Thursday, November 19, 2009

Updates from Occupied California

I've been so long in posting because of teaching and dissertating duties. The current collapse of the University of California system has not been helping matters in the slightest.

-On September 24th, Students throughout the UC system and especially here at UCSC staged walkouts and occupations of buildings in protest of the UC Board of Regents and the general mismanagement of the University, State and national governments' production of- and response to- the contemporary crisis in global capitalism.

-On November 17th, the UC board of regents met at UCLA to begin a 3 day meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to seal an already promised phase 32% increase in student tuition and fees.

-The California State University (CSU) board is concurrently meeting to pass a similar set of measures that will raise costs and lessen access to public higher education.

-In anticipation and in response to these threats to the very public nature of public education, students staged walkouts and occupations of university space in Santa Cruz (where between 300 and 500 students, faculty and workers shut down campus for 3 hours before staging a takeover of the Kresge Town Hall); Berkeley (an ~1,000 students, faculty and workers walked out and an unknown number of people attempted an occupation of the capital projects building); UCLA (multiple arrests at the regents meeting, ~30 people occupied and renamed Campbell Hall, and where hundreds are currently attempting a campus shutdown); City College San Francisco (hundreds walked out in solidarity with the CSU and UC cuts and actions); and San Francisco State (~150 occupied the administration offices).

-This has shaped up to truly be a 'hot autumn' in terms of student activism here in California. The task now is upon us to match our vigor for tactics with vision. If we really want 'everything' we damn well figure out how to keep it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

AP: Venezuela folk religion seen in secretive rituals

(Statue of Maria Lionza a few blocks from my old apartment in CCS)

By ARIANA CUBILLOS (AP) – 20 hours ago

SORTE, Venezuela — Thousands of Venezuelans congregated for candlelit rituals on a remote mountainside where adherents make an annual pilgrimage to pay homage to an indigenous goddess known as Maria Lionza.

Many smoked cigars in purification rituals, while others closed their eyes lying face-up surrounded by candles and elaborate designs drawn on the ground with white powder.

Some calling themselves the "Vikings" pricked their tongues with razor blades, drawing blood that ran down their chins and chests. They said they could not reveal the esoteric secrets that govern their traditions.

The rituals, which began late last week and lasted through Monday, are held every year in the name of the indigenous goddess Maria Lionza, who according to legend came from the mountain at Sorte, near the northwestern town of Chivacoa.

Some repeated the word "strength" while dancing atop flaming embers in a ceremony honoring the goddess early Monday at the start of the annual Oct. 12 rituals. Many camped in tents while dedicating several days to the spiritual ceremonies.

The traditions centered on Maria Lionza are hundreds of years old and draw on elements of the Afro-Caribbean religion Santeria and indigenous rituals, as well as Catholicism. Believers often ask for spiritual healing or protection from witchcraft, or thank the goddess for curing an illness.

Venezuela is predominantly Roman Catholic. The church disapproves of the folk religion but has long since abandoned its attempts to suppress it.

A statue on a Caracas highway divider honors Maria Lionza, depicting her naked and sitting astride a wild tapir.

Followers of the sect regularly leave offerings of flowers, liquor, coins or fruit at shrines honoring the goddess or other folk saints.

Repost and Analysis: Venezuela Grants Land to Indigenous Communities On Indigenous Resistance Day

**Teaching, dissertating, and the collapse of CA have kept me pretty tied up lately. Sorry. Here's a re-post from Kiraz at after a few thoughts on race in historical and contemporary Venezuela.**

'Ain't no black in the Tricolor'?
A few years ago Venezuela renamed Columbus Day -- 'Día de la raza' in the past and in many other Latin American countries, one of the worst euphemisms for rape I've heard -- 'Día de la resístencia indigena,' the day of indigenous resistance. In 2004, the statue of Columbus that once loomed over the central Plaza Venezuela in central Caracas was felled by a number of groups openly claiming responsibility for the action. No one has sought to replace it.

The Bolivarian government has created social missions and National Assembly seats for the native minority, seeking not only to better standards of living for the first nations of Venezuela, but also to raise general culutural awareness of the contribution of indigenous people to Venezuelan identity in the past, present and future.

One of the most striking aspects of the Bolivarian government's commitment to indigenous rights -- once one gets past the shock of a government that is actually concerned with first nations in the first place -- is its disproportion. As the article below notes, though indigenous peoples make up 1.6% of the population, they are constitutionally mandated three seats in the National Assembly. There is no such similar measure for Afro-Venezuelans, though they are estimated to comprise up to 20% of the population (the failed constitutional referendum of 2007 would have corrected this).

Venezuelan statistical and census tools do not measure Afro-Venezuelans as a distinct demographic unit, though activist networks have been organizing to have this changed by the 2010 national census.

Like most countries in Latin America, Venezuelan elites have historically identified with the European and US imaginaries. In the posh east side of Caracas, Basque, Spanish and Portuguese flags are almost as common as the tricolor (and even then, the tricolors flying in Plaza Altamira tend to be the 7-starred flag of the 4th republic).

While Eurocentrism is without doubt the chief factor in the marginalization of Afro (and for that matter, indigenous) Venezuelans, other factors of political history and cultural geography are at play as well. Venezuela is considered by many to be an 'Andean' nation. Past presidents have for the most part come from the mountains or the llanos (Chávez himself is a llanero). This despite the fact that Venezuela enjoys nearly 3,000 km of Caribbean coastline that is much more densely populated than the sparse and ungodly hot llanos (*really, though, Venezuela is an urban nation, with 87% of the population in cities as of 2001).

Venezuelan 'criollo' (creole -- a term that originally and still is anchored to white Venezuelans) elites resisted early 20th century discourses of mestizaje such as Vasconcelos' notion of 'la raza cósmica' in Mexico. These 'positive' eugenics narratives valorized the race-mixing of the colonial and post-colonial Latin America and, despite their offensive essentializations, could be seen as (albeit failed and inadequate) attempts to forge a distinctly American identity and path of development.

The rich and powerful of Venezuela consistently looked instead first to Paris and then to Miami for their orientation. Rather than build a national, Venezuelan culture, they built mega malls and imported modernist architecture à la le Corbusier. In this context, both Afro and Indigenous Venezuelans were marginalized, and continue to be, despite social programs aimed to address material inequality and cultural imperialism.

Indigenous rights movements have a longer history and a continental organizational structure. While this partially explains the results they have been able to garner from the state and society (this both in terms of government misiones and land grants and violent attacks -- like this one yesterday in Zulia -- on indigenous movements that seek to move beyond the symbolic and into the substantive; occupying land, resisting the hacendados, remaking their lives in their own terms), there remains the cultural and historical geography in place to which I referred earlier.

The Andes and the llanos are mostly comprised of mestizos and a few whites. The Caribbean is the center of the Afro-Venezuelan population. The lion's share of historically easy-to-access are in Zulia, around Lake Maracaibo, making the state with the one of the country's largest indigenous population also a center of the nation's wealth. The resulting gap in wealth and living standards is so striking it hurts.

Caracas continues to be a town dominated by the rich and the white and the often explicitly racist; descendants of the mantuano elites of the colonial and post-colonial era.

The barriers to adding some blackness to the increasingly mestizo criolloismo will be hard to overcome. However, advances made by the indigenous populations of the country provide hope for a cautious optimism as the struggle continues.

Venezuela Grants Land to Indigenous Communities On Indigenous Resistance Day

Indigenous Resistance Day in Caracas (Prensa YVKE Mundial)

Caracas, October 13, 2009 ( - Celebrating 517 years of indigenous resistance to invasion and colonisation Venezuela marked Indigenous Resistance Day on Monday with a street march through the capital, Caracas, the granting of title deeds to indigenous communities, and a special session of the National Assembly.

Across the Americas October 12 is widely celebrated as Columbus Day, the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus, representing the Spanish Crown, first arrived in the Americas. In 2004 the Venezuelan government officially changed the name to Indigenous Resistance Day.

In Caracas, thousands of members of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), together with members of Venezuela's 44 indigenous groups, marched to the National Pantheon, in order to celebrate achievements for indigenous peoples under the Chavez government and claim their rights as the original inhabitants of the country.

A special session of the National Assembly then took place in the Pantheon, where the remains of 16th Century Indigenous Cacique (Chief) Guaicaipuro lie as well as those of Venezuelan independence leader Simon Bolivar, who fought against Spanish colonialism.

