What is really happening in Venezuela

Alvaro Sanchez Cordero, Charge D’Affaires from the Embassy of Venezuela to the Netherlands

 

Introduction

Since early April of this year, Venezuelans have been suffering the consequences of violent street protests, resulting in more than 60 deaths and hundreds more injured. We are deeply sorry for the death of so many people, both civilians and law enforcement agents. Media reporting on this situation, however, has been strongly biased, with news outlets falsely depicting Venezuela as a country at war, where peaceful protesters are violently knocked down by a dictatorial government. The real story is different.

Background

In 1999, when a progressive revolution came to power in Venezuela and President Chavez was elected, a whole new vision for the country was put in place. The vast majority of Venezuelans, who had hitherto been ostracized, depoliticized, disenfranchised, exploited, socially excluded and discriminated against, were finally included and empowered into a new democratic model that was both representative and participatory. The net result was a new sovereign nation in full control of its natural resources, with a new Constitution, and a leadership able to equally distribute oil revenues in a more fair and efficient manner that ultimately produced highly positive social and human results, such as: four million people lifted out of poverty, free and universal access to medical health and education, the eradication of illiteracy, access to potable water, three million pensioners and almost two million social houses, among other achievements.

Of course, such progress came with a price tag. The US Government, intensely hostile to Venezuela’s socialist government controlling its own oil (Venezuela has the largest oil reserve in the world), has been very active destabilizing with the ultimate aim to topple our Government for the past 18 years. Though the list is practically endless, the US has tried every dirty trick in the book. They have given full financial backing and open political support to the Venezuelan right-wing opposition’s violent and unconstitutional efforts to oust the democratically elected government such as, a coup d’état, an oil and business lock-out, street barricades and hiring mercenaries and paramilitaries to perpetrate widespread terror, among others.

A new situation

This is the context of the opposition-led violence that we see in Venezuela right now but with some important additions. Firstly, Chavez is no longer with us. This has energized the US into believing they now have better chances to succeed. Secondly, the current wave of destabilizing violence has been more effective because it is combined with a vicious economic war – reminiscent of what was to Allende in Chile in the 1970s – which includes blocking international credit, disrupting distribution of food supplies and other essential items and speculating with a fictitious, black-market, exchange rate that has brought major economic difficulties and that, as intended, has hit the poorest sections of society generating discontent. Thus, on the back of these deliberately created economic difficulties, in December 2015 the opposition won majority in Parliament. Nonetheless, instead of building politically upon such victory, they decided to take a short cut by promising to bring down President Maduro, one way or another. In six months, the opposition-led Parliament, used its majority to foment violence, even to the point that current Parliament President, Julio Borges, openly called the military to rise up against the constitutional government.

Yet, throughout 2016, the opposition failed to oust the government of President Maduro, as they had promised, despite the fact that they escalated the US-supported economic war.

This failure in the domestic terrain led them to try it from the outside, but whose crucial domestic component was the current wave of violence to justify US-led external intervention.

Peaceful protest?

Protestors marching against the democratically elected government of Nicolas Maduro are very often far from peaceful and come equipped with home-made weapons, Molotov cocktails, bazookas, ammunitions, explosives, stones as well as firearms, which they use against the forces of law and order. Opposition demonstrators have set government buildings on fire, vandalized public and private property, looted stores and have even perpetrated attacks on two maternity hospitals during which they tried to set them on fire. There was a severe risk that 54 babies may die as a consequence; mothers in labour, nurses, doctors and patients needed to be evacuated. There was no reporting on these events in the mainstream media as it clearly contradicts their narrative. A few weeks ago some of the most violent opposition demonstrators started to throw human and animal excrements at the forces of law and order. There is no need to mention the danger of all kinds of diseases erupting in a tropical climate with streets full of excrements and in a delicate health situation due to the increased appearance of the Zika virus. Only a few weeks ago Venezuelan opposition supporters attacked Venezuela’s Diplomatic Mission in Spain, asking publicly on social media for Venezuelan ambassadors to end up like the former Russian Ambassador in Turkey, Andrei Karlov, who was assassinated in Ankara last year. In fact, also a few weeks ago, our Consulate in Bonaire was attacked by sympathizers of the Venezuelan opposition who unlawfully entered the premises of the diplomatic mission and vandalized equipment and materials, in clear violation of international law. Unfortunately, similar incidents have also taken place in many other Venezuelan diplomatic missions worldwide.

Political prisoners?

