This Issue | Editorial | Feature | E-mail

Chavez – To Praise or Not
By Kenneth Persaud

Guyana Journal, July 2008

Stabroek News (June 13, 2008) editorial “Mr. Chavez about turn” brings to mind the old cliché: “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. Had Chavez extolled the virtues of Farc, had he advised that they continue their agenda, had he promised them support, had he emboldened them to continue their activities you would have knocked him heavily with more of your quotes from the western press, their diplomats and other G.W. Bush cheerleaders like the Washington Post. According to your editorial, el Presidente now chastises Farc and exhorts them to fold up their antediluvian tents; yet, you find it difficult to give the guy some slack. Nastiness, one is reminded, lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Role of outside support
For such principled positions taken by Chavez, statesmanship, if you like, the editorial continues to do an ad homidem on him even labeling him a “buffoon”. As a matter of fact, Chavez had good reinforcement for egging Farc along; the Maoists in Nepal had just captured power. The Maoists there had been in the trenches for as along as the Farc in their struggle to transform the monarchic Nepalese nation to one of democracy – much like Farc’s been doing to transform the murderous autocracies of Colombia to democracy. But the difference in conditions should be noted – the element of outside help. It had taken outside help to keep the monarchy going in Nepal against their own people as in Colombia. Here’s Prof. Vijay Prashad a few days ago in his Revolution on the Roof of the World: “One crucial piece of this conflict is that the Indian government could not act on the monarch's behalf. With the US distracted in Iraq, it was up to the Indian government of Manmohan Singh to lead the forces of Order. But Singh's government is reliant upon India's communist parties for its parliamentary majority. The Communists pressured Singh not to act on behalf of the King, to freeze military aid and to stop allowing the Indian Army to cross the border and involve itself in the conflict (as it did on 28 February 2005). Imagine if the Colombian regime of Uribe no longer had the United States funding and supplying its army, as well as offering Special Forces assistance to combat the FARC, and imagine if the FARC could make an alliance with the progressive parties in Colombia and imagine if the FARC would be willing to go through the Patriotic Union days (1986-1990) once more, but this time with strength - that would be a close approximation of what happened in Nepal. The Indian Communists provided some oxygen for the people's movement against the monarchy and helped from outside to isolate the monarch so that he would have to face his angry people without protection.” In other words, the drying up of outside help to the Nepalese Kingdom gave the Maoists the advantage to bring democracy to that nation.

Give praise where it is due
Notice the impact of outside help. You claim that Chavez was offering “succor” to the Farc all along but he chose to abandon them at a crucial time when Uribe is still being pumped with outside succor. On evidence and pure logic, you should congratulate the President, not scoff. Indeed, you may have done so since mid April when it was widely reported that Chavez had openly denounced Farc. Chavez angrily said then: “If I were a guerrilla, I wouldn’t have the need to hold a woman, a man who aren’t soldiers. Free the civilians!” I know that that news could not have been missed by you – or the news that forensic evidence disclosed that there was nothing in the Reyes computer to confirm Chavez’s financial support to Farc. So when did Chavez turn around? He exercises sound judgment: he has formulated a course of action that many of us cannot fathom. It’s common practice to mask ignorance by calling your opponent names like buffoon, and so on, usually laced with expletives.

Chavez widely and wisely regarded
President Chavez is an astute student of reality. Just consider Greg Grandin, History Professor at New York who says: “Whatever one's opinion on Hugo Chávez, any diplomacy that claims to take Latin American opinion seriously has to acknowledge one thing: Most of the region's leaders not only don't see him as a "problem," but have joined him on major economic and political initiatives like the Bank of the South, an alternative to the International Monetary Fund and the Union of South American Nations, modeled on the European Union, established just two weeks ago. And any U.S. president who is sincere in wanting to help Latin Americans liberate themselves from "want" will have to work with the Latin American left -- in all its varieties”. (Losing Latin America: What Will the Obama Doctrine Be Like? (ZNET, June 10 ‘08) (More on UNASUR below.)

