Armed with a Pen

Views from a worker and student

Category: News

The State of Neoliberalism in Argentina

With the economic war in Venezuela, the crisis in Argentina has been all but ignored in the West. For the Argentinian people, however, austerity, deregulation, inflation, US interference, the erosion of civil rights, and the government’s increasingly tyrannical treatment of dissenters have not gone unnoticed. As Buenos Aries becomes more and more a battleground, indigenous, feminist, and workers’ movements have risen up to challenge the Mauricio Macri administration as it struggles to keep the economy afloat while shoving right-wing, neoliberal reforms down the people’s throat.

The Rise of Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism in Argentina finds its roots with the death of then President Juan Perón in 1974. Having united most sides of the political spectrum, his passing signified the fragmentation of Argentinian politics. Though a fragile peace would be formed between the US-backed death squads of the Alianza Anticomunista Argentina and the left-wing Montoneros guerrillas, the country remained in a precarious position both politically and economically with crimes against humanity and retaliatory guerrilla activity sparking periodically.

After Economic Minister Celestino Rodrigo failed to curb inflation through a halfhearted campaign of neoliberal “shock therapy,” the crisis reached its height in June of 1975. Isabel Perón and her administration tried desperately to secure reserve funds from the International Monetary Fund [IMF], meeting several times in Washington, but to no avail. The IMF failed to come through on the previously agreed upon tranche while throwing its support behind the anti-democratic military junta, the National Reorganization Process. Less than a week after the US-sponsored coup in March, 1976, the junta received an IMF loan of over $100 million without sending a single delegation. Within five months, the junta received another loan of $260 million, the largest ever given to a Latin American country.

Jorge Rafael Videla, senior commander in the Argentine Army, swears in as President, March 29, 1976.

Economist Friedrich Hayek once said: “Personally, I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism.” Such was the view of the IMF. Where Perón needed to appease constituents, the junta was iron-fisted and could force neoliberalism upon Argentina, US and IMF money patching whatever holes were left.

From then on, Argentina would prove a loyal lackey to the US and to global capitalism. With the help of US presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, scores were detained, tortured, and killed as the junta persecuted labor organizers, communists, and democratic activists under the guise of “counter-terrorism.” Millions were reduced to poverty as social services were slashed and industry privatized. Argentina’s debt would increase fivefold as the IMF and other financial institutions encouraged countries to take on foreign debt. From 1976 to 1983, Argentina’s debt rose from $9.7 billion to $46 billion.

This is the path Argentina has been following since, with debt reaching an all-time high in 2001 at well over $150 billion. The pursuit of deindustrialization beginning in the 1990s too has severely weakened the economy, making the nation wholly dependent on the world market and firmly under the thumb of Western neocolonialism. Today, Argentina is still reeling in the wake of the 2001 crisis and the resulting depression, the effects of which the country seems entirely unable to recover from.

Today’s Far-Right

Against the backdrop of this all too familiar instability, a growing drug trade, and the now-infamous Kirchner family corruption scandel, Mauricio Macri*, a soccer mogul and the former mayor of Buenos Aries, defeated centrist Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Partido Justicialista in a hotly contested victory for the far-right opposition party Propuesta Republicana in 2015. His campaign was as simple and direct as his slogan: “Let’s change.”

Whereas the Kirchner’s hoped to revive the legacy of Juan and Eva Perón, instituting protectionist policies and building up social security to stimulate spending and strengthen Argentina’s once pretty damn respectable industrial sector, Macri has picked up the baton of neoliberalism, submission to the US and the world market, deindustrialization, market fundamentalism, and conservatism. The results have been disastrous in more ways than one.

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

In 2017, the Argentinian stock market rose a record breaking 77%, the biggest stock market boom anywhere that year. That, however, is the only good thing which can be said about Argentina’s economy. As of this month, inflation is the at its highest level ever under Macri. Inflation, a drought, and absolutely punishing interest rates have only pushed the nation even closer to a full blown recession.

The value of the Argentine Peso has completely tanked, with one peso being now worth a little less than two cents USD. The government is stuck between a rock and a hard place, on the one hand needing to devalue the peso but, on the other, needing the peso healthy in order to pay their mounting debt. And with over 70% of that debt being in foreign currency, the government may already be in over their heads. The IMF is working to help stabilize the peso but may still lower Argentina’s credit rating.

To help pull the nation out of its tailspin, Marci has announced new austerity measures as part of the terms of a $50 billion IMF loan. A new export tax will bring in some much needed tax money, though critics say it may hurt Argentina’s agricultural sector. Macri has been unable to reassure exporters, responding simply: “I have to ask you to understand that this is an emergency and we need your support.”

Next year the economy will grow. Not much, but it will grow.

– Mauricio Macri

Unable to slash government spending any further, Macri announced earlier this month that half of all government ministries will be shut down. Even more worrisome, the Macri administration has presented only a vague picture of what this new minimized government may look like. It is yet unknown which departments will be closed or condensed.

The future looks extremely bleak. All we can do now is guess. It’s doubtful that Argentina will become a libertarian paradise. Marci himself admitted things will definitely get worse before they get better. What we’ll likely see is a near total roll back of all social services and the privatization of things like healthcare and education, plunging all but a few lucky oligarchs into poverty.

The Macri administration is also looking to improve relations with the EU and especially the US. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quick to join the chorus of condemnation over the Democratic People’s Republic of  Korea’s 2017 nuclear test. There was also an attempt to improve relations with the US’ pet Israel through a friendly soccer match. It was eventually cancelled, however, after a successful boycott by both international anti-apartheid organizations and pro-Palestine Argentinians. Not long after, in July of this year, Macri green lit the construction of several US military bases.

