For about a month now, Venezuela has become embroiled in bitter protests against its huge murder rate, chronic food shortages, and a mounting inflation level of 56%.
The student movement initiated the protests challenging the Nicolas Maduro Government to correct their concerns. And Opposition Leader Henrique Capriles’ supporters later joined ranks with the student movement, together creating a strong and largely middle-class force. While frequent murders, food shortages and high food prices are real to Venezuelans and there is no disagreement these concerns are part of the reality in Venezuela, there are several dimensions to review in interpreting reasons for the protests.
Irene Caselli of the BBC (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-26335287) reported that the protesters are largely from the middle class; that the Maduro government’s support remains strong among its supporters, as validated by its good showing in last December’s local elections; that Maduro believes that Washington is trying to stage a coup similar to what happened in 2002 against Chavez; and that Maduro expelled three American diplomats and appointed a new Ambassador to Washington.
In international relations, it is no secret that there is bad blood between the U.S. and Venezuela. It, therefore, is not surprising that, in recent times, the U.S. is fingered each time as the culprit behind any political instability in Venezuela; this may not be difficult to figure because since around 2000, the U.S.-Latin American relations have regained its hot spot status in the world, largely due to the prominence of former President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez, according to Corrales and Romero’s new book (2013).
The book spoke about former President Chavez’s anti-U.S. statements, such as: conspiring to produce coups, hatching presidential assassinations, planning invasions to take ownership of Venezuela’s oil assets, instigating genocide, etc. The book also addressed Washington’s thinking as a response to Chavez’s, such as: likelihood of new instability in Venezuela and other parts of Latin America, possibility for financial catastrophe should Venezuela impose an oil embargo on the U.S., potential of Venezuela being an uncompromising veto player at the Organization of American States (OAS), becoming Russia’s largest weapon importer, and procuring satellite technology from China.
Corrales and Romero’s book also noted that despite these incisive differences between the two nations, both sides maintain a mutually working, non-punitive relationship with each other. For instance, although Venezuela has a massive stockpile of weapons, it constitutes no military threat to the U.S.; and Venezuela is a dependable oil supplier to the Americas; and I would add that the extent of both countries’ anguish toward each other is reduced to expulsion of diplomats.
However, unlike Corrales and Romero, I would argue that while Venezuela is no match for the U.S., the U.S. can be an overwhelming force against Venezuela; but U.S. strategy and tactics against Venezuela do not have to be military-based. The U.S. in consort with other powerful Western nations still has its trump card of neoliberalism to play as needed in its global promotion of the gospel of imperialism. The core of neoliberalism, according to Brenner and Theodore (2002, p. 350) is that open, competitive, and unregulated markets, freed from governmental interference, constitute the best tool for economic development. The stakes in Venezuela are high for the U.S. right now, as the promotion of U.S. interests, using neoliberalism as its instrument, faces bottlenecks in Venezuela which could spread to other parts of Latin America. For while Chavez is no longer on the scene, Nicloas Maduro and his government comply rigidly with the Chavez strategy to root out neoliberalism. In Mahmood and Muntaner’s study (2013, p. 64), Chavez significantly dismantled neoliberalism in Venezuela’s health reforms, and the same can be effected for other sectors of the economy.
There is the Chavez view which may now be the view throughout the region that the foreign debts of Latin American countries in the 1980s brought about deep asymmetries among them, and were caused by the multilateral agencies, as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), etc., through their neoliberalism and conditionalities, totally backed through the Washington Consensus.
There was a passion for the formation of UNASUR to create symmetries among countries in Latin America and as a regional body to marginalize the impact of the World Bank and IMF, and other international financial institutions. And Chavez established the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) as a regional initiative to eliminate the asymmetries among countries in the region. ALBA comprises Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. In all of this, Chavez hoped that not only Venezuela but the region would achieve genuine political stability; but not the false political stability that has scarred Venezuela’s history and unable to contain neoliberalism. Let me offer some examples of false political stability from the literature.
Venezuela experienced a fair amount of political stability in the 1960s with the advent of the Punto fijo, a pact between major political parties in 1958. At that time, a small elite in Venezuela, an oil-based economy, took control over this key source of economic power with strong alliance to the political directorate. But Wilpert’s study (2007) showed that this political stability only brought exclusionary policies that gave rise to mounting inequities among the masses of the poor and vulnerable. This was false political stability and, indeed, there was more to come!
