Friday, September 28, 2007

CONVERSATIONS WITH CHOMSKY


Photograph: Juan Carlos Yegres "Chomsky and Don Quijote". Chomsky reading the Don Quijote that was distributed by the Venezuelan government to more than 10 million people across the nation, for free.


On September 21, 2007, I had the extraordinary opportunity to interview Noam Chomsky in his office at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The interview will be aired on Venezuelan and Latin American television as part of the promotion for the III International Book Fair in Venezuela, which this year focuses on the theme: "United States: Is Revolution Possible?" The transcription of the interview follows.


EVA: I read a quote of yours which said power is always illegitimate unless it proves itself to be legitimate. So in Venezuela right now we are in the process of Constitutional reform. And within that reform the People's Power is going to gain Constitutional rank, above in fact all the other state powers, the executive, legislative and judicial powers, and in Venezuela we also have the electoral and the citizen's power. Would this be an example of power becoming legitimate? A people’s power? And could this change the way power is viewed? And change the face of Latin America considering that the Bolivarian Revolution is having such an influence over other countries in the region?

CHOMSKY: Your word, the word "could", is the right word. Yes it "could" , but it depends how it is implemented. In principle it seems to be a very powerful and persuasive conception, but everything always depends on implementation. If there is really authentic popular participation in the decision-making and the free association of communities, yeah, that could be tremendously important. In fact that's essentially the traditional anarchist ideal. That's what was realized the only time for about a year in Spain in 1936 before it was crushed by outside forces, in fact all outside forces, Stalinst Russia, Hitler in Germany, Mussilini's fascism and the Western democracies cooperated in crushing it. They were all afraid of it. But that was something like what you are describing, and if it can function and survive and really disperse power down to participants and their communities, it could be extremely important.

EVA: Do you think it's just an idealist illusion or can it really be manifested?

CHOMSKY: I think it can. It's usually crushed by outside force because it's considered so dangerous...

EVA: But in this case when it's the government who's promoting it? The state who's promoting it?

CHOMSKY: That's what going to be the crucial question. Is it coming from the State or is it coming from the people? Now, maybe it can be initiated from the State, but unless the energy is really coming from the population itself, it's very likely to fall into some sort of top-down directed pattern, and that's the real question. In Spain in 1936, the reason for the very substantial success is because it was popular - it's a quite different situation from Venezuela. In Spain, the anarchist tradition was very deeply rooted. There had been 50 years of education, experiments, efforts which were crushed, I mean it was in people's minds. So when the opportunity came they were developing what was already in their minds, what they had tried to do many times, it wasn't spontaneous, it was the result of decades of education, organizing and activism on the ground. Now Venezuela is a different situation, it's being initiated from above, and the question is can that lead to direct popular participation and innovative and energy and so on. That's a real historical experiment, I don't know the answer.

EVA: I think it's a combination because the reason that the coup against Chávez was overthrown was because of the people's power...

CHOMSKY: That's right

EVA: It's just been unstructured and very spontaneous, so the idea behind this is to somehow structure that, and I question from that same anarchist perspective, if you structure that power will it....

CHOMSKY: Take off...

EVA: or become corrupted or illegitimate? Or will it Take off?

CHOMSKY: Take off...That's why the comparison with Spain is so interesting because there it was coming from below, nothing coming from above and it was there because people had been committed to it for decades and had tried it out, organized and so on. There was a live anarchist tradition, actually there is a live anarchist tradition in Latin America but it's been repeatedly crushed, in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, all over, actually I have a book right over there on the desk on the history of Anarchism in Chile which is not very well known, so it's been there, it's hidden, but I don't think these ideas are very far below consciousness almost anywhere, including the United States. If you talk to working class people they understand the notions. If fact it's not too well known but in the United States, there was never a powerful organized left, but in many ways it's one of the most leftist societies in the world. In the mid-19th century for example, right in the beginning of the industrialist revolution right around here in Boston, there was a rich literature of working class people, what were called factory girls, young women coming from the farms to work in the mills, or Irish artesians, immigrants in Boston, very rich literature, it was the period of the freest press ever in the country and it was very radical. They had no connection with European radicalism, they had never heard of Marx or anything else, and it was simply taken for granted that wage labor is not much different from slavery, and if you rent yourself to somebody that's not different from selling yourself. Actually in the Civil War in the United States, a lot of the northern workers actually fought under that banner, were against chattel slavery and they were against wage slavery. And the standard slogan of the people was "the people who work in the mills ought to own them and run them". It took a long time to drive that out of people's heads. In the 1890s there were cities, like Homestead, Pennsylvania, that were taken over by working class people with these ideas, and they're still there. You know it's kind of suppressed by lots of propaganda and repression and so on, but it's just below the surface and I would imagine that may be the same in Venezuela. These are natural beliefs and there's a possibility they might spring into fruition given the right circumstances.

EVA: That's actually included in the constitutional reform as well, the concept of creating communal cities, communes, that are worker-run, and including the companies. It will be very interesting to see how it develops.

CHOMSKY: It's very interesting

EVA: And how it then would change the force of power in the region

CHOMSKY: If it can carry out. In the past it has happened but it's been crushed by force and even here in the United States it was crushed by State violence.

EVA: On the notion of "crushed by force and state violence", thinking of Latin America and the changes occurring, the influences of Venezuela, right now President Chávez is mediating the peace process in Colombia. One, how do you view his role as the mediator? And two, do you think that the US is really going to allow for peace in Colombia when there has been an expansion of Plan Colombia and Colombia remains the stronghold of the United States and its military force in South America? Would they react in a more sort of aggressive way?

CHOMSKY: I think the US will do what it can to make sure Colombia remains more or less a client state. But I don't think the US has a commitment to the internal war in Colombia. They do want to see FARC destroyed. The US does not really want paramilitaries running the country and the drug trade, I mean that's not optimal from the point of view of an imperial power, you don't want to have para-powers carrying out State activities. They were useful, and the US not only supported them but in fact, they initiated them. If you go back to the early sixties in Venezuela, in fact in 1962, President Kennedy sent a military mission to Colombia, headed by a Special Forces General, General Yarborough, to advise Colombia on how to deal with its internal problems and they recommended paramilitary terror. That was their phrase: they recommend "paramilitary power against known communist adherents." Well, in the Latin American context, "known communist adherents" means human rights activists, labor organizers, priests working with peasants, I don't have to explain to you, and yeah, they recommended paramilitary terror. You can look back and say that Colombia has a violent history, but that changed it, that's really the initiation of the massive state and paramilitary terror that turned into a total monstrosity in the last couple of decades. But although the United States did implement it and support it right through Plan Colombia, it's not really in US interests and the interests of US power systems for that to continue. They'd rather have an orderly, obedient society, exporting raw materials, a place where US manufacturers can have cheap labor and so on and so forth, but without the internal violence. So I think there might be toleration at least of mediation efforts that could curb the level of internal violence and control the paramilitaries who will be and are in fact being absorbed into the state.

EVA: But Chávez doing it?

