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Guyana Could be the United States’ ‘Secret Weapon’ Against Venezuela – Scholar

Sputnik – June 1, 2019

In 2015, ExxonMobil discovered large oil fields just off the coast of Guyana. The reserves are estimated at 5.5 billion barrels. What does this hold in store for the Latin American country’s future? And what does Venezuela have to do with this?

Today, Guyana is the second poorest country in the region. According to some estimates, over the next few decades, it may become one of the world’s largest oil producers per capita. However, the availability of resources doesn’t always mean economic prosperity. The small Caribbean country could just become another piece of the puzzle that the United States is putting together in the region, said Tamara Lajtman, an expert at the Latin American Strategic Centre for Geopolitics (CELAG).

The entire history of relations between the United States and Latin American nations and the Caribbean region indicates that American transnational companies will be the ones who will benefit most from this discovery.

Guyana vs Venezuela

Lajtman shared the viewpoints of American experts who believe that Washington can replace Venezuelan oil from a “regional petroleum regime” with a much more stable supplier.

The expert said that at the end of last year, the American Security Project (ASP) organised a conference called “Guyana: Building Sustainable Security”. This organisation studies national security issues, among the members of its board, are former US Secretary of State John Kerry and former US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel. The participants in the said event included Vice Admiral Kevin Green, the former head of US Naval Forces Southern Command.As a result of the meeting, a document was drafted in which it was suggested that American politicians establish closer relations with Guyana in order to guarantee long-term security. The report also noted that since the crisis in Venezuela continues to escalate, a prosperous and developing Guyana could become an axis of stability in the Caribbean, Lajtman added.

According to the Stratfor agency [an American private intelligence and analysis company], some major oil producing companies in the United States have already begun working in Guyana. However, although the revenues of Guyana’s government will increase, a large part of the country won’t feel the economic benefits of oil production, since basically all the jobs in the sector have been designated for foreigners.

Military Presence

In early May, the US Navy Southern Command began New Horizons drilling in Guyana. According to the ASP (American Security Project), they are being held at just the right moment, “when Guyana is at the very centre of regional geopolitics”.

There are two reasons for this: the crisis in neighbouring Venezuela and the energy future of the Caribbean country. The situation is aggravated by a land dispute between Caracas and Georgetown over the Essequibo River. A zone of 160,000 km2 has been claimed by Venezuela for several centuries and the dispute is still unresolved. The United States sees a threat to drilling operations near the maritime border between the two countries.

Economic Aspect

For many decades, Guyana was considered a transit country for cocaine on its way from Colombia to the United States. In light of this, the government has implemented various anti-drug assistance programmes and enacted laws to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. With the growth of oil revenues more could be done about this.

In July 2018, Guyana joined China’s New Silk Road initiative, which includes investments in the construction of ports and roads. This would be the largest project ever carried out in the country. It is of key geostrategic importance since it will reduce the time of transportation for goods to northern Brazil (China’s main trading partner in the region) and make the route to the Panama Canal faster.The expert also noted that one of China’s largest national oil companies —  CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corporation), owns a 25% stake in ExxonMobil’s Stabroek block.

June 1, 2019 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | Leave a comment

Immigration and Capital

By Maximilian Forte | Zero Anthropology | August 3, 2016

Immigration, rightly or wrongly, has been marched to the frontline of current political struggles in Europe and North America. Whether exaggerated or accurate, the role of immigration is situated as a central factor in the Brexit referendum in the UK, and the rise of the “America First” Trump movement in the US. It seems impossible that one can have a calm discussion about immigration today, without all sorts of agendas, assumptions, insinuations and recriminations coming into play. Staking a claim in immigration debates are a wide range of actors and interests, with everything from national identity and national security to multiculturalism, human rights, and cosmopolitan globalism. However, what is relatively neglected in the public debates is discussion of the political economy of immigration, and especially a critique of the role of immigration in sustaining capitalism.

Before going forward, we have to first dismiss certain diversionary tactics commonly used in public debate, that unfortunately misdirect too many people. First, being “anti-immigration” does not make one a “racist”. One does not follow from the other. Being a racist means adopting a racial view of humanity as being ordered according to what are imagined to be superior and inferior, biologically-rooted differences. Preferring “one’s own kind” (whatever that means) might be the basis for ethnocentrism, but not necessarily racism as such. It’s important not to always lunge hysterically for the most inflammatory-sounding terms, just because your rhetorical polemics demand an instant “win” (because you don’t win anything; you just sound like someone who doesn’t know what he or she is talking about). Also, xenophobia neither implies racism nor ethnocentrism, because it can exceed both by being a fear or dislike of anyone who is “foreign” or “strange”. Conversely, one can be entirely racist, and quite pro­-immigration at the same time, as long as immigration is restricted to members of one’s own race. Other forms of racist pro-immigration policies would include slavery itself, indentured labour, down to the casual racism of “let’s have Mexicans, they make such wonderful gardeners”. Furthermore, the available survey data in the US suggests that, “far from being rooted in racism, opposition to immigration in the U.S. seems to be rooted in concerns about the ability of less-skilled immigrants to support themselves without Medicaid, SNAP, the earned-income tax credit, and various other supports” (Salam, 2016b). Salam adds this point: “My guess is that if immigration policy were not viewed through a racial lens, opposition to immigration would in fact increase substantially”. Also, there is a distinction to be drawn between opinions that are anti-immigrant and policies that are anti-immigration, even if there can be overlap between the two. Finally, all of this obscures the basic questions that are seemingly never asked today in most public debates: 1) Are questions about racism, identity, and openness the most important ones to be asked about immigration? And, 2) Why must workers be pro-immigration?

When we turn our attention to the current political economy of immigration in Europe and North America, and the relationship between immigration and capital, we might discover two odd absences. One is that those on the left who in past years were vocal critics of mass immigration, especially of the illegal kind, have either been silent on the topic in current debates, or have reversed positions without any explanation. Second, you may find Marxist writers who, armed with all of the necessary conceptual and empirical tools, avoid drawing explicit connections in their own work that could be the basis for a critique of immigration. My guess is that what explains both absences is this fear of being stigmatized as xenophobic, or worse yet, racist—but as shown above, such fear is illogical and should be pushed aside.

From the Left: Past Public Criticism of Immigration

In the not-too-distant past, leftist activists and politicians, such as Naomi Klein and Bernie Sanders, have both gone public in criticizing immigration for its role in depressing wages, increasing unemployment, deepening proletarian dependency and despair, and fostering an elitist form of cosmopolitan detachment from place. For the record, let’s review the two.

Naomi Klein argued that “rooted people” are “the biggest threat” to neoliberal capitalism because they have “roots and stories,” so the global capitalists prefer to “hire mobile people”. Klein also recognized that this “economic model creates armies of surplus labour,” and migrant labourers are useful in “keeping wages very, very low”. Naomi Klein also spoke of the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, where those who lost their homes, mostly African-Americans, did not get the jobs—instead, “a migrant workforce” was used.

Second, Bernie Sanders, who would later denounce “open borders” as a plot by the right-wing oligarchs, the Koch brothers, told Lou Dobbs the following in 2007:

“If poverty is increasing and if wages are going down, I don’t know why we need millions of people to be coming into this country as guest workers who will work for lower wages than American workers and drive wages down, even lower than they are right now.”

Dobbs added,

“And as we know, the principle industries which hire the bulk of illegal aliens—that is construction, landscaping, leisure, hospitality—those are all industries in which wages are declining….I don’t hear that discussed on the Senate floor by the proponents of this amnesty legislation.”

To which Sanders responded:

“That’s right. They have no good response.”

You can view/listen to the complete exchange here:

I am not playing this out here to rub salt into the wounds of Sanders supporters. Instead, it is simply to point how far back the left has retreated when it comes to a critique of the political economy of immigration, such that they can hardly have any legitimate complaint that the ground they vacated has been taken up by the Trump movement in the US, or by right-wing advocates of Brexit in the UK. As the Bloomberg article pointed out, “it’s Sanders’s rhetoric against guest-worker programs for legal immigrants that has brought him trouble with the left”. Should it have? Should Sanders have gone back on his record, and adopted his enthusiastically pro-immigrant stance (embracing even those who entered illegally)?

Yet Sanders is not the focus of this article; instead my broad purpose here is to argue for the negative in answering these questions. I will do so first by revisiting the work of a Marxist writer, David Harvey, even though he seems to evade the critique of immigration in his 2014 book on the contradictions of capitalism. While the writings of Marxist scholars can be useful for understanding how immigration works to uphold capitalism, and especially its neoliberal form, the writers themselves seem reluctant to draw out those connections too clearly, creating an eerie silence around what should be obvious.

Immigration: Serving the Owners of Capital

Those who consider themselves leftist and anti-capitalist while being pro-immigration with few if any restrictions, might be on the wrong side of the argument in one way or another. In David Harvey’s 2014 book, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, there are some useful insights about immigration’s role in propping up capital. However, the material is scattered throughout the book (I gathered the relevant elements below), and one might wonder if Harvey thus missed the eighteenth contradiction—the contradiction between unrestricted capitalism and the anti-immigration politics of working class movements. At least capitalists would think of the contradiction as an important one, given their now extreme public panic over the working class gaining the political upper hand, under the leadership of populist nationalists.

