Saturday, January 30, 2010

The World Social Forum and Beyond

The 10th international gathering of the World Social Forum met in Porto Alegre Brazil recently to imagine once again a radical alternative to globalization. 30,000 people attended the events according to the Associated Press. The tacit theme of this years Forum was 'socialist renewal in the midst of the financial crisis'. This theme is particularly fitting for Latin America, a region of the planet that has continued for more than a decade now a spectacular drift toward people-centered economies and participatory democracy.

Despite the corporate media bias, this evolution is mass in character as evident at a recent electoral celebration for Bolivan President Evo Morales. Morales and his party won a landslide victory last month in a referendum on his left-wing nationalist policies. In attendance at the celebration were at least three other popular leftist presidents.

The next World Social Forum is planned for Dakar, Senegal and will include similar themes as this year's gathering. There is not a political or social upsurge in Africa today that can even mildly claim the vibrancy of the unfolding events in Latin America. For many enthusiasts of the transformative process in Latin America, the void of such a movement in Africa is not an immediate concern. However, the experience of similar 20th century post-capitalist experiments reveal the contradictions of isolation within the world economy and international relations. While it would be wrong to say that the success of the Bolivarian Revolution depended on similar transformations in other regions of the third world, the emergence of an African front which shared its own unique but common vision of society and the economy could be a great victory for people across the ocean in Latin America. Solidarity between progressive third world governments in both continents would open up new opportunties for fair trade, cultural exchange and greater collective bargaining power within the structures of the United Nations.

In anticipation of the 2011 Social Forum here in Dakar, I am working with the W.E.B. DuBois Pan-African Youth Collective and African grassroots activists to organize a gathering of African youth who are ready to begin constructing a political alternative in this continent. The mobilization of social movements is absolutely critical, but without explicit political vision they will remain fragmented. There are already plenty of discussions underway to make this possible by other forces as well. Hopefully, this year will mark a turning point in the history of Africa and all the regions struggling for another world.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Combating Africa's Anti-Gay 'Movement'

There is a widespread but unsubstantiated paranoia that the West is trying to spread homosexuality here in Africa. In the African political culture of the 21st century the enemy of African self-determination is not the mindless consumerism, exploitation of natural resources or military intrusion but 'the gays'. Ironically, homophobia is about the closest thing to an anti-imperialist movement in existence here today. This is the sick reality in a continent that has long-buried the progressive memories of Kwame Nkrumah, Samora Machel and Thomas Sankara.

Senegal is one of at least 38 African countries, which sentences homosexuals and their heterosexual allies to long-term prison sentences. The most infamous case has come as the Ugandan legislature moved to pass a strict bill that would detain and execute homosexual violators. There are several reasons to oppose this bill in particular for the social justice movement. For starters this legislation would be a huge setback for the fight against HIV and AIDS in Uganda; a country that has shown significant progress in fighting the disease in recent years. The stigma, criminalization and discrimination of men who have sex with men is likely to deter them from pursuing HIV prevention and treatment services from the government. This would no doubt be of minor consequence to an evangelical Christian, as many have come to Africa preaching Jesus' salvation as the cure for AIDS.

The Ugandan anti-gay legislation is yet another example of the impact ultra-conservative Christian missionaries have in Africa. The New York Times reported how in the lead up to the legislation, thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and national politicians, listened raptly to the Americans, who were presented as experts on homosexuality. Furthermore, although the Ugandan legislation has been the subject of bi-partisan rebuke in the U.S., there is a prominent right-wing movement there that uses similar hate-filled rhetoric freely on cable television and the pulpit with little criticism.

Of course, Western Christians are not the only source of homophobia in the continent. My predominantly Muslim 11th grade American Government class recently remarked to me their fears of a vast American conspiracy to spread homosexuality throughout Africa. To resolve the problem, half of the students recommended the punishment of death by a show of hands. A few discussed in great detail how to carry such executions out and quoted specific passages from the Islamic Hadith to justify the actions.

