Nicaragua: Making Cooperatives Central to Democratization

Tortilla con Sal, Telesur English Blog.

A phenomenon deserving more attention by those interested in the debates on Socialism in the 21st Century is the development of the cooperative and associative sector in Nicaragua. Over 50% of the Central American country’s gross domestic product is produced either by small family-owned associative enterprises with less than 10 workers or by more advanced cooperatives some of which have several thousand members. This non-capitalist sector of the economy currently employs about 70% of the workforce in a country where neoliberal policies have deliberately attacked secure formal employment, as they have done around the world. The lives of about 2 million people, one in three Nicaraguans, are directly influenced by cooperatives, either because they themselves or else one of their close relatives, belong to a co-op.

Nicaraguan cooperative

Cooperatives operate practically all public transportation systems, most of the dairy industry and other basic food production too. They even play an important role in some export sectors, such as coffee and beef production. The cooperative movement has received strong support from the current Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega. Since the relevant legislation was passed in 2012, Nicaraguan family businesses, collectives and cooperatives have been supported by the Ministry of the Family, Community, Cooperative and Associative Economy. However, cooperatives are not a new phenomenon in Nicaraguan society. They have been a key component of the National Project devised by General Augusto Calderón Sandino back in the 1930s at the height of his armed resistance against the US military occupation of Nicaragua.

On August 27th 1932, as the war waged by his guerrilla army of rural workers and their families against the US marines then occupying Nicaragua was coming to an end, Sandino announced his project of creating rural workers’ and artesanal mining cooperatives in the areas liberated by his “crazy little army” of patriots and revolutionaries. This is the first time in Nicaraguan history that cooperatives were presented as an alternative to the traditional plantation system installed since colonial times to satisfy the needs of the imperial powers and their local client elites. In 1933, after signing the peace agreement that put an end to the war, Sandino founded Nicaragua’s first cooperatives in an area along the Rio Coco, around Wiwilí with demobilized guerrillas from his army.

In July 1933, Sandino explained to a correspondent, “We are organizing in this river port on the Rio Coco a mutual society called the ‘Rio Coco Cooperative’ based on the brotherhood that you are familiar with that we practiced in our army. We are building houses, a barracks, a hospital, a refectory, offices and a radio station along with all that is necessary to live. We are clearing land and bringing large extensions into cultivation, setting up gold washing processes and so on. The idea is to turn these untouched regions into centers offering life and culture to all people victims of the exploiting classes and of poverty.” Just a few months later, at the instigation of the US Embassy, Anastasio Somoza ordered the treacherous murder of Sandino and his companions, then in Managua for talks with the Nicaraguan government. Somoza and his allies among Nicaragua’s reactionary élite immediately targeted the Sandinista cooperatives around Wiwilí with vicious political genocide against Sandino’s followers and their families and the appropriation of their land and goods by Somoza and his cronies.

For almost five decades the Somoza dictatorship repressed cooperatives for being expressions of “sandino-communism”. A few large agricultural and service co-operatives were founded in the capitalist cotton-growing industry, but any attempt to build a non-capitalist cooperative movement was doomed before it even started. Not until after the revolutionary overthrow of the dictatorship on July 19th 1979 was Sandino’s historic cooperative program implemented as a nationwide government policy. In fact, shortly before the revolutionary triumph, many communes were founded during the final weeks of the struggle, in liberated areas around the city of Leon, in order to grow food for the Sandinista guerrillas in what became one of the clearest signs of a “parallel power” challenging the dictator Somoza’s control over the country.

Under the revolutionary governments between 1979 and 1990, over 3,000 mainly agricultural cooperatives were founded, often on land expropriated from former heads of the Somoza regime. Among these cooperatives, 1,170 were production co-ops while 1,559 were service and credit cooperatives. These cooperatives received on average 35% of all loans from the country’s financial system and administered considerable shares of production, both for export (coffee, cotton, beef) and internal consumption. The defeat of the Sandinista Revolution in the 1990 elections, mainly due to the devastating effects of the Reagan Administration’s genocidal, terrorist “low-intensity” war marked a dramatic change in the situation of rural families and what was overwhelmingly their cooperative movement. Until that year, up to 81,000 rural family households had received State loans. After 1990, that support dropped to zero.

The process of neoliberalization of the country was fiercely resisted by rural workers and their families, the other popular sectors and the Sandinista Front. Before leaving office, the outgoing Sandinista government managed to pass laws known by their numbers, such as Laws 85, 86 and 88, aiming at expeditiously legalizing and/or regulating agricultural properties in hands of the rural families who, because of bureaucracy and other administrative shortcomings did not have due legal title to their land. But rural families found it very difficult to withstand the lack of credit imposed by the privatized neoliberal banking system and many co-ops were forced to dissolve. At the same time, landowners expropriated by the Sandinista Revolution organized and started demanding their properties back. New laws adopted by the right-wing government, such as Laws 1090 and 1190, were designed and used to deprive rural families of their land.

As Ariel Bucardo, president of Nicaragua’s National Confederation of Cooperatives, CONACOOP, explains, “We were born in the struggle; we lost the elections; we resisted and we were forced to keep on struggling”. The 17 years of neoliberal misgovernment from 1990 to 2006 debilitated the cooperative movement, but also taught it valuable lessons. One of those lessons had to do with the importance of alliances: For example, the leaders of the cooperative movement, as well as those of the rural small and medium producers union UNAG, very soon realized that in the new context the Sandinista rural sector needed to join forces with fellow rural families from among the previously anti-Sandinista, US organized Contras. Both sides were members of the same social class, with the same problems and suffering the same exploitation. In the early 90s meetings were held between the rural workers’ leaders and some Contra chiefs, such as Commander Franklin, that lead to a more united rural sector presenting common demands to the neoliberal government of President Violeta Chamorro.

After 17 years in the opposition, the Sandinista Front again entered government in January 2007. Although weakened, the Cooperative Movement was ready for a new stage in its development, supported by new structures and reinforced by experiences such as:

  • CONACOOP, a unitary expression of the country’s cooperative movement, encompassing coops from all political allegiances under a common core of cooperative values. This movement was officialized by the very progressive General Law of Cooperatives of September 2004, a law passed under a right-wing administration that was a true achievement of popular struggle.
  • The Caja Rural Nacional (CARUNA), now a large cooperative bank founded by an initial group of 37 members with a capital of only a couple of thousand dollars. Today it has 40.000 members and administers considerable financial means, among them the funds of the programs ofALBA and PETROCARIBE.
  • Development of cooperativism within the coffee-growing sector, extending control by first-, second-, third-, and fourth-degree cooperatives to all aspects of production, marketing, technical assistance and research.
  • New urban experiences of cooperativism, including different kinds of collective transport.

With these experiences, the 1,700 cooperatives that survived the bitter, acid test of neoliberalism, Nicaragua received renewed support in January 2007 under Nicaragua’s second Sandinista government. Leaders of the cooperative movement often quote President Daniel Ortega’s words at the time, when he said: “We are back in government. The time of cooperatives has arrived”. Accordingly, the Sandinista government has prioritized development of cooperatives in Nicaragua as a fundamental policy to radically democratize the country’s economy. That process is also radically democratizing Nicaraguan society as a whole by recognizing the fundamental role of women as protagonists in the national economy.

Today, in 2015, Nicaragua has over 5,000 cooperatives involving more than 389,000 families from the popular classes, directly influencing the lives of over 2 million people. There are cooperatives in each and every one of the country’s municipalities. There are dozens of Unions with at least five member co-ops and 12 Federations with at least 3 Unions each, encompassing all sectors of cooperative activity in the country. In terms of employment, co-ops give jobs to 450,000 Nicaraguans. In comparison, big capitalist sugar mills such as San Antonio and Monte Rosa, commonly regarded as big employers, hardly reached 16,000 jobs in the 2012-2013 harvest. Another big source of capitalist employment, the country’s duty-free trade zones, employ no more than about 140,000 people.

Coffee cooperatives export volumes of about 50 million pounds of high-quality gourmet beans. In other crops, such as sesame seeds, production is totally cooperativized. Co-ops are the main providers of the dairy industry with about a million liters of milk delivered every day in spite of the current drought and limited storage capabilities. Other activities, such as collective transportation, are almost completely in the hands of cooperatives. Tourism, too, is strongly cooperativized. Garbage recycling is one of the future areas of cooperative development in Nicaragua today.All this vital economic activity is accompanied by a joint effort between cooperatives and the State to formalize working conditions in the sector, by developing similar systems of pensions and health insurance as those existing in the formal sector.

However, in spite of the achievements, CONACOOP’s president Ariel Bucardo, interviewed recently by Tortilla con Sal, insists that the movement must advance further in some important areas : firstly, to deepen the unity of the cooperative movement and secondly, to strengthen co-ops as efficient economic units administratively, financially and in terms of education and culture. Ariel Bucardo also notes that, while 45% of cooperative members are women, much remains to be done in order to attract young people, most of whom ignore joining a co-op as an employment choice because the educational system does not teach them about the cooperative movement. Bucardo mentions that of the 42 universities in the country all of them promote the perspective of big business and multinational companies, ignoring or understating the central, fundamental role of the family, associative and cooperative sectors in Nicaraguan economy.

Although most of the members of the cooperatives in Nicaragua define themselves as revolutionaries, the movement includes organizations of various orientations, even some which identify themselves with the opposition. All those cooperatives, however, share a common core of values around self-management and economic democracy. In the view of Ariel Bucardo, cooperatives are the sector that best express the Christian, Socialist, Solidarity values the Sandinista Government is promoting as it seeks to carry out its radical democratization of Nicaragua’s economy and society.

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Satellites, False Beliefs and Sovereign Integration Comments

Tortilla con Sal, Telesur English Blog.