In Seventeen Contradictions Harvey notes that for many Marxists the contradiction between capital and labour is the primary contradiction of capitalism, not that Harvey (himself a Marxist) agrees that this contradiction can stand alone as an explanation for all capitalist crises (p. 65). Harvey’s own definitions of capital, and the way he distinguishes it from capitalism, leave much to be desired (see pps. 7, 73).1 Having fixed the place of labour in the unfolding history of capitalism—whether paramount or not it remains central—Harvey in his usual anthropomorphosis of capital says that “capital strives to produce a geographical landscape favourable to its own reproduction and subsequent evolution” (p. 146)—although it’s actual capitalists who do that, and not capital as such. What he could have added is that reworking the geographical landscape means how humans fit into landscapes, and moving workers around the planet is a definite reworking of “geography”. Having established the centrality of the capital-labour contradiction, and having introduced the significance of geographic changes, Harvey adds the third key component of his analysis: “that an economy based on dispossession lies at the heart of what capital is foundationally about” (p. 54). How are workers dispossessed?

The usefulness of immigration in the capitalist system lies in the ability of capitalists to use immigration to break the monopoly power of labour (p. 120). Simply put, labourers can assert a virtual monopoly over their work, especially when such work is specialized and the number of labourers is contained. The inflow of immigrants can thus help to break the labourers’ monopoly, by creating competition among the ranks of workers. Harvey explains this in detail—but without speaking of immigration—using an example which ends up being very relevant to the present in the US:

“What is on capital’s agenda is not the eradication of skills per se but the abolition of monopolisable skills. When new skills become important, such as computer programming, then the issue for capital is not necessarily the abolition of those skills (which it may ultimately achieve through artificial intelligence) but the undermining of their potential monopoly character by opening up abundant avenues for training in them. When the labour force equipped with programming skills grows from relatively small to super-abundant, then this breaks monopoly power and brings down the cost of that labour to a much lower level than was formerly the case. When computer programmers are ten-a-penny, then capital is perfectly happy to identify this as one form of skilled labour in its employ…” (pp. 119-120).

Now we can update that explanation by factoring in immigration. Harvey highlights increased access to training as means of increasing the numbers of skilled workers, but he misses—and this is odd, because he has worked in universities for most of his life—the fact that another key way to increase the numbers is by bringing in foreign students to undergo such training, and then retaining those foreign students, or otherwise importing specialists from abroad through formal immigration. This is in fact a central plank in the platform of Hillary Clinton in her 2016 presidential run—around which silence generally prevails thanks to the diversionary tactics of political correctness that I mentioned above. Thus in Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology & Innovation, we can read the following:

Attract and Retain the Top Talent from Around the World: Our immigration system is plagued by visa backlogs and other barriers that prevent high-skilled workers and entrepreneurs from coming to, staying in, and creating jobs in America. Far too often, we require talented persons from other countries who are trained in U.S. universities to return home, rather than stay in here and continue to contribute to our economy. As part of a comprehensive immigration solution, Hillary would ‘staple’ a green card to STEM masters and PhDs from accredited institutions—enabling international students who complete degrees in these fields to move to green card status. Hillary will also support ‘start-up’ visas that allow top entrepreneurs from abroad to come to the United States, build companies in technology-oriented globally traded sectors, and create more jobs and opportunities for American workers. Immigrant entrepreneurs would have to obtain a commitment of financial support from U.S. investors before obtaining the visa, and would have to create a certain number of jobs and reach performance benchmarks in order to pursue a green card”.

Thus US students who acquired massive debts to gain degrees in STEM disciplines, will find it increasingly harder to get their heads above water when they have to compete with immigrants for a finite number of positions, or when their salaries drop as the availability of replacement workers increases. What Clinton is proposing is nothing very new: she would be formalizing and making more efficient the already existing realities of competition from foreign white-collar workers (see Munro, 2016).

At the root of capitalists’ power to depress wage levels, is the depression of employment opportunities. In the US case, it is not just the fact that immigrant workers are competing for jobs, it’s that they are also getting a disproportionate share of the available employment opportunities. Thus while foreign-born workers make up only 15% of all workers, they gained 31% of new jobs (see Kummer, 2015).

In Marx’s analysis, the interest of capitalists is in possessing a vast “industrial reserve army” in order to contain the ambitions of the employed (Harvey, 2014, pp. 79-80). And, as Harvey adds, “if such a labour surplus did not exist, then capital would need to create one” (p. 80). How would it do that? Harvey identifies two ways to create a labour surplus: technologically induced unemployment (automation), and opening access to new labour supplies (such as outsourcing to China) (p. 80). It is again peculiar that Harvey does not list another obvious option: expand the “domestic” supply of labour by importing labourers (immigration). Since immigration can play an important role in creating a labour surplus, then why not mention it?

So far we have talked about how immigration is used to break the monopoly power of labour, by expanding the domestic supply of labour, or by outsourcing. Harvey does mention in passing that immigration can serve as a spatial fix for the capitalist system, by redistributing surplus labour where it is needed most (p. 152). But spatial fixes of a contemporary kind appear in two forms—one of them is what we call outsourcing or offshoring (p. 148). Offshoring essentially makes workers subsidize capital—it is one of the absurdities of contemporary “free trade” that all sorts of government subsidies to workers are banned, but workers can be super-exploited at atrociously low wage levels that account for the competitive global cheapness of their products. That is a subsidy, just not a voluntary one, and not a state subsidy. However, offshoring, where jobs go overseas, is just one way to increase competition among workers. A second method is what we might call onshoring: it’s not the jobs that go to meet workers overseas, it’s workers overseas who migrate to meet the jobs—immigration. Unfortunately, Harvey does not mention onshoring as part of a pair of options along with offshoring.

Historically, immigration has been used to depress the wages of workers in the receiving nation. This is especially true in the US case. As Paul Street recently explained,

“The ever-shifting supply and demand for labor power is a factor that holds no small relevance to the triumphs, trials and tribulations of the American working class past and present. As the leading left U.S. economist Richard Wolff explains, the long historical rise in real wages in the United States ended more than thirty years ago thanks to ‘the combination of computerization, exported jobs, women surging into the labor market, and a new wave of immigration… this time mainly from Latin America, especially Mexico and Central America…. Capitalists from Main Street to Wall Street quickly realized that employers could slow or stop wage increases, given that supply now exceeded demand in the labor market…’

“If you don’t believe immigration is used by employers to depress living and working standards in the U.S., then take a job in any U.S. factory that has a significant number of unpleasant low-skill tasks. You will see your capitalist bosses keeping wages down and workers cowed and oppressed by (among other things) hiring immigrants whose experience of extreme poverty, violence, and other forms of misery in their lands of origin make them more than ready to work obediently and without outward complaint for $10 an hour or less in ‘modern manufacturing’”.

Nonetheless, “expert opinion” persists in creating the myth that immigration has no negative impact on workers.

Another key way that immigration can sustain capital has to do with the purchasing power of wages. As we have seen, it’s in the interest of capitalists to keep wages as low as possible. However, the contradiction that arises—and Harvey devotes considerable attention to this—is that lower wages means less money available to purchase goods, which shrinks market size, and reduces the profit gained by capitalists. So if workers all have less money, what to do to sustain demand? One option is to increase wages—bad. Another option is to increase credit, as is being done. A third option is to increase the total mass of workers—as is also being done. Workers may all have less money to spend, but by importing more workers, you have a greater number of people spending (however little). Thus immigration can help to sustain or even increase demand, without increasing wages (see p. 82).

“A phenomenal rate of growth in the total labour force,” Harvey writes, “would augment the mass of capital being produced even though the individual rate of return was falling” (p. 107). However, Harvey does not mention that one way to engineer a phenomenal growth in the total labour force is by fostering mass immigration, or tacitly allowing for large numbers of people to enter illegally. What Harvey does say is that immigration can help to support future economic growth, but it’s not clear how as soon after he says that, in the US case, “job creation since 2008 has not kept pace with the expansion of the labour force” and that the seeming decline in the unemployment rate instead reflects “a shrinkage in the proportion of working-age population seeking to participate in the labour force” (pp. 230-231). Again, he fails to consider the impact of millions entering the work force from abroad.

Why David Harvey would appear reticent about producing a focused critique of immigration, might be explained by one very peculiar line in his book, where he seems to blame the working class itself, and its attitudes toward others, for its own unemployment through offshoring:

“When a rising anti-immigrant fervour among the working classes grabbed hold, capital migrated to the Mexican maquilas, the Chinese and Bangladeshi factories, in a mass movement to wherever surplus labour was to be had”. (Harvey, 2014, p. 174)

What a disappointing statement. Suddenly, capital is no longer in charge, in this abrupt deviation from Harvey’s central narrative. It is the working classes that have somehow “grabbed hold”. How did they achieve such power as to grab hold of the very production processes that they never owned? And if the working classes had a cheerier view of competition from immigrant labour, would those jobs not have still gone overseas? Do capitalists make their decisions on where to gain the most profit, by first consulting workers on what they feel about others? I don’t know that there is any evidence at all that can remotely validate such an absurd conclusion.