Homophobia is only one of several fruits born from the destruction of the African left. Throughout the continent there is routine violence against poor immigrants coming from neighboring countries. South Africa is one of the most extreme examples of reactionary violence toward other Africans who share virtually the same histories, and class struggles against neo-liberal globalization. Today, as Africa fights poverty, disease and external exploitation it must also face a growing and usually unchallenged right-wing political culture that pervades much of the continent's government's and civil society. When caught between the choice of cultural relativism and social justice, we should always choose the latter.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why the Left Can't Stop Neo-Colonialism

Anti-imperialist theories of today must either evolve or be thrown away completely.

20th century anti-imperialism rested on the idea of state sovereignty; which, held all nation- states should be respected as equal and indepedent from one another. This concept has always been contradictory in the third world mainly because the territorial boundaries that national liberation movements struggled to emancipate were drawn by colonial powers in the first place. Nation-states have always been social, economic, and political constructs defining relations of power and hierarchy rather than simply expressing ethnicity, geography or culture. Although, state sovereignty is a central principle of the United Nations, it has never applied it equally among actors. One can already clearly see in the first decade of the 21st century how miserably the U.N. has failed to prevent or end U.S., Israeli or other European occupations of foreign lands. In the same way, the so called anti-imperialist left has also failed to stop a single major occupation this century because ultimately these actors rely on the impotent U.N. as the forum to do so.

The earthquake in Haiti is the most recent example of both the U.N.'s and the anti-imperialist left's inability to prevent major violations of state sovereignty. In just a week the U.S. has mobilized thousands of troops, technocrats, and aid organizations to totally reconfigure the Haitian government and the main economic institutions of the country with virtually no unified opposition. By strict definition this is an aggressive act of neo-colonialism regardless of the moral implications of these actions or in this case, inactions.

As with the Rwandan genocide there is a moral consequence for powerful countries that do not intervene in the midst of great human suffering caused by genocide or natural disaster. The moral consequences on non-intervention during humanitarian crises have silenced even the most ardent critics of interventionism and made the U.N. an enabling force in several acts of neo-colonial occupation. Recently, even the Cuban government allowed the U.S. military to use its airspace as part of its humanitarian operations in Haiti. The U.N. will without a doubt allow the U.S. to take primary responsiblity for the political and economic future of Haiti and has already given up total security control to the Americans.

While we understand that there is little to prevent a powerful country from using the cover of a humanitarian"responsibility to protect" in order to pursue its own political and economic interests, we do not have a moral excuse in cases like Haiti or Rwanda not to intervene. Furthermore, the case for intervention in Iraq for example could reasonably be rooted in humanitarianism given the actions of Sadamm Hussein before the U.S. invasion. The fact is, people in Iraq were also victims of human suffering caused by Hussein. This standard would also apply to the case of the Palestinian people where arguably the most dramatic case of human induced suffering is taking place. None of the supporters of the Iraq War advocate a U.S. military invasion to emancipate the Palestinians from Israeli domination. Taken a logical step further, there is not a single nation-state in the history of the world that, judged soley on humanitarian tragedy, did not deserve to be invaded at one point or another.

The main issue here is that powerful countries like the U.S. have been able to synthesize their own narrow political and economic interests with an appeal to basic human morality. Unlike Nazi Germany, the U.S. not only invades countries and divides the spoils among its allies, it does so with a bleeding heart and call to human decency. This synthesis has not completely destroyed opposition to war and occupation but it has marginalized its mass appeal. As unpopular as the War in Iraq was, it continues along with at least a half-a- dozen other examples on neo-colonial occupation.

If the anti-imperialist left cannot find a synthesis of its own that bridges that gap between protecting state sovereignty and moral indifference, its voice will remain marginalized in the long-term. Ultimately, the ambiguity of neo-colonial intervention favors the position of the occupying power. Yesterday, the U.S. military landed on the lawn of the Haitian presidential palace to cheers, not protest. Some are asking for the U.S. to stay indefinitely.

