Video: Saroj Giri interviews Harry E Vanden

Saroj Giri, a political scientist teaching at Delhi University, interviews Harry Vanden, an expert on Latin American Marxism and Movements, who recently edited and translated writings of Peruvian Communist leader and theoretician Jose Carlos Mariategui (originally published by Monthly Review Press and reissued by Cornerstone Publications in India). Harry was in India on a lecture tour – including to deliver the 5th Anuradha Ghandy Memorial Lecture.

Chavez: The Man in the Red Beret

Peter McLaren

The historical debates surrounding the legacy of Hugo Chavez have begun. Perhaps one day I will join these debates. But not now. Attacks on Chavez “the dictator” or Chavez the charismatic “opponent” of the United States will demand from the left a spirited defense. Perhaps I will join such an effort in the months and years ahead. But not now. In this brief space I want to speak about Hugo Chavez as a leader who inspired a generation to believe that an alternative to capitalism could be fashioned from a reinvention of the state by the popular majorities.


The popularity of Chavez had a world-historical reach and it would not be a mistake to analyze his charismatic leadership in the context of a personality cult like that of Fidel, Che, or Subcommandante Marcos, for instance. To do this is not to diminish the importance of his role as a figure that could galvanize millions on the left and animate their faith that a more humane alternative to capitalism was a possibility, once the battle against U.S. imperialism was won. Chavez, whose father was of Indian descent and his mother, of African descent, was often the object of racial derision by the Venezuela’s white ruling elite, who did not hide their racial separateness from the rest of the Venezuelan population, four-fifths of whom could be described as indigenous-mestizo-mulatto-African.  I remember one day, after a particularly long march down the streets of Caracas supporting President Chavez, I went from store-to-store in an attempt to purchase a popular Chavez doll as a souvenir.  But there was not a single doll to be found.  I was told that I could find one in Altamira, an affluent east Caracas neighborhood.  I was surprised. A fellow camarada laughed at my expression and told me that the white ruling elite – often referred to as “esqualidos” (a colloquialism for squalid people) – had plenty of Chavez dolls available in their upscale stores.  Referring to Chavez as “ese mono” (that monkey), they would tie the dolls to the bumpers of their cars and drag them through the streets.

Insinuating itself into our daily life as an ideology as much as a set of accumulation practices and processes of production, neoliberal capitalism pretends to the throne of democracy-building, but in reality it has hastened its demise. Capitalism wears a coquettish and self-effacing sheen of timelessness, inviolate consistency, and seamless immutability, but that sheen is not any more permanent than the lipstick on a mirror, or than the Barry Manilow hits played on vibraphone wafting through the shopping malls, or than one of Charles Bukowski’s famous beer farts. What makes capitalism seem indelible yet imitable is the fact that it makes certain people very rich, and these paragons of the capitalist class are those that the state media apparatuses parade in their garish media outlets – the movie stars, the corporate moguls, the trend-setters, the celebrities and the culture brokers. While news of celebrity cellulite shakes us awake with amphetamine alertness, Hollywood gossip barons, equipped with the most profound and galvanizing lucidity available, provide us commentary on which star has the best bikini body. At the same time, we remain emotionally drowsy to the pain and suffering of people who struggle and strain against falling household wealth, unemployment and lack of food and medical care. And we rarely cast our eyes south of the border.

Hugo Chavez raised the stakes for North Americans. He showed us that a President could be democratically elected many times and still direct the majority of his efforts at helping the poor and disenfranchised help themselves. He made us aware that the comfort we enjoyed in the United States was a direct result of the enforced dependency that the US created with Las Americas. He showed the world that the class struggle is no longer demarcated by men in boiler suits or railhead pants versus factory owners in top hats, continental cross ties and double-breasted vests. Or the sans-culottes versus the breech-garbed ruling class. Or financiers with capes and silver-tipped canes exploiting the labor power of frutiers, cobblers and copper miners lugging lunchpails of lost dreams. The struggle, as he would tell us in his weekly television show, Alo Presidente, is the transnational capitalist class against all those who depend upon wages for their labor. He showed us that we need cultures of contestation that are transnational in scope to end the exploitation of capitalism.

Chavez’s Bolivarian Circles (named after Simon Bolivar serve as watchdog groups modeled after Cuba’s Committee for the Defense of the Revolution and function as liaisons between the neighborhoods and the government as well as fomenting support for Chavez) were important in combating business leaders and dissident army generals whom, with U.S. support, were trying to overthrow the Chavez government. Members of the Bolivarian Circles would bang on hollow electricity poles to warn against mobilizations by the opposition and to rally supporters across the city’s working-class neighborhoods. They were an example of self-determination for sovereignty as evidenced by the Bolivarian declaration “Nuestra America: una Sola Patria” (Our America: one motherhood)  which rejects an ideological loyalty to “America” as an America defined by a capitalist laden value system that favors imperialism and exploitation for increased profit margins.  Chavez created an infrastructure for communal councils and for self-management in factories and cooperatives and for participation in social programs. This was an astonishing accomplishment because never before did the people living in the barrios have a real chance to participate in the government. For a leader to take the position of working from a preferential option of the poor and powerless and to be re-elected more times than any other leader in the western hemisphere (in the same amount of time) – and to survive a U.S.-supported coup in 2002 and oil strikes that crippled the economy- that is quite a feat. Even Jimmy Carter has praised the election process in Venezuela as among the fairest he has observed.

Chavez’s policies pointed towards the importance of ‘development from below’ which could be achieved through the democratization of the workplace by way of workers’ councils and a major shift of ownership of production, trade and credit in order to expand food production and basic necessities to the poor who inhabit the ‘internal market.’ Once President Chavez was able to control the oil industry, his government was able to reduce poverty by half and extreme poverty by 70 percent.  Chavez helped turn Venezuela from being one of the most unequal countries in Latin America to (after Cuba) being the most equal in terms of income.

Capitalism works through a process of exchange-value, whereas Chavez was more interested in the process of communal exchange—that is, to cite but one example, exchanging oil for medical care in a program with Cuba in which Cuban doctors were brought into Venezuela and were set up in various barrios.  I remember once I was very ill with a fever off the charts and had to call a doctor, but before the doctor arrived I struggled in vain to pull  my Che t-shirt over my drenched body to express a sign of solidarity from this ailing gringo.  Chavez followed the principle of “buen vivir” which can be translated as “to live well.”  But this term, which has indigenous roots, is very different from the North American term, “the good life.” Buen Vivir requires that individuals in their various communities are in actual possession of their rights and are able to exercise their responsibilities in the context of a respect for diversity and in accordance with the rights of ecosystems.  It’s about social wealth—not material wealth.

I remember how much I enjoyed teaching at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, located near the Central University of Venezuela – part of Mission Sucre, which provides free higher education to the poor, regardless of academic qualification, prior education or nationality – housed in the ultra-delux offices of former PDVSA oil executives that Chavez had fired for their attempt to bring down the government.  College enrollment doubled under Chavez.  Student projects were insolubly linked to local community improvement. At a graduation ceremony in the early years of the university, Chavez famously said: “Capitalism is machista and to a large extent excludes women, that’s why, with the new socialism, girls, you can fly free.”

Chavez set up a structure to offer employment for the graduates of UBV through a Presidential Commission that enabled new graduates be placed around the country in development projects. The graduates would receive a scholarship that was slightly above the minimum wage. Some of these projects involved Mision Arbol (Tree Mission), recovering the environment damaged by capitalism such as the Guaire River.  When I was first invited to Venezuela by the government to help support the Bolivarian revolution, I remember speaking at the Central University of Venezuela.  The students who attend this university are mainly the children of the ruling elite. Not many were Chavistas, well, at least not when I spoke there. After I announced to the students present that I was a Chavista (Soy Chavista!), I was told later that some students in retaliation had ripped my portrait off of a mural student had created of critical theorists. Yet I was able to have very good conversations with some of the students there in the years that followed.

I was privileged to be a guest several times on Alo Presidente, once when sitting next to Ernesto Cardinal.  I listened to Ernesto wax eloquently about Chavez, and Chavez’s dream of bringing humanity together through a deep spiritual love.  I attended meetings of the misiones, social programs in health, education, work and housing, set up by Chavez when he came into office in 1999 to help the poor to become literate, to finish high school, to organize their communities and to get medical attention.

In 2005, when President Chavez offered residents of the Bronx a new type of program to heat homes, it was ridiculed as a cheap publicity stunt in the US media. Chavez was using the profits from his nation’s rich oil reserves to enact social spending programs, and was offering residents of the Bronx the same deal, which meant he would provide home heating oil to economically disadvantaged residents at a major discount—through Citgo—provided the savings that were made were reinvested into programs that benefitted the poor. Veteran Congressman José Serrano has since voiced his praise of Chavez for instituting this program in his district.

Although I met President Chavez half a dozen times, I only had one conversation with him. He thanked me for my work in critical pedagogy, and for my willingness to share some of my work with those in the Bolivarian revolution. But he reminded me that I have as much to learn from the people of Venezuela, and that I needed to maintain that attitude in my work. He turned out to be right.