Where Harvey might have found a more fruitful point of entry, in his own discussion, is where he wrote that “three of the most lucrative businesses in contemporary capitalism” are “trafficking women, peddling drugs or clandestinely selling arms” (p. 32). Trafficking “women”? Why not trafficking workers—as is the case with illegal immigration, which is exploited by human traffickers in far greater numbers than the trade in women alone? Either way, “open” or weak borders are a boon to the “three most lucrative businesses” of contemporary capitalism. The best way to maximize the growth in the total labour force is precisely by illegal means, because as should be obvious “illegal” means that the movement is: (a) unregulated by the state, and not subject to political debate; (b) unrestricted in volume; and, (c) the situation where workers cannot avail themselves of rights under labour laws.

In the frame of current political debates in the US, Harvey reminds us of some important points. One is that it was under the administration of President Bill Clinton that the US saw a vast increase in the number of poverty-ridden unemployed workers. In return, Harvey points out, “Clinton has been handsomely rewarded since by business organisations, earning some $17 million in 2012 from speaker’s fees mainly from business groups” (p. 176). One of the many things shared in common between Bill and Hillary Clinton is therefore a consistent set of policy-making designed to ensure the growth of the “reserve army” of workers. Otherwise, with current debates in mind, there is little in the book to explain how Mexico, as an example, gains from the outflow of migrants to the US (producing remittances) along with the production of cheap goods for export. One would think this was important, because it disturbs established neo-Marxist models of the one-way flow of capital from the periphery to the centre—or maybe it doesn’t, but that is why further discussion would be useful.

Otherwise, Harvey does have some useful insights into how we are witnessing a conflict between “politics” and “economics” over migration policies (p. 156). By politics, he means the state, and the territoriality of state power, and by economics he means the interests of capital. As Harvey observes, “the constructed loyalty of citizens to their states conflicts in principle with capital’s singular loyalty to making money and nothing else” (p. 157). In what again should have been an opening for Harvey to reflect on immigration, he writes that, “affections and loyalties to particular places and cultural forms are viewed as anachronisms” which he follows by asking: “Is this not what the spread of the neoliberal ethic proposed and eventually accomplished?” (p. 277). Here we might revisit Naomi Klein’s comments above.

A less charitable argument about Seventeen Contradictions would be that the persistent reluctance of David Harvey in allowing his critiques to incorporate the realities of immigration is troubling, in part because it suggests a weakness not just in the analytical frame, but also in the ability or willingness to analyze. A more charitable argument would say that Harvey explicitly admits to leaving out race and gender among the contradictions he studies (p. 7), and therefore immigration might just be another of the contradictions he did not address. His reasoning is that race and gender conflicts are not specific to capitalism—and one might say that mass migrations of human populations long preceded capitalism too. However, contemporary inter-state migration definitely is a phenomenon of the modern capitalist system, and thus his logic of exclusion would not apply, and I might add that his argument is also on particularly shaky grounds when it comes to racism (which is not a prehistoric form of labour discipline and discrimination).

Immigration: Serving the Owners of Votes

If you agree with Marx, that it’s in the interest of capitalists to possess a large reserve army of unemployed workers to keep wage levels down and to possibly break the back of collective labour organization, then you would not think that the creation of disposable workers was in any way new. (You also do not need to be a Marxist to agree with what is in fact an observation of reality.) However, it should also be clear that in the US, Canada, and parts of Europe, deindustrialization that stems from free-trade deals has left many more unemployed than previously. The phenomenon of increased job loss due to globalized free trade is particular to neoliberal capitalism. Clearly for those benefiting from this state of affairs—the political and economic elites who rule this system to their own advantage—a crisis has set it in for them now that they experience a backlash from those they dispossessed. Liberal democracy, a system of power, was only permitted once politics were divorced from economics, and voting did not appear to threaten the economic system (Macpherson, 1965, pp. 12, 13, 51). However, once dispossessed workers find a way to register their protests through elections, then that boundary begins to break down. No wonder then that liberal democratic elites now routinely proclaim that what we are witnessing today is the “suicide of democracy,” writing even in apocalyptic terms that “the end is nigh” and that “tyranny” is coming. What is at an end—because it had to be, it was so obviously irrational and unsustainable—is the “democratic elitist” system the rulers created that they hoped would preserve the economic system by removing popular politics (Bachrach, 1980). Instead, voters now realize that in exceptional cases they can, in effect, cast a vote on globalization, free trade, and neoliberalism—as in the case of the UK’s Brexit vote and in the case of the Trump movement in the US.

(But who knew that the elites could be so delicate, and hysterical, that now when they are richer than ever before in human history any talk of a reduction in their ability to take more is conceived in terms of suicide and apocalypse?)

Otherwise liberal democracy never makes such questions about free-trade or immigration available for popular decision-making. It never meant to, as workers are held in deep disdain (see Krugman, 2016; Confessore, 2016). In the case of Brexit, there has been open disregard for democracy by those who voted for Remain—everything from calling on parliament to simply ignore the result of the referendum, to calling for a second referendum with a higher threshold for victory for Brexit to be possible, and both efforts have failed. Members of the metropolitan left have turned on the working class. That some of the advocates of Remain were motivated by the prospects of new quantities of cheap labour, is something that did not escape attention. The oligarchs are in deep trouble, and they would like the rest of us to save them.

An oligarchic system that is in trouble, looks for solutions of course. Having rendered the majority of existing workers disposable, the key lies in finding ways to also make them disposable as voters. Fortunately for the oligarchs, history offers them solutions. On the US State Department’s own website, there are lessons for regime survival from politicians who imported grateful immigrants as a new supply of voters. One of these cases concerns Guyana under the rule of Forbes Burnham and the People’s National Congress (PNC). With a working class divided between Afro- and Indo-Guyanese, with the latter supporting the opposition party and having greater numbers, what Burnham did was to import black immigrants from some of the nearby smaller islands of the Caribbean, who would vote PNC in thanks for Burnham’s patronage. Similar things happened in Trinidad & Tobago, under the US-allied government of Eric Williams and the People’s National Movement (PNM). In this it was widely suspected that the large growth in the immigrant population from Grenada and St. Vincent boosted the PNM voter base.

In the US, there seems to be relief bordering on glee when Democrats can pronounce the decline in the number of white working class voters, and the rise in number of Hispanic voters—thanks to both immigration, both legal and illegal, which their policies helped to support. I would not argue that the current rulers of the US directly took hints on regime survival from states that used immigration to engineer new demographic bases of support—nor do I think that the logic is so exotic that it needs to be imported. Instead, the point is to understand how immigration is used as a tool for regime survival in an ethnically-divided nation. An unusually wise insight came from one of the right-wing talk radio hosts in the US who, in mocking the political correctness of calling illegal immigrants “undocumented workers,” he instead called them “undocumented Democrats”.

“Open borders” provide the opportunity for extending the lifespan of an unpopular regime. The ruling elites realize that: (a) disposable workers are disposable voters, and, (b) that they can always import a new voter base, grateful for their patronage—as long as they can make their pro-immigration talk stick. This is where they turn to identity politics, the neo-tribal lobby, and righteous moral narcissism that exploits calculated expressions of outrage. As the oligarchs turn to the rest of us to save them, many have fallen for the seductive, exploitative politics of identity and moral outrage. Some do so under the illusion that they are in some age-old fight against “fascism,” and they come to the fight appropriately armed with photos posted to social media of the classic Marxist texts from the 1800s and early 1900s that they are proudly reading. Others do so because once again they let instant emotional reactions guide them toward aims they barely perceive.

What is instructive is that the real Fascism did not take root in a nation that was experiencing high levels of immigration. Instead, it emerged in one of the world’s leading producers of emigrants: Italy, where the very concept of fascism was invented. Indeed, actually existing historical Fascism included a plan for colonization in order to settle and employ a burgeoning population at home—none of which describes Trump’s positions.

While immigration can sustain regime survival at home, it can also be a destabilizing factor when it stems from regime change abroad. Immigration was a leading factor motivating the recent Brexit victory in the UK (see Kummer, 2016a, for details). As some have explained, “British society has been transformed by a wave of immigration unprecedented in its history”: since the advent of Tony Blair’s government, “roughly twice as many immigrants arrived in the United Kingdom as had arrived in the previous half-century” (Salam, 2016a). As a result, some have argued that Brexit is a victory for Britain’s working class.

eu-poll-immigration-as-top-concern-2 poll-most-important-issue-facing-the-eu

In the European case, the aftermath of the massive inflow of refugees and migrants during the past two years, traveling via Turkey, Greece, and Libya, has not promoted stability for the dominant political class. Here we see European governments, some of which actively supported/support US regime change campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, reaping the blowback of a refugee influx. Having created weakened states or virtual non-states in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, while severely undermining the Syrian state, the unprecedented levels of violence in those nations have generated massive refugee populations. For a while, it was possible to transfer the burden to nations little or least able to afford hosting refugees, such as Jordan, Turkey, and even a badly crippled Greece. Syria itself hosted hundreds of thousands of Iraqis after the US invasion. Once a portion of the region’s refugee populations began to move northward, into the European Union, the ruling political elites effectively transferred the costs to the working class, by crowding them out of already reduced social services that have shrunk under austerity, and expecting them to be accommodating. Protests from the working class were then labelled “racist” and “xenophobic,” especially by supposed “progressives”. The point here ought not to have been whether those who can least afford making room for refugees and migrants should be welcoming or hostile—the point is that Western nations should not have created those refugee populations in the first place, as they did with their invasions, occupations, and bombing campaigns.

