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Monday 7 August 2017

Venezuela: In every way a terrible week

Tomorrow in Lima, Peru nine Latin American states (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Paraguay) plus Canada will meet with the aim of establishing a “contact group” that they hope can be the best way of pressuring Venezuela to return to democracy.

That Venezuela has left democracy trailing behind in the dust is beyond dispute but for those still with doubts this piece by Francisco Toro helpfully explained the process whereby Venezuela has arrived at this point by putting it into American terms:
Using the FBI to threaten and intimidate them, the president forces three Supreme Court justices to resign. After Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor leave, a lame-duck session of Congress rushes through the appointment of Roger Stone, Kellyanne Conway and Anthony Scaramucci to the court. The liberals kick and scream, but there’s nothing they can do. Scaramucci becomes chief justice.
It has taken the crisis to reach this point for Latin America to finally address the problem of Venezuela - because they see how it will effect them.

As Wall Street Journal reporter Anatoly Kurmanaev told Canadian public radio:
It has had a major impact. Columbia is talking about a looming refugee crisis. That's a country [with one of the] biggest refugee populations in the world itself because of decades of civil war. So this crisis has put a real strain on its limited resources already. 
The treatment of the refugees, by the way, by the region has been incredible. They have not been turned back - instead they have been made welcome.
Hundreds of Indigenous people live in abject poverty on the border of Brazil. And we're seeing them crossing into the tiny island of Trinidad that Venezuela borders by sea, trying to find food and trying to escape.
That's Commonwealth member Trinidad, which already hosts 40,000 refugees, 5% of its population. The neighbouring tiny island of Curaçao, which because it's part of, or rather one of, The Netherlands is also part of the European Union, already hosts 10,000.

The Venezuelan crisis is happening 11km from the EU.

Javier Lafuente and Carlos E. Cué in El Pais quote a Colombian Official:
There is no coordination between the Venezuelan military and the Colombians, there is absolute distrust, it is as if one spoke in Chinese and the other responded in Quechua.
"It is a chaos and a permanent anarchy," Joaquin Villalobos, the Salvadoran ex-guerrilla turned consultant for conflict resolution, told them. "In the midst of chaos, the power acquired by criminal platforms is incredible."

The move to create a 'contact group' is because the Organisation of American States, whose General Secretary is the socialist former Foreign Minister of Uruguay, has been blocked from taking collective actions because of countries like Cuba as well as Nicaragua and some Caribbean islands which rely on Venezuelan financing and Venezuelan oil. As well the Vatican has been working behind the scenes to promote the idea of a 'contact group'.

[Listen to the powerful statement by OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro]
The strategists who are trying to put together a regional agreement to corner Maduro, report Lafuente and Cué, believe that, despite the opposition of some countries like Bolivia, that a consensus is being established in which the crisis is deep, with enormous risk for all Countries, and the region can not stand still.

Says Kurmanaev:
Few countries are prepared to tolerate [Maduro's authoritarian rule] and stay quiet about it, which reduces the number of countries that might be able to mediate.
He explained that it is hoped that the Dominican Republic and Uruguay might be among the few potential Latin American countries left who could open the door for dialogue with Maduro.

Uruguay may no longer be a candidate after it agreed to Venezuela's suspension from the regional trade body Mercosur. (Though Venezuela had already lost its rights as a State Party as of last December because it had not incorporated required regulations into its legal system.)

Countries like Canada may be able to quietly exert some pressure on its neighbours to the south to push for a regional solution, he said.
I think the bigger, more powerful countries like the U.S. and Canada should focus on trying to provide incentives for the smaller countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to take a united stance — for them to say, 'Enough is enough and you have to change.'

This requires offering some sort of financial incentives, or maybe [tightening] immigration and remittances rules … It's in everyone's interest to have a stable Venezuela on their doorstep.

Although the UK has condemned the establishment of the Constituent Assembly and the sidelining of the Parliament (as have 42 other countries, including Switzerland), moves by the EU maybe made difficult because of the blocking of joint efforts by the Syriza government in Greece.

Comparing the situation to a game of Jenga with so many pieces already removed, Kurmanaev says "it's very difficult to see how it will end, but it could certainly come crashing down at any moment."


You might not know about any of this if you're a casual news consumer let alone one of the many who gets their news via social media. In the UK the past eight days has been one long shitfight between right and left over Venezuela.

This piece by Ian Dunt, repenting his past support for 'Chavismo', is very good and one of several lamenting the 'gotcha!' coverage. Writing for the New Statesman James Bloodsworth bemoaned a "point scoring exercise" and pointed out that Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn could do some practical good over getting political prisoners freed. (President Maduro is well aware of who Corbyn is and would undoubtedly take his call.)
On seemingly good terms with the government of Nicolás Maduro, Corbyn’s words may actually carry weight in Venezuela. This is a matter of some importance when the country appears to be marching toward full-blown dictatorship.
This was the point I argued in May when I wrote that Corbyn had a chance to be a Man of Peace, not just play one on TV:
When his visit to the region he professes to love was reported by Telesur at the beginning of this year Corbyn could have spoken out on Venezuela. When he spoke to the Cuban Solidarity crowd last June he could have spoken out.

