For my fanbase

I discovered one of my most loyal readers is a conservative Jew I’ve known since high school. He even reads comments when I can’t be bothered. He exclaimed that my blog blasts everyone. Our friend suggested I would set up the Mahmoud Abbas appreciation society – perhaps joking, but my fan explained that I blasted him and Hamas too. Who haven’t I criticised? Perhaps, Chavez.

I think it should be plain: I am a leftist, and those sorts of values (civil libertarian, socialist) inform my political judgements on politicians and political commentators and situations around the world.

Chavez is an interesting case, and deserves a longer and better documented commentary. Surely, events in Venezuela (and across Latin America) are very exciting and hopeful, but also full of dangers and worries, and in historical terms are impressive and unprecedented. People like Correa, Morales, Chavez and so on would’ve been lined up against the wall and shot in US backed military coups a few decades ago, when Latin America was tightly in US grips. Now, US power to overthrow leftist governments has declined (the case of Zelaya is I think still one indicative of the possibility of Latin Americans to gain independence from Washington. The question is whether they’ll be able to overthrow the coup regime and reinstate Zelaya. I think it’s looking doubtful, but then it’s hard from the media to get any sense of the strength of the protesters on the ground). The point is that people like Chavez – whatever mistakes they make – represent a new phase of Latin Americans determining their own fates, rather than the US doing so. Of course, they face pressure and threats (and attempted coups). Yet their attempts to restructure their societies in a new and fairer way is surely an incredible process, and hopefully may bear valuable fruits (rather than “bitter” ones, to make an obscure pun).

How this is done will vary, and I think it’s important to stress that national independence by itself is an achievement, and one worth defending. That said, I think we should be cautious in our judgements on Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and others with center left to left wing governments. There are real dangers in the Venezuelan government. Certainly, it has reduced poverty and increased social spending, which are achievements. However, I think an exchange between Weisbrot and a writer at Foreign Affairs show that on the specific issue of eradicating illiteracy, Chavez lied. His claim was unsubstantiated (though presented with his usual bombast). I don’t think there can be any excuse for bombastic demagoguery, and lying to the workers about your achievements on their behalf.  I think this reflects the divergence that always occurs: between a politician, whose interest is to stay in power, done by persuading others of one’s merits, and those of the classes that wish to be helped. I think it is problematic how many years Chavez has been in power controlling the so-called Bolivarian Revolution, and how many more it may be. It’s not that I don’t think he has achieved change: it’s that if change becomes tied up in one person, it is a sign of shallowness of social movements. The charismatic leader is not an admirable phenomenon. If Chavez was inarticulate, I would be more impressed, because it would mean he was being led, not the other way around. Anyway, he said more stupid things lately. Even liberal British media enjoys picking up these things. Chavez thinks Idi Amin’s crimes may have been overrated.

In news

Glenn Greenwald likes Hari’s article on former Islamic radicals.

Mahmoud Abbas: completely obscene.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wants Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to convince Iran to put an end to its support for the radical Palestinian movement Hamas.

“Iran supports Hamas with money. Hamas’ decisions are in the hands of Tehran,” Abbas said Friday in an interview with the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo.

For Abbas, problems among Palestinians are “a pretext that helps reinforce Israel’s argument that they do not know who their partners are” on the Palestinian side when it comes to talks.

“I do not think that the Israelis have caused [division among Palestinians], but they encourage it and keep it up for their own benefit,” he explained.

Think about this for a second. Iran causes divisions among the Palestinians by funding and supporting Hamas. Does this apply to Fatah? Yes, it receives the support of Israel and the US. Well, this is more obviously a division – and Fatah tried to overthrow Hamas in Gaza with American guns and Dayton trained soldiers.

Meanwhile, Israel bombed Gaza. The headline in Haaretz says all that needs to be said. “IAF strikes Gaza after Hamas declares end to rocket fire”. Or the first para: “Israel Air Force planes struck targets in Gaza early Sunday, wounding seven Palestinians, medical workers said, a few hours after Hamas said militant groups in the coastal strip had agreed to halt cross-border rocket fire.”