There is a reason why the expansionist Roman Empire survived successfully for as long as it did. As it exist now, the Left can't prevent the great powers of today from doing the same. Those who oppose imperialism must begin to understand why.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti: The New (Old) Frontier

"Frontier markets could become the sweet reward of 2010 if investors are willing
to take risks in underdeveloped, illiquid and potentially unstable markets."
OK. In the midst of one of the great natural disasters of our time, you could only hope governments would put geo-politics as usual aside and cooperate in anyway possible to rescue victims of the earthquake in Haiti. But instead there is a mounting battle over Haiti's security future and several nations including France, Venezuela, Brazil and Nicaragua are convinced the U.S. military is trying to occupy there permanently. The U.S. Southern Command, which is overseeing the U.S. military relief effort in Haiti, maintains that its military role is humanitarian only. As more U.S. soliders landed at the Haitian Presidential Palace the AP reported a Haitian hair dresser named Fede Felissaint said, "We are happy that they are coming, because we have so many problems," and added "If they want, they can stay longer than in 1915," in reference to when the U.S. occupied Haiti for 19 years last century. Felissaint may get his wish.

While the attention rightly focuses on U.S. military presense, much less consideration is given to the potential role of multinational companies in the country just a few months from now. Haiti is not historically well- known for being rich in natural resources, however insiders know better. In a 2007 article entitled, "Haiti's Future Glitters With Gold", geologists were said to be scouring the hilltops of Haiti in search for gold and copper deposits.
"'Haiti's logical,' says Alex Turkeltaub, managing director of Frontier Strategy Group, a consulting firm that advises mining companies. 'The assumption of most mining executives is that its proximity to the United States and its relatively small size mean that they will have a lot of leverage as large players in a small economy, and that the Americans will always be there to protect against complete disaster.'"
Before the earthquake this year Haiti was considered a Frontier Market, which could result in big profits if international investors are willing to take significant enough risks. Those risks under the current social instability would definitely be to high for any company looking to do business there. That is of course unless you send in thousands of U.S. troops to help control the situation well into the long-term.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dr. King VS Barack Obama: On U.S. Occupation

Which African-American leader gave a better speech about a U.S. occupation in Asia? U.S. President Barack Obama on the Afghanistan War or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Vietnam War? You be the judge. Happy M.L.K. Day.

Dr. King "Why I Oppose the Vietnam War"

President Obama Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize

All Eyes on Sudan

Sudan is Africa's biggest country and possibly the most strategically important to external economic powers. Not just because of its enormous oil reserves but Sudan is geographically nestled in one of the continents hot zones sharing borders with some of the most volatile countries in the continent. There are warning signs according to experts that Sudan could spiral into a civil war as the Southern region of the country votes for independence next year. Sudan's parliament voted to allow a popular referendum which could open the way for southern succession from the North.
The Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) is the leader of the Southern faction and originally started as an armed resistance movement called the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The history of their armed struggle is proudly recorded on the SPLM's website which you can see here. A civil war that ended over a million lives between North and South officially ended in peace talks and powersharing with the central government in 2005 but many of the underlying concerns in the conflict remain. In recent weeks the SPLM and the ruling National Congress (NPC) of the North have attempted to mend fences but the independence vote is likely to stir up old tensions.

If these tensions actually spillover into a violent civil war, the world's preeminent military powers will be drawn in. A Small Arms Survey found that the SPLM group is already receiving thousands of weapons from a U.S. proxy Ukraine, via Kenya in anticipation of a potential stand-off with the Northern government. The NPC is receiving its own cache of weapons from Russia and China. This small arms build-up is a new cold war battle between the West and the East over the future of Sudan. Given the instability that another violent conflict could cause, both sides will be jockeying for position in a contest to control Africa's third largest oil reserves.

Is this potential civil war between North and South real or just another exhagerated call for external intervention? In my opinion the most reliable Western source of information on Sudan comes from Alex de Waal, a Harvard researcher who ran the website Making Sense of Darfur. Recently, the name of the site was changed to Making Sense of Sudan, because de Waal agrees with others that the situation in Sudan has come to a defining crossroads.

"Without doubt, the coming twelve months will be the most momentous in Sudan’s
history. The year is likely to be tumultuous as well. This site will not attempt to keep track of the many developments as they unfold, but rather to continue to provide a forum for informed discussion on key issues for Sudan, including of course Darfur."

Alex de Waal believes that 2010 will be "the year of democracy" in Sudan. But there is no question this year will be the most interesting time to follow politics in Sudan.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

5 Big Stories You May Have Missed on Haiti Relief Efforts

Below are five big stories you may have missed about the international recovery efforts in Haiti. They include U.S. nation-building efforts, a message from Fidel Castro, a moment of Pan-African unity and what grassroots organizations in Haiti are doing to help on the ground. If you have any other important updates feel free to comment.

