Nicaragua Launches Plan to Fight Poverty and Promote Human Development. By: Teri Mattson & John PerryRead Now
Featured image: A local market in Malecón, Managua. Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock.
Ivan Acosta is Nicaragua’s minister of housing and public credit, with responsibility for key aspects of government planning. In July, he presented the country’s new “National Plan for the Fight against Poverty and for Human Development.” This builds on the achievements of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government since it returned to power in 2007 and sets out how they will continue if Daniel Ortega’s government is returned at November’s elections. Ivan Acosta is currently subject to personal US sanctions, along with many other Nicaraguan government officials and their family members.
Codepinks’s Teri Mattson spoke to the minister in a Zoom call and asked him to explain the plan and its background.
The Sandinista government regained power in 2007. What conditions did it find when it returned to office?
We need to remember what state the country was in at that time, something largely ignored in public debate. The truth is that when President Ortega returned to the presidency on January 10, 2007, he took charge of a country of blackouts, with electricity cut off daily. Nicaragua had turned its back on its rural communities and on its Caribbean coast, on its indigenous people and its people of African descent. There was no public acknowledgement of the autonomous peoples in government policies. Campesinos (peasant farmers) and other producers had been left behind due to the privatization of the National Bank. No funding was being provided, no credit. There were no rural roads. In many places there was no energy and no drinking water; social indicators such as infant mortality and maternal mortality rate were terrible.
Those 16 or 17 years of neoliberalism in Nicaragua after 1990 brought privatization of public services. In terms of education, the country was reduced to having only four grades in primary school. The healthcare system was also privatized. It was a country with no social programs, a lack of public investment and only 50% of the country with electricity, and even then with frequent blackouts because capacity to generate electricity was so limited. Out of the 2,000 kilometers of roads only 30 percent were in reasonable condition. There was a great deficit in telecommunications.
The country’s poverty figures became the worst in Latin America. Just from 2002 to 2005, general poverty rose from 45 to 48.3 percent and extreme poverty reached 17 percent. This small country was heading in the wrong direction. Poverty was worsening and the neoliberal government was proud because they said that this would bring foreign investment. But there were not enough jobs and public investment barely reached $270 million annually. There were no government resources, not even to provide primary school children with a glass of milk. So, the neoliberal model was a disaster and we put an end to that on January 10, 2007. Fortunately, we didn’t face a pandemic in 2005 or 2006 because it would have been very difficult to deal with such a situation given how public services had been destroyed.
How did things begin to change after 2007?
It’s important to talk about what the government of Nicaragua, under the leadership of President Comandante Ortega, has done to change the country’s situation. So, in the first place, all social and public services have been de-privatized, to ensure free education and health care. Then, public and economic policies need to center on the poorest. The main priority has been the fight against poverty and extreme poverty. Successful public policies are not only those which make the economy grow or the foreign reserves grow or which ensure macroeconomic stability, but also those which ensure that most people’s situation improves on a daily basis.
Comandante Ortega’s government has more than doubled the kilometers of new road that have been built, vital for access to rural areas. But we also ensured that 85 percent of roads are in good shape and we are now the country with the best roads in Central America, even though we have the smallest economy.
From 2007, we began to build the most modern health care system in Central America by investing in technology, hospital infrastructure and physicians and healthcare staff. We also made rapid progress in providing water and sanitation. We went from 60 to 91 percent in urban sectors in terms of drinking water services. And we went from 30 to 57 percent, in terms of sanitation. Those are issues which are relevant for people’s lives, not only for the political and business minorities, but for the large majority.
I think that the most important change in direction by Comandante Ortega was making public education free at the primary, secondary and university levels. As from January 10, 2007, we ensured that 100,000 students went back to school by providing free education.
We also invested in rural communities: we created 275,000 bonos productivos for women members of families in rural areas (the process by which they were helped to raise chicken, cattle and pigs). We developed the zero usury program and granted more than 1,300,000 credits to women to help reduce the gender equality gap. The government also had extraordinary success in reducing the maternal mortality rate: it fell by 67 percent. We went from 95 women who died per 100,000 births to 35.
Those were huge challenges; by tackling them, the country became more equal. There was greater economic participation. We managed to increase livestock production by 75 percent and agricultural production by 85 percent. The size of the economy went from $6.5 billion to $13.7 billion in the span of ten years. But what’s most important is how this growth was employed. We reduced general poverty from 48.3 to 24.9 percent and extreme poverty from 17.6 to 6.9 percent. These are extraordinary figures. This was achieved with social and political stability, consensus and dialogue, in a decade characterized by social, political and economic progress that benefitted everyone.
With so much social and economic success during those first ten years, how do you interpret the violent anti-government actions which hit the country in April 2018?
We concluded that 2018 was an expression of hate by some minorities given the progress the country was experiencing. The failed coup d’etat had an impact that was equivalent to 52 hurricanes like Hurricane Iota that hit us in November 2020. The damage was so great that the failed coup attempt caused Nicaragua more severe damage than the global pandemic has done. Take a look at the figures: $24 billion damage against $4 billion. So, it’s been six times more damaging and it especially hit the country’s poorest people.
So, that was the context for how we developed The National Plan Against Poverty & To Promote Human Development.
What are the goals of the new plan?
The aims are summarized this chart. We have 12 objectives which basically express our hopes to fill the remaining gaps in our social and economic program. We’ve made progress, but we still need to reinforce our efforts to fight against poverty and to eradicate extreme poverty. No society should have extreme poverty (people living on less than $1.25 per day).
What are the most important issues?
Well, definitely macroeconomic stability, something that we have to continue working on. We are a country that has managed to develop solid and sustainable public finances, improving our balance sheet, reinforcing our reserves, having sustainable public debt, and laying the groundwork to attract more private investment to create the jobs that the country needs.
We also aim to improve the basic conditions for development by providing people with electricity, by building roads and bridges, by accelerating the provision of water and sanitation to the population, by ensuring strategic investment for the ports in the Caribbean, by attracting investment for a new railroad (and we hope that it can be electrical), with investment in tourism in the Pacific coast. We are fostering the agricultural livestock industry to create jobs, and at the same time we continue working on healthcare and education and to strengthen our gender equality strategy.
How is the Nicaraguan government tackling the gender gap?
We are proud that this year the country is among the world’s top five countries in gender equality – according to the World Economic Forum. Only four Nordic countries did better but we need to invest even more in bridging the gender equality gap and strengthen women’s role because the country needs it. Women are 52 percent of the population and if they do not have equal participation then it will be more difficult to develop the country. Also, we need to tackle the rural-urban gap and the gap between the minorities and the majority. We need to bridge all these gaps and create equality so that the country can develop faster and to do it in a balanced way.
Is climate change affecting the rural-urban gap and migration to urban centers?
Another strategic aim is tackling climate change. We believe that we need to better manage our water resources, and we need to reforest as this is vital for the country’s future. But we have to do this intelligently because the change agents are the more than 300,000 rural producers. We’ve noticed that positive effects in tackling climate change derive from successes in fighting rural poverty and in transforming the agricultural and livestock sector. If the rural sector becomes wealthier than that will be harmonious with nature because they can produce more in better ways, and that translates into better water, better forests, more diversification so that the rural economy can work better. That is essential.
How are you addressing the needs of indigenous and afro-descendent minority communities on the Caribbean Coast?
I am from the Caribbean Coast myself. We have a strategy to make the Caribbean Coast a special development area given that it has always aspired to be the connection point between North America, South America and Europe. But we are one of the few countries which have a Caribbean Coast with no ports. So, we are planning the construction of a port near Bluefields that will allow for the development of a region almost twice the size of El Salvador. We have recognized 23 indigenous territories and the Caribbean region is receiving investment it has never seen before: electricity, road connections, airports, hospitals to serve remote municipalities, rural energy (mainly solar) and water and sanitation to all municipalities. I think this is a great act of historic justice by the country towards the ethnic minorities who had been excluded for a long time until the 1979 Sandinista Revolution.
How do private investment and foreign investment advance Sandinismo?
The country has taken a leap forward in the design, management and implementation of projects from bilateral and multilateral development financing, to the point where Nicaragua is the most recognized country by multilateral banks in terms of its accountability and use of funds. We’ve had enormous results. You can see them in reports by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, and the European Investment Bank. We have an incredible record. If a country manages well, designs well, uses money well, and is accountable, then the number of projects grows rapidly. One example is that it has only taken eight years to bring electricity to the remaining half of the country, and it was the hardest job because we’re talking about remote rural areas. We’ve made similar progress in terms of roads, investment in production, and drinking water.
This creates a virtuous cycle because if a country performs well and creates a positive impact this is very important for foreign direct investment. If a business person comes from Australia or New Zealand, he or she doesn’t know the country so they look at the most important economic indicators and the level of competitiveness of the country: whether the roads are in good condition or not, whether taxes are competitive or not, and if the country and the government are investing enough resources to make the country more competitive and attractive. So probably the business person takes a look at the IMF for central bank indicators, takes a look at the macroeconomic stability, fiscal discipline and the sustainability of economic and financial policies. He or she will also, surely, look at the legal safety and investment safety of any project they are contemplating.
In this way we’ve achieved important investments in mining and renewable energy as well as general investments in the agricultural sector. We also have one of the most successful systems of free trade zones in Latin America. It has doubled the number of jobs in the last few years, so we think that public investment together with macroeconomic stability and good economic indicators help investors to trust Nicaragua. But there is another variable in Central America: the Northern Triangle and on into Mexico is probably the most violent region of the world which is not at war. So, in Nicaragua you find a place that’s good for investment, with low crime rates and the safest country in Central America.
Is this why the Nicaragua economy remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The decision to keep the economy working back in April 2020 was the result of several different factors. In the first place, Nicaragua is a country which has a large, dispersed rural community, where the risk of infection is low, in many places with no dense urban areas. The second factor is a social and economic one. There is a large popular or informal economy in which people live on a daily basis from what they can earn in the markets, farms or in the transport sector; therefore, closing the economy would paralyze their livelihoods. The third element had to do with the fact that if 99.9% of countries decided to close then we didn’t have to because we wouldn’t receive people from abroad, and the fourth element had to do with the fact that we had strengthened the healthcare system.
You can take all the necessary measures: social-distancing, hand washing, wearing masks, but if your healthcare care system is not strong (something seen in many developing countries) it can collapse. Since 2007 we had invested enormously in new hospitals and extra staff working in health care. People had access to healthcare at their doorstep. Great changes were made. A voluntary health network was formed which made five million household visits to the country’s 1.3 million homes when the pandemic began. We made sure we had the ICUs, the ventilators, but also made sure that the country, apart from not getting the virus, could get the resources needed to continue working.