Deforestation and Depopulation

Under Macri, over 128,000 hectares were deforested just in the north in 2017 due to illegal action by logging and agribusiness firms. Though many of the effected areas are protected as nature reserves, local corruption and unwillingness to enforce the law on the federal level give corporations a license to illegally harvest trees and poison the land. What few fines have been charged have done nothing to deter violators. And though companies charged are legally obligated to reforest, Greenpeace has found little evidence of this ever happening. Within the last twenty five years, 7.6 million hectares were lost, roughly 300,000 a year.

Regional flooding has been hugely exacerbated due to climate change and the diminution of trees and plant life. According to the coordinator of the Greenpeace Forest Campaign, Hernán Giardini, “The floods … are not a natural phenomenon, they are a consequence of climate change and that Argentina is one of the ten countries in the world that most deforests, losing our natural sponge by the uncontrolled advance of soy, intensive livestock, and real estate development.”

Mother Nature is not the only victim. Peasants and the indigenous Campesinos have been driven from their homes both by flooding and the pressure of agribusiness. Telesur writes that paramilitaries employed by large corporations have removed thousands from their native land through coercion and violence with the help of government forces. (This, of course, is nothing new. Indigenous peoples suffered greatly at the hands of racist and fascist death squads during the 1980s in the US-sponsored “Dirty War.”)

The Movimiento de Campesinos de Santiago del Estero [MOCASE], an indigenous peasant movement which formed during the 1990s, have waged legal battles against land grabbing and the encroachment of soy. They claim more than 60 thousand families are fighting to keep their land. Though their struggles have often ended in death and defeat, their ranks have swelled within the last two years following the assassination of Cristian Ferreyra, a young member of MOCASE who was gunned down by paramilitaries in November of 2016. Some groups, such as the Frente Nacional Campesino, demand reparations from the government. Others have even taken up arms against land thieves.

Perhaps the most famous Campesino organization is Organización Barrial Túpac Amaru. The group has worked tirelessly to provide to Argentina’s indigenous with the things the government won’t. The group rose to prominence internationally after the state-sanctioned abduction of group leaders, the most notable of which is activist Milagro Sala.

Campesinos demand Sala’s the release outside the Alto Comedero Women’s Prison, 2017.

President Macri has also taken to fighting the Glaciers Law which places strict regulations on mining operations in the Andes Mountains. Mining leaders both inside and out of Argentina have fought this for years. Now they finally have a sympathetic ear in the government. As of now, opposition from Congress has kept the law alive, though Macri is still gunning for it. Most foreign investors have been hesitant to begin operating amid regulatory uncertainty, but this hasn’t stopped some national firms.

Women’s Rights and Sex Work

In Argentina, abortion is highly illegal in all cases except for rape or when the life of the parent is endangered. This too, however, has often been met with legal consequence. In 2016, a women was sentenced to eight years for murder after suffering a miscarriage. Shortly after shooting down a bill to increase access to abortive services, a woman died due to complications from an illegal abortion last March, the first known victim this year. We may never know how many have suffered the same fate. It is estimated that at least 300,000 illegal abortions are performed every year, resulting in more than 70,000 hospitalizations.

While those seeking healthcare end up in hospitals, prisons, or morgues, actual murderers have been able to kidnap and murder women with impunity. The kidnapping and murder of women has become so rampant and has received so little attention from authorities that, after national demonstrations, the Supreme Court was forced to establish a national registry of femicides. Just in 2015, over 235 femicides were recorded, resulting in a mere seven convictions.

World Justice Project reports that women are more likely to be employed informally, earning meager wages as in-home assistants or part time employees, subject to the whims of employers who frequently abuse and underpay them. Without steady, formal employment, women are unable to access free services and social security benefits. Many are stuck living as domestic servants for wealthy families or care-givers to dependent members of their own family. Those even less fortunate have turned to or been forced into prostitution, placed at the mercy of johns, pimps, and cops who act lawlessly and without consequence.

Feminist activists with body paint reading “Legal Abortion now” during the 2012 Gay Pride Parade in Buenos Aires.

Argentinian feminists have taken to the streets, becoming all the more active within the last three years. The second annual Women’s March, held last April in Buenos Aries, came barely a month after the Women’s Strike on International Women’s Day and saw hundreds of thousands of women and feminists occupy the city. With slogans like “Ni una menos” not one [dollar] less and “Tócame y te mato” touch me and I’ll kill you, they demanded access to safe abortions, equal pay, sexual freedoms, and protection from and an end to gender violence and harassment.

Sex workers, previously excluded from most feminists organizations in Argentina, have been making their voices heard. Georgina Orellano, general secretary of the sex workers union, la Asociación de Mujeres Meretrices de la Argentina [AMMAR], told The New Political she’s “optimistic” that attitudes towards sex workers are changing for the better. “I think that in terms of progress, we made the problems we face and the demands of our organization visible. We are making the sex worker visible as a political subject.”

Though sex workers have been fighting for legal recognition since the 1980s, they’ve made great strides in the last two decades by aligning themselves with other unions. In 1995, the AMMAR partnered with the Center of Argentinian Workers, which according to Orellano, made the sex workers’ movement firmly a part of the greater workers’ movement as a whole. Since then they’ve gone on to work not only with other sex workers unions across Latin America and the Caribbean but also with teachers and industrial workers unions.

Though they’ve made great strides politically, sex workers still face many hardships. Harassment from men and police is sadly never ending, housing is difficult to find without pay stubs, and most sex workers are ineligible for many public healthcare services. Their fight is still as desperate as ever.

The People vs. Neoliberalism

Resistance to neoliberalism has mobilized the working class. Worsening living conditions, job loss, and deindustrialization galvanized unions who turned to protest and striking. Mass demonstrations began in 2016 as Macri began “shock therapy” in earnest. Tens of thousands took to the capital early that year to protest reforms. They’ve only intensified since. In late December, 2017, a twenty four hour strike against proposed pension cuts turned violent as masked strikers clashed with police, throwing rocks and molotovs.

