Of Latin American Referenda

Referendum fever is on in Venezuela, with 1.4 million people having registered to vote in the referendum, setting new records for voter registration in a place where records of participation have been repeatedly broken in recent years. There are now 14 million Venezuelans who are able to vote on August 15 -- earlier this year, there were 12.5 million, according to the Electoral Council's figures. Remember that Chavez was re-elected with 3.7 million votes in 2000. As I understand it, the opposition needs to either beat that number or beat the number of 'No' voters in the recall vote, whichever is higher. The population of the country is 24 million (according to this El Tiempo article I'm quoting from -- I thought it was 22 million).

Venezuela has formally asked the US to stop helping the coup plotters and the 'opposition'.

But Venezuelans aren't the only people going to a major referendum soon. There's also Bolivia.

This coming Sunday, Bolivians will vote on the future of their natural gas resource. This was the promise of Carlos Mesa, the Vice President who took over after President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was ousted by a popular uprising. Some movements had sought a question about nationalization of the resource, in addition to the question about whether or not to export the gas. Mesa didn't listen -- he was trying to placate the multinationals as much as the powerful social movements. So as it stands, it seems to me that if Bolivians vote against the exportation of gas, they will avoid losing a huge amount of control over their resources, but they won't gain much in the way of control, since really important questions are not on the table.

I have heard that the Bolivian social movements are working and strategizing slowly and patiently: knowing that they can overthrow Mesa the same way they overthrew Sanchez de Lozada any time they want doesn't get them the democratic control over their lives that is their right.

Iraq news

The Phillippines is thinking of withdrawing its token troops involved in the US occupation of Iraq, due to the kidnapping and threat against a Filipino national there. If you take a look at the article, there is a breakdown of the troops in Iraq by country. I knew that the 'coalition' was a sham, but I was surprised that the numbers of troops from countries other than the US was so low. While the Filipino withdrawal is good for Filipinos and Iraqis, Australians are stepping in to fill the breach. The Australian elections, coming up, it seems aren't going to give Australians a chance to punish their regime for its warmongering. If you can stomach the unsophisticated propaganda, you can read about how the Iraqi insurgents have been attacking Abu Ghraib prison.

As usual, much of the above via News Insider.


Sudan blogs and info

The Sudan continues to be a painful horror. In the comments section of this blog, Richard Hindes suggested two good sources. Darfur Info is good. So is the 'Passion of the Present' blog. Following that one will take you to a resource with daily updates, a set of introductory materials (including a useful HRW report), and, notably, yet another blog. This one, by Ingrid Jones, has an interesting piece on oil interests that are in the background of this massacre/displacement.

If you asked me to speculate (someone did recently) I suspect that the massacres in Darfur are linked to the peace accord between the Sudanese regime and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) led by John Garang. The SPLA was the big and powerful rebel group in the country. Its signing a peace accord with the government and agreeing to a power-sharing formula could have freed the regime to unleash its militias against Darfur. It could be a matter of rewarding the militias for their service against the SPLA.

I will look into this further, and report on what I find. Anyone who has done more research and wants to comment is welcome.


Radical advice column?

Someone wrote me today asking for some advice about what to study in school, what to do in life, etc. This is a rare occurrence, but it isn't so rare that I haven't thought about it. I know I looked around for guidance a lot when I was younger (hell, I would happily accept some now too!). People usually ask things like -- I have an opportunity to study, what should I study? I have an opportunity to travel, what should I do with it? How can I learn more about how to change the world? Of course, the answers to all of these questions depends a great deal on the talents, interests, skills, and circumstances of the person asking. But even that answer alone is a bit of guidance that would have been useful for me when I was wondering what to do...

