random thoughts

Friday, February 03, 2006

Venezuela Undergoes Nationalization

Venezuela Launches 12 New State Enterprises to Substitute Imports

Thursday, Feb 02, 2006
By: Gregory Wilpert – Venezuelanalysis.com
Caracas, Venezuela, February 2, 2006 — Venezuela’s President Chavez

presented a board of directors on Monday, for a new state-owned holding company that will direct 12 new industrial enterprises that are to substitute numerous products Venezuela currently imports. The industries will cover everything from paper, aluminum lamination, textiles, and steel pipes and parts production. The new company will be called Coniba, which stands for National Company of Basic industries.

Coniba will be funded with a $3.5 billion investment from the country’s National Development Fund FUNDEN, which was created with money from a portion of the Central Bank’s foreign currency reserves.
According to Venezuela’s Minister of Basic Industries and Mines, Victor Alvarez, the new company will create 20,000 direct and indirect jobs.

The creation of Coniba, "forms part of the sowing of the oil and of the policy of endogenous development," of the Chavez government, said Alvarez during the company’s inauguration.

Endogenous development is the term the Chavez government has used to describe the project of developing the country’s economy "from within," that is, without relying primarily on outside investors. The
plan to "sow the oil," an expression borrowed from Venezuela’s oil boom years in the 1970’s, is a plan to use the country’s oil wealth for investment in and diversification of the country’s economy.

The 12 new companies that will belong to Coniba will be constructed as ocial Production Enterprises (EPS), by which the government means that they will not be exploitative and oriented exclusively towards making profits. Rather, according to Alvarez, "work [in these enterprises] will lose its alienated character and will become an element of conscience." Also, "Its products will be sold at solidarity prices.

They will be completely oriented towards endogenous development."
President Chavez, who also spoke during the inauguration, said that Social Production Enterprises, such as those of Coniba, would work towards eliminating hierarchies and inequalities within the workplace,
in contrast to capitalism, where one discriminates on the basis of the type of work one does. "We are all equal … there should not be hierarchical privileges at work," said Chavez.

The main objective, though, of the new enterprises is to produce industrial products that are currently being imported, for which Venezuela has the raw materials. As such, they will support the country’s energy, construction, infrastructure, rail, and textile industries, explained Alvarez.
Venezuela currently imports approximately 70% of the products it consumes, largely because Venezuela’s large oil revenues have made it relatively easy to purchase imports and expensive to manufacture
products within Venezuela. The Chavez government has repeatedly stated that it is committed to diversifying the country’s economy. While non-traditional exports, such as agricultural products, have increased in the past two years, increasing oil revenues have left the ratio between non-traditional exports and oil exports more or less the same.

In one of the first concrete moves to reduce Venezuela’s reliance on imports, Minister Alvarez announced yesterday that the country would reduce its exports of aluminum to zero by the year 2012, so that the domestically produced aluminum could be used for products manufactured
in Venezuela.

According to the Associated Press, "The objective is that we will not export even a gram of aluminum or a kilogram of wood," Alvarez said, adding, "In 2012, 2013, we should be processing 100 percent of our raw materials, our basic products in this country." "Our goal is for Venezuela, in the next six years, to declare itself an industrialized country."

Benjamin Dangl: Bolivia's Trial By Fire

Net Commentary
Bolivia’s Trial By Fire February 03, 2006
By Benjamin Dangl

After winning a landslide election victory on December 18th, Bolivian president-elect Evo Morales announced plans to nationalize the country's gas reserves, rewrite the constitution in a popular assembly, redistribute land to poor farmers and change the rules of the U.S.-led war on drugs in Bolivia. If he follows through on such promises, he'll face enormous pressure from the Bush administration, corporations and international lenders. If he chooses a more moderate
path, Bolivia's social movements are likely to organize the type of protests and strikes that have ousted two presidents in two years.

In the gas-rich Santa Cruz region, business elites are working toward seceding from the country to privatize the gas reserves. Meanwhile, U.S. troops stationed in neighboring Paraguay may be poised to intervene if the Andean country sways too far from Washington's interests. For Bolivian social movements and the government, 2006 will be a trial by fire.

The Social Movements and the State
Among the presidential candidates that ran in the December election, Morales has the broadest ties to the country's social movements. However, he has played limited roles in the popular uprisings of recent years. During the height of the gas war in 2003, when massive mobilizations were organized to demand the nationalization of the country's gas reserves, Morales was attending meetings in Geneva on parliamentary politics. After the 2003 uprising ousted right-wing president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, Morales urged social movement leaders to accept then vice president Carlos Mesa as Sanchez de Lozada's replacement.

In June 2005, when another protest campaign demanding gas nationalization forced Mesa to resign, Morales helped direct the social movements into governmental channels, pushing for an interim president while new elections were organized.

Morales' actions during these revolts were aimed at generating broad support among diverse sectors of society, including the middle class and those who didn't fully support the tactics of protest groups. This strategy, combined with directing the momentum of social movements into the electoral realm, resulted in his landslide victory on December 18th.