The Regional African Satellite Communication Organization (RASCOM) was founded in 1992 as an intergovernmental organization open to private investment and has launched two communications satellites. Rascom-QAF 1 was launched in 2007 and Rascom-QAF 1R in 2010. Before NATO destroyed Libya, the Libyan government’s African Investment Portfolio owned 63 percent of RASCOM with the remainder owned by 45 African telecommunications companies (25 percent) and the French military and telecommunications multinational Thales Alenia Space (12 percent).

ARSAT-1 satellite launch

After its founding in 1992, RASCOM had difficulty raising money to build and launch an African owned satellite. Western dominated international financial institutions looked askance at the project because European businesses collected US$500 million a year thanks to the West’s corporate monopoly on telecommunications infrastructure. France in particular dominated francophone Africa’s telecommunications, just as it dominates the rest of that region’s economy. International satellite companies insisted RASCOM lay out a prepayment of US$200 million.

To overcome that financial barrier, Libya’s Jamahiriya contributed US$300 million to RASCOM’s first satellite. As Jean Paul Pougala noted in April 2011, “It was Libya’s Gaddafi who gave all of Africa its first real revolution in modern times: by ensuring universal coverage of the continent via telephone, television, radio-broadcast and the many other applications such as telemedicine and long-distance learning; for the first time in history, a low-cost connection became available across the continent, and even into rural areas thanks to a bridging WIMAX system.”

No one depending on Western media for current affairs information would know that. As Harold Pinter put it in his Nobel lecture, the crimes against humanity of the U.S. government and its allies “never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.” Western corporate and alternative media have censored Libya’s great humanitarian achievements under Muammar al Gaddhafi just as, in general, they have are censored faithful and honest coverage of events around the world, particularly in Latin America.

Even this year’s summit in Brussels of government leaders of the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states received zero coverage in North American and European news media. This scandalous censorship of world events by Western media is itself treated as if it never happens. Even as it happens, it is of zero interest. This makes reading the news and information media of North America and Europe deeply alienating for anyone living outside the Western conceptual bubble.

Entering that contrived twilight landscape of fake perspectives, truth is barely even glimpsed, caught now and then flitting among the falsehoods and distortions like a fugitive. For the most part, people in the West have internalized a viciously counterproductive set of demented false beliefs. For example, that Western governments are well intentioned and law abiding, that Western societies are morally superior to others, that Western media give a true and fair view of events and that Western dominated corporate capitalism makes the most efficient use of the world’s resources.

Focusing more specifically on Latin America and the Caribbean, Western media project false beliefs such as, among so many others :

  • war-torn Colombia is a model for the region

  • U.S. militarization and the war on drugs promotes regional stability

  • Argentina is an economic basket case

  • the system of U.S. plutocracy is more democratic than socialist Cuba

  • Nicaragua’s government is authoritarian and anti-democratic

  • the Organization of American States is the region’s most important body

These false beliefs are complemented by crucial, purposefully engineered omissions again among numerous others, such that :

  • the abject failure of U.S. and E.U. supported neoliberal economic policies never happened

  • Venezuela’s social and economic progress since 1998 never happened

  • Haiti is not a scandalous, categorical standing indictment of U.S. and E.U. policy in the region

  • ALBA and Petrocaribe never happened

  • CELAC and UNASUR summits never take place

  • U.S. government complicity in genocide, disappearances, paramilitary terrorism, mass torture and narcotics was a regrettable but understandable mistake

  • Cuba’s incredible contribution to the region’s health and education systems never happened

  • Nicaragua’s recovery in just 8 years from virtual economic collapse never happened

  • persistent determined U.S. and allied intervention to destabilize governments never happens

Western governments and media aggressively project these false beliefs and ensure the corresponding deliberate omissions in an unending, relentless campaign of psychological warfare against any contradictory alternative, especially the Venezuelan and Cuban led Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas. It is commonplace now to note how those beliefs and omissions are purposefully manufactured by the enormous apparatus of corporate-controlled conceptual production. Less attention is generally paid to how that production can be supplemented by the intricate network of Western non-profit news and information outlets.

Even people in the West who regard themselves as quite critical, in practice tend complacently to embrace demonstrably false beliefs, surrendering their minds to varieties of seduction and manipulation no less pernicious for being labeled “alternative”. All this makes of great urgency access to communications technology independent of North American and European governments and finance institutions. At a time when the United States military still aspires to what it calls full spectrum dominance even in space, independent satellite technology is not merely a matter of national pride and emancipation but of very survival.

Not for nothing does the United States have over 520 satellies in orbit around the Earth, as against 132 for China and 131 for the Russian Federation. By contrast, based on the most readily available data, Latin American countries seem to have around 46 satellites, all told, mostly for communications but also for earth observation and scientific development. Of those satellites 19 are in geostationary orbit around 36,000km above the Earth while the rest are in Low Earth Orbit, at a height of between 160km and 2000km.

Mexico currently has four satellites operational in geostationary orbit with three satellites of various types in preparation. Brazil and Argentina each have 15 satellites in either Low Earth Orbit or geostationary orbit. Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay together have a total of eight satellites, all in Low Earth Orbit. Colombia has a small satellite for scientific observation. Apart from Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, only Venezuela and Bolivia have communications satellites in geostationary orbit, Venezuela’s “Simón Bolívar” and Bolivia’s “Tupac Katari”.

Venezuela’s “Francisco de Miranda” is an earth observation satellite for agricultural and environmental purposes. It will soon be joined by a second observation satellite, the “Antonio José de Sucre”. By consciously naming these satellites after their countries’ resistance and independence leaders, Bolivia and Venezuela have made them symbols of Latin America’s current Second Independence process of definitive political and economic emancipation. In this context, the decision by Nicaragua to invest resources in two satellites being built by China is another decisive step towards the emancipation not just of Nicaragua but of the whole Central American region.

It will mean that three of the member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas will have their own communications satellites. Nicaragua’s satellites will be launched in 2016 and 2017 respectively. So it was appropriate that, on August 21st, Nicaragua hosted the launch of the Seventh Space Conference of the Americas, an event that will bring together over 250 specialists from all over the Americas and beyond in November this year.

Immediately prior to that event, Nicaragua signed an agreement with the Russian Federation allowing Nicaragua to use the GLONASS global satellite system. That agreement followed approval by Nicaragua’s National Assembly last April, for the installation of satellite ground stations to facilitate the development of GLONASS and improve its precision. From July 2016, Nicaragua will be able to use the GLONASS system for earth observation purposes.

That Low Earth Orbit satellite technology will enable the government to improve agricultural and environmental planning, monitor natural phenomena and improve its anticipation of and response to natural disasters. Nicaragua is committed to eventually deploying those uses from the GLONASS system and the benefits from its new communications satellites on behalf of its Central American neighbors as part of the government’s policy promoting regional integration. In that regard, Nicaragua has also secured agreement with South Korea and the Inter-American Development Bank to build and administer a Regional Center of Advanced Studies in Broad Band for Development.

The Center will train 12,000 students in the relevant technology over the next decade and is intimately related to the satellite technology being developed in the region. Nicaragua’s Minister for National Policy, Paul Oquist, has explained, that all these steps are “Key for the Canal and the Free Zone associated with the Canal which must serve as a Regional and World Logistics Center. But you cannot have a 21st Century Logistics Hub without state of the art communications … these Communications satellites NICASAT 1 and NICASAT 2 are going to permit us to revolutionize the country’s communications … this will allow us to reduce our telephone and internet costs by at least 40 percent.”

Dr. Oquist also mentioned many other very important uses for the communications satellites apart from communications, such as tele-education, tele-medicine, lifetime education and training, all made available even to the most remote areas of Nicaragua. Together with the Low Earth Orbit GLONASS satellite system, the new satellites will help improve management of organized crime and other national security challenges as well as encouraging and diversifying foreign investment. As in Venezuela and Bolivia, both the geostationary satellite systems and the Low Earth Orbit systems will be government controlled. That means the benefits of the communications and the earth observation technologies will accrue directly to the public sector, while at the same time promoting private sector economic growth.

In Africa, the RASCOM satellites embodied Muammar al Gaddhafi’s vision of regional sovereign emancipation and integration. NATO destroyed that vision along with Libya itself at the same time as French troops in United Nations berets destroyed the similar vision of Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast. Now, in one form or another, in a blatant return to the days of colonial occupation, French and other NATO country troops are posted across Central, Western and North Africa. So far Latin America and the Caribbean have avoided Africa’s fate. But the United States government and its allies use constant aggressive and, needless to say, illegal political intervention and economic destabilization to attack and thwart the region’s processes of sovereign emancipation and integration. Even so, Latin America’s increasing independence in satellite technology suggests that, for the moment, the Western corporate elites and their bought-and-paid for governments are losing the race against time before the multipolar world they detest and dread so much finally overtakes them.

ALBA and Nicaragua – The Fight Against Hunger

Tortilla con Sal, Telesur English Blog.

According to the United Nations’ World Food Program, some 795 million people, about one in nine people on earth, do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. The vast majority live in third world countries, where about 13.5 percent of the population is undernourished.

ALBA and Nicaragua - The Fight Against Hunger

Earlier this year, three UN agencies dealing with the issue of food security, acknowledged the progress made by Latin American countries in recent years. In the region, the percentage of the population that was undernourished diminished from 13.9 percent in 1990-1992 to less than 5 percent in 2014-2016, which means that the numbe of people starving dropped from 58 million to less than 27 million.

One of the countries where this progress has been most remarkable is Nicaragua, where back in 1990-1992, over half of the population, 54.4 percent was undernourished. Twenty years later, by 2012-2014, the percentage of undernourished Nicaraguans had diminished to 16.8 percent – a reduction of 69.1 percent, one of the highest in the world.