Hugo Chavez Frias rode the Angel of History like a wild stallion across the fiery firmament of revolution, drawing back the curtain on imperialism’s ‘southern strategy,’ and advancing the cause of a twentieth century socialism. He was a solider, in essence, one with sufficient humanity to stare directly into the heart of capitalism and warn us that it pulsed with leakages of sequestered oil and that its ‘cap and trade’ compassion was market regulated. Hugo Chavez was crowned by history with a red beret and gave us pride to be warriors for social justice, marching towards a new future.

Surprise yet uneven Human Rights Council conclusion: Sri Lanka-Tamils

Ron Ridenour

Human Rights Council voted today (March 22) to criticize the Sri Lankan government for “not adequately address[ing] serious allegations of violations of international law” when conducting its final phases of war against the liberation guerrilla army LTTE (Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam), which ended, May 18, 2009, with government-caused massive blood baths.

The resolution called upon Sri Lanka to implement its own findings and recommendations make in its report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), but extended that call to “initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.” (“Independent action” is not defined.)

Furthermore, the resolution with 24 in favor, 15 against and 8 abstentions, “encourages” the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to offer the government “advice and technical assistance” in implementing the LLRC recommendations, and to make a report on the provision at the 22nd HRC session, a year from now.

In an earlier draft, Sri Lanka would have had to provide a time table to show implementation was underway. To acquire India’s vote, perhaps, the final resolution was watered down. No mention of war crimes or crimes against humanity is included; instead, Sri Lanka is asked to investigate “allegations of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances.” (See Tamilnet’s story with draft changes)

The resolution implies a lack of confidence in the Sri Lankan government to enact even its own mild investigation, while preventing any discussion of a more solid investigation into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity that the “Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka” called for last year when it recommended an independent international investigation.

Comparison with May 2009 resolution

The resolution that US allies backed in May 2009 [the US was not on the Council then] also called upon Sri Lanka to investigate itself for possible human rights abuse, while condemning only the LTTE for terrorism and war crimes and other human rights abuses. Even though this resolution only asked the police to investigate themselves, many governments took this as an affront to sovereignty. 29 countries voted to applaud Sri Lanka and condemn only the LTTE. Nothing was stated about the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians. This resolution was opposed by12 votes and there were six abstentions. The pattern was clear then: nearly all the Non-Aligned Movement governments voted for Sri Lanka, and the West voted for a possible critique.

This time the geo-political voting pattern was broken, and, coincidently, disproved my prediction that Sri Lanka would come through without a slap on the face.

The changes in voting are interesting:

Latin American and Africa changed votes significantly.

In 2009, all of the African governments on the Council voted fully in favor of Sri Lanka with one abstention. This time the vote was split with five in favor of the possible criticism, three opposed and five abstentions.

In 2009, five of Latin American governments voted to fully support Sri Lanka, two voted for some critique (Chile and Mexico) and Argentine abstained. Today, six governments voted for the critique with only the two ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America) governments voting against any critique (Cuba and Ecuador).

The Middle Eastern governments did not change. They all voted not to criticize with one abstention, the same pattern as in 2009.

Europe, west and east, voted the same way: slight critique.

Russia and China backed Sri Lanka fully.

The countries still on the Council since 2009, which changed their votes from support of Sri Lanka to critique are: Cameroon and Nigeria; India; Uruguay.

The most significant reversal is India, given its several decades’-long-relationship supporting the Island nation so close to it. Although India changed its vote it balanced the change with sovereign state solidarity with Sri Lanka.

“While we subscribe to the broader message of this resolution and the objectives it promotes, we also underline that any assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights or visits of UN Special Procedures should be in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Sri Lankan Government,” read the Indian statement, as reported by

“Observers in Tamil Nadu said that the Indian statement contradicted the demands put forward by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms. J. Jayalalithaa, who had demanded India to declare SL President Mahinda Rajapaksa complicit in genocide and war-crimes and to call for economic sanctions against Sri Lanka till the country ensured equal status to Tamils,” the website reported.

Uruguay’s change is also important. Its new president, José Mujica, was a left-wing guerrilla who spent 15 years in prison, two of it at the bottom of a well. He has placed poverty as the first order of business.

Peru was not on the Council in 2009 but its new government with Ollanta Humala as president voted to criticize Sri Lanka. He has also vowed to tackle poverty as his first priority.

The fact that two African governments have reversed their vote may indicate that international agitation has had an effect. More NAM governments abstained this time as well.

Why the difference?

Although it was the greatest terrorist state in the world that introduced the critical resolution, the United States is still a partner in the war crimes and in genocide against Tamils. It always backed Sinhalese chauvinism, discrimination against Tamils, and offered no aid to Tamil civilians. But it sees an opportunity here to polish its image as a “human rights supporter” while maintaining systematic human rights abuse in its many invasions and military interventions in the world.

The current US president is at war in seven countries, all circumscribing United Nations laws against invading countries that have not invaded the propagator of war: Afghanistan, Iraq [tens of thousands of US war mercenaries still occupy Iraq], Pakistan, Somalia, Uganda, Sudan and Libya. Furthermore, without US backing the Palestinian people would have been liberated from Zionist Israel ages ago.

These are some factors in the change:

1. Indian Tamils in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka Tamils living in the Diaspora in many countries have, since the end of the war, conducted many protests and lobbied governments for justice. A few Tamils have even committed suicide in despair and in protest.

2. Channel 4 two-part “Killing Field” series. The second one was shown during these sessions and clearly pointed an accusing finger at the Rajapaksa family regime for standing behind horrendous murders, mutilations, rape; in short, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

3. Mainstream Tamil parties in parliament in Tamil Nadu, India, were a major influence in convincing the central government to change its vote from one of applauding Sri Lanka to this critical stance.

4. The US is making it clear to Sri Lanka’s government that it is dissatisfied with it even while approving a World Bank loan of $213 million for development in the capital city, Colombo, just a week ago. The US keeps its fingers in the economy while it shows its unhappiness because Rajapaksa is offering more economic concessions to China and Russia. The US has lost its long-hoped for port in Trincomalee harbor, which China will probably acquire.

It was China, as well as Russia, Israel and Iran and Pakistan (not exactly blood brothers) that gave and sold more military hardware to Sri Lanka in the last two-three years of war to annihilate the LTTE. The US-UK and NATO offered far less in the latter period given that they were bogged down in the Middle East.


Perhaps nothing substantial for Tamils in Sri Lanka will come out of this Human Rights Geo-Political game, not simply in and of itself. But the game’s rules are changed, at least in this area of the world, when so many NAM members have not sided with a fellow member. I believe that this is the case, in large part, because the evidence of gross atrocities has come to the surface. No doubt, US+ machinations have had some effect. But we should not be fooled that these governments are interested in the human rights of any people. The current president sees an opportunity to score points by pointing a finger at a real culprit, just as he sought to do in Libya under false pretenses and as he is trying in Syria. He, like all capitalist presidents, seeks oil, profits and domination. He can afford to point a finger at Sri Lanka’s government today, because he has lost influence there and because he wants re-election votes from human rights-concerned citizens, albeit beguiled ones.

Cuba, which started the ALBA coalition with Venezuela in 2004, needs to reflect upon its foreign policy stance and especially in regards to Sri Lanka. It has politically backed Sri Lanka, in part, because they are both members of NAM, and Cuba often acts in a knee jerk manner when the US points its finger at other nations, especially third world countries—understandably.

Yet Cuba goes overboard in backing this most ruthless Sri Lankan regime responsible for scores of thousands of civilian deaths, incarcerating hundreds of thousands without due process, continues militarizing traditional Tamil homeland in the North and East, taking over homes, businesses, places of worship and building hotels upon Tamil graveyards.

Cuba’s has acted immorally, and in contrast to its long-time solidarity with the oppressed and exploited peoples of the world.

The evidence of war crimes, crimes against human, and even genocide, is much too vivid due to testimonies of victims, satellite photos and the excellent Channel 4 documentaries with photos and videos taken either by UN aid workers, some by victims or by Sri Lankan murdering soldiers and then sold or otherwise released to the public.

If Tamils in India and in the Diaspora keep up the pressure, if left organizations, grass roots groups, representatives of other oppressed peoples seeking liberation (such as Palestinians, Kurds in Turkey, Basques, Irish…) would join in united fronts for liberation for one and all, then we might be able to bring some real hope for Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Be not fooled: The US does not want true accountability, or a Tamil Eelam homeland for the oppressed minority, but the spotlight is turned on and peoples’ power could stoke the light bringing, at least, relief to the down-trodden Tamil people.

To be consequent as an Internationalist New Year 2012

Ron Ridenour

Expanded speech written for “Message from the Grass Roots” conference held December 10, 2011 at Carpenters Union—TIB—in Valby, Denmark. Herein are many wars and liberation struggles from Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, over to Haiti and Honduras, to Sri Lanka-Tamils, to the pro-liberation and anti-capitalist movements in the Arabic world, in Chile, at OWS and spreading throughout the US and into some of Europe, sparking Russians.

