Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Changing the Balance of Power

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has won the Argentine presidency with 44.5% of the vote and almost double the amount of her closet opponent. The 54-year old senator was a shoe-in for the presidency and has now become Argentina's first woman president elected by the voters. The second place candidate who won 23% of the vote, was also a woman: Elisa Carrio, a former lawmaker and conservative. Cristina is a close ally of Venezuela and President Hugo Chavez and will likely continue to strengthen relations between the two nations. Argentina has been one of Venezuela's best friends in the process of Latin America integration and cooperation, and has leaned on Venezuela to help lessen its own dependency on the United States and its international financial institution, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Cristina will likely accompany her husband, current President Nestor Kirchner, on a visit to Caracas next week for the signing of the agreement to formalize the creation of the Banco del Sur (Bank of the South), an initiative proposed by President Chavez and widely lauded throughout Latin America as an alternative to the exploitative loan policies of the USA, World Bank and IMF. Heads of state from Bolivia, Ecuador, Brasil and Colombia will probably attend the event on November 3rd in Venezuela as well. Cristina will be sworn in as the President of Argentina on December 10th of this year.

Could this be a sign that finally power is shifting into more feminine hands? Last year Chileans elected Michelle Bachelet as the first woman president in that South American nation. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected last year as the first president of an African nation, Liberia. Other countries, like the Philippines have head women presidents on several occasions (current president Gloria Arroyo, previously Corazon Aquino in the late 1980s), and Nicaragua, Panama, Sri Lanka, Germany, Ireland, Finland, Guyana, Latvia and Iceland have also all had women presidents during the past several decades. Ecuador's new president, Rafael Correa, has named women to some of the most important cabinet positions, such as security and defense, and women foreign ministers are now a common sight for most nations. Is the US next?

(I'm not expressing support here for Hillary Clinton, particularly because her key strategist, Mark Penn, is one of the owners of Penn, Schoen & Berland, the polling firm that worked with opposition group Súmate to try and fraudulently contaiminate and/or discredit the recall referendum against President Chavez, and she has met with opposition leaders from Venezuela and endorsed anti-Chavez resolutions in Congress. But, whether or not the US will finally elect a woman president is a very important consideration).

On the note of changing power balances, we are almost ready here in Venezuela to kick off the campaign for the referendum on constitutional reform that will be held this coming December 2nd. The National Assembly is (supposedly) debating today the final articles that will be reformed, and then the entire package will be sent on to the National Elections Council for review and then made public so the campaign can start. In any case, both sides long ago began campaigning for and against the reform. Opposition marches led by student groups trained by the Serbian group OTPOR started up again last week and got violent, though only minor incidents were reported. The pro-reform folks are calling for a major march in Caracas with President Chavez on Sunday, November 4th.

Right now, it's still not 100% clear as to what all the proposed reforms will include. Some major changes include reducing the voting age to 16 and recognizing the rights and traditions of afro-venezuelans, as well as a ban on all discrimination for reasons of gender and sexuality. Venezuela may very well soon have the first constitution in the world that recognizes the rights of homosexuals and transgendered peoples.

The new US Ambassador here in Caracas, Patrick Duddy, was received personally by President Chavez last night in Miraflores Palace, in a ceremony to recognize and accept his "credentials" as the diplomatic representative of the US in Venezuela. Duddy was previously the Assistant sub-secretary of State for South America and the Caribbean, and has held prior posts in La Paz, Bolivia, Sao Paulo, Brasil and other locations in the hemisphere. He holds a Master's Degree in National Security Strategy from the National War College in the US and appears to be an expert in economic sabotage and subversion strategies. From Charles Shapiro to William Brownfield, each time a new US ambassador comes on board in Venezuela, the situation between the two nations only deteriorates. We will be on the look-out for what Duddy has in mind....

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rain, Stars and Parties

Scenes from the new film, "MIRANDA RETURNS"

It's raining so hard here in Caracas that the Avila mountains have disappeared before my eyes. The large quintas at the top of the hill have been absorbed by thick grey clouds spouting torrential tropical rains. Yesterday I got caught in the downpour just as I was coming out of the supermarket. Today, I made it back from Sunday's long run just in time. The rain is so fierce that my windows are shaking and the trees are dancing outside.

This is NOT typical for Caracas. We happen to have the fortune to be outside the line of tropical storms that plague the Caribbean islands and reach up their evil eyes into Florida, New Orleans and other unfortunate locations in their view. But these rains after the season has passed are just a mere glimpse into an unpredictable future of climatic change due to the abuses of humankind and capitlist exploitation of the Earth. No wonder Al Gore and his crew won the Noble Peace Prize. Global Warming is beyond war - nature's wrath to human abuse is much more powerful than any weapon the Pentagon can even dream of creating.

Luckily here in the capitol we won't be as affected in terms of human victims, but on the coast of Venezuela and other areas where people live in fragile houses on the mountainsides, there will be damage. Nicaragua is already suffering serious harm from this recent pool of rabid rains - Venezuela is sending help there.

On the topic of Earth and the powers beyond humans, Venezuela is hosting the XII Regional Latin American Meeting of the International Astronomy Union this week. The event will be held in Margarita Island, and more than 250 star-studded specialists will attend from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and of course, Venezuela. There will also be representatives from Germany, Spain, the United States, Italy and the UK, who will contribute to the 146 oral presentations focusing on topics such as: formation of galaxies, explosions of gamma rays, atomic processes in interstellar gas, how and when a star is born in our galaxy, amongst other exciting themes such as supernovas, neutron stars and the huge radiotelescope in Mexico.

During this conference, there will be discussions about the development of a massive telescope for the region, and the celebration of the International Year of Astronomy in 2009. Of course there will be a few side discussions about extraterrestrial life, science and pseudo-science, black holes, astrophysics, history of the Solar System and the cosmos.

