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Police militarization comes under nationwide investigation

RT | March 07, 2013

The American Civil Liberties Union has launched a campaign to investigate the growing trend of placing militarized police units in cities and towns across the country.

Doors busted down and windows smashed in. It’s becoming more of a regular occurrence each day in America as heavily-armed SWAT teams are being sent to the homes of suspects, often nonviolent ones, with enough firepower to take down a small army. In November, a botched raid ended with an 18-year-old girl in the hospital. Other incidents haven’t been exactly isolated either: guns get drawn on both grannies and grandkids alike, and equipping law enforcement officers with the means to make these nightmares become reality is easier by the day.

Police units across the US are becoming more like militaries than the serve-and-protect do-gooders that every young schoolboy once aspired to be. Not only are officers being trained to act with intensity as the number of these home invasions increase, but more and more police departments are being awarded arsenals of heavy-duty weaponry that are then being turned not onto members of al-Qaeda, but innocent children and unsuspecting house guests.

ACLU affiliates across the United States filed Freedom of Information Act requests with law enforcement agencies on Wednesday in hope of obtaining as much material as possible relevant to the ongoing expansion of small town police squads to heavily armed squadrons of soldiers.

“Federal funding in the billions of dollars has allowed state and local police departments to gain access to weapons and tactics created for overseas combat theaters – and yet very little is known about exactly how many police departments have military weapons and training, how militarized the police have become, and how extensively federal money is incentivizing this trend,” reads a statement released by the ACLU. “It’s time to understand the true scope of the militarization of policing in America and the impact it is having in our neighborhoods.”

On Wednesday, the ACLU issued a statement saying branches and affiliates in 23 states around the country filed over 255 public records requests only hours after the investigation was formally launched. The agencies hope that, by analyzing documents, can learn more about the extent that “federal funding and support has fueled the militarization of state and local police departments.”

“Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color,” explains Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the ACLU’s Center for Justice. “We’ve seen examples of this in several localities, but we don’t know the dimensions of the problem.”

The ACLU says they want to know as much as possible about the type of training given to local SWAT officers, as well as information about the types of technology used by agencies around the country. Through the FOIA requests, the ACLU hopes to learn what types of weapons have been used, who they’ve been used on and what the end result has been. They also want documentation pertaining to the growing use of GPS technology, surveillance drones and any agreements between local police departments and the National Guard. The ACLU is also interested in any relationships between small law enforcement units and the US Departs of Defense and Homeland Security.

“The American people deserve to know how much our local police are using military weapons and tactics for everyday policing,” adds Allie Bohm, an advocacy and policy strategist for ACLU. “The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans’ right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives, and we need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections.”

In 2011, the Department of Defense gave half-a-billion dollars’ worth of military machinery that would have been left otherwise unused to law enforcement agencies coast-to-coast. Among the items offered up to officers at no cost at all that year were grenade launchers, helicopters, military robots, M-16 assault rifles and armored vehicles. Before 2012 came to a close, figures for that year were expected to end with more than a 400 percent increase.

Peter Kraska, a criminologist at Eastern Kentucky University, tells journalist Radley Balko that while the militarization of police squads is indeed accelerating, it isn’t likely the ACLU will get all the answers they want.

“My experience is that they’ll have a very difficult time getting comprehensive, forthright information,” Kraska says. “If the goal here is to impose some transparency, you have to understand, that’s not what the SWAT industry wants.”

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Historic ‘Plan Cóndor’ Trial Underway

By Sabrina Hummel | The Argentina Independent | March 6, 2013

Oral proceedings for the 24 suspects charged with crimes against humanity under the ‘Plan Cóndor’ trial began earlier this morning. The Federal Oral Court N° 1 will hear testimony from around 500 witnesses in a trial that is set to last for at least two years.

Operation Condor (as it is referred to in English) refers to a clandestine agreement between South American right wing dictatorships that sought to persecute and rid the Southern Cone of political dissidents, mainly leftists. Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay were among the countries involved.

The plan allowed for political dissidents to be persecuted outside of their own countries. This was facilitated by the collaboration and exchange of information between the respective countries, the coordination of prisoner relocation, and the ‘disappearing’ of those who opposed them politically. Argentina’s ex dictator, Jorge Videla, is among those most heavily implicated in the plot.

The plan, referred to as an “annihilation device” by the federal prosecutor Miguel Angel Osorio, is responsible for 171 crimes committed in Argentina alone, most of which were carried out in the clandestine centre Automotores Orletti.

In an example of collaboration between the regimes, the daughter in law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman, María Claudia Irureta Goyena, was taken to a detention centre in Montevideo. She was killed after giving birth to her daughter, Macarena.

The human rights organisation Amnesty International said yesterday that, “the trial is a historic landmark in the fight against the impunity of crimes committed by authoritarian military governments during the 70s and 80s”.

Osorio has said that he is convinced of the existence of Operation Condor and that he believes its existence will be proved, above all, through “the actions of those implicated [in the plan] which prove that there was an illicit agreement to move people from one country to another”.

