Opinion - Page 9

Sri Lanka: Wickremesinghe – a feeble ‘strongman’

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Ranil Wickremesinghe has to tread carefully. The victory of reaction is far from stable and the Sri Lankan revolution is not over. What is over is merely its first, most innocent chapter. Ranil’s regime exists because of a temporary retreat of the movement, and it rests upon illusions built up in him by the liberals. This has affected a thin, well-off layer of the middle class, who now yearn for some return to ‘order’, and hope that a stable government will unlock an IMF bailout and will lead to a kind of normalcy. This is a weak basis indeed. The imperialists certainly are not fooled by the outward strength of the new regime. As the international credit ratings agency, Fitch Ratings, explains:

“The new president was confirmed by a large majority in parliament, and his government has drawn in some opposition members. This gives some hope that it will have sufficient support to negotiate and carry out difficult reforms as part of efforts to restore macroeconomic stability and debt sustainability. Such reforms could unlock funding support from the IMF, which we view as important for Sri Lanka’s emergence from default.

“The government’s parliamentary position appears strong, but public support for the government is weaker. President Wickremesinghe was prime minister in the previous administration under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was brought down by protests. Parliament and the government also remain dominated by politicians from the Sri Lanka People’s Freedom Alliance, which is closely affiliated with the Rajapaksa family. This may increase the risk of further destabilising protests if economic conditions do not improve and/or reforms generate public opposition.”

It’s only a matter of time before the movement erupts once more. In just the past 24 hours, new protests of fishermen have erupted in Chilaw on the west coast, demanding kerosene oil. The conditions in Sri Lanka are such that the masses have no choice but to enter the struggle time and again.

This government, like the last, is neither capable of nor interested in solving the problems that the masses face. One class or the other in society must pay for this crisis. And this government, a servant of capital, will strive to restore the economic stability and ‘credit-worthiness’ of the country at the expense of the workers and the poor: through currency devaluation, austerity, scrapping of workers’ rights, etc. Only on this basis will the imperialist creditors like the IMF step in with a bailout.

With each passing day, it will become clearer to the advanced workers and youth that the victory of the Sri Lankan revolution means the overthrow of capitalism on the island, as part of the socialist revolution across South Asia and the world.

The temporary setback that the aragalaya has suffered will have proven to be a valuable experience. Right now, Ranil himself is giving the Sri Lankan masses a lesson in the ruthlessness of class war. If the urge for unity masked the real class content of movement in its advance, the selective repressive violence of the counter-revolution has exposed its true content in retreat.

As Marx explained in The Class Struggles in France, in reference to the setbacks suffered by the French revolution of 1848:

“With the exception of only a few chapters, every important part of the revolutionary annals from 1848 to 1849 bear the heading: Defeat of the revolution!

“What succumbed in these defeats was not the revolution. It was the pre-revolutionary traditional appendages, results of social relationships which had not yet come to the point of sharp class antagonisms — persons, illusions, conceptions, projects from which the revolutionary party before the February Revolution was not free, from which it could be freed not by the victory of February, but only by a series of defeats.

“In a word: The revolution made progress, forged ahead, not by its immediate tragicomic achievements but, on the contrary, by the creation of a powerful, united counterrevolution, by the creation of an opponent in combat with whom the party of overthrow ripened into a really revolutionary party.”

[ Excerpts from the article entitled, Sri Lanka: lessons from the struggle, published in www.marxist.com. Click here to read the original. Views are personal]

How India and Pakistan Lost True Freedom

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Europeans went to West Asia pretending to be businessmen and fostered political intrigues and treachery to become the ruler of the Sub-Continent. The conquest and looting of Moghul India in 1857 transformed Britain into “Great Britain.” British and French for a while competed for military and political influence to pave the way for ultimate hegemonic control. Portuguese and Dutch also engaged in trade and a wider scheme of colonization.

