Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Abortion in Iran and Venezuela

US leftists generally fail to see similarities between Iran and Venezuela, but there are many. After all, both are oil producer nations and price hawks, both have relatively well educated populations, both have managed to industrialize, and their per capita incomes are in the same league: Venezuela's GDP Per Capita = $5,800; and Iran's GDP Per Capita = $7,700. Both wish to lead masses of the other nations in their respective regions under their respective leaderships. No doubt Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have thought about these similarities, beyond the fact that they are both under pressures from Washington, though incomparably more so in the case of Iran than that of Venezuela. That is why I hope that Ahmadinejad will see Venezuela -- especially its commitment to participant democracy, in which everyone is a protagonist -- as a model for Iran and take lessons from Chavez on political survival, especially his cultivation of supporters in the military as well as barrios.

But one of the similarities between Iran and Venezuela, alas, is conservatism: women in both societies lack the right to abortion, except the right to abortion performed to save the mother's life (women in El Salvador do not enjoy even this limited right, as even most MPs of the ostensibly secular FMLN eventually voted for total criminalization [Jack Hitt, "Pro-Life Nation," New York Times, 9 April 2006]).

In 2005, the Iranian parliament -- dominated by "conservatives" many of whom backed Ahmadinejad in the election in the same year -- "voted to liberalise the country's abortion laws" (Frances Harrison, "Iran Liberalises Laws on Abortion," BBC, 12 April 2005). It was the same clerical gerontocrats who blocked Ahmadinejad's oil ministry reform, decree to allow women to attend sports events at stadiums, etc. that vetoed the liberalized abortion law. Unless the basic structure of the Islamic Republic is undone, either through a passive revolution or other means, a fundamental change is not possible. Iran desperately needs a populist political force capable of pursuing its own social and economic agenda and sweeping away all -- including the mullah–bazaari nexus -- who stand in the way. Such a force, given the fact that a majority of Iranians -- including most of neoliberal "reformists" -- are religious in one way or another, won't and can't be secular at this point in history.

A couple of weeks ago, "Pope Benedict XVI told Venezuela President Hugo Chavez in a meeting at the Vatican . . . that he doesn't want him to weaken the abortion ban the South American nation currently has in place. The meeting came on the same day that news broke about a court's decision in Colombia to allow abortions in certain rare cases" (Steven Ertelt, "Pope Tells Venezuela President Hugo Chavez Don't Weaken Abortion Ban," LifeNews, 12 May 2006). It is frustrating to see that Colombia is ahead of Venezuela on the right to abortion. I understand that there is a chance to put the issue on a referendum in 2007, but Chavez probably won't move on this till he succeeds in removing the term limits.

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