We were ready and we probably have the best family and community healthcare model in Central America. There are Caribbean countries with great healthcare systems, but we have the best one in terms of its response because our healthcare system centers on the epidemiological issues that many countries have ignored. There may be good hospitals which are great at treating strokes or cancer, but they have left their epidemiological policies aside as if it were something from the previous century.
Apparently we were right because a few months later all the other countries started opening their economies bit by bit. So, we managed to reduce the loss of GDP forecast by the IMF of between 11% and 14% to only two percent.
We’ve had extraordinary results. We’re probably the Latin American country with the lowest number of virus cases and with the lowest fatality rate. We are quickly reactivating our economy. We are now recovering by five percent more than what was forecast for 2021. I think that the producers linked to agricultural exports should be given credit because we continued to export coffee, sugarcane, meat, seafood and beans to Central America. If the economy doesn’t work we won’t have resources to continue reinforcing the healthcare system.
Nicaragua is 80% food sovereign. How has this contributed to the National Plan?
Our production policies reinforce exports, food security and making progress towards food sovereignty. In Latin America, even though many countries have an agricultural industry, Nicaragua is one of the countries in which most of what’s on the table is produced nationally. Nicaragua is similar to Mexico in the sense that people eat rice, beans, meat and chicken in large quantities. Plantains as well. All of that is produced here: 80% of consumption is produced nationally. But what’s important is to increase productivity so that we can fulfill the needs of the local market and also reach the markets in neighboring countries as is the case of our beans, our milk, and our cheese because that is what creates wealth for the rural producers and for the country.
We are the biggest meat producer in Central America and I think that in the future Nicaragua will be one of the benchmarks due to the quality and the safety of our meat. The southern United States, specifically Florida, is a great consumer of Nicaraguan meat. If we increase productivity, if we provide good technical assistance, that will ensure food sovereignty but also allow us to reach more markets in Central America, Mexico, the United States and Canada. That’s why we talked about a Caribbean port because we don’t sell much to Europe. We’re also on the Pacific and we don’t sell much to Asia. We also don’t export much to South America. Therefore, we want to achieve greater productivity in the agricultural sector, ensuring food security and sovereignty.
You can watch the entire conversation with Minister Ivan Acosta here:
WTF is Going on in Latin America: Nicaragua Alleviates Poverty HYPERLINK “https://youtu.be/yabonl-motM”& HYPERLINK “https://youtu.be/yabonl-motM” Promotes Human Development
Introduced to Mesoamerican Anthropology and Archaeology in the sixth grade, Teri's lifelong passion for Latin America has inspired 35 years of travel throughout the region. The last few years include organizing and/or participating on political and social justice delegations to: Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti (April '16)*, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela (June ‘13, July '15, Dec. '15, May '16, Oct. '16, Mar. ‘18, May ‘18, Mar. ‘19)*
This article was published by Orinoco Tribune.
Privatising the NHS does not depend on a Trade Deal with the US, It’s been happening for years. By: Paul KnaggsRead Now
Privatisation of our NHS is bad for patients, bad for staff and completely flies in the face of the founding principles of our NHS but that’s never stopped successive governments before.
Privatisation’ is a politically charged term without a precise definition. In Britain, it is associated with the sell-off of nationalised industries and utilities as we witnessed under Margaret Thatcher, John Major, David Cameron and Nick Clegg with Royal Mail. This classic model involved whole enterprises being moved into private ownership through the mass sale of shares. But historically this is only one manifestation of privatisation.
There are others forms of privatisation…
Realising that privatisation of the NHS would be severely unpopular, the Thatcher Government instead started a programme of outsourcing. This continued and expanded under Blair and New Labour, it has been a constant policy for governments of all colours with no one willing or having the vision to break the chain.
This has been accelerated over the last ten years. Since the passing of the Health and Social Care Act in 2012, the NHS in England has been forced down a route of increased marketisation and privatisation – and the Government has accelerated its aggressive outsourcing to private firms during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cronyism and outsourcing has defined this government’s response to the pandemic, from the “VIP lane” for personal protective equipment (PPE) to suppliers with connections to the Tory party to the privatised track and trace system so flawed it was described by Sage as only being of “marginal impact”.
The existence of a separate channel for politically connected firms wanting to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) has been the source of sustained criticism, with a number of companies linked to Conservative MPs and friends of ministers receiving major government contracts.
Civil servants found themselves “drowning” in bids for Covid contracts that failed to meet due diligence standards after the government created a “VIP lane” for politically connected suppliers.
The evidence disclosed as a result of a legal action brought against the government by the Good Law Project shows the controversial scheme resulted in a deluge of non-credible offers to supply personal protective equipment (PPE), some of them recommended by MPs and ministers.
The government repeatedly refused to reveal which companies were awarded public money after having their bids assessed through the VIP lane, citing “commercial confidentiality”.
In open court, lawyers acting on behalf of the Government admitted it had breached the law by persistently failing to publish details of COVID-19 contracts.
The chairman of the healthcare company awarded over 5million is the former business partner of the Health and Social Care Secretary’s mother and stepfather
If the government’s pandemic response is left unchecked it will shape the future structures of the NHS, procurement and public scrutiny. This cronyism has clearly been seen in the Covid procurement contracts, which has functioned as a giant slush fund for Tory friends and donors.
It was shown when the then health secretary, Matt Hancock, acted unlawfully by failing to publish multibillion-pound Covid-19 government contracts within the 30-day period required by law, a high court judge has ruled.
The judge, Mr Justice Chamberlain, ruled the failure to do so breached the “vital public function” of transparency over how “vast quantities” of taxpayers’ money was spent.
The judgment was a victory for the Good Law Project (GLP), a crowdfunded not-for-profit organisation that is making a series of legal challenges related to the government’s procurement of protective personal equipment (PPE) and other services during the pandemic.
Not only were they knowingly in breach of the law, but explosive emails read to the High Court reveal that Number 10 asked civil servants to delay publishing PPE contracts even further in order to suit their news agenda. The government openly breaching the law for their own political expediency may no longer surprise us, but it is a worrying sign indeed for our democracy.
Again tasked with rolling out millions of coronavirus tests, the then health secretary, Matt Hancock, opted for a centralised system using private firms. The business consultancy, Deloitte, was handed a contract to help run testing through local drive-in and walk-in test sites, with swabs being sent for analysis at a network of national laboratories, many also outsourced. Serco was also handed a deal to run contact tracing, subcontracting work to other firms as well.
These are just small parts of the sum, the NHS is a ‘cash cow’ for pharmaceutical companies and now family and friends of Tory MPs and peers.
This outsourcing is being carried out with minimal oversight, governance or transparency. There is no ability to scrutinise these deals and public money is haemorrhaging from the Treasury while a health and care system in desperate need of investment and resources is ignored.
Urgent action is required to protect the NHS and ensure public money is spent in a responsible manner. In the long term, the health service must be protected and returned to being a genuinely publicly funded, publicly provided and publicly accountable system.
Some of the most lucrative contracts received by firms such as PwC and Deloitte since the pandemic began
Since the onset of the pandemic, the government has spent tens of millions of pounds on management consultants to help it manage elements of the Covid-19 response, from the much-criticised NHS test-and-trace programme to buying PPE.
The UK’s largest consulting firms have been paid more than £100m to advise the government on its response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a string of delayed disclosures from Whitehall in recent weeks.
A huge amount of public money has been spent on consultation, a number of the consulting contracts have also come under fire over the services provided.
The Finacial Times reported a total of 106 contracts worth £109m have been agreed upon between various government departments and consulting firms such as PwC, Deloitte and McKinsey since March, as civil servants scrambled for support to source personal protective equipment, set up test and trace programmes and acquire thousands of new ventilators as the pandemic gathered pace.
The NAO – which examined whether government procurement followed due process – found examples of contracts, some for hundreds of millions of pounds, being awarded without basic documents that would normally be drawn up to protect against the misuse of public funds.
Bids from companies referred by a political connection to the scheme were taken more seriously, according to the NAO, with suppliers in the high-priority channel viewed as having been “pre-sifted for credibility by being referred by a senior credible source”.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) accounted for 90% of the £18 billion worth of contracts issued up to August, according to the report.
Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings were both drawn into the debacle after the spending watchdog said officials failed to consider potential conflicts of interests involving companies linked to them.
The National Audit Office revealed that officials had signed contracts for hundreds of thousands of facemasks which turned out to be unusable – wasting hundreds of millions of pounds.
It’s true the NHS will always be “free at the point of entry“, how else will the government justify the vast amounts of public money needed to maintain the NHS, it’s who, where and what happens to that money that matters. That’s how we get short-changed that’s privatisation through the back door.
The great PFI heist
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown saw Private Finance Initiatives as a way to deliver infrastructure projects without huge capital expenditure
There are many reasons the NHS will always be within the public domain none more so than the why it is used to milk money into the Bankers pockets, we can thank ‘The great PFI heist’ Thanks to Blair and Brown the PFI debt for the British taxpayer on the last count in 2018 was more than £300bn for infrastructure projects, with a value of £54.7bn. To put it into perspective, the PFI debt is four times the size of the budget deficit used to justify austerity, guess what, that dept has never and will never go down.
Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), made an astonishing admission on BBC1’s Question Time when he stated that private finance initiatives (PFI) had been a “fraud on the people”. Beyond seemingly populist rhetoric, the real story of PFI reveals that RBS alongside other global banks, notably HSBC, were instrumental in what Sir Howard has effectively labelled a great heist.
Youssef El-Gingihy writing in 2018 stated: “Of course, PFI was not always a toxic brand. In 1997 it appeared to be New Labour’s magical solution to chronic underinvestment in public services in the wake of Thatcherism.
As Alan Milburn – the former Labour Health Secretary described by Private Eye as an “almost maniacal convert to PFI” – put it: “It’s PFI or bust.”
The argument went that Labour had inherited public services in such a diabolical state of neglect that there was no alternative to the private financing of whole swathes of infrastructure.
It was a persuasive argument that seduced many. The Blairite Third Way would somehow square the circle by delivering new schools, hospitals, roads, railways and prisons without the debt or inefficiency of the public sector. It seemed too good to be true yet those who dared to question the orthodoxy du jour were swatted away.
PFI deals insulated the lenders and equity investors from the risk that any future government may renege on the original agreements or seek to renegotiate them. This has meant that irrespective of the extreme budgetary constraints on local authorities and NHS Trusts, as well as the shrinking amount of money available for schools, hospitals and social care, they are still required to make annual payments to the PFI companies.
As early as 1999, Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal, denounced it as “PFI: Perfidious Financial Idiocy” in an editorial revealing that repayments would be exorbitant. In the same year, Professor Allyson Pollock and colleagues published a paper sounding the alarm over the potentially disastrous consequences of PFI debt and the financialisation of public services. And in a 2004 long read for Private Eye the late Paul Foot exposed the seedy underbelly of its history.