This is the threat from Hamas: it being regarded as a credible partner for peace. Hamas (which is politically as stupid and inept as Fatah, if not more so) is slow, but even the idiots running it realised that they have no military option against Israel (bombast notwithstanding [or in Finkelstein’s words, they’re not going to liberate Palestine with fire-crackers]), but the moral high ground confers significant political advantage. The suicide bombings and the anti-Semitic charter are the ultimate propaganda gift for Israel.

Avnery argues for a staged process for a Palestine-Israel (Lebanon Syria Jordan?) federation. And Hugh O’Shaughnessy writes about US military bases being built in Colombia. This is very important and worrying:

The United States is massively building up its potential for nuclear and non-nuclear strikes in Latin America and the Caribbean by acquiring unprecedented freedom of action in seven new military, naval and air bases in Colombia. The development – and the reaction of Latin American leaders to it – is further exacerbating America’s already fractured relationship with much of the continent.

The new US push is part of an effort to counter the loss of influence it has suffered recently at the hands of a new generation of Latin American leaders no longer willing to accept Washington’s political and economic tutelage. President Rafael Correa, for instance, has refused to prolong the US armed presence in Ecuador, and US forces have to quit their base at the port of Manta by the end of next month.

So Washington turned to Colombia, which has not gone down well in the region. The country has received military aid worth $4.6bn (£2.8bn) from the US since 2000, despite its poor human rights record. Colombian forces regularly kill the country’s indigenous people and other civilians, and last year raided the territory of its southern neighbour, Ecuador, causing at least 17 deaths.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has not forgotten that US officers were present in government offices in Caracas in 2002 when he was briefly overthrown in a military putsch, warned this month that the bases agreement could mean the possibility of war with Colombia.

In August, President Evo Morales of Bolivia called for the outlawing of foreign military bases in the region. President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, overthrown in a military coup d’état in June and initially exiled, has complained that US forces stationed at the Honduran base of Palmerola collaborated with Roberto Micheletti, the leader of the plotters and the man who claims to be president.

And, this being US foreign policy, a tell-tale trail of oil is evident. Brazil had already expressed its unhappiness at the presence of US naval vessels in its massive new offshore oilfields off Rio de Janeiro, destined soon to make Brazil a giant oil producer eligible for membership in Opec.

The fact that the US gets half its oil from Latin America was one of the reasons the US Fourth Fleet was re-established in the region’s waters in 2008. The fleet’s vessels can include Polaris nuclear-armed submarines – a deployment seen by some experts as a violation of the 1967 Tlatelolco Treaty, which bans nuclear weapons from the continent.

Indications of US willingness to envisage the stationing of nuclear weapons in Colombia are seen as an additional threat to the spirit of nuclear disarmament. After the establishment of the Tlatelolco Treaty in 1967, four more nuclear-weapon-free zones were set up in Africa, the South Pacific, South-east Asia and Central Asia. Between them, the five treaties cover nearly two-thirds of the countries of the world and almost all the southern hemisphere.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the world’s leading think-tank about disarmament issues, has now expressed its worries about the US-Colombian arrangements.

With or without nuclear weapons, the bilateral agreement on the seven Colombian bases, signed on 30 October in Bogota, risks a costly new arms race in a region. SIPRI, which is funded by the Swedish government, said it was concerned about rising arms expenditure in Latin America draining resources from social programmes that the poor of the region need.

Much of the new US strategy was clearly set out in May in an enthusiastic US Air Force (USAF) proposal for its military construction programme for the fiscal year 2010. One Colombian air base, Palanquero, was, the proposal said, unique “in a critical sub-region of our hemisphere where security and stability is under constant threat from… anti-US governments”.

The proposal sets out a scheme to develop Palanquero which, the USAF says, offers an opportunity for conducting “full-spectrum operations throughout South America…. It also supports mobility missions by providing access to the entire continent, except the Cape Horn region, if fuel is available, and over half the continent if un-refuelled”.



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