In 1989, Alvarado et al. (2005, pp. 95-109) noted that the Caracazo emerged as an uprising against the inequities, marking the beginnings of the fight against neoliberalism. False political stability punctuated the 1990s. For instance, Mahmood and Muntaner (2013, pp. 63-64) mentioned the policy behaviors of two former presidents: President Carlos Andrez Perez had an anti-neoliberal platform, yet when he took office in 1989, he implemented the World Bank and IMF’s recommendations called El Paquete; Rafael Caldera became President in 1993 and did the same thing as Perez; his neoliberal plan was the Agenda Venezuela. And given the current protests, perhaps, there is an expectation for a return to neoliberalism.
There is a view (http://www.thefinancialist.com/a-dire-economy-causes-unrest-in-venezuela/) that the current protests in Venezuela have to do with its dire economy with price regulations, chronic underinvestment, and currency control; and that as a remedy, the government now seems ready to launch a new foreign exchange system which will improve foreign exchange flows to the private sector; also, the government has increased public sector wages and has enabled the lower-income people to shop at subsidized supermarkets. How dire is the economy when the government increased public sector compensation as well as making available affordable food items?
These reasons pertaining to a dire economy are manifest indicators for the protests. But there are also latent reasons which relate to undermining the anti-neoliberal Maduro government. Mahmood and Muntaner (2013, p. 60) noted that the social cleavages in Latin America strictly along class lines are fertile lands for installing neoliberal policies, with Venezuela feeling the impact of such cleavages as evidenced by the current middle class protests.
Brenner, N. and Theodore, N., 2002. Cities and the Geographies of “Actually Existing Neoliberalism”. Antipode, 34 (3), p. 350.
Corrales, J. and and Romero, C.A., 2013. U.S.-Venezuela Relations since the 1990s. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-26335287 (Accessed March 12, 2014).
http://www.thefinancialist.com/a-dire-economy-causes-unrest-in-venezuela/ (Accessed March 12, 2014).
Mahmood, Q. and Muntaner, C., 2013. Politics, class actors, and health sector reform in Brazil and Venezuela. Global Health Promotion, 20 (59).
Wilpert, G., 2007. Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government. New York, USA: Verso.
The Private And Public Joe Biden: Belief And Policy
Joe Biden supports abortion rights politically, a position conflicting with doctrine in the Catholic church. Despite the pope issuing a warning to act with care, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is now ready to prepare a teaching document that could potentially bar Biden from receiving Holy Communion at mass. A central sacrament during mass, Catholics believe that eating the consecrated wafer dipped in wine, representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, unites them with their savior fortifying them to face evil temptations.
The USCCB vote to prepare the document was an overwhelming 168-55, and a committee of US bishops has been assigned the task. Responding to questions, President Biden called it a private matter. The document is expected to be ready in time for debate at the November bi-annual conference of US Catholic Bishops.
If that is one headache for Biden, another is in the offing. Perhaps as a consequence of US policy towards Iran, the election of a hard-liner in Iran’s presidential election seems almost certain. Judge Ebrahim Raisi, who is also Iran’s top judge, is on his way to victory on the basis of the votes counted so far.
The 60-year old cleric spent most of his life as a prosecutor until he was appointed Iran’s top judge in 2019. He is fiercely loyal to his fellow clerics, particularly to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader who has the final say in all matters. All the same, the president does the administration and has significant input in both domestic and foreign policy. Suffice to say, Raisi lost in a landslide to Hassan Rouhani, who sought accommodation with the West, in the previous election four years ago.
Having played hardball with Iran, the US is repeating itself with a Russia anxious for better relations. Following the G7 meeting in Cornwall a week ago, President Biden flew to Geneva meeting President Putin at the Villa La Grange for a closely-watched summit.
Relations between the two countries have been tense following a series of events including the Russian annexation of Crimea. The latter was transferred to Ukraine for administrative convenience when a connecting bridge was being constructed so that both ends of it would fall under the same authority. The people of Crimea have no other connection with Ukrainians other than they were both part of the Soviet Union.
Climate change, arms control, cyber security and American interest in jailed dissenters in Russia including Alexei Navalny . Reading the riot act to Mr. Putin does little to further stability in relations. Peace is not a problem among like-minded countries with a commonality of interests, it is a challenge when the parties are rivals, nuclear armed, and capable of blowing up the world. Mr. Biden may be proud of his performance but is he able to accept the challenge, for if not where does it leave the rest of us …
Is Covid-19 Zoonotic, Natural or Lab-engineered?
President Trump led the US government propaganda that Coronavirus originated in WIV. However, even after twelve months the US government failed to provide factual or scientific evidence. Now, the Biden administration, inspired by the “dark web,” has tasked the US intelligence community to produce evidence in 90 days to establish that COVID-19 had no “natural ancestors.” As half the world’s scientific community is busy speculating, a simple forensic investigation is what is needed to find the answer.