Also during a special ceremony in Zulia state, Venezuelan Interior Relations and Justice Minister, Tarek el Aissami, handed over title deeds covering some 41,630 hectares of land to three Yukpa indigenous communities in the Sierra de Perija National Park.

"Today we join in this celebration of Indigenous Resistance Day, the day of the dignity of the indigenous peoples of Latin America and particularly of the Bolivarian and Revolutionary Venezuela," stressed the minister.

Yupka community spokesperson Efrain Romero said, "It's historic to receive title to the lands we inhabit," and added, "We reaffirm our fight for this revolution to continue advancing (...) we reaffirm our support for President Hugo Chávez."

In recent years the Sierra de Perija region has been the scenario of a fierce conflict between large "landowners" and the indigenous communities who were forcibly driven off their lands during the Perez Jimenez dictatorship in the 1940s.

The situation came to a head in July 2008 when Yukpa indigenous communities occupied 14 large estates to demand legal title to their ancestral lands. Estate owner Alejandro Vargas and four others, armed with guns and machetes, responded by attempting to assassinate the Yukpa cacique (chief) Sabino Romero, who was leading the occupations, and beat and killed Romero's elderly 109-year-old father Jose Manuel Romero.

Then on August 6 hundreds of armed mercenaries, hired by large landowners, attacked the indigenous communities.

At the time Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez slammed what he described as the "ambiguous attitudes" of some government functionaries in dealing with the land demarcation process and ordered an investigation into the violent attacks.

"There should be no doubt: Between the large estate owners and the Indians, this government is with the Indians" Chavez said.

During his speech today El Aissami emphasised that the delivery of title deeds of land to indigenous peoples is one of the policies promoted by the National Executive to ensure comprehensive recognition of the ancestral territorial rights of indigenous peoples.

Sergio Rodríguez, a spokesperson for the Environment Ministry clarified that other areas belonging to Yukpa communities are yet to be demarcated but said the ministry, together with the indigenous communities and other agencies that comprise the National Demarcation Commission, "will continue to work to resolve the situation. Our goal is to provide land titles to those Yukpa sectors that lack them by the end of the year."

However, another dispute in the Sierra de Perija region between the Barí, Yukpa, and Wayúu indigenous peoples resisting coal mining on their lands on the one hand and the state-owned Corpozulia, still has not been fully resolved.

The government is also expected to hand over title deeds covering 5,310 hectares to the 366 strong Palital community, belonging to the Kari'ña ethnicity in the state of Anzoategui.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the III Congress of the Great Abya Yala [the Americas] Nation of Anti-Imperialist Indigenous Peoples from the South in the remote Amazonas state, Minister for the President's Office, Luis Reyes Reyes, also granted credits to representatives of indigenous communities to assist in agricultural production.

Despite many unresolved issues, indigenous peoples have made significant advances in Venezuela over the last 10 years. The Bolivarian Constitution adopted in 1999, through Art. 8 specifically emphasises recognition and respect for indigenous land rights, culture, language, and customs. According to the constitution, the role of the Venezuelan state is to participate with indigenous people in the demarcation of traditional land, guaranteeing the right to collective ownership. The state is also expected to promote the cultural values of indigenous people.

Article 120 of the Constitution also states that exploitation of any natural resource is "subject to prior information and consultation with the native communities concerned."

In 2003 the government also initiated the Guaicaipuro Mission, a social program aimed at the promotion and realization of indigenous rights as recognised in the constitution.

Venezuela's indigenous people, who comprise approximately 1.6% of the population, also have three indigenous representatives in the National Assembly.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

UC walkout intensifies at UCSC

Occupy California, a coalition of undergrads and grads has occupied a building in the center of the UC Santa Cruz campus. You can also follow the action here, on twitter.


A non-Venezuela (or Honduras) post:

Today, 24 September, faculty, students, grad students and staff across the University of California, California State University, California Community College and many K-12 districts are walking out in protest of the way in which the state has de-prioritized, privatized and all but sought to dismantle public education. As an educator and worker, I stand in solidarity with the walkout, and the need to recognize education as a fundamental right and responsibility for the common good, not a privilege for the elites or an instrumentalized path towards a bigger personal paycheck.

This is bigger than the University of California. Indeed, it is bigger than the United States. The current global crisis in the capitalist system will not get better, the 'belt' won't loosen again after these lean times, and 'we' are not in 'this' together. Once again, the rich expect us to shoulder their burden, expect our kids to forgo an education, expect us to continue living on tenuous health care and precarious employment. No. The crisis is general and the response needs to be general. Today's walkout is but one first step.

(fore more info, visit

Monday, September 21, 2009

(Translation) Zelaya confirms that Insulza will arrive in Tegucigalpa this Tuesday

TeleSUR 21 September, 2009 --- Honduras’s constitutional president, Manuel Zelaya, announced that the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, will arrive in Tegucigalpa this Tuesday in order to help him in his return to power after confirming that president Zelaya had returned to the capital.

The president said that Insulza had expressed his desire to enter Honduras on the same day, in order to initiate a dialogue oriented toward the recuperation of democracy.

“This morning, secretary Insulza has announced that he wants to come here right now,” said Zelaya from the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Zelaya confirmed that he was in the Brazilian embassy, and thanked president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for the diplomatic gesture.

He also called on the Honduran people to come to the embassy to accompany him to reclaim constitutional rule in the country after the military coup d’état of last July 28.

This Monday, the Brasilian embassy in Honduras confirmed that the constitutional president was present in the diplomatic complex, after which point Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, delivered the news to thousands of citizens that were waiting to see Zelaya at the offices of the United Nations in the Honduran capital.

TeleSUR correspondent Adriana Sívori confirmed the presence of the ousted president and then informed that people continued to pour into the areas around the UN offices in order to celebrate the presence of the president [in Tegucigalpa].


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Clinton gets it all wrong (again)

A few days ago, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her concern at Venezuela's ostensible militarization. In the course of a press conference with Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, Clinton hypothesized that Venezuela's plan to purchase defensive armaments from Russia could trigger a 'regional arms race' after she repeated the lie that Venezuela spends more than any other country in South America on the military.

We've heard this before, numerous times in fact, throughout the Bush years. Just to be clear:

Not to mention that the moral concerns of the US in terms of military spending is the definition of hypocrisy:

But even more confusing, if we want to be naïve about this for a moment, is that the only country on the South American continent to recently engage in belligerent activities against its neighbors is not Venezuela, but rather Colombia, the US's closes ally in the region. In March of 2008 Colombia violated Ecuadoran sovereignty in order to assassinate Raúl Reyes, the spokesman of the FARC's (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

Tellingly enough, Clinton did not speculate why it might be that Venezuela thinks it might need to boost its defensive capacities.

Talks broke down today in Quito, Ecuador, as Latin American foreign ministers and military officials met to respond to plans to install a number of US military bases in Colombia. While the talks were able to produce a series of agreements on transparency and mutual non-aggression, Colombia blocked any proposal that might prevent the US plans from being carried out. The United States has been particularly short on friends in the region since the infamously rocky Bush years. Most notably in this particular arena, Ecuador and Paraguay have either ejected or refused to renew contracts that allow US military personnel to be based in their national territory. As a result, the US would have to disproportionately rely on it recently recommissioned 4th fleet which operates in the Caribbean, and whose military exercises near the Dutch colony of Curaçao -- only a few miles off the northern coast of Venezuela -- has been cause for alarm throughout the region.

Hat tip to Inka Cola news on the righteous graphage.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Links between Colombian Intelligence Organisation and Venezuelan Opposition Uncovered (repost from

September 10, 2009 -- Tamara Pearson
Ex DAS director of information technology, Rafael Garcia, in the interview with TeleSUR (VTV)

Mérida, September 9th, 2009 ( - Rafael Garcia, ex director of information technology of Colombia's main intelligence agency, DAS, revealed that the agency had used its links with the paramilitary in Colombia to participate, together with Venezuelan opposition sectors, in a plot against the current Venezuelan government.

TeleSUR interviewed Garcia, who is currently in jail for 18 years, on Monday morning. Garcia described how the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), which is meant to fight terrorism in Colombia, and the Colombian internal affairs ministry, through their links with the Self-defence Units of Colombia (AUC), participated in a plot driven by Venezuelan opposition sectors against the Chavez government.

The AUC was an illegal paramilitary organisation created in 1997, to unite various paramilitary groups, and it declared itself a "counter-insurgency group" to fight the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Both Colombia and the US formally classified the AUC as a terrorist organisation, which, according to the records of one of its leaders, Carlos Castano, was financed by drug trafficking, kidnapping and extorsion.