Now the unheeded prophecies of the Cassandras have come true.
Vivek Kotecha is Research Officer at the Centre for Health and the Public Interest, states in his article for the London school of economics: “These guaranteed payments provide PFI companies and their lenders with substantial returns in the form of profit and interest which are in excess of returns on projects with similar risks. They also lock public authorities into contracts for 25-30 years for cleaning and facilities maintenance services, and sometimes require that they make payments for buildings which are no longer needed. The ultimate end point for dealing with the legacy of these deals in the public sector is therefore to reduce the cost of the debt repayments, end excess profiteering, and allow public bodies to break the contracts.
The Case for a Public Option for the Drug Industry
Greater democratic, public control over the research, development, production, and sale of medicines would help the government fulfil its obligations to ensure the right to health for all. It would also be consistent with, and reinforce, the principles of the NHS. Delivering universality and equity in accessing medicines is crucial to ensuring that our public healthcare system is accessible for all. And it could increase the amount of secure, high-quality jobs in our economy.
The amount of public money spent on R&D should not only see a return on the product but profits too.
UK spending on Covid vaccines hits nearly £12bn, Cost does not cover future multiyear programmes for jabs, according to the National Audit Office. The UK invested hundreds of millions in the research to produce the vaccine any investor would surely have expected a return on future profits.
Of course, we must also look at Jeremy Corbyn’s plan when has Labour Party Leader, he announced Labour’s plans to put “public health before private profit” by ensuring that pharmaceutical companies make vital drugs available at prices that the National Health Service can afford.
Jeremy Corbyn stated a Labour government would establish a state-funded generic drug manufacturer to make life-saving medicines affordable to all, he said that private drugs companies will be required to keep prices down as a condition of receiving public funding for research. It’s doubtful we will ever see policies like that again, the reality is the NHS will always remain a public institution how else will the Olicharchy and big Pharma feed from the public purse
We can almost guarantee that won’t be in Starmer’s little policy pot. Neither will any proposals to build state-owned pharmaceutical companies.
A good place to fight and win back the NHS is with ‘We Own It!’ LINK HERE
Paul Knaggs is an Editor, founder, Labour Heartlands, Labour Party member and activist. Citizen journalist, Ex-British Army combat veteran. Drifting towards Revolutionary socialism. Fighting a constant struggle with dyslexia that's overcome with a burning desire to speak out against the corrupt political system and the social injustices it creates. Advocate for Free speech and open, accountable, democracy.
This article was produced by Labour Heartlands.
Mikis Theodorakis, who began his political life as a partisan in Greek resistance, remained a staunch opponent of imperialist aggression throughout his life. His musical compositions contributed to the cultural revolution in Greece
“Now at the end of my life, at the time of reckoning, the details fade from my mind and remain the big picture. So I see that my most critical, strong and mature years were spent under the banner of the KKE. That is why I want to leave this world as a communist”.
On Thursday, September 2, renowned Greek composer and political activist Michail “Mikis” Theodorakis died in Athens at 96 of cardiopulmonary arrest. Mikis was a legendary composer and was active in the Greek resistance (1941–1944) during World War II and the resistance against the Greek military junta (1967-74).
Theodorakis’ works were censored for his political views and activities. He was jailed, tortured, and forced into exile. He was associated with the Greek left for most of his life and was elected to the Greek parliament several times, twice from the leftist/communist platforms. Throughout his life, he opposed imperialism, fought for peace and the cause of the working class. He has also received many international honors, including the Lenin peace prize.
Greece will mark three days of mourning to honor the life and career of Mikis Theodorakis. Progressive sections in Greece and abroad, including the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL), condoled his death.
Music in the key of struggle
Born in Chios, Theodorakis was interested in music from an early age and took his first lessons in Patras and Pyrgos. In the 1940s, he studied at the Athens Conservatoire. He conducted his first concert at the age of seventeen. He founded his first orchestra while in Crete and became the head of the Chania Music School. Theodorakis and his wife Myrto Altinoglou moved to Paris in the 50s, studying and working more on music.
Mikis Theodorakis’ association with politics started in Athens in 1943 and was closely intertwined with his musical work. He became a member of the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), the military wing of the left-wing National Liberation Front (EAM), which resisted the axis forces in Greece during World War II. During the Greek Civil War, he was arrested, exiled to Icaria and Makronisos, and was brutally tortured. Following his return from Paris, outraged by the killing of leftist MP Grigoris Lambrakis by far-right extremists in 1963, Theodorakis formed Lambrakis Democratic Youth and was elected to Greek Parliament in 1964 from the United Democratic Left panel.
At this moment, his compositions based on poems brought about a cultural revolution in the country. He developed his “metasymphonic music” by mixing the symphonic elements with popular songs, western symphonic orchestra, and popular Greek instruments. He founded the Little Orchestra of Athens and the Musical Society of Piraeus and organized many concerts in Greece.
He gave the score for the film Zorba the Greek in 1964. Around the time, Mikis also composed the renowned “Mauthausen Trilogy,” also known as “The Ballad of Mauthausen,” based on poems on the holocaust written by Greek poet Iakovos Kambanellis. Critics call it Theodorakis’ best work ever.
Mikis Theodorakis during a concert at the Panionios Stadium in 1975. Photo: 902.gr
When the military junta came to power in 1967, Theodorakis went underground and organized the Patriotic Front. In response, the Greek military junta banned his works and proceeded to arrest Theodorakis and imprisoned him. In 1968, Mikis and his family were brought to Zatouna, and the junta interned him at the Oropos concentration camp. However, international pressure by famous artists and politicians mounted, and forced the Greek authorities to allow them to leave the country in 1970.
While in exile (1970-74), Mikis traveled extensively to campaign against the Greek military junta. He met many leaders from the developing world during this period, including Salvador Allende, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Tito, Olof Palme, and Yasser Arafat.
He composed political songs and performed worldwide to raise international public opinion against the Greek military junta. During this period, he also gave music to Pablo Neruda’s Canto General and Yiannis Ritsos’s Eighteen Short Songs of the Bitter Motherland. In 1974, he returned to Greece and focused on more symphonic compositions and operas during the 80s and 90s. He also served as the General Musical Director of the Choir and the two Orchestras of the Hellenic State Radio (ERT).
Upon his return to Greece in 1974, Mikis became active again in Greek politics in close association with the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). He was elected again to the Greek parliament in 1981 and 1989 (with the backing of New Democracy (ND). He also served as a Minister (1990-1992) in the cabinet of Konstantinos Mitsotakis.
Mikis Theodorakis and Giannis Ritsos at the 4th KNE-Odigits Festival in Peristeri. Photo: 902.gr
Throughout his life, Mikis remained a staunch opponent of Israel’s occupation of Palestine and helped compose the Palestinian national anthem. He vociferously criticized the NATO-led bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and the US aggression on Iraq. Mikis extensively campaigned for Greece-Turkey friendship, peace and unity in the ethnically divided island of Cyprus. He criticized the Greek government for the loan debt accrued from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
On September 2, the central committee of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) said that “impulsive, inspired and ignited by the passion of offering to the people, Theodorakis managed to fit in his majestic work the whole epic of the popular struggle of the 20th century in our country. After all, he was part of this epic.”
“His music broke the borders of the country, as its language has the universality of the common sufferings, the hopes, the visions that are shared by all the peoples, all the humble ones of the earth,” added the KKE.
The Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) of Cyprus bid farewell to Mikis, saying that “Mikis Theodorakis’s relationship with Cyprus was special and in every test of the Cypriot people he gave us a thunderous presence, supporting our struggle in every way he could.”
This article was produced by peoples dispatch.
Photo: Aerial photo shows damage in Houma, Louisiana following Hurricane Ida. Credit — National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Geodetic Survey
Hurricane Ida has ravaged states from Louisiana through New England this week, leaving horrific damage and death in its wake. At least five of the states that Ida visited had tornadoes touch down, with Pennsylvania experiencing a total of 16 tornado warnings. The storm left masses of people without power. Over one million people in Louisiana are experiencing outages, and officials predict that it will take a number of weeks for the grid to be restored. Power outages are impacting communities all along Ida’s path, with Mississippi reporting over 86,000 households without electricity, New Jersey reporting over 57,000, Connecticut over 37,000, and Pennsylvania over 18,000.
Electricity isn’t the only resource impacted — many in Louisiana are experiencing downed cellular and water systems services, as well as fuel and oxygen shortages. There have been discharges of untreated sewage in Connecticut, and in parts of Virginia at least 20 homes were moved from their foundations. Virginia officials expect it to take 30 days to restore power, and a year for public water to be fully restored.
In Mississippi, where they are reported to have avoided the worst of the storm, a highway collapsed as a result of heavy rains from Ida, leaving two people dead and several others injured. The final death toll is unknown as flood waters throughout the Northeast continue to present a danger, but from Maryland to New York there have been at least 22 deaths reported in addition to seven reported throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
As with everything under capitalism, the devastation and outcomes of a catastrophe like Ida are not equally felt. In New York City, for example, eight people died in flooded basement apartments, which are often less expensive and house lower income individuals and families. Working class people are often unable to afford to evacuate before or during dangerous weather events or don’t have anywhere to evacuate to, leaving them forced to remain in their homes when these disasters hit.
For those who are able to evacuate, often they are relocated to a small, enclosed and overcrowded location. This is less than ideal in the best of times, but in the midst of a pandemic can be potentially deadly. In contrast, the wealthy are able to relocate themselves with relative ease should the need arise, and have no need to rely on public storm shelters.
For those who cannot afford or do not have access to a generator, widespread power outages cause dangerous conditions in the heat, especially in places where temperatures are climbing to 90+ degrees. Extended periods of time without power can also result in the loss of safe food and water.
There are further inequalities in terms of ability to stay safe and out of the storm. As has been starkly highlighted throughout the pandemic, many low-wage workers are also considered to be “essential”, and so during a catastrophic event may still be expected to go to work. If they do not then they risk losing their jobs. Alternately, for working class people who do stay home, that may result in a critical loss of income.
Another striking contrast is in the ability to rebuild following a disaster such as Ida. Many members of the working class do not have the means to make needed repairs to their homes, or to rebuild entirely should their home be destroyed. They may end up being forced to move, become homeless, or remain and live in an unsafe situation.
As the climate crisis caused and fueled by capitalist greed worsens, and disasters like Hurricane Ida become more frequent and widespread, the discrepancies and inequalities are set to become sharper. The rich remove themselves from the realities of the changing and deteriorating climate, while leaving the rest of us to face the consequences of their actions. Capitalism is not only unable to solve the climate crisis, but it is also unable to appropriately address the disasters that are occurring with increased frequency as a result. Socialism is needed in order to both confront the climate disaster, and to deal with natural disasters in a way that prioritizes and protects human life.
