Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Brazil, Capitalism, Economic Development, Neoliberal Development
By: By Prof. James Petras, Global Research, July 23, 2013.
Brazil has witnessed one of the world’s most striking socio-economic reversals in modern history: from a dynamic nationalist industrializing to a primary export economy. Between the mid 1930’s to the mid 1980’s, Brazil averaged nearly 10% growth in its manufacturing sector largely based on state interventionist policies, subsidizing, protecting and regulating the growth of national public and private enterprises. Changes in the ‘balance’ between national and foreign (imperial) capital began to take place following the military coup of 1964 and accelerated after the return of electoral politics in the mid-1980’s. The election of neo-liberal politicians, especially with the election of the Cardoso regime in the mid-1990’s, had a devastating impact on the strategic sectors of the national economy: wholesale privatization was accompanied by the denationalization of the commanding heights of the economy and the deregulation of capital markets. Cardoso’s regime set the stage for the massive flow of foreign capital into the agro-mineral, finance, insurance and real estate sectors. The rise in interest rates as demanded by the IMF and World Bank and the speculative market in real estate raised the costs of industrial production. Cardoso’s lowered tariffs ended industrial subsidies and opened the door to industrial imports. These neo-liberal policies led to the relative and absolute decline of industrial production.
The Presidential victory of the self-styled “Workers Party” in 2002 deepened and expanded the ‘great reversal’ promoted by its neo-liberal predecessors. Brazil reverted to becoming a primary commodity exporter, as soya, cattle, iron and metals exports multiplied and textile, transport and manufacturing exports declined. Brazil became one of the leading extractive commodity exporters in the world. Brazil ’s dependence on commodity exports was aided and abated by the massive entry and penetration of imperial multi-national corporations and financial flows by overseas banks. Overseas markets and foreign banks became the driving force of extractive growth and industrial demise.
To gain a better understanding of Brazil’s ‘great reversion’ from a dynamic nationalist-industrializing to a vulnerable imperial driven agro-mineral extractive dependency, we need to briefly review the political-economy of Brazil over the past fifty years to identify the decisive ‘turning points’ and the centrality of political and class struggle.
Military Model: Modernization from Above
Under the military dictatorships (1964-1984) economic policy was based on a hybrid strategy emphasizing a triple alliance of state, foreign and national private capital focused primarily on industrial exports and secondarily on agriculture commodities (especially traditional products like coffee).
The military discarded the nationalist-populist model based on state industries and peasant cooperatives of the ousted leftist President Goulart and put in place an alliance of industrial capitalists and agribusiness. Riding a wave of expanding global markets and benefiting from the repression of labor, the compression of wages and salaries, comprehensive subsidies and protectionist policies , the economy grew by double digits from the late 1960’s to the mid 1970’s, the so-called “Brazilian Miracle”. The military while ending any threats of nationalizations, put in place a number of ‘national content’ rules on the foreign multi-nationals which expanded Brazil ’s industrial base and enlarged the size and scope of the urban working class especially in the automotive industry. This led to the growth of the metal workers union and later the Workers’ Party. The ‘export model’ based on light and heavy industry, foreign and domestic producers, was regionally based (southeast). The military modernization strategy heightened inequalities and integrated the local ‘national’ capitalists to imperial MNCs. This laid the groundwork for the onset of the anti-dictatorial struggles and the return of democracy. Neo-liberal parties gained hegemony with the turn to electoral politics.
Electoral Politics , the Rise of Neo-Liberalism and the Ascendancy of Extractive Capitalism
The electoral opposition which succeeded the military regimes was initially polarized between a liberal, free market, agro-mineral elite allied with imperial MNC and on the other hand a worker, peasant, rural worker and lower middle class nationalist bloc, intent on promoting public ownership, social welfare, the redistribution of income and agrarian reform. Militant labor formed the CUT; landless peasants formed the MST and both joined the middle class to form the PT
The first decade of electoral politics 1984-94, was characterized by the tug and pull between the residual statist capitalism inherited from the previous military regime and the emerging liberal ‘free market’ bourgeoisie. The debt crises, hyper-inflation, massive systemic corruption, the impeachment of President Collor and economic stagnation severely weakened the statist capitalist sectors and led to ascendancy of an alliance of agro-mineral and finance capital, both foreign and local capitalists, linked to overseas markets. This retrograde coalition found their political leader and road to power with the election of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former leftist academic turned free market zealot.
The election of Cardoso led to a decisive break with the national statist policies of the previous sixty years. Cardoso’s policies gave a decisive push toward the denationalization and privatization of the economy, essential elements in the reconfiguration of Brazil ’s economy and the ascendancy of extractive capital. By almost all indicators Cardoso’s ultra neo-liberal policies led to a precipitous great leap backward, concentrating income and land, and increasing foreign ownership of strategic sectors. Cardoso’s “reform” of the economy at the expense of industrial labor, public ownership, landless rural workers provoked widespread strikes and land occupations. The ‘extractive economy’ especially the opening of lucrative sectors in agriculture, mining and energy took place at the expense of the productive forces: the relative position of manufacturing, technology and high end services declined. In particular labor earnings as a whole declined as a percentage of GNP.
The average growth rate of industry declined to a paltry 1.4%. Employment in the industrial sector fell by 26%, unemployment rose to over 18.4%, the ‘informal sector’ rose from 52.5% in 1980 to 56.1% in 1995.
Privatization of public enterprises like the giant and lucrative telecommunication firm Telebras led to the massive firing of workers and subcontracting of labor at lower wages and without social benefits. Under Cardoso , Brazil had the highest rates of inequality (Gini coefficient) in the world – bar one country.
Cardoso used state subsidies to promote foreign capital especially in the agrarian export and mining sectors while the small and medium size farmers were starved for credit. His program of financial deregulation led to currency speculation, massive windfall profits for Wall Street banks as the regime raised interest rates by over 50%. Bankruptcy of farmers led to their dispossession by agro-export capitalists. Concentration of land took a decisive turn as .7% of large landowners owning farms over 2,000 hectares increased their acreage from 39.5% to 43% of Brazilian farmland.
During Cardoso’s eight years in office, (1994-2002) there was a tsunami of foreign investment: over $50 billion flowed in just the first 5 years – ten times the total of the previous 15 years. Foreign owned agro-mineral companies among the top foreign owned companies (as of 1997) numbered over one-third and growing. Between 1996-1998 foreign MNC acquired eight major food, mining and metal production firms.
Cardoso’s neo-liberal policies opened the door wide open for foreign capital takeover of critical industrial and banking sectors. Nevertheless, it was the subsequent “Workers Party” presidents Da Silva and Rousseff who completed the Brazilian economy’s Great Leap Backward by decisively turning to extractive capital as the driving force of the economy.
From Neoliberalism to Extractive Capital
Cardoso’s privatizations were sustained and deepened by the Lula regime. Cardoso’s outrageous privatization of the Vale do Doce iron mine at a fraction of its value was defended by Lula; the same was the case with Cardoso’s defacto privatization of the state oil company Petrobras. Lula embraced the restrictive monetary policies, budget surplus agreements with the IMF and followed the budgetary prescriptions of the IMF directors.
The Lula regime (2003-2011) took Cardoso’s neo-liberal policies as a guide to further reconfigure Brazil ’s economy to the benefit of foreign and domestic capital located now in the primary, raw material export sector. In 2005 Brazil exported $55.3 billion dollars in raw materials and $44.2 billion in manufacturing goods; in 2011 Brazil tripled its raw material exports to $162.2 billion while its manufacturing exports increased to a mere $60.3 billion.