Garcia explained in the interview that in the lead up to the presidential campaign in 2002, many politicians were supported by the AUC, in its aspiration to have influence in the Congress. Current Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, on being elected, handed out positions, including to some of these "paramilitary-politicians".

"Jorge Noguera [ex DAS director] knew he needed the support of [the North bloc of the AUC] ... and he looked for that support through me, because I participated in their campaigns, I participated in electoral fraud and everything," Garcia said.

Jorge Noguera, director of DAS from 2002-2006, was also head of Uribe's presidential election campaign. He is now in jail over his illegal relationship with the Colombian paramilitary, largely due to testimony by Garcia.

Noguera's arrest was part of what is known in the English world as the Paragate scandal (parapolitica in Spanish- or paramilitary politicians) where, in 2006, several Colombian politicians were arrested for colluding with the AUC. By April 2008, 62 congress members and 33 lawmakers, including Uribe's cousin, were in jail waiting to be tried.

Garcia then described how many of the paramilitary-politicians were present the day after Uribe won the election, in August 2002, and how they asked him to name Noguera for the position of DAS director. The AUC, Garcia explained, wanted influence in DAS, as well as to infiltrate the Attorney General's Office.

"Jorge Noguera, from the start, he said to me.... "Our mission is full collaboration with the AUC"". Garcia also named other people in the DAS who had collaborated with the AUC.

The police had a report pointing to Garcia as a link between Noguera and the AUC, and Noguera told Garcia one day, "Don't worry, because the president and the attorney general are well informed about this and they will protect us when the time comes." Indeed, when the scandal arose, Uribe initially transferred Noguerra to be consul in Milan, Garcia said later on in the interview.

"It's clear that there was a conspiracy plan against the Venezuelan government, in which DAS played a part, as well as the minister Fernando Londoño, who I suppose had friends in Venezuela," Garcia went on.

"Things are being discovered little by little... DAS took ex government employees and put them to work undercover...this is what Jorge Noguera did with Jorge Diaz, they took him from his position of DAS director in Cucuta and they put him to work on clandestine undercover operations in Venezuela."

"He and Jorge Noguera met with Venezuelan military personal. I don't know if these meetings took place here in Colombia or in Venezuela, but I know they took place," Garcia revealed.

In response to the question; do you think the plot you are talking about was initiated by Jorge Noguera and the minister Londoño? Garcia responded, "No, I don't think it was. They were sought after, above all Londoño, was sought after by Venezuelan opposition sectors."

"Over there [in Venezuela] there was an opposition alliance; I think it was called the Democratic Bloc, that had made alliances with factions of the [AUC] in order to conspire against the government of President Chavez."

Venezuelan opposition plans to defeat the Chavez government

"There were concrete plans, this group, the Democratic bloc, I don't remember the exact name, had a plan with three components. [Firstly,] the sabotage of productive apparatus in Venezuela, and as a result of this there was the [oil] strike in 2002 that caused a lot of damage to productive apparatus."

"[The second component of the plan was] media attacks, that is, putting the media against the Chavez government, and [thirdly] they looked at assassinating representatives in order to cause unease in Venezuelan society. In those plans, I know that President Chavez, Jose Vincent Rangel, the minister of justice and internal affairs, Jesse Chacon, and the attorney general, Isaías Rodriguez were included."

Next, Garcia talked about the assassination of Danilo Anderson in November 2004. Anderson was a Venezuelan environmental state prosecutor investigating over 400 people accused of crimes against the state and the Venezuelan people in the failed April 2002 Coup. He was killed by an explosive in his car.

"I didn't know that Danilo Anderson was included in this [list of people to assassinate], never the less it's very likely, given the way he was killed. A lot of explosives were passed on by DAS workers via the border post of Paraguachon, in my presence, I saw it."

The interviewer also asked about the over 100 presumed paramilitaries who have been detained in Venezuela. Garcia responded that, "The border [between Venezuela and Colombia] is imaginary when it comes to the [AUC] appropriating land or intimidating the population."

Garcia then gave the example of one romantic relationship that existed, and how this was used to help get paramilitaries into Venezuela. The woman involved in the relationship lent the AUC a large farm, El Hatillo, where they were later discovered by Venezuelan police.

"I know that in Zulia [state in Venezuela, bordering Colombia] there were a lot of people who collaborated, not just in these activities, but also in drug-smuggling though Venezuela... there was a time when [Noguera] was the authority, just as [he] was in Colombian cities, he was in Maracaibo [capital of Zulia state]."

"The AUC were a phenomenon that was changed by they looked for cultivation and smuggling zones, so this is what permeated the [border] zone, including today [the phenomenon] is still present in [Venezulean border state] Tachira with [paramilitary group] the Black Eagles."

Venezuelan journalist Alberto Nolia, analysing the interview, said, "Its clear the Colombian government was completely involved in the conspiracy...Garcia has linked the government of Uribe with the paramilitaries and with drug smuggling."

The revelations of links between the Colombian government and its institutions with the paramilitary and the Venezuelan opposition's attempts to defeat the Chavez government come at a time when Colombia has just accepted a U.S. military presence on seven of its bases, something Chavez sees as paramount to "talking about war."

On Tuesday the Colombian Supreme Court annulled charges against Noguera, for aggravated murder, bribery and misappropriation, but the charge of coordinating crime remains.

Source URL (retrieved on Sep 13 2009 - 20:00):
License: Published under a Creative Commons license (by-nc-nd). See for more information.

Friday, September 4, 2009

'South of the Border' Trailer

Oliver Stone's documentary South of the Border, which he wrote with Tariq Ali, premieres at the Venice Film Festival soon. Here's the trailer:

Teaching responsibilities have kept me away for a while now...and they don't look to be letting up any time soon. However, I plan on writing a few pieces in the upcoming weeks on the ongoing situation in Honduras and US plans to open bases in Colombia and the Venezuelan response.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Honduras: Anti-Chavez ‘free speech’ warriors linked to coup

From a comrade in Venezuela

Federico Fuentes, Caracas
18 July 2009

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) is well-known for its mission to expose the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez as a threat to free speech “all over the continent”.

These brave free speech warriors made a big deal this year about how they “dared” to hold a meeting in the Venezuelan capital, “defying” the repression of Chavez’s dictatorial regime.

It turns out that the IAPA has found little to condemn in regards to the dictatorship that has installed itself by military force in Honduras.

This regime has closed many media outlets, threatened and detained journalists, suspended constitutional rights, imposed nation-wide curfews and expelled the broadcasting teams of Latin America-wide station Telesur and Venezuelan state TV channel VTV from Honduras at gunpoint.

While it “condemns” some of the attacks on freedom of speech, it has ittle to say about the coup regime itself.

This is because, for the IAPA, there was no coup.

Its July 14 statement said the democratically elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was simply “stood down” — not kidnapped and dumped in a different country by balaclava-clad soldiers.

And if anyone can recognise a dictatorship, it is the IAPA. After all, as it points out, the IAPA has been fighting off dictatorships “for a long time” — in the form of the Chavez administration.

Ironically, the only time in Venezuela that a TV channel was taken off air, constitutional rights suspended, and journalists arrested and assaulted since Chavez’s 1998 election was during the two days when he was removed from power in a short-lived coup in April 2002.

Rather than wait for the IAPA freedom fighters to save them, the Venezuelan people took to the streets, and together with most of the military, defeated the coup regime and restored Chavez to office.

So why are these free speech crusaders so soft on the coup regime in Honduras?

Probably because IAPA representatives in Honduras have been central to the coup.

For instance, Roberto Micheletti, who was installed by the coup as de facto president, is the owner of various companies, including the newspaper La Tribuna.

One of his associates at the newspaper is Edgardo Dumas Rodriguez, a Honduran representative to the IAPA.

Then there is Jorge Canahuati. Two of the most pro-coup newspapers are La Prensa and El Heraldo. Together, they control 80% of newspaper circulation.

Both are majority owned by Canahuati, also president of the IAPA international commission.

So it is no surprise that Dumas Rodriguez told Venezuelan newspaper El Universal on July 5 that “no military coup has occurred” in Honduras.

Not that he is unconcerned with democracy. Dumas Rodriguez said he had information of a lawsuit being filed against a threat to Honduran sovereignty — not his friend and military-installed dictator Micheletti, but Chavez “for the crimes he has committed by intervening in the internal affairs of Honduras and for threatening to overthrow the existing government”!

