Thursday, July 31, 2008

Iran: Key to the Future of Nabucco

As former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar observes, Russia has acquired strategic control of gas exports from Central Asia: "Russia Takes Control of Turkmen (World?) Gas" (Asia Times, 30 July 2008). At the same time, Gazprom is making greater inroads into North Africa, another key energy supplier to Europe: Isabel Gorst, "Gazprom Set for Move into N Africa" (Financial Times, 3 April 2008); and Oleg Shchedrov, Libya, Russia Draft Stronger Energy Ties (31 July 2008). These two facts raise the value of Iranian gas for Europe if it wants to diversify its energy supplies. Who else is left to supply the Nabucco pipeline? Turkey's AKP, having survived an attempt at a judicial coup that sought to close the party and ban its top officials, is now better positioned to mediate between Iran and Europe (and the rest of the West and Israel).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Crowd in the Iranian Revolution of 1977-79

The Crowd in the Iranian Revolution of 1977-79
by Ervand Abrahamian

"The main actor of the Iranian Revolution was really the crowd.  One American sociologist has described it as 'the largest protest event in world history' . . . in fact it had more mass participation than any other major political crisis or revolution.  What is striking about the Iranian crowd is that it's very, very much like the crowds described by two famous European historians: George Rudé and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie."

"The Iranians by 1979, even high school kids, were familiar with Iranian history, especially a  popular type of history produced by a famous Iranian historian Kasravi.   In this Iranian history, . . . invariably the major events in Iranian history occur as a result of protests in the streets, usually peaceful protests.  You can say protests, street protests, crowd protests were as Iranian as some people would consider apple pies are American. . . .

In 1891-92, it was crowds, crowds' strikes, that forced the Shah to cancel a very controversial tobacco concession.  In 1905-1906, it was crowds that brought about the Constitutional Revolution.  In 1911, it was crowds that protested the Russian ultimatum and tried to oppose the Russian occupation of the north.  In 1919-1920, it was crowds that helped sabotage the Anglo-Iranian agreement which would have actually turned Iran into a British protectorate, much like neighboring Iraq.  In 1924, it was crowds that opposed the scheme to create a republic.  At that time, the crowds were actually monarchical and religious and opposed to any notion of republicanism because they were afraid that Iran would become a secular republic like in neighboring Turkey.  In 1951-1953, it was again crowds that brought about Mossadegh's administration, and brought about the nationalization of the oil industry, probably the most significant event in the 20th century before the actual revolution.  Again in 1963, it was crowds that took to the streets to protest the Shah's increasing power.  In fact, some people would say that the 1963 protests were a dress rehearsal to the 1977-79 revolution.  The crowd, in fact you can say, becomes the main actor in Iranian perceptions of Iranian history."

"The final days of the revolution, February 9, 10, 11, also show the importance of crowds. . . .  In those final days, even though the Shah had left, there was a strong suspicion that hard-core elements in the military, especially the imperial guards -- they were a sort of praetorian guard forces of the regime -- would try to do a coup d'état by seizing Khomeini and his entourage. . . .  Khomeini knew something about Iranian history, especially the coup of 53.  The 1953 coup had succeeded mainly because of a major blunder of Mossadegh.  On August 18, 1953, Mossadegh had asked his supporters to stay home and not go into the streets.  He had vetoed any street protest in his support, because he had felt that he had control of the army and in fact the American ambassador had put conditions on him that he should clear the streets of crowds.  Mossadegh then had asked his supporters in those final days not to come out into the streets.  The result was that the imperial guards had taken that opportunity literally to roll tanks outside his house and bombard his house and arrest him.  Without the crowds, it was easy to carry out the coup.  Khomeini had learned a lesson from that.  The way you can prevent a coup is not to ask your supporters to stay home but to come out.  So he exhorted people to come out into the streets and to basically immobilize the whole of the military.  Literally hundreds of thousands of people came out, surrounded the barracks, surrounded the armories, surrounded the highways. . . ."

