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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Impressions of the Venezuelan Election: Participatory Democracy vs. Western Democratic Decline

By Ewan Robertson -

I’ve witnessed the self-assured superiority of Paris, the imperial arrogance of Washington, the capitalist decadence of New York’s Manhattan, parliamentary elections in Germany, and my fair share of elections in Britain. In none of them have I encountered a democratic political culture as profound as Venezuela’s.

In Venezuela it’s hard to avoid politics at the best of times, but during election campaigns signs of political struggle and debate become, quite literally, wall to wall. In the small Andean city of Merida, with a population of under 300,000, a walk across the city centre gives an idea of the intensity of the campaign being waged ahead of the 7 October presidential election. With socialist President Hugo Chavez seeking a third term in office against right-wing challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski for the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition, supporters from both sides are out in force.

One strategy in Merida is campaign caravans, where supporters get into trucks, cars and jeeps and drive around the city waving flags, tooting horns and shouting slogans. Another is to gather with a group of activists at a key transit point with loudspeakers blasting music in favour that campaign’s candidate, slowing cars to hand leaflets to drivers or write messages on their back windscreens. A few days ago I saw an interesting competition between a group of young First Justice (PJ) supporters, the party of Capriles Radonski, and activists from the youth wing of the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), which supports Chavez. Both were trying to leaflet cars and sing their campaign songs the loudest, and without being too partisan about it, the PCV activists were clearly putting more enthusiasm into their campaigning, with the PJ supporters falling into silence and songs of a distinctly revolutionary nature drifting across the street. “It looks like the communists are winning,” said my partner to me smiling.

Then there are the campaign stalls; tables under small marquees where activists gather with leaflets and music to campaign to passers-by, encouraging a kind of street debating culture throughout the election. Without a doubt there are more “punto rojo” (red point) campaign stalls of Chavez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), than those of the opposition. In fact reports I’ve received from Caracas indicate that the opposition presence in the streets is even lower there than in Merida. The punto rojos are ubiquitously located in almost every major square and highway in the city, and I’m already building up my own collection of leaflets just from walking past these stalls in the passing of the day. Add to all this the major campaign rallies, door to door visits by activists, saturated media coverage, massive billboards, and posters covering almost every available surface, which activists stick up every night when the streets are quiet. No, you can’t ignore the presidential election here. Nor are most Venezuelans trying to, in the awareness that, unlike in many other countries, their vote actually matters for the country’s future political direction.

A look at the two candidate’s campaign material highlights this choice. Chavez’s campaign leaflet is balanced between what he has achieved so far as president since his first election in 1998, his movement’s overall vision for Venezuela, and concrete proposals for the coming period. Quoted achievements include improving free healthcare and education systems, eliminating illiteracy, establishing a profit-free food distribution network, integration into a sovereign Latin America and laying the basis for a “participatory and protagonistic” democracy in Venezuela. The campaign’s five goals (each of which are broken down into concrete proposals) are consolidating national sovereignty, the continued construction of “Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century” in Venezuela, converting Venezuelan into a Latin American power, promoting a multipolar world order capable of guaranteeing world peace, and “preserving life on the planet and saving the human species”, the latter of which has been extensively mocked by Capriles and his campaign, who argues that Venezuela should only worry about itself.

Meanwhile Capriles’ campaign itself seems to have two manifestos. In the official one, Capriles has promoted himself as Chavez-light, promising to maintain popular social programs, while advocating the need for more “incentives for entrepreneurs” and criticising “major obstacles to the involvement of private companies” in the economy. Then there’s the real plan, leaked by dissident members of the opposition, which shows the neoliberal nature of the Venezuela opposition, proposing the deregulation of banks, opening up the economy to private investment and the reduction of state funding for public services and communal council projects. You can read a summary of both candidate’s government plans on here. Nevertheless, from a democratic perspective, despite the opposition’s unwillingness to present its actual policies to the electorate during the campaign, in Venezuela citizens are presented with a real choice in this (and every) election, with the power to decide in which direction they want the country to go.

An election in a decaying liberal democracy

In the last major election I witnessed, the British general election in May 2010, the atmosphere was slightly different. In that election I was a parliamentary candidate, standing for a socialist alternative to cuts in public spending and other austerity measures, billed as a necessary response to the capitalist recession. Myself another other activists ran a campaign in the city of Aberdeen, Scotland, which incidentally is of a similar size to Merida in Venezuela. However the similarities end there.

That election was characterized by a sense of apathy, disenchantment, and powerlessness. Like many countries across Europe and North America, the election consisted in presenting the population with two variants of the same pre-designed policy to vote for: in this case further privatisation of public services, frozen wages, job losses, and reduced social benefits. No substantive issues were put on the table for debate. International financial institutions, banks, corporate media, and dominant political currents had already decided that ordinary people would pay for the economic crisis, which was caused by capitalism in general, and financial capital in particular. Whether people voted for the incumbent Labour party, or for the other dominant political forces, the Liberal Democrat or Conservative parties, they would be rubber-stamping what was basically the same policy. The notion of the people having a real say in decision-making, that is, of real democracy, took a back seat.

That election reflected an on-going decay in the liberal democratic system, and could be readily observed in the atmosphere of the election campaign. For example, during the entire campaign in Aberdeen, only once can I remember seeing Labour party activists, activists of the sitting government at the time which was trying to stay in power, physically out on the streets leafleting in the city centre. Aspects of grassroots campaigning such as door knocking and leafleting surely occurred during the election, but not much. This was true of all major parties, with a lack of popular enthusiasm and mobilisation among the population evident. In publicity terms, the formal marks of an election were still there: posters were put up, billboards and mass leaflet deliveries paid for, and candidates moved around the country and had their statements reported in the press. It was an election moved by opinion polls, public relations campaigns, and sound-bite discourse.

Yet from my impression, the spirit of real democracy, of people being in control of the politics of their country and feeling that their voice and their vote mattered, was not present. Absent were groups of activists closing down main roads to mass-leaflet transit. Absent were campaign stalls in almost every major square and street, with activists passionately explaining why their candidate deserved support. Absent were massive rallies of tens and hundreds of thousands of people, who in with joy and anger shouted, demanded, and praised their candidates, because it really mattered who won. Absent was the notion that a major political force stood up for ordinary people’s interests versus those of the ruling elite, that there was something worth getting up off your sofa and fighting for.  This was reflected in the turnout on voting day, which for an election that had the possibility of a change of government (which indeed happened) was low, at 65% of the electorate. A far cry from the 84% turnout for the landslide Labour victory of 1950, and well short of the 75% turnout in the 2006 Venezuelan presidential election, which never looked close, with Chavez winning by a country mile. Turnouts in other kinds of British elections are usually lower still.

The reality is that in Europe, North America and Australasia, to one extent or another, participation and substantive decision-making power in politics have been stolen from the people, to the degree which it was ever existed in the first place. In previous generations, voters at least had a real choice to make, between social-welfare capitalism and state intervention in the economy, or free-market neoliberal capitalism. Now, politics can be characterised, as campaigning journalist John Pilger once quoted, as “indistinguishable parties competing for the management of a single ideology state”.  Communities, trade unions and social movement organisations are instead forced to take to the streets to defend previous social gains and rights, with little formal political representation willing to support them. Add to this political monoculture a nauseating pro-establishment nationalism, attacks on civil rights in the name of a “war on terror,” sporadic corruption scandals and ever-growing media concentration, and you can see the indicators for the on-going decay of democracy and participatory political culture in these countries.

Venezuela’s participatory democratic birth

Why, in turn, are there such high levels of enthusiasm and participation in Venezuelan politics? In the 1958 – 1998 period, Venezuela also had a two-party “democracy” in which those two parties shared power, while left wing activists were actively persecuted. This “Punto Fijo” system lost legitimacy in 1989 when then president Carlos Andrez Perez (CAP) implemented an IMF neoliberal austerity package, which among other measures, lifted subsidies on fuel. The response was protesting and rioting, which the CAP government put down by military force, with estimates of those killed running up to three thousand civilians. Fed up with the elitism, exclusion, and corruption of the Punto Fijo system, the people turned to Hugo Chavez and his Fifth Republic Movement, who broke open the delegitimised two-party system with his election as Venezuelan president in December 1998, beginning the Bolivarian revolution.