A report from October, 2005 quotes UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s representative Loy Van Crowder warning about the seriousness of the food security situation in the country. According to FAO’s estimates, about 27 percent of the people were undernourished, and about the same proportion of children aged 6 to 9 showed growth problems because of this – a figure that placed Nicaragua just above Haiti and at the same level as other poor third world countries such as Mongolia, Sudan, Kenya and Cambodia.

Back then, Van Crowder explained that, “one of Nicaragua’s main problems was that it doesn’t have access to food production in spite of it being of good quality, many people live in a cycle of self-subsistence, they consume what they produce, and some months they don’t produce enough”. This was shortly before the Sandinista Front returned to government in January 2007 after 17 years of neoliberal policies. Since then things have steadily improved.

A few years after Van Crowder’s 2005 comments, FAO’s figures for undernourishment in Nicaragua for the period 2006-2008 had gone down to 22 percent. “The only country that comes close to achieving the goals of the World Food Summit as well as the First Millennium Development Goal with respect to a reduction of the relative and absolute number of undernourished people [in Central America] is Nicaragua,” the organization stated.

In June 2008, the Sandinista Government presented to various sectors of society a first draft of its National Plan for Human Development with two main goals: To lift Nicaragua out of poverty and to do so through a more just, alternative path and a more democratic power structure. The plan revolved around sustainable development, the restitution of people’s basic rights and the fight to reduce poverty. Under constant review since 2008, the plan has become more concrete and more far-reaching. Its latest version, covering the period 2012-2016, provides the current overall framework for the country’s development agenda.

In May 2009, FAO’s representative in Managua, Gero Vaagt, noted that “the Nicaraguan Government prioritizes the issue of food and nutritional security, which can be seen in the initiatives implemented at the national level among small farmers, poor rural families and the most vulnerable sectors of society in order to improve the food and nutritional situation of the Nicaraguan families.”

Vaagt also highlighted Nicaragua’s and President Daniel Ortega’s interest to promote food and nutrition issues during the country’s pro tempore presidency in the Central American Integration System in 2009. Key concepts internationally promoted by FAO were adopted in Nicaragua’s Law 693 on Food Security and Sovereignty passed by the National Assembly that same year.

The law establishes that it is the responsibility of the State to implement public policies that facilitate timely and sufficient access to safe, nutritious foods by the country’s population. It also links policies to fight poverty and unemployment, as well as guaranteeing the country’s people access to land, water and financial credit, to policies aimed at improving agricultural production as well as policies aimed at promoting healthy nutritional habits among the population.

The law treats aspects such as gender equality, sustainable development based on peasant production and environmental policies and respect for cultural food diversity and identity as intimately related to the fight against hunger and appoints a Special Attorney on Food and Nutritional Security and Sovereignty.

Law 693 also establishes a National System for Food and Nutritional Security (SINASSAN) in order to enforce the right to food “as a fundamental human right that includes the right not to experience hunger and to be protected against it, to an adequate nutrition and to food and nutritional sovereignty”. SINASSAN operates at all levels, from the national level down to the municipalities and is subjected to the authority of the National Commission for Food and Nutritional Security which in turn depends on the Presidency of the Republic.

An expression of the philosophy is the FAO-backed Nicaraguan initiative Special Program of Food Security (PESA) – a program highlighted among 62 other programs supported by the organization worldwide because it not only includes the country’s productive sectors but also expands the program taking into account issues such as health and education.

Both the National Plan for Human Development and the Law on Food Security and Sovereignty are powerful instruments making possible policies that aim to ensure Nicaraguan’s right to food. Among these policies one can mention the following:

  • Support for small-scale food production and women’s empowerment such as the Zero Hunger Program;
  • Guaranteeing secure property titles to rural families to protect their rights to land, especially favoring women;
  • Cooperative and State-sponsored banks such as CARUNA and PRODUZCAMOS offering fair credit to rural families;
  • Purchases of food by the State in order to counter speculative hoarding in the economy;
  • De-privatization of public services, especially the education system where children are guaranteed a meal every day;
  • Social policies like Love for the Very Smallest supporting families at risk of exclusion;
  • Dispersion of food production all over the country in order to reduce vulnerability of food production to drought and floods.
  • Promotion of the various regions’ traditional culinary cultures.
  • Guaranteeing a nationwide disaster prevention system and, when necessary, relief to populations affected by natural catastrophes.

Policies such as these must be regarded in a context of broad economic growth, the fight against unemployment, strengthening of the public sector, infrastructure investment, in sum, of reconstructing much of what neoliberal policies (and the imperialist-backed terrorist war of the 1980’s) had destroyed. All this has been possible thanks to the invaluable help of cooperation and trade via ALBA and PETROCARIBE, mechanisms which give the country the necessary room to maneuver in order to negotiate the turbulent waters of the volatile Capitalist World Market. In sum, broad anti-neoliberal policies are a key ingredient in order to achieve food security and sovereignty.

In July, 2014, Mr. Kanayo F. Nwanze, director of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFDA) visited Matagalpa and the Atlantic Coast to get a first-hand view of the successful experiences of local communities in the fight against hunger. “For us, as an organization, Nicaragua is an example of how a country can move from low to medium-size incomes, which can be seen by the goals it has achieved, and we at IFDA will replicate this experience in other Latin American countries,” he said.

Almost a year later, three UN agencies: FAO, IFDA and the World Food Program (WFP) reached the conclusion that Nicaragua, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela, Uruguay, Bolivia, Panama and Surinam had accomplished the Millennium Goal of reducing hunger by half. Most of those countries had followed anti-neoliberal policies similar to those of Nicaragua in recent years.

“We have learned from Latin America that social protection helps a lot,” said FAO director José Graziano da Silva at the presentation of the joint report of the UN organs on the matter. In March this year, FAO and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), joined in the common goal of eliminating hunger by 2025.

It remains the case that 15 percent of Nicaraguans still go to bed hungry each night, but each year that number declines. In comparison with the population going hungry ten years ago, the improvement for the country and its people under their Sandinista government has been really momentous. The main lesson from Nicaragua’s experience is the importance of a sovereign food policy along with its strategic alliances as a member of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA).

The region has come a long way since the 2008 “Food for Life” Summit held in Managua in May 2008. Addressing the crisis of food security in the region back then, Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines said,”I feel no confidence that countries, apart from ourselves and those seated around this table, can deal with this problem completely seriously. I don’t see the Americans helping us, nor do I see the Europeans helping us.”

Seven years on, despite climate change and the continuing global economic recession, people in Nicaragua, thanks to ALBA and Petrocaribe, are finally in sight of eliminating hunger completely.

Nicaragua and ALBA – working out a truly democratic health system

Tortilla con Sal, Telesur English Blog.

A country’s health care system is a fundamental indicator of a society’s well being and the legitimacy of its government. The evidence has long highlighted that universal public health care makes more equitable and efficient use of resources than private alternatives. Arguments for privatized health care were lost long ago in the face of socialist examples like Cuba and socialist-inspired examples elsewhere.

The fact that in the United States the stale, old, phony arguments about health care still continue shows how public policy debate in the U.S. has been completely corrupted by corporate interests. The only relevant debate over health care is how government can meet public health care needs in the most appropriate, effective, efficient and sustainable way possible. In most countries, the more important arguments happen from the top down. Nicaragua’s case is different. Understanding why requires a look back at recent history.

The 1990 elections in Nicaragua put into power a U.S. backed right-wing government with a neoliberal agenda determined to cut back public spending across the board, including health care. Until 2006, Nicaragua’s population underwent a 17-year-long neoliberal experiment in which, among many other things, their very health of the public was on trial. Like so much else in Nicaragua, by 2006, the public health system was in progressive decline, sliding towards total collapse.

But throughout that period, the health workers union Fetsalud and related labor unions defended as best they could the public health system inherited from the decade of revolutionary government from 1980 to 1990. They were supported in their effort by the mass network of community health promoters, brigadistas and midwives on which Nicaragua’s health service depended during the revolutionary years. When Nicaragua’s second Sandinista government took office in January 2007, President Daniel Ortega declared that public health and education would be free.

In retrospect, between 2007 and 2011 President Ortega’s government very clearly carried out an urgent program of recovery and basic reconstruction from the destructive effects of 13 years of armed conflict and 17 years of neoliberal misgovernment. Since 2011, the public health system in Nicaragua has stabilized and improved incrementally with internationally recognized results, especially in preventive health care. Those results derive immediately and directly from the political decision to take advantage of Nicaragua’s strong community organizations, precisely that inheritance of the first Sandinista Revolutionary government.

In the second Sandinista Revolutionary government, public health policy compensates for lack of material resources by mobilizing the nationwide community health network, rebuilt and reinforced since 2007. The most recent example has been Nicaragua’s First National Congress of Family and Community Health held on Aug. 15 in the capital, Managua. A total of nine regional congresses, held across the country, preceded that national congress in a process intended to design the main elements of Nicaragua’s health policy between 2016 and 2021.

Around 3,000 people participated in the overall process including health workers, community health promoters, community council representatives, medical students, medical staff from the Social Security system, youth representatives and other participants mainly from the non-governmental sector. Over 600 people participated in the Congress in Managua and were divided into working groups covering ten areas of health policy and care identified in the earlier regional congresses. The dominance of women in this programme was self-evident.

Veteran women health brigadistas of the Sandinista Revolution with 47 years promoting health care in their community shared their views and experience with high level administrators half their age. Health Minister Sonia Castro and her senior colleagues participated directly, hearing points and making contributions of their own. The head of the national health workers union, Dr. Gustavo Porras, a leading Sandinista legislator, also participated in the discussions as well as closing the final plenary session of the Congress. The resulting policy document reflects the developing needs of a health system completely transformed since 2006.

Anyone aware of Nicaragua’s enormous economic difficulties might well have regarded President Ortega’s 2007 declaration of universal free health care as quixotic, but they would have been wrong.

