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Sunday 18 September 2016

Venezuela: The left's giant forgetting

Earlier this year Jeremy Corbyn deleted a lot of content from his website. Right, malnourished child in Maracaibo hospital.

"Malnourished children who faint in class. Children who, in the worst cases, die from hunger, their bodies nothing but skin and bones, the outlines of their ribs visible.

Images like those have become common in Venezuela, where critical food shortages are pushing hundreds of thousands of children under a blanket of misery and hunger more often seen in the poorest countries in Africa."
Hunger haunts Venezuela, especially its children, Miami Herald, August 5, 2016.

For months images of starving Venezuelan children, reports of food riots, of the very poorest banging pots on the streets demanding food and desperate parents hunting for medicine for their children have appeared in Western media.

Ordinary people are now being randomly snatched out of the huge food lines, arrested and labelled saboteurs by a government desperate to blame anyone else but themselves.

President Maduro has joked about the food crisis.

Nothing new

These images of starvation are not new, although the media attention is. Last June The Economist reported evidence that Chavismo's vaunted alleviation of poverty and food insecurity had reversed.
Marianella Herrera, a nutritionist at the Fundación Bengoa, a private foundation, calls official data partial and inconsistent. “Other studies show an increase in malnutrition,” she says. “Children are showing up in hospital emergency wards with severe malnutrition, and some are dying because of a lack of basic supplies.” The government’s own figures, which show it reached the UN target for reducing malnutrition in children by 2008, indicate that by 2013 Venezuela was close to crossing the line again, in the opposite direction.

From The Economist, June 2015.

June 2015 was also the time of the last recorded comment  (that I am aware of) by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Venezuela, at a rally organised by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC).  In March 2016 he deleted a slew of content from his website including this pro-Chavismo article.

Circulated by VSC prior to June2015 rally.
His speech in June 2015 did not include anything - not one word - on the situation with hunger in Venezuela. Almost the entire focus was on supposed American imperialism.

Yet not only was there reporting on starving Venezuelans in June 2015 there were many earlier reports, such as this one from March 2014 about riot police preventing a 'empty pots march' on the Food Ministry.
More than 5,000 protesters banged pots, blew horns and whistles and carried banners in the capital to decry crippling inflation and shortages of basics including flour, milk and toilet paper. Similar protests were held in at least five other cities.

All over Venezuela, people spend hours every week queuing at supermarkets, often before dawn, without even knowing what may arrive.

“There’s nothing to buy. You can only buy what the government lets enter the country because everything is imported. There’s no beef. There’s no chicken,” said Zoraida Carrillo, a 50-year-old marcher in Caracas.

Silent witness

Also at that June 2015 rally were Labour MPs Richard Burgon and Grahame Morris and Labour MSP Neil Findlay.

I cannot find any comment on Venezuela by any of those three since last June.

This is symptomatic of a silence which has descended over the left on Venezuela from those who have previously and loudly cheered Chavismo. Symptomatic of that silence is the prominent British journalist and activist Owen Jones. Jones is very active on social media and he has been asked numerous times to explain his silence. He has not responded.

The timeline of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign since last June demonstrates this sudden poverty of interest. It is like Venezuela has become kryptonite to a certain section of the left. Something which is no longer talked about in certain circles.

The group Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America, formed in May, also has nothing to say about Venezuela.


What has occupied these people, and others such as MP Diane Abbott, since they decided to forget about Venezuela and its starving children, is a so-called 'coup' in Brazil. That country - like Venezuela - has suffered from enormous levels of corruption which has involved politicians from all parties. Are you sensing a theme?

Whither the 'socialist economic model'?

What the Maduro government is doing is entrenching the political philosophy which created the food crisis in the first place. The same economic policies which these British left-wingers had previously cheered on.

Key to the entrenchment is a Spanish Marxist Professor called Alfredo Serrano Mancilla. Those policies include:
Expropriations, the seizure of businesses, “urban agriculture” on balconies, the soviet supply system and forced employment in the public agriculture sector are all a result of Serrano’s influence.
He is the coordinator of the Center for Political and Social Studies (CEPS), a Spanish anti-capitalist organization that provides political consulting and is closely associated with the left-wing party Podemos.

Mancilla is described as "a kind of ideologue of Chavismo." Maduro has called him "the Jesus Christ of the economy."

Mancilla, according to the Spanish newspaper El Nacional, has solidified the idea that the socialist economic model of the 21st century is unquestionable, and that any failure is the result of attacks from the opposition.

Does this sound familiar? Ring any bells?