Chavez followed through on his campaign promise to re-found the country, with an elected constituent assembly writing the country’s new National Constitution in 1999, arguably one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. Passed by a popular referendum, it gave Venezuelans a broad range of new political, civil and social rights, and provided a framework for further democratic reform. Now Venezuelans can recall elected representatives from their posts, and directly submit laws for discussion in the National Assembly, among other rights. Meanwhile major elections or referenda have been held almost every year since Chavez’s election, with the Venezuelan people collectively making key political decisions, such as keeping Chavez in power in the 2004 recall referendum, the narrow defeat of the 2007 constitutional referendum, and the passing of the 2009 constitutional referendum, which allows elected officials to run for more than two consecutive terms in office, including Chavez.

A dynamic has developed where law-making has had to keep pace with an explosion in grassroots organisation. Many Venezuelans are now actively included and involved in political life, participating in social movements, political parties, communal councils, communes, community media outlets, trade unions and worker councils, and other forums. Meanwhile a large part of the poor and lower-middle classes, which form around 80% of the population, have felt represented by the Chavez government, and have passionately defended it. Along with promoting the political inclusion and empowerment of the poor, this is due to government policies such as taking control over Venezuela’s oil revenues and funnelling the money into social spending such as free healthcare, education, subsidised food networks, and housing construction. Economic privatisation has been rolled back, with the nationalisation of telecommunications, electricity, cement, some banking sectors, and more possible if Chavez wins on 7 October. These moves have been taken in the backdrop of an intransigent US-backed opposition which has both physically and electorally tried to remove Chavez, so far without luck.

Nothing’s perfect of course, and all these gains don’t mean there aren’t setbacks within Venezuela’s new democratic upsurge. When Chavez fell ill with cancer last year, renewed attention was drawn to the problem that the Bolivarian movement depends so much on one leader. Meanwhile, corruption and bureaucracy are phenomena which slow further radical democratisation and erode support for the Bolivarian revolution as a whole. I noticed the effects of this in the eastern Guayana region in Venezuela, where some ostensibly pro-Chavez figures were actively resisting the advance of the worker control project in the region, where workers are trying to take the control of factories into their own hands. Also, an opportunistic political culture still exists, where some politicians take advantage of their position for self-promotion. This can be seen in Merida, where both the pro-Chavez state governor and the pro-opposition city mayor have employees’ uniforms and official material with their faces and names, promoting themselves above the institution they are elected to run. That means if someone wants to work in municipal rubbish collection or tending public squares, they must wear a uniform that promotes a certain politician. This is a practice which many people in Chavez’s movement are against, and debate and action on all these issues form part of the dynamic within the struggle to deepen Venezuela’s new participatory democracy.

Differing views of Venezuela’s democracy, from corporate media jargon to reality

However, great advances have been made in political empowerment and participation in Venezuela since 1998, and the vitality of Venezuela’s democracy stands in sharp contrast to the West. I got a reminder of this just last week, when Chavez came to Merida for an election rally. The response from the people was incredible, with campesinos (rural labourers), workers, students, and many others steaming into the city from the surrounding region to support the re-election of their president. The joy and enthusiasm of the tens of thousands of demonstrators was palpable, with handmade banners, artistic expression, air horns, music, hugs, shoulders pats, and declarations of support for Chavez being the order of the day. Big Venezuelan rallies like this are a mixture of music gigs, street parties, and political demonstrations. It’s also fair to say of opposition supporters, that while their stance may be based on reactionary values, or on the confused notion that “justice” or “progress” is something to be delivered by a neoliberal candidate from the Venezuelan elite, they too are passionate, most of all in their opposition to Chavez. In Venezuelan politics, people feel that they actually have a cause worth supporting, and millions are motivated to get on their feet to do so.

Talking to people at the Merida rally, I was impressed by the depth of political consciousness and variety of opinions among the crowd as to why they supported Chavez’s re-election. For some, Latin American integration was the reason, for others, free healthcare. For many, their main reason for supporting Chavez, as one middle-aged couple put it to me, was that “he’s the president who has most given power to the people” while another man told me, “he’s the president who has awoken the people of Venezuela and fellow peoples”. Another young women told me her reason was quite simply “I love him”.

For a journalist with a corporate news service such as Reuters, sitting on a fat salary in a plush Caracas apartment on tap to the opposition (one imagines), this is evidence of the “romantic and affectionate view of Chavez” who is cynically playing “the populist card” to win another term in office. Or to an Associated Press journalist who’s never tasted poverty in their life, social programs, often referred to as “oil-fuelled spending largesse” in anti-Chavez corporate press jargon, can be dismissed as Chavez “spending heavily on social programs…this year seeking to shore up support,” i.e. cynically buying votes. Never mind the historical record, which shows a long-term commitment of behalf of the Chavez government to social spending, with poverty more than halved among numerous other social achievements. This commitment includes maintaining social spending during the 2009-10 recession in Venezuela, when no presidential election was in sight, in order to offset the negative effects of the global economic crisis on the Venezuelan people, a move apparently beyond the means of many “first world” nations.

Indeed, the young women who told me that “love” was the reason she voted for Chavez wasn’t being tricked by some populist image or last minute spending burst. She came from a poor family which used to live in a shanty house near where the Merida rally took place. Now she is about to graduate as a doctor in the government’s integral community medicine program, and would have been excluded from the Venezuela’s traditionally elite medical system. Her shanty house had also been transformed into a dignified home through the community driven “homes for shanties” program, part of the government’s mass housing construction mission. It’s transformations like these that have earned Chavez such strong support, as much as it pains the international media to say so. Indeed, according to corporate media sources, gaining the support of the popular majority through directing government policy toward their needs seems to be a bad thing for “democracy”, with former Council of Foreign Relations analysis Joe Hirst recently arguing that Venezuela needs to take lessons on democracy from the US. What rubbish. At least former US President Jimmy Carter has added a dose of reality to what has been atrociously misleading reporting by most mainstream media outlets on Venezuela’s election, stating that in his opinion Venezuela’s electoral system is the best in the world.

A democratic rebirth in the West?

While the world’s corporate media have trapped themselves in an Orwellian illusion whereby the US and Britain are models of democracy and Venezuela is a troubled country run by a “regime”, in the real world the reality is otherwise. Democracy in the US and Europe is in trouble, with the majority of the population being shut out of any real choice over public decision-making, and a political monoculture running whole countries in the interests of a small elite. For a long time the reaction to this has been apathy or de-politicisation, however in many countries there has been significant resistance to capitalist austerity, with new movements being born and old ones rejuvenated. It remains to be seen whether disenchantment with this decay will be converted into a movement capable of social and political transformation. Perhaps we will see a parallel with Venezuela’s example, where an outside movement manages to break elites’ monopoly on power and generate a revolutionary democratic rebirth. In this task, there’s a lot to be learned from both the achievements and contradictions of the Venezuelan experience, which in many ways is one of the most profound democracies in the world today.

September 28, 2012


Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Martelly government and the will to create a modern and hospitable Haitian society ...out of the medieval and inhospitable Haiti ...of which we are living in today the year of our Lord - 2012

The Martelly dilemma

By Jean H Charles

This month of September brings back the specter of 55 years of a life of horror endured by the Haitian people. It started with the Duvalier regime that haunted Haiti for 29 years (September 22, 1957, to February 7, 1986). It continues with the bad memory of 20 years of pseudo Marxist regime of the Lavalas and Lespwa governments, Jean Bertrand Aristide and his nemesis Rene Preval (February 7, 1991 – May 14, 2011) with in between militarism disguised as a democratic carnival (1986-1991).

I thought that at least and at last we have a hoof with a good government that would ease the pain and the suffering of the Haitian people.

The President’s enemies

Joseph Michel Martelly, who followed the Preval regime, is facing, after one year in power, stiff opposition from several segments of the population. I would divide this opposition into three groups.

There is first the factions of the old regimes, as well the majority of the defeated political class that is frustrated that this government with no political foundation and no political acumen could succeed where they have all failed miserably. They intend to leave no room for action for the Martelly government to govern in peace. They are like the scribes and the Pharisees in Jesus time, picking up faults in everything and everywhere.

