Julie Webb-Pullman reports

International Relations

Gaza calls for urgent medical equipment

Gaza has put out an urgent call for medical equipment to cope with the numbers of injured in yesterday’s massacre by Israeli forces.

The sheer numbers will put a strain on services for weeks and months to come.

If you can help, please contact the Director of the Gaza Ministry of Health International Cooperation Directorate to get instructions on how to donate:

Dr. Ashraf Abu Mhadi
Director General
International Cooperation Department
Ministry of Health
Email: icd@moh.gov.ps
Mobile: 00 970599 854 845
Office: 00 972 8 2826325

 

EGH


UNRWA calls Gaza ‘disaster area,’ pleads for end to Israeli blockade

FROM MA’AN

(MaanImages)

(MaanImages)

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said that large regions of the Gaza Strip are a “disaster area” and called on the world community to lift the Israeli blockade in order to allow recovery efforts to proceed, in a statement sent to Ma’an.

“Large swathes of northern Gaza are a disaster area with water as far as the eye can see. Areas around Jabalia have become a massive lake with two meter high waters engulfing homes and stranding thousands,” the statement read.

“Four thousand UNRWA workers are battling the floods and have evacuated hundreds of families to UNRWA facilities. Our sanitation, manintenance workers, social workers and medical staff have been working through the night and round the clock to assist the most vulnerable, the old, the sick, children and women,” the statement continued.

“We have distributed five thousand of litres of fuel to local pumping stations, but the situation is dire and with the flood waters rising, the risk of water borne disease can only increase. This is a terrible situation which can only get worse before it gets better,” it added, referring to major fuel shortages across the Gaza Strip that have dramatically worsened in the last few months.

Gunness also highlighted the need for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip in order to allow the region recover from the current crisis.

“When all this is over, the world community needs to bring effective pressure to end the blockade of Gaza,” he said.

“Any normal community would struggle to recover from this disaster. But a community that has been subjected to one of the longest blockades in human history, whose public health system has been destroyed and where the risk of disease was already rife, must be freed from these man made constraints to deal with the impact of a natural calamity such as this,” the statement continued.

“And of course it is the most vulnerable, the women and children, the elderly who wil pay the highest price of failure to end the blockade.”

The Gaza Strip is currently under a state of emergency due to severe weather conditions caused by a historic storm front moving south across the Levant.

Fuel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip to grind slowly to a halt since early November, as power plants and water pumps are forced to shut down, cutting off access to basic necessities for Gaza residents.

The Gaza Strip has been without a functioning power plant since the beginning of November, when the plant ran out of diesel fuel as a result of the tightening of a seven-year-long blockade imposed on the territory by Israel with Egyptian support.

The plant itself was only reopened last year after it was targeted by an Israeli airstrike in the 2006 assault on the Strip. The power plant generates around 30 percent of the Gaza Strip’s electricity supply, while the rest comes from Israel and Egypt.

Until July of this year, the tunnels to Egypt provided a vital lifeline for the territory amidst the otherwise crippling Israeli blockade. The blockade has been in place since 2006, and it has limited imports and exports and led to a major economic decline and wide-reaching humanitarian crisis.

In the last year, however, the situation had greatly improved, as the tunnels to Egypt witnessed a brisk trade following the Egyptian Revolution.

Gaza Strip energy officials have blamed Egypt for destroying numerous tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt in recent months. They also blamed the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for charging taxes on fuel too high for Gaza Strip authorities to afford.


Israeli attack on Syria: a toast to State Terrorism

While the United States peddled the threat of chemical weapon use to justify its arming of the ‘opposition’ in Syria, Israel destroyed a chemical research facility near Damascus which was allegedly developing such weapons – thus unleashing every single potentially-poisonous particle on the Syrian public.

Thus guaranteeing that regardless of whether there actually were chemical weapons being developed or manufactured, regardless of whether the Assad regime actually was intending to use them against the Syrian people, the Syrian people now HAVE been exposed – and in a totally uncontrolled fashion – to not only the known toxic effects of whatever was in the facility, but also to the unknown effects of the random mixing of such chemicals under conditions of extreme heat, and their dissemination who knows how far, causingwho knows what extent of environmental and health damage.

Assad mustn’t be permitted to do it – but Israel can – and with US blessing.

Israel’s “right to defend its interests,” Obama immediately called it.

Others would call it a cold-blooded murderous attack on the Syrian civilian population.

Others wouldcall it terrorism.

State terrorism.

Since the Twin Towers attacks in 2001, the use of pre-emptive strikes by both the US and Israel to ‘counter terrorism’ or ‘defend security interests’ have escalated to become the single most potent military threat to civilians anywhere on the planet.