Ervand Abrahamian is Distinguished Professor of History, City University of New York, and the author of Iran between Two Revolutions, The Iranian Mojahedin, Khomeinism, Tortured Confessions, and Inventing the Axis of Evil among other publications.  This lecture was delivered at Portland State University on 17 April 2008.  The video was produced by the American Iranian Friendship Council.   The text above is a partial transcript of the lecture.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Many Faces of Youssef Chahine

Many Faces of Youssef Chahine

More celebrated abroad than in his own country, Youssef Chahine tried every film genre, from historical epic to musical comedy.  The Egyptian director, who died on Sunday, 27 July 2008 in Cairo, received the lifetime achievement award on the fiftieth anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival in 1997.

His last film Chaos, released in 2007, criticizes the Egyptian autocracy, its plot unfolding in the working-class district of Shoubra in Cairo.  Hatem, a corrupt policeman, is an embodiment of the drift of a country plagued by corruption at all levels.  He rules the district with shrewd craftiness.  Only Nour, a young woman he covets, dares to stand up.

Chaos (Dir. Youssef Chahine)
uploaded by Alibaba411

In 2002, Chahine participated in a collective film about 11 September 2001, September 11.  Very critical of US policy, he said: "I learned my craft in America, where I had my first experiences of love.   But I feel betrayed by the foreign policy of a country that was my best lover, my mistress."

Silence . . . on tourne [Silence, We're Rolling], a dramatic comedy released in 2001, tells the story of Malak, a rich singer, who falls under the spell of a young arriviste.  In this film, Chahine gives an important place to music, the pillar of Egyptian cinema.

Silence . . . on tourne (Dir. Youssef Chahine)
uploaded by maher76

In 1998, The Other, an eminently political film, denounced the new world order and unbridled globalization through the love story of a woman journalist and a young scion of an elite family.

In one of his major films Destiny, first shown in theaters in 1997, Chahine drew on the work of Arab philosopher Averroes to condemn intolerance and religious fanaticism.

Destiny (Dir. Youssef Chahine)
uploaded by Abal_hassan

One of Chahine's first films Cairo: Central Station (1958), like several of his works from that period, is a social panorama of the Egypt of the 50s and 60s.

The original article in French appeared in Le Monde on 27 July 2008.   Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mission Suez

Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal on 26 July 1956. Here is a documentary, Mission Suez (CBC, 12 July 2006), about the nationalization and the British reaction against it.

The Americans should remember that the British didn't lose the Suez conflict due to a Soviet nuclear threat -- they lost it because Eisenhower -- angered by the fact that the British, together with the French and the Israelis, took the action against Nasser without first consulting him -- "threatened to withdraw support of the British currency" (David Fromkin, "Stuck in the Canal," New York Times, 28 October 2006).

If the Americans refuse to learn from history and continue to soldier on in the Middle East, wasting their treasure, depreciating the dollar, making oil prices higher, and endangering their own solvency as well as the world economy, maybe the Chinese and others should put America into receivership.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Afghanistan Threatens to Become Obama's Vietnam

Afghanistan Threatens to Become Obama's Vietnam
by Christine Buchholz

On the occasion of US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's visit to Berlin, Christine Buchholz, a member of the Left Party executive board, comments:

Many hopes are tied to Barack Obama, since George W. Bush is the most unpopular American President ever, and Obama promises to improve the social situation and bring the Iraq War to an end.

However, Obama is making a big mistake by identifying Afghanistan as the main battlefield of the "war on terror" and declaring that he will redeploy up to 10,000 more soldiers to the Hindu Kush.  The Iraq War has shown that what the United States and the NATO care about is not freedom from terrorism but their interests in natural resources in a strategically key region.  The war has increased, rather than decreased, the danger of terrorist attacks.