Each action or non action of the regime is studied with a fine microscope lens for alleged infractions of the Constitution. The president’s push, to establish a Permanent Electoral Board mandated by the Constitution some twenty five years ago, is facing stiff resistance by the political class, which is crying foul that he may be packing the Board with only his cronies.

They have found their hero in Senator Moise Jean Charles, a former mayor from Milot near the Citadel Henry, who became a senator due to President Preval’s good graces.

He has been pounding the Martelly government with big and small punches, one after the other. It was first the issue of double nationality of the president, which was a mountain made out of a molehill; then a story of corruption with the then candidate, now President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic. It ended as well as a storm in a teacup.

Senator Moise Jean Charles was recently at the Black Caucus of the American Congress in Washington DC drumming up support to seek the destitution of the Martelly/Lamothe government.

President Martelly has also amongst his enemies his best friends. They have been his companions on the road for long time. Their sense of entitlement to privileges and bounties of the republic seems without limit. The life of luxuries of the friends of the regime is in stark contrast with the privation of the majority of the population.

President Martelly is also facing an opposition factor in the mass of Haitians to whom he has made the promise of lifting them from their sordid and miserable life in which they have been living for the past two hundred years. It is the first time such a promise has been made to the Haitian people since the days of the founding father Jean Jacques Dessalines, who in 1804 exclaimed: “What about the former slaves? Don’t they have also the right to enjoy the patrimony of the labour of their ancestors who toiled for three hundred years to build this nation!”

The Haitian people, with a zombie-like patience that accepted a de facto status that lasted for generations, are now awakening. As a child not accustomed to the discipline of delayed gratification, as if two hundred years of ill governance must be corrected within one year; it is demanding results now. Several demonstrations took place in the major cities, mainly Cape Haitian and Les Cayes.

But with unemployment hovering around 85% in the population, any demonstration can be bought on the cheap by Martelly detractors.

President Martelly has, to his credit, the confidence of the populace that he is filled with goodwill and he is definitely committed to changing the living conditions of the most desperate of the population.

His dilemma is how to go about moving mountains of structural problems that are not even on the agenda of policy solutions. Haiti described by the Wall Street Journal as the poorest nation on the planet (it used to be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere) is facing the same problems of non nation status as Central African Republic, its nemesis on the ranks of failed nations.

The Haitian dilemma

Its mass of poor and uneducated peasants, who lived in the mountains that are now depleted from its trees to prepare charcoal, the readymade cash crop, are invading the outskirts of the cities, creating insurmountable environmental problems of urbanization.

Will this problem be dealt with sentimental and cosmetic solutions or will the government, surrounded by competent and forward looking ministers, tackle the problem at its source, creating a nation out of the Republic of Haiti, one where its people will be no more nomads in their own country? Travelling from hamlet to cities, and from there negotiating an illegal trip abroad in search of a friendlier sky!

The government is seeking new investment to provide jobs to the populace. The issue of unemployment is a global one, whether in Europe, where Spain has 50% unemployment, or the United States, where young graduates cannot find a job and unemployment is at 15%.

Europe and the United States have the infrastructure, the security and the education level to produce jobs. Haiti has none of these assets; it only has a large, resilient and non educated population with no infrastructure and limited security. The factory jobs friendly to Haiti are in the garment industry, the Caracol experiment; it will produce in the long run, only frustration or a dream deferred.

The Haitian solution

Haiti should rely instead on its natural and organic assets to produce jobs in organic or nostalgic agriculture for export (to its own Diaspora), husbandry with a human touch, with chicken so tender that they are in the delicatessen sections of all the supermarkets of the world (as the Haitian mangoes) and arts and crafts so peculiar to the creative talent of a critical mass of the population.

Later it will capitalize on its fascinating scenic beauty to create a niche market for tourists not afraid of strong memories and emotions drawn from the year long religious and cultural festivals. They can also hibernate in a setting where land, labour and material is still cheap compared to the rest of the Caribbean.

I have made the point often in this column that education is the key to future development. The government has embarked on a project of reaching out to all youngsters who have been out of school for years. It is not enough. An literacy program spurred by the Cuban brigade is receiving scant support from the government. Yet all the studies have point to the direction that there can be no development if the majority of the population is not highly educated.

Last but not least the government must accelerate its project of re-dotting the country with the Haitian army. Haiti is suffering of a deficit in the perception of security coverage. The new Haitian army will provide that insurance. Haiti is no less safe than most of the islands of the Caribbean yet perception (as location in real estate) is all that matters!

In the end, the Martelly/Lamothe government will have to harness all its muscle to discard the feelings of those who fail in the past to be compassionate to the fate of the majority. It must understand that the problems of Haiti are first structural -- cosmetic solutions will only compound the problem. It needs the best collaborators to define and bring about corrective remedies. It must rein in the gluttonous thirst of its best friends who, like some of the Haitian generals after the Haitian Revolution, took the position that the return from Haiti’s independence was only for themselves and for their families.

It should not be afraid of educating the Haitian people about the concept of deferred gratification for a better good later. Bringing solace to the Haitian people must start with hospitality in the smallest territorial collective, building development from the ground up.

Creating a nation is a hard concept at home and abroad, it demands strong leadership. Go and ask Dr Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore. He was the laughing stock of the Western world twenty years ago when he enforced the punishment of a young American to a flagellum for throwing chewing gum on the street. Yet he has now one of the most developed and richest nations on the globe!

Haiti as a forward looking nation at its creation can again become a lightning rod for itself and for the world if its government takes steps to unleash the creativity of each one of its citizens. The Martelly government has the whereabouts to accomplish that feat if only it can head into the lessons of this essay and start demonstrating it has the will to create a modern, hospitable, Haitian society out of this medieval inhospitable Haiti that we are living into today in the year of the Lord 2012!

September 29, 2012



Sunday, September 23, 2012

ELECTIONS IN VENEZUELA ... ...Future of the Bolivarian homeland

By Laura Bécquer Paseiro

APPROXIMATELY 19 million Venezuelans are convened to vote in the October 7 presidential elections. On that day, the candidate who wins the majority of valid votes cast within a system of universal, direct and secret suffrage, as established in the Article 228 of the Constitution, will be responsible for leading the country for the next six years.

The nation’s future is in the hands of Venezuelans: to continue the revolutionary process or hand the country over to the oligarchy and the transnationals. In the power equation, a win for the right would not only signify a retrogression in terms of everything attained in the 14 years of Bolivarian Revolution, but also the possibility of the return of a large counterrevolutionary wave in the region.

At the external level, the country’s electoral process represents another key decision, as to whether there will be a continuance of the politics of integration on the basis of cooperation among the peoples, a politics in which the Bolivarian government has played a leading role, or whether this line is broken in Our America.

Running for the October 7 elections are the Gran Polo Patriótico (GPP), a coalition of parties and organizations supporting the candidacy of current President Hugo Chávez Frías, and, on the opposition, the right-wing Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), whose candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, is backed by powerful economic groups among the bourgeoisie, closely linked to the United States. The remaining candidates are María Bolívar, Partido Democrático Unido por la Paz y la Libertad; Orlando Chirino, Partido Socialismo y Libertad (PSL); Rafael Uzcátegui, Patria Para Todos (PPT); Yoel Acosta Chirinos, Movimiento Vanguardia Bicentenaria Republicana (VBR); Luis Reyes, Organización Renovadora Auténtica (ORA); and Reina Sequera, Poder Laboral



The GPP candidate Comandante Hugo Chávez’s program for Bolivarian socialism in Venezuela 2013-2019 was presented by the President when he registered for reelection in June. It contains five principal strategic objectives, which will become the Simón Bolívar 2nd Socialist Plan of the Nation. The proposals – put to the population – include consolidating national independence, continuing the construction of Bolivarian socialism, converting Venezuela into both an economic and political power, contributing to the development of a new international geopolitics defending a pluripolar world, and preserving life on the planet and humanity’s survival.

This is a broad outline of the government proposal for the next six years, formulated in order to continue the revolutionary process, which has promoted major social projects based on larger investments in the fields of health, education, housing, public services, increased pensions and the development of missions.

