Category Archives: Venezuela

as the empire strikes back in Venezuela, our news media does its bidding (again)

Background

A 2003 documentary entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Spanish: La revolución no será transmitida) provides a fascinating insight and behind the scenes account of the US-backed but failed Venezuelan coup of April 2002. Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain, who had been given direct access to Hugo Chavez with the intention only of making a fly-on-the-wall biography, suddenly finding themselves trapped in the midst of quite extraordinary political turmoil and turnaround:

*

If at first you don’t succeed…

NEUMANN: Thank you very much. Vanessa Neumann, Asymmetrica. I am a dual America and Venezuelan citizen. So here goes my question, because we’re not covering anything about Western Hemisphere in this forum. Obviously Maduro in Venezuela regime change looks to be, we hope imminent or spiraling down until we either become Cuba in two weeks time or – and die forever or there’s a change in 60 to 90 days. I’m interested in your open assessment on American interests in or threats from Venezuela and which of course has Russian, Iranian et cetera interests and – for the region. Thank you, sir.

POMPEO: So I appreciate the question. At any time you have a country as large and with the economic capacity of a country like Venezuela, America has a deep interest in making sure that it is stable, as democratic as possible. And so, we’re working hard to do that,

I am always careful when we talk about South and Central America and the CIA, there’s a lot of stories.

(Laughter)

POMPEO: So I want to be careful with what I say but suffice to say, we are very hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there, so that we can communicate to our State Department and to others. The Colombians, I was just down in Mexico City and in Bogota a week before last talking about this very issue trying to help them understand the things they might do so that they can get a better outcome for their part of the world and our part of the world.1

This exchange between Mike Pompeo, Head of the CIA, and businesswoman Vanessa Neumann took place during a Q&A session at a security forum organised by the foundation funded Aspen Institute ‘think tank’. It is an admission that the US is once again covertly engaged in a regime change operation in “America’s backyard”.

Click here to read more in an article entitled “CIA chief hints agency is working to change Venezuela government” published by The Independent on July 25th.

*

Whenever the media fixates on street protests in far-flung corners of the world (especially regions that it ordinarily overlooks) it is advisable to be on your guard. Check the vocabulary and consider honestly whether the coverage betrays an unspoken allegiance of any kind. Ask the obvious question: is there a colour revolution taking place?

Consider, for instance, how comparable events at home would be described, or happening elsewhere in the western world, say on the streets of other allied powers, and if, for instance, ‘protesters’ began torching barricades or hurling Molotov cocktails at those police lines? At what point would levels of violence in Britain, Europe and America be condemned and police retaliation deemed proportionate and necessary? Now consider this:

A police helicopter launched grenades at Venezuela’s supreme court building on Tuesday evening following months of protests against the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro.

Maduro said “terrorists” had lobbed two grenades that failed to detonate. Some reports put the number of grenades higher. Local media suggested a former police intelligence officer had carried out the attack.

This is how Guardian journalist Virginia López decided to report an armed assault against Venezuela’s Interior Ministry and Supreme Court little more than a month ago on June 28th. So imagine for a moment if a similar attack were carried anywhere inside Europe, America, Canada, Australia, Israel, or even inside one of our despotic client Gulf States – would apostrophes be inserted around the word “terrorists” or Maduro’s reference to the incident as an “act of terrorism”? By any definition, the unlawful use of violence in the pursuit of political aims is an act of terrorism.

Shortly afterwards, video was released (embedded above) featuring former captain in the CICPC, Venezuela’s intelligence and investigative body, Oscar Pérez, the alleged pilot of the helicopter. Flanked by masked men with assault rifles, Pérez read out a statement: “We are nationalists, patriots, and institutionalists. This fight is not with the rest of the state forces, it is against the tyranny of this government”. Details are given in the Guardian piece and commented upon as follows:

Later, information minister Ernesto Villegas read a statement accusing the helicopter of firing 15 shots against the interior ministry as a reception was taking place for 80 people. It then flew a short distance to the government-stacked supreme court, which was in session, and launched what he said were four Israeli-made grenades of “Colombian origin”, two of them against national guardsmen protecting the building.

The president of the high court said there were no injuries from the attack and that the area was still being surveyed for damages. Villegas said security forces were being deployed to apprehend Pérez, who the government accused – without giving evidence – of working under the instructions of the CIA and the US embassy in Caracas, as well as to recover the helicopter.

Many of Maduro’s opponents accused the president on social media of orchestrating an elaborate ruse to justify a crackdown against Venezuelans seeking to block his plans to rewrite the constitution.2

Thus, official government accusations of CIA involvement are presented as “without evidence”, whereas opposition accusations on social media rumouring that Maduro was “orchestrating an elaborate ruse” go unchallenged. In this fashion, the Guardian is rather quick to divert attention from US meddling for which there is a great deal of historical precedence, and perfectly happy to accuse the Venezuelans of orchestrating a ‘false flag’ attack without any supporting evidence. In fact, in a follow up article later the same day, López writes:

But on Wednesday, speculation was growing that the incident may have been staged by a government eager to divert attention from three months of protests, fueled by mounting anger at the country’s chronic lack of basic foods and medicines.

Julio Borges, president of the opposition-led assembly, said that he and other opponents of Maduro were still analysing the events.

“It seems like a movie,” he said. “Some people say it is a set-up, some that it is real … but I summarize it like this: a government is decaying and rotting, while a nation is fighting for dignity,” he added.

It soon emerged that Perez had an active Instagram account with images of him posing in fatigues with a German shepherd dog, horse riding, and scuba diving while clutching a rifle. The account has since been deleted.

He also has an eclectic CV which included a starring role in a 2015 action movie called Suspended Death in which he played an investigator rescuing a kidnap victim.

Beneath the strapline “some speculate that Oscar Perez’s actions were an orchestrated distraction from the Maduro regime’s further consolidation of power”, the same piece continues:

But skeptics questioned how an aircraft was allowed to circle above such sensitive government buildings in a city where even drones are illegal.

No other members of the police or armed forces have joined or expressed support for Perez.

“If the incident of the helicopter is a hoax, it means the regime is desperate, and if it was a coup attempt and no one defended it, then it’s even worse,” said one Twitter user.

Adding:

And the attack came hours after one of the worst outbreaks of looting since protests erupted in April. For most of Monday night and Tuesday the city of Maracay – which is home to one of the country’s most important military bases – was wracked by a wave of unrest in which at least 64 shops were sacked. It is unclear why the National Guard was unable to contain the rioting.

Before finally concluding:

“Regardless of whether this was a hoax or an act by a lunatic, the impact is the same: it suggests that the government is entering a new stage and willing to escalate violence,” said Phil Gunson, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“It seems the government is trying to find the right level of repression that can put the ‘genie back in the bottle’.” 3

Apparently then – according to the Guardian as it quotes directly from Soros funded International Crisis Group 4– it doesn’t actually matter whether this attack with grenades against the government and the Supreme Court was a hoax or not because “the impact is the same”. Either way, Maduro and his ‘regime’ is to blame!

In February 2014, Abby Martin spoke on RT’s “Breaking the Set” with Eva Golinger, author of the “Chavez Code”, about the Western backed ‘resistance groups’ and how there is a coup already underway in Venezuela:

*

It’s the economic war, stupid!

The political and economic crisis facing Venezuela is being endlessly pointed to as proof of the superiority of the free market.

Images and portrayals of Venezuelans rioting in the streets over high food costs, empty grocery stores, medicine shortages, and overflowing garbage bins are the headlines, and the reporting points to socialism as the cause.

The Chicago Tribune published a Commentary piece titled: “A socialist revolution can ruin almost any country.” A headline on Reason’s Hit and Run blog proclaims: “Venezuelan socialism still a complete disaster.” The Week’s U.S. edition says: “Authoritarian socialism caused Venezuela’s collapse.”

So begins an article by Caleb T. Maupin published a year ago. Maupin continues:

In reality, millions of Venezuelans have seen their living conditions vastly improved through the Bolivarian process. The problems plaguing the Venezuelan economy are not due to some inherent fault in socialism, but to artificially low oil prices and sabotage by forces hostile to the revolution.

Starting in 2014, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia flooded the market with cheap oil. This is not a mere business decision, but a calculated move coordinated with U.S. and Israeli foreign policy goals. Despite not just losing money, but even falling deep into debt, the Saudi monarchy continues to expand its oil production apparatus. The result has been driving the price of oil down from $110 per barrel, to $28 in the early months of this year. The goal is to weaken these opponents of Wall Street, London, and Tel Aviv, whose economies are centered around oil and natural gas exports.

Venezuela remains a deeply divided country and there is no doubt that the government under Maduro is at fault in part for the current economic crisis, but as Maupin points out, the opposition is extremely fractured and many do not wish to see a return to the rampant neo-liberalism of the pre-Chavez era:

The artificially low oil prices have left the Venezuelan state cash-starved, prompting a crisis in the funding of the social programs that were key to strengthening the United Socialist Party.

It is odd that the mainstream press blames “socialism” for the food problems in Venezuela, when the food distributors remain in the hands of private corporations. As Venezuelan political analyst Jesus Silva told me recently: “Most food in Venezuela is imported by private companies, they ask for dollars subsidized by the government oil sales to do that; they rarely produce anything or invest their own money.”

According to Silva, the economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the U.S., in addition to the oil crisis, have made it more difficult for the Venezuelan government to pay the private food importing companies in U.S. dollars. In response, the food companies are “running general sabotage.”

“Venezuela’s economy depends on oil sales. Now that oil prices are dropping down, the challenge is to get other sources of economic income,” he explained. “Meanwhile, the opposition is garnering electoral support due to the current economic crisis.” […]

While a clear majority cast a voto castigo (“punishment vote”) in December, punishing the government for mismanaging the crisis, the Maduro administration has a solid core of socialist activists who remain loyal to the Bolivarian project. Across Venezuela, communes have been established. Leftist activists live together and work in cooperatives. Many of them are armed and organized in “Bolivarian Militias” to defend the revolution.