In spite of Morales' relative distance from social movements, his victory in a country where the political landscape has been shaped by such movements presents the possibility for massive social change. Once he assumes office, Morales has pledged to organize a Constituent
Assembly of diverse social sectors to rewrite the country's constitution. It is possible that this could allow for a powerful collaboration between social movements and the state.

Vice President-elect Alvaro Garcia Linera says such collaboration is possible. He contends that MAS, the Movement Toward Socialism party which he and Morales belong to, is not a party but rather "a coalition of flexible social movements that has expanded its actions to the electoral arena. There is no structure; it is a leader and movements, and there is nothing in between. This means that MAS must depend on mobilizations or on the temperament of the social movements."(1)

Oscar Olivera, a key leader in the revolt against Bechtel's privatization of Cochabamba's water in 2000, believes the relationship between social movements and the Morales administration will play a vital role in creating radical change in the country. Olivera participated in the December election because he felt that it was part of "a process of building strength so that in the next government?we can regain control of natural resources and end the monopoly that the political parties have over electoral politics? We are creating a movement, a nonpartisan social-political front that addresses the most vital needs of the people through a profound change in power relations, social relations, and the management of water, electricity, and garbage." (2)

To sustain their momentum and unity, an alliance between some of the most dynamic social groups was formed in early December 2005 in the first Congress of the National Front for the Defense of Water and Basic Human Services. This alliance includes the Water Coordinating
Committee of Cochabamba, the Federation of Neighborhood Councils of El Alto, the Water and Drainage Cooperatives of Santa Cruz, as well as neighborhood organizations, cooperatives, irrigation farmers, and committees on electricity, water rights and other services from all
over the country. In many cases, these autonomous groups have organized methods of providing citizens with basic services which the state fails to offer. Such a coalition of grassroots forces may pave the way for a nation-wide, alternative form of governance.

Tangling Over Coca

Morales plans to fully legalize the production of coca leaves and change the rules of the U.S.-led war on drugs in his country. White House officials are wary of any deviation from its anti-narcotics plan in Latin America; a strategy they claim has been successful. However, U.S. government statistics and reports from analysts in Bolivia tell a different story.

A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office explains that, "While the U.S. has poured 6 billion dollars into the drug war in the Andes over the past five years?the number of drug users in the U.S. has remained roughly constant."

In an interview on National Public Radio (NPR), Nicholas Burns, the State Department's undersecretary for political affairs, said the Bush administration hopes "that the new government of Evo Morales in Bolivia does not change course, does not somehow assert that it's
fine to grow coca and fine to sell it."

Though it is a key ingredient in cocaine, coca has been used for centuries in the Andean region for medicinal purposes; it relieves hunger, sickness and fatigue. It's also an ingredient in Coca-Cola, cough syrups, wines, chewing gum, and diet pills. The U.S. Embassy's website for Bolivia suggests chewing coca leaves to alleviate altitude sickness.

"Trying to compare coca to cocaine is like trying to compare coffee beans to methamphetamines, there's a universe of difference between the two," Sanho Tree from the Institute for Policy Studies explained on NPR. "We have to respect that indigenous cultures have used and
continue to use coca in its traditional form, which is almost impossible to abuse in its natural state."

Georg Ann Potter worked from 1999 to 2002 as an advisor to Morales, and since then has been the main advisor to the Coordination of the Six Women Federations of the Chapare, the country's biggest coca growing region. Potter explained that although Morales plans to
continue a hard line approach against the drug trade, the current policies of the U.S. war on drugs need to change.

"One billion dollars has been spent [on alternative crop development] over the last 20 years and there is little to show for it," she said. "Forced eradication resulted in many dead, more wounded, armed forces thieving and raping."

It's widely held among critics of Washington's anti-narcotics agenda for Latin America that the U.S. government uses the war on drugs as an excuse for maintaining a military and political presence in the region.

A report from the Congressional Research Service stated that the U.S. war on drugs has had no effect on the price, purity and availability of cocaine in the U.S. Potter explained that even the U.S. government admits that "Bolivian cocaine, what there is of it, does not go to the U.S., but rather to Europe."

The Andean Information Network, a Bolivia-based NGO which monitors human rights issues in the U.S.-led war on drugs, recommends that "the U.S. should recognize studies that have determined that domestic education, prevention, and rehabilitation programs are more effective
in altering drug consumption, and accordingly address the demand side of the war on drugs."

Between a Rock and Hard Place

In regard to the country's gas reserves, the Morales administration could go in two directions. It could fully nationalize the gas reserves and face the wrath of multinational corporations and lending institutions that want exactly the opposite to happen. Or it could renegotiate contracts with gas corporations, and partially nationalize the industry. Choosing the latter option would likely generate massive protests and road blockades. Social movement leaders have stated that if Morales doesn't fully nationalize the gas, the population will mobilize to hold the administration's feet to the flames.