For this free speech crusader, the real criminal is Chavez and not the coup plotters that overthrew an elected government and suspended all democratic rights — including free speech.

Asked why the IAPA was not criticising Honduran media outlets openly supporting a regime that crushes free speech, IAPA president Enrique Santos said on July 4 that while there may “possibly be newspapers that have been partisans of the change of government”, this was no reason for IAPA to “tell them what to think ... IAPA is not a monolithic organisation, where all partners have to have the same political criteria.”

Within the broad church that is IAPA, fascist coup plotters are more than welcome.

Keep this practice in mind next time the IAPA issues a blistering denunciation of the Venezuelan “dictatorship” — which has closed not one media outlet and where the large majority of the media are vehemently anti-government.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

In a Show of Class, de facto Honduran government arrests father of youth slain in pro-Zelaya protests

TeleSUR 11 July, 2009 – The de facto government of Honduras detained the parent of a child who died last Sunday when military forces loyal to the coup d’état clashed with demonstrators waiting for the return of the legitimate president, Manuel Zelaya, at the Toncontín airport in Tegucigalpa.

José Murillo, father of 19 year-old Isy Obed Murillo, was detained on Thursday in Tegucigalpa by the National Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DNIC, for its initials in Spanish) by order of the de facto government.

A DNIC spokesperson explained that the detention was carried out on a warrant that had existed since 2007 for violations of his parole.

The 2007 finding was based for Murillo’s having “violated a conditional release,” established in 2004 after he was accused of conspiracy to commit homicide. No further details of the potential crime were provided.

A tribunal in Juticalpa (east), which recognizes the de facto government, is now determining whether to release Murillo or to put him in jail.

The Family of José Murillo is looking for a lawyer to argue the case, after being informed of the detention by his daughters.

Isey Obed Murillo died of a gunshot wound last Sunday when Honduran soldiers under the direction of the coup government attacked followers of president Zelaya with weapons’ fire and teargas bombs as the president’s plane attempted to land in Tegucigalpa.

Images released by teleSUR show that the attack was an ambush in which soldiers allowed protesters to enter the Toncontín international airport before attacking them. Soldiers were prepared in combat positions on the runway.

[the article continues with a review of the coup so far...]

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chávez’s Lines: ALBA and The Hour of the Furnaces

I'm waiting, watching the TeleSUR livefeed on the return of Mel Zelaya to Tegucigalpa. Lots of interviews and pictures of marches and protests...

Since things aren't popping off quite yet, I figured I'd do a quick translation of Chávez's Lines for today, considering the historical importance of 5 July in Venezuela (independence day).

As a quick backgrounder, Chávez has been writing these mini-manifestos every weekend for a few months now. I will try to translate more as we go along. While often situated as ad hoc responses to particular crises, they nonetheless provide important glances into the historical and theoretical legacy being drawn for the (continuing emerging, morphing and advancing) ideology of Bolivarianismo.

Chávez’s Lines: ALBA and The Hour of the Furnaces

Today is the 5th of July: one of the most important days in the Patriotic imaginary. 198 years since our Declaration of Independence. The 5th of July on 1811 produced a decisive historic rupture. And it would be decisive: with it, our absolute independence was proclaimed, and our first Republic and Nation State were proclaimed.

A rupture, then, with a clear political sense that had been announced on the 19th of April, 1810.

The spirit of rupture was given life, on the road to the 5th of July, by the real and true revolutionary grouping that was the Patriotic Society and the sustained labor of agitation and radicalizing pressure on our First Congress. The inciting words of Miranda, of Bolívar, of Ribas, of Coto Paúl all gave a tremendous push to the cause of independence.

It was a rupture driven and organized by a small group of Caracas’ elites: that First Republic lacked popular sap. This is of course not to downplay the importance of 1811. Rather, it is necessary that we heed Augusto Mijares’ lucid and passionate reflection: “the total truth is that Venezuela anticipated enough to give its revolution a fervently juridical basis that was demonstrated retroactively in efforts to defend it.”

I would like to return to the profound significance that this date holds for our América by reflecting on the last verse of a song popularized on the streets of Caracas in 1811: “United by the ties/ that the sky has formed/ All of América/ exists as a nation.” The sense is one of a unified nation.

The 1811 Constitution, Our América’s first, declared its precepts inviolable. But, and this is important, it was possible to “alter and move these resolutions so that they conform with the majority of the of the people of Colombia united in a nation body for the defense and conservation of their liberty and independence.” Colombia: we can see here the hand of Miranda. That is to say, Venezuela intended to exist as a free nation, sovereign and independent within a larger unity. That is just how we intend it today. From there to today’s Bolivarian Alliance ALBA. From there to Unasur: “We can only be independent!” Today is the day of the Bolivarian Armed Force. I will give, in my own voice, the testimony of a grateful people that the arms of the Republic remain in their hands. This is a recognition that the people give to the same people: the day of the Bolivarian Armed Force is the today the day of the People Armed.

On this great day, I call on the soldiers of Venezuela to reflect: look at yourself in the painful mirror of Honduras. Look at the abysmal difference that exists between an Armed Force fraternally united with its people, as a people in arms, and an armed force transformed into an occupying army within its own country at the service of a bourgeoisie without country and in service of the countryless bourgeoisies of the world in love with the North.

The unity of Our América consolidates itself, and gains force in the unity of its nations and lifts in flight of freedom.

The neofascist putsch that a group of military and civilian thugs against President Zelaya has to be considered in the following manner: they want to make the Honduran government pay for its incorporation into ALBA, its identification with those who aspire for a more just and dignified world. They want to close the doors to a new history and leave with their hidden privileges for themselves.

But in their blindness, they have not noticed that they are trapped within a fatal anachronism and completely lack any historical sense.

It has been said, with truth, that the coup d’état in Honduras was against all that is embodied in these four letters: ALBA. The Bolivarian Alliance does not just have historical urgency, but is the only and inexorable path in front of the structural crisis of capitalism, and what amounts to the same, the united instrument and political will of the unbreakable unity of Our América.

From there they look to attack us, where we are most vulnerable.

And for that, the most nauseating sectors of Honduran society, at rifle point, woke up last Sunday to celebrate.

But the feeling of a people is unbreakable when it has decided to be free. The desire for change can be felt in the Honduran air, that is what we see on the screens of soldiers looking at a ghostly enemy: the thugs have been ordered to sow terror out of the terror the have of the people.

These traitors to the homeland never will be able to sacred fire of Morazán [Honduran independence hero]. His accusing words from yesterday, today targeted against the thugs and those they represent: “ Men that have abused the most sacred rights of a poele for a sordid and paltry interest, you I call enemies of independence and liberty.”

We recall now as well the voice of a young Simón Bolívar, who said in a public intervention of July 3, 1811 in the Patriotic Society, “to vacillate is to lose.”

“This is the hour of furnaces,” said Martí.

This is the hour of the people! This is the hour of the future! Without vacillation, we will win!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Zelaya to Return to Honduras, with or without the coup's permission

TeleSUR 29 June, 2009 – The legitimate president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, announced on Monday that he will return to his country to finish his term as president on Thursday after a trip to the United States at the invite of the president of the UN General Assembly, Miguel D’Escoto. He will travel with the secretary of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza.

“I am going to fulfill my mandate of four years, whether they – the coup-plotters – agree or not,” said Zelaya.

By invitation of Miguel D’Escoto [president of the UN General Assembly], the Honduran president will travel on Tuesday to the United States.

“I will return [to Honduras0 by the will of the protection of Christ and the Honduran people. I will return to my country, and I will ask the Organization of American States (OAS) to accompany me. This is an invitation offered by a Head of State and not because of pressing events,” Zelaya added.

Zelaya said that the coup of last Sunday represents a “violent backslide in an epoch of advances of social values in Latin America.”

Zelaya added that those who kidnapped and exiled him hoped to “deny the majority of the [Honduran] population of a better future.”

“We cannot allow brute force to rule over reason. We have either to return to begin anew or return to submit and succumb to force,” Zelaya said.

Zelaya said that the president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, called him on Monday to express his support against the coup in Tegucigalpa [the Honduran capital].

The Brazilian president also expressed that the entire continent was working diplomatically to return [Zelaya] to power.

In a press conference this [Monday] morning, Lula defended, “the isolation [of the coup government] in Honduras, for as long as there is no democratically elected president.”