If Obama really seeks to change foreign policy, he must break with Bush's war-mongering.  He should withdraw the troops not only from Iraq but also from Afghanistan and refrain from threatening war against Iran.  The war in Afghanistan is as unwinnable as the war in Iraq.  Afghanistan threatens to become Obama's Vietnam if he doesn't have the courage to defy the neoconservatives and the ruling class.

The Left rejects the transparent plan of the German Federal Government, with Obama's backing in autumn, to have the Bundestag extend the mandate and increase troops in Afghanistan.  War cannot bring peace to Afghanistan.  The German Armed Forces must leave Afghanistan.

The original statement in German was made available on the Web site of Die Linke on 24 July 2008.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Iran Drives a Hard Bargain

The Iranians saw that the military and economic troubles of the United States, as well as the oil supply crunch, had ruled out war and an oil blockade of Iran. Then, sure enough, the Americans blinked first in the game of chicken: they made the first concession by directly participating in the 5+1 talks with Iran.

The six powers still threatened more sanctions, but the Iranians, having weathered a lot of sanctions for a long time, are confident that they can survive anything short of the total Iranian oil blockade. Now, the Russians have said no to the West's idea of giving a deadline for Iran's response to the six powers' offer, further strengthening Iran's hand: Guy Faulconbridge, "Russia Says Opposes Deadlines for Iran Response" (Reuters, 24 July 2008).

What do the Iranians want? Iran is not North Korea, so it doesn't really need anything from the West except the recognition of its right to domestic development of nuclear technology, the end to economic sanctions, and peace. That's the minimum that the Iranians want the West to concede (cf. Elaine Sciolino, "Iran Offers 2 Pages and No Ground in Nuclear Talks," New York Times, 22 July 2008). The question is whether the West -- especially the US -- can find a face-saving way to make that minimum concession and how Iran's negotiations with the six powers will affect the balance of forces in other conflicts in the Middle East (Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine above all).

Chavez: Russia and Venezuela Unite as Oil & Gas Giants

Take a look at RussiaToday's interview with Hugo Chavez:

Click on the link and read the full transcript of the interview: "Chavez: Russia and Venezuela Unite as Oil & Gas Giants," 24 July 2008.

The possibility of creating "a balance in the world," making it "polycentric and multi-polar," largely depends on whether Russia stands by Iran and Venezuela.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Now You're Talking . . . to Iran!

Among all the factors impacting oil prices -- many years of underinvestment and little spare production capacity, expectations of long-term demand growth in China and other countries in the South, dollar depreciation, pension funds and others investing in commodity futures, failure to massively invest in energy conservation and renewable fuels, etc. -- the only one that is entirely and immediately under Washington's control is some of the geopolitical risk premiums that it has foolishly created itself. Most importantly, it can tell Israel to shut up, and accept nuclear Iran. Maybe even the Bush administration has finally realized that: Elaine Sciolino and Steven Lee Myers, "Policy Shift Seen in U.S. Decision on Iran Talks" (New York Times, 17 July 2008); and Ewen MacAskill, "US Plans to Station Diplomats in Iran for First Time since 1979" (Guardian, 17 July 2008).


See? It's already working: "'There's been a lot of talk about what the administration would have to do to lower oil prices,' [John] Kilduff [vice president of risk management at MF Global Ltd. in New York] said. 'Making a peace overture to Iran is doing the job'" (Mark Shenk, "Oil Falls for a Fourth Day as Iran Talks Ease Supply Concern," Bloomberg, 18 July 2008). Fast relief!

Be sure to communicate this message to the White House and the Congress: no peace, no oil. Make peace with Iran, whether or not it suspends uranium enrichment.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

La Llorona

Two tributes to Frida Kahlo (6 July 1907 - 13 July 1954), one sung by Raphael, the other by Chavela Vargas.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pablo Neruda, "Standard Oil Co."

Today is Pablo Neruda's birthday (12 July 1904). Listen to his poem "Standard Oil Co." (Trans. Jack Schmitt).