People have been arrested because they have committed criminal acts, causing violence in the streets leading to the death of dozens of people and putting many lives at risk, not because of their political position. The same would hold true in any European country. Think about the Dutch Constitution, and the resulting Public Assemblies Act. Both state that the right to assembly and demonstration in the Netherlands may be restricted in order “to protect health, in the interest of traffic and to combat or prevent disorder”. Dutch legislation is very clear: there can be no demonstrations, unless demonstrators march peacefully and follow the rule of law. It is no different in Venezuela. Of the 68 persons who have lost their lives so far, only seven deaths have been attributed to government authorities, and those responsible have been charged and currently face prosecution. Fourteen persons have died during lootings of stores, shops and restaurants. Eight persons have died trying to pass street barricades erected by opposition protestors. Three persons have been shot dead by criminal gangs, one person has been lynched and three policemen have been killed by protestors. Thirteen persons have died accidentally and the remaining 19 deaths are still unaccounted for. The Venezuelan authorities do everything in their power to investigate those deaths and charge the perpetrators, regardless of their political allegiance. In this context it is important to point out one more time that Leopoldo Lopez is not a political prisoner. He was indicted and has been charged for publicly instigating violence, asking protestors to use non-peaceful means in order to overthrow the government of Nicolas Maduro, and about which there is irrefutable public evidence. Henrique Capriles was charged and banned from public office because of illicit administrative practices during his tenure as a governor of the Miranda state, not because of his role as an opposition leader.

Food shortages

Food shortages are not due to the fact that Venezuela has run out of financial means. Consider that just about a month ago Venezuela repaid US$2.7 billion on its debt. Food and medical shortages are created artificially by the blocking of opposition-controlled production and distribution channels. Evidence for the existence of a so called “Economic Warfare” has been collected by numerous academics. Their research is available at http://www.15yultimo.com/.[1] On top of this, last month Julio Borges, head of the Venezuelan parliament, sent more than a dozen letters to major banks asking them not to carry out transactions with the Venezuelan government. The financial blockade is a central component on the ongoing economic war against our country. The strategy to artificially create a situation where basic foodstuffs and medicines are in short supply is not new. The same happened to Chile in the early seventies, where economic warfare was one of the many dirty methods used to oust the democratically elected government of the socialist President Salvador Allende. In spite of the intensity of the ongoing economic warfare against Venezuela, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has declared Venezuela a country where the percentage of undernourished persons, relative to the whole population, was less than 5 % during the years 2014-2016. The same percentage as Western Europe.

Postponements of regional elections

Postponement of the regional elections has been falsely portrayed as a government “strategy” to suppress elections altogether. In reality, the main reason for the postponement was to give smaller parties the chance to comply with all legal requirements necessary (first and foremost the 0,5 % signature threshold) in order to participate in elections, as indicated in the “Law on Political Parties, Public Assemblies and Demonstrations” (Title I, Chapter III, Article 26). Nonetheless, on 23 May, the National Electoral Council set 10 December 2017 as the date for regional elections in Venezuela. It is important to stress here that the 19 elections held throughout the last 17 years have all been declared as completely transparent, free and fair by the Carter Centre, the Organization of American States, the European Union and other international election observers.

Recall referendum

Why has there not been a recall referendum? The answer is simple: according to the Venezuelan Constitution, a recall referendum needs to be carried out before half-term of the leader who may be recalled from office (Arts 72 and 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution). Opposition parties had not presented the signatures necessary for the referendum before half-term (July 2016). Carrying out a recall referendum after that deadline would be unconstitutional, just like calling general elections outside the period established in our Constitution would be unlawful. Venezuela is the only country in the world that can recall elected representatives at every level.

Separation of powers

Separation of powers in Venezuela exists within the framework of the principles stipulated in the 1999 Constitution, as it is the case in most countries. The best example of this has been the recent debate about the Supreme Court (TSJ) on the National Assembly, after stating that Parliament remained in contempt of Supreme Court previous rulings. The opposition-led National Assembly repeatedly refused to process ordinary, uncontroversial but above all constitutional initiatives from the government, such as investment decisions, financing of infrastructure projects, and so forth. The Supreme Court made a ruling to itself approve such Executive initiatives from there on. Venezuela’s Attorney General disagreed on the grounds that it might contravene some principles of the Constitution. Faced with a divergence that emerged among two key state bodies –  normal in any nation, which conclusively confirms the independence of all state bodies – the matter was resolved through a discussion in the appropriate body, the Defence Council of the State.

The OAS

The General Secretary of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, has violated the fundamental principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of its member states, acting against a number of articles of the OAS Charter. Article 1 of the OAS Charter, stating that “The Organization of American States has no powers other than those expressly conferred upon it by this Charter, none of whose provisions authorizes it to intervene in matters that are within the internal jurisdiction of the Member States.” Despite repeated attempts by the OAS Secretary General to apply the Democratic Charter against Venezuela and suspend it from the OAS, this has failed. It is important to stress here that the OAS has never taken the decision to apply the Democratic Charter to Venezuela as Almagro and many media keep falsely asserting. Furthermore, none of Luis Almagro’s pronouncements against the government of Venezuela have ever got the endorsement of the OAS, any of its bodies or the OAS Permanent Council (though there are some governments in the region that do share Almagro’s views on Venezuela, notably Brazil’s Temer government). Nevertheless, working hand in hand with the Venezuelan opposition and the US government, Secretary Almagro has abused his role in order to help create an impression of Venezuela as a failed state and put pressure on other countries to do so as well, with the apparent intention to bring about external intervention. Such development has no precedent in the history of OAS. His actions have prompted calls for resignation by Chilean legislators, the Bolivian Foreign Ministry and progressive social movements in the region, such as the Salvadorian Network in Solidarity with Venezuela.

OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, violating nearly every norm both OAS itself and his strictly administrative function, has dedicated his tenure to illegally interfere in Venezuelan affairs by unsuccessfully seeking to activate the OAS Democratic Charter against Venezuela, thus enabling the external intervention. The US Government, the real behind-the-scenes mastermind of OAS strategy, has openly threatened many Latin American and Caribbean countries for siding with Venezuela in the OAS.

The failure of the US-inspired Almagro’s OAS strategy against Venezuela has led to an extremely dangerous vicious circle: images of wanton violence in Venezuela feed Almagro’s and US’s threats against Venezuela, which in turn, feed more wanton and irrational violence in Venezuela.

Role of USA

The US government is illegal financing opposition political parties in Venezuela with the aim of destabilizing the country and forcing ‘regime change’. As part of her research, Eva Golinger, an American solicitor, has revealed that between 2002 and at least 2014, the US Government has channeled around 120 million US dollars to finance Venezuelan opposition parties and organizations[2]. This flow of money represents a violation of the Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination Act of 2010 which bans foreign funding of political groups in the country. The US Government has sent this funding to Venezuelan opposition groups mainly through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and USAID, all of which have worked closely with the CIA to bring about “regime change” in Venezuela. The spirit of this huge influx of resources was confirmed by President Obama’s Executive Order of 9 March 2015, and renewed a year later, which falsely declares Venezuela to be “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”.

Drugs

Venezuela is not a drug-producing country, but it unfortunately sits between the world’s largest cocaine producer, Colombia, and the world’s largest cocaine consumer, the United States. This  is why it always had and still has to fight illicit trafficking as well as  international narco-mafias within its borders. Venezuela has developed a comprehensive strategy to fight illicit drugs through international cooperation, the implementation of measures to reduce domestic consumption, the interception of illegal drug shipments, the destruction of clandestine airstrips, border monitoring measures and the detention and extradition of drug traffickers. Between 2008 and 2012 alone, 102 drug lords were captured and arrested. Twenty-one of them were promptly deported to the US and 36 to Colombia, at the requests made by the authorities of these countries and in compliance with international agreements on the fight against organized crime. The firm determination to face international drug trafficking mafias led President Nicolas Maduro to enact a law in 2012 enabling the interdiction of any drug-trafficking aircraft violating Venezuelan airspace. Thanks to this legal instrument, Venezuela has destroyed, disabled or brought down over 100 aircraft belonging to the drug transporting structure of Colombia and neighbouring countries illegally flying over our territory. In fact, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDC) recognises these efforts in their World Drug Report of 2015 stating that

“In the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, cocaine seizures decreased to 20.5 tons in 2013 (from 27.6 tons in 2012). According to authorities in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the country remains a transit point for cocaine, particularly cocaine trafficked by air in private aircraft, but newly introduced legislative changes related to air traffic control have decreased the entry and exit of uncontrolled aircraft, which has led to a decrease in drug trafficking by air (54).”

Violence

It is not in the interest of Maduro to have terror and violence in the streets. On the contrary, it is very much in the interest of the opposition to maintain it and even escalate it. Thus, the intoxicating one-sided international media reporting that quite deliberately endorse Almagro and US pronouncements, only fuels more violence. This is repugnant, especially since they know who is the source of the violence. Unfortunately, the international media omits reporting that polls consistently show that well over 80% strongly reject the current violence and they also overwhelmingly oppose “regime change”.

There are indeed honest and decent government opponents who peacefully protest. However, there are also hooligans, mercenaries and paramilitaries, whose task is to confront the police and create chaos. Second, the law enforcement agents in the streets have orders to respect human rights. Those who have disobeyed that order are being prosecuted.  Given this dangerous scenario, and the fact that the opposition refuses to engage in dialogue with the government (even though UNASUR, the Vatican and three former presidents continue to appeal to them to do so), President Maduro, invoking Arts 347, 348 and 349 of Venezuela’s Constitution, has called for a Constituent Assembly as a democratic political mechanism to bring about peace. Society’s response from all sections, even from the private sector, has been highly supportive and the Constituent process promises to produce exciting new developments that are likely to deepen the social dimensions of the Bolivarian Constitution, broadening and strengthening the 1999 Constitution.

