Apr 16, 2014

'Revolt of the rich' - the privileged face of US-backed Venezuelan opposition: Bolivarian achievements

Venezuelan protests

When following corporate media coverage of the wave of protests that have roiled Venezuela you could be excused for thinking a massively popular revolution is sweeping that nation. This version of events is more about political spin than reality. The protests have in fact been limited in scope and mostly specific to affluent areas... for example the Altimira district in Caracas. They are in part political theater, staged by right-wing forces that are cynically using the language and tactics of revolution in an attempt to destabilize the democratically elected government of President Nicolás Maduro.

To get a more accurate accounting of the situation on the ground, take a look at Mark Weisbrot's Guardian article The truth about Venezuela: a revolt of the well-off, not a 'terror campaign'.

Weisbrot:

I thought that I, too, was immune to the repetitious portrayals of Venezuela as a failed state in the throes of a popular rebellion. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw in Caracas this month: how little of daily life appeared to be affected by the protests, the normality that prevailed in the vast majority of the city. I, too, had been taken in by media imagery.

Major media outlets have already reported that Venezuela’s poor have not joined the right-wing opposition protests, but that is an understatement: it’s not just the poor who are abstaining – in Caracas, it’s almost everyone outside of a few rich areas like Altamira, where small groups of protesters engage in nightly battles with security forces, throwing rocks and firebombs and running from tear gas.

The class-based nature of what has been characterized as "a revolt of the rich" is underlined by the fact that many of the protests have been held in well-to-do areas with a percentage of the students involved from affluent backgrounds. In a Guardian column Seumas Milne refers to the protests as having "... the hallmarks of an anti-democratic rebellion, shot through with class privilege and racism." A recent video of Milne's interview with President Maduro touches on the protests. It includes an amusing insight from a woman who sarcastically remarks that the protesters "sweat Chanel."

The most right-wing faction in the opposition coalition, Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) tellingly named their protests la salida (the exit)... baldly signaling their intent to force a democratically elected government from office. Since MUD has the backing of wealthy oligarchs perhaps you could call this the arrogance of the rich. MUD has fueled violence during the protests, some of it amounting to outright criminality.

When it comes to propaganda about Venezuela nobody is more adept than US secretary of state John Kerry. He has made a number of assertions that are outright provocations, unsupported by the facts, such as the outlandish claim that President Maduro is waging  a “terror campaign against his own people”... a claim Mark Weisbrot counters with a few salient truths:

Here’s the truth about those charges from Kerry: since the protests in Venezuela began, it appears that more people have died at the hands of protesters than security forces. According to deaths reported by CEPR in the last month, in addition to those killed for trying to remove protesters’ barricades, about seven have apparently been killed by protesters’ obstructions – including a motorcyclist beheaded by a wire stretched across the road – and five National Guard officers have been killed.

As for violence from law enforcement, at least three people appear to have been killed by the National Guard or other security forces – including two protesters and a pro-government activist. Some people blame the government for an additional three killings by armed civilians; in a country with an average of more than 65 homicides per day, it is entirely possible these people acted on their own.

A full 21 members of the security forces are under arrest for alleged abuses, including some of the killings. This is no “terror campaign”.

For his part President Maduro rejects the claim that his government has 'criminalized dissent.' He said:  "The opposition has full guarantees and rights. We have an open democracy. But if a politician commits a crime, calls for the overthrow of the legitimate government and uses his position to block streets, burn universities and public transport, the courts act."

The protests are unpopular in Venezuela. Most Venezuelans see them for what they are... an effort by the opposition and its wealthy patrons and  supporters to obtain what they haven't been able to achieve at the ballot box. The Venezuelan opposition has not only fared poorly in presidential elections, but also in municipal elections over the past fifteen years. Given that they have lost 18 out of 19 elections or referendums since Chavez' election in 1998, less-than-democratic tactics have now become a strategy of necessity for some.

In pointing to what they regard as the failings of the Bolivarian revolution, critics conveniently forget the corruption, abuse of power and oppression that was the order of the day when a clique of rich oligarchs ran the country like their personal fiefdom. The gangster-like behavior of the oligarchs and their followers continues today with the sabotage of the Venezuelan economy in an effort to destabilize the duly elected government.

Maduro:

They [the opposition] try to increase economic problems through an economic war to cut the supplies of basic goods and boost an artificial inflation... To create social discontent and violence, to portray a country in flames, which could lead them to justify international isolation and even foreign intervention.

