Monthly Archives: April 2013

Escraches: What’s a citizen like you doing in an escrache like this?

This is the second translated piece on on the phenomenon of escraches in Spain. You can read the first one here.

This piece is by Isaac Rosa and was published 11th April on eldiario.es.

Un centenar de activistas antidesahucio protagonizan un 'escrache' en la casa de la diputada del PP Rodríguez Salmones

Photo: eldiario.es

What’s a citizen like you doing in an escrache like this?

Yesterday I was at my first escrache: the one that the Madrid PAH did outside the home of the Partido Popular deputy Beatriz Rodríguez Salmones, in the Chamartín neighbourhood. That is, I was intimidating and harassing, violently, illegally and antidemocratically, and it was all very nazi.

Well, nazi, to tell the truth, it didn’t seem very nazi to me. I can’t recall the Nazis putting up stickers and then heading off. In fact, I’d say I even got a bit bored, put it down to expectations: you go along hoping for a pitched battle, and then you find people walking on the footpaths, parents with children and even the odd lady who takes advantage of the escrache to take her dog out for a walk. And no, it didn’t look like a nazi dog, if that’s what you’re thinking.

We started off from the Plaza de Castilla, once the police had finished identifying us. We went through one of the richest neighbourhoods in Madrid, singing couplets, putting up stickers and handing out information to residents and retailers, and to the many doormen, who were content to be complicit. We didn’t even cut off the traffic, leaving that to the dozens of riot police who escorted us along the tarmac. When we got to the doorway of the deputy, the police pushed us over onto the opposite footpath, where a spokesperson read out a message, and after singing for a few minutes more, we went off together.

I don’t know, maybe when I got into the metro, once the many journalists (and even the odd foreign TV station) had left, the activists returned and threw stones and Molotov cocktails, but they didn’t quite look the type. People were quite calm, the police seemed relaxed too, not even at the prospect that any moment an enraged former Partido Popular deputy might arrive and rip your head off for being a perroflauta [common pejorative term for demonstrator of perceived bohemian appearance, literally, ‘dogflute’]. To sum up: I went to the escrache without telling my mother, so as not to worry her; and now having seen one, I intend to invite her along to the next one.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat it: the rulers and their kindred media outlets ought to congratulate themselves on the calm and civic-mindedness that we citizens are showing. Considering the way in which citizens are being abused and humiliated, with families assaulted on the balcony and dragged outside, and thousands of savers brazenly swindled, it’s admirable how peaceful we remain.

And nonetheless, some of them seem bent on adding fuel to the fire, to see if they can get someone to lose the head and something to end up happening, so as to realise the self-fulfilling prophecy that they usually apply to protests: the demonstrators are violent, so I shall criminalise them and repress them, until they finally end up violent and I can use my “I told you so”.

But I’m afraid that this time it’s gone pear-shaped for them, because the campaign of escraches is proving a perfect demonstration of the collective intelligence of some and the organic stupidity of others.

Collective intelligence on the part of the PAH, which has overwhelmed the governing class with an effective and skilful form of protest: taking the protest to the homes of deputies frames the action and its response in the sphere of the home, that sphere which certain people consider sacred as long as they’re not evicting you. The repeated images of families, children included, thrown onto the street by force with only what they have on them, are so present in the minds of citizens that any tantrum appealing to the inviolability of the home and the protection of children dissolves like a sugar lump. Escraches would have been unacceptable for the majority four years ago; today however they enjoy massive support.

Organic stupidity on the part of the governing class, completely misplaced, and with a six-pack. Engulfed by imaginative forms of protest that break the classic ‘authorised demonstration’ and against which they have only one response to offer: more police, more armour, more fines, more criminalisation, more fear.

When they think they have seen off the escraches, they will find themselves once again engulfed by that collective intelligence that will have already thought out the next step. And that intelligence is proving the best outcome of this terrible time: the ability of citizens to organise themselves, to gather, to reappropriate public space, to protect each other, to laugh at repression, to be autonomous, to be effective, to build community. It isn’t all bad news.

 

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In Praise of the Escrache

Escrache

I am going to translate several articles on the phenomenon of the escrache. The word has no English translation but it is the name for a collective action whereby public figures are singled out –in public- for their role in an injustice. In recent months they have achieved a very high profile in Spain as the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH, frequently translated in English as Mortgage Holders Platform; see excellent series of posts by the Provisional University here.) has targeted ruling politicians for their role in the thousands of violent evictions that have taken place in Spain since the burst of the property bubble. In recent weeks participants have been described by ruling caste sympathisers as in league with ETA, as fascists, and Nazis.

The first article was originally published in Madrilonia on 26th March. It is by Guillermo Zapata.

In praise of the Escrache

At a certain point in the Greek crisis an anecdote started doing the rounds about how Papandreou was unable to eat in restaurants with his wife because the rest of the customers would insult him. The mass media echoed this story by speaking of the ‘degradation’ of political life in Greece. However, on social networks, via e-mail, in conversation, the anecdote did the rounds like a myth that belonged to the underdogs, like a materialised desire, a shared disgust. Then (as now) the media didn’t know it, but we were already Greeks here in Spain.

On Saturday night I read a tweet from a Spanish scriptwriter who had gone to the cinema and at the start of the film they had shown the new Bankia advert. The people in the auditorium had applauded in laughter, shouted at and/or booed the advert. Anonymous people, who do not know each other, who in the darkness of an auditorium feel it legitimate to criticise a banking entity out loud. What is key is the moment in which it goes from being an individual sentiment to become a collective one, with so much meaning that in the darkness of a cinema, without knowing who you have beside you, you allow yourself to shout it out because it is common sense.

The question is: how has this legitimacy been constructed? Is it simply the practices of Bankia, its robbery and plunder of our lives that makes people shout out against it? The answer is no. Legitimacy and common sense are constructed by opening up a public space of conversation and meaning where once there was none. By shifting a limit.

On Wednesday last I took part in the escrache on the home of Alberto Ruiz Gallardón in Madrid and what impressed me most, besides the scrupulous care in the peaceful unfolding of the event, were two things: 

1. That people in the parks who saw us passing, and to whom we explained where we were going, joined up with us (I especially recall a couple with two young children who tagged along straight away).

2. That the residents of the area indicated to us which house it was. With a half-smile they said to us “Over there, there, it’s in that street”, “No, it’s not here, he passes this way but he lives further up”.

At this level, on the ground, the legitimacy of the escrache is absolute.

Let’s be clear about this. Escraches are not sustained simply through the absolutely criminal indifference of the government with regard to the problem of housing, but through thousands of stopped evictions, highly intense mobilisations, house occupations, occupations of bank offices, negotiation, dialogue, and openness. There are escraches and they have legitimacy because there is a movement that gives them meaning. The paranoid tales with regard to out of control actions are deliberate and ridiculous.

There is nothing more organised than an escrache. No-one is more conscious of the limits that are not crossed than the people who take part, precisely because they have reached a consensus about the limits they are going to cross. The limit that is crossed is that ‘the public and the private’ (‘lo público y lo privado’) are not separate spheres, but related ones. That is why one goes to the door of the house. That is why one does not go beyond the door. All these symbolic details constitute the legitimacy and the ethics of a practice. To compare it with any eviction reveals what is obvious: in an eviction the public-private limit is precisely what is violated right to the end and through force.

But there is something far, far more important in an escrache. Something that no politician can see because they are unable to look at themselves. An escrache is an action in which people who are affected organise themselves, make themselves visible and they feel comforted and accompanied by other people. Escraches are also the expression of an affection, of a group that takes care of itself and keeps itself company. They are a mechanism against individuality. That is, they are a mechanism against despair. They are our going up to Papandreou and throwing him out of the restaurant. But moreover they are sustained by an organised political space. They are not a cry, an act of persecution or a blow in the middle of the street that comes about through rage. On the contrary, they govern anger and turn it into potency. They are (one more) expression that the power of those at the bottom is constructed in common, and those at the top are a wretched accident on the path of this power, of this collective force. The escraches are the catharsis of an anguish in the best sense. They are mechanisms so that people who have been evicted are not victims, but subjects.

That is, they are democracy.

 

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This Is Just The Way It Is: Comment

I left this comment on an Irish Times article titled ‘Spending cuts and tax increases should continue, watchdog says‘, dated 10th April, about the most recent recommendations from the Irish government’s Fiscal Advisory Council.

There is a lot of discussion at the moment about Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. I have heard quite a few people bemoan how back in the days of Thatcher versus Foot in the Houses of Parliament, there was a sense of ‘conviction politicians’ at work, by contrast with the apparent centre ground occupied by opposing political parties nowadays. Some of those who claim to disagree with what Thatcher stands for still praise her as a ‘conviction politician’.

However, what I think is an important part of her legacy, and it is displayed in this article, both in its presentation and the opinions it cites, is her role in shifting matters of public policy, in social and economic terms, away from democratic control. The figure of ‘the economy’, a fetish object if ever there was one, disguises the fact of private power, and, since Thatcher, increasing concentration of private power, particularly in the financial sector, over the lives of people who have to work for a wage to sustain themselves, both in the workplace and outside it.

Part of this disguise is the presence of ‘independent’ bodies who make pronouncements about ‘the economy’ –as if such a thing were independent of people’s lives!- with a scientific veneer, as though human pain and upheaval on a massive scale is automatically, unquestionably, necessary so as to meet the demands of financial speculators, CEOs and unelected political institutions, since the consequence of not doing so would be even greater pain and upheaval. Thatcher is often credited with popularising the notion that There Is No Alternative, but her mediating role in the transition to the notion that This Is Just The Way It Is – on display in this article- is rather underestimated.

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They Cannot Represent Themselves: Comment

This is a comment I left on a Journal piece titled ‘Column: Criticism of Eamon Gilmore has been very personal and extremely unjust‘, dated Monday 8th April. It was in response to the observation that ‘Opinion polls come and go but the people are sovereign. They have an opportunity every five years to choose who should govern them and what direction the country should take.

LOL.

It’s a strange form of sovereignty if you only get a say once every five years in how the country is run. Who decides on things the rest of the time?

Doesn’t the Labour Party hierarchy -including the person defended here- continually justify cuts to public spending and dismantling of welfare state provisions on the basis that ‘sovereignty’ has been lost and must be regained?

Well, if sovereignty has to be regained, that means that the people are not sovereign. We could go further: it means that whatever it is that the Labour Party wants to see regained by attacking social, political and labour rights, it is not popular sovereignty, because the whole point of sovereignty is that it cannot be taken away.

So either the Troika and ‘the markets’ are sovereign, or the people are sovereign, but it cannot be both. But given the fact that the direction of the country is being decided by the Troika and ‘the markets’ in order to prop up the financial sector, it is plainly not true in fact that the people are sovereign.

Unless, of course, what the people really want is to be poor and miserable and live in a starkly right-wing society with no control over their lives.

They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented.” – The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Karl Marx 1852′

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Celebrating Thatcher’s Death: Comment

This is a comment I left on a piece in the Irish Times titled Iron Lady was a self-serving anti-feminist, by Clara Fischer, dated Friday April 12th.

I agree on the whole with the characterisation of Thatcher in this article but there are a couple of points of disagreement. First, Madeline Albright’s dictum needs qualification. Since Madeline Albright made the case that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children was a price worth paying in pursuit of US foreign policy goals, then the question ought to arise: a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women – to do what? I don’t think anyone should be helped to ascend to the pinnacle of political society so as to ruthlessly defend capitalism and imperialism. 

 The second point is the suggestion that celebration and mocking of Thatcher’s death attributes far too much agency to her and distracts from structural, systemic reproduction of evil. I think a great deal of people laughing and joking about Thatcher’s death are only too aware of the structural violence of Thatcher’s regime and of those regimes it inspired, whether in Britain or elsewhere.  

 Thatcher didn’t create neoliberalism all by herself nor was she uniquely responsible for British policy in Ireland but she did inject both with a surplus of cruelty and contempt, a particular cultural attitude, and she relished doing so. At the same time, she became a symbol and inspiration for big-time and small-time workplace despots everywhere. These facts are things millions of people have had to live with every day of their lives as a factor in many of their own personal humiliations, at work, at home, and socially, and on the whole I think it’s not only understandable but healthy that such people should now be expressing relief at having outlasted her, and in so far as the celebrations get up the nose of people who admired her or who are indifferent to the suffering she caused but now feel the need to spring into action to maintain decorum, well, slap it up them. As a friend remarked, it is a triumph to outlive someone who wanted to destroy you. 

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‘Berated’ and ‘garlanded as stupid’ by Hugo Chávez: John Sweeney’s appearance on Aló Presidente

In an approving review of Rory Carroll’s Comandante: Inside the Revolutionary Court of Hugo Chávez in the Literary Review, BBC Panorama investigative journalist John Sweeney says that ‘Chávez has conned a lot of people’.

Like Rory Carroll, Sweeney appeared on Chávez’s television show, Aló Presidente:

‘Five years ago I made a documentary for BBC Two about Chávez and ended up myself on Alo Presidente. Treading carefully, I placed my scepticism in the mouth of Boris Johnson, who, I explained, was the one who looked like an electrocuted polar bear (all of this translated into Spanish by a hapless BBC colleague). The mayor of London had asked why, under the terms of a deed signed by his predecessor Ken Livingstone, a poor country such as Venezuela should subsidise buses in a rich city like London. The president berated me: ‘This question can only occur to a stupid one’ – a garland I wear with pride.’

Noting the obnoxiousness of Venezuelan elites, Sweeney avers:

‘Venezuela imprinted four strong impressions on me: that Chávez is a crushing bore; that his sidekicks are revoltingly corrupt; that crime is worse there than anywhere else I’ve visited in South America; and that the previous regime was ghastly too. A restaurant in a posh hotel in Caracas frequented by the anti-Chavistas stands out in my memory: stifling formality and an unspoken snobbery were the order of the day. No wonder the poor love Chávez so.

And yet he has let them down, dreadfully. Two good tests of a reasonably well-run country are security and the ability to move around the capital city. Caracas fails dismally on both fronts: spasms of gunfire afflict it day and night; the traffic is like glue, because no proper thought or resources have been put into public transport. As a result many of the people who voted for Chávez end up bleeding to death, as Carroll reports from the crime-hit barrios, while the rich glide by in their blacked-out limos, full of fear and hate. Well-considered government, or thought-out compassion paid for by the taxation of a successful economy, does not exist in Venezuela. The economy is, in fact, a joke. The country should be a Saudi Arabia by the sea.’

He concludes:

‘Fluency and folk wisdom in a television age masked the reality: Hugo Chávez whipped the masses with a cathode-ray tube.’

Below is a translated transcript of John Sweeney’s appearance, along with his translator James Ingham, BBC Correspondent in Caracas, on Aló Presidente on 16th September 2007. The appearance can be seen at 2:07:15.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: International journalists. We have here Guillermo Galdós from the BBC in London, Guillermo Galdós. John Sweeney from the BBC in London, and James Ingham from the BBC in London. Where are the invited journalists? (To the group) Do you speak Spanish?

Sweeneyingham

JOHN SWEENEY: (in English) Hello Mr President. Thank you very much for inviting me on your show. My colleague James will translate shortly. OK?

JAMES INGHAM: (in Spanish) Mr President, thank you very much for your invitation to Aló Presidente today. We are journalists from England. I am a correspondent in Caracas at the moment, my colleague John came here only yesterday to make a documentary focusing on the relations between Venezuela and England.

JOHN SWEENEY: (in English) Smashing, thank you. Mr President, lo siento no hablar espanol, the question is that we all know that Venezuela has given its oil to London. Some people in London think this is strange. For example, one of the Tories, a man called Boris Johnson. He’s the guy who looks like a polar bear who’s had an electric shock (shrieks, imitating polar bear having electric shock). That guy. He says that it’s crazy, it’s crackers -it’s a joke in English, Caracas – crackers- he says it’s crazy for Venezuela, which is poor, to give oil to London, which is rich. So the question Mr President is this: why not..you know, why is Venezuela giving its oil money to London? Shouldn’t Venezuela spend its oil money in Venezuela on Venezuelans?

JAMES INGHAM: (in Spanish) Mr President, we are interested in the relations between England and Venezuela, and specifically between London and Venezuela. (Reads from notes) Venezuela gives oil to London at low cost so that poor people can use the bus for free, so that they need to pay less. And officials from the Mayor of London’s Office are going to come to Venezuela to give advice on traffic and city management, right? But there is a candidate, from the opposition, for the office of Mayor of London, his name is Boris Johnson. He looks like an electrocuted polar bear (gestures at hair) with very ah, crazy hair.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: (Laughs)

JAMES INGHAM: He says that it is crazy that Venezuela, a country with a lot of poverty, is supporting England, and London, one of the richest cities in the entire world. So, why use the resources of Venezuela outside of Venezuela? Why not spend this in Venezuela? Why spend it outside, in England?

HUGO CHÁVEZ: OK. I’m very grateful for James Ingham’s contribution. He’s the correspondent in Venezuela. John – are you John?

JOHN SWEENEY: Yes, that’s me.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: James, are you James?

JAMES INGHAM: Yes, I’m James.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: You’re James?

JAMES INGHAM: Yes.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: They’re the wrong way round here. James is the translator.

JAMES INGHAM: I hope you can understand me.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: We understand you perfectly. And John is the correspondent, no? John.

JAMES INGHAM: I’m a correspondent in Caracas. John is also a journalist from London…

HUGO CHÁVEZ: He’s come…

JAMES INGHAM: with more experience.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: He’s come to spend a few days with us.

JAMES INGHAM: Yes

HUGO CHÁVEZ: OK. Understood. Well, look. I don’t know who this -are you translating to him as you go along?-

JAMES INGHAM: Yes, yes.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: To him?

HUGO CHÁVEZ: OK. (To person working on set) But without a microphone, you don’t need the microphone, please. He’s translating right beside him. Eh, well. It’s difficult to understand the question, no? So I’m not going to answer what the crazy polar bear -as you’ve called him, I didn’t call him that, he called him that- but tell him, are you translating for him? He doesn’t understand. Yes? (In English) Are you understanding me? Yes? OK.

JOHN SWEENEY: inaudible off-mic speech, followed by: The question is simple, why does Venezuela not spend its money in Venezuela?

JAMES INGHAM: Why not spend the resources of Venezuela here in Venezuela? Why do you need to help other countries with so much plaza (sic)?

Chavezsweeney

HUGO CHÁVEZ: Look, it’s a stupid question.

JAMES INGHAM: It’s a question asked in London.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: I’m not going to answer stupid things. Because I’ll end up stupid too. It’s a completely stupid question. It doesn’t deserve an answer because whoever tries to answer it ends up stupid too (laughs). No? I have no answer for stupid things.

JAMES INGHAM: OK, so..

HUGO CHÁVEZ: I don’t have.. It’s stupid. Anyone with a forehead four fingers high (places hand on forehead – colloquial phrase to denote someone with a reasonable amount of intelligence) knows it’s stupid, what the gentleman over there, I don’t know what he’s called, is wondering in London.

What I can say is that Venezuela, now free, free and sovereign, the revolutionary government, has a completely autonomous and free foreign policy and besides having recovered control over our natural resources, I was explaining this the day before yesterday in Barquisimeto, we did a great revolutionary assembly in Barquisimeto, with the governors, some mayors, communal councils. Look John, I’m going to tell you.

In 2006-2007 alone. (in English) Only that. In one year. (in Spanish) By simply changing the colonialist laws that had been imposed on us, and through which transnational firms exploited the Orinoco Belt, where’s the Orinoco Belt, that way? (points) The Orinoco is over there.

They drilled for oil in the Orinoco Belt. And do you know how much they paid in royalties? (In English) One percent. (In Spanish) That is, nothing. We were a colony. They went off with the oil and left us a pittance. We changed the constitution (removes constitution from pocket), the laws.

