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New Latin American Left and its complex trajectories

Demonstrators protest on the streets of La Paz, Bolivia. UN Bolivia/Patricia Cusicanqui

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Authors: Ash Narain Roy and Shimone Jaini

The rise and fall of a leftist government in Latin America evoke passion, nostalgia, optimism and rhetorical exuberance among commentators on the region that may not withstand rigorous academic scrutiny. The outcome of presidential elections in the region is often explained in terms of a victory or defeat for the left and the right. Experts and analysts spin their fine theories in their own imaginary laboratories. Media pundits have had notorious difficulty in predicting developments as they often defy the conventional wisdom.

Binaries usually suffer from blinkered vision. While one section has strong belief in the left’s redemptive power and sees a virile bloom in its upsurge, the other sees only gloom and doom. The analysis of the recent Bolivian election too conforms to this pattern. Such prognosis of Latin American politics is at once admirably catholic and regrettably myopic.

This paper seeks to contextualize the victory of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) in Bolivia and attempts a critical analysis of the new Latin American left and its agendas and trajectories.

Left on comeback trail or Bolivian exceptionalism?

Bolivians have shown an abiding faith in the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), electing Luis Arce, the party’s presidential candidate, with a staggering majority. It is a vindication of MAS’s popularity and legacy of Evo Morales leadership. Should the election of Luis Arce be seen as a harbinger of re-emergence of Latin American left, a Pink Tide 2.0 in the region or is it a case of Bolivian exceptionalism?

Luis Arce as Finance Minister in the  Morales government was the architect of  the “Bolivian miracle”. The triumph of MAS is no less a victory of Arce, an academic, low-profile and soft-spoken leader. He ran a smart campaign and avoided inflammatory utterances and Morales rhetoric. The former Finance Minister has been rewarded for successfully managing the country’s economy with significant poverty reduction, inflation control and unprecedented growth for almost 14 years. Interestingly, Arce’s vice-presidential candidate David Choquehuanca had opposed Morales’ decision to run for the fourth term.

 MAS has moved away from Morales’ style of governance. It is now more institutionalised than ever before. Bolivia has demonstrated that there is no need for extreme populism or violation of democratic process to win. Democracy can triumph without establishing presidencies for life or manipulating constitutional procedures.

Bolivia under the interim president Jeanine Áñez had retreated into neoliberal wilderness. The intervening period in Bolivian history will be known for racist state oppression. According to a report of the Harvard School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the University Network for Human Rights, the month of the coup was “the second deadliest month in terms of civilian deaths committed by state forces since Bolivia became a democracy nearly four decades ago.Bolivia has recovered from that dark phase and it needs to follow a pragmatic policy. President Arce has made right kind of noise assuring the people that Bolivia is back on democratic rails. He said, “We are going to create a government of national unity. Without hate and learning from our mistakes as Movement towards socialism.”

As to the victory of MAS, two factors deserve special mention. Firstly, state repression apart, the interim government was plagued by various corruption scandals and the Áñez  government was never in control (Áñez had 34 different cabinet ministers in less than a year). Jeanine Áñez  became even more unpopular when she announced her candidacy for the 2020 presidential elections, after having said that she wouldn’t contest elections. Her constant refusal to act as a transitional president effectively boosted Morales and his party, reminding Bolivians why they had supported MAS in the first place.

Secondly, while Morales legacy may have helped mobilise people in favour of MAS, it is more likely that Evo’s absence helped strengthen MAS and “enabled the rise of a new group of leaders”.The credit for an impressive turn of events equally goes to Arce’s moderate temperament and his technocratic style that set him apart from Morales. But he will need to guard against populist forces hijacking the government’s agenda. President Arce must ensure that Bolivia doesn’t go the Argentina or the Ecuador way: In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, facing corruption charges, returned to office as the Vice president and promoted Alberto Fernández – who won by a large majority- as her party’s presidential candidate. He has been living under her shadow and has struggled to hold firm control of power. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa and his successor,Lenín Moreno have ended up becoming arch rivals.