CHOMSKY: Well, that's going to be interesting. In fact, it's rarely discussed here. In fact right now there are also negotiations and discussions going on between Brazil and Venezuela about joint projects, the Orinoco River project, a gas pipeline, and so on. Try to find some report about that here. People are afraid of it. The conception, or if you like "party line" on Latin America, has had to shift. Latin America has changed a lot, it's not what it was in the 1960s. For the first time since the Spanish invasion the countries are beginning to face some of the internal problems in Latin America. One of the problems is just disintegration. The countries have very little relationship to one another. They typically were related to the outside imperial power not to each other. You can even see it in the transportation systems. But there is also internal disintegration, tremendous inequality, the worst in the world; small elites and huge massive impoverished people, and the elites were Europe-oriented or US-oriented later - that's where their second homes were, that's where their capital went to, that's where their children went to school. They didn't have anything to do with the population. The elites in Latin America had very little responsibility for the countries. And these two forms of disintegration and slowly being overcome. So there is more integration among the societies, and there are several countries taking steps to deal with the horrible problem of elite domination, which has a racial component to it also of course, there is a pretty close correlation between wealth and whiteness all over the continent. It's one of the reasons for the antagonism to Chávez, it's because he doesn't look white. But steps are being taken towards that, and that is significant. The US doctrinal system, and I don't mean the government, I mean the press, the intellectuals and so on, have shifted their description of Latin America. It's no longer the democrats versus the communists - Pinochet the democrat versus.... It's shifted, now it's conceded that there is a move to the left, but there are the good leftists and the bad leftists. The bad leftists are Chávez and Morales, maybe Kirchner, maybe Ecuador - they haven't decided yet, but those are the bad leftists. The good ones are Brazil, maybe Chile and so on. In order to maintain that picture it's been necessary to do some pretty careful control of historical facts. For example, when Lula the good leftist was reelected his first act was to go to Caracas where he and Chávez built a joint bridge over the Orinoco...it wasn't even reported here, because you can't report things like that, it contradicts the party line - the good guys and the bad guys. And the same is true in this very moment with the Brazil-Venezuela negotiations. I think they are very important. Colombia is significant. If Chávez can carry it off that's great for Colombia, but these other things are much broader in significance. If Brazil and Venezuela can cooperate on major projects, joint projects, maybe ultimately the gas pipeline through Latin America. That's a step towards regional integration, which is a real prerequisite for defense against outside intervention. You can't have defense against intervention if the countries are separated from one another and if they are separated internally from elites and general populations, so I think these are extremely important developments. Colombia as well, if it can be done, fine, reduce the level of violence, maybe take some steps forward for the people of Colombia, but I think these other negotiations and discussions proceeding at the same time have a deeper and longer term significance.

EVA: Right now Chávez is in Manaus, just yesterday and today...

CHOMSKY: Right

EVA: Well, one of the tactics of US aggression against Venezuela and against the rise of a new leftism or socialism in Latin America is precisely to divide and counteract what Venezuela under Chávez has been leading throughout the region which is now resulting in sovereignty and Latin American integration. I guess to focus that question on a media angle, one of the other tactics of aggression against Venezuela and other countries in the region is obviously psychological warfare, on an internal level in Venezuela, but also internationally to prevent the people around the world from knowing really what's happening. Within Venezuela under Chávez hundreds of new community media outlets have been created. This has helped us internally to combat media manipulation from corporate media in Venezuela, but on an international level, we haven't had much advance fighting the war against the media empire. How can we do that?

CHOMSKY: Well, the history of media in the west is interesting. I mentioned that the period of the freest press in the US and England was the mid-19th century, and it was rather like what you were describing. There were hundreds of newspapers of all kinds, working class, ethnic, communities of all kinds, with direct active participation, real participation. People read in those days, working people. Like a blacksmith in Boston would pay a 16 year old kid to read to him while he was working. These factory girls coming from the farms had a high culture, they were reading contemporary literature. And part of their bitter condemnation of the industrial system was because it was taking their culture away from them. They did run extremely interesting newspapers and it was lively, exciting and a period of a really very free vibrant press, and it was overcome slowly, most true in England and the United States, which were then the freest countries in the world. In England they tried censorship, it didn't work, there were too many ways around it. They tried repressive taxation, again it didn't work very well, similarly in the US. What did work finally was two things: concentration of capital and advertiser reliance. First the concentration of capital is obvious then you can do all kinds of things that smaller newspapers can't do. But advertiser reliance means really the newspapers are being run by the advertisers. If the source of income is advertising, the main source, well that's of course going to have an inordenent influence. And by now it's close to 100%. If you turn on television, CBS doesn't make any money from the fact that you turned on the television set, they make money from the advertisers. The advertisers are in effect, the corporation that owns it is selling audiences to advertisers, so of course the news product reflects overwhelming the interests of the corporation and the buyers and the market, which is advertisers. So yeah, and that over time, along with concentration of capital, has essentially eliminated or sharply reduced the diverse, lively and independent locally based media. And that's pretty serious. In the United States, which has had no really organized socialist movement, nevertheless, as recently as the 1950s, there were about 800 labor newspapers which probably reached maybe 30 million people a week, which by our standards were pretty radical, condemning corporate power, condemning what they called the bought priesthood, mainly those who run the media - the priesthood that was bought by the corporate system offering a different picture to the world. In England, it lasted into the 1960s. In the 1960s the tabloids - which are now hideous if you look at them - they were labor-based newspapers in the 1960s, pretty leftist in their orientation. The major newspaper in England that had the largest circulation, more than any other, was The Daily Herald, which was a kind of social-democratic labor-based paper giving a very different picture of the world. It collapsed, not because of lack of reader interest, in fact it had probably the largest reader interest of any, but because it couldn't get advertisers and couldn't bring in capital. So what you're describing today is part of the history of the west, which has been overcome slowly by the standard processes of concentration of capital and of course advertiser reliance is another form of it. But it's beginning to revive in the west as well through the Internet and through cheap publishing techniques. Computers, desktop publishing is now much cheaper than big publishing, and of course the internet. So the new technologies are giving opportunities to overcome the effects of capital concentration, which has a severe impact on the nature of media and the nature of schools and everything else. So, there's revival, and actually the major battle that's going on right now is crucial, as to who is going to control the Internet. The Internet was developed in places like this, MIT, that's the state sector of the economy, most of the new economy comes out of the state sector, it's not a free market economy. The Internet is a case in point; it was developed in the state sector like here, actually with Pentagon funding, and it was in the state sector for about 30 years before it was handed over to private corporations in 1995 under Clinton. And right now there's a struggle going on as to whether it will be free or not. So there's a major effort being made by the major corporate centers to figure out some ways to control it, to prevent the wrong kinds of things from their point of view from being accessible, and there are now grassroots movements, significant ones struggling against it, so these are ongoing live battles. There is nothing inherent in capitalist democracy to the idea that the media have to be run by corporations. It would have shocked the founding fathers of the United States. They believed that the media had to be publicly run. If you go back to the...it’s hard to believe now…

