Saturday, April 07, 2007

Nicely summarized 

It can't be easy to summarize the events and accomplishments of the past eight years in Venezuela given all that has happened and all that has been accomplished. But Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S., Bernardo Alvarez did an excellent job. It not only neeed to be read, but re-read as there is so much said in such a short speach:

Up until President Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998, Venezuela wasn’t a country that attracted much attention. It was considered the “exceptional case” in Latin America. Outsiders saw Venezuela as a stable and consolidated democracy, a U.S. ally and an obedient adherent of the Washington Consensus recipe of neo-liberal economic reforms. But starting with civil disturbances in 1989 and a pair of military rebellions in 1992, Venezuela was exposed as a country mired in poverty, a country whose people were profoundly excluded from their own political system and whose government had surrendered the capacity to address pressing social and economic concerns. President Hugo Chavez’s election was a democratic revolution – by overwhelmingly casting their votes in his favor, the Venezuelan people signaled their desire for a new path, for a new government in which they could more actively participate and which would marshal the resources to fight for social justice. This democratic revolution has taken place against the will of an old political elite that united against our project and refused to accept the democratic changes mandated by the Venezuelan electorate. At the same time, this democratic revolution has re-defined relations between the state, the market and the people, while spawning an active foreign policy aimed at strengthening Venezuela’s position in the international system and promoting a redefinition and re-conceptualization of this system as it was conceived after World War II. Just as national development models of the past excluded important sectors of society in the promotion of liberal democratic states in Latin America, the international system has also excluded important sectors of the world’s nations and peoples from the structures that manage the international system of nations. Exclusion has taken place not only nationally, but also internationally.

Venezuela’s democratic revolution was profoundly tied to evolution of the international system and the state of the post-Cold War world. After the Soviet Union fell, policymakers and pundits assumed that any remaining ideological battles were thus over – Francis Fukuyama called this moment the “end of history,” while Charles Krauthammer celebrated the U.S.’s “uni-polar moment.” Representative democracy and free markets were assumed to have won “the war,” and U.S. policy went about promoting them as if they had. The countries of Latin America that met at the 1994 Summit of the Americas united behind the mantra of the “Washington Consensus” – free trade, limited government, open markets and private capital. Just by its name – “consensus” – policymakers insinuated that no alternative existed and no debate was necessary. The truth of the matter is that no consensus existed. Instead, it was an agreement between elites that sought to benefit from the proposed policies. Recognizing this difference is essential to understanding the changes that have taken place in Venezuela and other countries of the hemisphere. The politics opposing the hegemony of neoliberalism became the flagship of alternative movements whose influence has grown in the politics of the region over the past two decades. The proposals put forward by these movements are an important component for any redefinition of the alternative development models being proposed in the region and that will emerge in the future.

The so-called “consensus” missed a growing restlessness throughout the region, one that was plainly on display in Venezuela. When neo-liberal economic reforms were imposed in Venezuela in 1989, massive street demonstrations and disturbances followed, and thousands were killed when the army was called to the streets to restore order. The reforms also had the pernicious effect of increasing the number of Venezuelans living in extreme poverty from 43.9 percent to 66.5 percent over one year. It turned out that Venezuela was not the “exception” scholars in the Western world thought it to be. Despite its oil wealth, it had much more in common with its neighbors than previously thought. Suddenly, Venezuela’s apparent stability was called into question; the idea of a “consensus” fell apart. This wasn’t surprising. As I have already mentioned, the consensus only really existed between Washington and elites in Venezuela. And as new leaders and social movements started flexing their muscles throughout the region, it became apparent that few in Latin America were happy with the consensus. To them, the debate wasn’t over and no consensus existed.

And so today we find a number of progressive governments in Latin America leading their countries down a new path. No longer are free trade and private capital the only terms of discussion; that discussion now includes poverty, social exclusion, regional integration, and sovereignty and South-South cooperation. And more than just expanding a discussion, these governments have started re-defining the role of the state in development, the role of the people in decision-making and the role of their countries in the regional and global contexts.

In Venezuela, this process began with the writing and public endorsement of a new constitution through a national referendum. The Constitution of 1999 re-defines Venezuela’s political system by endorsing participatory democracy over the traditional system of representative democracy; expanding protected rights by recognizing the vital importance of economic, social and cultural rights in democratic society; returning control of the country’s national resources to the state and establishing achieving social justice as a constitutional mandate. The 1999 Constitution seeks as much representative democracy as is needed and as much participatory democracy as is possible. It similarly re-defines the country’s economic system by promoting a development model that puts ownership of natural resources back in the hands of the Venezuelan people, more equitably distributes the country’s oil rents, fosters cooperatives for the national production of goods, re-distributes fallow lands for public use and balances the needs of private capital with the needs of Venezuela’s people. Internationally, Venezuela’s new constitution and direction put additional emphasis on working towards a multi-polar world, the right to sovereignty and self-determination, South-South cooperation and the political unity of South America.