1. A Ten Point Progressive Action Plan on How to Empower Haitians.

2. Senegal’s President Offers Land to Homeless Haitian’s in West Africa

3. Fidel Castro on Cuba’s efforts in Haiti thus far

4. Hillary Clinton gears up for long-term U.S. nation-building efforts in Haiti

5. Slow aid efforts are met with desperation and violence

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Real Martin Luther King Jr. and Palestinian Hip-Hop

"When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In the U.S., Hip-Hop moguls and rappers are organizing a "peace week" in honor of Dr. King., confusing his tactic of non-violence for his ideology. Amazing how disobedience is completely dropped from Dr. King's philosophy. Few, if any of these people are activists working toward the radical egalitarian aims Dr. King was killed for. In fact, many of them like Russell Simmons directly contradict his core principles through their life-styles and actions.

While most African-Americans have allowed themselves to accept this watered-down version of Dr. King and the black freedom movement, you can find the essence of his values around the world. Ironically, those values are in action in a Lebanese refugee camp, where Palestinian exiles express messages of social justice and self determination through Hip-Hop. Their rap messages often cover themes of resistance to repression, discrimination, corruption and occupation---just like Dr. King.

One of the young rappers remarked upon how their art form lay grounded in the every day struggles of Palestinian youth.

"If I didn't have hip-hop, I would only be thinking about having fun and in the camps where there is often no electricity, where there is no library, and no money to go somewhere else, I would most likely sit with my friends in the street smoking argileh all day wasting my time. Hip-hop made me. If you want to be a good rapper, you need to write good lyrics, and so you need to read and get an education. I know so much more about life, because I have been expressing my self and writing. Hip-hop is a school,"

Although, Hip-Hop culture originated in the black ghettos of the U.S. , it too has been co-opted by the same forces that seek to destroy Dr. King's radical legacy. Meanwhile, oppressed youth around the world continue to use rap music as a vehicle for social and economic change. Much of my interests in the third world stem from a belief that they have much to teach America about human rights and dignity. This Dr. Martin Luther King day, I will be looking here for examples of his core principles in action.

In reality, the essence of Dr. King's message was for the radical redistribution of wealth, an end to U.S. imperialism throughout the world and dismantling of institutional racism. These ends far exceed both individual liberty and equality before the law.

A few quotes from the man himself,

On Militarism
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom."

"America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such."

"When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
On Economic Inequality/Institutional Racism
"These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. "The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light."

"And one day we must ask the question, Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society..."

"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
Along with Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Martin Luther King is the West's most 'acceptable' example of black resistance to oppression. The only problem is this neutered version of Dr. King's teachings defames his core message and the changes he fought to bring about before his murder.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Aristide and the Battle for Haiti's Political-Economic Future

In 2004, President Jean Bertrand Aristide was removed from executive power in a U.S.-supported coup d'tat. Aristide was kidnapped by U.S. special- forces then flown to a neighbouring location. (Exactly like the coup in Honduras last summer). Since the 2004 coup Lavalas, a mass political party which Aristide created, has been subject to violent repression and censorship at the hands of the Haitian government. Aristide, now living in South Africa, has announced his intention to return back to the country for the on going recovery effort.

"The spirit of Ubuntu that once led Haiti to emerge as the first independent
Black nation in 1804; helped Venezuela, Columbia and Ecuador attain liberty and
inspired our forefathers to shed their blood for the United States independence
cannot die. Today this spirit of solidarity must and will empower all of us to
rebuild Haiti."
The return of Aristide to Haiti will be opposed by Haitian elites and the U.S. government. Haiti is a sovereign nation-state but for decades the U.S. has interfered in its internal economic and political affairs, often relying on violence. Immediately following the earthquake, U.S. right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation, began planning a political and economic future for Haiti that could effectively defend U.S. interests there. These interests include new “free” trade deals, economic liberalization and countering the influence of Venezuela, Cuba and other Latin American countries aligned with the Bolivarian Revolution.
President Obama has already implemented many of the ideas coming out of the Heritage Foundation including sending in an overwhelming amount of military, civilian, and government forces to the island and tapping George W. Bush to help Bill Clinton in a "bi-partisan" aid effort. Bush has strong ties to the Heritage Foundation and their ideas will no doubt be represented in U.S. foreign policy in Haiti. Both Bush and the Heritage Foundation were supporters of the 2004 coup. The return of Aristide and a resurgence of popular participation during the political and economic phases of recovery would complicate their agenda.