Teachers have been a leading force in the strikes. With many children dependent on schools as a source of food, proposed cuts to lunch programs, as well as pay and benefits, have put teachers unions on the front lines. In the past, teachers unions have been able to negotiate for more funding. Macri has put an end to that. In Buenos Aires, striking teachers were met with water canons and tear gas as riot police smashed the picket line during a protest earlier this year. Those arrested were held without bail and tortured.

Recent protests have seen progressive forces throughout the country working together, as workers, peasants, feminists, and indigenous activists find common ground. Opponents of the right, including the Communist Party of Argentina, have seen their support and relevance increase as more and more look left for answers. Progressive forces have faced harsh repression, however, as the state employs everything from strike breaking to torture—old tactics of the military junta.

Will Argentina reckon with its history?

On March 24, 2016, the fortieth anniversary of the military coup, Barack Obama made a hugely controversial visit to Argentina. The Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, two groups dedicated to finding and identifying the thousands of missing victims of the junta, called the visit “a provocation.” “It’s been 40 years of searching for our sons and daughters,” explained Nora Cortiñas, one of the many aging parents still looking for answers. “It’s our date.”

Thousands of victims, as well as those born to political prisoners, remain unknown. With the active support of the CIA, the most reactionary segments of Argentina’s bourgeoisie murdered with impunity. Similar was carried out across Latin America, especially in neighboring Chile, during Operation Condor. Even today, the government has done little to prosecute the criminals involved or find their victims.

In 2013, eighteen former military officers were tried. Some, like former president Jorge Rafael Videla, were so old they died before a verdict could ever be reached. It makes little difference, however, to the estimated 30,000 who “disappeared” and the families they left behind. Though new evidence has been declassified by the CIA and the Pentagon, Mothers of the Plaza de Maya doubt they’ll ever discover the truth. As Cortiñas remarked, “they always black out the names and the important parts. … I don’t believe there will be anything in those documents.”

The people and the land still bare the scars of neoliberalism, the old and new wounds of class struggle. Though the current government fancies itself a democracy, the problems of dictatorship still exist. The solution of the capitalist class is, of course, more neoliberalism. But the cycle of reform has failed to serve the people or silence their outcry. Will Argentinians continue the struggle for temporary concessions? Or will the fires of revolution be reignited as the capitalist order once again pushes Argentina closer to despotism and destitution?


* Fun Fact: Macri narrowly avoided choking to death after swallowing a fake mustache whiling impersonating Freddie Mercury, something he’s apparently famous for.

Right-Wing Opposition Threatens Venezuela’s Democracy and Sovereignty

Yesterday, an attempt on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s life rocked Caracas. At a parade celebrating the 81st anniversary of the Bolivarian National Guard, several drones packed with explosives descended upon the horrified crowd before detonating early and missing their target. According to Telesur, seven military officials were injured but, thankfully, no deaths have been reported. This latest act of terrorism, the most elaborate yet, once again confirms the obvious: the right-wing opposition and their foreign puppeteers are an existential threat to Venezuela’s democracy and sovereignty.

Old Enemies

Many of the opposition leaders and right-wing terrorists today are the same ones behind the failed 2002 coup which attempted to violently overthrow then President Hugo Chavez, as well as the violent outbursts which have taken place between 2014 and today. One of the terrorists arrested in connection with yesterday’s assassination attempt was also connected with the 2014 anti-government protests. Another was even allegedly involved in the failed 2017 attack on the military base in Valencia.

As for the higher ups, to name just one, there’s Henrique Capriles Radonski, who in 2002 stormed a Cuban Embassy with other right-wing terrorists to try and kill Venezuelan officials believed to be seeking refuge there. Capriles is now a top opposition leader with the US-funded far right party Primero Justicia and the Governor of Miranda.

There’s also Maria Corina Machado, an oligarch whose anti-Bolivarian NGO, Sumate, the National Endowment for Democracy [NED] and the US Agency for International Development [USAID] have given millions to. Just in 2014, hers was among the loudest voices calling for the opposition violence that would lead to the deaths of forty three people and she was implicated in a similar failed plot to assassinate Maduro.

And who could forget Leopoldo Lopez, the former mayor of Chacao, a wealthy district in Caracas, who led a band of murderous reactionaries into a crowd of pro-government supporters in an attempt to kidnap Chavez back in 2002. For this, he would be let go; though he was later arrested in 2014 on charges ranging from corruption to crimes of public instigation and arson, all of them premeditated. He, too, is a member of Primero Justicia, as well as Voluntad Popular, both parties which have received funding from the US, the NED, and USAID.

The opposition is, of course, using the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela as the justification and catalyst for their crimes. Though imperialists and the enemies of the Bolivarian Revolution have been quick to blame the food shortages on government mismanagement, this simply is not the case. Healthcare, housing, and education have improved considerably under Maduro, an improvement even from Chavez’s great reforms. The problem is that the opposition has been destroying food shipments.

Over fifty tons of food were destroyed in just one instance of right-wing violence last year. Another forty tons destined for children in Venezuela’s rural south were burned in a firebombing by opposition protesters cloaked, ironically, in shirts and flags depicting the Madonna and Child.

Protinal Proagro, a private Venezuelan food producer, was caught burying over 100 million perfectly healthy chicks alive by the Argentina-based new outlet, Primicias 24. It should come as no surprise that this shocking story of sabotage and kulakery was completely ignored by the Western media.

Moreover, Venezuela’s food shortages have been criminally exacerbated, if not entirely caused, by US sanctions. Just in 2017, the US blocked over 18 million boxes of food headed their way.* This is entirely in line with US foreign policy. They even bragged about doing similar to the DPR of Korea, though with much less success.

As for Venezuela’s international enemies, there is, of course, Human Rights Watch. They’ve has already called for UN intervention in Venezuela and you can read about their connections to the US State Department here.