Venezuela launched Mission Science two years ago with the objective of nurturing Venezuela's national science system and brilliant scientists. Every year, the Ministry of Science and Technology awards Venezuela's most innovative, creative and astute scientists with grants and aide to be able to continue contributing to the development of Venezuela's industries and those around the world.

See? The Bolivarian Revolution is not just about calling Bush the devil!!

Yesterday we had elections for the delegates to the founding congress of the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela). The process went smoothly and millions of folks aspiring to become party members came out and voted peacefully in the elections. Simultaneously, the National Assembly is engaging dutifully in the final debate for the Constitutional reform. They have added changes to more than 25 more articles in the reform package, in addition to those 33 proposed by President Chávez. I'll hold my comments on the reform until the legislature has concluded their debate, since more changes could come before then.

What is the best thing to do on a rainy Sunday? Go to the movies! I'm off to see the first film made in Venezuela's "Villa del Cine" (Cinema Village): Miranda Returns. The story of Francisco de Miranda, one of Venezuela's founding fathers and an internationalist who faught in the armies of the United States, France and others.
Danny Glover has a spot in the film. I'll give you my review tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bolivia Under Attack

From Chomsky in Boston to Evo in Bolivia, things have been a bit busy for me this month. Sorry for the slacking on the Blog, but duty calls!

Evo's government has been hard core against US imperialism from the beginning, but the situation is not so simple. Evo told me that when he won the presidency and assumed office in January 2006, the CIA actually had its headquarters inside the Bolivian presidential palace! Now that's interference!! Of course, Evo kicked them out of the palace, but getting them out of the country is not so easy. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the funding arm of the Department of State, has major investments in Bolivia. In fact, Bolivia is the recipient of more USAID funding than any other nation in Latin America. More than $120 million annually in US taxpayer dollars are being pumped into destabilizing Bolivia and its democratic (and indigenous) government. But the most incredulous part of it all is that approximately 70% of that $120 million doesn't even make it to Bolivia. Those US taxpayer dollars allegedly being used to fund "humanitarian" and "development" efforts in impoverished Bolivia are actually being used to finance inflated executive salaries and administrative costs of US corporation and military industrial complex player, CHEMONICS, INT'L.


Yes, that's how US intervention works. It's a money-making scheme just like everything else involved in US capitalism. USAID figures, poor little Bolivian opposition groups are happy receiving $2,000 - $5,000 per month as salaries, so lets give the US executives in the corporation that administers those funds $25,000 per month wages. Yeah, I guess that's what it costs to convince a US executive to destabilize an impoverished Latin American nation. And Chemonics has a contract with USAID in Bolivia for that whopping $120/year until 2011. That's a nice $1.5 million per Chemonics executive to try and undermine and overthrow the Evo Morales government. Oh, and remember those are US taxpayer (hard-earned in most cases) dollars.

USAID-Chemonics in Bolivia are everywhere. They run 6 official programs in the areas of Democracy (HA!), Alternative Integral Development, Environmental Issues, Healthcare and Economic Opportunities (capitalism). On top of that, USAID set up an Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI), just like it did in Venezuela after the failed coup d'etat against Chávez in April 2002, that manages an additional $13.3 million budget and contracts military industrial complex corporation, Casals & Associates, to "promote democracy" and "stabilize" the nation.

At the end of August, Evo and his Minister of the Presidency, Juan Ramón Quintana, called the bluff on USAID and it's "official cooperation" in Bolivia. They told the US government that if they want to continue cooperating in Bolivia, they will have to abide by the rules. And these guys are not joking. Last week, on October 10, 2007, Evo had an Executive Supreme Decree approved by Bolivia's Supreme Court, that prohibits international funding of activities in Bolivia without state regulation. Furthermore, the Decree sets out strict guidelines for such funding and does away with "third party contractors". Bye bye Chemonics and Casals & Associates. Venezuela should take Bolivia's example and do the same. Maybe that way we could finally get rid of USAID's OTI and it's private contracter, Development Alternatives, Inc., and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and it's core groups that have been undermining Venezuela's democracy since 2001: International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI), Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS).

I'm not so naïve as to believe that the US will actually abide by the Supreme Decree 29308 passed on October 10, 2007 in Bolivia. But in any case, it is a step forward against US aggression and intervention.

The US has already reacted in a cynical and racist way by sending its Ambassador in Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, to make fun of Evo publicly. When Evo spoke before the UN General Assembly meeting in September in New York City, he reiterated declarations made by Chávez last year: the member nations of the UN should consider moving the official headquarters to another country besides the US. Why did Evo, like Chávez, make such remarks? Because the US denied visas to the members of his official delegation, impeded the arrival of his airplane to JFK airport and gave him and his functionaries a hard time. These guys really have a point. If the US is going to make it difficult for international delegations to attend UN functions than maybe the meetings should take place somewhere less hostile.

But the US reaction was much less rational. Ambassador Goldberg responded by declaring he wouldn't be surprised if Evo also proposed to move the headquarters of Disneyland to a country outside the US. When Evo got rightfully pissed off, Goldberg said he was just trying to "break the ice" between the two nations. We know from William Brownfield's (August 2004-August 2007) and Charles Shapiro's (March 2002-July 2004) behavior as ambassadors in Venezuela that the US Department of State is in desperate need of an expert teacher in "tactiful diplomatic behavior". Evo and Minister Juan Ramón Quintana have announced Goldberg will soon be a "persona non grata" if he doesn't apologize to the people of Bolivia and their elected government.

Beware of an increase in US agression towards Bolivia. President Chavez has said that Venezuela will respond with full force if the US moves against Evo Morales and the people of Bolivia. All people around the world should take the same stance.

Hasta pronto.