EVA: Well, that's why the airwaves are public

CHOMSKY: That's right, that's why the airwaves are kept public and it's a gift to the corporations to allow them to be used. But if you go back to Jefferson, even Hamilton, Madison and the rest of them, they were in favor of public subsidies to newspapers to enable them to survive as independent sources of information. Postal rates were set by the government in such a way as to give advantages to the newspapers so that the public would be able to have access to the widest possible range of diverse information and so on. The Bill of Rights, which technically established freedom of press, we can talk about whether that works, but technically said nothing about whether the government could intervene to support the media. In fact, it's not only a possibility but it's what the framers of the Constitution had in mind. Over the years, attitudes, the dominant culture, the hegemonic culture as Gramsci would have called it, has changed so that the idea of the corporatization of the media is sort of assumed kind of like the air you breathe, but it's not, it's a creation of capitalist concentration and the doctrinal system that goes with it...…It doesn’t have to exist

EVA: So, in that sense a couple of months ago the Venezuelan government decided not to renew the concession of one of the corporate media outlets for many reasons, tax violations, not paying social security for workers as well as being involved in the coup. Do you think that is a demonstration of the State assuring that those airwaves remain in the public sphere? And that is something that could be replicated in other countries or even in the United States, they didn't revoke the concession, they just didn't renew it.

CHOMSKY: You're talking about the RCTV case. Well, my own view of that is kind of mixed. Formally I think it was a tactical mistake, and for another I think you need a heavy burden of proof to close down any form of media so in that sense my attitude is critical...

EVA: But should corporations have a stronghold on the concessions?

CHOMSKY: Yeah, I know, that's the other side. The question is what replaces it. However, let me say that I agree with the western criticism in one crucial respect. When they say nothing like that could ever happen here, that's correct. But the reason, which is not stated, is that if there had been anything like RCTV in the United States or England or Western Europe the owners and the managers would have been brought to trial and executed – In the United States executed, in Europe sent to prison permanently, right away, in 2002. You can't imagine the New York Times or CBS News supporting a military coup that overthrew the government even for a day. The reaction would be "send them to a firing squad" . So yeah, it wouldn't have happened in the west because it would never have gotten this far. It seems to me that there should be more focus on that. But as to the removal of the license I think you just have to ask what's replacing it. In Venezuela, you know better than I, my impression is that it was not a popular move. And the population should have a voice in this, big voice, major voice, so I think there are many sides to it. But it kind of depends how it works itself out. Are you really going to get popular media, for example?


EVA: Should the concessions be in the hands of the people to decide?

CHOMSKY: I think they should, yes, in fact in a technical sense they are, even in the United States. Take the airwaves again, that's public property. Corporations have no right to it, It's given to them as a gift by the taxpayer and the taxpayer doesn't know it. The culture has reached the point where the people assume that's the natural order of things. It's not, it's a major gift from the public. In fact if you look at the history of telecommunications, radio and television, it's quite interesting. Radio came along in the 1920s and in most of the world, it just became public. The United States is an interesting case, it's almost the only major case in which radio was privatized. And there was a struggle about it. The labor unions, the educational institutions, the churches, they wanted it to be public, the corporations wanted it to be privatized. There was a big battle, and the United States is very much a business-run society, and uniquely, business won, and it was privatized. When television came along, in most of the world it was public, without question. In the United states it wasn't even an issue, it was just private because the business-dominated culture by then had achieved a level of dominance so that people didn't think of what was obvious, that this was public space that we're giving away to them. Finally, public radio and public television were permitted in the United States in a very small corner, because there had been public pressure to compel the corporate media to meet some level or public responsibility, like to run a few educational programs for children and things like that. And the corporations didn't like it, they didn't want to have any commitment to public responsibility, so they were willing to allow a small public, side operation, so they could then claim, well, we don't have to have any responsibility anymore because they can do it, and they don't do much of, they are also corporate-funded, but that's a striking difference between the United States and even other similar societies. It's a very free country, the United States, maybe the freest in the world, but it's also uniquely business-run, and that has enormous effects on everything.

EVA: On that note, the theme of the Book Fair in Venezuela this year is "United States: Is a Revolution Possible?" Is it?

CHOMSKY: I think it's just below the surface. I mean there is tremendous discontent. A large majority of the population for years has felt that the government doesn't represent them, that it represents special interests. In the Reagan years this went up to about 80% of the population. If you look at public attitudes and public policy, there is a huge gulf between them. Both political parties are far to the right of the population on a host of major issues. Just to take some examples; Read in this morning's New York Times, September 21st, there's a column by Paul Krugmann, who's sort of far left of the media, sort of a left, liberal commentator, a very good economist, who's been talking for some time about the horrible health system in the United States, it's a disaster, twice the per capita expenses of any other country and some of the industrial companies and some of the worst outcomes in the industrial world. And he has a column this morning that starts out by saying, hopefully, well now it turns out that maybe universal health care is becoming politically possible. Now that's a very interesting comment, particularly when it's coming from the left end of the media. What does it mean for it to become politically possible? For decades it's been supported by an overwhelming majority of the population but it was never politically possible. Now it's becoming politically possible. Why? He doesn't say why, but the reason is that manufacturing corporations are being severely harmed by the hopelessly inefficient and costly healthcare system in the United States. It's like how it costs a lot more to produce a car in Detroit than a couple of miles north in Windsor Canada because they have an efficient, functioning healthcare system. So by now there is corporate pressure from the manufacturing sector to do something to fix up the outrageous healthcare system. So it's becoming politically possible. When it's just the large majority of the population, it's not politically possible. The assumptions behind that should be obvious, but they're interesting. Politically possible does not mean the population supports it. What politically possible means is that some sectors of concentrated capital support it. So if the pharmeceutical industries and the financial institutions are against it, it's not politically possible. But if manufacturing industries come out in favor of it, well then maybe it begins to become politically possible. Those are the general assumptions, we're not talking about the left liberal commentary. I'm not talking about the editorials in the Wall Street Journal, that's the spectrum of opinion. Something is politically possible if it's support by major concentrations of capital. It doesn't matter what the public thinks, and you see this on international issues too. Like take what may be the major international issue right now: Is the United States going to invade Iran? That could be an utter monstrosity. Every viable presidential candidate - not Dennis Kucinich, but the ones that are really viable, has come out and said yeah, we have the right to invade Iran. The way they say it is, "all options are on the table", meaning, "we want to attack them, we can attack them." That's almost the entire political spectrum, but what does the population think? Well, about 75% of the population is opposed to any threats against Iran and wants to enter into diplomatic relations with them. But that's off the spectrum, in fact, it isn't even reported. But it's not part of the discussion. It's the same way with Cuba. Every since polls began in the 1970s, a considerable amount of the population wants to enter into normal diplomatic relations with Cuba and end the economic strangulation and the terror, which they don't know about, but they would be against that too. It's not an option, because state interests won't allow it. And that's separate from the population, and it's not discussed. Do a search of media and journals, including left journals and you just don't find it. Well, it's a very free country but also very much business controlled.

EVA: But how could that change come about?

CHOMSKY: It can come about by the kind of organization that will take public opinion - that will take the public and turn it into an organized force. Which has happened...

EVA: So in the end you need media control?