In other words the difference between the value of raw material and manufacturing exports increased from $13 billion to over $100 billion in the last 5 years of Lula’s regime. The relative de-industrialization of the economy, the growing imbalance between the dominant extractive and manufacturing sector illustrates the reversion of Brazil to its ‘colonial style of development’.
Agro-Mining Capitalism, the State and the People
Brazil ’s export sector benefited enormously from the rise in commodity prices. The prime beneficiary was its primary agro-mineral sector. But the cost to industry, public transport, living conditions, research and development and education was enormous. Agro-mineral exports provided great revenues to the state but also extracted great subsidies, tax benefits and profits.
Brazil ’s industrial economy was adversely affected by the commodity boom because of the rise in the value of its currency, the real by 40% between 2010 – 2012 which increased the price of manufacturing exports and decreased the competitiveness of manufacturing products. The “free market” policies also facilitated the entrance of lower priced manufactured goods from Asia, particularly from China . While Brazil, primary exports to China boomed, its manufacturing sector, particularly consumer goods like textiles and footwear, declined from 2005-2010 by over 10%.
Under the Lula-Rousseff regimes, the extreme dependence on a limited number of commodities led to a sharp decline in the productive forces, measured by investments in technological innovations, especially those related to industry. Moreover, Brazil became more dependent than ever on a single market. From 2000 to 2010 Chinese imports of soy – the major agro export – represented 40% of Brazil ’s exports; Chinese imports of iron – the key mining export – constitute over a third of the total exports of that sector. China also imports about 10% of Brazil ’s exports of petrol, meat, pulp and paper. Under the Lula and Rousseff regimes, Brazil has reverted to a quasi-mono-cultural economy dependent on a very limited market. As a result the slowdown of China ’s economy has predictably led to a decline in Brazil ’s growth to fewer than 2% from 2011 to 2013.
Brazil: Finance Capital’s Economic Paradise
Under the Workers Party free market policies, finance capital has flooded into Brazil , as never before. Foreign direct investment jumped from about $16 billion in 2002 during the last year of the Cardoso regime to over $48 billion in the last year of Lula’s rule. Portfolio investment – the most speculative sort – rose from a negative $5 billion in 2002 to $67 billion in 2010. Net inflows of FDI and portfolio investments totaled $400 billion during 2007 – 2011 compared to $79 billion during the previous 5 year period. Portfolio investments in high interest bonds, securities returned between 8% – 15% ,triple and quadruple the rates in North America and Europe . Lula and Dilma are poster presidents of Wall Street.
By most important economic indicators the policies of the Lula-Dilma regimes have been the most lucrative for overseas financial capital and the investors in the primary agro-mineral sectors in the recent history of Brazil .
Agro-Mineral Model and the Environment
Despite their political rhetoric in favor of family farming, the Lula-Dilma regimes have been among the biggest promoters of agro-business in recent Brazilian political history. The largest share of state resources allocated to agriculture, finances agribusiness and large landowners. According to one study, in 2008/2009 small holders received about $6.35 billion ( US ), while agribusiness and large landholders received $31.9 billion ( US ) in funding and credit. Less than 4% of government resources and research was directed to family farming and agro-ecological farms.
Under Lula the destruction of the rain forests occurred at a rapid pace. Between 2002 and 2008 the Cerrado region’s vegetation was reduced by 7.5% or over 8.5 million hectares, mostly by agro-business corporations. The Brazilian Cerrado is one of the world’s most biologically rich savannah regions concentrated in the center-east region of the country. According to one study 69% of all the land owned by foreign corporations is concentrated in Brazil ’s Cerrado. Between 1995 – 2005 the share of foreign capital in Brazil ’s agro-industrial grain sector jumped from 16% to 57%. Foreign capital has capitalized on the neo-liberal policies under Cardoso, Lula and Dilma to move into agro-fuel (ethanol) sector, controlling about 22% of Brazilian sugar cane and ethanol companies – and rapidly encroaching on the Amazon forest.
Between May 2000 and August 2005, thanks to the expansion of the export sector, Brazil lost 132,000 square kilometers of forest due to the expansion of large landowners and multinationals engaged in cattle raising, soya and forestry. Between 2003 – 2012 over 137 square kilometers have been deforested, aided and abetted by multi-billion dollar government infrastructure investments, tax incentives and subsidies.
In 2008 damage to the Amazon rain forest surged 67% .Under pressure from indigenous, peasant and landless rural workers’ and ecology movements the government took action to curtail deforestation. It declined from a peak of 27,772 square kilometers in 2004 (second only to the highest ever under Cardoso in 1995, 29,059 square kilometers) to 4,656 sq. km in 2012.
Cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Estimates attribute over 40% to big capitalist and MNC meat processing corporations. The Lula-Dilma regimes’ major infrastructure investments, especially roads, opened previously inaccessible forest lands to corporate cattle firms. Under Lula and Dilma, commercial agriculture, especially soya beans became the second biggest contributor to deforestation of the Amazon.
Accompanying the degradation of the natural environment, the expansion of agro-business has been accompanied by dispossession, assassination and enslavement of indigenous peoples. The Christian, Pastoral Land Commission reported that landlord violence reached its highest level in at least 20 years in 2004 – Lula’s second year in office. Conflicts rose to 1,801 in 2004 from 1,690 in 2003 and 925 in 2002.
According to the government, cattle and soy corporations exploit at least 25,000 Brazilians (mostly dispossessed Indians and peasants) under “conditions analogous to slavery”. Leading NGOs claim the true figure could be ten times that number. Over 183 farms were raided in 2005 freeing 4,133 slaves.
Mining: The Vale Rip-off as “Privatization” and the Number One Polluter
Nearly 25% of Brazil ’s exports are composed of mineral products – highlighting the growing centrality of extractive capital in the economy. Iron ore is the mineral of greatest importance, representing 78% of total mining exports. In 2008, iron ore accounted for $16.5 of a $22.5 billion of the industry’s earnings. The vast majority of iron exports are dependent on a single market – China . As China ’s growth slows, demand declines and increases Brazil ’s economic vulnerability.
One firm, privatized during the Cardoso presidency, Vale, through acquisitions and mergers controls almost 100% of Brazil ’s productive iron mines. In 1997 Vale was sold by the neoliberal state for $3.14 billion, a small fraction of its value. Over the following decade it concentrated its investments in mining, establishing a global network of mines in over a dozen countries in North and South America , Australia , Africa and Asia . The Lula – Dilma regime played a major role in facilitating Vale’s dominance of the mining sector and the exponential growth of its value: Vale’s net worth today is over $100 billion but it pays one of the lowest tax rates in the world, despite being the second largest mining company in the world, the largest producer of iron ore and the second largest of nickel. Maximum royalties on mineral wealth rose from 2% to 4% in 2013; in other words during the decade of the “progressive” government of Lula and Dilma, the tax rate was one-sixth that of conservative Australia with a rate of 12%.
Vale has used its enormous profits to diversify its mining operations and related activities. It sold off businesses such as steel and wood pulp, for $2.9 billion – nearly the price paid for the entire mineral complex. Instead it concentrated on buying up the iron mines of competitors and literally monopolizing production. Vale expanded into manganese, nickel, copper, coal, potash, kaolin, bauxite; it has bought out railroads, ports, container terminals, ships and at least eight hydroelectric plants; two-thirds of its hydro-electrical plants were built during the Lula regime.
