Marta Harnecker, presente!

By Federico Fuentes.

The international left has lost one of its most lucid intellectual, pedagogical educators and determined activists with the passing of Marta Harnecker on June 14, aged 82.

Marta will forever be remembered as one of the most influential and prolific writers on the Latin American left, having written almost 90 books covering a wide array of topics and debates on the left. Her collected works in many ways serve as insights into her lifelong commitment to learning, educating and defending the revolutionary cause throughout the continent.

Born in Chile, Harnecker began her activism in the early 1960s as a Catholic student activist before moving to France, where she studied under Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser.

Returning to her home country as a committed Marxist, Marta dedicated herself to popularising these ideas by producing numerous pamphlets such as Exploited and ExploitedCapitalist ExploitationSocial Classes and Class Struggle and Capitalism and Socialism.

Together with arguably her most famous work, Elementary Concepts of Historical Materialism,which was based on notes she prepared for Latin American students studying Althusser, these texts quickly became almost obligatory reading for leftists across the region.

Marta also threw herself into supporting the newly-elected socialist government of Salvador Allende, particularly in her role as editor of the political weekly Chile Hoy.

Forced to seek refuge from the military dictatorship that followed Allende’s overthrow, Marta left for Cuba, which had captured her attention when she first visited it shortly after the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

In Cuba, Marta married her first husband, Manuel Piñeiro — Comandante “Red Beard” — a leading figure in the Cuban Revolution. Together they had a daughter, Camila, before his untimely death in a car accident in 1998.

There she also published Cuba: Democracy or Dictatorship? a collection of testimonies and experiences of popular power she documented.

Her constant quest to both learn from others and transmit these lessons as widely as possible led Marta to spend much of the next two decades collecting extensive interviews with key figures from the Latin American left, starting with guerrilla commanders from Central America and Colombia in the 1980s and leaders of some of the emergent left forces in South America in the ’90s.

Building left unity in reality

In these interviews, which were later published in various testimonials, Marta sought to draw out the lessons of defeats suffered, the strengths and weaknesses of differing tactics and strategies, the challenges of left unity and how revolutionary forces could begin to rebuild themselves and accumulate the forces required to turn ideas into reality. 

Marta also set up the Popular Latin American Memory Centre of Investigations (MEPLA) in Cuba to study and disseminate real-life experiences of communities working to build a better world.

The lessons Marta extracted from these interviews and experiences, combined with her own original contributions and ideas on topics such as globalisation and the collapse of the Soviet Union, became the basis for The Left on the Threshold of the 21st Century: Making the Impossible Possible.

Published in 1999, the book came out just as Hugo Chávez was elected in Venezuela — the first of what became a string of progressive presidents elected in the region.

For the next two decades Marta devoted herself to studying these experiences, steadfastly defending them while never being afraid to express her criticisms. She collated many invaluable lessons learnt along the way, firstly in Rebuilding the Left, and then A World to Build: New Paths toward Twenty-First Century Socialism.

After reading The Left on the Threshold, Chávez granted Marta an extensive interview, in which Marta — in her customary manner — challenged and probed him like few dared to do. The experience led Chavez to ask Marta to come and work with him, where she continued to challenge him whenever she disagreed.

Marta moved to Venezuela with Michael Lebowitz, her second husband, who, like her, had dedicated his life to enriching Marxist ideas. Together they shared a profound belief in the revolutionary potential and creativity of ordinary people engaged in struggle, along with a deep love for each other.

They helped organise two international solidarity gatherings in Caracas, in 2004 and 2005, and were fundamental to the establishment of the Miranda International Centre (CIM) in 2006 as a space for Venezuelan and international intellectuals to contribute their ideas to the process.

In between giving workshops in communities and workplaces and constant meetings with activists seeking advice, or simply wanting to discuss politics, Marta continued to collect testimonies from anyone she felt others could learn from.

As part of her work in CIM, she organised a series of panels bringing together key figures from the new left in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador, during which she would conduct a collective interview with the aim of encouraging comradely discussion and debate between the participants.

She always sought to include all voices in these panels, believing everyone had something to contribute and that by opening such space we could learn from each other. Participants often commented that such encounters seemed almost impossible at home but were of great value, helping bridge seemingly unbridgeable divides.

As a result of these interviews, Marta published a series of unique books chronicling the rise and challenges of these new left parties, encompassing their differing viewpoints.

Venezuela’s communal councils

Marta was able to do all this while dedicating much of her time to highlighting various experiences in popular participation at the community level, travelling across Venezuela to listen and debate with local activists.

These community experiments became of intense interest and concern for Marta, who saw in them not just the embryos of local self-government but everyday schools that could foster the revolutionary subject required to push the process forward.