Even some of the loudest critics of the Venezuelan government admit that it has greatly improved the situation in the country, despite the current hardships.

In December, I spoke to Glen Martinez, a radio host in Caracas who voted for the opposition. He dismissed the notion that free market capitalism would ever return to Venezuela. As he explained, most of the people who voted against the United Socialist Party — himself included — are frustrated with the way the current crisis is being handled, but do not want a return to the neoliberal economic model of the 1999s.

He said the economic reforms established during the Chavez administration would never be reversed. “We are not the same people we were before 1999,” Martinez insisted.5

Click here to read the full article entitled “US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, Is Tearing Venezuela Apart”

Last November Al Jazeera invited Economist and former Venezuelan Planning Minister Ricardo Hausmann to debate with former Hugo Chavez adviser Temir Porras on “UpFront”:

*

The Empire never gives up

‘Dictator’ is the epithet of choice the corporate media dishes out whenever it wishes to denigrate foreign leaders not fully subordinate to western interests. Likewise, ‘regime’ operates as a preferred synonym to denounce the members of every government hostile to Anglo-American imperialism. Hugo Chavez was routinely branded a ‘dictator’ even though he fought and won more elections than any other contemporary world leader. Like Chavez before him, Nicolás Maduro is the elected head of a democratic state.

Conversely, the media has its blinkers firmly attached whenever exalting those in opposition to a targeted ‘regime’. ‘Rioters’ become more benign ‘protesters’, and ‘insurgents’, ‘separatists’ or ‘terrorists’ are elevated to the level of ‘freedom fighters’. Thus in Libya, the murderous salafist gangs who lynched black Africans were portrayed as the valiant ‘rebels’. In Ukraine the brown-shirted brigades that gathered under wolfsangels and swastikas were heralded as Europhile crusaders for democracy – at one point the BBC actually embedded one of its journalists within the ranks of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. And in Syria, the al-Qaeda affiliated ‘rescue workers’ known as the White Helmets became the ‘indomitable first responders’ of an Oscar-winning documentary – they have also been promoted by human rights organisations including Amnesty International. Indeed, with the arrival of ISIS, some purportedly less savage though self-proclaimed al-Qaeda militia have come in for more favourable mainstream coverage – take for instance this BBC Newsnight report.

Yet the propaganda coverage of the crisis suddenly engulfing Venezuela is arguably more egregious again. For unlike each of the cases cited above, the West is not (at least not officially) engaged in any conflict inside Venezuela. Indeed, the fog of war offers no excuse for comparable lapses in journalistic integrity. Furthermore, recent history ought to make all journalists extremely cautious when it comes to covert US-led intervention in Latin America and suspicious of opposition claims in Venezuela especially given what we know about the last failed coup. Here is a New York Times editorial the day after Hugo Chavez was kidnapped and military junta briefly installed in April 2002:

UPRISING IN VENEZUELA: THE GOVERNMENT; VENEZUELA’S CHIEF FORCED TO RESIGN; CIVILIAN INSTALLED

By JUAN FORERO APRIL 13, 2002

A transitional government headed by a leading businessman replaced President Hugo Chavez today, hours after military officers forced him to resign. It was a sudden end to the turbulent three-year reign of a mercurial strongman elected on promises to distance his country from the United States while uprooting Venezuela’s old social order —

Pedro Carmona Estanga, the head of Venezuela’s most important business association, was installed as interim president at a ceremony at 6 p.m. He promised that the new government would adhere to “a pluralistic vision, democratic, civil and ensuring the implementation of the law, the state of law.”

Elections will be held within a year, officials said. The Bush administration laid the blame for Mr. Chavez’s overthrow firmly with the ousted leader. Officials portrayed the ouster as a victory for democracy —

And here is the New York Times offering a retraction (of sorts) the following day:

Popular Uprising Allows Chavez to Reclaim Venezuelan Presidency

By GINGER THOMPSON and JUAN FORERO APRIL 14, 2002

Two days after one huge political movement forced President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela out of power, a countervailing uprising that swept like wildfire through the slums surrounding the capital carried the populist leader back to the presidency today.

Once in power, the short-lived interim government, led by a prominent businessman, Pedro Carmona Estanga, dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding.

The new government announced that Mr. Chavez had resigned from power. But word began to spread mostly through international television news reports that Mr. Chavez had not resigned. His followers in slums and poor towns across the country began to worry for his safety. They took to the streets to demand that Mr. Chavez be freed. And they won.

The extracts above are drawn from a well-sourced and recent article entitled “Venezuela Regime Change Project Revealed” written by David William Pear and published on August 6th. Note that even after the coup which admittedly “dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding” has failed, the NYT continues to describe the criminals behind the coup as a “short-lived interim government”.

As Pear says:

The Bush Administration, the New York Times and the mainstream media showed no remorse or shame—the U.S. government continued to watch and undermine the Chavista movement, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Socialism, in any way that it can. The U.S. continues to be involved and fund a long-term regime change project. The Empire never gives up. 6

Click here to read a post entitled “the Latin American Spring they never mention” published to mark the death of Hugo Chavez in March 2013.

On May 11th political activist and analyst, Tariq Ali, discussed the worsening situation in Venezuela on TeleSUR:

*

1 From official transcript of “Aspen Security Forum 2017: The View From Langley” on July 20, 2017, published by The Aspen Institute. http://aspensecurityforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-View-from-Langley.pdf

2 From an article entitled “Venezuela: police helicopter attacks supreme court with grenades” written by Virginia López, published in the Guardian on June 28, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/28/venezuela-supreme-court-grenade-police-helicopter

3 From an article entitled “Patriot, or government plant? Rumors fly over Venezuela helicopter attack” written by Virginia López, published in the Guardian on June 28, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/28/venezuela-helicopter-attack-oscar-perez-rumors

4 Board Members of ICG include Zbigniew Brzezinski, Wesley Clark and George Soros. Soros, Chairman of the Open Society Institute (listed in the donors below), also sits on the ICG Executive Committee.

Foundation and private sector donors include The Atlantic Philanthropies; Carnegie Corporation of New York; Ford Foundation; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Flora Hewlett Foundation; Henry Luce Foundation; John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; John Merck Fund; Charles Stewart Mott Foundation; Open Society Institute; Ploughshares Fund; Sigrid Rausing Trust; Sasakawa Peace Foundation; Sarlo Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund; United States Institute of Peace; and Fundacão Oriente.

From Sourcewatchhttp://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/International_Crisis_Group#Foundation_and_private_sector_donors_include

5 From an article entitled “US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, Is Tearing Venezuela Apart” written by Caleb T. Maupin, published in Mint Press News on July 12, 2016. http://www.mintpressnews.com/us-led-economic-war-not-socialism-tearing-venezuela-apart/218335/

6 From an article entitled “Venezuela Regime Change Project Revealed” written by David William Pear, published in Off-Guardian on August 6, 2017. https://off-guardian.org/2017/08/06/venezuela-regime-change-project-revealed/

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, did you see?, Venezuela

one month after Ukraine’s revolution: reviewing the hype, the hypocrisy and the hysteria

During the last month or so, filtering out the lies, the half-truths and the outright nonsense in search of any semblance of truth about what’s happening in Ukraine has been an exceptionally tricky business. Propaganda has been flooding in from all sides (certainly if we were prepared to look from all sides) and the bias in the coverage has been as unstinting as it remains deliberately bamboozling.

So what can we now say with any guaranteed certainty about the situation in Ukraine? Well, firstly, and most obviously, there has been a revolution, although in saying this we should remember that this was an uprising – an insurrection – which ended in a bloodbath.

The only other uncontested facts are really these: that when the democratically elected though hugely corrupt government in Kiev was overthrown and replaced by a self-elected transitional government, Viktor Yanukovych, the former President of Ukraine immediately fled to Moscow and declared the new authorities illegitimate. Following this, Putin then deployed forces in the Crimea to “restore law and order”. A military offensive that has been widely interpreted as an act of extreme aggression, even a declaration of war, and a further indication of Russia’s return to Soviet-style expansionism.

The hype

Before continuing, I would like to recommend a different article – one published by antiwar.com entitled “What Color is Ukraine’s ‘Color Revolution’?” Here are just a few extracts drawn from the beginning, middle and end:

As the real nature of Ukraine’s “democratic” and allegedly “pro-Western” opposition becomes all too apparent, the pushback from the regime-change crowd borders on the comic. The War Party is stumbling all over itself in a frantic effort to cover up and deny the frightening provenance of the neo-fascist gang they’ve helped to seize power in Kiev. […]

Outside the “we are all Ukrainians now” bubble, however, people are sitting up and taking notice. A Reuters piece spotlights the general uneasiness about the exact color of this latest US-sponsored “color revolution”:

“When protest leaders in Ukraine helped oust a president widely seen as corrupt, they became heroes of the barricades. But as they take places in the country’s new government, some are facing uncomfortable questions about their own values and associations, not least alleged links to neo-fascist extremists.” […]

I don’t know which is more alarming: the entrance into government of a party that traces its origins back to a fighting battalion affiliated with Hitler’s SS, or the sight of US officials whitewashing it. They’re flying the Confederate flag and the Celtic cross in Kiev, and the first African American President is hailing them as liberators. That’s one for the history books!1

Click here to read the full article.

Key to separating a little of the wheat from the chaff requires a clearer picture of the following: i) What were the people in the square protesting about? ii) What kind of protest was taking place? iii) Who were the leaders?