There’s also the Lima Group, a collection of imperialist stooges and neoliberal dictators who get together periodically to bully and intimidate any Latin American country that dares to oppose the neocolonial order that keeps Latin America subservient to the West and the world market. As if to illustrate this fact even further, just before condemning Venezuelan democracy, the Lima Group met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a move which Bolivian Ambassador Juan Ramón Quintana, among others, described as, “the prelude of a US military intervention.”

One of their biggest criticisms was the historically low turnout in the recent election. Venezuela’s National Electoral Council puts voter turnout at 48%, though most independent organizations put that number closer to 46%. This poor turnout was caused largely by efforts of the opposition. The Socialist Party’s main opponents, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, boycotted the election, an old tactic of opposition parties who know they can’t get the votes. And opposition zealots were out in force, terrorizing anyone attempting to cast their vote. Just in Caracas, an innocent woman was gunned down by anti-government terrorists at a polling station.

It’s interesting to note also that the Lima Group (as well as the US) recognizes the 2017 election of Juan Orlando Hernández, a far right neoliberal, as President of Honduras despite widespread allegations of fraud.

Even more interesting, one member state of the Lima Group is Columbia, a nation whose government, depending on who you ask, has either turned a blind eye to or actively participated in “social cleansing,” the murder of homeless people, street children, suspected criminals, and anyone else whose mere presence might ruin a cocktail party. The Lima Group has obviously ignored this classicide, a disgusting but entirely unsurprising double standard.

Undoubtedly, the same interests and even many of the same people behind the 2002 coup, the violence in 2014, the 2017 Valencia attack, and the helicopter attack on the Supreme Court are also behind yesterday’s assassination attempt.

But what is the US’ role in this?

It’s a long story…

In 2007, journalist and lawyer Eva Golinger, a vehement Chavista, called out several journalists whom she accused of accepting bribes from the US government in exchange for spreading pro-US, anti-socialist sentiment. This backfired spectacularly. The government and the left mostly ignored the accusations while the right, then much smaller, accused Golinger of trying to start a political witch hunt. The story fizzled out without many noticing or caring.

There was, however, one very important listener who took this story very seriously: the US Embassy in Caracas.

A cable, later exposed by Wikileaks, ‘IV Participants and USAID Partners Outed, Again,’ reveals that, though Golinger had only managed to embarrass herself by going public with her accusations, she was right. The US was indeed funneling money to Chavez’s opponents. This was confirmed in another cable from 2004, ‘Update on the USAID/OTI Venezuela Program,’ which detailed several programs costing more than $450,000 annually working to “provide training to political parties on the design, planning, and execution of electoral campaigns.” One program would specifically build and fund “campaign training schools” to recruit campaign managers and promote “the development of viable campaign strategies and effectively communicating party platforms to voters.”

In short, the US government was manufacturing opposition.

These programs were definitely effective. Two major far right opposition parties, Primero Justicia and Voluntad Popular, were founded in part with funding from USAID and the NED. These would not be what the are today if not for the $100 million they received from US organizations throughout the last eight years. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Though many in the West have conveniently forgotten, the 2002 coup was a brutal and bloody conspiracy by anti-democratic forces against the people for the reestablishment of the right-wing oligarchy Venezuela suffered beneath before the Bolivarian Revolution. The economic prosperity pre-Chavez Venezuela experienced was at the cost of mass illiteracy, homelessness, and poverty. Their great democracy left out millions of working class families who found themselves unable to get out from under the boot of US imperialism and the handful of obscenely rich moguls and compradors who benefited from it. Chavez changed that. Within less than fifteen years, illiteracy in the country was declared eradicated by the United Nations and all levels of education and healthcare were made available to every Venezuelan. As for the talk of dictatorship? Nonsense. Former president Jimmy Carter himself called Venezuela’s electoral system “the best in the world.”

Naturally, the US and their pet bourgeoisie in Venezuela put a target on Chavez’s back. The Bolivarian Revolution was now an enemy of reactionary forces across the world. Immediately, the US began undermining Venezuelan democracy and sovereignty and, within four years, the Observer would undercover that “The failed [2002] coup in Venezuela was closely tied to senior officials in the US government.” Then president George Bush and his team of Reaganite “Dirty War” veterans were blatantly funding, arming, training, and supporting the conspirators.

The same is being done today. As Bolivian President Evo Morales pointed out over Twitter, “Within the last twelve months, US Vice-President Mike Pence made three trips to Latin America to meet at least eight presidents from whom he demanded support for a military intervention against our brother president of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro. Those are the Empire’s coup attempts.”

Learn From Allende

Note how leniently this terrible authoritarian dictatorship has treated violent anti-government extremists who actually tried to overthrow the government. Not only were most let go, some are now in positions of power. Judging by how they’ve used this power, is it any wonder why the government may not be taking any more chances with foreign-funded terrorists, especially when the US hasn’t ruled out a direct invasion? They are not going to let some scorned oligarchs force the working people back into poverty and destitution. And as the election has shown, the working people support their government.

Their leniency, however, has been one of the greatest weaknesses.

It has never been enough for the working class to seize the ready-made instruments of the state, especially in Latin America, the US’ backyard. Chavez, for all his great successes, clearly did not learn this following the failed 2002 coup. Letting terrorists and bourgeois keep their heads will always comes back to bite you. We can only hope that, after such a close call, Maduro will heed Lenin’s words: “democracy is not identical with the subordination of the minority to the majority. Democracy is a state recognizing the the subordination of the minority to the majority, i.e., an organization for the systematic use of violence by one class against the other.” The Bolivarian Revolution and the great victories of the Venezuelan proletariat will never be safe until a workers’ state is build atop the ruins of the old bourgeois democracy.


* Side Note: Even after all this, Venezuela still offered the US over $5 million in aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey; making it one of the only two nations to offer anything.