“We cannot allow, in the 21st century, for there to be a military coup in Latin America. This is unacceptable. We will not recognize a new government. We need to pressure for the return of the democratically chosen government.”

During the meeting [Lula] said that the president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, was in consultation with the Chilean ambassador in Tegucigalpa, a measure also taken by the governments of Brazil and Mexico.


As I noted earlier, member states of the Bolivarian Alternative Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) have cut off diplomatic ties with Honduras. Also, there have been reports that some elements of the military are refusing to acknowledge the new Micheletti government. This would be a key step, as it was in Venezuela during the 2002 media-military-chamber of commerce coup. More details as I can confirm and translate.

Coup in Honduras: Day Two

TeleSUR is reporting this morning that Honduran Foreign Secretary, Patricia Rodas, has arrived in Nicaragua along with Mexican President Felipe Calderón. Rodas was kidnapped in the course of a military coup in Honduras along with ambassadors from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. All officials were out of contact for hours yesterday, which triggered Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to warn the Honduran coup plotters that Venezuela would take whatever steps necessary to defend its citizens.

The Venezuelan ambassador, according to a TeleSUR report yesterday afternoon, was later discovered on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, having been beaten and driven out of town.

In Nicaragua, leaders of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) greeted exiled Honduran president Manuel Zelaya late last night. ALBA nations will be meeting in the Managua along with representatives from the Rio Group and the Central American Integration Group (SICA) to discuss potential responses to the coup.

This morning there have been reports of massive anti-coup demonstrations in Tegucigalpa and a general strike has been called for by organizations aligned with Zelaya. The Honduran congress, for its part, removed Zelaya from power in abstentia yesterday afternoon and named Roberto Micheletti – President of congress and a member of Zelaya’s own Liberal party – interim president.

Every government in the hemisphere, the Organization of American States, the European Union and the United Nations have all denounced the coup and asserted that the only legitimate and constitutional president in Honduras is Manuel Zelaya.

Eva Golinger, live-blogging the coup from Caracas, reads between the State Department’s statements on the coup to find – at the very least – US complacence with the coup. The US and Honduran armed forces have a historically close relationship. Honduras serve as the “aircraft carrier that cannot be sunk” for war fought by the United States against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Honduras, one of the poorest countries in a rather poor region, has been a key transit point in the hemispheric drug trade, and the US has deployed forces within Honduras as part of its ‘war on drugs.’ Finally, the military leadership of the coup are School of the Americas alumni.

As the current crisis in Honduras has been ramping up, the United States has repeated calls for a ‘peaceful’ solution to conflicts between Zelaya, the military command and the Supreme Court. Golinger asserts that the US could have effectively squashed the coup at any point through its power of the purse. For her, the Obama administrations equivocations during the past three weeks is a tacit approval of the coup plotters machinations.

The coup in Honduras has, if unevenly, been remarkable in the universal condemnation it has engendered. While the White House was initially tepid in its responses, by Sunday afternoon President Obama declared Zelaya to be the only head of state the US would recognize in Honduras. The region’s other right wing heads of state, notably Mexico’s Felipe Calderón, have also condemned the coup in unequivocal terms. Later today, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who is in Washington lobbying for a Free Trade Agreement between his country and the United States, will hold a press conference with president Obama. We should expect a bilateral statement against the coup at that point.

However, with images of blockades and protests around the Presidential palace (check out TeleSUR’s live feed here) the true question of this crisis in terms of regional and geopolitics rests more with ALBA , of which Honduras has been a member since October 2008, than with the already overstretched Empire to the North. Venezuela’s Chávez has characteristically been perhaps the most outspoken in his condemnation of the coup, and energetic protests in support of Zelaya have taken place throughout Venezuela’s cities. Chávez and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa scrambled all but immediately to Managua to meet with the exiled Zelaya, but concrete steps have yet to take shape.

UPDATE: The ALBA meeting is currently taking place in Managua. ALBA member states have all recalled their ambassadors from Tegucigalpa and are breaking diplomatic relations with the Micheletti government. They are calling for all other governments and transnational organizations to follow suit.

UPDATE II: Excellent background and analysis by Nikolas Kozloff here. This should be assigned reading for anyone trying to make sense of events in Honduras and their larger hemispheric significance.

UPDATE III: 12:20 (PST) Live feed from Tegucigalpa outside the occupied presidential palace shows troops attempting to disperse protesters with (at least, from what I can see) tear gas and clubs, supposedly in anticipation of de-facto president Micheletti's arrival.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Eva Golinger: Obama's First Coup d'Etat: Honduran President has been Kidnapped

Caracas, Venezuela - The text message that beeped on my cell phone this morning read "Alert, Zelaya has been kidnapped, coup d'etat underway in Honduras, spread the word." It's a rude awakening for a Sunday morning, especially for the millions of Hondurans that were preparing to exercise their sacred right to vote today for the first time on a consultative referendum concerning the future convening of a constitutional assembly to reform the constitution. Supposedly at the center of the controversary is today's scheduled referendum, which is not a binding vote but merely an opinion poll to determine whether or not a majority of Hondurans desire to eventually enter into a process to modify their constitution.

Such an initiative has never taken place in the Central American nation, which has a very limited constitution that allows minimal participation by the people of Honduras in their political processes. The current constitution, written in 1982 during the height of the Reagan Administration's dirty war in Central America, was designed to ensure those in power, both economic and political, would retain it with little interference from the people. Zelaya, elected in November 2005 on the platform of Honduras' Liberal Party, had proposed the opinion poll be conducted to determine if a majority of citizens agreed that constitutional reform was necessary. He was backed by a majority of labor unions and social movements in the country. If the poll had occured, depending on the results, a referendum would have been conducted during the upcoming elections in November to vote on convening a constitutional assembly. Nevertheless, today's scheduled poll was not binding by law.

In fact, several days before the poll was to occur, Honduras' Supreme Court ruled it illegal, upon request by the Congress, both of which are led by anti-Zelaya majorities and members of the ultra-conservative party, National Party of Honduras (PNH). This move led to massive protests in the streets in favor of President Zelaya. On June 24, the president fired the head of the high military command, General Romeo Vásquez, after he refused to allow the military to distribute the electoral material for Sunday's elections. General Romeo Vásquez held the material under tight military control, refusing to release it even to the president's followers, stating that the scheduled referendum had been determined illegal by the Supreme Court and therefore he could not comply with the president's order. As in the Unted States, the president of Honduras is Commander in Chief and has the final say on the military's actions, and so he ordered the General's removal. The Minister of Defense, Angel Edmundo Orellana, also resigned in response to this increasingly tense situation.

But the following day, Honduras' Supreme Court reinstated General Romeo Vásquez to the high military command, ruling his firing as "unconstitutional'. Thousands poured into the streets of Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa, showing support for President Zelaya and evidencing their determination to ensure Sunday's non-binding referendum would take place. On Friday, the president and a group of hundreds of supporters, marched to the nearby air base to collect the electoral material that had been previously held by the military. That evening, Zelaya gave a national press conference along with a group of politicians from different political parties and social movements, calling for unity and peace in the country.

As of Saturday, the situation in Honduras was reported as calm. But early Sunday morning, a group of approximately 60 armed soldiers entered the presidential residence and took Zelaya hostage. After several hours of confusion, reports surfaced claiming the president had been taken to a nearby air force base and flown to neighboring Costa Rica. No images have been seen of the president so far and it is unknown whether or not his life is still endangered.

President Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, speaking live on Telesur at approximately 10:00am Caracas time, denounced that in early hours of Sunday morning, the soldiers stormed their residence, firing shots throughout the house, beating and then taking the president. "It was an act of cowardness", said the first lady, referring to the illegal kidnapping occuring during a time when no one would know or react until it was all over. Casto de Zelaya also called for the "preservation" of her husband's life, indicating that she herself is unaware of his whereabouts. She claimed their lives are all still in "serious danger" and made a call for the international community to denounce this illegal coup d'etat and to act rapidly to reinstate constitutional order in the country, which includes the rescue and return of the democratically elected Zelaya.

Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela have both made public statements on Sunday morning condeming the coup d'etat in Honduras and calling on the international community to react to ensure democracy is restored and the constitutional president is reinstated. Last Wednesday, June 24, an extraordinary meeting of the member nations of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), of which Honduras is a member, was convened in Venezuela to welcome Ecuador, Antigua & Barbados and St. Vincent to its ranks. During the meeting, which was attended by Honduras' Foreign Minister, Patricia Rodas, a statement was read supporting President Zelaya and condenming any attempts to undermine his mandate and Honduras' democratic processes.