The key to Nicaragua’s successful health policies, as in other areas, has been the more efficient use of resources and the articulation of needs with other government institutions, like the Ministry for Education, the Ministry of the Family, the National Preventive System for Disasters (SINAPRED), with local municipal authorities and, to a lesser but still important extent with non-governmental organizations. Of supreme importance were the new sources of cooperation in public health care opened up by membership of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA).

The overall success of the Sandinista government’s health policy has come into show time and time again, from its responses to natural disasters like Hurricane Felix in 2007, to persistent phenomena such as seismic shocks, drought and flooding, and to health threats such as the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, or the severe outbreak of dengue fever in 2014.

In 2010, Mirte Roses, Regional Director of the Panamerican Health Organization confirmed that Nicaragua “is one of the countries with the highest vaccination covers…The level of social organization and participation in Nicaragua has been a fundamental factor because health workers collaborate very closely with community leaders and with society in organizing health responses.”

By 2013, Nicaragua’s health ministry reported that the universal cover of Nicaragua’s population prevented  95 percent of the country’s infant population from contracting 16 diseases.

Nicaragua’s health statistics between 2006 and 2013 register dramatic improvements in relevant indicators. In 2013, the health ministry gave over 20 million patient consultations, three times as many as in 2006, with almost four times as many prescriptions and, most essentially, their relevant medicines. The increase in patients seen was accompanied by almost three times as many medical tests, including almost 6,000 magnetic resonance tests, compared with none in 2006. The number of surgical procedures carried out more than doubled while the number of people treated in hospital rose by well over half.

Women’s health has been a priority of Nicaragua’s developing health programs. Prenatal controls, the number of papanicolaou exams, attended births, and post-natal controls, have all increased by well over 50 percent since 2006. Maternal mortality fell to 53 per 100,000 live births by 2013 with the tendency indicating that figure will drop to 40 by the end of 2015. In 2011, the Panamerican Health Organization recognized Nicaragua’s system of Casas Maternas, assisting women in remote rural areas to give birth in an attended setting, as a key element in the country’s successful effort to reduce maternal mortality. The network of around 150 Casas Maternas covers the entire country.

Statistics mask the more important underlying day-to-day reality of the Nicaraguan government’s integral vision of health care. That vision is most apparent in community based programs like the Casas Maternas themselves, or in the Integral Program of School Nutrition ensuring school children get at least one nutritious meal a day with programs like Love for the Smallest Children aimed at fomenting good parenting at a community level.

This includes the Everyone Has a Voice program attending people with different abilities and the life changing Mission Miracle program that has helped over 145,000 Nicaraguans improve or recover their sight since 2007. Both these last two programs are possible thanks to the indispensable role of ALBA’s solidarity-based cooperation made possible by Cuba and Venezuela.

With all its achievements, Nicaragua’s public health system faces both long standing challenges and developing ones too. It will take some time to achieve reductions in waiting lists, improve the culture of patient care, improve inter-institutional coordination and ensure in-depth training to guarantee medical skills of the highest quality. Of special importance is the continuing incorporation of historically disadvantaged communities on the Caribbean Coast into Nicaragua’s public health system.

As infrastructure, equipment and training improve, the fundamental basis of Nicaragua’s public health system will remain the commitment of the country’s health workers and their community support network as well as strong coordination between central government institutions and local municipal authorities.

Health workers’ leader, Dr. Gustavo Porras believes collaboration between the Health Ministry, public health workers and the population that has made it possible for Nicaragua to overcome so many difficulties and make dramatic improvements in its health indicators. Commenting on the importance of that united effort, Dr. Porras remarked, “So we have the government, health workers and the population. This unity in facing problems is vital and is the model we now have. Without that model we could do absolutely nothing.”

When international organizations recognize Nicaragua’s public health system as a model for the region, they implicitly raise an obvious political question. Nicaragua’s recent history is one of devastating armed conflict and natural disasters. From 1990 to 2006, its public resources were ransacked by an oligarchy of white-collar crooks under cover of gobbledegook neoliberal ideology.

Even so, Nicaragua’s Sandinista government under President Ortega and his ministerial team, closely coordinated by Rosario Murillo, working through an adverse period of global economic recession, have rescued the country’s health system and turned it around in just eight years.

At the same time, in wealthy Europe and North American countries, public health systems are suffering cuts and relentless assault under Western regimes stripped of democratic process by oligarchic elites.

By contrast, Nicaragua has developed a revolutionary democratic politics that are self-evident in public health policies devised and implemented directly by health workers and community health promoters, with women in the majority. One way or another this same process, decisively focused on the rights of the human person, is happening across policy areas throughout the region. In their different ways, Nicaragua and its fellow ALBA countries are consolidating their legitimacy by defending their country’s fundamental rights and that can be seen very clearly in the outstanding progress of their public health systems.

Taking Pride in Nicaragua – the Positive Role of Tourism

Tortilla con Sal, Telesur English Blog.

Nicaragua shows that it is possible to combine tourism with development and economic growth while at the same time avoiding the negative social impact in the form of prostitution, child abuse, high crime rates, violence and environmental damage commonly associated with those activities. The secret? A holistic approach where strong social policies go hand in hand with popular participation and a conscious priority in favor of small and medium-size companies.

Tourism in Nicaragua

The total figures of tourists have more than doubled during the past 15 years, from 581,706 in 2000 to 898,699 in 2006, the year before the FSLN came to power, to 1011,251 in 2010 to 1390,338, according to official data from the Tourism Institute, INTUR. The provenance of these tourists has been fairly consistent over the years: Over 60% Central Americans; 25% North Americans; 7% Europeans and a little bit over 2% from South America. These tourists stay an average of 7.7 days in the country, spending some US$40-50 every day.

Tourism has an important economic significance for Nicaragua: Last year it generated 445 million US dollars, about 5% of the country’s GDP – roughly the same level of aid coming from the ALBA-PETROCARIBE framework as well as of the income from the money Nicaraguans abroad sent their relatives in the home country. In 2014, tourism was Nicaragua’s second most important source of foreign exchange earnings.

Surfing and volcano climbing have been two tourist activities that have experienced important increases in recent years, amounting to over 30% of the tourists in 2014. In fact, these and other active styles of tourism, from trekking to sand skiing to paddling to kayaking or canopying, amount to a staggering 90% of the activities tourists visiting Nicaragua choose to engage in.

In 2014, Nicaragua’s colonial cities, Granada and León, attracted 21% of visitors, the beaches in the Pacific Ocean, like San Juan del Sur, over 14% and the island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua 6.8%, remain the most popular destinations. But many tourists visited a variety of places outside these major destinations, ranging from the country’s various natural reserves and the Rio San Juan to Corn Island on the Caribbean Coast.

The amount of tourists that chose other places of interest outside the most widely known ones increased from 32.5% in 2010 to 43.3% last year. This is revealing if one takes into account that well over 80% of those tourists have a college education. Increasingly, many of them are interested in something else than just another vacation in an all-inclusive hotel, alienated from both social and natural reality.

In spite of big touristic developments such as the exclusive resort “Guacalito de la Isla” on the Pacific Coast near Tola in Rivas, much of this wave of touristic development actually taking place in Nicaragua is based on small to medium size, community initiatives. It can have to do with small, family-owned hotels in traditional tourist towns such as Granada or León, medium size cooperatively owned and managed hotels in Managua, or small and micro-businesses across the country’s less well-known departments.

It can involve small foreign investors and/or NGOs, for example setting up ecolodges with cabins in Jiquilillo, Chinandega, where besides surfing, exploring the Natural Reserve of Padre Ramos and excellent, locally-grown food, visitors are offered the choice of volunteering for a few days or weeks helping the local population with after-school activities for the children while at the same time improving their Spanish. Also in Jiquilillo, another lodging facility combines surfing with hands-on studies on issues such as sustainable development and combating poverty.

The local fisher village of Jiquilillo benefits from this sort of initiative in various ways: Local youths are trained and hired as guides and/or interpreters, peasants and fishers sell their produce to the various lodgings and often find jobs there that do not interfere with the community’s traditional economic activities. At the Apoyo Lake in Masaya, many local lodges offer tourists a fully equipped collective kitchen where they can prepare their meals, thus further encouraging the use of local groceries.

In Northern Nicaragua, many coffee-growers have found ways of combining the production of high-quality coffee-beans with ecolodging within the various rainforest natural reserves.

A coffee plantation within the Datanli Natural Reserve near Lake Apanas in Jinotega, combines coffee growing with a technical school for local youths who learn both agriculture and tourism in order to acquire knowledge that they can use to make a living and start small businesses on their own. The youths combine their theoretical training with practice in the fields, in the chicken farm and in the ecolodge at the plantation.

In a context of strong public policies that effectively address pressing issues such as extreme poverty, insecurity and lack of infrastructure and basic services, ecotourism alternatives make a lot of sense and can become truly sustainable.

Initiatives such as the ones described above count with the active support of both the national government, local municipal authorities and local communities. Nicaragua’s Tourism Institute, INTUR, not only puts much effort into promoting the tourism sector in international travel and tourism fairs and conferences abroad, but also carries out constant campaigns of information and certification within Nicaragua.

Training programs run by universities, public institutions and local government to prepare young people in the field will develop Nicaraguan tourism further. That supportive investment in training, information and publicity has been accompanied by new infrastructure in the form of better roads, new small airports and progressive improvements in communications and electricity distribution.

In 2014 Nicaragua’s legislature passed a law approving incentives for tourism in Nicaragua for a total of 47 investment projects totaling over US$87 million to diversify tourism services in the country. Tourism is likely to play an increasingly positive role in Nicaragua’s economic development as the attraction of the country’s great natural beauty and strong cultural traditions as well as its security and rapidly modernizing infrastructure become more widely known.