Photo: Vaccination of youth in Cuba. Credit — CubaDebate.cu
In the battle against COVID-19, Cuba has been a country of firsts. It is the only country in all Latin America to produce its own vaccines.
Cuba has sent more than 5,000 doctors to help treat COVID patients in 57 brigades to 40 countries around the world since the pandemic began. No other country has come close.
Now, in a major new development, babies and children two years old and up will be massively vaccinated starting in 10 days. Cuba is the first country in the world to vaccinate babies and children under 12.
On Friday, Sept. 3, Cuba’s Center for State Control of Medicines, Equipment and Medical Devices (CECMED) announced emergency approval for the mass vaccination of two-year-olds and children up to age 11 using the Soberana 02 vaccine. Soberana was developed and is produced by the famous Finlay Vaccine Institute. Pediatric innoculations will begin September 15. Trials showed the vaccine to be safe and effective in that age range. Youths 12 to 18 years will receive Soberana starting September 5.
By November 15 all schoolchildren under 18 will return to their classrooms fully vaccinated, and pre-school children as well. For now students will start their fall lessons on Sept. 6 by television, as has been the practice since the pandemic began.
Dr. Olga Lidia Jacobo Casanueva, CECMED Director, told Cuban TV, “It is great news for the Cuban people, for the Cuban family which has waited to be able to vaccinate their children. It is a real achievement for Cuban science and represents an historic moment in our country.”
Since late June, Cuba has experienced a dramatic increase in positive COVID cases amid the ever-harsher U.S. economic blockade and the shutdown of tourism due to the pandemic. From roughly 1,100 average new cases in early June, the figure skyrocketed to an average of 9,504 new positive cases exactly one month ago. The last four days’ average ending Sept. 4 was 6,899.
Despite the many challenges of increased cases and material shortages, Cuba’s socialist government and health institutions are soldiering through with the national plan and its three most effective vaccine lines to cover the whole population.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel announced Aug. 31 — in a special meeting of scientists and health professionals — that by November, 92.6% of Cuba’s entire population will be fully vaccinated with the three-shot process.
The bold project of universal infant, child and adult vaccination is possible because of the country’s highly organized vaccination system that has been in place for decades. Cuban scientists, fully supported by a government that places its trust in their expertise and dedication, work for the common good — free of a profit motive.
Plus, Cuban society has not suffered the polarization whipped up by right-wing politicians and false media in the United States that have actively opposed mask mandates and vaccinations. Millions in the United States have fallen victim to the anti-science hysteria, failing to vaccinate. The U.S. COVID cases and deaths are in the second-highest wave since April 2020 and rising.
The pandemic has been severe for Cuba due to the longstanding blockade further hardened under Trump. The tourism industry — a major source of income for the country and workers — has virtually shut down due to the virus.
Up to now, all vaccines worldwide have been approved for emergency use by corresponding health institutions, due to their highly effective results and the need to take immediate action given the severity of the pandemic.
The pediatric trials in Cuba began June 14 this year. The first stage was 25 adolescent volunteers, 12 to 18 years old, then a larger group of 350. In early July almost 600 babies and children under 12 took part in clinical trials. The children’s vaccine trial was named Ismaelillo, after poetry written by Cuba’s national hero José Martí to his son.
No children are exempt from the highly contagious delta variant, now dominant around the world. The urgency for pediatric vaccination everywhere is greater than ever as the school year begins anew this week.
The struggle against COVID is far from over. But Cuba’s latest achievement is a shining example of the Cuban people and their revolution facing adversity with determination to overcome.
Gloria La Riva
This article was produced by Liberation news.
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan. The Costs of War Facebook page.
The U.S. war on terror has killed almost one million people across the world and cost the country some $8 trillion over the past 20 years, according to a new report.
The Costs of War Project by Brown University estimated that between 897,000 and 929,000 people have lost their lives as a direct result of war in more than 80 countries.
The study, published yesterday, examined spending on U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria.
Of the $8 trillion, $2.3 trillion is attributed to the Afghanistan-Pakistan war zone, which has seen the Taliban return to power in Kabul after 20 years of U.S.-led war and occupation.
“The war has been long and complex and horrific and unsuccessful,” said joint author of the report Catherine Lutz.
Cost of War Project co-founder Neta Crawford noted that the fatalities recorded were a conservative estimate as they did not include indirect those caused by disease, displacement, and loss of access to food or clean drinking water.
“The deaths we tallied are likely a vast undercount of the true toll these wars have taken on human life,” she said.
Researcher Stephanie Savell said: “Twenty years from now, we’ll still be reckoning with the high societal costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, long after U.S. forces are gone.”
“Today, almost half of the population of Afghanistan, 18 million people, need humanitarian assistance to survive,” he said on Monday.
In a nationwide address on Tuesday, Mr. Biden pledged that the U.S. would “continue to support the Afghan people” through diplomacy, international influence, and humanitarian aid.
But he remained tight-lipped over a drone strike he authorized that wiped out 10 members of one Afghan family, including six children.
Washington has been derided for claiming that it does more than any other country to protect civilians during military operations.
According to Save the Children, nearly 33,000 youngsters were killed or maimed during the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, not including those who died from hunger and disease.
“What remains after 20 years is a generation of children whose entire lives have been blighted by the misery and impact of war,” it said on Monday.
“The magnitude of human suffering of the past two decades is beyond comprehension.”
Steve Sweeney writes for the Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. He is also a People's Assembly National Committee member, patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, and a proud trade unionist.
The U.S. currently holds a strong hand in its chip war with China. But experts believe it will lose in the future as China has a bigger market and a larger capacity for creating new knowledge.
With the U.S. imposing technology sanctions on China, the world’s electronics industry is facing turbulent times. After the sanctions, Huawei has slipped from its number one slot as a mobile phone supplier—which the company held during the second quarter of 2020—to number seven currently. Commenting on this slide, Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping has said that the company’s battle is for survival right now. According to Reuters, Guo in a note circulated internally maintained that Huawei “will not give up and plans to eventually return to the industry’s ‘throne.’” On that count, Huawei is not only surviving but doing quite well. It is still the world leader in the telecom equipment market with a hefty 31 percent revenue share, which is twice that of its nearest competitors Nokia and Ericsson, and profits of nearly $50 billion in the first six months of 2021. But will Huawei be able to retain its market position without China catching up with the latest developments in chip manufacturing and design technologies?
It is not just the Chinese companies alone that are facing tough times. With growing chip wars between the U.S. and China, the global supply chain for electronic chips has been affected, leading to chip shortages across several sectors. Semiconductor chips are used in almost every product, from household equipment—microwave ovens and toasters—to the automotive and defense industries. The auto industry’s biggest bottleneck today is the chip shortage, which has badly hit their production. If the chip wars continue, the crisis of the chip shortage may affect other industries as well.
This crisis, meanwhile, has raised several questions: Is the crisis of the semiconductor industry the precursor to the fragmentation of the global supply chains? Will it lead to warring blocks, with the U.S. at one pole and China at the other? With this fragility of the supply chain, are we seeing the end of globalization as a paradigm?
The electronics industry is one of the most capital-intensive and research-and-development-intensive industries. No other industry has this characteristic. Power or steel plants are capital-intensive; pharmaceuticals are R&D-intensive. But no other industry is both. ASML, a little-known Dutch company that produces the lithographic machines for chip manufacturing, is worth more than Volkswagen, the world’s largest car manufacturer. This is due to the high R&D costs of ASML’s lithographic machines: it is the only company that can deliver the machines that the most advanced chips require. In order for a new fabrication facility to make the new generation of chips today, it will cost $20 billion, which is more than the cost of an aircraft carrier or a nuclear plant. Only two fabricators, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and Samsung, have the capability to produce the most advanced chips that the industry uses.
The U.S. and China compete in areas such as artificial intelligence, computers, mobile networks and phones. The basic building block for all these technologies is semiconductor chips. The more circuity we can pack into a chip, the more computing power it has. The bulk of the market consists of older fabricators using 180 nm to 28 nm level technologies, with only 2 percent of the chips below the 10 nm level. The only fabricators that can make such chips are TSMC and Samsung, the world’s largest chip fabricators. Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) of China, the third-largest chip fabricator globally, has only recently moved from the 28 nm level to the 14 nm level. With Chinese government support, SMIC is investing in production lines that can go below 14 nm. Intel, once the world leader in chip manufacturing, is still stuck at the 14 nm level. However, it also has plans for developing the next generation of chips.
The U.S. has chosen the electronics/semiconductor industry as a battleground for its geostrategic competition with China. It believes that it has a significant technology lead and commands a major market share in this industry. China is a late entrant here. Though it has a comparable market share to that of the U.S., it still depends on certain core technologies. The U.S. and its allies—the European Union, Japan and South Korea—control these core technologies. That is why the U.S. has chosen Huawei and SMIC, two major Chinese players in the technology and the semiconductor industry respectively, as its target for sanctions. The U.S. has put more than 250 Chinese companies on the entities list, which require a special license to import equipment or components. However, it is not a blanket ban.
The U.S. is following up on its sanctions against Huawei and SMIC with a plan to bar China from what it calls “foundational technologies” under its 2018 Export Control Reform Act. The argument that the U.S. is building is a simple one: they are ahead of China in certain critical technologies required for advanced chip manufacturing; all they have to do to maintain this lead is to deny China access to these technologies; this will ensure the U.S. lead for the future and its dominance over the electronics industry.
John Verwey, an investment analyst who writes about semiconductor technology on his website Semi-Literate, discusses what can be considered a foundational technology in the electronics industry. At first sight, chip-making could appear as a foundational technology and the target of U.S. sanctions. This is what the U.S. did when it barred Huawei from buying the latest 7 nm scale chips from TSMC.
SMIC then tried to set up its fabrication line for 7 nm chips and needed to import extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machines from ASML, each costing around $120 million to $150 million. These lithographic machines are the critical part of the production lines of chip fabrication. Though the EUV machines are from the Netherlands, they use software developed in ASML’s U.S. subsidiary and therefore they fall under the U.S. sanctions regime.
The U.S. sanctions mean that ASML cannot sell the EUV lithography machines to China, though it can sell other lithographic machines for lower-end chip production, keeping China out of the high-end under-10-nm technology, and, therefore, a generation or two behind the market leaders.
This brings us to the question of how to define foundational technology. Though chips are the key driver of electronics, they are not as foundational as the machines that produce them. A country at the cutting edge of technology needs to master the technology of chip production and the machines that run such production lines. That is why ASML’s lithography machines are the bottleneck for China.
What then drives the advances in key technologies of the machines and chip production? As Marxists know, knowledge drives the productive forces—in this case, the advances in chip design. This knowledge is captured in the software design tools and the lithography machines. They are both highly knowledge-intensive and require people with very specialized skills.