Conclusion: The Vanishing Left?

Thus far we have witnessed a number of cases where the left, broadly speaking, has abandoned any effort to articulate a critical perspective on immigration. We see it in cases such as,

  • the retreat of leftist politicians and activists from critiques of immigration, as with Naomi Klein and Bernie Sanders, who have either gone silent or reversed themselves;
  • the clear reluctance of Marxist academics like David Harvey in drawing obvious connections within their own work;
  • leftists denouncing working classes resisting the added austerity of losing access to health, education, and social services to make room for migrants; and,
  • political elites who try to appeal to the left, claiming to be progressives who support migrants from Mexico and Central America.

However, given the way immigration has been enmeshed in sustaining neoliberal capitalism, and given the current collapse of neoliberal rule, the left is threatening itself with extinction by following along the tracks of neoliberal politicians. “I won’t vote for a racist or bigot” can easily be translated as “I am saving the oligarchy”. What we may be witnessing in the West then is an even bigger historical turning point than some of us might have previously imagined—where the future will be shaped by the left’s absence from the future. Even if one is less pessimistic, the left could amount to little more than a residue, a legacy, that occasionally appears in the form of various surface appearances or a series of phrases and motifs, rather than a substantial social force.

Without a left, current left-right distinctions (which are already blurred and evaporating, on all sides) will become increasingly meaningless, especially as the right begins to take over key issues and concerns that were once the domain of the left. Taken a few steps further, in the US case what could happen is a new reversal: the Democrats will be more clearly positioned as the Party of Big Business, while the Republicans will become the Party of Workers, but in no absolute fashion as both parties are essentially multi-class alliances. Whatever left there may be, whatever left may mean, it will have to rework its alignments accordingly and write new core texts for itself.

The most important thing we should do now, in broad political terms, is to subject immigration to democratic decision-making. It needs to be debated thoroughly, and there should be broad public consultation. Simply shaming people into silence, with the aid of facile and sometimes hypocritical charges of “racism,” will not do as a substitute for democracy. The public needs to know how immigration can impact wages, prices, employment opportunities, social services, and union organizing—given that the subject is so deeply tied to economic, welfare, and trade policy. At present in the US I suspect that, for too many on the left, the US should be held more answerable to non-US citizens for its immigration policy than to US citizens, and this is a harmful and irrational approach. In addition, too often immigration policy-making has been sequestered behind the closed doors of committees that are laced with influence from private interests, producing twisted and shady immigration programs, and deflecting debate until momentous turning points—by which time the political field has become so polarized, that debate proceeds only in the most absolute terms. Finally, in terms of US foreign policy, what needs to be reversed is the decades-long practice of promoting the US internationally as a beacon, a model, the highest point of human achievement in wealth and development, that makes it the automatic choice of destination for so many, who choose it with little question and without knowing better.

Notes

  1. I confess that sometimes I find Harvey’s explanations and definitions to be murky—for example, at one point he defines capital in a manner that seems to include everything economic: capital is money, land, resources, factories, and labourers labouring (p. 73). If labour is capital, then how can there be a contradiction between capital and labour? At other moments, his distinction between capital and capitalism becomes cloudy, such that we may not know if he means a contradiction of capital, or a contradiction in capitalism—and the title of his book (“the end of capitalism”) does not help to make the case for the former. He says he is making a clear distinction between capital and capitalism, and where he says he does that he only offers his definition of capitalism (p. 7). So no distinction is actually offered, and nearly 70 pages later capital is defined basically as a thing or maybe as processes for making things—and since things do not make history, and processes are processes of something, it would seem that capitalism is what makes sense of capital. As I confessed, it was quite confusing. However, given the routine anthropomorphosis of capital in Harvey’s work, such that “capital” takes on human qualities of initiative, decision-making, and action, this suggests that he too might not be all that clear on when to write “capital” and when to write “capitalists”.

References

Bachrach, Peter. (1980). The Theory of Democratic Elitism: A Critique. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Clinton, Hillary. (2016). Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology & Innovation. HillaryClinton.com, June 27.

Confessore, Nicholas. (2016). “How the G.O.P. Elite Lost Its Voters to Donald Trump”. The New York Times, March 28.

Editors, Globe and Mail. (2016). “The end is nigh: Donald Trump, and other signs of the apocalypse”. The Globe and Mail, July 24.

Encyclopedia.com. (2007). Trinidad and Tobago. Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations.

Forte, Maximilian C. (2016a). “The Wall: A Monument to the Nation-State”. Zero Anthropology, April 17.

Forte, Maximilian C. (2016b). “Social Imperialism and New Victorian Identity Politics”. Zero Anthropology, July 30.

Gilens, Martin, & Page, Benjamin I. (2014). “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”. Pre-publication draft, April 9.

Greenfield, Jeff. (2016). “Doubts Start Creeping In for Democrats”. Politico Magazine, August 1.

Guyana Times. (2015). “Letter to the Editor: Kamaluddin Mohamed did greater damage than good”. Guyana Times, December 14.

John, Arit. (2015). “Bernie Sanders Has an Immigration Problem With the Left”. Bloomberg, November 13.

Harvey, David. (2014). Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism. London: Profile Books Ltd.

Krugman, Paul. (2016). “Republican Elite’s Reign of Disdain”. The New York Times, March 18.

Kummer, Larry. (2015). “The numbers about immigration that fuel Trump’s campaign”. Fabius Maximus, September 17.

Kummer, Larry. (2016a). “Immigration: a cause of Brexit, denied by the Left”. Fabius Maximus, June 28.

Kummer, Larry. (2016b). “A Harvard Professor explains the populist revolt against immigration & globalization”. Fabius Maximus, July 14.

Kummer, Larry. (2016c). “A UK engineer explains: elites oppose Brexit because they import cheap workers”. Fabius Maximus, July 1.

Limbaugh, Rush. (2015). “I’ve Been Properly Credited for Coining the Term ‘Undocumented Democrats’”. The Rush Limbaugh Show, December 22.

Macpherson, C.B. (1965). The Real World of Democracy. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc.

Munro, Neil. (2016). “Hillary Clinton’s Vow To College Grads: I’ll Outsource Your Jobs To Foreign GraduatesBreitbart, June 28.

Romney, Mitt. (2016). Full transcript: Mitt Romney’s remarks on Donald Trump and the 2016 race. Politico, March 3.

Sadiq, Nauman. (2016). “Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class”. CounterPunch, June 24.

Salam, Reihan. (2016a). “Why Immigration Pushed Britons to Brexit: It’s not only about race”. Slate, June 24.

Salam, Reihan, (2016b). “Why Are Immigration Advocates So Quick to Play the Race Card?National Review, July 1.

Savransky, Rebecca. (2016). “Trump: My GOP will be a ‘worker’s party’”. The Hill, May 26.

Street, Paul. (2016). “Political Correctness: Handle with Care”. CounterPunch, July 22.

Sullivan, Andrew. (2016). “Democracies end when they are too democratic. And right now, America is a breeding ground for tyranny”. New York Magazine, May 1.

Survival International. (1975). News from Survival International, 10, April.

US Department of State. (2009). Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume XXXII, Dominican Republic; Cuba; Haiti; Guyana.

West, Patrick. (2016). “The post-Brexit ugliness of the left: Money-obsessed and anti-working class – the liberal left has revealed its ugly side”. Spiked, July 8.

December 31, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coolies: How Britain Re-Invented Slavery

Coolies: How Britain Reinvented Slavery tells the astonishing and controversial story of the systematic recruitment and migration of over a million Indians to all corners of the Empire. It is a chapter in colonial history that implicates figures at the very highest level of the British establishment and has defined the demographic shape of the modern world.

December 16, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Social Darwinism, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Secret Agenda Behind the Venezuela-Guyana Conflict

By Eva Golinger | CounterPunch | August 24, 2015

It all began in 1835 when the British Empire sent a German-born naturalist and explorer to conduct geographical research in the South American territory it had colonized and named British Guiana. In the course of his explorations, a map was drawn that well-exceeded the original western boundary first occupied by the Dutch and later passed to British control. Sparking the interest of the Empire’s desire to expand its borders into the area west of the Essequibo River that was rich in gold, the British government commissioned the explorer to survey their territorial boundaries. What became known as the “Schomburgk Line”, named after the explorer, Robert Hermann Schomburgk, usurped a large portion of Venezuelan land, and provoked the beginning of a territorial dispute that has remained unresolved to this day.

