The Biggest Show on Earth

chilean_miners

Our Chilean correspondent Marcelo was in Copiapo when the 33 Chilean miners were lifted to safety. This is his report.

The incredible media frenzy has now passed, and Chile has returned to normal life. The global phenomenon is now a thing of the past and so too are the 24-hour transmissions dedicated to the 33 ‘heroes’ and to President Sebastian Pinera’s personal endeavour. Chile´s government proudly displays the ‘Fenix II’ capsule used to rescue the miners from the ‘gut of the earth’ in front of the presidential palace like a trophy of war. The San Jose Mine collapse ended happily for the 33 miners and their families, though the happiest of all are without a doubt the Chilean government, now rolling in popularity after an apparently well-planned and executed rescue mission.

However the real story behind the accident is a lot more sinister. The criminal negligence of the mining companies, the government propaganda machine and the complicity of the centre-left coalition together form an entangled web of deceit. The San Jose mining accident has brought to light the lack of safety precautions and the negligence of the multi-billion dollar mining industry in Chile. The worst culprits are the small scale mining companies, which in order to maximize their profits save on safety, putting the lives of the mine workers on the line. Daniel Sanderson, one of the 300 workers from the San Jose mine told the Chilean newspaper ‘UNO’ that ‘there were four ventilators and four jumbo drills with which the mineral was extracted. However, the person in charge of each shift would turn off the ventilators in order to turn on the drills, because if both worked simultaneously, the electrical system would drop’. They preferred to stop the ventilators than stop production, meaning the miners would have to endure the sweltering heat inside the mine. The bosses, said Sanderson, ‘saved a lot of money thanks to us, the workers’. The mine worker went on to mention that a year ago, a truck caught fire inside the mine, almost killing 17 miners. This incident, together with others, was not reported. While I talked with the miners families, many of them said that accidents, such as small scale collapses were an almost common occurrence in the San Jose mine, and they often led to loss of limbs. In July this year a worker lost a leg in a rockfall; The mining company San Esteban, owner of the San Josemine among others, has a appalling record of two deaths, 180 injuries and 52 serious accidents. The mine was last closed in 2007 after the death of a worker, and there is controversy as to who authorised the re-opening of the mine, with accusations that bribery was involved.

It was no secret to the experienced miners that a collapse was imminent. In their own words ‘when the mountain rumbles at midday it’s because it is very unstable’ and although the workers had informed the bosses, these did not take action. This is undoubtedly a situation of criminal negligence. The owners of the mines know that the state regulatory institutions are vastly underfunded and understaffed. At the time of the accident which trapped the 33 miners, Chile had fewer than 20 inspectors for an industry that employs 170,000 and contributes 40% of GDP. In comparison, in Ontario (Canada) where 22,000 miners work, there are 175 inspectors. Hardly surprising then that the mining companies abuse their power and increase their profits by putting their worker´s lives at risk, as they usually get away with it. There have been 31 mining deaths this year alone.

Spin mastery

The wheels of the huge propaganda machine started to turn during the first 24 hours of the accident. The President heard about it while on a visit to Colombia. On his return to Chile he immediately sent the Minster of Mining, Laurence Golborne, to head the rescue operation. From then on, it was all hands on. After 17 days of being trapped without a sign of life, rescue workers heard someone knocking on a pipe 700 metres away. It was a moment of huge happiness, verified soon after when the miners fixed a note of confirmation to the drill bore.

Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity, Minister Golborne himself untied that note from the bore. As the executive in charge of the rescue, he spent roughly 50 days of the 70-day operation at the site, immersed in even surprisingly mundane details of his task. The minister, previously CEO of an important retailer, demonstrated a remarkable ability to market his contributions, appearing almost daily before the cameras to update the world on the progress of the rescue mission.

The manipulation of the media, and the government´s hidden agenda went to cruel lengths. The note which read ‘all 33 of us are OK’ was retrieved at about 10:30am on 22 August, but no official would confirm or deny its existence to family members until the president arrived three hours later to make the announcement at a press conference. Of course the attention was on the president and his minister, making front page of the world media. Most journalists had never seen so much press in such a small area. By the end, there were 2000 people in 230 press teams, 180 of which were international all crowded into a small mountain valley in the middle of a desert. It’s hardly surprising that the appearance of the first miner (Florencio Avalos) has been compared to the impact created by Neil Armstrong´s famous first ‘step for mankind’ on the moon: One billion people around the world are said to have watched the event.