Videla, aged 87 and dressed in a blue suit and tie, listened to the opening accusations unperturbed. This is his fourth hearing related to crimes against humanity carried out under his dictatorship, when it is estimated that around 30000 people were ‘disappeared’.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Historic ‘Plan Cóndor’ Trial Underway

Chavez is dead, but his revolution goes on

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By Yusuf Fernandez | Press TV | March 6, 2013

Thousands of saddened Venezuelans poured into the streets of Caracas crying, hugging each other and shouting slogans in support of President Hugo Chavez after learning of his death. “I feel such big pain I cannot even speak,” said Yamilina Barrios, a 39-year-old office worker, to the Associated Press. “He was the best thing the country had … I adore him. Let´s hope the country calms down and we can continue the tasks he left us.”

Leaders of the continent also showed their sorrow. “We are devastated by the death of the brother Hugo Chavez,” Prensa Latina agency quoted Bolivian president Evo Morales as saying, while he was accompanied by several members of his cabinet. Chavez was “a caring brother, a fellow revolutionary, a Latin American who fought for his country, for the great homeland, as Simon Bolivar did. He gave his whole life for the liberation of the Venezuelan people, the people of Latin America and all anti-imperialist fighters in the world”.

Chavez dedicated his whole life to the cause of the oppressed and poor, the integration and unity of Latin America, the construction of a multipolar world and the fight against the imperialism. Hugo Chavez died due to the illness he had, which many suspect was inoculated to him by any of his enemies, starting by the US government.

He became notorious after a group of army officers and soldiers, led by him, tried to overthrow in 1992 the corrupt and criminal pro-US government of Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, a social democratic politician who ordered a brutal and bloody crackdown on demonstrators that were protesting against IMF-austerity measures on February 27 1989. About 3,000 people were killed by troops in that episode known as “the Caracazo”.

Chavez spent two years in a military prison. After being released, he led a Boliviarian movement that had two main goals: social justice for the impoverished majority of Venezuelans and independence from the US Empire and its financial tools. In 1998, he won his first presidential election and he would never lose one from then on.

The President changed the leadership of the oil national company, PDVSA, whose revenues had benefited only a small national oligarchy and US corporations up to then. At the same time, Chavez funded various social assistance programs for the poor. These programs have improved literacy levels, health care, housing and income levels for Venezuela´s majority.
During Chavez´s years in office, poverty has been cut a half and extreme poverty by 70%. Millions of Venezuelans have had access to health care for the first time, and college enrollment doubled, with free tuition for many students. Inequality was also considerably reduced. By contrast, the two decades that preceded Chavez, Venezuela was one of the worst economic failures in Latin America, with real income per person actually falling by 14% from 1980-1998.

Chavez was the main promoter of the process for the integration of Latin America. It would lead to the creation of some Latin American blocs, such as ALBA, UNASUR or CELAC, which reduced US-dominated OAS to irrelevance. US plans to control Latin American economies through a continental free trade agreement also failed due to the opposition of Venezuela and some other countries.

Following Chavez´s revolution, Latin America has elected in recent years a group of leaders -Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua- who are deeply involved in the fight for social justice in their societies and political independence for their countries and the continent on the whole. Other leaders who followed that trend -Manuel Zelaya in Honduras and Fernando de Lugo in Paraguay- were illegally toppled by US-supported right-wing coups.

In the international field, Chavez was an active promoter of a multipolar world. In order to liberate his country from an imperialist control, Venezuela established solid links with Russia, China, Iran, Syria and other countries. He supported the fight of the Palestinian people against the Zionist occupation.

Due to all these policies, Chavez earned the implacable hatred and hostility of Washington. In April 2002, the CIA backed a military coup to overthrow him. A group of right-wing leaders and generals arrested and imprison him and took over the power, in a move widely welcomed by the US and some European governments and media. However, he was saved and restored to power two days later by the rapid action of loyal military officers and soldiers and a huge popular uprising.

Even after the failure of the coup, the right-wing sectors, which dominated some private media outlets, especially channels as Venevision, Univision and Globovision, continued their permanent campaign against Chavez and his government. All kind of dirty games, including a politicized general strike, were put in place in order to overthrow him. However, all these plans failed due to the high political awareness of the Venezuelan people.

For its part, Washington used its agencies, including the CIA, to fund the political opposition and the oligarchy. According to the site venezuelanalysis.com, Capriles and the Venezuelan opposition received 20 million dollars from US organizations, such as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Media campaigns were also used as a weapon of preference against the Venezuelan government. Despite Chavez´s repeated electoral victories, successive US administrations and corporate media presented his rule as illegitimate and dictatorial. The US Embassy in Caracas became a hub of anti-Chavez activities, as it shows the recent expulsion of the US Air Force attaché, Col. David Delmonaco, and his deputy, who allegedly tried to recruit Venezuelan army officers for “destabilizing projects.”

In this context, the statement by US President, Barack Obama, which claims that Washington wants to normalize its relations with Caracas, is hypocritically insincere. Actually, the US is just attempting to look for new mechanisms to recover its control over Venezuela and change its economic, social and foreign policy.

The death of President Chavez will force the country to conduct another presidential election within 30 days. The candidate and new leader of the Bolivarian movement, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, will be the candidate who will confront Henrique Capriles, the right-wing governor of Miranda state, who was comfortably defeated by Chavez in a presidential election held last October.

Although Washington and its Venezuelan allies hope that the death of Chavez may help them put an end to the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela and Latin America, there are many reasons to think otherwise. The people of Venezuela are aware of the achievements and progress that has obtained at this late stage and is not willing to renounce them. On the other hand, the early, and still not clarified death of Chavez, will reinforce his figure, turning it into a symbol of a policy for the oppressed, for the independence and integration of Latin America and for a world free from imperialism.