So let’s take each of these points in order:

i) Demands of the Maidan

I touched on this in an earlier extended post, but to recap relatively briefly here: the protesters were united primarily because of their strong opposition to the ruinous and kleptocratic presidency of Yanukovych. The majority also appear to have been demanding closer ties with the EU and so we saw quite a number of tattered EU flags fluttering above the square.

Scratch the surface just a little, however, and we learn that the protesters were most angered by the Ukrainian government’s acceptance of a Russian bailout package worth $15 billion. On paper at least, the Russian deal was far better than the EU’s alternative, but many Ukrainians who are fearful of Russia (justifiably so), were quick to point out that “the only place you find free cheese is in a mousetrap”. In other words, they wanted to know where the Kremlin wished the strings to be attached.

Yanukovych was not the Russian puppet he has been often been portrayed as, but a man desperately struggling to get out off a hole of his own making and seeking help wherever he could find it (East or West). With his downfall, the new transitional government is now led by the former banker Arseniy Yatseniuk. “Yats” was, if you recall, the man preferred by Washington as Victoria Nuland’s leaked phone call so embarrassingly revealed. It is also worth pointing out that Yatseniuk is a co-founder of the Open Ukraine Arseniy Yatseniuk Foundation, “a nonpartisan international philanthropic foundation” (according to wikipedia), which has partners including Chatham House, The United States Department of State, and Nato. Strange bedfellows for a philanthropic foundation, one might think.

And here is what Yatseniuk told the press soon after his appointment as Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister:

“We are to undertake extremely unpopular steps as the previous government and previous president were so corrupted that the country is in a desperate financial plight,” Mr Yatsenyuk told BBC Ukrainian.

“We are on the brink of a disaster and this is the government of political suiciders! So welcome to hell,” he added.2

The kamikaze mission Yatsenyuk has in mind will involve Greek-style austerity measures, served up very much to the satisfaction of the IMF and EU. So welcome to hell indeed!

For further details on the Russia and EU deals, as well as Victoria Nuland’s support for Yatseniuk, I refer you again to related sections in the post linked above.

ii) The protests

The protests in Independence Square were far from peaceful. Evidently, amongst the crowds there were many peaceful individuals and so whenever the BBC and Channel 4 reported from the square they were keener to draw attention to this non-violent contingent. It was even possible to make lazy comparisons to earlier pro-democracy demonstrations. We saw the tents, the soup kitchens, the banners and, occasionally, the poets! Here was Occupy Kiev, although rapidly spreading as it won over hearts and minds across the country to eventually become Occupy Ukraine. And according to the early accounts, every reasonable Ukrainian was chipping in to help the Maidan. These were our first impressions.

Amongst the ordinary protesters, however, there were others who appeared more sinister. Dressed for battle in WWII-style army helmets, and often marching in columns, like an army. The police locking shields like Roman legions in vain attempts to fend off a furious bombardment of sticks, rocks and petrol bombs. Well, Occupy Ukraine is more heavy duty, but that’s okay we were gently reassured. And the same news reports that implied that it was fine to rip up cobblestones, smash them up on a makeshift revolutionary production line, and catapult them at the police lines, also showed Kiev ablaze with barricades of burning tyres and looted government buildings.

During Channel 4‘s coverage on the eve of the main battle, Wednesday [Feb 19th], their Europe Correspondent Matt Frei revealed that some of the protesters were filling up hundreds of plastic bottles with petrol and polystyrene fragments which, he then explained, would cause the Molotov Cocktails to stick like napalm. So arson too was presented as not only an acceptable form of civil disobedience but a tactic requiring impressive levels of commitment and hard work – which it does – but let’s face it, if a similar situation was unfolding in London, with rivers of fire and the streets engulfed by clouds of acrid smoke, the protesters would be have been called “rioters”. Instead, we were constantly given to understand that the Maidan occupied the moral high-ground, even when evidence indicating the contrary was being simultaneously shown to us.

And then we must come to the vitally important question of who ordered snipers to open fire on the protesters. The western media has always been very clear about this (at least to begin with) – it was the Berkut who carried out government orders to shoot the protesters. But, there is an alternative version of events. When first reported upon, it was rather quickly sidelined as “a conspiracy theory”. Here, for example, is a Guardian report from March 5th:

A leaked phone call between the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet has revealed that the two discussed a conspiracy theory that blamed the killing of civilian protesters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on the opposition rather than the ousted government.

Embedded below is a recording of that intercepted phone conversation although I should warn you that there are also extremely graphic images overlaid. The controversy surrounds what Paet says to Ashton about 8 mins into the call – it is also transcribed by the Guardian in the same article that continues beneath the video:

The 11-minute conversation was posted on YouTube – it is the second time in a month that telephone calls between western diplomats discussing Ukraine have been bugged.

During the conversation, Paet quoted a woman named Olga – who the Russian media identified her as Olga Bogomolets, a doctor – blaming snipers from the opposition shooting the protesters.

“What was quite disturbing, this same Olga told that, well, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides,” Paet said.

“So she also showed me some photos, she said that as medical doctor, she can say it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened.”

“So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition,” Paet says.

Ashton replies: “I think we do want to investigate. I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh,” Ashton says.3

This opinion expressed by Paet is not quite as extraordinary as the Guardian report would have us believe. Snipers have been used to provoke revolutionary fervour on past occasions, the best known example happening during the Miraflores confrontation in Caracas, Venezuela during a violent uprising and failed attempt to oust Hugo Chavez in April 2002. You can read more on this in another earlier post.

So I would beg to differ with the Guardian‘s rather easy dismissal of Paet’s claims. “False flag attacks” are irrefutably a part of history.

You can click here to read their full report.

More recently [Sat 8th], Associated Press released an article backing up claims that the sniper attacks had been a provocation. It begins:

On Wednesday Paet confirmed the recording was authentic, and told reporters in Tallinn that he was merely repeating what Bogomolets had told him. He said he had no way of verifying the claims, though he called Bogomolets “clearly a person with authority.”

Bogomolets couldn’t be immediately reached by the AP for comment. She did not answer repeated calls to her cellphone or respond to text messages.

In an interview earlier this week with a correspondent from British newspaper The Telegraph, Bogomolets said she didn’t know if police and protesters were killed by the same bullets, and called for a thorough investigation.

“No one who just sees the wounds when treating the victims can make a determination about the type of weapons,” she was quoted as saying. “I hope international experts and Ukrainian investigators will make a determination of what type of weapons, who was involved in the killings and how it was done. I have no data to prove anything.”

However, according to the same report, support for the “conspiracy theory” appears to be growing in Kiev, although, in admitting the claims of Paet, members of the transitional government point not to factions within the Ukrainian opposition (and why would they?) but to Russia instead:

Ukrainian authorities are investigating the Feb. 18-20 bloodbath, and they have shifted their focus from ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s government to Vladimir Putin’s Russia — pursuing the theory that the Kremlin was intent on sowing mayhem as a pretext for military incursion. Russia suggests that the snipers were organized by opposition leaders trying to whip up local and international outrage against the government. […]

“I think it wasn’t just a part of the old regime that (plotted the provocation), but it was also the work of Russian special forces who served and maintained the ideology of the (old) regime,” [Ukrainian] Health Minister Oleh Musiy said. […]

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov signaled that investigators may be turning their attention away from Ukrainian responsibility.

“I can say only one thing: the key factor in this uprising, that spilled blood in Kiev and that turned the country upside down and shocked it, was a third force,” Avakov was quoted as saying by Interfax. “And this force was not Ukrainian.”4

Click here to read the full Associated Press report.

So we might ask ourselves, whether Russia would be likely to send snipers in order to destabilise an already dangerous situation in the hope of covertly toppling Yanukovych, so that it might later seize on the chaos in order to annex the Crimea – “the Kremlin was intent on sowing mayhem as a pretext for military incursion”, as the Associated Press article suggests.

If so, then why has the West not drawn our fuller attention back to the leaked phone call? Indeed, why were the claims made by Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, first publicised by Russia Today, and then either ignored or dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” by western media? Was all this somehow a part of the same Kremlin plot?

iii) The leaders of the Maidan

Embedded below is a promotional video for a faction of the Maidan known as the “Right Sector”:

Right Sector have all the hallmarks of an extreme-right group because they are one. And disturbingly, in Ukraine, Right Sector are not alone – though they appear to be the most hardline of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi groups. As you can see from the video above, they were also a big part of the paramilitary wing of the Maidan protests.

A BBC news report (released soon after the dust had settled) calls attention to the fact that with the removal of Yanukovych, Right Sector became one of the biggest winners from the crisis:

The 42-year-old [Dmytro Yarosh, who is head of the fascist Stepan Bandera All-Ukrainian Organization or “Tryzub”] leads the paramilitary movement known as Right Sector, which was involved in violent clashes with the police in Kiev and considers the far-right party Svoboda “too liberal”. [I will come to Svobado next]

Advocating a “national revolution”, he dismissed the Yanukovych administration as an “internal occupation regime” and wants to ban both the former ruling party and its ally, the Communist Party.

There is pressure from the Maidan demonstrators to give him a security-related post in the new government, possibly as Mr Parubiy’s deputy.5

Click here to read the full BBC news report entitled “Ukraine crisis: Key Players”.

Another BBC news report from the previous day told us a little more:

Ukraine’s new interim government has been presented at Kiev’s main protest camp, the Maidan, following last week’s ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych.

The Maidan council named Arseniy Yatsenyuk to become prime minister. The cabinet – to be voted on by MPs on Thursday – includes leading activists. […]

Overall Maidan commander Andriy Parubiy – who commands huge respect among the protesters – was named candidate for secretary of the National Security and Defence Council

Andriy Parubiy is a neo-Nazi too, but we can deal with him in a second. The same article goes on:

However, some of the nominations – including that of Mr Avakov – prompted loud booing from the crowd, who said those candidates were not worthy of government posts.