Reports coming out of Honduras have informed that the public television channel, Canal 8, has been shut down by the coup forces. Just minutes ago, Telesur announced that the military in Honduras is shutting down all electricity throughout the country. Those television and radio stations still transmitting are not reporting the coup d'etat or the kidnapping of President Zelaya, according to Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas. "Telephones and electricity are being cut off", confirmed Rodas just minutes ago via Telesur. "The media are showing cartoons and soap operas and are not informing the people of Honduras about what is happening". The situation is eerily reminiscent of the April 2002 coup d'etat against President Chávez in Venezuela, when the media played a key role by first manipulating information to support the coup and then later blacking out all information when the people began protesting and eventually overcame and defeated the coup forces, rescuing Chávez (who had also been kidnapped by the military) and restoring constitutional order.

Honduras is a nation that has been the victim of dictatorships and massive U.S. intervention during the past century, including several military invasions. The last major U.S. government intervention in Honduras occured during the 1980s, when the Reagain Administration funded death squads and paramilitaries to eliminate any potential "communist threats" in Central America. At the time, John Negroponte, was the U.S. Ambassador in Honduras and was responsible for directly funding and training Honduran death squads that were responsable for thousands of disappeared and assassinated throughout the region.

On Friday, the Organization of American States (OAS), convened a special meeting to discuss the crisis in Honduras, later issuing a statement condeming the threats to democracy and authorizing a convoy of representatives to travel to OAS to investigate further. Nevertheless, on Friday, Assistant Secretary of State of the United States, Phillip J. Crowley, refused to clarify the U.S. government's position in reference to the potential coup against President Zelaya, and instead issued a more ambiguous statement that implied Washington's support for the opposition to the Honduran president. While most other Latin American governments had clearly indicated their adamant condemnation of the coup plans underway in Honduras and their solid support for Honduras' constitutionally elected president, Manual Zelaya, the U.S. spokesman stated the following, "We are concerned about the breakdown in the political dialogue among Honduran politicians over the proposed June 28 poll on constitutional reform. We urge all sides to seek a consensual democratic resolution in the current political impasse that adheres to the Honduran constitution and to Honduran laws consistent with the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter."

As of 10:30am, Sunday morning, no further statements have been issued by the Washington concerning the military coup in Honduras. The Central American nation is highly dependent on the U.S. economy, which ensures one of its top sources of income, the monies sent from Hondurans working in the U.S. under the "temporary protected status" program that was implemented during Washington's dirty war in the 1980s as a result of massive immigration to U.S. territory to escape the war zone. Another major source of funding in Honduras is USAID, providing over US$ 50 millon annually for "democracy promotion" programs, which generally supports NGOs and political parties favorable to U.S. interests, as has been the case in Venezuela, Bolivia and other nations in the region. The Pentagon also maintains a military base in Honduras in Soto Cano, equipped with approximately 500 troops and numerous air force combat planes and helicopters.

Foreign Minister Rodas has stated that she has repeatedly tried to make contact with the U.S. Ambassador in Honduras, Hugo Llorens, who has not responded to any of her calls thus far. The modus operandi of the coup makes clear that Washington is involved. Neither the Honduran military, which is majority trained by U.S. forces, nor the political and economic elite, would act to oust a democratically elected president without the backing and support of the U.S. government. President Zelaya has increasingly come under attack by the conservative forces in Honduras for his growing relationship with the ALBA countries, and particularly Venezuela and President Chávez. Many believe the coup has been executed as a method of ensuring Honduras does not continue to unify with the more leftist and socialist countries in Latin America.

Source URL (retrieved on Jun 28 2009 - 12:57):
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Translation and links: Coup d'état in Honduras

Given the rather wretched initial coverage of the US media (NYT and NPR reports that fail to include the phrase coup d’état, though CNN’s initial coverage looks downright exhaustive, if still one-sided, in comparison), I thought it would be worthwhile to translate TeleSUR con the developing events (original here).

President Zelaya is assumed to be in Costa Rica

TeleSUR 28 June, 2009 –

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was taken to Costa Rica by the Honduran military in a coup d’état this Sunday. Meanwhile, Roberto Micheletti, the president of the Honduran congress, has declared himself interim president, an action which has been rejected by thousands of Hondurans who have taken to the streets to demand the return of the democratically elected president.

Honduran government spokeswoman Patricia Rodas informed teleSURE that she has information that president Manuel Zelaya has been presumably taken to Costa Rica. She emphasized that this information has yet to be confirmed, and asked [Costa Rica] to act according to the rule of law and notify the world of the president’s status.

Earlier, the president’s son Héctor Zelaya said to TeleSUR that his father had been forcibly removed from the country. He added that according to the latest information more than 200 soldiers entered the presidential palace and removed president Zelaya in white vehicles.

“In this situation the first thing we lost was communication. The last was that the president was removed from power,” said Héctor Zelaya.

He added that at time that he was speaking from a secure location.

The president’s wife, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, for her part, told TeleSUR Sunday morning that “in cowardice they took the president from his house, they beat him physically but they also delivered blows to democracy.”

“Today we ask for the freedom of the president, and we urge the Armed Forces to free the president and to guarantee his safety.”

She added that today, when people want to change the history of Honduras and silence the people, “I know that not a single Honduran citizen supports this military coup.”

Masked soldiers have since the early hours of the morning occupied the presidential palace. According to information specially obtained by teleSUR in Honduras, armed soldiers took the president to a military air base, but have yet to determine the exact location of the president. A government spokesperson has denounced the “kidnapping” of Zelaya.

Government spokeswoman Patricia Rodas told teleSUR “soldiers, including snipers, have surrounded my home…they have kidnapped [the president] and we don’t know his whereabouts…our houses are surrounded by the military and we have no idea for how much longer we will be able to speak,” said Rodas.

“They have once again murdered the hope of democracy, of equality, all with this sudden attack of terrorism against our people,” she added.

A popular inquiry to determine if Honduras should convoke a national constituent assembly was to take place this Sunday in Honduras with the opening of voting centers that had been established in the parks of this Central American country’s principal cities.

The inquiry, held after the collection of more than 400,000 signatures, has been a source of significant controversy amongst certain political and social sectors in Honduras, and is presumed to be behind the coup d’état against the president of this country, Manuel Zelaya.


Hmmm. Now NPR is reporting that Zelaya has ‘fled’ to Costa Rica. Disappointing stuff from the US media here, again.

Honduras was ruled by a string of military governments from 1963-1981. Throughout the 1980s, the country served as the United States’ base of operations in its covert wars against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, as well as the location from which the US intervened in the civil conflicts which engulfed Central American states for much of the later 20th century.

Zelaya has been a controversial figure in Honduras and elsewhere. He has aligned himself openly with the Latin American left, joining the Bolivarian Alternative for the peoples of América in 2008. He also has been noted for calling a change in the US 'war on drugs' to address the demand-side of the global trade rather than militarizing countries like Honduras, a major transit point for the hemispheric drug trade.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Update: The Great No-Show


Mario Vargas Llosa, et. al. copped out, refusing to attend a debate this morning on President Chávez's weekly television show, Aló Presidente.

I posted the initial story a few days ago and immediately started looking for more details, hoping to write a longer analysis after the event. Chávez had initially proposed to host a debate between "intellectuals who support capitalism, and intellectuals who support socialism," given the fact that two high-profile conferences (representing each tendancy) were taking place that week in Caracas.

Mario Vargas Llosa, world renowned author of the 'boom' generation and outspoken champion of neoliberalism and the Peruvian aristocracy, was quickly identified as the most prominent representative of the right's team.

However, immediately after accepting the invite, Vargas Llosa started adding on conditions, eventually demanding that he and Chávez debate personally rather than the panel-style discussion the Venezuelan president had initially proposed to moderate. In the end, the Peruvian and his cohort simply refused to attend.

This is a shame, but rather indicative of the Venezuelan right's inability to actually battle Chávez on issues and ideas. The reason the opposition, as I have argued numerous times in this blog, have failed to make inroads against the consolidation of Bolivarian hegemony has been, quite simply, that they have absolutely no vision for where to take Venezuela, and no legitimacy in the eyes of the vast majority of the Venezuelan population.