The U.S. and its universities are still the major source of knowledge development, the key to the advances in this sector. But here is the long-term problem facing the nation: The research programs of the U.S. universities are mostly staffed by international students, with the bulk of them from China, India and other developing countries. Many of them stay back in the U.S. and provide the human power required for the advances in knowledge that the U.S. has today.
If Chinese students and researchers are not welcome in the U.S., this source of knowledge development will weaken. Unfortunately, countries like India do not have high-quality education institutions and research laboratories to be a substitute for the stream of Chinese students who enter U.S. universities. China has invested heavily in its universities and research institutions and produces more PhDs in science and technology today than the U.S. It is also building a pipeline of innovations from the universities/research institutions to the technology industry.
China is the biggest market for the U.S. semiconductor industry’s chip designs and design software. The U.S. companies also design high-end chips, which are then manufactured in Taiwan and China. In the short run, the U.S. sanctions will damage China’s advanced chip production and the production of electronic devices based on such chips. But it will also mean that the U.S. companies will lose a significant part of the revenues that they now receive from the Chinese market from the sale of their design tools. It will also lead to a loss of revenue for advanced chips that the U.S. companies like Qualcomm and Nvidia design and then manufacture in Taiwan’s TSMC.
For the high-tech U.S. companies, the loss of this income means less money for their R&D and the slow erosion of the country’s position as the global knowledge hub. Suppose the U.S. companies lose the Chinese market and, therefore, a significant part of their revenues. In that case, it will seriously affect their ability to compete in the future. In the short run, they may gain, as they are doing with Huawei losing its number one spot in smartphones. But still, the loss of revenues will mean less ability to produce the knowledge that gives the U.S. its edge in technology. Less money in research means an eventual loss of leadership because, unlike other countries, the U.S. increasingly does not produce the chips or the machines, but the knowledge that goes into both of them.
This is what the U.S. semiconductor industry has argued in its submission to the U.S. Department of Commerce. If the U.S. companies delink from the Chinese market, it will mean a significant loss of revenue for them. In the long run, it will lead to a loss of U.S. leadership in electronics. Already, the U.S. sanctions have led the Chinese companies to remove the U.S.-designed components from their product lines. Sanctions are double-edged: they hit Huawei and other Chinese companies and their U.S. suppliers.
How long will China take to erase the lead in semiconductor technologies that the U.S. and its allies have? Analysys Mason, a leading consulting company, says in its May 2021 report that China will be able to attain self-sufficiency in semiconductors in three to four years. The Boston Consulting Group and Semiconductor Industry Association have modeled the impact of breaking up the global supply chain of China and the U.S. delinking their supply chain and markets. The model predicts that with such a policy, the U.S. would still lose its leadership to China. According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, the only way that the U.S. can preserve its lead is to export to China, except in the strategic military sector. The U.S. can then use its profits from these exports for developing a new generation of technologies. Of course, the loss for not exporting in the strategic sector must be compensated with hefty subsidies from the U.S. government.
Meanwhile, India missed the semiconductor manufacturing bus when it decided not to rebuild Semiconductor Complex Limited its premiere chip-making facility in the city of Mohali, after it was destroyed in a mysterious fire in 1989. Its policymakers decided that India should leverage its strength in software and systems and not worry about manufacturing chips. Vinnie Mehta, formerly the executive director of the Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology (MAIT), had said to Mint, “A nation without silicon (technology) is like a person without [a] heart.” That heart is still missing in India’s technology ecosystem.
If the U.S. wants to retain its position of being a world leader in the electronics industry, it has to match China by investing in the generation of knowledge for future technologies. Why, then, is the U.S. taking the sanctions route? Sanctions are simpler to implement; building a society that values knowledge is more difficult. This is the pathology of late capitalism.
Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.
Photo: 800 marchers on Blair Mountain. Elias Schewel // CC 2.0
The Battle of Blair Mountain, in Logan County, West Virginia, was the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War. For five days in late August and early September, 1921, 15,000 miners confronted an army of police and strikebreakers backed by coal operators during a struggle by the miners for the right to collectively bargain, and to end horrendous working conditions and poverty in the southwestern West Virginia coalfields. One million rounds were fired and the U.S. Army, under presidential order, intervened.
Management and their shameful scab friends prevailed in the short run, but the United Mine Workers returned in the 1930s and overcame all obstacles to unionization. A monument to the battle was established on Blair Mountain – a record of and tribute to the most militant labor struggle in American history, one in which thousands of miners faced down death, imprisonment, terror, evictions from company housing and firings to defend the dignity of miners, their families and communities. The battle was memorialized in the movie Matewan, directed by John Sayles. Blair Mountain was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, but coal operators pressed to have it removed in 2010. Why? Because they want to blow it up in a mountaintop removal orgy that will blot out the history, capture a few seams of coal and poison downstream waters, leaving a mountain-sized garbage dump in their wake.
Despite being an icon of labor rights, a chunk of Blair Mountain was purchased by coal operator Massey Energy. They plan to destroy it – and the legacy for which it stands. Massey Energy is already tarnished by the unsafe conditions that led to the 2010 explosion in its Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 miners. Don Blankenship, the loudmouthed former Massey chairman, was forced to resign after saying an unacceptable number of very stupid things about the environment, climate change, and mine safety, and by attempting to buy West Virginia Supreme Court judges. Massey had to be sold to Alpha Group, a holding company sponsored in part by George Soros, to get out from under the sting of Blankenship’s blunders.
Environmental activists and celebrities from around the nation have descended on Blair Mountain as a symbol of the social and environmental costs of mountaintop removal mining. When you get to the point where wiping out – and poisoning – a complete mountain is the “only profitable” means of extracting a modest seam of coal, they said, it’s time to rethink coal mining.
During the week ending June 10, over 500 community leaders, union members, celebrities and conservationists honored the Blair Mountain battle, called for an end to surface mining and demanded safe, sustainable jobs in Appalachia in an event dubbed “Appalachia Rising: The March on Blair Mountain.” Marchers followed the same route as the coal miners who marched to Blair Mountain in 1921. Robert F Kennedy Jr. was the featured political speaker. Entertainers Ashley Judd, Emmylou Harris and others participated and contributed as well.
Numerous union members joined the weeklong march. However, the United Mineworkers of America union withdrew its early endorsement of the march because, while it opposes Blair Mountain mountaintop removal for obvious historical reasons, it does not oppose such mining in general. It is a brutal and polluting technology, but one on the remaining mining jobs in modern Appalachia are increasingly dependent. It is almost impossible for an industrial union in the U.S. labor relations environment to oppose the industrial policies of the industry in which its members work. The company owns the jobs; the unions negotiate only over some of the effects of management rights.
Environmental activists on the march were disappointed the union “kept its distance.” On the other hand, the activists have given little importance to the most profound question for coal communities: “What do we do when the coal is gone?” Where are the scholarships, retraining, health care and safety nets for them? These are heartfelt questions that cause the blood to rise among miners, but, as former Senator Robert Byrd, a man who fought long and hard to improve those protections for miners, prophesized in 2009, “The major threats to the coal industry are not regulations on mountaintop mining or other environmental laws. Rather they come from rigid mindsets, depleting coal reserves and the declining demand for coal as more power plants shift to biomass and other resources as a way to reduce emissions. West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or they can choose to resist and be overrun by it.”
John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC "Winners and Losers" radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Workers are organizing to fight for their health and wellbeing amid deteriorating environmental conditions caused by climate change. The United Nations issued a “code red for humanity” warning earlier this month with over 3,000 pages of scientific documentation saying that the climate crisis has reached a point where we can expect extreme weather including heat waves, flooding and droughts to happen with more frequency and intensity. The working class and poor are facing the brunt of this.
On August 20, Burger King workers organizing with Fight for 15 in San Jose, California walked out to protest the extreme temperatures inside the restaurant. Rosa Vargas, who helped organize the walk out, says the restaurant’s air conditioning and ventilation is so poor that it is frequently hotter inside the restaurant than outside. At the protest, Vargas spoke about these severe conditions causing her to feel “dizzy and like I am going to faint.” Vargas went on to speak about the serious and dangerous impacts of the temperatures, saying, “I get a headache that feels like my head is being pinched and stuck with needles, and my heart beats rapidly. When it gets hot, I eat ice to prevent myself from vomiting.”
Not only does Burger King management refuse to provide adequate air-conditioning during heatwaves, but they also refuse to provide legally required breaks. “No one gets a second rest break. It has always been like that at this Burger King,” Vargas said.
Rosa Vargas and her coworkers at Burger King are not the only workers organizing for their health as the climate catastrophe worsens. Nathalie Hrizi, a public school educator in San Francisco, is fighting to protect both her coworkers and students. She says their health is being threatened by toxic air and COVID-19. “Wind patterns will bring a large amount of smoke into our air and it becomes dangerous, particularly for children in sensitive groups,” Hirzi said. She went on to explain, “The district management has relied on open windows as the primary source of ventilation to mitigate the pandemic but now that it is fire season, their recommendation is to close the windows. So we’re essentially being asked to choose between our children being exposed to dangerous levels of smoke in the air or being exposed to higher levels of COVID.”
On August 20, Hrizi’s union the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) launched a campaign to demand quality air purifiers, quality masks, and universal weekly COVID testing. “What we’re fighting for is a reform and a mitigation of a very severe crisis that is caused by the way the capitalist system is organized and that the primary motivation for those who are in power is profit,” Hrizi says.
Exploiting prisoner labor
Unsurprisingly, these wildfires are also causing a major crisis for firefighters. Many are fed up with being asked to fight dangerous super fires in exchange for low pay and substandard healthcare, and many have left the profession because of it. In response to this labor shortage, the Biden administration announced this month that all federal firefighters will be paid at least $15 an hour. Previously, some were being paid as little as $13 an hour.
Outrageously, the government is using prison labor to deal with the firefighter shortage. Programs where prisoners work as firefighters for a few dollars a day exist in nearly every western U.S. state. States have become increasingly dependent on virtually free prisoner labor — essentially a form of slavery. In California, prisoners make up one-third of the state’s entire wildfire fighting personnel.
Farm workers exposed to deadly conditions
Farm workers, three out of four of whom are first generation immigrants and many of whom are undocumented, are also facing worsening exploitation because of climate change. Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers (UFW) spoke in July about this exploitation: “Farmworkers are imperiled by a perfect storm of deadly plagues: Extreme summer temperatures fueled by climate change… field workers disproportionately afflicted by the coronavirus… and too many live in daily dread of deportation, afraid to complain about abuse and mistreatment due to their immigration status.” Because these immigrant workers often lack citizenship and legal protections, employers can and do frequently get away with violating labor laws.