People also chanted “Yarosh! Yarosh!”, demanding that the leader of the Right Sector, Dmytro Yarosh, be given a post. [the bold emphasis is added]6

Click here to read the full BBC news article.

But then, on the eve of the bloodiest night of the protest, at the end of Thursday evening’s Channel 4 news broadcast on Feb 20th, Matt Frei had already more casually let the cat out of the bag. Standing next to him was Yuriy Levchenko, captioned as spokesmen of “the far-right party Svoboda”, and Matt Frei was there to interview him in the politest possible way. What Frei might have asked, but didn’t, was why did his ultra-nationalist party with a name that now translates as “freedom” change from being “the Social-National Party” when it was founded in 1991. Back then they had also identified themselves with a symbol called the Wolfsangel, which looks like this:

The similarity to the swastika is not accidental, as this report from Der Spiegel published last month explains:

The Svoboda party also has excellent ties to Europe, but they are different from the ones that Klischko might prefer. It is allied with France’s right-wing Front National and with the Italian neo-fascist group Fiamma Tricolore. […]

In a 2012 debate over the Ukrainian-born American actress Mila Kunis, he said that she wasn’t Ukrainian, rather she was a “Jewess.” Indeed, anti-Semitism is part of the extremist party’s platform; until 2004, they called themselves the Social-National Party of Ukraine in an intentional reference to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist party. Just last summer, a prominent leader of party youth was distributing texts from Nazi propaganda head Joseph Goebbels translated into Ukrainian.7

Click here to read the full article from Der Spiegel International.

And embedded below you can watch Yuriy Levchenko as Svoboda candidate complaining to France 24 following his defeat in the October 2012 parliamentary elections. Please judge for yourself whether Levchenko appears to be a neo-Nazi:

But in fairness to Matt Frei, he wasn’t the first to rub shoulders with the far-right extremists in this latest Ukrainian uprising. Back in December, neo-con Senator John McCain was very happy to join Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the Svoboda party, and already a member of the Ukrainian parliament – indeed, one of thirty-eight Svoboda candidates who won seats in the last election – on the stage in Independence Square during a mass rally:

It was Oleh Tyahnybok along with Andriy Parubiy (remember him? – the recently appointed Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine) who in 1995 had jointly founded the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU), which has since been rebranded as Svoboda. And Dmytro Yarosh (leader of the even more odious Right Sector who the crowds were chanting for – at least according to that BBC news article) has indeed since been appointed as Parubiy’s deputy.

So are there fascists in the new government? Yes. Are they in positions of influence? Well, aside from Parubiy and Yarosh who now jointly oversee national security, and Oleh Tyahnybok, of course, there is also:

The new Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych is a member of the far-right Svoboda party, which the World Jewish Congress called on the EU to consider banning last year along with Greece’s Golden Dawn.

The party, which has long called for a “national revolution” in Ukraine, has endured a long march from relative obscurity in the early 90s. Their declaration that Ukraine is controlled by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” has raised fears for the safety of the country’s Jewish population.

Svoboda now controls the ecology and agricultural ministry with Andriy Mokhnyk, the deputy head of Svoboda, running ecology and Ihor Shvaika as agriculture minister.

That’s taken from a Channel 4 piece also catching up with events a little late in the day (again from March 5th) and continuing:

The most important office seized by Svoboda is that of deputy prime minister, now occupied by Oleksandr Sych, whose position on abortion rights and comments about rape provoked an international outcry.

He has been criticised for declaring: “Women should lead the kind of lifestyle to avoid the risk of rape, including one from drinking alcohol and being in controversial company”.

Svoboda member Oleh Makhnitsky is now acting prosecutor general.

The initial actions of the interim government have included forcing making Ukrainian the only official language of the nation and making moves to remove a law which forbids “excusing the crimes of fascism”.8

In total, there are eight Svoboda neo-Nazis now occupying positions in Ukraine’s transitional government – fascist representatives making policy in every sector.

So why did the BBC and Channel 4 wait until after the revolution (or coup) was over before they started shedding this light on the far-right leadership at the heart of the Maidan movement, and why isn’t news of these worrying fascist gains in an Eastern European state being featured more prominently in their regular broadcasts today?

Click here to read the full article entitled “How the far-right took top posts in Ukraine’s power vacuum”

The hypocrisy

This is how veteran investigative reporter John Pilger chose to begin his latest article [from March 16th]:

Washington’s role in the fascist putsch against an elected government in Ukraine will surprise only those who watch the news and ignore the historical record. Since 1945, dozens of governments, many of them democracies, have met a similar fate, usually with bloodshed.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries on earth with fewer people than Wales, yet under the reformist Sandinistas in the 1980s it was regarded in Washington as a “strategic threat”. The logic was simple; if the weakest slipped the leash, setting an example, who else would try their luck?

The great game of dominance offers no immunity for even the most loyal US “ally”. This is demonstrated by perhaps the least known of Washington’s coups – in Australia. The story of this forgotten coup is a salutary lesson for those governments that believe a “Ukraine” or a “Chile” could never happen to them.9

Click here to read John Pilger’s full article.

Pilger’s point, in brief, is that the United States, more often than not by the clandestine hand of the CIA, has a long record of overthrowing governments including those in power in democratic countries and sometimes even those of its own western allies. He then implies – without providing any supporting evidence – that Washington played a central role in the fall of Yanukovych. So is Pilger correct?

Well, we certainly know that both John McCain and Victoria Nuland made pre-revolutionary visits to Kiev in support of the Maidan. We also know that America has been spending large sums of money to “build democratic skills and institutions” and to “promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations.” Nuland talked of over $5 billion in ‘aid’ of this kind, although she failed to say more precisely how any of that money was spent. (So we may wonder, for instance, if any went into the coffers of the “Open Ukraine Arseniy Yatseniuk Foundation”.)

We also have the very clear and recent historical precedents in the form of those “colour revolutions” of the last decade, including, of course, the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine. All of which, it was later revealed, had been orchestrated by Washington and manufactured by means of NGOs, most especially those of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

Soros remains proud of the part his own networks played in those earlier and much more peaceful uprisings. Unsurprisingly, therefore, some see the hand of Soros assisting in this latest upheaval in Ukraine, but is there direct evidence?

Here is what George Soros himself wrote on February 26th:

Following a crescendo of terrifying violence, the Ukrainian uprising has had a surprisingly positive outcome. Contrary to all rational expectations, a group of citizens armed with not much more than sticks and shields made of cardboard boxes and metal garbage-can lids overwhelmed a police force firing live ammunition. There were many casualties, but the citizens prevailed. This was one of those historic moments that leave a lasting imprint on a society’s collective memory.

No mention of any fascist elements there – but did Soros’ funding play any role in this latest revolution? The answer he gives is almost tantalising:

I established the Renaissance Foundation in Ukraine in 1990 – before the country achieved independence. The foundation did not participate in the recent uprising, but it did serve as a defender of those targeted by official repression.

So what does this mean? “Serve as a defender” – defending by what means? And who were “those targeted by official repression”? Well, one of the groups that Soros’ International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) helped in ‘defending’ were Spilna Sprava (which translates as “The Right Deed” but are also known as “Common Cause”). And so here is another BBC news report worthy of closer inspection (and bear in mind it is was published as far back as February 1st):

Together with the Right Sector, Common Cause is also at the extreme end of the Ukrainian protest movement, though it does not appear as yet to share the former’s relish for street fighting.

It is best known for capturing several key government offices in Kiev, such as the ministries of justice, agriculture, and energy.

The group has called for early parliamentary and presidential elections, and describes any opposition leaders who may urge protesters to disperse before the early polls “either idiots or provocateurs”.

“If we don’t force the authorities to go today, we’ll regret it tomorrow,” says the group’s website.10

You will find the organisation Spilna Sprava registered in the IRF annual report for 2009 at the bottom of page 189 where it is described as a “Charitable Foundation”.

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

However, for full-blown hypocrisy it’s hard to beat John Kerry censuring Russia and Putin after sending forces into the Crimea, saying “you just don’t invade another country on phoney pretext in order to assert your interests” [about 2:30 mins into clip]:

Not that Kerry is wrong in his assessment. Russia is most certainly “asserting its interests” but then are we really supposed to understand that in comparable circumstances America would do otherwise? When under Obama, America already daily flexes its military might in faraway Afghanistan, over Yemen, and even in Iraq (where a strong US presence still remains). Remembering that Nato’s “kinetic action” against Libya became a flagrant violation of the humanitarian bounds of UN Security Council Resolution “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”. And that just six months earlier, Kerry and Obama were about to go ahead with massive air strikes against Syria without UN backing of any kind.

If there were a real crisis on the American doorstep would the US shrink from military engagement on the grounds that it ought not “assert its interests”? Would they even wait for a crisis – for are we also supposed to forget about the US invasion of the tiny island of Grenada in 1983? Or protecting its strategic interests in Panama in 1989? Or meddling in El Salvador, in Nicaragua and the notorious Iran-Contra scandal? Or US involvement in the Venezuelan coup in 2002, or for that matter their evident backing of the violent uprising taking place in Venezuela today? In fact, are we to forget about US interference in almost every country in Latin America throughout the entire postwar era – it really wasn’t so very long ago when White House officials openly referred to the continent as “America’s backyard”.

Former New York Times correspondent and investigative reporter, Stephen Kinzer, recently wrote a piece for The Boston Globe entitled “US a full partner in Ukraine debacle” in which he provides a more detailed historical perspective on the latest crisis. His article begins:

From the moment the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the United States has relentlessly pursued a strategy of encircling Russia, just as it has with other perceived enemies like China and Iran. It has brought 12 countries in central Europe, all of them formerly allied with Moscow, into the NATO alliance. US military power is now directly on Russia’s borders.