He could have demanded:
  •  That the Venezuelan government rejoin the peace process
  •  That the Venezuelan government declare a food crisis
  •  That the Venezuelan government allow humanitarian aid agencies and NGOs to freely operate and to bring in aid
He could have repeated the words, practically word-for-word, of the Pope.
Mostly though what we've had is Gotcha! reporting, highlighted by a set-to setup on BBC's Newsnight between the "strongman of Corbynism" (as a Spanish newspaper described him) Chris Williamson MP and the Blairite former Minister Tom Harris.

Then we had the breaking-of-the-omerta by Owen Jones, the well known writer and man bouncing on Oprah's sofa, on Sky News' Paper Review. Goaded by the IEA's Kate Andrews that 'Corbyn should apologise!' this event was gleefully reported by the right-wing blogger Guido as where Jones finally called the Maduro regime 'authoritarian'.

But here's the thing. Jones was actually referring to a Labour Party statement, one which has had precious little analysis during this melee but which represents a truly terrible policy on Venezuela. One which concerns me as a Party member and should concern others too.

This statement was issued a week ago but not emailed to journalists or announced on Twitter.
We mourn all those who have been killed and injured in the protests leading up to this election, and we urge everyone in Venezuela, on all sides, to end the bloodshed immediately.

In particular, we urge the government of Venezuela to recognise its responsibilities to protect human rights, free speech and the rule of law. The outcome of this election cannot be treated as a mandate for a further escalation of repression, division, and violence.

President Maduro must also respond personally to the legitimate concerns of the international community about the increasingly authoritarian nature of his rule and the growing hardship facing his people.

If he believes those concerns are misplaced, it is up to him to prove them wrong, not through his words, but through his deeds.
After two days of attacks on Corbyn, including a Times Editorial, on Wednesday a social media meme was created.

This vague, who-can-disagree, policy-free waffle showed no connection to anyone or anything. It should be judged on what it did not say and whose influence it obviously did not reflect.

Take for example the strong statement issued by the Socialist International, the grouping which Labour is an observer to and which has four parties who are members in Venezuela.
Given the lack of legitimacy of the path taken by the Venezuelan government, the Socialist International, along with condemning this serious breakdown of democratic order, today reiterates its deep solidarity with every citizen who has been suffering from the consequences of the serious political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis to which the country has been subject for a long time; a crisis that is deepening and worsening the further Venezuela moves away from good governance, and respect and recognition of the institutions of democracy.
That statement, unlike Labour's, did not accept the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly. It also did not talk about "both sides".

Labour MP Angela Smith, by contrast, has condemned the “wilful destruction of democratic structures” in Venezuela.

They go on to say:
Venezuela, which has always been an ally in the struggles for democracy and freedom in the face of past dictatorships in Latin America, does not deserve this fate.

The government of Venezuela must respect the life, liberty and rights of all of its citizens and must release immediately all political prisoners. The government should listen to those who have an opinion to contribute to democratic coexistence, beginning with those who have been duly elected to do so, the members of the National Assembly, elected in December 2015 for a tenure lasting until 2021. The government must respect and recognise the mandate given by the people to the National Assembly and the powers of this institution in line with the country’s constitutional system.
Labour does not mention political prisoners. It has not called for the release of Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma. The meme was put out after their arrest and after it was established with overwhelming evidence that the results of an election it does not condemn were rigged, the turnout inflated by at least double.

The statement gives no solidarity to those from Labour's sister parties in the region trying for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Perhaps most depressingly it does not call on the regime to do something absolutely minimal: declare a 'food crisis'. This technical requirement would immediately trigger international humanitarian aid - food and medicines - for a desperate, starving, dying population.

Instead the statement is a solipsistic, too clever by half concoction produced on the quiet and simply intended to deflect, to have something that can be waved around to say, as Jones did, 'see, we did do something'.


Jones, Williamson and many others have also defaulted to 'whataboutistry' by pointing at the UK's corrupt relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Apart from the pedestrian lack of nous shown in not, instead, pointing at Conservative support for the Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame, as the former Minister Denis McShane has been saying for the past few days, this completely ignores the UK's corrupt relationship with Venezuela.

The truly astonishing levels of corruption by the 'Bolivarian bourgeoisie’ is enabled by the UK's famously lax financial regulation and our possession of tax havens like the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Read anything about the characters pouring billions into Miami real estate and the use of shell companies in the BVI will invariably come up.

And that corruption kills people as surely as a bomb sold to the Saudi armed forces does. “Malnutrition in Venezuela is a problem of corruption, not a lack of money,” Maritza Landaeta, a director of the Bengoa Foundation, a Caracas-based health and nutrition charity, told the Financial Times.