Venezuela has the right to live in peace and not to be the target of US-led, US-financed and US-inspired permanent aggression. Venezuela demands respect for its sovereignty and self-determination, rejects external interference in its internal affairs, will not tolerate unconstitutional and violent acts to oust the legitimate and democratically elected government, and will insist on dialogue as the only way to address the problems the nation confronts. Unfortunately, the US and Venezuela’s extreme right insist on violent means to effect “regime change”. We in Venezuela have no choice but to defend our sovereignty.

Fake news

Ever since President Chavez passed away in 2013 and, even more openly, since the opposition won a parliamentary majority in 2015, the Venezuela’s opposition has tried to oust the democratically elected government of Venezuela, explicitly stating that their aim was to “get rid” of President Maduro within six months, no matter how. As it was clear by the end of 2016 they had failed to do so whether by legal or violent means, so they have adopted an international strategy. Their plan is to create the impression that chaos reigns in the country so as to justify and bring about external intervention. With the overwhelming majority of the media in opposition hands, and with the enthusiastic support of the world corporate media, a campaign of intoxicating proportions has been waged daily against the Venezuelan government. This strategy has been tried in the past, with the help of the US government, as evidenced in declassified papers.

In spite of all these years of economic warfare, financial blockades, media and psychological warfare against the government of Nicolas Maduro, we have managed to build 1.7 million heavily subsidised houses in the last three years. More than 1 million people have been lifted from illiteracy and the number of people receiving pensions and students has increased fourfold.

So as to respond to the food shortages resulting from the ongoing “economic war” waged against our government, in March 2016, the Local Committees for Supply and Production (CLAPs) were established. CLAPs distribute food packs filled with the most important Venezuelan staples such as pasta, rice, flour or salt at a fair price. According to the research institute Hinterlaces, 60 % of all Venezuelans believe that CLAP is the right way to deal with the economic crisis in Venezuela. So far, the 30.000 CLAPs in Venezuela are distributing food packs to 6 million households. Even the opposition admits that the CLAPs are working effectively and that they have helped ease social tensions. According to Datanalisis, 50 % of the Venezuelan population receives products through the CLAPs. In addition to this, the government created three new ministries in 2016 commissioned to address the current food shortages in Venezuela: The Ministry for Agricultural Production and Lands, the Ministry of Fishing and Aquaculture as well as the Ministry for Urban Agriculture. The latter in particular is expected to satisfy the needs of more than 3 million people through urban gardens, urban parcels, productive courtyards, organoponic vegetable gardens and urban glass-houses by 2020.

The way forward

We Venezuelans need to find a solution to our problems ourselves. Opposition protests are taking place in less than 1% of the Venezuelan territory. The majority of the Venezuelan people wants to live in peace and has grown tired of the ongoing protests, which make their life even more difficult. Polls persistently show that well over 80% reject the ongoing wanton violence. The Venezuelan government has insisted all along on dialogue and has reached out to include Pope Francis as well as the former Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in the discussions. Recently, President Maduro, invoking Arts 347, 348 and 349 of the Constitution, has announced a Constituent Assembly to modify the 1999 Constitution so as to unlock the current political impasse and bring about peace. Although fully in line with our laws, this act has falsely been called a “coup d’etat” by opposition leaders, who since 2013 have continually campaigned for a Constituent Assembly even collecting signatures for it. It is puzzling they quietly dropped the proposal when Art 348 states that it can also be called by “15% of the voters registered with the Civil and Electoral Registry”. The Venezuelan government will continue to act in full line with the Venezuelan Constitution of 1999 and asks you to respect and support its efforts for peace and dialogue. Furthermore, their alleged central reason for the current wave of violence was the “cancellation” of the regional elections. The National Electoral Council has just announced they will be held on 10th December 2017 but, true to their undemocratic and seditious nature, all opposition leaders have rejected and have said publicly they oppose these elections in the same way they called for a Constituent Assembly which they now violently oppose.

Notes from the editor.

For our Spanish readers we have to references that are important:

1. La izquierda despolarizada: Del monólogo de Próspero al Diálogo con Calibán: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6g8xuEX_KoJZ0R3bzdMb0NlNUk/view

2. Filósofo Enrique Dussel responde a intelectuales de izquierda que han criticado a Venezuela
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGoDxCZPCKY

 

 

[1]For a discussion in English, consult Dr. Curcio’s latest book “The visible hand of the market. Economic Warfare in Venezuela”, to be downloaded at: http://www.15yultimo.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/THE-VISIBLE-HAND-OF-THE-MARKET.-ECONOMIC-WARFARE-IN-VENEZUELA.-PASQUALINA-CURCIO-C.pdf

[2] http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/25/the-dirty-hand-of-the-national-endowment-for-democracy-in-venezuela/

DENK (THINK) in Holland: First political party of people of color in parliament

A political party of people of color

Recently a unique development took place recently in The Netherlands.