“To be internationalist is to pay our debt to humanity”
Says Fidel Castro and this can be read on many billboards in Cuba.

What is internationalism?—cooperation among people and nations, states my dictionary. The book of definitions maintains that internationalism is a principle of communism and socialism. It is the belief of ideological leaders such as Lenin, Fidel and Che.

Che wrote in his essay, “Socialism and Man”, that proletarian internationalism isn’t just a duty but a necessity. If revolutionary leaders forget this, Che wrote, the revolution will lose its inspiration and imperialism will benefit.

Che was also known for having severely criticized Soviet Union leadership for having lost its internationalism with the world’s proletariat and the Third World. Following up on Che’s critique, I find it important to criticize communist and socialist parties, and governments led by these parties, which let down people who are oppressed by or invaded by national or foreign powers.

Internationalism in action

1. Internationalists must support resistance fighters against invasions. Therefore, one must chastise political parties and groups that give political or moral support to those who call themselves the Iraq Communist Party as it is part of the Quisling government the USA terrorist state set in. ICP leaders live side by side the invaders in the Green Zone. That there are organizations in the United States, UK, Denmark and elsewhere, which call themselves communist or socialist parties and that cooperate with the world’s greatest terrorist state is incomprehensible, shameful, immoral and anti-internationalist.

2. The same applies to people who still support the Zionist state of Israel, which commits genocide against the Palestinian people. Millions of decent people have gotten together to support Palestinians in many ways, including Ships to Gaza. In Denmark, four groups of people have challenged the state’s terrorist laws by donating solidarity aid to the secular leftist PFLP which is part of the Palestinian resistance. Rebellion (Denmark), Fighters and Lovers, Horserød-Stuthoff Association (veterans of WWII resistance fighters imprisoned in Horserød and Stuthoff prisons), and TIB’s club (local carpenters near Copenhagen) have aided both PFLP and FARC, Colombian armed liberation movement.

3. Internationalist can not cooperate with US-NATO aggressive wars, which always have the goal of controlling that country’s economy and politics for capitalist profits. It is shameful that many experienced socialists and communists, as well as naïve progressive people, have backed up West’s big capitalist plans to take over Libya, and thus have bombed Libya back to the stone age. Denmark was one of only six countries that dropped tens of thousands of bombs on Libya, destroying much of it infrastructure, school, hospitals…In fact, Denmark dropped more bombs on Libya than it has on any other country in its history, Afghanistan included. And the pilots were cowards as there was no resistance by Libya’s air force, already decimated.

This conflict has little to do with the Arab Spring movement. It is a conflict between internal war lords, with ordinary people involved who wished to increase democracy but who were misled by US-NATO whose forces seek to control Libya’s oil and avoid a gold-based currency that Gaddafi was promoting amongst all African countries. Now, US-NATO has placed a lackey government in Tripoli just as they did in Afghanistan and Iraq.

4. Internationalists must also criticize comrade governments, such as Cuba and ALBA governments in Latin America, when they make big mistakes regarding internationalism. We can’t be true comrades-solidarity activists by keeping our mouths shut when this occurs. Such is the case with their support of the brutal government of Sri Lanka, which practices genocide against the minority Tamil population. Ever since independence from Great Britain, in 1947, the majority Sinhalese governments and chauvinist Buddhist monk system has discriminated against Tamils. They have constantly been treated as second class citizens, their language and religions relegated to secondary status without national recognition. Even pogroms have been employed with the brutal murder of many thousand on various occasions. And since May 2009, following the end of 26-year civil war, ethnic cleansing in the traditional Tamil homeland in the north and eastern areas is the rule of the day.

Cuba and ALBA have spoken only positively of their historic ties with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), to which Sri Lanka is a member, but so are 130 other nations. One cannot, in the name of protecting each nation’s sovereignty, avoid critique when one or more of these nations oppresses or conducts pogroms and genocide against part of the population. Nor can we accept as an excuse the immoral geo-political game that nearly all governments of whatever color play.

We shall also criticize Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil and other Latin American progressive governments for helping the US and France in their ouster of the only decent and only democratically elected people’s president in Haiti’s history, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. These Latin American governments actually assist the US’s 2004 coup d´état against Aristide by placing occupying troops in the small country, seeking to dampen the people’s anger. These progressive governments should, instead, back up the people’s desire to bring their president back to state power, just as they sought to do for President Zelaya in Honduras where national capitalists and generals kicked him out of office, with background support once again by the United States government.

5. On the personal and organizational plain, internationalism operates when workers of a major firm ask people to boycott a product because of the mistreatment of the workers by the firm. This is the case with Coca-Cola who workers in Colombia asked us to stop buying the “drink of the death squad” (David Rovic’s song), because it hires mercenaries to murder workers who seek to organize a union and struggle for collective bargaining. Workers in other countries, such as Guatemala, and farmers in India have asked the same.

It is with joy that I can state that here where we gather (carpenters’ hall in Valby, Denmark), this union is one of the few local unions and political or grass roots groups in Denmark that has boycotted Coca-Cola. This is something any and all individuals can do. It is just a soda drink. So drink something else. Boycotting Coca-Cola is just like boycotting all products from Israel and Sri Lanka. It is a simple act of solidarity, of internationalism.

Charlotte and I have just returned from a six week trip in India where two of my books (“Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka” and “Sounds of Venezuela”) were published by New Century Book House, Tamil Nadu. The Tamil book concerns the history and contemporary life of the Tamil people in that island-nation, and the need to act in solidarity with them. The Venezuela short book concerns this people’s efforts to create a better world for themselves and solidarity with all peoples. When people asked us where we are from we often replied that we are “internationalists”. Interestingly, many Indians understood our meaning and were pleased to think in terms of being brothers and sisters in the world.

This concept, and feeling, of brotherly love, of internationalism has taken off in a bigger way, in 2011, than in many decades. It started in Tunisia, and has expanded to the indignados in Spain, to the anti-capitalists in Wall Street and in hundreds of cities throughout the US and the West.

We have much to criticize and yet much to be glad for as 2012 opens. We must remember and appreciate those who set us off on this new anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist, non-violent and democratic revolution—from the martyr in Tunisia (street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi) and his Iraqi spiritual brother a bit earlier, shoe-thrower Muntazar al-Zaidi, to Occupy Wall Street protestors to Bradley Manning and Julian Assange and co-workers at Wikileaks, who helped spark it all by blowing the whistle on the war criminals. These modern-day Paris Commune resisters without arms—OWS and Occupy the World—are growing and they are presenting a vision and with it a program-in-discussion that must be studied and supported.

Internationalism is an endless struggle, an endless challenge. It does not end even when one or more of our political parties take over the governing reigns. We activists from the streets must always keep our wary eyes pinned on the leaders, regardless of their names, just as our clear eyes cast light upon humanity’s future.

Cuba-ALBA lands are Tamils’ natural allies

Following is the text of Ron Ridenour’s talk in Chennai (November 12, 2011). Ron is in India for the launching of the Indian edition of his books “Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka”, “Sounds of Venezuela”, and “Cuba: Revolution in Action”.

Greetings and appreciation to the Latin American Friendship Association of Chennai, India for inspiring me to become aware of the oppression of the Tamil people by the Sinhalese government of Sri Lanka, and for encouraging me to remind our comrade governments of Cuba and other ALBA country governments of their strong commitment to international solidarity to oppressed people everywhere.

Also I extend my appreciation to New Century Book House for publishing “Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka”, “Sounds of Venezuela”, and “Cuba: Revolution in Action”. Thank you Amarantha for your translation of the Venezuela book; Dhanapal Kumar for your translation of the Cuba book; and Thiagu for your translation-in-progress of the Tamil Nation book.

I start from the premise that Martin Luther King expressed: “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere”. In the country of my birth, The Devil’s Own Country, I experienced similar injustice committed against the native peoples and the black people as Tamils suffer, especially in Sri Lanka where they are subjugated to Shinalese chauvinism. I joined with millions of brothers and sisters of all colours to fight racism, to struggle for equal rights, for education and health care for all, even the basic right to vote.

Europeans invaded the Americans and stole the lands and wealth held by native peoples for thousands of years. They enslaved black Africans who they held as slaves and even after slavery ended they kept them as second-class citizens.

Black people developed various forms of struggle including civil disobedience, sit-ins, pickets, mass rallies, propaganda, and voting for equality where possible. Another form of struggle was the Black Panther Party’s armed self-defence when attacked by Ku Klux Klan and the ruling class’ police. Another form was the Gravey Movement that called for separation from the United States, demanding territory in the south. Very much like the Tamils after the 1976 Vattukottai resolution.