Recognition of our role here is not a failing, though, solely of left figures like Jones. Those on the right who have cited the gobsmacking wealth of Chavez' billionaire daughter also seem to be unaware of our part in that.


Nobody seems to know what will happen next though it is clear that the opposition is exhausted and divided on what to do. It is not even clear if the street protests will return to the level they have been. I was struck by this observation from a Reuters piece about the connections between Venezuela's protesters and those in Ukraine:
While Ukraine's protesters endured freezing conditions day and night, Venezuela's thin out quickly when rain starts, and they go home in the evening and enjoy balmy Caribbean weather.
The Venezuelans point out that criminal gangs make the streets dangerous at night. And with their economy in meltdown, they are often short of medicine, food and other needs, whereas the Ukrainians had a good supply line.
Apparently the 'Revolution of Dignity' or 'Maidan' in Ukraine has been inspiring Venezuealan protesters and the film Winter on Fire has been sought out and has been shown on the street, in cafes, in halls, everywhere.

There is also the possibility that the crisis could resolve itself within Venezuela, without any outside pressure.

Yesterday's supposed military insurrection, which lit up social media for a few hours, may be a nothingburger or may not be. As Guillermo Tell Aveledo points out the civilian-military alliance that runs Venezuela may fray because the military, or parts of it, thinks that that Maduro's gone too far and he has become an obstacle to their personal (read financial) best interests.

Phil Gunson, International Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for the Andes, says:
While the Constituent Assembly inevitably will alter relations between the government and opposition, it could also bring to light splits within the government camp itself.
The most important question the Assembly will face once installed is who will become its president. The outcome will depend on which faction from the ruling party is deemed to have won most seats. If Maduro’s main rival, Diosdado Cabello – Vice President of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) – were to prevail, this would represent at least a change of style, and could presage a split in the government.
Maduro, a former trade union leader who received ideological training in Cuba, represents the hardline, civilian left of the movement. Cabello, an army captain who took part in Hugo Chávez’ 1992 coup, belongs to its military wing, and tends to be more hawkish in public than Maduro. His comrades from the military academy are now well-placed generals.
Friction between the two camps, each of which controls distinct state institutions and sources of revenue, has occasionally surfaced despite largely successful efforts to date to maintain a unified front against the opposition. Cabello is seen by some as hostile to Cuban influence in Venezuela, but whether one of the two is more likely to negotiate remains a matter for speculation.

A whole series of 'Chavistas' have already split with Maduro, most visibly the former Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz.

But Gunson says the regime may also hit a financial wall:

The regime’s Achilles heel is its economic and financial crisis, and in particular its crushing foreign debt. Some US$5 billion in debt service payments must be disbursed before the end of this year. A chaotic default would transform the country’s economic landscape and further weaken the government’s international and domestic position.
Much will depend on the posture taken by Venezuela’s key international backers, Russia and China. As a major oil producer, Russia could step in to reduce the impact of future U.S. oil sanctions, while China could increase its financial support for Caracas by extending the debt repayment period, affording the Maduro regime some breathing space. So far, Moscow has reiterated its public stance condemning what it sees as “outside interference”, while Beijing has remained silent.
All sorts of fractures already visible could become wider and civil war is not a hysterical suggestion. Says Gunson, everybody, in particular the Opposition, faces an unpalatable but best option for an end game:
The best outcome would be for the international community to offer members of the regime a safe exit for themselves and for the country as a whole, in exchange for a credible negotiations process that reverses recent governmental decisions. ... Credible assurances should be conveyed to the government’s core leadership that a negotiated exit can include guarantees for their personal safety, and to mid-ranking officials that a transitional justice system can be put in place to prevent witch-hunts.


To cap off what was a terrible week yesterday The Observer published a surreal Editorial which pretty much told regional leaders that they had no right to lecture Venezuela because 'neoliberal'.

What it suggested anyone actually does was a complete mystery because it's final pretentious line - "Stop harrumphing. Start helping." - led to a review of a book about Chavez in the London Review of Books whose proposed 'solution' appeared to me to be 'bring back Chavez from the dead'.

No, rather than taking the opportunity to bash 'neoliberals', 'socialists' or even (despite the oh-so-strong temptations) Owen Jones what we should all be doing first and foremost is hoping that those Foreign Ministers meeting in Lima tomorrow are successful and from that they can talk, cajole, whatever Maduro down off the cliff edge.


As I was writing this a statement signed by Corbyn was issued. Apart from the 'both sides' rhetoric and the rote calls to end violence. A couple of things leapt out. Firstly that he was calling for a dialogue which regional leaders are attempting (as I explain) to which he appears completely, blithely unaware of and secondly that he references Macron calling for this rather than, say, an actual Latin American. Corbyn has a very good friend in the Mexican left-wing Presidential candidate Lopez Obrador. What I got a strong whiff off with this statement is that he hasn't called up Obrador to ask 'so what can I do to help?' Solidarity my arse.