In 1850, after decades of arguing over the boundary line dividing Venezuela from its colonized neighbor, both sides agreed not to occupy the disputed territory until further determinations could be made. But as the demand for gold and other natural resources grew in the region, the British again tried to claim the territory declaring the Schomburgk Line the frontier of British Guiana, in clear violation of the previous accord with Venezuela.

Ironically, Venezuela appealed to the United States government for help at the time, using the Monroe Doctrine as a justification to prevent further colonization by the British Empire in the hemisphere. US President Grover Cleveland eventually declared the matter of US interest and forced Great Britain to sign a Treaty of Arbitration with Venezuela in Washington in 1897. Two years later, the Arbitration Tribunal, which had no representatives from Venezuela but instead two arbitrators from the United States said to be acting in Venezuela’s interest, ruled in favor of Britain. Venezuela rejected the decision, alleging there had been political collusion and illegal pressures in favor of the other side. These claims were supported by a letter written by Severo Mallet-Prevost, the Official Secretary of the US/Venezuela delegation in the Arbitration Tribunal who revealed the President of the Tribunal, Friedrich Martens had pressured the arbitrators to decide in favor of Great Britain.

More than half a century went by until the dispute was re-introduced on the international stage, this time at the United Nations. Venezuela denounced the corruption that had led to the arbitrators decision in 1899 and reiterated its claim over the territory known as the “Essequibo”. In February 1966, at a meeting in Geneva, all parties to the conflict – Venezuela, British Guiana and Great Britain – signed the agreement to resolve the dispute over the border between Venezuela and British Guiana, known as the Treaty of Geneva. They agreed neither side would act on the disputed territory until they could resolve a definitive border, acceptable to all parties. Months later, in May 1966, Guyana achieved its independence from the United Kingdom, further complicating matters. On subsequent maps of Venezuela and Guyana, both countries claimed the territory as part of their sovereign land.

Despite minor disagreements since 1966, the dispute did not become the source of escalating regional tensions until 2015, when a large oil discovery was made by Exxon right smack in the middle of the Essequibo, and claimed by Guyana.

OIL

The Cooperative Republic of Guyana is the second poorest country in the Caribbean, only surpassing desolate Haiti in per capita income. The country’s main economic activity is agriculture, specifically rice and sugar production, which account for over 30% of export income. Despite being surrounded by vast oil and gas reserves in neighboring Venezuela, which has the largest oil reserves on the planet in its Orinoco River Basin, and nearby Trinidad and Tobago, up until recently Guyana had no known oil reserves within its territorial boundaries.

Enter Exxon Mobil, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, and a declared enemy of Venezuela. Until 2007, Exxon had a significant investment through its Cerro Negro Project in Venezuela’s Orinoco River Basin. Initially, U.S. oil and geological experts had classified the oil-based substance found in mass quantities in that area to be bitumen, a thick black tar-like asphalt, therefore rendering it not subject to the 1976 Hydrocarbons Law in Venezuela that nationalized oil and gas reserves. After President Hugo Chavez suspected the area actually contained huge oil reserves, he had his own research done and was proved right: the Orinoco River Basin was certified with over 300 billion barrels of heavy-crude petroleum.

On May 1, 2007, Chavez officially declared all hydrocarbons in that region subject to the prior nationalization laws, legally binding any foreign companies operating there to engage in joint-ventures with the Venezuelan public oil company, PDVSA. The law required a minimum of 51% ownership by the Venezuelan state, with a maximum of 49% for foreign companies. Only two companies refused to cooperate with the new laws. Both were from the United States: ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil. Both sued Venezuela over the nationalizations.

ConocoPhillips’ claim was significantly smaller than Exxon’s, which demanded over $18 billion for the expropriation. Venezuela offered market value and the case went to an international arbitration tribunal that eventually ordered the Venezuelan government to pay Exxon $1.6 billion, a mere fraction of what the US oil giant had expected.

In an apparent act of revenge, Exxon found a way to get Venezuela’s oil without following Venezuela’s rules, albeit through illegal and potentially dangerous channels.

EXXON-US AGENDA

As the Obama administration was amping up hostility against Venezuela, declaring it via Executive Decree an “unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. national security” and imposing potentially vast-reaching sanctions on government officials, Exxon was making a deal with Guyana to explore oil deposits in the disputed Essequibo territory.

In May 2015, just as Guyana was swearing in a new president, the conservative military officer David Granger, a close U.S. ally, Exxon was making a huge discovery in the Atlantic Ocean near the Venezuelan coast. According to reports, the deposits found by Exxon in the ’Liza-1 well’ hold over 700 million barrels of oil, worth about $40 billion today. The find could be a major game changer for Guyana, representing more than 12 times its current economic input, that is, if the oil actually belonged to Guyana instead of Venezuela.

On January 26, 2015, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden hosted the first Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, bringing heads of state and high-level officials from Caribbean nations together with multinational executives in Washington. The stated goal of the new initiative is to help Caribbean nations “create the conditions to attract private-sector investment”, but Biden made the true objective clear when he declared, “…whether it’s the Ukraine or the Caribbean, no country should be able to use natural resources as a tool of coercion against any other country.”

Without mentioning it by name, Biden was referring to Venezuela and its PetroCaribe program that provides subsidized oil and gas to Caribbean nations at virtually no upfront cost. PetroCaribe has been fundamental in aiding development in the region during the past ten years since its creation. And clearly, its perceived as a threat to U.S. influence in the Caribbean, and an affront to traditional corporate exploitation of small, developing nations.

In addition to the Obama administration sanctions aimed at isolating Venezuela in the region and portraying it as a ‘failed state’, the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative takes a direct stab at Venezuela’s lifeline: oil. In the U.S. Senate Report on the Department of State’s Foreign Operations Budget for 2016, $5,000,000.00 was recommended for “enhanced efforts to help Latin America and Caribbean countries achieve greater energy independence from Venezuela”. Falling oil prices have already done damage to Venezuela’s economy, but forcing it out of the regional oil trade would hurt even more.

The main conundrum of figuring out how to replace Venezuelan oil in PetroCaribe was resolved with the stroke of a pen by Guyana’s new president, a former instructor at the U.S. Army War College who made a secret trip to the United States just three days after taking office in May. Hours later, Exxon’s oil exploration rig, Deepwater Champion made its first major lucrative discovery in the large Stabroek Block in the disputed coastal territory.

The Venezuelan government warned Exxon to leave the area, citing its claim over the Essequibo territory and the ongoing dispute with Guyana subject to UN mediation. But Exxon paid no heed to Venezuela, following President Granger’s lead in openly defying the Geneva Agreement and Venezuela’s calls to solve the conflict through diplomacy, involving the UN Good Offices in the resolution of the centuries-old dispute.

UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon has pledged to send a commission to both Venezuela and Guyana to seek resolution for a problem that now, as Washington hoped, is dividing the region. President Maduro and his Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez have been making their case before regional leaders, encouraging other Caribbean nations to support their claim over the Essequibo, or at least approve the involvement of the UN to arbitrate the dispute. In the meantime, Guyana continues to aggressively push forward with Exxon to pursue what could become the largest oil theft in the Americas.

Eva Golinger is the author of The Chavez Code.

August 24, 2015 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , | 3 Comments

South America: UNASUR To Build Fibre-Optic ‘Mega Ring’

By Chelsea Gray | The Argentina Independent | August 21, 2013

unasurThe Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has approved plans for an optic fibre mega-ring which will break its members’ “dependence on the US, and provide a safer and cheaper means of communication.”

The fibre optic ring will become part of a ten-year plan to physically integrate all 12 UNASUR member states. The line, which will reach up to 10,000 kilometres long and will be managed by state enterprises from each country it crosses, is expected to interconnect South America through higher coverage and cheaper internet connections.

Industrial Minister of Uruguay, Roberto Kreimerman, explained that “it is about having a connection with great capacity that allows us to unite our countries together with the developed world.”

He continued to say, “We are considering that, at most, in a couple of years we will have one of these rings finalised.” He also added that ”I think the economy, security, and integration are the three important things we need in countries where Internet use is advancing exponentially.”

At the moment, up to 80% of Latin America’s communications go through the US. However, plans for an independent communication line comes shortly after the US was discovered to have been spying on Latin American data. The National Security Agency (NSA) were revealed to have been monitoring emails and intercepting telephone logs, spying on energy, military, politics, and terror activity across the continent.

UNASUR is made up of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ProPublica and the Fear Campaign Against Iran

Chavez-Iran-Venezuela-Ahmadinejad

By Jim Lobe | LobeLog | July 18, 2013

Last Thursday, the highly respected, non-profit investigative news agency ProPublica featured a 2,400-word article, “The Terror Threat and Iran’s Inroads in Latin America”, by its award-winning senior reporter, Sebastian Rotella, who has long specialized in terrorism and national-security coverage. In support of its main thesis that Iran appears to be expanding its alleged criminal and terrorist infrastructure in Venezuela and other “leftist, populist, anti-U.S. governments throughout the region,” Rotella quotes the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Lt. Gen. James Clapper (ret.), as telling a Senate hearing last year that Iran’s alliances with Venezuela and other “leftist, populist, anti-U.S. government” could pose

…an immediate threat by giving Iran – directly through the IRGC, the Quds Force [an external unit of the IRGC] or its proxies like Hezbollah – a platform in the region to carry out attacks against the United States, our interests, and allies.