The European colonization schemes originated from its socio-economic-political and ethnic supremacy over all other things. They shared a common military strategy to subdue most of the Islamic people from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa to North Africa to erect new empires. They subjugated masses to “divide and rule” policies and practices of the European mental microscope which never viewed the besieged subjects as equal human beings to stand beside the colonial Masters. The masses across these continents were not conquered at the doors but first betrayed and then systematically divided and degenerated by the Master European race. They institutionalized the colonization scheme by establishing institutions of armed forces, police and civil service to govern the nations of Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-dominated India for a long time to come. Consequently, freedom gained by political movements was lost by the institutionalized scheme of imperialism. Any prospects for change and new beginning were opposed by the institutionalized colonization. H.G. Wells (Outline of History, Book 5) said it right: “So began the first of the most wasteful and disastrous series of wars that has ever darkened the history of mankind.”

Terrorism originates from the Western colonial powers but none would dare to concede it for the FEAR of unknown intellectual, moral and political consequences in contemporary history – this author elaborated the dictum of imperialism (“Western Imperialism and the Unspoken Tyranny of Colonization.”

When the European businessmen explored new world markets for diminishing resources and their armed forces invaded and occupied the vast Islamic world, there were no television, internet, video cameras and stone-throwing public and voices of reason to call them foreign mercenaries, aggressors and terrorists. The colonization scheme of things was not outcome of the Western democratic values to spread freedom, liberty and justice but ferocity of violence and killings of millions and millions of human lives for the Empires to be built on coloured bloodbaths. The European crusaders crossed the channels and unknown time zones to subjugate the much-divided Muslim people as part of their superior nationalism perception and values that Muslims were inferior to the European race and could be used as subjects without human identity and as raw material to build the new Empires.

National freedom looks more like a hypothetical phenomenon rather than a political reality. India and Pakistan continued to be at war and political enemies as if national freedom had no practical meaning. The engagement with dubious past remained active and alive in politics. British colonialists had historic animosity towards Muslims as they occupied Moghul India in 1857 by forcibly removing its last Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and imprisoned him and his family in a garage in Rangoon, Burma where he died. British had small wisdom of seeing beyond the obvious but to Muslims, the loss of the Moghul Empire was the loss of an enriched progressive civilization.

British Educated Political Leaders Sought Freedom from the British Empire

Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Khan though educated in British intellectual traditions but articulated new mission and visions for national freedom as a revulsion against the British colonial political traditions and continuity of British Raj in India. Was this violent and ruthless indoctrination part of the British heritage or history-making efforts to besiege India forever? Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy made sure that Indians will remain loyal and committed subservient to the futuristic blending of so-called celebrated national freedom after the 1947 partition into India and Pakistan. British by design failed to deliver the truth of national freedom to both nations in a universal spirit of political responsibility and political accountability. Hindu mythology believes in “Mahabharata” (Greater India) and teaches school children that ‘Pakistan and Afghanistan’ are part of the “Mahabharata” plan. Abu Rihan al-Biruni, a 10th-century Muslim scholar wrote the first ever book: “Kitab ul-Hind” (Book on India), after living a decade with Hindu priests at various temples; he describes Hindus being extreme nationalists believing to be superior to other human races (caste system) and highly proud and prejudice to other people.

History could not have confined the tyranny and oppression of British imperialism policies and practices – “divide and rule” against the will of the Indian masses. Was it a disguised democracy inflicted on the Indian subjects? Canons of rationality clarify that national freedom granted to both new nations on August 14-15, 1947, was a fake chronology of time and history. Does it not signal a naïve and void imagination of national freedom professed by both nations since 1947? They continue to interact with one another as the most hated enemy of time and history, wars, the threat of nuclear arsenals, Kashmir dispute and worst of all lacking direct people to people contacts or business relationships – all seem to be part of a highly ruptured and purging pursuit of national freedom.

Entrapped Political Freedom and Colonized Elite doing the Wrong Things

Since the partition of 1947, India was overwhelmingly led by religious phenomenon of Hinduism under the pretext of secularism. Pakistan fell victim to military coups indoctrinated by British-trained military Generals making Islamic ideology fake imagery of the nation-state. Under PM Modi, Hinduism is the top priority to divide and rule India by social and political discards and infested hatred against the minority communities of Muslim, Sikh, Christian and so many others. India’s geography is enlarged every day by such religious-political conflicts. Gandhi was assassinated by Hindu extremism, Nehru died a natural death. Mohammad Ali Jinnah died on a Karachi roadside in a broken ambulance and Liaquat Ali Khan, the first highly acclaimed PM was murdered by Punjabi political enemies. After 75 years of lost time and opportunities, Pakistan under the dictatorship of various army Generals dismantled public institutions, devastated social and economic affairs, corrupt and indicted criminals turned politicians; most recently, Imran Khan – a new age visionary elected leader was abruptly dismissed by military intervention to drag the nation into havoc socio-political chaos and degenerating future.