In 2014 two Turkish members of the Dutch Labour Party in parliament, Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk, left the party because of its attitude towards racism and islamophobia. They started their own faction in parliament and eventually named their group DENK (THINK). Between 2014 and March 2017 they vigorously campaigned inside and outside on a platform against racism and islamophobia. The developed a program with radical demands, among others:

  • The focus in government policy should not be on integration but on acceptance of diversity.
  • The acknowledgement of institutional racism as the main problem.
  • The establishment of a racism-register of people, organizations and companies the openly promote racism so that government can act on prohibiting business with or subsidies to them.
  • Affirmative action and quota-arrangement in the labour market for people of color and women, starting with government jobs on a national and regional level.
  • A specific quota of 10% for people of color in the top of the major companies in the Netherlands.
  • Formal apologies and reparations for enslavement of black people in the former Dutch colonies and for the colonial wars in Indonesia.
  • Decolonizing history and renaming of streets, tunnels, bridges and museums and stop the celebration of villains.
  • Rewriting the history textbooks in the educational system that teaches about historic injustice committed by the Dutch.
  • Total abolition of Black Pete celebrations in the public and private domain.

The daring confrontation in parliament with the white parties and the smart use of social media to expose racism in parliament earned DENK a reputation of courageous fighters in the struggle against racism and islamophobia.

The campaign against DENK

The media, political establishment and the white left in Holland immediately reacted with outrage to DENK. The critique was not just about political positions. It was the whole idea that people of color would dare to be non-apologetic and confront racism directly in parliament was unacceptable. So a campaign of vilification was started. Kuzu and Öztürk are Muslim fundamentalism. They are the fifth column of Turkish president Erdogan in Holland. They are a divisive force that is dividing people rather than uniting them. They should denounce the Armenian genocide. They should speak out against Erdogan’s policy to arrest people involved in the military coup against Erdogan. They are anti LGTB and anti women, despite the fact that their program calls for banishing homophobia, closing the wage gap between men and women and a vigorous policy against sexual intimidation.

So the whole operation was directed at shifting the focus from racism and islamophobia to other issues.

Personal attacks, lies, framing them as irrational and attacking the whole idea of a political party for people of color had the opposite effect in the different communities of color. DENK was admired for their non-apologetic approach of racism and islamophobia. They attracted followers outside the Turkish community. They broadened their base to the Muslim community as a whole.

In May 2016 a well know black former TV presenter, Sylvana Simons, became a member of DENK. Although DENK already had black members, her entry into national politics via DENK created a big stir. It was symbolic for the unity of all people of colour, especially the Black-Muslim alliance. She became a target of a smear campaign. She received countless death threats. Immediately forces came into action to divide DENK. Simons was portrait as a radical, anti-white person, that had nothing to gain by allying herself with Muslim men, who are also patriarchal.

These forces were eventually succesfull. In December 2016 Simons left the party without prior notice or discussion. A few weeks earlier her supporters had secretly founded a new party, Article 1. This refers to the first article of the Dutch constitution that prohibits all discrimination. She announced that her parte was founded on the theory of intersectionality that does not divide people, but unites them. She used the argument of divisiveness against DENK to justify her split.

Leading white feminist Anja Meulentbelt and leading LGTB-scholar Gloria Wekker supported Simons and Article 1 in her split.

The elections

On March 15 the elections took place for the 150 seats of parliament. To the shock and surprise of the white community and the white political establishment DENK gained three seats. The Labor party went down from 38 to 9 seats. The extreme right won seven seats (the party of Geert Wilders won five and another extreme right party won two).

Article 1 did not gain a seat. She got half of the votes needed for a seat. Simons mainly got her votes from the black community. The hope that white women and white LGTB would support her did not materialize.

The victory of DENK energized many people of color who actively participated in the campaign and in the discussion on social media. A united front of Blacks and Muslims would have strengthened the struggle against racism and islamophobia. The split was more detrimental to the black community. If Simons had stayed in DENK she would now have been elected to parliament, because she would be number three on the slate of DENK.

Lessons

The first lesson is that in countries with large communities of color a political party that explicitly draws upon their support can have a major impact on the debate on racism and islamophobia, provided that they take a radical approach. Even if they get one seat, their voice in parliament has a major impact on the self-confidence of the communities of color and strengthens the struggle against racism and islamophobia.

The second lesson is that the unity of Black and Muslims is considered the most dangerous strategy by white power. That unity is a powerful force in bringing down institutional racism. That is why all forces of the white power structure (media, violent threats, politicians) are focussing on breaking that alliance. Unfortunately it succeeded for now, but hopefully activists from communities of color have learned this lesson and will work together to recreate this unity.

The third lesson is that the weakness of the theory of intersectionality has led to a shift in focus away from racism and islamophobia and has damaged the movement.

Hopefully these lesson will be valid for social movements in other European countries.