The opposition "counterpart" is attempting to implement a neoliberal package which would destroy efforts directed at the equitable development of Venezuelan society. The economic program presented by Capriles, known as Guidelines of the Unidad Nacional Government Program, "is an attempt to reedit neoliberal formulas in counter to the well-being of the population," according to Jesse Chacón, director of the 21st Century Social Research Group (GIS XXI).

The right-wing formula is the same installed in Venezuela years ago. Under the slogan "progressive," it contains measures directed at the privatization of public assets to the benefit of private capital and, as part of this attempt, to re-channel state priorities.

It is a project which overtly proposes to dismantle state economic power and, if that were little enough, the gradual elimination of the social programs under the pretext that they are a too great a cost for the state.

In this context, Chacón warns that "as a classic neoliberal economic prescription, the program seeks to create the conditions for the gradual dismantling of social rights, taking the route of financial austerity spending cutbacks." This is why many analysts are calling Capriles the Caribbean Rajoy.

The equation has been posed in the political plane of contemporary Venezuela: two development models, one based on popular participation and the other comprising politics linked to the old exercise of bourgeois power. Venezuelans will decide which direction to take.
September 20, 2012

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The young Bahamians who are demoralized by the dysfunction of the modern Bahamas ...should examine Paul Adderley’s service over the years... ...If you want your country to change, offer yourselves ...and make the change happen

The death of an intellectual

thenassauguardian editorial

Nassau, The Bahamas

Paul Adderley was an attorney, lawmaker, politician and thinker.  You might not always agree with him, but having an argument with the former attorney general required thought and intellectual skill.

Adderley died at hospital yesterday at 84.  He held various posts in the Pindling Cabinets during his long time in public life.  He served as minister of national security, minister of education, minister of foreign affairs and minister of finance.  He was attorney general for 17 years.

Prime Minister Perry Christie yesterday described Adderley as the architect of the country’s foreign policy in the early years after independence.

Adderley was from a prominent family and his story was not the poor to prominence story many of the black elite tell today.  His father A.F. Adderley was a well-to-do lawyer in The Bahamas at a time when blacks were not a part of that order.   Paul Adderley was the fourth consecutive generation of his family to serve in the Bahamian legislature, having been preceded by his father and before that by his grandfather Wilfred Parliament Adderley; and before that by his great granduncle, William Campbell Adderley.

Adderley did not have to give himself to public service.  He could have just lived the good life as many who inherit wealth and status do in The Bahamas.  Yet, he joined the fight of his generation for the self-determination of these islands.

As a parliamentarian from 1962 to 1967 and then from 1972 to 1997, Adderley helped shape the laws of our country and our legal system.  This willingness and desire to offer for service must not be downplayed – especially for a man who came from a privileged background.  People make nations great.  And it is the kind of commitment demonstrated by men like Adderley that helped transform The Bahamas from being a mere colony to an independent nation state.

As a long-serving member of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), Adderley saw the good and the bad of his party.  The PLP is the party of majority rule and independence.  It is also the party that by the 1980s was so mired in drug-related scandal that the reputation of The Bahamas internationally was poor.

Some PLPs of that era had to resign in shame.  Some were prosecuted.  Some were sidelined.  Adderley, however, left politics with his reputation intact.

“I can attest that the 1980s proved particularly challenging for Mr. Adderley as he strove to serve a government with which he was often at odds,” former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said yesterday in tribute.

“It was a time of turmoil for many in our country as we were confronted not only by the threats presented by the illicit international drugs trade, but also by the vigorous demands of the United States government in response to drug trafficking.

“I shall never forget Mr. Adderley’s support and encouragement of me during that difficult period.  Notwithstanding that we eventually followed different political paths, my respect for the integrity which typified his public life and his commitment to preserving our democracy remains.”

In the 2002 to 2007 period, Adderley was one of the key advisors to Christie.  Christie remembered him with fondness yesterday.

“Mr. Adderley was a man of extraordinary intellectual brilliance,” he said in a statement.

“Indeed, it is quite impossible to overstate the importance of his many and varied contributions to the development of our nation.”

Adderley will be buried in a state funeral.  His contributions to nation building will be remembered over the weeks to come.  The young who are demoralized by the dysfunction of the modern Bahamas should examine Adderley’s service over the years.  If you want your country to change, offer yourselves and make the change happen.

Sep 20, 2012

thenassauguardian editorial

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The war in Afghanistan... ...An issue virtually absent from U.S. presidential campaigns

By Enrique Román

THE war in Afghanistan has the strange property of frequently disappearing from the headlines, despite being the longest waged by the United States and, to date, having cost half a trillion dollars, the lives of 2,000 U.S. soldiers and close to 1,000 of the accompanying coalition forces. And the lives of tens of thousands or more of Afghanis, combatants and civilians.

Undertaken to dismantle the Al Qaeda forces and locate Bin Laden, it became a giant operation to defeat the Taliban movement – not anti-U.S. – and, for its followers, a liberation movement of longstanding against the Soviet occupation and for restoring the power lost by the Pashtun ethnicity, to which it belongs, among the many others in Afghanistan.

With the retreat of the Taliban and Hamid Karzai, a minor Pashtun leader, in power, and the goal of finding Bin Laden unfulfilled, the war, subsequently involving the presence on the ground of 100,000 U.S. troops and a further 40,000 from other countries in a sudden armed coalition (including soldiers from New Zealand, Iceland, Tonga, and Luxembourg), the war became virtually bogged down and forgotten: Iraq was the real goal for the neoconservatives of the Bush administration.

This oblivion had its costs. When Barack Obama became President, the Taliban had reemerged and controlled more than half of the country, the Karzai government was sinking in a mire of accusations of corruption at the highest level and, although Al Qaeda had disappeared from the map of Afghanistan (reappearing in other countries like Yemen), Bin Laden and his whereabouts continued to be a mystery.

It was no longer clear what the objective of the war was: to combat terrorism, prevent the return of the Taliban? Or more illusory: to build a centralized state, an unnatural state in a multiethnic country subject to influences from Pakistan, Iran Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and even China and India? Nevertheless, Obama decided to dispatch an additional 30,000 troops there, NATO extended its presence in the country through 2014, and the permanence of a good part of the occupying forces until 2020 or beyond.

Given the above, the real situation and future prospects do not encourage the presidential candidates to talk about Afghanistan.

While military operations – accompanied by scandals such as the insults directed at President Obama by General McChrystal, commander of forces in Afghanistan – have ousted the Taliban from certain regions, there is no sign whatsoever that its forces have diminished or that they would be prepared to lay down arms. Their contacts with the United States – they are not disposed to talk with Karzai – have not produced any results and Taliban leaders have promised that the armed struggle will increase.

According to U.S. sources, the degree of violence this year has increased by 15% in relation to 2011. Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan are virtually intact.

The new Afghan army, the training of which is the principal justification for a prolonged foreign military presence, comprises an enormous fragmented mass, given its ethnic and tribal structure, forces which will define their future loyalties once left to themselves, and whose members are being trained by foreign forces who have no understanding of the country’s cultural complexities. While there has been news about Afghanistan in recent days, these items have focused on the death of U.S. soldiers at the hands of elements within this army.

The withdrawal of 33,000 U.S. soldiers is scheduled for the end of 2012. Approximately 100,000 American and NATO troops will remain. The war will continue to drag on. Stephen Biddle, professor of political science at George Washington University, states that the possibility of the United States bringing the war to a successful conclusion on the battlefield is zero at this point.

In one of his few references to the Afghanistan war, on June 22, Obama spoke reluctantly but with realism about the issue. In essence: Bin Laden is dead, Al Qaeda is being disbanded in the country and the troops can begin to withdraw.

At one rate or another, it could be added. A false victory could be declared and this strange and cruel war declared over. Afghanistan would continue immersed in an interminable civil war, which foreign intervention has done nothing but foment. And it would return to its condition as a forgotten country, with its population decimated, devastated by more than a decade of occupation and more than 30 years of diverse wars.