(is passed a piece of paper) I want to congratulate Lieutenent Diez Rosario, who’s working as an assistant. Very efficient, he’s passed me the same file I had in Barquisimeto. Here are my notes from Barquisimeto from the day before yesterday. So this fine assistant I have is saving me time doing the numbers again here. Here I have them nice and fresh. Thank you lieutentant, today you’re spending the night in Anaco (laughter from audience). He goes off free every night, he behaves himself. He’s single so he doesn’t have many problems. I think that’s right, isn’t it?

OK, by contrast, Morales has got married. He has to be there…steady, always steady.

Look at this. The simple fact of bringing the royalty here from 1% to 33%, the royalty, which is the fair royalty, translated this year just past into a recovery of resources that previously left the country – do you know for how much? Take a guess John. Give me a figure, whatever one you think.

JAMES INGHAM: One million. He says one million.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: One..

JAMES INGHAM: One million..(turning to John Sweeney) dollars? (to Chávez) Pounds. English pounds.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: One million dollars?

JAMES INGHAM: Two million dollars. I think it’s a lot more than that.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: No, I’m going to tell him the exact figure. Grab hold of him because he’s going to keel over. Grab him, he’s going to fall, he might fall when I tell him the figure (laughs). (Loudly) Four thousand nine hundred million dollars! (in English) In one year! Only one year. (in Spanish) So, to say it in English, (in English) four, no, billion. Five billion dollars. Five billion dollars. In one year John. What do you think about that? Tell me. (Applause)

(in Spanish) They were robbing us. Ah, but wait, I haven’t finished. Look at this. On top of that, they were paying the same tax on oil revenue that anyone who makes tables pays on their revenue (knocks table). Or shirts (touches shirt). When we’re talking about oil. It has always been accepted that (to someone off-camera)…why are the girls going? Where are you going? Are you all going?

VOICE OFF-SCREEN: The ambassador.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: Ah, the girls were there (laughs). Here comes the Colombian ambassador, welcome ambassador. Welcome, ambassador and all his delegation from the Embassy of Colombia in Venezuela. Welcome, sir, welcome colleagues, welcome ambassador.

So, I am responding, ambassador, to a good question from our friend John (searches papers for second name) Sweeney from the (in English) BBC. London. (in Spanish) So look, they were robbing us, compadre. They paid taxes on revenue here until a year ago of 34%. We brought it up to what the old law always said. 50%. (in English) Fifty-fifty. (in Spanish) On revenue, half and half, the fifty-fifty of Medina Angarita. Ah, since my General Medina, in what year was that, in 1940, 41, the oil law of Medina Angarita that finally managed to break something of the colonialism that Gómez allowed the gringos here. And firms from other countries too, like those of England, who also often behave like colonialist firms, right now in the 21st century, and from other countries too.

Through simply changing the tax regime of tax on oil revenue, do you know how much it amounted to? The takings that we recovered in one year? (in English) One year. Two..(in Spanish) how do you say two point five? (in English) two point five. Two point five billions (sic) dollars. One year. (in Spanish) If you add up 4.9 and 2.5 well that gives you 7.4 billion dollars, to say in English.

As well as the extraction tax of 3.3%, 800 million dollars. In total, adding all this up, the migration of service contracts to the mixed firms of the Belt – that was another robbery. Ah, along came the firms, they invested in pipes over there (points). So PDVSA has to pay the investment in dollars.

Can you imagine, Ambassador? How tasty, how easy to invest. It’s as if I say to my friend President Uribe, well, Uribe, I’m going to invest there. And then Uribe has to pay me in dollars everything that I … if I have a pipe, and it breaks, you pay it for me.

That’s how they did it here, they overcharged, they invented works that they never carried out, repairs they never carried out. And PDVSA had to pay them.

That was imposed by the North American empire. And here there was a National Congress that approved that. And there was a management in PDVSA that facilitated that, and there was a gentleman in Miraflores who stayed quiet and signed that. It was a colonial country. It was a slave country.

Brother, to sum up. In just one year, by changing the tax regime, and breaking the Gordian knot that the colonial scheme tied us with, we recovered, in one year, eighteen thousand..sorry.

Sorry. 15…this is in Bolívars, I want to tell you it in dollars because I’ve been talking to you in dollars. 7,400, 9,600..10,000 million dollars. That is what is relevant.
Now. That Venezuela should have agreed with the Mayor of London, with my good friend (in English) Ken The Red, The Red. El Rojo.

JOHN SWEENEY: (Inaudible)

HUGO CHÁVEZ: Eh?

JOHN SWEENEY: We call him Red Ken.

JAMES INGHAM: He is Ken Rojo rojito.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: Rojo rojito. (Laughs) (in English) The Red Mayor. The Red Mayor. (in Spanish) That we should have made an agreement, to sell oil to the Mayor’s Office, at a discount, so that he can lower the travel costs for poor people…there are a lot of poor people in London (gently emphasises, in manner of primary school teacher). There are many poor people in Washington. (in English, points to eye) I have seen.. I have seen them. In London. In Washington. In New York.

(in Spanish) So, for the Mayor, who is a man who worries about the people, to receive, from Venezuela, oil, for buses, petrol, diesel and so on, as a discount, say 20%, 30%, so he lowers the price of public transport for the poor. Now, he is going to…let’s use the word but it’s not the right word…he’s going to pay, so you might understand it better, but it isn’t the best word, he’s going to pay us that differential with services that are going to be very useful to us in Caracas.

A city that grew in a terrifying and disastrous way in the 20th century, the product of the abandoment of the country, product of the lack of strategic planning, product of the lack of governments that attended to the people. Product of the 20th century.  One hundred years of solitude, to cite the great Gabo.

There you have the slums of Caracas – you have seen them, where the people clung on with their nails to build their huts. They have no services. Well, we have been helping, to bring drinking water, sewage services, electricity, gas. Now we are going to pipe gas to houses, but it costs a lot to restructure those barrios.

So, an overpopulated city, Caracas, which doesn’t have the luck of Bogotá (nods to Colombian ambassador) which is in a great valley, which looks more like a great plain. Or cities like Mexico, a great esplanade. Caracas is a very narrow valley where there shouldn’t be more than 2.5, 3 million of us living, and there are 5 million of us. And moreover a floating population every day, of people who live in the Tuy valleys, in Vargas, in Petare, in Guarenas, in Guatire, who go to Caracas to work, to study – the floating population. So, we have a metro. We have expanded the metro, with three additional lines, we did the Los Teques metro, it’s working. We’ve done the rail line to the Tuy valleys, it’s working, I inaugurated them last year. We are now starting the metro line to Guarenas-Guatire, we’re working on it. We’re going to do the metro to La Guaira. OK.

Despite all of that, Caracas is congested. The traffic. It is something infernal at peak times. There are too many cars! And this year historic records were broken in purchase of cars. Can you see the way the income of the middle class, of workers, of families has recovered? The car assemblies don’t let up, neither the ones here nor those in Colombia, you send us (acknowledges ambassador) cars here. Nor those in Brazil, and other countries. They can’t keep up. There is a very long list of people, we have even set up a car plant with Iran. Over there are the first cars, now operating on natural gas. There they are – look. The Centauro and the Turpial. The Samán. Natural gas engine cars.

Now, the help from London, the Mayor with his consultants, is going to be very useful to us, to take additional measures with regard to traffic, and another thing that is a serious problem in Caracas – I experience it myself. I go through it in battles with the Mayor, with the Head Mayor, even soldiers, even my security team, I sent them to gather rubbish.

Caracas is a city, well, since it’s overpopulated, no-one ever thought about installing a public system of solid waste. So yesterday I was coming from Maracay, in the Tiuna, we got caught in a downpour, got to Caracas – rubbish everywhere. It was Saturday. Lots of people. Also we did the Sancocho that broke Guinness records. The biggest Sancocho in the world. But (inaudible) sent me a little bit. They ate the whole thing, the Sancocho.

So, yesterday, the 15th, pay day, many people in the streets shopping, rubbish everywhere. In the centre. Why? It isn’t that people are pigs. They don’t have anywhere to throw the rubbish. And trading has grown so much, it has tripled in the last three years, trading, economic activity, the movement of people in the city, the mobile street vendors, all that has tripled.

So there is no system, we have brought two containers, we have set up thousands in Caracas, but they aren’t enough. There are cities like London, and other cities that have underground systems for handling waste. That is, there are hydraulic systems and the rubbish goes underneath the streets, rolling along, in the most densely populated areas. It’s even extracted down below, not by lorries, which what they often do is complicate the traffic, in narrow streets.

So, how useful the help from Ken el Rojo Rojito is going to be. It is I who am grateful to Ken. So that’s why I was saying to you, hey, the question – I wasn’t directing it at you, please, don’t misinterpret me. The question that this gentleman from the opposition asks is stupid.

And I am not going to respond to a question of that level. I prefer to give you this explanation, which tries to place the exchange between London and PDVSA, London and Caracas, at the right level. Ken el Rojo has invited me to London. Maybe I will go to London soon. I hope I can go. Sarkozy has invited me to Paris. I have to go to Paris. An invitation has arrived from Portugal for an international event. Perhaps I will go. I send out from here greetings to Europe. Do you want to say something, John, to finish up, and continue with the programme?

JOHN SWEENEY: Very good Mr President, when you come to London I’d like to buy you a beer if I could.

JAMES INGHAM: When you go to London John wants to buy a beer for you.

JOHN SWEENEY: And my next question, my last question, is about Iran. In Iran they torture people, they force the women to dress up in black, are you going to do that here too? And they deny the holocaust, the President of Iran denies the holocaust. Are you sure that Venezuela should be so friendly with a country like that?

JAMES INGHAM: Another question, if possible, about the relations between Iran and Venezuela. Iran has problems with human rights. There are many women there who suffer torture, and the President of Iran does not believe in the Holocaust (in English). I’m not sure how one says “Holocaust” of the world war. So, why do you have such good relations between the two countries?

HUGO CHÁVEZ: It’s a question, for me, that is, and forgive me once again, but it’s irrelevant. It’s irrelevant.

Imagine if I were to ask the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, why do you have good relations with the genocidist Bush? (Applause) Each country is free.

At any rate, I will make clear, I will make clear, as far as I know, Iran is not attacking anyone. Iran is an attacked country. The president, my friend Ahmadinejad, is an extraordinary human being, I know him. Believer in God, as humble as can be, the Iranian people is a great people, you know? They took that country out of the tremendous backwardness that North American imperialism submerged it in, precisely when they had over there as a pawn of empire the Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, overthrown by the people of Iran, and the Islamic Revolution.

 So I have a great respect for the people of Iran, I will not accept the people of Iran being singled out as a people that attacks others. I will not accept that my friend President Ahmadinejad should be singled out as a danger for anyone. He is elected by the people of Iran. He respects international peace. His ideas are his ideas, they are respectable, and I will tell you in the final instance, Venezuela is free to have relations with whoever Venezuela wants, because that’s why we are an independent country, a free country. (in English) Thank you very much, John. I hope I see you in London.

Sweeneypint

JOHN SWEENEY: (makes gesture of drinking pint)

HUGO CHÁVEZ: I hope so. Perhaps soon.

JOHN SWEENEY: (inaudible, making gesture of drinking pint)

HUGO CHÁVEZ: Yes. (in English) Probably. Yes. Do you know who is my English teacher? My English teacher is Fidel Castro. He is my English teacher, Fidel. What did he say? Give him the microphone.

JAMES INGHAM: He knew it wasn’t George Bush who was your English teacher (maestro)

HUGO CHÁVEZ: (Laughs) He is the counter-maestro. The anti-maestro. The anti-maestro. (in English) Thank you very much. (in Spanish) Let’s have a round of applause for John and the translator James. John, James. From the BBC in London. Always welcome to Venezuela.

 

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“It does matter to us.” – Hugo Chávez responds to Rory Carroll

What follows further down is a transcript of an exchange between Guardian reporter Rory Carroll and the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, from Chávez’s TV programme Aló Presidente, broadcast 26th August 2007.

I was prompted to look up the transcript when it was referred to by Carroll himself, who has a new book out titled Comandante: Inside The Revolutionary Court of Hugo Chávez, in an interview on Today with Pat Kenny on Friday March 1st 2013. First of all, here is the excerpt from the Pat Kenny show.

Patkenny

Transcript: Excerpt from Today with Pat Kenny on Friday March 1st 2013

PAT KENNY: Now, the kind of weapons that he did use, besides the occasional imprisonment of somebody – humiliation. Heaping humiliation upon people’s heads. I mean, denouncing them on television. And I suggested to you when you came in, like what would it be like if you had Enda Kenny or Bertie Ahern on television for three hours, just mouthing away, commandeering the airwaves, and you said, what are you talking about, three hours? Nine hours. Non-stop.

RORY CARROLL: Yes, yeah. And em, well, speaking of humiliation, my own, I can give you a personal anecdote about that. I was on his TV show, he has a weekly TV show called Aló Presidente, Hello President, and I think I was on episode no. 294. I went in as a journalist, I had lobbied them to let me attend, and he invited me to ask a question. And I did, I asked him about the centralisation of power and risk of creeping authoritarianism, and boy did he let me have it. He proceeded to denounce me and it seemed eternal to me, this was all on live television.