“I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” warned George Kennan, the renowned diplomat and Russia-watcher, as NATO began expanding eastward. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely, and it will affect their policies.”

Russia’s dispatch of troops in recent days to Crimea — a verdant peninsula on the Black Sea that is part of Ukraine but, partly as a result of Stalin-era ethnic cleansing, has a mainly Russian population — was the latest fulfillment of Kennan’s prediction.

Kinzer continues:

Putin’s decision to deploy troops reflects his loss of control over Ukrainian politics. US officials recognize this, and are pressing their anti-Russia campaign. Last week President Obama received the prime minister of Georgia. The prime minister of Moldova is due this week. These meetings are aimed at honing a strategy for further isolating Russia; it is called “Western integration.”

Much has been made of the fact that Ukraine is deeply divided between its pro-Europe western provinces and the pro-Russian east, of which Crimea is a part. A “velvet divorce” dividing Ukraine into two countries might be the best solution, but border changes, even when they seem sensible from far away, are always difficult to engineer.

If Ukrainians cannot agree to divide their country, Russia may do it for them. It already occupies part of Moldova and part of Georgia. For it to keep an army in Ukraine would anger the United States — and many Ukrainians — but it would be nothing new. Military occupation is, in fact, one of the few weapons Russia has to oppose the “Western integration” of neighboring countries.11

Click here to read Stephen Kinzer’s full article.

To read more on George Soros’ backing of previous “colour revolutions” as well as Victoria Nuland’s remarks on more recent American largesse, I refer readers again to my previous post.

The hysteria

It is even harder to know where to start when we get to the matter of hysteria over what Kinzer rightly describes as the Ukraine debacle. For convenience, however, we might begin again with John Kerry and that interview on Meet the Press! already embedded above:

“This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really Nineteenth Century behaviour in the Twenty-First Century. And there is no way to start with, that if Russia persists in this, that the G8 countries are going to assemble in Sochi. That’s a starter. But, there’s much more than that – Russia has major investment and trade needs and desires. I think there’s a unified view by all of the foreign ministers I talked with yesterday – all of the G8 and more – that they’re simply going to isolate Russia.”

So the aim now appears to be to isolate Russia… but is that even possible? Here is a little more of Kerry’s latest blustering:

“There could even ultimately be asset freezes, visa bans, there could be certainly disruption of any of the normal trade routine. There could be business drawback on investment in the country.”

But could it be that Kerry and the US are actually the ones in danger of becoming isolated? After all, how can Germany start imposing sanctions when it depends on a Russian gas supply. And as for those asset seizures, can Kerry really imagine that the dirty money Russian oligarchs prefer to launder by taking advantage of the uncommon laxity of our own financial centres will no longer be welcomed? Here are the thoughts of Ben Judah writing in the New York Times on “London’s Laundry Business” and the unlikelihood of such tough sanctions on Russian oligarchs [from Friday March 7th]:

The White House has imposed visa restrictions on some Russian officials, and President Obama has issued an executive order enabling further sanctions. But Britain has already undermined any unified action by putting profit first.

It boils down to this: Britain is ready to betray the United States to protect the City of London’s hold on dirty Russian money. And forget about Ukraine.

Britain, open for business, no longer has a “mission.” Any moralizing remnant of the British Empire is gone; it has turned back to the pirate England of Sir Walter Raleigh. Britain’s ruling class has decayed to the point where its first priority is protecting its cut of Russian money — even as Russian armored personnel carriers rumble around the streets of Sevastopol. But the establishment understands that, in the 21st century, what matters are banks, not tanks.

The Russians also understand this. They know that London is a center of Russian corruption, that their loot plunges into Britain’s empire of tax havens — from Gibraltar to Jersey, from the Cayman Islands to the British Virgin Islands — on which the sun never sets.12

Overall, the tone of the rhetoric coming from Washington is alarming. Economic sanctions have historically been a precursor to war. That cracks within the Nato alliance are already showing is therefore good news. Any ratcheting up of tension between the two opposing superpowers being in no one’s best interests (other than defence contractors of course) and the dangers of backing Russia into a corner are all-too obvious:

Both John Kerry’s threats to expel Russia from the G8 and the Ukrainian government’s plea for Nato aid mark a dangerous escalation of a crisis that can easily be contained if cool heads prevail. Hysteria seems to be the mood in Washington and Kiev, with the new Ukrainian prime minister claiming, “We are on the brink of disaster” as he calls up army reserves in response to Russian military movements in Crimea.

Were he talking about the country’s economic plight he would have a point. Instead, along with much of the US and European media, he was over-dramatising developments in the east, where Russian speakers are understandably alarmed after the new Kiev authorities scrapped a law allowing Russian as an official language in their areas. They see it as proof that the anti-Russian ultra-nationalists from western Ukraine who were the dominant force in last month’s insurrection still control it. Eastern Ukrainians fear similar tactics of storming public buildings could be used against their elected officials.

So begins an excellent piece by Jonathan Steele writing in the Guardian. Steele is another journalist who has managed to sidestep all of the hysteria and remain level-headed about this latest escalation of the Ukrainian crisis.

His article continues:

Kerry’s rush to punish Russia and Nato’s decision to respond to Kiev’s call by holding a meeting of member states’ ambassadors in Brussels today were mistakes. Ukraine is not part of the alliance, so none of the obligations of common defence come into play. Nato should refrain from interfering in Ukraine by word or deed. The fact that it insists on getting engaged reveals the elephant in the room: underlying the crisis in Crimea and Russia’s fierce resistance to potential changes is Nato’s undisguised ambition to continue two decades of expansion into what used to be called “post-Soviet space”, led by Bill Clinton and taken up by successive administrations in Washington. At the back of Pentagon minds, no doubt, is the dream that a US navy will one day replace the Russian Black Sea fleet in the Crimean ports of Sevastopol and Balaclava.

Russia’s movement into Crimea was certainly an invasion – of sorts – and marked the beginning of a dangerous new phase in the present Ukrainian crisis. Although Russia are entitled to keep troops at bases within Crimea, and though the number of troops appear to have remained below those permitted under treaty, by moving Russian troops into the streets, Putin has been acting outside of International law. That said, this invasion is no way comparable to the types of “shock and awe” assault we are accustomed to seeing the US and Nato engage in. What Kerry called an “incredible act of aggression” resulted in no casualties (other than the unfortunate victims of more recent sniper attacks), in part because the majority in Crimea are not hostile to the Russian forces. Indeed, it was not the elected parliament of Crimea but the self-appointed parliament in Kiev which many Crimeans fear and oppose (and do not regard as legitimate), who declared the Russian troop movements “an act of war”.

Here is more from Jonathan Steele who closes his article considering the legality or otherwise of Russia’s annexation of Crimea13 as well as his hopes of a diplomatic resolution:

It is not too late to show some wisdom now. Vladimir Putin’s troop movements in Crimea, which are supported by most Russians, are of questionable legality under the terms of the peace and friendship treaty that Russia signed with Ukraine in 1997. But their illegality is considerably less clear-cut than that of the US-led invasion of Iraq, or of Afghanistan, where the UN security council only authorised the intervention several weeks after it had happened. And Russia’s troop movements can be reversed if the crisis abates. That would require the restoration of the language law in eastern Ukraine and firm action to prevent armed groups of anti-Russian nationalists threatening public buildings there.

The Russian-speaking majority in the region is as angry with elite corruption, unemployment and economic inequality as people in western Ukraine. But it also feels beleaguered and provoked, with its cultural heritage under existential threat. Responsibility for eliminating those concerns lies not in Washington, Brussels or Moscow, but solely in Kiev.14

The article, which is entitled “John Kerry and Nato must calm down and back off”, offers a perspective which very few mainstream journalists (Stephen Kinzer and Liam Halligan being two others along with Stephen Cohen – see previous article) have so far been prepared to offer. His call for an end to the hysteria is surely the wisest call anyone can make right now.

*

Additional:

Following the referendum in Crimea, on Monday [March 17th] Democracy Now! featured a discussion about the vote and the likely diplomatic, economic and military repercussions following Crimea’s secession from Ukraine. The three guests were Oliver Bullough, Caucasus editor for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting; Nicholas Clayton, a freelance journalist who has been reporting from Crimea and covering the South Caucasus since 2009; and Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Here is a snapshot of what each had to say:

Oliver Bullough: Well, the first thing about the vote is the result. The result was never in any doubt. The only option, essentially, on the ballot paper was either—well, you has a choice: to leave Ukraine or to join Russia. There was no “no” option. So, there was never any question that this would go one way. And it did indeed go that way. It went that way overwhelmingly, though, personally, I think possibly the results given are a little bit inflated. I can’t believe that the turnout was as high as 83 percent, certainly considering the fact that all the Ukrainians who live in Crimea and all the Crimean Tatars, who together make up, you know, more than 30 percent of the population, boycotted the polls. […]

Well, you know, it was—people were turning up for the polling stations. People were casting their votes in a fairly orderly manner. But it got increasingly jolly as the day wore on and it became obvious which way the vote was going to go. And people gathered on the central Lenin Square underneath the big towering statue of the founder of the Bolshevik state. And there was a rock concert, and people gathered, waved Russian flags, chanted “Russia! Russia! Russia!” as if they were at a football match. It occurred to me about halfway through that it was like a combination of Russia winning the World Cup and the Nuremberg rally. It was a very peculiar atmosphere of sort of a degree of celebration and also as a strange and slightly disquieting sense of triumphalism that I, as a non-Russian, found a little bit weird.