British changed the sub-continent in 90 years, but Pakistan after 75 years has no viable system of political governance. Its home-grown enemies and traitors like ZA Bhutto, General Yahya Khan, Zardari, Sharifs and General Musharraf were more harmful than foreign enemies. The Five individualistic military coups and its by-product leaders flunked the originality of ideological Pakistan. They all escaped legal accountability for stolen wealth and heinous crimes against the people. Along with few military Generals, they were complacent in robbing the nation of its freedom, integrity, security and sustainable future. Pakistan lives in limbo with missing a legitimate system of political governance, public institutions and legal system of justice.

History will see the Leaders by their Actions, Not by their Claims

Contrary to Gandhi’s peace and non-violent political movement, shortly after the 1947 freedom, India invaded militarily and occupied some of the regional states wanting to join Pakistan as was Jammu and Kashmir, Hyderabad and Juna Gahar. Despite the UNO assurances of a democratic plebiscite in Kashmir, none of these issues were resolved to this day. A panoramic view of New Delhi’s Grand Mosque and famous Taj Mahal at Agra enlightens the foreign visitors with everlasting image of Islamic culture and civilization, not of obsessed Hindu mythology of political domination under PM Modi.

India under the Congress Party of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru evolved some of its political institutions and systems of people-oriented governance. They shared a vision for political change and secularism. At times, power was transferred peacefully to opposition groups. It did not happen in Pakistan as it fell victim to political conspiracies and military interventions losing its ideological originality and intellectual capacity for planned thinking, a system of governance and nation-building. In 1971, with the help of then Indian PM Indira Gandhi, ZA Bhutto and Sheikh Mujib Ur Rehman were installed as the new rulers of defeated Pakistan. Please see: “British Colonialism and How India and Pakistan Lost Freedom” .

How to imagine a New Future and Peaceful Co-existence?

Unless concerned intellectuals and politicians RETHINK for a Navigational Change, the Indian and Pakistani political horizon overshadows dark imagery of catastrophic nuclear and conventional conflicts. They desperately NEED new generation of educated, proactive and honest leaders to make a different future to happen. PM Modi is committed to Hindu extremism; he could be replaced in the next election as more Indian intellectuals are getting worried about national politics, human equality and future-making. If Imran Khan returns to power during the next election, it could be seen as a positive move for peaceful political change and stability away from the corrupt governance by military dictators. But the current chaotic political culture carries a lingering suspicion of naïve and egoistic Generals involvement in political configuration process. The evidence supports the alliance of indicted Bhuttos, Sharif’s, and some military Generals to remove Khan in a defunct National Assembly. If there is a fair system of justice, the current Chief of Staff General should be held accountable for his alleged intervention to oust Khan.

Likewise, Sharif brothers should face accountability for money laundering, stolen wealth and political mismanagement. Imran Khan needs intelligent advisors to plan political change with concerted actions. He lost four years of precious time but he was not corrupt and he did not kill or robbed any national treasury.

At the edge of REASON, a rational thinker and peacemaker would view extremism and violent assumptions of racial superiority as inhuman and immoral, be it Hinduism, Muslims or Europeanism could plague the sense of mystery and endanger the futuristic movement for change, security and normalization of human relationships. Progressive nations produce the best, most educated and intelligent people to assume leadership roles. Both Indian and Pakistani failed the demands of masses and of formative history for a change. PM Modi‘s Hindu nationalism will not move India to nation-building and peaceful future-making, and military Generals and affiliated corrupt and indicted criminals in Pakistan will be of no use to the security and future of Pakistan. The unchallengeable truth arising from the facts of history states that leaders either lead or they are imposters and stage puppets. Proactive vision and truth live in a spatial, pure and simple narrative. Pakistan and India need desperately new, educated and intelligent proactive leadership to facilitate friendship, resolution of major political problems and a sustainable future to exist in peace.