What is remarkable and a sign of the political maturity of the Venezuelan people is that all these changes have taken place over the course of seven elections and referenda, all in peace and democracy, despite repeated efforts by internal and external forces to destabilize the inevitable process of change under way in Venezuela. These efforts have included a military coup supported by Washington against President Chavez, the sabotage of the oil industry which cost the country over $10 billion in 60 days, and an economic stoppage led by some industrialists and business owners that sought to break the back of the Venezuelan economy. I cannot think of any other country in the region that could have resisted, or any other government that could have survived such hostility. But the Venezuelan people and their democratically elected government survived and became stronger. Venezuelans risked their lives to rescue the President from imprisonment during the coup and brought him back to power; rescued the oil industry from the hands of the saboteurs and withstood the hardships brought about by the economic stoppage without jeopardizing the democratic order. Even more remarkable is that through all of these crises, the government led by President Chavez neither declared a state of emergency nor sought to suspend constitutional guarantees.

In practice, Venezuela’s new vision for democracy and development has yielded a number of positive results. In terms of the country’s political arrangement, citizens are more engaged than ever before, participating at various levels of government and exercising more control over their own affairs. In a historic change, Venezuelans can now employ the referendum to cut short the terms of elected officials or vote down laws. According to a region-wide survey by independent polling firm Latinobarometro, Venezuelans are second most likely in the region to call their country “totally democratic,” and 57 percent are satisfied with their democratic system – the highest number in recent history. The economy has continued to grow – 9.6 percent in 2006, one of the highest rates in the world – and diversify, and 59 percent of Venezuelans ranked their economy as better than 12 months ago. The number of economic cooperatives has grown from 800 in 1998 to 181,000 in 2006, and more than 2 million hectares of land have been distributed to 10,000 families. Social programs have put 20,000 doctors in Venezuela’s poorest neighborhoods thanks to the invaluable help from the people and government of the Republic of Cuba. Moreover, social programs have offered access to free education, subsidized foods and job training, while poverty has fallen from 40 percent in 2005 to 30 percent in 2006, according to the World Bank. Put together, polling firm Consultores 30.11 found that 68 percent of Venezuelans feel positive about the state of the country.

Internationally, Venezuela has promoted – by constitutional mandate – the political integration of Latin America, creating a number of regional oil initiatives (PetroCaribe, for example, offers special financing for oil purchases to the countries of the Caribbean) while participating in the creation of a Bank of the South and a regional television broadcaster, Telesur, which will soon begin broadcasting in Europe. We are also promoting the broadcast of Telesur to the Spanish speaking community in the U.S. Venezuela has also offered aid to various countries and pushed the creation of a regional development fund. Similarly, Venezuela has expanded its ties with the Global South, increasing the number of embassies in Africa from 8 in 2005 to 18 for 2007 and cementing political, economic and social exchanges with India, China and the countries of the Middle East. Venezuela’s active foreign policy has also included a close relationship with the people of the U.S. In 2006-2007, Venezuela delivered discounted heating oil to close to 500,000 families in 16 states and in 173 Native American tribes, while sending an additional shipment of 2.5 million barrels of gasoline after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. The horrific aftermath of Katrina shows that the problem of poverty and exclusion is a problem that affects us all.

Generally speaking, the administration of President George W. Bush has looked upon Venezuela’s new direction with disdain, skepticism and concern. Why? Because these goals have clashed with Washington’s insistence on free trade as the only means to development, representative and elite-based democracy as the only viable political organization of society and the use of preventive war and transformational diplomacy as its main diplomatic tools. Also, the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001 brought back many of the policies and personalities of the Cold War, harking the return of a hegemonic and paternalistic pattern of interacting with the hemisphere that dates back to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. This has brought a loss of confidence and a deterioration of the image of the U.S. in the region. The U.S. continued attempts to dictate to other countries the actions they should take, the path of development they should follow and its mantra that you are “either with us or against us” has put it at odds with countries in the region and around the world. For example, initiatives for the “promotion of democracy” seem to be a component of its preventive war and transformational diplomacy strategy that assumes a universal definition of democracy. In Venezuela, these initiatives have often benefited organizations of civil society that have taken anti-democratic actions against the government of President Chavez.