This dynamic has led to deplorable conditions for farmworkers. According to the CDC, farm workers are 20 times more likely to die from heat related illness than other workers. The outlook for the future is even worse. A 2020 study by the University of Washington says that for farmworkers “the average number of days spent working in unsafe conditions will double by mid-century, and, without mitigation, triple by the end of it. Increases in rest time and the availability of climate-controlled recovery areas can eliminate this risk but could affect farm productivity, farm worker earnings, and/or labor costs much more than alternative measures. Safeguarding the health and well-being of U.S. crop workers will therefore require systemic change beyond the worker and workplace level.”
Lowering productivity and increasing the cost of labor goes against the most basic tendencies of capitalism. Meeting this challenge will require building a powerful working class movement demanding better conditions and ultimately the demise of a system that puts profit over people’s lives.
Larger-scale and more frequent wildfires, flooding, heat waves and natural disasters caused by climate change are putting the health and safety of the poor and working class in danger. As already inhumane working conditions become exacerbated by the climate crisis, the labor movement is faced with a major battle. However, as this crisis grows so will the movement to address it. From the Burger King workers in San Jose walking out to the teachers demanding quality air purifiers and masks in San Francisco, these detrimental conditions worsened by climate change will not stop workers from organizing for the respect and safety they deserve!
USW Facebook page.
PITTSBURGH (PAI)—Rolling through the country from Northwestern Indiana to Tidewater Virginia and Wilmington, N.C., the Steelworkers’ “We Supply America” bus tour brought home the need to revitalize U.S. infrastructure—including its supply chain of materials like steel and cement—using U.S. union labor.
The objective: To get workers and their allies, plus community residents to call, e-mail, or otherwise urge their lawmakers, of both parties, to remember that and vote for the $978 billion 5-year infrastructure bill now pending on Capitol Hill.
“This is not a sure thing,” Steelworkers Vice President Fred Redmond warned at one stop. “We need you to press your legislators to move this bill. This is not a Rep or Dem issue, this is an American issue. We have an opportunity to make this happen, all we have to do is roll up our sleeves & get to work!”
Joined by USW local leaders, union President Tom Conway, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh—a member of Laborers Local 223—and several U.S. House members, the bus riders and their allies hammered home the message the nation’s crumbling roads, creaky bridges, elderly subways, aging airports, and century-plus railroads and tunnels need to be rebuilt now. The “hard” infrastructure bill also would wire the nation for broadband and make it affordable.
And that union workers will do so, both providing the materials and the labor.
“Our infrastructure has been neglected for too long. We need major national investment to rebuild the infrastructure here in northwest Indiana and across the country. And we need to call on our elected leaders in Congress to make that happen,” Steelworkers Local 6787 President Pete Trinidad said at the bus’s first stop, near the steel plants of Chesterton, Ind.
“I just joined the @steelworkers on the first stop of their We Supply America bus tour,” Walsh tweeted. “Through @POTUS’s once-in-a-generation infrastructure bill, we will invest in American manufacturing and build 21st-century infrastructure through good-paying union jobs.”
“We have an opportunity in this country to buy American and build American right now. We want to win the future for the U.S.,” added Walsh, who then took a side trip to a brand-new union-built high school—with union-provided materials—and met Teachers leaders there.
But it’s not just the “hard” infrastructure bill that’s pending in Congress and it’s not just that legislation USW pushed.
Biden and the House Democratic leaders, along with organized labor, are also pushing a $3.5 trillion bill that includes expanding child care, raising the pay of those workers, making paid family and sick leave permanent, increasing taxes on the rich, and vastly increasing fines for labor law-breaking, among other goals.
“We don’t only need roads & bridges,” said Roxanne Brown, USW’s Vice President At Large and Legislative Director. “We need the infrastructure of the people of this country. It’s not just the building of things, it’s the parts that go into building things. You, your families, our communities are infrastructure.”
Not just building but making American
Conway in particular stressed the importance not just of building American and buying American but of making American, especially in the supply chain. That’s also a big Biden and labor theme. The coronavirus pandemic exposed U.S. dependence on supplies from abroad—supplies that could easily be interrupted or politically manipulated by foreign governments.
“We need a national infrastructure that keeps us safe, that is modern, that keeps our supply chains stocked with the materials we need, and that keeps the country moving in the right direction,” said Conway, whose home local was 6787 in Chesterton. “As a union, we have the skilled workforce to accomplish all these goals.
“This is about so much more than fixing roads and bridges. We need an ambitious overhaul of our entire critical infrastructure from modern schools and health care facilities to state-of-the-art communications networks. Everything that USW members make and everything that we do contributes in some way to this vital project.”
The tour took the We Build America bus from Local 6787 in Chesterton to Local 525 in Newark, Ohio, where members of Locals 9118 and 1237 spoke. It then proceeded to Weirton, W. Va., home of Weirton Steel and Locals 2911 and 419M. From Weirton, the bus traveled to Danville, Va. Members of Local 831L at the Goodyear tire plant there spoke. It then traversed Virginia, to Newport News and the unionized—by Local 8888—U.S. Navy shipyard.
The bus’s southernmost stop was at a Corning plant, manned by members of Local 1025, in Wilmington, N.C., before the vehicle headed back to USW headquarters in Pittsburgh on August 20, there to host members of at least four locals, plus USW officers. The union posted videos of all the stops on YouTube.
Besides the bus, the union launched an electronic petition campaign and urged members to mass-mail postcards to lawmakers demanding they approve the two pieces of legislation. The petition is here.
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.
A new regulatory onslaught championed by China's President Xi Jinping is earning him new enemies among the investor class. | Photos: AP / Illustration: PW
Shareholders beware, socialism is back.
That’s the warning being sounded by stock market analysts and financial advisors to anyone parking their money in Chinese tech stocks. Behind the investor panic is a stepped-up regulatory campaign by the Communist Party of China that aims to combat inequality, lower living costs for working families, impose order on often chaotic markets, and prevent monopoly control over key sectors of China’s economy.
President Xi Jinping told the world in July that China’s leaders were determined to “safeguard social fairness and justice and resolve the imbalances and inadequacies in development” to solve what he called “the most pressing difficulties and problems that are of great concern to the people.”
“Reckless capital expansion is over”
Waves of new regulations issued by the State Council have targeted various sub-segments of China’s $4-trillion tech economy lately: education, insurance, gaming, e-commerce, fintech, and others. Fresh controls to contain rising costs and bend industries to better serve the public interest are emerging on an almost weekly basis.
No less than 50 different regulatory actions have been executed against dozens of different firms for a range of offenses and lapses—price gouging, false advertising, monopolistic exploitation, failure to protect users’ data privacy, and more. Calculations made by The Economist magazine estimate that government enforcements have chopped at least $1 trillion from the share prices of the various companies involved, exacting a big hit on investors’ portfolios.
Given the dizzying pace of legislation, some in the Western business press have resorted to old-school anti-communist rhetoric to criticize the government. The right-wing journal National Interest claims “Xi Jinping’s personal dictatorship” is destroying all of China’s capitalists and decimating the wealth of many outside the country.
Other outlets have been slightly less hysterical, preferring a more sophisticated style to deliver a similar message. The Wall Street Journal, flagship paper of the U.S. financial establishment, warned in a July 27 editorial that Xi is on a mission “to bring ever greater swathes of China’s private economy under the state’s control.”
Alan Song, founder of private equity firm Harvest Capital, speaking to Reuters, lamented last month that “a new era that prioritizes fairness over efficiency” has unfortunately begun in China. “Chinese entrepreneurs and investors,” Song said, “must understand that the age of reckless capital expansion is over.”
In the wake of the changes, some of the top Chinese tutoring companies listed on the U.S. stock market—names like TAL Education, New Oriental, and Gaotu Techedu—saw their share prices plunge up to 90% almost overnight. Billions were wiped out, leaving a lot of investors shocked and angry.
In another example, online insurance sellers have been ordered to halt illegal marketing and pricing practices that bilked workers out of their hard-earned yuan. According to the Shanghai Securities News, the state wants to “purify the market environment” and “protect the legal interests of consumers.”
As of last year, some 146 insurance companies had entered the so-called “insurtech” sector in China, hawking health insurance, life insurance, property insurance, and all manners of coverage online. Many unlicensed companies also rushed to make fast cash in the sector, which saw high double-digit expansion. Banking regulators have given companies until the end of October to clean up their act, or else.
And when it comes to online shopping and social media, the National People’s Congress just passed a new Personal Information Protection Law that will force companies like e-commerce giant Alibaba, tech conglomerate Tencent, Tik Tok owner ByteDance, and others to obtain consent before collecting people’s data and follow strict new requirements to keep it safe.
From zero to one hundred
Tutoring, insurance, and data privacy are just chapters in a much bigger story of government action against unchecked private economic power.
For the beleaguered investor class, the tale of their suffering begins with the supposed martyrdom of Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba. Last fall, Ma was planning the initial public offering (IPO)—the first public sale of shares—for Ant Group, his company’s fintech spin-off. Ant was anticipated to be the largest IPO in history, with possible valuations of up to $37 billion being floated.
At a meeting in Shanghai connected to the IPO, Ma laid into China’s financial regulatory system, saying it was outdated and stifled innovation. He called for an overhaul. In the months that followed, Ma got what he asked for, if not in the form he wanted.
The tech CEO had called for liberation of banks and lenders; instead, the government has answered with measures aimed at protecting consumers from reckless financial practices and a crackdown on poor management of people’s personal data. Ma took to ground and hasn’t been heard from much ever since.
Investors reacted to this injection of “government-fueled uncertainty” into the market in a predictable fashion: sell-off. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Golden Dragon Index, an exchange-traded fund of U.S.-listed Chinese stocks, has lost over 41% of its value in the past six months. And as for the IPO of Ant Group? Indefinitely postponed.
Although many bourgeois commentators are eager to denounce China as “crazy” for undermining its own domestic tech companies with such strenuous legislation, what they fail to see is that rather than destroying its economy, the government is laying the basis for sustainable and, hopefully, more equitable growth.
China has no intention of crippling or crushing the tech sector; the government knows it is a hub for the innovation and growth that will be needed to keep China economically successful in the 21st century. (So U.S. competitors shouldn’t salivate too much.) The Chinese state also knows that contain-and-control measures are needed to make sure tech serves society rather than society being held hostage by tech. If the financial wellbeing of some investors’ portfolios is the price of achieving that goal, then the government of China seems willing to pay.
Another motivation behind the new measures is to prevent China from ending up in a situation like the U.S., where giant tech companies have already achieved monopoly market power and heavily influence government policymaking. Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook—they’ve all become powerful enough to influence elections, buy legislation, and crush any possible challenges to their position. The Communist Party of China appears determined to never allow China to be subject to the whims of Alibaba, Didi, ByteDance, and the rest in a similar way.
