‘TROIKA OF TYRANNY’: War on the struggle for socialism in Latin America

Venezuelans protest against US interference

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 267 December 2018/January 2019

On 1 November 2018, US National Security Adviser John Bolton declared that Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba constituted a ‘troika of tyranny’. He spoke of a ‘triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua’, threatening ‘direct actions…. to defend the rule of law, freedom, minimum human decency in our region’.

Never mind that President Donald Trump has deployed 9,000 troops at the Mexican border to attack the migrant caravan fleeing the poverty and violence of US free trade agreements, the ‘war on drugs’ and support for military coups. Nor that in Brazil the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro – who believes the mistake of previous military dictatorships was ‘to torture but not kill’ – has just been elected president. Nor that since the 2009 coup in Honduras at least 60 journalists and hundreds of activists have been killed. Meanwhile, in Mexico, 36,000 people have ‘disappeared’ in the last 12 years; in Colombia, paramilitaries and drug cartels have strengthened since the crumbling peace agreement of 2016. SAM McGILL reports.

Instead of denouncing these atrocities, Bolton uses a phoney concern for human rights to target the very nations that have sought to bring stability and social justice to the hemisphere. This is the topsy-turvy world of US imperialist morality, the justification for a renewed offensive aimed at overthrowing socialist-led governments south of the border once and for all. It is an offensive for which international opinion is being softened up by the lies and distortions of the liberal bourgeois media, such as the BBC and The Guardian newspaper, and NGOs including Amnesty International. These organisations will stop at nothing to discredit anything that smacks of socialism – deliberately obscuring the chaos and bloodshed that US intervention entails. With Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba increasingly isolated as the continent lurches to the right, the struggle for socialism in Latin America is under intense pressure.

Venezuela

Since the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998, the Bolivarian revolution has won successive elections, channelling oil revenues into social programmes and launching participatory systems of democracy. It has introduced free universal health care, tripled university enrolment and built 2.3 million units of social housing. Venezuela has pushed for regional solidarity, founding the anti-imperialist ALBA alliance with Cuba and developing the Petrocaribe subsidised oil programme. Though Venezuela remains dominated by capitalism, with private monopolies controlling banking, food distribution and media, the threat of a socialist revolution taking control of the economy has motivated intense US and European intervention.

The US has channelled over $100m into ‘regime change’ and destabilisation has intensified since the death of Chavez in 2013. Last April armed opposition set up ‘guarimba’ street barricades torching hospitals, community housing schemes and public buildings, lynching suspected Chavistas. 126 people died, the majority at the hands of the opposition.1

Venezuela now faces an acute economic crisis exacerbated by crippling economic sanctions and a collapse in international oil prices. Rigid exchange controls and huge subsidies for fuel and imports attract a lucrative market for corruption, speculation and smuggling. Turning the screw, US, Canadian and EU sanctions cut off Venezuela’s access to loans and debt-refinancing options. The oil industry, 90% of Venezuela’s export revenue, has lost $6bn since sanctions were imposed in August 2017. Payments for imports of crucial medicines and food have been blocked by US banks. The result has been price hikes, shortages and hyperinflation.

Despite the clear role of sanctions in exacerbating the economic crisis, the British-based rights organisation Amnesty International has joined the imperialist attack, accusing the Venezuelan government of ‘one of the worst human rights crises in its history’ (September 2018). Its report does not even mention economic sanctions. Nor are there any references to the opposition’s petrol bombs and barricades, nor the murder of Orlando Jose Figuera, a black street vendor burned alive during an opposition rally on suspicion of being a Chavista. Instead Amnesty lists opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez, currently under house arrest, as a prisoner of conscience – despite the fact he has led four separate attempts to overthrow the government.

Yet the struggle for socialism in Venezuela continues. Communes are taking over idle land and abandoned businesses to produce for community distribution; socialist volunteers have restarted run-down oil refineries and factories; grassroots socialists are organising against corruption and reformism in the government. This struggle demands our solidarity.

Nicaragua

In the violence and chaos of central America, Nicaragua has been a bastion of safety since Sandinista Daniel Ortega was re-elected in 2007. Recovering from neo-liberalism and the violence of the US-backed Contra paramilitaries, the Sandinista government has ensured universal access to education and healthcare and promoted land, housing and nutrition programmes.

In April, countering much harsher austerity demands from the IMF, Ortega proposed increases in contributions to social security payments, removing a tax ceiling for the wealthiest. Student protests erupted, organised by the COSEP business group and backed by the Catholic church. Four months of violence followed, a carbon copy of Venezuela’s 2017 guarimbas: road blocks manned by heavily-armed protesters; schools, hospitals, radio stations fire-bombed; kidnapping and torture of suspected Sandinistas. Following negotiation and mass Sandinista mobilisations, the roadblocks were cleared in July, though assassinations of Sandinista community organisers have continued.

The human rights industry has gone into overdrive, ceaselessly repeating a mantra of 400+ peaceful protesters massacred at the hands of a brutal dictatorship. Amnesty International’s report ‘Shoot to kill: Nicaragua’s strategy to repress protest’ was so skewed that one former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Camilo E Mejia, published an open letter denouncing its omissions about opposition violence.2 Amnesty’s follow-up report, ‘Instilling Terror’ (October 2018) was no better, failing to mention victims such as Leonel Morales of the National Union of Nicaraguan Students who was kidnapped, shot and left to die in a ditch for challenging opposition claims to speak for all Nicaraguan students.

The death toll has been manipulated. As Mejia explains: ‘Students reported dead later turned up alive …others weren't killed at rallies … (one) died in bed from a heart attack’. Nicaraguan researcher Enrique Hendrix’s detailed analysis of the statistics3 found nine names reported by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights were duplicated, while the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights had included 97 deaths unrelated to any protests in its figures.