CHOMSKY: Well, that's part of it, but media control is in part a consequence of popular organization. So the media, take the Vietnam era, the media did turn into moderate critics of the war, but that was the result of popular mass movements. I could tell you explicit cases, one case I know very well was one of the major newspapers in the country, the editor happened to be a personal friend who was pretty conservative and became the first newspaper in the United States to call for withdrawal. It was largely under the influence of his son who was in the resistance, who I knew through the resistance activities, and who influenced his father. That's an individual case, but it was happening all over. The shift in the popular movements and popular attitudes led to a shift in the media, not a major shift, but a significant one. For one reason because the journalists are human beings and they live in the culture, and if they're coming out of a culture of criticism and questioning and challenging and so on, well, that's going to affect them. So there has been a change in many respects. Take say aggression. There is a lot of comparison now of the reaction to the Iraq war with the reaction to the Vietnam war - it's almost all wrong, there was almost no opposition to the Vietnam war. When the Vietnam war was at the level of the Iraq war today there was almost no opposition. Public protest of the Iraq war is far beyond that of the Vietnam war at any comparable stage. People have just forgotten. There was protest against the Vietnam war by 1968, lets say, but by that time there were half a million troops in Vietnam. The US had invaded...and it was seven, six or seven years after they had invaded South Vietnam and it had been practically wiped out and the word spread to the rest of Indochina. It was way beyond Iraq today - then there was protest. The first call for withdrawal from Vietnam in the major media was fall of 1969. That's seven years after the war began. Now you get it in the New York Times, they don't mean it, but at least you get it. These are changes, and the same changes have taken place in many other domains. Take say women's rights, it's pretty important, it's half the population. Well, the circumstances are very different now than the 1960s. You can see it right at this institution. Take a walk down the halls and you'll see about half women, about a third minorities, casual dress, easy interchanges among the people and so on. When I got here 50 years ago it was totally different. White males, well dressed, obedient - do your work and don't ask any questions. And it's indicative of changes throughout the whole society. Well, those are...the solidarity movements are the same. When you have popular movements, they change the society. If they reach a sufficient scale I think they can challenge fundamental matters of class domination and economic control.

EVA: Do you think the revolution in Venezuela serves as an example for people in the United States? That change is possible from the ground up?

CHOMSKY: It will if two things happen: One, if it's successful and two, if you can break through the media distortion of what's happening. Two things have to happen, ok? So, I mentioned that I was in Chile last October. The picture of Venezuela that is presented by the media, say in El Mercurio is about the same as it would have been in the old El Mercurio under Pinochet. So as long as that's the picture, that's the prism through which events are perceived, you can't have much of an effect. But if you can change the prism so that things are reported more or less accurately, and if what's happening in fact does constitute a possible model, if those two achievements can be reached, then yes, it could be.

EVA: Would you give a message to the people of Venezuela? Anything?

CHOMSKY: Yeah, make it succeed. The task for the people of Venezuela or for Latin America all together is to carry forth the programs of integration, of overcoming repression, inequality, poverty. lack of democracy, which is happening in various ways in different countries. Carry it through to success, and in collaboration and solidarity with people of the rich powers. Make it reach the point where it is understood there as well, that requires both sides, and they interact. Take liberation theology, it was mostly Latin America, and it had an influence in the United States, a big influence in the church and in the society, and the same can be true of other developments. There is a lot of interaction possible. More so now than before because of the existence of intercommunications and solidarity movements and so on.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

CHOMSKY ON VENEZUELA


Photograph: Juan Carlos Yegres "Chomsky & Eva" September 21, 2007

Back again to tierra venezolana!! I had the honor to interview Noam Chomsky for the Feria Internacional del Libro in Venezuela (international book fair) which will be held in all 23 states of the nation beginning in mid-October and lasting through November 19th. The Caracas part of the book fair, FILVEN, will be from November 8-18, and a great delegation from the United States will be participating as part of this year's theme: "United States, Is Revolution Possible?" Chomsky unfortunately can't accompany us in person but agreed to do this wonderful interview to later screen at the book fair and on national and international television. The entire interview for publication is not yet ready, but here are a view quotes:

Chomsky on the People's Power: "In principle it seems to be a very powerful and persuasive conception, but everything always depends on implementation. If there is really authentic popular participation in the decision-making and the free association of communities that could be tremendously important. In fact that's centrally the traditional anarchist ideal. That's what was realized the only time for about a year in Spain in 1936 before it was crushed by outside forces, but in fact all outside forces, Stalinst Russia, Hitler in Germany, Mussilini's fascism and the Western democracies cooperated in crushing it. They were all afraid of it. But that was something like what you are describing, and if it can function and survive and really disperse power down to participants and their communities, it could be extremely important."

Chomsky on Language: "Every time a language disappears that means the disappearance of the historical tradition, of cultural wealth, of an aural literary tradition, of a way of life, a piece of humanity is gone. It's not just the words. Languages are part of a living society. So a large part of humanity is being destroyed. It's tradition and it's cultural wealth. It's happening all over, people are not too aware of it. "

Chomsky on Intellectuals in Latin America: "Latin American countries are now resisting international intervention in a way that hasn't been true for 500 years, and impediments in the imperial societies well there are windows of opportunity for the intellectual classes as well. They don't live in a vacuum. They live in a society. They can't do anything if the society is not receptive to them and if they don't contribute to the society."

Chomsky on Latin American Integration: "If Brazil and Venezuela can cooperate on major projects, joint projects, maybe ultimately the gas pipeline through Latin America. That's a step towards regional integration, which is a real prerequisite for defense against outside intervention. You can't have defense against intervention if the countries are separated from one another and if they are separated internally from elites and general populations, so I think these are extremely important developments."

Chomsky on RCTV: "However, let me say that I agree with the western criticism in one crucial respect. When they say nothing like that could ever happen here, that's correct. But the reason, which is not stated, is that if there had been anything like RCTV in the United States or England or Western Europe the owners and the managers would have been brought to trial and executed – In the United States executed, in Europe sent to prison permanently, right away, in 2002. You can't imagine the New York Times or CBS News supporting a military coup that overthrew the government even for a day. The reaction would be "send them to a firing squad" . So yeah, it wouldn't have happened in the west because it would never have gotten this far. It seems to me that there should be more focus on that."


So folks, I'll leave it at that for now. The full interview will be available soon for publication and on television. Chomsky is my new hero.

On the ground here in Venezuela things are as active as ever. President Chávez will not be attending the 62nd General Assembly session at the United Nations in New York this year (I didn't think he would). I think it's best to give at least a one year gap between those intense visits. Anyway, Evo Morales is making his first major appearance in the United States and at the United Nations (heard he would appear on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart), and it's important that no attention be taken away from Bolivia this year, since the internal situation is quite delicate. A coup is in the works against the government of Evo Morales and the international community must take steps to prevent it.

Kevin Spacey, award-winning actor, is visiting Venezuela. The headline in El Universal, Venezuela's largest opposition daily newspaper says the following: "Chávez Meets with Lex Luther." Of course, the opposition media had to pick the most evil character Spacey has every played and use that for the reason to meet with Chávez. It was a meeting of the bad, evil guys, obviously!!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Congressional Madness

Sorry folks, blogging is slow this week! I am preparing a trip and will be out until Sunday. In the meantime, check out and spread the word about how the crazies in the United States Congress are producing videos demonizing President Chávez, distorting facts, and trying to justify some kind of further direct aggression against Venezuela. Don't let them get away with it.

The ultra-right wing American Security Council Foundation, a Reaganite NGO (?) has decided to dedicate its resources and focus on President Hugo Chávez. Their wackeroonie website contains a made-up version of Chávez's life story (much better reading and more accurate would be Bart Jones' Hugo! The Hugo Chávez Story: From Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution). These nuts claim responsibility for the US National Security Strategy, which has justified US imperialism around the world in the name of "protecting US interests" and the all-famous "promoting freedom and democracy" crap. These neocons claim to promote "peace" but actually are a bunch of insatiatible war-mongers.

Here's the list of Congressional crazies using US taxpayer dollars to make shabby war propaganda videos against peaceful Venezuela:

Congressional Advisory Board of the American Security Council Foundation:
(in alphabetical order)
Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN)
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA)
Rep. Thelma Drake (R-VA)
Rep. David Drier (R-CA)
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA)
Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL)
Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC)
Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX)
Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-NY)
Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL)
Rep. Colin Peterson (D-MN)
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)
Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ)
Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO)
Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS)
Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL)
Rep. Bill Young (R-FL)


GET THE FACTS ON VENEZUELA STRAIGHT SO YOU CAN BLOW THESE REPS AWAY WITH SHARP SHOOTING KNOWLEDGE BASED ON REALITY. GREG WILPERT'S NEW BOOK, CHANGING VENEZUELA BY TAKING POWER, WILL GIVE YOU THE AMMO YOU NEED TO PROVE THESE RIDICULOUS CONGRESSIONAL AGGRESSORS WRONG. CHECK IT OUT!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Class is in Session & Soup's ON!


Today President Chávez was up bright and early to inaugurate on national television (en cadena nacional) the start of the 2007-2008 school year! Live from the city of El Tigre en eastern State of Anzoátegui, President Chávez launched 15 new Bolivarian schools nationwide and shared the first day of school with 526 new students at the recently built José María Vargas Bolivarian School. This particular elementary school was designed to service 3,527 families that were victims of the massive flooding and mudslides that occured in the State of Vargas in December 1999, and who were subsequently relocated to Anzoátegui after losing their homes in the natural disaster.

Today in Venezuela, 60% of the population is actively incorporated in the formal education sector. There are 9 million schoolchildren and adolescents that encompass 32% of that total; 4.2 million young, middle-aged and senior adults involved in the social education missions (Mission Robinson (basic literacy); Mission Ribas (continuing secondary education); Mission Sucre (university-level education)), which is another 18%, and another 10% studying in the nation's private and public universities and higher education institutes. Venezuela is one of the only countries in the world where 60 out of every 100 inhabitants participates in the education sector.

Venezuela may make the Guinness Book of World Records for the World's Largest Stew! This past Saturday the Food Ministry led by General Rafael Oropeza oversaw the cooking of a 3,960 gallon "sancocho" (that's stew en español), containing 6,600 pounds of chicken, 4,400 pounds of beef and lots more veggies. So much for all those opposition crazies claiming there is no chicken or meat in the country! This giant stew serves 60,000 to 70,000 people, and a few thousand were out and about all afternoon on Avenida Bolivar eating their share. Looks like we kicked Mexico's ass as the reigning Guinness World Record for a pot of 1,413 gallons of spicy soup made in Durango last July. And we left all those fancy supermarket chains throughout Caracas looking like fools with their economic sabotage scare tactics and constant hording of basic food staples (like limiting the amount of meat, chicken, sugar or other products you can buy to one per shopper). If they won't sell it, Chávez will give it away. Yeah baby, STEW YOU!



Yes, I did say "give it away". And that's just what the Food Ministry did on Saturday. Along with plates of giant world-record-breaking sancocho, the Ministry gave out 2 million bags containing 15 kilos of vegetables and 2 million kilos of sugar for free during Saturday's MegaMarket on Avenue Bolivar to the thousands of weekend shoppers and families that came out for the occasion. The Ministry also offered a special discount package for schoolkids: a backpack, pencils, pens, notebooks, markers, pencil sharpeners and other items for a mere 24.000 Bolivares (that's about $10 US on the official market and $6 on the black market).

On a more evil note, the Bush White House has once again certified Venezuela as "Major Drug Transit" country that has "failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to [its] obligations under international counternarcotics agreements..." This nonsense began in 2005 when the Chávez government caught the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) involved in acts of espionage, sabotage and illegal activity in the country instead of helping Venezuela's drug enforcement agencies to do their jobs. My second book, Bush vs. Chávez, has a chapter dedicated to this topic with reference to documents given to me by Venezuela's leading generals and officials who ran the anti-drug command in the National Guard and compiled one hell of a file demonstrating DEA sabotage and irregular activity. Since the DEA collaboration was formally suspended by the Venezuelan government in September 2005, the White House has tried to bully its way back on the scene by labeling Venezuela a "drug transit" and "noncomplicit" collaborater with counternarcotics activities. But in reality, Venezuela's counternarcotics efforts have only gotten better without the DEA slipping kilos of cocaine into their own briefcases and "fixing" the paperwork.

The most ridiculous part about this White House certification is that the sanction for Venezuela for "failing demostrably" to help the DEA deal drugs, is supposed to be a suspension of all economic aid to the country from the USA. But this is what George W. has to say about that: "I have also determined, in accordance with the provisions of section 706(3)(A) of the FRAA, that support for programs to aid Venezuela's democratic institutions is vital to the national interests of the United States." (See here) That means that the millions of US taxpayer dollars flooding into opposition groups in Venezuela through USAID, NED, Freedom House and other sketchy "democracy subverters" will continue in full force.

My hair is much shorter in this video that was filmed last year by Dateline in Canada, but it's still worth watching!! It's actually pretty good. Thanks to Aaron and his crew for their hard work and for getting this out there!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention my major opposition and dissent to the now official 1/2 time change that will take place on Monday, September 24, 2007. Like Venezuelans need another 1/2 to be late. I just think the whole thing is a waste of...time!

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Day in the Revolutionary Life



Last night I broke the news on the new NED-funded "NGOs" in Venezuela on the most popular nightly program in the nation: the always satirical, insightful and humorous "La Hojilla", run by good friend and host Mario Silva. You can catch a segment of the program (en español) here.

For those of you unaware with the daily routine of a revolutionary in Venezuela on a Saturday. Here's a snapshot (given today because obviously as you will see, tomorrow's a busy day!):

Morning run/jog, lots of black coffee

10:30am: Conference on Constitutional Reform at the Centro Internacional Miranda where constitutional lawyer and member of the Presidential Commission on Constitutional Reform, Carlos Escarrá, will be speaking along with Ricardo Menéndez, geographer, expert on "territorial restructuring" and member of the Presidential Commission on Constitutional Reform, and the always enjoyable and enlightening Juan Carlos Monedero, Professor from the Complutense University of Madrid and an all-around very knowledgeable and funny young guy (can you tell he's my friend?). The focus will be on the integral nature of the 33 articles presented for reform by President Chávez, with insight from those advisors who aided the President in drafting his proposal. Knowing all three of them, it will be a very lively and informative debate. The public at these events is generally very active and participatory and I'm sure tomorrow will be no exception! This conference forms part of hundreds being realized throughout the nation every day with the objective of ensuring that everyone has access to detailed information on the proposed constitutional reform and also has the opportunity to express concerns, criticisms and commentaries on the content of the reform to people who have influence over the National Assembly (Carlos is a congressman) and the Committee charged with making adjustments to the reform.

2:00pm: Assembly meeting of my Batallón of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). We have these meetings every Saturday afternoon as part of the ongoing creation of the new party PSUV. So far, everyone is just considered an "aspiring" member of the party since the party has not yet been created, but is in development. This Saturday we will continue discussions on the Constitutional Reform to finalize a document we are preparing with suggested modifications to the President's proposed reform and we will further our debate on the structure of the party itself. I've never been much for political parties precisely because they are generally exclusionary and end up serving just a certain group's interests. I'm also not the best team player because I just like to cut through the crap and get things done. However, President Chávez announced the idea of the PSUV precisely to break free from the traditional party structure and to create a grassroots, horizontally-structured party with self-disciplined, pro-active, uncorrupt and committed members. So far, the discussions are quite interesting and enriching and everyone in my Batallón has a constructively critical stance, which is really necessary to ensure that things just don't play out in the interests of certain groups as usual.

7:00pm: After an intense day of discussions on constitutional reform and politics, the evening will be filled with the rich and unique sounds of Flamenco! Direct from Spain, Diego el Cigala - the most-revelled contemporary Flamenco artist in the world wil be performing at Caracas' famous Teresa Carreno Theater and this blogger will be there. Yeah baby! El Cigala is on his "Dos Lagrimas Negras" world tour and will be acommpanied by Cuban pianist Guillermo Rubalcaba and two of the best Latin percussionists in the world, Changuito y Tata Güines (both Cuban, obviously).

See, we revolutionaries like good music and fun times too. And no, Venezuela is not a "banana republic" nor a place where you-can-not-go-out-after-dark-or-you-will-be-shot-or-robbed like you read in some mass media. We have a vibrant cultural life and lots of healthy, interesting things to do and see all year round. See you Sunday after Aló Presidente....

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Submarines and Lots of Dough



What do a nuclear submarine off the coast of Venezuela and a bunch of NGOs have in common? Why, US intervention in Venezuela, of course!!

Yes, once again the United States is floating nuclear submarines just twenty miles off Venezuela's northwest coast in the Dutch island of Curaçao. The USS Albuquerque, a 110-meter long nuclear submarine docked last Friday, September 7th, at the Bay of Santa Ana on the island of Curaçao, the largest of the Dutch Antilles and Venezuela's closest neighbor in the Caribbean. Since 1999, the United States has maintained a small operative air force base within Curaçao's Hato International Airport. However, during 2006, construction began to expand the air base and US military and intelligence presence was pumped up throughout Curaçao, including an astonishing increase from what used to be no more than 10 US warships, aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines passing through Curaçao's vast ports annually to over 100 just last year. Many of these battleships formed part of a sudden desire by the Pentagon's Southern Command to conduct a dozen or so military exercises in the Caribbean Sea that responded to hypothetical "terrorist" threats in the region or provided "humanitarian" support to neighboring islands. Considering that simultaneously, the US State Department was classifying Venezuela as a nation "not fully collaborating" with the war on terrorism and labeling President Chávez as "authoritarian" and "dictatorial", it isn't paranoid to assume that the increase in US military presence on Curaçao and surrounding bases is directed at intimidating Venezuela. Furthermore, the USS Albuquerque was last spotted just a mere three weeks ago on the island of Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela's closest neighbor in the northeastern Caribbean region. One has to wonder what the nuclear submarine was doing from the time it left Trinidad and Tobago and arrived at Curaçao, all that time just floating around off the coast of Venezuela...

So here's the juice on the new National Endowment for Democracy (NED) figures for funding activities in Venezuela during fiscal year 2006-2007. The following list is taken from the NED's own webpage. Remember, while the "projects" may sound friendly and helpful, it's all about intervening in the affairs of another nation. And the NED's history in Venezuela (as well as other nations like Haiti, Nicaragua, Bolivia, etc) has been pretty shady. Most groups funded in Venezuela have been involved in coup attempts or other destabilization actions against the Chávez administration, and as you will see, many groups now being funded appear to be trying to "break" into the Chávez camp to counteract or sabotage social programs or advances, such as the community councils (NED proposes "citizen councils"), and to impose the US-NED view of "democracy". Total funds dedicated to Venezuela this year =$2,166,076.00. And that's just on NED's end. USAID's 2007 budget for its "democracy promotion and transition" programs in Venezuela tops $3.6 million (to more than 385 groups/programs in Venezuela; all political). Of course, that doesn't include the additional $10 million Congress approved in the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill this year to invest in transmitting "pro-American" propaganda to Venezuela. Yeah, like we really need that here. With major television networks like Globovisión, Venevisión and RCTV (now on cable and DirecTV), 90% of daily newspapers and 90% of radio stations constantly blabbering anti-Chávez and pro-US garbage, we can definitely say that those $10 million will be sliding into some other pockets down here. Oh, and before you read the list, remember that once December rolls around and the new constitutional reform is approved, Article 67 will prohibit - hear that, PROHIBIT - foreign funding from governmental OR private entities to groups with political objectives in Venezuela. Which means....enjoy those greenbacks while you can baby, because come December, the game is up!! (It makes me so happy to say that I could just cry).

Asociación Civil Acción Campesina (Farmers in Action)
$60,106 To strengthen community planning institutions, their interaction with local government officials, and their ability to address the priorities and concerns of the local populations.

Asociación Civil Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia (Consortium for Development and Justice)
$49,904 To continue strengthening its observatory program to monitor the judiciary in Venezuela.

Asociación Civil Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia (Consortium for Development and Justice)
$79,632 To promote democratic participation and defend human rights.

Asociación Civil Consorcio Justicia-Capítulo Occidente (Justice Consortium - West) $27,460 To bolster democratic participation and social consciousness in Táchira State.

Asociación Civil Justicia Alternativa (Alternative Justice)
$26,750 To strengthen the capacity of justices of the peace in Aragua State.

Asociación Civil Kapé-Kapé (Kapé-Kapé)
$39,900 To train indigenous leaders on negotiation, leadership, and human rights, and to facilitate a socioeconomic development agenda.

Asociación Civil Liderazgo y Visión (Leadership and Vision)
$64,823 To continue democracy and human rights training for members of the police and fire departments in the states of Aragua, Carabobo, and Cojedes.

Asociación Civil Uniandes (Uniandes)
$21,630 To promote participation in local citizen councils in Mérida.

Asodisamar
$16,200 To promote consensus building and strengthen political leadership in Sucre State.

Center for International Private Enterprise
$98,173 To educate community leaders.