Keeping the “socialist” in “socialist market economy”
For years, smug commentators ridiculed the “socialist market economy” formulation that China uses to describe its hybrid economic model. Critics on the left say you can’t have socialism if there is a market, while critics on the right argue there’s no such thing as a free market when socialist policies are involved. The two sides were joined in the belief that the CPC claim of building a “socialist market economy” was just political cover for a ruling elite determined to quietly retreat from communist ideology.
The current regulatory wave should prompt a second look at such notions, however accurate they might have seemed in the 1990s or 2000s. The determination of Xi Jinping and the Chinese government to “pursue common prosperity” is looking pretty serious these days. And there’s probably more to come: The CPC Central Committee and the State Council just released new guidelines for a five-year plan for the “construction of a government under the rule of law.” Translation: Expect more regulation.
But even if one doesn’t subscribe to socialist notions, there is a way of seeing the current government moves as being good for business, too. The smart capitalists, if they can admit it, should know that these rounds of regulation are actually beneficial for them as a group. The anarchy of competition under the market system has always meant that it’s not in any single capitalist’s interest to look out for the health of the system as a whole. Instead, it has always been the state which has to do that.
Right now, that process is happening fast in China, and it’s costing a lot of people a lot of money. But in the long term, these measures will ensure stronger rule of law and protect the system from both reckless firms and the “too-big-to-fail” problems that persistently plague Western capitalism from one recession or depression to the next. It will also protect working people from some of the tech sector’s most exploitative business practices.
China is laying the foundation for a healthier mixed economy that will be less prone to economic crisis. And for the long, long term, China’s leadership is making it clear that all its talk of Marxism and socialism are more than just political window-dressing.
As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.
C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.
Days after the Taliban drove into Kabul on August 15, its representatives started making inquiries about the “location of assets” of the central bank of the nation, Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), which are known to total about $9 billion. Meanwhile, the central bank in neighboring Uzbekistan, which has an almost equivalent population of approximately 34 million people compared to Afghanistan’s population of more than 39 million, has international reserves worth $35 billion. Afghanistan is a poor country, by comparison, and its resources have been devastated by war and occupation.
The DAB officials told the Taliban that the $9 billion are in the Federal Reserve in New York, which means that Afghanistan’s wealth is sitting in a bank in the United States. But before the Taliban could even try to access the money, the U.S. Treasury Department has already gone ahead and frozen the DAB assets and prevented its transfer into Taliban control.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had recently allocated $650 billion Special Drawing Rights (SDR) for disbursement around the world. When asked if Afghanistan would be able to access its share of the SDRs, an IMF spokesperson said in an email, “As is always the case, the IMF is guided by the views of the international community. There is currently a lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government in Afghanistan, as a consequence of which the country cannot access SDRs or other IMF resources.”
Financial bridges into Afghanistan, to tide the country over during the 20 years of war and devastation, have slowly collapsed. The IMF decided to withhold transfer of $370 million before the Taliban entered Kabul, and now commercial banks and Western Union have suspended money transfers into Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s currency, the Afghani, is in a state of free fall.
When Aid Vanishes
Over the last decade, Afghanistan’s formal economy struggled to stay afloat. Since the U.S.-NATO invasion of October 2001, Afghanistan’s government has relied on financial aid flows to support its economy. Due to these funds and strong agricultural growth, Afghanistan experienced an average annual growth rate of 9.4 percent between 2003 and 2012, according to the World Bank. These figures do not include two important facts: first, that large parts of Afghanistan were not in government control (including border posts where taxes are levied), and second, that the illicit drug (opium, heroin, and methamphetamine) trade is not counted in these figures. In 2019, the total income from the opium trade in Afghanistan was between $1.2 billion and $2.1 billion, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). “The gross income from opiates exceeded the value of the country’s officially recorded licit exports in 2019,” stated a February 2021 UNODC report.
During the past decade, aid flow into Afghanistan has collapsed “from around 100 percent of GDP in 2009 to 42.9 percent of GDP in 2020.” The official economic growth rate between 2015 and 2020 fell to 2.5 percent. The prospects for an increase in aid seemed dire in 2020. At the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, held in Geneva in November, the donors decided to provide annual disbursements rather than aid in four-year packages. This meant that the Afghan government would not be able to sufficiently plan their operations. Before the Taliban took Kabul, Afghanistan had begun to recede from the memory of those countries that had invaded it in 2001-2002.
A Country of Poverty
During the past 20 years, the United States government spent $2.26 trillion toward its war and occupation of Afghanistan. European countries spent nothing close to what the United States spent (Germany spent $19.3 billion by the end of 2018, of which $14.1 billion was to pay for the deployment of the German armed forces).
The money coming from all the donors into Afghanistan’s burgeoning aid economy had some impact on the social lives of the Afghans. Conversations with officials in Kabul over the years are sprinkled with data about increased access to schools and sanitation, improvements in the health of children and greater numbers of women in Afghanistan’s civil service. But it was always difficult to believe the numbers.
In 2016, Education Minister Assadullah Hanif Balkhi said that only 6 million Afghan children attended the country’s 17,000 schools, and not 11 million as reported earlier (41 percent of Afghanistan’s schools do not have buildings). As a result of the failure to provide schools, the Afghan Ministry of Education reports that the total literacy rate in the country was 43 percent in 2020, with 55 percent being the literacy rate for men and 29.8 percent being the literacy rate for women. Donors, aid agencies, and the central government officials produced a culture of inflating expectations to encourage optimism and the transfer of more funds. But little of it was true.
Meanwhile, it is shocking to note that there was barely any construction of infrastructure to advance basic needs during these 20 years. Afghanistan’s power company—Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS)--reports that only 35 percent of the population has access to electricity and that 70 percent of the power is imported at inflated rates.
Half of Afghanistan lives in poverty, 14 million Afghans are food insecure, and 2 million Afghan children are severely hungry. The roaring sound of hunger was combined—during these past 20 years—with the roaring sound of bombers. This is what the occupation looked like from the ground.
The Taliban’s Anti-Corruption Crusade
In a 2013 New York Times article, a U.S. official said, “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States.” Dollars flowed into the country in trunks to be doled out to politicians to buy their loyalty. Contracts to build a new Afghanistan were given freely to U.S. businessmen, many of whom charged fees that were higher than their expenditure inside Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, who fled into exile hours before the Taliban took control of Kabul, took office making a lot of noise about ending corruption. When he fled the country, press secretary of the Russian embassy in Kabul Nikita Ishchenko told RIA Novosti, his people drove four cars filled with money to the airfield. “They tried to stuff another part of the money into a helicopter, but not all of it fit. And some of the money was left lying on the tarmac,” according to a Reuters report. Corruption at the top spilled down to everyday life. Afghans reported paying bribes worth $2.25 billion in 2020—37 percent higher than in 2018.
Part of the reason for the Taliban’s rapid advance across Afghanistan over the course of the past decade lies in the failure of the U.S.-NATO-backed governments of both Hamid Karzai (2001-2014) and Ashraf Ghani (2014-2021) to improve the situation for Afghans. Surveys regularly found Afghans saying that they believed corruption levels were lower in Taliban areas; similarly, Afghans reported that the Taliban would run schools more effectively. Within Afghanistan, the Taliban portrayed themselves as more efficient and less corrupt administrators.
None of this should allow anyone to assume that the Taliban have become moderate. Their agenda regarding women is identical to what it was at its founding in 1994. In 1996, the Taliban drove into Kabul with the same argument: they would end the civil war between the mujahideen, and they would end corruption and inefficiency. The West had 20 years to advance the cause of social development in Afghanistan. Its failure opened the door for the return of the Taliban.
The United States has begun to cut off Afghanistan from its own money in U.S. banks and from financial networks. It will use these means to isolate the Taliban. Perhaps this is a means to force the Taliban into a national government with former members of the Karzai-Ghani governments. Otherwise, these tactics are plainly vindictive and will only backfire against the West.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including "The Darker Nations" and "The Poorer Nations." His latest book is "Washington Bullets," with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Catastrophe in Afghanistan: U.S. Wrecks Another Country Thinking It’s Playing the ‘Great Game'. By: John PilgerRead Now
As a tsunami of crocodile tears engulfs Western politicians, history is suppressed. More than a generation ago, Afghanistan won its freedom, which the United States, Britain and their “allies” destroyed.
In 1978, a liberation movement led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew the dictatorship of Mohammad Daoud, the cousin of King Zahir Shar. It was an immensely popular revolution that took the British and Americans by surprise.
Foreign journalists in Kabul, reported the New York Times, were surprised to find that “nearly every Afghan they interviewed said [they were] delighted with the coup.” The Wall Street Journal reported that “150,000 persons… marched to honor the new flag… the participants appeared genuinely enthusiastic.”
The Washington Post reported that “Afghan loyalty to the government can scarcely be questioned.” Secular, modernist and, to a considerable degree, socialist, the government declared a program of visionary reforms that included equal rights for women and minorities. Political prisoners were freed and police files publicly burned.
Under the monarchy, life expectancy was 35; one in three children died in infancy. Ninety percent of the population was illiterate. The new government introduced free medical care. A mass literacy campaign was launched.
For women, the gains had no precedent; by the late 1980s, half the university students were women, and women made up 40 percent of Afghanistan’s doctors, 70 percent of its teachers and 30 percent of its civil servants.
So radical were the changes that they remain vivid in the memories of those who benefited. Saira Noorani, a female surgeon who fled Afghanistan in 2001, recalled:
“Every girl could go to high school and university. We could go where we wanted and wear what we liked… We used to go to cafes and the cinema to see the latest Indian films on a Friday… it all started to go wrong when the mujahedin started winning… these were the people the West supported.”
For the United States, the problem with the PDPA government was that it was supported by the Soviet Union. Yet it was never the “puppet” derided in the West, neither was the coup against the monarchy “Soviet backed,” as the American and British press claimed at the time.
President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, later wrote in his memoirs: “We had no evidence of any Soviet complicity in the coup.”
In the same administration was Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s national security adviser, a Polish émigré and fanatical anti-communist and moral extremist whose enduring influence on American presidents expired only with his death in 2017.
On July 3, 1979, unknown to the American people and Congress, Carter authorized a $500 million “covert action” program to overthrow Afghanistan’s first secular, progressive government. This was code-named by the CIA Operation Cyclone.
The $500 million bought, bribed and armed a group of tribal and religious zealots known as the mujahedin. In his semi-official history, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward wrote that the CIA spent $70 million on bribes alone. He describes a meeting between a CIA agent known as “Gary” and a warlord called Amniat-Melli:
“Gary placed a bundle of cash on the table: $500,000 in one-foot stacks of $100 bills. He believed it would be more impressive than the usual $200,000, the best way to say we’re here, we’re serious, here’s money, we know you need it… Gary would soon ask CIA headquarters for and receive $10 million in cash.”