"We will nationalize the natural resources, gas and hydrocarbons," Morales explained. "We are not going to nationalize the assets of the multinationals. Any state has the right to use its natural resources. We must establish new contracts with the oil companies based on equilibrium. We are going to guarantee the returns on their investment and their profits, but not looting and stealing." (3)

Any move that Morales makes is likely to upset either corporate investors, social movements or both. Previous Bolivian presidents Carlos Mesa and Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada walked similar gauntlets and ended up being ousted from office by protests.

A secession movement in Santa Cruz, the wealthiest district in the country, also threatens Bolivia's peace. An elite group of businessmen lead the movement to separate Santa Cruz from the rest of the country, which would allow for the full privatization of the gas industry regardless of what protest groups, and the federal government, demand. This group has been accused of maintaining militias organized to defend their autonomy.

Other methods of destabilization are already underway. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the U.S. government has spent millions to support discredited right-wing political parties and stifle grassroots movements in Bolivia. Between
2002 and 2004, a grant from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED) allowed for the training of thirteen "emerging political leaders" from right-wing parties in Bolivia. These 25-to 35-year-old politicians were brought to Washington for seminars. Their party-strengthening projects in Bolivia were subsequently funded by the NED. (4)

US Troops in Paraguay
Outright U.S. military intervention in Bolivia is a possibility. An airbase in Mariscal Estigarribia, Paraguay is reportedly being utilized by hundreds of U.S. troops. The base, which was constructed by U.S. technicians in the 1980s under Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner, is 200 kilometers from the border with Bolivia and is larger than the international airport in Paraguay's capital. Analysts in the region believe these troops could be poised to intervene in
Bolivia to suppress leftist movements and secure the country's gas reserves. (5)

Under U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's direction, the Pentagon has pushed for a number of small Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs) based around Latin America. These military installations permit leapfrogging from one location to another across the continent. Such a strategy reflects an increased dependence on missiles and unmanned aircraft instead of soldiers. CSLs offer the opportunity for a small but potent presence in a country. Such
outposts exist at Eloy Alfaro International Airport in Manta, Ecuador, Reina Beatrix International Airport in Aruba, Hato International Airport in nearby Curacao and at the international airport in Comalapa, El Salvador. Paraguay may already be home to the
region's next CSL. (6)

The U.S. Embassy in Paraguay contends that no plans for a military outpost are underway and that the military operations are based on humanitarian efforts. However, State Department reports do not mention any funding for humanitarian works in Paraguay. They do mention that funding for the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program in the country doubled in 2005. (7)

U.S. officials say the triple border area, where Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil meet, is a base for Islamic terrorist networks. Analysts in Latin America believe that the U.S. government is using the threat of terrorism as an excuse to secure natural resources in the region.

"The objectives of the U.S.A. in South America have always been to secure strategic material like oil in Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, tin mines in Bolivia, copper mines in Chile, and always to maintain lines of access open," Luiz Alberto Moniz Bandeira, a Brazilian political scientist at the Universidade de Brasilia, wrote in the Folha de São Paulo. (8)

Orlando Castillo, a Paraguayan human rights leader, said the goal of U.S. military operations in his country is to "debilitate the southern bloc...and destabilize the region's governments, especially Evo Morales..." (9)

While grappling with these challenges, the Morales administration will have to answer to the millions of Bolivians who, in the December election, gave him the biggest mandate in the country's history.

For centuries Bolivians have, in the words of Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, "suffered?the curse of their own wealth." The country's tin, copper and silver were exploited by foreign companies that made enormous profits while Bolivia struggled on. For many Bolivians, the election of Morales offers the hope that history will stop repeating itself. As Galeano writes, "Recovery of the resources that have always been usurped is the recovery of our destiny."

Benjamin Dangl has traveled and worked as a journalist in Bolivia and Paraguay. He edits www.UpsideDownWorld.org, uncovering activism and politics in Latin America and www.TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events.

Email Ben@upsidedownworld.org


1. Raul Zibechi, "Two Opposing Views of Social Change in Bolivia",
IRC Americas, 12-14-05 http://americas.irc-online.org/am/2987

2. Zibechi

3. Jorge Martin, "Bolivia after the election victory of the MAS -
Morales cannot serve two masters", In Defense of Marxism, 10-1-05

4. Reed Lindsay, "Exporting Gas and Importing Demoracy in Bolivia",
North American Congress on Latin America, 11-05

5. Benjamin Dangl, "U.S. Military in Paraguay Prepares To "Spread
Democracy"", Upside Down World, 9-15-05

6. Sam Logan and Matthew Flynn, "U.S. Military Moves in Paraguay
Rattle Regional Relations", IRC Americas, 12-14-05,

7. Dangl

8. Logan

9. Benjamin Dangl, "An Interview with Paraguayan Human Rights
Activist Orlando Castillo", Upside Down World, 10-16-05

Sunday, January 22, 2006

individualism in politics (unfinished)

The relation between the individual and society is an organic and dialectical relatio, it is not a relation between 2 seperate entities but rather a relation like the relation between the human cells and the human organic structure.

choices of individuals, the inter-indivudal relations creates the social dynamic, and the social dynamic sets the condition that an individual live within, so society is affected by the choices of individuals as much as the choices of individuals are affected by society.

the rethoric that sets that individuals dictate their own history or future, without taking into consideration the role of society in shaping such history and future, is in itslef contradictory because individuals can not exist as a self consiousness individual without its presence within the existing social conditions and constructs.