There is a natural tendency on the part of the left in the west to extend solidarity to people who take seemingly legitimate grievances to the streets, but let's be very clear... this revolt in Venezuela bears no resemblance to legitimate student-driven protest, as demonstrated for example by the Chilean student movement. The Venezuelan protests have been funded and orchestrated by right-wing interests. Not only are these elements manipulating the movement, they have also been working overtime to create conditions intended to give rise to discontent through tactics that include hoarding, smuggling and massive speculation.

An article in Popular Resistance provides details:

The misinformation in the United States is because Venezuela is the lynch pin of the movement of Latin America away from US domination.  Further, the oligarch class in Venezuela continues to control much of the media and big business interests.  They are able to have a big influence on the economy, create scarcity of key goods and can impact the value of Venezuelan currency by flooding Venezuela with off-market US dollars. The oligarchs lost big in recent municipal elections and have lost national elections to Chavez and Maduro repeatedly.  Not only is Venezuela a challenge to US hegemony in the Americas, it is a challenge to big finance capitalism.  It has rejected the corporate-based neoliberal economics that the US is pushing throughout the world to the detriment of most people and the benefit of the wealthy. For all these reasons Venezuela is a top target of the United States and the oligarchs in Venezuela.

The anti-democratic tactics employed by the opposition have been backfiring, rallying grass roots Venezuelans behind the government. These tactics include a pathetic effort to paint the Maduro government as illegitimate... just a measure of the opposition's desperation.

Writing in Roarmag, Jerome Roos lays out some of the reasons why the democratic credentials of Maduro's government is not in question:

... even judging by the limited standards of liberal constitutionalism, the democratic legitimacy of Maduro’s administration is unsurpassed. In 15 years, the United Socialist Party has won 18 elections and lost only one. Venezuela’s electoral system has been described by former US President Jimmy Carter — who has observed elections in 92 different countries on all continents — as “the best system in the world.” Just two months ago, in December 2013, the government won 76% of all local municipalities in midterm elections and decisively defeated the opposition, led by the “moderate” Henrique Capriles, by more than 10 percentage points. Much more than this, the government has been actively working together with grassroots movements to create one of the world’s most vibrant experiments in direct and participatory democracy, giving rise to thousands of communal councils, hundreds of communes and tens of thousands of worker-run cooperatives. In no other country in the world is citizen participation in politics and the economy as actively stimulated by the state as it is in Venezuela.

Why has Venezuela become a major target? It's not just about oil. The progressive movement that remade Venezuelan society didn't just talk about the redistribution of power and wealth, it did something about it and vastly improved the lives of working people. The Bolivarian revolution succeeded where many have failed. This is threatening, not just to the corporate elite but to those who fear a more broad-based socialist dynamic coming into play with implications beyond Venezuela's borders.

In his article Seumas Milne points to some of Venezuela's achievements:

Since regaining control of its oil, Venezuela has used it to slash poverty by half and extreme poverty by 70%, massively expanded public health, housing, education and women's rights, boosted pensions and the minimum wage, established tens of thousands of co-ops and public enterprises, put resources in the hands of a grassroots participatory democracy, and funded health and development programmes across Latin American and the Caribbean.

There is no doubting Nicolás Maduro's resolve. He stated emphatically during the Milne interview: "It will not be this US empire that destroys the Bolivarian revolution."

Apr 11, 2014

Comments by communist leader Symonenko spark mayhem and fistfights in Ukrainian parliament: video

fighting breaks out in Ukraine parliament

A free-for-all push-and-punch fest broke out in the Ukrainian parliament this week when a communist leader, Pyotr Symonenko, blamed the nationalists for dividing the nation and aggravating tensions in the south-east. He said the seizure of buildings in Donetsk, Kharkov and Lugansk follows a precedent set when government buildings were seized during the Maidan protests.

The comments prompted far-right Svoboda members to seize Symonenko while he was still at the rostrum, leading to the ensuing mayhem. Before he was manhandled off the podium Symonenko said: "You are today doing everything to intimidate people. You arrest people, start fighting people who have a different point of view."

Once again Svoboda shows itself in its true colors...


Apr 8, 2014

Kiev probe into sniper attack short on evidence, credibility

Kiev probe of sniper attacks
Top from left: Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, acting Prosecutor General 
Oleh Makhnitskyi and Head of the Security Service Valentyn Nalyvaichenko 
Below: Maidan shooters

The investigation by Ukrainian security services into the mid-February sniper attack is rather like the cops investigating the cops - not exactly objective. You would think an investigation with important ramifications for future progress would include international monitors/reps if only to ensure greater credibility.