In Their Own Words: Hamas

Once again, bombs are raining down on Gaza. In response to rockets fired into Israel, the Israeli military has begun attacking alleged Hamas positions in what may be the most severe escalation of violence since 2014. As always, many innocent Palestinians have been caught in the crossfire, though the big target for Israel and its allies is apparently Hamas, the so-called “leaders” of the Gaza Strip. Israel and the United States label them a terrorist organization. But what is Hamas actually?

Islamic Resistance

Hamas is the largest nationalist group operating in Palestine currently. Its name is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya – The Islamic Resistance Movement. Its social service wing, Dawah, follows the model of Islamic welfare established by Muhammad. Dawah is divided into multiple departments: preaching and guidance, welfare, education, charity, health, and sport and reconciliation. Its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is the muscle of the organization and operates in secrecy throughout Gaza and the West Bank.

The offical emblem of Hamas.

According to Hamas’ 1988 charter, written less than a year after the First Intifada, its mission is the liberation of Palestine from Israeli colonialism and imperialism through any means necessary. They welcome peace but do not expect liberation to come peacefully. The faith and ideology of Hamas is based in Sunni Islam, the most common religion in Palestine, but they work with all Muslims as well as many Christians and welcome anyone supportive to their cause.

Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Quran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.

Critics of Hamas claim it is an radical Islamic terror organization rooted in antisemitism. Hamas denies the charges of antisemitism. They have no problem with the Jewish people or religion but with Israel and their colonial occupation of Palestine. They also resent being called “terrorists.” To them, the real terrorists are the Zionist invaders who have killed so many Palestinians in ethnic cleansing campaigns. To use their own words: “Occupation, injustice, and impunity cause resistance. Occupation is the root cause of the conflict. Justice for the Palestinian people is a prerequisite to peace.”

Modern Jihad

In 2017, Hamas released a new document outlining their principles and goals. It takes on a wholly different tone. Compared to the charter, it’s almost secular. It stresses the historical injustices imposed on the Palestinian people and expresses the need and desire for the unity and independence of the Palestinian people.

Palestine is a land that was seized by a racist, anti-human, and colonial Zionist project that was founded on a false promise.

The new document makes things very clear. The Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate Document, the UN Palestine Partition Resolution, and anything based off these are illegitimate. Israel (referred to as “the Zionist entity”) will never be recognized by Hamas. They also hold that the Oslo Accords violated the rights of the Palestinian people and, thus, refuse to accept or recognize them either.

Hamas militants march in Khan Yunis, Gaza.

They will accept nothing less than the full liberation of Palestine, the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and the return of all Palestinian refugees. They hold that anything that infringes upon the rights of the Palestinian people, including the taking of land and the forced relocation of Palestinians, is to be considered an act of aggression. They also support the right to bear arms and resist Zionist aggression. One almost finds echoes of the Declaration of Independence in the new document.

The Palestinian people are one people, made up of all Palestinians, inside and outside of Palestine, irrespective of their religion, culture, or political affiliation.

Practice and Praxis

Hamas supports pluralism and democracy and has engaged in electoral politics throughout Gaza and the West Bank. They held the majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council after their landslide victory in 2006. However, tensions between them and their main rival, Fatah, boiled over the year after. Deadly clashes in Gaza resulted in the establishment of a new legislative body which was unconnected to the West Bank. In 2014 they agreed to form a national unity government but it has yet to be fully implemented.

Though Hamas has the largest parliamentary and military presence in Gaza, it cannot be said that they actually rule the Gaza Strip. Israel controls the borders, trade, and airspace. Nothing gets in or out without Israel’s permission. The closure of the area coupled with their unwillingness to grant permits to schools and hospitals for Palestinians outside of Gaza has lead to a dramatic worsening of living standards in Gaza. Save the Children describes conditions in Gaza as “unlivable” and suicide has skyrocketed as a result of the lack of resources, inability to move freely, constant warfare, and staggering unemployment inside “the world’s largest open air prison.”

Especially following the failure of the Camp David summit and the election of Benjamin Netanyahu – a staunch opponent of the peace process and the Oslo Accords – in Israel, the Palestinian Authority has been weakened significantly by Israeli interference. Hamas has been picking up where the Palestinian Authority has left off, organizing schools, clinics, and food drives and standing up to the Zionist colonizers. Though Israelis may view Hamas as a threat, for the people of Gaza, they are one of the only organizations fighting for their rights and lives.

Most of What We Hear About China Is Red Scare, Yellow Peril Propaganda

With an ongoing trade war, tensions rising in the South China Sea, and the growing esteem of President Xi Jinping, China has been the subject of a significant amount of our twenty four hour news cycle. If, like me, you’ve subjected yourself to any of it then let me be the first to say: I’m sorry. Also, you’ve been lied to.

Propaganda Roundup

The outpour of completely baseless, biased, and unresearched horror stories is astonishing. Tales of aggressive military expansion, neocolonialism, torture, human rights violations, and massive unrestrained surveillance systems have made headlines again and again. Besides the obvious hypocrisy of decrying the very same things these companies praise Western countries for doing, what’s most concerning about these stories is their glaring inaccuracies. To help unmask Sinophobia and propaganda in the media, let’s take a closer look at some stories which have made headlines recently.

“Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens”

China’s social credit system, unveiled June 14, 2014, has made a lot of headlines recently as the government moves to implement it in its entirety across the whole country. Thousands of articles have been written comparing the system to Black Mirror and 1984, crying over Chinese citizens with bad social credit having been denied access to schools and transit. And, indeed, these half-truths sound horrifying and tyrannical. What is left out, however, is that social credit is determined exclusively by a citizen’s business practices.

Unlike in the US where unethical companies like Bain Capital are allowed to buy, gut, and ruin companies before declaring bankruptcy for profit, in China, bad business is punished. Hou Yunchun, former deputy director of the development research center of the State Council, writes: “If we don’t increase the cost of being discredited, we are encouraging discredited people to keep at it.”