 

Sandew Hira

5-4-2017

Decoloniality Europe becomes Decolonial International Network

decolonialityEuropeIn 2012 activists from Europe established a network called Decoloniality Europe. Many of the participants maintain relations with decolonial organizations and networks outside of Europe. In order to develop these relations it was necessary to create a space that extends beyond Europe. That is why the network changed its name to Decolonial International Network.

LogoDINOrganizations who want to join the network can contact the coordinator of DIN: Sandew Hira, sandew.hira@iisr.nl.

Sandew wil engage in a conversation about the relationship with DIN and explores ways to develop it.

IHRC beams protest images onto Houses of Parliament and Bahraini embassy

In response to last week’s execution by the Bahraini government of three of its own citizens IHRC staged a double protest at the Houses of Parliament and the Bahraini Embassy in London.

Huge images bearing messages condemning the executions and the British government’s continued support for the authoritarian island monarchy were beamed onto both buildings last Friday night (19 January) in order to raise political and public awareness.

The giant messages (see attached photos) were set against the backdrop of the Bahraini flag and the faces of the three executed men, Abbas al-Samea, 27, Ali al-Singace, 21, and Sami Mushaima 42. All had been found guilty of planting a bomb which killed three policemen but their convictions were widely seen as politically motivated, based on retracted confessions and mired in allegations of serious torture.

Britain continues to politically and militarily support the Bahraini regime despite a well-documented history of human rights abuses against its citizens and reform campaigners.

A report commissioned by the Bahraini government (the BICI report) documenting the events of an uprising in 2011 revealed systematic torture, arbitrary detentions, and extra judicial killing in the streets. Although the Bahraini government accepted the report and promised to implement its recommendations, their implementation has been woefully inadequate. Professor Cherif Bassiouni, the head of the BICI team, wrote in June last year that most of the reforms had not been fully implemented.

Things actually seem to be getting worse. The country’s only remotely critical newspaper, Al Wasat, which was shut down in 2011, has now been ordered by the government to close its online edition too after criticising the executions.

Earlier this year Bahrain announced that it was reversing one of the BICI reforms which stipulated that the National Security Agency (NSA) have its powers of arrest removed. The power separation was considered important in controlling torture.

Despite these developments, last December PM Theresa May flew to Bahrain to meet with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council on the sidelines of the organisation’s latest summit. The visit demonstrated a glaring disregard for human rights and also a dangerous message of approval to the al-Khalifa dictatorship.

A month earlier Britain opened its first military base in the Gulf in Bahrain, the first in the region since 1971. The base will be used by special forces and Navy destroyers, frigates and minehunters to help prop up the region’s autocrats. Britain also supplies Bahrain with military equipment and training which have been used to suppress indigenous uprisings and pro-reform protests.

Likewise the British government remains an unflinching backer of the Saudi Arabian government whose troops are stationed on the island in order to protect the regime against any threats to its rule.

IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “The extra-judicial murder of the three Bahrainis has once again highlighted the brutal nature of the al-Khalifa regime. It is high time that the British government stopped becoming an accomplice to the suppression and abuse of fundamental human rights. The British government’s contention that economic interests in the region are important should not be used as an excuse for us to acquiesce in the continuing torture and oppression of the Bahraini people.”

Check the images.

Genocide Memorial Day 2017 London

On Sunday, 15 January 2017 Islamic Human Rights Commission held their annual Genocide Memorial Day conference for the 7th year running since its inception in 2010. This year’s theme was “Lessons from the Cultural Genocide of Muslims and Jews in Europe”. A parallel event also took place in Brussels on the same day.

Held at the P21 Gallery, the event was attended by a number of activists and academics as well as those who were simply curious to learn more about the topic of genocide. The conference was opened with recitation from the Quran followed by English translation.

Raza Kazim, Head of Campaigns at IHRC, provided an opening statement where he emphasised the importance of challenging the narrative that some victims matter more than others dependant on their background. Also he mentioned that genocide doesn’t happen in a vacuum and left us with an open question: What is the environment that it occurs in?

Chaired by Nazim Ali, the first panel featured Dr Rebecca Masterton and Sheikh Azmi Hamid of Malaysia. Rebecca Masterton, is a British Islamic scholar, educator, public speaker, academic and author of several academic articles. She is also the director and tutor at Online Shia Studies. She made a fascinating contribution as she discussed the history of the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain; including how the education system teaches this period of history, and how this miseducation impacts the European culture we live in today. She also made it clear that Europe is blind to its history and needs to be decolonised.

Following Dr Masterton, Sheikh Mohammad Azmi bin Abdul Hamid of Malaysia spoke of what is currently happening to the minority Rohingya population in Myanmar, suggesting that there is strong evidence for genocide. Massacres in Myanmar are being deliberately orchestrated and hidden from the international community. However, people are not just being killed – everything relating to the community is being erased as well. Stating the severe decrease in population figures was a sombre and frightening wake up call for the audience.