Through this work Marta played a critical role in bringing the Venezuelan government’s attention to various experiences in building communal councils. Chávez would go onto embrace the communal councils and then the communes as central to his emancipatory project of 21st Century Socialism and asked Marta to become an advisor for the new Ministry of Popular Participation, which he created in 2005.  

Becoming acutely aware of some of the negative state practices that were undermining this process, Marta publicly spoke out about them, even when it earned her the ire of some in government.

The lessons she obtained from the communal councils and communes, together with other experiences she studied in Kerala, India and Porto Alegre, Brazil, nourished the ideas she outlines in Planning from Below: A Decentralized Participatory Planning Proposal, which is due to come out just weeks after Marta lost her battle with cancer.

Without doubt, Marta will forever have a place among the key left thinkers of the past century. Her extensive collection of books, pamphlets and articles will serve as invaluable tools for activists, young and old, new and experienced, for many years to come.

For those like me, who had the pleasure of working with her, and countless others who had the opportunity to meet her, she will always be remembered as much more.

She will forever be that Marta who always wanted to listen and learn from others, who always had an encouraging word to say, who believed everyone had something to contribute, and whose profound and unwavering belief in humanity was not simply something she preached, but something she practiced every day of her life.

Compañera Marta Harnecker, presente! Now and forever!

Federico Fuentes is an Argentinian-Australian writer and activist who worked with Marta Harnecker in various capacities over the past decade. This obituary was first published on June 21 in Green Left Weekly and has been reprinted here with the permission of the author. Follow Federico on Twitter @FredFuentesGLW.

Ecuador’s neoliberal turn: Corruption and voter fraud behind Julian Assange’s arrest

By Denis Rogatyuk.

The scenes of six Metropolitan police officers dragging Wikileaks founder Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London as he was clutching a copy of the History of the National Security State by Gore Vidal have sent shockwaves of horror and an avalanche of condemnation from all around the world. Assange had been granted asylum in the embassy since 2012.

Although Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno has been working towards expelling Assange from the embassy since at least December 2018, a chain of events in the last several months shows a clear pattern of increasing political instability, revelations of mass corruption in Moreno’s family, a further turn towards neoliberal economic reforms with the implementation of the IMF deal, and the gradual and total embrace and support for the US foreign policy in the region.

The INA Papers Scandal and growing political instability

Wikileaks’s decision to re-publish the details of Moreno’s use of offshore bank accounts in Panama, titled the INA Papers after the name of the shell corporation at the centre of the scandal (INA Investment Corporation) allegedly served as the main cause for his decision to expel the Australian journalist from the embassy. The Ecuadorian Communications Minister Andrés Michelena event went as far as claiming that the INA Papers were a conspiracy plot between Julian Assange, the former president of Ecuador Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

The INA Papers scandal has cast a long shadow on Moreno’s regime and its rhetoric of allegedly fighting against institutional corruption. Most notably, the scandal reveals a close associate of Moreno, Xavier Macias, lobbying for the contract of the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric power plant (valued at $2.8 billion) as well as the ZAMORA 3000 MW plant to be awarded Sinohydro, a Chinese state-owned construction company.

The money route from the Chinese corporation passes through bank accounts in Panama belonging to INA Investment Corporation – a shell company originally founded in the tax haven Belize by Edwin Moreno Garcés, the brother of the current President. The most crucial pieces of evidence indicate that the INA Investment funds were used for the purchase of a 140 m2 apartment in the city of Alicante, Spain, and a number of luxury items for President Moreno and his family in Geneva, Switzerland, during his time as a special envoy on disability rights in the United Nations.

As the pressure mounted on Moreno, the Attorney General of Ecuador issued a statement on March 19, indicating that it was commencing an investigation into the INA Papers scandal involving President Lenin Moreno and his family. Furthermore, on March 27, the National Assembly of Ecuador approved a vote in favour of investigating Moreno’s alleged off-shore bank dealings in Panama. According to Ecuador Inmediato, 153 public service officials, along with all members of the National Assembly, were also included in the initial public hearing scheduled for April 1.

The corruption scandal comes amid a number of other prominent crises and changes undergoing both the Moreno administration and the Ecuadorian economy. The local and regional elections of March 24th, as well as the election to the Council of Citizens’ Participation and Social Control (CPCCS) on March 24, have been riddled with a series of controversies and irregularities with regards to vote counts and allegations of fraud, including the attempts to invalidate null votes, disqualify and smear the candidates endorsed by ex-President Rafael Correa, as well as a lack of transparency and legitimacy as highlighted by the report of the mission of electoral observers of the Organisation of American States. In a way, this mirrors the 2017 Honduran presidential elections, where mass voter fraud and other irregularities proved to be the key in returning of the hard-right Juan Orlando Hernandez government to power.  