The silence of the two presidential candidates on the subject announces that, for the United States, Afghanistan will once again become the remote and impoverished country it always was, and whose only vital interest was its having harbored those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. And the troops of the United States and its allies will become yet another of the many foreign armies who have had to withdraw with their dead from this seemingly undefeatable country.
September 13, 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Oil Drilling Referendum in The Bahamas ...and Pontius Pilate

No Referendum For Oil Drilling

Nassau, The Bahamas

ALREADY they are discussing how to share the oil wealth, even before the first vein of oil has been discovered to make the discussion relevant.
In our opinion politicians are putting the cart before the horse or, as the farm hand would say, “counting their chicks before they are hatched.”
What they should be giving serious thought to is whether they should even be playing russian roulette with the future of these islands, whose wealth lies in the extraordinary beauty of its waters, powder soft beaches and colourful marine life. One slip of the drill and our future is gone forever.
Already, the livelihood of our fishermen are threatened with the overfishing of the conch, and the threat of a US ban on its importation as a food delicacy to save the species from extinction. Now enters King Oil with its offshore rigs which could further pollute — despite safety precautions — the natural habitat of the conch.
We need only one slip — equipment failure, staff error, a hurricane — and the purity and beauty of our shallow seas are gone forever.
As pointed out in the book Environmental Impact of the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry, the “main hazard is connected with the spills and blowouts of oil, gas, and numerous other chemical substances and compounds.
“The environmental consequences of accidental episodes are especially severe, sometimes dramatic, when they happen near the shore, in shallow waters, or in areas with slow water circulation.”
Offshore rigs, said another report, “can dump tons of drilling fluid, metal cutting, including toxic metals, such as lead chromium and mercury, as well as carcinogens, such as benzene, into the ocean.” And yet another report claims that “exploration for offshore oil involves firing air guns which send a strong shock across the seabed that can decrease fish catch, damage the hearing capacity of various marine species and may lead to marine mammal strandings.” It is claimed that “drilling activity around oil rigs is suspected of contributing to elevated levels of mercury in Gulf of Mexico fish.”
The big oil companies will extol the benefits of oil drilling, the elaborate safety measures taken around the wells, until the big blow comes and then they are in such a state of confusion that their tongues are tied to find an explanation of what went wrong. In 2010 the world watched in horror the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. As the thick oil spread south, even the Bahamas trembled. The talk then was who would our government hold responsible to clean up the mess that Bahamians feared might touch our shores. Fortunately the Bahamas was spared.
But in that disaster 11 workers were killed and more than three million gallons of crude oil poured into the Gulf.
Don’t say that it can’t happen here. It can happen here and this is where it is most likely to happen because, as we know in the Bahamas no one observes the rules for long, and security will soon slip.
A news report recently suggested that the Gulf accident happened because the US interior department “exercised lax oversight in approving BP’s operations in the Gulf, accepting too readily the company’s claims that there was little risk of an accident.”
It is almost obscene to think that the politicians are discussing the financial returns before investigating whether the dangers are too great for us to subject our fragile tourist economy to the oil consortiums.
As for a referendum. This is one problem that should not be put to a referendum. All Bahamians will see is the possibility of quick wealth — as in the drug peddling years — they will not even consider the possibility of these islands being covered in thick tar — off limits to everybody.
When Bahamians went to the polls on May 7th they elected Perry Gladstone Christie as prime minister, not Pontius Pilate, who washed his hands and walked away from the problem. Rather than leaving such a weighty problem to voters, who do not have access to the necessary information, it is for MPs to study the pros and cons, the benefits and the dangers, and with a vote of the Assembly, where they represent the people, make a rational and considered decision. If they are incapable of doing that then call it quits, go back to the people and give them a second chance to find someone willing to do the job they were elected to do.
This is not a vote for a referendum. This is a vote for members of parliament — all of them.
September 13, 2012

Abortion in Venezuela... ...In Venezuela, more people are opposed to abortion than they are to violence in a relationship

Venezuela: The Dangers of a Revolution against a Woman’s Right to Abortion

By Tamara Pearson


In Venezuela, more people are opposed to abortion than they are to violence in a relationship. 87% of Venezuelans would criticise a 17 year old teenager deciding to get an abortion, according to a GISXXI survey conducted in November last year, while 81% reject aggression between partners. The first figure is just slightly less than those who identify as Christian (71% of Venezuelans are Catholic, 17% Evangelical, 0.6% Jewish, and 8% either agnostic or atheist) which is not just a reflection of how strong an influence the Church still has in Venezuela, but also of how small the gains have been for women in this revolution in terms of sexual rights.
Abortion is illegal, expensive, and risky in Venezuela
In Venezuela, abortion is only legal when the woman’s life is in danger. In situations where it is necessary to preserve her health or mental state, where she has been raped, if the foetus has birth defects, or for economic reasons, abortion is not legal. The penalty on paper is six months to two years prison, though in practice few women are actually “caught”. The unprescribed but real punishments experienced by women facing an unwanted pregnancy however include social condemnation, reinforced by its illegality, secrecy, the monetary cost of abortion, and the health risks if it can’t be paid for.
An illegal abortion with a medical practitioner these days in Venezuela costs around 4-6,000bs, or 2-3 months minimum wage, as doctors take advantage of the illegal status to charge inflated black market prices for what is a fairly simple procedure. Some women pay it, but the vast majority of working class women cannot, and perform the abortion themselves without medical help or even moral support from family. According to a study by the Central University of Venezuela, 16% of maternal deaths (of women aged 12 to 49) here are caused by complications resulting from clandestine abortions, making them the second highest cause of death of women in that age range, higher than cancer, accidents, or suicides and murders. Venezuelan feminist leader Gioconda Mata claims the figure is closer to 30%. Because private medical centres obviously aren’t going to publish the number of illegal abortions they perform, it’s impossible to say the overall number of annual abortions, but the numbers of women resorting to unassisted (cheaper) abortions means the issue is also a class one that disproportionately affects poorer women.
Influence of the Church
Since its arrival on the continent over 500 years ago, the Church has been one of the main forces behind the demonisation of abortion, trivialising a woman’s protagonism in society and her right to a full life in which she is sovereign.
Cuban doctor Digna Mayo Abad described how abortion was a common practice “many centuries before our time”, where; in “patriarchal primitive peoples’” families, the head could sell and even kill his children, even before they were born. In that situation, abortion wasn’t punishable. The foetus was also seen as part of a woman’s bowels, but since she was inferior, the father or family head still exercised control over the foetus. Likewise in Ancient Greece, the foetus was considered part of the mother. According to Abad, “the repression of abortion began in Rome”.
Two hundred years after the birth of Jesus Christ, the Church enacted measures against women who committed abortion- including the death penalty, physical torture, and exile -based on the idea that women didn’t have the right to rob their husbands of their descendents. However, the idea that the foetus is an “innocent being” was only adopted by the Church in 1312, as before that, it wasn’t believed to have a soul, so abortion wasn’t considered murder. However, theologists decided a soul inhabited the foetus from 40 days of conception in the case of a male and 90 days in the case of a female foetus. In 1533 (just 11 years after Spain began to colonise Venezuela, and just a few years after it had already managed to completely devastate the indigenous population of Venezuela’s Margarita and Cubagua Islands) it was decided the soul entered the foetus around mid-pregnancy, when movements could be felt. Finally, in 1588 Pope Sixtus V proclaimed that all abortions are criminal and punishable by excommunication.
A Brazilian Catholic nun, Ivone Gebara, the first person of her standing to identify with feminism in Latin America, said, “The dogma of abortion has been manufactured over the centuries. Who wrote that the birth of children can’t be controlled? There have been priests, celibate men, closed-up in their world where they live comfortably...they don’t have a wife or mother in law and they don’t worry about a sick child, some of them are even that, it’s easy to condemn abortion”. According to Gebara, a society where men are free of responsibility and women receive all the blame is “an abortive, macho, and excluding society”.
This dogma of abortion dominates the Venezuelan mentality on the issue, with most people here who are against abortion using virtually identical language to the Church to explain their opinions. 