Narjis Khan then performed a rendition of her moving poem ‘Red blood spills’ which mentions the various interventionist wars taking place across the globe on behalf of the likes of the USA and the UK. The winners of the annual poetry competition for children ages 11-18 were then announced. Anisha Mehta with ‘Stand By’ and Tarzina Khatun with ‘Ship 1971’ were the winners of the first prize. They were awarded with an all-expenses paid trip to Bosnia. Second prize was jointly awarded to Ifrah Bukhari for ‘The Subhuman’ and Shukria Rezaei for ‘My Hazara People’. They each received a £50 IHRC Bookshop voucher. Finally, third prize was awarded to Luqman Reza for his poem ‘One Dimension.

The final speaker of the day was Ramon Grosfoguel, a professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He spoke about the links between the rise of Islamophobia and genocide. He explicitly addressed how genocide is not just killing humans but destruction and appropriation of knowledge i.e an epistemicide.

Lastly, a minute of silence was held in remembrance as the names and numbers of a various genocidal acts over the last two centuries were read aloud. This part of the event has become a regular feature but hearing it every year does not lessen the impact. The extent of cruelty humanity can achieve is laid bare for all to see. The attendees, as well as the speakers, participated in a one minute silence in order to commemorate the various genocides that have happened across the globe.

Raza Kazim, concluded the conference by thanking the attendees, volunteers and stating very clearly that it is necessary to have an event like Genocide Memorial Day in order to remember those who have been forgotten.

Genocide Memorial Day 2017: Quran Recitation & Introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-UPn6APZ7w

Genocide Memorial Day 2017: The Expulsion of Jews & Muslims from Spain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI3FYaMVAQI

Genocide Memorial Day 2017: The Genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanamar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_6MPP8HP4c

Genocide Memorial Day 2017: Cultural Genocide & Structural Knowledge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JM4qCZHHqKw

Genocide Memorial Day 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpAMrmIfWz0

Genocide Memorial Day 2017: Q&A: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=al8FCayvhyI

 

The Latin American Philosophy of Education Society

Rafael Vizcaino (Rutgers University, USA)

This interview with Jason T. Wozniak by  Rafael Vizcaino introduces LAPES. The Latin American Philosophy of Education Society.

Rafael: What is The Latin American Philosophy of Education Society (LAPES), and how did it get started?

Jason: Let me say from the beginning that I can’t speak for everyone that participates in LAPES projects. If you talked to other members of the group, you would get different responses. I can offer the following perspectives.

LAPES is a philosophy of education research group currently housed at The Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (CSER) at Columbia University. Officially, LAPES was started around four years ago when a group of us formally decided to come together under the LAPES name. But unofficially, it might be better to suggest that for a lot of us the idea of LAPES was born in our experiences in Latin America, with Latin American philosophies of education, through our encounters with people who were doing incredible work with education theory situated in Latin American contexts. What I mean by this is that for some LAPES members, these types of encounters provoked a similar question: “Why didn’t/don’t we have more exposure to this work in United States academic environments?” Outside of the work of Paulo Freire, who remains an invaluable inspiration, educators in the U.S., and those who study education theory, rarely, if ever, have access to Latin American philosophies of education.

R: What are some of the main questions LAPES engages?

J: Upon forming our group almost immediately we were confronted with an important question: “What is Latin American philosophy of education?” In fact, we must acknowledge that definitions of “Latin America” deserve to be problematicized. Nevertheless, even though our first symposium and volume of our journal Lápiz is dedicated to this question, the question remains an open one for us. One thing seems clear, however, that there is no singular Latin American philosophy of education, there are many philosophies, and part of our work is to study these philosophies and engage with them through a variety of means. Through our publications and events, we also try and make these philosophies available to people in the United States and elsewhere.

Moreover, one of the principle aims of the work of LAPES is to reconfigure education philosophy and teacher preparation theory and methodology. If you study education in the United States, and I would imagine that Europe is similar in this respect, you are mainly taught education theories past and present that emerge out of Europe or the United States. Either purposefully, or out of ignorance, education theory from traditionally marginalized groups of people, and/or from other parts of the world, is suppressed. Given this situation, the “Socrates of Caracas,” Simón Rodríguez, who was Bolívar’s teacher, has a compelling phrase to consider: “Inventamos o erramos.” (We invent or we error). One way to interpret this line is to say that for hundreds of years we have been imitating education theories and pedagogies based on European and/or United States conceptualizations of education. It’s important to note, and Rodríguez makes this argument, and more recently Argentine philosopher of education Walter Kohan develops it, that the imitation of these education theories and pedagogies has resulted in some positive developments, but it has also, at least in part, allowed for the continual reproduction of racist, sexist, xenophobic, violent, imperialist practices in education, which have in turn played a role in shaping racist, sexist, xenophobic, violent, and imperialist subjectivities. In a sense, based on the work of Latin American thinkers and educators, on the work done by those who study Latin American philosophy and education, LAPES is trying to play a role in the invention of education philosophies and pedagogies in the United States (and elsewhere) that challenge the reproduction of dehumanizing education theories and practices. In short, we ask a very basic question: “Why turn to Europe or the traditional canon from the United States for our philosophies of education?” Instead, we say, “Let’s turn to the education theories of/from Latin America, let’s engage with the work of those who have done work on Latin American education philosophy.”