The IMF deal and a turn towards the US

During the recent meeting of the Executive Board of the IMF, the financial body approved a loan package of $4.2 billion to the government of Lenin Moreno for what it called a “more dynamic, sustainable, and inclusive economy for the benefit of all Ecuadorians”. The agreement coincided with layoffs of more than 10,000 public sector workers, in addition to the ongoing policy of reduction in the public and social spending, a decrease in the level of minimum wage and the removal of secure work protections that marked the sharp neoliberal turn of the Ecuadorian government under Moreno.

The IMF deal coincided with the increasing attempts by the Ecuadorian government to proceed with the expulsion of Julian Assange from its London embassy, and his arrest is likely a sign that the Moreno regime is willing to give up any part of its sovereignty – political, diplomatic, or economic, to comply with the demands of the international finance agency.

The same pattern has been observed in his increasing level of collaboration with the Trump administration and its foreign policy in Latin America. From holding private meetings with former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, to publicly hosting US Vice President Mike Pence in the Ecuadorian presidential palace, to authorising the opening of a new ‘Security Cooperation Office‘ in place of the old US military base in Manta, Moreno’s embrace of the new Monroe doctrine has become all too apparent, just as the efforts to hand Assange over to the US authorities have grown over the last two years.

At the same time, he has gone to great lengths to undo the progress of Latin American unity and integration initiated by his predecessor and other progressive leaders in the region. On March 13, Lenin Moreno announced that Ecuador would leave the Union of South Ameircan Nations (UNASUR) international agreement originally founded in 2008 by the leaders of South American nations, most prominent among them Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Lula da Silva of Brazil. The project was inspired by the long-standing vision of Simon Bolivar who envisaged South America as a federation of various republics, and was meant to consolidate the growing economic and political integration among the increasingly progressive governments across the region, eventually emulating the current structure of the European Union.

Moreno alleged in his press release regarding the exit from UNASUR that the project has been as a result of the lack of participation of the right-leaning governments in the region, as well as the “irresponsible actions of certain leaders that replicated the worst vices of Socialism of the 21st Century”. In a manner similar to Francisco Santander and the project of Gran Colombia during the 1820s, Moreno has opted for a pro-US foreign policy and commercial relations based on free trade and liberalisation.

He has also increasingly followed the path of other right-wing leaders in the region such as Jair Bolsonaro and Mauricio Macri in officially recognising Juan Guaido as the President of Venezuela. Moreno was also one of the attendees of the founding summit of Prosur, a newly convened regional block of US-aligned neoliberal governments.

In another unusual twist, the US ambassador, Todd Chapman, was spotted visiting the headquarters of the CNE during the March 24th election day and allegedly participating as an official electoral observer in the elections. This display of interference was widely condemned on social media as illegal under the current electoral rules, which forbid foreign powers from playing any active role in the observing or interfering the electoral process.

Silencing Wikileaks

Moreno’s decision to silence Julian Assange and expel him serves a dual purpose – to gain the trust of the Trump administration, and to direct the national and international public away from his corrupt dealing and offshore bank accounts, the fraudulent elections of March 24, and his mishandling of the Ecuadorian economy.

This has also been echoed in the comments made by Rafael Correa, the former President of Ecuador who first authorised Julian Assange’s asylum back in 2012. After having his page blocked on Facebook, Correa stated that, “In his hatred, because Wikileaks published corruption of INA papers, Moreno wanted to destroy Assange’s life. He probably did it, but he has also done a huge damage to the country. Who will trust in ECUADOR again?”.

Overall, Ecuador has come to resemble the neoliberal regimes of the 1990s across the continent, with IMF-sanctioned austerity, increasingly unstable state institutions and an almost complete obedience to the US foreign policy in the region becoming the new policy standard. By contrast, the decade of political stability and the economic progress enjoyed by the Ecuadorian citizens under President Correa’s government now seems like a cherished (albeit distant) memory that his supporters, and even his detractors, now seek to recover.

Denis Rogatyuk is a Russian-Australian freelance writer, journalist and researcher. His articles, interviews and analysis have been published in a variety of media sources around the world including Jacobin, Le Vent Se Léve, Sputnik, Green Left Weekly, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Alborada and others.

Chavismo’s enduring strength as a political movement in Venezuela

Guest post by Federico Fuentes, Caracas.

For many, it is impossible to understand how, despite presiding over the country’s worst economic crisis and facing such intense international and domestic opposition, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro remains in the presidential palace.

The answer lies in the enduring strength of Chavismo, a political movement of the working classes that, despite predating former president Hugo Chávez, continues to take his name and political project as its own.

The refusal by Maduro’s opponents, inside and outside Venezuela, to acknowledge its existence also goes a long way to explaining why they have remained in opposition for more than two decades.

Walking down the main street of San Fernando, capital of the border state of Apure, it did not take long for someone to come up and start talking politics. Within minutes, a group discussion had formed.

I asked them about Chávez. One responded: “Chávez didn’t come to power just because he wanted a job. He came to power because we were dying of hunger; Venezuelans were dying of hunger in the ’80s and ’90s.