Massacre after massacre of civilians by drones, by rockets, by misguided ‘targeted assassinations’ in Afghanistan, Gaza, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan – the list goes on. The list of perpetrators, however, is short – only two. The United States and Israel.

Are such peremptory attacks permissible in international law?

No – international law is very clear on this. Article 51 of the United Nations Charter only allows military actions in self-defence when under direct attack.

Did Syria attack Israel?

No.

Did Syria make any kind of threatening military action towards Israel?

No.

Israel carried out an indefensible-in-international-law military strike in Syria causing direct – and very real – harm to a large civilian population.

A more clear – and potent – case of state terrorism would be hard to find.

Did the US condemn this act, which exposed Syrians to the very harm Obama was trumpeting around the world his intention to protect them from?

No.

The US president defended Israel’s attack.

A more clear – and potent – case of abject hypocrUSAy would be hard to find.

If the world is not to degenerate into a complete USraeli military dictatorship, the international community must act immediately to curtail this latest slide down the slippery slope of human rights derogation, where notions such as international law and due process are merely quaint antiquities, and self-determination a notion reserved solely for Yanqui and Zionist imperialists – or it won’t just be the end of the alphabet we have reached.

And for those in the US who doubt your country’s role in Israeli military activities, take a look at where your tax-dollars are going. Take a look at this photograph of the remains of the rocket fired by an Israeli military plane at a building housing media agencies in Gaza in November 2012, destroying civilian property and persons. YOU are financing these atrocities. Yes, YOU.

Made in the U.S.

You – and the United Nations – should be reminded of the UN General Assembly’s Measures to prevent and combat terrorism contained in the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy of 2006, where it stated its resolve to “…find, deny safe haven and bring to justice, on the basis of the principle of extradite or prosecute, any person who supports, facilitates, participates or attempts to participate in the financing, planning, preparation or perpetration of terrorist acts…”

The world is waiting, especially all the Syrians just exposed to the cocktail of chemicals the US was claiming to protect them from – while defending Israel’s right to toast them with it.


Hugo Chavez’s 2009 speech on Gaza after expelling the Israeli Ambassador from Venezuela

Uploaded on 6 Jun 2009

Hugo Chavez Kicks Out Israeli Ambassador to Venezuela

Venezuela yesterday expelled the Israeli Ambassador, saying it was an act of solidarity with the people of Gaza.

From an official statement:

The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela expresses, yet again, together with people across the world, horror at the death of innocent women and children—a product of the Gaza Strips invasion by Israeli troops and the continual aereal and ground bombardment systematically unloaded by the State of Israel on the Palestinian Territory

At this tragic and indignant hour, the People of Venezuela manifests its unrestricted solidarity with the heroic Palestinian people; share the pain that has overcome the thousands of families for the loss of their loved ones; and standing with them, the Venezuelan government affirms that it will not rest until those responsible for these criminal atrocities are severely punished.

The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela sharply condemns the flagrant violations of the international law which the State of Israel has incurred, and denounces its planned use of State terrorism, with which this State has positioned itself at the margins of National order.

For the reasons outlined above, the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has decided to expel the Israeli Ambassador and part of its personnel at the Israeli Embassy in Venezuela, reaffirming its vocation of peace and its existence that international law be respected.

The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has prepared its mission in accordance to the UN so that, together with the majority of governments who require it, pressure is put on the Security Council to apply urgent and necessary measures to stop the current invasion of the State of Israel against the Palestinian Territory.

President Hugo Chávez, who has supported encounters with high representatives from the World Jewish Congress and has always opposed all anti-Semitism as he has all types of discrimination and racism, makes a brotherly plea to the Jewish community throughout the world to oppose the State of Israels criminal policies that serve as a reminder of the worst pages in the history of the twentieth century. With the genocide of the Palestinian people, the State of Israel will never be able to offer its own people a prospect toward a necessary and long lasting peace

Palestinian “holocaust” and said the presidents of Israel and the United States should be tried in international court.

“The Holocaust, that is what is happening right now in Gaza,” Chavez said in televised comments. “The president of Israel at this moment should be taken to the International Criminal Court together with the President of the United States.”

The socialist Chavez, a harsh critic of Israel and the United States, on Monday had accused Washington of poisoning the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to destabilize the Middle East and justify U.S.-backed Israeli incursions.

Israel is under international pressure to reach a cease-fire with Hamas militants and halt an offensive that has killed nearly 600 Palestinians, including more than 40 in a U.N. school sheltering civilians.

The United States, which Chavez describes as a decadent empire, firmly backs Israel — its principal ally in the region

i appreciate you Mr.CHAVEZ you are better than most of our arab leaders,,, THANK U VERY MUCH


Palestinian Jordanian activist held incommunicado in Saudi Arabia

PRESS RELEASE
Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network

Jordanian activist Khalid al-Natour has been held incommunicado in Saudi Arabia since January 6, when he arrived on a work visa with colleagues. His friends and family have not been informed of any reason for his detention and he has been unable to contact the outside world. Please call the Saudi embassy in your country – in Washington, DC the number is 202-342-3800 and in Ottawa, the number is 613-237-4100. Please inform the Saudi embassy that people around the world are deeply concerned about Khalid al-Natour.

Amnesty International issued the following statement:
DOCUMENT – SAUDI ARABIA: JORDANIAN HELD INCOMMUNICADO IN SAUDI ARABIA

UA: 52/13 Index: MDE 23/007/2013 Saudi Arabia Date: 26 February 2013

amnestyy URGENT ACTION

A Jordanian man has been held incommunicado in an undisclosed location in Saudi Arabia since 6 January. He was last seen being arrested by Saudi Arabian security forces, and has since been denied access to his family and to the outside would. The conditions of his detention may amount to enforced disappearance if the Saudi Arabian authorities continue to refuse disclosing his fate.

Jordanian web developer Khalid al-Natour, 27 years old, was arrested upon arrival at the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, on 6 January 2013. He had arrived from Jordan with four of his colleagues on a business trip (all five men work for the same internet holding company). Khalid al-Natour was detained by the Saudi Arabian authorities; his colleagues were told they would risk a similar fate if they did not leave the airport immediately.

Khalid al-Natour is a member of Herak, a Jordanian pro-reform movement that has called for political and economic change in Jordan as well as increased political freedoms. In September 2011, he was arrested near the Saudi Arabian consulate in ‘Amman, Jordan, for insulting a Jordanian security officer during a demonstration protesting against Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Bahrain. He was subsequently released on bail a day later; his case remains pending before a Jordanian court.

On 23 December 2012, he was granted a single-entry visa to Saudi Arabia while his four colleagues were granted multiple-entry visas by the Saudi Arabian embassy in Jordan. Neither the Jordanian authorities nor Khalid al-Natour’s family, who have sought information about his case, have been provided with an official response regarding his detention, including his whereabouts and the reason for his detention.

Please write immediately in Arabic, English or your own language:

Calling on the Saudi Arabian authorities to immediately disclose Khalid al-Natour’s whereabouts;

Urging them to ensure that he is protected from torture or other ill-treatment and given, without delay, regular access to his family, lawyers of his own choosing, consular assistance and any adequate medical treatment he may require;

Urging them to release Khalid al-Natour unless he is promptly charged with an internationally recognizable criminal offence and tried in proceedings that conform fully to international fair trial standards.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 9 APRIL 2013 TO:

Minister of the Interior

His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud

Ministry of the Interior, P.O. Box 2933, Airport Road, Riyadh 11134

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Fax: +966 1 403 3125 (please keep trying)

Salutation: Your Royal Highness

King and Prime Minister

King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud

The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques

Office of His Majesty the King

Royal Court, Riyadh

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior)

+966 1 403 3125 (please keep trying)

Salutation: Your Majesty

And copies to:

Minister of Foreign Affairs

His Excellency Nasser Judeh

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

P.O. Box 35217

Amman, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Fax: +962 6 573 5163

Email: mofa@fm.gov.jo�

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

URGENT ACTION

jordanian held incommunicado in saudi arabia
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Critics of the Saudi Arabian government face gross human rights violations. They are often held incommunicado without charge, sometimes in solitary confinement, and denied access to lawyers or the courts to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. Torture or other ill-treatment is frequently used to extract “confessions” from detainees, to punish them for refusing to “repent”, or to force them to sign pledges promising not to criticize the government. Incommunicado detention in Saudi Arabia often lasts until a “confession” is obtained, which can take months and occasionally years.

Saudi Arabia has systematically violated international human rights standards that irrevocably prohibit prolonged incommunicado detention of detainees. The UN General Assembly has stated that “prolonged incommunicado detention or detention in secret places can facilitate the perpetration of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and can in itself constitute a form of such treatment” (UN General Assembly resolutions 62/148 paragraph 15, and 63/166 paragraph 20, 17 December 2007 and 12 December 2008 respectively). Similarly, the UN Human Rights Committee has stated that provisions should be made against incommunicado detention (General Comment 20, Article 7, forty-fourth session, 1992), and the UN Committee against Torture has consistently called for its elimination. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, recognizing that “torture is most frequently practised during incommunicado detention”, has also called for such detention to be made illegal.

Amnesty International has detailed such abuses as well as the crackdown on freedom of expression and protests in the name of security in a report entitled Saudi Arabia: Repression in the name of security (MDE 23/016/2011), issued on 1 December 2011 (http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE23/016/2011/en).

Name: Khalid al-Natour

Gender m/f: m


The Secret Rise of 21st Century Democracy

Some lessons for the Arab Spring, perhaps?

“New economies based on greater democratic control, real representation and citizen participation are on the rise. There is much to be learned from countries like Venezuela that break from the Washington Consensus.”

By Kevin Zeese JD and Margaret Flowers

February 20, 2013 “Information Clearing House” – If Americans knew the truth about the growth of real democracy in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, we would demand economic democracy and participatory government, which together would threaten the power of concentrated wealth. The seeds of both are beginning to sprout in the US despite efforts to keep Americans ignorant about them. Real democracy creates a huge challenge to the oligarchs and their neoliberal agenda because it is driven by human needs, not corporate greed. That is why major media in the US, which are owned by six corporations, aggressively misinform the public about Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution.

Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research writes, “The Western media reporting has been effective. It has convinced most people outside of Venezuela that the country is run by some kind of dictatorship that has ruined it.” In fact, just the opposite is true. Venezuela, since the election of Chavez, has become one of the most democratic nations on Earth. Its wealth is increasing and being widely shared. But Venezuela has been made so toxic that even the more liberal media outlets propagate distortions to avoid being criticized as too leftist. Venezuela is a front line in the battle between the elites and the people over US-style democracy, as we described in Part I of this series.

We spoke with Mike Fox, who went to Venezuela in 2006 to see for himself what was happening. Fox spent years documenting the rise of participatory democracy in Venezuela and Brazil. He found a grassroots movement creating the economy and government they wanted, often pushing Chavez further than he wanted to go. Venezuelan democracy and economic transformation are bigger than Chavez. Chavez opened a door to achieve the people’s goals: literacy programs in the barrios, more people attending college, universal access to health care, as well as worker-owned businesses and community councils where people make decisions for themselves. Change came through decades of struggle leading to the election of Chavez in 1998, a new constitution and ongoing work to make that constitution a reality.

Challenging American Empire

The subject of Venezuela is taboo because it has been the most successful country to repel the neoliberal assault waged by the US on Latin America. This assault included Operation Condor, launched in 1976, in which the US provided resources and assistance to bring friendly dictators who supported neoliberal policies to power throughout Latin America. These policies involved privatizing national resources and selling them to foreign corporations, de-funding and privatizing public programs such as education and health care, deregulating and reducing trade barriers.

In addition to intense political repression under these dictators between the 1960s and 1980s, which resulted in imprisonment, murder and disappearances of tens of thousands throughout Latin America, neoliberal policies led to increased wealth inequality, greater hardship for the poor and working class, as well as a decline in economic growth.

Neoliberalism in Venezuela arrived through a different path, not through a dictator. Although most of its 20th century was spent under authoritarian rule, Venezuela has had a long history of pro-democracy activism. The last dictator, Marcos Jimenez Perez, was ousted from power in 1958. After that, Venezuelans gained the right to elect their government, but they existed in a state of pseudo-democracy, much like the US currently, in which the wealthy ruled through a managed democracy that ensured the wealthy benefited most from the economy.

As it did in other parts of the world, the US pushed its neoliberal agenda on Venezuela through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. These institutions required Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) as terms for development loans. As John Perkins wrote in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, great pressure was placed on governments to take out loans for development projects. The money was loaned by the US, but went directly to US corporations who were responsible for the projects, many of which failed, leaving nations in debt and not better off. Then the debt was used as leverage to control the government’s policies so they further favored US interests. Anun Shah explains the role of the IMF and World Bank in more detail in Structural Adjustment – a Major Cause of Poverty.

A turning point in the Venezuelan struggle for real democracy occurred in 1989. President Carlos Andres Perez ran on a platform opposing neoliberalism and promised to reform the market during his second term. But following his re-election in 1988, he reversed himself and continued to implement the “Washington Consensus” of neoliberal policies – privatization and cuts to social services. The last straw came when he ended subsidies for oil. The price of gasoline doubled and public transportation prices rose steeply. Protests erupted in the towns surrounding the capitol, Caracas, and quickly spread into the city itself. President Perez responded by revoking multiple constitutional rights to protest and sending in security forces who killed an estimated 3,000 people, most of them in the barrios. This became known as the “Caracazo” (“the Caracas smash”) and demonstrated that the president stood with the oligarchs, not with the people.

Under President Perez, conditions continued to deteriorate for all but the wealthy in Venezuela. So people organized in their communities and with Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez attempted a civilian-led coup in 1992. Chavez was jailed, and so the people organized for his release. Perez was impeached for embezzlement of 250 million bolivars and the next president, Rafael Caldera, promised to release Chavez when he was elected. Chavez was freed in 1994. He then traveled throughout the country to meet with people in their communities and organizers turned their attention to building a political movement.

Chavez ran for president in 1998 on a platform that promised to hold a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution saying, “I swear before my people that upon this moribund constitution I will drive forth the necessary democratic transformations so that the new republic will have a Magna Carta befitting these new times.” Against the odds, Chavez won the election and became president in 1999.

While his first term was cautious and center-left, including a visit by Chavez to the NY Stock Exchange to show support for capitalism and encourage foreign investment, he kept his promise. Many groups participated in the formation of the new constitution, which was gender-neutral and included new rights for women and for the indigenous, and created a government with five branches adding a people’s and electoral branches. The new constitution was voted into place by a 70 percent majority within the year. Chavez also began to increase funding for the poor and expanded and transformed education.

Since then, Chavez has been re-elected twice. He was removed from power briefly in 2002, jailed and replaced by Pedro Carmona, the head of what is equivalent to the Chamber of Commerce. Fox commented that the media was complicit in the coup by blacking it out and putting out false information. Carmona quickly moved to revoke the constitution and disband the legislature. When the people became aware of what was happening, they rapidly mobilized and surrounded the capitol in Caracas. Chavez was reinstated in less than 48 hours.

One reason the Chavez election is called a Bolivarian Revolution is because Simon Bolivar was a military political leader who freed much of Latin America from the Spanish Empire in the early 1800s. The election of Chavez, the new constitution and the people overcoming the coup set Venezuela on the path to free itself from the US empire. These changes emboldened the transformation to sovereignty, economic democracy and participatory government.

In fact, Venezuela paid its debts to the IMF in full five years ahead of schedule and in 2007 separated from the IMF and World Bank, thus severing the tethers of the Washington Consensus. Instead, Venezuela led the way to create the Bank of the South to provide funds for projects throughout Latin America and allow other countries to free themselves from the chains of the IMF and World Bank too.

The Rise of Real Democracy

The struggle for democracy brought an understanding by the people that change only comes if they create it. The people viewed Chavez as a door that was opened for them to create change. He was able to pass laws that aided them in their work for real democracy and better conditions. And Chavez knew that if the people did not stand with him, the oligarchs could remove him from power as they did for two days in 2002.

With this new understanding and the constitution as a tool, Chavez and the people have continued to progress in the work to rebuild Venezuela based on participatory democracy and freedom from US interference. Chavez refers to the new system as “21st century socialism.” It is very much an incomplete work in progress, but already there is a measurable difference.

Mark Weisbrot of CEPR points out that real GDP per capita in Venezuela expanded by 24 percent since 2004. In the 20 years prior to Chávez, real GDP per person actually fell. Venezuela has low foreign public debt, about 28 percent of GDP, and the interest on it is only 2 percent of GDP. Weisbrot writes: “From 2004-2011, extreme poverty was reduced by about two-thirds. Poverty was reduced by about one-half, and this measures only cash income. It does not count the access to health care that millions now have, or the doubling of college enrollment – with free tuition for many. Access to public pensions tripled. Unemployment is half of what it was when Chávez took office.” Venezuela has reduced unemployment from 20 percent to 7 percent.

Venezuela is making rapid progress on other measures too. It has a high human development index and a low and shrinking index of inequality. Wealth inequality in Venezuela is half of what it is in the United States. It is rated “the fifth-happiest nation in the world” by Gallup. And Pepe Escobar writes that,”No less than 22 public universities were built in the past 10 years. The number of teachers went from 65,000 to 350,000. Illiteracy has been eradicated. There is an ongoing agrarian reform.” Venezuela has undertaken significant steps to build food security through land reform and government assistance. New homes are being built, health clinics are opening in underserved areas and cooperatives for agriculture and business are growing.

Venezuelans are very happy with their democracy. On average, they gave their own democracy a score of seven out of ten while the Latin American average was 5.8. Meanwhile, 57 percent of Venezuelans reported being happy with their democracy compared to an average for Latin American countries of 38 percent, according to a poll conducted by Latinobarometro. While 81 percent voted in the last Venezuelan election, only 57.5 percent voted in the recent US election.

This is not to say that the process has been easy or smooth. The new constitution and laws passed by Chavez have provided tools, but the government and media still contain those who are allied with the oligarchy and who resist change. People have had to struggle to see that what is written on paper is made into a reality. For example, Venezuelans now have the right to reclaim urban land that is fallow and use it for food and living. Many attempts have been made to occupy unused land and some have been met by hostility from the community or actual repression from the police. In other cases, attempts to build new universities have been held back by the bureaucratic process.

It takes time to build a new democratic structure from the bottom up. And it takes time to transition from a capitalist culture to one based on solidarity and participation. In “Venezuela Speaks,” one activist, Iraida Morocoima, says “Capitalism left us with so many vices that I think our greatest struggle is against these bad habits that have oppressed us.” She goes on to describe a necessary culture shift as, “We must understand that we are equal, while at the same time we are different, but with the same rights.”

Chavez passed a law in 2006 that united various committees in poor barrios into community councils that qualify for state funds for local projects. In the city, community councils are composed of 200 to 400 families. The councils elect spokespeople and other positions such as executive, financial and “social control” committees. The councilmembers vote on proposals in a general assembly and work with facilitators in the government to carry through on decisions. In this way, priorities are set by the community and funds go directly to those who can carry out the project such as building a road or school. There are currently more than 20,000 community councils in Venezuela creating a grassroots base for participatory government.

A long-term goal is to form regional councils from the community councils and ultimately create a national council. Some community councils already have joined as communes, a group of several councils, which then have the capacity for greater research and to receive greater funds for large projects.

The movement to place greater decision-making capacity and control of local funds in the hands of communities is happening throughout Latin America and the world. It is called participatory budgeting and it began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has grown so that as many as 50,000 people now participate each year to decide as much as 20 percent of the city budget. There are more than 1,500 participatory budgets around the world in Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Fox produced a documentary, Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas, which explains participatory budgeting in greater detail.

Democracy Is Coming to the USA

Participatory budgeting is a method of participatory government in which people manage public money. In this democratic process, community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It provides communities with greater control over their economic lives and more input into the investments in their community.

In the US and Canada, participatory budgeting exists primarily at the city level for the municipal budget. It also has been used, however, for counties, states, housing authorities, schools and school systems, universities, coalitions, and other public agencies. The first city to put in place participatory budgeting on a citywide level is Vallejo, CA. Other US cities that have started using it are Chicago and New York.

Chicago was the first city in the US to use this process. Since 2009, residents of Chicago’s diverse 49th Ward have decided how to spend the $1.3 million annual capital budget of Alderman Joe Moore. Capital budgets do not include hiring people, but are for physical improvements to the neighborhood. Residents identify spending ideas and select community representatives in neighborhood assemblies. These representatives develop full project proposals from these ideas, and then residents vote on which projects to fund. The capital spending-budget pie chart has changed dramatically since it went under popular control. It moved from a handful of large projects to four or five times as many small projects, according to Maria Hadden, who was involved in the process and works with the Participatory Budgeting Project. Today, four Chicago aldermen use participatory budgeting.

In New York City in 2011, City Council Members Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane D. Williams launched a participatory budgeting process to let residents allocate part of their capital discretionary funds. In 2012, the number of Council Members involved in Participatory Budgeting in New York City doubled to include David Greenfield, Dan Halloran, Stephen Levin, and Mark Weprin, giving the community real decision-making power over approximately $10 million in taxpayer money. The response by participants in the process is very positive. There are many examples of the success of participatory budgeting from around the world.

Here is how the participatory budgeting process works: “Residents brainstorm spending ideas, volunteer budget delegates develop proposals based on these ideas, residents vote on proposals, and the government implements the top projects.” The people are not advisors in this process; they are decision-makers.

Participatory budgeting advocates point to six advantages of the process, which include greater transparency and accountability, greater understanding of both democracy and community needs and stronger connections between members of the community and their city.

Participatory budgeting does not cost the government any extra money. It is a method for deciding how to spend existing funds. To put in place participatory budgeting, political will is required from above, and community support from below. The budget needs to be controlled by someone willing to agree to permit the public to decide how to spend a portion of it. Usually, community organizations are involved to engage people and push the process forward, especially those working with marginalized communities. Participatory budgeting does not usually require any change in law. For more information, see: 72 Frequently Asked Questions about Participatory Budgeting, or attend their May conference, “Building a Democratic City.”

In previous articles, we have written about other aspects of economic democracy including worker-directed businesses and cooperatives and community work. Participatory budgeting is another example of the kind of change that creates economic democracy, which is beginning to take root in the United States. Other changes include building sustainable local living economies, democratizing the money supply through alternative currencies and time banks, creating publicly owned banks, creating land trusts for permanently-affordable housing and establishing a universal, publicly-financed single-payer health care system. There is more information about these on our economic democracy web site, ItsOurEconomy.us.

Lessons for Americans and Others

The 21st century is a time to rethink where we are heading. It is time to form new economies based on greater democratic control and to build new formations of government based on modern constitutions that are more democratic, providing real representation as well as direct and participatory democracy. If the US media would stop demonizing Venezuela and other countries that break from the Washington Consensus and instead tell the truth, we could learn from their successes and failures and could vastly improve our own democracy and economy, both of which are doing poorly.

The US Constitution is treated by many with unquestioned reverence. But, in truth, it is a document that needs to be updated. Even a member of the US Supreme Court has made this point. Justice Ruth Ginsburg, when speaking to Egyptians who were considering their new constitution, urged Egyptians to look to other countries’ newer constitutions for guidance saying, “[I] would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.” She noted several other models that have emerged and offer more specific and contemporary guarantees of rights and liberties, pointing to South Africa’s constitution, which she called a “really great piece of work” for its embrace of basic human rights and guarantee of an independent judiciary. She also noted Canada’s charter of rights and freedoms and the European Convention of Human Rights.

Thurgood Marshall, before he became a Supreme Court justice, assisted Kenya in writing its constitution, which he modeled after the European Convention on Human Rights. Unlike the US Constitution, the Kenyan document guarantees rights to education, health, welfare and a right to work. Other models of advanced constitutions are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the recent Iceland Constitution written by crowd sourcing of their population and the Venezuelan Constitution. While the US Constitution was the model for the world in the 20th century, today constitutions of the world’s democracies are, on average, less similar to the US Constitution than they were at the end of World War II. Of course, there are excellent parts of the US Constitution, but surely we can learn from others.

The economic transformation of Venezuela is also a learning opportunity for the US, Europe and others. Venezuela is not moving toward Soviet or Chinese communism or centralized socialism, nor is it embracing US big finance-dominated capitalism. It is charting a new course – Chavez’ “21st Century Socialism” that is being built from the bottom up. Richard Gott writes in the Guardian:

The changes in Venezuela have had an effect beyond Venezuela. They have encouraged Argentina to default on its debt; to reorganize its economy thereafter and to renationalize its oil industry. Chávez has helped Evo Morales of Bolivia to run its oil and gas industry for the benefit of the country rather than its foreign shareholders, and more recently to halt the robbery by Spain of the profits of its electricity company. Above all, he has shown the countries of Latin America that there is an alternative to the single neoliberal message that has been endlessly broadcast for decades, by governments and the media in hock to an outdated ideology.

The essential lesson is a rejection of neoliberal policies of privatization, lack of investment in social services and placing the market in charge of the economy. Unfortunately, in the United States the Washington Consensus that destroyed Latin American economies is being applied at home creating a record wealth divide, widespread unemployment and underemployment, inadequate social programs and lack of investment in a new economy. President Obama and Congress continue to move toward austerity and threaten a deeper recession or worse.

One country that has embraced similar reforms as Venezuela is Ecuador. The Center for Economic and Policy Research issued a report last week that found in Ecuador “possibly the most comprehensive financial reform of any country in the 21st century.” Ecuador’s “New Deal” nationalized the central bank, used the money to invest in infrastructure, housing and co-ops, enacted progressive taxes and capital controls, bargained hard on foreign loans and oil concessions, enforced anti-trust laws to break up the financier-owned media oligopoly, made a counter-cyclical fiscal stimulus of sufficient size, increased spending on health and education and is doing far better than it was before the Great Recession.

Like the Venezuelan experience, the experience in Ecuador should give Americans hope. Ecuadorians went against powerful forces – the US empire and its oligarchy. As the report notes, “A government committed to reform of the financial system, can – with popular support – confront an alliance of powerful, entrenched financial, political, and media interests and win.”

Predictably, the US corporate media, as it has done to Chavez and Venezuela, is attacking Ecuador and its popular president Rafael Correa. President Correa recently experienced a landslide re-election, yet The New York Times published what can only be described as a “hit piece” on him beforehand, headlined “Ecuador’s President Shows Confidence About Re-election, Too Much for Some” describing this populist democrat as authoritarian. Like Venezuela, Ecuador has a new constitution, challenged the oligarchic media and is in the midst of a “citizens’ revolution” that has included throwing the US out of a military base, for a time ending diplomatic relations with the US empire and providing diplomatic protection to Julian Assange.

There are lots of lessons for Americans: Build from the grassroots, keep building no matter who is elected, push your political friends farther than they want to go, don’t trust the corporate media and do question the official consensus of the political and economic class that rules us. In the end, we need to build the two pillars of economic democracy and participatory government to overcome the concentrated wealth and corrupt government that rules through a mirage of managed democracy. That is our task. It is a path of proven success.

You can hear our interview with Mike Fox and Maria Hadden on Participatory Democracy in Venezuela and the US on Clearing the FOG Radio (podcast) or view it on UStream/ItsOurEconomy.

Copyright – Truthout.


One Voice in Gaza: normalization at its best!


PRESS RELEASE

5 December 2012

The One Democratic State Group, Besieged Gaza, Occupied Palestine

It has come to our knowledge that One Voice, “an international grassroots movement that amplifies the voice of mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, empowering them to propel their elected representatives toward the two-state solution” has started recruiting youth from The Gaza Strip. This is supposed to be part of its work “to forge consensus for conflict resolution and build a human infrastructure capable of mobilizing the people toward a negotiated, comprehensive and permanent agreement between Israel and Palestine that ends the occupation, ensures security and peace for both sides…” The movement recognizes that violence by either side will never be a means to end the conflict. (emphasis added). In its new Gaza initiative, One Voice “planned an intensive 36-hour training program in leadership skills and teamwork.”