Further, discredited people have full and equal access to all public services, including public schools and public transit. They can only be barred from using luxury travel options such as first-class flight and access to private schooling. Moreover, Zhi Zhenfeng, a legal expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, assures us that: “How the person is restricted in terms of public services or business opportunities should be in accordance with how and to what extent he or she lost his credibility.” Minor offenses only yield minor punishments, major offenses, major punishments. “Discredited people deserve legal consequences,” Zhi continued. “This is definitely a step in the right direction to building a society with credibility.”

Companies known to be in violation of the law and ethical business practices have also been publically exposed by the government. This is all part of China’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign.

“Muslims forced to drink alcohol and eat pork in China’s ‘re-education’ camps, former inmate claims”

Omir Bekali, an Uighur, a minority from the autonomous region Xinjiang, made headlines across the world after he came out with a shocking and bizarre story of hellish re-education camps where Muslims were allegedly forced to drink alcohol and eat pork. He claims also to have been shackled and beaten. His account is brutal and depicts a world of harassment, religious and ethnic discrimination, and slightly milder torture than the methods used on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. His vivid and emotional account would likely inspire real international outrage if even a single person reported anything remotely similar.

The story is nonsense. He claims that many been kidnapped, tortured, and forced to violate Islamic code of conduct and yet not one person besides Mr. Bekali has reported so much as Islamophobic harassment by Chinese authorities in Xinjiang, or anywhere else for that matter.

Xinjiang is home to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a violent separatist group of religious extremists who have killed over 100 in multiple terror attacks across the region. Uighur Islamic extremists have been found among the ranks of ISIS and have vowed to “make [Chinese] blood flow in rivers, by the will of God.” These extremists claim to be oppressed by the Chinese government despite enjoying regional autonomy, receiving significant developmental aid from Beijing, and China’s ongoing policy to promote religious freedom and harmony. In China, freedom of religion is protected in the constitution, anti-Islamic content was recently banned in social media, and Islam is experiencing a revival.

Bekali’s account is completely without foundation in reality. He directly contradicts himself in other interviews, like this one from the Daily Mail. The account here is even more outlandish and tells of farcical chanting and hourly oaths of loyalty to the Communist Party. He puts ol’ Joe McCarthy himself to shame with his overuse of tired, Cold War era anti-communist cliches. The entire story, which was largely reported on, seems to be wholly false.

What is true is that Xinjiang’s GDP has grown steadily at a rate far exceeding the national average and Uighur members of the Communist Party have expressed the growing desire for unity between Xinjiang and China, as well as among the regions many ethnicities and religions.

“Emperor Xi Jinping: China enters a new era under just one leader”

This racist, rambling tirade by News.com Australia’s Jamie Seidel is perhaps the most egregiously Orientalist thing I’ve ever read. When talking about the amendment to the Chinese constitution which abolished term limits, he sarcastically writes: “The glory of [the] Middle Kingdom will be restored again.” He also describes Xi Jinping as an emperor and makes countless references to imperial China (or, rather, his image of imperial China which is basically just an amalgam of various Asian stereotypes). This is Orientalism. Rather than writing about this modern nation as a modern nation, Seidel prefers to crack jokes and reduce China to an inaccurate and racist caricature.

This same Orientalism is mirrored in articles like those by the BBC and CNN, among others, which talk of “heirs” and “emperors”; and is especially evident in the constant reference to the DPR of Korea as “the hermit kingdom.”

The reality is that China has democratized. Term limits were added to the constitution after the chairmanship of Deng Xiaoping to ensure that efforts would not stagnate or stall during the period of economic reform. It ensured that China’s leadership would be focused on the present conditions, rather than future elections. With the reforms having proven an objective success, and China’s efforts now focusing on the move towards socialism, there is no longer a need for such an undemocratic and arbitrary amendment. There will still be elections and Xi Jinping still is not guaranteed a third term. Plenty of Western leaders have been serving for a lot longer with a lot less support, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is currently in her fourth consecutive term.

“Eight countries in danger of falling into China’s debt trap”

Chinese influence overseas has been questioned again and again, often by the same people who consistently support Western military adventures overseas. The above article by Quartz laments the plights of Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. What a tragedy it is that they must be subjected to infrastructure and factories.

It is a testament to Quartz reporter Tim Fernholz’s shamelessness and hypocrisy that he readily admits that the US’ largest military base in Africa is in Djibouti, one of the countries supposedly at risk of falling into Chinese “imperialism.” He literally says this in the same sentence which attacks Chinese involvement in the nation. Only an aggressively ignorant Western chauvinist could write that Chinese airports are a threat but US soldiers aren’t.

One can only imagine the indignation Fernholz would feel if China began “waging a massive shadow war” in Africa like the US has been doing. One has to ask, is Fernholz aware of this? Is the great reporter aware of the colonial taxes France continues to impose on the African nations they once directly colonized? Why, Mr. Fernholz, are roads, schools, power plants, aid programs, and debt forgiveness the big danger?

The list goes on…

These are just a handful of the mass of vitriolic propaganda aimed at China. And that’s just from private companies. The US Embassy in China claimed to have been the target of “sonic attacks.” These unexplained science fiction weapons China’s supposedly using against Americans sound eerily similar to those the US Embassy claimed to have been attacked within Cuba which were determined to be completely made up.

So why the lies and the slander? Why all the hate? Perhaps they’re overcompensating. China’s president, Xi Jinping, is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant statesmen of the 21st century. And over 80% of Chinese polled said they supported him, had faith in their government, and were optimistic about their country’s future.

By contrast, optimism has been severely lacking across Europe, Canada, Australia, and the United States. The crisis of confidence in the United Kingdom resulted in one of the longest hung parliaments in British history, with the hugely unpopular Theresa May just barely clinging onto her majority. Even the monarchy is becoming increasingly unpopular. Two-thirds of the population said they didn’t care about the Royal Wedding, a huge decline since the last one. “Fuck the Royals” parties were held in pubs across the country. In Spain, when large portions of the population aren’t trying to secede, the government is struggling to deal with a growing labor movement which held mass protests this May Day. In France, the May Day protesters were decidedly more hardcore, clashing with riot police. And when protesters aren’t setting cops on fire, they’re burning effigies of President Emmanuel Macron in protest against his hugely unpopular economic reforms which resulted in the loss of over 120,000 jobs. Justin Trudeau can’t stop embarrassing himself every time he steps outside of Canada. Malcolm Turnbull is struggling to justify his ministership. And I don’t think I even have to mention how much people hate Donald Trump both inside and out of the US.

I mean just look at these idiots…

The truth is, they’re afraid.

China has beaten the West at its own game. The emerging superpower has outpaced and outdone them. They have a larger, more educated workforce, a more robust economy built on actually producing things, and a plan for the future. The West doesn’t seem to have a plan for the present. As China marches toward the horizon, united and prosperous, Western leadership seems entirely unable to get things together as their people find themselves unable to afford basic necessities like food and rent.

Supreme Court Strips Worker Protections

Should employers be allowed to force employees into behind doors, one-on-one arbitration, or should workers be able to bring their claims into court in class or collective actions? This was the question being asked in one of the most important workers rights cases of the term.

The Death of Collective Action

There were three cases brought before the Supreme Court by employees of the corporations Ernst & Young LLP, Epic Systems Corporation, and Murphy Oil USA, Inc. Workers claim that they were being illegally forced to challenge violations of federal labor law behind closed doors, in private one-on-one meetings, due to the mandatory individual arbitration procedures under the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act. They contend that a later bill, the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, makes these clauses and provisions illegal, as this bill was passed to protect the right of workers to join together in a class or collective action suit.

On May 21, the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of employers. In a decision that will affect more than 25 million private-sector workers, the 1925 bill will trump the protections gained by the 1935 bill. Justice Neil Gorsuch, speaking for the majority, said: “The policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written.” Now, workers will have to do everything individually and claims of hour and wage violations will have to be done personally and without the intervention of the court.

This ruling is a slap in the face of the working class and will come down especially hard on the already lower paid workers. A study by the Economic Policy Institute shows that 56% of private-sector workers are forced to handle disputes by themselves, alone, and often without the aid of a lawyer. With almost half of Americans in or near poverty, the majority of workers simply do not have the time, money, or know-how to effectively defend themselves alone. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the four dissenters, called the ruling “egregiously wrong.” She points out that the 1925 arbitration law came well before federal labor laws and, therefore, does not cover, as she put it, these “arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave it contracts” which employers can now insist on.

This is the first ruling of its kind. Never before have workers been denied the right to unite and defend themselves in court. However, this should not come as much of a surprise. The Trump administration itself submitted a brief in 2017 to the Supreme Court on the behalf of Murphy Oil, advocating an anti-worker legal theory in favor of so-called “job creators.” The Trump administration has been particularly shameless and open with their anti-worker agenda. The appointment of Friedmanites Betsy DeVos as head of the Department of Education and Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency can aptly be described as Benito Mussolini described fascism: “the merger of state and corporate power.” The working class can only expect further degradation and declawing in the coming years as more and more fundamental neoliberals are appoint to the highest levels of government under the administration of an actual billionaire.

Cuba After Castro: Cuba’s New President and Parliament

The resignation of Raul Castro is, of course, bittersweet for the people of Cuba. Elected president in 2008, Castro has stepped down at age 86 to make way for a new generation of leaders. Cuba has been led by its revolutionary heroes since 1959. The new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, has big shoes to fill but seems more than able to lead Cuba into modernity.

The President

At age 57, Díaz-Canel never lived under the rule of pre-revolutionary dictator Fulgencio Batista. He has only ever known socialism. During his inaugural addresson April 19, Díaz-Canel vowed to maintain the legacy of the revolution and late Cuban President Fidel Castro. He is also hugely distrustful of imperialist powers like the United States, citing the Trump Administrations opposition to diplomatic normalization. He promises to work toward economic reform and modernization. However, he has been critical of the recent economic reforms. He is an ardent communist and promises to combat corruption and revitalize the Party, reinforces its ties to the Cuban people on the ground level. He made things very clear in a speech before the National Assembly, saying: “there is no room in Cuba for those who strive for the restoration of capitalism.”

This hard-line stance is not the only thing dividing him from the Party old guard. Díaz-Canel is also something of a loose cannon, known for his swagger and willingness to defy convention. He is decidedly less conservative than most of the old timers and promises sweeping social reforms, especially in regards to LGBTQIA rights. He also advocates for more critical coverage by the state-run media and wider internet access throughout the nation.

The National Assembly

The parliamentary election has been equally as historic. More Afro-Cubans and young people were elected than ever before and Cuba now has the second highest female majority in parliament in the world.

The youngest and oldest members of Cuba’s National Assembly: 19 year old Leydimara de la Caridad Cárdenas Isasi alongside 94 year old José Ramón Fernández.

53% of all members of the National Assembly are now women. People aged 18 to 35 grew to over 13%. The average age of members decreased from 57 to 49. Over 35% are of African descendant.

It seems the tenets of democracy, equal, and modernization are alive and well in Cuba. The increased representation of women, minorities, and progressives at even the highest levels of government can only help usher the island nation into a bright future. I anticipate great things from the new National Assembly and President Díaz-Canel and wish Raul Castro a good retirement.

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Korean Peace Summit: a Meeting 65 Years in the Making

On April 27, Kim Jong-un became the first North Korean leader to cross the border into South Korea since 1953 in a historic peace summit with President Moon Jae-in. The summit was the result of months of talks between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. It was highly organized and choreographed, filled with rich symbolism and history.

A Beautiful, Candid Moment

Having crossed the border into the South, Kim briefly broke scrip to invite Moon to cross into the North, saying: “As I walked over here, I thought ‘why was it so difficult to get here?’ The separating line wasn’t even that high to cross. It was too easy to walk over that line and it took us 11 years to get here. … Maybe this is the right time for you to enter North Korean territory.” Moon took him up on the offer, leaving Koreans on both sides stunned and elated.

After the fanfare died down, Kim, Moon, and their delegations sat down to discuss military diminution, denuclearization, and the possibility of a permanent peace agreement. After two hours of discussions, the two planted a tree using water and soil from the North and South before enjoying dinner together with their wives.

First Ladies Ri Sol-ju of the DPRK (left) and Kim Jung-sook of the RoK (right) arriving at the summit.

The summit has already bore fruit. Tensions have been significantly diminished. A Korea Research Center poll shows nearly 80% of South Koreans now trust Kim Jong-un and reunification is once again an important issue in the South. The DPRK has agreed to cease all nuclear tests and the RoK has agreed to cease their propaganda operations on the border. The agreement itself, The Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity, and Unification of the Korean Peninsula, is a remarkable document. Named for the ‘Peace House’ at the border village of Panmunjom in which it was signed, it describes the division of Korea as a “Cold War relic” and lays out the plans for, among other things, permanently stationing two liaisons on the border from both sides to improve future communication and allowing the families torn apart by the division to reunite on August 15th of this year, the anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan.

Director Kim Yo-jong, the only woman at the summit table, taking notes next to Chairman Kim Jong-un.

Enter the Chauvinists

Many in the international community have already congratulated Korea on their success. In China, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she “applauds” the two leaders’ courage. She also quoted a particularly poignant poem – “Disasters are never powerful enough to separate real brothers, and a smile is all they need to eliminate the hard feelings.” President Vladimir Putin told Moon Russia was ready to promote inter-Korean cooperation. The White House also praised the meeting.

Since the country no longer publishes their economic statistics, the most reliable source on their economy is generally considered to be the RoK’s central bank, the Bank of Korea. They estimate that the DPRK economy has grown at a rate of about 2% every year since 1998 with no visible effect from sanctions. In fact, their economy had a massive leap in 2006 and 2007 immediately after another round of international sanctions were imposed on them. And though China has publically stated they are abiding by the UN sanctions, many Chinese ships have been caught illegally trading with Korea. Though the scale of this illegal trade is unknown, what is known is that DPRK’s planned economy is infinitely more stable than previously assumed. Sanctions or no sanctions, they’re doing just fine.

And now, a history lesson

The DPRK has been open to discussing peace for years. Its the US, Japan, and the RoK’s corrupt and anti-democratic leaders who have been turning down peace talks and even taunting the DPRK. Korea wouldn’t even have remained divided this long if US-installed dictator Syngman Rhee didn’t massacre more than 100,000 communist and democratic activists, all of whom supported unification under the democratically elected Kim Il-sung all the way back in 1950. And the RoK’s last president, Park Geun-hye, was too busy siphoning money to her bizarre religious cult to give much thought to reunification.

Though Moon has been more willing to talk than his predecessors, he had already green lit the joint US-South Korean war games, a months long simulated invasion of the DPRK which ends with the decapitation of an effigy of Kim Jong-un, in March, barely a month before the peace summit.

If anyone deserves a Nobel Peace Prize it’s the late Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un, or Kim Yo-jong. (Though its not like the Nobel Peace Prize means anything anymore.) The recent peace summit was the culmination of a 65 year long plan that began when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953.

It’s important to first note that the Korean War was not an attempt at conquering territory. It began in response to US-installed dictator Syngman Rhee’s massacre of communists, democratic activists, and pro-reunification forces in the South. The Korean People’s Army pushed into South Korea and were assisted by local anti-fascist and anti-imperialist guerrillas, as well as mutineers in the South Korean army. It was not until US troops invaded that the South was put back under Rhee’s control (though he and his fascist clique would later be overthrown). After the failure of the Korean War, President Kim Il-sung set his sights on peaceful reunification (and, of course, rebuilding the country, which had been leveled by American bombing campaigns and lost 20% of its population, as did the RoK). He outlined out three conditions for peaceful unification:

  1. National reunification must be achieved independently, without foreign interference.
  2. Differences in systems should be overlooked. Rather than the RoK accepting socialism or the DPRK accepting capitalism, the two should form a democratic confederacy. This way, Korea would be one nation and people would be free to trade and travel across it but the two halves would be able to run things as they saw fit.
  3. Unification should be peaceful. To ensure this, each sides military should be drastically reduced.

Kim Jong-il unfortunately was forced to focus on self-defense and military build up due to pressure from the US, Japan, and their lackeys in the RoK. He began pursuing Songun politics (English: military first) as the rest of the region militarized.

However, the peace process was restarted by Kim Jong-un who took up the banner of Songun politics but shifted the focus towards peace and negotiation. By completing the nuclear program, he ensured that the DPRK would not become the next Iraq or Libya and gave the nation some leverage. He put pressure on the RoK to pursue peace regardless of what the US or Japan wanted and made Korean reunification and US military presence a major issue again in the South.

Moreover, the summit would not have been possible without the work of Kim Yo-jong. She’s something of a rising star in North Korean politics and became hugely popular in South Korea after her appearance at the 2018 Winter Olympics. She was instrumental in getting Kim and Moon together, having personally delivered letters back and forth between the two and meeting diplomats in South Korea many times in the months leading up to the summit.

Indeed, the summit was the first step in realizing Kim Il-sung’s vision of peaceful independent reunification.

No matter who takes credit for it, history will prove that Korean reunification is a Korean matter to be settled by the Korean people. The “new history” of peace the two leaders have ushered in at this summit should be welcomed by all peace loving peoples of the world; and we have only Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un, Kim Yo-jong, and Moon Jae-in to thank for it.

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