In the United States millions of blacks and whites fought this racist discrimination for over a century and eventually won most basic rights but not before millions were arrested, imprisoned for long times, and many murdered. Many thousands of black people were lynched, burned alive, mutilated, tortured to death until the 1980s.

Fidel Castro: “Those who are exploited are our compatriots all over the world; and the exploiters all over the world are out enemies…Our country is really the whole world, and all the revolutionaries of the world are our brothers.” “To be internationalist is to settle our debt with humanity.”

Che Guevara from “Socialism and Man”: “The revolutionary is the ideological motor force of the revolution. If he forgets his proletarian internationalism, the revolution, which he heads will cease to be an inspiring force and he will sink into a comfortable lethargy, which imperialism, our irreconcilable enemy, will utilize well. Proletarian internationalism is a duty, but it is also a revolutionary necessity. So we educate our people.”

I believe that these principles apply to the Tamils of Sri Lanka. I believe Che would agree with your struggle for equality and when not possible to achieve within the Sri Lankan chauvinist context, he would understand your fight for your own nationhood.

I think this is also what Lenin meant in his 1916 thesis, “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination”:

“Victorious socialism must necessarily establish a full democracy and, consequently, not only introduce full equality of nations but also realize the right of the oppressed nations to self-determination, that is, the right to free political separation.”

I am hurt and deeply disappointed that the government of Cuba—where I have lived and worked side by side with the people and government for eight years—as well as the socialist-progressive governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and other Latin American governments have not understood that those principles must apply to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. I got involved in solidarity with your people’s struggle because you have been so brutally treated, and because of these righteous principles expressed by Lenin, Fidel and Che. I have written critically about these governments siding with the Sinhalese governments of Sri Lanka while it denies the Tamil people those basic principles and rights, and commits genocide.

Perhaps Cuba+ have not understood the history of struggle that Tamils have undergone to win full equal rights before taking up arms. For 30 years you fought peacefully but you were met with brutal force, with pogroms/massacres of hundreds and thousands of people—even worse than that used against blacks in the US, and against Palestinians by Israelis. And, unfortunately, it was not only the governments that have done this against Tamils but also misguided Buddhist monks who betray the peaceful, coexistence values of Buddhism.

Your people’s organizations must meet and discuss these realities with the communist and socialist parties and with people’s grass roots and indigenous organizations in Latin America and elsewhere. You must explain to them your history, why you had to take up arms and fight for separation, for an independent nation. They have to hear of your suffering, of your struggles, why Tamil Eelam is a NECESSITY. You must remind them what they say about international solidarity, about what Lenin meant about political separation when the ruling powers will not grant a people their basic democratic and equal rights.

The progressive governments have won majority votes for new constitutions in Bolivia, in Ecuador, in Venezuela that grant equal rights to their indigenous peoples. In Bolivia, for instance, under the new constitution there are four official national languages, three of them are indigenous ones as well as Spanish. The same equalitarian development is happening in several progressive-pro socialist governments in Latin America. If these people could know you simply want these same rights, they would listen to you and stop backing Sri Lanka. But they have been misguided because when they hear the worst terrorist in the world—The United States of America government—raise a little finger of possible criticism that maybe the Sri Lanka government should investigate itself to find some official scapegoat for violating human rights, Cuba+ react against this hypocrisy. But they must know that in this case the Sri Lanka government is a terrible violator of human rights, and not just against the Tamils, but also against Muslims, the indigenous tribes, and it also exploits Sinhalese workers and the poor, and castes.

We must understand that Cuba, and so many governments and peoples, has been victimized by the United States false accusation that it commits “human rights abuse”. Cuba has been blockaded by the US since its victory in 1959. The US tried to overthrow the new revolution in April 1961. It brought the entire world to the brink of a nuclear war in October 1962. The US has sabotaged Cuba, murdered and handicapped thousands of its citizens; it even infiltrated bacteriological diseases in its livestock, its grains and sugar cane.

What has Cuba done to “deserve” this murderous aggression? It has done what Big Capital does not do, what imperialists will not do. It has introduced full and free education and health care. It has assured every citizen food and shelter. No one starves. 80% of its people own their own homes after paying the state simply what it actually costs to build them.

It has organized an excellent system of disaster management in which people and their animals are evacuated before hurricanes hit the island nation. And more often than not no one is killed, and their livestock is saved. That is not what happens in the United States especially in the areas where blacks and poor people live and are struck by natural disasters.

Cuba came to the aid of Angola when attacked by apartheid South Africa. Cuba, alongside with the new Venezuela, comes to the aid of tens of millions of people in scores of land around the world with their medical care, curing even blindness, and educating people to read and write, offering sports and technical assistance. Cuba has more doctors serving the international arena than is offered by all the governments in the United Nations. Cuba does not export war and torture, disease and starvation. It exports “human capital”.

Tamils in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka Tamil refugees here and in the Diaspora should not rely on the greatest terrorist in the world to help them. The Yankees offer no help without humiliating costs. We must be aware that since World War 11, the US has invaded/intervened militarily 160 times in 66 countries. We must understand that now with a black-faced puppet president of Big Capital, the imperialists are at war in seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia and now Uganda. They kill tens of millions; they torture hundreds of thousands; they starve hundreds of millions.

US’s staunch ally, Zionist Israel commits genocide against the Palestinian people. It offered Mossad intelligence, great amounts of weaponry, killer aircraft and even pilots to Sri Lanka, in order to murder the Tamils. After the end of the war, May 2009, Sri Lanka sent its military chief-of-staff, Donald Perera, to Israel as its ambassador, a reward for Zionist assistance. He told the largest Zionist daily, Yedioth Abornoth,: “I consider your country a partner in the war against terror,” thus coupling terrorism with the Palestinians’ struggle for their homeland and the Tamils’ simple right to exist in peace and equality.

Perera spoke proudly of having “a great relationship with your military industries and with Israel Aerospace industries.”

Perera spoke about the murder, on May 31, 2010, of nine Turkish solidarity activists bound for Gaza with survival supplies: “I can understand that Israel had to protect itself.”

Perhaps because of the complexity of geo-politics, the history of standing for sovereignty of the member nations of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), the leaders of Cuba and ALBA lands (Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Latin America) cannot support the goal of a separate nation within Sri Lanka. But they could be convinced to chastise the Sri Lankan government for its atrocities against the Tamil people, and the other oppressed people under the chauvinist Sinhalese leadership. They could see within the context of their moral ideology that it is only right that Tamils must have equality and the basic right to exist without fear of murder and takeovers of their homes and lands. Your peoples’ organizations should remind these pro-Palestinian governments that it is only Israel that supports the US blockade against Cuba; that it is the US and Israel that lead the tiny opposition to Palestine’s right to be a member of the United Nations.

Regardless of whether Cuba has achieved socialism—it is a long process after all and there is so much destruction and subversion coming from the Yankee imperialists—the Cuban people and the government are still worthy of our love and support. They have conducted no wars or torture against any people and they have helped many millions. It is now time that they are approached by all your organizations and become convinced to come to the aid of their natural brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka—the oppressed Tamil people.

We have wandered over the deserts and the seas. We have been hungry and thirsty. We have been murdered and tortured. We are of the working class, of the castes; we are many races and nationalities. We share a common vision: freedom and equality; bread and water on the table; a shelter over our heads. We must fight together to live in peace and harmony.

We must unite around the world and struggle for an independent international investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity against Sri Lanka government leaders.

We must call for a worldwide BOYCOTT of Sri Lanka.
CHE GUEVARA would be on our side today!

July 26: Cuba’s Revolution, Morality and Solidarity

Ron Ridenour

Fifty-eight years ago, on July 26, 1953, 160 Cuban rebels attacked Moncada Barracks near Santiago de Cuba. Had the rebels been able to take the fort with 1,000 troops—a good possibility—it would have started a revolution that might well have defeated the dictatorial regime of Fulgencio Batista within a short time.

Fidel leading the revolutionaries

Fidel, the leader

The main cause for failure was a missing vehicle with their heavy weaponry. Nevertheless they were able to cause three times the numbers of casualties that they suffered. Nearly one-half of the rebels were killed but most of them died under or following torture.

After being held for 76 days in isolation without access to reading material, Fidel Castro, the 26-year old leader, came into a courtroom filled with 100 soldiers. He gave a rousing defense of the need for revolution to topple the dictator and change the corrupt and brutal socio-economic system so that all could be fed, obtain education and health care, so that farmers could own land and all have a voice.


Fidel leads the revolutionaries

In his five-hour speech, Fidel said,

“The right of rebellion against tyranny, Honorable Judges, has been recognized from the most ancient times to the present day by men of all creeds, ideas and doctrines.”

Instead of asking for acquittal, he demanded to be with his brother and sister rebels in prison. “Condemn me, it does not matter, history will absolve me!”

Fidel Castro considers ethics and morality to be essential for revolutions. In My Life: Fidel Castro, the 2006 interview book with Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel speaks of these highest principles on numerous occasions. He asserts that “especially ethics” is what he learned most from the national liberation hero, José Martí.