Video by 4SeasonsProductions

Neruda said in the poem:
Compran países, pueblos, mares,
policías, diputaciones,
lejanas comarcas en donde
los pobres guardan su maíz
como los avaros el oro:
la Standard Oil los despierta,
los uniforma, les designa
cuál es el hermano enemigo,
y el paraguayo hace su guerra
y el boliviano se deshace
con su ametralladora en la selva.

They buy countries, people, seas, police, county councils,
distant regions where the poor hoard their corn
like misers their gold:
Standard Oil awakens them,
clothes them in uniforms, designates
which brother is the enemy.
the Paraguayan fights its war,
and the Bolivian wastes away
in the jungle with its machine gun.
People have resisted their power, sometimes successfully, though always only at great costs to themselves.

Friday, July 11, 2008

País. . . País. . .

País. . . País. . .
by OkupemLesOnes

Songs of My Country

I'm dying from cold
and my voice is angry
because at this gate of the river
they stabbed the sun
because at this gate of the river,
my country,
they stabbed the sun
oh, my country, my country, my country

This land has a name
from the sea to the mountains
how can I tell my people
what's happening in this land
but how can I tell my people
what's happening in this land
oh, my country, my country, my country

I'm not a man of many words
and there is very little to tell
things are telling their own story
you only need to know how to look
things are telling their own story
you only need to know how to look

And then when I sing
they call it a protest
how can I tell what's happening
to my people and their poverty
how can I tell what's happening,
my country,
to my people and their sadness
oh, my country, my country, my country

Oh, my country, my country, the land of clouds
full of smoke and alcohol
how can I tell my people
what I think of you
but how can tell my people,
my country,
what I think of you

They founded my motherland
by coups and blows
how many voices were silenced
by bullets and machetes
but how many voices were silenced,
my country,
by bullets and machetes
oh, my country. . . .

This video about Colombia was made by OkupemLesOnes, a creator of social movement radio and television programs in Barcelona. For more OkupemLesOnes videos, visit <>. The video is set to the song "Coplas de mi país" [Songs of My Country] performed by Piero. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Meeting Bashar al-Assad

Meeting Bashar al-Assad
by Alain Gresh

He receives us at the door, at the entrance to a one-story house located on the hills of Damascus.  No protocol, no security measure: we are not searched, nor are our recording devices inspected.  "Here is the house where I read, where I work.  There are only this room, a conference room, and a kitchen.  And, of course, the Internet and television.  My wife Asma often comes here, too.  Here I am productive; at the presidential palace, that is not the case."  For nearly two hours, he covers all topics, without evading any question.  He takes obvious pleasure in discussion and uses his hands to emphasize his arguments.

On the eve of his visit to France, President Bashar al-Assad is confident, relaxed, talkative.  The isolation imposed on Syria by Washington and the European Union for about four years is breaking down.  The entente between the government and the Lebanese opposition in May 2008 has turned the page.  "They have misunderstood the position of Syria and distorted our views.  But the accord on Lebanon has brought people to reality.  They must accept that we are part of the solution not just in Lebanon but also in Iraq and Palestine.  They need us to combat terrorism in order to achieve peace.  They cannot isolate us, nor can they solve the region's problems by manipulating such words as 'good' and 'evil,' 'black' and 'white.'  You need to negotiate, even if you do not agree on everything. . . ."

As the impending formation of a new Lebanese government is announced, how does Mr. Assad see the future relations with Beirut?  "We are ready to solve outstanding issues.  Since 2005, we have exchanged letters on the demarcation of borders.  At the same time, I also said to the Lebanese President, Mr. Emile Lahoud, and the Prime Minister that we were willing to open an embassy in Beirut.  But, for that, it was necessary to have good relations and this was no longer the case after the 2005 elections."  President Assad indeed feared that Lebanon would become a rear base to destabilize the Syrian regime.  Now, this concern has faded away, and Syria can establish diplomatic relations with its neighbor.  A source close to the president announced that, upon the formation of a government of national unity, Mr. Walid Moallem, the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, will visit Beirut to discuss outstanding issues, especially with Prime Minister Siniora.

