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Neoliberalism in the Venezuela protests

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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.

References:
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.

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Americas

Coronavirus is Trump’s most important electoral rival

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The Earth is intertwined with space in various group, ethnic, religious, national, and other forms. National spaces within countries are the most important phenomena shaping the geographic space of the Earth. These spaces have been divided into more than 200 countries in the form of different democratic and non-democratic political systems as dominant spaces in different forms. Citizens in each of these countries, especially in democratic countries, are struggling to elect people to serve as political directors of the President and Prime Minister and representatives of the political space in order to organize the best program for ordering the country. Although sometimes in the specific geographical environment and the shortcomings of how people vote, they have a profound effect on the way of some candidates vote, but with the transition to calm and a return to calm, the geography and timing of citizens’ responsibilities and duties expects the President-elect, Prime Minister, etc, not only to work well in that constituency-based environment, such as economic problems, but also in all areas able to manage and advance geographic space as an active and powerful actor. As a matter of fact, any lack of planning in various areas, especially in security issues, would be a disadvantage not only for citizens but also as an impediment to sending political leaders to space.

In the meantime, the current conditions on the global space caused by the coronavirus in various ways have targeted the security of geographical spaces and citizens. Citizens expect their managers to have the best strategy and plan to control and cope with the crisis. There are two types of clashes between politicians. There are a group of real politicians who, with their systematic and scientific minds, understand the situation and try to enter the country with the least challenge and cross the geographical space of their country with the least difficulty, the least social and cultural harm. Among them is the German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, who, as a real politician based on understanding the situation, responded quickly, removing the country’s geographical space from a passive confrontation with coronavirus and preventing strategy, to a large extent control these issues and problems within the country.

On the other hand, some politicians who are not real and have been able to enter into the political management of space in various forms of bargaining, surfing, etc. in the face of coronavirus, have taken the most passive plan and strategy in the form of denial, failure and seriousness. And so they have taken their geographic space to crisis. In the meantime, it is worth mentioning the US president Trump who dealt with cronavirus unintentionally and led the country into a crisis. With this kind of confrontation with Trump, coronavirus (of course, among other things) no longer seems to have any hope of an upcoming election.

Overall, we hope that citizens in different countries will opt for real politicians, because the wrong choices based on looks, decorations, fleeting needs, etc. will not only regulate the geographical space of their lives, but also will cause widespread mismanagement and even shaping, it will provide them with a life of insecurity. In today’s complex global conditions we need real politicians not politician players in the local, national, regional and even global arena. In this way, this vast interconnected can be organized and provided security and peace for its citizens.

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Americas

Covid-19: Why the US is hit so hard?

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Negative approach, delayed actions, and wrong policies resulted in making the US the most hard-hit country in the world. With confirmed cases 104,256, the US has surpassed the rest of the world. The second highest cases were reported 86,498 in Italy and third 81,394 in China. Italy is a country with the highest number of deaths 9,134, Spain5, 138, and China 3,295.

Globally, the confirmed Coronavirus cases have reached 597,501, and deaths 27,371. The figure kept on increasing rapidly over time. This figure is not close to facts, as the number of tests conducted are very much limited. Even it is beyond the capacity of the Developed World to test each suspect individually, no way to talk about the developing world and underdeveloped countries. It has already entered into a horrible threat to humankind.

Although the Trump Administration has taken good initiative now, but the delay has caused enormous damage already. In time decisions and right policies might have saved a lot. 2 Trillion Dollars package is a very positive step, and other measures are Encouraging. The US is one of the largest economies, the wealthiest nation, and most developed and advanced in Science & Technology. The US can overcome the epidemic. Just have to bear a high cost only.

The Chinese government and Chinese people have been brave as they took on this formidable task. Since the beginning, they fought against the outbreak, put people’s life and health first. They acted according to the overall principle of shoring up confidence, strengthening unity, ensuring science-based control and treatment, and imposed targeted measures. China mobilized the whole nation, set up collective control and treatment mechanisms, and acted with openness and transparency.  China has put up a strenuous struggle and made tremendous sacrifices. Now the situation in China is moving steadily in a positive direction with very few new cases and deaths.

Last two months, China was struggling to overcome epidemic and focused only on its goal to save human lives and eliminate the virus. China ignore all criticism, pressures, and bashing from the outside world and concentrated all energies to fight against Covid-19. China mobilized all national resources, supported by the public, and finally won over the epidemic.