West’s Bigotry and “Let Them Eat Tweets” style of Governance

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For centuries, the self-righteous West has been obsessed with transplanting its own culture and systems into other countries, inflicting countless deaths and suffering in the lands it deemed as “uncivilized” or “underdeveloped.”

Colonialism is a case in point. According to incomplete statistics, during the colonial period, the West took the lives of tens of millions of indigenous people in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and enslaved 12 million Africans.

Today, the West is exporting its system in the same logic: some still believe they know the best about the interest of the lands and peoples they once exploited, despite the fact that such kind of forced system transplanting has typically resulted in nothing but a continuity of tragedy.

THE POISONED APPLE

One of the most notable failures is the transplantation of the Western democratic system.

Neither competitive elections nor multi-party systems have led to fair and efficient governance in developing countries. On the one hand, frequent election campaigns make politicians cater to their voters with unreasonable campaign promises, especially in countries with high poverty rates.

On the other, inconsistent policies for short-term gains, the inevitable byproducts of frequent changes of government, prove fatal in nations in dire need of long-term developmental projects to achieve growth and modernization.

Another fatal danger is that Western system is more prone to party rivalry than consensus. When competing political parties have to swallow the win of their rivals in the election, they tend to work against rather than with the government, if not attempting a coup d’etat.

In fact, coups d’etat have happened more than 200 times on the African continent between 1950 and 2021, making disorder a norm. Extensive civil and religious wars, regional conflicts, economic and demographic declines, and the rise of terrorism have turned the so-called “Arab Spring” into the “Arab Winter.”

Some countries in Latin America continue to experience violent protests and political crises under so-called Western democracy.

THE TROJAN HORSE

Apart from Western-style democracy, financial support is often used as key venue for exporting Western values and systems.

Western-dominated multilateral financial organizations have offered loans on the strict condition of introducing radical neoliberal economic reforms based on the Washington Consensus, a drastic economic strategy described by some economists as shock therapy.

For developing countries, without robust, competitive domestic industries, the so-called free market is only a one-way street: products from the West quickly flood in to further weaken the local businesses.

As a consequence, Western countries deprive low-income countries of the chance to boost growth, create jobs, or generate tax revenues, making debt repayments based on sustainable development a goal beyond their reach. Look no further than some Latin American countries. Economic growth halved in the 1990s after launching reforms based on the Washington Consensus.

Economic failure enables the West to tighten its control of developing countries. In Eastern Europe, state-owned giants with no access to Western markets quickly went bankrupt after privatization, most of which were later acquired by Western multinationals.

THE DISCOURSE TRAP

In many cases, Western models of social governance are depicted by Western elites and media as the last straw for crisis-ridden developing countries.

The “Let Them Eat Tweets” style of governance and ill-regulated social media have paved the way for the prevalence of populism where emotion could triumph over reason. Political participation is plagued with disinformation, rage and a meaningless war of words. Street demonstrations, far from being a symbol of freedom, have been exploited by political parties to take down their opponents. The angry voters, having voted out the incumbent government, only find their appeals ignored by the next.

In Arab countries where the West successfully instigated anti-government protests and violence through Western-dominated NGOs (non-governmental organizations), media and the Internet, people live either in economic stagnation or constant chaos.

If an emerging economy has been lucky enough to hop over the above traps, there is still one more challenge that may potentially ruin all their efforts: the Discourse Trap.

With its agenda-setting and discourse dominance, the West peddles concepts that are detrimental to developing countries at their level of development. The discourse dominance is also exploited to stigmatize countries the West deems as potential adversaries. Labels such as “Tacitus trap,” “failed state” and “pariah state” could bring misery to a developing country for decades.

The West’s bigotry to force system transplantation upon developing countries is attributable to its outdated thinking. It cares about not the well-being of the developing world but maintaining its globally dominant position. While for developing countries, transplanting Western system has proven only a recipe for disaster, and a scourge of misery.