Investment, Economic Development and ALBA

Tortilla con Sal, Telesur English Blog.

The U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean recently published their Briefing Paper “Challenges in boosting the investment cycle to reinvigorate growth.” The outlook in most of the region is for low growth, lower consumption and lower investment. Overall, ECLAC expects the economy of Latin America and the Caribbean to grow by around only 0.5 percent, about half the meagre 1.1 percent growth of 2014. Mexico and Central America should grow by 2.7 percent and the Caribbean region by 1.7 percent. South America’s economy is expected to contract by 0.4 percent.

The causes for this economic slowdown seem to be mainly external factors, including relative stagnation in developed economies and declining growth in China and other countries. ECLAC points out that volumes of global trade increased very little in 2014 and may be even worse in 2015. That decline in volume has been compounded by lower commodity prices. In the second half of 2014 metal prices dropped 41 percent and prices for agricultural products dropped 29 percent.

Overall energy prices fell by 52 percent, with oil prices falling as much as 60% over that period. Despite benefits for some countries, lower prices, coupled with lower trade volumes, have tended to widen balance of trade deficits. This in turn increases the importance of ready access to financial resources to fund those deficits. ECLAC notes that inflation and unemployment have remained stable with real wages slowly rising. But ECLAC expresses concerned over declining consumption and investment stating “The capacity of the region’s countries to accelerate economic growth is contingent on the space available for the adoption of counter-cyclical policies, especially with a view to stimulating investment, which will be critically important for softening the impacts of the current external shock and preventing severe consequences for economies in the medium and long term.”

ECLAC’s theoretical positions support the arguments of progressive mainstream economists against the insanely destructive austerity policies applied by the authorities of the European Union. Indirectly, they also question the usefulness of the U.S. authorities’ preference for extreme monetary policy interventions. For example, ECLAC states, “it is perfectly possible to safeguard the fiscal space (or maintain solvency) if public capital spending favors growth and thus generates future tax benefits. In other words, well managed public spending can help generate a virtuous circle of sustainable growth. Public investment can thus broaden the fiscal space, since it stimulates growth and thus secures future tax revenues. For that reason, it is important to put in place fiscal rules that stimulate investment.”

Albeit in a very limited way, the ECLAC economic team is restating and reclaiming the role of State spending in promoting people’s prosperity and well being. Economist Henry C.K.Liu has written extensively about this, noting that dollar hegemony “destroys the ability of sovereign governments beside the U.S. to use sovereign credit to finance the development their domestic economies, and forces them to export to earn dollar reserves to maintain the exchange value of their own currencies … dollar hegemony, the subjugation of all other fiat currencies to the dollar as the key reserve currency, starves non-dollar economies of needed capital by depriving their governments of the power to issue sovereign credit for domestic development.”

If foreign investment and private investment are deficient, the State’s fiscal deficit has to compensate. Progressive economists in the United States have long argued that the reason the U.S. economy remains stagnant is for lack of much-needed and massive fiscal stimulus. Thus, in the context of the ECLAC briefing paper on challenges to promoting investment in Latin America and the Caribbean, Liu’s observations highlight the crucial importance of Chinese and other foreign investment in liberating the region from dollar hegemony and the current dead hand of Federal Reserve policy on available options for everyone else. Without that investment from overseas, what ECLAC call’s the “fiscal space” available to sovereign governments in the region is limited by the threat of speculative attacks in international currency markets on countries who issue sovereign credit for national development in excess of their dollar reserves.

This also makes clearer than ever the vital importance of countries shifting away from dependence on the dollar for international trade and finance by means of currency swaps as Argentina, Brazil and Chile have done with China. Another option is to carry out bilateral trade in countries’ own sovereign currencies, as takes place to some degree between Argentina and Brazil. The ALBA countries have begun trading in a common unit of account known as the SUCRE, or Unitary Regional Compensation System. Membership of the Mercosur trading bloc by Bolivia and Venezuela may finally prompt effective operations by the long delayed development funding initiative of the Bank of the South.

ECLAC’s paper explicitly focuses on investment rather than consumption, which is the other main factor promoting economic growth. Liu points out, global capitalism has locked majority world countries into low wage under-development. Liu notes “As workers wages are not sufficient to buy the goods they produce, domestic markets fall into underdevelopment and export to high-wage economies is needed to produce profit for companies.” This cues arguments around income and inequality. For example, Thomas Piketty’s unlikely best-seller “Capital in the 21st Century” was widely promoted by many economists in North America and Europe because it supports their arguments for redistributive government fiscal policy while leaving orthodox economic theory intact.

The book is marked by the strong contrast between its apparently robust empirical basis and its uncritical acceptance of orthodox neoclassical economics. For example, Piketty unjustly dismisses the relevance of the so called Cambridge capital controversy to his own argument about the rate of return on capital. But even a mainstream economist like James Galbraith comments in relation to Piketty’s argument that “the effort to build a theory of physical capital with a technological rate-of-return collapsed long ago, under a withering challenge from critics based in Cambridge, England in the 1950s and 1960s.” That controversy continued in one form or another through the 1960s and 1970s forcing orthodox economists to change the arguments they deployed to support their accounts of how capitalism works.

The presuppositions Piketty starts from show the relevance of what might otherwise be dismissed as ivory tower theorizing. Another fundamental point commentators have made in relation to Piketty’s book and its political exploitation in the U.S. is that, while in the United States progressives have highlighted the gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, even people on the poverty line in the U.S. are doing very well relative to the global majority. As Andrew Kliman notes, “Even U.S. residents whose incomes are at this country’s poverty line are nonetheless in the top 14 percent of the global income distribution”. Something which renders even more poignant Liu’s insights about low wage under-development.

ECLAC’s emphasis on investment, rather than consumption, might be construed as implicitly advocating a public sector remedy to a general fall in private capital’s profitability so as to prioritize investment rather than consumption as the engine of growth. The paper mentions income redistribution in the obvious context of taxation policy but mainly to explain the limitations of taxation for income redistribution in a Latin American context. ECLAC’s economic team pay more attention to the ways fiscal policy might be used to promote private sector investment. That emphasis is interesting because it has a very practical bearing on arguments among radical economists about the causes of the continuing economic crisis in Western capitalist societies and what the policy responses to that crisis should be.

Writers like David Harvey or Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch have argued recently that the causes of the 2008 crisis had to do principally with under-consumption since in the preceding 20 years or so working class and middle class people had come to depend on credit because their incomes were too low. Other writers like Andrew Kliman, Alan Freeman and others argue that a principal underlying cause of the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession was the tendency of capitalists’ profitability to fall, thus reducing investment demand to levels that eventually provoked the crisis. These theoretical arguments are very relevant to the discussion by ECLAC’s team of economists of the economic outlook in Latin America and the Caribbean because they affect policy decisions, for example between orthodox economic tinkering and radical socialist change.

Hardly anything could be more relevant to the ideological conflicts over economic policy in the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela and their Caribbean island nation partners) as they battle to reduce poverty. Cuba is the only country in the whole region to have eliminated extreme child malnutrition. Structural poverty in Venezuela has declined constantly ever since the period of opposition sabotage of PDVSA in 2002-2003. Relative poverty in Bolivia fell by 32 percent between 2000 and 2013. In Ecuador, the figure for poverty fell overall by over 10 percent between 2009 and 2012 to 25.5 percent. In Nicaragua, extreme poverty has dropped well below 10 percent.

Absent from the ECLAC report are the destructive economic effects of ruthless US government supported political opposition movements. Relentless opposition sabotage , for example via price-gouging, contraband and hoarding, since 2013 has completely distorted Venezuela’s economy, causing perhaps even more damage than the sabotage of 2002-2003. Recent protests in Bolivia and Ecuador have highlighted the way political opposition groups can exploit legitimate government decisions on investment and fiscal policy to disrupt government planning and policy implementation. Cuba is engaged in the extremely complex process of defending its revolutionary system in the context of its changing relationship with the United States.

Against those threats, just as important as economic and political policy in the ALBA countries is the dimension of moral justice and the right to development focused on the human person. What most characterizes Venezuela, Cuba and the other ALBA countries is their commitment to solidarity-based development cooperation and equitable trade. That commitment has very deliberately prioritized public sector investment among its member countries as well as promoting private sector investment by means of complementary trade arrangements and economic democratization.

In most cases, democratizing their countries’ economies has brought into productive economic activity tens of thousands of people, the great majority women, who had previously been excluded. That has certainly been the case here in Nicaragua, where most people are optimistic about the country’s economic future. ECLAC itself reckons that Nicaragua’s economy will grow well above the regional average during 2015, by around 4.8 percent, noting, “In Nicaragua, gross capital formation has remained constant thanks to road-building and social infrastructure projects.” The Chinese backed Inter-oceanic Canal will enhance current infrastructure investment many times over.

The recent BRICS country summits of last July confirmed that new sources of global investment and financial support are opening up. The BRICS New Development Bank and its related Contingency Reserve Fund have joined China’s Asian Investment and Infrastructure Bank to make available a total equivalent to over US$300 billion for international development purposes. Those structures may not be immediately relevant to Latin America’s most urgent investment problems but they do represent further strategic loosening of Western corporate capitalism’s global choke hold on investment and access to finance.

Nicaragua’s Canal: A Socialist Project for Economic Change Comments

Tortilla con Sal, Telesur English Blog.

The fundamental argument in favor of Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal is that it will change the structure of Nicaragua’s economy in such a way as to dramatically reduce poverty and so enable a reversal of the current destructive national and regional trends of impoverishment-driven environmental depredation.

Progressive and radical opinion in North America and Europe tends to skew discussion towards the Canal’s alleged potential environmental effects, generally ignoring both the urgent economic imperative of poverty reduction and the Canal’s wider regional and global significance.