When China was over-engaged in its war against Coronavirus, the US administration was engaged, blaming China, bashing China, criticizing China, and trying to undermine China. Using the derogatory remarks and media was publishing anti-China sentiments in the form of articles or cartoons. Humiliating Chinese nationals in the western world were witnessed. But could not harm China at all. President US administration wasted time unintentionally.

The Trump Administration also failed to help out its allies at the most challenging moment, when Italy, France, UK, Spain were at a very initial stage. If, since the beginning, the US has helped its allies, it might not spread so widely and may not reach the US.

It is true, no single country was prepared for such an awkward situation, and no single country trounce the outbreak. But collectively, it should have been suppressed in Wuhan only. There is a shortage of Masks, Testing Kits, Ventilators, and Sanitizers, etc. If the whole world pooled all possible resources and helped China, the situation must be different today. I think the evacuation of foreigners from China has caused a lot of damage too. The hostility, selfishness, and casual attitude toward China proved wrong.

China is helping many countries, especially the hard-hit countries like Italy, Spain, Iran, etc. China is donating medical supplies, and dispatching medical teams to support the respective government to fight against the epidemic. Chinese proved-experience can be used as guidelines. China is sharing its experience publically with everyone.

Virus is not bias, do not recognize boundaries, race, religion, or ethnicity. Why we discriminate against each other, I believe it is time to think seriously and unite to defeat any epidemic.

 I believe, if the US administration keeps politics aside, and think for humanity, realign its approach and correct its policies, still can recover. Late, but better than never.

The recommendations put forward by the virtual G-20 Summit held on 26 March 2020, are pertinent and can be implemented immediately. I am sure the US congress is full of wise people, either from the opposition or ruling side, may ensure the right steps toward defeating the epidemic globally. 

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Americas

Covid-19 Exposes the Good and the Indifferent

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Father Giuseppe-Berardelli

The coronavirus crisis has brought out the worst … and the best in people.  Hoarding, panic buying is one result — but who can blame anyone in a country where the president awash in platitudes, has essentially left people to fend for themselves.

There is now a fairer $2 trillion package, with help for individuals and not mostly for businesses, that required the hand of Congress.  With people forced to sit at home, many are not getting paid and need the help.

Amid the chaos and insensitivity of billionaire presidents, there is hope in man’s natural inclination for sacrifice in extremis.  Father Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, died in Lovere, Bergamo, (in the epicenter of the epidemic) early this month.  His parishioners had bought a respirator for him when he was afflicted by the virus, but Father Berardelli, instead of using is for himself, instructed the hospital staff to give it to a younger person.  He was the main priest in the nearby town of Casnigo, where his parishioners applauded from balconies and windows as his coffin was taken for burial.

Italy is now the worst affected country in the world.  As of Thursday night, it has had 80,589 cases and 8215 deaths, the latter more than double anywhere else — China, where the epidemic began, has reported 81,782 cases but far fewer deaths.  Measures taken to stop the spread including gradually strung out lockdown measures taken from February 23 on have not been as effective as hoped.  If the virus is that infectious, is the answer complete lockdown with police patrols to ensure it?

At the other end of the scale from Father Berardelli is the supposed ‘leader of the free world’.  It would have to be a most irresponsible, reprehensible, shamelessly disgraceful and indifferent plutocrat who did not educate himself on an affliction endangering his people.

At his press conferences we see a host of officials huddled close to him, not just to dilute his responsibility, but also violating the social distancing precept being advocated.

Since the early days, Donald Trump has called the virus first a “hoax”, then in control, the epidemic itself “pretty much shut down”, and always adding the platitudinous “it’s going to be fine”.

He has said the cases were “going substantially down,” and then that the virus “would disappear”.  When the virus had spread widely enough to be named a pandemic by the World Health Organization, he claimed he had “always known” about the severity of the threat.  He now says it will be over by Easter.

In times of crisis, the American people rally behind their president.  For example, after the 9/11 attack, President George W. Bush’s ratings were hitting the high 80s to over 90 percent, as the country awaited a response to overcome the crisis.  Yet even then the country did not come to a standstill as it is in many parts at present. Trump’s approval ratings are at his highs — 49 percent (Gallup), 46 percent (Monmouth University) the best in three years. 

The stunning information on coronavirus infections from the John Hopkins University dashboard shows the US now leading the world with more than 86,000 cases.  Then there is Donald Trump.  We cannot go on like this, he said,  “We’ve got to open up,” so the economy can get back on track … meaning business wins hands down over people’s lives in his calculus. 

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