The self development relies mainly on the existence of the self within society, individuals aquire language/methods of expression and their self cousiousness within the realm of society; individuals are not free from free from the dictation of the social development and realization, societal progression and development as well is not free from the choices taken by individuals.

as this link presides over the social dynamic, thus the emnacipation of society from one social context to another necessite the emnacipation of the individual that constitutes society itself, also the emnacipation of the individual can not be realized unless there is a mass emnacipation of soceity.

Political individualism is not but a fake realization of the individual, it creates a frame of progressive genuine ideas without any occuring changes within the social construct, it is progressive in comparison with the prevailing ideas in society, but at the same it is unable to relate to the rising conradictions within society, thus it develops as an intellectual ghetto which is able to take a position from the current social realm but unable to change it.

this break in communication between the formed intellectual autonomy and society as a whole requires from these individuals a defense mechanism, an identity that sets them different from the the masses, and with the permanat break with society it develops itself as a lifestyle, and sometimes it develops into a ouritan left afraid from its own contradictions, it struggles to stay unifrom and enclosed.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

random thoughts (1)

they say everything evolves around the idea of death,
we all aim for death,
we all know one thing is certain
but as i draw these ideas into my head, i find no meaning
if death is the only persisting truth
then why is it only recognized through life
why is it so essential to live if we all long for death
in every minute of our lives, in every thought, word and sentence
we are only pushing death away
do we actually need to recognize death, is it that important to be thinking of an end that we have no way of knowing when it happens
emptiness is another word for silence
death is another word for sanctuary
we have created a world that is horrible enough to push us to believe in death as the only purpose
is death the problem or is it us
is life depressing, or do we make it of such
we draw our own history letter by letter, point by point
we create our ends and we create our beginnings
we can lit the lights or we can put them down
we decide our paths in every decision in every word and in every look
it is time we look into life in the purpose of making something out of it
it is time to stop looking at our ends, and look for new beginnings
we have endured so much pessimism.
take a deep breath and hit the road, it is time for change
it is our time to write our own history
we are no pones inside the course of life, we are life, and without us life has no mere existence.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

"Monty Pythons"

Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad,
Other things just make you swear and curse,
When you're chewing life's gristle,
Don't grumble,
Give a whistle!
And this'll help things turn out for the best.

Always look on the bright side of life.
Always look on the light side of life.

If life seems jolly rotten,
There's something you've forgotten,
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you're feeling in the dumps,
Don't be silly chumps.
Just purse your lips and whistle.
That's the thing.

Always look on the bright side of life.
Always look on the right side of life,

For life is quite absurd
And death's the final word.
You must always face the curtain with a bow.
Forget about your sin.
Give the audience a grin.
Enjoy it. It's your last chance, anyhow.

Always look on the bright side of death,
Just before you draw your terminal breath.

Life's a piece of shit,
When you look at it.
Life's a laugh and death's a joke it's true.
You'll see it's all a show.
Keep 'em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.

Always look on the bright side of life.
Always look on the right side of life.

Always look on the bright side of life!
Always look on the bright side of life!
Always look on the bright side of life!
Always look on the bright side of life!
Repeat to fade...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ariel Sharon: Butcher of Beirut, not a man of peace

article from the Socialist Worker

The media is presenting critically ill Israeli leader Ariel Sharon as a ‘peacemaker’, but Palestinian Fatima Helou looks at his brutal record.

The first time I heard of Ariel Sharon was the evening of 16 September 1982. I was ten and lived with my family in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp on the outskirts of Beirut.

Our camp was surrounded by Israeli troops and their Lebanese Phalangist fascist allies. All our fighters had withdrawn from the camps under a peace deal that ended the Israeli siege of the Lebanese capital. We were defenceless but our safety was guaranteed by the international community.

Then a neighbour screamed, “Sharon is here, Sharon is here. We have seen him at the sports stadium.”

I did not know who Sharon was at the time, but his name filled all Palestinians with fear. In August 1953 his elite forces raided the al-Bureig refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and killed up to 50 refugees. In October of that year he organised another massacre, this time of 69
civilians in the West Bank village of Qibya.

His soldiers would often slaughter people they captured.

During the 1967 war he executed over 100 Palestinian prisoners. Now he was leading the charge by the Israeli army into Lebanon. In September 1982 he reached our camp.

People began to panic, but none of us could have foreseen the horror he would unleash on us over the next 36 hours.