In terms of reading, I found Peter Kropotkin's 'Appeal to the Young' to be a very nice essay. More recently, George Monbiot wrote a nice piece, aimed also at privileged youth who have opportunities most can't dream of (as Kropotkin's is aimed) and as such are in a position to ask for advice. My own little pep talk for young people (actually young social democrats who I was trying to radicalize) is here. For people heading into professional schools or work, I can't recommend Jeff Schmidt's Disciplined Minds enough. If you want to know how your professional training will warp your mind and turn you into a privileged caste without empathy for working people or the public good, read this book. Better, Schmidt provides advice and ideas on how to resist the indoctrination.

That might have turned out to be more of a reading list than an advice column. Reading advice columns (I won't tell you which ones) is a guilty pleasure of mine, I have to admit. A genuine radical advice column would actually be fun... though I suppose if radicals have a problem it's that they are keener to give advice than to ask it... that would seem to be a blog post for another day, though.

The World Court ruling

The world court ruling against Israel's apartheid wall is, as Samer Elatrash describes, a good ruling. By now, people have pointed out that the World Court's moral suasion didn't count for much when it ruled against the US for its terrorist war against Nicaragua in the 1980s.

You will know that something has changed in the world when a bombing that kills an Israeli soldier, as one did today, isn't presented as 'proof' that the wall needs to exist, as opposed to, say, proof that the wall doesn't provide security (whereas a political solution that didn't involve murdering and starving Palestinians might). When Israel killed 4 people in Gaza yesterday with a missile attack the media, when it presented it at all, presented it as 'reprisal' or 'attacks on militants'. Today's bombing in Israel, however, was uncaused, or just 'proof' that Israel needs to ignore the World Court ruling. There are very few parts of the world that 'matter', after all -- the media opinion-makers, the US elite, some parts of the public -- and they are all willing to help Israel ignore the world, so long as there aren't political forces capable of enforcing the world's, or in this case the world court's, opinion.


On July 5 the Interamerican Human Rights Court demanded that the Colombian government adopt provisional measures to protect the indigenous Kankuamo people. This decision was the result of a case brought to the Interamerican Human Rights Commission against the Colombian state in October 2003 by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia and the Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' collective.

The court demanded that the government seek out and punish those responsible for the forcible displacement of so many Kankuamo. Since the 1990s, the state and paramilitaries have killed at least 166 people. Today they are in a lot of danger, as 300 families have been displaced. 50 Kankuamo people were killed in 2003 alone.

In other declarations, SINALTRAINAL, the food worker's union that represents the bottling workers at the Coca Cola bottling plants among other workers, made a declaration with the "Caravan for Life" of internationals who joined Colombian unionists earlier this month. They cited the successes of the campaign against Coke and the need for continuing work to support Colombian unionists, who hold the world's most dangerous job.

And, while remembering the explicitly political state-backed violence of paramilitaries who try to bust unions and clear territory for multinationals by murdering organizers and community leaders and massacring people, it's important to remember the social violence as well. I received a testimony from a friend in Cali, Colombia, about an incident a month ago.

Another blog...

A talented writer and local activist called Mike Smith (that's his real name and not a pseudonym as far as I know) runs a blog called Unquote. It's a bit more of a 'true' blog than this one or the others linked here, that are rather specialist in their function. But it is very political, and Mike has a lot of style, so I'd recommend it. Today's entry:

p>A recent CNN article ran under the scary headline, Iraq Confirms U.S. Has Removed Nuclear Material. The seemingly ominous first paragraph reads:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's interim government confirmed Thursday the United States has removed radioactive material from Iraq, saying ousted dictator Saddam Hussein could have used it to develop nuclear weapons.

Here's the thing. Many people, due to a lack of time, literacy, or both, don't read news articles in their entirety. If they go past the headline, it's usually by a couple of paragraphs. Journalists take classes to learn how to write for just this kind of casual reader.

I mention this because it means a good number of people will probably miss the second-to-last paragraph:

But tons of nuclear materials remained there under the seal of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, until last year's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq when it was left unguarded and looted by Iraqi civilians.

Got that? The uranium in Iraq was UN uranium, which had been guarded and accounted for, until the Americans invaded. Apparently there was no need for this piddling fact to weigh in a little closer to the top of the column. The open-endedness of the passage is interesting, as well - it seems to imply that the uranium was stolen during the looting. But what would looters want with magic rocks? If it was indeed stolen, why are there no details on how the US tracked the stuff down? If it wasn't stolen, why is it such a concern? And either way, why is it suddenly news over a year later? Is this awful journalism or excellent propaganda?

Maybe both.


A Fine Balance (C.P. Pandya)

India's new government continues to walk a political and economic tightrope, eagerly welcoming in foreign investors while promising to financially help the very population hurt by the liberalization program. On Thursday, Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram unveiled a new budget that allows foreign direct investors to carry unprecedented stakes in Indian companies, but also pledges a significant amount of money to India's poor.

Among the notable points in the budget:

On the farming side, Chidambaram said the government has established an 80 billion rupee ($1.7 billion) fund to develop the rural infrastructure. Also, the government will provide food subsidies for the year worth 252 billion rupees ($5.5 billion). (Given India's infamously lousy food and subsidy distribution program, skepticism is more than appropriate).

On the other hand, foreign investors can now own up to 74 percent of equity in Indian telecommunications companies, up significantly from the current 49 percent. Also, the cap on foreign equity in insurance companies was raised to 49 percent from 26 percent and foreign investors can now increase their equity stakes in civilian aviation companies to 49 percent from 40 percent.

How long can this balancing act work? The Indian government has preached fiscal conservatism, which has at its heart a hatred for spending on social programs, in order to lure Western investment. The larger the fiscal deficit gets, the more antsy investors will get. India's stated dedication to liberalization will require it to coddle and encourage foreign investors to continue pouring money into India's government coffers. What happens when there is so much American, British and other international money in India that the scales of attention tip towards investors at the expense of farmers?
A senior official in India's finance ministry very tellingly described the issue being played out in India right now: "This will be a 'talk left, act right' government."

Chemical warfare...

My own personal experience with tear gas and pepper spray is quite limited. A couple of brief encounters with pepper spray from a distance; I've been a little too close for comfort to an Israeli 'sound grenade'; I've been in the cloud of grey smoke that Israeli tanks secrete all over the place when they want to conceal themselves somewhat; but the main experience was at the anti-FTAA protests in Quebec City in 2001, when police apparently used thousands of canisters of tear gas. The strangest moment was the morning of the second day, after we'd thought we were used to the gas of the previous day. They somehow changed the concoction, so we who went out bravely into the clouds found ourselves choking and puking anew, faced with the new brew.

What Israel is doing in the West Bank now, as Jason Brooks presents in Counterpunch, seems a lot worse. In his words: "Israel's repeated use of highly toxic unknown chemicals against Palestinian civilians is now an open secret. We can expect these attacks to continue until a concerted effort is made to determine the facts and hold Israel accountable. So far, the international human rights community has steadfastly ignored the mounting evidence."

And in another example of the new world justice...

ZNet's Africa Watch has recently been updated. ZNet's Africa coverage has recently gotten far better. First, on account of Mandisi Majavu's blog and writing. And second, on account of the ongoing work of Lansana Gberie, who has written a number of pieces on the West African conflicts exclusively for ZNet. His most recent piece is about the 'Special War Crimes Tribunal' in Sierra Leone.

Whenever the 'Free World' makes a pompous claim about universal justice, or about a helping hand to the poor, or a genuine interest in development, or hell, even 'humanitarian intervention', Africa always gives the lie to the claim. A helping hand to the poor? A genuine interest in development? How about not denying the dying generic drugs that could save millions of lives (check out CP Pandya's blog today on the topic)? How about wiping out a debt that has been paid many times over and is as lethal as any bomb? How about not propping up dictatorships, training and arming militaries that slaughter civilians?

Gberie's piece takes on the West's pompous claims of justice. You see, the West did a humanitarian intervention in Sierra Leone, and is now bringing the criminals to justice. Or so the story goes. Read Gberie's work -- this piece and others in the West Africa section of ZNet -- and you'll have a better idea what is really happening.