The environmental argument in favor of the Canal is usually met with perplexed scepticism, blank incomprehension or, very often, deliberate misrepresentation.

​Like almost all the articles that have criticized Nicaragua’s Canal, Truth Out’s recent article by Thomas J Scott,“Nicaragua’s Flirtation With Environmental Disaster” focuses largely on the Canal’s environmental aspects while omitting Nicaragua’s fundamental dilemma, one typical of impoverished countries. Namely, Nicaragua’s environmental sustainability requires significant new economic resources in the short term so as to reverse decades of poverty driven deforestation, contamination and inadequate water management.

Only massive structural investment in the economy will provide those resources. Some environmental impact from that level of investment is inevitable. But the resources generated by the investment will more than compensate for the initial limited local environmental impact by generating enough resources to finally enable adequate environmental recovery programs. Addressing environmental concerns, Thomas J. Scott’s account relies narrowly on other ideologically compromised media outlets highly critical of the Canal.

In doing so, Scott not only marginalizes the Canal’s fundamental economic logic, he also gets basic facts wrong.

Environment

Scott’s Truth Out article asserts, for example, that 120,000 people may be displaced by the Canal. That is completely untrue. The actual figure is around 7000 families amounting to around 35,000 people along the Canal’s 275 kilometre length. Scott also asserts that the indigenous Rama-Kriol group may lose 40% of their land, referring to a negotiation process yet to be completed, a fact which undermines the very basis of the claim brought before the International Commission for Human Rights by the group’s lawyers, alleging lack of consultation. Similarly, Scott cites various environmental and scientific opinions against the Canal but fails to put them in context.

For example, he uncritically quotes a supposedly scientific calculation that up to a million acres of rainforest and wetlands could be destroyed by the Canal. Even a cursory look at that claim shows how nonsensical it is. The Canal is 278 kilometres long of which about 23km run from the Pacific Coast north of San Juan del Sur to Lake Nicaragua, known here as Lake Cocibolca. Then, 105km of the Canal route run across Lake Cocibolca. None of that part of the Canal or its related sub-projects affect any rainforest or wetlands, leaving 150km from the area of San Miguelito on the eastern edge of the lake to Punto Aguilar on the Caribbean coast.

Much of the area between San Miguelito and Punto Aguilar is already intervened by agricultural cultivation and cattle ranching and by often illicit timber activity. Here, the total area affected by the construction of the Canal itself is certainly not greater than about 150 square kilometres, equivalent to 37500 acres. To guarantee adequate water for the canal and improve the region’s water management, an artificial lake will be created of about 395 square kilometres, equivalent to 98750 acres. So the total affected land area of the Canal in this part of Nicaragua will be around 136,250 acres.

Even if one overstates that 70%-75% of that affected land area is vulnerable wetlands or forest, the total such area affected will be around 100,000 acres, equivalent to about 40000 hectares, around one tenth of the area of one million acres mentioned by Scott in his article. The canal runs well south of the hugely important Bosawas reserve and well north of the equally important Indio Maiz reserve. Much smaller reserves like Cerro Silva may be directly affected, but these reserves are already suffering significant deforestation and contamination at the hands of the local population.

The canal projects have to reforest more than the forest it will displace over the five year period of its main construction, because the Canal depends on water conservation to be able to operate.

Currently Nicaragua is losing 65,000 to 70,000 hectares of forest a year to agricultural cultivation, cattle ranching and illicit timber felling. Under-resourced, government promoted reforestation programs only replace around 15,000 hectares a year

None of this information appears in Scott’s account in Truth Out or other similar anti-Canal reports. It puts in context the outrageous, nonsensical claim that a million acres of pristine rainforest may be destroyed by the project. It also highlights the truly urgent nature of Nicaragua’s environmental and economic dilemma.

The same is true in relation to the exaggerated claims that Lake Cocibolca may be destroyed by the huge dredging the project entails. The lake is already contaminated and suffering heavy sedimentation. But that information too is omitted from Truth Out, which alleges “The possibility the HKND environmental protection plan will mitigate the scientists’ concerns is questionable, given the scale and complexity of the project.” In fact, far more questionable is the wild speculation clearly underlying those often ideologically motivated scientists’ concerns and their own misleading interpretations of inadequate data.

The canal’s pre-feasibility studies by a Dutch company began in January 2013 and lasted six months. The complete feasibility studies by international specialist companies lasted 23 months from July 2013 until May 2015. The cost of these studies over almost two and a half years has been well over US$150 million. The canal company HKND puts the figure at around US$200 million.

By contrast, the environmental scientists critical of the canal can marshal no data remotely equivalent to these substantial, large scale, detailed, highly resource intensive and very expensive studies.

In any case, as the planning process for the canal has progressed, legitimate, relevant environmental concerns have indeed been taken into account. For example, the location of the proposed deep water port on the Pacific Coast has been moved so as to minimize damage to local mangroves. The final precise route of the Canal has been subject to similar change. So it is far from true that environmental and other concerns in relation to the Canal have not been heeded. But that fact too is completely missing from Truth Out’s article.

Politics and geopolitics

Shifting from the environment to political analysis, Scott’s article makes the completely ahistorical assertion that “Sandino led an armed resistance movement against US plans to build a canal in 1927.” Sandino campaign was not against US plans to build a canal in 1927. The US government had no plans to build a canal in Nicaragua in 1927. Sandino’s guerrilla was was very clearly and overwhelmingly against the US imperialist military occupation of his country. The US government already controlled and occupied the Panama Canal zone, invading Nicaragua only so as to consolidate its regional political and economic domination.

In his manifesto “The Supreme Dream of Bolivar”, Sandino himself wrote, “nothing is more logical, nothing more decisive and vital than the union of the twenty-one states of our America into a single unique Latin American Nationality, which may make possible, as an immediate consequence, the right to the route of an Inter-oceanic Canal through Central America.” The US military occupation of Nicaragua vetoed that right. In his Truth Out article, Scott himself proceeds to row back from his incorrect, ahistorical assertion ending up suggesting that critics of the canal have legitimate concerns about Chinese imperialism in Nicaragua.

But most of those same critics are people bought and paid for by US government money in one form or another. Right-wing opposition to the Canal comes from politicians who are explicit allies of the United States government. Currently those politicians and their political parties have around 8% support nationally. Social democrat opposition to the Canal comes from ex-Sandinista politicians now closely identified with US government and European Union policy. They currently enjoy under 1% support nationally. These critics have zero credibility when they express their clearly hypocritical concerns about Nicaragua’s sovereignty in relation to growing Chinese influence.

Nicaragua’s sovereignty over the canal and the rights of its population are protected by the legislation for the Canal and its sub- projects which place the overall project under the control of a government Commission. The government’s Minister for National Policy, has explained, “The incentives have to be strong because Nicaragua isn’t giving a sovereign guarantee….. After 50 years Nicaragua will already have 50% of the profits from the Canal. Then in the second 50 years the share goes up 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%. Finally Nicaragua will take over after benefiting by over 50% for 50 years. While considerable, that benefit is tiny compared to doubling the economy, and reducing poverty.”

Not only do decisions in relation to the canal have to be authorized by the government, but ownership of the Canal’s business will pass progressively to the Nicaraguan government on an already agreed schedule.

Scott’s inaccurate and misleading analysis of the canal and of the national context in Nicaragua extends equally to his article’s geopolitical analysis. He manages to write his article without once mentioning ALBA, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or Mercosur. Scott completely ignores the diverse tensions between the Pacific Alliance countries (Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) and their ALBA and Mercosur counterparts. Nor do US sponsored supra-national trade structures like the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership figure in their extremely superficial report.

But all of these are extremely and immediately relevant in any serious discussion of China’s growing world role, especially in Latin America and especially in relation to Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal. Perhaps the most astonishing omission in the Truth Out article’s geopolitical sketch of the meaning of Nicaragua’s Canal is the absence of China’s alliance with Russia India, Brazil and South Africa, in building a multipolar world. Scott still seems deeply invested in the long since discredited idea of Western, especially US, political, economic and moral global leadership.

The inaccuracies, falsehoods and omissions of Thomas J. Scott’s article about Nicaragua’s Canal are symptomatic of that intellectual and political narcissism, placing the US and its concerns at the center of every world trend.

In fact, the US government is increasingly losing influence in Latin America and the rest of the world as a result of its absurdly inept, aggressive foreign policy. Neither the US government nor its European Union allies have anything to offer countries like Nicaragua beyond the old neocolonial traps of onerous debt, inequitable trade and meager development aid.

The fundamental question Western progressives never pose, let alone answer, when criticizing the Interoceanic Canal is how Nicaragua will otherwise generate the enormous resources it needs to end looming poverty-driven environmental disaster. The Sandinista government has taken the strategic sovereign decision to prioritize the Interoceanic Canal so as to achieve the massive structural investment it needs in the short term to break out of low wage under-development. The decision itself is grounded in the vision of Simón Bolivar, one explicitly fought for by Sandino, of Latin American integration.

This vision underlies the Sandinistas’ historic program of political pluralism, a mixed economy and a non-aligned foreign policy. Inherently and necessarily, Nicaragua’s Canal is not just a national project but rather one that will multiply benefits in Central America and the Caribbean, generating trade and investment throughout the region. Likewise, in the global environmental picture, the Canal will encourage maritime shipping over air transport by shortening voyages. A study of the Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal by Hong Kong academics argues, “Maritime transport will become more dominant in international trade by taking over from the air transport. To further take advantage of the low carbon opportunities, the shipping liners will use larger vessels and enjoy economies of scales for both economic and environmental benefits, while the hub and spoke system will be chosen to maximize the operation efficiency.”

