Thursday, August 31, 2006

CNN'S VICE PRESIDENT OF RACISM AND ASSOCIATES

CNN's Vice President of Racism and Associates - by Stephen Lendman

Move over Bill, Chris, Michelle, Rush, Sean, & Company. Make way for a worthy challenger to the title of leader of the racist rant pack holding court weekday evenings on his hourly show on CNN. Who would have thought back in the days when this well-known cable TV financial news anchor was CNN's executive vice president and then president of the ill-fated CNNfn program he launched that one day he'd switch roles on the network and become the managing editor and anchor of a nightly news program he calls Lou Dobbs Tonight. And who might have guessed this well-thought of financial host would transform himself into a raving racist never letting a program pass without blaming all the country's ills on the poor and desperate people "the color of the earth" south of the border for practically everything going wrong in the country from the fraudulent war on terrorism to the falling dollar.

He does it on the nightly segment he calls "Broken Borders," and it hardly matters to this anchor/commentator (or most any other one on corporate-run TV) that these people only come here in desperation because the 1994 NAFTA trade agreement destroyed their livelihoods and lives at home, and the only way they can find work to feed their families is to come el norte. It would never occur to this program host or CNN's management that they they owe their audience an explanation why most people everywhere have no wish to leave their native lands, move to a strange new one where they don't speak the language or have any ties, and face a hard period of adjustment along with leaving their loved ones at home to do it. They only come here or elsewhere because they have no other choice if they wish to survive, and instead of blaming them, we instead should expose and denounce the US-led NAFTA-codified dictates that caused their immiseration in the first place.

What You Won't Hear About Immigrants On CNN

Most immigration, legal and illegal, around the world is the result of unemployment, poverty or conflicts forcing desperate people to move to more developed countries to find jobs or safety unavailable at home. According to the International Labor Organization, it's not just a US problem. It's a global one that in 2005 forced 200 million people to emigrate to a new country, up from 175 million in 2000 and 82 million in 1970. With at least half the world's population living in poverty and the numbers increasing annually (and a number of serious conflicts ongoing as well), is it any wonder so many of them are on the move each year seeking relief to be able to survive.

It's not getting any easier for them as the US and Western imposed globalized so-called neoliberal "free market" economic model is little more than a race to the bottom driven by giant corporations exploiting the developing world and its people for greater profits. It's what Michel Chossudovsky wrote about in his important 2003 book titled The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order. In it he explains the current WTO/IMF/World Bank imposed system is one of "capital creation through destruction." It creates big profits for transnational corporations at the expense of mass and growing poverty, human misery, the ability of the planet to sustain life, and eventually will lead to less demand for the exports these corporations need to continue increasing their profit growth. So why would smart corporate CEOs be willing to do this knowing a day of reckoning is ahead. Simple - today they reap the big profits they seek and Wall Street and investors demand and manana is for a future CEO to worry about. For the poor and desperate people south of our border and around the developing world, manana is today, and millions of them are on the move because of it.

Why Programs Like Lou Dobbs Tonight Get Regular Air Time

So why does CNN put up with the kind of demeaning and racist programming Lou Dobbs specializes in? Simple, because it draws large audiences meaning CNN (self-dubbed "the most trusted name in news") can charge premium rates to corporate advertisers that want their message heard on highly rated programs. It's the profit motive stupid like it always is. If it sells, it gets air time because that's what this business or any business is all about. Understanding that, you might believe TV networks would consider running porno films every night in prime time if they could get away with it as apparently that kind of material and gambling draw the largest audiences online. They surely would attract a big following on prime time TV as well although advertisers would have to be innovative in drawing audiences to their message after they'd been watching that other fare.

But as long as advertisers love it, will pay well for it, and it's allowed over the airwaves, CNN lets Dobbs get away with his crusading advocacy journalism that clearly crosses the line and violates the basic principles of honest news reporting. It's delighted to give him an hourly weekday sound stage to preach his message of hate and misinformation that fills the CNN airwaves with vitriolic language like "alien invasions" and "innundations" (illegal ones, of course). At other times he's called Mexican immigrants an "army of invaders" wanting to reannex parts of the Southwest - meaning, of course, their presence in large enough numbers threatens our white Anglo-Saxon culture. Still other outbursts refer to "illegal alien smugglers and drug traffickers are on the verge of ruining some of our national treasures." He also claims "the invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans (with) deadly imports" of diseases like leprosy and malaria.

What's most troubling is people believe this stuff, and he's winning awards for his work. In 2004, Dobbs received the Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration and the Man of the Year Award from The Organization for the Rights of American Workers for the other more credible regular segment he features on his program - the corporate outsourcing/exporting of US jobs to low-wage developing countries resulting in this nation joining the race to the bottom along with all the others exploiting working people for profit.

Dobbs is very hard line as a managing editor as well having the final say on what issues are discussed and who appears on his program. He makes no bones about wanting to avoid alternate views to his own and has said in so many words that the truth is what he says it is. To keep it that way, he carefully chooses guests whose views match his own making sure other versions of the truth almost never have a voice on his air time. So for viewers wanting to understand what the immigration issue is all about, they'll never find out tuning in to Lou Dobbs Tonight. But for extremist hate-mongers like the vigilante Minutemen, self-appointed to guard our southern border, challenge dark-skinned workers at day labor centers, and use violence with impunity to do it, Dobbs is preaching to the choir. Their hate-filled white-supremacist message to their followers is much like what Dobbs and his guests tells their audience - that Latino immigration here is "a silent Trojan Horse invasion that is eroding our culture." What they never explain is that demonizing immigrants and controlling their movement across borders is part of an imperial elite strategy used to exploit workers for power and profit and use xenophobic-induced fear as a way to help do it.

Dobbs Has Lots of Company In the Race-Baiting Game

It wouldn't be so bad if Dobbs and a few others were just outliers running counter to most other programming where viewers wanting objective journalism could still get it. But expecting that from the Fourth Estate anywhere on corporate-run television would be as likely as finding carnivores that were vegetarians. Just on CNN alone, Lou Dobbs has an array of worthy challengers. Take longtime anchor and commentator Jack Cafferty on air in the afternoons. He's as scornful of immigrants' rights as is Dobbs and derides them with vicious hate-talk like "mobs of illegal aliens....who don't belong here....and have no rights." He calls for "pull(ing) up the buses (demanding) these people...show their green cards....and the ones that don't have them, put them on the buses and send them home."

While Cafferty doesn't say how he wants these people assembled to prove their legal residency status or citizenship, it sounds like he favors neighborhood and house-to-house searches to find them. In other words, in Cafferty's strange mind, brown-skinned people are criminals, don't belong here, have no rights and should be deported back where they came from. Apparently it never occurred to Cafferty, Dobbs or other CNN hosts and commentators just as guilty at times of hate-talk that these so-called 'illegals" give back far more than they get here. They pay billions of dollars annually in taxes and get few social services for them in return. So the net-net from them is they help grow the US economy, and their employers value their services. If these immigrants, legal or illegal, weren't here and wanting work, the employers hiring them would be hard-pressed to fill the jobs most others don't want.

Spreading fear and hate is also the tactic former CNN commentator, now ensconced as an MSNBC political analyst, Pat Buchanan perfected years ago and is now preaching in his outrageous new book called State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America. In it, Buchanan makes it sound like "the barbarians" are at our gates, they have us surrounded, outnumbered and outgunned, and our days are numbered as they're about to take us over, destroy our society and culture and make us over into whatever it is Buchanan thinks they have in mind. Buchanan has never shied away from controversy on-air, in his syndicated column or in an August 8 online one in which he referred to George Bush's "La Raza immigration policy, featuring amnesty and a 'path to citizenship' for 12 million illegal aliens, (and) pardons for all businesses that hired illegals." Thirty years ago while condemning Hitler as an anti-semite and racist, he praised the Nazi leader as "an individual of great courage" and wrote of his "genius (being) an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality....of the statesmen who stood in his way." It sounds a lot like sympathy with and praise for a man most consider the most heinous of all 20th century dictators.

He's also been on the extreme fringe in his views about African-Americans and the civil rights legislation so essential to them and once when serving in the Nixon White House told the President "the integration of blacks and whites - but even more so, poor and well-to-do - is less likely to result in accommodation than....in perpetual friction, as the incapable are placed....by government side by side with the capable." He's also said and written much that makes him fair game to be called an anti-semite and equal opportunity racist believer in white superiority, opposed to gay rights, demeaning of women and their rights, a believer that Christianity is the superior religion to all others, and hostile to the notion that real democracy is preferable to "quasi-dictatorial rule" from his undisguised admiration for Hitler's "courage (and) genius" and praise for the dictatorships of Francisco Franco in Spain and Augusto Pinochet in Chile calling them both "soldier-patriots."

In his new book, already a best-seller from all the free media exposure it's getting, Buchanan conducts a verbal racist jihad against all non-European immigrants meaning all those not white. He uses language like the US must keep "Americans of European descent (from becoming the) minority (in order to) survive (and George Bush's immigration policy) will lose the American Southwest to Mexico linguistically, ethnically, (and) culturally (and the Southwest) part of America is moving back to Mexico, from whom we took it in 1848." He further wrote "We are witnessing how nations perish....We are entered upon the final act of our civilization....Chicano chauvinists and Mexican agents have made clear their intent to take back through demography and culture what their ancestors lost through war....(we're losing ground) in the midst of a savage culture war (and) The first imperative is an immediate moratorium on all immigration....But even (then), success is not assured."

Buchanan also believes the Bush immigration policy is "economic treason against the American worker....(will result in) the complete Balkanization of America, (and) by 2050 America will be a Third World country....Our great cities will all look like Los Angeles today. Los Angeles and the cities of the Southwest will look like Juarez and Tijuana." With views like these, it would seem Pat Buchanan would rank high on the list of the kind of guests Lou Dobbs wants to feature on his nightly program even though he now works for a competitor.

Another Longtime CNN Anchor Who Excels In A Different Kind of Race-Baiting - Against Muslims

One other CNN stalwart also deserves mention and considerable scorn. He's longtime CNN reporter and anchor Wolf Blitzer who daily spews a different brand of racism along with the usual mix of US empire-supportive lies, myths, rationalizations and lots more heard all over the corporate media airwaves. Blitzer currently hosts a weekday afternoon program called The Situation Room as well as the Sunday Late Edition talk show. He began his journalism career with Reuters in their Tel Aviv bureau before moving to Washington as White House correspondent for the hard line ultraconservative Jerusalem Post. He's held a number of positions at CNN as military affairs reporter during the Gulf war, White House correspondent and more. What's ignored about Blitzer that should stir controvery is that at one time he was a lobbyist for the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). That and his one-time connection to the Jerusalem Post are part of his roots making it impossible for Blitzer to be objective reporting on anything about Israel or events in the Middle East. It's easy and probably accurate to see him as AIPAC's on-air man at CNN. It's also no surprise that the preponderance of guests he has on with him share his views which are clearly one-sided and strongly pro-Israel.