After following liberated Cuba for half-a-century, having lived and worked there for eight years, I find that during its guerrilla struggle, from December 2, 1956 to January 1, 1959 the revolutionaries acted in a moral manner. Cuba’s revolutionary armed struggle was exceptional in this way. As Fidel told Ramonet, “We did not kill any prisoners”, “not even one blow” was dealt. That is “our principle”; “All revolutionary thought begins with a bit of ethics.”

Che in Congo

Che Guevara in Congo

I think that is also the key reason why so many millions of people the world over love and respect Che Guevara: his moral stance, his example as a just revolutionary leader. This from “Socialism and Man:”

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love…Our vanguard revolutionaries must idealize this love of the people, the most sacred cause, and make it one and indivisible…one must have a great deal of humanity and a strong sense of justice and truth in order not to fall into extreme dogmatism and cold scholasticism, into an isolation from the masses. We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”

I agree with Fidel and Che. Revolutionaries must be ethical in vision and use morality in practice, both at home and in solidarity with the oppressed everywhere. As Fidel told Lee Lockwood in Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel:

“Those who are exploited are our compatriots all over the world; and the exploiters all over the world are our enemies…Our country is really the whole world, and all the revolutionaries of the world are our brothers.”

I define ethics in this way: Life shall not be abused or destroyed by our conscious hand—without being attacked or oppressed beyond limits of toleration. A moral person, organization, political party or government acts in daily life and in the struggle for justice with that ethic in mind. These are my thoughts on morality:

1. We act so that no one person, race or ethnic group is either over or under another.

2. In combat against oppressors and invaders, we do not kill non-combatant civilians nor forcefully recruit them, or use them as hostages.

3. We struggle to create equality for all.

4. We abolish all profit-making based upon the exploitation of labor or the oppression of any person, group of people, class or caste. Instead, we build an economy based upon principles of justice and equality, one in which no one goes hungry, sharing equitably our resources and production.

5. We struggle to create a political system based upon participation where all have a voice in decision-making about vital matters with relation to local, national and international policies.

6. We struggle to eliminate alienation in each of us.

Ethics and Sri Lanka Tamils

True, solidarity activists have no choice. We must support a people under attack by aggressors wherever in the world. That is what I see as our task as anti-war activists concerning Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine…just as we did in the wars against Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia and the South Africans…

For us solidarity activists, and governments viewing themselves as progressive-socialist-communist-revolutionary, I believe our task must be to press for the very lives and rights of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka where governments have systematically oppressed and repressed them for half-a-century.

As a solidarity activist—who advocates the right to resist and the necessity to conduct armed struggle once peaceful means fail to change oppressive governments from terrorizing us—I denounce all perpetrators of terrorism, no matter the party or cause, and demand they change tactics to ones that are morally in accordance with our ideology embracing fellowship with justice and equality.

Tamil Rebels

Tamil Tigers

I find that most armed movements commit acts of atrocities, even acts of terror in the long course of warfare. This has sometimes been the case with the Colombian FARC and Palestinian PFLP, for instance. But I support them in their righteous struggle. They are up against much greater military and economic forces that practice state terror endemically. The ANC in South Africa’s war for liberation also committed horrendous acts of ‘terrorism’.

Most of the dozens of Tamil groups that took up arms, at one time or another, considered themselves Marxists, and many looked up to Che Guevara and Cuba’s revolution as an ideal. But they nearly all became terrorists in much of their actions. Hear what Che Guevara meant about the use of violence.

“There are always laggards who remain behind but our function is not to liquidate them, to crush them and force them to bow to an armed vanguard, but to educate them by leading them forward and getting them to follow us because of our example, or as Fidel called it ‘moral compulsion.’” (Speech “From somewhere in the world”)

This Sri Lanka Tamil ‘story’ is a tragedy especially for the Tamils; also for the world of humanity. Most people not directly involved, however, do not react because they don’t know what they can do. There are so many tragedies going on at the same time. Cynical brutality is constantly unleashed by major capitalist enterprises and their governments in the ‘first’ world, much of the former ‘second’ world as well as by national capitalists in the ‘third’ world. We live in what I call the Permanent War Age. Brutality—surveillance—suffering is the norm.

In those countries where there is little brutality, in comparison, and no aggressive war-making (I speak here of the governments of Cuba and other ALBA—Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America—countries) the leaders see the necessity of having political ties with some war criminal governments, such as Sri Lanka. I gather that this leads them to ignore their moral solidarity principles and abandon the oppressed Tamils.

On this July 26 day of celebration, I call upon the Cuban government, as well as all members of the ALBA alliance, to return to the moral principles expressed by Fidel and Che and do the right thing by the Tamil people. Call for an independent international investigation into the war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government, and use your moral clout, your revolutionary record to demand an end to the genocide against this people.

If morality does not become integral to our struggles, I’m afraid we are headed for a worldwide moral collapse, which is already underway due to the intrinsic immorality of capitalism and its imperialism; the foundering of contemporary socialism; and the rise of fascism throughout much of the world.

A Letter to ALBA countries

Amarantha for Latin American Friendship Association (Erode, Tamil Nadu)

Dear Comrades,

“Humanity is Homeland” said Jose Marti, poet, philosopher and Father of the Cuban Revolutionary war.

“The exploited, all over the world, are our compatriots; and exploiters all over the world our enemies… our country is really the whole world and all Revolutionaries of the world are our brothers” said Fidel Castro, Hero of the Cuban revolution who realized Marti’s dreams.

Cuban doctors are at work among less fortunate people in many parts of the world. Cuban medical teams are engaged in relief and rehabilitation work in various countries devastated by natural disasters. More than 26,000 students from across the world study medicine free of cost at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana promising to serve the poor and needy back home.

But why did the present leaders of Cuba hail Sri Lanka for killing Eelam Tamils? Why did they tow behind India in praising the Sri Lankan state at the UN Human Rights Council when tens of thousands of Eelam Tamils were killed in the gruesome war? Are Eelam Tamils excluded from the Internationalism unique to Cuba?

We at the Latin American Friendship Association consisting of Tamils of Tamil Nadu, India, were shocked and disheartened when the ALBA countries, at the insistence of Cuba, voted in favor of the Sri Lankan State at the UNHRC on 27 May, 2009. It is now time for Cuba and other Latin American countries to correct their stand about Eelam Tamils in the light of the UN Advisory Panel Report on Sri Lanka, released on 25 April, 2011.

Members of the U.N. Advisory Panel on Sri Lanka constituted by the Secretary General of U.N. Mr. Ban-ki-Moon, have confirmed the allegations of Tamils living across the world. The report confirms that more than 40,000 civilians were killed by heavy artillery and widespread shelling by Sri Lankan govt. forces; that there was systematic shelling on “No fire zones” including hospitals, schools, etc…. It strongly denies the Govt. of Sri Lanka’s claims of “Humanitarian…. Operation” with a policy of “zero civilian causalities” and indicates that a wide range of serious violations of International Humanitarian Laws and International Human Rights Laws were committed by the Govt. of Sri Lanka. Though it has been alleged that the LTTE had used civilians as human shields, recruited children in its cadre and stored weapons in civilian areas, the panel report accuses the Govt. of Sri Lanka of trampling on all International Humanitarian Laws. Therefore, the panel has called upon the UN Security council to “reconsider the resolution passed by the UNHRC on 27 May 2009 in light of the Panel Report”.

One may recall that the permanent People’s Tribunal, an international body independent of any state authority, after examining evidences and hearing eye-witnesses in Dublin in January 2010, concluded that the Sri Lankan government is guilty of War crimes and Crimes against Humanity and that the International community, particularly the U.K. and U.S.A., share responsibility for the breakdown of the peace process during 2002-2006. The tribunal comprised of renowned jurists, Nobel laureates including Rajinder Sachar, former chief justice of New Delhi High Court, Sulak Sivaraksa- a Buddhist Peace campaigner, writer, etc… This People’s Tribunal was set up by the continuous efforts of the Tamil Diaspora, Tamils in Tamil Nadu and some Sinhala democrats.

The Tribunal termed the civil war a “war without witnesses” because, the GoSL prevented entry of both National and International media into the war zone. In fact, some of the early victims were journalists who were murdered by unknown assassins. The atrocities carried out by the military relate particularly to civilians and there are evidences of cluster bombs being dropped by warplanes. Sexual abuse and rape of women by government troops was yet another atrocity repeated throughout the civil war by govt. military in destroyed villages and in the “welfare villages”. This led to tragedies such as abortions and suicide by victims unable to live with family shame and mental trauma. This policy of targeting also applied to Tamils living outside the conflict zone. Apart from mass deportations, selective terror campaigns were carried out by means of abductions, assassinations, arbitrary arrests, detention, sexual assault and torture.

The tribunal insists that the charges of genocide require further investigation, whereas the U.N. Panel on Sri Lanka restricts itself to allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The U.N. fails to view the conflict in Sri Lanka as an ethnic issue as it does not recognize the Tamils’ struggle for statehood or the Tamils as a nationality with a genuine need to protect itself from extermination. Sri Lanka’s war crimes are only a part of ethnic cleansing of Tamils over the last 60 years.