Washington’s support for the coup that overthrew President Chavez from power in April 2002, along with its policies in the Middle East, has made many in Latin America skeptical about the true intentions of the U.S. It was only recently that President Bush started speaking of the importance of achieving social justice in the hemisphere, and even then it was seen more as a means to isolate Venezuela than a true recognition of a new and different Latin America. Venezuela would like to believe that this new proposal for change in U.S. vision and policies for the region are indeed sincere. However, the proposal to designate barely $1.67 billion for assistance to the region next year makes us skeptical. After all, this is approximately the amount the U.S. currently spends weekly in the war in Iraq. Moreover, there is skepticism about the double discourse and dual morality with which the U.S. administration deals with sensitive topics such as terrorism. The United States continues to ignore its legal obligation to extradite the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela for 73 counts of first degree murder in relation to the downing of the Cubana de Aviación passenger plane in 1973. Venezuela asked for his extradition in May of 2005. Rather than extradite or prosecute him, the United States may soon release him. He had a bail hearing in El Paso, Texas yesterday, 3 April 2007, where he is being tried not for murder or terrorism—but for lying to the Immigration Service. Venezuela believes terrorists ought to be prosecuted, not protected. The U.S. war on terrorism cannot be premised on a double standard. Meanwhile, the U.S. has placed unilateral sanctions on Venezuela for what it considers to be my country’s lack of cooperation in the fight against terrorism, accusing Venezuela of providing safe heaven to the FARC of Colombia. This despite repeated statements from Bogota that praise Venezuela’s efforts in that country’s fight against terror and my country’s effort to support the peace process in Colombia. For Washington, standards on such sensitive matters seem to change depending of whether you are a friend of the administration or not.
Venezuela’s new direction is not a threat to the interests of the U.S., but it is a challenge to its hegemonic vision of the world and the hemisphere.

The presidential election of December 3, 2006 marked another step in Venezuela’s democratic revolution. With 75 percent turnout, some 63 percent of the Venezuelan people re-elected Hugo Chavez as their president. After seven years in power, President Chavez achieved what can be considered a remarkable political victory anywhere in the world: he obtained 1.7 million more votes than he did when he was first elected in 1998. With a renewed mandate from the Venezuelan people, President Chavez and his government are deepening and expanding a model of democracy and development that places emphasis on social justice, participatory democracy, regional integration and multi-polarity. Other countries are similarly pursuing such paths according to their means, the wishes of their people and their particular historical circumstances. What these new governments represent is a renewed debate over how democracy and development are to occur, what role the state and the people are to play, what role natural resources should play in the development of their nations, and how those processes will shape the international system, particularly relations among nations in our hemisphere. All nations of this hemisphere, and the structures that were created after World War II to manage the Inter-American system, face the challenge of adapting to these new realities. We, in Venezuela, are committed to the promotion of social justice and to addressing the historical frustration that have afflicted so many of our people that were historically excluded from the development processes. We are also committed to promoting a hemisphere where relations among nations are based on mutual respect, cooperation, solidarity and integration. In Venezuela, we are not proposing anything against the U.S. What we propose is in favor of the countries in Latin America. This must be understood as such. For Venezuela, our time is surely not the “end of history”. It’s only the beginning.

Poverty is down, income is up, there are more jobs and more social welfare programs. At the same time there has been a major election virtually every year.

That so much has been accomplished to better peoples lives and at the same time governance has been MORE democratic than ever is truly a historic accomplishment.


Friday, April 06, 2007

The good terrorist 

Ever since September 11th, 2001 the United States has been waging an implacable war against terrorism. It has invaded countries, set up tropical gulags, wire tapped its own citizens without judicial oversight, and "rendered" suspected terrorists to countries where they could be tortured. All to make sure not even one lousy terrorist falls through the cracks and does harm to innocent people.

Well, not quite. See it turns out not all terrorists are terrorists - some are "militants" and presumabely can be allowed to breath in the air of Miami in freedom:

Cuban exile militant Luis Posada Carriles must be released on bond and allowed to live with his family under house arrest in Miami while awaiting trial for allegedly lying to immigration authorities about how he sneaked into the country 2005, a federal judge ordered Friday.

Posada was not immediately released because the federal government quickly filed a motion asking the judge to stay her order pending a review of the ''adequacy'' of her conditions to free Posada -- and to decide whether to appeal the decision. It was also possible Posada could be taken into custody by immigration officials as soon as he posts bond.