President Sebastian Pinera and Golborne personally greeted each miner as they were lifted to safety, waiting for a solid 24 hours. It was a show of support with a substantial payoff: it helped cement approval ratings that have soared during the rescue. A survey conducted by the Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Contemporanea (CERC) indicated that over the last two months, Golborne’s approval rating has soared to an unprecedented 87%, positioning him as a serious presidential candidate.

It is obvious to all that the government´s aim was to use the mining incident to increase its popularity, and also to cover up all other news stories. During the last two months, the national press was dominated by the news of the miners and the progress with their rescue, while a long-term hunger strike by Mapuche indigenous people demanding that their protests should not be subjected to former dictator General Pinochet’s terrorism laws was relegated into second or third place. But that was not all. On 12 October, the very same day that the miners were being rescued, the Chilean parliament tried to rush through a controversial law which limited the land and water rights of the indigenous communities. It was only just stopped after a strong protest on behalf of the indigenous groups.

While visiting the miners at hospital the day after the rescue, President Pinera announced a restructuring of the workers safety regulations, while some of his party members insist that the current regulation is adequate and that the law needs ‘just to be perfected’. It won´t be a surprise for anyone to hear that the 120-year-old mine that trapped the 33 miners may be opened once again in the future. After all, it is in the very nature of capitalism to make profits and if the wellbeing and safety of the workers is at risk, which in mining is especially true, then governments the world over may learn a few lessons from the masterfully spun Chilean plan.

National Assembly elections: PSUV majority reduced / FRFI 217 Oct/Nov 2010

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

A vitriolic campaign run by the opposition-dominated media has been successful in denying the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) its goal of retaining a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly following the elections on 26 September. However, the PSUV still has a substantial majority: as we go to press, it had secured 96 out of 165 seats, the United Democratic Roundtable (MUD) opposition alliance 62, with three seats going to non-aligned indigenous candidates. In 2005, the opposition had boycotted elections and had therefore been unable to prevent the National Assembly from agreeing changes to the constitution. Now, however, it is in a stronger position, and can for instance block approval of the national budget or appointments to the Supreme Court. The opposition won 12 out 15 seats in the state of Zulia, a reactionary stronghold bordering on Colombia. SAM McGILL reports.

The elections were the fourteenth time Venezuela had been to the ballot box in the history of the Bolivarian Revolution, and the first time the PSUV, headed by Hugo Chavez, had contested national elections. In preparation, the Party held open primary elections to select candidates; its First Extraordinary Congress, which closed on 24 April 2010, had defined its fundamental principles to include socialism and Marxism. Following the Congress, the PSUV organised itself into 111 campaign units and 36,600 patrols. Building grassroots participation, each patrol member has campaigned door-to-door in order to obtain ten votes for the PSUV from their own community.

In 2009 Venezuela was the most equal society in South America as measured by the GINI coefficient. Extreme poverty was halved from 19.5% in 1998 to 7.3% in 2009, and 12 million now benefit from state programmes in nutrition and health services. It is clear that for the majority of Venezuelans, the Bolivarian Revolution is worth defending, on the streets and at the ballot box.

Expropriations and nationalisations continue

Although winning the National Assembly elections will secure political space for the Bolivarian Revolution, it is still necessary to nationalise and socialise key areas of the economy. On 18 August, a reform of the Bank Law was passed, preventing media owners and stockholders from managing banks. This followed the expropriation of Banco Federal in June for failing to maintain minimum reserve levels and secure deposits. Nelson Mezerhane, owner of Banco Federal and shareholder in the notorious opposition TV channel ‘Globovision’, fled the country ahead of any charges and launched a US media campaign claiming to be a victim of political repression.

The National Assembly is also developing a new Law of Bank Activity and just recently passed the Stock Exchange Law, preventing stockbrokers trading in the national public debt. Expropriations have continued and, on 18 August, the fraudulent insurance company ‘Seguros la Previsora’ was taken over after embezzling premiums paid for by its customers. The company is now under the control of the new National Socialist Network of Insurance and Mixed Social Assistance. Where the private sector has failed, exposed as fraudulent, abusive and engaging in speculation, expropriation is shown to be essential given that 72.5% of finance is still privately owned.

Workers’ demands within the gas sector are driving further nationalisations. Since August, gas workers have been demanding nationalisation of their companies, calling for worker and community control. Employees want to follow in the footsteps of Vengas and Tropigas, nationalised in 2007 to become PDVSA Gas Comunal. The conditions in the new state-owned company are reported as much improved, with more monthly food tickets, more holidays and time off for marriage and childbirth.