The debate that wasn't also illuminates another misrepresentation of the Venezuelan right. That is, far from the stale slogans they have cut-and-pasted from their National Endowment for Democracy™ coloring books onto webpages and picket signs, Chávez's willingness to host such a debate seriously undermines opposition claims that 'freedom of expression' is being curtailed in Venezuela.

This has happened before. The scenario goes:
1. the opposition cries 'censorship,' 'there is no free speech in Venezuela';
2. the government promises them (and in some cases, has given them) the ability to state their case ON NATIONAL TELEVISION AND RADIO in cadena nacional, meaning by law every broadcaster must put them on the air, live;
3. the government, however, adds the condition that rather than an infomercial, this will be a debate. That is to say, the opposition will get to say their piece, but they have to defend their position;
4. the opposition runs away;
5. Simon Romero at the New York Times reports the following day that Chávez is opening up a gulag somewhere in the Llanos where kittens are ground up into nuclear fissile material that he intends to use in a sneak attack on Israel.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Seriously, this is going to be bigger than Tyson v. Holyfield! Set your TiVo! (geez, I wish I had a TV)

Chávez v. Vargas Llosa,
this could go more than 12 rounds.
Seriously, I've seen Chávez talk FOR HOURS

The Bolivarian News Agency is reporting today that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is challenging “rightwing intellectuals” to a debate that will take place on his weekly television program ‘Aló Presidente’ this Sunday. Enrique Krauze, Mario Vargas Llosa (see this, for example) and Jorge Castañeda – all noted international critics of Chávez – have been in Caracas at a conference organized by Cedice (a rightwing Venezuelan think-tank).

The government has also been holding its own concurrent conference, this one organized around the theme of the current global crisis in the capitalist world system.

Last Thursday, Chávez issued his challenge, hoping to commemorate the 10th anniversary of ‘Aló Presidente’ with a vigorous debate on the status of the Bolivarian Revolution. Today the rightwing trio agreed, stipulating the need for ‘clear rules’ and that they would be debating the president alone.

Said Chávez, “I’ll debate with whoever wants to debate me. At 11 in the morning I’ll be waiting, and won’t avoid any topic. Any theme is valid, and if they want, we can make every radio and television in the nation broadcast it.”

Monday, May 4, 2009

Chavista Student Leader's Murder and (more) Lies of the Venezuelan Opposition

The Bolivarian News Agency report today on the JPSUV and violence against the student movement (the youth wing of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, for its initials in Spanish) was overshadowed by a predawn earthquake near the capital that measured 5.4 on the Richter Scale (no injuries were reported). All the same, this was a key story, one which illuminates both the intensity of mobilization in Venezuela today and the paucity of the opposition’s attempt to paint themselves as victims of a dictatorship.

The Story

Today, Luis Villalta, speaking on behalf of the JPSUV, read a prepared statement exhorting the Venezuelan Attorney General’s office to investigate the death of Yuban Ortega, a student militant from the Andean state of Mérida. Ortega died last Thursday at the hands of officers from the regional police corps.

Today, a series of political and cultural actions are taking place throughout Venezuelan cities and campuses, in memory of Ortega and against the culture of impunity that Villalta described as reminiscent of the (pre-Bolivarian Revolution) Fourth Republic. “We are standing and fighting,” the JPSUV announced, adding “It seems that the bourgeois state has not died yet, and that its repressive arm is still trying to stop us.” The JPSUV statement also warned the ‘rectores golpistas’ (inelegantly translated: coup-monger university rectors) that the Bolivarian Revolution will not be stopped.

The Historical Context

All this may seem odd to those of us who only encounter Venezuela through mainstream US media sources. Here in the United States, we are presented with the picture of Venezuela as a country tottering on the edge of totalitarianism, in which a romantic and battered opposition struggles against an omnipresent megalomaniac and his armed thugs. In particular, since 2007’s non-renewal of the private television network RCTV’s broadcast concession, we have been presented from time to time with images of a ‘student movement’ bravely fighting for freedom of speech and against state repression.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, one of the chief complaints I have often heard voiced by Chavistas is that the government is far too lenient on the opposition. While radicals and moderate Chavistas alike are proud of the fact that the Bolivarian Process has been a rule-bound, democratic and open one, they are frustrated at how the opposition has been able to manipulate the rules in order to create instability and maintain their positions of economic and social privilege.

The university system is a key case in point. While in the 1960s and 1970s the Venezuelan public university system functioned as something of a progressive institution (perhaps most notably during the administration of Rafael Caldera, when military officers were trained at Venezuelan Universities rather than the US torture academy – at the time known as the ‘School of the Americas’ – in Ft. Benning, Georgia), with deepening recessions throughout the 1980s and 1990s they increasingly became the exclusive territory of the rich. This in large part is due to the increase in fees, the general economic downturn and the barrier put in place by entrance exams. These factors formed something of a crypto-class credentialing process: with the less money, the burden of travel costs to university and even nominal fees became harder to bear; rather than studying for college entry exams, poor students were required to seek employment, and so forth. As a result, during Venezuela's lost decades, the poor were increasingly denied access to higher education -- and the social mobility it entails.

With the gradual change in the class composition of the University, so too changed the activist orientation of University students. We often (falsely) assume campuses the world over to be hotbeds of radicalism and revolutionary thought. All too often, especially today, this is not the case, but is rather little more than an overly-romanticized memory of the rebellions of 1968.

Thus, while students of the Central University of Venezuela were key in the anti-neoliberal uprisings of 1989 known collectively either as the caracazo or sacudón, by the time of 2007’s campaign to reform the constitution there were sizable blocs of anti-Chavistas violently clashing with pro-government student groups. (Most notoriously misreported in the US was the incident in early November 2007 on the UCV campus in which a group of opposition student protesters surrounded and attempted to burn down a building in which pro-government students were holding a meeting. In the struggles that ensued, guns were drawn by both sides. However, in the US, coverage was almost universally spun along the lines of ‘pro-Chávez student thugs attack pro-democracy students’ – a blatant flipping of Venezuelan reality).

A further complication to the student question in Venezuela has to do with ‘university autonomy.’ Due in large part to a history of police and state repression against (at the time, radical and leftist) student organizations, Venezuela’s legal code prohibits members of the state’s security forces from entering university grounds, even though they are, technically, public institutions. This has allowed violent opposition student groups to use campuses as ‘home bases’ from which they can strike out against the police, resulting in many staged photos which are then distributed worldwide.

Secondly, this question of autonomy has allowed university administrators themselves to turn campuses into islands of opposition power. One of the most obvious and egregious examples came in 2007 when, during the RCTV affair, the rector of UCV canceled classes and encouraged students to take part in anti-government protests.

The government's response to this institutional situation has been to create a series of parallel educational institutions -- from the misiones bolivarianas to the Bolvarian University of Venezuela. Much like the related communal councils, the strategy of the government has here been additive in nature. That is to say, rather than a frontal assault on the existing public university system, dominated as it is by the opposition, the government is attempting to make them obsolete by creating alternatives which are more universally accessible.

The Stakes

Recent violent events in the student scene in Venezuela should be viewed against the backdrop of an upsurge in violence against labor organizers and attempts to establish worker control of factories. They should also be considered against the all but complete lack of state repression against opposition actors who openly and actively have been seeking to destabilize the country (opposition Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma’s inciting of a rally last Friday to clash with police being a very recent case in point). What we see, then, is the in part necessary balancing act the Venezuelan state has decided to attempt in order to de-escalate politics in the country and to forge something along the lines of a ‘social peace.’

These events also point to ridiculousness of claim that the Bolivarian Revolution is entering something along the lines of a totalitarian situation. Last November, the opposition gained important institutional positions of power, augmenting their former footholds in the Universities and private media (while the Bolivarian movement has gained key ground in television, the print and radio media, not to mention international and cable-access sources, remain solidly in the hands of the opposition). Rather than a monolithic state and ‘official’ party (the PSUV), contemporary Venezuelan politics are as ever fragmented and antagonistic, with the divisions within the larger Bolivarian movement just as stark as those between Chavistas and the opposition.

Furthermore, with the continued darkening of the economic skies, the Chávez government has fewer resources to spread around, which has already brought about a series of difficult decisions. While they have thus far pledged not to cut social spending, they have still yet to ‘expropriate the expropriators,’ as self-identification as a ‘revolution’ would seem to promise. The government’s first anti-crisis plan has met with a high degree of skepticism on the part of radical chavismo, who see the plan as a significant moderation of the revolutionary process. Some commentators even argue that the plan does more to shore up the national bourgeoisie than actually contribute to the construction of Socialism in Venezuela. Paraphrasing Marea Socialista, a radical current within the PSUV, the government seems to be missing a tremendous opportunity to ramp up the speed of change presented by the global restructuring of the capitalist system.