Now, who is Luis Posada? You sure won't learn anything about him from that article, which makes it sound like he is nothing more than an "illegal alien". And a rather old one at that:

In point of fact, Luis Posada is a terrorist suspected of involvement in the blowing up of a Cuban jetliner after it took off from Caracas killing in excess of 70 innocent civilians. At the time he worked with the Venezuelan secret police - which just goes to show what kind of outrageous crap the Venezuelan government was up to when the people who are today the opposition ran it.

For the past several years the Venezuelan government has been trying to bring this individual to justice. When it learned that he was probably in the United States it insisted that the U.S. government arrest him. The U.S. government denied he was in the United States until he embarrased them by popping doing a TV interview in Miami.

Venezuela then insisted that he be arrested and extradited to Venezuela. The U.S. further delayed by insisting that Venezuela needed to make a formal extradition request - which Venezuela did:

After Venezuela jumped through that hoop the U.S. refused to extradite him based on him not being able to get a fair trial in Venezuela. As if that ever stopped the U.S. from doing whatever they wanted to people THEY consider terrorists. They ultimately arrested him for nothing more than violation of immigration laws and it now looks like he'll even walk away from that as I'm sure he has plenty of friends in Miami who will pony up the money.

The moral of the story: if you are going to go around blowing up civilians just make sure they are civilians that the U.S. government doesn't like. Do that and everything will be just fine.

Just as we've seen in the past week that the Venezuelan opposition doesn't really give a hoot about the rule of law we can clearly see that the U.S. government doesn't much care about terrorism. It isn't about how many innocent people you kill - its about whose side you are on.


Rolling along 

Seems that some people just can't get enough of pictures of the new bridge being built between Caracas and the coast. Thruth be told, I can't either. Interestingly enough, the bridge is probably the one bit of work that is taking place right now. All of Venezuela has shut down for the holidays with even most newspapers not being published. However, the work on the bridge is proceding 24/7 all through the holidays.

By April 15th the metal lattice of the bridge which we've watched gradually creeping across the support pillors should reach its final resting place on the Caracas side of the bridge thereby completing the span.

Here is a picture of what is currently looks like:

What I like about this picture is you can actually make out the steel rollers under the metal lattice that allow it to be rolled out over the pillors. Once it has been fully completed and reaches the Caracas side those rollers will be removed and the lattice bolted to the pillors. Then the concrete blocks that will serve as the base of the roadway will be put in place one by one.

Should be fun to watch so stay tuned!


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

So crazy he’s ahead of the curve 

One relatively minor initiative of Chavez is having small urban farms set up in various Venezuelan cities, including Caracas. The one located in central Caracas next to the Hilton Hotel is the most famous and here are some pictures of it:

Of course this initiative, as with every one that Chavez has undertaken, has been roundly ridiculed by those who oppose Chavez, the most coherent criticism being found here.

I have to admit the idea of growing lettuce in Caracas seemed rather silly to me too. So you can imagine my surprise today while munching on lettuce at lunch, I ran across the following in the Wall Street Journal:

Crop Farms in Skyscrapers: Feasible or Pie-in-the-Sky?

The only hope of feeding the Earth’s expanding population without exacerbating global warming is to create an infrastructure of urban farms, a Columbia University scientist says. Don’t worry about finding enough space, he says – crop farms could be built into urban skyscrapers.

Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental sciences and microbiology, says that skyscraper farms represent a feasible strategy for growing food while protecting the environment, Lisa Chamberlain reports in New York magazine.

The New York magazine article can be found here.

Turns out, even the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is big on urban farms saying:

And as new, urban lifestyles lead greater numbers of people to consume more fats and less fibre, more fast food and fewer home-cooked meals, developing countries face a double challenge - widespread hunger on the one hand and rapid increases in obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other diet-related diseases on the other.

One part of the solution: growing food in or near cities

Urban and peri-urban agriculture can help improve food security in several ways: growing food at home or via a cooperative reduces the cost burden of acquiring food for the poor, puts more food within their reach, and reduces seasonal gaps in fresh produce.

Also, by increasing the diversity and quality of food consumed, it can significantly improve the quality of urban diets.

Sales of surplus produce, meanwhile, can generate income that can be used to buy more food. Even small "micro-gardens" can bring in up to $3 a day for poor families, according to FAO.