Mr. Bashar al-Assad will participate, on the 13th of July, in the launching ceremony of the Union for the Mediterranean in Paris, which doesn't stop him from expressing certain misgivings about the project.  When the Euro-Mediterranean process (aka Barcelona process) was launched in 1995, he says, European officials "thought that if we developed economic relations among the participants, that would contribute to peace.  Still, there must be a peace process."   There was one in 1995, but that is no longer the case today: "If you don't start a political dialogue now, that is, if you shy away from real problems, if you can't advance towards peace, there won't be room for any other initiative, whether you call it  Mediterranean or by any other name."  Even though he is pleased that the final declaration of the summit of the Mediterranean Union would include a paragraph on "political dialogue," he still warns against another failure, "because then trust will disappear for a long time, and our societies will evolve towards conservatism, extremism." . . .

This idea obsesses him, and he returns to it  several times.  "Terrorism is a threat to all humanity.  Al-Qaeda is not an organization but a state of mind that no border can block out.  Since 2004, following the war in Iraq, we have seen, in Syria, development of al-Qaeda cells, which don't have a link to the organization but feed on books, brochures, and especially all that circulate on the Internet.  I fear for the future of the region.  We must change the soil that nurtures terrorism.  This requires economic development, culture, an education system, tourism -- and also an international exchange of information on terrorist groups.  The army alone cannot solve this problem, as the Americans are trying to do in Afghanistan."

What does he hope for his country in the next five years?  "I hope that our society will be more open and that the new generation will be as modern as that of the 1960s.  And I also hope that it will be more secular within a more secular regional environment."  An astonishingly frank confession testifying to the profound crisis of Arab societies. . . .

And that helps us understand why peace seems more necessary than ever to the Syrian president.  Since 2003, he has made many statements on his willingness to resume negotiations with Israel.1   After the Lebanon war of 2006, he has clearly distanced himself from the statements of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "I don't say that Israel should be wiped off the map.  We want to make peace -- peace with Israel"(Der Spiegel, September 24, 2006).  The response of Mr. Ariel Sharon first and then Mr. Ehud Olmert has been a flat rejection: "You cannot trust this regime," they were heard saying, especially in Washington.  However, in May 2008, Tel Aviv and Damascus announced the opening of indirect negotiations under the auspices of Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister.

Why this change in the Israeli position?  "The Lebanon war of 2006 has taught everyone that we cannot solve a problem by war.  Israel is the greatest military power in the region and Hezbollah is smaller than any army.  And what did Israel achieve?  Nothing."  The president recalls that, after that war, many US delegations whose positions are close to Israel's came to Damascus.  In December 2006, the Baker-Hamilton commission called for a dialogue between Washington and Damascus, and in April 2007, Ms. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, met Mr. Assad.  "Yet," he continues, "the biggest obstacle to peace is the White House.  This is the first time a US administration has advised Israel not to make peace."

Mr. Assad is aware that it won't happen tomorrow.  He recalls that the Israeli opinion, if the polls are to be believed, is opposed to a full handover of the Golan.  "After eight years of paralysis [the negotiations were suspended in 2000], after the war against Lebanon, after the attacks against Syria, trust does not exist.  What we are doing in Turkey is to test the Israeli intentions.  We don't trust them, and the feeling is undoubtedly mutual."  The Israeli bombing of a Syrian site -- a nuclear site according to Tel Aviv -- in early September 2007 has not severed contacts between the two parties yet, and President Assad appears serene: an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team has visited the site in question, and he is confident that the team has found no evidence of an illegal nuclear activity in Syria.

How can direct and serious negotiations between Israel and Syria be re-launched?  "We want to make sure that the Israelis are ready to return the entire Golan, and we also want to establish the common ground of negotiation, i.e. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, as well as major issues to consider: border security, water, and bilateral relations."