 See also:

Monday 17 July 2017

That time Putin walked out on a speech - in Hamburg

Tallinn, Estonia

This speech that Paul Goble has dug out retains all of its power and all of its relevance - a quarter of a century on - it's just astonishing.

Reblogged with permission.


By Paul Goble

Even Western leaders who are distinguished by the boldness of their statements on other issues appear reluctant to speak directly to Vladimir Putin about his lies and crimes, apparently fearful that he will turn the tables on them, use their words to reinforce his power at home, and attack them for undermining the possibility of reasonable relations.

But there have been some happy exceptions when Western leaders have not been afraid to speak the truth to Putin directly even though the Russian’s bad behavior only underscores how right they are to do so. One such event is now attracting a great deal of attention in both Russia and Germany. It deserves to be known even more widely.

Because the G-20 summit took place in Hamburg this year and because it featured a meeting between Putin and Donald Trump, German and Russian commentators have recalled an earlier meeting in Hamburg, in 1994, when Estonian President Lennart Meri delivered a remarkable address that caused Vladimir Putin to stomp out of the hall.

Hanseatic Leage cities and trade routes.
Source: Doc Brown
That action, as German officials have pointed out, was unprecedented in the centuries during which this dinner has been held and raises questions to this day about Putin and more generally about Russia and its relationship to Europe.

That event occurred on February 25, 1994, at the Mathia-Dinner of Hansa cities and their representatives. Among the honored guests that day were Meri and a relatively junior Russian official, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin, who shocked those in attendance by his boorish behavior.

Russian outlets have published excerpts from Lennart Meri’s speech, which are remarkable not only in their description of what was taking place in Europe and Eurasia in the mid-1990s but also in their predictions about the ways in which Moscow even then was threatening the West (,, and

Below is the full text of President Meri’s remarks from the portal of the Office of the Estonian President. They merit the closest attention both for their analysis of the situation and for the guidance they should be providing other leaders who have to interact with Putin now and in the future.

Address by H.E. Lennart Meri, President of the Republic of Estonia, at the Matthiae-Supper in Hamburg on February 25, 1994

Monday 5 June 2017

Venezuela: Proof Corbyn's no 'Man of Peace'

Picture of Maikol Mendoza by Cristian Hernandez

Maikol Mendoza is a 17 year old Venezuelan who finally got a chance of life with a rare kidney transplant. The rat infested, medicine deprived state of his country's health care system has now deprived him of that second chance.
Then, Maikol became infected with a highly resistant bacteria borne out of the hospital’s poorly maintained water pipes.
Karla Zabludovsky piece for Buzzfeed on Mendoza and others suffering under a collapsing health care system is but one of many.
Stories like Maikol's are everywhere in Venezuela, where the health care system is on the brink of total collapse and patients who thought they were in the clear are back to fighting a harsh reality. Hospitals have left patients’ families to fend for themselves, scurrying to purchase everything from syringes to anesthesia, often at exuberant black market rates, and forcing doctors to perform surgery with antiquated equipment in operating rooms cleaned with dirty water.
Many of those reading this will have read similar reporting from Venezuela. What escapes me is why the leadership of the UK Labour party, who have so publicly identified themselves with the 'Bolivarian revolution', has not been asked about it.

The great cut off

June 2015 is that last time Jeremy Corbyn said anything on the record about Venezuela. Eight months later he scrubbed his website of any mention of the country.

To my knowledge Diane Abbott, Ken Livingstone, Richard Burgon, Owen Jones, Neil Findlay, and Seumas Milne have also all said nothing since this time. Bar a single reference discovered by Jack Staples-Butler:
As of this writing, Owen Jones has not used the word ‘Venezuela’ in print or online in the English language since 31st May 2015, over 580 days, mentioning it only when interviewed for a Spanish newspaper in June 2016, admitting “Venezuela is in a horrible state”[17] while making no reference to Chávez, socialism or his own involvement.
Since Corbyn's election as the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition the Venezuelan Solidarity Campaign most prominent public backer has been a Gandalf impersonator from a rail union.

Venezuela? Where's that?

This January Corbyn was in Mexico, on holiday, discussing his "dream of realizing a world government based on justice and fraternity,” with Mexico's Lopez Obrador, Venezuelan state TV channel Telesur reported.

The same month I imagine that Maikol Mendoza was wondering whether his transplant was happening.

A year ago on the day of Theresa May's election and to, presumably, cock a snoot at the Parliamentary Labour Party's meeting, Corbyn instead chose to not comment on May and to attend a Cuba Solidarity event in Parliament.

In the time since he stopped talking about Venezuela the Organisation of American States, Spain and the Vatican have all ramped up their efforts at a peace process President Maduro has trashed.

At the end of April the Pope, in his weekly address, said: "I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, respect human rights and seek a negotiated solution."