“That’s why, in ’89 the barrios [poor neighbourhoods] came down the hills and looted stores to get food,” he said, referring to the February 27 1989 Caracazo uprising, ultimately put down by brutal repression which, according to reports, left thousands dead.

Another said: “The Chávez era was the most beautiful time in Venezuelan history. Everyone was able to improve their living conditions, not just the poor but even the rich.”

“Thanks to Hugo Chávez, we have the opportunity to study, to do a postgraduate [course],” explains another.

“Universities were basically privatised. Unless you were rich you had no chance of being able to go to university.

“Chávez opened up education and started to give students uniforms, shoes, food, computers; kids are given laptops, tablets…”

A young man interrupts: “University students also get a tablet. I have one. I had never seen one before, but now I have one.”

The depth of support for Chávez among working people, however, cannot be simply explained by his association with better times.

Andreina Pino, a local activist with the Bolivar and Zamora Revolutionary Current in the rural state of Barinas, where Chávez was born, says this identification is due to Chávez’s ability to “decipher the code of the people.”

“Chávez was able to do this,” Pino explains “because he came from the people.”

“Generally, politicians in this country came from rich families and didn’t have that contact with working people.

“Chávez was able to connect with the sentiment, culture and spirituality of the Venezuelan people… He came to synthesise all of that culture, that spirituality, that history.

“Chávez not only identified with that history, he taught us history. Chávez talked about [Simón] Bolívar and our struggle for independence.

“He also began to build hope in us that we, the people, could construct our own history. Chávez awoke something within the people.”

Popular classes as protagonists

Caracas-based Argentine sociologist Marco Teruggi believes the opposition’s inability to accept or comprehend this phenomenon is why it “has been making the same error in their analysis for 20 years”.

“They don’t incorporate the existence of Chavismo as a political subject into their analysis.”

Teruggi explained that to understand Chavismo, it is important to look beyond the government and view this political movement in all its complexity.

Emerging from within the popular classes, Chavismo incorporates a gamut of political parties, social movements and organisations, and penetrates deep into the barrios and military barracks.

“We cannot begin to understand how, for instance, the economic crisis has not led to a popular explosion, if we don’t understand the deep roots that Chavismo has in the barrios, where it has generated a whole network of organisations that are very strong and that allows it to contain the situation,” said Teruggi.

“Importantly, Chavismo has its own political identity. We could say that Chavismo is an identity of a part of the popular classes.”

“Under Chavismo, the popular classes were not only able to improve their economic situation but to participate in politics, have a public voice, be protagonists. Only Chavismo has offered them this.

“They are defending a process that today has been dealt blows but continues to be the only project that has offered the popular classes in Venezuela a different destiny to the one they had always been condemned to — one of poverty, unemployment, exclusion and marginalisation.

“The people are not defending Maduro; they are defending the possibility of being able to continue improving not just their economic situation but their lives in general.”

Pino agrees: “The people who continue to support Maduro understand that it’s Maduro [in these] circumstances … who is the current leader of the civic-military process.

“The right doesn’t understand this; they don’t understand that what is in dispute here is not Maduro but a project.”

No blank check

Teruggi points out, however, that “Chavismo is not a blank check. It’s not something that can be used and abused for an indefinite amount of time.”

Earlier this year, there were clear signs of this.

Atenea Jiménez, from the National Network of Comuneros, which unites people involved in numerous communes across the country, explained that, in January, between Maduro’s inauguration and Juan Guaidó’s self-proclamation declaring himself to be President, “there were many protests … but these protests were different as they were in popular sectors, including some that have historically been very Chavista”.

“These were not in middle-class sectors, at least here in Caracas; they were protests by people from the barrios who do not agree with Maduro; people who are not with the opposition but who are fed up with having had to deal with this economic situation for so many years,” she said.

Jiménez noted that the politics of the protest were, like everything in Venezuela, very complex and contradictory. Some of them “were tied to the actions of armed gangs”, while in other cases, members of the police and Bolivarian National Guard were involved.

“These protests did not have a clear leadership, they were not planned or organised by a political sector, although there were right-wing opposition sectors who tried to promote the protests because they saw them as functional to their aims of removing Maduro by any means,” she said.

Beyond these complexities, “they were protests about the very real situations that people are facing … and in some places, where Chavistas are very angry with the difficulties of everyday life, the protests were huge.”

“Many of the people who protested feel that the government has not been capable of resolving their problems.

“They said: ‘We have given [the government] all of our votes, for the National Constituent Assembly, for governors, for mayors, all of them. So what excuse do they have for not resolving our everyday problems such as food and medicine?’”

Teruggi notes that the current situation cannot last forever. “There needs to be responses by the government to these demands, otherwise it will lose the support it needs to stay in power.”