The president knows that the negotiations will require the intervention of a powerful mediator, the United States, which has to await the arrival of a new president in the beginning of 2009.  But in the meantime, it is necessary to move forward.  During the negotiations between Hafez al-Assad and Ehud Barak (then Israeli Prime Minister) in 1999-2000, many breakthroughs were made on the thorniest issues.  "I said that 80% of the problems were solved back then.  It's an order of magnitude.  If we start from scratch as Israel wants to do today, we will lose more time.  We would like France and the European Union to encourage Israel to accept the result of the 1999-2000 negotiations."  Several times, he expresses the hope that France and the European Union will play a complementary role to that of the United States.  Except on the Syrian desire to reclaim the entire Golan, he suggests that there can always be compromise.  Thus, on security, Israel demanded in 2000 that an early warning station remain under its control in Syrian territory, a demand unacceptable to Damascus who cannot tolerate an Israeli military presence on its territory.  Finally, the two parties reached an agreement: US forces would be present at the station.

Many officials not only in the United States but also in France and Europe are hoping that the Syrian-Israeli negotiations will push Damascus to break with Tehran.  The president's response is prudent.  "We have been isolated by the United States and Europe.  The Iranians have supported us, and yet I'm supposed to tell them: I don't want your support -- I want to be isolated!"  he says with a laugh.  More seriously, he takes up the subject again: "We don't need to agree on everything to have relations.  We see each other regularly for discussion.  The Iranians do not try to change our position -- they respect us.  We make our own decisions, as in the time of the Soviet Union."  And he insists: "If you want to talk about stability, and peace in the region, you must have good relations with Iran."

Regional stability and peace are not an end in itself, but they create, for President Assad, a context allowing him to address the real problems.  "Our first priority is poverty.  The poor don't care about statements you make every morning, what is your view on this or that.  They want food for their children, schools, a health system.  For that, we need economic reforms.  Then come the political reforms.  They can go together, but the former must advance faster."

Syria's economic growth rose by about 1% per year during his presidency, reaching 6.6% in 2007.  But that is not enough to absorb hundreds of thousands of young people entering the job market every year.  Millions of Syrians are looking for jobs abroad.  The president says that liberalization reforms are underway, and that opening up the banking sector has been beneficial, since the Gulf investments have never been so important, and he also hopes for major French investments from Lafarge, Total, in the electricity sector, and so on.

And political reform?  On this subject the president assumes a most polite tone and explains the "delays" due to the regional situation.  We were confronted, he says in essence, with two threats: extremism fuelled by the Iraq War and attempts at destabilization that followed the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005.  At that time, we were preparing a new law on political parties, but we had to table it.  With the end of the current US administration, "2009 will be the year when we can begin serious political reforms, provided that nothing ominous happens in the region, that there is no more talk of war, and that extremism declines."

What about political prisoners?  "Hundreds of them were released before and after my becoming president," replies the president.  "We have more than one thousand individuals arrested for terrorism -- do you wish them to be freed?"

He then engages in dialogue about Michel Kilo, an intellectual arrested in May 2006 and sentenced to three years in prison for having contributed to "weakening the sense of national unity."  He never used or advocated violence.  "But," says the president, "he signed a joint declaration with Walid Jumblatt [the Lebanese Druze leader] two years ago, when Jumblatt was openly calling on the United States to invade Syria and to get rid of the regime.  According to our laws, he became an enemy, and if one is found as such, one goes to prison.  For Michel Kilo's release, a presidential pardon is required -- I am ready to grant it on condition that he recognizes his mistake."  Neither the argument that keeping Kilo in prison damages the image of Syria nor the fact that the man is firm in his nationalist convictions and hostile to American policy manages to sway the president.