Recruited from all over the Muslim world, America’s secret army was trained in camps in Pakistan run by Pakistani intelligence, the CIA and Britain’s MI6. Others were recruited at an Islamic college in Brooklyn, New York—within sight of the doomed Twin Towers. One of the recruits was a Saudi engineer called Osama bin Laden.
The aim was to spread Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia and destabilize and eventually destroy the Soviet Union.
In August 1979, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul reported that “the United States’ larger interests… would be served by the demise of the PDPA government, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan.”
Read again the words above I have italicized. It is not often that such cynical intent is spelled out as clearly. The United States was saying that a genuinely progressive Afghan government and the rights of Afghan women could go to hell.
Six months later, the Soviets made their fatal move into Afghanistan in response to the American-created jihadist threat on their doorstep. Armed with CIA-supplied Stinger missiles and celebrated as “freedom fighters” by Margaret Thatcher, the mujahedin eventually drove the Red Army out of Afghanistan.
Calling themselves the Northern Alliance, the mujahedin were dominated by warlords who controlled the heroin trade and terrorized rural women. The Taliban were an ultra-puritanical faction, whose mullahs wore black and punished banditry, rape and murder but banished women from public life.
In the 1980s, I made contact with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, known as RAWA, which had tried to alert the world to the suffering of Afghan women. During the Taliban time they concealed cameras beneath their burqas to film evidence of atrocities, and did the same to expose the brutality of the Western-backed mujahedin. “Marina” of RAWA told me, “We took the videotape to all the main media groups, but they didn’t want to know. …”
In 1996, the enlightened PDPA government was overrun. The president, Mohammad Najibullah, had gone to the United Nations to appeal for help. On his return, he was hanged from a streetlight.
“I confess that [countries] are pieces on a chessboard,” said Lord Curzon in 1898, “upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world.”
The viceroy of India was referring in particular to Afghanistan. A century later, Prime Minister Tony Blair used slightly different words.
“This is a moment to seize,” he said following 9/11. “The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us.”
On Afghanistan, he added this: “We will not walk away [but ensure] some way out of the poverty that is your miserable existence.”
Blair echoed his mentor, President George W. Bush, who spoke to the victims of his bombs from the Oval Office: “The oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America. … As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering…”
Almost every word was false. Their declarations of concern were cruel illusions for an imperial savagery “we” in the West rarely recognize as such.
In 2001, Afghanistan was stricken and depended on emergency relief convoys from Pakistan. As the journalist Jonathan Steele reported, the invasion indirectly caused the deaths of some 20,000 people as supplies to drought victims stopped and people fled their homes.
Eighteen months later, I found unexploded American cluster bombs in the rubble of Kabul which were often mistaken for yellow relief packages dropped from the air. They blew the limbs off foraging, hungry children.
In the village of Bibi Maru, I watched a woman called Orifa kneel at the graves of her husband, Gul Ahmed, a carpet weaver, and seven other members of her family, including six children, and two children who were killed next door.
An American F-16 aircraft had come out of a clear blue sky and dropped an Mk 82 500-pound bomb on Orifa’s mud, stone and straw house. Orifa was away at the time. When she returned, she gathered the body parts.
Months later, a group of Americans came from Kabul and gave her an envelope with 15 notes: a total of $15. “Two dollars for each of my family killed,” she said.
The invasion of Afghanistan was a fraud. In the wake of 9/11, the Taliban sought to distance themselves from Osama bin Laden. They were, in many respects, an American client with which the administration of Bill Clinton had done a series of secret deals to allow the building of a $3 billion natural gas pipeline by a U.S. oil company consortium.
In high secrecy, Taliban leaders had been invited to the United States and entertained by the CEO of the Unocal company in his Texas mansion and by the CIA at its headquarters in Virginia. One of the deal-makers was Dick Cheney, later George W. Bush’s vice president.
In 2010, I was in Washington and arranged to interview the mastermind of Afghanistan’s modern era of suffering, Zbigniew Brzezinski. I quoted to him his autobiography in which he admitted that his grand scheme for drawing the Soviets into Afghanistan had created “a few stirred-up Muslims.”
“Do you have any regrets?” I asked.
“Regrets! Regrets! What regrets?”
When we watch the current scenes of panic at Kabul’s main international airport, and listen to journalists and generals in distant TV studios bewailing the withdrawal of “our protection,” isn’t it time to heed the truth of the past so that all this suffering never happens again?
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Photo: U.S. troops board a plane involved in the withdrawal from Afghanistan
After the lightning collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government, the managers of the U.S. war machine and their cheerleaders in the corporate media have been scrambling to defend the image of their empire. The bulk of the corporate media and both Democratic and Republican politicians are condemning Biden’s handling of the withdrawal. Several Congressional investigations have already been announced.
Critics of the withdrawal claim to be appalled at the shocking scenes at the Kabul airport and the repressive policies of the Taliban. They play the part of outraged defenders of democracy or women’s equality or human rights. But these same pundits and politicians expressed no such outrage over the course of the last 20 years when at least 71,000 Afghan civilians were killed in the war and more than 5 million Afghans became refugees.
The real reason for all their criticism of Biden and his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan is because the withdrawal exposes that the U.S. empire has been defeated and a defeat makes the empire look weak. To appear weak is disastrous for an empire reliant upon the illusion of military invincibility.
Of course, there never was and never could be any possibility of U.S. “victory” in Afghanistan because U.S. domination over the country was rejected by the vast majority of the Afghan people. The success of the Taliban was not necessarily a reflection of the popularity of their political program. Politically speaking the Taliban are a reactionary, theocratic movement born of the U.S.-organized insurgency against the socialist government of Afghanistan which came to power in 1978.
There was no alternative to U.S. withdrawal other than an endless occupation. By condemning the decision to end the occupation, imperialist critics are effectively expressing their support for a war that would be literally never-ending, inflicting even more enormous suffering on the Afghan people. But for U.S. militarists, that would be an acceptable price to pay to protect the dominant status of U.S. imperialism on the world stage.
European leaders call U.S. alliance into question
The United States’ junior partners in imperialism are looking at the defeat in Afghanistan with alarm. Leader of the largest party in Germany and possible next German prime minister Armin Laschet noted that the defeat in Afghanistan is, “the biggest debacle that NATO has suffered since its founding, and we’re standing before an epochal change.” German chancellor Angela Merkel commented that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was made for American domestic political reasons, the implication being that U.S. junior partners were not consulted about the decision — something that has been widely reported in the press.
Czech president Milos Zeman too has been vocal calling the legitimacy of NATO into question, and emphatically stated that the Czech Republic should focus on national defense and stop “wasting money” on the alliance. “The distrust towards NATO from a number of member countries will grow after this experience, because they will say – if you failed in Afghanistan, where is a guarantee that you won’t fail in any other critical situation?” Zeman said in an interview.
Despite pledging to strengthen U.S. alliances, Biden seems to be following a similarly unilateral policy as Trump in Afghanistan, alienating allies of the empire.
China-Russia alliance gains momentum after U.S. defeat
Chinese state media is making the point that the fall of Kabul should be considered a warning to Taiwan, which the People’s Republic of China rightfully considers part of its national territory. In recent years the U.S. has stepped up arms sales to Taiwan, angering China. Several articles in the influential publication Global Times argued that developments in Afghanistan should serve as a warning to Taiwanese separatist forces. China is making the point that U.S. assurances of support to client governments like Taiwan’s are merely empty words — something that the U.S. State Department felt compelled to officially respond to in public.
China and Russia concluded major military exercises in China’s Xinjiang province last week, practicing a joint reaction in a scenario where the fighting in Afghanistan spills over into neighboring countries. Russia and China now appear to be more reliable guarantors of regional stability than the United States. Furthermore, the U.S. military defeat in Afghanistan is giving China confidence that it can defeat the U.S. military in the event of a showdown between the two countries.
In addition to holding military drills in central Asia with members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Russia is also boosting its ties with central Asian governments in the Collective Security Treaty Organization. As former soldiers of the Afghan proxy government flee to neighboring Uzbekistan, Russia is strengthening intelligence and military cooperation with its neighbors to the south and helping guard their borders with Afghanistan.
The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan — presided over by a triumphant Taliban — is a clear acknowledgement of defeat for the U.S. empire. While the media is trying to dupe the people into thinking that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan was humanitarian, their rhetoric is completely hypocritical and disguises their true objection.
Featured image: Mercenaries working together with the US Army somewhere in the Middle East. Photo courtesy of AP.
People frequently refer to Colombia as “the coffee-growing country,” due to its high volume of coffee exports, but in recent years Colombia has found itself in headlines for a different commodity. For example, a recent BBC article was titled “Mercenaries: Colombian Export Product.”
In Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Haiti, Venezuela and now also in Afghanistan, there are great numbers of Colombian mercenaries. They perform their nefarious services in all of these disparate lands.
The expansion of Colombia’s culture of death is no longer surprising for neighboring Venezuelans. This dreadful growth caused many to turn to murder for hire, a situation is of course instigated by the real economic crisis that all of Colombia is suffering.
Companies for war
Not only does the United States send regular troops to participate in its military invasions, but also hires “military security companies,” mercenaries subcontracted from various parts of the world for illegal armed invasions. Their use frees North America from responsibility for war crimes, as well as the “security company” itself, placing the responsibility solely with the hitmen in question.
“So many intersecting factors—like those commonly found in the Middle East—including Colombia’s poverty, make the country ideal for mercenary operations,” noted Jorge Mantilla, a criminal investigator from the University of Illinois.
In this way, Colombians are taken advantage of by these profiteers of war, who recruit both criminals and former soldiers of the Colombian Army. The internal war, funded from drug trafficking by the state of Colombia, contributes to the reality that guns are found in the hands of many Colombians on a daily basis. Because of this ease of access, civilians and ex-military men become mercenaries anywhere in the world.
More than six decades of guerrilla war involving military, guerrilla groups and paramilitary forces has exacerbated the culture of violence in Colombia, creating the perfect breeding ground for one of the biggest exporters of mercenaries and violence in the world, all this with the complacent inaction of Colombian authorities.
In the armed events in Afghanistan, many shocking things happened. However, despite its remoteness, one of them was very shameful in particular: confirmation that many Colombian mercenaries served United States’ interests in the war.
The seriousness of these facts is magnified by the participation of Colombian mercenaries in coups, invasions, assassination and regicides, all of which are completely legal, according to the US or Colombia. In this manner they receive protection and even encouragement from the government of Bogotá, a powerful stimulus for those who choose this horrible profession.
(RedRadioVE) by Eduardo Toro, with Orinoco Tribune content
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
This article was republished from Orinoco Tribune.