Centro al Servicio de la Acción Popular (Center for Popular Action) (CESAP)
$74,675 To enhance civil society's capacity to monitor and evaluate government social programs and social policy expenditures.

Centro de Estudios de Derechos Humanos (Center for Human Rights Studies) (CEDH)
$45,652 To establish a network of independent judges and jurists to encourage judicial reform.

Centro Educativo de Adiestramiento Comunitario y Ético (Education Center for Community Training and Ethics) (CEACE)
$70,800 To implement a national-level training program for grassroots leaders, professionals, and government officials.

Fundación Justicia de Paz Monagas (Justice of Peace of Monagas State Foundation)
$28,850 To promote increased community participation.

Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela (Institute of Press and Society of Venezuela) (IPYS)
$82,700 To monitor freedom of expression violations at the national level and to provide training to journalists.

International Republican Institute
$200,000 To strengthen the institutional capacity and internal democratic processes of political parties
Regional

AfroAmerica XXI
$100,998
To promote local political participation of Afro-Latino communities in Honduras, Panama, and Venezuela.

American Center for International Labor Solidarity
$687,823 To strengthen unions' capacity to involve workers democratically at their workplaces in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

American University, Academy for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law
$169,984 To promote the role of law schools in influencing public policy regarding human rights issues.

Asociación Ser en el 2000 (2000 Association) (SER)
$110,000 To promote the capacity of civilians in the area of security and defense.

Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
$160,000 To promote and defend human rights in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Culture is Alive and Well in Venezuela



Ever heard of a Corporeal Arts Festival sponsored by a government? Well, there's one happening right now in all 23 states of Venezuela, with tattoo artists, body painting, corporeal modifications (like really intense piercings), photography, video installations and other artistic manifestations of the body and its many uses and expressions. The III Annual World Conference of Corporeal Art is being held once again in Venezuela from September 7-16, and there are some really cool and freaky looking people all over the place. All kinds of body artists are participating from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Spain, United States, Guatemala, Holland, Italy, México, Nicaragua, República Dominicana, Uruguay and Venezuela. Heavily tattooed and bizarre-ly painted bodies are doing street theater and performance art in metro stations and around the bustling avenues of Caracas, and it's pretty freakin' awesome. The cultural revolution has arrived!!

Yesterday the National Assembly approved the titles and chapters of the 33 articles presented by President Chávez in his proposal for Constitutional Reform. This was no surprise at all since obviously we knew the legislature would approve the proposal. The next and final debate should take place in October and hopefully will be much more in depth (taking more than a day, for example), and should incorporate many of the changes and suggestions being made throughout the nation in the public debates. Even the opposition is now involved, which is a good sign, as long as they adhere to the rules and don't try to undermine and destabilize the process. Opposition leader and ex-presidential candidate Manuel Rosales (el filósofo de Zulia) called for a publicized debate with political leaders nationwide on the reform. I don't know if that is quite necessary - he wants it on national television by decree (it would be covered anyway by all media I am sure), but at least it is a positive indication that the opposition wants to participate in the political process again!! Remember, they boycotted the parlimentary elections in December 2005, which is why they have no presence in the National Assembly today. It's their own fault and they actually readily admit that now.

Of course, not all opposition leaders are so reconciliatory. Others are still psycho and calling for the overthrow of Chávez or international intervention. But we have become accustomed to that as part of everyday life here in Venezuela. We get to make fun of them on La Hojilla (a nightly television show that exposes the opposition's madness) and generally watch them go through the entire process of putting their feet in their mouths.

!!!!!ALERT!!!! This just in: The new figures for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funding in Venezuela during fiscal year 2006-2007 are in. More than $2,335,460 of US taxpayer dollars are funding approximately 20 groups in Venezuela to undermine the Bolivarian Revolution. In the next post I'll detail who these groups are and what they are doing will those millions of dollars!!

But here's an example of a new one, just for fun:
"Asociación Ser en el 2000 (2000 Association) (SER)
$110,000
To promote the capacity of civilians in the area of security and defense. SER will continue the research and training activities of its regional network of NGOs, academics, and state institutions in Latin America working in the field of civil-military relations, defense, and security. SER and the regional network will produce case studies of the defense budgeting process in Venezuela, Paraguay, Mexico, and the congressional defense committees in the Andean Region."

Does that really say "promote the capacity of civilians in the area of security and defense"?? Is that like building a Blackwater force in Latin America, but with the happy NED "promoting democracy" face??

You decide.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reflections on this day




I had restless sleep last night and was anxious to awaken this morning and read the news. Even though six years have passed since the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the misery, bloodshed, war, fear and anger that resulted are more present today than ever. Looking at the clouds hover over the Avila mountain here in Caracas (which everyday is more beautiful and picturesque), the reality of that day seems so distant. But when I moved my manual calendar to Tuesday, September 11, I felt a jolt. It was a Tuesday then too, right? At this very same hour I had left for law school, driving from Brooklyn to Queens, dropping off my step-son at school (I was married back then), listening to WBAI (New York's real progressive radio) when the first plane hit. "A plane has just hit one of the World Trade Centers," commented the broadcasters on the morning show, "wierd, must have been an accident," said one almost jokingly. In fact, they were talking with such uncertainty and faint humor that I thought it was a joke. But when I switched stations, the news was the same; "A plane has hit the Twin Towers," "a small private plane has just crashed into the Trade Center," "no, it looks like a passenger plan," "what? Could this be a mistake?" Everybody was confused in those first minutes. I pulled over somewhere nearing Queens and looked behind me. Sure enough, one of the Twin Towers was billowing with grey-black smoke, burning flames visible near the top. I debated turning around but thought, what better place to go then my very radical law school, full of progressive thinkers and thoughtful people? But when I got there, just a few folks were crowded around a big screen television in one of the common rooms, watching the images. Then, "bamn!", the second plane hit the South Tower, and everyone knew it was no longer an accident. I could see the towers burning in the distance, the black smoke covering Manhattan's most famous skyline. I went by my classroom where normally Civil Procedure was held just to see if my compañeros were talking about what was happening, when, to my surprise, class was in session! I thought, are these people nuts? I could feel war, chaos and pretty much bad vibes all around and here they were starting a mock trial on some traffic violation or something? I spoke out to all of them and said, "The Twin Towers have just been hit, another plane is on its way to Washington (it hadn't yet reached the vicinity) and while we don't know what is happening, clearly this is an attack - a declaration of war - and personally, I cannot sit here talking about the Rules of Civil Procedure! I am going to pick up my step-son from school, get my family to safety and figure out what is going on." And I left. Can you believe that they actually stayed in session until noon when finally they realized the towers had fallen to pieces, the Pentagon had been hit and a State of Emergency nationwide had been declared? For me that was a true demonstration of the numbness and blasé attitude of the people of the USA in the face of world crises.