Referring to the hopes raised by his election in 2000 and the so-called "Damascus Spring" -- a form of political thaw -- he speaks of illusions: "It's like young people who want to marry and believe that marriage is wonderful.  They have strong emotions.  But then comes the shock of reality.  We cannot change things in a few weeks."  And he adds: "When you play chess, you cannot change the rules.  You must follow them."  Is that why he says today, "We will need a generation to implement a real reform"?  Clearly, he is serving a hard apprenticeship of power.

Brought back to Damascus by his father after the accidental death of his elder brother Bassel in 1994, Mr. Bashar al-Assad, who was trained as an ophthalmologist in London, spent six years in the shadow of Hafez al-Assad, without any official function.  "The president never did anything for me.  He didn't make me vice president, minister, or head of the party.  He wanted me to do my apprenticeship.  I never thought I would be president, but I was sure that I would participate in public life.  In Syria, sons do what their fathers do."

Upon the death of his father, he was chosen to succeed him, after a change in the Constitution.  According to him, there were two reasons for this choice.  "People voted for me because I was the son of someone who had brought stability to the country and in our society a son cannot but be the image of his father.  On the other hand, some knew that I was a modernizer.  I headed the Syrian Computer Society, I introduced the Internet and satellites, etc.  And perhaps others, even without any love for me, preferred me to the old guard of the party."

How does he see the future of his country?  Realistically, he said: "The ship is not steered by me, it has many captains, Europeans, Americans, so. . . ."


1  See "Israël et la Syrie au bord de la paix" [Israel and Syria on the Brink of Peace], Le Monde diplomatique, January 2000.

The original article in French was published in Nouvelles d'Orient, a Le Monde diplomatique blog, on 9 July 2008.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Bolivia: Regroup the Patriotic Movement

Bolivia: Regroup the Patriotic Movement
by Andrés Soliz Rada

The decree to nationalize hydrocarbons (1 May 2006), which enjoyed 95% public approval, was the zenith of the Evo Morales government.  Now it has lost the Chuquisaca Prefecture, by a narrow margin, but legally, which lets the referendums that approved the autonomy statutes in Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, and Pando camouflage their illegality.  It should be remembered that, in politics, if we wish to advance, it is more important to criticize our own errors than the errors of others.

The separatist schemes in Bolivia have escalated geometrically from the arbitrary election of "governors," the outrageous creation of a virtual parliament, which passes "laws" in Santa Cruz (published in its "legal gazette"), to making it impossible for the President to visit the official premises controlled by the opposition.  Meanwhile, the armed forces and the police are unable to contain a creeping coup d'état through regional autonomies which, step by step, are disintegrating the nation.

Unfortunately, the MAS, with NGO funding, gave the pretexts that their adversaries needed.  Only an absolute myopia (or bad faith) explains why the officialdom welcomed the proposal of Román Loayza, the head of the MAS bench, to change the name of the country from Bolivia to Tawantinsuyo and that of Plaza "Murillo" in La Paz to Plaza "Tupaj Katari."  Similarly, Foreign Minister Choquehuanca couldn't resist warning that domestic workers, Aymara and Quechua, could poison their employers, opponents of the regime.

The physical abuses committed by irregular groups against parliamentarians, journalists, and opposition governors (who got their names attached to dogs whose throats were slit in Achacachi) explain the present difficulties.  Such actions obscure the cruelty of oligarchic racists, who, on several occasions, beat Quechuaymara Indians in Santa Cruz and stripped campesinos naked in front of the "House of Liberty" in Sucre.  In short, the MAS, instead of strengthening the alliance of mestizos and the indigenous against oligarchs, isolated the indigenous by pitting them against mestizos and agents of imperialism.

The government, abandoning the legal channel and tolerating corruption (not judging, for example, frauds in road construction as serious), had to submit itself to the illegalities of the opposition, since it approved a reckless draft Constitution, which, recognizing 36 indigenous nations, divorced Evo from middle strata.  Lending money from Bolivia's foreign exchange reserves at 2%, only to receive loans at 8% from the very banks and entities that benefit from that money, has demonstrated the fragility of the government's anti-neoliberal convictions.  Likewise, sending troops to Haiti has put its anti-imperialist rhetoric into question.