Though Arce has said that Morales will have no part in this government,  it remains to be seen whether Evo Morales  stays on the periphery or Arce mirrors the trajectory of Lenin Moreno, who succeeded Rafael Correa in the name of continuity but reversed sharply the previously held stances and policies of the government. Arce will be governing a country which is now quite divided, economically weakened, far from the economic boom experienced by Morales, and lacks good diplomatic relations with several neighbours in the region. Arce’s government has an opportunity to rebuild these relations as most Latin American countries and the United states have welcomed Arce and expressed their wish to establish good relations.

All said, Bolivians have disavowed 12 months of a thuggish administration and rejected a period of ugliness, divisiveness, racism and sustained onslaught on democracy. The vote is as much a vindication of MAS’s legacy as a vote against Áñez  government’s daylight delinquency. The OAS, the Carter Centre and the European Union have commended Bolivia for holding a clean and transparent election. British playwright Tom Stoppard had once said, “it is not the voting that is democracy, it is the counting”. Bolivia has sent a powerful message as well as a warning to nascent and struggling democracies around the world.

Revolutionising democracy or democratising revolution? 

Till the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union,  the make-up of the old left revolved around class and nation. The new left has added democracy building as its third axis.The demise of the old left is universally acknowledged. If the old left articulated and defended the interests of the proletariat, the new left is championing the interests of the ‘pobretariado’, the poor and disenfranchised class as victims of exploitation and social exclusion.

With the Berlin Wall collapse, Soviet utopia dissolved. Though China, nominally a Communist country, still uses the language of equality and brotherhood, it is only a tactical device to woo the dispossessed. ‘Communism with Chinese characteristics’ is indeed a one-party authoritarian system which sees nothing wrong in becoming rich. To Deng Xiaoping, reform was  “China’s second revolution,” and he wanted to “let some people get rich first.” Today what is being pursued in Xi Jinping’s China is ‘CCPology’ and ‘CCPism’.

The Vietnamese revolution had strong nationalist credentials. Some say, Ho Chi Minh was half Lenin and half Gandhi. Others say, he was a cross between ‘Mao of the Long March’ and ‘Gandhi at the Spinning Wheel’. Ho Chi Minh was both a Confucian humanist and a Communist revolutionary. Among 20th-century statesmen, Ho Chi Minh was remarkable both for the tenacity and patience with which he pursued his goal of Vietnamese independence and for his success in blending Communism with nationalism. Ho was an enormously pragmatic Communist, a doer rather than a theoretician. That explains Vietnam’s success and not Communism.

Initially, Nicaragua’s Sandinista leaders defined themselves as Marxist or revolutionary socialist. Later they denied being Marxists. They also denied that they wanted Cuba-style communism in Nicaragua. Instead, they claimed they were fighting for a “New Nicaragua” that will be a pluralist democracy. Today, Nicaragua is under a one-man despotic rule of Daniel Ortega.

Cuba’s revolutionary credentials are still largely intact, perhaps the only country in the world that belongs to the old left but it is struggling to survive against economic adversities. It is true, Cuba benefited from the strategic alliance that Castro forged with Hugo Chavez as the Venezuelan leader lavished generous aid and trade benefits on Cuba. But Cuba had overcome economic crisis earlier without any help from outside. Between 1989 and 1991, USSR’s aid to Cuba evaporated. During this ‘Special Period’, oil imports dropped precipitously and the island-nation faced an unprecedented crisis. But Cuba gradually recovered from the crisis by “doing more with less”. As Christian Science Monitor says, Socialist Cuba has hung on “in spite of itself, achieving inspirational heights in public health and education, and enjoying international influence far beyond its means.” (1)

New left is distinctively Latin American

Who constitutes the new left? Andrew F Cooper and Jorge Heine maintain that “some elements of the old left have morphed considerably and a very different left has emerged.”(2).Jorge Castaneda and Marco A Morales say, “some are updated versions of the old Latin American left with a long term vision; others are populist versions of the left that seek power with short-term goals.” (3)The new left is grounded in Latin America’s long tradition of populism. It is not Castro and Che Guevara, but the legacies of Peru’s Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, Colombia’s Jorge Gaitan, Mexico’s Lazaro Cardenas, Brazil’s Getulio Vargas and Argentina’s Juan Peron that explain the rising tide of the new left in Latin America (4). The “pink tide” in Latin America was much misunderstood by outside observers. It was neither a “tsunami” nor a “tornado”; it was at best “a mild breeze”.(5)