Abortion is “pre-natal murder”, “taking the life of an innocent and defenceless human being”; with the quality of the life of the pregnant woman rarely part of the discussion. This is despite the fact that while 90% of Venezuelans in a GIS XXI March 2011 survey said they were “believers”, only a small proportion are regular church goers and many Venezuelans reject the Pope and the largely opposition role played by the Church here.
This shows that patriarchal culture also plays a key role in attitudes towards women’s sexuality (as well as towards sexual diversity, though a lower percentage; 69% of Venezuelans, rejected the idea of sex between the same gender in the GIS XXI survey), reinforcing those aspects of Church doctrine, while leaving others more open.
Patriarchal culture
The discourse around abortion, and the little debate that does happen, revolves around the supposed rights of the foetus and basically ignores any rights of the woman to control her own body and make decisions over her own life. Prohibiting abortion means that women are sometimes forced to have children (or more children) against their will or economic means, though their male partner is not at all obligated to contribute towards the care of those children, and it is culturally common and accepted for him not to. Biological fathers often decide not to participate in caring, or leave altogether- around 50% of mothers are single mothers in Venezuela.
Likewise, while the government has made a valiant effort to promote more sexual education, including printing pamphlets, school and education mission based book series, and distributing condoms to the Barrio Adentro medical units, most discourse and education still focuses on teaching women and female teenagers to be sexually responsible rather than seeing sex and conception as a mutual act, with mutual responsibility, between both genders.
Male leaders of this revolution, including president Chavez, as well as women’s movements have pushed for great women’s participation in all aspects of politics (from the ministries to the communal councils) and in some aspects of the economy (with more women in the army and leading trade union movements such as UNETE, more female police, fire-fighters, doctors, and so on, though certain professions such as building or cleaning still completely adhere to the old ideas about gender roles) and the revolution is seeing a significant change in this respect.
However, the government has made no attempt to promote women’s sexual rights. Women’s bodies are still largely male property or public property, with their use in advertising as rife as ever, and even, in one case, used to publicise Chavez’s current electoral campaign. An image of a woman from her navel to her upper legs, wearing red underpants with the Chavez campaign slogan, has been passed around Facebook. It seems to have been made by PSUV campaigners, though it’s hard to be sure. Of course this doesn’t compare at all to opposition candidate Henrique Capriles’ organising of a mass meeting of women last week, which he formally and publically dubbed a “panty-thon”.
This idea that a woman’s body is public property supports the notion that when she is pregnant, her own needs are secondary to the supposed public desire to protect the “life” growing inside her. It means the state, the church, and the penal code (the latter written by men only and of course in the case of the Church, run by men only) have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body.
The Feminist Spider group and the Network of Women’s Collectives in Venezuela made a declaration in September 2010 in which they argued for the right of women to determine the number of children they’ll have, and to sovereignty over their body. Such rights “imply recognising women as social subjects, and as people with autonomy and moral agents capable of deciding if they want to be mothers or not, as well as the number of children and the time between births...”.
“All women want a planned pregnancy, a joyful and a safe one, not one forced by laws or obligated by ideological imperatives full of prejudice and hypocrisy... in that sense the Venezuelan state has a debt to women and their dignity as people,” their statement concluded.
A silenced and taboo issue being gradually brought out into the open by feminist movements
“That almost half the women who live in this country have had to go through this [illegal abortions] is a fact kept quiet,” one anonymous friend told me. “And we have illegal abortions, not because we think they’re great, but because the right conditions aren’t there, you know?”
That illegal abortions and the women who have to go through with them are invisible reinforces the stigma around the issue, even though it is so common. The silence condemns abortion as a disgrace and the lack of information around what is actually involved in an abortion, as well as on the psychological and biological impacts of a forced pregnancy on a woman, makes it hard for alternative views to be formed. Political leaders and the media also either demonise abortion or are silent on the issue, and even many pro-Chavez women’s movements (as distinct to feminist ones) refuse to talk much about their own rights, instead focusing on their support for the government.
It’s true however, that feminist movements have been able to grow because of the general radicalisation and activation of the people in the Bolivarian revolution, and that they have made some small gains in breaking this silence.
The Skirts in Revolution group has provided an abortion advice line since May 2011, where volunteers supply information about abortion options, and how to use, and where to find Misoprostal. Also, the boom in alternative and community radio stations and online media has given the issue somewhat more space, with a daily feminist column in the state run Correo del Orinoco as well.
On the other hand, the feminist television program El Entrompe de Falopio (The Fallopian Challenge ) was wound back from a daily show on Caracas alternative television station Avila and national community station TVes, to twice a week, then once a week, and then cancelled altogether in April this year. The show discussed “hard” or more controversial issues such as transgender politics, female sexuality, and abortion, and according to Mota was an “important conquest”, as such issues had never been visibilised on television before. However, people working on the show reported pressure from “above” to “dress better” and for the hosts to be more “appealing”, and to discuss more “popular” topics.
It’s worth noting though, that the fight for the legalisation of abortion in Venezuela did not start during the revolution, but rather over thirty years ago. Feminist Giovanna Merola published her book In Defense of Abortion in Venezuela in 1979, creating headlines in the media, and becoming a pioneer for the struggle in Latin America. Rosita Caldera also had a weekly column in the private newspaper El Nacional, discussing women’s reproductive rights during the early 1980s. Also around that time, a large meeting of doctors, lawyers, and feminists proposed the legalisation of abortion under certain circumstances (including congenital malformation of the foetus, incest, and rape), but the national congress didn’t approve it.
Laws, the constitution, and lack of guts in an Electoral Revolution
Because this revolution came to power, and in many ways depends on maintaining its collective power through elections, there is the constant dilemma around dividing time and resources between on the ground organising and constructing new social and economic relations, and electoral work (especially right now with the presidential and regional elections coming up). Likewise, there’s a related dilemma between promoting socialist and radical policy or appealing to the commonly held capitalist values in order to obtain more votes. The unpopularity of abortion (and other “radical” issues, such as same sex marriage, anti consumerism, environment before profit etc) means very few elected leaders are prepared to talk about it.
Apart from that, overall feminist consciousness within the PSUV is extremely low, with even most female politicians and political leaders still feeling the need to dress up and make up, and talking about women’s rights only in terms of “equality” (always in the vague sense of the word) and participation. The women’s ministry and missions such as Mothers of the Barrio aim to improve women’s material well being, but do not question the notion that the main thing a woman should aspire to is being a mother.
Further, though it was never voted on, the vast majority of national assembly legislators- both opposition and pro-Chavez- were against the proposed reform to the penal code to decriminalise abortion in 2008, thereby deferring to Christian beliefs over various basic rights outlined in Venezuela’s own 1999 constitution.
Article 76 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela states, “Motherhood and fatherhood are fully protected, whatever the marital status of the mother or father. Couples have the right to decide freely and responsibly how many children they wish to conceive, and are entitled to access to the information and means necessary to guarantee the exercise of this right.” The constitution also includes the right to free development of personality, the right to privacy, and the right to freedom of cult and religion, meaning the prohibition of abortion is unconstitutional.
Consequences for the revolution and for the feminist movement
While the Bolivarian revolution is challenging some fundamental aspects of capitalism, such as representative democracy and workplace and economic hierarchies, the failure of most forces within it to promote women’s sexual rights and our basic dignity in terms of sovereignty over our lives, our bodies, and the use of our bodies in publicity, is undemocratic. One worries about the revolution being able to move forward, if many are afraid to confront social norms and social vices (such as gender roles, amiguismo or nepotism: achieving things because you know the right people, disorganisation and bureaucracy and so on).
To promote women’s sexual rights would be to radicalise and deepen this revolution, it would empower women further and enable us to in turn participate more fully and enthusiastically. While it’s true that some change will inevitably take longer, especially when challenging norms that have been ingrained over the last five centuries, the dangers of not taking on this issue, and of silencing those movements which try to, can be seen in Nicaragua.
There, many attribute the limited change in gender relations, despite the decisive contribution of women to the revolution, as one of the factors in the eventual win of female opposition candidate Violeta Barrios de Chamorro over revolutionary FSLN leader Daniel Ortega in 1990. The recent deal between Ortega (re-elected as president in 2007 ) and the Catholic Church to completely criminalise abortion; even when the woman’s life is in danger, in November that year, was key in separating the FSLN from the strong women’s movement, which still sees the prohibition of abortion as part of the Somoza era of exploitation and inequality.
The first step towards women being seen as more than just mothers and bodies, is awareness raising and extensive public debate. This means that we have a responsibility to organise ourselves more, but also that the state and the PSUV should provide greater support to such movements, should not relegate women to merely organising their gender in order to support elections, nor categorise feminist movements as “fringe” and “radical” (as though radical were something bad), should provide the resources for feminist workshops across the country, and should remove the unconstitutional articles from the penal code that make abortion illegal. Eventually it should also, of course, provide accessible and free abortion.
September 12, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bishop Cedric Moss, pastor of Kingdom Life Church questions the integrity of any religious body in The Bahamas which supports the ministry of mega-church senior pastor Eddie Long ...who is hosting the Spirit and Truth Conference at the Atlantis Resort... ...Bishop Moss further said: all indications - Eddie Long should not be considered a pastor ...considering his “checkered past.”