Murder squads in Colombia
Appreciating Grandin, Chavez does not sound like a buffoon. Chavez understands, among other things, that Farc is the whipping boy, the justification, for the atrocities utilized by the juntas and mercenaries all in the payroll of the various Colombian governments. Accordingly, he is sufficiently smart to realize the minefield on which he has to tread. John Pilger, prestigious investigative reporter, author and film maker notes with deep insight: “Across Venezuela’s border in Colombia, the US has made Venezuela's neighbor the Israel of Latin America. Under "Plan Colombia", more than $6bn in arms, planes, special forces, mercenaries and logistics have been showered on some of the most murderous people on earth: the inheritors of Pinochet's Chile and the other juntas that terrorized Latin America for a generation, their various gestapos trained at the School of the Americas in Georgia. "We not only taught them how to torture," a former American trainer told me, "we taught them how to kill, murder, eliminate." That remains true of Colombia, where government-inspired mass terror has been documented by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and many others. In a study of 31,656 extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances between 1996 and 2006, the Colombian Commission of Jurists found that 46 per cent had been murdered by right-wing death squads and 14 per cent by Farc guerrillas. The paramilitaries were responsible for most of the three million victims of internal displacement. This misery is a product of Plan Colombia's pseudo "war on drugs", whose real purpose has been to eliminate the Farc. To that goal has now been added a war of attrition on the new popular democracies, especially Venezuela”. (Latin America: The Attack On Democracy, April 25, 2008.)

UNASUR is more than nothingness
Chavez also understands extremely well the role played by the oligarchs of Colombia, the darling of the United States, its media and its foreign surrogates of which Stabroek News, by this editorial, has demonstrated to be one. Added to your vituperate Editorial your reporter on UNASUR states that ‘President Jagdeo last week signed a treaty in Brazilia to establish the “so-called” UNASUR’. I was struck with the first-line use of the word “so-called.” Why ‘so-called’? Unless I am etymologically challenged, I think that the word connotes a nothingness, a worthlessness, something irrelevant or frivolous. What a way to introduce a piece of information so important to your nation’s welfare! The term, “so-called”, conjures a nasty image, a scornful picture worth a thousand words, and, for the reporter, it’s an x-ray of the contemptuous emotions enshrined in his/her bosom.

UNASUR a Defense Mechanism
Your reporter’s skillful journalism places a most important bit of information buried in a paragraph nearing the end of that piece. Let me quote the hidden information verbatim: “[And] Mr. Chavez has supported the Brazilian proposal for a South American Defense Council, as a regional security mechanism for preserving territorial integrity and preventing foreign interventions”. Underline “foreign interventions”. As the USA is singing its neocon’s swansong, it is likely, as happens in such times of crazy desperation, that the imperial might may descend sooner or later on the defenseless people in what is claimed their “own backyard”. American foreign policy does not change appreciably with the change of administrations; indeed, both presidential candidates say that they intend to resurrect the all but dead Monroe Doctrine in dealing with their hemispheric property. The need for UNASUR is an urgent one for South America. Quoting Pilger again: “Beyond the sound and fury of its conquest of Iraq and campaign against Iran, the world's dominant power is waging a largely unreported war on another continent - Latin America. Using proxies, Washington aims to restore and reinforce the political control of a privileged group calling itself middle-class, to shift the responsibility for massacres and drug trafficking away from the psychotic regime in Colombia and its mafiosi, and to extinguish hopes raised among Latin America's impoverished majority by the reform governments of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.”

Courting parallel mates
It is perhaps necessary to emphasize the need for Guyanese to join the rest of South America in a defense pact. They should also understand the role played by its media including Stabroek News which has demonstrated itself to be marching to a certain tune. And they have other supporters as well in Guyana which includes one of its political parliamentary parties which openly espouses the hope that “Western Forces” will “rescue” Guyana in which, it claims, exists a “vacuum” which promotes instability. (Kaieteur News a few weeks ago.) And the Guyanese media should also educate its people, from different, even contrary, angles, of the global political realities at this time. Democracy as a mode of governance cannot fructify without a savvy populace.