Now, there is a serious problem with that quotation: Clapper never said any such thing. Indeed, the exact words attributed to the DNI were first spoken at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing entitled “Ahmadinejad’s Tour of Tyrants and Iran’s Agenda in the Western Hemisphere” (page 2) by none other than the Committee’s then-chair, Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose hostility toward Iran is exceeded only by her views on Cuba and Venezuela.* It is, after all, one thing to have the head of the U.S. intelligence community tell Congress that the threat of an attack against the United States from various “platforms” in Latin America is “immediate.” It’s quite another for a far-right Cuban-American congresswomen from Miami to offer that assessment, particularly given her past record of championing Luis Posada Carriles and the late Orlando Bosch, both of whom, according to declassified CIA and FBI documents, were almost certainly involved in the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner, among other terrorist acts.

I personally have no doubt that the misattribution was unintentional and merely the product of sloppiness or negligence. But negligence matters, particularly when it is committed in pursuit of a thesis that Rotella has long propagated (more on that in upcoming posts) and that comes amid an ongoing and well-orchestrated campaign against Iran that could eventually result in war, as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reminded us yet again Sunday. Of course, such a glaring mistake also detracts from the credibility of the rest of the article, much of which is based on anonymous sources whose own credibility is very difficult to assess.

The Iranian threat and anonymous sourcing

Most of the article concerns a hearing with the rather suggestive title, “Threat to the Homeland: Iran’s Extending Influence in the Western Hemisphere”, which was held July 9 by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency of the Republican-led House Homeland Security Committee with the apparent purpose of rebutting a still-classified State Department report, which included a two-page unclassified appendix concluding that Iran’s influence in the region is actually on the wane. In addition to reporting on the hearing, however, Rotella provides some original reporting of his own in the lede paragraphs, setting an appropriately dark and menacing tone for the rest of his story:

Last year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited his ally President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, where the firebrand leaders unleashed defiant rhetoric at the United States.

There was a quieter aspect to Ahmadinejad’s visit in January 2012, according to Western intelligence officials. A senior officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) traveled secretly with the presidential delegation and met with Venezuelan military and security chiefs. His mission: to set up a joint intelligence program between Iranian and Venezuelan spy agencies, according to the Western officials.

At the secret meeting, Venezuelan spymasters agreed to provide systematic help to Iran with intelligence infrastructure such as arms, identification documents, bank accounts and pipelines for moving operatives and equipment between Iran and Latin America, according to Western intelligence officials. Although suffering from cancer, Chavez took interest in the secret talks as part of his energetic embrace of Iran, an intelligence official told ProPublica.

The senior IRGC officer’s meeting in Caracas has not been previously reported.

The aim is to enable the IRGC to be able to distance itself from the criminal activities it is conducting in the region, removing the Iranian fingerprint,” said the intelligence official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly. “Since Chavez’s early days in power, Iran and Venezuela have grown consistently closer, with Venezuela serving as a gateway to South America for the Iranians.”

The bold face, added for emphasis, is designed to illustrate Rotella’s heavy reliance on anonymous “intelligence officials”, none of whose nationalities are specified. In the context of an investigative report, that failure begs a series of questions that bear on the credibility of the account.

For example, does he include Israelis in his definition of “Western officials” or “Western intelligence officials?” After all, it would be one thing to cite a Swedish intelligence official who may tend to be somewhat more objective in describing Iranian-Venezuelan intelligence cooperation; it’s quite another to quote an Israeli “official” responsible to a government that has been aggressively promoting a policy of confrontation with Iran for many years now. And if his sources agreed to talk to Rotella only on the condition of being identified as “Western officials” or “Western intelligence officials”, why did they do so? (Indeed, the only identified “Western intelligence official” quoted — or misquoted — by Rotella in the entire article is Clapper.) Identifying at least the nationality of the officials with whom Rotella spoke with would help readers assess their credibility, but he offers no help in that regard.

Moreover, given the details about the meeting provided by Rotella’s sources, why was the senior IRGC officer who set up the purported joint intelligence program with the Venezuelans not named? That omission sticks out like a sore thumb.

But the problems in Rotella’s article go beyond the misattribution of the Ros-Lehtinen quote or his heavy reliance on anonymous sources. Indeed, it took all of about 30 minutes of Googling (most of which was devoted to tracking down the alleged Clapper quote) to discover that the story also includes distortions of the record in relevant criminal proceedings and a major error of fact in reporting the testimony of at least one of the hearing’s four witnesses — all of whom, incidentally, share well-established records of hostility toward Iran.

But before going into the results of my Google foray, let’s hear what a former top U.S. intelligence analyst had to say about Rotella’s article. I asked Paul Pillar, a 28-year CIA veteran who served as the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005 (which means he was in charge of the analysis of those regions for the CIA and all other U.S. intelligence agencies), if he could read it. This was his emailed reply:

The article certainly seems to be an effort to go out of the way to raise suspicions about Iranian activities in the hemisphere, by dumping together material that is either old news or not really nefarious, and stringing it together with innuendo. Almost all of the specifics that get into anything like possible terrorist activities are old.  The Iranian efforts to make diplomatic friends in Latin America by cozying up with the regimes in Venezuela and elsewhere that have an anti-U.S. streak is all well known, but none of that adds up to an increase in clandestine networks or a terrorist threat.  The closest the article gets in that regard is with very vague references to Venezuela being used by “suspected Middle Eastern operatives” and the like, which of course demonstrates nothing as far as Iran specifically is concerned.  Sourcing to an unnamed “intelligence officer” is pretty meaningless.

As we will try to show in subsequent posts by Marsha Cohen and Gareth Porter (who both contributed substantially to this post), Pillar’s assessment could apply to a number of Rotella’s articles, especially about the Middle East and alleged Iranian or Hezbollah terrorism, going back to his years at the Los Angeles Times. What virtually all of them have in common is the heavy reliance on anonymous intelligence sources; a mixture of limited original reporting combined with lots of recycled news; a proclivity for citing highly ideological, often staunchly hawkish neoconservative “experts” on Middle East issues from such think tanks as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) without identifying them as such; a surprising deference (considering his status as an investigative reporter) toward “official” accounts or reports by friendly security agencies, some of which work very closely with their Israeli counterparts (see, for example, this 2009 story about an alleged plot against the Israeli embassy in Azerbaijan about which Gareth plans to write a post); and a general failure to offer critical analysis or alternative explanations about specific terrorist incidents or groups that are often readily available from academic or other more independent and disinterested regional or local specialists.

Iran in Latin America

In the meantime, it’s also important to set the context for Rotella’s latest article. It came amid an intense campaign over the past couple of years by Iran hawks, including individuals from the various neoconservative think tanks cited above, to highlight the purported terrorist threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah from their Latin American “platforms,” as Ros-Lehtinen put it. Those efforts culminated in legislation, the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012,” approved overwhelmingly by Congress last December. Among other provisions, it required the State Department to report to Congress on Iran’s “growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere,” along with a strategy for neutralizing it, within six months. That report, only a two-page annex of which was publicly released, was submitted at the end of last month.

To the disappointment of the bill’s chief sponsors, notably the Republican chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Jeff Duncan, the report concluded that, despite an increase in Tehran’s “outreach to the region working to strengthen its political, economic, cultural and military ties, … Iranian influence in Latin America and the Caribbean is waning.” And while the rest of the report remains classified, its contents reportedly were consistent with those of the State Department’s 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism, also released last month, which found no evidence of Iranian or Hezbollah terrorist plotting or operations in the Americas, in contrast to what it described as a sharp increase of such activity in Europe, the Middle East and Asia during the past year.

Duncan, who, incidentally, spoke on a panel on Evangelical Christian support for Israel at AIPAC’s annual conference last year, and who in 2011 became the only member of Congress given a 100-percent rating on the Heritage Action for America legislative scorecard, expressed outrage at these conclusions, accusing the State Department of failing to “consider all the facts.” In particular, he charged that the State Department had not taken into account new evidence “documenting Iran’s [ongoing] terrorism activities and operations in the Western Hemisphere” compiled by an Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, in a 502-page report released (perhaps not entirely coincidentally) just one month before the State Department was due to submit its study.

The Nisman Report and the AMIA bombing

In 2006, Nisman, the chief prosecutor in the case of the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) building, released an even longer controversial report on that case in which he concluded that the bombing had been ordered by Iran’s top leadership and carried out by Hezbollah operatives under the direction of Iran’s cultural attaché at its Argentine embassy, Mohsen Rabbani. (Gareth wrote his own critique of the 2006 report for the The Nation in 2008, joining many Argentine journalists and researchers in questioning Nisman’s theory of the case. Last week he published a related story for IPS that noted the diminished credibility of Nisman’s primary source, a former Iranian intelligence operative named Abdolghassem Mesbahi. He plans a new series on the subject to begin later this month.) The State Department report, Duncan said at the hearing, “directly contradicts the findings from Mr. Nisman’s three-year investigation, which showed clear infiltration of the Iranian regime within countries in Latin America using embassies, mosques, and cultural centers.”