Controversial Pastor Visit Questioned

Tribune Staff Reporter
Nassau, The Bahamas

A LOCAL clergyman yesterday questioned the integrity of any religious body supporting the ministry of mega-church senior pastor Eddie Long who is hosting the Spirit and Truth Conference at the Atlantis Resort today.
Long, senior pastor of the 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia gained attention from several best selling books and an Emmy award winning broadcast.
Those accomplishments, however, were overshadowed when four young men in 2010 alleged that Long coerced them into sexual relationships with him. The claims later snowballed into Long temporarily stepping down from his duties at the church and a near divorce from his long-time wife Vanessa, according to several US based media outlets.
Speaking with The Tribune yesterday Cedric Moss, pastor of the Kingdom Life Church on Chesapeake Road, said by all indications Long should not be considered a pastor, considering his “checkered past.”
“Two things,” Mr Moss said, “should be considered. One, if he is coming here of his own accord and renting a hall. In that event, he can speak to whomever wants to listen. Now if Long is coming here and is being supported by a church, pastor or religion group that should be cause for concern.
“I don’t even believe Long is a pastor. He who is above reproach is the first qualification. That doesn’t mean perfect, but it means that persons should be credible.”
Mr Moss said because the matter has not been resolved or brought vindication to Long, he should not be considered a pastor.
The Conference, which ends tomorrow, will see a number of speakers, including Long and Bahamian Bishop Neil C Ellis, senior pastor, Mount Tabor Full Gospel Baptist Church. Both pastors, according to an endorsement which was written by Long of Ellis, are long time friends.
“Integrity,” said the endorsement, “is often a characteristic that, unfortunately is hard to find in the first word that comes to mind when I think about my friend, brother, confidant and accountability partner, Bishop Neil C. Ellis, he has proven to be a man of great integrity, strength and courage. I am often amazed at his ability to hear the voice of God and accurately communicate it with such passion.”
Several attempts to reach Bishop Ellis were made, but none of the calls was returned.
September 11, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Moody’s - a top rating agency says: remains "unclear" whether The Bahamas' economic recovery can be sustained ...due to its dependence on the U.S. economy

Moody’s: Deficit expected to ‘accelerate’

Jeffrey Todd
Guardian Business Editor

Nassau, The Bahamas

A top rating agency says it remains "unclear" whether the country's economic recovery can be sustained due to its dependence on the U.S. economy.

According to the latest credit opinion from Moody's, tourism arrivals and occupancy rates have improved in 2012. The assessment has indeed been confirmed by top government officials in recent weeks. However, revenues lag behind pre-recession levels, Moody's explained, depressed by competition from other Caribbean markets and weak growth in the U.S.

Stuart Bowe, the president of the Bahamas Hotel Association (BHA), noted in its last report that daily room rates continues to fall. Promotional investments and airfare offers have become increasingly common among tourism stakeholders. Although it brings people into the country, the approach has revenue implications.

As first revealed by Guardian Business, the Ministry of Tourism is rolling out a $6 million air credit program that will last all the way until the first quarter of 2013.

"Given increased economic uncertainties currently facing the U.S. - the Bahamas' major tourism market - it is unclear whether the economic recovery will be sustainable," the report said.

Analysts reported that the country’s financial deficit continues to widen, financed primary by short-term domestic borrowing.

"We expect this pace to accelerate as the government increases capital spending to support several resort developments and social spending on programs such as the mortgage support plan," Moody's explained. "Foreign currency debt, which accounts for 56 percent of total government debt, is on the rise as well, albeit at a slower pace."

That said, Moody's noted that the economy is on track to achieve growth of 2.5 percent in 2012, a fact recently confirmed by Michael Halkitis, the state minister of finance. The modest growth is being driven by "a modest recovery in the high value-added tourism sub-sector, public sector investment in construction, and foreign direct investment in the tourism sector".

Credit growth, however, has remained "relatively flat", according to Moody's, and the unemployment rate still hovers beyond 15 percent.

The rating agency noted the recent strides by the government to revisit the issue of taxation.

That development is welcomed by Moody's. Back in May, the rating agency felt increased spending was not being properly matched by new revenues.  The introduction of a value-added tax, for example, would bring The Bahamas in line with a number of other countries in the region and promote revenue stability.

The comments from Moody's follow a recent statement to Guardian Business by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Trinidad and Tobago. Caribbean leaders convened in Port of Spain to discuss rising Caribbean debt and limited prospects for growth.

For The Bahamas, mission chief for the IMF Gene Leon confirmed that the troublesome debt-to-GDP ratio of the biggest problem facing the country's fiscal future. He confirmed that the organization has provided debt management consultation services in the lead up to its visit in October.

Including its continent liabilities among public corporations, he said the debt-to-GDP ratio had fallen into the "gray zone" of above 60 percent.

Sep 10, 2012


Saturday, September 8, 2012 in Latin America and the Caribbean

UNICEF and UNESCO present a new report on education in Latin America and the Caribbean

22.1 million boys, girls and adolescents in the region are not in school or are at serious risk of dropping out.

• Late entry to schooling and grade repetition are the main determinants of exclusion.
• Complete, timely, sustained and full schooling is the duty of all.

PANAMA/MONTREAL/SANTIAGO, 31 August 2012 – In Latin America and the Caribbean there are approximately 117 million boys, girls and adolescents in the preschool, primary and basic secondary education age groups. However, 6.5 million of them do not attend school and 15.6 million attend school carrying the burden of failure and inequality expressed in either a two- or more-year lag behind the normal age for their school grade or a record of grade repetition.

This is the main information provided in a report entitled “Finishing School. A Right for Children´s Development: A Joint Effort” presented today by UNICEF and the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) through the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS).

In recent decades, the educational systems of Latin America and the Caribbean have extended to cover the vast majority of boys, girls and adolescents. Regional initiatives have occurred, such as the “Education Goals for 2021: the Education we Want for the Bicentennial Generation” launched in 2010, ultimately aiming to improve quality and equity in education to counter poverty and inequality and favour social inclusion.

However, there are still many pockets of actual or potential exclusion: boys and girls who enter the educational system late, who repeatedly fail, who do not come across learning experiences that allow them to develop their capacities and who encounter discrimination. The message transmitted in the title of the report, “Finishing School. A Right for Children´s Development: A Joint Effort”, again brings to the fore the target to fulfill the educational rights of children and, in turn, to insist on the need for cooperative and effective ways to achieve this.

This report, starts by recognizing the profiles of the groups most affected by exclusion and then identifies the barriers that hamper a sustained, timely and full education for these boys, girls and adolescents. Finally, it outlines appropriate strategies for an approach to the issues. The methodological perspective adopted presents an innovatory approach for the region, as it identifies the profiles of excluded groups before moving on to pinpoint the barriers. This approach rules out the notion that the profiles themselves are the cause of exclusion, concentrating instead on the barriers to education supply, unlike other analyses and interpretations of the past decade that have concentrated mostly on demand-side problems.

Five dimensions of exclusion

Five dimensions of exclusion are identified within the framework of the report as the five factors that might evict a child from school and the school system from one day to the next:

Dimension 1: boys and girls of infant and primary school age not in infant or primary school.

Dimension 2: boys and girls of primary age not in primary or secondary school, distinguishing between those who have never attended primary school, those who have started school late, or those who have participated for a restricted amount of time and who drop out without completing the whole level.

Dimension 3: boys, girls and adolescents of basic secondary school age not in primary or secondary school.