The first to die were the people caught trying to escape the cordon around our camp. Then we started to hear that representatives from the civilian committee who went to negotiate were not returning. That evening the Israelis and the Phalangists started to fire on the camp from the sports stadium.

A neighbour came to our house with her two daughters. She was screaming that the Phalangists had entered the camp and killed her two sons.

All night we could hear the sound of death around us as family after family were killed in their homes.

My brothers fled to the Gaza hospital on the edge of the camp hoping to find refuge. My mother and I found refuge in the mosque. My father decided to hide in the house.

Militiamen discovered us and marched us out of the camp. It was then that we saw the Israeli soldiers. They taunted us.

As the militiamen and the Israelis marched us along the main road we were joined by other survivors. Among them was a friend and her family.

With her was a neighbour who was trying to stop the bleeding from a large wound in her stomach. She later died.

A disabled man called Abu Mohammed al-Dokheh was forced to march with us. He was too slow so they killed him. My friend’s father tried to escape but they shot him as well.

During this march I came across the body of my cousin. She had been raped and was lying naked in the street. Her father was lying dead in an alleyway. The rest of her family were killed on their doorstep.

A women tried to flee down an alleyway and they caught her and beat her to death. People began to panic as we realised we were all going to be murdered.

Two Israeli soldiers came up to my mother and me. My mother pleaded with them in Hebrew. One of them said, “Run or you will die.” We ran and escaped to the Gaza hospital.

The hospital was full of people seeking shelter. But the staff said they could not protect us. They were all later murdered.

We were crammed into cars and escaped. My father and brothers survived, but were arrested and handed over to the Lebanese army. Many people disappeared after they were arrested.

Politicians and the media are now presenting Sharon as a man of peace. But for me he will always be the butcher of Beirut.

Chez Andre

Chez Andre is a small bar in hamra street beirut, which has been closed down.
this post is a small reminder of the place which has hosted many wonderful nights with good music and good company.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The cost of US policies in Lebanon

Bassem Chit

War on Iraq and the destabilization of the region:

The war on Iraq was even by the words of the US administration a war for economic control and to keep the oil flow from the Middle East. Sunday Herald newspaper (UK) stated: "President Bush's Cabinet agreed in April 2001 that 'Iraq remains a destabilising influence to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East' and because this is an unacceptable risk to the US, 'military intervention' is necessary."
Achieving control over the oil in Iraq, is not simply taking control over the oil refineries there, they need also to create a political environment in Iraq and the region to guarantee their control over such resources.

This means US interference in the region is not only limited to Iraq, but it would exceed to start fingering the present regimes in the Middle East like Syria, Iran and Lebanon.
The impact of the war was direct and fast, high fuel prices, refugees, destabilization of the political regimes in the region.

Syria was never away from being fingered by the US, During the war on Iraq, and the first stages of the occupation, the US has repeatedly attacked Syria for helping “insurgent” groups to flee through Syria or to attack from Syria, or even to transport weapons through the Iraqi-Syrian borders.

These attacks present a real threat to the regime in Syria, especially when the American troops are just miles away from Damascus. This resulted in tightening the grip of control of the Syrian regime in Syria and also in Lebanon this can be seen when Syria pushed for a change in the Lebanese constitution extending Lahoud’s presidential mandate.

Lebanon: Class, Sectarianism and the re-alignment of the ruling class
The Local political scene in Lebanon at this point was witnessing an intensification of the class struggle as a result of the continuous clash between Hariri’s neo-liberal policies and the semi state-capitalist model pushed by the Syrian regime, and what added to the situation was the war on Iraq, which led the players inside the Lebanese political scene to re-align, which all in all created a highly unstable political scene.

May 27th 2004, mass demonstration took place all over the country, protesting against the socio-economic policies as well as the rise of fuel prices; in reaction the army marched towards one of the poorest suburbs in south Beirut and started shooting live ammunition against the demonstrators, killing five workers.

At that point there was a rise in class antagonism, especially due to the repeated attacks and destruction of what is left of the trade unions.

There was a clear threat to the ruling class in the country, which forced a re-alignment of the ruling class and an intensification of the conflict within it. This was clearly seen in the repeated attacks between Lahoud and Hariri, and the forming opposition known at that point as the Bristol Coalition.

Parts of the ruling class saw that the US is determined in reshaping the regimes in the Middle East, and in an attempt to maintain its rule, two options where put to the table either the Ukrainian Model or the Iraqi Model.

But due to the high unpopularity of the present political leadership, the opposition or the Bristol coalition was not able to attract any support from the people, their demonstrations was no more then small assemblies of some of their political leaders. The opposition was mainly formed of the druze leader Walid Junblat and his party the Progressive Socialist Party, which is neither progressive, nor socialist and merely a party. Also inside the opposition is quite a collection of Christian parties that go from center right to the far right like, the Lebanese Forces. In addition to the Democratic Left which is no more than an opportunistic attempt to form a Lebanese version of the European social democracy.