“Throw enough dirt, and some will stick” – Thomas Boghardt, Historian
Recently, there has been growing renewed interest in Coronavirus “lab leak” hypothesis. One can only speculate if more recent revelations of the presence of coronavirus in the US in mid-December 2019 – weeks before the first confirmed case was announced on January 21, 2020, would impact Wuhan lab leak controversy. But thanks to Trump’s “anti-China xenophobia,” for past whole year the leak theory was sidelined in public scientific debate in the US. As Covid-19 was turning into a global pandemic, the lab leak hypothesis got stuck in “hyper-politicized context.” Looking to inject fresh energy in his ongoing anti-China rhetoric with eyes on the November presidential vote, President Trump began “instrumentalizing the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) lab leak theory and even called it “China Virus” and “Kung Flu.” According to media reports, such pernicious intertwining of anti-China rhetoric and the xenophobic framing of the pandemic “caused an apparent chilling effect among the scientific community.”
During the past twelve months, science writers mocked and some even condemned anyone claiming lab leak origins of Coronavirus. Now, same lot among these writers and a few more joining them afresh, have lately been saying that Coronavirus may well have originated in a lab in Wuhan. As The New Yorker’s veteran political editor Amy Davidson Sorkin observed last Sunday, with President Biden entering the battle over the coronavirus lab-leak theory “the debate about the origin of the pandemic has become loud, contentious, and infused with politics.” A rare Chinese commentary even alleged the Biden administration’s call for a fresh probe into the origins of Covid-19 is inspired by the latest “explosive” new study by two European scholars claiming that “Chinese scientists created the virus in Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) laboratory.”
What has changed for these science writers? If we go by what author and activist David Swanson says, nothing really. Swanson, who is also a popular radio host, thinks the latest change in the stance of the scientific community is largely a question of fashion. (Emphasis added) Indirectly attributing the “new outlook” of the scientists to the fresh call coming from the White House, Swanson wrote in a recent article “One doesn’t wear a wrong outfit too early in the season, or explore the wrong epidemiological idea when the White House is claimed by one Party or the other.” In fact, Swanson refused to be persuaded by the fact that the virus jumping out of the Wuhan lab was cause enough to condemn or “hate” China. Why?
Swanson offers two reasons. First, the bogey that the virus was created by Chinese scientists engaged in “Gain of Function” (GoF) project. Further elaborating on “Gain of Function” projects, Sorensen told DailyMail.com in an interview recently, GoF research involves “tweaking natural viruses to make them more infectious” and had been outlawed by former US President Barack Obama. Although denying the money US invested in WIV had gone into GoF projects, Dr. Antony Fauci told US lawmakers just the other day that the US National Institute of Health funded WIF with $600,000 between 2015 and 2021. So, instead of limiting one’s hatred for China, if China is a military threat, then why fund its bioweapons research? Swanson asked. Indeed, extremely pertinent question!
The other reason Swanson did not consider Coronvirus lab leak theory worthy of condemnation has much to do with the issue of censorship surrounding the whole topic of bioweapons in the US. For example, no one is supposed to know what is common knowledge anyway that the 2001 Anthrax attacks originated with material from a US bio- weapons lab. Or that Lyme disease which affects 400,000 Americans every year spread from a US bioweapons lab. Therefore, for Swanson, plausibility of a lab leak, even if never proven, is a new good reason to shut down all the world’s bioweapons labs. It is beyond comprehension why all those for probing the coronavirous lab leak origin are silent and have not demanded a ban on all the world’s bioweapons labs! (Emphasis added)
But why even after one and a half year since Covid-19 was detected in Wuhan, its source of origin remains a mystery? What about the WHO probe? Perhaps a calculated decision, or maybe not, as soon as President Trump exited the White House, the WHO sent a much awaited investigative team of seventeen experts to Wuhan. After spending four weeks in the “city of silence,” during which the team visited the laboratory, the WHO scientists concluded the lab-leak theory was “extremely unlikely.” But in a bizarre twist, even the so-called “China-centric” WHO chief Tedros surprised everyone and angered China, when speaking in Geneva two months ago he said “although the [WHO scientific] team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation.”