What are the main traits of the new left? Revolution is no longer an objective of the new left. It follows reformist, not insurrectionary agendas. Andre Gorz characterizes its agenda as “non-reformist reforms” which means “to fight for alternative solutions and for structural reforms… (and) not to fight for improvements in the capitalist system; it is rather to break it up, to restrict it, to create counter-powers which, instead of creating a new equilibrium, undermine its very foundations.” (6)

Social and reformist agendas have the intended objective of not just seeking  immediate improvements in people’s lives, but also to build popular political capacity so as to lay the foundation for further advances at subsequent stages of political struggle. The relative success of the  new left in Latin America is thanks to its dynamic strategies, decentralised social bases and building coalitions and partnerships with multiple organisations, movements and stakeholders.

The Latin American left has moved in the direction of creating a new narrative of nationhood, challenging long-held assumptions and representations of culture, history, race, gender, citizenship and identity.What is common among new left governments is  their strong emphasis on social egalitarianism. They have been working to bring politics on a new footing as they are engaged in deeper social transformations. 

The new left is primarily the electoral left. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez described it as the “21st century socialism”. It is very different from the traditional left. Hugo Chavez was the most radical exponent and practitioner of the new left. He saw himself as a revolutionary and a liberator and won the hearts of his voters and left-leaning individuals and groups across the region. Chavez, to many analysts, represented the social division of the Latin American society. As Colombian social historian Andres Otavaro says, Chavez “revived the political and ideological debate in Latin America” and thanks to him socialism once again became “an alternative to the long-prevailing neoliberal model.”And yet, Chavez was no Castro and Venezuela is no Cuba.Chavez held largely credible elections and used the vast energy resources to promote his agenda.  He did radicalise the new left agenda and made profound impact on other leaders.It is important to note that neither Lula nor Morales followed Chavez’s style or agenda.

During US President George W Bush’s visit to Latin America in 2007, while Bush and Chavez sparred at a distance over their visions about Latin America, Bush-Lula meeting was cordial and the two countries signed a biofuel agreement. Their ideological differences did not chill their official meetings. On his part, Chavez went to Buenos Aires while Bush was on official visit to Argentina and led a stadium full of leftists in screaming “Gringos go home.”

Morales had a different profile and support base from Ecuador President Rafael Correa. In fact, Morales avoided ‘Venezuela-ization” of Bolivia by following a pragmatic policy. Even the IMF recognised that Bolivia under Morales was “more effective in combating extreme poverty than any other South American government, slashing it from 33 % of the population in 2006 to 16 % in 2018. The Washington Post was all praise for Morales saying, “it is indisputable that Bolivians are healthier, wealthier, better educated living longer and more equal than at any time in this South American nation’s history.”

Argentine President Nestor Kirchner also steered clear of anti-Bush rhetoric though he questioned US-backed market policy. Uruguayan left leaders had no love lost for Chavez and Maduro. In fact, President Jose Mujica, a former Tupamaros guerrilla leader, said Maduro is “as mad as a goat”. Organisation of America States chief Luis Almagro, who earlier served as Mujica’s foreign minister, warned Maduro that he risked becoming “just another petty dictator.”

The left in Brazil and Chile and in Bolivia and Uruguay is as different as day and night. Neither the rhetoric nor the worldviews of Hugo Chavez, Luis InacioLula Da Silva, EvoMorales, Jose Mujica and Michelle Bachelet were similar. What was of course common among them was their opposition to the neoliberal reforms and policies that emanated from the Washington consensus.

Latin America’s new left leaders have not emerged from socialist movements. The new left parties are not the vanguards of revolution. The past and present presidents belonging to the new left don’t exercise hegemonic control over the government.

Social movement is new left’s novelty

Latin Americans, the indigenous and marginalized groups in particular, seem to have perfected the art of collective action. What Latin America has witnessed in this century could be called ‘festivals of protest’ or ‘politics of crowd’. “Dancing in the streets”, as described by Barbara Ehrenreich, has manifested amply in the region like nowhere else. The protesters, mostly the indigenous and marginalized groups, that the left parties have mobilized in their support, revel in feasting, costuming and dancing, long part of communal celebration of their culture. These techniques have been used while protesting, campaigning or marshalling support for their cause.