The Sinhala rulers on assuming power from the British in 1948 began the systematic oppression of Tamils in all aspects of life.

(1) One million Tamils were excluded from citizenship and rendered stateless by the citizenship Act 18 of 1948. Act 48 of 1949 denied the right to vote enjoyed by the Tamils until then.
(2) Tamil homelands in the North and East were deliberately colonized by Sinhalese with state funds, but were excluded from all development projects.
(3) The Sinhala Only Act of 1958 and Standardization Act of the same year deprived Tamils of higher education, employment opportunities, professional opportunities and all public office thereby consolidating the racial discrimination.
(4) Thousands of Tamils were killed in racial violence let loose by the Sinhala rulers in 1956, 1958, 1974, 1976, and 1977 against innocent Tamils. There was widespread looting, arson, rape, torture, burning people alive, destroying property and centers of cultural importance – all planned and executed by racist Sinhala Governments.
(5) The state sponsored violence against Tamils in August 1977 forced more than 50,000 Tamils to migrate to northern part of Eelam and to several other countries including India.
(6) Burning of Jaffna Library in 1981 and the massacre of Tamils detained in Welikkede Prison determined armed struggle as the only course available for the Tamils for their liberation.

Is Sri Lanka an anti-imperialist state? :

Sri Lanka, which calls itself as a ‘Socialist Democratic Republic’, was the first country in South Asia to open itself for globalization in 1976, and amended its economic policy accordingly. Recently, the Sri Lanka Govt. has evacuated poor people from neighborhoods around Colombo to offer lands for multi-national companies.

Active military collobaration between the ‘anti-imperialist’ Sri Lanka and United States has been going on for more than two decades. The United States of America has been arming and financing Sri Lanka for most of the civil war period. [] From at least the 1990s, the US has provided military training, financing, logistic supplies and weapons sales worth millions annually. A Voice of America installation was set up in the northwestern part of the country.

The Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA ) was signed soon after Rajapaksa assumed power. It was U.S. citizen Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Defense Minister, and brother to President Rajapaksa, who signed the agreement, March 5, 2007. Their younger brother, also a minister, is a US citizen too.) . ACSA will enable the United States to utilize Sri Lanka’s ports, airports and air space. As a prelude to the signing of the agreement scheduled for July, this year, United States Naval ships have been calling at the Colombo Port for bunkering as well as to enable sailors to go on shore leave.

In return for the facilities offered, Sri Lanka is to receive military assistance from the United States including increased training facilities and equipment. The training, which will encompass joint exercises with United States Armed Forces, will focus on counter terrorism and related activity. The agreement will be worked out on the basis of the use of Sri Lanka’s ports, airports, and air space to be considered hire-charges that will be converted for military hardware.

Today, lands in the war-torn North and Eastern parts of the Island are shared among Indian and Chinese corporate companies.

Sri Lanka is not a secular state as the constitution itself states that Buddhism is the foremost religion in the Island though there are people belonging to various other religions.

“War on Terror” is a slogan borrowed by Sri Lanka from the U.S. to justify the genocidal war on Tamils, using sophisticated weapons of mass destruction supplied by the U.S., Israel, Japan, Italy, China and India.

Truth and the UNHRC Resolution dated 27 May 2009; The Current Situation:

The U.N. Panel Report of 25 April 2011 is more than enough evidence to conclude that the UNHRC Resolution of 27 May 2009 is far removed from truth. The magnitude of physical torture, psychological torture, disease, starvation and abuse of the Tamils survivors has few precedents in history. It will be several generations before the Tamils recover from the horror of this war. As with any war, women have borne the brunt – there are about 89,000 war widows in Eelam. Tamil women have been molested, sexually harassed and raped as part of the genocidal program so that they never return to normal life. The Sri Lankan army has taken upon itself the duty of not letting any humanitarian aid reach the Tamil survivors. Deprived of food, water, medicine, medical services and other basic necessities, Tamils have been subject to several epidemics in the camps, leading to steady rise in death toll. There were an estimated three hundred thousand Tamils in these modern day “concentration camps” immediately after the war. The number has been dwindling by the day and two years after the war, though the govt. of Sri Lanka claims to have “let free” and “rehabilitated” Tamils, there is no evidence of resettlement; there is no information as to where these people were “resettled”. A state of emergency is still in vogue and the fear-gripped, psychologically tortured people in camps are still under the wrath of the Sri Lankan Army.

We would like to call upon the ALBA countries and other radical governments of Latin America to reflect upon the situation prevailing in south Asia. Countries that became independent after the Second World War including India (1947), Pakistan (1947) and Sri Lanka (1948) were under British rule for centuries. The British ruled these countries inhabited by several Nationalities speaking different languages under a single administrative unit for their own convenience. When these colonies became independent, people of different Nationalities were forced to remain under one state without recognition as separate Nationalities having separate homelands. This improper decolonization led to fighting by different Nationalities for the retrieval of their right to self-rule.

Just as the Tamils in Sri Lanka fighting for Eelam, their traditional homeland, there are other genuine Nationality struggles going on in Kashmir and the North Eastern states in India. Tamils and Punjabis are the potential Nationalities likely to rise in struggle sooner or later. With these realities in its backyard, the Indian government chose to assist the Sri Lanka Govt. in its war against the Liberation of Tamil Eelam. India let Sri Lanka use its satellites for surveillance, supplied sophisticated equipment including radars, technical assistance and billions of rupees in aid for the war against Eelam Tamils. India is well aware that a liberated Eelam state would not tolerate the dominance of the Indian state and its sway over Trincomalee, the strategically located natural port in Eelam territory. Liberation of Eelam could prove to be more than just precedence for Tamils in Tamil Nadu and other Nationalities in the Indian State. India has conveyed its message that it is capable of “nipping trouble in the bud” by deliberately taking part in the ethnic cleansing of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

In the light of the above, we urge the radical governments of Latin America to demand that:
a) The UNHRC Resolution dated 27 May 2009 be removed from the UN records.
b) The struggle of Eelam Tamils is accepted as a liberation struggle for the retrieval of their Homelands.
c) The Sri Lankan govt. under Mahinda Rajapakse is investigated for genocidal crimes in the international court of justice.
d) The planned Sinhala colonization and the land-grab by multinational corporations in Eelam be stopped immediately
e) International media and International Human Rights activists are allowed entry into Sri Lankan territory to gain access to the truth which has not happened even two years after the end of the war
f) Rehabilitation and resettlement happen under the supervision of the UN Peacekeeping Force
g) These countries join hands with Eelam Tamil support groups across the world in demanding that the Eelam Tamils languishing in camps under horrific conditions be let free to return to their homes and all humanitarian assistance rendered to restore normalcy in their lives.

We believe that the blossoming of Socialism in the Twenty First Century and its endurance will not be complete without the liberation of oppressed Nationalities of South Asia. The Eelam Tamils have paid their dues for such liberation dearly and this would no doubt go down in history as the impotence of the left and radical forces.

Imperialism has been successful in spreading the myth that ‘Communism is dead’ and ‘There Is No Alternative'(TINA) to capitalism. If we, as committed anti-imperialists fail to extend our solidarity for the democratic aspirations of the peoples, it will only become a historic blunder of joining hands with imperialism to bury the ideology of communism. And we would like to remind here the saying of the great Internationalist Che Guevera:

“The revolutionary [is] the ideological motor force of the revolution…if he forgets his proletarian internationalism, the revolution which he leads will cease to be an inspiring force and he will sink into a comfortable lethargy, which imperialism, our irreconcilable enemy, will utilize well. Proletarian internationalism is a duty, but it is also a revolutionary necessity. So we educate our people.”

The U.N. Panel Report on Sri Lanka released on April 25, 2011 gives us an opportunity to recognize the just struggle of Eelam Tamils for their self determination and to restore the dignity of International Humanitarian Laws. Cuba and the other Latin American countries should now voice their support for Eelam Tamils and demonstrate their true International spirit handed down to them by Comrade Ernesto Che Guevera.

We look forward to your cooperation in making this effort a success. A line in reply would go a long way in forging our belief in Freedom.

Video: Abaixo o estado fascista e expansionista indiano – Brazilian protest against Operation Greenhunt

Cochabamba, Bolivia: Water (commons) Fair

Massimo De Angelis

Commons, understood generally as the autonomous institutions and practices of people self-organisations and self-help, are the backbone of people livelihoods all around the world. Especially in the global South, without commons people would die, because they would lack access to the basic resources like food and water necessary for life. When we hear the often-quoted statistics referring to the 40% of world population living on less than a dollar a day, we in the North tend to see only victims. We do not see self-reliant and dignified subjects from whom we have a lot to learn. Indeed, how could they live on such a low level of monetary income, if not through the fact that they pool their resources and labour together and build commons, thus overcoming the scarcity that they face as individuals? But to the external and untrained eye, commons are either invisible or opaque, because they are relational fields among a group of people that constitute itself as community, hence build some sort of wall or border around them which obscure its workings or indicate its presence to the outside only as an amorphous cluster.