I guess Chavez isn’t so off the wall about this after all. Note to self: next time Chavez appears to be loony, he probably isn’t. He’s just ahead of the curve.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Where the hell does this guy think he is, Canada? 

Chavez today gave a stern warning that he won't tolerate private health care clinics charging outlandish prices. Either they restrain their prices, or the government might nationalize them.

I'm sure reporters for the New York Times and Washington Post are pounding out articles on Chavez's latest "erratic" decision. The loony bloggers will take this as proof of the "Castro-Communist totalitarian" project Chavez is imposing on Venezuela.

Never mind that if you get an in-grown toenail in Mississauga it's illegal to pay for a private doctor or hospital. You see when people in the "First World" give themselves extensive social services, well, that is just social democracy in action. But when "Third World" residents, who are supposed be making sure Walmart is stocked with plenty of inexpensive underwear rather than worrying about unimportant things like their own health, dare to be so selfish as to implement their own social welfare programs that is "Castro-Communism".

Anyways, even if it IS "Castro-Communism" I still think doing what you can to give everyone in your society access to decent health care is a good idea. And besides, who needs stupid private clinics that deny people care just because they don't like their politics?


Laws are for little people 

This weekend another opposition rascal flew the coup. Fomerr Yaracuy state governor and ardent oppositionist, Eduardo Lapi, escaped from prison. Lapi was in jail awaiting trail on influence peddling and awarding contracts without competitive bids. The opposition maintained all along that Lapi was a political prisoner - presumably awarding government contracts to your pals is a fundemental human right.

Note how they bitch and moan that nothing is being done about corruption and then we the government does something they cry that they are being persecuted. Predictable.

Was Lapi guilty? Who knows. That is what trials are for. So unless he is captured and a trail held we’ll never know. Just speaking for myself the fact that he fled (a crime in and of itself) hardly gives me faith in his innocence.

I guess this shows it is still easy to bribe prison guards in Venezuela. And that would be one more act of corruption by Lapi and his enablers. But who is counting?

Needless to say the opposition is hardly bothered by his escape. In fact, they seem rather pleased. Interesting, given how they carry on about the rule of law. When it comes to the law Chavez’s government is to dot every “I” and cross every “T”. When a congresswomen said that the recent Supreme Court ruling exempting bonuses from being taxed should be ignored the opposition talking heads were besides themselves.

Yet when Lapi evades flouts the “rule of law” by fleeing, they say nothing. When Pedro Carmona fled to avoid the “rule of law” – they said nothing. When Carlos Ortega fled (twice!!) to avoid the “rule of law” they said nothing (and he even snuck back in the country and attended opposition rallies with no-one turning him in to the police!). Ortega’s sidekick during the oil strike, Carlos Fernandez, managed to get a judge to let him be released from jail to house arrest because of supposed health problems. Those health problems didn’t prevent him from promptly getting on a plane and flying to Miami where he has stayed ever since.

Time and time again the leaders of the opposition have flaunted justice and made a mockery of the “rule of law”. The New York hotel baroness Leona Helmsley once famously said that “taxes are for little people”. I think that pretty well sums up the oppositions attitude towards laws – they are for “little people”.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Why all the fuss? 

Last week Iran captured 15 British sailors claiming they had entered Iraqi territorial waters. Hardly a newsworthy event, one would think. Iran would put them on trial and if they were indeed in Iran's waters maybe sentence them to some relatively short jail time. No big deal, you do the crime, you do the time.

Of course, the Brits are maintianing that they weren't in Iranian waters. Seems odd though Iranians would have been able to capture British sailors outside Iranian waters where they would have been protected by the British and U.S. fleets. Further, with all the electronic and satellite monitoring of that region it is interesting that the British government has presented no hard evidence of the Iranian version of events being wrong.

In all likelihood that has a simple explanation; the British government is probably lying and the sailors were indeed in Iranian waters. This would be quite like when the a U.S. naval ship shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in 1988 and then President Reagan, vice-President Bush, and the top brass all lied and said that the American ship had been in international waters. Turns out, they lied and it was in Iranian waters all along (gee top officials of a western government lying through their teeth and an uppity thirld world government telling the truth all along - who'd have thunk?).

The reality is, this probably isn't an inoccent and mistaken border crossing. Rather, as military action against Iran may in some ways already be under way this is probably a further attempt to ratchet up both the propoganda and real war against Iran. And considering that the U.S. Democratic presidential candidates are possibly even more bellicose towards Iran than is Bush we are likely to see more of this, and all the hysteronics that go with it, in the future.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?