In summary, the Nicaraguan Canal is a strategic national, regional and global development project based on the historic socialist program of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. That program develops in harmony with the anti-imperialist vision of regional integration promoted by Nicaragua’s ALBA partners led by Cuba and Venezuela in the context of developing policy embodied in CELAC, where the US and Canada have neither voice nor vote. Primarily, Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal project is designed to resolve the threat posed to national environmental sustainability by the economy’s current slow incremental economic development. But the Canal will also contribute to resolving that wider environmental dilemma regionally and globally. It is an integral part of the changing pattern of global seaborne trade and the infrastructure needed for that change in a multipolar world. This process and its respective outcomes are under way now with or without the say so of the United States and its Western allies and regardless of ill-informed, inaccurate and misleading propaganda from Western neocolonial media.

Nicaragua’s July 19: Celebrating Revolution in Latin America

Tortilla con Sal, Telesur English Blog.

Showers off Lake Xolotlan sprinkled the huge crowds massed on Sunday July 19 for the 36th anniversary of the triumph of Nicaragua’s Popular Revolution over the murderous tyranny of Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

The brief spell of rain did little to dampen people’s enthusiasm for an event, which lasted over two hours, most of which was taken up with revolutionary music and song. The speeches by Cuban Vice-President Miguel Diaz Canel, Venezuelan Vice-President Jorge Arreaza and President Daniel Ortega lasted barely 45 minutes.

The crowd numbered well over 200,000 people, occupying all of Nicaragua’s Plaza de la Fe and most of the roads and avenues leading to it. They traveled from all over Nicaragua in several hundred buses and trucks, carefully organized by remarkably low-key police and security services.

On a much smaller scale but in its own way equally impressive is the annual mobilization of international movements from all over the world in solidarity with the Sandinista Revolution. The event is at once a joyful national and international celebration, an emotional revolutionary music concert and an inspiring political rally.

This year the main speakers were accompanied by the Five Cuban Heroes recently returned from their successful visit to South Africa.

It is easy to forget what a forceful and global symbol of resistance and grassroots creativity the Nicaraguan Revolution has been. The Frente Sandinista’s hymn declares the Nicaraguan people’s ownership of their history as the architects of their freedom.

That in itself explains a great deal of the power drawing such great, diverse masses of people from Nicaragua, the region and the world to the annual celebrations of the revolutionary victory accomplished on July 19, 1979.

“I am not the slave of the enslavement that dehumanized my ancestors.”

The constant presence of leading political figures from Cuba and Venezuela at these anniversaries also explains much of the Sandinista Popular Revolution’s liberating power.

It bears repeating what Frantz Fanon wrote in his book “Black Skins, White Masks” when he stated, “I am not the slave of the enslavement that dehumanized my ancestors.” Fanon was writing about the liberating power of people deciding their own identity against oppressive imperialist definitions.

One of several fundamental contributions of the anti-imperialism of Augusto Sandino, Blanca Arauz and their comrades to contemporary revolutionary resistance around the world has been their rejection of the identity the invaders and aggressors sought to impose on them and on Nicaragua.

They share that characteristic with all the other emblematic anti-imperialist struggles of peoples around the world.

Resistance contemporaries as diverse as Abd El-Krim, and Omar Mukhtar in North Africa or Mao Tse Tung and Ho Chi Minh in Asia and their respective comrades all prioritized independent national identity.

So the presence of Cuban and Venezuelan leaders every July 19 in Managua very much confirms the continuity between the heroic vision of historic resistance against the European colonial powers and contemporary resistance against the current imperialist assault by the United States and its allies on progressive and revolutionary governments in Latin America.

That is why President Ortega talked about the roots of the achievements of the Sandinista Revolution in the nature of Nicaragua’s people and society.

He argued that only very deep human love and solidarity could explain the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution and similar victories of national liberation.

Ortega’s interpretation of the common destiny of the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean highlights the victories by progressive and revolutionary governments throughout the region against the tyranny of global capitalism, which is imposed and maintained by imperialist aggression and intervention.

As a concrete example President Ortega evoked how Nicaragua has championed the cause of self-determination for the Puerto Rican people as a fundamental human rights issue for the region.

Daniel Ortega noted how inherent deep-seated racism is connected to imperialism, condemning the recent grotesque racist remarks of Donald Trump in the context of unending violence in the U.S. against people of African descent.

Invoking the heroic example of the Cuban Five, Daniel Ortega called for international solidarity and support for Puerto Rico and in particular for the liberation of Oscar López Rivera, Puerto Rico’s independence hero who has been imprisoned now by the U.S. government for over 36 years.

Characteristically outspoken, Daniel Ortega noted how inherent deep-seated racism is connected to imperialism, condemning the recent grotesque racist remarks of Donald Trump in the context of unending violence in the U.S. against people of African descent.

He pointed out how that murderous racist violence negates claims by the United States government leaders to moral authority when they talk about human rights.

At the end of the activity Ortega spoke directly to Venezuelan Vice-President Jorge Arreaza and his partner Rosa, daughter of Hugo Chávez, saying, “So we continue in the battle, Jorge Arreaza. We continue in the battle!

“Please tell Nicolás that we follow all the battles you are waging there and that we are convinced that just as Comandante Hugo Chávez achieved gigantic victories, today in these new times we are living in our America, certainly Chávez will be present in the new victories you are going to win in the next elections for sure!”

Like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, Daniel Ortega is not just a great revolutionary but a great educator too. Maybe the deepest of the complex springs inspiring the activity in Managua on July 19 this year was the emotional commitment to the tens of thousands of Nicaraguan heroes and martyrs who gave their lives for their country’s revolution.

The united front of solidarity presented by the leadership of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela on behalf of all of Latin America and the Caribbean is a true homage to that enormous sacrifice.

Pulling together many diverse motifs and examples, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo and their Sandinista comrades made of this year’s July 19 anniversary a celebration of political unity, regional solidarity and the origins of Nicaragua’s profound historical anti-imperialist identity.

Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, those origins of human love, self-sacrifice and solidarity have made possible unquestionable recent political and economic gains by the region’s impoverished majority. Most importantly, those gains and their origins have won the recognition and loyalty of new generations committed to defending and renewing the revolutionary sovereign victories of their peoples.

Nicaraguans gather to celebrate the anniversary of the Sandinista revolution.

Defending Social Investment in Greece: Nicaragua’s ALBA Example

Tortilla con Sal, Telesur English Blog.

“I will if you will.” That is the basis of almost all successful human relationships at every level. If the other side won’t, then you do something else. Anything else is wishful thinking likely to end in failure, disappointment and recrimination. Politicians like President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping understand this fundamental human reality. Other leaders, apparently including Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his colleagues, ignore that basic relationship and suffer humiliating defeat as a result.

Imagenes para contenidos

For now, the Greek government has accepted the kind of quasi-colonial terms imposed by the U.S .government in the first decades of the 20th Century on countries throughout Central America and the Caribbean. Back then, the U.S. government sent in its military to enforce the appropriation of tax and customs revenues in payment of sovereign debt owed to Wall Street. At the time, U.S. Marine commander General Smedley Butler was very clear about his role as a gangster-like enforcer and wrote about it in his book “War Is a Racket.”

The economist Michael Hudson has pointed out that, these days, there is no need for the NATO countries to invade Greece to secure debt repayments for their banks. They shift the private banks’ debt onto their own taxpayers and then threaten to shut down the victim country’s cash flow via isolation from the Western financial system. This threat was enough to force compliance from Ireland and Cyprus. Now it has worked with Greece. Even so, the referendum in Greece on July 5 showed that the instinctive sovereign response of the Greek people, at least, is to do something else. Most Western opinion argues against Greece leaving the Eurozone. The arguments against tend to focus on both the hardship such a move would bring for most people in Greece and on the technical complexity of setting up possible alternative arrangements. In fact, people in Greece have already suffered five years of severe economic repression. Given the chance, they and their international allies would certainly work out a sovereign future for themselves, just as people in Latin America have done.

The obvious examples are Argentina and the main countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas: Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In Nicaragua’s case, that was the global significance of General Augusto Sandino’s war between 1927 and 1934 against U.S. military occupation. Decades later, on July 19, 1979, the Sandinista Popular Revolution overthrew 45 years of brutal, U.S. government-supported dictatorship by the family of Anastasio Somoza. In retaliation, President Ronald Reagan applied economic sanctions and a covert terrorist war to crush Nicaragua’s unwelcome example of sovereign independence. After the Sandinista government lost the 1990 national elections, U.S. supported right-wing governments began a 16-year long policy program of privatizations and public spending cuts under the heavy hand of IMF and World Bank supervision. By 2006 Nicaragua’s productive economy was sliding toward virtual collapse.

In January 2007, the Sandinista party returned to office led by President Daniel Ortega. Now, after just eight years, his Sandinista government has once again set an example of how to resist the tyranny of Western neocolonial capitalist doctrine. Nicaragua has turned its economy around with the same kind of program the Syriza government wanted to implement in Greece. But Syriza was blocked from doing so by the European Union and the IMF, effectively the governments of NATO member countries. President Ortega’s Sandinista government prioritized small and medium sized businesses and cooperatives, broadened its trade and investment relationships and promoted major investment in infrastructure. It did so despite being obligated to submit to IMF supervision of its public spending until 2013. President Ortega’s January 2007 decision to join the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) opened up a parallel line of credit out of reach of the IMF enforcers.

Venezuela’s PDVSA State energy giant formed a private sector joint venture with Nicaragua’s State oil company. The joint company, ALBANISA, imports oil from PDVSA on preferential terms paying 50  down and 50 percent over 20 years at 2 percent annual interest. The main condition of the agreement is that the second 50 percent has to be invested in productive and social programs. That second 50 percent is paid into a government aligned but private financial institution, the Caja Rural Nacional, a savings cooperative with a strong record of managing funds for social and agricultural production projects. CARUNA manages the funds by allocating around one-third to social investment programs and two-thirds to productive credits mainly for agriculture and food production. The income generated from the credits for production finances the social investment programs. In Nicaragua’s case, this has meant that the government has been able indirectly to finance social spending and agricultural credit valued at over US$450 million a year. The Nicaraguan government’s budget for 2015 is a little over US$2 billion.