The private gas sector has few health and safety guarantees and managers are trying to restrict workers from organising in trade unions. However, workers have been preparing themselves for control, forming committees and assemblies, drawing up collective contract proposals and educating themselves from the experiences of factories involved in the Socialist Guyana Plan that is developing workers’ control.

Developing participatory democracy

Promoting community participation, self organisation and education is essential to the Bolivarian Revolution. There are approximately 30,179 communal councils in Venezuela with an estimated 5,000 more in the process of formation. These are being organised into 184 communes such as the Victoria Socialista commune in Antimano, Caracas, which unites 17 communal councils and collectively offers a communal bank, free internet centre, library and subsidised food store. In a bid to ensure funding reaches communal councils and projects quickly and effectively, a system of Federal Government councils has been operational since May. Each Federal Government Council has elected 11 communal council representatives and nine social movement representatives, to make a total of 20 ‘popular power’ representatives.

The Federal Councils are directly involved in planning budgets and allocating resources, a vital weapon in the battle against narrow self-interest and undemocratic decisions. Recent changes to the functioning of the Sovereign People’s Bank will further allow communities to control their own finances. It now provides ‘socialised’ accounts where organised communities can deposit, withdraw, and borrow from community-operated ‘bank terminals’. The first ‘communal bank terminal’ opened recently in La Vega in Caracas, and the system is set to expand nationwide in the coming year. All of these developments act to advance skills as communities learn from experience and from each other. Clearly, a continued emphasis on education and raising political consciousness is essential in consolidating the gains of participatory democracy.

Violence: the opposition’s campaign and the government’s response

Unable to unite around a common political platform, the opposition focused its election campaign on distorting and misrepresenting violence in Venezuela, presenting it as something new and a result of the Bolivarian Revolution. This high-profile campaign was undoubtedly a product of huge US investment in Venezuela’s opposition. Currently 623 programmes are being funded by USAID; $4m has been channelled into journalism and private media promotion, and between $40-50m invested by international agencies this year alone. Pro-opposition newspapers and channels publicise gory images of bleeding bodies on a daily basis. On 28 August more than a thousand opposition supporters marched through the streets of Caracas with placards reading ‘No More Deaths’ and ‘Socialism Brings Death’.

Gun crime, homicide and violence are very real problems in Venezuela and Latin America as a whole. For decades, Venezuela has had 126 separate municipal and state police forces answerable only to the various mayors and governors of each of the country’s 23 states. This has allowed the police to act with near impunity, especially in states and municipalities which have opposition-aligned mayors and governors such as Miranda, Tachira and Zulia, which not only have the highest crime rates but also the largest presence of Colombian paramilitary forces. In 2006, in order to reverse the situation, 700,000 Venezuelans participated in National Police Reform Council conferences in each state. Following this, a National Bolivarian Police force (PNB) was created, and has begun working with communal councils. As part of this effort to build an accountable police force, the National Experimental University of Security has opened and will begin classes this October. Raising consciousness and challenging corruption, the course requires all cadets to study human rights and social inequalities.

The PNB is already having an impact. For example, Catia, a poor community in Caracas, had a murder rate of 50 for every 100,000 residents in December 2009. After six months of the PNB involvement with community organisations, this had dropped to 18 per 100,000. Across Caracas as a whole, areas targeted by the PNB have seen 60% reductions in murders and 59% reduction in robberies. Government sources report a national drop in homicide rates of 18%. The PNB has been working as part of the Bicentennial Security Deployment (Dibise) plan combining the National Guard, counter-narcotics and national police forces with the aim of combating drug-trafficking activity and reducing incidents of kidnapping, homicides and general crime. Since March 2010, Dibise has held over 300 meetings and workshops with community groups to promote collaboration against violent crime and has set up phone lines and a Twitter account to facilitate the reporting of crime. In spite of this the Ministry for Justice estimates 127,000 police officers are needed, whilst only 40,000 officers are currently trained and in service. On election day, 250,000 armed forces were deployed to ensure the safety of the polling stations and voters, an important precaution considering that in 2005, 2007 and 2008 armed groups of masked opposition supporters attempted to disrupt elections and prevent voters reaching the ballot box.