Dimension 4: boys and girls in primary school but at serious risk of dropping out.

Dimension 5: boys, girls and adolescents in basic secondary school, but in serious risk of dropping out.

This report stresses that boys, girls and adolescents from indigenous, Afro-descendant or disabled groups, or those living in rural areas, are at greater risk of exclusion or grade repetition. The data analyzed showed that in some countries less than 50% of the secondary school-age population in rural areas is attending school. There is also a clear link between the element of child labour and school attendance - students aged between 12 and 14 years who are at work, many of whom are receiving schooling, showed lower rates of attendance than those who do not work. Furthermore, in some countries, Afro-descendant boys and girls find themselves facing late entry or educational failure more frequently.

Delayed schooling

Delayed schooling can be viewed as an indicator or warning factor for exclusion as the situation is generated and then accumulates to the point where students in some schools are studying with 1, 2, 3 and more years of grade repetition or lag between their school grade and the normal age of study.

For some boys and girls, this education lag starts in preschool education, and just such a complex situation affects 11.6% of this age group who start primary education in initial education when their age-group should be entering first grade.

This is doubly damaging as these boys and girls will inevitably start primary school late and in the meantime they also ‘fill’ spaces that should be available to other younger children in their community.

The levels of lag detected in primary education indicate that many pupils are still attending primary education when they have reached secondary school age. The latest available information indicates that close to 22% of students in this age bracket do not complete primary schooling on time. As they work their way through primary education and on into basic secondary, education lag increases the probability of students dropping out of school.

A Joint Effort

The report reveals that most of those who have dropped out of school early in the region have experienced several years of schooling in which they have accumulated various forms of educational failure and it indicates that coverage targets cannot be achieved if this problem is not approached, as this situation culminates in the early expulsion from school of the most vulnerable groups. Therefore, when the time for analysis and action is ripe, the issues of coverage and quality must be approached together, in combination for positive outcomes on inclusion to be achieved.

The concept of the ‘Joint Effort’ is a call to end blame attribution between sectors and instead to assume the collective and cooperative efforts needed in order to guarantee the right to education. National and sub-national government bodies, funding and co-operation entities, teaching unions, the media, families, communities, universities and research centres must come in from the fringes and assume their responsibilities in order for the school system to fulfill its mission in the best possible way.

“Education is the key to confronting the deep inequities in our region, and therefore we must work from all sectors so that all girls, boys and adolescents can complete their schooling” said UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Bernt Aasen. “Efforts made in the education sector must be coordinated with those in the social protection, health and nutrition sectors, as well as with families and communities. UNICEF actively works to make this form of coordination reality.”

Jorge Sequeira, UNESCO Regional Director of Education agreed with this diagnosis, adding that “the priority for improving educational quality for boys, girls and adolescents, equipping them with pertinent and relevant knowledge, giving them the possibility to develop with dignity and with a sense of belonging to their societies is an essential requirement of our educational system if we aspire to make completion of these levels of education a universal occurrence.”     

A global initiative

“Finishing School. A Right for Children´s Development: A Joint Effort” is part of the Global Initiative on Out-of School Children promoted by UNICEF and the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. Since its launch in early 2010, it has targeted efforts in 26 countries, performing national studies, a panorama of each of the regions, a global study and a world conference to mobilize resources for equity. In Latin America and the Caribbean, this process translated into the production of country level studies on exclusion from education in Colombia, Brazil and Bolivia, and into the construction of this regional report using aggregated data for the other countries.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ending criminal defamation in the Caribbean

By Alison Bethel McKenzie

Executive Director
International Press Institute

Early this year, Dominican journalist Johnny Alberto Salazar was sentenced to six months in jail for slander and libel. The charges stemmed from Salazar's on-air comments accusing Pedro Baldera, a local Human Rights Committee official, of "protecting delinquents and people linked to organised crime." Salazar, an elected council member and well-known local gadfly, said prior to his arrest that he had been receiving threats from the government for his criticism of officials.

In June, the decision was thrown out by an appeals court. But the effect of the prosecution remains. Though the Dominican Republic retains a fairly clean press record, with Salazar potentially becoming the first ever journalist jailed for professional activities, the existence of criminal defamation laws leaves the threat of retribution forever looming.

As recently as June, Dominican politicians, and diplomats across the Caribbean, expressed their belief that defamation is best dealt with in a civil courtroom. The International Press Institute (IPI) calls on these countries to take the next step and remove these latent laws from their books.

Criminal libel law was born in an Elizabethan England courtroom as a means for silencing critique of the privileged class. A law of such antiquated ethos has little place in modern society where the press plays a pivotal role in shaping public discourse.

IPI is actively campaigning for the governments of the Caribbean to redress their current criminal libel laws. At present, the law is vague and open to indiscriminate and inconsistent implementation, largely wielded to quell dissent and stifle government criticism.

In the past two years, Caribbean criminal defamation cases have included a government official charging a previous campaign opponent with the crime and another where accusations made in a town hall meeting resulted in a lawsuit. These cases exemplify the elasticity of a law largely wielded by those in positions of power.

While infrequently used in the Caribbean, criminal libel statutes remain an unnecessary resource at the disposal of any offended official. The mere threat of prosecution chills investigation and free speech, sustains corruption, unnecessarily protects public officials, and denies one of the most basic of human rights, freedom of expression.

Criminal libel is one of the most pernicious media constraints in contemporary society. Implemented at the will of any insulted public official, it frequently leaves no recourse for the defendant. In most countries, truth is not a valid defence, leaving defence a vexing proposition.

Many countries have no clear demarcation or standard for determining the line between fair criticism and criminal offence. That most existing criminal libel laws also lack a requirement for actual malice, a higher criterion for the libel of public figures -- to allow for debate and discourse of government and other instruments of power -- only further underscores the capricious nature and implementation at the disposal of government figures.

IPI condemns modern use of criminal libel and advocates banishing the law, and utilising civil remedies as alternatives. Often governments argue the need for strong punitive measures as a defence against scurrilous journalism, but freedom of expression and the press requires a more nuanced regulation in order to allow for public dialogue. Certainly, punishment for careless or slanderous speech is necessary, but this should take place in a civil courtroom.

IPI stands beside numerous international accords, court opinions, and governments in these beliefs. As early as 1948, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights declared the significance of freedom of expression, with special note to press rights, by naming it one of the basic truths of humanity. More recently, an international coalition comprised of members from the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (AFCHP) named the criminalisation of defamation as one of the ten biggest threats to the freedom of expression.

IPI has conducted press freedom missions in a number of Caribbean nations. An IPI delegation visited Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, and government ministers and officials in both Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. In each instance, IPI received support for its position on criminal libel, with each government reaffirming its commitment to an independent press.

In June 2012, the IPI General Assembly meeting in Port of Spain endorsed the Declaration of Port of Spain, calling for the abolition of "insult laws" and criminal defamation legislation in the Caribbean. Stating that "the Caribbean urgently needs a strong, free and independent media to act as a watchdog over public institutions," the Declaration of Port of Spain identifies "the continued implementation of ‘insult laws’ – which outlaw criticism of politicians and those in authority and have as their motive the 'locking up of information' – and criminal defamation legislation as a prime threat to media freedom in the Caribbean."

IPI has received further endorsement for the Declaration of Port of Spain from numerous organisations throughout the Caribbean, including the Association of Caribbean Media Workers, and media and press associations in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Suriname, and St Kitts and Nevis.

A free society is founded on an open exchange of opinions, popular or not. Criminal libel does little more than stifle this public discourse. We’ve evolved a great deal since the 16th century origin of criminal libel. To continue to rely on an antiquated law that acts as little more than a tool of repression would signal a society uncertain of its democratic principles. Many Caribbean countries have publicly repudiated criminal libel. IPI calls on these governments to join in the progress of freedom of expression and recognise their existing criminal libel laws as archaic and detrimental, and to remove the law from their books.

Considerable work lies ahead in achieving this goal, but IPI is encouraged by the progress thus far. With diligence and continued collaboration, IPI is confident the nations of the Caribbean will proceed in striking this relic of a bygone era from their records and take their rightful places as homes of truly free and independent press.

September 05, 2012