Dmitri Trenin: Well, I would say that the Russians have become used to people essentially using various standards for their own behavior and for other people’s behavior. Basically, President Putin in his press conference recently intimated that he was doing the things that basically the United States was doing. He was—he was placing the legitimate above the legal. If you need something and you need it badly, you go for it. It may not be legal, but if it’s your—if it’s in your national interest, then you go for it—except that the cases of Libya or Kosovo or Iraq, arguably, were less important for the United States’ national security interests than the issue of Crimea and Ukraine is, or was, for Mr. Putin and the Kremlin.

Nicholas Clayton: Well, the new leadership, it appears that they’re still very much in crisis mode, attempting to hold the country together. Many of them were not in the government before the Yanukovych regime fell. One of the more controversial things that has happened recently and one of the firmer gestures that the new government has made is saying that those advocating secession in other Ukrainian territories will be apprehended. And on one hand, this is a bit of an escalation of the rhetoric within Ukraine; however, it also represents very much the crisis mentality of the new government. As you mentioned before, there have been increasing protests in the cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lugansk, where pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine protesters have clashed, and three people have died so far. There’s been accusations traded, but Kiev has claimed that a large portion, if not the majority, of these pro-Russian protesters are indeed Russian citizens that have come—been bused in from Russia, and they’re also tightening the border. It appears that they’re trying very hard to avoid any other province in Ukraine from getting the Crimea treatment at this point. […]

And as we’ve discussed already this hour, I do think that many in the West underestimated how strategic Ukraine, and particularly Crimea, is to Russia. The port of Sevastopol has been the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet since imperial days, since the 18th century, and it actually is probably the best harbor in the Black Sea for a large fleet and one of the only ones that could safely hold a large fleet. It has a deep harbor, it’s very large, and it’s protected on both sides by hills, which means the wind is not a factor. If Russia were to be booted from there, it would have to drastically reduce the size of its fleet and spend billions of dollars attempting to build up facilities in one of its other ports in order to hold it. And the Russian Black Sea Fleet is the portion of the Russian navy that it uses to project naval force into not only the Black Sea, where it has significant interests, but also the Mediterranean Sea and through the Sinai and the Indian Ocean, and therefore, it’s an important portion of their Middle East strategy and their foreign policy in those regions.

And so, this really is a—what the Russians call a steel interest, something that is certainly a red line and certainly something that if Russia had to retreat from, would be very—would very much hurt their foreign policy and their ability to project power in the world. And we saw—this is partially why Russia moved so quickly in the upper house, was that many figures in the new government in Kiev did make statements saying that they wanted to basically cancel the lease that Russia has for the use of the base in Sevastopol. The current lease gives Russia the right to use that port until 2042, but there—in the past, previous governments have also tried to push Russia out, and it has been a major factor in Russia’s relationship with Ukraine since the end of the Soviet Union and very much—very much has been a huge card in the East-West battle over Ukraine, as well.

For once I would also recommend the latest outing of BBC’s political magazine programme This Week, which featured analysis from the Telegraph‘s Liam Halligan.

*

1 From an article entitled “What Color is Ukraine’s ‘Color Revolution’?” written by Justin Raimondo, published by antiwar.com on March 12, 2014. http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2014/03/11/what-color-is-ukraines-color-revolution/

2 From an article entitled “Ukraine crisis: Yatsenyuk is PM-designate, Kiev Maidan told” published by BBC news on February 26, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26359150

3 From an article entitled “Ukraine crisis: bugged call reveals conspiracy theory about Kiev snipers” written by Ewen MacAskill, published by the Guardian on March 5, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/05/ukraine-bugged-call-catherine-ashton-urmas-paet

4 From an article entitled “Russia, Ukraine feud over sniper carnage” written by Mike Eckel, published by the Washington Post on March 7, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russia-ukraine-feud-over-sniper-carnage/2014/03/07/12ed2364-a638-11e3-b865-38b254d92063_story.html

5 From an article entitled “Ukraine crisis: Key players” published by BBC news on February 27, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25910834

6 From an article entitled “Ukraine crisis: Yatsenyuk is PM-designate, Kiev Maidan told” published by BBC news on February 26, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26359150

7 From an article entitled “’Prepared to Die’: The Right Wing’s Role in Ukrainian Protests” published by Der Spiegel on January 27, 2014. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/ukraine-sliding-towards-civil-war-in-wake-of-tough-new-laws-a-945742.html

8 From an article entitled “How the far-right took top posts in Ukraine’s power vacuum”, published by Channel 4 news on March 5, 2014. http://www.channel4.com/news/svoboda-ministers-ukraine-new-government-far-right

9 From an article entitled “The forgotten coup – and how the godfather rules from Canberra to Kiev” written by John Pilger, published on March 16, 2014. http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-forgotten-coup-and-how-the-godfather-rules-from-canberra-to-kiev

10 From an article entitled “Groups at the sharp end of Ukraine unrest” published by BBC news on February 1, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26001710

11 From an article entitled “US a full partner in Ukraine debacle” written by Stephen Kinzer, published in The Boston Globe on March 3, 2014. http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/columns/2014/03/03/cold-war-over-russia-isn-zero-sum/Df9VSHeJFpKUz3tRKDjUXJ/story.html

12 From an article called “London’s Laundry Business” written by Ben Judah, published in The New York Times on March 7, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/08/opinion/londons-laundry-business.html?_r=0

13 ‘annexation’ is a provocative term. Many Russians including those in Crimea see it as a ‘reunification’. Mikhail Gorbachev said:

Earlier Crimea was merged with Ukraine under Soviet laws, to be more exact by the [Communist] party’s laws, without asking the people, and now the people have decided to correct that mistake. This should be welcomed instead of declaring sanctions.” He said: “To declare sanctions you need very serious reasons. And they must be upheld by the UN.” Adding: “The will of the people of the Crimea and the Crimea’s possible unification with Russia as a constituent region do not constitute such a reason.”

http://rt.com/news/mistake-fixed-crimea-gorbachev-422/

14 From an article entitled “The Ukraine crisis: John Kerry and Nato must calm down and back off” written by Jonathan Steele, published in the Guardian on March 2, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/02/not-too-late-for-ukraine-nato-should-back-off

1 Comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, John Pilger, Russia, Ukraine, USA, Venezuela

the Latin American Spring they never mention

On February 27th 1989, the Venezuelan army, under orders from President Carlos Andrés Pérez, put down a mass uprising against the imposition of IMF led “austerity measures”; a protest which became known as the Caracazo (“the big one in Caracas”). According to official government reports “only” 276 people were killed in their attempts to “restore order”, however estimates for the actual number of casualties range between 500 to more than 3000.

Just a few years on, in 1993, and having narrowly survived two failed coups attempts, Carlos Andrés Pérez (otherwise known simply as CAP) was suddenly forced out of office when the Supreme Court found him guilty of embezzlement. With the impeachment of CAP, the next directly elected President was Rafael Antonio Caldera Rodríguez, and it was Rafael Caldera who, during his second term in office, had pardoned the leader of the original coup against CAP, a then little known military officer by the name of Lt. Colonel Hugo Chavez Frías.

Back in the 1990s news stories from Venezuela rarely if ever made our headlines, and unless you happen to be Venezuelan, there is a good chance you have never heard of either Carlos Andrés Pérez or Rafael Caldera. But this is not the case for the man who succeeded Caldera following the 1998 elections. For whatever else might be said of the late Hugo Chavez, there is no dispute that his political leadership during the last fourteen years – Chavez having been voted into office on four separate occasions in free elections – has put Venezuela altogether more firmly on the political map. So when Chavez died on Tuesday, it was an event that reverberated across the world. The debate over what his lasting legacy will be, and what happens next for Venezuela, buzzing in newsrooms and all over the internet.

Hugo Chavez was a social reformer, outspoken and with unashamedly revolutionary intent; his frequently stated ambition being nothing less than to inspire the downtrodden and oppressed of Latin America and beyond with his own brand of Bolivarian “participatory socialism”. To those ends, Chavez had immediately set about nationalising the Venezuelan oil industry, and then redirecting the huge profits to fund social projects both at home and abroad. Poverty levels in Venezuela were soon halved, and extreme poverty reduced by more than two thirds. Chavez also opened up education for the poorest in society and brought in a system of universal free healthcare.

That his programme of reforms has gradually improved the standard of living for the vast majority of Venezuelans is now acknowledged even by his fiercest critics, and so during last year’s election campaign, which he again won comfortably, the main opposition parties did not even challenge his social programme – their criticisms being reserved for his failures in other ways. That his policies have not allowed the Venezuelan economy to flourish as it should have (which seems odd given that Venezuela has actually maintained growth even throughout these troubled economic times), that inflation levels are unacceptably high (which is perhaps true although inflation is only a little higher now than during the period immediately prior to his presidency), and that Venezuela is suffering from a breakdown in law and order. This last charge is perhaps the most warranted, with Chavez unquestionably paying too little attention to the vital issue of ensuring law and order, but even here his supporters will fairly claim that the escalation in violent crime is to some extent a direct consequence of drug trafficking from neighbouring Colombia.

Incidentally, you can find a useful breakdown of all the statistics here.

Of course, the most serious charge levelled against Chavez is that his government has systematically turned a blind-eye or actually encouraged the violation of the human rights of his opponents. Human rights abuses that mostly seem to have come in the form of threats and intimidation, but which also include use of blacklists, other forms of exclusion, and in a few cases, even false imprisonment. This is obviously not acceptable. That said, it is sadly the truth that nearly every government on earth can also be charged with comparable abuses and more often than not with tactics that are very much more brutal again.

In Venezuela, unlike in America and the fifty and more states (including the UK) that have helped them out with “extraordinary rendition”1, torture and kidnapping are not sanctioned. In Venezuela, there is no equivalent to Guantánamo or the many “black sites” where inmates are indefinitely detained without charge. And if you still imagine that America, to return once more to the self-proclaimed home of freedom, has no political prisoners of its own then you evidently fail to take into account what has recently happened to John Kiriakou and Bradley Manning. In reminding readers of all this, it is not my intention to make excuses for Chavez and his government, but simply to put the charges against him into a more honest context.

Overall, it is surely fair to say that Chavez not only fundamentally altered the course of his home nation, with a dramatic shift away from the imposed neo-liberalism of his predecessors and the new emphasis placed on social justice, but alongside the popular success of those policies, he also more directly helped to establish other socialistic leaders across the whole of Latin America. In other words, it was Chavez above all others who spearheaded the Latin American Spring (not that it is ever called this of course) – the beginnings of a social and economic revolution that has been sweeping an entire continent for more than a decade, bringing with it a desperately needed power shift away from the oligarchs and the interests of their neo-imperialist associates. An upheaval, which being against the interests of the ruling establishment in the West (their own puppets having been vanquished), and by virtue of remaining fundamentally peaceful, has been consistently overlooked and misrepresented.

In short then, Chavez steadily won the political debate in South America, and not only in the barrios of Caracas, but also more widely, and this is the reason why millions to have taken to the streets to mourn his loss. A devout Catholic, Chavez was not a saint and he certainly was not infallible, but neither was he a tyrant or a dictator. He was a shrewd politician and more rarely and importantly, an uncommonly reliable one – a politician who actually abided by his own manifesto promises. A national leader who encouraged the previously disenfranchised to become actively involved in the democratic process of change and someone who engendered real hope in a people trying to transform their own future for the better.

*

Also last Tuesday, a trial began in Argentina that is set to reveal new details about how six Latin American countries coordinated with each other in the 1970s and 1980s to eliminate political dissidents. The campaign known as Operation Condor had involved military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. It was launched by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, but evidence shows how both the CIA and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were complicit from its outset. The objective of Operation Condor has a familiar ring: it was to track down, kidnap and kill people they labelled as subversives and terrorists — leftist activists, union leaders, students, priests, journalists, guerrilla fighters and their families.

On Thursday [March 7th] Democracy Now! spoke with John Dinges, a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism and the author of “The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents”, who explained the significance of the latest hearings:

Well, there have been several trials, and this goes back to when Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998. That unleashed an avalanche of evidence that went across Europe and led to trials in many places—Rome, Paris, Argentina, Chile—but all of them much smaller than this one. This one has 25 people accused. Unfortunately—or fortunately, who knows?—many of the people who were involved in this have already died, they’re getting old, of the top leaders. But this is 25 Argentinians and one Uruguayan, all of whom were in military positions, all of whom were involved directly with the actions of Operation Condor.

This is historic in the sense that we’re going to hear from 500 witnesses. And really, in the Latin American legal system, it’s unusual. It’s really only coming to the fore now that you hear witnesses, as opposed to just seeing them give their testimony to judges in a closed room, and then later on people like me might go and read those testimonies, but really it doesn’t become public. This is all public. And apparently, a lot of it is being videotaped. So this is—this is the first time that the general public is going to hear the details of this horrible, horrible list of atrocities that killed so many people.

The United States, in this period, the 1970s, was a major sponsor of the military dictatorships that had overthrown some democracies, some faltering civilian governments, [and] whatever it was, the result [of the overthrow] was governments, like Videla, like Pinochet, like Banzer in Bolivia, who were killing their citizens with impunity. The United States knew about the mass killing. We had this kind of schizophrenic, Machiavellian attitude toward it. We really don’t want these communists to be taking over governments, and we fear that democracy is leading to communist governments. Indeed, a leftist government led by Salvador Allende installed a democratically elected, civilian and revolutionary government in Chile, and that’s why—and Pinochet overthrew that government. The United States was deathly fearful that this would spread in Latin America, and so supported the coming of dictatorships.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

In April 2002, Chavez had himself narrowly survived an American-backed coup, and a 2003 documentary entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Spanish: La revolución no será transmitida) provides a fascinating insight and behind the scenes account of the attempted overthrow. Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain, who had been given direct access to Chavez with the intention only of making a fly-on-the-wall biography, suddenly finding themselves trapped in the midst of quite extraordinary political turmoil. Three days which changed the course of Venezuelan history:

*

Chávez: Inside the Coup (as the documentary is also known) first aired on RTÉ1 on 18th February 2003, as an installment of the Irish channel’s True Lives documentary series. It was later broadcast on BBC2 on 16th October 2003, as part of the channel’s Storyville documentary strand, and repeated on BBC4 on 18th November 2003.

The October broadcast by the BBC had caused considerable furore, the corporation receiving 4,000 e-mails demanding that Storyville‘s commissioning editor, Nick Fraser, should be sacked. And these attacks could hardly have come at a worse time. Already under the spotlight of the Hutton Inquiry, which had been set up ostensibly to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, although as it turned out Lord Hutton was actually more intent on censuring the BBC. Blaming the messenger for accurately leaking the truth about the “sexed up” intelligence dossiers used justify the invasion of Iraq, rather than the government and security services who had conspired to fabricate those lies. For the BBC to re-screen Bartley and Ó Briain’s film just a month later must therefore have taken considerable courage.

Meanwhile, the claims made by those critical of the film were taken up by Ofcom, who eventually ruled in September 2006 that it had not upheld the complaints. A subsequent appeal in November was also dismissed by Ofcom, validating the BBC’s original decision to air the documentary.

*

Additional:

In an article from March 5th for Vice Magazine and also posted up on his own website, Greg Palast asks:

Despite Bush’s providing intelligence, funds and even a note of congratulations to the crew who kidnapped Chavez (we’ll get there), Hugo remained in office, reelected and wildly popular.

But why the Bush regime’s hate, hate, HATE of the President of Venezuela?

The answer, of course, is the obvious one:

Reverend Pat [Robertson] wasn’t coy about the answer: It’s the oil.

“This is a dangerous enemy to our South controlling a huge pool of oil.”

A really BIG pool of oil. Indeed, according to Guy Caruso, former chief of oil intelligence for the CIA, Venezuela hold a recoverable reserve of 1.36 trillion barrels, that is, a whole lot more than Saudi Arabia.

If we didn’t kill Chavez, we’d have to do an “Iraq” on his nation. So the Reverend suggests,

“We don’t need another $200 billion war… It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”

A short (about 25 mins) made for BBC television film based on Palast’s own encounters with Chavez, his kidnappers and his would-be assassins is also available as a FREE download.

*

1A groundbreaking document published by the Open Society Foundation, on Tuesday shows that 54 countries, a quarter of the world’s nations, cooperated with the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme.” Taken from an article entitled “Extraordinary Rendition: Israel, Russia and France ‘Surprisingly’ Not on List” written by Jessica Elgot, published by Huffington Post (UK) on February 5, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/02/05/extraordinary-rendition_n_2622079.html

A full list of all 54 countries is published beneath the same article.

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis & opinion, Argentina, did you see?, Greg Palast, Latin America, neo-liberalism, obituary, Venezuela

Gold Diggers of 2013

We are now in the midst of what can only be described as a gold rush. Of course some countries, China being the shining example, have been rapidly expanding their gold reserves for many years – the full amount of Chinese gold being a closely guarded secret although most analysts anticipate a full disclosure of Chinese gold reserves in the relatively near future, and based on an accumulation rate of slightly less than 1,000 tons per year, it is widely believed that China may already be the second largest holder in the world, which, as zerohedge noted back in November, means “surpassing Germany’s 3,395 tons and [becoming] second only to the US.”

Meanwhile, other countries are suddenly asking for the repossession of their own physical reserves that have been stored in vaults around the world during many decades. About a year ago I reported on Hugo Chavez’s retrieval of Venezuela’s physical gold reserves, and more recently we hear how, for instance, the Dutch and German governments are increasingly eager to get their hands on their own gold. Here is part of a report from Dutch News published in late November:

Questions have been asked in parliament about the location and value of the country’s gold reserves, most of which is said to be in foreign vaults, news agency ANP reports on Wednesday [Nov 28th].

The Netherlands is said to have 612 tonnes of gold, with a value of some €24bn. Just 10% of it is held at the central bank headquarters in Amsterdam. The rest is in bank vaults in the US, Canada and Britain.

Socialist and Christian Democrat MPs are now asking if it is sensible to keep the gold abroad and want to know how pure the gold bars actually are. 1

Anyone would think they don’t trust us or something – although when I mean us, I actually mean our central bankers obviously, and frankly who does trust them? Indeed, it turns out that the Germans had started repatriating their own reserves shortly after the launch of the euro and around the time of Brown’s Bottom, which was more then a decade ago:

The report [I’ll come back to this in a moment] claimed that the Bundesbank had slashed its holdings in London from 1,440 tons to 500 tons in 2000 and 2001, allegedly because storage costs were too high. The metal was flown to Frankfurt by air freight.

The revelation has baffled gold veterans. The shift came as the euro was at its weakest, slumping to $0.84 against the dollar. But it also came as the Bank of England was selling off most of Britain’s gold reserves – at market lows – on orders from Gordon Brown. 2

Click here to read the full article in the Telegraph.

The report in question, which had been produced by the German court of auditors (Bundesrechnungshof), is now demanding a complete audit of the nation’s gold reserves:

Germany’s gold bars, stored in the United States, Britain and France “have never been physically checked by the Bundesbank itself, or other independent auditors, regarding their authenticity or weight,” reveals a report prepared by the Federal Auditors’ Office. Instead, the Bundesbank relies on a “written confirmation by the storage sites.” […]

Concerns about Germany’s gold reserves arose this year after a group of German federal lawmakers wanted to check gold bars stored at the Banque de France in Paris. But they were turned away by local officials who said there were no facilities to visit the vaults, Deutsche Welle reported. […]

The Bundesbank has reportedly decided to ship 150 tons of gold from the New York Federal Reserve to Germany, according to German daily Bild. After returning to Germany the gold will be melted down to test the overall purity of each consignment before being re-cast into standard gold bars. 3

Click here to read the full report published by Russia Today in late October.