In sum, monopoly capitalism flourished during the Lula regime with record profits in the extractive sector, extreme damage to the environment and massive displacement of indigenous peoples and small scale producers. The Vale mining experience underlines the powerful structural continuities between the neo-liberal Cardoso and Lula regimes: the former privatized Vale at a “fire sale” price; the latter promoted Vale as the dominant monopoly producer and exporter of iron, totally ignoring the concentration of wealth, profits and powers of extractive capital.
In comparison to the geometrical growth of monopoly profits for the extractive sector, Lula and Dilma’s paltry two dollars a day subsidy to reduce poverty hardly warrants calling the regime “progressive” or “center-left”.
While Lula and Dilma were enraptured with the growth of Brazil ’s “mining champion” (Vale), others were not. Into 2002 Public Eye a leading human rights and environmental group gave Vale an “award” as the worst corporation in the world: “The Vale Corporation acts with the most contempt for the environment and human rights in the world”. The critics cited Vale’s construction of the Belo Monte dam in the middle of the Amazon rain forest as having “devastating consequences for the regions unique biodiversity and indigenous tribes”.
The mining sector is capital intensive, generates few jobs and adds little value to its exports. It has degraded water, land and air; adversely affected local communities, dispossessed Indian communities and created a boom and bust economy.
With the marked slowdown of the Chinese economy, especially its manufacturing sector in 2012-14, iron, copper prices have fallen. Brazil ’s export revenues have declined, undermining overall growth. Especially important, channeling resources into infrastructures for the agro-mineral sectors has resulted in the depletion of funds for hospitals, schools and urban transport – which are run down and provide poor service to millions of urban workers.
The End of the Extractive “Mega Cycle” and the Rise of Mass Protests
Brazil ’s extractive led model entered a period of decline and stagnation in 2012-2013 as world market demand – especially Asia – declined especially in China. Growth hovered around 2% ,barely keeping up with population growth. The class based growth model, especially the narrow stratum of foreign portfolio investors, monopoly mining and big agro-business corporations which controls and reaped most of the revenues and profits, limited the “trickle down effects” which the Lula-Dilma regimes promoted as their “social transformation”. While some innovative programs were initiated, the follow-up and quality of services actually deteriorated.
In-patient hospital beds have declined from 3.3 beds per 1,000 Brazilians in 1993, to 1.9 in 2009, the second lowest in the OECD. Hospital admissions financed by the public sector have fallen and long waits and low quality is endemic.
Federal spending on the health system has fallen since 2003, when adjusted for inflation according to the OECD study. Public spending on health is low: 41% compared to the UK at 82% and the US , 45.5%. The class polarization embedded in the agro-mineral extractive model extends to government spending, taxes, transport and infrastructure: massive financing for highways, dams, hydro-electric power stations for extractive capital versus inadequate public transport and declining spending for public health education and transport.
The deeper roots of the mass upheavals of 2013 are located in the class politics of a corporate state. The Cardoso, Lula-Dilma regimes, over the past two decades, have pursued a conservative elitist agenda, cushioned by clientelistic and paternatistic politics which neutralized mass opposition for an extended period of time, before the mass rebellion and nationwide protests unmasked the “progressive” facade.
Leftist publicists and conservative pundits who claimed Lula as a “pragmatic progressive” overlooked the fact that during his first term, state support for the agro-business elite was seven times that offered to the family farmers who represented nearly 90% of the rural labor force and provide the bulk of food for local consumption. During Lula’s second term, the Ministry of Agriculture’s financial support for agro-business during the 2008-09 harvest was six times larger than the funds allocated for Lula’s poverty reduction program, the highly publicized “Bolsa Familia” program. Economic orthodoxy and populist demagogy is no substitute for substantive structural changes, involving a comprehensive agrarian reform embracing 4 million landless rural workers, and a re-nationalization of strategic extractive enterprises like Vale in order to finance sustainable agriculture and preserve the rainforest.
Instead Lula and Dilma jumped full force into the ethanol boom: “sugar, sugar everywhere” but never asking, “Whose pocket does it fill?” Brazil ’s growing structural rigidity, its transformation into an extractive capitalist economy, has enhanced and enlarged the scope for corruption. Competition for mining contracts, land grants and giant infrastructure projects encourages agro-mineral business elites to pay-off the “party in power” to secure competitive advantages. This was particularly the case for the “Workers Party” who’s executive and party leadership (devoid of workers) was composed of upwardly mobile professionals, aspiring to elite class positions who looked toward business payoffs for their ‘initial capital’, a kind of ‘initial accumulation through corruption’.
The commodity boom, for almost a decade, papered over the class contradictions and the extreme vulnerability of an extractive economy dependent on primary goods exports to limited markets. The neo-liberal policies adapted to further commodity exports led to the influx of manufactured goods and weakened the position of the industrial sector. As a result the efforts of Dilma to revive the productive economy to compensate for the decline of commodity revenues has not worked: stagflation, declining budget surpluses and weakening trade balances plague her administration precisely when the mass of workers and the middle class are demanding a large scale reallocation of resources from subsidies to the private sector to investments in public services.
Rousseff’s and her mentor, Lula’s entire political fortunes were built on the fragile foundations of the extractive model. They have failed to recognize the limits of their model, let alone formulated an alternative strategy. Patchwork proposals, political reforms, anti-corruption rhetoric in the face of million person protests spanning all the major and minor cities of the country do not address the basic problem of challenging the concentration of wealth, property and class power of the agro-mineral and financial elite. Their MNC allies control the levers of political power, with and without corruption and block any meaningful reforms.
Lula’s era of “Wall Street Populism” is over. The idea that high revenues from extractive industries can buy popular loyalties via consumerism, funded by easy credit ,has passed. Wall Street investors are no longer praising the BRICs as a new dynamic market. As is predictable they are shifting their investments to more lucrative activity in new regions. As portfolio investments decline, and the economy stagnates, extractive capital intensifies its push into the Amazon and with it the terrible toll on the indigenous population and the rain forest.
The year 2012 was one of the worst years for the indigenous peoples. According to the Indigenous Missionary Council, affiliated with the Catholic Church, the number of violent incidents against the Indian communities increased 237%. The Rousseff regime has given Indians the least number of legal title (homologado) to land of any president since the return of democracy (seven titles). At this rate the Brazilian state will take a century to title land requests of the Indian communities. At the same time in 2012, 62 Indian territories were invaded by landowners, miners and loggers, 47% more than in 2011. The biggest threat of dispossession is from mega dam projects in Belo Monte and giant hydro-electric projects being promoted by the Rousseff regime. As the agro-mineral economy falters the Indian communities are being squeezed (“silent genocide”) to intensify agro-mineral growth.
The biggest beneficiaries of Brazil ’s extractive economy are the world’s top commodity traders who, worldwide, pocketed $250 billion over the 2003-2013 period, surpassing the profits of the biggest Wall Street firms and five of the biggest auto companies. During the mid-2000’s, some traders enjoyed returns of 50 – 60 percent. Even as late as 2013 they were averaging 20 – 30% (Financial Times 4/15/13, p. 1). Commodity speculators earned more than 10 times what was spent on the poor. These speculators profit from price fluctuations between locations, from the arbitrage opportunities offered by an abundance of price discrepancies between regions. Monopoly traders eliminated competitors and low taxes (5-15%) have added to their mega wealth. The biggest beneficiaries of the Lula-Dilma extractive model, surpassing even the agro-mineral giants are the twenty biggest commodity traders-speculators.