People are starving

Francisco Toro, executive editor of the excellent English language website Caracas Chronicles, spoke to a worker for the Catholic charity Caritas last week:
Caritas constructed a sample of more than two dozen at-risk areas in the poorest parishes of four Venezuelan states and started weighing children under 5 years old. This allows Caritas to measure “global acute malnutrition” — the key mechanism humanitarians use to assign numbers to the severity of hunger. In October, 8.9 percent of the children they measured faced either moderate or severe acute malnutrition. The number was high, and it has kept rising. By April, 11.4 percent of of children in vulnerable areas were experiencing acute malnutrition — well above the 10 percent threshold humanitarian agencies use to declare a food crisis.
Maduro refuses to declare a food crisis, which would trigger international support, and refuses to allow humanitarian aid agencies to properly do their work or to bring in food and medicines. Instead he has publicly joked about starvation and putting the nation on the 'Maduro diet'. The military is now starving the populace for profit.

Chavistas will blame the situation on the fall in the price of oil and the sulfurous Yankees, but malnutrition in children was already reversing from last decade's gains five years ago, before that price fell. The BBC World Service's 'The Inquiry' showed that Venezuela's economy has long had structural problems - and Chavista policies have only made them worse and led to today's situation.

The Maduro regime is now relying on financing from, amongst others, Goldman Sachs. Yes that Goldman Sachs.

Why are they doing this? Because they still believe they are creating a socialist paradise.

Writing for Caracas Chronicles César Crespo explained how Chavez' long game "was always establishing an “alternative” to capitalism." Spanish Marxist Professor Alfredo Serrano Mancilla, the main economic advisor to the government, has been described by Maduro as the "Jesus Christ of the economy." His prescriptions include:
Expropriations, the seizure of businesses, “urban agriculture” on balconies, the soviet supply system and forced employment in the public agriculture sector.
Mancilla wants any crisis hidden and no aid allowed in. According to the Spanish newspaper El Nacional, Mancilla 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."

Corbyn could have acted - he chose not to

When his visit to the region he professes to love was reported by Telesur at the beginning of this year Corbyn could have spoken out on Venezuela. When he spoke to the Cuban Solidarity crowd last June he could have spoken out.

He could have demanded:
  1. That the Venezuelan government rejoin the peace process
  2. That the Venezuelan government declare a food crisis
  3. That the Venezuelan government allow humanitarian aid agencies and NGOs to freely operate and to bring in aid
He could have repeated the words, practically word-for-word, of the Pope.

Here's the thing. Even within the worldview of supporters, like him, of Chavismo the country is deemed under attack from the evil behemoth to the North - yet still Corbyn (and all the others) has stayed silent and refused to come to the aid of the 'revolution'.

Never mind what happened 35 years ago or even 14 years ago (see an 'Exclusive!' piece today about Corbyn and North Korea) - what about now? Right now?

Venezuela is Corbyn's opportunity to not just play a 'Man of Peace' but to actually be one. He failed.

I have no doubt that even if I had published this weeks ago it would have had little impact, it is clear that such issues are largely irrelevant in this election. But it remains important that people know - Venezuela is the proof everyone has missed in this election, that Corbyn is no 'Man of Peace'.

Edited to add: Corbyn could have taken a lead from Spain's left wing party Podemos. They realised back in 2014 that they had to distance themselves from Chavismo, something they had previously been entwined with. This has caused the Maduro regime a lot of pain and demonstrates how someone like Corbyn similarly reversing could have a positive impact. See Caracas Chronicles from last May.

Do also read:


Thursday 25 May 2017

The left and Manchester: Some good news

British comedian Rufus Hound* toying with conspiracy theories

Since the Manchester bombings there has been an understandable need to point and either laugh or yell at some of the 'hot takes' circulating online.

Whether they're coming from a comedian or some random woman with a Corbyn backback yelling 'conspiracy!' at soldiers outside Downing Street. Whether its some Texas redneck Sheriff seemingly arguing that British teenage girls should be armed or, in the case of a tweet of mine which went viral, some FoxNews commentator ignorant of the IRA bombing of Manchester 21 years ago.

There's mountains of them and they're nigh-on impossible to resist (I should know). They're especially difficult to resist if you can use them to make a bigger political point, as Tom Harris did in a Telegraph piece headlined 'The Left has lost the plot if it thinks the Manchester attack was a Tory conspiracy'.

The thing is that 'the Left' is not, enmasse, conspiracising over Manchester, and that's significant.

The well respected Canadian writer Terry Glavin has noticed this too. He says that "a tectonic shift in the way the “debates” around terrorism [has] lately evolved."

In the NATO capitals, something has finally shifted in the way Islamist terror is understood. It is as though the public tolerance for claptrap and prevarication of both the leftish and rightist type has at last been reached, and a new consensus, of the kind expressed so beautifully by Mancunians this week – Muslim and otherwise – is beginning to take hold.