However, Teruggi believes Venezuelans are still some time away from reaching breaking point. “I think this is why the US is attempting to accelerate its actions against Maduro.

“Rather than continuing to … wear down support for the government through economic attacks, the US is instead promoting a parallel government.

“Even if the attacks on the economy are generating a lot of damage and Chavismo has been unable to respond, and even contributed to problems through its own errors, the overall balance of forces has maintained itself.”

Anti-imperialism shapes sentiment

Jiménez notes that, “in other cirumstances, under neoliberal governments, we would have turned this country upside down”.

“But these mass protests dissipated once Guaidó entered the political scene, because that popular force, which is discontent, that has criticism towards the government … retreated as a new variable entered into the fray.

“That new variable is imperialism.”

Guaidó’s US-backed self-proclamation, and his appeals for foreign intervention and more sanctions meant that, “those spontaneous protests stopped as people began to say that this is not the way to solve our problems”, Jiménez said.

“Among the people there is a very strong anti-imperialist sentiment, independently of the position that people may have towards the government.

“Any threat of foreign intervention immediately generates within our people a spirit of struggle. People recognise that we can have our criticisms, but that this has nothing to do with [US President Donald] Trump being able to decide who our president should be.

“The roughshod manner in which the opposition has acted and its open calls for US intervention, together with the almost daily statements coming from Trump’s spokespeople, has generated a patriotic sentiment, a conviction that we will resolve this in the way that we want to resolve it.”

These sentiments were expressed by many, including one of the women who joined the discussion in San Fernando: “We don’t want the Yankees or anyone else to get involved here. We are determined to be free. We don’t want any more interference in our country.”

“What we want is to be independent, to be sovereign and for us to be able to decide what happens to our wealth. No-one else can tell us what to do with our resources.”

Another adds: “We want to resolve our problems ourselves. We are happy to accept suggestions, but good suggestions.

“Any country can come and make suggestions, but no one can impose themselves on us like the US is trying to. That’s not the way it works here. That’s not the way to help.”

“If the US wants to help us then get rid of the sanctions,” says another.

Federico Fuentes is an Australian writer and Latin American solidarity activist who visited Venezuela in March as part of a fact-finding visit. He is editor of Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. Follow him on Twitter @FredFuentesGLW.

This article was first published in Green Left Weekly on 26 March 2019 and has been reprinted with the permission of the author.

Kidnapped, murdered and disappeared: journalism can be deadly

Guest post by Nazarena Lomagno.

The NGO Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF, Reporters Without Borders) has recently published a report, ‘Worldwide Round-up of journalists killed, detained, held hostage, or missing in 2018’, and its findings are shocking.

Over the past year, 80 media professionals were murdered, 348 were arrested, and 60 were kidnapped and held hostage and three were disappeared. The report, which looks at the global situation of communicators who have been suffered these attacks in the direct practice of their profession, runs from January 1 to December 1, 2018.

The work of journalists is not easy. Even just their professional accreditation puts their lives at risk and turns the exercise of communicating into a deadly activity: according to the document, 61 per cent of the journalists who were killed were murdered or deliberately targeted due to the simple fact that their investigations focused on political, religious or criminal networks; while 39 per cent of those killed while reporting in the field, without being targeted as journalists. Of the 80 journalists murdered, 77 were men and three were women.

Since 2016 the numbers of murdered journalists had shown a downward trend, with a total of 63 professionals killed that year and 55 killed in 2017. In 2018 the trend was reversed and rose significantly.

According to the report, the geographical area where the profession is practised impacts significantly on the number of deaths. The most convincing evidence is in Afghanistan, involved in a permanent war conflict, which has registered the highest number of attacks on journalists: in this country 15 communication professionals were killed.

In the Asian area, Syria comes second with eleven murders, followed by Yemen with eight and India, with six. The United Nations (UN) has labelled Yemen as being amidst “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”. However, Reporters Without Borders reported one fact that offers hope: no journalist was killed in Iraq in 2018 for the first time since 2003.

The list of the six countries categorised as “most deadly” by the NGO is completed by the United States with six deaths and Mexico with nine, with the latter being the conflict-free territory where the highest number of deaths was registered for the investigation of local corruption politicians or drug trafficking.

Four of the 80 murders gained global attention, in particular the murder of the journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018. The murder of Palestinian video-journalist and photographer Yasser Murtaja [pictured] was shot dead by Israeli soldiers while covering the Great Macrh of Return protests in the Gaza Strip on 6 April 2018, was also widely reported internationally.

In Europe, Slovakian anti-corruption journalist Ján Kuciak was murdered along with his partner, Martina Kušnírová, on 21 February 2018 after investigating corruption in local business and politics, including links between the Italian mafia and Slovak politicians. Bulgarian TV presenter Viktoria Marinova was raped, beaten and strangled to death after reporting the embezzlement of EU funds in which businessmen and politicians were involved.