Obviously, one cannot demand transparency to a commons, unless its activity create negative externalities on other commons, because a commons is not a public institution, and the borders around it — in spite of the different degree of porosity and possibility for an individual to go through — have generally a rational kernel: they represent the contextual limit of the sphere of its activity. On the other hand, we can legitimately demand transparency to a public institution because such institutions ought to benefit all of us, and not only a part of us, ought to be our commons. Hence our demand for transparency in this case implies a demand that we should all be part of its relational field and be able to exercise control over it, whether by sending people reps to its board of directors, or as social movements contesting the effects of its managerial and top-down administration. This is the same as regarding public institutions as distorted commons, i.e. to regard them in an aspirational way, as what, from the commons perspective that understand commons through the lens of commoning and grassroots democracy, they ought to be.

Now, if commons transparency and visibility is not a given property of commons, when commons become visible and invite you to see how they work and what they do, when in other words they come out, celebrate and share among themselves and communicate with others, we know there is something going on, we know that we are in the presence of a social movement that is not made of individual “citizens” or “civil society”, but of . . .commoners.

A social movements of commoners is one that seek to extend the scale of commons, extend the social power mobilised by commoning. In this sense, the struggle undertaken by this social movement is not only one that manifests itself in cathartic street demonstrations, but is also hidden in the daily reproduction of livelihoods. Actually, it is this latter activity that gives this movement both strength and its rhythmical presence into the streets. I do not think we can measure a commoners movement with the yardstick of traditional social movements where we correlate the presence on the streets with the strength of the movement. When we talk about commoners movement, strength seems to be, if not the cause, definitively the material basis of the presence in the streets. While the presence in the streets is produced through events, the strength is reproduced in daily processes, and there is an obvious lag between the time of productive contestation and the time of reproductive commoning. So for example, 500 years of indigenous resistance is not 500 years of daily street battles, but 500 years of value reproducing commoning activity that sustained and reproduced itself in spite of the massive wave of murderous enclosures deployed against it. Commoners movement is a type of social movement and social struggle we should hope to see growing and develop in the next century if any change to our conditions of life and living must occur.

One such a social movement is the one I saw at the III Feira del Agua in Cochabama. And indeed, if anybody had any doubt about the existence and relevance of commons to people lives and livelihoods, well a Fair like this should help dispel any such doubt. Spread along the four sides of a large football pitch and beyond, dozens of community water associations and cooperatives like the one of Flores Rancho that I visited the other day (see previous post) are making their own showcase, with the help of hand-made posters and polystyrene models, to mark their presence and to exchange information, knowledge and technology.

From feira de l’agua
From feira de l’agua
From feira de l’agua
From feira de l’agua
From feira de l’agua
From feira de l’agua

Associations like these form the largest bulk of the third Feira del Agua, held in Cochabamba during the days of 15 and 18 April, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the water war that forced the then Bolivian government to repeal its water privatisation law. Among other participants in this feira del agua, noticeable presences besides some international development NGOs, some associations proposing waterless bio-toilets and some documentation centers, are also Semapa, the municipal water company that is highly controversial for the allegation of corruption and ineffectiveness in providing water, and Misicuni, a consortium of national and international companies that is building a large dam in the mountains North of Cochabamba and that promises to fill the water deficit of the region.

From feira de l’agua

Cochabamba is indeed a region with a water deficit. In spite of all the amazing self-organisation efforts that community groups are doing, they cannot offer water to all the communities. The area of Cochabamba mostly affected is the South, the vast suburban area where about 200000 people live and water provision is poor. In the 1980s and 1990s, a large migration from rural and mines region into cities like Cochabamba occured, this putting pressure on water provisions. Three distinct realities in this region then developed with respect to water. First, the market reality, that is the reality of those who lack access to water, don’t organise and thus depend on private providers. This generally occurs in unsafe and unregulated forms. Water is delivered at home by private suppliers who drive cistern-trucks and is poured in “turril” , i.e. large 200 litres open canisters that households generally keep outside. Here the problems is not only the astronomical cost of this water (up to 30 bolivianos, £3, for a turril, and think that this is not just drinking water, but water for all household usage), but also the water contamination as a result of storage in old and rusty containers and exposure to the elements.

The second reality is of those who self-organise themselves and are lucky to live in areas in which there is water and community wells can be dig. Now, the work they are doing here is quite impressive, since community build from scratch entire water systems, dig deep wells (up to 100m), construct water deposits and connect pumps, lay the pipes for home distribution, monitor the water quality which in this region is always threatened by waste contamination, and manage the entire system. Not bad as a form of commoning! Interestingly, it is generally recognised here that the initiative to dig for water emerges in a population that has recently migrated from the countryside, and therefore has a memory of self-reliance and a relation to nature that is empowering. Rural people always go close to water sources and get their act together to use water. This is not a trivial fact, and I am starting to consider that indeed a crucial aspect of the countryside subjectivity’s everywhere in the world is such a self-reliance and autonomous spirit, one that is lost through successive waves of urbanisation which add mediations between people and nature in the form of money and bureaucratic and legal codes. A point here to be considered in the future: if we do not have the need for one revolutionary subject any longer, we may need a composite one, and one of its crucial components can be found in the self-reliant spirit of indigneous and campesinos wordwide.

From feira de l’agua

The third reality is of those who self-organise themselves but are not lucky to live in areas with water. The commons self-organisation in this case occurs through a system of water collection by cistern trucks. The water is generally purchased from the municipal water company Semapa at far lower prices than those of the market, and distributed in the community. Generally, the community associations also establishes systems of distribution through deposits from which water is piped into the houses. In one case (the Asociation de Produccion y Administracion de Agua y Saneamiento APAAS, a community based organisation set up in 1990) water is fetched 7 km away, and to get the water the community has set up pipes, pomps and deposits along the crest of a mountain down to their suburban neighbourhood.

From feira de l’agua
From feira de l'agua

The different community organisations seem to function in different ways according to different conditions, but all heavily rely on community work besides self-funding and some access to external funding. The need for some socialisation of production in some functions — and therefore of greater scale — is met with associations of the second level, i.e. associations of associations.

This is for the example the case of Asica-Sur (, one of the main organiser of this feira de l’agua.

From feira de l’agua

Asica-Sur pulls together about 90 community organisations of the second and third category discussed above roughly split in half among those which have access to a well and those that do not. Asica-Sur offers 4 types of services to their members: it offers community associations a platform of organisation and negotiating power vis-a’ vis the state and municipal water authorities; it strengthen the capacity of these water systems by facilitating information and sharing knowledge; provides technical assistance and services, for example through its cistern trucks that it provides to the communities without wells, but also enabling smaller community groups to access government and NGOs funds; and it offers help in the management of water resources, infrastructure and equipment. Its function seems also increasingly to mediate and find political solutions to problems encountered by larger water community systems.

For example, the case mentioned above of APAAS, is now encountering some problems due to recent human settlements along the 7 km pipeline, problems unknown 20 years earlier when it was established. The recent dwellers are allegedly stealing water and pretending that APAAS give them water for free as payment for the fact that the pipes are passing through their territory. Obviously, this water war among the poor need to find some solution, and political processes, rather than abstract recipees, are here fundamental. What situations like these also reveal is that the building of commons in a context ridded with socio-economic trends typical of capitalist systems (such as the continuous migration of the poor) is far from those studied as typical models in the West under the influence of neo-institutionalism. Unlike those cases, here the problem of access to a resource like water is never circumscribed to a given community, and although there is is an appeal to traditional forms of administrations or forms of convivir [living together] “based on ancient cultural rules and customs where the prevailing collective work and active participation in the deliberation and decision making on the assets and affairs concerning the community is under the principles of reciprocity, solidarity, justice , fairness and transparency” (from an Asica-Sur pamphlet), these forms have to deal with a reality in progress and a web of bottom-up and bottom-bottom conflictuous situations that continuously challenge the forms in which these basic principles apply. Here we have a major challenge of commons and commoning as a political paradigm, a challenge that is not envisaged by the many who while subscribing to this paradigm, offers static models as panaceas. The reality is one in which the commons and commoning perspective must embrace the new and the challenges of the times, while at the same time valorising and reclaiming the old and the ancient. The solution is not inscribed in written handbooks of given knowledge, but in the art of negotiation and political and organisational inventiveness of communities. In a seminar I attended I heard a Columbian activist referring not only to Mingas (community collective work) to build and maintain water systems, but also of Mingas of social resistance. And to this what we may add the need for Mingas of inter-communities relations and solidarity. In other words commoning of all types is really the ultimate material force of transformation of our realities.