I couldn't bring myself to join my friends and neighbors in a candlelight vigil down at the Brooklyn waterfront facing the now fallen towers. I knew that whatever had happened, the responsibility belonged to the United States; for its imperialist government, its intrusive foreign policy, its misuse and exploitation of other nation's resources, and of course, for having elected a war-mongering, ruthlessly idiotic president who brought with him perhaps the most horrific and blood-thirsty team of old-school thugs. Today we know that, conspiracy theories aside, the Bush Administration has profitted from that tragedy by tightening control over the US people, shredding constitutional rights that always "bothered" the neo-cons, increasing and imposing its dominance worldwide, and of course, executing a war based on revenge (for Bush papá) and an unsatiable and unsustainable thirst for oil. We can debate over the details of planes vs. missiles, or demolition vs. direct cause from fire, but in the end, the circumstantial evidence exists and is strong to show that the US Government benefitted from the 9/11 attacks. It's actually quite atrocious.

Thirty-four years ago on this day the US Government also benefitted from the overthrow and assasination of Chilean's socialist president, Salvador Allende. In a bloody coup, which was later used by the CIA as a model for the coup d'etat against Chávez in Venezuela on April 11, 2002, Chile's democratically-elected and beloved Presidente Allende was killed; his government removed from power. One of the most brutal and ruthless dictators in Latin American history, General Augustus Pinochet, was installed with 100% US support -financial and political - to rule for almost two decades, using torture, political assasination, persecution, disappearance and fear to impose a right-wing, neoliberal system on the people of Chile; a people who had opted for socialism with the election of Allende.

Those scars on Chile's history will never fade. Today in Caracas, Salvador Allende is celebrated and remembered in different events throughout the city. Venezuela's path to socialism shares resemblence to Allende's Chile, and we know all too well from history how vicious the Empire can be when a "subordinate" nation chooses its own path. But we also know that once repressed, the people will rise again.

*Venezuela's armed forces have just announced that the last 6 months of enlisted training will be dedicated to a social mission of choice so that new soldiers will have the opportunity to engage in voluntary social work. The missions focus on education (from basic literacy to university), health care (general care to complex surgical procedures), cultural affairs, job capacitation and training, environmental conservation, indigenous people's rights, and rehabilitation (from addictions, street living, etc). President Chávez abolished the military draft once winning office in 1998. Venezuela's draft - imposed throughout the years of so-called "representative democracy" by the parties now in the opposition - was arbitrarily implemented to repress and control the people, particularly young men involved in "leftist" movements.

*Today the National Assembly will hold the second debate on President Chávez's proposed reforms to 33 articles in the 1999 Constitution. There will be some modifications to certain articles - like removing the word "patron" (boss) from Article 90 which deals with the work hour and worker's rights - but overall, the reform is expected to be approved by the legislature. The final discussion, which should take place in about 3 weeks, will detail article by articles changes that have been made, suggestions and additions incorporated as a result of the national debate in communities nationwide, and will solidify the final proposal that will be submitted to national referendum in December.

*Finally, stop eating butter-flavored microwave popcorn!. You can die! Personally, I am traditionalist when it comes to popcorn. Hate that microwave crap.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Welcome! ¡Bienvenidos!



¡Saludos desde Caracas! I have finally decided to start a Blog as part of a project I am working on for a 4th book, yes, with this very name, "Postcards from the Revolution" or "Postales de la revolución" en español. Since I am completely new to this, I am open to any help and suggestions regarding posting images and graphics to the Blog, and of course, things you would like to hear about progress and conflicts within the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. I am now embarking on my third year living in Caracas full time, writing for several local papers and running two radio programs. Soon I'll have a television show, "El Código" on Canal de Noticias, a new private station in Venezuela. These days things are focused on President Chávez's proposed reforms to the 1999 Constitucion. He's proposed significant changes to 33 articles that will alter the type of economy in the nation, making it more beneficial to the people in an equitable and humane way, and focusing on the creation of new "socialist companies", "social production companies", the prohibition of monopolies and the diversification of State companies so there will be more worker control and local investment. The proposed reforms will also restructure the geopolitical and territorial nature of the country by creating new federal districts, including the capitol of Caracas, which will no longer be divided in 5 municipalities and different states but will be one united entity. The territorial changes, titled the new "geometry of power", will also allow the Executive to create special zones in Venezuela's vast maritime region, which reaches as far as Puerto Rico. Within this concept, new provinces may be created, with Vice-Presidents to oversee them, which has been cause to question the expansion of Executive power in these proposed reforms. Of course the biggest news has been the proposed elimination of presidential terms, and the allowance of "immediate reelection" once the now proposed 7-year presidential term ends. However, this will still be subject to nomination of candidates and of course, elections!

I'm somewhat opposed to one of the reforms which will reduce the workday to just 6 hours. Personally, I think people need to work more. There is a lot to do in this world. However, the way work is viewed needs to change so that people feel that what they do contributes to the construction of a better world. In that sense, I agree with the reform, because the article, Number 90, also specifies that workers should allot more time (in their free time) to educating themselves, socializing in healthy ways, contributing to their communities, engaging in volunteer work and spending more time with family.

My favorite reform is to Article 67, which will now prohibit the foreign funding of organizations, groups, political parties and campaigns in Venezuela. This is a direct result of four years of investigation, public denunciation, hundreds of articles and two books written on the subject, and frankly, I'm quite pleased with the outcome. It's hard to complain about having one's hard work manifested in a constitutional reform.

The best part about this process of constitutional reform in revolutionary Venezuela is the public debate. Everyone is engaged and participating, everywhere. It's hard to imagine such a scenario in a nation like the United States, for example, where the constitution was written by 50 white men, rich landowners, who never consulted with anyone, claimed Afro-Americans as 3/4 of a person and excluded women, and it has never been reformed!! The US Constitution has only been slightly amended. But the process in Venezuela is quite extraordinary. Remember, this is a constitution that was written by the people, for the people, in an incredibly participatory way, and then voted on in a national referendum in 1999, with more than 70% acceptance. The process of reform appears to be equally, if not more, participatory. Even today, for example, the National Assembly (Congress) officially dialogued with representatives from opposition parties (no longer represented in the legislature because they boycotted the last elections in 2005) about their concerns regarding the proposed reforms. Since the President proposed the reforms to the Constitution, he initiated the process, and therefore can determine how the vote will be structured (voting together for all 33 articles or separately; he chose together as one "block"). However, the rest remains in the hands of the National Assembly, which has to have 3 debates to determine whether or not the President's proposal will be approved or changes will be made. So far, changes have already been made to certain articles proposed by the President, and even changes to other articles left out of his proposal, such as reducing voting age to 16 and including more explicit rights and recognition for Afro-Venezuelans. After the National Assembly approves their version of the reform, it will go to a national referendum vote, currently scheduled for December 9, 2007; this year.

In future posts, I'll discuss more in depth certain proposals that Chávez has made, but overall, things are in flux - a heated debate is in session nationwide, and the results are unpredictable as of now. Otherwise, Caracas has been quite rainy in the afternoons. The mornings and middays are good for jogging and running errands, because once the rain comes, traffic is unbearable and what could take an hour in the morning takes 3 hours at 5pm. School will be back in session next week, which will bring the city back into full capacity. For now, I am still enjoying some quiet mornings (I have two schools out back of my building).

Until the next post, signing off from the port of South America, and loving it.