Indeed, according to Nisman’s new report, Iran, through Rabbani and other operatives, has established “clandestine intelligence stations and operative agents” throughout Latin America, including in Guyana, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago and Uruguay and, most especially in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, a region about which Rotella wrote rather darkly when he was Buenos Aires bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times in the late 1990’s. (In fact, a 15-year-old article on the TBA as a “Jungle Hub for World’s Outlaws” and a refuge for terrorists was cited by WINEP’s Matthew Levitt in written testimony submitted at last week’s hearing. Long one of Rotella’s favorite sources, Levitt, the subject of a rather devastating — albeit pay-walled — profile by Ken Silverstein in Harper’s Magazine last year, has been a major figure in the U.S.- and Israeli-led campaign to persuade the European Union to list Hezbollah as a terrorist entity, a campaign that has been boosted by Rotella’s work, as reflected in this article published by ProPublica last April. The symbiotic relationship between the two men may be the subject of a subsequent LobeLog post.)

Nisman, whose new report has been promoted heavily by neoconservative media and institutions over the past six weeks (see, for example, here, here, here, and here), had been invited by the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, to testify at last week’s hearing. But, as noted by Rotella in the article, “his government abruptly barred him from traveling to Washington”, a development which, according to McCaul, constituted a “slap in the face of this committee and the U.S. Congress” and was an indication that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had no intention to “pursue justice and truth on Iranian involvement in the AMIA bombing.”

(In his message to me, Pillar noted that there were other good reasons why Kirchner would not want to see Nisman “being used as a prop in Duncan’s hearing …[given] other equities …regarding relations with Washington,” including the ongoing lawsuit against Argentina by a group of hedge funds — led by Paul Singer, a billionaire and major funder of hard-line pro-Israel organizations — that have sponsored full-page ads in the Washington Post and other publications highlighting, among other things, Argentina’s allegedly cozy relationship with Iran.)

In his article, Rotella, who appears to have accepted without question the conclusions of Nisman’s 2006 report on the AMIA bombing, also offers an uncritical account of the prosecutor’s latest report, quoting affirmations by Duncan, McCaul, as well as the four witnesses who testified at the hearing, that the report’s main contentions were true — Iran and Hezbollah are indeed building up their terrorist infrastructure in the region. “The attacks in Buenos Aires in the 1990s revealed the existence of Iranian operational networks in the Americas,” Rotella’s writes. “The Argentine investigation connected the plots to hubs of criminal activity and Hezbollah operational and financing cells in lawless zones, such as the triple border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay and the border between Colombia and Venezuela.”

The Nisman Report and the JFK Bomb Plot

After noting U.S. Treasury designations in 2008 of two Venezuelans as terrorists “for allegedly raising funds for Hezbollah, discussing terrorist operations with Hezbollah operatives, and aiding travel of militants from Venezuela to training sessions in Iran”, Rotella provides the purported Clapper quote about Venezuela and its allies offering “a platform in the region to carry out attacks against the United States, our interests, and allies”, suggesting (falsely) that the DNI himself endorsed Nisman’s view that Iran was behind a plot to attack JFK airport six years ago:

The aborted 2007 plot to attack JFK (airport) was an attempt to use that platform, according to the Argentine special prosecutor. A Guyanese-American Muslim who had once worked as a cargo handler conceived an idea to blow up jet fuel tanks at the airport. He formed a homegrown cell that first sought aid from al Qaida, then coalesced around Abdul Kadir, a Guyanese politician and Shiite Muslim leader.

The trial in New York federal court revealed that Kadir was a longtime intelligence operative for Iran, reporting to the Iranian ambassador in Caracas and communicating also with Rabbani, the accused AMIA plotter.

‘Kadir agreed to participate in the conspiracy, committing himself to reach out to his contacts in Venezuela and the Islamic Republic of Iran,’ Nisman’s report says. ‘The entry of Kadir into the conspiracy brought the involvement and the support of the intelligence station established in Guyana by the Islamic regime.’

Police arrested Kadir as he prepared to fly to Iran to discuss the New York plot with Iranian officials. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

But this account of the case is tendentious, to say the least, and here I am relying on Gareth’s research into the case which he covered in an IPS story last week. While Rotella claimed that the would-be terrorist “cell” had “coalesced around” Kadir, the original criminal complaint that was submitted to the U.S. district court in New York on which the arrests of the four men accused in the plot were based makes clear that Kadir was a secondary participant at the time the arrest was made. In addition, the complaint made no mention of any ties between Kadir and Iran.

Moreover, Rotella’s assertion that the trial revealed Kadir to have been “longtime intelligence operative for Iran” is unfounded, apparently based on nothing more than a set of personal letters Kadir had sent by ordinary mail to Rabbani and the Iranian ambassador to Venezuela and the fact that some contact information for Rabbani was found in Kadir’s address book.

But Kadir’s letters to Rabbani were clearly not the work of an Iranian intelligence operative. They consisted of publicly available information about the political, social and economic situation in Guyana, where Kadir was a member of parliament. Indeed, the fact that they were sent by regular mail — and the lack of any known replies by the addressees — suggests that Kadir’s relationship to Iranian intelligence was even more distant and less interactive than that of George Zimmerman’s to the Seminole County Sheriff’s office in Florida.

During the subsequent trial in 2010, the prosecution tried to play up the letters and even asked Kadir if he was a spy for Iran, which he denied strongly. No other evidence implicating Iran in the plot was introduced. Even the U.S. Attorney’s press release issued after Kadir’s sentencing (and discoverable within milliseconds on Google) offers no indication that Iran had any knowledge of the plot at the time of his arrest. Finally, if indeed the U.S. government had acquired any evidence that Rabbani or any other Iranian official had a role in the plot, as asserted by Nisman, it seems reasonable to ask why he wasn’t indicted along with Kadir and the three others? Yet, in spite of all these factors, Rotella appears to accept Nisman’s argument that the Iranian government had a role in the case and that Kadir was its “long-time intelligence operative” presumably in charge of its “intelligence station” in Guyana.

Rotella next cites the purported testimony (of unknown origin) of Fernando Tabares, the former director of Colombia’s intelligence agency who

…described a mission by an Iranian operative to Colombia via Venezuela in 2008 or 2009. Working with Iranian officials based at the embassy in Bogota, the operative, according to Nisman’s report, ‘was looking at targets in order to carry out possible attacks here in Colombia,’ Tabares testified.

Apart from the vagueness of this account about the unidentified Iranian operative and his mission — as well as the absence of any corroborating evidence — Rotella omitted the easily discoverable fact (via Google) that Tabares himself was sentenced in 2010 to eight years in prison for abuse of trust and illegal wire-tapping, a detail that may reflect on the former intelligence chief’s credibility.

Iranian migrants (refugees?) to Canada

A couple of paragraphs later, Rotella cites the testimony of Joseph Humire, “a security expert” and one of the four witnesses who testified at last week’s hearing. According to Rotella, Humire, executive director at the Center for a Secure Free Society

…cited a report last year in which the Canadian Border Services Agency described Iran as the top source of illegal migrants to Canada, most of them coming through Latin America. Between 2009 and 2011, the majority of those Iranian migrants passed through Caracas, where airport and airline personnel were implicated in providing them with fraudulent documents, according to the Canadian border agency.

But Rotella misreports Humire’s testimony. Humire did not say that Iran was the top source of illegal migrants to Canada; he said Iran was the top source country of improperly documented migrants who make refugee claims in Canada — a not insignificant difference, particularly because the number of Iranian asylum-seekers who come to Canada each year averages only about 300, according to the CSBA report, which noted that 86% won their asylum claims. In addition, the report, a heavily redacted copy of which was graciously provided to me by Humire, indicates that, between 2009 and 2012, more of these migrants flew into Canada from Mexico City and London than from Caracas.

Moreover, the picture painted by the redacted CSBA report is considerably less frightening than that offered by either Rotella or, for that matter, Humire’s testimony.

Many of these migrants use “facilitators” to enter Canada, according to the report. “…Information provided by the migrants on their smugglers suggest possible links to organized criminal elements both within and outside of Canada…Many people seeking refuge in Canada use fake documents and rely on middlemen to help them flee persecution in their homelands.

“While Iranian irregular migrants mainly enter Canada to make refugee claims, it is possible that certain individuals may enter with more sinister motives”, the report cautioned, observing that 19 Iranian immigrants had been denied entry on security grounds since 2008.

So, instead of the flood of Iranian operatives pouring into Canada as suggested by Rotella, what we are talking about is a relatively small number of Iranians who are seeking asylum from a repressive regime. And, like hundreds of thousands of other refugees around the world, they rely on traffickers who provide them with forged or otherwise questionable documents. A few of these may be entering Canada for “more sinister motives”, but Rotella offers no concrete evidence that they have done so.