“Oligarchies are surely celebrating when the peoples that fight for their freedom and dignity and work for equality are suffering. But it does not matter, the only thing that matters is that we are united, we fight for liberation. A lot of strength, a lot of unity. The best tribute to Chavez is unity. Unity to fight, to work for the equality of all peoples of the world,” Morales said.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Comments Off on Chavez is dead, but his revolution goes on

2009: Hugo Chavez says Bush sent assassins

FLASHBACK: CIA Heart Attack Gun (1975)

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2009: Hugo Chavez says Bush sent assassins

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March 6, 2013 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, Video, War Crimes | 3 Comments

Israel and Azerbaijan: A Strategic Alliance

By Mohamad Bdeir | Al-Akhbar | March 6, 2013

Since its early days, Israel has followed a strategy of courting alliances with neighboring non-Arab states. As such, Azerbaijan is fast becoming a key ally of the Zionist state.

Early last year, media reports revealed a massive $1.6 billion weapons deal between Azerbaijan and Israel, considered one of the largest sales in Israel’s history.

At the time, then head of the Mossad, Danny Yatom, openly encouraged the sale of weapons “to countries that are friendly to us in order to better confront Iran.”

In addition to selling weapons and containing Iran, Israel is also interested in Azerbaijan’s oil, which today constitutes 40 percent of its consumption, with plans for a pipeline connecting the two countries by way of the southeastern Turkish city of Ceyhan.

The relationship between Israel and Iran’s northern neighbor goes back over two decades, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. At that time, nearly 100,000 Azeri Jews emigrated to Israel, prompting Tel Aviv to quickly find ways to develop strong ties with this strategic country.

For its part, Baku calculated that it too can benefit from such a relationship in two key areas: Israeli technology, particularly in defense and agriculture; and the support of the Zionist lobby in Washington to counterbalance Armenian influence on the Nagorno-Karabakh territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

A few days ago, the Israeli daily Haaretz published a report from Baku that quoted a presidential advisor as saying that in his government’s view, “Iran is the problem, and not Israel…Tehran doesn’t like our cooperation with Israel,” adding that there is “a large number of Israelis of Azeri origin with whom we continue to work.”

The report makes it clear that many in Baku are more than willing to sacrifice their relationship with Iran in favor of closer ties to Israel.

The newspaper, for example, quotes an Azerbaijani MP as follows: “There are a lot Jewish friends of Azerbaijan, and they are helping us in Washington,” noting that “Muslim Azerbaijan supports Israel, while Christian Armenia supports Iran.”

Oil also figures large in the growing relationship between the two countries, as Azerbaijan has become Tel Aviv’s largest oil supplier.

Before the Islamic revolution, Iran was Israel’s key source of oil. After the fall of the Shah, Tel Aviv turned to Mexico for three decades to supply it with more expensive oil, given the distance between the two countries.

As ties with Baku improved, Azerbaijan quickly became Israel’s main oil supplier through a pipeline that runs through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

According to Haaretz, Turkey reaps sizeable financial benefits from this route – a key factor in sustaining Israeli-Turkish economic ties, despite diplomatic tensions between the two countries since the Mavi Marmara massacre in 2010.

In this vein, the Haaretz report reveals that for some time now Baku has invested quite a bit of diplomatic effort in bridging the differences between its two close allies, Turkey and Israel, but with little success so far, given the hardline stance of former Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Comments Off on Israel and Azerbaijan: A Strategic Alliance

Is the Anti-Occupation Movement Driven by Defenders of Genocide?

By Dr. PAUL LARUDEE | CounterPunch | March 6, 2013

If there is one message that unifies critics of Israel and advocates for Palestinian rights, it is “End the Occupation.”  As with many unifying messages, however, it is successful partly because of its ambiguity.  What land and which people are occupied?  And what are the terms under which the “occupation” will be ended.The ambiguity allows groups as disparate as Hamas and J Street to chant the phrase with very different images in mind. Hamas and other anti-Zionists argue that all of the land defined by the British Mandate of Palestine is occupied territory, while J Streeters and other “soft” Zionists commonly refer only to Israel’s 1967 territorial conquests as “occupied.”

The dividing line between these two views has been articulated By Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi of JBIG (Jews Boycotting Israeli Goods):

…there are many people within the movement who share the opinion – which is general throughout the West – that Israel needs to exist as a Jewish state, should exist as a Jewish state.  And there are many Jews and others in the movement who don’t want to criticize that fundamental fact.[i]

Wimborne-Idrissi is undoubtedly correct in her assessment: public opinion in the West generally supports what is called “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”[ii]  However, most Palestinians fail to understand why this “right” should trump their rights and why Palestinians should be made to pay for its exercise with expulsion from their homes.

Indeed, they may be forgiven for doubting the sincerity of people that claim to advocate for justice on their behalf but fail to defend their right to return to their homes.  On the one hand, these “defenders” of Palestinian human rights claim to oppose Israel’s expulsion of Palestinians, both inside the internationally recognized borders of Israel and in other areas under Israeli control.  On the other hand, these same champions of Palestinians will not lift a finger to correct and defend against the more massive ethnic cleansing that occurred in 1948.  It is as if 1967 is the dividing line between which criminal activity must be accepted and which must be resisted.