Distortions and hypocrisy: the international media coverage

Predictably, in the run-up to the election, the international media intensified its campaign against Venezuela. On 22 August, the New York Times led with Simon Romero’s headline ‘Venezuela, more deadly than Iraq, wonders why’. The Guardian’s Rory Carroll joined in, stating ‘Dozens die in Caracas each weekend, bloodletting which often exceeds Baghdad’s.’ Despite the fact that such headlines are foul hypocrisy and distract from the massacres perpetrated by the US and Britain in the imperialist occupation of Iraq, the international media were hell-bent on laying the blame for every death in Venezuela at the feet of Chavez and the government. One NGO, the ‘Venezuela Observatory of Violence’, run by right-wing opposition member Roberto Briceno Leon, uses the media to calculate the number of deaths. In turn the international media quotes the NGO as a baseline for reporting the murder rate in Venezuela.

Before the election of Chavez and the creation of the Bolivarian Revolution, state violence dominated Venezuela. Arbitrary detentions and extra-judicial killings were widespread as evidenced in the Cantaura (1982) and Yumare (1986) massacres, culminating in the Caracazo massacre (1989) where the army violently crushed popular resistance to IMF-imposed price increases. The death toll of the Caracazo massacre is still unknown yet many have put it above 3,000, and the event itself was significantly whitewashed and downplayed by the same international media which is suddenly showing such interest and dismay at the murder rates in Venezuela. As Julio Cesar Velasco, speaking of his experiences in a community in central Caracas, points out: ‘Before President Chavez the media reported one of every hundred killings.’ Now however, he argues, ‘the media reports every killing a hundred times’.

Rory Carroll and Simon Romero stand shoulder-to-shoulder with imperialism, covering up its exploits around the globe whilst attacking all attempts to create economic democracy and build an alternative. In this critical time, challenging the slander and poison spread by The Guardian and the BBC amongst others, remains central to our role in building solidarity with Venezuela from Britain.

Haiti: independence not dependence / FRFI 214 Apr / May 2010

FRFI 214 April / May 2010

Haiti has gone from the headlines but its people are still in great need. The Haitian government estimates the death toll of the 12 January earthquake at 230,000 people. Three million Haitians, a third of the population, have been severely affected by the earthquake and over 1.1 million Haitians are homeless, living in refugee camps. Two million people need food aid. Diarrhoea and urinary infections are rife, as is malnutrition. Heavy rains came in mid-March, threatening dengue fever and malaria.

US forces invaded Haiti in 1914, 1915-34, 1994, 2004 and 2010. By February there were 22,000 US military personnel stationed in or just off Haiti. Port-au-Prince airport flight logs show that when the US military took over military arrivals were given priority over medical ones. On 24 February the US closed its last field hospital in Haiti and in early March the US Navy’s hospital ship The Comfort sailed back to Baltimore. US troops were reduced to 8,000 by mid-March although the airport remained under US control.

While the US wound down its medical commitment to Haiti, Cuba increased its support. By 26 February, 1,429 Cuban-trained medical personnel were in Haiti. Among them were 637 graduates of Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine, including 400 Haitians. Within six weeks they had treated 95,000 Haitians and performed 4,500 operations. Cuban doctors had been in Haiti for ten years before the earthquake and will stay for as long as they are needed. Cuban President Raul Castro said that Haiti does not need a ‘fleeting and sudden gesture of “charity” ... [it] requires and deserves a major international effort for its reconstruction’. This internationalism is so far from the capitalists’ mentality and they see it as such a threat that they censor news of it from reaching the world. US CNN television described a Cuban doctor working in a hospital, where all the doctors are Cuban, as a Spaniard.

The role of aid

The US government’s USAID has been prohibited from donating to the Haitian state; instead it goes to US government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This is part of a deliberate strategy to ensure Haiti’s dependence on US imperialism – the US ruling class does not want another Cuba as a neighbour. Of $379 million in USHaiti after the earthquake, 42% goes on disaster assistance, 33% to the US military, 9% on food, 9% on food transport, less than 1% to the Haitian government and 0.5% to the Dominican Republic. aid offered to

Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela and ALBA deal with the Haitian government directly. Ecuador’s President Correa said it was essential to strengthen the Haitian government as the only constitutional and recognised authority through which aid can be channelled, ‘There cannot be any mini-republics or interventionism within Haiti.’