As for the 348 journalists who were arrested in 2018 – a figure that increased by seven per cent year-on-year – more than half are in prison in five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. Arbitrary detentions, the hardening of rules for publishing criteria, preventive imprisonment and life sentences are some examples of punishment for carrying out their profession.

The kidnapping of journalists is still a constant feature in Middle Eastern conflicts. Out of the 60 kidnapped professionals, 59 were registered in three countries in the region: Syria, Iraq and Yemen. For the armed groups operating in the conflict areas, this activity is a source of finance through ransoms, as well as a means to rule by terror. The list of journalists targeted for doing their job is completed by those who disappeared: two in Latin America and one in Russia.

Reporters Without Borders was created in France in 1985 in response to a global situation where journalists were restricted from doing their job, or targeted for their work. The NGO aimed to carry out several measures to protect and guarantee the safety of communication workers all over the world.

Among its most important achievements, the NGO persuaded the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, to created 14 journalist security coordination centres in UN agencies and institutions, which has been promoted by the #ProtectJournalists campaign launched in 2015. Reporters Without Borders has also proposed the International Declaration on Information and Democracy, based on guaranteeing the right to reliable information, recognising the importance of global communication and bringing together an international group of worldwide information and democracy experts.

Nazarena Lomagno is an Argentine journalist and researcher at the political economy department of the Cultural Centre for Cooperation in Buenos Aires.

#MeToo: Women get organised against sexual harassment in the workplace

Guest post by Amelia Martínez Lobo.

Over the past several months, workers in the European Parliament have organised a campaign against the sexist harassment and violence that we experience in the absence of guarantees and protection of actionable protocols.

The #MeToo movement in the European Parliament has as its fundamental objective combating sexist violence with the creation of safe spaces, where sorority is a central element of empowerment. We want to break with the culture of silence that is imposed on the women and people who are outside the privileges of the heteropatriarchy, and address the fear, shame, and guilt that many of those who have suffered some type of violence, harassment, abuse or sexist aggression commonly experience.

The #MeToo movement, which was born in Hollywood a little more than a year ago, was criticised by some feminist organisations who considered it to be an exclusive movement, lacking a class perspective and being made visible in large part by a very determined socio-economic elite.

Of course, the #MeToo movement in Brussels is not exempt from that class component. When I am asked if the European Parliament is a safe place for women, the answer is firm: let’s put things in context. We cannot forget that we are a group of women with a certain socio-economic status – mostly white and working in the European bubble, earning well above the average income (even those with a salary limit imposed by my party, Podemos).

However, being aware of our position, I have always believed that we have to intervene in the spaces in which we operate – in this case, ending the silence and advancing a feminist agenda in the bureaucratic monster of the European Union.

The data is striking: a recent study conducted by the Council of Europe revealed that 50 per cent of women working in parliamentary politics in Europe – parliamentarians, advisors, administrators and technical experts – have received violent threats of death, rape or physical harm. Sixty per cent of the interviewees had experienced sexual harassment; 25 per cent suffered sexual violence and almost 15 per cent were victims of physical violence.

And yet, the percentage of complaints is still very low – with 24 per cent of the elected representatives and only six per cent of the women workers in the parliaments reporting this abuse. This last fact also reveals a class and hierarchical component, innate to the institutional power structures, which makes the workers more vulnerable.

This is because socio-economic structures and power dynamics are reproduced in parliamentary institutions in the same way as they are in any other space. Therefore, our questioning must be radical and structural. Feminists point out that misogynist aggression, such as harassment, abuse, rape and murder, are the product of a patriarchal system that has no boundaries of age, class, culture or race. That is why movements of self-organisation and empowerment like this are essential to be able to change the material conditions in which women work.

It is about transforming a workplace that has hyper-bureaucratised reporting mechanisms, with a total absence of a gender perspective and without dissuasive measures to end the impunity of aggressors. The result is an absence of protection for victims of harassment and aggression within the European Parliament, which employs more than 7,000 people – around 55 per cent of whom are women.

Without forgetting the limits of the institution itself, this struggle, and the advances that can be achieved within the Parliament, would not be possible without a feminist movement that crosses all of society. In the same way, any feminist struggle should try to weave inter-institutional and inter-parliamentary ties, create broad platforms, build networks and mutual support with the women’s movements of organised civil society.

There are many difficulties that we will encounter along the way, but we can overcome them. We will continue fighting from within and, above all, from outside the institutions to dismantle the structures of power and privilege.

The #MeToo campaign in Brussels has set up a blog to record testimonies from workers who have experienced harassment, abuse and violence. The campaign, which involves workers from across the political spectrum, is campaigning for a taskforce of independent experts to examine the prevalence of sexual harassment in the institutions; mandatory training warning against sexual harassment for MEPs; and an anti-harassment committee which should also be tasked with providing appropriate medical support to victims.