By contrast, the Greek government’s budget is around US$12 billion. Greek energy imports are about US$17 billion a year. An arrangement between Syriza’s government in Greece and sympathetic energy suppliers, like Russia’s state energy corporations, could well work on a similar basis to ALBA’s experience in Nicaragua. That outcome would facilitate over US$1 billion, or even more, for social spending and small business credit in Greece. On that basis Syriza could finally implement the program of government it was elected on but which has been completely blocked by the European Union and the IMF. Whatever happens, political developments in Greece will take their course regardless. Most important now for Greece and its government is how they will protect their vulnerable population slumping deeper into impoverishment thanks to the extortion imposed by the European Union’s gangster authorities and their accomplices in the International Monetary Fund. In practice, the Greek government has indeed been negotiating against the civilian arm of the NATO military alliance.

The Washington based IMF has always been the global financial enforcer of the US government and its allies. Under Mario Draghi former managing director of Goldman Sachs, the European Central Bank is run by Wall Street proxies. The European Commission is run by Jean Claude Juncker, formerly the longest serving European Union Prime Minister in the fiscal paradise of Luxemburg. Neoliberal Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who came to prominence as a socialist in Holland, directed the destructive “bail-in” of Cyprus. Cyprus also suffered the standard euro-zone austerity program of public spending cuts. The “bail-in” both undermined confidence in the Cyprus banking system and set an intimidating precedent for other Eurozone governments with intractable debt problems. The Greek government believed they could reverse that precedent in their case and they were proved spectacularly wrong. With this latest assault on a sovereign member country, the European Union has categorically abandoned its claim to a democratic vision based on human solidarity.For observers always sceptical of the European Union’s claims, that reality has been obvious ever since NATO country attacks on Serbia, their attempted coup in Venezuela, the invasion of Iraq, the coup in Haiti, and their attacks on Ivory Coast and Libya. Events in Syria and Ukraine have underlined it. If the Greek people are to cope with the catastrophe now upon them, their clearest successful alternative is the experience developed since 2004 by ALBA, based on the strategic anti-imperialist vision of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez.

Lessons from Libya’s Destruction

Tortilla con Sal, Telesur English Blog.

Later this month the outcome is expected of the completely unjust and incompetent show trials held in Libya over the last year or so of around 200 former officials of the Libyan Jamahiriya. If that outcome is reported at all in North American and European media, its real meaning will be completely hidden in self-serving apologetics for NATO’s destruction of Libya in 2011. The same psy-warfare framework that justified NATO’s campaign of terrorist aggression will falsely present the show trials’ outcome as rough justice dealt out to individuals who deserve no better.

Members of the Libyan police are seen as they prepare for deployment during the start of a security plan put forth by the Tripoli-based government to increase security in the Libyan capital, at Martyrs

That outcome should put on high alert anyone defending the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas against very similar psychological warfare and terrorist subversion supported by NATO governments of the US and its allies. Not for nothing did Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega speak out in defense of Muammar al Gaddhafi and Libya against NATO’s terrorist war. They had already learned long ago the very same lessons to have emerged more recently from the utterly depressing human, moral and political catastrophe of Libya’s destruction.

In 2013, a study by a distinguished Harvard University academic acknowledged that the failure in Libya of the US government’s ostensible avowed policy in Libya and in North and West Africa was based on serial falsehoods. That fact-based, acerbic policy criticism from a source generally supportive of US government foreign policy should give much pause for thought. Along with support for Libya from outstanding revolutionary leaders like Ortega, Chavez and Nelson Mandela it amounts to a categorical indictment of received Western opinion about Libya which, across virtually the entire Western political spectrum, sided either openly or indirectly with NATO’s 2011 war.

No one genuinely concerned to defend progress towards an equitable, peaceful multi-polar world based on mutual respect between sovereign, autonomous nations and peoples should underestimate or forget the horror of what NATO did to Libya. Tens of thousands were killed and wounded in attacks by the bombers and helicopters of many NATO countries. Millions were displaced or forced into exile. Cities like Sirte and Bani Walid were devastated. Schools, universities, hospitals, factories producing food products and other essential civilian infrastructure were targeted and severely damaged or destroyed.

The destruction of Libya marked the categorical abandonment of whatever vestigial moral authority may still have remained to the European Union and its member governments. It demonstrated in the most humiliating way the impotence and irrelevance of the African Union. It put hard questions about the anti-imperialism of the Iranian and Syrian governments as well as highlighting the race supremacism of the governments of the Arab League and the already damaged integrity of the Palestinian authorities.

Almost all of them quickly recognized the overtly racist renegade Libyan CNT junta. For their part, the then governments of Russia and China weakly accepted NATO country assurances about the defensive nature of the air exclusion zone. The only governments to emerge with any real credit from the destruction of Libya were the governments of the ALBA countries and a few African governments like Zimbabwe.

Countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador have all been victims of comprehensive disinformation campaigns of demonization and caricature, although perhaps not so extreme as the final campaign against Libya’s Jamahiriya and Muammar al Gaddhafi. It is worth considering the basic component of that disinformation war against Libya. What is sometimes called 4th generation warfare is as old as warfare itself. Like Athens versus Sparta, or Rome versus Carthage the fundamental objective of NATO governments and their allies is to make their chosen target seem Other, creating a despised, outcast doppelganger anti-image of the West’s own phony self-image.

So Libya’s Jamahiriya was tagged as undemocratic by hypocritical Western governments, most of whom came to power with around just 20% to 25% of the vote of their electorates, thanks overwhelmingly to elite corporate funding. Libya’s democratic process was one that recognized its society’s contradictions and attempted continual self-renewal. By contrast, the Western corporate oligarchies offer virtually meaningless periodic elections obfuscated by public relations and organized on a yes-or-yes basis to favor politicians groomed and bankrolled by their countries’ anti-democratic elites.

Muammar al Ghaddafi was labeled a dictator even though his policy initiatives were not infrequently rejected within Libya’s system of popular congresses. In 2009, during a policy conflict between Muammar al Gaddhafi and pro-Western so-called reformers, these could not get their way in Libya’s popular assemblies so they chose staging a violent putsch to achieve the regime change their Western government backers wanted. Venezuela’s experience has been almost identical, although, to date, the country has avoided the kind of coup d’état and subsequent NATO driven war that destroyed Libya

Libya was portrayed as a systematic human rights violator. But Libya’s response to the constant terrorist attacks and subversion it suffered from the very start of its Revolution in 1969 was no different to that of any Western government faced with a similar threat. The British government tortured and murdered alleged subversives all through the Irish war, colluding with sectarian paramilitary death squads. The same pattern of torture and extrajudicial murder also consistently marked the Spanish authorities’ campaign against Basque separatists.

Guantanamo’s torture camp symbolizes the brutality and illegality of the US government’s response to terrorist threats. Libya’s Jamahiriya probably conformed as closely to international human rights norms in relation to fighting terrorism as the three Western governments that led NATO’s war of destruction. Human rights protection in Libya was certainly superior to Western allies like Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar or the other quasi-feudal Gulf State tyrannies. All the pretexts for the Western assault on Libya’s legitimate government were completely bogus.

In any case, as Gerald Perreira points out, the fundamental objective achieved by the destruction of Libya was to shut down the decisive impetus towards African integration led by Muammar al Gaddhafi. CNT leaders like Mustafa Abdul Jalil were Arab supremacists who fiercely resisted the Pan-African policies advocated by Muammar al Gaddhafi. Arab supremacism, phony neoliberal reformism and the treachery of repressive human rights abusers like Mahmoud Jibril made a lethal reactionary cocktail perfectly suited to ruthless NATO government manipulation.

On cue, Western corporate and alternative media presented the corrupt political project of these viciously reactionary elements as a “revolution”, part of the absurdly hyped “Arab Spring”. As if NATO country governments, dedicated to the service of their countries’ corporate elites, have ever promoted genuine democracy or comprehensive human rights around the world. From Ukraine and Greece, to Yemen and Syria, to Haiti and Honduras, what the Western powers and their allies want is access to natural resources, control of strategically important territories and decisive advantages for their trade and finance.

Destroying Libya effectively removed a real threat to Western control and domination in Africa. Currently, the NATO country elites’ political sales staff, for the moment President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron, President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel, are battering Greece into submission. But those leaders and their allies are using economic and psychological warfare to attack many other targets, not just Greece.

They do so against Venezuela and other stubbornly independent countries around the world. That is why the leaders of Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela very publicly welcomed the No vote in the Greek referendum. Unlike Libya, in their different regions Syria and Venezuela are part of regional alliances backed at long last by firm leaders in Russia and China, strong enough to face down any likely economic or military threat from the United States and its allies.

But it would be a mistake to forget Libya. Defending the people of Libya represents an important self-defense measure against Western predators in their global psychological warfare assault on the free, anti-imperialist world. As a leading force in that free world, ALBA country governments should urgently consider challenging the governments of North America and Europe to protect the thousands of political prisoners in Libya who have been tortured and denied due process.

The ALBA country governments and their allies have infinitely more moral and political authority than Western leaders to speak out in defense of fundamental human rights. They should make outspoken use of that authority now to expose the sadism and hypocrisy of Western governments in Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. In Libya, they may perhaps yet help to save the lives of as many as 200 former officials of the Libyan Jamahiriya at risk from quasi-judicial murder by the West’s corrupt terrorist proxies in a country they have devastated with merciless cynicism.