One thing that it is clear while talking to the many associations and their collective organisations like Asica-Sur is that they all want to do more than what they are doing — whether it is a question of access to water to more members of the community, or of sanitation and water quality. We could say that in these days and age, their social movement is a social movement for growth (not so much “economic growth”, but growth in access to water and the betterment of its quality). This however implies that they all need more resources, i.e. to mobilise more social power. When we look into this more in details, we find that the question of resources and scale necessarily leads as to problematise the question of the construction of commons in relation to markets and states.

A “resource pool” is the first constituent element of a commons, the others being a community and commoning. Pooling resources address a specific need, the need of power to, that is to extend the scale of social production that a given community is able to mobilise for its own reproduction. Now, from the perspective of a community, and given its conditions of material and financial wealth, what are the sources of a resource pool or, which is the same thing, in what ways a community can increase its power to, or extend the social power it is able to mobilise? I think there are two general cases here to be considered. One, that applies to a community, say of fishers, who decide to manage their common fishing waters but in which production is organised by the individual fishers themselves. This is the case dealt with by a large bulk of neo-institutional commons literature, where much emphasis is put to confute Hardin’s tragedy of the commons. The commoning you need to refer to in order to make this confutation is only with respect to decisions and rules and not with respect of working together: the herders still go on the field with their own cattle and in their own time. There is in other words some equity principle at work (“now it is my turn and then is your turn” or, “not more than 5 cows each farmers”) and not some community sharing (“let us share the cows and the work on the field”)). The second case, which interests us here, is one that applies for all those resources that are required to engage in some form of common production.

If I am not missing something, I believe pooling of resources at this level can only occur in one or in a combination of the following ways — leaving out robbery of peers from other communities: a) the members of the community all tip in from their own material or financial savings; b) donors (like NGOs) are found; c) the community subscribe a debt; d) the state pour resources into the community; e) the community expropriate property, occupy, squats (like in the case of brazilian landless movement, MST).

Each of these sources represent challenges and limits from the perspective of scale and social justice, because themselves need to have “sources” and in particular sources of power. The first one, is of course limited by the degree of material wealth of the community, as well as complicated by the division of wealth within the community and the degree of cohesion in spite of wealth difference. The second one, a part from being limited by the money available and the work and know-how necessary to bid for the money, also may require to align local project to international NGOs priorities. The third one tie local community to repayment plans and therefore to markets. The fourth one bring with it the alignment of local communities to the state priorities and may favour their cooptation. The fifth one bring in the threat of repression. Talking to people from different water associations present in this Fair, I had the impression that all of these options have been used in one way or in another, a part from debt. For example, APAAS participated in a competition and won money from the World Bank to fund the purchase of pipes running 7 km. Some community organisations pull savings and buy the land upon which they dig the well partially funded by an NGOs. In another case, the state pour in money for a community water deposit as part of the “Bolivia Cambia Evo Cumple” campaign, and in others some foreign development funds are channelled into community organisations.

From feira de l’agua

In other words, it feels like that in order to grow commons cannot escape development, whether we are talking about transfers from states, supranational institutions such as the World Bank or NGOs, or the need to access money from the market in order to pull savings. In principle, we could of course imagine an alternative process that does not use any state nor markets, i.e. one based entirely on point e) above. In this case, all extension of commons occurs by means of all communities expropriating resources from the wealthy and simultaneously forming direct relations of association among themselves, giving rise to associations of second, third and upper level controlling all forms of social production and distribution made possible by the recently expropriated resources that extend the “pool”.

Obviously, this solution is in principle conceivable not only in moments of intense social revolution, but moments of intense social revolution that do not require an extension of the role of the state, neither in terms of its apparatus in defence of new property configurations against threat of restauration, nor in terms of extension of socialised functions that at the moment of revolution cannot be organised by communities nor by existing markets. Allowing for the state indeed simplifies enormously the problem of transition to a socially just society, as through indirect expropriation (case d) it is possible to fund organised communities of commoners and give rise to an increase in scale of commoning without the use of capitalist markets. This seems the avenue taken by Morales government, although timidly. As I was told by some community associations activists, the government has started to give money directly to grassroots associations and not to local authorities, and this is seen as a great improvement. However, this has happened significantly in areas where there is more opposition to the govenrment — such as Santa Cruz — while in area like Cochabamba — the stronghold of MAS, the party in government — there has been only timid disboursements. However, it may well be the case that the existing power relations and configurations of needs of the people necessitate the state to operate also for the development of market themselves — including capitalist markets — in which case the problems of transition becomes even more complex and risky. This is also the case here in Bolivia.

In any case, ultimately, the “socialist” principle to be a transformational principle must be articulated to the anarchist principles of individual freedom, and the communist principles of community constitution of values through commoning. The extent to which the measuring and valuing mechanisms of capitalist markets overpower the measuring and valuing mechanisms of commoning is a crucial factor to decide whether the “socialist” state is functional to a process of capitalist development or a transformational process towards the development of social justice. In Bolivia I think it is still too early to tell, and the process seems a very interesting process to study. The general question posed by the problems of access to resources becomes how can development be instrumental to the extension of commons, without the latter becoming in turn instrumental to the extension of capitalist development?

The 5 cases listed above apply from the perspective of an association of producers which aim at mobilising more social power than what they have at their disposal, and hope to internalise the means for such a mobilisation. But if we scale up and reach higher levels of association, we discover that there are other ways to extend the social power of commoners. One for example is posed by Asica-Sur with the question of cogestión — co-management. The question of co-management with Semeca is not yet defined clearly, and it raises several eyebrows among some community activists who are afraid that the messing up with the organisational forms of the municipal company would irreversibly contaminate the community organizational values. This would be a case in which the quest for extension of social power would backfire. But the rationale is obvious: to have access to more resources now available to the ineffective and corrupt structure of Semapa. The question is really to find a form that articulates community forms of organisation with this greater urban scale organisation.

Another issue posed, and it is perhaps linked to the question of comanagement, is that the state must allow organisations and firms that have at their disposal means of production and equipment to make it available to smaller organisation who do not have. This is perhaps a type of mild form of temporary “expropriation” that does not damage anybody really, but would give community associations access to fundamental resources and increase the scale of their operations. It is also evidence of a conception that sees the need for private and public property to be communalised, not so much in its formal ownership status, but in terms of the forms of its access and control, allowing us to move beyond old dichotomies.

But mega-projects are also on the horizons and bring new challenges. Misicuni, is a consortium of public and private companies that is building a dam higher up in the mountains around Cochabamba and that promises to fill the water deficit of the area. It is a project that has been in the pipelines for some decades now, but that only in the last few years started to move on. There is some controversy surrounding the project, whether a mega project of this scale was really necessary and whether alternatives could not be found. However in general, all the association representatives I have talked to where happy with the promised water availability promised by Misicuni. I was told by one of the Misicuni representatives present at the Fair, that it will be finished by 2012, a date however that raised some eyebrows of incredulity given the past history. I asked Carlos Oropeza, a dirigente of Asica-Sur, if this development would reduce the need for grassroots associations, but he did not seem to be concerned. “Local coop will buy water and distribute it themselves”, he told me. Asica-Sur is apparently already building the deposits and strengthening the infrastructure for local distribution.

Courtesy: author’s blog

A Discussion with the Producer of “Inside the Revolution”, Roberto Navarrete

A discussion with the Producer of “Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela”, Roberto Navarrete, preceded by the screening of the film.
Date: Monday, 12/04/2010. Time: 2:00-5:00 pm
Location: Indian Social Institute 10, Institutional Area, Lodi Road, New Delhi (India)

Inside the Revolution: A Journey into the Heart of Venezuela
(Director Pablo Navarrete, 65mins, Alborada Films, 2009)

February 2009 marked 10 years since Hugo Chavez took office, following a landslide election victory, and launched his revolution to bring radical change to Venezuela. While wildly popular with many in the country, Chavez’s policies and his strongly-worded criticisms of the U.S. government have also made him powerful enemies, both at home and abroad, especially in the media.

Filmed in Caracas in November 2008, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of Chavez’s controversial presidency, this feature-length documentary takes a journey into the heart of Venezuela’s revolution to listen to the voices of the people driving the process forward.

The film traces the recent history of Venezuela, before and after the election of Hugo Chavez to the presidency, using archive material and interviews with Venezuelans living in the barrios of Caracas who are involved in community and social movements. The achievements and challenges facing the Bolivarian process are put into context by means of interviews with leading Venezuelan social scientists Edgardo Lander and Javier Biardeau, as well as the Canadian economist Michael Lebowitz, who currently lives in Venezuela.

“This is a rare film about Venezuela, a country in extraordinary transition. Watch this film because it is honest and fair and respectful of those who want to be told the truth about an epic attempt, flaws and all, to claim back the humanity of ordinary people.”

– John Pilger (Journalist, author and documentary filmmaker)

“A lively, well-researched documentary which pulls off that most difficult of tasks – an honest account of the achievements and the weaknesses of the Chavez government.”

– Sue Branford (Journalist, former Latin American analyst for the BBC World Service)