Blitzer, his guests and others like them can't hide their disdain for Muslims they demean by inference as well as in language like "Islamic fundamentalists," militants, gunmen, terrorists and "Islamo-fascists." It's always been part of Blitzer's stock and trade which he clearly showed right after the high-profile Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing in April, 1995. He was quick on air to baselessly accuse Arabs (meaning Muslims) of an act of terrorism against the US even though US Army and Gulf war veteran Timothy McVeigh later was arrested, convicted and executed for the crime. That faux pas hardly mattered to Blitzer as throughout his career he's been consistently one-sided in his reporting on the Middle East that's never viewed Arabs, their Islamic religion or culture favorably. In fairness to Blitzer, culturally sanctioned forms of bigotry directed against Arabs and Islam have always been tolerated in the US going back decades. It's especially evident in the media and Hollywood films where Arabs have long been the butt of language referring to them as "camel jockeys, desert warriors and terrorists."

Post-9/11, however, that kind of characterization rose to an unrelenting Islamaphobic frenzy with the US in the vanguard of a new Western crusade against Islam though never calling it that. It's part of the Bush Administration's Messianic mission and need for convenient scapegoats to allow it and the interests of capital it represents free reign to pursue their quest for world dominance using preventive war and state-sponsored terrorism as the way to get it. Today that quest is centered in the Middle East and its vital oil reserves with the US and its Israeli ally jointly waging illegal wars of aggression with the aid and comfort given them by on-air empire-backing and racist flacks like Wolf Blitzer who never met a US or Israeli initiated war he didn't love and support.

It passes without irony or notice that this kind of racist warfare happened once before 900 years ago in the First Crusade. Back then Pope Urban II (no doubt seen as a good Christian then and now) launched an earlier holy war against Islam and Muslims to regain control of the Holy Land and sacred city of Jerusalem for Christianity. When his forces entered the city, they slaughtered the Muslims, Jews and even Eastern Christians living there believing no doubt they got their marching orders to do it from the Almighty. Today, a modern-day empire is on the march, and their faithful servants like Wolf Blitzer and his on-air guests spew their message of hate and support for it to convince a naive public tuning in it's the right thing to do, it's spreading democracy and Western civilization, and it will make us more secure and the world a better place for everyone.

What's Never Allowed On-Air In Contrast To What Always Is

It also passes without comment or notice that no subject is more sensitive in the West and over the corporate airwaves than any criticism of Israel. It's never aired because the corporate media won't allow it to be. In the US especially, it's the metaphorical "third rail" on-air and in politics. Touch it and pay dearly - severe denunciation, labeled an anti-semite or self-hating Jew, even ostracism. Today the powerful AIPAC Jewish lobby (Blitzer's former employer) has a lot to do with this and is part of an unholy alliance with the equally powerful Christian fundamentalists in the US and dominant neoconservatives running the Bush administration, Republican party and the country. It's unwritten and unspoken, but their message is clear and emphatic - no criticism of Israel is ever allowed and full unconditional support and encouragement is always extended to the Jewish state no matter what it does.

Whatever action Israel takes is thus viewed through the lens of self-defense, but whenever an Arab state or group like Hezbollah or Hamas defends itself against an Israeli attack it's called terrorism. It's always this way even when Israel is the aggressor, which is nearly always the case, as it was on June 25 when it invaded Gaza and the West Bank (again) and attacked the Palestinians and again on July 12 when it (again) did the same thing to the Lebanese. The Bush administration, US Congress, UN, world community and dominant corporate-run media voiced their wholehearted approval and support for what Israel did on both occasions and condemned the Palestinians, Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorists. It's impermissible to have it any other way, and it's always that way on programs like the ones Wolf Blitzer and Lou Dobbs host and in the language these hosts and their carefully chosen guests use.

The Dirty Business of Serving the Interests of Wealth and Power By Any Means

Since when do wars ever do anything besides cause more wars. And how do mass deaths and destruction from them or virulent racism at home supporting them do anything but anger those on the receiving end making them want to strike back in retaliation. It hardly matters in the corporate media world where TV hosts, commentators and those allowed air time with them take full advantage of their public platform to spread hate messages beneficial to those they represent and support but harm their targets and the rest of us. Program hosts like Lou Dobbs and Wolf Blitzer would never even consider the wars they feel are justly waged were and are in violation of international laws under the Hague Regulations, Geneva Conventions and UN Charter. It's of no concern to them or any of the other on-air (or in print) US and pro-Israel flacks and propagandists that include most all high-profile TV hosts, commentators and so-called pundits. Their stock-in-trade is disinformation so viewers not on to their dirty business only get the one-sided views the more savvy among us know are false, disingenuous and harmful to those on their receiving end.

Blitzer, like Dobbs, Cafferty, other CNN regulars and the whole unhealthy array of others all over the corporate radio and TV airwaves and in print like Pat Buchanan are there to do the job they're paid for and have shown they're willing to sell their souls to do it. They do it so the interests of wealth and power are well served and allowed to pursue the benefits they seek by whatever means they choose to get them. In that kind of world, wars are good because they're good for business and racism is allowed because easy to pick on scapegoats are needed, it never hurts the bottom line to demean and slander them, and it's always OK in the empire when the targets are people of color, the poor, unwanted immigrants, and especially Muslims collectively referred to as radical Islamists, militant jihadists and Islamo-fascists. It doesn't matter that most Muslims or people of any religious faith or race are just ordinary people like us in the West wanting to live their lives in peace and care for their families.

But the message delivered on the corporate-controlled airwaves rarely ever explains that. Alternative voices of reason and sanity are mostly shut out so the public can't hear views denouncing wars, racist hate, religious intolerance, and the need to work together for social equity and justice for all. The public also never hears that all religious faiths range in diversity and practice from liberal to fundamentalist, and aside from a small segment of extremist outliers in them all (Christianity and Judaism included), their adherents most often express their beliefs and live their daily lives according to the core principles they all espouse of moderation, tolerance of others and non-violence.

They hear none of that in the corporate media because that kind of thinking and discussion isn't good for business that thrives on conflict, dominance of the strong over the weak, and exploitation of the developing world and the people in it for profit. That kind of sanity and understanding also isn't good for the highly-paid on-air empire-backing flacks like Dobbs, Cafferty, Blitzer and the rest spreading the same kind of one-sided hateful, destructive messages. Their salaries depend on how well they serve their corporate employers, the numbers of viewers and listeners they get to tune in to hear them, and the bottom line profits the media giants get from the unrelenting cultural war they wage on-air for them. Our leaders call it "Western civilization," a corrupted notion of moral superiority that our way is best and all others are inferior to it. They want to export it to the world whether or not it wants it and at the barrel of a gun if it doesn't. The on-air empire flacks like Lou Dobbs, Wolf Blitzer and the rest are there for one purpose - to help them do it.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

COURAGE AND RESISTANCE IN OAXACA AND MEXICO CITY

Courage and Resistance in Oaxaca and Mexico City - by Stephen Lendman

It began on May 15 this year when teachers belonging to the 70,000 strong National Union of Education Workers in Oaxaca, Mexico took to the streets for the first time to press their demands to the state government to address their long-neglected needs. They included restructuring teachers' salaries, improving the deplorable educational infrastructure forcing teachers to conduct classes in laminated cardboard shacks, a lack of books and other educational materials and providing food for the many impoverished children who come to school each day hungry.

After Chiapas, Oaxaca is the poorest of Mexico's 31 states, each of which has its own constitution and elected governor and representatives to the state congresses. Both states share a common border in the extreme south of the country, and both are predominantly rural which exacerbates the impoverishment of their people. That poverty level worsened substantially in the 1980s and especially in last dozen years because of the neoliberal so-called "free market" policies adopted by President Carlos Salinas and maintained by successive presidents up to the present that included the destructive NAFTA trade agreement with the US and Canada. It followed from the IMF-imposed structural adjustment policies since the mid-1980s that included large-scale privatizations of state-owned industries, economic deregulation, and mandated wage restraint that held pay increases to levels far below the rate of inflation. The result is that the great majority of Mexicans for years have seen their standard of living decline, and more of them now live in poverty especially in the rural areas where farmers are unable to compete with heavily subsidized US grain and other food imports flooding the country since the NAFTA agreement ended agricultural import tariffs. It's the main reason so many of them and other impoverished Mexicans come el norte in desperation to find work unavailable to them at home.

Mexico's adherence to neoliberal Washington Consensus policies also added to the country's growing dependency on capital inflows that includes "hot money" free to enter and leave the country's deregulated financial markets. It led to an unsustainable current account deficit and collapse of the peso in early 1995 causing the worst depression in the country in 60 years and far greater impoverishment of the majority of the Mexican people. Those conditions still affect most Mexicans, they're not getting better, and there's a growing discontent and anger because of them. It's leading to acts of resistance and rebellion against a system of governance that's enriched a small minority of the country's elite (a handful of them to obscene levels of wealth) at the expense of the majority poor sinking deeper into poverty and the misery from it. It's playing out now in the mass-demonstrations in Mexico City's vast Zocalo Plaza de la Constitucion (where the country's first constitution was proclaimed in 1813) in the wake of another stolen presidential election and in the streets of Oaxaca where teachers, other working people, and many organizations and groups in solidarity with them are encamped and demonstrating daily for the rights they deserve. It shows that ordinary people anywhere will only put up with so much for so long before demanding change. In the Mexican streets today, it just remains to be seen how far these acts of resistance will go and what successes, if any, they'll have.

The Spirit of Resistance in Oaxaca

Back in May, demonstrating teachers presented their reasonable demands to Oaxaca's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (known as URO) who rejected them out of hand. A week later on May 22 the teachers went on strike and set up a tent city in an area covering 34 city blocks in the colonial downtown area. This was the 26th consecutive year Oaxaca teachers had demonstrated demanding redress for their grievances. In the other years, the teacher action lasted a few weeks, a modest compromise was eventually reached, and things returned to normal even without satisfactorily resolving fundamental problems that always remained. Not this time, however, as events have played out. Negotiations began but after nearly three weeks produced nothing. The teachers rejected Governor Ruiz Ortiz's claim that he had no resources to meet their demands. In response, they blocked government offices, city streets and highways, tollbooths, access to the airport, caused the cancellation of the Guelanguetza cultural festival, and brought the important tourist industry to its knees causing over 1000 hotel workers to be laid off. They also held marches obstructing traffic through the downtown area and blocked construction projects on the Cerro de Fortin that overlooks the highway entering Oaxaca from Mexico City. The frustration is clearly showing among Oaxaca's merchants, restauranteurs, and hotel keepers who've announced a one-day strike on September 1 in protest and to demand the government end the strike that's cost them millions of dollars and closed down the city's lifeblood tourist industry.