PAT KENNY: Now did he know who you were?

RORY CARROLL: Oh yes, he’d been briefed, he’d been given a piece of paper and it was “Rory Carroll (imitates Chávez accent) del Guardián, bienvenido, welcome, what is your question, Rory?” So I was, well, here’s my question. And there was this, you know, sudden, awful silence. He glowers at me and all these red shirted people seated in the audience started edging away from me because they knew what was coming, and what was coming was this tirade of invective against me as an agent of British imperialism and as a representative of European Old World vice and cynicism and how was it that Europe had colonised Africa, committed genocide all over the world, wars of conquest. Then he threw in the Royal Navy, the British Queen, and this went on and on. And I was left in this kind of puddle, this stew of concern. But he, and then he gave me back the microphone and said, well what do you think of that?

PAT KENNY: (Laughs)

RORY CARROLL: What do you think of that humiliation? And I was like, mmm. Ok. Well I said, well firstly I’m not British, I’m Irish. I’m republican. With a small ‘r’. So really my attitude or my views on British monarchy and so forth are not really relevant so I said “no importa” it doesn’t matter what I think about this and I notice, señor presidente, that you didn’t answer the question so I’ll repeat it.

PAT KENNY (hushed): Ohhh..

RORY CARROLL: And there was another big pregnant silence and, you know, the glower if you like kind of goes up a notch and he very cleverly actually turns my words against me. He says “No importa? It doesn’t matter? No importa el genocidio en África? The genocide in Africa doesn’t matter? It matters to us, compañero, he said. And, you know, he was sort of twisting my words of course, but, in a way that you know, made me look like the villain of the piece and of course that’s what I was, for that particular show I was made kind of, the fall guy or the punchbag.

Transcript and translation of excerpt from Aló Presidente, 26th August 2007.

The excerpt begins at 23:10 on this video.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: there is also a British journalist, that is, from Great Britain, from England. Rory Carroll, I think last week we were looking for him and he was unable to get here, but he would make it. Rory Carroll. Is he here? (Carroll raises hand. Someone off-screen shouts “Chávez!”)

HUGO CHÁVEZ: (to people off-screen): Hello! What happened, my love? That’s enough, don’t have me interrupting the programme, the agenda. A little later, a little later. Don’t leave. Has the journalist not arrived? Does anyone know..ah, sorry. There’s the British journalist, from the Guardian newspaper –El Guardián. Rory, do you speak Spanish?

RORY CARROLL: Yes, a fair amount.

Carroll

HUGO CHÁVEZ: What brings you here Rory, to Valle Seco in the Caribbean? You’re from Great Britain.

RORY CARROLL: No, I’m Irish in fact but..

HUGO CHÁVEZ: Ah, you’re Irish. OK. What brings you here, to these parts of the Caribbean?

RORY CARROLL: Oh I love the Caribbean, I love your country. I live in Caracas.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: How long have you been living here with us?

RORY CARROLL: Nearly a year.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: Nearly a year?

RORY CARROLL: Yes.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: You’re a journalist – from where did you graduate?

RORY CARROLL: Dublin. I’ve been working for the Guardian for 10 years.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: The Guardian. El Guardián.

RORY CARROLL: Yes.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: Of London, right?

RORY CARROLL: Yes.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: What brings you here, what kind of question do you have for me? Do you have a question? Generally journalists have a lot of questions..

RORY CARROLL: Yes, we always have a lot of questions. So, one question about the Constitution, one change that is quite an important proposition, that you want to have the right to continue as President, to be a candidate for the next time and in the future. But some critics say there is a risk in this. And you have also said, for example, that it is not a good idea for governors or mayors for example to have that right, because there is a risk that you could, I don’t know, turn into caudillos.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: What was that?

RORY CARROLL: Caudillos.

HUGO CHÁVEZ: Caudillos.

RORY CARROLL: Sorry about my accent. And so if there is a risk that that could happen with them, why is there no risk that this could happen with you?

HUGO CHÁVEZ: There you go, that’s the question that Rory Carroll brought for us. (To Carroll) I’ll go about answering that on the fly. (Looks at watch) It’ll take us about six hours to answer that, so you can’t complain about the time. And Chui-Yun Cheng (Hong Kong-based journalist in audience. Unclear what the correct transliteration ought to be since Chávez’s pronunciation of her name varies), what question do you have, Chui? Chui-Yun.

Chui

CHUI-YUN CHENG: (speaks in English, with translator): I’ve been very impressed, you know, by the social programmes launched by the President here in Venezuela, I think we have a lot to learn from the experience here, and when I go back home I would like to share that. And 21st Century Socialism, I would like to know more about that. What is it?

HUGO CHÁVEZ: Right. Thanks, thanks. That was Chui-Yun. I’m going to allow myself to engage in a reflection comparing the two questions. Comparing the two questions. Because we know that in communications media, no medium is neutral. There’ll be people listening saying “no, I have a TV station that’s neutral”, “For me, this newspaper is neutral”. It’s false. No. Not even.. not even nature is neutral. Nature itself is not neutral. And she speaks. She often becomes radical. She is often a rebel. She does not stay still, in a way that is neutral, against things that men, human beings do, or attempt to do, or have done, throughout history.

The journalist comes along -this has nothing to do with the journalist, with the person of Rory Carroll or Chui-Yun. No. It’s not to do with them. It is to do with the tendencies [corrientes, which can also translate as currents] in which they move. Rory works for a newspaper in London. So, his question comes guided by the tendencies that that newspaper operates. And frequently, the tendencies that that newspaper attempts to impose upon a people, to generate, like the rain.

In Europe there is a lot of cynicism. Rory. Over there in Europe where you’re from, I think Europe competes with the US, but since Europe is older, it is more cynical. Not because it is old, but because it has been at it for longer, Alí, practising cynicism. And I think in the US they learned a lot from European cynicism. Well, what cynicism in Europe, to celebrate the discovery of America.

In Europe for example they refuse to recognise the African holocaust. Ah, Reyes, you’re from over there. He is an Afro-descendent [afrodescendiente]. Me too, and proud of it, but less than him. He has more African blood than me. All of us come more or less from Africa. What about you over there? He’s Cuban. Afro-Cuban. (referring to another person) Afro-Venezuelan. In Europe they still talk about the discovery of America. And they want us to celebrate the day..look cameraman, comrade, please (gestures to man off-screen to move slightly), that’s it.