Do such persons really oppose ethnic cleansing as a matter of principle or merely as it suits their whim?  The passage of time does not appear to be an issue.  If 1948 seems like a long time ago, let us remember that there is no statute of limitations on such matters, as the prosecution of Nazi war criminals from an even earlier era illustrates.

J Streeters and other “soft” Zionists may appear to be allies of Palestinians, but they are not.  Their overwhelming consideration is to create and maintain a Jewish state, and to mould it into their image of a liberal democracy that they can feel proud of.  Palestinian rights and welfare are entirely subsidiary to that objective.

This explains why J Streeters defend Israel’s “right to exist,” i.e. the ethnic cleansing of 1948.  They may not like ethnic cleansing, but it was necessary for the creation of a Jewish state, which has a higher order of priority.  On the other hand, they see the current ethnic cleansing policies of the state of Israel as corrosive to the kind of state they would like to have.  This is why they want to “end the occupation.”  Look what it is doing to Israeli youth!  Look at how it is driving Israel into the hands of “extremists.”

Let us therefore be clear.  We are dealing with people whose opposition to ethnic cleansing is not very firm and whose primary interest in “ending the occupation” is to do what is good for Israel, not for humanity and least of all for Palestinians.[iii]

Indeed, one wonders why these advocates for Israel oppose a massive expulsion of the remaining Palestinians in all of the land held by Israel.  Expulsion is clearly not a “red line” for them, and it is an expedient method of  “ending the occupation.”  I suspect that they harbor a nagging guilt for the theft and massacres of 1948, but not enough to want to give up the stolen property.  Rather, they hope to expiate their guilt by returning a portion of the territories seized in 1967 for the purpose of creating Palestinian Bantustans.  (The South African Bantustans served a similar purpose of assuaging the guilt of white supremacists.)

Regardless of the hypocritical games that Jewish supremacists in the movement play amongst themselves, Palestinians and human rights advocates must not be lured into false partnerships with them just because we share some of the same immediate tactics and objectives, such as stopping the growth of Jewish settlements, boycott of (some) Israeli products and institutions, an end to land confiscations, etc.  Rather, we must expose the racist foundations and objectives of these ethically inconsistent elements within “the movement,” and avoid alliances with them.

Currently, I fear that we may be doing the opposite, i.e. allowing the “end the occupation” movement to be driven by the interests of people whose agenda requires Palestinians to give up inalienable rights and which rewards those who take those rights away from them.[iv]  It is not in the interest of Palestinians and principled human rights advocates to make common cause with such morally compromised persons.

Dr. Paul Larudee is a human rights advocate and one of the co-founders of the movement to break the siege of Gaza by sea.  He was deported from India on 31st December, 2012.

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[i] Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gVT6abeaGas

[ii] International law does not provide for the right of states to exist.  Rather, states come and go as a matter of historical and social forces.  International law describes the rights and obligations of states, but does not require that any given state must exist.

[iii] Gilad Atzmon (The Wandering Who, Winchester: Zero Books, 2011, p. 102) makes a similar argument with respect to Jewish anti-Zionists, i.e. that they are motivated by what is good for Jews and that they believe that a Jewish state is bad for the Jews.  Atzmon contends that this is just another instance of Jewish exceptionalism, which will be the cause of injustice even if the form of the injustice is not Zionism per se.  Even if this is the case, social justice groups are notorious for pursuing justice while failing to practice it, and this may be an instance of such.  I do not discount the possibility that cliquishness, tribalism and exceptionalism are causes of injustice in many cases, but ridding human nature of this tendency is beyond the scope of most advocacy efforts, even if it deserves a place in all of them.

[iv] An instance of this is the Palestinian BNC (BDS National Committee).  Although nominally Palestinian, its main website is in English, with the Arabic translation largely unfinished.  An unauthorized amendment to its original mission statement, inserted at an unknown time, appears to remove the property seizures of 1948 from consideration as occupied Palestinian Arab land.  This appears to be a concession to “soft” Zionist elements within the BNC-led BDS movement.  The amended statement does not appear in any authorized Arabic version of the mission statement.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Revolution Within the Revolution Will Continue

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers | Dissident Voice | March 5th, 2013

The death of Hugo Chávez is a great loss to the people of Venezuela who have been lifted out of poverty and have created a deep participatory democracy. Chavez was a leader who, in unity with the people, was able to free Venezuela from the grips of US Empire, bring dignity to the poor and working class, and was central to a Latin American revolt against US domination.

Chávez grew up a campesino, a peasant, raised in poverty. His parents were teachers, his grandmother an Indian whom he credits with teaching him solidarity with the people. During his military service, he learned about Simon Bolivar, who freed Latin America from Spanish Empire.  This gradually led to the modern Bolivarian Revolution he led with the people. The Chávez transformation was built on many years of a mass political movement that continued after his election, indeed saved him when a 2002 coup briefly removed him from office. The reality is Venezuela’s 21st Century democracy is bigger than Chávez.  This will become more evident now that he is gone.

The Lies They Tell Us

If Americans knew the truth about the growth of real democracy in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, they would demand economic democracy and participatory government, which together would threaten the power of concentrated wealth. Real democracy creates a huge challenge to the oligarchs and their neoliberal agenda because it is driven by human needs, not corporate greed. That is why major media in the US, which are owned by six corporations, aggressively misinform the public about Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution.

Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research writes:

The Western media reporting has been effective. It has convinced most people outside of Venezuela that the country is run by some kind of dictatorship that has ruined it.

In fact, just the opposite is true. Venezuela, since the election of Chávez, has become one of the most democratic nations on Earth. Its wealth is increasing and being widely shared. But Venezuela has been made so toxic that even the more liberal media outlets propagate distortions to avoid being criticized as too leftist.

We spoke with Mike Fox, who went to Venezuela in 2006 to see for himself what was happening. Fox spent years documenting the rise of participatory democracy in Venezuela and Brazil. He found a grassroots movement creating the economy and government they wanted, often pushing Chávez further than he wanted to go.

They call it the “revolution within the revolution.” Venezuelan democracy and economic transformation are bigger than Chávez. Chávez opened a door to achieve the people’s goals: literacy programs in the barrios, more people attending college, universal access to health care, as well as worker-owned businesses and community councils where people make decisions for themselves. Change came through decades of struggle leading to the election of Chávez in 1998, a new constitution and ongoing work to make that constitution a reality.

Challenging American Empire

The subject of Venezuela is taboo because it has been the most successful country to repel the neoliberal assault waged by the US on Latin America. This assault included Operation Condor, launched in 1976, in which the US provided resources and assistance to bring friendly dictators who supported neoliberal policies to power throughout Latin America. These policies involved privatizing national resources and selling them to foreign corporations, de-funding and privatizing public programs such as education and health care, deregulating and reducing trade barriers.

In addition to intense political repression under these dictators between the 1960s and 1980s, which resulted in imprisonment, murder and disappearances of tens of thousands throughout Latin America, neoliberal policies led to increased wealth inequality, greater hardship for the poor and working class, as well as a decline in economic growth.

Neoliberalism in Venezuela arrived through a different path, not through a dictator. Although most of its 20th century was spent under authoritarian rule, Venezuela has had a long history of pro-democracy activism. The last dictator, Marcos Jimenez Perez, was ousted from power in 1958. After that, Venezuelans gained the right to elect their government, but they existed in a state of pseudo-democracy, much like the US currently, in which the wealthy ruled through a managed democracy that ensured the wealthy benefited most from the economy.

As it did in other parts of the world, the US pushed its neoliberal agenda on Venezuela through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. These institutions required Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) as terms for development loans. As John Perkins wrote in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, great pressure was placed on governments to take out loans for development projects. The money was loaned by the US, but went directly to US corporations who were responsible for the projects, many of which failed, leaving nations in debt and not better off. Then the debt was used as leverage to control the government’s policies so they further favored US interests. Anun Shah explains the role of the IMF and World Bank in more detail in Structural Adjustment – a Major Cause of Poverty.

Neoliberalism Leads to the Rise of Chávez

A turning point in the Venezuelan struggle for real democracy occurred in 1989. President Carlos Andres Perez ran on a platform opposing neoliberalism and promised to reform the market during his second term. But following his re-election in 1988, he reversed himself and continued to implement the “Washington Consensus” of neoliberal policies – privatization and cuts to social services. The last straw came when he ended subsidies for oil. The price of gasoline doubled and public transportation prices rose steeply.

Protests erupted in the towns surrounding the capitol, Caracas, and quickly spread into the city itself. President Perez responded by revoking multiple constitutional rights to protest and sending in security forces who killed an estimated 3,000 people, most of them in the barrios. This became known as the “Caracazo” (“the Caracas smash”) and demonstrated that the president stood with the oligarchs, not with the people.

Under President Perez, conditions continued to deteriorate for all but the wealthy in Venezuela. So people organized in their communities and with Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez attempted a civilian-led coup in 1992. Chávez was jailed, and so the people organized for his release. Perez was impeached for embezzlement of 250 million bolivars and the next president, Rafael Caldera, promised to release Chávez when he was elected. Chávez was freed in 1994. He then traveled throughout the country to meet with people in their communities and organizers turned their attention to building a political movement.

Chávez ran for president in 1998 on a platform that promised to hold a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution saying:

I swear before my people that upon this moribund constitution I will drive forth the necessary democratic transformations so that the new republic will have a Magna Carta befitting these new times.

Against the odds, Chávez won the election and became president in 1999.

While his first term was cautious and center-left, including a visit by Chávez to the NY Stock Exchange to show support for capitalism and encourage foreign investment, he kept his promise. Many groups participated in the formation of the new constitution, which was gender-neutral and included new rights for women and for the indigenous, and created a government with five branches adding a people’s and electoral branches. The new constitution was voted into place by a 70 percent majority within the year. Chávez also began to increase funding for the poor and expanded and transformed education.

Since then, Chávez has been re-elected twice. He was removed from power briefly in 2002, jailed and replaced by Pedro Carmona, the head of what is equivalent to the Chamber of Commerce. Fox commented that the media was complicit in the coup by blacking it out and putting out false information. Carmona quickly moved to revoke the constitution and disband the legislature. When the people became aware of what was happening, they rapidly mobilized and surrounded the capitol in Caracas. Chávez was reinstated in less than 48 hours.