US President Obama appointed former presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush as co-chairs of the US government fundraising campaign. Clinton and Bush visited Haiti on 21 March. Accompanied by Haiti’s President Rene Preval, they toured a refugee camp surrounded by security agents, UN soldiers and Haitian police. 100 supporters of former President Aristide protested outside the national palace, burning tyres and a US flag, chanting ‘Return Aristide! Down with Preval! Down with Bush!’ Aristide was deposed by the Bush government in 2004 flying him into exile, where he remains. His Lavalas party is banned from standing in elections.

Clinton offered the prospect of investment in the garment industry, saying ‘we can create 100,000 jobs in short order’ and duty free access to the US. China dominates US clothing imports. The intention is to undercut Chinese wages with cheap Haitian labour. On 31 March New York hosts a donors’ conference to set up a Recovery Commission. Haiti’s government says it needs $11.5 billion for reconstruction. The Commission will allocate votes deciding the use of aid on the basis of contributions: $100 million buys a voting seat and creditors who give $200 million get voting rights. US and European imperialists expect to decide what to do with the aid. However, VenezuelaHaiti’s debt so it will also have a say. has cancelled $200 million of

One day the Haitian people will decide on their own future and they will do so with the help of Cuba, Venezuela and the ALBA countries. Haitians continue to demonstrate at the failure of aid to reach them. They marched on the US-held airport only to be confronted by club-wielding police. We urge you to donate to the Cuban medical relief effort at  http://www.medicc.org

Trevor Rayne

Haïti: Évacuez les troupes!

Annulez la dette !

Mercredi 20 janvier 2010, 12h 38

L'ampleur du désastre haïtien se révèle peu à peu. Le séisme du 12 janvier a causé près de 200 000 morts et la destruction de Port-au-Prince, la capitale. Les anti-impérialistes doivent maintenant dénoncer les responsables de ce désastre. Bien que personne ne puisse empêcher un tremblement de terre, les états ont les moyens de limiter l'ampleur des dégâts et de mettre en place des infrastructures permettant une réponse efficace. En Haïti, l'absence de prévention et de moyens d'action a eu des conséquences dramatiques. Cependant, la principale responsabilité de ce désastre incombe bien moins à l'état haïtien, dramatiquement appauvri, qu'aux responsables de sa paupérisation : l'impérialisme de manière générale, et plus particulièrement l'impérialisme américain. Haïti est l'exemple typique d'un état sous dépendance étrangère, constamment contrarié et mis en difficulté par ceux qui souhaitent garder son territoire et son peuple sous contrôle.

Ce fut pourtant le premier état indépendant d'Amérique Latine et des Caraïbes, le seul à naître d'une révolte d'esclaves. Toujours est-il que 21 ans après sa constitution, l'élite dirigeante de ce petit pays accepta de payer une indemnité s'élevant à 21 milliards de dollars actuels à ses anciens maîtres français. Une compensation à ses ex-locataires en somme. Dès lors, « la perle des Antilles » se trouva sous domination économique, de la France d'abord, des États-Unis ensuite. En 1914, les troupes américaines s'emparèrent des réserves d'or du gouvernement et les placèrent à la National City Bank de New York. S'en suivirent une série de coups d'états et l'occupation du territoire par les États-Unis en juillet 1915. Cette mesure qui visait à anticiper et éviter de prétendus troubles sociopolitiques aboutit à la dispersion des forces de police haïtiennes. A leur place, s'installèrent des forces de l'ordre dirigées par des officiers étasuniens. Les Marines réprimèrent dans le sang les révoltes paysannes. Leur départ en 1934 ne suffit pas à libérer la Banque Nationale de l'emprise de l'US Export-Import Bank. Cette mainmise dura jusqu'en 1947. C'est à cette date que le gouvernement haïtien finit de payer sa dette à la France, en contrepartie de son indépendance.

De 1957 à 1971, Duvalier père instaura une dictature que son fils, « Bébé Doc », maintint en place. Le régime haïtien devint synonyme de brutalité, celle-ci étant encouragée par les États-Unis. Ils formèrent en effet le bataillon des Léopards en vue de contenir et de contrer les insurgés. On estime à 50 000 le nombre d'Haïtiens qui furent tués en 30 ans, c'est-à-dire jusqu'à la fuite de Jean-Claude Duvalier, le fils, suite à une insurrection populaire en 1986. En décembre 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide fut élu président avec 67% des voix, grâce à un programme de réformes sociales. Face à lui, le candidat soutenu par les États-Unis ne put réunir que 14% des suffrages. Le président Aristide fut renversé 6 mois après son élection, lors d'un coup d'état soutenu par les Etats-Unis. S'ensuivit une campagne de terreur qui causa entre 3 000 et 5 000 morts. Ce n'est qu'en 1994 que Aristide put reprendre son poste et achever son mandat. Pour cela il dû accepter de privatiser l'économie et de lever l'ensemble des droits de douane. L'agriculture de l'île se trouva asphyxiée par les importations massives de riz et de sucre américains fortement subventionnées Ainsi, alors que dans les années 1980 Haïti assurait son autosuffisance alimentaire, en 2008, il était devenu le troisième pays importateur de riz américain, à raison de 240 000 tonnes annuelles. Celui-ci était subventionné à hauteur de 1 milliard de dollars par an.