Perhaps, it is inappropriate to start thinking about long-term political and economic transformation in Haiti given the amount of suffering taking place. But that has not stopped the U.S. State Department, Pentagon or Heritage Foundation. When the media cameras leave in the months ahead that is when the real battle for Haiti's future will begin.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Let's Reach Out to Haiti

In 2001, I accompanied a medical team on a church missions trip to Port au Prince Haiti. At 14 years old, Haiti's people and their legendary struggle for freedom and self-determination made such an impression on me then that I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to fighting poverty and injustice in the developing world. Never before has that fight been more important in Haiti. Dictatorship, imperialism and indifference had ravaged there long before yesterday's earthquake, but today the people of Haiti are facing one of the worst natural disasters in their history.

What the people of Haiti need now, more than anything is food, water, and medical attention as rescue teams work to help survivors of this terrible tragedy. Here is a list of a few credible organizations that I know of you can donate funds to in order to make a difference in this effort. The list includes legitimate food and medical organizations that will make an immediate impact on the ground.

If you would like to donate directly, simply click on the name of the organization!

1. Red Cross and Red Crescent

2. Clinton Foundation

3. United Nations World Food Program

4. Doctors Without Borders

Eternal solidarity with the mighty people of Haiti.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Player Hatin' on the People's Republic of China

In an article about China's remarkable economic resilience the New York Times writes,

"China once could wave off complaints about its currency
policies, arguing that it was a developing nation entitled to a bit of
slack from its Western customers. But with the world’s fastest-growing economy —
and more than $2 trillion in foreign reserves — that argument looks
increasingly untenable

Wait. When did China stop being a developing nation? There is no one measure of a country's level of development but for the most part the classification "developing" is based on Gross National Income (GNI) per capita. Another measure which is somewhat less 'economistic' is the human development index (HDI) that measures social development in general.

GNI-per capita (PPP)
U.S.A. (46,970)
China ($6,020 per capita)
HDI ranking out of 182-
U.S.A. (13)
China (92)

According to the World Bank both middle- income and low-income countries are designated as "developing". With a GNI-per capita (PPP) of 6,020 China not only is a middle-income developing country it is still considerably less wealthy per capita than the U.S.A. And with an HDI ranking of 92 China again falls into the medium human development category, significantly lower than the U.S.A.

When the New York Times and other Western media outlets are finish hating on the People's Republic of China, they should take 5 minutes to look at the development statistics on google like I did. Beyond the numbers there are still rural regions of China like Nanliang, Shaanxi Province where extreme poverty persists and prosperity has not yet spread. If the Chinese Communist Party stopped providing opportunities for higher-living standards today, they would still be a developing country with a big economy and a lot of disillusioned poor people. The fact is, China has a right to play loose with their currency because it is still developing and the United States continues to be the richest, most wasteful country in world history.

Dark Days in Nigeria

In the midst of manufactured paranoia, lies and deceit about 'extremism' in West Africa, finally a voice of reason.

"As a result of a failed terrorism attempt on Christmas Day, the main topic
in the media has been Al Qaeda, Yemen, airport security, and one Nigerian
terrorist recruit. When this issue simmers down, will the wider travails and
prospects of Nigeria be confronted....Awaiting liberation, however, are 140
million non-jihadist Nigerians denied democratic and developmental governance
for a half-century. Will the country’s power-brokers now listen, and act?"

Richard Joseph of the Brookings Institute writes a timely reflection on Confronting the Greater Nigerian Challenge, and places the focus on the root of the country's current turmoil---poor governance. Too much of the existing commentary on Nigeria centers on ethnic division, religion, and geography but not enough on politics and power relations. Western liberal democracy has been restored in Nigeria after decades of military rule but its neo-colonial economic design and authoritarian impulses have not empowered traditionally marginalized groups in society.