Amelia Martínez Lobo is a policy advisor for the Podemos delegation in the European Parliament, and a leading organiser of the #MeToo movement (pictured third from left in photo above). Follow the #MeToo Brussels campaign on Twitter @MeTooEP. 

Real democracy means ‘the intrusion of the excluded’

Guest post by Dr John Falzon.

From ancient Greece, we have a name for the intrusion of the Excluded into the socio-political space: democracy.” – Slavoj Zizek

She wasn’t asking for somewhere to live. She was just asking for enough money to buy some breakfast. But everyone just kept walking past and the angrier she got the wider the berth they gave her and the faster they moved past her.

“I’ve been here since five this morning,” she said. “I just want some coffee and something to eat.

“I didn’t choose this life, you know.”

I didn’t choose this life.

With these words words she unmasked the dismal ideology of neoliberalism, that destroyer of lives and crusher of souls.

She did not choose to be sitting on a corner opposite Melbourne Town Hall asking passers-by for a few coins so that she could buy coffee and a muffin. She did not choose to experience homelessness, insecurity, unemployment, exclusion.

The neoliberal myth rubs salt in her wounds as she is effectively told that she is where she deserves to be in the order of things. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’ is the deeply offensive doxa that rings in everybody’s ears. It’s convincing. It takes on the appearance of common sense even. It seeps deeply into our consciousness, assuring everyone, from the very rich to the very poor, that things are as they should be.

Audre Lorde, the great poet and theorist, reminds us: “The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations we need to escape but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.”

And so we give our passive consent to an unjust status quo that relegates and residualises human beings. Except when we are confronted with the concrete realities as opposed to the ideological fictions they are obscured by. Then we begin to think. And question.

As Viviane Forrester put it so powerfully in her book, The Economic Horror: “There is no more subversive activity than thinking, none more feared, more slandered, and this is not due to chance, nor it is innocuous. Thinking is political. And not only political thinking is, far from it. The mere act of thinking is political.”

It is not poverty that causes homelessness. It is wealth, especially speculative wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, constraining the choices of the many. The twin engines of the neoliberal agenda are the marketisation of the public sphere and the atomisation of the working class through residualisation (unemployment, underemployment, precarity, exclusion) and dis-organisation (attacks on the union movement and workers’ rights).

By consenting to a neoliberal framework, which privileges the notion of choice, we are actually severely constraining the choices of people who are residualised and relegated. What neoliberalism does is accelerate and accentuate the breadth of choices available to a tiny elite, whilst eroding the choices of the many and completely stripping away the choices of some.

The neoliberal fantasy has seen an unprecedented building of walls, to keep people out while providing the highest level of private protection for the privileged. The notion of the social, of the common, of shared fate and shared responsibility, has been displaced by an ideological rupture that has seen the demonisation of democratic socialism alongside the deification of neoliberalism. Which is why it is only through an intrusion of the excluded that true democracy will be achieved.

As the beautiful Irish proverb reminds us: ‘It is in the shelter of each other that the people live’. If any of us is without shelter, it is because the rest of us, through our political choices as a society, have failed them. Thinking critically about the causes of homelessness and inequality is crucial. But acting collectively to build the kind of society where we really are a shelter to each other; this is the key to making a concrete difference. This is not an act of charity. It is an act of justice.

The role of government is to achieve the collective dreams of the many, rather than pandering to the demands of the wealthy few. Homelessness is not an indicator of bad personal choices leading to the personal tragedy of poverty. Homelessness is an indicator of bad political choices leading to the manufacture of inequality. Poverty is not a tragedy; it is a political choice.

Politics is the struggle between power being concentrated in the hands of the few or taken into the hands of the many. What happens in our formal political processes is important in this struggle, but it is only one battlefield. The broader political struggle is an expression of the economic struggle between these two tendencies.

We see it in the inequalities between incomes, between housing being treated as a human right as opposed to a speculative sport. We see it in the vast inequalities of health and life expectancy, in the inequalities in the allocation of education funding, access to transport, energy, culture, sport, recreation, all of the things that make life liveable.

We need – learning from the people who bear the brunt of inequality and exclusion – to tell a new story where the right to a place to call home is connected to the right to education, to health, to decent work for those who can work and income security for those who cannot, to all that makes us human, including culture and connection, dignity and respect; not just survival but joy, not just breakfast but a fair crack at happiness.

It is the edges of a socio-economic formation that teach us most about its structural make-up, its foundations. The woman who is forced to ask for money for breakfast tells us what these edges are like. And teaches us why we must fight for an alternative kind of society that disavows the power of concentrated wealth and puts at its centre the collective needs of the people, including those who have been pushed to the limits of despair. As Dante puts it as he travels through hell: “A hard edge bears us on.”