Aristide fut réélu en 2000, avant d'être à nouveau renversé en 2004, lors d'un coup d'état orchestré par le gouvernement de la puissance nord-américaine. Il venait effectivement de demander réparation à cette dernière. L'armée de l'Oncle Sam le kidnappa et l'emmena en République centrafricaine. Depuis lors, des troupes des Nations Unies assurent une présence permanente sur le territoire haïtien. Cette domination continue sur le pays en a fait le plus pauvre de l'hémisphère nord. En effet, plus de la moitié des Haïtiens survit avec moins de 1 $ par jour et 72 % de la population  se contente de moins de 2 $ quotidiens ; le salaire annuel moyen est de 600 $. L’indice de développement humain d’Haïti est le 150ème sur 177 pays classés. Quant à l'espérance de vie, elle atteint péniblement les 52 ans.

On estime à 250 000 le nombre d'enfants en situation de quasi-esclavage tant leurs familles sont pauvres. De fait, 50 % de la population est entretenue par les millions d'Haïtiens émigrés, qui ont fuit la misère noire de leur patrie. Or, on sait que la moitié des  richesses appartient à 1 % de la population. La crise agricole a provoqué la destruction de 98 % des forêts du pays. Par ailleurs, 60 % des bâtiments de Port-au-Prince n'étaient pas conformes aux normes anti-sismiques, ce qui explique qu’ils se soient écroulés comme des châteaux de cartes. Ce sont les bidonvilles en périphérie de la ville qui ont été les plus sévèrement touchés par la catastrophe.

Au cours des siècles, Haïti n'a cessé d'être dépouillé de ses richesses. Quand, en 2006, le pays bénéficia de l’Initiative en faveur des pays pauvres très endettés (PPTE), sa dette extérieure totale s'élevait à 1,337 milliards de dollars. En juin 2009, quand il sortit de ce programme, sa dette atteignait les 1,884 milliards de dollars. En tant qu'envoyé spécial des Nations Unies en Haïti, l'ex-président, Bill Clinton, devait s'assurer de la continuité des politiques américaines dans la république créole. Il prévoyait d’établir au nord de celle-ci un parc d'attraction pour touristes, à l'image de Cuba dans les années 1950.

Le nombre de victimes du séisme résulte principalement de l'absence d'infrastructure chargée de gérer les catastrophes naturelles. La déforestation est quant à elle la cause de l'ampleur  des dégâts  causés par les ouragans qui ont frappé l'île. En 2008, ils causèrent la mort de 800 Haïtiens et privèrent de leur toit 1 million d'habitants. Ces mêmes ouragans tuèrent 8 personnes à Cuba. Comme Haïti ne peut gérer de telles catastrophes naturelles, elles provoquent de véritables drames humains et économiques.

Le séisme de janvier 2010 n'a rien changé aux politiques de domination exercées en Haïti. En effet, en réponse à cette catastrophe le président Obama s'assura d’abord du contrôle du principal aéroport de l'île et de l’envoi de 3 500 soldats. Il lui faudra une semaine de plus pour un navire-hôpital. Cette mainmise sur l'aéroport allait compromettre l’arrivée de l'aide médicale venue d'autres pays. Comble du grotesque : Obama a recruté deux ex-présidents, Bill Clinton et George W Bush, pour aider à la collecte de fonds privés. Les deux hommes étaient, respectivement, responsable du coup d'état de 1994 contre Aristide et responsable de la réitération de cette opération en 2004. Qui plus est, qui a oublié la gestion catastrophique de l'ouragan Katrina à la Nouvelle-Orléans par George W en 2005 ? Obama a promis une aide de 100 millions de dollars à Haïti ; il aurait bien mieux aidé le pays en prononçant l'annulation de sa dette extérieure.