Back on June 2, things began to intensify as thousands of other working people and representatives from Oaxacan organizations joined in solidarity with the teachers to march against the state government and Governor Ruiz Ortiz. They repeated it again on June 7 in another huge peaceful march numbering about 120,000 in which student and parents' groups, other union members, and representatives from socialist and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Oaxaca and other states joined with the teachers to help them press their demands. So far everything was peaceful, as in the past, but all that changed on June 14 when state police entered the compound where the teachers were camping. They had riot shields, fired tear gas at the people there, and were aided by an overhead police helicopter that also dropped tear gas canisters on the crowds that by now were raging. The police also destroyed or burned nearly all the encampment shelters and disabled Radio Planton that had been broadcasting information to the people from the main square since the demonstration began.

The teachers took none of this lightly and fought back as best they could including tearing up cobblestones to throw at the police and setting police cars afire. After some hours they managed to regain the upper hand, but from this action a precedent had been broken of short-lived peaceful actions each year followed by government obstinacy and in the end a modest compromise. For the first time ever, this strike action became militant, and it showed two days later on June 16 when an astonishing 300,000 - 500,000 people marched again (in a greater area of 1 million people) outraged at how they were treated and demanding the immediate resignation of Governor Ruiz Ortiz who again ignored them. It was clear this was becoming more than just another strike for better pay and working conditions. It had grown to much more than that to include Mexico's long history of authoritarian rule for and by the rich and powerful with little attention given to addressing people needs.

A clear show of common determination and defiance of state authority then happened early in July when the teachers, other unions, indigenous peoples, religious groups, NGOs and others from all across Oaxaca state bonded together to form the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) declaring this to be a citizens' assembly taking over as the governing body of the state. APPO set up encampments outside all state government buildings including the legislature and governor's offices closing them all.

So far though, there's no resolution in sight to the confrontation and no clear idea whether there will be one soon or what it will be when the current strife eventually ends. It's now been ongoing for over three months, has erupted in violence leaving two people dead and has gone well beyond the demands of the teachers who began it hoping, as in other years, for a peaceful solution. It wasn't to be and now it's closed off highways and the schools, crippled the state's tourist industry, caused physical damage in the city, and polarized the people en masse against the Oaxacan government. The teachers and other demonstrators showed it by seizing government offices forcing the governor and officials to work out of hotels and then other makeshift facilities when demonstrators warned hotel mangers they would peacefully take over the ones allowing state officials to hold sessions there.

The governor is now under enormous pressure with the people demanding he resign immediately. In desperation he's apparently disappeared, and his whereabouts remain secret. Unless in hiding he orders the state authorities go all out in violent confrontation, APPO representing the working people of Oaxaca is now the functioning authority in the state. It remains to be seen if it intends to hold on to it and can do it. For now though, the confrontation continues and it's getting even uglier. On August 21 at 3:00 AM, four vans of armed men (apparently police and hired paramilitary thugs) attacked the people guarding the antenna of Channel 9 and radio 96.9 with high powered weapons resulting in several people being wounded and one killed. In retaliation, the demonstrators took control of 10 AM and FM radio stations and are using them to inform the people what's happening on the streets. Other attacks also have been occurring most nights elsewhere in the city with people shot at or disappeared again apparently by the state police and hired paramilitaries. So far the Oaxacan people are resolute and determined to see this through to the end and to do it nonviolently. They have the numbers on their side, and up to now the Federal government has been reluctant to intervene because of the mass peaceful resistance movement in the Mexico City streets and elsewhere calling for a just resolution of the fraudulent July 2 presidential election vote count so far unaddressed.

The Struggle for Electoral Justice On the Streets of Mexico City

If the people of Oaxaca stand firm and succeed in effectively running their state and getting redress for their demands which are quite reasonable, it will add momentum to the national campaign in the wake of the fraudulent Mexican presidential election now playing out simultaneously in Mexico City's vast Zocalo public square and elsewhere around the country. For weeks, Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) candidate Lopez Obrador (known affectionately as ALMO) and his supporters have maintained a 12 mile encampment in downtown Mexico City and effectively kept the city in gridlock. They've symbolically closed government offices, shut down whole sections of streets across the city for miles, taken over toll booths, for a time blocked Mexico's Stock Exchange, and held mass marches through the streets with as many as a record 2 million turnout at one of them to support their candidate. They demand a full and honest vote recount of the July 2 presidential election results that had clear rampant fraud and irregularities unsatisfactorily addressed. Unless they are, Obrador promised his supporters his campaign for an honest recount of all precincts "vote by vote, precinct by precinct" will continue indefinitely in the courts and on the streets where like in Oaxaca civil resistance will be used if their reasonable demands by peaceful protests are ignored which so far they have been.

At this point, there's no way to know for sure how the battle for electoral justice will be settled, but several key dates are approaching fast. The issue of resolving the election's official winner is in the hands of the Federal Election Tribunal (or Trife...prounounced Treefay). It has until August 31 to officially complete its final count and up to September 6 either to declare a winner, annul up to 20% of the precincts without annulling the entire election, or annul the whole thing which by law would mean the Congress would choose an interim president and have a new election within two years. A second key date is September 1 when current President Vincente Fox must give his annual State of the Union address. Lopez Obrador has said if the Trife declares National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderon the winner, he and his supporters will protest in mass "civil resistance" at the halls of Congress on that date.

Two other fast-approaching dates must also be watched - Mexico's national Independence Day on September 15 and the following day when traditionally a military parade is scheduled through the historic center of the city. On September 15, the president always comes to the balcony of the Palacio National on one side of the square, rings the ceremonial bell and leads the "cry of pain" from the Zocalo. Lopez Obrador promises if Calderon is declared the winner he and his supporters will replace Vincente Fox with their own cry of pain and disrupt the traditional commemoration then and again the following day of the parade.

How this will be resolved is now in the hands of the seven Trife judges who on August 28 unanimously dismissed allegations of massive fraud and are almost certain to declare Felipe Calderon the winner and new Mexican president. It's final decision cannot be appealed. Lopez Obrador responded calling the ruling "offensive and unacceptable for millions of Mexicans." He told his assembled followers in the Zocalo this court decision "represents not only a disgrace in the history of our country but also a violation of the constitutional order and a true coup d'etat." He also called his opponent a "usurper" and added "the constitutional order is broken.....and the electoral tribunal decided to validate the fraud against the citizens' will and decided to back the criminals who robbed us of the presidential election." He went on to say Mexico "needs a revolution" and vowed to name himself president when the Trife's official ruling is announced.

There's no way to know for sure what will happen next, but this may be a watershed moment in Mexico's history. The long-entrenched institutions of power in the country are being challenged as never before. Since the Trife, as most expected, failed to address the overwhelming fraud and election theft, there likely will be civil resistance in the streets in opposition that potentially could become a mass uprising over the coming weeks. If this happens, it could threaten to unseat the federal authorities in the capitol and lead to mass violence and bloodshed as they attempt to restore order. With that in mind, it's been rumored that a contingent of US Special Forces has been sent to help the Mexican military guard the country's oil fields in case of trouble. Mexico's Pemex state oil company produces about 3 million barrels of oil a day and ships about half of it to the US, thus making Mexico one of this country's leading oil suppliers.

It's also gone unreported that the Congress in Mexico City is surrounded by 6 and one-half foot high grilled metal barriers. Behind them are 3,000 special shock troops who are Federal Preventive Police (PFP), a force drawn from the Mexican Army and members of the elite Estado Mayor or Presidential military command. They form a Praetorian Guard line of defense armed with tear gas launchers, water cannons and light tanks assigned to protect the institutions of power against a rebellion that might threaten to storm the legislative Chamber of Deputies, Senate or the Palacio Nacional (the National Palace seat of the federal executive in Mexico).

Given the constant mass demonstrations in the Mexico City streets, this force is certain to be on high alert, can easily be reinforced if needed, and is now ready to act if civil resistance turns to disobedience or rebellion in the aftermath of the final Trife ruling that now looks to be a mere formality. Blood in the streets is nothing new to Mexico, and it may be seen there again as tensions now are very high and not likely to subside soon. Lopez Obrador said if the Trife formally declares Felipe Calderon the election winner he will lead a civil resistance movement in opposition and do it by setting up some kind of parallel government. If he follows through and keeps his word, the battle lines will be clearly drawn in a struggle ahead that likely will be turbulent, protracted and uncertain as to how it will end.

Another potential source of trouble is the still unsettled matter of 30 political prisoners arrested on May 3 and 4 in San Salvador Atenco. Addressing that issue quietly and much more is Zapatista (EZLN) leader Subcomandante Marcos. He and many thousands of his supporters and organizations allied with him representing many thousands more in their Zapatista Other Campaign organized a national movement to end Mexico's unjust economic system of corrupted and predatory capitalism that exploits people for profit ruthlessly. His goal one day is to bring real social, economic and democratic change to the country but do it outside the political process within which he believes it can never happen.

Toward that goal, on January 1 this year, Marcos began a six month campaign taking him to all Mexico's 31 states to meet and listen to a diverse range of people, groups and organizations hoping to gain greater support for his mission and goals. The spirit of APPO and people on the streets in Oaxaca are very much a part of the Other Campaign Marcos is trying to build. What's not part of it is supporting Lopez Obrador's campaign for the presidency because Marcos wants much greater reform for Mexico than he believes Obrador would ever work for if elected or even be able to achieve through the electoral process if he wanted to. He hopes his Other Campaign can achieve it, and with a great enough organizing effort is trying to build unity among many diverse elements in the country to back him in his campaign for real change and the benefits it can bring to the great majority of the Mexican people.

With so much resistance happening on the streets of the country today that's likely to intensify after the August 28 Trife announcement, Mexico may be more ripe for real change now than it's been since the heroic efforts of Emiliano Zapata Salazar helped lead a national revolutionary movement against the Porfirio Diaz dictatorship that began in 1910 and led to the dictator's overthrow the following year. Subcomandante Marcos and his modern-day Zapatistas may sense another watershed moment in Mexico's troubled history and feel now is the time to seize it and go for the change he hopes to help achieve.

For now though, it remains for events to play out in the upcoming days and weeks throughout the country. There are strong indications that Mexican authorities sense a troubled time ahead, are armed and ready for it if it comes with likely US military support, and will have to consider how to deal with it. It's in their hands to decide whether to use violent militant action against the people demanding justice or relent and give in enough to keep things from spiraling out of control. Whatever action they take, it's possible Mexico may never be the same again, but it's still too early to know and no one should be foolish enough to guess. The best anyone can say is stay closely tuned in case Mexican history is about to be made.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com

Monday, August 28, 2006

CUBA UNDER CASTRO

Cuba Under Castro - by Stephen Lendman

Having just turned 80 on August 13 and undergone major surgery for what may have been stomach cancer at the end of July, a transitional time may be near in Cuba with Fidel Castro Ruz beginning to hand over power to his brother Raul and/or others in the months ahead. It passed without irony or mention of imperial arrogance in a brief front page comment in the August 19th issue of the Wall Street Journal that the US won't invade Cuba but a "dynastic succession" is not acceptable. It would have been too much to expect the Journal to have noted that same type succession happened in the US in 2000 and 2004 and in elections exposed and documented as badly tainted at least and likely stolen at worst on top of five arrogant Supreme Court Justices refusing to allow a proper recount of the disputed vote and, in effect, annulling the voice of the people and replacing it with their choice for president. It's called "democracy, American style." It also would have been too much to expect the WSJ to challenge the language it quoted asking what right does anyone in the Bush administration have to tell another nation what type succession policy is or is not acceptable.