While street power in general evaporates fast, this has not happened in Latin America thanks to the good management of the ‘politics of crowd’. Elias Canetti, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1960, in his treatise “Crowds and Power” refers to four defining attributes in a crowd. First, the crowd always wants to grow. There are no natural boundaries to its growth. Second, within the crowd there is equality. Third, the crowd loves density. It can never feel too dense. Fourth, the crowd needs a direction. It is in movement and it moves towards a goal.

Indigenous movements and nationalist forces have asserted their presence in national politics in unprecedented fashion in the past few decades. The indigenous people have forged strong national movements and built alliances with other progressive groups highlighting principally their land rights and cultural specificities. It is primarily a fight for asserting their control over their lands, waters and other natural resources. In nearly all Latin American countries with substantial indigenous populations, indigenous movements have gathered force.

Socialism in one country has proved to be a defeated enterprise. As François Chesnais says, socialism can only be conceived as a global / universal enterprise. Its effectiveness in the national space will depend, decisively, on its development in other national spaces, which tends to give it a historical-world process(7). The same is true of the new left.

 New geometry of power

The 21st century has witnessed the rise of a new geometry of power in Latin America, that of below and above. With this has emerged new political actors. The most significant has been the rise of the indigenous. Democratization has opened up new spaces. With the traditional left in decline, indigenous groups have stepped in to fill the vacuum in many countries. Several countries in Latin America, Andean countries in particular, have seen sustained struggles for land and water and long marches and protests against mining and road construction through the forests. A host of grassroots movements from the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in Mexico to the Brazilian Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil, and from the Argentinean piqueteros to the indigenous movements of Bolivia and Ecuador, a host of mass-based movements have occupied the social and political spaces vacated by the collapse of the traditional left.

Social movements are the principal novelty of the new left. The streets have become new theatres of politics. The more robust the street protests, the more pressure on government. Governments in Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina have been ousted by street power.MAS  has become one of the pillars of democracy in Bolivia, but if the government doesn’t perform well, the highly politicised indigenous movements and street power may turn their ire against the government.

The third left

Besides the electoral left, there is ‘third Left’ stirring in Latin America. The Zapatistas and the piqueteros have shown utter disdain for power though they avow autonomy from the state and promote bottom-up decision-making, rather than pursuing state power. John Holloway, Marxist sociologist, has done considerable work on the Zapatista movement and the piqueteros in Argentina (8).These movements and others dismiss all political institutions as untrustworthy and authoritarian. Such distrust of power—bureaucratic, electoral and governmental is reflected in the slogan ‘que se vayantodos’  at the height of the piqueteros movement. Holloway sees revolution as a struggle against power, not for power.

The third left believes that the world can’t be changed through the state. The notion of revolution was strongly associated with gaining control of the state. This view has been challenged. As Holloway says, “the failure of those attempts to change the world through gaining control of the state has led very many people to the conclusion that revolution is impossible.”

It is the Zapatistas who first said that they want to make the world anew, to create a world of dignity, a world of humanity, but without taking power. Holloway argues that what is at issue in the revolutionary transformation of the world “is not whose power but the very existence of power. What is at issue is not who exercises power, but how to create a world based on mutual recognition of human dignity.” The third left makes demands for economic justice and human rights but it strives for the transformation of people—”self-management, independent thought, and self- construction.”

The third left has supported new left governments but has continued to be critical of their policies. Another characteristic of the third left is horizontalism which means “having everybody decide.” The Zapatistas use village-wide meetings to decide local issues, rotate regional leaders, and use intensive consultation to reach movement-wide decisions. The MST uses a more traditional set of pyramidal elected councils (with some less traditional aspects, such as mandating an equal number of women and men representatives at every level).

Challenges

The leftist governments in Latin America benefited from the commodities boom. While the economy expanded, the period also witnessed sharp reduction in poverty. That boom has now ended largely as a consequence of a slowdown in China’s economy.