Mais cela n'était pas au programme. La priorité du gouvernement américain est d'éviter les répercussions de cette catastrophe sur sa politique en Haïti. La république créole est, une fois de plus, sous le coup d’une occupation militaire. Celle-ci est rendue acceptable par les communiqués de médias racistes relatant pillages et affrontements dans un contexte d’effondrement de la loi et de l'ordre ; les observateurs sur le terrain donnent une version des faits bien différente.

L'Amérique impérialiste est bien consciente de l'importance de l'aide offerte par Cuba et les pays de l'ALBA (alternative bolivare pour les Amériques), et cela sans rien exiger en retour. Le jour du séisme, il y avait déjà 350 personnels de santé cubains à l'œuvre en Haïti, en plus des docteurs haïtiens formés dans les écoles de médecine cubaines. Cuba leur envoya rapidement des renforts. Les États-Unis ne peuvent offrir aucune aide de ce type. Cuba a autorisé la puissance impérialiste à traverser son espace aérien national pour évacuer les blessés. L'ex-secrétaire assistante à la défense Lawrence Korb a d'ailleurs déclaré : « Nous devrions réfléchir un instant au fait que chez nos voisins cubains se trouvent quelques-uns des meilleurs médecins au monde ... Nous devrions pouvoir les acheminer à Haïti à bord de nos avions … »

La tragédie qui a frappé Haïti est celle d'un pays opprimé et dépendant qui n'a pas pu se donner les moyens de faire face à un tel désastre. Dans ses Réflexions récentes, Fidel Castro mentionne : « La population mondiale n'est pas uniquement menacée par des catastrophes naturelles comme celle qui a touché Haïti et qui n'est qu'un pâle reflet de ce qui pourrait se produire dans un contexte de bouleversement climatique. Or, la question les changements climatiques a été tournée en ridicule, bafouée et déconsidérée à Copenhague. » Il attira ensuite l'attention sur un autre point essentiel : « La coopération saura-t-elle résister bien longtemps au chauvinisme, aux intérêts mesquins et au mépris des autres nations ? » Cuba, qui est organisé selon les principes socialistes, a pu préserver son indépendance, ce qui lui a permis de mettre en place les infrastructures nécessaires à la gestion de telles catastrophes. Une heure après le séisme, ce sont 30 000 personnes qui furent évacués de Baracoa vers la côte est, par crainte d'un tsunami. Face à l'aide désintéressée de Cuba, les États-Unis n'ont à offrir que l'envoi 3 500 soldats et la certitude d'une nouvelle occupation de l'île. Le contraste entre impérialisme et socialisme est frappant.

Libérez Haïti !

Évacuez les troupes !

Annulez la dette !

The 1999-2000 Cochabamba Water War / FRFI 213 Feb / Mar 2010

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

On 7 December 2009, President Evo Morales was re-elected president of Bolivia by a landslide. Less than 10 days later, alongside Venezuelan President Chavez, he upset the imperialists’ hope for the Copenhagen negotiations when he stated in a plenary session that not only was capitalism responsible for climate change, but that the rich nations should make climate reparations to the poor. Ten years ago it was unthinkable that a Bolivian president should have such international influence. But that was before the 1999/2000 Cochabamba Water War, an event which together with Chavez’s election in December 1998 turned the tide against imperialism in Latin America, and led eventually to Morales’ first presidential victory in December 2005. ROBERT CLOUGH reports.

The background to the Water War was an agreement by the neo-liberal Bolivian government, under Hugo Banzer, to privatise the water supply in Cochabamba province, to meet a condition set by the World Bank for the extension of $600 million debt relief. The new owner was a consortium run by US multinational Bechtel, Aguas del Tunari, which was the sole bidder for a contract that guaranteed an annual profit rate of 16% over its proposed 40-year life. At the same time the Bolivian congress passed Law 2029 which handed control of all irrigation, water collection systems and wells in Cochabamba to Aguas del Tunari. With only half the population of one million connected to a mains water supply, the wells were vital; many of them had been built by small cooperatives. Law 2029 also allowed the consortium to install water meters in every household at consumers’ expense. The terms of the law were so broad that they essentially passed the ownership of rainwater to Aguas del Tunari as soon as it hit the ground in the province. Prominent among supporters of the privatisation was the very wealthy Mayor of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes, because it would finance the construction of a dam from which he and many of his political cronies would benefit.