Extractive Capital, Internal Colonialism and the Decline of the Class Struggle
The class struggle, especially its expression via strikes led by trade unions and by rural workers located in campsites (campamentos) who launch land occupations has declined precipitously over the past quarter of a century. Brazil during the period following the military dictatorship (1989) was a world leader in strikes with 4,000 in 1989. With the return of electoral politics and the incorporation and legalization of the trade unions especially in tripartite collective bargaining framework, strikes declined to an average of 500 during the 1990’s. With the advent of the Lula regime (2003-2010) strikes declined further from 300-400 a year. The two major trade unions CUT and Forca Sindical allied with the Lula regime became virtual adjuncts of the Ministry of Labor: trade unionists secured positions in government and the organizations received major subsidies from the state, ostensibly for ‘job’ training and worker education. With the commodity boom and the rise in state revenues and export earnings, the governments formulated a trickle down strategy, increasing the minimum wage and launching new anti-poverty programs. In the countryside, the MST continued to demand an agrarian reform and engaged in land occupations but its position of critically supporting the Workers Party in exchange for social subsidies led to a sharp decline in campsites (campamentos) from which to launch land occupations. At the start of Lula’s presidency (2003) the MST had 285 campamentos, in 2012 it had 13.
The decline of class struggle and the co-optation of the established mass movements coincided with the intensification of extractive capitalist exploitation of the interior of the country and the violent dispossession of the indigenous communities. In other words, the heightened exploitation of the ‘interior’ by agro-mineral capital facilitated the concentration of wealth in the large urban centers and the established rural areas, leading to co-optation of trade unions and rural movements. Hence despite some declaratory statements and symbolic protests, agro-mineral capital encountered little organized solidarity between urban labor and the dispossessed Indians and enslaved rural workers in the ‘cleared’ Amazon. Lula and Dilma played a key role in neutralizing any national united front against the depredations of agro-mineral capital.
The degeneration of the major labor confederations is visible not only in their presence in government and in the absence of strikes but also in the organization of the annual May 1 workers meetings. The recent events have included virtually no political content. There are music spectacles, spiced with lotteries offering automobiles and other forms of consumerist entertainment, financed and sponsored by major private banks and multi-nationals. In effect this relation between city and Amazon resembles a kind of internal colonialism, in which extractive capital has bought off a labor aristocracy as a complicit ally to its plunder of the interior communities.
Conclusion Mass Movements The Extractive Model under Siege
If the CUT and Forca Sindical are co-opted, the MST is weakened and the low income classes received monetary raises how and why did unprecedented mass movements emerge in close to a hundred major and minor cities throughout the country?
The contrast between the new mass movements and the trade unions was evident in their capacity to mobilize support during the June/July(2013) days of protest: the former mobilized 2 million ,the latter 100,000
What needs to be clarified is the difference between the small student and local groups (Movemiento Passe Livre-MPL)which detonated the mass movements over a raise in bus fares and the pharaonic state expenditure on the World Cup (soccer championship) and Olympics and the spontaneous mass movements which questioned the state’s budgetary policies and priorities in their entirety.
Many publicists for the Lula-Dilma regimes accept at face value, the budgetary allocations destined for social and infrastructure projects, when in fact only a fraction is actually spent as much is stolen by corrupt officials. For example between 2008-12
R$6.5 billion was designated for public transport in the principal cities but only 17% was actually spent.(Veja ano 46,no29 7/17/2013)According to the NGO “Contas Abertas”(Open Accounts)over a ten year period Brazil spent over R$160 billion in public works which are unfinished , never left the drawing board or were stolen by corrupt officials. One of the most egregious cases of corruption and mismanagement is the construction of a 12 kilometer subway in Salvador, with the provision that it would be completed in 40 months at the cost ofR$307 million. Thirteen years later (2000-13) expenditures increased to nearly1 billion reales and barely 6 kilometers have been completed. Six locomotors and 24 wagons purchased for 100 million reales have broken down and the manufacturers warranty has expired(Veja ano 46.no 29 7/17/13).The project has been paralyzed by claims of corrupt overcharging (sobrefacturacion)involving federal, state and municipal officials. Meanwhile 200,000 passengers are forced daily to travel on dilapidated buses.
The deep corruption which infects the entire Lula-Dilma administration has driven a deep wedge between the achievements claimed by the regime and the deteriorating everyday experience of the great majority of the Brazilian people. The same gap exists regarding expenditures to preserve the Amazon rain forest, the Indian lands, and to fund the anti-poverty programs: corrupt PT officials siphon funds to finance their election campaigns rather then reduce environmental destruction and reduce poverty.
If the wealth from the boom in the agro-mineral extractive model “percolated” into the rest of the economy and raised wages, it did so in a very uneven, unequal and distorted fashion. The great wealth concentrated at the top found expression in a kind of new caste-class system in which private transport – helicopters and heliports – private clinics, private schools, private recreation areas, private security armies for the rich and affluent was funded by state promoted subsidies. In contrast the masses experienced a sharp relative and absolute decline in public services in the same essential life experiences. The raise in minimum wage did not compensate for 10 hour waits in crowded public emergency rooms, irregular and crowded public transport, daily personal threats and insecurity (50,000 homicides).Parents, receiving the anti-poverty dole sent their children to decaying schools where poorly paid teachers rushed from one school to another barely meeting their classes and providing meager learning experiences. The greatest indignity to those receiving subsistence handouts was to be told that, in this class-caste society, they were “middle class”; that they were part of an immense social transformation that lifted 40 million out of poverty, as they crawled home from hours in traffic, back from jobs whose monthly salary paid for one tennis match at an upscale country club. The agro-mineral extractive economy, accentuated all Brazil ’s socio-economic inequalities and the Lula-Dilma regime accentuated these difference by raising expectations, claiming their fulfillment and then ignoring the real social impacts on everyday life. The government’s large scale budgetary allocations for public transport and promises of projects for new subway and train lines have been delayed for decades by large scale, long term corruption. Billions spent over the years have yielded minimum results-a few kilometers completed. The result is that the gap between the regime’s optimistic projections and mass frustration has vastly increased. The gap between the populist promise and the deepening cleavage between classes could not be papered over by trade union lotteries and VIP lunches. Especially for an entire generation of young workers who are not attached to the ancient memories of Lula the “metal worker” a quarter century earlier. The CUT, the FS, the Workers’ Party are irrelevant or are perceived to be part of the system of corruption, social stagnation and privilege. The most striking feature of the new wave of class protest is the generational and organizational split: older metal workers are absent, young unorganized service workers are present. Local, spontaneous organizations replace the co-opted trade unions.
The point of confrontation is the street – not the workplace. The demands transcend monetary wages and salaries – the issues are the social wage, living standards, national budgets .Ultimately the new social movements raise the issue of national class priorities. The regime is dispossessing hundreds of thousands of residents of favelas – a social purge – to build sports complexes and luxury accommodations. Social issues inform the mass movements. Their organizational independence and autonomy underline the deeper challenge to the entire neo-liberal extractive model; even though no national organizations or leadership of these mass movements has emerged to elaborate an alternative. Yet the struggle continues. The traditional mechanisms of co-optation fail because there are no identifiable leaders to buy off. The regime, facing the decline of export markets and commodity prices, and deeply committed to multi-billion dollar non-productive investments in the Games has few options. The PT long ago lost its anti-systemic cutting edge. Its politicos are linked with and funded by the banks and agro-mining elites. The trade union leaders protect their fiefdoms, automatic dues deductions and stipends. The mass movements of the cities like the Indian communities of the Amazon will have to find new political instruments .But having taken the path of “direct action” they have taken a big first step.