Eh, Rory, what a thing, no? Ships left Europe, thousands of ships with armies with weapons, pardon the redundant expression. The British Armada for example. The British Armada. That’s how they called it, the invincible fleet, the Spanish Armada. The German Armada, the Portuguese, the Dutch. Ships of war, you see, war. They reached the coasts of Africa. To kill the blacks. To tie them up. The objective was not to kill them. It was something worse, I think. Worse. Because I prefer to die fighting against an invader than to be chained up and dragged onto a boat, to have my life torn away from me and to be brought to another continent. Enslaved. (applause). Better to die fighting than to be a slave.

Europe – I have never seen a European journalist coming here, not even from those more, shall we say critical journalists, to ask, look, what do you all think about the arrival of Columbus here? And the arrival of the British armies. Did you know that they speak English in these islands (points)? And the head of state of some of these islands of the Caribbean is still the Queen of England! The head of state. It would be great if you in the Guardian were to publish work on that. Why is it at this point in time that the Queen of England is still the head of state of I don’t know how many islands in the Caribbean? The head of state is over there in London. And here you have the citizens of that state. How strange, no?

So, in Europe, they go around with the notion that Chávez wants to stay in power forever. Because I am proposing that the people decide on the possibility of continuous re-election to head of state. Possibility. Why don’t they go and ask, why don’t they have a referendum in the English-speaking Caribbean Islands for example and ask the inhabitants of these sister islands right here if they want the Queen of England to be their head of state, if they really want to talk about democracy in England? What cynicism there is in the world. What cynicism. The same thing happens here in Aruba, the Dutch Antilles (laughs). We are bordered by kingdoms! How strange, no? Europe. Europe. The learned Europe. The learned Europe, and we are the barbarians, the Indians, the blacks, the sudacas. What cynicism from Europe! What cynicism! I hope these words are not taken by any European as an attack on Europe because then people get offended: Chávez rails against Europe! He offended us. Ah, but Europe offends nobody. Europe has been trampling on us for centuries, and it never offended anybody. It is learned Europe. La belle Europe. (laughs) Cynicism! Europe is the Queen of Cynicism! I hope this gives cause for reflection.

Europe. Europe. So the European newspapers go around like mad, the majority, Chávez the tyrant, Chávez the caudillo (points at Rory Carroll), Chávez who wants to stay in power forever, but you have kings, compadre! (laughs) They still have kings and queens, who aren’t elected by anybody, and on top of that, they are hereditary, and they are heads of state. Heads of state.

And besides, well, in Great Britain for example, England, the prime ministers, who are the heads of government, can be re-elected however many times the people wishes to re-elect them. And so they’re worried because here, it is being put forward for consideration. I doubt that in England they have ever asked the English people if they are in agreement with that continuous re-election. Would they not put that to a referendum? Let’s see what the English people think. They don’t even have a constitution there in England. There is no constitution. Did you know that? Tarek, you knew that, right? There is no written constitution. If there is one country where there are no rules of the game, it’s in England (laughs).

Because here the Europeans come and the North Americans and especially the investors, (saying) where are the rules of the game, the clear rules?

Well, let them go to England and see if there are any game rules. There is no written constitution (laughs). You see the cynicism? It would be great were they to follow our example, our modest example – ask the people, find out what the peoples think. Here everything is consulted with the people.

This constitution (takes constitution out of shirt pocket), our constitution, to change in it..look Rory, if anyone here wanted to change a comma, a full stop, a semi-colon, a little word, no-one can do it without the people, in a national referendum. It is the people that rules here. It is the people that rules.

I wish they would do that in Europe, I wish they would consult the peoples over political systems, economic systems, and I think that it is a healthy measure, you know, to consult the peoples and give them participation in the running of politics, in the running of society, in the running of the economy, and not leave it to elites who think they are all-powerful and enlightened to run things.

The Presidential Commission for the Reform sent me this, they did an important piece of work (quotes from paper). Countries -from Europe, by the way, from the European Union- that are republics and have continuous re-election without a time limit. Germany. Germany. Hey, ask the Germans if they can be caudillos or not. Ask them, Rory, the German Chancellors if they are caudillos or can be caudillos. (Laughs) In France, the presidents can be re-elected indefinitely. In Italy the prime ministers. The same in Portugal. The same in Slovakia. The same in Cyprus. The same in Estonia. The same in Slovenia. The same in Greece. The same in Latvia. All of that is Europe. So you come asking me whether here, what’s this caudillismo, caudillo, then over there is pure caudillo too. Europe is the queen of caudillaje in that case. (Applause from audience) Europe is the queen of caudillaje (laughs). Pure caudillo.

That’s where there are republics. And where there are monarchies – monarchies (emphatically)- kings, even at this stage of the 21st century, kings. Kings. The United Kingdom has the Queen. She is there for life, and then comes her son, who will be king. (To Carroll) Do you elect the king? Do you elect the queen? Does anyone elect, has anyone elected kings? I’m asking you. Do you elect kings? What is your opinion on this? Let’s hear your opinion.

Carroll2

RORY CARROLL: (inaudible, sounds like “I’ll repeat” – “repito“) I’m not only Irish but republican too, so I don’t defend that system. But then it doesn’t matter because the question is about this country and you, and the question is, why is it if mayoralties and governors don’t have that right, why should you have it?

Chavezalo

HUGO CHÁVEZ: Look at that, he replies that it doesn’t matter because it’s about this country. It matters to me. It matters to us. You see? He comes along to say the question I ask him doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. What do you mean it doesn’t matter. It matters to us. Everything that happens in this world matters to us, compañero. 

Everything matters. That’s something else that you (plural) have. “No, it doesn’t matter because the question is about this country”. It does matter to us. It does matter to us. The destiny of your people matters to us, the Irish people. The destiny of the peoples of Europe matters to us. The destiny of the peoples of Africa matters to us. It all matters to us.

Because it is the destiny of all of us who live in this planet. We all live on this planet, Rory. How is it not going to matter to us? So you can’t put blinkers on (makes gesture) and say no, we’re going alone. No. 360 degrees (makes gesture in shape of globe), the magic formula 4 pi r squared.

Well, you don’t want to answer the question. Well, you did answer. You are Irish and you’re a republican. You’re a republican. But I wish the newspaper you work for, the Guardian, in London, promoted a survey in London regarding the British monarchy. What do the British think about the monarchy? A suggestion. A suggestion.

The same thing happens in Spain. the president of the government. Let’s not talk about the king, the king is the king. The king is king. No? Like the song says, Alí, “I am still the king” (laughs) “I am still the king”. In Spain there is a king. There is no debate or anything about that there. But there is a president of government in Spain who can be re-elected for life, that is, whatever the amount of times, that the majority of the people decides. The same thing happens in Sweden, the same thing happens in Denmark, the same thing happens in Belgium, the same thing happens in the Netherlands, the same thing happens in Luxembourg. In all those countries where there is a monarchy, with the monarch as head of state, there are prime ministers and presidents of government whose period has no limit with regard to the possibility of being re-elected.