Given the bias of the coup-authority, it's no surprise that the new head of the Ukrainian Security Service, Valentin Nalyvaichenko, has pointed the finger at ousted president Viktor Yanukovych. He accuses Yanukovych of engineering mass killings “under the guise of a counter-terrorist operation.” The interim authorities also allege Russian FSB involvement - an allegation the FSB rejects.

The Russian agency confirmed that a general was present in Kiev for security reasons. An FSB source is cited in Interfax.ru confirming that general Sergei Beseda was in Kiev on February 20-21... to determine the level of security necessary for the Russian embassy in Ukraine and other Russian facilities in Kiev.

Despite the accusations it is leveling Ukraine authorities have provided no evidence linking Yanukovych to the attacks. Let's not forget that police were the targets of the snipers as well as protesters. Since the police acted in Yanukovych's defense, it is improbable that any force operating on Yanukovych's orders would target policemen. Yanukovych himself has denied that he gave shoot-to-kill orders.

The Ukrainian prosecutor general announced the arrest of 12 members of the Berkut riot police, all members of the so-called 'Black Unit' on suspicion of being involved in the killings. The Kiev probe is also looking at over a hundred members of the elite Alpha Group who they claim may have been involved.

The way the investigation is shaping up is predictable. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov,  the agreement signed between ousted president Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition included the prospect of a joint investigation into the sniper attack but this was subsequently 'torn up.' In addition Lavrov said Ukrainian authorities failed to follow up on analysis of the sniper shootings offered by independent experts with respect to tactics used, the positions of the snipers, trajectory of bullets etc.

Earlier Lavrov proposed an investigation by the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) into the killings. As to the accusations of Russian involvement, he said: "We did not have and could not have had any relation to these crimes."

Suspicions that the interim authorities themselves may have had a hand in the sniper attack existed even on the part of some Maidan protesters. These suspicions were underscored during a leaked phone call between Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet and the EU's Catherine Ashton. Paet is overheard saying: : "There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers, it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition."

On March 9 I posted a video containing the full content of the leaked Paet/Ashton call - here.

Others have weighed in with opinion that contradicts Kiev's version. Former interior minister, Vitaly Zakharchenko, points out that Berkut police were the targets of the snipers, not the ones doing the sniping.

Zakharchenko:

Berkut riot police were without their service weapons. On February 18 and 19, 86 police officers were wounded by gunshots. Fourteen of them died. They were internal troops, military, Berkut, and traffic police, who were shot at their post checkpoint... It’s clear for any reasonable person that if it were the law enforcement officers who opened fire, they would’ve probably been advancing. That would’ve been the reason to use firearms. Meanwhile, they began retreating after the killing of their troops began.

Zakharchenko said that the snipers were located in three buildings under the control of pro-opposition Maidan forces. He added that: "Without a nonpartisan international investigation team that would undertake a thorough inquiry into the events that occurred in Ukraine, we won’t get such an objective investigation."

Apr 6, 2014

NED, USAID - America's 'democracy building' trojans: ZunZuneo - failed 'Twitter-like op' in Cuba

USAID and democracy building

American NGO's such as The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), USAID and similar orgs have been employing a variety of highly questionable tactics in Ukraine and elsewhere in the name of so-called "democracy building." Some have argued these organizations illegally privatize US Foreign Affairs which is supposed to be overseen exclusively by publicly accountable branches of government. 

NED is supposedly a private non-profit organization but it is funded by the feds through "core foundations" such as National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. Meddling by NED and similar American orgs in other countries' affairs has undermined local movements that are perceived as being insufficiently Washington-friendly. Even democratically elected governments become targets if they don't play the game in line with Uncle Sam's regional priorities.

The US libertarian Ron Paul has been scathing in his criticism of so-called "democracy building" initiatives, most recently with respect to Ukraine. In a recent op-ed Paul referred to the: "... millions of dollars that the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its various related organizations spent to meddle in Ukraine’s internal affairs.”

Paul:

Supporters of NED and its related organizations will argue that nothing is wrong with sending US dollars to ‘promote democracy’ overseas. The fact is, however, that NED, USAID, and the others have nothing to do with promoting democracy and everything to do with destroying democracy... It is not democracy to send in billions of dollars to push regime change overseas. It isn’t democracy to send in the NGOs to re-write laws and the constitution in places like Ukraine. It is none of our business.

In a number of countries in Latin America USAID has been in the business of funding opposition groups and engaging in related activities that could broadly be described as subversive. These tactics resulted in its expulsion from Bolivia and Ecuador.

In Venezuela USAID and NED put significant resources toward undermining the government of Hugo Chavez and helped to fuel recent protests aimed at the administration of Chavez' successor, Nicolas Maduro.

