reaction to the loss—blaming the poor (rotear, is the disparaging word) for the loss—was a reflection of the narrow-minded politics that was visible during the campaign for the new constitution.

Droguett’s point about compulsory voting is shared across the political spectrum. Until 2012, voting in Chile was compulsory, but registration for the electoral roll was voluntary; then, in 2012, with the passing of an election law reform, registration was made automatic but voting was voluntary. For such a consequential election, the government decided to make the entire voting process mandatory for all Chileans over 18 years old who were eligible to vote, with the imposition of considerable fines for those who would not vote. As it turned out, 85.81 percent of those on the electoral rolls voted, which is far more than the 55.65 percent of voters who voted in the second record turnout in Chile during the presidential election in 2021.

A comparison between the second round of voting during the presidential election of 2021 and the recent vote on the constitution is instructive. In December 2021, Chile’s President Gabriel Boric—leading the center-left Apruebo Dignidad coalition—won 4.6 million votes. Apruebo Dignidad campaigned for the constitution and won 4.8 million votes. That is, the Apruebo Dignidad vote in December 2021 and the vote for the new constitution was about the same. Boric’s opponent—José Antonio Kast—who openly praised Pinochet—won 3.65 million votes. Kast campaigned against the new constitution and was defeated by 7.88 million voters. That is, the votes against the constitution were twice more than the votes that Kast was able to garner. This figure does not register, as Jadue told us, as a shift to the right in Chile, but rather is an absolute rejection of the entire political system, including the constitutional convention.

One of the least remarked upon elements of political life in Chile—as is in other parts of Latin America—is the rapid growth of evangelical (notably Pentecostal) churches. About 20 percent of Chile’s population identifies as evangelical. In 2021, Kast went to the thanksgiving service of an evangelical congregation, the only representative invited to such an event. Forced to vote in the polls by the new mandatory system, a large section of evangelical voters rejected the proposal for a new constitution because of its liberal social agenda. Jadue told us that the evangelical community failed to recognize that the new constitution gave evangelicals “equal treatment with the Roman Catholic Church because it ensured freedom of worship.”

Those who were not in favor of the constitution began to campaign against its liberal agenda right after the constituent assembly was empaneled. While those who were in favor of the new constitution waited for it to be drafted, and they refrained from campaigning in the regions where the evangelical churches held sway and where opposition to the constitution was clear. The constitution was rejected as an expression of the growing discontent among Chileans regarding the general direction of social liberalism that was assumed by many—including the leadership of Frente Amplio—to be the inevitable progression in the country’s politics. The distance between the evangelicals and the center-left is evident not only in Chile—where the results are on display now—but also in Brazil, which faces a consequential presidential election in October.

Meanwhile, two days after the election, school children took to the streets. The text they circulated for their protest bristles with poetry: “in the face of people without memory, students make history with organization and struggle.” This entire cycle of the new constitution and the center-left Boric government began in 2011-2013, when Boric and many of his cabinet members were in college and when they began their political careers. The high school students—who faced the brutal police and now answer to Boric—want to open a new road. They were dismayed by an election that wanted to determine their future, but in which they could not participate due to their age.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Are these floods in Pakistan an ‘act of God’?

2268 views
5 mins read

Calamities are familiar to the people of Pakistan who have struggled through several catastrophic earthquakes, including those in 2005, 2013, and 2015 (to name the most damaging), as well as the horrendous floods of 2010. However, nothing could prepare the fifth most populated country in the world for this summer’s devastating events, which began with high temperatures and political chaos followed by unimaginable flooding.

Cascading frustration with the Pakistani state defines the public mood. Taimur Rahman, the general secretary of the Mazdoor Kisan Party (‘Workers and Peasants Party’), told Peoples Dispatch that after the 2010 floods, there was ‘enormous outrage about the fact that the government had not done anything to ensure that… when there is an overflow of water, it can be controlled’. Evidence of relief funds being siphoned off by corrupt politicians and the wealthy elite began to define the post-2010 period; those memories remain intact. People understand that when the disaster industrial complex is in motion, cycles of corruption accelerate.