Filed under: Uncategorized
Last month’s protests swept through Brazil’s cities, bringing hundreds of thousands onto the streets to protest rampant political corruption, declining government services and rising public costs.
Contrary to the rosy economic picture that the World Bank and the IMF have tried to paint over the past decade, Brazil’s growing discontent with the neoliberal model is now on full display. According to Michel Chossudovsky:
“The standard of living in Brazil has collapsed since the accession of the Workers Party in 2003. Millions of people have been marginalized and impoverished including a significant part of the urban middle class.
While the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) presents a “progressive” people’s oriented image, officially opposed to “corporate globalization”, the macro-economic agenda has been reinforced. The PT government has consistently manipulated its grassroots, with a view to imposing what the “Washington Consensus” describes as “a strong policy framework”.
Find out more in this week’s GRTV Backgrounder on Global Research TV.
Three years after its star-studded launchby President René Préval, actor Sean Penn and various other Haitian and foreign dignitaries, the model camp for Haiti’s 2010 earthquake victims has helped give birth to what might become the country’s most expansive – and most expensive – slum.
Known as “Canaan,” “Jerusalem,” and “ONAville” – the new shanty-town, spread across 11 square kilometers, is here to stay, Haitian officials told Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW). Taxpayers and foreign donors will likely spend “many hundreds of millions” to urbanize the region, and as much as another US$64 million to pay off the landowners who are threatening to sue the government and the humanitarian agencies.
Three years after the launch of the temporary model camp “Corail-Cesselesse” – located about 18 kilometers northeast of the capital and named after the nearby habitation (plantation) that was once home to sugarcane and sisal fields – the landscape differs from the orderly camp visited by celebrities. Surrounded by tens of thousands of squatters’ shacks and homes, today it is a cause of embarrassment for local and international actors alike.
Before the earthquake, most of this arid, rocky expanse running from the northern outskirts of Port-au-Prince up to Cabaret was largely empty. Much of it is owned by the Haitian firm NABATEC, S.A.. Since 1999, the firm had been developing it into an “integrated economic zone” (IEZ) called “Habitat Haïti 2020” that would have industrial parks, single- and multi-unit housing for various income levels, schools, green spaces, and a shopping mall. A Korean company and a U.S.-based humanitarian group had already purchased land within the perimeter, and NABATEC was in discussions with a number of foreign firms.
“It was a 15-year, US$2 billion project, and everyone had already given their approval, including the Haitian government and the World Bank,” according to architect Gérald Emile “Aby” Brun, NABATEC’s president and vice president of TECINA, S.A., a planning and construction firm. A 2011 World Bank study of potential IEZ sites ranked it best out of 21 possibilities around the country, calling it potentially “high-performing” and “the clearest application of the IEZ concept among any proposed project in Haiti.”
But today, the land – equal to about three Central Parks – is home to between 65,000 and 100,000 people: 10,000 in the planned camps and the rest squatters. And they aren’t going anywhere.
“We can’t move them out,” Haitian government planner Odnell David told HGW in an exclusive interview. “The idea is to reorganize the space so that people can live.”
Urbanizing about half of the wasteland will cost Haitian and foreign taxpayers “many hundreds of millions of dollars,” noted David, an architect and the director of the housing section of the government’s Unité de Construction de Logements et de Bâtiments Publics (UCLBP or Unit for the Construction of Housing and Public Buildings). The price tag for initial infrastructure work already tops US$50 million.
Model Camp Leads to Disaster’s Disaster
Opened in April 2010, the Corail “Sector 3” and “Sector 4” camps together represented the reconstruction’s model resettlement. They sit on two sloping parcels of 50 square kilometers of private land declared “of public utility” by the central government in March 2010. Right from the start, the choice to move people to the desert-like plain was controversial, for two reasons. First, some critics accused Brun and NABATEC of seeking to profit from the disaster, and next, many said the land under the camps, and indeed much of the region itself, is not appropriate to any kind of settlement, temporary or permanent, for environmental and economic reasons. [See sidebars Capitalizing on Disaster? and Controversy over Corail Camp.]
Despite the controversies, humanitarian agencies like the International Organization for Migration (IOM), World Vision, and the American Refugee Committee (ARC) together spent over US$10 million to build the two “sectors” – which have schools, playgrounds, latrines, and some electricity, but which still lack water. They had planned to build many more camps, including “Sectors 1 and 2” which sat close by. However, as soon as the first U.S. Army bulldozers started to level the land, tens of thousands of people – some but not all of them earthquake victims – invaded those areas as well as land around and north of the camps, “buying” parcels from racketeers, marking off their plots and pitching makeshift tents.
Nobody in the central government said anything to prevent the land seizures, which continue today. Many say the land was offered to supporters of Préval’s “Inite” political party for US$10 per square meter. The new “landowners” got fake “titles” in exchange for cash and their votes in the upcoming presidential elections, according to Brun and other sources who asked not to be named.
“It was an electoral thing,” said Brun.
Planned or not, and political scheme or not, today those tents have turned into houses built every which way, in what the UCLBP’s David calls a “savage urbanization… no infrastructure, no water, no electricity, no sanitation: people just appropriated land and are trying to accomplish their dreams of becoming homeowners.”
“The state has a moral obligation to intervene,” David continued. “You can’t leave it like it is… Those people are living in difficult conditions.”
Police and local authorities have already set up offices in tractor-trailer containers.
Life in the camps
Despite the unforgiving sun and its sweltering heat, Joel Monfiston is working. Hammering a piece of worn plywood to a battered two-by-four, watering flowers, and picking the weeds out from between rocks and pebbles.
The 34-year-old father of three crouches in front of his one-room home in Sector 3. Monfiston and his family first lived in a tent. Now they have a 24-square-meter “temporary shelter” built mostly of plywood and sheet metal by World Vision for US$4,500, according to the agency. Like most Haitians, he survives with a day job here and there and through help from friends and family. And, he tries his hand at commerce.
“Things are not easy. Imagine: they put you here, but there’s no work,” he said.
Monfiston has dreams. He hopes to set up a shop in the little shed he is building. He would like to grow more in his garden. But those remain dreams. For now, all he has are a few flowers and a few walls for his “store”… no shelves, no door, no cooler, no products.
And, like other Corail residents, while he does have access to latrines, electricity (solar-powered street lamps), playgrounds, a clinic, and schools, water is not so easy to find.
Back in 2011, the UN and Oxfam promised that a new system of cisterns and kiosks would soon provide residents with water from the state water agency. Two years later, the faucets remain dry. Residents buy water at 5 gourdes (about US$0.12) a bucket from private vendors or from the committees that manage the few still-functioning water “bladders” left over from the camp’s early days when water and food were free and when agencies provided “cash for work” jobs and start-up funds for would-be entrepreneurs.
Today, all of the big agencies have abandoned the Corail camp and its 10,000 residents. Trumpeting their success and claiming to have prepared a “transition” to the local authorities, IOM, ARC and World Vision all pulled out (although World Vision still supports the Corail School, which it built).