On the other hand, China, as expected has repeatedly denied WIV was responsible for the lab leak and insisted that the virus emerged naturally or that it was zoonotic. In fact, by refusing to be either transparent or cooperative in sharing information, Beijing has only furthered global backlash against China’s antagonistic policies. China’s foreign ministry hitting back at the US as Biden ordered to revisit Wuhan lab leak theory is the latest example of its “wolf-warrior” attitude. China’s official media is no different. A month before the Wall Street Journal renewed media onslaught against Beijing in May end, official Chinese news broadcaster CGTN stated: “With Trump gone, the lab leak hypothesis is now acceptable. This plays into both an old Orientalist trope as well as a modern Sinophobic one to manufacture consent for America’s hybrid war against China.”
Though not officially declared a “taboo” subject, the op-ed commentaries have been scarce and few and far between on the WIV lab leak theory in China. A recent signed commentary jointly written by a seasoned India watcher who uses pen name “countryside Brahmin” and South Asian affairs expert Gao Xirui, strongly challenged May 26 executive order by President Biden. The commentary also ridiculed India for “piggy riding” America in the latest lab leak theory hype. The authors attributed Biden’s renewed interest in WIV lab leak to the recent study published in the science journal Quarterly Review of Biophysics Discovery by two European scientists, cited in the early part of this article.
Earlier on in August last year, WIV scientists had again refuted the leak theory. Speaking to the NBC News from the US which became the first foreign news agency to get access to the laboratory, Wang Yanyi, the WIV director had said: “None of the institute’s scientists contracted the virus, which made it extremely unlikely that the pathogen could have escaped from the facility.” NBC News in its report claimed WIV had been targeted because it was equipped to study the world’s “highest-risk infectious agents and toxins, like the latest coronavirus.” More recently, a GT editorial described President Biden ordering fresh probe as indulging in a bigger gamble against China than even Trump. “No matter what Biden has in mind, the US government is generally up to something big against China,” the edit said.
As the flip-flop on the “leak theory” in the US continues, the narrative is not only inconclusive but still unfolding. Just as this write-up was near closing, the Financial Times reported researchers in the US fear “decades of fortuitous partnership” between the USA and P R China is under threat, all thanks to Wuhan lab row. “Beginning 2004, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed an agreement with the Chinese National Influenza Centre to help China improve its analysis of seasonal flu strains. Scientists are now worried this type of collaboration is under threat, imperiled by mutual suspicions which have been exacerbated by the recent row over whether Covid-19 could have come from a lab leak in Wuhan,” the FT reported. Over the next decade, the US trained nearly 2,500 Chinese scientists and helped open dozens of laboratories in the country, the report added.
Finally, according to Richard Ebright, “little has changed in terms of scientific evidence since the genome sequence of the virus was first released in January of 2020.” Ebright is one of 21 international scientists who detailed what a full, interdisciplinary investigation in Wuhan should look like in an open letter last March. At the same time, security analysts and think tank scholars in the US believe the new administration is forced to chase “lab leak” theory as “Biden doesn’t want to look ‘weak on China’.” Meanwhile, as China’s media is comparing the lab leak theory with the infamous “washing powder” lie about the WMDs in Iraq, professor Ebright has inadvertently replied to the New Yorker’s demand to find real answers. “The coronavirus origin can be answered through a forensic investigation, not a scientific speculation,” Ebright averred.
Juneteenth and Getting Over Our Systemic Induced Ignorance and Denial
Juneteenth Day after generations of struggle for national recognition with local and statewide celebrations for years here and there,is finally a paid federal holiday as of yesterday. If you are an African American like me who grew up in the North with second generation or more deep southern born parents and/ or in majority white communities or in those northern and west coast communities without deep southern African American migrants particularly from Texas, chances are you never heard about Juneteenth day while growing up. And like me you may not have even heard of the day before in much older age ranges unless you happened to be an expert in or well read in African American history, culture, and politics as an African American or Non-African American.And such African American cultural expertise and literacy is a rarity in a nation which is routinely ignorant of and has denied its horrible enslaved African American history systemically ; which means most of we Americans irrespective of our ancestries have been victimized by systemic induced ignorance and denial by federal and state governments refusing for generations to tell us a truth which has kept us all degraded and dehumanized by a horrible racialized injustice with we as a nation has yet to repent of and authentically do systemic penitence about.
This systemic induced ignorance and denial about African American enslavement has gravely tainted our character as a nation since colonial times and consistently makes our claims to be a democracy the brunt of cruel jokes globally through the generations.It has over time constantly played effectively into the hands of our global allies and foes who then justify their own racialized and cultural prejudices and inequalities.
When not denied, the enslavement of African Americans even today has been publicly portrayed by right wing commentators as being not really all that bad or as a gift to Africans to save us through capture and enslavement from the clutches of what they viewed and still do as the dark continent replete with what their hero formerly in the White House called sh**hole countries.
