"His government, the thinking goes, has provided subsidized food to low-income families, redistributed land and wealth, and poured money from Venezuela's booming oil industry into health and education programs. It should not be surprising, then, that in a country where politics was long dominated by rich elites, he has earned the lasting support of the Venezuelan poor.
"That story line may be compelling to many who are rightly outraged by Latin America's deep social and economic inequalities. Unfortunately, it is wrong. Neither official statistics nor independent estimates show any evidence that Chávez has reoriented state priorities to benefit the poor. Most health and human development indicators have shown no significant improvement beyond that which is normal in the midst of an oil boom. . ."
Para Una Prensa Libre: A Special Report From The Committee To Protect Journalists
In her kitchen overlooking Havana’s crumbling skyline, Julia Núñez Pacheco recalls the day five years ago when plainclothes state security agents, pistols on hips, stormed into her home. They accused Adolfo Fernández Saínz, her husband of three decades and an independent journalist with the small news agency Patria, of committing acts aimed at “subverting the internal order of the nation.” Over the course of eight long hours, agents ransacked the apartment, confiscating items considered proof of Fernández Saínz’s crimes: a typewriter, stacks of the Communist Party daily Granma with Fidel Castro’s remarks underlined, and outlawed books such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. As Fernández Saínz was hauled away, Núñez Pacheco remembers one of the agents turning to her and saying, “You know, we’ve been told you are decent, quiet people. No fighting, no yelling. It’s a shame you’ve chosen this path.”
"If we do not urgently refocus our debate and put the needs and interests of Afghans at the heart of our discussions, we will leave a bleak smear in the Canadian history of international interventionism, a smear that will bring us shame in the history books our children will read. We must ensure that we are finding constructive solutions to the underlying problems plaguing Afghanistan and to the issues that Afghans point to as priorities, and not merely to our own insular interests. We have limited time to start making a genuine effort to understand Afghanistan, its history and its people, and to recapture what we have lost of our identity as humanitarians and peace-builders."
With the organized ‘anti-war’ rallies planned this weekend across Canada, there are many Canadians who consider themselves peace activists who share a different view.
“I do not agree with the 'troops out' position," says Janis Rapchuk, board member of the Calgary-based volunteer organization, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.
“I’m a peace activist and have spent years volunteering my time on a daily basis in what could be called ‘living activism.’ That is, our activism is aimed towards a sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Marching on the streets may give voice to one group of organized individuals, with a set agenda like the TROOPS-OUT position, but it does not provide space for good dialogue and discussions that can help Canadians understand how we can influence change and provide sustainable alternatives to war”, says Rapchuk.
Her organization raises awareness and funds to advance and protect human rights for Afghan women and girls. “It is important to learn about the complexities of these issues. If you don’t like the role Canada has in Afghanistan, then lobby for change but be sure that your actions are based on what is best for the people of Afghanistan, if you truly believe in ending war, ” says Rapchuk.
“From our perspective, a troop withdrawal would mean a very bloody civil war with no end in sight--an assessment in line with the United Nations. This is a very emotional issue for Canadians, and rightfully so given the millions of lives at risk, both Afghan and Canadian. We, as Canadians, have a very important role working in partnership with the Afghan people. The majority of Afghans want us there and want to work towards building a peaceful Afghanistan with those who truly have this as their goal. We see this troops-out position as, in fact PRO-WAR!," says Rapchuk.
Reporters Without Borders Launches "Online Free Expression Day," UNESCO Quits
"To denounce government censorship of the Internet and to demand more online freedom, Reporters Without Borders is calling on Internet users to come and protest in online versions of nine countries that are Internet enemies during the 24 hours from 11 a.m. tomorrow, 12 March, to 11 a.m. on 13 March (Paris time, GMT +1). Anyone with Internet access will be able to create an avatar, choose a message for their banner and take part in one of the cyber-demos taking place in Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, North Korea, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.
"There are 15 countries in this year’s Reporters Without Borders list of “Internet Enemies” - Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. There were only 13 in 2007. The two new additions to the traditional censors are both to be found in sub-Saharan Africa: Zimbabwe and Ethiopia."
But UNESCO is all of a sudden withdrawing its patronage, offering the fuzzy explanation that Reporters Without Borders "published material concerning a number of UNESCO’s Member States, which UNESCO, had not been informed of and could not endorse."
Pour Le Droit d'Intervention Humanitaire: Can A French Socialist Rescue Kandahar?
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will embark on a joint mission to Afghanistan next month with his Canadian counterpart, Maxime Bernier - an event "that could presage the announcement of badly needed reinforcements for Kandahar province," the Toronto Star reports.
Kouchner is a soixante-huitard of an especially principled kind. The founder of Doctors Without Borders, and the former head of the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo, Kouchner has been called the father of humanitarian interventionism.
Michael Totten correctly places Kouchner in the socialist tradition of "militant anti-totalitarian liberals and leftists from the generation of 1968 who didn’t become neoconservatives, who started out on the radical left and who remain radicals of the left in more mature versions."
Christopher Hitchens writes: "His principles led Kouchner to defend two oppressed Muslim peoples—those of Yugoslavia and Iraqi Kurdistan—who were faced with extermination at the hands of two parties daring to call themselves socialist. . . I personally find it satisfying that a French socialist was identified with both these victories."