At the time of the London bombings, Jeremy Corbyn, then just a boring, offside Labour MP, joined with London Mayor Ken Livingstone (recently suspended from the Labur Party for his dalliances with anti-Semitism) and the disgraced former Labour MP George Galloway (a fancier of Syrian genocidaire Bashar Assad and a Hezbollah enthusiast) in blaming the London attack on Western foreign policy.

Corbyn is now the leader of a bitterly divided and vastly diminished Labour Party that is expected to be trounced by Prime Minister Theresa May in the June 8 parliamentary elections. You won’t hear Corbyn blaming the wicked former U.S. president George W. Bush for Monday night’s outrage in Manchester. It would be suicidal. Things have changed.

The Manchester massacre occurred four years to the day after Lee Rigby of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was butchered by “lone wolf” jihadists in the streets of Woolwich. Rigby’s throat was opened with a crude knife and he was nearly decapitated, with a meat cleaver. As recently as 2013, it was still fashionable to utter imbecilities lightening such murderers’ burden of guilt by resort to the “blowback” defence.

At the time, the famous American fantasist/documentarian Michael Moore declared that Rigby’s slaughter was understandable, because Westerners “kill people in other countries.”

This sort of vulgar “analysis” has been largely excised from respectable conversation and appears now to be confined to the sewers of public debate, where it belongs. On Tuesday, the Kremlin propaganda channel RT News found some “experts” who took up the line. So did the viciously homophobic and anti-Semitic British Hizb ut-Tahrir group, which is about as popular among British Muslims as Galloway is among Britain’s Labour Party MPs.
The leading proponents of blowback, Tariq Ali and John Pilger, have, post-Manchester, been confined to, respectively, Democracy Now! and Russia Today with their micro-audiences. It also seems that Stop The War Coalition (StWC) have STFU. They must be chafing at the bit.

Of course there are people online connecting Corbyn's Iraq War opposition to somehow being 'prescient' because that War caused ISIS or something (and here is a brilliant meme from Andrew Spooner which nails down that canard).

But these are fringe voices.

As I write what 'blowback' argument there is is coming not just from the left but from everywhere on the political spectrum and it's about Theresa May's stint as Home Secretary and her cuts to the police.

As Glavin notes:
The people of Manchester are not unfamiliar with the horrible implications of “radicalization” among young Muslim men. The Muslim leadership in that city has been acutely concerned with the implications of jihadist recruitment and grooming for some long while.
As is so often the case, it seems the bomber was indeed reported to authorities. Whether police cuts really did play a role, given how expanded the security services have been, I don't know, but citing them is entirely legitimate and that's what the Corbynistas are doing along with a whole lot of other people.

What the biggest (with one exception) Corbyn supporting websites are not doing is indulging conspiracy theories, such as that the bombing was a false flag connected to the election or that the army deployment is to somehow win the election.

These websites, as Jim Waterson documented for Buzzfeed, have truly huge audiences and are consequently extremely influential but fly pretty much under the radar of Tweetminster.

Thomas G Clark (Another Angry Voice (AAV)), writes Waterson, is "measured by Facebook shares per article in the first week of the election campaign, the most viral political journalist in the entire country. "

None of AAV, The Canary, Evolve Politics, and Skwawkbox have indulged conspiracism. (The Canary even had, I swear this is true, an editorial the day after the bombing that would not have been out of place in The Guardian)

The exception is Mike Sivier's hysterical VoxPolitical, with Sivier writing that "Mrs May’s deployment of the army indicates she is quite happy to use terror tactics on her own people."

I wrote a comment to Sivier, which of course he won't publish:

Clark for AAV wrote last night against the conspiracy theorists, saying that "conspiracy theorising about "false flags" is deeply unhelpful".
The evidence-free assertions that the Tories plotted this attack themselves are damaging to the fabric of British political debate. The Tories might well be an incredibly callous party, but in my view they're also far too incompetent to pull something like that off without leaving incriminating evidence all over the place.

The important issues at the moment are that they deserve intense scrutiny about the extreme cuts they imposed on the armed forces, police, emergency services, hospitals and border agency. Also serious questions need to be asked about the emerging accusations that the bomber had been shopped to the police several times for having links to Islamist extremism.

Of course they have sailed right up to the line and there's a lot of stuff here I think is idiotic, particularly the stuff around the bombing halting a 'Corbyn surge' when its clear May's time as Home Secretary is coming back to haunt her over the issue of, of all things, security. Daniel Sugarman pointed me at this from Skwawkbox's Steve Walker, but I don't think its conspiracism because Walker's not saying the troop deployment was in order to win the election (i.e. there's a conspiracy).

And of course they have all sailed right over the line into conspiracism elsewhere. The Canary is right now doing that over the 'Evil Hillary murdered Seth Rich who dun the Wikileaks not the Russkies' conspiracy theory, as promoted by Fox New's Shaun Hannity. All of them have done it over antisemitism, with Sivier being a particularly stupid example. Also, as Andrew Coates has documented, conspiracism is growing within the European left. And, as Nick Cohen and others have suggested, they may well blame the Manchester bombings June 9 for Corbyn's defeat.