Mancilla has said he wants to hide the crisis and not allow the entry of humanitarian aid. NGOs like Doctors Without Borders cannot act in Venezuela without asking permission from authorities.

Writing last month César Crespo noted that 'Chavismo' was always built around an uneasy alliance between heterogenous political groups, but "his long game was always establishing an “alternative” to capitalism." (This is what Western lefties fell in love with.)
Let’s not forget that even though initially Chavez vehemently denied being a Marxist and ran in 1998 as a third-way Caribbean Tony Blair, he openly embraced marxism soon afterwards, he had ties from the beginning with Venezuelan radical marxist groups who had even trained his handpicked heir, his economic guru was an ideological Marxist dinosaur, counted Fidel Castro as a mentor and considered Cuba a “sea of happiness”, and even had a soft spot for North Korea.  
His most important economic policies were the expropriation of the type of companies that no sane government on the planet runs, the establishment of draconian price controls, irrational labor regulations, and useless foreign currency controls. Chávez was a media savvy politician who knew how to pander to hip antiestablishment ideologies, but deep down the difference between 21st century socialism and the 20th century variant was always paper-thin.


Failing to mention that the worst legacy of Chávez (the destruction of the Venezuelan economy) is tied to his faith in discredited economic ideas is doing a favor to people like Alfredo Serrano, Pablo Iglesias or Jeremy Corbyn. Chávez is not just a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of populist institution-busting, he’s a cautionary tale for re-branding of Marxism as hip, anti-establishment ideology.

Question more

The unheard.
Yet that cautionary tale is no caution if it is unheard.

Writing in May the British author Nick Cohen railed against those who had backed Chavismo and were now silent.
The show is over now. Their fantasies fulfilled, the western tourists have left a ruined country behind without a guilty glance over their shoulder. Venezuela looks as if it has been pillaged by a hostile army, though there has been no war.
Yet during the Labour leadership campaign Corbyn has faced no questioning over Venezuela, not from his opponent or from any journalist in any of his many interviews. No one has waved pictures of starving children in front of his face demanding answers.

Neither is anyone demanding answers from those trade unions who continue - even now - to support the Venezuelan regime.

Ads in current VSC Bulletin.

Some Western lefties have looked inward at their previous support for Chavismo - here Useful Stooges covers the turn-around by some Norwegians.

It is cowardly of others, like Corbyn and the rest, to not follow suit and it is appalling that they are allowed to get away with it.

Edited to add (this is from a Corbyn rally and refers to a popular BBC show sold to a semi-commercial rival.):

See also:

Thursday 8 September 2016

Defend brave imprisoned Crimean Muslims!

Left to right: Ferat Saifullyayev [with a T-shirt reading: ’Banned again’]; Rustem Vaitov [’Crimean Tatars’]; Nuri Primov [Order carried out as commisioned]; Ruslan Zeitullayev [’The show is over’] Photo: Yana Goncharova

Reblogged with permission.


By Halya Coynash

The first sentences have been passed in Russia’s mounting offensive against Crimean Muslims, with the four Crimean Tatars all sentenced to real terms of imprisonment. The trial was critical since Russia is already holding 14 Crimeans, almost all Crimean Tatars, in indefinite custody on identical charges. The sentences could have been much worse, which is the only positive thing to say since the men were convicted, without any evidence, of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization which is legal in Ukraine.

The verdict will, of course, be appealed, however the convictions had been anticipated. The ‘trial’ was, after all, taking place in the same Rostov military court which in August 2015 sentenced Crimean political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko to huge sentences, and the prosecutor had demanded long sentences in this case also.

The men were accused of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a totally peaceful pan-Islamist organization which back in 2003 Russia’s Supreme Court declared ‘terrorist’, together with 14 other organizations. No grounds were given and the ruling was effectively concealed until it was too late for the organization itself, and human rights NGOs to appeal against.

There is nothing incriminating against Hizb ut-Tahrir, but there is also no proof that the four men are in fact members. All four men deny such involvement. Almost all the prosecution’s ‘witnesses’ testified essentially in the men’s favour. Russia then resorted to the testimony of a secret witness, who could not even be cross-examined properly. There were long delays while the man was clearly being told what to say. Even then he came up with totally contradictory statements. He could not remember the place or time, for example, but did remember every incriminating word that they were supposed to have spoken.

There was also the testimony of a former Ukrainian SBU officer who betrayed his oath and now works for the FSB. There is considerable evidence that he had long been waging a personal vendetta over two of the men, who had lodged a complaint back in 2012.