The Nigerian legislature and executive branches are subject to manipulation by elites and there are very few avenues for popular participation within official institutions of political power. This situation forces workers, peasants, and religious organizations to find ways of participating outside the systems of power where the most important policy decisions are made. Nigeria is a text-book banana republic where personal goals and interests of foreign or national elites eclipse the human development needs of the average person.

In his article Richard Joseph argues that Nigeria has recently become a failed state defined as, "a dysfunctional state which also has multiple competing political factions in conflict within its borders or has no functioning governance above." The bottom-line is that Nigeria, like most other African countries, has always been a failed state since European colonialists carved it into an exploitative depot and instrument of elite interests. Normative political independence did nothing to alter this fundamental colonial structure.

Nigeria's conservative president Umaru Yar'Adua, being accountable to the country's former British colonizer, gave an exclusive interview to the BBC stating his intention to return to power after weeks abroad in a Saudi Arabian hospital. At home, Nigerian social movements and trade unions are mobilizing to have him removed from power. Nigeria is on the edge of political chaos, but perhaps when the dust settles the country will finally move toward participatory democracy. And "as Nigeria goes, so goes the rest of sub-Saharan Africa."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Congressional Testimony on Private Military Contractors in Iraq

If there weren't enough evidence already that the ongoing war in Iraq is illegal, immoral and for profit, Jeremy Scahill lays out a laundry list of crimes committed by U.S. war contractors in a speech to the U.S. Congress. An investigative journalist who has followed the 'war for profit' industry, Jeremy Scahill is methodical in his convincing testimony to the government. Will they respond? It's unlikely given the number of U.S. politicians who serve the very same corporate interests.

Venezuela Enters 2010 Fighting for the Future

Venezuela is one of the world's largest exporters of crude oil and the leader of one of the world's only existing experiments in democratic socialism.

In 2009, oil prices plummeted and the Venezuelan government was spending more money than it generated from revenues causing internal debt to grow. As a central component of the 'Bolivarian' socialist revolution, President Hugo Chavez has refused to reduce government spending on social programs despite opposition criticism he needs to do more to curb simultaneously the debt and inflation. In response to evidence that its social policies could not be sustained, the government has decided to devalue its Bolivar currency against the U.S. dollar to encourage exports and discourage imports. Venezuela will alter the official exchange rate of the bolivar currency and create a second rate for "non-essential" imports. Venezuela like other developing countries is notoriously dependent on imports of both primary and consumer goods. With Venezuela receiving more bolivars for each dollar of oil revenue, more funds will be available to service debt and continue his popular social programs. At the same time the government intends to make imported consumer goods more expensive than imported basic purchases of items the country is lacking, such as basic foods and medicines.

FOREXYARD has a snap analysis of the Bolivar devaluation that weighs both costs and benefits of the devaluation policy. In the final analysis, the report says the Venezuelan government should be able to dampen the regressive impact of higher prices on the poor through state subsidies and industry will be more competitive in the global market.

"The devaluation will make Venezuela's hard-hit industry and agricultural sector more competitive by increasing the cost of imported goods and making the country's exports cheaper. Venezuela suffers from an economic condition called "Dutch disease," where high oil revenues cause an overvalued currency and lead other economic sectors to wither."

The reaction of the Venezuelan government to economic turmoil reveals the character of the Bolivarian revolution. Other developing countries have responded to economic crisis through cuts in government subsidies, privatization, external aid and strict monetary policies. The Venezuelan government however, has remained true to its left-wing nationalist principles and moved to lessen dependence on either external goods or advise from international financial institutions. The results of the government's response could have important implications for the structure of power and privilege in Venezuelan society. Hugo Chavez and his party the PSUV will be contesting parliamentary elections in September. The vote will be a referendum on the government's performance thus far. As prices rise, opposition leaders may seize upon social unrest and hope voters loose faith in Venezuela's socialist policies.

I am one among a few open American supporters of the Bolivarian project in Venezuela but fear future bureaucratization and poor service delivery could destroy whatever hope people had for socio-economic transformation. 2009 was a bad year for the Venezuelan government and a repetition of its performance could spell the end of President Hugo Chavez, his party and alienate the very social movements that brought him to power.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Anti-Islamist Propaganda in Africa Fulfilling Itself

23 year old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to carry out a Christmas Day terrorist bombing on a Northwest Airlines flight flying into Detroit. Media reports are prematurely drawing connections between Abdulmutallab who was Nigerian and an alleged al-Qaeda conspiracy to spread its operations into West Africa and the Sahara.