But over the Manchester bombing, as of now, most of them aren't pushing conspiracies, and it was also notable to see Corbyn sidekick Baroness Chakrabati, the bete-noire of many reading this regarding her role around Labour and antisemitism, going out of her way to speak out against conspiracism on BBC Newnight.

Terry Glavin thinks Manchester signals that something might have changed for the better and I think the evidence suggests that it has.

What if the non-Corbynistas, the 'sensible left', the fans of Nick Cohen - us - have actually had an impact?

What if we were so caught up in our own bubble that we failed to notice when we've actually won ourselves a little victory?


*Before someone cites Rufus Hound having 1.2 million followers on Twitter the way that works is that only a tiny fraction of that number will have actually seen the Tweet. Far more will have now, of course, because it's been amplified by the outrage to it.


Also by me, for Little Green Footballs, 'Manchester: Defiant and Proud'

Saturday 21 January 2017

Two inaugurations: Two realities: Dakar vs DC

America does not take kindly to the world telling it stuff but there is an opera in this.

As the world watched - same time, same planet - its greatest power crowned a man who lost the vote to a woman. Same time, same planet, Africa peacefully forced out a man who lost power by the same majority vote to another man. Peacefully.

As the West hands nuclear codes to a man who lost the vote to a woman West Africa peacefully removes a man voted out by a majority.


The Gambia ('the' because of the river)  is a tiny, tiny country in West Africa you have probably never heard of. Its gay hating (a thing) dictator, Jammeh, won a coup. He lost 22 years later to someone, Adam Barrow, who once worked in a UK big box.

Jammeh conceded then he retracted. The region - ECOWAS - told Jammeh to give in. They had done this before, told losers to concede. This is what they do.

West Africa, ECOWAS, is bigger than the United States mainland. Thanks to a Belgian this rarely crosses our collective mind.

The UK big box guy was inaugurated in the neighboring state. All the neighbors said we will back you, with force.

In contrast to the rest of Africa this region had stood up for democracy. The dictator was forced from power. The same time as you inaugurated Trump.

Same time as the Trump inaugural was happening this was happening.

An African region was telling a member to uphold democracy.  It rolled out troops.

Another contrast

The US has a President who has a minority of votes. His election is predicated on a 200yr+ system designed to boost states with small populations in a system that this country has never tried to change. There is V strong evidence he was elected because of the intervention of a police chief, never mind the foreigners alleged to have interfered. There are electors calling him illegitimate.

How hard is it for this white Londoner to see this through African eyes? Not very.

As I mentioned, opera. Western tourists watched Trump's speech in The Gambia's capital's, Banjuy, airport as this all happened. Include that.

Make art from this.

Wednesday 4 January 2017

Venezuela: A Corbynvista warning

“Negative campaigning works against other candidates but not against Corbyn,” one Smith aide said. “For a lot of people he embodies something about themselves. It’s a statement of intent about your personal identity, a personality marker to like Corbyn. So attack that and people take it personally.”
Jim Waterson signalling how a Corbyn identifying left will gladly sell out the likes of Venezuela's starving. Watch them - If/and you help this go viral.

Even before they fell silent on Venezuela's food crisis Jeremy Corbyn and others had failed to support Labour's cousins in that country. 

They cheered Chavismo but run away like cowards as it falls. And their acolytes say nothing.

In Venezuela there are four political parties that are sister parties to the UK's Labour Party, fellow members of the Socialist International (the "worldwide organisation of social democratic, socialist and labour parties."):
A member of the Democratic Action party and past vice president of the Socialist International, Henry Ramos Allup, was elected Speaker of the opposition controlled Venezuelan National Assembly in January this year.

The Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, which Corbyn and others are aligned with, have repeatedly said that these Social Democrats are 'right wing'.  Here's them describing Ramos Allup as 'right wing'.

They are no more 'right wing' than Owen Smith, Harriet Harman or Wes Streeting is but in Venezuela this label dumped on them by the Western likes of the VSC carries far more serious weight.

Herein lies a Lenin-echo tale

All four parties have been persecuted under, first, Hugo Chavez and now Nicholas Maduro.

Leopoldo López, of Popular Will, is the most well known persecution subject. He was jailed in February 2014 on charges of public incitement to violence through supposed subliminal messages and criminal association. He had previously been subjected to corruption charges, and banned from running for office. Those charges were declared false by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Chilean José Antonio Viera-Gallo tried to visit López in 2014 in a mission from the Socialist International and was denied access. Viera-Gallo said:
In a dictatorship, there are no rights whatsoever, and one is left at the mercy of power. Yesterday, we confirmed human right violations against a political leader.
In June this year the socialist former Spanish Prime minister Zapatero finally met López.