These trials are always cynical, since Russia, having never explained why it considers Hizb ut-Tahrir to be terrorist when no other country does, uses secret witnesses to convict people merely of involvement in it. They were especially lawless in Crimea, and not only because the organization is legal in Ukraine. The prosecution kept on referring to events from long before Russia had invaded and annexed Crimea and also concentrated on the men’s negative attitude to Russian occupation.

Aside from highly dubious ‘testimony’, there was evidence only of a ‘kitchen chat’, on the level of what kind of world order would be desirable.

While any conviction of four recognized political prisoners is to be condemned, the sentences could have been worse. Ruslan Zeitullayev had been charged with ‘organizing’ a terrorist organization (Article 205.1 § 1 of the Russian criminal code) with the minimum sentence for this 15 years. Nuri Primov, Rustem Vaitov and Ferat Saifullayev were accused of taking part in it (Article 205.1 § 2), with this carrying a minimum 5-year sentence. The prosecutor last week asked for a 17-year sentence for Zeitullayev, and 7 or 8 years for the other three men.

The court instead changed the charges against Zeitullayev from ‘organizing’ to ‘involvement’ and sentenced him to 7 years, while the other three men received the minimum 5-year sentences. Unfortunately, no Russian judges would have the courage to acquit people of politically motivated charges, but the minimum sentences in this case are effective confirmation of the lack of any grounds for criminal prosecution at all.

The men arrived in court for the sentences defiant and unbroken. Each had a different sign on their T-shirt: “Crimean Tatars”; “Yet again banned”; “The show is over” and “The order carried out [as commissioned]”. As they entered the glass cage, each man put tape over his mouth.

All four men are from Sevastopol and three of them have been in custody since January 2015. Saifullyaev was arrested slightly later, in April 2015.

It seems likely that Russia was waiting to see what the reaction would be to these arrests. There was unfortunately next to no reaction internationally and in February 2016, a further four men were arrested and remain in custody. The armed searches and arrests have now gained pace with 14 men in all held in appalling conditions and facing the same grotesque charges. At least one of the men – Emir-Huseyn Kuku is a human rights activist, almost certainly imprisoned for his monitoring of rights abuses.

Russia has finally come up against resistance to monstrous conveyor-belt ‘trials’ and sentences which it has been carrying out, wholesale, for the last 10 years. It was typical that the indictment in this case had been copied from a 2013 prosecution in the Russian Federation. Challenged by real lawyers who genuinely represent the men’s interests, the ‘case’ was seen in all its squalor.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre has, from the outset, followed such cases in the Russian Federation. It considers all men sentenced purely on the grounds of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir to be political prisoners. Given the scale of the repression in Russia, it is frustrating that international rights organizations have long been silent.

That silence has continued since Russia began applying this repressive practice in occupied Crimea, with the armed searches and arrests clearly aimed at intimidating and silencing Crimean Tatars and deterring any other Ukrainian Muslims. Their treatment is appalling and often openly aimed at humiliating them.

As reported, Memorial HRC recognized Primov; Saifullayev Vaitov and Zeitullayev as political prisoners. In its statement it stressed that Crimea was territory which Russia was occupying and that it was accusing the men of involvement in an organization that is legal in Ukraine.


It is vital for them to feel that they are not forgotten, but it is also critical that Russia understands that it is being followed. Letters or postcards need to be in Russian, and should not contain any discussion of the cases or politics generally. If it is a problem to write in Russian, just copy-pasting the following will be fine.

Добрый день,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.

Мы о Вас помним.

[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten.

Address (just copy-paste the address, with the name and year of birth of the person you are writing to).

Ruslan Zeitullayev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Зейтуллаеву, Руслану Борисовичу, 1985 г.р.

Rustem Vaitov

344010, Россия, г. Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1

Ваитову Рустему Мамутовичу, 1986 г. р.

Ferat Saifullayev

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Сайфуллаеву, Ферату Рефатовичу, 1983 г. р.

Nuri Primov

344010, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.

Примову, Нури Владимировичу

The 14 Crimean Muslims arrested so far

Ruslan Zeitullayev

Ferat Saifullayev

Rustem Vaitov

Nuri Primov

Arrested in February 2016

Emir-Huseyn Kuku

Muslim Aliev; Envir Bekirov and Vadim Siruk

April 2016 Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov

May 2016 Enver Mamutov, Rustem Abiltarov, Remzi Memetov and Zevri Abseitov

See also:

Friday 2 September 2016

Chi Onwurah + Labour's race f'up

Last year I posted on how Diane Abbott must be defended. She had just been discovered by the Daily Mail as having had a relationship in the past with Jeremy Corbyn.