A third of Pakistan’s vast landmass was inundated by floods in the last week of August. Satellite imagery showed the rapid spread of the waters which broke the banks of the Indus River, covering large sections of two major provinces, Balochistan, and Sindh. On 30 August 2022, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called it a ‘monsoon on steroids’, as the rainwaters swept away more than 1,000 people to their deaths and displaced about 33 million more. The situation is dire, with those who fled their homes in immediate and long-term danger. The people camped out on higher land, such as major roadways, are currently at risk of starvation and in danger of contracting water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, and hepatitis. In the long-term, people who have lost their standing crops (cotton and sugarcane) and livestock face guaranteed impoverishment. Pakistan’s Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal estimates that the damages will total more than $10 billion.

At first glance, the primary reason for the floods appears to be additional heavy rain at the tail end of an already record-breaking monsoon or rainy season. A very hot summer with temperatures of over 40°C for long periods in April and May made Pakistan ‘the hottest place on earth’, according to Malik Amin Aslam, a former minister for climate change. These scorching months resulted in abnormal melting of the country’s northern glaciers, whose waters met the torrential rain spurred by a ‘triple dip’ – three consecutive years of La Niña cooling in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. In addition, catastrophic climate change – driven by global carbon-fuelled capitalism – has also caused the glacial melt and downpour.

But the nature of the floods themselves are not wholly due to turbulent weather patterns. Significantly, the impact of the rising waters on Pakistan’s population is due to unchecked deforestation and deteriorated infrastructure such as dams, canals, and other channels to contain water. In 2019, the World Bank said that Pakistan faces a ‘green emergency’ because each year about 27,000 hectares of natural forest is cut down, making rainwater absorption in the soil much more difficult.

Furthermore, lack of state investment in dams and canals (now heavily silted) has made it much harder to control large quantities of water. The most important of these dams, canals, and reservoirs are the Sukkur Barrage, the world’s largest irrigation system of its kind, which draws the Indus into the southern Sindh River, and the Mangla and Tarbela reservoirs, which divert the waters from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Illegal real estate construction on floodplains further exacerbates the potential for human tragedy.

God has little to do with these floods. Nature has only compounded the underlying crises of capitalist-driven climate catastrophe and neglect of water, land, and forest management in Pakistan.

What are the urgent multiple crises afflicting Pakistan?

The floodwaters have revealed a set of enduring problems that paralyse Pakistan. Surveys in May, before the floods, showed that 54% of the population considered inflation to be their main problem. By August, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics reported that the wholesale price index, which measures fluctuation in the average prices of goods, increased by 41.2% while the annual inflation rate was 27%. Despite inflation rising globally and the acknowledgment that the cost of the floods would be over $10 billion, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has promised a mere $1.1 billion with austerity-like conditions attached to it such as ‘prudent monetary policy’. It is criminal that the IMF would impose strict austerity when the country’s agricultural infrastructure is utterly destroyed (this inadequate action is reminiscent of the British colonial policy to continue the export of wheat from India during the 1943 Bengal famine). The 2021 Global Hunger Index already placed Pakistan at 92 out of 116 countries with its hunger crisis – prior to the floods – at a serious level. Yet, as none of the country’s bourgeois political parties have taken these findings to heart, undoubtedly, its economic crisis will intensify with little recovery.

This brings us to the acute political crisis. Since its independence from the British in 1947, 75 years ago, Pakistan has had 31 prime ministers. In April 2022, the thirtieth, Imran Khan, was removed to install the current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Khan, who faces charges of terrorism and contempt of court, alleged that his government was removed at the behest of Washington owing to his close ties to Russia. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI or ‘Justice Party’) did not win a majority in the 2018 elections, which left his coalition vulnerable to the departures of a handful of legislators. That is precisely what was done by the opposition, which stormed into power through legislative manoeuvres, without a new mandate from the public. Since his removal, the standing of Imran Khan and the PTI has risen in Pakistan, having won 15 out of 20 of July’s by-elections in Karachi and Punjab, before the floods. Now, as anger rises against Sharif’s government due to the slow pace of relief for flood victims, the political crisis will only deepen.

What are the tasks at hand?

Pakistan is suffering from ‘climate apartheid’. This country of over 230 million people contributes only 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is threatened by the eighth highest climate risk in the world. The failure of Western capitalist countries to acknowledge their destruction of the planet’s climate means that countries like Pakistan, which have low levels of emissions, are already disproportionately bearing the brunt of rapid climate change. Western capitalist countries must at least provide their full support to the Global Climate Action Agenda.

Left and progressive forces – such as the Mazdoor Kisan Party – and other civilian groups have organised a flood relief campaign in Pakistan’s four provinces. They are reaching out mainly with food relief to tackle starvation in hard to reach, largely rural areas. The Pakistani Left is demanding that the government stem the tide of austerity and inflation that is sure to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.

In the summer of 1970, flash floods in the mountainous region of Balochistan caused great damage. A few months later in the general elections, the poet Gul Khan Nasir of the National Awami Party won a seat in the Balochistan provincial assembly and became the minister of education, health, information, social welfare, and tourism. Gul Khan Nasir put his Marxist convictions to work building the social capacity of the Baloch people (including setting up the province’s only medical school in Quetta, the provincial capital). Thrown out of office by undemocratic means, Nasir was sent back to prison, a place he had become all too familiar with in previous years. There, he wrote his anthem, ‘Demaa Qadam’ (‘Forward March’). One of its stanzas, 50 years later, seems to describe the zeitgeist in his native land:

If the sky above your heads
becomes full of anger, full of wrath,
thunder and rain and lightning and wind.
The night becomes dark as pitch.
The ground becomes like fire.
The times become savage.
But your goal remains the same:
March, March, Forward March.

Excerpts from the newsletter of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

The Most Important Election in the Americas Is in Brazil

//
472 views
5 mins read

Former Brazilian President Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula) runs about on stage at the Latin America Memorial in São Paulo. He was there on August 22, 2022, speaking at a book launch featuring photographs by Ricardo Stuckert about Lula’s trips around the world when he was the president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. Lula is a man with a great deal of energy. He recounts the story of when he was in Iran with his Foreign Minister Celso Amorim in 2010, trying to mediate and end the conflict imposed by the United States over Iran’s nuclear energy policy. Lula managed to secure a nuclear deal in 2010 that would have prevented the ongoing pressure campaign that Washington is conducting against Tehran. There was relief in the air. Then, Lula said, “Obama pissed outside the pot.” According to Lula, then-U.S. President Barack Obama did not accept the deal and crushed the hard work of the Brazilian leadership in bringing all sides to an agreement.

Lula’s story puts two important points on the table: he was able to build on Brazil’s role in Latin America by offering leadership in far-off Iran during his previous tenure as president, and he is not afraid of expressing his antipathy for the way the United States is scuttling the possibility of peace and progress across the world for its own narrow interests.

The book release took place during Lula’s campaign for president against the current incumbent—and deeply unpopular—President Jair Bolsonaro. Lula is now in the lead in the polls ahead of the first round of Brazil’s presidential election to be held on October 2.

Fernando Haddad, who ran against Bolsonaro in 2018 and lost after receiving less than 45 percent of the vote, told me that this election remains “risky.” The polls might show that Lula is in the lead, but Bolsonaro is known to play dirty politics to secure his victory. The far right in Brazil, like the far right in many other countries, is fierce in the way it contests for state power. Bolsonaro, Haddad said, is willing to lie openly, saying offensive things to the far-right media and then when challenged about it by the mainstream media, he tends to feign ignorance. “Fake news” seems to be Bolsonaro’s best defense each time he is attacked. The left is far more sincere in its political discourse; leftists are unwilling to lie and eager to bring the issues of hunger and unemployment, social despair and social advancement to the center of the political debate. But there is less interest in these issues and less noise about them in a media landscape that thrives on the theatrics of Bolsonaro and his followers. The old traditional right is as outflanked as the far right in Brazil, which is a space that is now commanded by Bolsonaro (the old traditional right, the men in dark suits who made decisions over cigars and cachaça, are unable to supplant Bolsonaro).

Former Brazilian president Lula attracted a crowd of 50,000 people in pre-campaign act in Teresina, Piaui, Brasil, 3 August 2022. [ Photograph: Roberta Aline/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock ]

Both Bolsonaro and Lula face an electorate that either loves them or hates them. There is little room for ambiguity in this race. Bolsonaro represents not only the far right, whose opinions he openly champions, but he also represents large sections of the middle class, whose aspirations for wealth remain largely intact despite the reality that their economic situation has deteriorated over the past decade. The contrast between the behavior of Bolsonaro and Lula during their respective presidential campaigns has been stark: Bolsonaro has been boorish and vulgar, while Lula is refined and presidential. If the election goes to Lula, it is likely that he will get more votes from those who hate Bolsonaro than from those who love him.

Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is reflective on the way forward. She told me that Lula will likely prevail in the election because the country is fed up with Bolsonaro. His horrible management of the COVID-19 pandemic and the deterioration of the economic situation in the country mark Bolsonaro as an inefficient manager of the Brazilian state. However, Rousseff pointed out that about a month before the election, Bolsonaro’s government—and the regional governments—have been rolling out policies that have started to lighten the burden on the middle class, such as the lifting of taxation on gasoline. These policies could sway some people to vote for Bolsonaro, but even that is not likely. The political situation in Brazil remains fragile for the left, with the main blocs on the right (agro-business, religion and the military) willing to use any means to maintain their hold on power; it was this right-wing coalition that conducted a “legislative coup” against Rousseff in 2016 and used “lawfare,” the use of law for political motives, against Lula in 2018 to prevent him from running against Bolsonaro. These phrases (legislative coup and lawfare) are now part of the vocabulary of the Brazilian left, which understands clearly that the right bloc (what is called centrão) will not stop pursuing their interests if they feel threatened.

João Paulo Rodrigues, a leader of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) is a close adviser to the Lula campaign. He told me that in the 2002 presidential election, Lula won against the incumbent Fernando Henrique Cardoso because of an immense hatred for the neoliberal policies that Cardoso had championed. The left was fragmented and demoralized at that time of the election. Lula’s time in office, however, helped the left mobilize and organize, although even during this period the focus of popular attention was more on Lula himself rather than the blocs that comprised the left. During Lula’s incarceration on corruption charges, which the left says are fraudulent, he became a figure that unified the left: Lula Livre, “Free Lula,” was the unifying slogan, and the letter L (for Lula) became a symbol (a symbol that continues to be used in the election campaign). While there are other candidates from Brazil’s left in the presidential race, there is no question for Rodrigues that Lula is the left’s standard-bearer and is the only hope for Brazil to oust the highly divisive and dangerous leadership of President Bolsonaro. One of the mechanisms to build the unity of popular forces around Lula’s campaign has been the creation of the Popular Committees (comités populares), which have been working to both unify the left and create an agenda for the Lula government (which will include agrarian reform and a more robust policy for the Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian communities).

The international conditions for a third Lula presidency are fortuitous, Rousseff told me. A wide range of center-left governments have come to power in Latin America (including in Chile and Colombia). While these are not socialist governments, they are nonetheless committed to building the sovereignty of their countries and to creating a dignified life for their citizens. Brazil, the third-largest country in the Americas (after Canada and the United States of America), can play a leadership role in guiding this new wave of left governments in the hemisphere, Rousseff said. Haddad told me that Brazil should lead a new regional project, which will include the creation of a regional currency (sur) that can not only be used for cross-border trade but also for holding reserves. Haddad is currently running to be the governor of São Paulo, whose main city is the financial capital of the country. Such a regional currency, Haddad believed, will settle conflicts in the hemisphere and build new trade linkages that need not rely on long supply chains that have been destabilized by the pandemic. “God willing, we will create a common currency in Latin America because we do not have to depend on the dollar,” said Lula in May 2022.

Rousseff is eager for Brazil to return to the world stage through the BRICS bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), and offer the kind of left leadership that Lula and she had given that platform a decade ago. The world, Rousseff said, needs such a platform to offer leadership that does not rely on threats, sanctions and war. Lula’s anecdote about the Iran deal is a telling one since it shows that a country like Brazil under the leadership of the left is more willing to settle conflicts rather than to exacerbate them, as the United States did. There is hope, Rousseff noted, for a Lula presidency to offer robust leadership for a world that seems to be crumbling due to the myriad challenges such as climate catastrophe, warfare and social toxicity.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Why Lithium Power Politics Are Playing Out Very Differently in Chile and Bolivia

//
596 views
5 mins read

In late July, a large sinkhole appeared near the town of Tierra Amarilla in Chile’s Copiapó province in the Atacama salt flat. The crater, which has a diameter of more than 100 feet, emerged in one of Chile’s most lucrative regions for copper and lithium extraction. The nearby Candelaria mining complex—80 percent of the property is owned by Canada’s Lundin Mining Corporation and 20 percent is owned by Japan’s Sumitomo Metal Mining Co Ltd. and Sumitomo Corporation—had to halt its operations in the area. On August 1, Chile’s National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) tweeted that it had assembled a team to investigate the sinkhole that appeared less than 2,000 feet away from human habitation. The mayor of Tierra Amarilla, Cristóbal Zúñiga, questioned why the earth had given way near the Alcaparrosa mine, and whether the appearance of the hole had something to do with the mining operations. “Today it happened on an agricultural property,” the mayor told Ciudadano ADN radio, “but our greatest fear is that this could happen in a populated place on a street, in a school, and protecting the integrity of our inhabitants is our greatest concern at the moment.”

Government officials traveled to Tierra Amarilla to investigate the sinkhole. On August 12, Marcela Hernando, the minister of mining, joined Cristóbal Zúñiga and others to tour the Alcaparrosa mine. Before the visit, Zúñiga called for the authorities to apply “maximum sanctions” to punish those responsible for the sinkhole, which seems to have been caused by underground mining activities carried out by the Candelaria mining complex. The government agency responsible for the investigation—Sernageomin—has suspended all mining activity in the area and is continuing with its forensic assessment to ascertain the reasons behind the earth collapsing near the mining complex.

Moratorium on Mining

“We should not be speaking of any kind of extraction in the Atacama salt flat,” Ramón Morales Balcázar told us a few days after the sinkhole was discovered. Morales Balcázar is the founder of Fundación Tantí, a nongovernmental organization in San Pedro de Atacama that is dedicated to the promotion of agroecology and socio-environmental sustainability. “The Atacama salt flat is exhausted, [and has been] deeply impacted by copper and lithium mining and tourism. We should be working to restore the ecosystem there,” said Morales Balcázar. The word “exhausted” is also the title of a new report coauthored by Morales Balcázar that offers a chilling portrait of the depletion of groundwater as a result of global lithium extractors. “Lithium extraction, the newest industry to the region [of the Atacama salt flat], is now yet another way the scarce water resources are being depleted,” stated the report.

Morales Balcázar is part of a team of researchers known as the Plurinational Observatory of Andean Salt Flats (OPSAL). These scholars are engaged in fine-grained research about what they see as the ecocide of the salt flat, which stretches across Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. A book written by these scholars in 2021—Andean Salt Flats: An Ecology of Knowledge for the Protection of Our Salt Flats and Wetlands—offers a detailed assessment of what they call “green extractivism” and “green growth.” Extractivism refers to the extraction of natural resources from the earth to make profits without any consideration for the earth being mined or for the people who live in the areas being mined. “Extraction and extractivism are not the same,” said Morales Balcázar. The former is the mere removal of natural resources, which can be done sustainably without harming the earth, and is carried out for the social well-being of the people who live near the mines.

“We have been holding conversations with Indigenous institutions and trade unions to imagine different regimes of extraction,” Morales Balcázar told us. When the workers at Albemarle—a U.S. mining company—went on strike in 2021, Morales Balcázar and other colleagues spoke with them about the possibility of thinking about new kinds of extraction techniques, although “it is really not something we can see in the near future,” said Morales Balcázar. One reason why miners at Albemarle and the Indigenous institutions (such as the Consejo de Pueblos Atacameños) cannot conceive of any alternative is that even if they get trinkets from the mining wealth, that is still seen as a better option than facing unemployment.

Bolivia’s Alternative

North of Chile, in Bolivia, the concept of “resource nationalism” has framed the debate around lithium extraction in the country. In 1992, the government of then-Bolivian President Jaime Paz Zamora signed an agreement with the U.S.-based company Lithium Corporation of America, now known as FMC Corporation, which “allowed the company to take all the lithium it could, giving Bolivia only eight percent of the profits. Many Bolivians were outraged over the deal,” according to a 2010 article in the New Yorker. This led to protests by the Potosí Civic Committee, which eventually ended the contract.

When Evo Morales took over as president of Bolivia in 2006, the residue of this battle shaped his “resource nationalism” approach to lithium and other minerals. “He vowed to ‘industrialize with dignity and sovereignty,’ promising that raw lithium would not be exploited by foreign corporations but instead processed by state-controlled entities in Bolivia and transformed into batteries,” noted a 2018 article in Bloomberg. In 2007, Bolivia developed a lithium industrialization policy. The Mining Corporation of Bolivia (Comibol), we learned from officials there at the time, encouraged Bolivian scientists to develop and patent traditional methods of extraction through evaporation (although this method has struggled due to the high levels of magnesium found in the Bolivian lithium). Morales’ government invested heavily in the lithium industrialization scheme, which led to Bolivia being able to develop its own batteries (including cathode production) and develop its own electric car through the state-owned Quantum Motors. To control and manage lithium production, a company called Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos (YLB) was created in 2017 by the government.

“We were making great progress,” Evo Morales told us, “until the coup of 2019 and then the pandemic.” The coup eventually led to his ouster. “We will coup whoever we want,” wrote Elon Musk, whose company Tesla relies on lithium for its batteries and electric cars. Such is the anger against the possibilities of “resource nationalism.”

Developments in Bolivia show that new ways of extraction are being explored, even if these are not perfect. Environmental challenges in the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, and grumbles by people who live there continue to define lithium extraction. However, the lithium industrialization policy and the great care taken by the country for what the Bolivians callPachamama—the earth—during the extraction process offer some differences from the extraction work done by the large Canadian and U.S. mining companies. In Chile, Lester Calderón, a union leader in the city of Antofagasta, who ran for governor in 2021, wrote an article in January 2022 in which he argued that the Indigenous communities must decide about the way lithium is used and that the resources (including water) of Chile must be nationalized. These elements are in place in Bolivia, and yet there are challenges ahead for the people there.

Bolivia’s current President Luis Alberto Arce Catacora hopes to renew the state-led lithium industrialization policy but cannot find the resources domestically to do so. That is the reason why his government has embarked on a process of drawing in investment from outside (currently, six firms from China, Russia and the United States are still competing to secure the bid).

The center of the struggle in Bolivia is Potosí, where the Spaniards, who ruled the region, had for centuries hollowed out the earth to draw silver to export to Europe. “We were the center of [silver] exploitation but remained at the fringes of the country’s decision-making,” Potosí government official Juan Tellez told Reuters. “That is what we are trying to avoid now with lithium.” The people of Potosí, like the people of Tierra Amarilla in Chile, want to imagine a different kind of extraction: one that is controlled by those who live by the sources of the metal and one that does not destroy the earth, creating sinkholes everywhere.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Sanctions Fuel the Fire at Cuba’s Matanzas Oil Storage

/
422 views
4 mins read

On August 5, a major oil storage facility in Matanzas, Cuba, 65 miles east of Havana, was hit by lightning. A tank that contained 25,000 cubic meters of crude oil caught fire after being struck. Since then, an enormous fire has been raging in Matanzas. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Ávalos Jorge, deputy head of Cuba’s fire department, said that it was impossible to estimate when the fire would be completely extinguished. This tremendous explosion and hard-to-control fire has led to several people being reported missing (including firefighters), many others injured with severe burns, and hundreds more evacuated from their homes. Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, rushed to Matanzas on August 6, interacted with the local officials who were trying to get the fire under control, met residents of the town, and the next day, interacted with the press and spoke about the heroic work done by the firefighters and the solidarity of the Cuban people. “We are going to overcome this adversity,” he said.

Four of the eight tanks at the storage facility have been impacted by these fires. By August 8, Matanzas Governor Mario Sabines Lorenzo also confirmed that three tanks had been compromised. Clouds of dust now hover over the island. Elba Rosa Pérez Montoya, Cuba’s minister of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA), said that scientists from various backgrounds were monitoring the situation to see if the smoke resulting from the fire will lead to any negative health effects for the residents of the surrounding areas. As of that point, she said, “We have no evidence that there are effects on human health.” Nonetheless, strange substances have been detected in the water supplies in Yumurí Valley, Matanzas. Diosdado Vera, an 89-year-old farmer, showed journalist Arnaldo Mirabal Hernández the unusual color and odor of the water in an old bathtub that serves as the water source for her cows. “There are approximately 3,200 particles in the air right now,” said CITMA Minister Pérez Montoya. “The clouds have sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, among other substances that are falling on Matanzas, Mayabeque, and Havana.” Meanwhile, Pérez Montoya said that a team of scientists is investigating the strange substances found in the Yumurí Valley.

This tragedy has also had immediate repercussions for the entire population in the province of Matanzas and the whole island of Cuba since it affects their electricity supply and access to health care, which already are strained under the weight of the U.S. blockade, due to lack of availability of spare parts and scarcity of medicines in Cuba, respectively.

The fire has already led to the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant in Matanzas being out of service due to a shortage of water and the contamination of the water cycle. This will likely lead to severe electricity outages amid record heat waves this summer. Ricardo Ronquillo Bello, president of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC), tweeted that this tragedy will be “another test for Cuban journalism that will know how to honor with its humanism and social responsibility.” Ronquillo was referring to the onslaught of fake news that swept through social media, leading to a sense of alarm during an already difficult period.

In this dire crisis, the people of Cuba and their government have responded immediately, and this has resulted in on-site efforts to contain the fire, prevent a major environmental disaster, and keep the population safe. It has also led to a call for international aid and solidarity. The governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina, Chile and several others have promptly offered material aid, and some countries like Mexico and Venezuela have also sent experts and firefighters to confront this complex situation. Cuba’s Credit and Commerce Bank (Bandec) has set up an account so that people in the country can donate money to the people of Matanzas.

“Cuba is Matanzas,” said President Díaz-Canel, in the context of both the impact of the fire on the entire island and the solidarity that is visible across Cuba.

Sanctions

The U.S. blockade of Cuba fuels the fire that rages on in the country, despite denials by authorities in the United States. The U.S. government has both been stiffening up the blockade of Cuba and denying that sanctions have any impact on the functioning of the country (in fact, in 2021, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki had said that the problems in Cuba are not due to the U.S. sanctions but rather are due to “the Cuban government’s economic mismanagement”). The U.S. Embassy in Havana has made assurances that the blockade authorizes U.S. entities and organizations to provide disaster relief and response. But organizations tell us that this is not the case, with the 243 sanctions imposed on Cuba working as a stranglehold against pursuing any activity in the country. Many of these organizations say that the process to send aid to Cuba is lengthy, with a licensing regime in place that requires expensive lawyers. Cuba’s inclusion in the state sponsors of terrorism list means that banks in both the United States and abroad are reluctant to process humanitarian donations.

While Washington says one thing and does another, the firefighters in Matanzas—aided by the reinforcements from Mexico and Venezuela—have been spraying foam on the fire to prevent it from spreading further, and helicopters have been pouring water on the other oil tanks to stop them from combusting. Even after the fire settles and the ashes remain, Cuba will struggle to rebuild these tanks and to solve its energy crisis. These are not merely domestic problems but rather are problems created and exaggerated by the harmful U.S.-imposed blockade that has been in existence for the past six decades.

Not long after the lightning strike, users on social media shared the hashtag #FuerzaMatanzas (be strong, Matanzas) on various platforms. Within 24 hours, the hashtag was shared by nearly a billion users, according to Dayron Avello, social media manager at Clínica Internacional Camilo Cienfuegos. A billion people have signaled their support for Cuba, a solidarity the U.S. blockade is unable to prevent.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.