At the same time Lahoud’s Coalition was in the same position, having no popular support at all, leading a coalition of mafia leaders and very corrupt politicians and Baathist propagandists.
As for Hariri, he maintained the center between both coalitions, but was leaning a bit towards the opposition. But Hariri also was far away from having any actual support from the people, except for the forced support of his several companies’ employees and the beneficiaries from his student grants. Hariri is responsible for the privatization plans, the VAT in addition to privatizing most of Beirut’s Center known as Solidere, in reference to the company that actually bought the area, and where Hariri has considerable shares in it.

After the elections in Iraq and Palestine, the US seemed more determined on continuing its new Middle East Project, with their new developed theory of constructive disharmony. The theory claims that by creating a general political disharmony or in other words destabilizing the political scene in the region, they can benefit from the resulting chaos in pushing for the creation of new puppet regimes that can serve of best interest in this new era of US politics.

This strategy was highly present especially in the obvious and direct interference of US ambassadors in the local policies of the countries they were in. in Lebanon, the US ambassador as well as the Europeans played a determining role in the local policies and allowing considerable amounts of money to flow into the country in support of political and civil society movements.
The situation was moving rather timidly, and needed somehow of a braking point, a curve,
somehow a push to move things forward.

Hariri’s Assassination:
On Monday, February 14, 2005, the motorcade carrying former Lebanese
Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri, was torn to pieces by, what it seems, 350 kilograms of TNT. The explosion killed Hariri, 7 of his companions, and 11 bystanders.

After 10 minutes of the assassination, the words “civil-war” was on every tongue, the blast reminded everyone of the horrors of the civil war that finished not so long ago.

The following days saw hundreds of thousands of Lebanese turn to the streets. People went to the streets, expressing their refusal to any violence that might start, the opposition at this point saw the situation as a golden opportunity to continue with their plans, and move to the offensive, the first step was by directly shifting the fingers of accusation towards the Syrian regime, the argument was easily won because of know history of confrontation between Syria and Hariri and because of the History of the Syrian rule over Lebanon. but still the opposition needed to fill in the huge gap between them and the people, and at this point they declared a political war, somehow of a civil unrest, which was enough to gain them enough support.

Revolution of the ruling class on itself.
The opposition saw this also as a way to deflect the class struggle to a confessional and racist conflict, religious sectarianism was encouraged, which is a strategy that has been used historically by the Lebanese ruling class to oppress and demolish the class struggle by emphasizing on confessional, religious and ethnic differences, the same strategy was used during the 1860 civil war, and 1975 civil war. And this strategy also coincides with the politics used by the US administration to deal with the Middle East, and especially in Iraq.
At that point the events were accelerated to point where there was a real threat of a new civil war; tens of racist attacks were carried out all over the country mainly directed against Syrian workers, and Palestinians. This rhetoric was highly encouraged by the media, locally and internationally.

The CNN and most of the western media where always emphasizing on the Chrsitian religious identity of the people who were assassinated after Hariri even though that the 2 main figures who were assassinated (Samir Kassir and Georges Hawi) were from the communist and leftist tradition, Samir Kassir was of Palestinian origin, member of the democratic left. Georges Hawi was an ex-secretary general of the CP.

The Local Media, was filled with racism and confessionalism, Pamela Tannouri from Annahar newspaper said in one of her articles about the Syrians: “you know them from their faces… they want to enforce their culture and history on us”, other newspapers showed testimonies from the opposition demonstrators saying “you know them from how they smell and how they look” placards showed statements like “100% Lebanese” during all this time the political leadership of the opposition stayed silent refusing that there is any confessionalism and racism in the streets. The loyalists camp being totally driven out of the political scene, allowed Hezbollah to go in into the scene by holding a demonstration to wave goodbye for the withdrawing Syrian troops, and actually used the same rhetoric as the opposition, Hezbollah was able to marginalize large section of the Lebanese society mainly the Shiaa, and hold it to fuel the tension which would allow him to put himself as a considerable power in the country, and he did exactly that, by holding a demonstration of nearly a million demonstrator. This actually put the whole of the country in a state of strong sectarian confrontations, many confessional and sectarian incidents were recorded, and most of the time the media stayed silent on them.

Michel Aoun, another warlord, who was living in exile, came back to country, and destabilized the opposition and withdrew from it. When the parliamentary elections were due, the country saw three massive blocks, formed mainly out of Hizbollah, the opposition led by Rafic Hariri’s son: Saed Hariri and the third pole was Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, which is mainly an anti-Syrian movement.

The elections also showed a high interference of the US ambassador and diplomats as well as for French and European diplomats, and their role was not of an advisory role only but it extended itself in actually selecting candidates for the elections, especially in Beirut. Also a big collection of electoral monitoring organization spread all over the country, the participation rate in the elections showed there is still a silent majority; in some cities the electoral rates didn’t exceed 20%, which still showed the unpopularity of the political leadership despite the mass mobilizations. This high unpopularity was due to the successive betrayal of the popular movement by the leaders of the opposition.