One reason the Chávez election is called a Bolivarian Revolution is because Simon Bolivar was a military political leader who freed much of Latin America from the Spanish Empire in the early 1800s. The election of Chávez, the new constitution and the people overcoming the coup set Venezuela on the path to free itself from the US empire. These changes emboldened the transformation to sovereignty, economic democracy and participatory government.

In fact, Venezuela paid its debts to the IMF in full five years ahead of schedule and in 2007 separated from the IMF and World Bank, thus severing the tethers of the Washington Consensus. Instead, Venezuela led the way to create the Bank of the South to provide funds for projects throughout Latin America and allow other countries to free themselves from the chains of the IMF and World Bank too.

The Rise of Real Democracy

The struggle for democracy brought an understanding by the people that change only comes if they create it. The pre- Chávez era is seen as a pseudo Democracy, managed for the benefit of the oligarchs. The people viewed Chávez as a door that was opened for them to create transformational change. He was able to pass laws that aided them in their work for real democracy and better conditions. And Chávez knew that if the people did not stand with him, the oligarchs could remove him from power as they did for two days in 2002.

With this new understanding and the constitution as a tool, Chávez and the people have continued to progress in the work to rebuild Venezuela based on participatory democracy and freedom from US interference. Chávez refers to the new system as “21st century socialism.” It is very much an incomplete work in progress, but already there is a measurable difference.

Mark Weisbrot of CEPR points out that real GDP per capita in Venezuela expanded by 24 percent since 2004. In the 20 years prior to Chávez, real GDP per person actually fell. Venezuela has low foreign public debt, about 28 percent of GDP, and the interest on it is only 2 percent of GDP. Weisbrot writes:

From 2004-2011, extreme poverty was reduced by about two-thirds. Poverty was reduced by about one-half, and this measures only cash income. It does not count the access to health care that millions now have, or the doubling of college enrollment – with free tuition for many. Access to public pensions tripled. Unemployment is half of what it was when Chávez took office.

Venezuela has reduced unemployment from 20 percent to 7 percent.

As George Galloway wrote upon Chávez’s death:

Under Chávez’ revolution the oil wealth was distributed in ever rising wages and above all in ambitious social engineering. He built the fifth largest student body in the world, creating scores of new universities. More than 90% of Venezuelans ate three meals a day for the first time in the country’s history. Quality social housing for the masses became the norm with the pledge that by the end of the presidential term, now cut short, all Venezuelans would live in a dignified house.

Venezuela is making rapid progress on other measures too. It has a high human development index and a low and shrinking index of inequality. Wealth inequality in Venezuela is half of what it is in the United States. It is rated “the fifth-happiest nation in the world” by Gallup. And Pepe Escobar writes that:

No less than 22 public universities were built in the past 10 years. The number of teachers went from 65,000 to 350,000. Illiteracy has been eradicated. There is an ongoing agrarian reform.

Venezuela has undertaken significant steps to build food security through land reform and government assistance. New homes are being built, health clinics are opening in under-served areas and cooperatives for agriculture and business are growing.

Venezuelans are very happy with their democracy. On average, they gave their own democracy a score of seven out of ten while the Latin American average was 5.8. Meanwhile, 57 percent of Venezuelans reported being happy with their democracy compared to an average for Latin American countries of 38 percent, according to a poll conducted by Latinobarometro. While 81 percent voted in the last Venezuelan election, only 57.5 percent voted in the recent US election.

Chávez won that election handily as he has all of the elections he has run in since 1999. As Galloway describes him, Chávez was “the most elected leader in the modern era.” He won his last election with 55 percent of the vote but was never inaugurated due to his illness.

Beyond Voting: The Deepening of Democracy in Venezuela

This is not to say that the process has been easy or smooth. The new constitution and laws passed by Chávez have provided tools, but the government and media still contain those who are allied with the oligarchy and who resist change. People have had to struggle to see that what is written on paper is made into a reality. For example, Venezuelans now have the right to reclaim urban land that is fallow and use it for food and living. Many attempts have been made to occupy unused land and some have been met by hostility from the community or actual repression from the police. In other cases, attempts to build new universities have been held back by the bureaucratic process.

It takes time to build a new democratic structure from the bottom up. And it takes time to transition from a capitalist culture to one based on solidarity and participation. In “Venezuela Speaks,” one activist, Iraida Morocoima, says “Capitalism left us with so many vices that I think our greatest struggle is against these bad habits that have oppressed us.” She goes on to describe a necessary culture shift as, “We must understand that we are equal, while at the same time we are different, but with the same rights.”

Chávez passed a law in 2006 that united various committees in poor barrios into community councils that qualify for state funds for local projects. In the city, community councils are composed of 200 to 400 families. The councils elect spokespeople and other positions such as executive, financial and “social control” committees. The council members vote on proposals in a general assembly and work with facilitators in the government to carry through on decisions. In this way, priorities are set by the community and funds go directly to those who can carry out the project such as building a road or school. There are currently more than 20,000 community councils in Venezuela creating a grassroots base for participatory government.

A long-term goal is to form regional councils from the community councils and ultimately create a national council. Some community councils already have joined as communes, a group of several councils, which then have the capacity for greater research and to receive greater funds for large projects.

The movement to place greater decision-making capacity and control of local funds in the hands of communities is happening throughout Latin America and the world. It is called participatory budgeting and it began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has grown so that as many as 50,000 people now participate each year to decide as much as 20 percent of the city budget. There are more than 1,500 participatory budgets around the world in Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Fox produced a documentary, Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas, which explains participatory budgeting in greater detail.