Twitter was flooded with vile, disgusting, debased racist attacks on her. I wrote a post because nobody seemed to be paying any attention to this and I thought someone should.

Who noticed? Practically no one. Outrage was there none. Passed The Twittersphere by. F'all on Comment Is Free.

The whole experience was surreal. Look it up. Yes that actually happened and yes most ignored it / had no clue it was going on.


A year on and another black Labour MP is subjected to vile, disgusting, racist attacks. She is accused of 'playing the race card', an idea whose origins lie in the racist 'Southern Strategy' of the Reagan-era American Republican Party, by a website much of Labour links to.

She does not receive the same sexualised abuse as Abbott but the assault on her is similarly determined to silence a black voice.

Only this time Abbott and other left black voices are silent on her treatment, plus others, not of the far-left, also chime in, trashing her.

One of those black voices is Ahmed Sule. who wrote a fantastic piece about 'playing the race card' last year for Media Diversified, a website/group linked to a key website backing Jeremy Corbyn, The Canary.

Strangely (I jest) he has been silent on Chi Onwurah. In fact if you know of any 'radical' black voices speaking up for Onwurah let me know - they appear absent.

The assault on Onwurah

Onwurah is the black, Northern Labour MP whose criticism of Corbyn has been met with a racist assault - a reality, as with Abbott's, that has gone uncommented upon - as well as a dismissal as somehow her views are imposed upon her.  Like this black woman is a puppet.

For the Corbynites that must-read Canary website hosted an assault by white author James Wright on Onwurah. Tl/DR: the black MP lies.

It cited another white author on Corbyn's history of opposing Apartheid. This has been widely circulated. The reality is that the entire Labour community opposed Apartheid, not just Corbyn. For his work the 'Blairite' Minister Peter Hain was given a medal by the South African government (Corbyn has no such medal). The image circulated of Corbyn comes from a protest organised by a Trotskyist sect, the RCP. that the African National Congress (ANC) in exile opposed.

To shame a black Labour MP Corbyn supporters circulate an image of Corbyn, pretty much, defying the ANC.


I can understand defying the ANC but that wasn't what was happening for those circulating that image to trash Onwurah. They were deifying Corbyn. And in sharp and illuminating contrast to a black MP.

The apogee of the reaction to Onwurah criticising Corbyn must be a black Corbyn supporter tweeting that Corbyn is the anti-racist hero. Never mind all those, like Abbott, who fought for representation.

Racial discrimination and racism

At the core of the very serious issue with Labour reaction to Onwurah is her stated concern about racial discrimination.

She says that the treatment of her and another black woman MP could constitute racial discrimination. This is based on how when you have low representation your actions could diminish that even more. Hence you end up discriminating.

It's almost two decades since the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. That explained how institutions can be subject to racial discrimination in how they practice. That also said that a claim of racial discrimination should be taken at face value and not automatically dismissed.

Understanding how racial discrimination works in practice is something muggins thought we'd got from all that history.  More fool me.

Cos British media headlines said Onwurah'd accused Corbyn of racism. (This line was swallowed whole by Smith supporter Kevin Meagher, who blogged, against her, at Labour Uncut.)

This is not true. Racism and racial discrimination are not the same issue - and seeing how little this was understood vis Chi made me feel as if nothing had been learnt from the Stephen Lawrence experience or what has followed since. And I was truly shocked to see she got little support - including from her fellow MPs.

So we end up, in 2016, having a black female Labour MP being told her experience is not valid by vast swathes of the party. And how dare you raise your experience as a black woman. And being left to fend for herself by the entire party. Not silenced - ignored. It appears so.

Am back to Abbott and what happened a year ago...

G&d this is truly pathetic ...

Yes discrimination

In her piece today for The Guardian Onwurah underlines that:
"Conflating issues of representation with accusations of racism is one of the ways in which minority voices are silenced."
Corbyn needed to take care in how he treated Labour's few black female representatives. To do otherwise is not 'racism' but 'racial discrimination'. Because Labour has representation problems. Because meaning outcomes. Forgetting who 'they' are. Forgetting what 'they' represent. Forgetting what got 'them' where they are.

Forgetting who 'we' are. Forgetting who he is. Or who he is supposed to be.


Neglect - competence! - amounts to discrimination. That's her point, as I get it.

It ain't hard to understand yet we have a party which yells at her to STFU.

If Labour 2016 does not understand this, Chi's, basic point then WTF is Labour? And can someone else do some lifting on this than this old queen?

The Corbynite leadership is white male heterosexuals.

If you aint demanding of them cos that you aint nothing. Chi just did. She is something. F'yeah she is.

We can do better. We can do more.