New multipolar, polycultural world
The world has started to recognize another important fact as described by Parag Khanna in “Goodbye to Hegemony”, Cover story of the New York Times Magazine of January 27, 2008. In a masterly analysis Khanna tells us: “At best, America's unipolar moment lasted through the 1990s, but that was also a decade adrift. The post-cold-war "peace dividend" was never converted into a global liberal order under American leadership. So now, rather than bestriding the globe, we are competing -- and losing -- in a geopolitical marketplace alongside the world's other superpowers: the European Union and China. This is geopolitics in the 21st century: the new Big Three. Not Russia, an increasingly depopulated expanse run by; not an incoherent Islam embroiled in internal wars; and not India, lagging decades behind China in both development and strategic appetite. The Big Three make the rules -- their own rules -- without any one of them dominating. And the others are left to choose their suitors in this post-American world. The more we appreciate the differences among the American, European and Chinese worldviews, the more we will see the planetary stakes of the new global game. Previous eras of balance of power have been among European powers sharing a common culture. The cold war, too, was not truly an "East-West" struggle; it remained essentially a contest over Europe. What we have today, for the first time in history, is a global, multicivilizational, multipolar battle.”

Big Bang as China enters the mix
Parag Khanna tells us also: “In America's own hemisphere, from Canada to Cuba to Chávez's Venezuela, China is cutting massive resource and investment deals. Across the globe, it is deploying tens of thousands of its own engineers, aid workers, dam-builders and covert military personnel. In Africa, China is not only securing energy supplies; it is also making major strategic investments in the financial sector. The whole world is abetting China's spectacular rise as evidenced by the ballooning share of trade in its gross domestic product -- and China is exporting weapons at a rate reminiscent of the Soviet Union during the cold war, pinning America down while filling whatever power vacuums it can find. Every country in the world currently considered a rogue state by the U.S. now enjoys a diplomatic, economic or strategic lifeline from China, Iran being the most prominent example. The Big Three dynamic is not just some distant contest by which America ensures its ability to dictate affairs on the other side of the globe. Globalization has brought the geopolitical marketplace straight to America's backyard, rapidly eroding the two-centuries-old Monroe Doctrine in the process. In truth, America called the shots in Latin America only when its southern neighbors lacked any vision of their own. Now they have at least two non-American challengers: China and Chávez. It was Simón Bolívar who fought ferociously for South America's independence from Spanish rule, and today it is the newly renamed Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela that has inspired an entire continent to bootstrap its way into the global balance of power on its own terms. Hugo Chávez, the country's clownish colonel, may last for decades to come or may die by the gun, but either way, he has called America's bluff and won, changing the rules of North-South relations in the Western hemisphere. He has emboldened and bankrolled leftist leaders across the continent, helped Argentina and others pay back and boot out the I.M.F. and sponsored a continent wide bartering scheme of oil, cattle, wheat and civil servants, reminding even those who despise him that they can stand up to the great Northern power. Chávez stands not only on the ladder of high oil prices. He relies on tacit support from Europe and hardheaded intrusion from China, the former still the country's largest investor and the latter feverishly repairing Venezuela's dilapidated oil rigs while building its own refineries. (Cover story, New York Times Magazine, January 27, 2008.)

Brazil/Unasur in contention

Khanna also states: “[But] Chávez's challenge to the United States is, in inspiration, ideological, whereas the second-world shift is really structural. Even with Chávez still in power, it is Brazil that is reappearing as South America's natural leader. Alongside India and South Africa, Brazil has led the charge in global trade negotiations, sticking it to the U.S. on its steel tariffs and to Europe on its agricultural subsidies. Geographically, Brazil is nearly as close to Europe as to America and is as keen to build cars and airplanes for Europe as it is to export soy to the U.S. Furthermore, Brazil, although a loyal American ally in the cold war, wasted little time before declaring a "strategic alliance" with China. Their economies are remarkably complementary, with Brazil shipping iron ore, timber, zinc, beef, milk and soybeans to China and China investing in Brazil's hydroelectric dams, steel mills and shoe factories. Both China and Brazil's ambitions may soon alter the very geography of their relations, with Brazil leading an effort to construct a Trans-Oceanic Highway from the Amazon through Peru to the Pacific Coast, facilitating access for Chinese shipping tankers. Latin America has mostly been a geopolitical afterthought over the centuries, but in the 21st century, all resources will be competed for, and none are too far away.”