The Unfinished Work of Hugo Chávez Continues

The movements that brought him to power and kept him in power have been strengthened by Hugo Chávez. Now the “revolution within the revolution” will be tested.  In 30 days there will be an election and former vice president, now interim president, Nicolas Maduro will likely challenge the conservative candidate Chávez defeated.

If the United States and the oligarchs think the death of Chávez means the end of the Bolivarian Revolution he led, they are in for a disappointment.  This revolution, which is not limited to Venezuela, is likely to show to itself and the world that it is deep and strong. The people-powered transformation with which Chávez was in solidarity will continue.

•  This article is a modified version of “The Secret Rise of 21st Century Democracy,”which originally appeared in Truthout.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Revolution Within the Revolution Will Continue

Israel’s ill treatment of Palestinian minor prisoners systematic: UN

Press TV – March 6, 2013

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The United Nations says the ill treatment of Palestinian minor inmates within the Israeli military detention system is “widespread, systematic and institutionalized.”

The UN children’s fund, UNICEF, said in a 22-page report on Wednesday that it has examined the Tel Aviv regime’s military court system for holding Palestinian children and found evidence of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”

Some 7,000 Palestinian children, aged between 12 and 17, have been arrested, interrogated and prosecuted by Israeli forces, the report said, adding that the majority of them were boys.

“In no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights,” the report stated.

UNICEF analyzed the procedure employed by Israeli forces from arrest to trial of the children. It said many children were “aggressively awakened in the middle of the night by many armed soldiers and being forcibly brought to an interrogation centre tied and blindfolded, sleep deprived and in a state of extreme fear.”

Many of them faced mistreatment during the transfer process and forced to lie down on the floor of a vehicle for one day in some cases. They were also subjected to verbal or physical abuse, the report also noted.

“The interrogation mixes intimidation, threats and physical violence, with the clear purpose of forcing the child to confess,” the international body said, adding they were not accompanied by a lawyer or a family member during the interrogation.

“Children have been threatened with death, physical violence, solitary confinement and sexual assault, against themselves or a family member,” it said, adding that they were restrained during the questioning even for extended periods of time.

The maximum penalty for minor inmates, aged 12 to 13, is six months. However, it could be extended to 20 years for those who are over 14. The vast majority of Palestinian children have been arrested for throwing stones.

“The principal evidence against the child is the child’s own confession, in most cases extracted under duress during the interrogation,” the UNICEF report further said, saying they have to sign confession forms in Hebrew which they barely understand.

“Ultimately, almost all children plead guilty in order to reduce the length of their pretrial detention. Pleading guilty is the quickest way to be released. In short, the system does not allow children to defend themselves,” the report concluded.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Latin American leaders praise Chavez and prepare to travel to Caracas for his funeral on Friday

MercoPress | March 6, 2013

All Latin American leaders expressed their deep sorrow over the death of President Hugo Chavez, and several of them will be travelling to Caracas for his funeral scheduled next Friday.

Cristina Fernandez suspended all activities and declared three days of mourning Cristina Fernandez suspended all activities and declared three days of mourning

Argentine president Cristina Fernandez suspended all official activities, declared three days of mourning and will be flying to Caracas for the funeral. Cristina Fernández decided to leave Wednesday morning in the Tango 01 presidential plane along with her Uruguayan counterpart José “Pepe” Mujica, Planning Minister Julio de Vido and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman.

Likewise Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff cancelled this week’s visit to Argentina and is planning to travel to Caracas for the funeral of Chavez. During an official ceremony Rousseff said that “in many occasions the Brazilian government did not fully concord with President Chavez”, but “today and as always we acknowledge him as a great leader, and an irreparable loss, and above all a loyal friend of Brazil and of its people”.

The Brazilian leader said she regretted the loss “not only as president but also as a person for which I had great affection”

Former president Lula da Silva also expressed ‘deep sorrow” over the death of President Chavez and in “this very sad day, all my solidarity with the Venezuelan people”.

Uruguayan president Jose Mujica also expressed his deep pain over the loss of ‘companion-commander’ Chavez and trusted the Venezuelan people and its government would continue to ‘strengthen democracy” of which the deceased leader was a “great builder”.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales who had special admiration for Chavez left Tuesday night for Caracas and decreed a full week of mourning and flags at half mast.

“Undoubtedly we had our differences, but I always admired the strength and commitment with which president Chavez battled for his ideas. He was a man profoundly committed to the integration of Latin America”, said Chilean president Sebastian Piñera.

From Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto expressed his “deep condolence” over the loss of President Chavez. “My feelings are with his family and with the Venezuelan people, and for Venezuela to continue along the path of democracy”.

Peruvian president Ollanta Humala sent to the Venezuelan people “Bolivarian, South American and Latinamerican solidarity” and wished that in such difficult moments, “unity and reflection will prevail in such a way that things can go ahead peacefully and along the democratic track”.

From El Salvador president Mauricio Funes said Venezuela has not only lost a president, but a patriot, a man who transformed his country and “ruled for the people, changing the inequality and exclusion that prevailed in the country before he was elected to office”.

Finally the Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza expressed condolences to the government and people of Venezuela regretting the sad news of the death of President Chavez.