The privatisation of the Cochabamba water system was part of a wholesale privatisation of Bolivian industry and resources which had started in the mid-1980s with the New Economic Policy (NEP) under the direction of planning minister Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, later to become president on two occasions. Under the NEP, gas and oil resources, electricity generation, tin mines, rail and air transport were sold off at rock-bottom prices. The results were devastating for the poor: massive unemployment – 20,000 miners alone lost their jobs – and a bonanza for the rich. State income collapsed: annual revenue from gas fell from $3-400 million to less than $100 million. By 1990, per capita GDP had fallen by nearly 20% below its 1980 level and was a mere $836. From the late 1990s, however, popular resistance to imperialism’s onslaught started as coca farmers began to organise against the US-funded and organised coca-eradication programme, particularly in the Chapare region to the south of Cochabamba.

The start of the Water War

The first signs of opposition to Bechtel appeared within a few weeks of the contract being signed in September 1999. In early November, farmers and irrigators organised a 24-hour blockade of Cochabamba city to protest against the handing over of their resources to the consortium. On

12 November, farmers’ and workers’ organisations came together with environmentalist groups to form the Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua

y de la Vida (Coalition for the Defence of Water and Life). The initial focus of the Coordinadora was on the consortium’s announcement of a 35% increase in water charges which would make working class families pay an average of $20 a month where the minimum wage was only $60, and the average wage $100 a month.

When new bills arrived in January 2000, many had doubled and tripled, hitting the middle class and local industry as well as the poor. A Bechtel official said that if people didn’t pay their water bills, their water would be turned off. The Coordinadora organised its first major protest, a city-wide general strike which stopped the city for four days. Roads were blockaded, the airport shut down and thousands of protestors filled the central square. After initially refusing to negotiate with the protestors, the Cochabamba governor agreed to press the government to rescind the increases; the Coordinadora gave him a three-week deadline. When by the beginning of February nothing had happened, the Coordinadora organised a peaceful demonstration to the city centre. It was attacked by police drafted in from other Bolivian cities. 200 were arrested and dozens injured in clashes which lasted two days. The outcome was greater determination. The principal spokesperson for the Coordinadora, Oscar Olivera, later wrote: ‘The greatest achievement of the February days was that we lost our sense of fear.’

The April days and victory

Protests and mass assemblies continued throughout March 2000, joined by Chapare coca growers who had been fighting US-led eradication programmes; their president was Evo Morales. The Coordinadora organised a referendum. 96% of those voting called for the termination of the contract. Popular assemblies discussed tactics and strategies; their proposals were put to city-wide cabildos, mass open meetings which could involve over 50,000 people, for discussion and agreement. The whole of the population of Cochabamba, apart from the rich, had been mobilised against the contract. By the beginning of April, demonstrations had spread to other cities in the country.

On 4 April, a cabildo demanded the contract be cancelled within 24 hours; the next day, tens of thousands occupied the central plaza and refused to move until they achieved their demand. Province-wide road-blocks organised by campesinos cut off the city from the rest of the country. On 6 April, the government declared martial law and tried to hunt down the Coordinadora leaders who all went underground. Tens of thousands of people were involved in hand-to-hand battles with police and soldiers. ‘The poorest young people were always on the frontline, throwing stones at the police’, one participant recollected. ‘They are people who have a tradition of fighting because they have been ignored, marginalised, pushed around ... They inspired us to move forward.’ On 8 April, Captain Robinson Iriarte, who had been trained in the infamous School of the Americas, shot dead a 19-year-old student, Victor Daza, who was not participating in the protest. The deliberate nature of the act was picked up on camera and broadcast nationally, fuelling the protests which were now raging night and day throughout the city and province. The position of the coalition government had become untenable: two days later, it capitulated. Bechtel had been kicked out of Cochabamba.

The Cochabamba Water War showed that popular forces organised in a democratic and revolutionary manner could defeat neo-liberalism and imperialism. From that point on in Bolivia, the anti-imperialist social movements were in the ascendancy, and the ruling class in retreat. In December 2002, Evo Morales was narrowly defeated by Sanchez de Lozada in presidential elections after a crude intervention by the US ambassador. The following October, despite ruthless repression costing the lives of 70 people, Lozada was forced to flee the country in the face of a mass mobilisation insisting on the re-nationalisation of the country’s huge gas resources. In June 2005, his replacement Carlos Mesa was also forced out of office. Six months later Evo Morales was president. The Cochabamba Water War served as an inspiration for social movements across Latin America, in Argentina, Ecuador and Peru.