However, Vice President Álvaro García Linera, (who inspired the gaffes of Loayza and Choquehuanca), recently made the correct decision to reconsider the MAS's program of government, in which state capitalism regains its status as the engine of the country's economy, replacing the unviable politics of ethnic fragmentation.  Based on this program, which is an expression of state capitalism, the government must put an end to the plagues of corruption and indigenous exclusion that still exist and must give effect to regional autonomies that bring the country together.  Consistent application of this program will prevent the dismemberment of Bolivia.  Then, Evo could better face the recall referendum on the tenth of August and, if that referendum doesn't come to pass, the early elections that his opponents demand.

Andrés Soliz Rada is a former Minister of Hydrocarbons of Bolivia.  The original article in Spanish was published in Rebanadas de Realidad on 5 July 2008.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Fourth of July

The Fourth of July -- make it the day to remember that "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [of securing "certain unalienable Rights," among which are "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government."

And remember to have "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind."

Thursday, July 03, 2008

OPEC Warns against Iran War

OPEC Warns against Iran War
by Rüdiger Göbel

Oil prices rise and rise.  New record on Thursday: a barrel (159 liters) of oil costs more than US$145 for the first time.  In the event of an attack on Iran, prices could really explode.  Yesterday, the Secretary General of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Abdallah Salem El-Badri, warned.  "It would be difficult to replace 4.2 million barrels a day if something happened to Iran" and "the price of crude oil would certainly rise," the OPEC chief was cited in the Bulletin of the World Petroleum Congress in Madrid.  In this Tehran has an effective means of exerting pressure.  If the oil exporting nation were attacked by Israel and the United States, it could block the Strait of Hormuz.  About 40 percent of the world's oil transported on the high seas is shipped through the strait.  Asked if Iran would block the strait, El-Badri said that in war a country would use any strategy to win.

Iran's Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari confirmed in Madrid that a military attack on his country will be met by a "forceful" reaction.  He also warned of even higher crude oil prices in the event of war.  Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said to the Associated Press on Wednesday that the US could not afford to open another front in the Middle East.  And Israel already has enough political turmoil on its hands.  He doesn't believe that the US or Israel would do such a crazy thing.

AP Interview: Iranian Foreign Minister

However, just this weekend Israeli politicians threatened massive attacks on Iran.  US military leaders traveled to Tel Aviv and had talks with their colleagues.  Back in Washington, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, said on Wednesday that an attack on Iran would be a high-risk move that could further destabilize the Middle East.  With regard to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mullen said: "opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us" -- but feasible.

US journalist Seymour M. Hersh reports in an article titled "Preparing the Battlefield" in the current issue of The New Yorker that the George W. Bush administration has expanded its covert actions in Iran (see the 1 July 2008 issue of junge Welt).  The CIA-directed operations include support for separatist and armed opposition organizations, including the Kurdish PJAK and the People's Mojahedin.   According to the report, the US Congress last year approved US$400 million for these purposes.

The People's Mojahedin, who also agitate under the name of the "National Council of Resistance of Iran" (NCRI), eagerly beat the drums for Bush's intervention.  At the same time, the Mojahedin are fighting to be de-listed from the EU terrorist list.  The highlight of their latest activities was a big rally outside Paris last Sunday.  According to press reports, more than 70,000 people -- including several hundred politicians from Europe, North America, Australia, and the Arab world -- attended the propaganda event.  Among them was Volker Schneider, the pension expert of the Left Party faction in the Bundestag.  Spiegel Online quoted Schneider: "I support the Iranian opposition."  Schneider hopes that the European Parliament itself will be active in the NCRI.  "The terrorists are not in Paris but are sitting in the government in Tehran."  Harsh accusations, which even Washington has yet to make.

The original article in German was published in junge Welt on 4 July 2008.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.