“Mayor of Croix-des-Bouquets is the New Camp Manager,” a cheery article from the UN military mission declared in a May 27, 2011 bulletin. But HGW found no evidence of any local authorities, or assistance, on two different visits. The “City Hall Annex” at the Corail camp was shuttered. Residents told journalists that they could not remember when they last saw anyone from the government. [See Controversy over Corail Camp.]
“Nobody from the mayor’s office has set foot here for many months,” said Racide d’Or, a member of the Corail residents committee. “They were only around when they knew there was land in the area they could ‘sell,’” continued the mother of two, who lost her Delmas home in earthquake. “There is no ‘government’ or ‘state’ for those of us who live here. We have to figure out everything ourselves.”
The Croix-des-Bouquets City Hall annex in Canaan is sweltering at midday. The “office” is an empty container and a “conference room” of plywood and a blue plastic tarp roof. Two men there said they worked for City Hall but refused to give their names or allow their voices to be recorded.
“They just dumped us here,” said one, aged about 30. “We don’t have the means to work. Our supervisor never comes to see how we are doing.”
“I’d like to know what they were thinking when they put this office here,” said the other one, older, who was slouched in a plastic chair. “We don’t do anything.”
The absence of humanitarian agencies has one benefit. When agencies were handing out food, jobs, and cash, gangs and “mafias” ran various parts of the camps. An Oxfam program that handed out up to US$1,000 to some – but not all – small business-people led to disagreements, rumors, protests, and eventually arrests.
“The NGOs divided us. People fought with each other,” Auguste Gregory told HGW. Gregory was sitting with friends next to his telephone-charging business: a table covered with power strips and chargers. “Some people went to prison. Others went into hiding. We were all there for the same reason, but they divided us,” he remembered.
For much of 2010, a gang calling itself “The Committee of Nine” threatened residents and aid providers alike, so much so that ARC Camp Manager Richard Poole quit his job and left the country.
“My three months at Corail were one of the most difficult periods I have experienced in my 30 years as a humanitarian worker,” Poole later told HGW in an email interview. ARC received about US$400,000 to manage the camp for eight months in 2010.
But, some humanitarian actors say the Corail settlement was not a complete failure.
“It is important to look at where the families were at the beginning of the earthquake and where they are now,” World Vision told HGW in an email. The agency says it spent about US$7 million on 1,200 shelters, a school, playgrounds, and various programs.
People “came from areas which were prone to flash flooding, mudslides, and disease outbreaks, but now they are in a safer and more secure community,” the agency pointed out. “The families have homes and are protected… We are pleased with these outcomes.” [See also Controversy over Corail Camp]
Not everyone is pleased
NABATEC president “Aby” Brun is not pleased.
At first, Brun said he and NABATEC hoped the government and the major reconstruction actors would intervene to eject the squatters and camp residents, or to at least turn the camp’s temporary shelters into permanent houses so that they could become the beginning of Habitat Haïti 2020 [see Capitalizing on Disaster?].
In the meantime however, Brun deplored the fact that the Michel Martelly government decided “follow the same abusive logic” and seize two other pieces of NABATEC land: one at the corner of Highway #9 and Highway #1 to build a waste treatment facility on what was slated to be an industrial park, and another, across the road, to build the offices of the Haitian Olympic Committee. Those two pieces had been valued by the government tax office – theDirection Générale des Impôts (DGI) – at US$10 million, according to Brun.
As months went by, the NABATEC partners – some of them members of Haiti’s most economically powerful families – realized their project would no longer be possible.
“The country lost a great opportunity,” Brun said. “I have been working on that project for 16 years.”
Now, NABATEC wants to be indemnified, according to the law and the Constitution. The company has submitted paperwork to the DGI and to each of the three Finance Ministers who have held office since the “public utility” declaration.
“The last ‘refresher’ meeting was under Marie-Carmelle Jean-Marie about three months ago,” Brun said. Jean-Marie resigned in April, allegedly over differences of opinion concerning a series of no-bid contracts and other expenditures.
All told, if the government reimburses NABATEC for that land and the land currently occupied by the camps and the squatters, NABATEC is due US $64 million.
“We have submitted all the papers and titles,” Brun said in May. “Verbally, in conversations, they say, ‘Yes, we recognize it’s your land,’ and they say they are going to pay us, but… nothing on paper.”
Hoping to confirm Brun’s statements, HGW made almost a dozen requests for interviews with DGI officials, in writing and in person, over the course of three months. Finally, in February 2013, Raymond Michel, head of the DGI’s property division, promised an interview, noting: “This dossier is very, very sensitive.” Michel never contacted HGW again.
Brun, meanwhile, is growing impatient. NABATEC is open to the idea of negotiating, but the company is also thinking about suing both the government and the humanitarian agencies that are continuing to do projects at Corail or are helping the squatters in the areas outside the camps, for “infringing on property owners rights.”
“It’s been three years now,” Brun said. “I understand the difficulties facing people who don’t have a house, or work, or schools… but that doesn’t allow for mafia and extortionists to use people’s distress to make money, and we sit there with nothing.”
Seeking funding from, and for, the promised land
While NABATEC lobbies the Finance Ministry and the DGI for monetary compensation, another branch of the Haitian government is also seeking monies, but not to pay the landowners.
Instead, the UCLBP hopes to take NABATEC’s place and build its own project: the urbanization of about 500 hectares for a population of 100,000.
According to David, an initial plan is ready, thanks to the Canadian firm IBI/DAA and the Haitian firm SODADE. Asked about the plan and how much it cost, the architect declined to give the price tag and added that it had not been put out for bid. Instead, it was tacked onto another plan already being drawn up by IBI/DAA, which is a frequent beneficiary of government contracts.
“It is a very perfect plan. It has roads, it has water systems, it has sanitation,” David added, but he said that HGW could not see because it had not yet been approved.
Preliminary infrastructure work for a site will cost “about US$50 million.” But the proto-slum won’t turn into an organized neighborhood any time soon. Among other challenges, the residents who have marked out “their” land will have to be convinced to move to make way for infrastructure.
“It’s a very long term project,” David admitted.
Finding the money will not be easy, either. “We will need a lot of resources and the state doesn’t have all the funding it would need… We are seeking financing so that we can at least begin,” he said. “It won’t happen tomorrow.”
In the meantime, newcomers continue to arrive at the no man’s land with bundles of belongings, tent stakes, and a few cement blocks.
Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media and students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti.
Capitalizing on Disaster?
Writing about the Corail-Cesselesse disaster in an article and his recent book, Associated Press reporter Jonathan Katz accused NABATEC President Gérald Emile “Aby” Brun of pulling off a “backroom deal” by recommending NABATEC land for emergency refugee camps so that he could eventually offer foreign companies “a ready-made workers community.” Brun was a member of a presidential commission that recommended the site.
In extensive interviews with Haiti Grassroots Watch, Brun did not deny that he had hoped the camps might one day be integrated into “a decent and modern housing scheme that had already been approved” as part of the Habitat Haïti 2020 project. But he also noted that the expanse of territory owned largely by NABATEC is the only open space left near Port-au-Prince, which is bordered on one side by mountains and a lake and by the Caribbean Sea on another.
“When they were looking for land for debris, land for recycling, and eventually land for settlements, they realized that the state did not have any land larger than the size of a soccer field,” Brun said.
Numerous sources, including officials at UN-Habitat, confirmed that “the land problem” was one of the biggest challenges of the reconstruction.
Katz never spoke with Brun in person.