In Syria USAID has played a key role in the funding of the so-called "rebels."

These organizations can't operate with the same level of impunity in Cuba, so they have resorted to other stratagems.  A recent AP story deals with an attempt by USAID to create a Twitter-like social media network named ZunZuneo - A Cuban term for a hummingbird tweet.

Various fronts were put in place in an effort to disguise connections to the US government... dummy companies, DNS spoofing and a bank located in the Cayman islands being a few.

An article on the affair in Firedoglake provides details about the operation:

To begin, the propaganda network coincidentally activated shortly after Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor who was sent to Cuba to surreptiously help “provide citizens access to the Internet,” was arrested. No one claims there is any connection.

As the Cuban government became aware of the program, its users (who had no idea they were unwitting stooges in a USG black op) came under intense suspicion. This may cause Cubans to be wary of participating in future U.S. programs, and/or to be very suspicious of any legitimate third-party programs for fear of ending up in jail.

Because sending the texts needed to participate in the program was quite expensive in Cuba, and because the U.S. sent out thousands of messages itself, significant amounts of U.S. money were paid directly to the Cuban government-owned telephone company. The good news for taxpayers was that the Spain-based front company for this mess negotiated with the Cuban government for a bulk-rate for the texts. Can I get a Viva! from the crowd?

When the service started to become popular and exceed the technical capabilities of what the U.S. set up, the U.S. limited Cubans to only one text a day per person, unlikely to be conducive to creating flash mobs and revolution.

Various problems capped Cuban participation in the program to only about one percent of the total population. At one point USAID claimed this was good, and kept the project “under the radar.”

On one level this effort at stealth revolt in Cuba is funny stuff. The plan was to start out with generalized reports on topics such as the weather and soccer, then graduate to political content once the network reached "critical mass" in hopes of inspiring flash mobs. Some of the terminology shows obvious bias, for example the use of the term "Talibanes" to describe Cubans loyal to Castro. But it was not so funny for those Cuban users who thought they were onto a good thing, with no clue they were being played as unwitting dupes in a USG-run operation.

The State Department's response to the AP report has been to play it down, preferring to characterize the program as "discreet" rather than "covert."

Famous last words

USAID and democracy building

Apr 1, 2014

Following AKP win Erdogan to 'enter the lair' of 'traitors': war against Syria in the works?

Erdogan accuses Gulen of treachery
 Top: Erdoğan after win with son Bilal / Beneath left: Fethullah Gülen

Following a solid win for the AKP in the nationwide local elections in Turkey, PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, declared victory and made a pointed threat directed at his opponents. He stated his intention to "enter the lair" of his enemies who he has branded "terrorists" and "an axis of evil." He appears ready to put an end to what he regards as internal treachery... in his words "a state within a state."

This is a dagger pointed at US-based Fethullah Gülen and his Hizmet supporters within the Turkish power structure. Erdoğan accuses Gülen of being behind the leaks in social media in the run-up to the vote. He believes a network of Gülen followers set out to sabotage his electoral chances and goes further... accusing them of engaging in treachery. Now he says they "will pay for this" adding "There are people who will perhaps flee after tomorrow!”

In December Gülen’s supporters in the judiciary and law enforcement targeted individuals close to Erdogan in anti-graft raids. Following that move a purge rooted out police officers, prosecutors and judges and now it looks as though Erdoğan is readying to consolidate his hold on power further.

Gülen at one time supported Erdoğan, but a parting of the paths occurred with the Gezi Park crackdown and as a consequence of  Erdoğan's support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Erdoğan is not the answer when it comes to genuine Turkish self-determination, but neither is Fethullah Gülen.

An article entitled What is Fethullah Gülen's real mission on Open Democracy discusses some of the background:

Gülen’s biographer Hakan Yavuz describes him as a Muslim thinker whose ideas resonate with Calvinism, because of his advocacy of neoliberal capitalism. However, due to Hizmet’s lack of transparency, secrecy and the disproportionate influence of his followers within state institutions in Turkey, a comparison of his movement with that of Opus Dei would be more appropriate.

Prior to the election Erdoğan considered 38% respectable enough for victory, so the  44.18% of the vote the AKP ended up with exceeds expectations and has to be ominous for his opponents. From a western perspective it might seem surprising that Erdoğan has done better than expected given the recent crackdowns, the prevalence of corruption and the incendiary content of the social media leaks. But he enjoys the loyal support of many Turks who associate their improved lot in life with the man from Kasimpasa. In the lead up to the ballot Erdoğan cleverly played on their hopes and fears, turning the election into a confidence vote for his government.