For example, the coalition in south Lebanon which was considered a pro-Syrian coalition was formed of Hizbollah, Amal, Junblat and Saed Hariri. In Beirut, where the coalition was considered anti-Syrian was also formed of HIzbollah, Junblat, Saed Hariri and the Christian Parties.

The dishonest politics were quite obvious, and this led to many people loosing interest in the electoral process, especially after the Maronite Patriarch pushed not to lower the age of voting to 18 years old instead of 21 year, so that mainly meant that most of the people who actually fueled the demonstrations where not allowed to decide what happens to their country.

The Elections: a glass coalition
The elections resulted in a winning majority for the opposition, but still Hizbollah and Aoun Managed to get a considerable number of seats in the parliament. Lahoud was still on the presidency. Parts of the opposition were calling for the resignation of Lahoud, but the patriarch objected to these calls since the presidential seat in Lebanon is a Maronite seat and Lahoud’s resignation meant weakening the position of the Maronites in the country. This also led to the loss of trust deepening inside the supporters of the opposition.

Many of the opposition forces were hoping for a national unity coalition, but the dream didn’t last long and that is because the ruling class in such a fast attempt to reconstruct its political organization, did not manage to resolve the contradictions that are highly present in the local political scene, such as sectarianism, also the weapon used by the ruling class to mobilize the masses backfired in pushing confessional and civil-war related questions to surface again, which did not hold the coalition for long. Hizbollah and Aoun are now growing closer and closer to each other; you can see the early formation of such an alliance in the recent student elections in the universities, where hizbollah and Aoun formed an electoral alliance on a national scale.

The glass coalition will not last as long as it was intended, especially that many of the Lebanese parties are structurally unable to cope with a lot of the changes in the Lebanese society, and through the past 10 years, many of these parties has encountered many structural problems related to the internal democratic process. So basically we will see a lot of changes in the political formations in the country.

Mehlis Report: Syria, Lebanon and the free market.
Mehlis, the commissioner of the UN International Independent investigation commission, Mehlis was on the front pages or most of the Lebanese local newspapers in the country for most of his stay, actually in his report he points out the extraordinary media coverage of the investigation.
Without even going into the detail if his report is actually telling us something, Mehlis report is being used consecutively by the US to corner and to “punish” Syria, which in the most probable cases would lead to economic and political sanctions like the ones that were put on Iraq. Quite recently Syria decided to link its economy to the global market by freeing up the Syrian Lira, such policy would drive large sections of society into poverty, and if the sanctions happen these people would be condemned into strong poverty and unemployment.

The white house has decided long time ago that it is essential to guarantee US economic hegemony over the world market, that is why still the currency used at OPEC is US dollars, and these policies are essential for the US also in the new open Markets in the Middle East, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, and now Syria they have all linked their currencies with the US dollar.

It’s not only that, this requires also opening up the markets, through WTO, privatization plans, grants, etc…

Recently, the Lebanese government is systematically attacking the majority of the population, by a series of neo-liberal policies that would condemn a large majority of society under poverty, unemployment and social discrimination. Not a long time ago, the government decided to cut aid to the agricultural sectors, they also decided to cut disability funds to 50%. Rising fuel and gaz prices, there have been threats on raising the price of bread also. It doesn’t stop here, there have been serious talks on raising the VAT from 10% to 18%, and with a 200$ minimum wage, and Beirut being one of the most expensive cities in the middle east, this would actually mean a crisis.

Solidere the company that owns Beirut’s down-town has sold a considerable number of shares and property in the few months after Hariri’s death, money was being purred in from Europe as funding plans or grants, also the CNN recently did a documentary on Lebanon, which is more an advertisement for investors to come to Lebanon, we can see the first traces of market globalization with the communication sectors, which witnessed an instant drop of prices, as a result of the first steps in opening the sector for competition, which will most probably end-up in closing many service providers putting hundreds jobless, exactly what happened with the mobile phone sector. Also another indicator is the rising prices in the housing sector. Lebanon will experience a boom, which most probably will be expressed in high prices, and more class antagonism, which is slowly manifesting especially after the political scene has cooled off.
The surfacing class issues are pushing the Lebanese ruling class to use the International Investigation to maintain its dominance over the political debate in the country, and to divert attention from issues like racism, class and confessionalism.
The international investigation is used as the main propaganda tool to create the state enemy which would allow them to maintain their status, a Lebanese version of George Orwell’s 1984.

Is there any hope?
Saadallah Wannous, a well known progressive Syrian playwright said: “we are committed by hope” hope for change is always present as always as there are people. The movement is alive and we can see it re-emerging all ove the Middle East.

Iraq: the recent weeks, we have seen that the last US led attack in west Iraq, has pushed for its own allies in the government to turn against it, and actually the choice of resistance is winning more people on the ground. The US arguments of democracy in middle east is not getting more support but rather loosing support, IRAQ has been a live example of such democracy.