“In a moment of such pain and sorrow for the Venezuelan people, we are next to you together with the rest of the peoples of the Americas”, said the OAS release. OAS flags will fly at half mast and there will be an extraordinary meeting of the Permanent Council to the memory of President Chavez.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | Comments Off on Latin American leaders praise Chavez and prepare to travel to Caracas for his funeral on Friday

Will the U.S. Government, Media Seek to Improve Relations with Venezuela?

By Dan Beeton | CEPR Americas Blog | March 5, 2013

Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro’s announced today that President Hugo Chávez had died at 4:25pm. According to Venezuela’s constitution [PDF], new presidential elections are supposed to be held within 30 days.

The news could prevent an opportunity for an improvement in U.S.-Venezuelan relations, but that is unlikely. Earlier in the day, Maduro announced that the Venezuelan government would expel the U.S. military attaché for unsanctioned meetings with certain Venezuelan military officers. While this is of course a significant development in U.S.-Venezuela relations that marks yet further deterioration, unfortunately it seems safe to say that most U.S. media outlets will not provide the crucial context necessary in order to understand current relations and why they are so tense.

Maduro mentioned the April 2002 coup d’etat in his press conference today. Declassified C.I.A. and other government documents reveal the U.S. role in that coup against Hugo Chávez. As Scott Wilson, former foreign editor at the Washington Post has explained:

Yes, the United States was hosting people involved in the coup before it happened. There was involvement of U.S.-sponsored NGOs in training some of the people that were involved in the coup. And in the immediate aftermath of the coup, the United States government said that it was a resignation, not a coup, effectively recognizing the government that took office very briefly until President Chavez returned.

I think that there was U.S. involvement, yes.

(Video clip here. This information has however never been reported this fully in the pages of the Washington Post itself.)

The coup was overturned two days later, but before it was the coup regime headed by businessman Pedro Carmona demonstrated its feelings about democratic institutions by dissolving the congress, the supreme court, and the constitution. The New York Times editorial board applauded the coup, writing, “Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator.” The IMF explained that “We stand ready to assist the new administration in whatever manner they find suitable.” After the coup was overturned by Venezuelans in the streets and soldiers loyal to the elected government, and Chávez returned to Caracas from the island where his golpista kidnappers had taken him, the New York Times offered a sheepish apology for its previous applause. The U.S. government and the IMF, however, never apologized for their support for the coup.

It is also important to note that U.S. government interference in Venezuela did not stop there. The U.S. has continued to fund various groups in Venezuela opposed to the government – including political parties and media outlets. The U.S. State Department and entities such as the National Endowment for Democracy also have not disclosed who all of these recipients are, in Venezuela nor in other countries such as Bolivia, where the government has also expelled U.S. diplomats, and where the U.S. media has also done a poor job in providing context behind the deteriorating relations.

More recently, last month U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland referred to “how the transition is going to take place” in Venezuela. Not surprisingly, the Venezuelan government also took this to be a form of meddling. Talk of a “transition” was premature, and Nuland’s statement was “nothing less than the open meddling into issues that are for Venezuelans to resolve,” according to Eleazar Diaz-Rangel, editor in chief of Venezuela’s most-widely read – and probably most objective – newspaper Últimas Noticias.

It is hard to imagine U.S. government officials making similar statements if the leader of an ally country such as the U.K. or Israel were fighting for her/his life. But when it comes to Venezuela the behavior fits a pattern of ongoing efforts to undermine the elected government.

It will also be interesting to see how the international community and the media will receive Maduro, should he become Venezuela’s next president. Chávez called on Venezuelans to support Maduro should new elections be necessary, and polls show Maduro would likely win over an Henrique Capriles or another opposition candidate. Both U.S. media outlets and U.S. government officials have often sought to blame poor relations between the U.S. and Venezuela on Chávez’s “fiery” personality; will they do the same with Maduro? Earlier media reports today indicate that the answer is probably yes. Media – and many other observers –also focused much on Chávez’s military background, something that Maduro does not have.

For his part, Maduro got an early taste of U.S. hospitality in 2006 when he was unceremoniously searched at the airport prior to departure back to Venezuela in his first U.S. trip as Venezuela’s Foreign Minister. It was an unfortunate first impression to make on the man who will probably be Venezuela’s next president.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

US may use drone raids inside America: Attorney general

Press TV – March 6, 2013

The US attorney general has refused to rule out the possibility that drone strikes may be used inside the United States to kill an American citizen.

Eric Holder said a drone strike within the borders of the US and against an American citizen may be carried out in what he called an extraordinary circumstance.

He made the remarks in a statement in a response to an inquiry by Republican Senator Rand Paul, who had questioned the Justice Department on Tuesday if it believed that President Barack Obama had the legal authority to order an assassination drone strike on an American while present on US soil.

Paul said the administration’s “refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening — it is an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”

At least three Americans have been reportedly killed by US drone strikes in Yemen, including Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son Abdul-Rahman and Samir Khan.

Washington uses assassination drones in several countries, claiming that they target “terrorists.” According to witnesses, however, the attacks have mostly led to massive civilian casualties.

In September 2012, a report by the Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law gave an alarming account of the effect that assassination drone strikes have on ordinary people in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The report noted, “The number of ‘high-level’ targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low – estimated at just two percent.”

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Comments Off on US may use drone raids inside America: Attorney general