No one can know for sure what lies ahead for Cuba or if Castro will even survive. But now beginning his ninth decade and clearly facing a long and difficult recovery, the Cuban leader may have no other choice than to step aside in handling the country's day to day affairs although his influence will always be felt as long as he's alive and lucid. When, not if, the time of transition arrives, an historic era will have passed for the Cuban people and the region. And, while it won't be easy for a successor replacing a 'legend," the history of just Israel and the US alone shows it can happen successfully. It likely will in Cuba as well because the great majority of people there won't tolerate a return to the ugly, repressive pre-Castro past even though most of them never lived through it.

Looking back, one thing for sure can be said about Fidel Castro. He's the longest serving political leader in the world having first gained power on January 1, 1959. For him and Cuba it marked the successful culmination of his quest to do so that began with his unsuccessful attack on the Moncada army post in Santiago de Cuba in July, 1953 for which he stood trial and was sentenced in October that year to serve 15 years in the Isle of Pines penitentiary. For his efforts and while in prison Castro fast became a legend which may or may not have helped him win amnesty and release in May, 1955 after which he first became a non-violent agitator against the US backed oppressive and corrupted Fulgencio Batista dictatorship. Because he was censored and banned from speaking publicly, that strategy got him nowhere and he was forced to leave Cuba for Mexico to plan what became his 26th of July Movement that would be the means to take by force what no opposition in Batista's Cuba could achieve politically. With few resources and little support, Castro and 82 of his followers returned to the Sierra Maestra Mountains in his country in December, 1956 to begin the revolution that would finally succeed when he and what grew to 800 loyal followers entered Havana on January 1, 1959. His small band of determined resistance guerilla fighters had defeated Batista's army of thousands and forced the Cuban dictator to flee the country. From that time forward, the rest, as they say, is history.

The "Liberation" of Cuba, US-Style

From the earliest days of Cuba under Castro, the US imposed harsh conditions on the island state and waged an unending undeclared war against it. It wanted to destabilize the government, kill Fidel Castro or at the least make life so intolerable for the Cuban people, they'd willingly allow themselves to be ruled again by the interests of capital and the dictates of so-called "free market" forces. That many-decade campaign of state-directed terror never worked and likely never will convince the great majority of the Cuban people to favor giving up the essential social gains they now have for a return to what they surely know was a repressive past. They understand if it ever happened, it would be a throwback not just to the days and ways of the hated Batista regime but also to the time US President McKinley "liberated" the island from Spain in an earlier war based on a lie. From that time forward until the Castro-led revolution, the US effectively ruled Cuba as a de facto colony and used it to serve the interests of wealth and power at the expense of the welfare of the people. In his time, McKinley promised to let the Cubans govern themselves after the Spanish-American war, but the dominant Republicans in the Congress had other ideas and were only willing to go along with the island's self-rule if under it the US was allowed "to veto any decision (the Cuban government) made."

One of the earliest examples of US dominance was the Platt Amendment the Congress passed in 1901 after the US "liberated" Cuba in 1898. This federal law ceded Guantanamo Bay to the US to be used as the naval base we've had ever since and granted the US the right to intervene in Cuban affairs whenever it deemed it necessary. Theodore Roosevelt later signed the original Guantanamo lease agreement the terms of which gave the US jurisdiction over the territory that can only be terminated by the mutual consent of both countries as long as annual rent payments are made. The US thus gave itself the right to occupy part of sovereign Cuban territory in perpetuity regardless of how the Cuban people feel about it. The Castro government clearly wants the US out and through the years made its views clear by refusing to cash every US lease payment check it got other than the first one right after the successful revolution.

The US Embargo on Cuba

Whatever one's view of Fidel Castro Ruz, it's clear the achievements of the Republica de Cuba under his rule for nearly 48 years have been remarkable. He managed to do it in spite of the oppressive partial embargo the US imposed on the island state in October, 1960 that became a total embargo 16 months later in February, 1962 when it was expanded to include everything except non-subsidized sales of food and medicines and a month later banned the import of all goods made from Cuban materials regardless of where they were made. The embargo was further tightened with the passage of the Cuban Democracy (Torricelli) Act in 1992 that legalized the encouragement of pro-US opposition groups to act forcefully against the Castro government. It was made still far worse in 1996 after the passage of the outrageous Helms-Burton Act that allows the US government the right to sue any corporation anywhere that does business with Cuba.

Today the US embargo remains in place but is under siege because of its unpopularity among sectors of the US business community that want access to the Cuban market. They include oil and agricultural interests that see the profit potential of trading with Cuba and want to end the restrictions on it now in place. For US oil companies there are potential Cuban oil reserves they want access to, and for agribusiness there's a significant Cuban market for their exports. As a result, the pressure is mounting on the Bush administration which up to now has been defiant in its opposition to Fidel Castro and remains hostile and punitive. But of late the action has been in the Congress with attempts to pass legislation and avoid a Bush veto to ease the current restrictions and allow some economic relations with Cuba that for decades have been banned. For now it's uncertain whether the demands of US business will win out over the fiercely unyielding Bush administration's anti-Castro foreign policy. This and past administrations have always resisted all outside pressure to change their multi-decade hostile policy stance that included ignoring over a dozen overwhelming UN General Assembly votes to end the embargo. In all those votes (excluding abstentions), it was nearly the entire world voting to end it and two or three nations wanting to keep it - the US, Israel and one or another Pacific island.

Travel and Other Restrictions On US Citizens

To destabilize the Castro government, the US for over 40 years has also imposed travel and other restrictions on its own citizens. After the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962, President Kennedy first imposed restrictions on travel to the island in February, 1963. Through the years, US laws have changed at times but have grown harsher under the current Bush administration. Technically no US citizen can legally travel to Cuba without a Treasury license to do so. Doing it otherwise will subject anyone caught to fines up to $10,000 and possibly much higher as well as up to 10 years in prison. Until 2001, the travel restrictions were loosely enforced with only 16 criminal prosecutions between 1983 and 1999. However, all that changed post-2001, and now anyone caught travelling illegally to Cuba stands a real risk of heavy fine and possible imprisonment in this time of USA Patriot Act justice and the fraudulent "war on terror."

For those US citizens allowed to travel to Cuba, there are further limitations on the amount of money they may spend there or send to the country in the case of remittances to immediate family members there or to a Cuban national living in a third country. Under US Treasury license authorization, a visitor is allowed to spend a maximum $50 per day for non-transportational expenses and an additional $50 per day for transportation expenses. It's also permissible for persons in the US 18 years of age or older to remit to an immediate family member in Cuba or a Cuban national in a third country a maximum $300 per household in any consecutive three month period.

These restrictions of movement and a citizen's right to use ones own financial resources freely likely violate two or more amendments to the US Constitution although nothing in the Constitution specifically guarantees the freedom to travel. At the time the Constitution was written, the right to travel freely was unquestioned and was unheard of before the Cold War began after WW 11. After that time limitations were imposed, but challenges to them were made all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled in 1967 that restricting freedom of movement was an infringement of a citizen's constitutional rights. Justice William Douglas said at the time that "Freedom of movement is the very essence of our free society, setting us apart.....it often makes other rights meaningful." On two other occasions in 1962 and 1984, the High Court ruled otherwise by narrow margins but only under "the weightiest conditions of national security" necessitated by the Cold War. It's quite likely a Bush-friendly majority on the present Court would uphold the harsher restrictions favored by the Bush administration and permit one more way for them to destroy our civil liberties.

And they no doubt would do it despite the fact that the right of free movement anywhere encroaches on the right to liberty which the Fifth Amendment specifically states citizens cannot be deprived of without the due process of law. This restriction also likely violates the First Amendment right of free expression and to be able to hear the speech of others, gather information and associate with others as we choose - activities that should be inviolate in a free and democratic society. In addition, the fact that freedom of travel was an unquestioned right when the Constitution was drafted is the reason for the Ninth Amendment which grants the states all other rights not specifically written into the Constitution. Any restrictions thus imposed and enforced in violation of constitutional law are a direct infringement of our sacred freedoms, fundamental rights and civil liberties and unless challenged and successfully reversed in the courts are dangerous steps toward a national security police state under which citizens and residents have no rights.

US restrictive laws also violate international law under Article 12 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that guarantees everyone the right to leave any country, including one's own, and return to it. Article 13 of the non-binding Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the same thing as does the 1975 US - Soviet Union Helsinki Agreement committing both nations to protecting the right of its citizens to move freely across borders. The US, especially since the advent of the current Bush administration, has shown its contempt for international and US constitutional law ruling instead by Executive Order to pursue whatever policies it wishes in a manner characteristic of a dictatorship and with no restraint put on it by the Congress or the courts.

The result is a gross infringement of our civil liberties that will likely become far worse in the wake of the Orwellian Real ID Act of 2005 passed by the US Congress to become effective in May, 2008. This law mandates that every US citizen and legal resident have a national ID card (in most cases a person's driver's license) that will contain on it the holder's vital personal information. It also requires the states to meet federal ID standards. A likely future requirement will be what now is mandated by mid-2007 for all newly issued and renewed passports - that they be embedded with a radio frequency identification (RFID) technology computer chip that will be able to track all the movements, activities and transactions of everyone having them. This is an Orwellian dream for any government wanting police state powers and will let US authorities know the names of all persons in the US travelling to Cuba or anywhere else in cases where they did it from third countries so as to remain anonymous. No longer, and with national ID cards mandatory by mid-2008, the tracking of all US citizens and legal residents will become even easier.

Nearly Forty-Eight Years Later and Looking Back - the Castro Revolution and His Government

Fidel Castro's revolution likely was born in March, 1952 after Fulgencio Batista seized power forcibly by coup d'etat after it was clear he had no chance of winning the presidential election that year in which he was running a distant third in the polls. Batista, with full backing from the US, instituted a brutal police state that served the interests of capital and turned the island into a casino and brothel. It was marked by severe corruption, little concern for social needs, and violent crackdowns against the people to maintain order. Fidel Castro wanted none of it. Despite being born into a wealthy Cuban farming family in 1926, being educated in private schools and later at the University of Havana to study law, Castro went his own way. He became politically active early on in 1947 and joined the Partido Ortodoxa Party of the Cuban People to campaign against government corruption and misrule and to demand reform. He also began a law practice in a small partnership after receiving his degree in 1950 devoting most of his time to representing the poor.

Castro wanted change in Cuba and no doubt learned back then if it couldn't come about politically it would have to happen by force. As events dictated, Castro came to power by the latter path when he became the country's Prime Minister in February, 1959 following the successful revolution he led. He's held on to it to this day. He kept his title of premier until 1976 when he became the President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers as chief of state and head of the Cuban government and ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) that was formed in October, 1965. Under the 1976 Constitution, the Republica de Cuba vests all legislative power in the country's 619 member National Assembly of People's Power who serve five year terms. To be elected to it, those candidates must receive at least 50% of the eligible votes. At the executive level sits a 24 member Council of State that's elected by the Assembly and headed by an elected president and vice-president. The Council's President (currently Fidel Castro) is both Head of State and Head of Government. The Vice-President is his brother Raul. Executive and administrative power is vested in the Council of Ministers as recommended by the Head of State.

The PCC has governed Cuba since being formed and is Cuba's only legally recognized political party. While other political parties and opposition groups exist in the country, their activities are minimal and the state views them as mostly illegal. The Cuban Constitution allows free speech, but the opposition's rights are restricted under Article 62 that states: "None of the freedoms which are recognized for citizens can be exercised contrary to....the existence and objectives of the socialist state, or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism. Violations of this principle can be punished by law." That one party basis is how Cuba has been governed since Castro assumed power, and officially the Republica de Cuba is called a socialist state. It was inspired and guided by the principles of Jose Marti, Cuba's 19th century born greatest hero who believed freedom and justice for the people should be the cornerstones of any government and despotic regimes that abused human rights should be condemned.

Castro's Human Rights Record In A Climate of Continued US Efforts To Destabilize and Topple His Government and A Comparison to Hugo Chavez's Record in Venezuela

Castro's record as Cuba's leader is mixed at best as judged by the principles its "greatest hero" espoused. Unlike his ally and friend President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela who established a true participatory democracy by national referendum, Castro chose not to allow Cuba to be governed democratically. Instead he decided early on that he above all others would decide what was best for the Cuban people and little dissent would be allowed. The result is that while Cuba is a model state in delivering essential social services to be discussed in detail below, it comes at the expense of the freedom to oppose the ruling state authority. In the past, Amnesty International reported on the crackdown on dissent in Cuba and in recent years on the significant increase in what Amnesty calls the number of prisoners of conscience. The Cuban government claims only "foreign agents" whose activities endanger Cuban independence and security have been arrested, but Amnesty disagrees even while recognizing the threat to the island by the US and the harm done to it by years of an oppressive and unjustifiable embargo.

Amnesty was quite clear in its language stating: "The economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba has served as an ongoing justification for Cuban state repression and has contributed to a climate in which human rights violations occur." Those violations include accusations of police state arrests, unfair trials, arbitrary imprisonments and the right to use capital punishment in cases of armed hijacking even after the Castro government placed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2001. While some of what Amnesty reports may be true, it's also important to note what it leaves out. It pays little attention to how for decades the US repeatedly tried to destabilize Cuba under Castro, isolate it in the region, destroy its economy, and failed in many attempts to assassinate the Cuban leader. Amnesty also doesn't explain how the US recruited and used various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to act as spies under the cover of their supposed missions. The Cuban government has every right to arrest, prosecute and imprison the ones they catch committing these acts of subversion against the island state for the US authorities that hired them, and Amnesty and other human rights groups fail to fulfill their obligation for full disclosure by not explaining this.

Hugo Chavez in Venezuela has also been a US target for elimination but charted a somewhat different course than Fidel Castro in spite of it since being elected President in December, 1998 and assuming office in February, 1999. From the start, Chavez and his Movement for the Fifth Republic Party (MVR) wanted and got his revolution by the ballot box. In fairness to Castro, he too preferred that way but found it impossible under the repressive dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Hugo Chavez had a more favorable climate and once elected sought to achieve what few other political leaders ever do - keep his promises to the people who elected him. In a nation of overwhelming poverty, he wanted to follow the vision of 19th century revolutionary hero Simon Bolivar and his spirit of Bolivarianism to free the Venezuelan people of what Bolivar called the imperial curse "to plague Latin America with misery in the name of liberty."

He did it with his own Bolivarian Revolution based on the principles of participatory democracy and social justice, convened a National Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution that reflected these principles, and allowed the Venezuelan people the right to vote it into binding law by national referendum which they did overwhelmingly in December, 1999. The new constitution which went into effect in December, 2000 established the legal foundation for Hugo Chavez to move ahead with the political, economic and social justice structural changes he wanted for his people. He wanted to lift them from poverty, guarantee them essential social services like free health care and education to the highest level, the right of free expression to include criticizing the President, and the fundamental principle of true participatory democracy so that the people have a say in how their country is governed.

Fidel Castro much earlier was a model for Hugo Chavez in how he established essential social services for the Cuban people like world-class free health care for all and free education through the university level. These will be discussed in detail below. But he failed by not fully permitting Cuba to be governed democratically with unrestricted free and fair elections, effective opposition parties, the right to speak freely, openly and critically of the President even though everyone holding political office in the country including the President and Vice-President must be elected to it.

The Castro government also imposes unfair travel restrictions on the movement of its people requiring them to obtain exit visas to leave the island. More recently these restrictions were relaxed somewhat but not entirely. They're still imposed on professionals with essential skills, and in the case of human rights activists who have the right to leave Cuba but not to return. These freedom of movement restrictions violate international law under Article 12 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as already explained. Seeing that Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro appear to be good friends and allies, it's to be hoped the Cuban leader or his successor will see how successful the Chavez approach has been in Venezuela and one day wish to alter the Cuban state model to be in full accordance with the spirit and letter of Bolivarianism.

Nearly Five Decades of US-Directed Intimidation, Destabilization and Attempts to Overthrow the Castro Government

The US-directed terror campaign to oust Fidel Castro began under Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Kennedy with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, continued with "The Cuban Project" (aka Operation Mongoose) in 1961 to "help Cuba overthrow the Communist regime" and Fidel Castro and aim "for a revolt which can take place in Cuba by October, 1962." It continued under the same and new names with many dozens of plots through the years to kill Castro including bizarre ones like using a poisoned wetsuit, poison pens, a pistol hidden in a camera (that almost worked), exploding cigars, explosive seashells in Castro's favorite diving places and a special hair removal powder to make the leader's beard fall out (maybe believing the latter scheme would remove Castro's power much like the biblical Sampson lost his physical strength after Delilah had his hair cut). In the mid-1990s, Noam Chomsky commented that "Cuba was the target of more international terrorism than probably the rest of the world combined, up until Nicaragua in the 1980s." And it was conducted by US-initiated state terrorism against the island state to remove a leader because he chose not to govern the way the US wished him to.

Besides the schemes listed above, the list of US terror tactics against Cuba is far too long to list in total here. They include US attacks on Cuban sugar mills by air, a 1960 blowing up of a Belgian ship in Havana harbor killing 100 sailors and dock workers, dynamiting stores, theaters, a Havana department store and burning down another one. In addition, there were dozens of attacks and bombings and over 600 known plans or attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro including the bizarre ones listed above. The CIA also conducted biological warfare against Cuba including introducing dangerous viruses to the island affecting sugar cane and other crops, African swine fever in 1971 that resulted in the need to slaughter half a million pigs, and hemorrhagic dengue fever that caused the deaths of at least 81 children in 1981. These incidents were later confirmed in declassified US documents.

It's also well remembered that Cubana flight 455 was terror-bombed in October, 1976 by former CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles that killed the 73 people on board. The plot was likely masterminded by Orlando Bosch who devoted his life to committing terrorist attacks against Cuba and trying to kill Fidel Castro. Now at age 80, he lives near Miami and was recently interviewed by Andy Robinson of La Vanguardia. He told Mr. Robinson he once nearly succeeded in killing Castro in 1971 in Chile (with a pistol hidden in a camera), but the assassins sent there to do it "chickened out and didn't shoot" even though they were standing meters away from the Cuban leader and easily could have done it.

Posada, too, was frank in at least one interview he gave to the New York Times. He said "The CIA taught us everything... explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage." Posada, like Bosch, spent 40 years trying to overthrow the Castro government forcibly and was personally responsible for many acts of violence over that period. In April, 2005 he sought political asylum in the US, apparently won't get it as the Bush administration is seeking a "friendly" country to extradite him to while ignoring requests for extradition by Cuba and Venezuela to face charges of terrorism in both countries. Posada was also likely responsible for other terror-bombings of hotels later in the 1990s to destroy the Cuban tourist industry with the help of CIA financing to do it. It's also well known that CIA trained US based paramilitary groups like Alpha 66 and Brothers to the Rescue in Florida are free to operate from here where they're regarded as heros among Cuban reactionaries. They have no fear of prosecution or extradition to Cuba for their crimes against the island state.

With all the detail above and much more than this article can cover, it's easy to understand that the Cuban government or any other under such continued assault to destabilize and topple it would be on high alert at all times and would always have to take all necessary precautions to assure the security of the state, its leader and people. That's more true than ever today as the out-of-control Bush administration is committed to regime change on the island and set up a Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba to help achieve it. The Commission presented its Report to the President in July this year detailing its plan to return Cuba to its pre-Castro de facto colonial status and end the Castro socialist revolution and all the benefits it brought to the Cuban people. In a word, the Bush administration wants to do for Cuba what it did in "liberating" Iraq and Afghanistan and do it by force if necessary. It wants to re-privatize every publicly operated state enterprise and return the Cuban people to the status of serfs exploited by capital, set up a puppet government to administer the changeover, and have it all controlled by Washington and the corporate giants its beholden to.

Fidel Castro knows he's under threat and must take every measure to thwart it. To do otherwise would be foolish and irresponsible. Nonetheless, no leader or government should ever do this by denying its citizens and residents their civil liberties nor should the people anywhere allow them to be taken. Benjamin Franklin understood the danger and wisely explained that "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." And he likely also said those willing to make that sacrifice for security will lose both. So while all necessary precautions are fully justified and necessary against a dangerous and determined adversary or even in a time of war, under no circumstances should a free people ever be willing to give up what they always should be working for to secure and preserve.

Cuba As A Socialist State

In the early years of the Cuban revolution, the Castro government made a clean break with all vestiges of the world capitalist economy. It nationalized US industries like the public utilities, carried out land reform, closed down the Mafia-owned casinos and ended long-standing and systemic corruption. Fidel Castro intended to build a socialist state based on the principles of a largely state-owned, government directed planned economy. He did it and transformed the nation from one controlled mostly by US capital interests and the underworld to the current system in place under which most of the means of production are owned and operated by the state which employs most of the labor force.

But Cuba has been changing somewhat since the dissolution of the Soviet Union that provided it with large and vitally needed subsidies, supplied it with oil at low prices and provided a ready market for Cuban exports like a large portion of its annual sugar crop it no longer could sell to the US because of the economic embargo. Out of necessity to revive its economy that was severely affected in the early 1990s, the Castro government began to allow a limited amount of free enterprise. To increase its agricultural output and relieve food shortages, it changed its farm strategy to an emphasis on smaller-sized ones and shifted from state-owned to cooperative production allowing farmers the right to receive a certain percentage of the profits from their crop yields above a basic required level. The government's goal was to incentivize farmers to reach their maximum production potential and earn income for themselves by doing it. The Cuban government also began to allow commercial Agricultural Markets to be opened around the country as further incentive for farmers to produce more and privately be able to profit from seling the excess amount of it. These Markets have also been a tactical success in neutralizing the negative effects of the country's black market by making a more readily available supply of affordable food for the Cuban people able to avail themselves of it.

The government also introduced changes in the areas of small retail and light manufacturing enterprises loosening the restrictions on the right to operate them as private for-profit businesses. In addition, the government legalized the use of the US dollar and mounted a concerted effort to take advantage of the island's desirable Caribbean location to develop the country's tourism industry by encouraging offshore private investment. In 1995, the Cuban Constitution was changed to encourage it. It granted 100% ownership to foreign companies in joint ventures on the island - up from the 49% cap established in 1982. The change brought about a dramatic increase in joint venture agreements that jumped from 20 in 1991 to 398 in 2001 (substantially in the tourist sector). Cuba has benefitted from them all as a way to attract foreign capital, boost the economy, and provide jobs for the Cuban people. The results so far are significant as tourism experienced impressive growth in the last 15 years. The annual number of visitors to Cuba in 2004 was about 2 million or a six-fold increase since 1990 and the amount they spent increased eight-fold to nearly $2 billion. By the year 2000, private sector employment had grown to about 23% of the total labor force which was up from 8% in 1981. Over the same period, public sector employment dropped to about 77% of the total from the 92% level it was at in 1981.

Social Services under Castro

In delivering essential social services to the Cuban people, the Castro government has had its most notable and admirable successes. Its through them that the Castro revolution became firmly institutionalized in the hearts and minds of the great majority of the people who never before had a government providing for their essential needs they'll now never relinquish without a fight. Why should they. Article 50 of the Cuban Constitution adopted in 1976 and approved by 97% of the country's eligible voters at the time mandates that all Cubans are entitled to receive free medical, hospital and dental care including prophylactic services. The Constitution emphasizes public health, preventive care, health education, programs for periodic medical examinations, immunizations and other preventive measures. It guarantees that all Cubans will have their health protected, and in Article 43 it stipulates that all citizens have the same rights without regard to "color of skin, gender, religious belief, national origin and any distinction harmful to the dignity of man." The Constitution also provides for worker health and safety, help for the elderly and pregnant working women having the right to paid leave before and after birth to ensure maternal and infant health. In 1983, Cuba also adopted the Public Health Law that makes it a fundamental and permanent state obligation to assure, improve and protect the health of its citizens including the rehabilitation of persons suffering from physical or mental disabilities. These services are intended to restore patients to active, productive lives and improve their overall welfare.

In 1989, the World Health Organization (WHO) singled out the Cuban health care system as a "model for the world." It cited its extensive system of family doctors and sophisticated tertiary care facilities, emphasis on its nutritional safety net, its low infant mortality rate at 6 per 1,000 population that's equal to the average for the developed world and lower than the 7 per thousand for the US. Cuba also equals the US in life expectancy, has double the number of physicians per 1000 population than the US and an overall lower mortality rate. It also has the most complete infant immunization coverage in the developing world and an exemplary national health and nuitrition education program emphasizing the development and use of chemical-free, non-GMO, organically grown fresh produce which it hopes to have enough of in another decade to feed its entire population. And it accomplishes all this at a far lower cost per capita than its rich northern neighbor that spends the most per capita of any nation but doesn't care for over 46 million of its citizens who have no access to health care services and many millions more with far too little.

At the end of the 1990s, the WHO updated its findings on health care delivery in Cuba following the dissolution of the Soviet Union combined with the severities caused by the US embargo. It reported severe shortages of needed pharmaceuticals and medical supplies that constrained the ability of the Cuban government to service all the medical and health needs of its people fully. But the Castro government has always had to deal with hardships and shortages of essential goods and services and most often proved its ingenuity to handle adversity in innovative ways eventually devising solutions to deal with them. One way its done it is through government investment in and development of a world-class homegrown biotechnology industry done in the state-of-the-art research labs of the Cuban Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center. Here Cuban scientists invented cholesterol-lowering drugs, detection tests for AIDS, a meningitis vaccine, remedies for hepatitis B, and other new pharmaceuticals. The Cuban people reap the benefit of these discoveries free of charge and the government earns needed foreign exchange reserves by exporting these products to ready world buyers for them outside the US.

The Cuban people have every reason to be proud of the quality and breath of their health care delivery system. It's world-class in stature as is the country's education system that's also totally free to all Cubans to the highest university level and shows Fidel Castro's commitment to the wisdom of Diogenes who said "The foundation of every state is the education of its youth." Castro offers these services not just to his own people but uses them to export as well to other nations needing them, particularly in the region, as a means of barter trade in return for essential products Cuba needs to import like oil from its ally Venezuela.

Just how good education is in Cuba is seen in a report on it by the Latin American Center for the Evaluation of the Quality of Education which is part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It showed Cuban students achieved nearly double the scores in math and literature of any of the other 14 Latin American or Caribbean nations currently in the organization. It does it because the Castro government is committed to delivering first class education to all in the country and mandates the right to it for everyone in Article 51 of the Cuban Constitution.

It says: "Everybody has a right to education. This right is guaranteed by the extensive and free system of schools, part-time boarding schools, boarding schools and scholarships in all types and at all levels of education, by the free provision of school materials to every child and young person regardless of the economic situation of the family, and by the provision of courses suited to the student's aptitude, the requirements of society and the needs of economic and social development." The quality of teaching is also high, and class sizes are much lower in number than in the US, and they may get down as low as 15 on average to allow Cuban teachers more time to spend with their students than their US, Latin American and Caribbean counterparts.

Cuba has also virtually eliminated illiteracy (as has Venezuela with the help of thousands of Cuban teachers sent to the country) while in the US the Department of Education cites a functional illiteracy rate of 20% of the population. But that figure excludes a far higher percentage of the high-school educated population that can only read at an elementary school level and when seeking entrance to college must get remedial help to qualify. The same high percentage of US high school graduates also shows up on low-rated math skills, again requiring remedial help to advance to to the college level.

The Cuban education system is much different. It's not just the best in the hemisphere, but it's one that emphasizes breath as well as quality. All students receive education in math, reading, the sciences, arts, humanities, social responsibility, civics and participatory citizenship. The aim is to give all Cubans the skills they need to make them better and more productive citizens. Its done so they may contribute as adults to helping the nation improve and further develop its impressive programs in health, education, the sciences, ecology, agriculture and the arts.

The results are impressive, yet life is still hard for the average Cuban because of the US embargo against the country. It prevents many goods from entering, including essential ones like certain foodstuffs and drugs, that would ease conditions and make them more tolerable. It also makes many of those that do come in more costly because of the greater transportation cost to get them there from distant places like Europe.

Nonetheless, and in spite of the overwhelming obstacles it faces, the Castro government has been committed to serving the basic needs of the Cuban people and through the years has been innovative and unrelenting in finding ways to do it well. As a result, the government always managed to avoid a humanitarian disaster by maintaining in place the pillars of its social model that affirm a priority to human development and essential needs. Besides its world-class health care and education systems, Cubans are assured a nutritious food supply at affordable prices and availability of it free in schools, hospitals and homes for the elderly. The Cuban government also maintains a commitment to scientific research that will produce benefits for the people as well as attention to cultural development. And it's done it all and more in spite of the severe budgetary constraints under which it must function making the achievements all the more impressive.

Fidel Castro's commitment to his people was expressed in Law Number 49 passed one month after he assumed power. It stipulated that the government would provide social services to those needing them. The current law assures special assistance (including financial help) will be provided to the most vulnerable groups in need to include the elderly, persons unable to work and single mothers. The Constitution also mandates that all its citizens are to be treated equally under the law, removed restrictions on religious belief from the Constitution in the early 1990s allowing Cubans the right to freely express and practice their religious beliefs as long as they're not opposed to the socialist principles of the state, and commits the government to assuring all its people have the right to a job and access to sports and culture. As a result, the country has full employment and no homeless people on the streets which compares to its rich northern neighbor that has a considerable problem in both areas but does almost nothing to address them.

What May Lie Ahead For Cuba and Its People

A watershed moment may have arrived for Cuba with the July 31 announcement that Fidel Castro underwent major surgery for what may have been stomach cancer. In official post-operative statements by officials and Fidel himself, the surgery went well and recovery is proceeding normally although it may be long and uncertain. That certainly is true for a man who on August 13, turned 80. In the pictures released of the Cuban leader he looked fine but not feisty as he likely would have prior to his surgery. At this point, it's likely neither he nor his doctors are certain what his prognosis is, but they and the Cuban people know one thing for sure. All his life Fidel Castro has been an unrelenting committed fighter, and he's not likely to change now, especially as his life and welfare may hang in the balance.

Still, Cuba seems certain to be approaching a critical moment in its post-Batista history. It now must address the issue of succession, its commitment to its socialist principles and how it will relate to the rest of the world, especially the US that's totally committed to regime change in the island state and a return of the country to its oppressive former rule by the interests of capital. What may unfold ahead is anyone's guess so here's one to consider. Before the Castro revolution, the Cuban people had only known decades of exploitation, repression and no attention paid to the most basic of human social needs. But since Fidel Castro came to power they've gotten them, and it hardly seems likely they'll ever willingly give them up without a fight. The US may be planning to return the Cuban state to its ugly past, but the best guess ventured here is it won't happen because Cubans won't allow it to. The great majority of them support Fidel Castro and all he's done for them. They know he won't rule the island forever, and if now is the time for him to step aside, they expect and no doubt will get a new leader as fully committed to serving them as the man who more than any other leader in the past half century is a living legend. Alive or passed on, Fidel Castro will be a great symbol and hero to the Cuban people. They're not likely ever to want to let his legacy die.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blogspot at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

ALTERNATIVES TO THE COLLAPSED WTO DOHA ROUND TALKS

Alternatives To the Collapsed WTO Doha Round Talks - by Stephen Lendman

On July 24, 2006, World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Pascal Lamy was forced to halt the five years of negotiating of the so-called Fourth WTO Ministerial Doha Round that began in Doha, Qatar in November, 2001 and ended (for now, at least) in Geneva, Switzerland. The talks had been ongoing to strike a trade deal but broke down because the US, as usual, demanded all take and little give in return expecting it could strong-arm developing nations to accept whatever it proposed as it's always been able to do in the past.

No longer, apparently, as nations with growing clout like Brazil, India and others justifiably refused to knuckle under. Even European (EU) Trade Commissioner and US ally, Peter Mandelson expressed his ire when he accused the US of trying to exact a "disproportionate" price from developing countries. He added: "Surely the richest and strongest nation in the world, with the highest standards of living, can afford to give as well as take." Mandelson is right, of course, but he also understands the US considers itself the de facto ruler of the world and claims the right in that status to make all the rules and expect all other nations to agree to and obey them. It wasn't to be this time in Geneva and may never be again as a growing number of nations are fed up with Washington's notion of trade that's "free" in words but never "fair" in fact. The tone of frustration was expressed by India's Commerce and Industry Minister in his concluding comment that Doha is "definitely between intensive care and the crematorium." He and others thought it would be months to years before further talks could be restarted and likely never again on same basis as the current round that broke down.

That basis is the same business as usual one when the US is involved - promise them (the developing nations) everything, or at least an equitable arrangement for rich and poor countries alike, but in the end deliver little or nothing. It's just another example of US duplicity and disingenuousness as the initial Doha declaration promised that the rich nations would make most of the concessions and the poorest ones would need make few or none. It never happened, and the biggest obstacle was over farm subsidies so important to developing world countries that need protection for the major part of their economy along with ease of access to the US and European Union (EU) to assure growth. The US and EU made no teeth proposals to end their agricultural subsidies by 2013, but less developed countries rejected the kind of vague forked-tongue language the US especially has used before which in the end always failed to deliver what it promised.

A clear example of the kind of trade agreement the US wants is reflected in its subsidies to cotton farmers the WTO ruled illegal last year. Despite the ruling, the US did nothing to bring the subsidies into compliance, and Brazil may now ask the WTO to allow it to impose $1 billion in punitive duties on US imports in compensation. Brazil and other countries may also have justifiable rice, soybean and other crop claims against the US. Uruguay has complained about unfair US rice subsidies depressing world prices, and Oxfam International charged that these illegal subsidies, valued at $1.2 billion a year, hurt rice farmers in a dozen countries.

Call it just more of the "same old US same old." A key provision of the Doha "development round" clearly shows it. With a backdrop of high-sounding language promising to help poor countries grow their way out of poverty by granting them greater access for their goods, the EU extended the "Everything but Arms" initiative (EBA) under which it would unilaterally open its markets to developing countries. That was before the US hypocritically muddied things up by purportedly agreeing to a 97% opening of its markets to the developing world. These countries were initially disappointed with the original EBA initiative, and the EU promised to address their concerns to reach a more equitable compromise. US intentions, however, were quite different. While using market-opening language, the US, in fact, proposed just the opposite by claiming the right to choose a different 3% exclusion for each country to rig the deal to end up allowing developing countries the right to freely export everything but what they produce. So while they can freely export aircraft, jet engines, supercomputers and computer chips, they can't have free access for their agricultural products, processed foods or textiles. Hardly a fair trade initiative, and one sensible trade ministers would never accept. They didn't.

The net result is that the 3% EBA initiative is just another disingenuous multilateral trade scheme corrupted by US undermining to unfairly give this dominant country free access to world developing markets without having to grant equivalent access here in return. Based on the outcome in Geneva, developing countries, led by those with the most clout, no longer are buying it and walked away. They did it before at Cancun in 2003 and no doubt will stand firm in any future WTO negotiations.

A Disturbing Cloud on A World Trade Silver Lining

At the same time developing nations are resisting sweeping trade deals like Doha, some of them are agreeing to bilateral ones with the US with terms just as unacceptable as the WTO ones they rejected. So far the following countries have agreed to such "free trade agreements" with the US or are in the process of negotiating them: Australia, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Bahrain, Israel, Jordan, Malaysia, Vietnam (seeking WTO admission), Morocco, Oman, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the Central American nations included under the Dominican Republic Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) of the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica (the only CAFTA country that hasn't so far approved the agreement).

In addition, and less publicized, there are other agreements in place and being negotiated under various names like the so-called US-India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture that gives US giants like Monsanto free access to the Indian market for their GMO products ravaging Indian farmers since gaining entry and causing thousands of suicides among them because of onerous debts they were forced to assume that ended up killing them; Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland for wheat at unaffordable prices increasing hunger and malnutrition and destroying the lives of still more small farmers; and the king of giants - Walmart - that wants to dominate the Indian retail market, and if successful, will do to thousands of small retailers in the country what Monsanto alone did to its small farmers.

By using the tactic of one-on-one negotiations, the US is showing it's not standing pat in the face of overall trade defeat that first erupted on the streets of Seattle in 1999, began in earnest in direct talks in Cancun in 2003 and culminated with the collapse of those talks in Geneva in July. It's trying to overcome it by undermining the unity of the developing world one nation at a time and do it with selective agreements covering products and services it's able to get its negotiating partners to agree on. In the case of India that stood firm against a sweeping Doha agreement, it's clear that country so far has been willing to trade away its food and retail small business security for whatever benefits it hopes to gain in return that when dealing with the US may turn out to be meager at best.

It's too early to know how successful this US strategy will be over time, but so far it's had enough success to show developing nations determined to hold their ground that their battle to do it has just begun, and it won't be easy prevailing in the end. Nonetheless, the ones willing to resist US bullying tactics have decided, so far at least, that sweeping agreements on US one-way terms are unacceptable. At most, they'll go for a limited one hoping for some expected gain in return for what they have to give up. So the bottom line thus far is that while Doha is either dead or on life support, so-called US-style "free trade" is very much alive and thriving.

Alternatives to the WTO Doha Round

Despite US trade ingenuity and chicanery to turn defeat into partial victory, challenges to its dominance have emerged showing a spirit of resistance and unwillingness to continue the old corrupted one-way neoliberal way of doing things that's little more than a race to the bottom. That spirit wanting change is more alive in Latin America than anywhere else, even though so far it's more hope than reality. Still, for the first time, more people in the region are fed up having to live under the oppressive heel of US dominance and are inspired by what's happening in Venezuela to overcome it and beginning in Bolivia as well. Call it a start, but all great social movements have modest beginnings. There's never a guarantee how far they'll go, and many just fade away or are destroyed by those of privilege using their power to do what they know how to do best - remove all threats to the interests of capital by whatever means it takes to do it.

That battle is now being waged in Venezuela against its democratically elected President, Hugo Chavez and his Movement for the Fifth Republic Party (MVR). Chavez was first elected in December, 1998 and from the start created the beginnings of a new mass social and political Bolivarian revolution based on participatory democracy and social justice. Privileged "sifrinos" and the corporate ruling class in the country aren't happy with the way things are now and have engaged the Chavez government in confrontation relentlessly since he came into office. Those forces have a strong ally in the Bush administration that's done all it can to aid them and continues to relentlessly.

The reason is because of all Chavez has done to help his overwhelmingly poor people emerge from their desperate state and have the essential social services and other help they need. He's accomplished much in a short time despite everything done to subvert him by powerful and determined internal rogue elements and the far more hostile threat from the huge shadow cast on his government from Washington that's tried and failed three times to oust him and now is planning a fourth attempt that may include an armed assault and invasion and likely attempt to assassinate him as well.

Chavez began in 1999 by drafting a new constitution that was put to a nationwide referendum and overwhelmingly approved by the Venezuelan people. It established the principle of participatory democracy for all Venezuelans, mandated quality health care and education, housing, an improved social security pension system for seniors, free speech, rights for indigenous people and banned discrimination. Chavez is revered by the great majority of his people because of all he's done for them since taking office in 1999. He currently enjoys an approval rating of over 80% and likely will have no trouble remaining President when he runs again for reelection in December unless an attempt is made to remove him from office forcibly before then that succeeds. Chavez is well aware of the threat against him and is doing all he can to prevent it.

ALBA - The Bolivarian Alternative to the Fourth WTO Ministerial Doha Round

Hugo Chavez is pursuing his progressive agenda abroad as well as at home. Key to it is his alternative to the US dominated WTO neoliberal type trade agreements that are called "free" but aren't "fair." The ones now in force under mandated WTO trade rules along with IMF and World Bank imposed structural adjustments and privatizations of state industries have caused growing poverty and human misery throughout the developing world. The harmful one-way trade rules are in place for agriculture, services under GATS, intellectual property under TRIPS, and the mostly unpassed corporate wish list from hell covered under MAI that would establish a single global economy run by these corporate giants. Led by the US and its giant transnational companies, the goal of these agreements is to establish a supranational "economic constitution" based on WTO mandated rules of global trade that would override the sovereignty of member states - in other words, to establish a global constitution with a binding set of trade rules favoring rich countries and giant corporations allowing them the right to dominate world markets and exploit developing nations and ordinary people everywhere for their benefit.

Hugo Chavez has opted out of this corrupted system with his alternative plan called ALBA or the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. It's impressive goal is to achieve a comprehensive integration among Latin American countries to develop "the social state" that will benefit ordinary people. It's far different than the WTO structured deals explained above that only benefit large corporations and wealthy nations at the expense of developing ones and all people everywhere. ALBA is bold and innovative and based on the principles of complementarity, not competition; solidarity, not domination; cooperation, not exploitation; and respect for each participating nation's sovereignty free from the control of other nations and giant corporations.

Chavez hopes ALBA will unite participating nations in solidarity to benefit the people in them by providing essential goods and services, achieve real economic growth at the grassroots and improve the lives of ordinary people by reducing and one day eliminating poverty. A key feature of the plan is the exchange of goods and services outside the usual international banking and corporate trading system. For example, Venezuela has exchanged Venezuelan oil and building materials with Cuba paid for in kind by Cuba, in turn, sending 20,000 doctors to work in medical clinics and hospitals in the barrios plus staffing literacy programs to teach Venezuelans to read and write.

Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba have also agreed on an ALBA and People's Trade Agreement that will operate on the same basis. The agreements contain many articles and provisions of complementarity and mutually beneficial exchanges that will benefit all three countries and their people and also work with other Latin American countries to help them eradicate illiteracy using the methods that have virtually eliminated it in Venezuela and Cuba. Compare what's been accomplished in those two countries with limited resources to the US where the Department of Education in the richest country in the world estimates over 20% of the population to be functionally illiterate. That startling and shameful fact is but one of many noteworthy testimonies to the failure of the so-called neoliberal "free market" race to the bottom model the US wants to export to all other nations and do it by force if necessary.

The Mercosur Alternative

Mercosur, or the Southern Common Market, is a much less impressive and radical alternative to the WTO model than is ALBA. It's a customs union comprising Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and most recently in July, 2006 Venezuela as a formal member. It was founded in 1991 by the Treaty of Asuncion and amended by the Treaty of Ouro Preto in 1994. Mercosur was formed to promote free trade in goods and services among its member Latin American states that also include Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru as associate members as well as Mexico in temporary observer status prior to becoming an associate member.

As a functioning trade body, Mercosur is far different than ALBA. It was never meant to be an alternative to the dominant WTO model but rather to be complimentary to it. It was formed by and represents the ruling class of its Latin American member states that have long been dominated by the Global North. They believed by unifying into a regional trade block, they would have more negotiating clout in combination than each one could have acting separately. Despite the standoff at Cancun in 2003 and the just failed Doha round in Geneva, its results have been mixed at best in its dealings with the US primarily. Even as a more powerful regional trading block, these nations haven't been able to get the US to soften its negotiating position in trade talks and thus be willing to offer fairer terms, especially on products most important to each Latin country.

The failed Doha round especially proved that, but it also proved that when developing nations stand firm together, they can hold their own, bring talks with the US to a standstill, and prove they mean business and no longer are willing to cut one-way deals hurting themselves. So maybe after three years of failing to get its way in spite of all the pressure the US can bring to bear, Washington may finally be getting the message. But with the hardline Bush administration still in charge moving ahead boldly with bilateral deals, that possibility may only be wishful thinking.