Palestine: The recent elections inside the Fatah faction in Palestine, the results came giving the majority of votes to Marwan el Barghouti, he is one of the young members in the party, and imprisoned for life in Israeli prisons, and we can also see quite a dominant choice for new militant voices, this shift can be translated in a shift for keeping the intifada going, keeping the resistance alive.

The Gulf: we have seen in the past few years, especially after the invasion of Iraq, a rise in movement in the Arabian gulf, we have seen a lot of reports emerging out of the area, where 5 years ago it’s somehow impossible to get any bit of information, now we see a rise in genuine civil society organizations, we have also seen anti-war demonstrations, rising movements in Saudi Arabia calling for democratization and for workers rights.

Egypt: we are witnessing a rising movement against the state, against Imperialism and against capitalism, for example the kefaya movement, and if the movement in Egypt manages to win more support which is what it s doing that will mean that it will give more hope for the movement in the region as a whole.

Lebanon: the left has been highly present over the past few years, and has been under attack since the 1975, but still has the ability to revive itself, in 1996 the coalition drown between the left and secular organization collected somehow of 25% of the votes nationwide, but due to sectarian structure of the electoral system didn’t mange to get seats in the parliament, in the years following the trade unions were leading a strong workers movement. In 1998 we have seen the rise of the independent leftist groups inside universities, between 1998 and 2001 the new left built the anti-globalization movement, and was able to break the ban on political activities in the country, as well as leading many activities against imperialism. In 2002, the new left formed a coalition that led a 45-day sit-in in martyr’s square in Beirut, and managed to lead the anti-war movement against the Israeli aggression on Jenin and Ramallah. In 2003 the “no war no dictatorships” campaign managed to win the argument against war and imperialism as well as the argument of people’s democracy against US driven democracy, the same thing that is happening in Egypt right now in the kefaya movement. On May 27th 2004, mass demonstrations took place all over the country, protesting against the socio-economic policies as well as the rise of fuel prices; in reaction the army marched towards one of the poorest suburbs in south Beirut and started shooting live ammunition against the demonstrators, killing five workers.

After Hariri’s assassination and the so-called revolution the new forming far-left has been able to win the arguments over the questions of class, sectarianism, and managed to answer the questions over the economic changes, and proved to be right in its assessment of the current political changes. The democratic left, the new left centrists, allied with the government, are loosing arguments in the face of radical politics, they are loosing control in universities for more radical politics, and their leadership has moved to the defensive.

A movement is on the rise and this time it is coming out from ordinary people, and shows a necessity to organize, mobilize and agitate. Waiting was never an answer and it will never be, the movement in the middle east has encountered many defeats, and is still recovering, but at the same time, it is showing progress it is winning more and more support, and this time not in middle class coffee shops or bars, but now it is gaining support among ordinary people, the movement is more and more recognizing its place in the class struggle and moving from being dispersed to being more organized and more clear in politics and theory and action.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Lebanon protest backed by rich

Bassem Chit

The US has hailed the resignation of the Lebanese government as part of a democratic wave sweeping the world. What they are calling the “cedar revolution”—modelled on the “orange revolution” in the Ukraine and the “rose revolution” in Georgia — is less a revolution and more a medium sized demonstration of the supporters of the opposition, which is mainly made up of right wing parties.

Most of these parties have participated in ruling Lebanon since the end of the war.

All these parties had militias during the civil war, all took part in sectarian massacres and terrorism. All the parties have, at some point, co-operated in eroding Lebanon’s democracy.

They have all supported the rule of the security services, both Lebanese and Syrian, and have voted for harsh neo-liberal policies that have seen rises in poverty and unemployment, and cuts in pensions and health provisions.

One of the demands of the opposition is independence for Lebanon, yet they are happy to support the policies that allow the US to dominate the region—most of them do not object to the presence of 150,000 US troops in Iraq.

The main opposition leader, Walid Jumblatt, supports the US and France meddling in Lebanon. The US ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman, was active in helping to coordinate the opposition.

Feltman’s previous post was as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in the Irbil province in Iraq. The US is using the political crisis in Lebanon to put pressure on Syria — next on its target list for regime change.

The demonstration in central Beirut—there were no other protests around the country — was more like a business sponsored event.

The 12,000 demonstrators were a fraction of the 100,000 who attended former prime minster Rafiq Hariri’s funeral. The mainstream media supplied a giant screen for them to watch the parliamentary debate that led to the government’s resignation. The tents and public toilets were sponsored by the powerful Hariri family and Solidere, the company that owns most of the downtown area.

The demonstrators even sang the theme tune to one of the main television stations. As Lebanon heads to the polls in May, the opposition will take part in the carve-up of ministries and government jobs. They have already suspended the “cedar revolution” and instructed their supporters to return home. Meanwhile the real problems faced by ordinary people will be ignored.

Published in the Socialist Worker UK: http://www.socialistworker.co.uk