Yet Rotella follows his brief — if fundamentally flawed — summary of Humire’s remarks about Iranian asylum-seekers in Canada with his own riff, going “out of the way to raise suspicions about Iranian activities,” as Pillar notes, and returning once again to those anonymous “security officials” as his sources.

Humire’s allegations are consistent with interviews in recent years in which U.S., Latin America and Israeli security officials have told ProPublica about suspected Middle Eastern operatives and Latin American drug lords obtaining Venezuelan documents through corruption or ideological complicity.

“There seems to be an effort by the Venezuelan government to make sure that Iranians have a full set of credentials,” a U.S. law enforcement official said.

Last year’s secret talks between Iranian and Venezuelan spies intensified such cooperation, according to Western intelligence officials who described the meetings to ProPublica. The senior Iranian officer who traveled with the presidential entourage asked Venezuelan counterparts to ensure access to key officials in the airport police, customs and other agencies and “permits for transferring cargo through airports and swiftly arranging various bureaucratic matters,” the intelligence official said.

Venezuelan leaders have denied that their alliance with Iran has hostile intent. They have rejected concerns about flights that operated for years between Caracas and Tehran. The State Department and other U.S. agencies criticized Venezuela for failing to make public passenger and cargo manifests and other information about secretive flights to Iran, raising the fear of a pipeline for clandestine movement of people and goods.

The flights have been discontinued, U.S. officials say.

ProPublica’s high standards

I personally believe that ProPublica, since it launched its operations in 2008, has performed an invaluable public service in providing high-quality investigative journalism at a time when the genre risked (and still risks) becoming virtually extinct. As a result, readers of the agency have come to expect its articles not only to compile existing information that is already publicly available in ways that connect the dots, but also provide significant, previously unpublished material with important insights into the events of the day in ways that seriously challenge conventional wisdom as defined by mainstream media and, as ProPublica’s mission statement puts it, “those with power.”  The question posed by Rotella’s latest article — as well as other work he has published on alleged Iranian and Hezbollah terrorism — is whether it meets the mission and high standards that ProPublica readers expect.

Given the misattribution of a quotation critical to the story’s thesis; the prolific use of anonymous “Western intelligence sources” and the like; the citation of sources with a clear ideological or political axe to grind; the omission of information that could bear on those sources’ credibility; the more or less uncritical acceptance of official reports that are known to be controversial but that generally reflect the interests of the axe-grinders; and the failure to confirm misinformation that can be quickly searched and verified, one can’t help but ask whether Rotella’s work meets ProPublica’s standards.

That question takes on additional and urgent importance given the subject — alleged terrorist activities by Iran and Hezbollah — Rotella specializes in. All of us remember the media’s deplorable failure to critically challenge the Bush administration’s allegations — and those of anonymous “Western intelligence sources”, etc. — about Saddam Hussein’s links to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, as well as his vast and fast-growing arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including a supposedly advanced nuclear-weapons program. We now face, in many respects, a comparable situation with respect to Iran. Bearing that history in mind, any media organization — but especially one of ProPublica’s stature and mission — should be expected to make extraordinary efforts not only to verify its information, reduce its reliance on anonymous sources and avoid innuendo, but also to aggressively challenge “official” narratives or those that are quite obviously being promoted as part of a campaign by parties with a clear interest in confrontation — even war — with Iran. The stakes are considerable.

Gareth Porter and Marsha Cohen contributed substantially to this report.

*Today, shortly before this blog post was published and one day after I contacted the DNI press office to confirm that the quotation had been misattributed to DNI Clapper, ProPublica issued the following correction: “Due to an error in testimony by a congressional witness, this story initially misattributed a statement made by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., to James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence. The story has been revised to correct the attribution and incorporate Clapper’s actual statement to a Senate committee.” In my view, the wording of the correction, suggesting that the misattribution was the fault of a witness, underlines the importance of meticulous fact-checking when dealing with such a charged issue. As noted above, Clapper was the only identified Western intelligence official cited in the article, and his quotation — or non-quotation — is critical to the overall credibility of the underlying thesis: that Iran and Hezbollah are building a terrorist infrastructure in the Americas aimed at the U.S.  While the quote in question is now properly attributed to Ros-Lehtinen (who was never mentioned in the original version), the implicit suggestion that she has serious expertise on the issue, in my opinion, makes the article’s underlying thesis even less credible.

Further weakening the thesis is the introduction in the article’s corrected version of the Arbabsiar case (the alleged 2011 plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington) about which Rotella was initially skeptical but which he and/or his editors have now seen fit to include in the story.  But citing the Arbabsiar case begs a serious question: If Iran, the Quds Force and Hezbollah have built up all these terrorist hubs and smuggling networks throughout Latin America and the Caribbean (and even into Canada), why would Quds Force commanders resort to recruiting a totally inexperienced, obviously unstable Iranian-American failed used-car salesman (now described by Rotella as “an Iranian-American operative”) to make contact with the Zetas to arrange the assassination? Conversely, if the Quds commanders felt they had to resort to Arbabsiar to establish contact with the Zetas to get the job done, then the existence of the terrorist infrastructure depicted in Rotella’s article looks even more doubtful than it did in the original story.

UPDATE: Apparently, the witness who misattributed the Ros-Lehtinen/Clapper quote was AFPC’s Ilan Berman (who most recently misattributed the quote in a usnews.com op-ed co-authored with Netanel Levitt on July 15). Berman, a leading figure in the continuing sanctions campaign against Iran, suggested shortly after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq that Washington should pursue regime change in Iran.

Photo Credit: Prensa Miraflores

July 19, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ProPublica and the Fear Campaign Against Iran

UNASUR to Create Military Force

By Laura Benitez | The Argentina Independent | May 9, 2013

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has announced that it will create a united defence body to promote democratic stability among its member countries.

Military delegates of Argentina, Brazil, and Ecuador concluded a two day meeting yesterday in Quito, and agreed on creating the first South American Defence College (ESUDE) – a safety training centre with the aim of turning “the regions into a zone of peace”.

UNASUR has said that the idea behind ​​the project is to “eliminate outdated visions that have formed our military, with manuals and taxes from foreign powers.

“The goal is to start from scratch and consider a defence doctrine, without starting from the premise of opposing countries. It is important to define our role in the military, to assume responsibility for prevention, border control or emergency responses.

“We want to create a body of higher and postgraduate education to create a regional identity for civilians and our military, and to avoid interference of other countries or geopolitical zones,” a UNASUR spokesperson said.

The ESUDE proposal paper will be presented at the next meeting of the executive body for the South American Defence Council in Lima, Peru on the 16th and 17th May. Members who attended yesterday’s meeting in Quito will meet again during the second week of July in Buenos Aires, to define the Esude proposal.

One of the issues that is expected to be up for debate in the following meetings is the level of participation in the armed forces from each country.

The initiative already has the support of other member countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and Uruguay.

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on UNASUR to Create Military Force

Venezuelan opposition plays the nationalist card in territory dispute with Guyana

MercoPress | June 7, 2012

Venezuela’s opposition accused the government on Wednesday of turning a blind eye to neighbouring Guyana’s oil exploration in a border region claimed by Venezuela, potentially inflaming a territorial dispute that dates back more than a century.

The conflict was stirred up in recent days by local media reports that Exxon Mobil Corp, in partnership with Royal Dutch Shell, is exploring for crude off the coast of the disputed Essequibo region.

The two South American neighbours squabbled over the area, which is the size of the US State of Georgia, for much of the 20th century. Venezuela calls it a “reclamation zone,” but in practice it functions as Guyanese territory.

”(We) firmly reject the concessions granted by the Guyana government in Venezuela’s Atlantic waters,“ the opposition’s Democratic Unity coalition said in a statement, slamming the government’s stance as ”weak“.

”In the face of the activation of the concessions in the area, the government of President Hugo Chavez should address the issue immediately.“

An Exxon spokesman said in an email it and Shell ”have had an active exploration license offshore Guyana for several years, and we have obtained multiple seismic data sets in the area.”

Oil companies have shown growing interest in the north-eastern shoulder of South America, with industry experts describing a recent discovery off nearby French Guyana as a game-changer for the region’s energy prospects. Local media reported that Guyana halted exploration of the offshore block called Stabroek in 2000 following a protest by Venezuela.

The dispute over the region known as the Essequibo resurfaced last year when Guyana asked the United Nations to extend its continental shelf – the area where countries control ocean resources – toward a region where Venezuela has granted natural gas concessions.

The much smaller and poorer Guyana still relies on imports for its energy needs and has invited companies including Spain’s Repsol to drill for oil in other offshore areas not affected by the dispute.

The Essequibo, an area of rolling savannah and isolated jungle, shows little sign of Venezuelan presence. Many Guyanese see it as a crucial to their economic future due to its reserves of minerals including gold, diamonds and bauxite.

Chavez has taken a conciliatory stance in the dispute, striking up a friendship with former Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo and selling fuel to Guyana on advantageous terms under the Petrocaribe energy initiative.

June 15, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Venezuelan opposition plays the nationalist card in territory dispute with Guyana