In other words, the government may indeed be trying to please too many people here – or maybe just the wrong ones.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Carter and Morales, Coca, Peanuts, and the Peacecorps...

(translation from Telesur) -- In La Paz, Ex-President of the United States and Nobel Prize winner Jimmy Carter accepted an invitation from Bolivian President Evo Morales to harvest coca leaves at the Bolivian President’s home in the Andean region of Chapare.

“I hope that on my next visit I can go to Chapare, where he [Morales] will take me to harvest coca leaves,” Carter said through an interpreter during a press conference with the Bolivian president after a private meeting in the Presidential Palace.

Morales, a former leader of coca farmers, made the first invitation among smiles and an announcement that he and Carter had a good meeting that also included Carter inviting Morales to harvest peanuts at his farm in Georgia.

“One time he invited me to visit his family and his home, to harvest peanuts on his land in Atlanta, so now I am inviting him to Chapare to harvest coca…the next time [he visits],” said Morales, without providing details when he would again visit the United states, which triggered laughter from Carter.

Morales also denied any intention of expelling the Peace Corps from Bolivia. While Bolivia, like Venezuela, has expelled other US agencies from operating within its national territory (most notoriously in the US, the Drug Enforcement Administration). In the case of the Peace Corps, however, Morales said that he welcomed any organization to Bolivia that had "social ends" and that did not seek to meddle in Bolivian affairs.

The question of the Peace Corps' status in Bolivia has been somewhat in question since February of 2008. At the time, it was revealed that the US Ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, had requested that Fullbright Scholars and Peace Corps volunteers spy on Venezuelan and Cuban nationals working in Bolivia. Morales eventually expelled Philip Goldberg, the US Ambassador to Bolivia, in September of last year after he was caught consorting with violent separatist groups in the eastern department of Santa Cruz.

Venezuela expelled its ambassador in solidarity, at the time Chávez said at a rally, "Get out of here, bullshit yankees! We're a dignified people, We are the children of Bolívar, the children of Guaicaipuro, the children of Tupac Amarú, we are free...when there is a new government [in the United States] we will request a new ambassador."

Carter's meeting with Morales is the latest in a series of warming signs that relations between the United States and Latin American democracies. Carter's position today, which tacitly accepts the legitimacy of coca as a crop is significant step in the direction of normalization.

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day 2009 -- Polarization on the day of the worker

May Day is traditionally the occasion for mass demonstrations, celebrations, marches and protests throughout much of the world. With the on-going reconfiguration of the global economic order and many central states using public funds to bailout financial institutions deemed ‘too big to fail,’ the stakes and emotions around today’s international day of the worker are as high as ever.

Al-Jazeera reports that throughout the world, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the street, with significant clashes taking place between demonstrators and police in Germany, Turkey and Greece. In Moscow, many groups marched under the hammer and sickle, calling for a return to communism after the kleptocracy that has defined Russian political economy since the Yeltsin Years.

Venezuela has of course been no exception. The country that has for many reintroduced the question and reinvention of socialism has not been without May Day mobilizations, many of which exemplify the intense political and social divisions within the larger Bolivarian process.

Throughout the country, the Chávez government has sponsored a series of marches and rallies, highlighting the ways in which the still-developing Bolivarian Socialist model has been able to avoid some of the most injurious effects of the global recession through its flotilla of social programs and government-sponsored employment initiatives.

In Caracas (opposition) metropolitan mayor Antonio Ledezma encouraged a legal rally in a park in the capital to continue onward to the National Assembly, at which point white T-shirted youths clashed with a police cordon. (Authorities were concerned that the opposition rally would run into another sanctioned but pro-government rally. Given the intensely polarized nature of Venezuelan politics today, the government often tries to keep pro- and anti-government protesters separated in order to avoid repeats of, for example, violent clashes between students campaigning for and against the constitutional referendum in late 2007).

These clashes (still developing as I write) highlight the high-stakes politics and precedents of public rallies in Caracas and throughout Venezuela. In 2002, an opposition rally and march protesting the sacking of several PDVSA (the state oil company) officials was encouraged to extend their route to Miraflores, the presidential palace, in violation of their parade permits. In the (as it turns out, carefully orchestrated between the then Acción Democratica dominated official trade union, the private media, the national chamber of commerce – FEDECÁMERAS – and elements of the military high command) chaos that ensued, a crisis was precipitated that served as the justification of a military coup.

This strategy aimed at creating crises has become a stand-by for the Venezuelan opposition, and since 2007, a well-trained ‘student movement’ has often emerged as the vanguard of violent clashes against police and Chávez supporters. In one recent and illuminating example from the lead-up to the February 15th referendum on term limits for elected officials, anti-government students attempted to start a forest fire in El Ávila, the national park that borders the city of Caracas to the north.

These sorts of destabilizing tactics on the part of the Venezuelan opposition are intended perhaps more than anything for its own internal audience. By forcing the hand of the state to ‘repress’ them, they produce an image that gives them the moral righteousness of perceived victimhood. For most Venezuelans, however, their actions take on the appearance of the extremism and desperation of an upper class being dispossessed. The net result is thus the further entrenchment of the antagonism and polarization that defines Venezuelan politics.

If only…

However, it is also important to keep in mind that the Venezuelan opposition is a spent force, politically. Outside of the ranks of the upper and upper-middle class, they lack any sort of constituency, due in no small part to their utter lack of a coherent vision for how to take Venezuela forward. Much touted electoral victories in the local and regional elections of November 2008 were the result not of the opposition’s ability to convert Chavistas, but were caused rather by widespread discontent with some of the candidates presented by the PSUV (Juan Barreto, former mayor of the municipality of Caracas who is now under investigation for corruption, being a prime case in point).

The more interesting and important division in Venezuela, the one that will actually impact the future direction of the Bolivarian Revolution, is that within the ranks of Chavismo. This division, which I and many others have identified as between radicals at the base – who tend to be less accomodationist toward the opposition, leery of representative government, and less ambiguously in favor of socialism – and members of the ‘internal rightwing’ is playing out this May Day as well.

In Aragua, members of the National Workers’ Union (UNT) and the United, Revolutionary, Classist and Autonomist Movement (C-CURA) are holding a May Day march in the city of Maracay “independent of the bosses and the government.” The march, in addition to supporting worker-controlled factories and calling for a reassessment of the government’s recently announced anti-crisis plan (which they, as well as Marea Socialista, a radical current within the PSUV, contend is a Bolivarian version of a bailout for the wealthy), is being held in solidarity with public sector workers currently renegotiating their contracts.

The march is also intended to call attention to intensifying conflicts between workers and bosses in Venezuela, most specifically in this rally’s case the as-yet unsolved assassination of three labor organizers in late November of last year.

In their May Day statement, Marea Socialista argues that “this crisis is not just a crisis of the global capitalist system, it is also an enormous opportunity to push forward in the fight for the only alternative model to capitalism that we know, socialism.”

The continue that this, the third phase of the Bolivarian Revolution (the first being the period between the caracazo of 1989 and Chávez’s election in 1998, the second being the period between the ratification of the constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the passing of the constitutional amendment abolishing term limits this past February) has still been one in which the oligarchy “continues to enjoy intolerable profits,” and that their fight, the fight for socialism is “class war,” or the still lacking consolidation of worker-control in production, the unity of unions in this struggle, and the overcoming of bureaucratic roadblocks on the path to Socialism.

There are then, two types of struggle in Venezuela today. The first is that of the opposition against the government, which is increasingly taking the path of the guarimba -- a series of violent protests orchestrated by the opposition in order to destabilize the state -- and almost always covered with a sympathetic eye by the media in the United States and Europe. The second is the struggle within the Bolivarian Revolution.

This second struggle, between radicals and the 'forces of order' within the state and the PSUV shows little sign of slowing down. Nor, given the electoral inroads made by the opposition in last November's elections and the intransigence of figures such as Ledezma, does the first. While in other circumstances economic policies of the government in response to the crisis (an increase in the added value tax, being the most contentious example) might threaten to further fragment the pro-government bloc -- numerous parties, PODEMOS being the most recent, have jumped from the government's coalition due to the personal ambitions of their leadership -- the spectacular actions of the opposition only serve to reinforce the need for unity within the Bolivarian Revolution.