Amnesty International have deemed López a Prisoner of Conscience and have said that:
"The charges brought against Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López," was a “smack of a politically motivated attempt to silence dissent in the country.”
Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International Americas Program Deputy Director, called on Venezuelan authorities to:
Either present solid evidence to substantiate the charges against López or release him immediately and unconditionally ... Amnesty International has not seen evidence to substantiate these charges. This is an affront to justice and free assembly.
The (UK) Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC, whose prominent left-wing British supporters I called out) have called López "right wing" - have called any opposition 'right wing' - and has disseminated Venezuelan government propaganda against him.

The group have said about protests against food shortages and repression:
The calls for street action from the opposition, [amounts] to destabilizing the country.
This is the language of Putin, of Lukashenko. This is Stalinism. To underline that Kremlinesque 2013 post, the VSC specifically tied the social democrat López to "fascists".

In this they echo the Venezuela government who just called the Chilean Foreign Minister, who served under Allende, a 'Pinochetista' for daring to inquire about the arrest of one of its citizens, the lawyer Braulio Jatar.

Jatar's imprisonment brings the number of political prisoners in Venezuela to 95.

'Man of peace'

I have looked and cannot find any contacts between Corbyn, or Ken Livingstone (for that matter), with Social Democrats in Venezuela.

Corbyn has never, no instance I can find, defended López.

Nor Manuel Rosales, another prominent (ran for President, exiled) Social Democrat persecuted by Chavismo.

Neither had he any comment on the massive corruption called out by Chavistas themselves.

Jack Staples-Butler's masterful, long-form complete demolition of Corbyn et al demonstrates how none of them - Corbyn, Jones et al - payed any heed, none. to even Venezuelan civil society, NGOs or trade unionists.

All of them were so bewitched, and, as Jack demonstrates, the 1930s, Orwell-Spain, parallels are so exact.


That they did not know is impossible

In a 2013 encounter on Al-Jazeera Corbyn was called out on his Chavismo support with critics citing corruption, manipulation of elections, and alliances with dictatorships like Iran and Syria.

His answer - noteworthy angry - was to point to 'what Venezuela was like before Chavez' and the fact that Chavez had won elections. He denied that Chavez has clamped down on the media and described opposition criticism of Chavez in the media as "libelous"

Since 2003, Freedom House has ranked Venezuela as "not free" concerning press freedom. Concerns about freedom of the press in Venezuela have been raised by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Inter American Press Association, the International Press Institute, Reporters without Borders, representatives of the Catholic Church, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and others.
"[Chavez] was not a very efficient dictator because he allowed so much opposition to carry on," Corbyn said.
I refer you again to Jack Staples-Butler's surgical demolition of Corbyn et al on this point. Jack takes apart every talking point from Corbyn, Owen Jones etc from this period and shines sunlight on it.

Corbyn knew. Of course he knew.  He knows now. Ask him and watch the 'man of peace' dissolve before your eyes. Ask.
In his last recorded comments on Venezuela in June 2015 Corbyn did not include anything - not one word - on the grim situation with hunger in Venezuela, never mind the international outcry from fellow Social Democrats over the imprisonment of López. Almost the entire focus was on supposed American imperialism.

Now he deletes all comment on Venezuela from his website.

Do not tell me they did not know. Owen Jones, Burgon, Abbott - FFS Milne. They all knew.

Damn any unheard Venezuelan Social Democrat who complained. Shiraz Socialist:
Essential to any Bonapartist regime is the role of the army. Chávez was a career soldier and this conditions his outlook and politics. This is not simply because he tried to seize power in 1992 through a military coup. It is widely recognised that Chávez militarised politics in Venezuela.

Chávezs made it clear in interviews with sympathetic journalists such as Marta Harnecker and the hero-worshipping Richard Gott  that a reconstructed “civilian-military alliance” was the key to his politics. His organisation, the MBR-200, formed in the early 1980s, was made up largely of middle level officers, with others in a secondary role.

The armed forces have been central from the beginning of Chávez’s rule.
The military in now running the economy. The military is now starving the populace for profit.

Let me underline that again. Maduro has let the military run food and they are profiting from it while people starve.

One assumes this is fine by Corbyn et al but who knows? No journalist has asked them about it.

Serious people say this will come to a financial head in April. Jack Staples-Butler has ideas on who the Chavista apologists' fall guy will be

Will they get away with this?

As Caracas Chronicles noted when Nick Cohen demolished the remaining left support for Chavismo earlier this year:
It’s been years since there was a serious argument to be had about the Bolivarian Revolution. The symbolic bookend to the debate, for me, came when Noam Chomsky broke with Chávez over his treatment of judge Afiuni
This is true except in the deaf/dumb left organised by the VSC in the UK, and exemplified by the Labour leader and still backed by big unions and still left alone by UK media, even unto the Mail ...

This is from last August.

They sold out fellow Venezuelan socialists.  Corbyn stood by and watched. Let this be a lesson to UK Labour.

He failed to defend Social Democrats in the face of kleptocratic so-called Leninists. They cheered an experiment that failed.

You got the point from all this?

See also: