Chile

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Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/05/2020 - 7:04am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

May 21, 2020 Vincent Bevins, author of The Jakarta Method, on the US-sponsored strategy of mass murder during the Cold War • Kyle Beckham, lecturer in education at the University of San Francisco, on schooling during the pandemic

Book Review: Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile: The Possibility of Social Critique by Juan Pablo Rodríguez

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/04/2020 - 8:57pm in

In Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in ChileJuan Pablo Rodríguez examines two recent social movements leading the social and political contestation against neoliberalism in Chile, not only showing how these embody critique in practice, but also drawing on these experiences to interrogate the very idea of social critique. This ambitious book is a welcome contribution to a sociology of social movements grounded in a reflexive dialogue between critical theory, social movement studies and empirical enquiry, writes Malik Fercovic

Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile: The Possibility of Social Critique. Juan Pablo Rodríguez. Palgrave Macmillan. 2020.

Beginning on 18 October 2019, Chilean society has experienced its most dramatic wave of social unrest since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship 30 years ago. What at first begun as a secondary school student protest rejecting a hike in metro fares in the capital city, Santiago, rapidly turned into a nationwide popular revolt against Sebastián Piñera’s right-wing government and the neoliberal arrangement imposed by the dictatorship almost five decades ago.

This sudden, vast and powerful expression of social discontent came as a shocking surprise for many observers accustomed to seeing in Chile the most prosperous and stable Latin American nation in a region historically lacking in both. Indeed, until mid-October, mainstream analysts, from both within and outside of the country, underlined Chile’s substantial economic growth, educational expansion, access to mass consumption, increasing wages and low levels of corruption in recent decades. Only days before the start of what is now known as the ‘Chilean awakening’, President Piñera, insisting on Chile’s success story, declared the country to look ‘like an oasis’ in a troubled Latin America.

But, of course, this conventional depiction offers a very incomplete portrait of Chile. It obscures the hidden stratifications and intricacies of a rapidly changing social structure, the diffuse but unmistakable presence of a widespread discontent beneath the pacified surface of a consumer society, the mounting negative perception of high levels of inequality, as well as the sporadic impulses and periodic turbulence of social movements slowly but steadily gathering force—e.g. the secondary school student (‘penguin’) rebellion in 2006, the massive university student protests in 2011, manifold socio-environmental conflicts across the country, a robust contestation of Chile’s pension system in 2017 and a powerful feminist movement in 2018. Even a hasty glimpse at these diverse expressions of discontent might well have prevented the surprise many observers have experienced over the past months.

As an expanding literature suggests, the successive waves of social and political contestation unsettling the consensus on which the post-dictatorship Chile has been built cannot be doubted. But how do these variegated expressions of discontent articulate and practise their critical voices?

This somewhat neglected yet key question is at the heart of Juan Pablo Rodríguez’s Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile: The Possibility of Social Critique. In this book, Rodríguez studies two of the main social movements leading the social and political contestation against neoliberalism in recent years: namely, the practices of social critique of low-income urban citizens known as pobladores and the nationwide student movement in 2011 against unequal higher education. In addition to being part of longstanding social struggles throughout Chile’s history, according to Rodríguez, these social movements deserve our special attention for two complementary reasons. Rooted in the heavy burden of household and student debt, pobladores and the student movements embody the first successful endeavours to resist the ‘logic of fragmentation of neoliberalism’ in contemporary Chile. And they have managed to galvanise a larger critique not just of specific issues—the right to the city for poor city-dwellers or free and public-based higher education—but of Chilean society as a whole.

Yet Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile has more ambitious goals. Rodríguez’s book not only examines the way these two social movements embody critique in practice against neoliberalism in Chile. Taking the ‘return of Marx’ as a major pointer of the renewal of social critique over the past decade, he also inspects these experiences of social and political contestation to interrogate the very idea of social critique developed by diverse contemporary critical theorists in the Global North.  In hoping to come to terms with many of the unresolved dilemmas faced by critical theory (e.g. how to combine a critical diagnosis of existing societies with emancipatory perspectives and narrow the persistent gap between theory and praxis, philosophy and politics, abstraction and revolution), Rodríguez seeks to unite various theoretical developments of critique with the experiences of concrete social movements in the Global South. His larger aim is thus to advance a critical sociology of social movements at the crossroads of critical theory, social movement studies and empirical sociology.

To address this, Rodríguez adroitly develops his own conceptual framework from three main streams of scholarship. Firstly, influenced by Fredric Jameson, Axel Honneth and Jacques Rancière, Rodríguez builds the concept of ‘social critique as practice’—a notion bringing together the central notions of utopia, recognition and disagreement to examine the multifaceted ways in which social movements deploy their practices of critique. Secondly, based on Jameson’s notion of ‘cognitive mapping’ and Luc Boltanski’s ‘sociology of pragmatic critique’, Rodríguez explores how people’s own critical capacities can lead activists to ‘see the whole’. This orientation towards a ‘social totality’, he argues, is crucial in shaping social movements’ self-making and collective agency. Finally, trying to unite critical social theory and social movement studies, Rodríguez coins the concept of ‘critique in movement’, a term meant to capture the concrete routes by which social movements’ struggles and counter-hegemonic projects are enacted.

Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile is based on interviews conducted with leading activists among the pobladores and students and on the analysis of public documents produced by these organisations. In dialogue with the theoretical perspectives put forward, its empirical material delivers thought-provoking findings. This is the case with the pobladores social movement. Through their demands for affordable and decent housing in the councils in which they reside, Rodríguez argues that pobladores redefine themselves and the city they inhabit. From a critical diagnosis of neoliberal housing policies, their discourse moves on to articulate a critical approach to neoliberal capitalism more broadly. Although their practice of social critique is chiefly framed around a moral code rooted in poblaciones (the communities in which they are embedded), those settings are also the basis for a utopian anti-neoliberal project. ‘Our dream is bigger than a house,’ one of the interviewees puts it, giving voice to the back-and-forth movement between their local communities and the quest for ‘vida digna’ (a dignified life) or ‘el buen vivir’ (the good living) for all.

According to Rodríguez, the supports of this counter-hegemonic process can be found in the specific political strategies pobladores deploy around the ‘pre-figurative’ practices of self-management and popular education. And yet, as Rodríguez acknowledges, these practices are not devoid of strains or inconsistencies, particularly those arising from the tensions between the private ownership of housing versus a wider struggle to the right to the city for everyone.

Chilean students similarly developed and mobilised a critical discourse against neoliberalism during the 2011 student protests. This critical discourse was embedded in students’ feelings of indignation towards an unequal, low-quality and highly privatised educational system, which increased access but generated a mass of debtors and thwarted dreams of upward mobility. Yet Rodríguez shows that through a growing deliberative and politicisation process enacted via local assemblies and student federations, students went beyond their identity as students and spurred a wider critique of the neoliberal political and economic arrangements governing Chilean society over the past decades.

Amply resonating with the broader population, the students’ demands revolved around public, free and high-quality education, backed by a new constitution and tax reform. ‘We are not only students but much more than that,’ says one of the student leaders interviewed. These practices and demands, Rodríguez maintains, contained the seeds of a ‘new type of citizenship’ and a ‘radical democracy’ for a post-neoliberal society. However, this possibility was not freed from the conflict between understanding education as a way to make possible the individualistic promise of social mobility and a new conception of education as a social right and as the basis for a new society.

Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile thus brings together a systematic reflection on the idea of social critique with a well-informed presentation of how the pobladores and the student movements embody critique in practice. Stretching the boundaries between a vast array of critical theorists, Rodríguez’s conceptual framework makes us rethink the practical forms of critique that social movements enact in contemporary Chile. Particularly illuminating are the applications of the theories of Jameson (‘cognitive mapping’) and Boltanski (‘social totality’), as they help us to better understand the practices enabling real social actors to make connections between different issues as well as with people and organisations beyond the initial range of their demands.

Rodríguez is compelling in showing that this orientation towards ‘totalisation’, though not bereft of tensions or contradictions, is crucial for social movements’ self-understanding and their practices of resistance and political contestation. What is at stake is not just the individual demands of specific groups but indeed Chilean society as a whole. By the same token, it is this back-and-forth movement between the concrete and the general, practised by both the pobladores and student organisations over the past years, that becomes useful to grasp the escalating nature of the social unrest currently shaking the country.  In this, though not written to specifically address the reasons behind the current social crisis, Rodríguez’s book makes an important contribution.

Although stimulating in this regard, Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile also comes with some noteworthy omissions. Part of these limitations is linked to Rodríguez’s insistence on using critical theories almost exclusively arising from the Global North to make sense of the practices of social and political resistance and contestation in the Global South. But why exactly are the analytical perspectives advanced by critical theorists in the US or Europe the best manner to account for the peculiar ways of practising social critique by concrete social movements in Chile? This persistent imbalance is never addressed throughout the book.

Noticeably absent, too, is any sustained discussion of the methods used and their implications for analysis. Rodríguez does not reveal how he obtained his interview sample and the composition of it. Nor does he provide any consideration of the (dis)advantages of interviewing, as though this data-gathering technique was by default the only way to study his topic. Quite frequently, he seems to limit himself to taking his interview material at face value, without critically engaging with it. For an attempt to empirically study the concrete ways real social actors embody social critique, all this amounts to a highly disconcerting void.

These omissions show not just a striking lack of reflexivity regarding the methods and analysis undertaken—intensive interpretation about what interview statements indicate and the mobilisation of good reasons for how to use them are always necessary. They also make it harder for the reader to critically assess Rodríguez’s application of the theories invoked to interpret the empirical material presented. As a result, this ambitious book is ultimately, in my view, somewhat weakened by these drawbacks.

Still, it is promising that there are clear signs that researchers are returning to a much-needed sociology of social movements emerging from a reflexive dialogue between critical theories, social movement studies and empirical enquiry. Resisting Neoliberal Capitalism in Chile will contribute to advancing this agenda and should be welcomed for these reasons.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image One Credit: Chilean Protests 2019 in Puerto Montt (North Patagonia) (Natalia Reyes Escobar CC BY SA 4.0).

Image Two Credit: Student movement protest, Chile, 2011 (Carol Crisosto Cadiz CC BY SA 2.0).

 


Cartoon: The Dead Thatchers – Bedtime for Democracy

Hi, and welcome to another of my cartoons, in which I attempt to lampoon the Tory party and our disgusting Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. This one is another mock poster/ record sleeve for my entirely fictional band, the Dead Thatchers. The name’s modeled on the American ’80s punk band, The Dead Kennedys. One of their satirical attacks on Reagan’s administration was ‘Bedtime for Democracy’, which I’ve used as the title and inspiration of this drawing. It shows Boris Johnson as Mussolini, surrounded by Maggie Thatcher and her bestie, General Pinochet, the Fascist dictator of Chile, as well as Ian McNichol and Emilie Oldknow.

Despite their loud claims to be the defenders of democracy, the Tories have so often been anything but. Churchill was an ardent opponent of Nazism, but it was because he saw them as a threat to British maritime domination of Europe and the North Sea. He was personally authoritarian, and actually like the Spanish dictator, Franco. He did, however, have the decency to describe Mussolini privately as a ‘swine’ when he visited Fascist Italy. In the 1980s sections of the Tory party had a very strong affinity for the Far Right, such as the Union of Conservative Students. Among their antics was calling for the National Front’s doctrine of ‘racial nationalism’ – the idea that only Whites should be considered true Britons – to become official policy. They bitterly hated Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, singing songs about hanging him in response to the pop single demanding freedom for the future leader of a democratic, multiracial South Africa.  Other songs included a parody of ‘We Don’t Want No Education’ from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, ‘We Don’t Want No Blacks or Asians’. There were also Tory demonstrations in support of apartheid South Africa.

The libertarian outfit to which Guido Fawkes belonged played host at its annual dinners to politicos from the South African Conservative Party, as well as the leader of one of Rios Montt’s death squads. Montt was the dictator of one of the Central American countries.  Maggie Thatcher’s friendship with Pinochet was for the old monster’s support against Argentina during the Falklands War. But some of it no doubt came from Thatcher’s own very authoritarian personality. She wanted a strong state, which meant the police, armed forces and the intelligence agencies. The Tories also claimed that she was somehow working class. She wasn’t. She was lower middle class, strictly speaking, and despised the people the Victorians called ‘the labouring poor’. She despised the trade unions and regarded the working class as ungrateful and disloyal. Following Enoch Powell, she was a monetarist, as was Pinochet. His regime was supported by Milton Friedman, who went down to Chile to advise Pinochet on its implementation, because he and the rest of the Chicago school and American libertarians because they believed it could only be established by a dictator. The masses were too wedded, they believed, to state intervention and a welfare state for a monetarist government ever to be democratically elected.

And Boris is also extremely authoritarian. He shares the eugenics views of Cummings and Toby Young, as well as previous Tory governments, that the poor, the disabled, the elderly and the long-term unemployed are useless eaters on whom as little money and resources should spent as possible. He and his cronies seem to regard their deaths as simply the inevitable operation of the forces of Natural Selection. His and his advisers were in favour of letting the British people develop ‘herd immunity’ against the Coronavirus, which meant avoiding lockdown and letting the disease take the weakest in order to preserve the economy. When Johnson was finally forced to act, he did so by awarding himself dangerously wide, exceptional powers in order, so he claimed, to be able to deal with the emergency.

These powers could very easily be used to turn him into a dictator.

The Coronavirus bill debated by parliament on 19th March 2020 gave the government sweeping new powers to arrest, detain and surveil for the next two years. It was criticised by Observer journo Carole Cadwalladr, who asked why the bill was supposed to last for two years, when the government did not expect the emergency to last that long. She also asked the pertinent question of what the government would do with all the information it wanted to collect.

Labour’s Chris Bryant also attacked it, stating that current emergency legislation, from the Civil Contingencies Act to various health and disease legislation, also gave the government sufficient powers to deal with the emergency. The Civil Contingencies bill requires renewal every 28 days, and the other laws also contain important safeguards. Commons library clerk Graeme Cowie also stressed how important ‘Sunset Clauses’ are. He explained that they ‘

are an important safeguard against the use of unusually broad or general executive powers. They also take different forms: (a) time limiting provisions in an Act (b) time limiting the power to make regulations or (c) time limiting the effect of regulations”.

Zelo Street, the bill looked like a power grab by Boris, enabled by Tory tribal politics.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/coronavirus-bill-warning.html

This is all too credible, given the way BoJob also had the Queen grant him extended powers to try to force Brexit through parliament despite the opposition of many MPs, including those in his own party.

But Boris isn’t the only anti-democrat.

I’ve also included in the cartoon Ian McNichol and Emilie Oldknow, the chairman of the Labour party and the present COO of Unison respectively. Because these two charmers were part of the very real conspiracy within the Labour Party democracy to unseat Jeremy Corbyn by withholding information on the anti-Semitism scandal so as to make him appear incompetent. Other tactics included trying keep Wallasey Labour Party suspended for as long as possible so they wouldn’t deselect the sitting Blairite MP, Angela Eagle, running a parallel election campaign in London intended to ensure that only Blairites would be elected, debating whether they could get Momentum expelled. They also wanted to set up an interim government with Tom Watson as leader after the 2017 election, and intrigued against and vilified other Labour MPs and activists from the left-wing – the real Centre – of the party. All this is described in the Anti-Semitism report, which was suppressed on the advice of the party’s lawyers, and on which Starmer sat for a week before it was leaked. One of the plotters wanted to get an electoral college set up in the party to make sure that a left-wing could never be elected leader.

McNichol, Oldknow and the rest of them are as anti-democratic as Johnson.

They did not work for the good of the party as a whole, but merely their own, narrow factional advantage. And as the behaviour of the Blairites has repeatedly shown, they prefer Tory government to one by a left-wing Labour figure. The report describes how they debated who to vote for if it came to a contest between Corbyn and Tweezer. But their contempt for Labour party democracy has been amply shown over the past four years of Blairite intriguing against Corbyn. And Blair himself was very authoritarian, curtailing party democracy and centralising it around himself. The Blairites themselves are only small minority within the party, but they were able to present themselves as representing mainstream Labour through their monopolization of the party bureaucracy and the connivance of the lamestream media.

Now following the report’s leak, the Socialist Group of Labour MPs have written to Starmer asking very serious questions. Ordinary Labour members, activists and supporters like Mike are also demanding greater disclosure about their activities, as well as their censure and expulsion.

This is absolutely correct, as their contempt for their party’s leadership and members and fervent support of Tory policies shows that they are a threat to democracy like Boris and his mob in government.

Here’s the cartoon. I hope you enjoy it.

 

From Hong Kong to Chile in 8 Days With COVID-19 on My Tail

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/03/2020 - 1:51am in

Santiago (21st Century Wire) — Imagine that you are in Hong Kong, in a city where “you are actually not supposed to be”, in the first place. You are ready to go home, to South America. But just two days before your departure, via Seoul and Amsterdam, your first Sky Team carrier, Korean Air, unceremoniously decides to cancel all flights from the territory.

Several Korean religious freaks, apparently, are to blame.

On 22 February, 2020, Mail Online, reported:

More than half of all South Korea’s coronavirus cases are linked to a secretive ultra-religious cult whose leader believes he is immortal.”

Just reading that, I knew I may get royally screwed. Nothing good comes from ultra-religious fanatics, and South Koreans are notorious for their political and religious extremism.

But that was not all. The report continued:

There are further reports of outbreaks in the psychiatric unit of a hospital in Cheongdo county, infections in Busan, and on the island of Jeju.”

Korean Air, which was supposed to fly its glorious new Boeing 747-8 from Hong Kong to Incheon (Seoul international airport), has been carving its service, first reducing it to Boeing 777s, then to Airbus 330s, and in the end, cancelling all of its flights 3 days before my departure.

Incheon, South Korea

Incheon, South Korea. Usually one of the busiest airports. Photo | Andre Vltchek

To secure my monstrously long commute, I spent most of my Sky Team miles, to secure a business class set of tickets.

There was a reason for it: I could not see. Well, I could hardly see, at all.

Before Hong Kong, I had worked in Kalimantan, in the Indonesian part of Borneo, on an island which has been totally plundered by greed, corruption and the ineptness of the Javanese neo-colonialists. An island where the present administration of President Joko Widodo (known as “Jokowi”), is planning to build and move the new capital city, abandoning the enormous, more than 20 million population sized urban area of Jakarta which is “sinking”, ridden with countless urban slums, lack of sanitation and safe drinking water.

Writing a book about this monumental insanity, I continued investigating. And In a process I got attacked, as almost anyone who visits Borneo does, by various and vicious parasites. My guts got infected by something terrible, and then my eyes. I flew between Balikpapan and Pontianak on Lion Air’s Boeing 737 (yes, that Lion Air, which keeps cramming and periodically crashing planes, ever since the beginning of its operation). I have no idea whether my eyes got attacked there, on board, or in some filthy ditch near the palm oil plantations, where they are cutting down what is left of the tropical forest.

Wherever it was, it did get infected. First the left eye. It was like a white foam. I could only see extremely abstract contours, as if between me and the world, there was a thick, white blanket. It was scary, very scary. I am not only a writer and a philosopher, but I am also a filmmaker and photographer. Doing what I do and not seeing almost anything is, you know, quite terrifying.

Before flying to Hong Kong, where I have been covering the riots ignited and financed by the West, I stopped over in Bangkok and went to an eye clinic, but the doctors there only cared about the payment. They had no clue what was happening to my eye.

Then, in Hong Kong, as Korean Air cancelled my flight, my right eye also got attacked.

At night, as I lay awake in my hotel room, I suddenly recalled how on board the Garuda Indonesia, between Pontianak and Jakarta, at least four people were coughing, loudly and desperately. Nobody was checking them. The Indonesian government had suggested that people pray, to avoid the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“What else,” I thought. “Am I also going to get the coronavirus?”

*

I refused to succumb to this horrible situation.

By then I knew that Korean Air was determined to ruin me. While Air France (my Sky Team carrier) and KLM were offering re-routing and compensation to their passengers stranded in Asia, Korean Air showed a clear and vulgar indifference. It did nothing to help. It never even replied to my queries.

I was also aware of the fact that I may have to travel, at least for 7 days, through various detours, and without seeing almost anything. Also, with twisted guts and a diabetic attack which had kicked my backside because of the tremendous stress.

Was it worse than being in Syrian Idlib, in Afghanistan, or near Mosul after it had been taken over by ISIS?

In a way, it was. Being blind, chased by the new coronavirus type, with airports closing one after another, and with the prices of airline tickets going sky-high, everything seemed to be demeaning, depressing and unsettling.

Strangely enough, I felt no fear of the COVID-19. I kept discussing the new type of coronavirus with my medical colleagues, through WhatsApp, until my eyes totally let go and collapsed.

I had to make it through, to Santiago de Chile, which happened to be on the total opposite side of the world.

Western doctors that I knew, were sending long and useless advice which mainly repeated “go see a doctor” idiocy. I told them I was in Hong Kong, which had been experiencing a near total lockdown. I told them that I had already been to a Thai eye doctor who had absolutely no clue about my condition.

Then, I realized that I could not rely on those that I am fighting against! I needed comrades to help me.

My family contacted a Syrian lady doctor, an expert in infectious diseases, and a sister of my friend in Damascus. I sent photo-images of my eyes. She saw, asked for symptoms and prescribed some powerful oral antibiotics and drops. I managed to convince a Hong Kong pharmacist to sell the medicine over the counter: I said it was a matter of life and death. She understood.

Syria and China saved me. People were guided by intuition, not by rigid rules.

I was going home.

Andre Vltchek

My last interview in Hong Kong. Photo | Andre Vltchek

My nearest and dearest began helping me to re-route. It took days. It was horrible.

Airlines, from Korean Air to Cathay Pacific, began to cover their backs; trying to squeeze every penny from those who were still able and willing to fly. Some one-way economy tickets for 2 hours flights shot up to 1,600 US dollars. Business class on certain routes became miraculously cheaper. As long as one could search, and as long as one could look at a screen.

To avoid quarantining, and to get out of Hong Kong, the easiest way was to fly in the totally opposite direction than where I was heading: to Bangkok, on Emirates. A few business class tickets were still available, but at $600, on a route where they used to cost under $400. It was one of the last available ways out of the almost locked out city.

I grabbed a seat on the Airbus 380-800. I somehow pulled through the totally empty Hong Kong Airport. I could hardly see anything. There were hardly any seats to rest on in the departure hall. My backpack was almost 20kg heavy, with a professional camera, computer and mobile phones.

I have no idea how I managed to get to my plane. With my damaged eyes, I could still see those huge numbers indicating gates. I collapsed into my seat. The super-jumbo took off, Southeast; away from where I was trying to fly. I was some 20 thousand kilometers away from Santiago de Chile.

Santiago was bleeding, too! Its eyes were damaged. People were fighting against the fascist regime imposed on them by Washington, and by the multinational corporations, in 1973. Like my own, their eyes were inflamed; some, over 300 individuals, even lost their eyes, as they were shot at by the police.

On board my flight to Bangkok, I was not sure whether I was going to be able to return home, alive.

But I was going, through the night, towards Bangkok. Would they even let me in? The first step.

*

They did. Miraculously. I must have looked like shit, but an unfriendly, insulting border police officer slammed a stamp into my passport, fingerprinted me, photographed me, and in the end, let me go.

That was it. Hong Kong does not stamp passports. Officially, my journey would begin in Thailand.

I had only 9 hours on the ground. The airport was eerily empty. People looked like streetwalkers, wearing masks, some even things resembling ski-glasses. I went home to my place by the river, without even opening my luggage, I collapsed into my bed, but could not sleep the entire night. Tugboats were pulling ghost-like barges, 31 floors below. I could not see the barges, only contours. This was my first day into the journey.

In the morning, very early, I somehow managed to return to the airport, and rechecked my luggage all the way to Suriname, as that was the only airport in South America, which I was able to get to free (using my air miles) business class tickets, at least from Seoul. Instead of re-routing or compensating me, Korean Air which had brutally canceled my tickets from Hong Kong, was now charging me something absolutely ridiculous, to get from Bangkok to Seoul, where I was to catch a KLM flight to Amsterdam and many hours later, to Paramaribo.

Thai fingerprinting and photographing again. The taking the shoes off, precisely as the U.S. masters have ordered. The saturated spite of the Thai officials suffering from superiority complexes, followed by an old, dirty, 777-300 Korean Air aircraft. I crashed into its unmaintained seat. Just glanced at the food (inedible-looking, cheap version of bibimba), and slept all the way to Seoul.

*

Coronavirus, greed, extreme capitalism, rudeness: everything accumulated into this monstrous journey.

Taking off from Hong Kong and later Bangkok, I experienced almost absolute blindness. Then, the Damascus-prescribed antibiotics began to kick in. They were terrible, but I was warned. Either or. Either blindness and white fog, or total exhaustion, a collapsed body, but clearer sight. I opted for sight.

I landed in Seoul, like a zombie, heavy rucksack on my back, wobbly, almost desperate.

My luggage was automatically transferred all the way to Paramaribo, using the Sky Team system.

But this was South Korea. At the transfer desk I was refused boarding passes: “Go through security, then go to Sky Team Lounge and wait 8 hours for your flight. They will give you boarding passes at the gate,” I was told.

At the security check, they could not read English, or understand what was written on my E-tickets. 3 times I was humiliated, going back and forth between the transfer desk and security checkpoint. The staff were clearly enjoying the game, perhaps waiting for when I would finally collapse. The transfer desk person refused to walk with me to the security check. Security people were stubbornly refusing to read English.

This was precisely one of those moments when one loses all hope in humanity. You think: “Your body will let go! You will collapse, at any moment. Collapse and die.” All this, just because you have been putting your life on the line, for some poor, devastated, enormous tropical island. Just because some South Korean religious freaks went bananas. Just because of human indifference and racism. Just because, just because… The brave new world. The creepiness of a capitalist, right-wing trash universe.

I made it to the lounge, eventually, moving through the empty airport. Everything was shut down. The lounge was empty; almost nothing to eat there. The coronavirus scare.

At this point, all I wanted to do was to sleep. I found a transit hotel and paid an exorbitant price for only a few hours of rest. I collapsed. I cursed capitalism, greed, and humanity’s collapse.

I knew that as I was entering the disturbing world of dreams, or should I say nightmares, the People’s Republic of China, as well as Cuba, were fighting for our human race, against all the odds, against the monstrous propaganda originating from the West.

I had no right to kick the bucket in some bloody transit hotel room at the Incheon Airport. China, Cuba, Russia, Venezuela needed me. I saluted my comrades, the old fashioned way, and fell asleep.

*

The Korean Air clerk at the gate had no idea where Paramaribo was, or where Suriname is located. He was moonlighting for KLM, but was wearing a Korean Air uniform.

I told him what I thought about Korean Air. Before that, he had not liked me for flying to “some Paramaribo”, but after that he started to hate me, openly. The fact that I am a platinum member of his alliance meant nothing.

He began treating me as if I was the coronavirus incarnated.

By then, I could hardly see him. My legs were about to collapse, at any moment. But I was not going to show weakness.

He began: “Where is your visa to Suriname”?

“Here,” I replied.

“What is that?”

“My visa.”

“So, where is your visa?”

“My visa is here.”

“You have to show it to me.”

“It is in front of you.”

Korean Air had stolen my money by cancelling flights and by refusing to re-route me. Now, it was ruining my health. But, there was zero remorse coming from the staff.

Eventually, a supervisor came and began abusing me, too.

I told her directly to her face: “You should learn from North Korean people how to treat visitors!”

Her apparatchik essence kicked in. She began threatening me.

I pulled out five press cards: “Do you want to arrest me for expressing my opinion?”

She started to look hesitant. I demanded her name card. She said she does not have one. Bullshit: in north Asia everybody has one.

“Are you a security agent or an airline staff?” I asked her, point-blank. I knew that in South Korea, it was the same thing.

Finally, she gave me my boarding passes, together with a look, which was full of hate.

This legendary racist horror, South Korean -style then disappeared. I saw, the way she humiliated herself, bowing and kissing the asses of her fellow, South Korean, citizens.

I was welcomed on board by an outraged flight hostess who was originally from Suriname: “She did not even know that my country exists, did she?” She patted me on the shoulder.

*

While Seoul was terrified of the coronavirus, the Europeans looked totally indifferent to the possible danger.

That was on March 3rd, 2020.

After the more than 11 hours flight from Seoul to Amsterdam, Schiphol airport appeared to be totally relaxed.

Even passengers from Seoul to Amsterdam looked undisturbed. No masks, no panic. Snoring contently, into the air.

777-200ER landed very early, at around 5 am.

I went through security, and located the Sky Team Lounge. It was stuffed with excellent food, but it happened to be totally empty. I found a comfortable chair and fell asleep, almost immediately. When I woke up, the lounge was full; literally packed.

After being used to masks being worn all over North and Southeast Asia, what hit me was the absolute lack of any face protectors at the major Dutch airport.

People were drinking, eating tons, talking. There was no sense of any emergency.

 

European and North American daily newspapers, in all languages, were full of the coronavirus headlines. Those freely distributed in the lounge, were only attacking China, totally and bizarrely avoiding the absolute lack of preparedness in the West.

Even the Italian daily papers, at that time at least, showed no signs of concern.

Not far from me, a group of Italian travelers was chatting, embracing, kissing, drinking prosecco and coffee for breakfast, and calling home on their mobile phones.

There was only one lax coronavirus checkpoint, upon arrival from South Korea, at the time one of the hardest hit countries in the world.

In retrospect, this was all totally bizarre and irresponsible.

Was the Western medical system so unprepared? Or was it told, even ordered, to behave in such a manner?

Waiting for my flight to Paramaribo, I called my 84-year old mom, who has been living in Germany, where she is married.

“They feed us with such crap,” she told me, in Russian. “I mean, that stuff that they tell us through the mass media. I don’t believe anything they say or write,” she concluded. “All this is not going to end well.”

And she was absolutely right.

*

The Queen of the Sky, a majestic old Boeing 747-400 took off on time, towards Suriname. Both KLM and British Airways were still flying these beautiful planes, although there were rumors that KLM will retire most of them in 2021.

This was the last flight of the captain. He was leaving KLM. The flight hostesses were urging all the passengers to write something short, something personal. There was supposed to be a great celebration, a great party, in Paramaribo.

By then, I was almost losing my consciousness. My eyes cleared, almost totally. But the monstrous antibiotics and chronic exhaustion, doubled my body down. Chile appeared to be far, far away.

Again, no masks, no precautions. The 747 was going southwest, full of passengers, with zero medical safeguards.

The plane landed, and it was sprayed with water by a fire engine, to celebrate the last flight of the captain.

No jetways: passengers had to climb down off the enormous aircraft. Those who couldn’t were met by special vehicle, functioning as a lift, and by a bus.

But the lift and other vehicles were quickly engaged by the celebrations of the captain’s retirement. Countless Surinamese passengers who were returning from Holland, after being treated in European hospitals, were waiting in the lift and the bus, abandoned by the ground staff. No one to measure their temperature. Nobody to even ask what kind of medical conditions they were suffering from.

By then, I had turned into a zombie. I somehow managed to sail through the immigration of a shack defined as an airport.

I almost collapsed. I asked for help, but was told by a local staff member: “If you feel sick, go get medical help”. Later, the hotel manager told me that this is the “usual treatment people get here”.

I somehow got stabilized, by getting my hands on a luggage trolley. The universe was spinning around me.

My pre-paid taxi did not wait for me. The hotel was some 50 kilometers from the airport.

In the end, I went to the airport police. Instead of helping me, they began a rude scrutiny, clearly trying to extract some bribe.

“I feel very sick,” I said. They couldn’t care less.

No questions asked about what had made me sick. Was it the coronavirus? By then it was already called COVID-19, and it was on my tail, chasing me as I was circling the globe.

coronavirus Suriname

An empty crossing at the Suriname River. Photo | Andre Vltchek

I filmed the Suriname River and the rainforest of Suriname, to show the contrast with Borneo.

Suriname has been terribly damaged, but Borneo has been ruined, endlessly and some say, irreversibly.

I only had one full day. I had to work fast. My Indian driver had to hold me up while I was working, otherwise I’d collapse.

On the 5th March, I returned to the airport, ready to fly to Belem, Brazil.

Further humiliation, overcharging, insults. I wanted to get out. And never return. One day I will write about those repulsive 48 hours in Suriname, but not now.

A 90 minutes flight, and everything fully changed. Even under the fascist government of Bolsonaro, Brazilians were kind and caring.

Shortly after the plane door opened in Belem, I was put into a wheelchair and zipped through immigration and other formalities. There was no overcharging, no humiliation and no dramas.

Brazil was what it always has been: a great country with dire problems. But a great country, nevertheless.

The next day I flew from Belem to Rio de Janeiro, via Brasilia.

Still, almost no masks. Once or twice my temperature was checked. That is all.

In Belem, all the Amazon riverfront cafes were kept open.

In Rio, while waiting for my flight to Chile, I went to the legendary and packed Vinicius bosanova club, and to the totally packed Caso de Chuva cultural center, where Tom Veloso was singing the songs of Gilberto Gil. Absolutely no precautions, no masks, people squeezed like sardines. The evening of March 8th.

A day later, on March 9th, the airlines in South America began catching up with turbo-capitalist games. Chilean LATAM, when I asked for an extra legroom seat, suggested that I pay $1,500, for 4 hours on board a small Airbus 320 plane. Naturally, I refused.

Santiago airport took the coronavirus seriously. There were several checkups. End of the games.

This is when strange things began to happen.

Two days after I landed in Santiago de Chile, South America moved from inactivity to hyperactivity.

Coronavirus Santiago Airport Chile

A coronavirus check at Santiago Airport, Chile. Photo | Andre Vltchek

One country after another began lock-ups; from Argentina to Peru, to Chile.

Santiago began resembling a ghost town. Entire regions of Chile began to close down.

I needed to recover, quickly, and to travel to Venezuela and Cuba, but it was becoming thoroughly impossible.

I arrived, I survived, but right away, I was grounded.

*

From one extreme, to another. In South America and the West.

When confronted with the terrible medical emergency, China reacted like a Communist country, which it is. It mobilized in the name of the people, and began fighting the battle. It acted rationally and responsibly. It never performed a total lockdown.

It demonstrated tremendous enthusiasm and discipline.

Without thinking twice, it sacrificed its economic interests, putting the people first.

It has won the battle; beating the virus back. Almost no new cases now. The hospitals constructed to treat the coronavirus are closing down. Doctors and other medical staff are celebrating.

Cuba is near to developing a vaccine for the new coronavirus.

China and Cuba are cooperating. China is sending airplanes with help to Italy, Spain and Serbia.

In the meantime, people in certain Western countries are being told that over 80% of their citizens will get infected, and that hundreds of thousands, even millions, will die!

Why?

Why the hell, really?

Some nations, from Italy to Chile (where I am right now), are locking up everything: entire countries, entire regions, everything.

At the height of the crises, Beijing was open, and so was Shanghai and almost all other major cities. Flights were arriving and departing. What confidence! What a success!

A clear victory of socialism over capitalism.

Just look at the Western nations, at Southeast Asia, or at South America; people are petrified. Control of the population is much more brutal than anything that has ever been implemented in China.

And what do they tell the Italians, French, Brits and North Americans? That they will be dying like flies! Even now, when this essay is being written, more Italian people have died, than the Chinese. That is, on a per capita basis, about 22 times more. And in the West, things are getting worse and worse.

And, until now, it is not yet clear, who brought the epidemy to Wuhan, to begin with. Many believe that it was the U.S. military. Still, China never stopped behaving like an internationalist country!

*

During my more than 20,000 kilometers long journey, I have seen a frightened, divided planet.

And then, I saw a great Chinese victory, and a Cuban victory.

I read how Cuba has rescued 600 people stuck on a cruise ship, the MS Braemar, belonging to one of its tormentors.

I witnessed panic in extreme right-wing countries like Chile. I was ready to drive south, to Araucaria, to speak to the discriminated against Mapuche indigenous people (according to Word they do not exist, as I am given red error sign), but precisely that area got hermetically sealed, closed down, one day before my planned 900-kilometer journey, and a month before the planned constitutional referendum.

In the West, and allied countries, the coronavirus has been used for political ends.

I am almost certain the Bolivian elections will be ‘postponed’, “because of the coronavirus”, to prevent socialist MAS from regaining power.

I am back home, but home is not a real home, anymore.

Home is now China, Cuba, Russia. Countries which are fighting against the Western tyranny that is sacrificing millions of human lives.

The coronavirus is a barometer of the state of the world.

It shows which countries bring shame to the word “humanity”, and which bring pride.

Feature photo | Andre Vltchek

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Five of his latest books are “China Belt and Road Initiative”, “China and Ecological Civilization” with John B. Cobb, Jr., “Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism”, the revolutionary novel “Aurora” and bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his ground-breaking documentary about Rwanda and DR Congo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and Latin America, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website, his Twitter and his Patreon

The post From Hong Kong to Chile in 8 Days With COVID-19 on My Tail appeared first on MintPress News.

A Policeman, A Pastor and A Palestinian: The ‘Chilestinians’ as a Model for Palestinian Unity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/03/2020 - 1:18am in

I was only introduced to the term ‘Chilestinians’ last February at a conference in Istanbul, during a presentation by the Director of the Palestinian Federation of Chile, Anuar Majluf.

When Majluf referred to the well-rooted Palestinian community in Chile, who number between 450,000 and half a million, using that unfamiliar and peculiar phrase, I smiled. Others did, too.

It is quite rare that a conference on Palestine, anywhere, would include such an upbeat atmosphere as that introduced by the Chilean-Palestinian leader, as the current discourse on Palestine is one that is saturated with a deepening sense of political failure, disunity and betrayal.

I say ‘Chilean-Palestinian’ for the sake of convenience because, later on, I realized that the term ‘Chilestinians’ was not coined haphazardly, or jokingly.

Dr. Lina Meruane, a Chilean scholar of Palestinian descent, told Bahira Amin of the ‘Scene Arabia’ online magazine, that the term ‘Chilestinians’ is different from ‘Chilean-Palestinians’ in the sense that it is a demarcation of a unique identity.

“It’s not a hyphenated identity, but the fusion of two identities that belong together and have no issues belonging together,” Meruane said. Amin refers to this as a ‘third space’ which was created in diaspora, over the course of 150 years.

It might come as a surprise for those of us not familiar with the Palestinian experience in Chile to learn of the old adage, “for every village in Chile you will find three things: a policeman, a pastor, and a Palestinian.” But the saying, indeed, expresses a historical bond between Palestine and a country that is located on the extreme south-western coast of South America.

The immense distance – over 13,000 kilometers – between Jerusalem and Santiago, might in part, explain the reason why Chile and its large ‘Chilestinian’ population did not occupy its deserved status in the collective imagination of Palestinians everywhere.

But there are other reasons too, leading among them the fact that successive Palestinian leaderships have failed to fully appreciate the immense potential of Palestinian communities in diaspora, especially the Palestinians of Chile. The latter’s story is not only that of struggle and perseverance, but also of great success and vital contributions to their own society and to the Palestinian cause.

Starting in the late 1970s, the Palestinian leadership labored to politically engage with Washington and other Western capitals, culminating in the pervading sense that, without US political validation, Palestinians would always remain marginal and irrelevant.

Palestinian calculation proved disastrous. After decades of catering to Washington expectations and diktats, the Palestinian leadership returned empty-handed as the Donald Trump administration’s ‘Deal of the Century’ has finally proven.

Political decisions have their cultural repercussions as well. For at least three decades, Palestinians have re-oriented themselves politically and culturally, disowning their historical allies in the southern hemisphere, as a whole. Worse, the new thinking widened the chasms between Palestinians in Palestine and their own brethren, like Palestinian communities in South America who held even tighter to their identity, language, music and love for their ancestral homeland.

What is so unique about Palestinians in Chile and other Palestinian communities in South America, is that their roots go back decades before the destruction of Palestine and the establishment of Israel on its ruins in 1948.

Israel often claims that its Palestinian victims lacked a national identity in the modern sense. Some scholars, at times well-intentioned ones, concur, claiming that a modern Palestinian identity was largely articulated after the Nakba – the ‘Catastrophic’ destruction of historic Palestine.

Those who are still stuck at this historical distortion must introduce themselves to Palestinian historians like Nur Mashala and his must-read book ‘Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History’.

‘Chilestinians’ offer a real living example of the true strength of the collective Palestinian identity that existed before Israel itself was violently imposed on the Palestinian map.

Deportivo Palestino’, a prominent football club that plays in Chile’s Primera division, was unofficially established in 1916 and, officially, four years later. I learned from the ‘Chilestinian’ delegation to Istanbul that the founders of the Palestinian community in that country established ‘Palestino’ to ensure their children never forget the name, and that they continue to chant the name of Palestine for many years to come.

Deportivo Palestino

The 1976 Deportivo Palestino Chilean football team

The football club – known as Palestine’s ‘second national football team’ – will soon celebrate its one hundred year anniversary, a celebration that is likely to take place amid the predominant chant of ‘Gaza resists; Palestine exists’.

Palestino’s La Cisterna stadium in Santiago, a towering edifice adorned with Palestinian flags, is not only a testament of the tenacity of Palestinian identity, but the generosity of Palestinian culture as well, as the stadium is one of the city’s largest communal hubs bringing people from all backgrounds together in an ongoing celebration of everything that we have in common.

To avoid any reductionist understanding of the Palestinian experience in Chile, and all of South America, we must accept that, like any other society, Palestinians there have their own divisions, which are often governed by wealth, class and politics.

This division reached its height during the US-backed coup of Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, in 1973. But the rift did not last long, as the ‘Chilestinians’ united once more following the Israeli engineered massacre of Sabra and Shatila, in South Lebanon, in 1982.

Since then, the Palestinian community of Chile learned to accept their political differences, while agreeing that their rapport with Palestine must be their unifying common ground. For years now, the ‘Chilestinians’ are working hand in hand with other Palestinian communities in South America to accentuate the need for unity, distancing themselves from the political disharmony and factionalism that has wrought havoc on the Palestinian political identity in Palestine itself.

Slowly, Palestinians of South America are merging back to occupy a center stage in the larger Palestinian stream, not only as part and parcel of the collective Palestinian identity but also as a role model that must be fully understood and even emulated.

Not a day goes by without me checking my sports app to follow the progress of ‘Deportivo Palestino’. I know that many Palestinians in other parts of the world do the same, because despite the distance, language, and time difference, ultimately, we will always remain one people.

Feature photo | A woman protests U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, outside the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile, Dec. 11, 2017. Luis Hidalgo | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post A Policeman, A Pastor and A Palestinian: The ‘Chilestinians’ as a Model for Palestinian Unity appeared first on MintPress News.

Architect of Soviet Terror Loathed Himself for His Crimes. What About the Tories for Theirs?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/01/2020 - 9:54pm in

Bhaskar Sankara’s book, The Socialist Manifesto, contains a very interesting quote in its chapter on the rise of Soviet communism and its transformation into the brutal, repressive, murderous state under Stalin. It’s from Felix Dzherzinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police after the Russian Revolution. Dzherzinsky became so disgusted with himself for all the tens of thousands of people he’d had arrested, tortured and murdered that he declared, ‘I have so much blood on my hands that I don’t deserve to live’. Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent the Soviet state from continuing to kill and torture, so that the victims of Stalin’s purges amount to over 30 million.

When can we expect similar remorse from the Tories? Their system of welfare reform, work capability tests and benefit sanctions have resulted in 130,000 deaths at least. When do we get to hear something like Dzherzinsky’s cry from Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and the other grotesques in the DWP? When will we hear expressions of sadness and regret for Maggie’s friendship with General Pinochet, a real Fascist, who also had tens of thousands rounded up, raped and tortured after the overthrow of the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende? When are we going to hear Paul Staines, of Guido Fawkes, express contrition for his membership of a Libertarian Tory outfit, that made the head of a central American death squad their guest of honour at one of their annual dinners?

We aren’t. Not ever. Because the Tory party will not, not even personally, feel sorrow for its complicity in death and terror, not even in private.

It will just hide it, and carry on lying to people that it stands for freedom and humanity while continuing to support mass death.