Because of the Pink Tide, women in power are no longer a novelty in Latin American politics;in 2014, female presidents ruled in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Their policies leave little doubt about the transformative nature of their leadership. Much of the economic development happened due to an intense extractive development model. The indigenous groups have sharpened attacks on the Left regimes. This model of development, which relies on the rapacious extraction of natural resources, entails environmental destruction and the fragmentation of indigenous territory.

From Mexico to Chile, Latin Americans frustrated with scandals, stagnant economies and government incompetence are taking to the streets. Often the protesters’ ire is aimed against the very populist leaders they rallied around earlier when rising wealth from a commodities boom fueled a surge in government spending and helped mask corruption. There are no takers for left governments’ slogans like “paradise with us or hell with the opposition”.

Some governments tried to justify their extractive development by saying how they need these projects to fight poverty. Governments sought to differentiate their prudent and indispensable extractivism from “predatory” extractivism. Some governments even preferred not to take away money from rich people since money came from extractive policies. However, this “hydrocarbon-fuelled social-democratic bargain” could not save their governments. The indigenous protesters who consider Nature as patrimony, not capital, refused to relent.

The fall of some leftist governments, not all, was due to what Santiago Anriaand Kenneth M Roberts call the “autocratic temptation”. Charismatic leaders began to believe that they speak “for the entire nation” and that “they can do so forever.” 

Conclusion

Inequality and poverty have sharply fallen in Latin American countries ruled by the leftist governments even though some have had better record in redistributing income than others.

It would be erroneous to view the rise and fall of a government in Latin America as pendulum swings between the left and the right. There has been a steady expansion of democratic institutions and political rights in recent decades. The deepening of democracy has created political space and Latin America has seen the emergence of several new political parties and social movements. The changing political fortunes of governments are part of what political scientist Sidney Tarrow calls “cycle of contention”.

Social mobilisations and protest movements across Latin America have given a new dimension to democracy. Just as protests and social movements become protest cycles if these are well-organised, sustained and diffused to several sectors, the rise and fall of leftist government becomes cyclic.Like protests and social movements, the advent of a left government has followed a parabolic pattern. It expands to more sectors and more countries.

The new left has made Latin America the epicentre of left-wing politics in the world. It is now part of democratic politics.The region’s experiments in institutional innovations have gone a long way in deepening democracy. As they say, before the deed comes the doing. The unprecedented explosion of rage against injustices of various kinds in Latin America portend a radical change. The rage is the starting point. The rage implies doing. Will it prove to be another utopia?It may well be. But isn’t utopia  the process of making a better world?

1. French, Anya Landau. Can Cuba survive the loss of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. March 07, 2013.

2. Cooper, Andrew F and Heine, Jorge. The effect of national and global forces on the Americas: Tsunami, tornado or just a mild breeze? Which way Latin America? Hemispheric politics meets globalization. Tokyo : United Nations University Press, 2009.

3. Castaneda, Jorge and Morales, Marco A. The emergence of the new left. Which way Latin America? Hemispheric politics meets globalization. Tokyo : United Nations University Press, 2009.

4. Latin America in India’s foreign policy. Roy, Ash Narain. s.l. : International Studies, 2010, Vol. 47, pp. 2-4.

5. Cooper, Andrew F and Heine, Jorge. “The effect of national and global forces on the Americas: Tsunami, tornado or just a mild breeze?”.

6. Gorz, Andre.Strategy for Labor. Boston : Beacon Press, 1964.

7. Chesnais, François.The globalization of capital. s.l. : Syros Editions, 1996.

8. Holloway, John.Change the World without Taking Power:The Meaning of Revolution Today. s.l. : Pluto Press, 2002.

Ash Narain Roy did his Ph.D. in Latin American Studies , Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He was a Visiting Scholar at El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico City for over four years in the 1980s. He later worked as Assistant Editor, Hindustan Times, Delhi. He is author of several books including The Third World in the Age of Globalisation which analyses Latin America's peculiar traits which distinguishes it from Asia and Africa. He is currently Director, Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi

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The Private And Public Joe Biden: Belief And Policy

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Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

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 …

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Is Covid-19 Zoonotic, Natural or Lab-engineered?

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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.   

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Americas

Juneteenth and Getting Over Our Systemic Induced Ignorance and Denial

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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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