R: This is where decolonial thinking and doing come into play.

J: Yes. The hope is that our small intervention contributes to what Linda Martín Alcoff calls a “decolonial consciousness,” and that people that are exposed to new ways of thinking about education, new ways of teaching and learning together, are motivated to contest and disrupt injustice, while also striving to open up the possibilities of more caring, imaginative, and just ways of relating to the world, others, self.   

R: In what more specific ways do the aims of LAPES relate to decolonial thinking and doing?

J: First and foremost our principle aim is to learn. We have a lot to learn. And so we try and create spaces for learning to happen. I have touched on this above, but here I would re-emphasize that we are very interested in re-thinking teacher education programs in the United States. Not only might the inclusion of Latin American education theory help diversify the teaching body (K-12 and higher education), but also teachers, students, academics, and activists in Latin America have challenged neoliberal and colonial education philosophy, policy, and practice in extremely important ways. By studying, in collective fashion, these modes of contestation, we think we can learn how to develop education theories and practices that dismantle neoliberal and colonial/neocolonial education theories and pedagogy in the United States. I would have to admit that not all our work has accomplished this, not all of our work could be considered “decolonial.” In an organization that tries to limit hierarchical structures, sometimes you get projects that take different paths. But overall, a lot of us are influenced by what Nelson Maldonado Torres has called the “decolonial turn.”

It also seems important to mention that decolonial theory/practice benefits from engaging with philosophies of education. Perhaps one can say that efforts to decolonize subjectivity, to form decolonial imaginations, relations, knowledges, etc., are almost always to a degree an educative project. There is some great work by people like Eve Tuck and others with the Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society project that are making all sorts of important interventions that we can all learn from in this respect.

I should note here an important element of our work. The question of “aims” remains in flux, open to change. As we study and learn together, as we meet new people, encounter new ideas, as new members participate in the group, our aims are altered.

R: What kinds of activities does LAPES organize?

J: LAPES hosts an annual symposium, produces a peer-reviewed journal (Lápiz, http://lapiz.lapes.org/), translates texts into English, and puts on a variety of workshops and events. Our journal is open-access. We encourage anyone and everyone to attend our symposiums. The focus of LAPES events and publications has centered on decolonial theory, critical theory focused on neoliberal governance, and the pedagogies of resistance cultivated by social justice movements from across the Americas. In the near future, we are excited about the release of the translation by two LAPES members of Enrique Dussel’s The Pedagogics of Latin American Liberation (Punctum Books). We will also be hosting our next symposium on “Latin American Pedagogies of Resistance” at The California Institute of Integral Studies on May 18th-19th, 2017. And we are constantly trying to create relationships with people doing work (theoretical/praxis) in Latin America. It is important that we have encounters, study together, but also, that we share time together, meals, dance, and song. It seems that these types of activities are just as important as any academic activity for building solidarity.

R: What are some of the future steps for LAPES?

J: I alluded to this above, but the future remains open. That said, we’ll continue to study together, and we’ll continue to organize publications and public events. We are also growing and this presents some challenges. We’ll have to figure out ways to continue to work collectively, with limited hierarchy, avoid bureaucratic black holes. And I think one of our next projects will be to take a closer look at how one teaches Latin American philosophy of education, critical theory, decolonial theory. In other words, we need to keep asking ourselves questions like: “We are talking about Latin American philosophies of education, but how are these philosophies influencing our teaching practice?” “We are talking about decolonial theory, but are we teaching in decolonial ways?” I think building on our upcoming symposium, we might pass through a period in which we really focus on pedagogical practice. But again, someone old or new to the group might inspire a different direction, a particular event might demand a new focus.

R: How can people contact LAPES and get more information?

J: Our website is www.lapes.org. You can send an email to us from our site. You can also contact me directly at jazonwoz1@gmail.com.

R: Thank you for this opportunity to learn about The Latin American Philosophy of Education Society.

J: Thanks for the opportunity to talk my friend.

 

Jason Thomas Wozniak is founder and co-coordinator of The Latin American Philosophy of Education Society (LAPES) and contributor to the Núcleo de Estudos de Filosofias e Infâncias (NEFI) at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. He is currently finishing his dissertation (Teachers College, Columbia University) on education and indebted subjectivity while lecturing in the Humanities Department at San Jose State University.

Rafael Vizcaino is a PhD student in comparative literature at Rutgers University, where he studies decolonial thought. Rafael is a member of the review board of Lápiz, the journal of The Latin American Philosophy of Education Society (LAPES).