Two Houses Half-Buried In Sand: Some Hul'qumi'num Stories From Hereabouts
Back in 1927, Beryl Mildred Cryer, a young writer from the well-established English settler community at Chemainus, on Vancouver Island, set out to introduce the world to the grand storytelling traditions of the local Hul’qumi’num people.
Cryer found many accomplices among the aboriginal people of the Cowichan Valley and the adjacent coast. Between 1929 and 1935, she produced more than 60 articles for the Victoria Daily Colonist’s Sunday magazine.
The result was a treasure trove of Hul’qumi’num narrative literature, told mainly in the voices of women—a rare thing in Coast Salish ethnography—and told also in an everyday language, the kind that anthropologists so rarely use.
It was also mainly an unlikely collaboration between Cryer, a down-at-heels high-society type, and Mary Rice, a high-born Penelakut woman from a long line of chiefs and warriors. Rice had lost her “Indian status” by marrying an Irish-Squinomish man, and Cryer was scraping up freelance work in the depths of the Depression. When they met, Rice was a widow, the town washerwoman, living in a shack on the beach near the Chemainus wharf.
It's edited by Chris Arnett, and published by Talonbooks. My wee review of the book is here.
All over the world today, thousands of trade unionists, human rights activists and other citizens, in a variety of acts of solidarity with the persecuted workers and imprisoned trade unionists in Iran, raised their voices in unison: We have not forgotten you.
There were demonstrations, visits to Iranian diplomatic missions, rallies and pickets in Seoul, Bangkok, the West Bank, Jakarta, New Delhi, Kiev, Lahore, Istanbul, Basra, Amman, Casablanca, Geneva, Brussels, Wellington, Sydney, Tokyo, Tunis, Oslo, London, Toronto, and elsewhere. They spoke with once voice:
It was a grand day, but also a reminder of a special kind of shame.
In London, where trade unionists distributed leaflets at railway stations, Colin Foster noticed it. Workers' Liberty members showed up to help, but the rest of the left didn't.
In the Guardian, Peter Tatchell has also noticed the absence of huge sections of the left from this most crucial of international solidarity campaigns: ". . .with a few honourable exceptions, many of them are now silent about the anti-worker regime in Tehran. Their justified opposition to US war threats against Iran has led them into a wholly unjustified collusion with Tehran's Islamist tyrants."
In Canada, that collusion is not just an inexcusable passivity, but sometimes a conscious activity. Around this time last year, the leadership of the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Toronto Stop the War Coalition were in Richmond Hill, Ontario, as the special guests of Iranian diplomats and far-right clerics, for a celebration of the 28th anniversary of the founding of the Khomeinist tyranny. Only two weeks ago, James Clark of the Toronto coalition was again a scheduled speaker at the anniversary celebrations, this time in the company of some of North America's most rank antisemites.
In Ottawa, Mehdi Kouhestaninejad of the Canadian Labour Congress recently pointed out how discouraging this is to ordinary Iranians: "This is the main question in every Iranian's mind. . . the Cuban and Venezuelan left, and the leftists outside Iran, is staying by the Iranian government by their actions."
Be careful, though. If you have merely the audacity to notice this kind of collusion and moral bankruptcy, you will be called a neoconservative, and a lot worse. But you keep your spirits up, in the full knowledge that one day, freedom will come:
The Sordid History Of The "Israeli Apartheid" Canard
It began with the South African apartheid regime itself, back in the 1950s and 1960s, when Israel took sides against Pretoria, and Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, apartheid's chief architect, used it to threaten South Africa's Jews. Nowadays, it's fashionable among certain sections of the ruling ANC elite, it earns the ANC some electoral currency among its rivals' constituencies, and there are trade deals with Syria and Iran to take into account.
It's not exactly a sign of civic health that Albertans have lived under an unbroken succession of conservative governments since 1971, and before that, they were governed by the right-wing populist Social Credit party, going all the way back to 1935.
It's not a clear sign of what Albertans really want, for one thing. What follows - from an analysis put together by the Alberta civil servant and blogger “Kuri”, an Edmontonian New Democrat - is more than merely disturbing. Looking at the dismal, lowest-ever voter turnout for yesterday's elections (about 40 per cent), and comparing the popular vote with the legislative seats that resulted, here's what Kuri sees:
She explains: "I am not a politician, I am first and last a musician and as such I feel my duty to try to express the whole range of human emotions. The urge for declaring independence is just one of them but an important one we all feel at some times in our lives. . . I would like to wish all individuals and nations good luck in their battle for independence. Justice!"
Elsewhere, she has made this sensible observation: "I stopped being afraid because I read the truth, and that's the scientifical truth, which is much better. You shouldn't let poets lie to you."
This Coming Thursday: Solidarity With The Working People Of Iran
LabourStart reports that the oppression of the Iranian independent workers' movement is deepening. On March 6, trade unionists around the world, together with human rights activists, are hoping to send a strong message to the Ahmedinejad tyranny: Hands off the unions. Free Mansour Osanloo. Free Mahmoud Salehi. Free all imprisoned trade unionists, now.
The Canadian Labour Congress is planning one demonstration in Toronto. It would be nice to know that there was something more than just that going on in this country, but it's an uphill climb, for the most dreary "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" sorts of reasons, as I recently reported here.
The CLC's Mehdi Kouhestaninejad made the same observation recently, noting how dispiriting it is to ordinary Iranians: "This is the main question in every Iranian's mind. . .the Cuban and Venezuelan left, and the leftists outside Iran, is staying by the Iranian government by their actions."