Nafta and trade policy down South
UNASUR enjoys close working arrangements with China while USA is in serious decline and the EU is in a tailspin after Ireland’s recent vote. It appears that UNASUR is much more than a “so-called” and Guyana’s decision to become a member is forward looking. Sensing the weakness left by an overstretched USA and emboldened by pledges of NAFTA’s longevity given by both US Presidential candidates, Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, one of the “Western” chieftains, is rushing into Bolivian space to “help out” his friend, the 25% “dead-duck” US president, and help resurrect FTAA as a counterweight to UNASUR. Uribe, the Colombian strongman, is the only hope on which they can pin a slim leverage to bolster GW, the GOP and John Mac Cain.

Pipsqueak Canada enters fray
In an article titled Canada-Colombia FTA: When Democracy Gets in the Way, Just Sign It, eh? by Michael Otuathail, June 14, 2008, the author shows that Stephen Harper is secretly trying to get its multinationals in to Colombia with the hope he can boost the man Uribe who is condemned by his own people. Otuathail finds that “Scandals have shrouded the Colombian government in recent years, penetrating to levels as high as Uribe's closest political supporters and a family member. At least 65 of Uribe's allies (the number rises almost weekly) in the Colombian Congress are being investigated for links to right-wing paramilitary death squads, a scandal known in Colombia as "para-política." Of that number, 29 are currently in jail for proven links.

Uribe minus Farc equals zero

Another recent scandal has called into question the legitimacy of the Uribe regime altogether. The "Yidis-política" scandal involves allegations that the president bought the votes of several Colombian congress members for constitutional reforms that paved the way for Uribe's re-election in 2006. Former Colombian House Representative Yidis Medina, who made the scandal public last month, is now in jail, and Uribe is under investigation for his role in soliciting Medina's vote in exchange for political favors. Previously, consecutive presidential terms had been constitutionally forbidden, and the constitutional reforms, rejected in a national referendum in October 2003, were pushed through the pro-Uribe Colombian Congress. Uribe is at the end of his reign of terror and the hangman is waiting for his ouster. As soon as FARC is removed, a free and fair elections will teach Uribe the Musharaf lesson as he is fetched along the way to the International Criminal Court. Even a casual observer of this situation will tell you that his death squads will have no legitimacy when the Farc is removed. Do we sense an astute leader in the Venezuelan President? Is this something to be admired or reviled?

Neo-Liberalisn and South America
Since the murder of Salvador Allende, the US presence was a powerful tool across South America as meticulously documented by Canadian prize-winning author, Naomi Klien, in Shock Therapy: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She shows how the Chicago Boys ran rampant across the continent as they tested Friedman’s thesis that only a crisis, natural or man-made, can bring about real change. This thesis – tax cuts, free trade, privatized services, cuts to social spending, deregulation which was perfected under Pinochet – was sold to the detriment of the poorer classes so that today South America (except its Israel, Colombia) is undergoing fundamental changes across board.

Now, Guyana can move
While some of us are asleep at the switch, Chavez is recognizing the fact of the demise of the once unipolar monster, and taking the courageous route, that is, working for the good of his people, and not for the oligarchy and the corporations. With membership in UNASUR, Guyana stands to gain both in financial support and defense as foreseen by Chavez for Venezuela. I understand that with modern technology, Kaieteur Falls can now be harnessed to provide energy for the benefit of itself and UNASUR nations much like Niagara does for the Eastern seaboard of North America. It is also conceivable that modern technology can unlock the oil pipeline which is sealed in Goed Bananen Land in Canje making it perhaps another Bagdad for Guyana’s coffers. Reading from Chavez’ book, Guyana too can embark in projects to benefit its own people without the visitation of cluster bombs from “the West”. The time has arrived for Guyanese to be both in office and in power in the quest for their common destiny.

Kenneth Persaud, former lecturer at the University of Guyana, was the Founder and Principal of Guyana Progressive College, Kitty, Georgetown, which catered mostly for the poorer students of society. His major interests revolve around the effects of Imperialism, Globalization and the emerging new World Order. He has always been active in political/social movements of "developing societies", especially Guyana, and is committed to reform and change towards a meaningful democracy.

Post Script
Perhaps pollster Mr.Vishnu Bishram can be commissioned to do a poll to test the course in which the people of Guyana will be interested: Harper and Uribe, a tether to the West, or Chavez and UNASUR and an independent course strengthened by its continental cousins.

© GuyanaJournal