Brun – who resigned from the commission after Katz’s Jul. 12, 2010 article – said he never dreamed squatters would soon overrun the property.
“Why in the world would I have dropped a 14-year planning and investment dream and effort?” he asked HGW in a December 2012 email.
Once the land invasions started, foreign companies that had been negotiating with NABATEC, including Korean clothing firm SAE-A, dropped out of the project. (Today SAE-A is the “anchor tenant” of an industrial park in the north championed by Clinton and Martelly.)
“A dreamed of new city was killed by narrow minded and greedy people, under the tolerant observation of the international community,” according to Brun, who said NABATEC had spent over US$1.5 million on its project. “Habitat Haïti 2020 has been most likely killed by Corail and Canaan!”
Filed under: Uncategorized
By: Pepe Escobar, July 26th, 2013 “Information Clearing House”
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – the official denomination of al-Qaeda in Iraq – does not even pretend to be not responsible for the relentless bombing, political assassination and mostly sectarian horror unleashed across Iraq during Ramadan.
But this is exactly what they’re doing, with relish; throwing arrays of crude bombs made with fertilizer enhanced with ball bearings, manipulating a small army of foreign suicide bombers. Most of these, by the way, crossed the desert from Syria.
July has been a deadly month ; over 600 Iraqis killed up to July 25. May was even worse; at least 963 civilians killed and more than 2,000 injured. And now comes the coup de grâce; the already notoriousAbu Ghraib jailbreak.
Abu Ghraib is charged with symbolism – indelibly linked with the American occupier. When the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted in 2004 I was on the road in the US. This is what I wrote at the time; in Texas especially, everybody saw the routine humiliation of Iraqi prisoners as the new normal.
To the Syriamobile !
Fast forward to 2013. The al-Maliki government insists anti-terrorist forces are on top of everything going on in Baghdad. Not really. My matchless source in Baghdad, Asseel Kamal, explains how the commander of the 17th Army Division, General Abdul Naser al-Ghanam, apparently did not resign; he fled, before advising al-Maliki that all hell would break loose. The government was stunned by the veritable horde that staged the double attack – on Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, and Taji prison in the north of the city.
The siege of Abu Ghraib started with nine bombs thrown at the entrance, and dozens of mortars, followed by a battle against the guards; a group of suicide bombers attacked the walls while another group of car bombers attacked the main entrance. And then the critical gambit, when a series of car bombs exploded all along the main road up to the bridge that links the prison to the highway leading to Baghdad, cutting all its connections with the capital.
The numbers game is still a mess; everything from 500 to 1,000 and even 1,400 escapees. Same for the official numbers of dead prisoners (65), dead guards (28), injured prisoners (124) and injured guards (43). Kamal quotes prisoners’ families saying prisoners who did not manage to escape were brutally “interrogated”. And helicopters bombed them mercilessly.
According to Hakim al Zamili, a member of Parliament who’s part of the Committee for Defense and Security, this operation has been prepared for at least two weeks – and plenty of guards were onto it. Kamal reveals that at least 15 men dressed in military garb got inside and “released” – as in escorted to freedom – selected al-Qaeda princelings ; and left the rest to fend for themselves. Better yet : this selected group – which includes a bunch of Jihad International foreign fighters captured by the US military in 2006 and 2007 – has fled to, where else, Syria.
It’s the occupation, stupid
Al-Maliki’s government has closed Iraq’s borders with Syria – to no avail; it’s desert on both sides, it’s powerful Sunni tribal Sheikhs on both sides, it’s ‘family’ on both sides. This proves once again that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – with its tactical alliance with jihadis of the Jabhat al-Nusra kind – is already establishing the embryo of a beyond-borders Islamic Emirate. They even have secured territory in northern Syria.
Most of the best commanders on the ground in Syria are Iraqis – and have battleground experience of fighting the Americans. Their long-term wishful thinking strategy is that once Bashar al-Assad’s government falls, the next will be al-Maliki’s.
These jihadis see that fighting a secular, apostate, “infidel” government in Syria – supported by Iran and Hezbollah – is the equivalent of fighting an “apostate” government in Iraq enjoying close relations with Iran. This – a ghastly sectarian war – was always the plan since the bombing of Samarra’s golden shrine in 2006.
As much as Syrian civilians are caught in the crossfire of the proxy war involving Western powers and Gulf petro-monarchies against the support of Iran (and Russia) to Damascus, Iraqi civilians are now caught in the resurgent civil war. Civilians in Baghdad do fear what these escapees might unleash.
It’s always crucial to go back to the basics. With the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the clueless Bush gang handed out a base to al-Qaeda on a plate.
Yet when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, the prisoners were not al-Qaeda, but the Sunni resistance. When the Petraeus surge started in 2007, the plan was to buy the leaders of the Sunni resistance to fight al-Qaeda. The Sunni sheikhs took the money and decided to wait. Al-Qaeda dissolved and regrouped.
Now, with Syria as the new magnet of global jihad – once again a direct consequence of a US power play, via Barack “Assad must go” Obama – al-Qaeda is resurgent on both fronts. Washington has already destroyed the social fabric of Iraq. Now it’s helping to destroy Syria’s. If Abu Ghraib was the new normal in 2004, the jailbreak cannot but be the new new normal of 2013.
By: Ryan Mallett-Outtrim, July 25th, 2013
Head of Venezuela’s National Assembly Diosdado Cabello has stated that he will make public “hard evidence of assassination attempts” targeting himself and President Nicolas Maduro “in due course”.
“We know who they are, what they are, what they want, and we will find them,” Cabello told legislators during a special session of the assembly in Zulia state on Wednesday.
The alleged plot was first revealed by Maduro during a street government in Monagas state the day before, when he said that “fascist” groups operating in Venezuela “have crazy plans”.
“I have appointed Diosdado Cabello as political head of the PSUV to find the truth of how they have prepared for attacks against me for months,” Maduro said.
Maduro stated that if he or Cabello were targeted for assassination, “the wrath of god and the people would be unstoppable” adding that the political opposition would be crippled.
“I’m not here to be afraid of anything or anyone,” he said.
However, yesterday opposition leader Henrique Capriles stated on his internet show at Capriles.tv that “the worst thing that can happen to Venezuela is a coup”.
“Here the majority of Venezuelans want a peaceful and democratic change,” he stated, before accusing the government of “fascism”. He also accused Venezuelan authorities of “retaliating” against the Chilean airline LAN. During his recent visit to Chile and Peru, Capriles reportedly flew with the airline.
The Maduro government has been critical of Capriles’ regular international trips. Foreign minister Elias Jaua recently accused Capriles of neglecting his governorship of Miranda state.
Nonetheless, today during a press conference Capriles indicated that he will spend more time abroad denouncing “the reality of the country”. He hinted that his next destinations could include Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador.
During the conference, Capriles reiterated claims that the government committed electoral fraud in April, before urging supporters to vote in December’s municipal elections.
This week, Capriles has also stated that the MUD will “continue to organise society in neighbourhoods, towns and cities, to consolidate an overwhelming majority in the December elections”.
On the other hand, the head of Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) Leopoldo Lopez stated that “we are not going to wait six years to be given change”.
“There cannot be peace… when there is injustice,” Lopez stated, before urging supporters to restart street protests against the government. VP is part of the MUD coalition. Supporters of the opposition held protests across the country following the 14 April elections, after Capriles disputed the results. In some parts of the country, authorities reported that opposition protests turned violent. In the days that followed the election, Venezuelanalysis observed some opposition protesters and pro-government counter-protesters clash in the streets of Merida.