So in Europe there is a whole uproar because here we are proposing that the people decide about a figure that has existed in Europe for centuries. Centuries! Centuries, it has existed. Then, if we compare the question of Rory, who comes from, or who works for the London newspaper The Guardian with the question asked by  Chui-Yun Cheung, who comes from China. Think about the kind of question. She asks, Rory, about the social reforms. The social reforms. And about 21st century socialism. If the proposed constitutional refom has anything at its core, it is to deepen the social reforms, on the path of building a system of equality, of justice, which is socialism.

Capitalism is the realm of injustice. Capitalism is the realm of inequality. Socialism will be the realm of equality, the realm of justice. That is how Bolívar put it: let us form a system where justice is the queen. That is the queen that we want: justice, the queen of all the republican virtues. Specifically, the deepening of social reforms as the journalist Chui-Yun has said. For example, extending social security to self-employed workers [trabajadores no dependientes] of whom there are more than 4 million in Venezuela. For example, the extension of social security to artists, to cultural workers. We are elminating, attacking, the critical knots of injustice that still remain in our society. When we aim for a reduction in the working day to 6 hours a day. 36 hours a week maximum.

We are making a historic, giant step. Look at how much it cost workers, how many struggles, how many martyrs, how much torture, how much sacrifice to achieve the eight hour working day. That lasted for more than a century. Now, here we are, with no strikes involved, with no martyrs involved, this is a workers’ government, a socialist one, that is one that rather asks the people. Look at how things are: inside out. The government takes the initiative and asks the people if it wishes to bring the working day down from 8 hours to 6 hours. There you have some elements, Chui, Chui-Yun of what you called the social reforms. That is the core. Now, the most important thing is, well, the most important proposal in the constitutional reform to deepen the revolution, is the central theme of Aló Presidente today. Communal power. Communal power. That is the essence of today’s programme and the essence of this proposal.

 

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Dashed Expectations: Comment

This is a comment posted on the Irish Times website on an article by Vincent Browne headed ‘Expectations of political change have been utterly dashed’.

Clearly the expectations of political change were misguided. So where did those expectations come from? Well, here are a couple of pointers. It takes a neck like the proverbial jockey’s ballbag to crow about a democratic revolution at the very moment when control over macroeconomic policy is formally ceded to the Troika. A similar neck is on display in the claim that the only way to wrest sovereignty back (it appears such a thing can be ceded and regained, like a pawned watch) is to sacrifice health, education, social welfare, wages and working conditions, that is, democratic gains won through long decades of struggle.  

 What these things tell us is that neither of the parties that went into government at the last election has any commitment to democracy. Nor does RTE or the Irish Times or oligarch-owned media, all of which systematically present each Troika-backed measure intended to preserve the health of a parasitic financial sector as a self-evident necessity, and haven’t the slightest compulsion to question the legitimacy of such measures, beyond the odd token voice of dissent. One need only consider the amount of media attention given to politician expenses by comparison with the tens of billions of public money paid out to private bondholders to see whose side these institutions are on. 

 We can go on at length about why this is so, but unless it’s accompanied by an awareness that the parliamentary system is subordinate to the needs of capital, and capitalism is antithetical to democracy, then a hiding to nothing, or to Freeman woo, awaits us all.  

 Perhaps the most harmful expectation afflicting Irish society is that political change can come from the ballot box alone: that there is no need to protest, no need to create alternative media outlets, no need to educate, to agitate or to organise. Nothing can be done, so shut up and take your medicine until the right ballot box choice comes along. That is an expectation fostered systematically by Ireland’s media, and this article does its part in fostering it too.

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The Failures of Troika Rule: Comment


I left this comment on Harry McGee’s report ‘Troika raises failures on health spending’ in today’s Irish Times. The title of the report was subsequently changed to ‘Troika orders Government to produce monthly report on health spending’, and the comments appended to the original article posting have gone, just in case anyone goes looking for the comment there.

‘The trade-off between the health of the financial sector and the health of the population ought to be fairly obvious now. I would recommend people read the most recent Lancet report ‘Financial crisis, austerity, and health in Europe’ for a detailed overview of what happens to public health whenever austerity measures -the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich- are introduced.

The Troika policy is to save banks by killing people. ‘Failure’ by their lights amounts, in effect, to not killing enough people and not stripping away enough people’s entitlement to health care and dignity, in order that the interests of CEOs, investment bankers, and policymaking elites with an eye on a succulent private sector job in the future can all be preserved.

‘Forcefully addressing’ unemployment levels does not mean forcing firms to invest their vast stores of cash, or undertaking public investment on vital public infrastructure: it means subjecting people who are unemployed to even more degrading treatment, whether through cutting their payments or making them jump through even more bureaucratic hoops that have zero bearing on whether they get a job.

That’s the logic of Troika rule: killing and humiliating people on behalf of CEOs and investment bankers. And if you die because your treatment was denied, well it was probably your fault anyway for not being a millionaire.’

****************************************

The drawing below is from today’s El País illustration by El Roto.

“If private healthcare is financed by the state, what do we need private healthcare for?”
“Poor guy – he’s delirious”

Delirious

 

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The Labour Party vs. Direct Democracy Ireland: Comment

I left this comment on an article by Fintan O’Toole in today’s Irish Times titled ‘Labour leaders keep the party on the road to its own doom’.

Econonocynicim

‘Down With Econocynicism’ – El Roto

Anyone who thinks Direct Democracy Ireland is where a political solution to the current crisis lies is out to lunch, quite frankly.  

 Nevertheless there is something telling about the fact that the Labour Party’s humiliation was at the hands of Direct Democracy Ireland. The Labour Party is supposed to stand for social democracy -that is, the extension of democracy and equality beyond formal political institutions, towards socialism and beyond capitalism.  

 That’s how it works in theory anyway. In practice, the Labour Party -its leadership in particular- has been the embodiment of the political rationality of neoliberalism.  

 It has defended a process of expropriation, bank bailouts, privatisations, outsourcing, and attacks on public welfare, and tried to claim this is the democratic will of the people.  

 It has pretended that popular sovereignty will magically emerge from the sovereignty of CEOs, investment bankers and technocrats by simply doing as CEOs, investment bankers and technocrats say. 

 In this context it is not surprising that plenty of people are waking up to the fact that whatever this buffoonery is, it is not democracy. The tragedy-farce is that people are seeking quick-fix solutions in adjustments to formal democratic provisions -ironically, the sort of footering about that the Labour Party got up to with their constitutional convention- that in the final instance are about saving the political institutions of capitalism, not the democratisation of society.

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