Dr John Falzon is Senior Fellow, Inequality and Social Justice at Per Capita, a progressive think tank. He is a sociologist, poet and social justice advocate and was national CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia from 2006 to 2018. He is the author of The language of the unheard (2012) and a collection of poems, Communists like us (2017). He is a member of the Australian Services Union. Follow him on Twtter @JohnFalzon.

Trump is playing with fire on Venezuela

Guest post by Atilio Boron.

The emperor fired his starting pistol and anointed Juan Guaidó as president. Guaidó is a nobody in Venezuelan policy, unknown by the great majority of the population but built pret a porter [ready-to-wear] by the media and North American marketers in the past two weeks.

After Trump’s outburst, the governments of the region who are going out of their way to turn their countries into neo-colonial puppet republics – Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Honduras, and even the degraded Canada – went out in a throng to see which one of them was the first to lick the boots of New York’s magnate.

This grotesque abuse of law, which would be worth a good laugh if it were not for the fact that it could end in tragedy, has the blessing of [Secretary General of the Organisation of American States] Luis Almagro, whose catchphrase may as well be, “How much do I get for overthrowing Maduro?”

It has been met mainly with the sound of silence from the United Nations (UN) General Secretariat, the Portuguese António Guterres who, as a good social democrat, suffers from the characteristic tic of his party members who look the other way every time things heat up in any corner of the world.

This is why Guterres asked, through his spokesman, for “inclusive and credible political negotiations” to address the challenges of the country; maybe forgetting that such negotiations were successfully conducted by [former Spanish Prime Minister] José Rodríguez Zapatero in meetings that took place in Santo Domingo and that, at the moment of signing the hard-won agreement, the representatives of Venezuela’s ‘democratic option’ got up from the table and left the Spanish negotiator with his pen in his hand. This was because they received a call from [former Colombian President] Álvaro Uribe, the regular messenger of the White House, transmitting Trump’s order to abort the process.

The attempted coup d’etat, promoted and exalted by the media hitmen, will stumble into many difficulties. It is not the first time in the modern history of Venezuela that the White House has ‘recognised’ a false president. They did the same with Pedro Carmona on April 11, 2002, when he led a coup attempt that lasted barely 47 hours and ended up with him in jail.

Will it be different this time? It is hard to predict. Guaidó can take refuge in a friendly embassy in Caracas and from there issue declarations that heighten the tension and force a confrontation with the United States.

For example, after the order of President Maduro requesting the personnel of the Embassy of the United States to leave the country within 72 hours, the imperial good-for-nothing may ask them to remain in Venezuela.

The other alternative is for Guaidó to locate himself in a nearby city across the Colombian border, and from there – with Trump’s blessing, and that of the stinking representatives of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Latin American neo-colonies – proclaim a new republic, protected by Colombian paramilitaries and the narco-government of [Colombian President Iván] Duque, Uribe and co, and request the international recognition of the OAS and the UN.

Any of these scenarios confirms for the umpteenth time that there is something that not even the imperialists nor the Venezuelan right want – dialogue and the subordination to the rules of the democratic game. It is evident that they both seek a confrontation, be it applying either the Libyan or the Ukrainian models, which were different but shared the outcomes of thousands of fatalities and the creation of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

However, beyond the fake news, things will not be that easy for the assailants of the presidential power. The Chavista base is very firm, and the same can be said of the Bolivarian armed forces. Importantly, a military ‘solution’ would require a major deployment of US troops to Venezuela at a moment when the idea of Trump being subjected to impeachment proceedings is gaining support in the US Congress.

The 26,000 men sent to Panama in December 1989 to capture Noriega and take control of that city had to fight with their full strength over two weeks to accomplish their objective, against a helpless population and an armless army. In the case of Venezuela, the military option would imply an enormous risk of repeating the fiasco of Girón Beach [at the failed US invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961] or, on a bigger scale, the Vietnam war, in addition to destabilising the military situation in Colombia with the upsurge of the guerrillas.

Washington’s belligerence against Venezuela is a response to the military defeat that the US has suffered in Syria after six years of huge efforts to topple Assad. From their side, it is no minor development to note that countries such as Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, México, Cuba and Bolivia have refused to provide diplomatic acknowledgement to the coup d’etat. This is significant in the global policy setting. Therefore, the possibility of Guaidó running into similar luck to that of Carmona should not be discarded.

Atilio Boron is an Argentine political analyst and sociologist with a PhD from Harvard University. In 2004 he received the Essay Prize Ezequiel Martínez Estrada from the “House of the Americas” (“la Casa de las Américas”) for his book Empire and Imperialism (Imperio & Imperialismo). In 2009, he received the International José Martí Prize from UNESCO for his contribution to integration of Latin American and Caribbean countries. He blogs at http://www.atilioboron.com.ar/

This article was first published in Spanish by pagina12.com.ar on January 23, 2019. It has been reprinted here in English with the permission of the author. Translation by Verónica Grondona.