In April, Venezuela’s attorney general Luisa Ortega Díaz, stated that the violence claimed nine lives and dozens of injuries nationwide. Since then, the Maduro administration has accused Capriles of inciting the violence.
“We cannot turn the page of 14A [the 14 April presidential elections] when we said that the elections were stolen. This government does not enjoy majority support of Venezuelans,” Lopez insisted this week.
The latest poll from private firm Hinterlaces indicates that support for the opposition has fallen to 31%, while the PSUV now has the backing of 48% of the population. The results of another poll by International Consulting Services (ICS) earlier this month indicated that 55.9% of Venezuelans approve of Maduro’s presidency.
Cabello responded to Lopez’s statements on Wednesday, urging the opposition to not provoke violence.
Well over 15,000 people poured out from all corners of Haiti’s capital to march alongside the cortege of cars that carried former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide back to his home in Tabarre from the Port-au-Prince courthouse he visited on May 8.
Thousands more massed along sidewalks and on rooftops to cheer the procession on, waving flags and wearing small photos of Aristide in their hair, pinned to their clothing, or stuck in their hats.
Led by Fanmi Lavalas party coordinator Maryse Narcisse through a gauntlet of jostling journalists, Aristide had entered the courthouse (the former Belle Époque Hotel) at exactly 9:00 a.m., the time of his appointment to testify before Investigating Judge Ivickel Dabrésil. Aristide had waited with Narcisse in a car outside the court’s backdoor for about 45 minutes. It was only the second time that Aristide had left his home (and the first time publicly) since returning to Haiti on Mar. 18, 2011 from a seven-year exile in Africa following the Feb. 29, 2004 Washington-backed coup d’état which cut short his second government.
Lawyer Mario Joseph said that he was “very satisfied” with the reception given by Judge Dabrésil, who is investigating the April 2000 murder of radio journalist Jean Dominique and his radio’s caretaker Jean-Claude Louissaint, for which Aristide is one of many prominent Haitians, including former President René Préval, interviewed for testimony. Joseph said the three hour deposition was very “cordial and relaxed.”
But many Haitians feared that the summoning of Aristide – even if only for testimony – was a trap set by President Michel Martelly, who, as the former vulgar konpa musician “Sweet Micky,” was the principal cheerleader of both the 1991 and 2004 coups d’état against Aristide.
“This summoning of Aristide is a political act remote-controlled by the Martelly government, the same as the now discredited legal suits brought a few months ago by Ti Sony [a former resident of the Lafanmi Selavi orphanage who claimed that Aristide had “exploited” him and other orphans] and some who lost money when the cooperative banks went bust [while Aristide was in power in 2002 and 2003],” said outspoken Sen. Moïse Jean-Charles. “Those previous efforts to smear and destroy Aristide failed, so now they are trying this.”
Many Haitian radio commentators point to Judge Dabrésil’s postponement of Aristide’s deposition from its original date of Apr. 24 as proof that there is a political hand in the judge’s proceedings. The deposition, and the expected anti-Martelly pro-Aristide outpouring, would have taken place during the 5th Summit of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) from Apr. 23-26 held in Pétionville and attended by many regional leaders.
Furthermore, on Mar. 7, the Defend Haiti website reported that “Presidential Adviser Guyler Delva admitted, earlier this week, to giving Judge Ivekel Dabrésil a car, and Senator John Joel Joseph said on Radio Scoop FM on Wednesday [Apr. 30] that the administration had purchased a house in Florida for the judge.”
Another impetus for the massive turn-out came on the evening of May 7 when Haitian National Police (PNH) Director General Godson Orélus took to the airwaves to announce that the PNH had “received no formal notification of the demonstration” as required by law and that therefore “any demonstration is formally forbidden” along the route between Aristide’s house and the courthouse.
“The police don’t want any demonstration,” he concluded, throwing down a gauntlet which the Haitian people took up the next morning.
Lavalas leaders, including Narcisse, responded that the march was not a “demonstration” but an “accompaniment” of Aristide by the Haitian people. Many Lavalas leaders came to the courthouse to show their solidarity including Senators Moïse Jean-Charles, John Joel Joseph, Francky Excius, and Jean Baptiste Bien-Aimée; Deputy Saurel Hyacinthe; former senator Gérard Louis Gilles; former deputies Jacques Mathelier and Lionel Etienne; former Justice Minister Calixte Delatour; activists Farah Juste, Claudy Sidney, and Volcy Assad.
About 100 people had spent the night in a vigil across the street from Aristide’s home. At 6 a.m., hundreds more joined them to mass on the sidewalks in front of Aristide’s house.
But the real “accompaniment” began after the hearing. Leaving the courthouse at noon, Aristide’s ride home took five hours, passing slowly through downtown Port-au-Prince, the Champ de Mars, the hillside slum of Belair, Delmas 2, then the roads through the old military airport and past the international airport.
Parallel solidarity demonstrations were held in Cap Haïtien, Aux Cayes, and Petit Goâve.
Alongside the 20 or so cars that followed Aristide’s silver jeep, young and old walked, jogged, and ran, singing, chanting, and laughing. The river of humanity included motorcycles, bicycles, wheelchairs, and the occasional person on crutches.
Marchers also tore down pink government propaganda posters from lampposts along the way. Several posters declaring “With the Martelly/Lamothe government, Haiti is advancing” were torn up and left in pieces in the street for vehicles and marchers to pass over. (Martelly’s long-time business partner Laurent Lamothe is Haiti’s Prime Minister.)
Three times Aristide got out of his car to wave to the crowd — outside the courthouse gate, in Belair, and in front of his home — causing people to sprint toward his car and raise their arms, creating a sea of hands. Afterwards, people hugged and high-fived each other, some laughing, some crying.
One man dressed in rags moved down the line of cars following Aristide, wiping each car clean with a dirty cloth but asking for no money in return.
“Se pa lajan non, se volontè wi,” (It’s not for money, I’m here of my own free will) was the refrain of crowds which turned out for Aristide’s massive campaign rallies when he first ran for President in November and December 1990. The song was heard again on May 8, 2013 in the largely spontaneous march, which grew in size and volume as it made its way through the capital.
In contrast, when Martelly organized a carnival-like rally of a few thousand in the Champ de Mars on May 14, many participants were paid 1000 gourdes (US$24) a head to turn out. They were also given a t-shirt – either pink or white – to put on. But after taking the money, many “celebrants” discarded their t-shirts in the street, Haïti Libertéreporters observed. (A Haiti Liberté photographer was prevented from accessing a media stand at the May 14 rally after presenting his press credentials.)
Some pundits tried to banalize the historic march, saying it was merely the beginning of the electoral campaign of the Lavalas Family (FL), the party that Aristide founded in 1996. (Many Haitian political leaders, including those in the FL, strongly doubt whether free and fair elections can be held under Martelly, or whether he even wants to hold them. “No matter what, Martelly has to go” was another chant heard during the march.)
But May 8, 2013 was much more than a mere campaign rally. It was a watershed event, a popular show of force which has changed the political calculus of Haiti in the near-term. Haitian history has shown that when the Haitian people begin to move in such numbers, major political change is imminent. The weeks ahead will reveal exactly what that political change will be.
By: Kim Ives, 15 May 2013
(Additional reporting was done by Haiti Liberté staff reporters Wendell Polynice and Daniel Tercier)