Enter Venezuela into Mercosur

On July 21, Venezuela formally became the fifth member of Mercosur making this body the world's third largest economic bloc and adding to the strength of Latin American unity that may better enable it to hold its own in future trade negotiations with the US and other dominant Global North nations. Hugo Chavez joined this alternative trade bloc just months after withdrawing from the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) pact in April, 2006 in response to CAN members Colombia and Peru signing Free Trade Agreements with the US. The benefits of Venezuela's addition are significant, and Hugo Chavez signaled it by saying: "We are entering a new stage of Mercosur." He went on to add: "Latin America has all it needs to become a great world power (he didn't mean a military one). Let's not put any limits on our dreams. Let's make them reality." Chavez's words were backed up by Brazil's President Lula da Silva when he added "no one is talking anymore (about the US-backed) FTAA." And Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner added emphasis with his comment that "Democracy, human rights, liberty and the fight against poverty (are the basis for) a new world order." In his comments, Hugo Chavez was expressing his hope that with the addition of his country and likely other nations to follow, Mercosur would take more steps to "prioritize social concerns" and begin a process of no longer being beholden solely to "the old elitist corporate models" that put profits ahead of people needs. Hopefully, to some degree at least, Lula and Kirchner were expressing the same sentiment. So far though in their own style of governance, these two leaders differ markedly from Hugo Chavez and mostly follow the neoliberal "free market" rules prescribed by the US that the corporate giants benefit from.

But those leaders as well as those from Uruguay and Paraguay got a hint of what their people want at the summit when social activists representing the interest of labor, the environment, women's issues, human rights, and campesinos marched on the streets in solidarity with demonstrators of left-wing parties to present their progressive alternative proposals for regional integration to the Mercosur leaders. The street event marked the close of the summit at which the Peoples' Summit for Sovereignty and Integration ran for the first time parallel to a Mercosur summit meeting. The Peoples' agenda addressed issues that included anti-poverty measures, indigenous peoples' rights and demands, the protection of natural resources, investment in education, trade liberalization and matters of concern to women.

Participating organizations prepared a final document that proclaimed "South America is entering a new era," and they intend to create and fight for an alternative plan to the failed neoliberal so-called "free market" ones they reject. They made their goals clear stating: "No to free trade agreements and yes to peoples' integration. No to foreign debt and to meddling by the international financial institutions. Yes to economic independence. No to militarization, yes to self-determination. No to hunger and poverty, yes to better distribution of wealth."

Those attending also rejected a US Senate initiative to create a counter-terrorism organization in the tri-border area connecting Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, demanded Latin American UN MINUSTAH "blue helmet" so-called "peacekeepers" (that, in fact, serve as thuggish enforcers) be withdrawn from Haiti, and protested against the illegal US war against Iraq and the joint US-Israeli equally illegal ones against Lebanon and Palestine. This is likely to be a taste of further protest activism to come with various NGO groups representing ordinary people demanding their political leaders address the vital issues of greatest concern to them. With Hugo Chavez as a formal Mercosur member and already governing that way in Venezuela, these groups have an important regional leader as an ally who'll back and help them by addressing their needs and advocating Mercosur nations adopt them.

Chavez and Mercosur have already had one notable achievement last November when Venezuela successfully led the opposition that thwarted the US's attempt to conclude its Free Trade of the Americas agreement (FTAA) with South American countries. It's very likely FTAA is now dead, and the US may only attempt to resurrect it in bilateral form to get the best deals it can, even ones less acceptable to its giant corporations that would rather have all they get bilaterally than nothing at all resulting from the demise of FTAA.

The US task, however, will be all the harder with the addition of Venezuela as a full Mercosur member. The country has clout and intends to use it. Besides its immense oil reserves Chavez is willing to share equitably on an ALBA-type arrangement with his trading partners, Venezuela is South America's third largest economy after Brazil and Argentina. It's addition to Mercosur means this trade bloc now has a combined market of 250 million people and a total output of $1,000,000,000,000 ($1 trillion) in goods and services annually - 75% of the continent's GDP. Further, with its associate members and possible addition of Mexico (especially if Lopez Obrador manages to assume the office of President he won but so far has been denied), Mercosur is poised to become even larger and more powerful. At the Mercosur summit on July 20 - 21 in Cordoba, Argentina, Chavez called for Bolivia and Cuba to be included in the trade bloc. Bolivia already is an associate member, and in a clear rejection of how the US treats Cuba with its 45 year-old embargo aimed at trying to topple Fidel Castro, Mercosur nations just concluded an Economic Complementation Accord with the island state designed to eliminate tariffs and boost complementary trade.

Mercosur's growing strength is more political than economic, and therein hopefully lies its clout. It can't compete in size with the Global North or any trade bloc with the US as a member. As impressive as its market size and combined GDP numbers are, they're quite small compared to the three nation NAFTA bloc dominated by the US that has 450 million people in it and a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $14 trillion. But just as the Hezbollah resistance humbled the mighty Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) fourth most powerful military in the world by its resilience, so too might economically small Mercosur hold its own in its dealings with its powerful and dominant northern neighbor - especially with some help from other developing nations like India, China and Russia that are also unwilling to trade across the board on any basis they consider unfair and are getting away with it when determined to do it.

Recent Russian muscle-flexing is an example of how one nation is able to stand up to the US successfully. Relations between the two countries have been frosty for some time, and as a result the Bush administration blocked Russia's desired entry into the WTO. In return, Russian President Vladimir Putin retaliated by denying US oil giants Chevron and Conoco-Phillips the right to develop oil and gas fields in the Barents Sea. Putin also cemented a relationship with US nemesis Hugo Chavez by concluding an arms deal involving 24 advanced Russian fighter jets, 53 helicopters, and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles in addition to discussing the possibility of Russia becoming involved in building an oil pipeline in Venezuela.

In addition, Russia earlier joined in an important energy alliance in 2001 with China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that reportedly will shortly include Iran as a full member because of the Persian state's vast energy reserves so important to the other members, especially China. The intent of this alliance appears to be an effort to counter US attempts to control the hydrocarbon-rich Eurasian/Caspian Basin region and establish its own foothold in this vital part of the world. The SCO may be looking to add still another new member to its alliance after the CIA instigated fake 2004-05 "orange revolution" installed Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was forced to accept pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich as his Prime Minister on August 3. The CIA election tactic "coup" robbed Yanukovich of the presidency he won, and he now may look to get even by moving Ukraine into the Russian orbit dealing the US another defeat as opposition alliances gain in strength at the expense of the ruler of the world wannabe that looks a little vulnerable.

The US may face still further obstacles as Russia, China and Iran have announced or signaled their intentions to shift a portion of their dollar reserves away from the US currency into others like the euro. Russia also plans to make its ruble convertible into the other major currencies, and Iran intends to open an oil bourse, (its scheduled opening now delayed several times) and sell at least part of its oil in euros. China, in fact, just did it by opening its Shanghai Petroleum Exchange on August 18, began trading in gasoline, announced bitumen, methanol and glycol will follow and soon thereafter will trade in other petroleum and chemical products including crude and refined oil and liquified gas. The announcement didn't mention what currency trading would be done in, but likely initially at least it will be in the Chinese yuan with possible euro trading to follow.

If China, Russia, and Iran ally to reduce their dollar holdings, trade oil in euros, rubles and/or other non-dollar currencies and can get other oil producing states to join with them and do the same like Venezuela, it will pose a serious threat to US dominance in the region as well as undermine it's position as the world's economic leader. It will also increase world instability, as the US won't stand pat in the face of actions it sees as a challenge to its preeminence or anything that may harm its economy. Nonetheless, it shows what's possible when enough nations join together to counter the hostile effects of US dominance in trade and all else. In alliance these nations have strength in numbers, may attract others to join with them and thus be able to hold their own against US hegemony, weaken it significantly in the process, and end up negating whatever steps the US may attempt to fight back.

The Lesson Learned May Be Resist and Ye Shall Succeed

To prevail, it's just a matter of enough nations joining in their common self-interest to find out how successful they may be if they try. It's like the old story of the schoolyard bully who's able to get away with beating up on weaker kids until one or more fight back, strike a telling blow, and get away with it. At that point, the game is up, and the bully knows his bullying days are over. Others picked on know they too can fight back, some will if picked on, and bullies only like picking on the ones who won't. It's the same story with nations as with schoolyard bullies. The developing world can put down the US bully if enough of them in it refuse to be pushed around any more, join together for added strength and fight back.

History is on their side as the US seems to be repeating the same fatal errors all other dominant empires in the past did that overreached and paid for it with their own demise. Grandiose imperial plans and dreams and super weapons to back them up are no insulation against the rest of the world determined to resist them. That's what Yale Senior Research Scholar Immanuel Wallerstein believes in his 2003 book The Decline of American Power. In it he said the US "has been a fading global power since the 1970s, and the US response to the (9/11) terrorist attacks has accelerated this decline......the economic, political and military factors that contributed to US hegemony are the same factors that will inexorably produce the coming US decline." Retired professor Chalmers Johnson also predicts the dissolution of the US empire if present trends continue. He outlines a disturbing scenario in his 2004 book Sorrows of Empire including a "state of perpetual war," a loss of democracy, and the US going bankrupt because of its inability to maintain its "grandiose military projects." The conclusion is the US is acting recklessly and imprudently like all other dominant empires before it and is increasingly vulnerable as a result. It just remains for enough other nations joining together in a common purpose for them likely to be able to achieve what they set out to do.

It's already happening with positive results that holds promise of resonating and inspiring others in the developing world to join the struggle for their own rights. It happens in schoolyards, and it's now beginning to happen in global trade. It may just be a matter of time before the fight is carried to the larger issues of war and peace, social equity and global justice. All that's needed to advance the ball are a few more dedicated leaders like Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales combined with enough good people acting with courage and determination on their own behalf throughout the developing world to spread their message of resistance, ignite it into a raging bonfire, and extend it to others willing to join the fight for the possible big reward of a better world. That may be happening now on the streets of Mexico as millions there are rallying behind their candidate Lopez Obrador so far denied by electoral fraud of the office of President he clearly won. Win or lose, their voices are being heard in Mexico and throughout the region. Their resonance may inspire others to battle as courageously for the social equity and justice they too deserve.

Hugo Chavez is on a mission to help them by trying to build unity among developing nations to "confront the great challenges of this imperialist neo-liberal era." As part of it, he just concluded a whirlwind tour of seven nations including Russia, Iran, Vietnam, Belarus, Mali and Benin, and beginning August 22 he'll spend a week in China (his fourth visit there) to strike energy and investment deals and try to build political support with this important Asian country in need of the oil Venezuela can supply it. Chavez and his allies know how important these alliances are, and if they can convince enough other nations to join with them their strength in combination may give them the power they need to challenge US dominance and end its bullying days forever. For now it's just a glorious dream. But isn't that the way all great social movements begin?

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.