Mejia also criticised The Guardian for its excessive reliance on the very partial testimony of Carl David Goette-Luciak, a self-styled US ‘anthropologist’ embedded and employed through the US-funded Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS) party, central to the coup attempt. Though the MRS poses as radical, its leaders have deep links to USAID through social media student training programmes and the Aspen Institute. The US channelled $12m through the MRS in 2006 in an attempt to prevent Ortega’s re-election.

In June, Goette-Luciak was captured on video, photographing an opposition mob kidnapping an elderly Sandinista member. He never reported on the incident or published the photos. When a Sandinista family died in a fire in Managua in July, Goette-Luciak claimed the police had started the fire, despite the house being in a neighbourhood barricaded off from police access. Videos circulated to back up his claim had in fact been shot months earlier. In September 2018, The Guardian ran his article claiming a general strike had shut down the country, yet Mejia published photos of bustling market-places. Only high-end businesses observed the strike.

Though the coup attempt has been defeated for the moment the pressure continues. USAID has announced an additional $1.5m for the Nicaraguan opposition and the US Senate is pushing through a renewed act to impose sanctions and escalate intervention.

Cuba

Former US President Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba was never about respect for its sovereignty but rather geared towards regime change through diplomacy and investment. However, Trump has resumed open hostilities. Since 1959 the Cuban revolution has endeavoured to construct socialism scarcely 90 miles from Florida; expropriating US monopolies; supporting liberation struggles in Southern Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean; standing against the IMF and World Bank. For these cardinal sins, the US has sponsored invasions and covert warfare, fostered criminal networks of exiles to bomb planes and hotels, staged hundreds of assassination attempts and imposed an ever-tightening blockade that has cost Cuba $933bn of development capital over almost six decades.

Despite this, Cuba’s 2018 report to the UN Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights4 reveals: 80.2 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants, life expectancy at birth of 78.4 years, an infant mortality rate of 4.3 per 1,000 live births and a literacy rate of 99.8%. Internationally, Cuba’s solidarity programmes have benefited 186 countries and more than 500 million patients have been treated by Cuban doctors. The Cuban literacy programme has helped 9.5 million people worldwide to read and write.

These outstanding contributions to humanity are obscured by bogus claims of restrictions on freedom of speech and so-called political prisoners. In October the US launched its ‘Jailed for What?’ campaign at the UN, falsely alleging Cuba has 130 political prisoners (see p12). In November, the European Parliament accused Cuba of violating human rights. For Cuba’s enemies, ‘political prisoners’ include Salvadoran mercenaries who bombed Havana hotels, former military members who executed hostages in a plane-hijacking; and dozens of Miami exiles who committed armed attacks and sabotage in Cuba. Meanwhile Amnesty International describes ‘a dystopic new law (Decree 349) which stands to censor artists who will need prior authorisation by the state to work or risk sanction’. In reality, artistic and literary freedom is not at stake, Decree 349 relates to employment and tax regulations for the payment and hiring of cultural workers and rightly defines public portrayals of ‘pornography, violence, sexist, vulgar and obscene language, discrimination due to skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, disability…’ as harmful.

Falling in step, Brazil’s President Bolsonaro railed against the ‘slave labour’ of 11,420 Cuban doctors working in Brazil via the Pan-American Health Organisation ‘More Doctors’ programme. Bolsonaro demanded the Cubans sign individual contracts with Brazil, renew their licences and receive the full amount of the cost per doctor that Brazil pays to Cuba. This is in total disregard of the PAHO agreement and would be tantamount to Brazil privately employing the Cubans as individuals as opposed to an internationalist medical brigade. In response, Cuba announced it would withdraw its doctors from the programme.

Cuba regularly sends voluntary brigades to disasters and emergencies across the globe free of charge, fighting Ebola in West Africa, treating victims of earthquakes and tsunamis in Pakistan, Haiti and Indonesia. When developing more permanent health co-operation, Cuba reaches a financial deal depending on the nation’s circumstances. Doctors serving abroad receive a monthly allowance in addition to retaining their posts and full salaries in Cuba. The rest of this money is ploughed back into Cuba’s healthcare system.

Trump’s, Bolton’s and Bolsonaro’s attacks are entirely predictable, but organisations like Amnesty International provide a pretext for imperialist intervention. The accompanying coverage in the liberal press demonises the struggle for socialism in Latin America and undermines the international solidarity so desperately needed. Amnesty International is well funded for toeing the line. General secretaries take home £200,000 a year and senior directors £100,000. Amnesty’s business ethics directors include Geoffrey Chandler, former director of Shell, while Suzanne Nossel secured an executive post at Amnesty International USA fresh out of the US State Department. In 2008 Britain’s Department for International Development donated over £3m. Amnesty is far from neutral.

Alongside Bolivia under the leadership of Evo Morales, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba have mounted a serious challenge to US imperialism, attempting to build an alternative to dependency and under-development. As the renewed ideological onslaught gathers pace, we must expose the barefaced lies and distortions that the human rights industry and media war spews into our newsfeeds. No sanctions! No intervention! Solidarity with the struggle for socialism!


[1] ‘Taking the side of the Bolivarian Revolution’ FRFI 259 www. revolutionarycommunist. org/americas/venezuela/4914-taking- the-side-of-the-bolivarian- revolution

[2] Nicaraguan-born Mejia was imprisoned in the US after deserting the US army and denouncing the Iraq war. His open letter can be read here www.camiloemejia. com/?p=165

[3] Monopolising death, Enrique Hendrix July 2018 www.tortillaconsal.com/ nicaragua_monopoly_of_death.pdf

[4] United National Human Right’s Council UPR report Cuba 2018 https://daccess-ods.un. org/TMP/3124994.33755875.html

 

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