Sri Lanka: Our Meeting with President and His Promises

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At the invitation of the President, I met his Excellency along with our Party senior member Mr. S. Selvendra at 4.30 PM on 10th August 2022 at the Presidential Secretariat. The Prime Minister was also present. The President explained to us at length his plan of governance which included a Parliamentary governance committee giving a greater role for the Provincial Governors. His idea was that all MPs from Provinces must govern the respective Provinces under the Chairmanship of the Governors in terms of a National Agenda. He referred to Austria as an example. (His example was inappropriate. Austria is a Federal Country).

Further discussing regarding grabbing of lands in Provinces by Central Government Ministries he agreed that there should be no forestry land that should be grabbed by Ministries and that we should focus on preserving the environment in each Province. He said, if need be a maximum of 2 acres could be taken over by the Government. I said no land should be appropriated by the Central Government in the Provinces except with the consent and concurrence of the respective Provincial Government. There was no response from His Excellency.

Regarding National Schools he said 50 National Schools were enough for the Country not 1000 National Schools. I pointed out that no Provincial Schools could be taken over by the State and that our Alliance has already filed action in this regard.

He appeared to be in a hurry to rope in Jaffna MPs to be part of the Government, I suppose to showcase to Geneva! I don’t blame him. The Government has so far ignored its obligations to the UN as per Resolution 46/1.

He wanted me to share a document which outlines the proposal on how money could be channeled into the Country from the Diaspora.

It became apparent to us while discussing with him that his plan was to strengthen the central administrative control of the entire Country totally ignoring the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

I pointed out to the President that the Tamil people in this country expect the government to take speedy action to attend to their requests submitted by all Tamil National party leaders which included the release of political prisoners; action to trace the missing persons; stop the activities of various government departments to grab Tamil lands and stop persons trying to build Buddhist temples in Tamil homeland with the help of the Military and so on.

It was also pointed out that in order to enable the Tamils to give political leadership and governance over their Provinces, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution should be implemented in full as a temporary measure until satisfactory constitutional reforms are made. We told the President that until this process is started in earnest satisfying the Tamil people, we will support the Government from the Opposition. There was no question of our becoming a part of the Government.

Although the President assured us that he will take action to implement our requests and invited us to join the Government, we felt the impending Geneva meeting was more important to him than solving the Tamils’ Problems. Nevertheless, we promised to forward the document he called for and took our leave to depart.

What is expected and available on the NHS in UK?

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With 8 to 10 hours of intermittent sunshine and weather as warm as Sri Lanka, over the past ten days, nobody in their right senses is wanting to visit A&E (Accident & Emergency Dept.) of any hospital, for even urgent healthcare or for emergency treatment, due to weather weariness and the prevailing excessive waiting time for treatment. They rather be on the beach instead?

What is available on the NHS? 

As we reflect after nearly two years of the pandemic, with Doctor’s surgeries and family practices restricted, patients however, have become more and more reliant on the Accident & Emergency (A&E) service centres at local hospitals. Health Care professionals never contemplated the A&E, as an alternative health service to GP Surgeries. But, it seems to have become the preferred option. A&E’s in their turn are seeking unscrupulous coping practices? 

Although the Government has pumped in money to A&E’s, with recent dramatic increases in resources available to NHS A&E departments in local hospitals, due to demand, management is lacking. Whilst this has involved reorganisation of hospital facilities, a noticeable redeployment of A&E existing staff, to bring in recently retired and newly graduated medics, meeting demand and noticeable security personnel to calm unruly behaviour, not much is on show.

Sadly, this increase in demand and change to supply of General Practice (GP) Surgeries has had a knock-on effect on care provided for patients visiting A&E in local hospitals, for not only urgent health care delivery, practices seem outdated. 

Coronavirus created a sign of patients wanting to postpone or decide against seeking treatment with GP Surgeries, potentially storing up health problems for A&E attendance. 

Older people were seen to be the keen users of A&E than younger people. Put another way, according to statistics there were 117 and 114 elective admissions per 1000 for those in their 70’s and 80’s respectively, but just 25 for every 1000 people in their 30’s. Taking this into account, it suggests that potential disruptions to emergency care will disproportionately impact older people and those who are the least affluent. 

Source of problem

Staff shortages, both doctors, nurses and medical test care professionals in the A&E, is largely seen as the main cause, in fact leading to a minimum of 6 to as much as  10 hours of tiresome waiting time to obtain most treatment. 

A case in point is noted in one A& E Department at a hospital at Whitechapel, East London. It serves the densest populated Bangladeshi community in London. The current practice is for a Triad Nurse to first screen a patient after arrival/registration; to be seen by a young doctor within 5 hours waiting time, and for tests such as ECG and Blood tests which supposedly takes a further two hours for results to be obtained. At this stage it is for a Consultant doctor to make a decision whether to order a second or duplicate test, on each patient.

Additional waiting time at A&E is agonising?

On the pretext that the ECG and Blood tests are imperative, as standard procedure for assessment of every A&E patient in attendance at this East London Hospital, irrespective of their medical condition and/or complaint and in the event the tests are found to be in-conclusive, it has become mandatory to keep all patients waiting for duplicate Blood tests and for their results, however long it takes? 

A questionable practice at this A&E hospital, is that every patient is inserted with a spatula into their elbow vein to test blood samples and this procedure is not removed but remains attached in their arm, until they are discharged from the hospital.

Patients are to fend for themselves to keep the inserted “spatula” intact, as a means of enabling further Blood tests to be taken, if necessary, keeping all patients obligated, with or without consent, to remain in the A&E department. It seems a fool proof, time reduced system for the hospital, but the opposite for a tired patient? 

The observation during a visit to this hospital was that it was a compulsory procedural wait in the hospital of at least 10 hours, without patient consent or reasonable explanation? It was further observed, that every patient was given the same reason that their Blood test was not conclusive and were coerced to give a second Blood sample for no explained reason?  This was a standard medical practice at this hospital? But, the patient, had to accept it, as the “spatula” remained implanted in their elbow vein. 

On further investigation, it was ascertained that the first blood test sample from each of the waiting patients was lost, in the laboratory, requiring a second sample of blood?

Complaints of unscrupulous practice of keeping patients inside Hospital A&E departments awaiting prolonged results, by extending waiting times in A&E, has been raised by patients, with Hospital Management Authorities, 

The twin issues for early resolution is alleviation of staff shortage, both doctors and for adequate and qualified staff in Medical Test Centres, able to cope with the demand and not come out with frivolous excuses, to forcibly keep patients in A&E departments, over unduly long waiting times when tiredness can cause more misery? 

Sanctions Fuel the Fire at Cuba’s Matanzas Oil Storage

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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.

Sri Lanka: Lest we forget, not Gota, but the political system failed the country

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Gotabaya Rajapaksa made mistakes as the President of the country, and grave ones at that too. Some of his decisions were ill timed and ill informed. Some decisions he should have taken, were not taken. The country is witnessing the aftermath of these decisions and non-decisions.

However, he cannot be held solely responsible for the disastrous economic situation in the country. He did inherit a nation in debt and low GDP growth. His predecessors too are at fault for the economic policies they followed. One of them has now become a pontificator of good governance although he did not even offer an apology to the country and to the families of hundreds who died a preventable death, let alone taking responsibility for a major security lapse that he, as President and Defense minister, should have taken responsibility for. That President, along with the current President who was then the Prime Minister, presided over a decline in economic growth from around 7% to 2.7% during their tenure, and a rise in foreign debt from 70% of GDP, which itself was a very high figure, to 96% of GDP at the end of their tenure.

Many in Sri Lanka have now become experts in politics, economics, budget management, and you name it, virtually everything and anything. Mostly with the benefit of hindsight. Some of these expert voices were not heard when the country progressively hurtled down the path of unsustainable debt. There was no sign of an Aragalaya then, although the issues that were brought to the forefront by the various shades of Aragalaya, were there then, as they are there now.

Not many questioned the unaffordable availability of luxury consumables, all imported with borrowed money. Not many complained about the avalanche of vehicles imports. Not many seemed to mind the loss-making State enterprises like Sri Lankan Airlines and the Petroleum Corporation, as long as the planes flew, and subsidized fuel was provided in abundance. There weren’t many who voiced concern about the huge amounts spent to provide subsidized inorganic fertilizer. All these were funded with debt, foreign and local.

It is not one leader, whether in politics or business or academia, or in civic society, who failed the country. It was a collective failing on the part of many. It is the political system, the governance system, and the leaders it produced that failed the country.

In this context, it is unworthy of Sri Lanka to label Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the sole villain who allowed the country to fall into the abyss it has fallen. While other contributors roam free, some, somewhat disgraced, others have risen as saviors.

In this context, it is a sad reflection on the part of Sri Lankans in particular the media, to provide headline grabbing news items portraying the former President as having nowhere to go. Gotabaya Rajapaksa must come back to Sri Lanka and be afforded the security and facilities that an ex-President of the country is entitled to. If as alleged, he has committed other misdemeanors, whoever who is accusing him of such misdemeanors should take legal action and Gotabaya Rajapaksa should face the court decisions. However, he is innocent until he is proven guilty, and it is an insult to Sri Lanka and all Sri Lankans if he cannot return to the country and be protected as a former President.

He should be afforded the opportunity to provide his own defense against accusations of misuse of power, mismanagement, and any other misdemeanors.

Many seem to have short memories. They have forgotten that the country is free of terrorism and a separatist war thanks to the contribution made by Gotabaya Rajapaksa to end terrorism and war. His task was a Military one, which he achieved. Others had the task of introducing peace and reconciliation, and they were not able to achieve that lasting peace amongst the communities.

There is no question that family politics and all the negatives that come with power drunkenness reached its zenith with the Rajapaksa political family. The people and the system allowed this to happen. It is time that all Sri Lankans questioned the political system that has prevailed since independence, and perhaps find answers to some questions and find the way forward.

  1. Have the constitutions that the country has had so far, including the current one with its amendments, been beneficial to the country and its progress, economically and socially.
  2. Economically, the country is nearly bankrupt with debt levels suffocating it, with income streams severely impacted due to COVID. Do the readers think this situation is only account of COVID? If not what else?
  3. Socially, minority issues, especially aspirational issues, equality and equity, women’s rights, language issues, accountability issues, corruption, unethical conduct, etc., etc., still beset the country. Is it the constitution that is at fault or the politicians which the constitution produces?
  4. In reality, while one can boast that people, through their representatives, decide on policies that successive governments have introduced, is this so or is it a fallacy? Except at the time of casting their votes, at what point till the next election do people participate in policy determination? Even during elections, do people really discuss, debate, and decide on policies contained in manifesto’s or are they purely looking for some immediate benefit from one side or another?
  5. Do people have a choice in who is standing for elections from a political party?
  6. Are political parties democratic and is there a people-oriented process to elect their leaders?
  7. Does the system in place facilitate the effective participation of experts in economics, business, agriculture, health, education, fisheries, and other key areas of the economy in policy formulation, or is this process limited to a few “yes” men and women who say what politicians wish to hear?
  8. The cost of conducting elections is very high, with the last Presidential Election costing around Rs. 5 billion and the General Election around Rs. 10 billion. To this cost one has to add what candidates and their supporters spend on elections. The issue is not necessarily the overall cost, but whether there has been a justifiable return to the country on the investment made because of the elections, and whether the return has been more for the candidates and their sponsors.
  9. Buddhism, as defined more and more by the Buddhist institution from cultural practices rather than by the doctrinal practices introduced by Buddha, has been given pride pf place in the constitutions while other religions have been more or less “accommodated” in them. One should ask whether societal values, ethical behaviour on the part of the people as well as the elected leaders, and indeed on the part of some members of the Buddhist institution have progressed to towards the Buddha’s doctrinal teachings. The question to be asked is whether the State should be secular, and all religions treated equally, and their role limited essentially for spiritual practices as per their respective religions.
  10. Finally, while there would be many more questions that are bound to posted, challenges to what has been stated here, the objective behind posing these questions is for one to contemplate whether, despite whatever achievements of the past, the coming generations will be served well in years to come with a constitution more or less in the same vein and only cosmetically changed, or whether it is time to think outside the box as it were, and consider a constitution that will produce better outcomes rather than what 70 years of independence has delivered to Sri Lankans, then and now.

The author posed these questions in an article titled “Contours for a new constitution with a difference, for the future, not the past”

Sri Lanka: Tragedy of a Donor Darling

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A tragedy is unfolding in Sri Lanka. Citizens must queue for food and pharmaceuticals, vehicle owners cannot fill their tanks, and there have been rolling power outages. The economy is paralyzed, and because the country’s debts are already unsustainable, it cannot borrow. The country is suffering the world’s worst economic crisis since World War II.

The situation is so dire that millions of people have taken to the streets. The president has fled the country, and now parliament has elected a new, but unpopular, replacement. If all goes smoothly (a big if given the events of recent weeks), the International Monetary Fund can come to Sri Lanka’s aid with a rescue loan package (allowing for the purchase of essential imports) and a programme to achieve sustainable fiscal, monetary, and exchange-rate policies.

Sri Lanka’s plight serves as a lesson to other governments. When a country’s economic problems are obviously becoming insurmountable, postponing a reckoning through various piecemeal measures will only make matters worse in the end.

For years, Sri Lanka was a “donor darling,” owing to its relatively high standard of living, good social services, and robust economic growth. In the first half of the last decade, it boasted a 6.5 per cent average annual growth rate – one of the world’s highest – and very low population growth. Though economic growth slowed after 2015, it still averaged well over 3 per cent through 2019.

But at the end of that year, a new government came to power and immediately announced a large tax cut. In both 2020 and 2021, the government ran a fiscal deficit of more than 10 per cent of GDP. The annual inflation rate rose from an average of under 5 per cent in previous years to 39.1 per cent in May, and then to 54.6 per cent in June.

Worse, even with inflation already accelerating, the government announced in the spring of 2021 that it was banning all chemical-fertiliser imports. Predictably, rice production fell by 20 per cent, tea exports fell to their lowest level in more than two decades, and more than one-third of the country’s farmland was left fallow.

The COVID-19 pandemic came on top of these self-inflicted wounds, causing a sharp decline in tourist revenues, which then deepened Sri Lanka’s foreign-exchange shortage and further curtailed its ability to purchase imports. By late 2021, the situation was spinning out of control; and in May, the government defaulted on its foreign debt.

Now, Sri Lanka cannot obtain essential inputs to restart the economy until it has restructured its debt and installed a working government. Restructuring the country’s debt will be unusually complicated because a significant portion is owed to China, which does not participate in the multilateral Western-led restructuring exercises for overly indebted sovereign borrowers.

Again, the lesson for other debt-distressed countries is clear. While a country’s economic authorities can delay some of the consequences of ill-advised policies for a while through import rationing and prohibitions, price controls, fiscal deficits, foreign borrowing, and printing money, the music eventually will stop. When a government’s only remaining choice is to implement serious reforms or pursue desperate and economically irrational measures, doing the latter will merely deepen the misery and human suffering caused by the earlier policy mistakes.

Had Sri Lanka approached the IMF late in 2021 (or even earlier) and implemented the painful reforms needed to rein in inflation and reduce its current-account and fiscal deficits, at least six months of suffering could have been avoided. The country’s external debt would not have risen quite so high, and the road to recovery would not have been quite so long. More to the point, the country’s descent into complete political chaos might have been avoided altogether.

Since the start of the pandemic, the international community has appropriately been directing more attention to the plight of heavily indebted developing countries, with the G20 rolling out a Debt Service Suspension Initiative that extended some $13 billion of relief to 48 countries in 2020-21, but that was a drop in the bucket relative to needs.

Worse, there has been very little differentiation between countries whose underlying economic policies were sustainable and those whose policies would have become unsustainable without reform, even in the absence of COVID-19. Lending to a country in the latter category without ensuring that it has or will implement sustainable economic policies is not doing it any favours. On the contrary, such “support” merely postpones the day of reckoning and leaves it with an even higher debt-service burden when the time comes.

Policymakers in other economically struggling countries should take heed of Sri Lanka’s tale. The lessons can be paired with those from Brazil, which, following its 2002 debt crisis, quickly adopted the necessary policy reforms and went on to enjoy years of sustained growth. Brazil, too, had a choice between swift painful action to create the conditions for recovery, and denial and delay to put off the inevitable. Its leaders proved wiser than those who have since high-tailed it out of Sri Lanka.

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