A post-election victory photo shows the great man looking dapper and eerily composed, the polar opposite of the harried figure of recent days who railed against 'traitors' and 'terrorists.' Revenge is a dish best served cold and Erdogan appears to be relishing the prospect.

Chairman of the Tesev thinktank, Can Paker, has no doubt about Erdogan's intentions: "He will harshly and fully clean up the police and judiciary. And he will purge the press that supported the leaks. He will most certainly do that. He will say 'I was elected to eliminate them,' he is not going to soften."

A vengeful streak is one of Erdoğan's cardinal features. It can get unbelievably petty as it did some years ago when he launched a lawsuit against Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart for caricaturing him [Erdoğan] as a cat caught up in wool. These days it's about a lot more than satire. The recent leaks on social media exposed corruption, media manipulation and high-level intrigue. True to form Erdogan reacted with a ban on Twitter. This was followed with a ban on YouTube in what seemed like an attempt at damage control.

The YouTube leak involves high placed Turkish officials plotting a false-flag attack to originate from the Syrian side of the border. It exposes not just Turkish backroom scheming, but the hand of Washington in its continuing proxy war against Syria.

The group of officials included Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT). Davutoglu and Fidan discuss plans for an attack on the Tomb of Suleiman Shah - an apparent attempt to create a pretext for war.

Davutoglu: "The prime minister said that in the current conjuncture, this attack [on Suleiman Shah Tomb] must be seen as an opportunity for us."

Fidan:  "I'll send four men from Syria, if that’s what it takes. I’ll make up a cause of war by ordering a missile attack on Turkey. We can also prepare an attack on Suleiman Shah Tomb if necessary."

Here is the audio recording leaked on YouTube (it takes a few seconds for the audio portion to kick in).

In his victory speech Erdogan made a number comments that perhaps signal future intentions, including the remark "Syria is at war with us."

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey's main secular opposition, the Republican People's Party (CHP), had a number of interesting things to say in an interview with Al-Monitor - key excerpts are included in this Al-Monitor article. He claims that Erdogan intends to go to war with Syria.

Kilicdaroglu:

They are doing their best to go to war against Syria, to drag us into that quagmire. To this end, they are playing good cop, bad cop with al-Qaeda. They tell al-Qaeda, “Go attack and tear down our [Turkish flag raised over Suleiman Shah’s tomb] so we have an excuse to go in.” Syria is no threat to Turkey. The whole world knows this. The Syrian plane was a reconnaissance plane that was seeking al-Qaeda targets. By shooting it down, they helped al-Qaeda.

Mar 26, 2014

Yulia Tymoshenko leaks vitriol in taped call: 'kill Russians' and reduce Russia to less than a 'scorched field'


Yulia Tymoshenko, the ex-Ukraine PM and one-time billionaire "Gas Princess" has been accused of everything from murder to forgery. More recently she was outed in a leaked phone call. She is heard chatting with former government official Nestor Shufrych and venting about the situation in Crimea.

In the course of the conversation Tymoshenko appears to call for genocide: "One has to take up arms and go wipe out these damn 'katsaps' together with their leader." The word "katsap" is a derogatory Ukrainian term for Russians.

She also says she's ready to grab a machine gun to shoot some unnamed motherf'ker in the head and claims she will get the world onside to annihilate Russia.

Tymoshenko's psychopathic commentary is so outlandish you wonder if it could be real, but she has acknowledged that the phone call did in fact take place. She only takes exception to the 'nuking of the 8 million Russians in Ukraine' remark, tweeting that it was an edit by some other party - a montage.

Well if the rest of her homicide related commentary is the real McCoy the 'nuke 'em' comment would fit right in, but perhaps even she recognizes that it was a road too far. She claims the Russian FSB was responsible for the bugging and alleged voice tampering.Voice manipulation although possible, seems unlikely. With allowance for background static, her nuke remark flows along with the rest of the commentary without any of the more obvious indicators of manipulation.

In the course of the conversation Tymoshenko boasts that Crimea wouldn't have been lost if she had been in  charge:

I am sorry that I am not able to be there and am not in charge of these processes, they wouldn't have had a fucking chance of getting Crimea off me... I would have found a way to finish off these bastards.

Some of the reactions to her rant are equally engaging.

Using the ex-PM's patronymic, Crimea's PM, Sergei Aksyonov, tweeted: "Yulia Volodymyrovna pissed on herself."

Russian officials were similarly acid. In an allusion to Tymoshenko, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said:  "The old death cap is trying to keep up with young toadstools."

Believing as she does that the FSB was behind the leak, Tymoshenko tweeted sarcastically:  "Hello FSB :)  apologies for the expletives."