The Palestinian Students Campaign for the Academic boycott of Israel, like Palestinian Youth Against Normalization, considers One Voice a normalizing organization since it ignores the reality which is Israel’s oppression and systematic discrimination against the Palestinian people in its three components: 1948, 1967, and the Diaspora. OV, amongst other organizations, targets Palestinian youth to engage them in dialogue with Israelis without recognizing the inalienable rights of Palestinians, or aiming to end Israel’s occupation, colonization, and apartheid.

We reiterate our commitment to the statement issued by Palestinian youth against normalization which was endorsed by almost all Palestinian youth and student organizations.

We consider One Voice to be an organization that aims to normalize apartheid and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that took place in 1948. One Voice Movement’s vision is based on a “two-state solution”, without any commitment to international parameters — which assumes equal responsibility of “both sides” for the “conflict”, and suspiciously fails to call for Israel’s full compliance with its obligations under international law through ending its illegal military occupation, its denial of Palestinian refugee rights (particularly the right of return), and its system of racial discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens.

Some of the events organized by One Voice, like the One Million Voices, are sponsored by Israeli institutions (mostly from the private sector) and endorsed by mainstream Israeli political figures from parties including the Likud, Labour and Shas. These Israeli “partners” are unquestionably complicit in maintaining Israel’s occupation and other forms of oppression.

One Voice seems to ignore the fact that the reason why Palestinians and Israelis cannot get together is because the former are colonized and the latter are settler colonists. It also ignores the fact that Israel is an apartheid state, as former American president Jimmy Carter and anti-Apartheid activist and Nobel Laureate Desmund Tutu called it; a state that discriminates not only against the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but also against the 1.2 million Palestinians living in it as third class citizens.

We, Palestinian youth of Gaza, ask if One Voice trainers and leaders in Tel Aviv are willing to admit that the creation of the state of Israel was responsible for the continuing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people since 1948? That it illegally occupies the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and racially discriminates against the 1948 Palestinians in what the United Nations Special Rapporteur John Dugard described as, “the only remaining case after South Africa of a Western-affiliated regime that denies self-determination and human rights to a developing people and that has done so for so long”. A state responsible for ongoing house demolitions, illegal settlement expansions and the building of a monstrous Apartheid Wall — not to mention the collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza, who are subjugated to a brutal, medieval siege entering its fifth year?

The One Voice website never alludes to the children and teenagers killed by Israel in the last two genocidal wars against the Palestinians of Gaza. Or is that considered a form of “dialogue” between “two equal parties” engaged in a “conflict?” Will there be a reference to the violence of the colonizer; the fourth largest army in the world with more than 450 nuclear heads? Will it state the fact that two thirds of the Palestinians of Gaza are refugees who were ethnically cleansed from the towns and villages where Israeli One Voice trainers and leaders live now?

Instead, One Voice is working on “building a mass grassroots movement that will amplify the voice of the moderates on both sides”, wanting to “show that there are partners for negotiations and peace on both sides” Where are the “two sides” of this “conflict?” Palestinian resistance is considered a “form of violence…(which) brings more violence and suffering to people on both sides! ” This is an issue of injustice around continuous dispossession and subjugation of one people by another people. Do we understand from One Voice that there was a “conflict” between the native Blacks of South Africa and the White supremacists of the apartheid regime?

The One Voice programme is one more arrogant attempt to equate the colonizer and colonized; oppressor and oppressed; victim and executioner. This is camouflaged by changing its name in Arabic to “Palestinian Voice!” We ask: will One Voice ever condemn Israel’s policy of apartheid and ethnic cleansing? Will it openly support the Palestinian right to self-determination?

We, therefore, consider One Voice projects in Gaza a continuation of a campaign of normalization that aims at whitewashing Israel’s tarnished image and does nothing but falsely creates the facade that there are actually two equal sides to “the conflict.” No wonder that tens of cultural and other civil society organizations in Palestine and the Arab World called One Voice “peace activities” as “camouflaging of Apartheid.”

We call on all Palestinian youth not to take part in this public relations charade that conceals a misleading political program that falls significantly short of international law tenets and the Palestinian national program. We expect the Palestinian participants to withdraw their support for this movement that only serves to blind the Palestinian public and sidetrack it from struggling, with the solidarity of its international supporters, for its UN-sanctioned rights, for justice, equality and freedom.

Signed by:

The Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI)

Progressive Student Union Bloc

Fateh Youth Organization

Islamic Bloc

Palestinian Student Labor Front

Union of the Palestinian Students struggle committees

Islamic League of Palestinian Students

The Palestinian Popular struggle Front Union

Union of the Palestinian Students struggle committees