In the recent past, there have been other high profile stories related to terrorism that have been either exaggerated or fabricated to justify the surge in US-backed military operations in Saharan Africa. One of which was in 2002 when Algerian intelligence forces kidnapped Western tourists only to blame the abductions on so called 'jihadists' to justify their pandering to the U.S. for weapons and financial resources. And then of course there is the historic U.S. interference in Somalia that helped produce militant Islamism by arming warlords, backing a murderous Ethiopian invasion of the country in 2006 and splintering moderate factions of the Union of Islamic Courts. Recently, as indicated in a video by Al Jazeera, an offshoot of al-Qaeda has also emerged in the deserts of North Africa, claiming a 'Sahara Emirate', in part because of hostile actions taken by the Mauritanian government against Islamic opposition parties.

In the Sahara-Sahelian regions of Africa, Islam is mostly inclusive and pacifist characterizing jihad as a spiritual rather than military enterprise. To the outsider looking in via mass media, increased U.S. counter-terrorism operations in Africa could appear as natural responses to a sudden extremist threat but nothing could be further from the truth. The Islamic resistance in Africa being characterized as terrorism or "jihadism" is a new expression of anti-imperialism as well as a decade’s old opposition to political centralization and a perpetual lack of human development. What in previous decades was clothed in the rhetoric of Marxism-Leninism or Arab nationalism is today phrased under the loosely organized ideology of political Islam--- a political philosophy that a society governed under Islamic Sharia law will be more just than the status-quo.

So where is the sudden upsurge in militant political Islam coming from? Like their counter-parts in East Africa, North and West Africa have also been participating in joint counter-terrorism operations led by the U.S. and NATO through AFRICOM. For several years now Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and others have participated in U.S.-led military exercises known as Flintlock. Flintlock exercises usually involve a hypothetical non-state threat to which governments are trained to respond immediately across borders and a lot destructive new goodies from the American military. The U.S. and its European allies have also been working with two dozen African governments to "overcome the tyranny of distance imposed by their massive continent through an exercise designed to increase command, control, communications and computer capacity" in Gabon. The partnerships between these governments and the U.S. military are kept secret from the public and for good reason. Imperial domination by the U.S. military, perceived or real, in Africa would be extremely unpopular and complicate their efforts to cling to political power.

Several of the most corrupt governments in Africa are using the cover of the "war on terror" to justify the continuity of clientelism, neglect of socio-economic rights and centralization of power under the protection of the U.S. African Military Command. Billions of dollars in U.S. tax-payer money for new weapons systems, development aid and financial assistance are sure-fire methods to consolidate political authority in a region where political opposition movements are fragmented and struggle without financial resources. The actions of African governments to marginalize not only political Islam but all political opposition, will inevitably fuel violent expressions in the future.

Make no mistake about it, violent expressions of political Islam won’t loosen these inept government’s grip on political power or respond to the fundamental social, economic and environmental needs of African people.

Egyptian economist and activist Samir Amin has accurately described both the lack of coherence and strategy among political Islamists responding to U.S. intervention,

"The exclusive emphasis on culture allows political Islam to
eliminate from every sphere of life the real social confrontations between the
popular classes and the globalized capitalist system that oppresses and exploits
them. The militants of political Islam have no real presence in the areas where
actual social conflicts take place and their leaders repeat incessantly that
such conflictsare unimportant. Islamists are only present in these areas to open
schools and health clinics. But these are nothing but works of charity and means
for indoctrination. They are not means of support for the struggles of the
popular classes against the system responsible for their poverty."

Nevertheless, as the U.S. continues its covert militarization of Africa through alliances with otherwise contemptible political regimes, violent political Islam may be the only opposition group which can effectively organize moral and financial support against the status-quo. By making ties with foreign Islamist organizations like al-Qaeda, these groups can tap into the material resources necessary to wage a sustained insurgency. This is a tragic moment of self-fulfilled prophecy the poorest continent in the world can do without.