The seemingly surprising easy Congressional passing of The 2021 Juneteenth National Independence Day Act and its signing by President Biden was not so shocking given the present political climate in a guilt ridden polarized country with a usual gridlock Congress and a President skilled at plucking off the branch low hanging apples and oranges rather than climbing the full height of the tallest trees to get the even more ripe fruit. The passing and signing of the bill came off the backs of scores if not hundreds and thousands mostly African Americans advocating for decades indeed generations for the day to be memorialized as the enslaved African American day of independence from slavery already being celebrated around the country and recognized by 47 states though mostly as unpaid holidays. The problem is on the national level fresh from four years of mainstreaming of white nationalism in electoral and judiciary appointment politics and a hysterical convoluted media about racial issues and in the aftermath of the George Floyd protest we remain very much a rudderless nation without effective restorative justice leadership to lead us to a more just America including all of us. How can we become more just in more than symbolic ways if we allow ourselves to be subjected to the passing of civil rights acts like this one which look good and mean good while we remain a nation in which systemic ignorance and denial of the enslavement of African Americans and their continued enslavement after abolition though under different names and structures such as Jim Crow, chain gangs, cotton tenancy, community massacres, mass incarceration, human trafficking, defunding public education, perpetual urban and rural poverty, street violent prone illegal drugs dumping grounds, loan shark predator communities, ill- health communities,and police brutalized communities with low standards of housing and quality of life services? The tossing of symbolic crumbs of racial justice progress by American governments, businesses, schools, media, faith communities, and nonprofit organizations with no sustainable advances in authentic justice has since the ending of the American Civil War in 1865 been a soroid American public tradition which keeps us twirling in a sewer of societal morass.Consequently , we continue to remain a nation in which we all grow up becoming less than what we all can be collectively and individually because we have buried this horrible crime of humanity which haunts and cripples all of us emotionally, economically, socially,and politically
in ways we systemically are induced to deny and ignore.We therefore don’t have the cognitive and socioemotional tools and skills to bring ourselves to admit and authentically reckon with the horrible blight of African American enslavement through genuine though painful restorative justice practices. Restorative justice practices that is to regain our humanity through embracing truly the humanity of others we have been taught from the crib to old age are less than human or more than human due to their ancestry dangerously distorted through the myth making of ” race.”
It is tempting to say as I started to write that well at least The 2021 Juneteenth National Independence Day Act is a start.But the problem with that almost Freudian slip of a neo- liberal tongue is that we are always saying that about symbols of racial justice in America which usually just stay there ” as a start” which go nowhere except on the resumes of politicians and civil rights leaders while no next steps occur to assure genuine sustaining justice occurs. And when I say justice I mean for everyone since when one population is unfree we are all unfree..when one population becomes freed we all become free.
What this means in regards to The 2021 Juneteenth National Independence Day Act is that the Biden-Harris administration as the next step needs to, through Executive Order, mobilize their cabinet secretaries to do the necessary expedited policy designs,declarations, and monitorings to require the agencies and institutions under their jurisdictions with positive incentives to effective policy implementers such as bonuses and promotions to spread public awareness about the atrocious history of the enslavement of African Americans , their legal abolition and their continued enslavement in these post- emancipation eras.It should be stressed that the enslavement of African Americans , legal emancipation, and the continued impacts of enslavement in its different names and structures is not just an African American experience.African American enslavement was and remains a tragic societal experience which negatively impacts every American no matter our ancestral origin when it comes to our mental health, interpersonal relationships, our electoral and appointment politics, and the health of our families,communities, and economies.
So as we move forward with The 2021 Juneteenth National Independence Day Act let us not just assume it is for Black folks only though we all get the day off with pay irrespective of our ancestries and our care or awareness about the significance of the day.
Let us, we the people, insist to the Biden-Harris administration as a means of accountability , that we go beyond mere resume building political posturing since they took the keys and opened a too long closed door we all need to step in as a nation and do the necessary to wake us all from the slumber of induced ignorance of this filthy little secret -the enslavement of African Americans as a crime against humanity and its post- legal emancipation continuation which impacts all of us in need of public exposure and resolution authentically.No more symbolic resume building crumbs and celebrations which lead us down paths to nowhere except filled bellies and perchance hangovers once a holiday is over only to discover when sober again we are all still dehumanized by our systemic induced ignorance and denial of a grave centuries long racialized injustice now in need of total exposure and genuine reckoning for now we can and thus we must.
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