So why this accelerating rush to acquire gold, as in the case of China, or, as in the cases of Germany and Holland, to repatriate their gold reserves? What can it all portend…?

An article simply entitled “Are Fiat Currencies Headed for a Collapse?” published by CNBC back in July 2012 offers a concise assessment of the situation:

A fiat currency derives its worth from the issuing government – it is not fixed in value to any objective standard. That means central banks can print as much money as they want. If an economy is struggling, injecting more notes into the system juices activity but lowers the value of the currency in question.

With major central banks all desperate to stimulate their economies, some say currencies have entered a dangerous new phase often described as a race to the bottom.

Mark Mobius, Executive Chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets Group, says investors will soon start to demand fiat currencies be backed by gold or other hard assets.

“It’s already happening, you’re beginning to see that trend with central banks stocking up on gold. The estimate is that at least half of the buying is central bank buying. They are looking to the day when they can say okay, our currency is backed by gold and therefore we’re a strong country,” Mobius told CNBC Asia. 4

Of course, such rumours of widespread currency collapse have been with us ever since the financial panic of 2007/8 – rumours that were quickly given extra legs thanks to the enormous bank bailouts and the multiple rounds of quantitative easing (QE) both in the US and in Europe – all this money printing being the immediate way that the derivatives Ponzi scheme, the original cause and the deep root of the crisis, could be propped up. Yet, in spite of such vast injections of new money, the more serious catastrophe predicted by many has not (as yet) come about. So does this mean, as our governments wish to persuade us, that the crisis has been brought under control, or does it simply mean that they’ve managed to kick the can just a little further down the road than most of the economic pessimists could have imagined?

Undoubtedly such rampant money printing without anything like commensurate economic growth does mean, and however cunningly it may be have been disguised, that the money we hold has undergone and continues to undergo a rapid devaluation. So prices in the longer term must be expected to rise since inflation is already baked into the quantitatively-eased cake: the only legitimate questions being not if, but when, and importantly, how sharp the eventual decline in our purchasing power turns out to be.

In Britain, for instance, prices of goods and services are certainly rising quickly, and well above the skillfully massaged Consumer Price Index (CPI) figure of less than 3%, whilst at the same time wages remain flat (falling in real terms and thereby magnifying the impact of inflation for most people), but, on the face of it at least, there is little indication of any kind of hyperinflationary collapse coming around the corner. However, there is one outstanding factor to be considered here: that the newly printed money has largely been hoarded by the banks that received it, and for so long as the banks are reluctant to lend, little to none of this issuance flows back out into the money supply. For this reason, most of the coming inflation remains as yet in the pipeline.

So are we about to see a protracted devaluation of our currencies involving many decades of relatively low inflation at survivable rates (although perhaps as high as ten or twenty percent), or ought we to expect a sudden leap to genuine hyperinflationary levels? Put differently, are the western economies going to continue to more slowly but inexorably sink or, alternatively, is the genuine ‘fiscal cliff’ of a currency collapse nearing? The simple answer is that I don’t know – I’m not an economist and I don’t pretend to understand the deeper complexity here; and when it comes to economics, pretending to understand and then making lousy predictions is far better left to the professionals! What is clear is that so long as the imposed ‘solution’ to this still deepening financial crisis relies upon the deadly cocktail of “austerity measures” mixed with money printing, the prospect of eventual hyperinflation looms not merely as a worst-case scenario, but a worst-case that appears increasingly likely.

Why do I say this? Well, because at the same time as “austerity” is destroying growth, the endless rounds of QE are effectively reducing the value of our money by repeatedly diluting it. So maintaining this combination of imposed “austerity” and sustained money printing is just about the most perfect recipe for creating not mere inflation, but stagflation – which is precisely what we are already seeing.

But then outright hyperinflation is always a result of political choices, rather than simply an outcome of economic failures. It happens whenever a government decides (or, very often, feels coerced) to flood the economy with currency in an increasingly desperate attempt to keep up with repayments on unsustainable debts and so to survive. And for dramatic effects, this tail-chasing exercise has to go on and on and on…

So here’s what I think we can most certainly expect in the immediate future – even given a best-case scenario. Undoubtedly our economies will continue to shrivel away under the imposed “austerity measures”, bringing mass unemployment in the wake of economic decline, and that rise in joblessness, in turn, generating a frenzied competition for the remaining jobs, and forcing down ordinary wages still further (when wages have already, certainly in real terms, substantially fallen since the crisis began).

In the meantime, attacks of QE are continually eating into our earnings and savings, and in terms of devaluation, it hardly matters whether one decides to stuff their money under the mattress or deposit it in a savings scheme, given the poor rates of return on offer. But let’s also keep in mind that all of this is being done merely to serve and protect the interests of the major banks: the ones long-since deemed “too big too fail”. Institutions not only operating outside of the law, but tacitly encouraged to carry on doing so (as the lack of prosecutions following the fixing of Libor and the more extraordinary scandal involving HSBC goes to show).

And now the increasing desire shown by governments and central banks (not to mention many of the richest individuals) to suddenly acquire gold and, perhaps even more importantly, to hold on to it, offers clues beyond the competing economic theories as to what the “money masters” themselves are actually anticipating. Needless to say, it does not bode well for the majority of us.

The steadily rising price of gold is at the same time, of course, a key indicator (alongside the rising price of other commodities like silver and copper) of how much our currencies have already been debased. During the past five years, both gold and silver have approximately doubled in their value, equivalent to an annual inflation rate of slightly less than 15% (which is obviously far higher than the CPI’s paltry 3%) – I offer a more detailed analysis of these trends as a footnote.5 And these rises have happened in spite of the fact that the price of gold and silver, like everything else in our supposedly ‘free market’ system, is subject to manipulation by the major financial players, who, having “invested” so heavily in varieties of paper, have a clear interest in keeping the value of precious metals down – and the Ponzi scheme up and running.

Meanwhile, the continued appliance of tough “austerity measures” in spite of so much damning evidence of ineffectiveness in rescuing any ailing economies, anywhere, ever (either during this crisis – to judge by the effects on Greece, Spain and elsewhere – or earlier ‘interventions’ in Latin America, Africa and in the aftermath of the break-up of the Soviet Union) proves only that there is still very much a political will to enforce such neo-liberal “shock therapy”.

“Austerity” kills the poor and the weak and is already doing precisely this in places like Greece. It cannot provide any cure for what is an intrinsically systemic failure. Instead, such tight restrictions on government investment in welfare and infrastructure during a depression is like telling a starving person that it might help if they were to eat their own stomach. A brutal approach that is nothing short of criminal lunacy. And the same goes for the bailouts – the banks are fundamentally broken, indeed the entire financial system is in a state of ruin, and repeatedly bailing them out means simply throwing good money after bad… ad infinitum.

During the depression years of 1930s, there was another famous rush for gold. It eventually led to US President Franklin Roosevelt signing the notorious Executive Order 6102 in April 1933, “forbidding the hoarding of Gold Coin, Gold Bullion, and Gold Certificates within the continental United States”. An order that was supposed to apply to every individual, partnership, association and corporation, and making possession “of gold or silver coin or bullion or currency” a criminal offence. It was the same year that Warner Bros. released the first of a string of popular musicals: Gold Diggers of 1933; quickly followed up with Gold Diggers of 1935 and … of 1937. These sugary confections, mostly remembered now for their lavish and dreamy choreographed sequences put together by the great Busby Berkeley, are ‘rags to riches’ tales with guaranteed happy endings that had helped to keep the public’s pecker up.

This time around we are perhaps still a long way off any equivalent to FDR’s Executive Order, though it is always wise to keep history in mind. Back on the entertainment front, and with the depression looking set to move up through the gears once more, we are offered the rather grittier and altogether more worthy distraction of a big screen release for Victor Hugo’s grand epic turned Broadway musical, Les Misérables – Surely the producers aren’t trying to plant the seeds for revolution?!!!

I can think of no better way to finish such a gloomy article than with a song. And what better than Noël Coward’s wonderfully sardonic ditty “There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner” (albeit written during the rather more solvent 1950s). Here’s a chorus:

There are bad times just around the corner
The horizon is gloomy as can be
There are black birds over
The greyish cliffs of Dover
And the rats are preparing to leave the BBC
We’re an unhappy breed and very bored indeed
When reminded of something that Nelson said
And while the press and the politicians nag, nag, nag
We’ll wait until we drop down dead

You can enjoy a complete performance embedded below – Is there any better national anthem for these turbulent times?

*

Update:

It seems that the story had already moved forward before I released the post – so here’s the part I missed: “Germany bring home gold stored in US, France,” released by Associated Press (published by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday Jan 16th):

In what sounds like the setup for a stylish Hollywood heist movie, Germany is transferring nearly 700 tons of gold bars worth $36 billion from Paris and New York to its vaults in Frankfurt.

The move is part of an effort by Germany’s central bank to bring much of its gold home after keeping big reserves outside the country for safekeeping during the Cold War.

Click here to read the full story.

*

1 From an article entitled “Are the Netherlands’ gold reserves real? MPs want answers” published by Dutch News on November 28, 2012. http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2012/11/are_the_netherlands_gold_reser.php

2 From an article entitled “Bundesbank slashed London gold holdings in mystery move” written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International business editor, published by the Telegraph on October 24, 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/9631962/Bundesbank-slashed-London-gold-holdings-in-mystery-move.html

3 From an article entitled “Germany orders a check on its gold reserves” published by Russia Today on October 29, 2012. http://rt.com/business/news/germany-gold-reserves-check-472/

4 From an article entitled “Are Fiat Currencies Headed for a Collapse?” written by Lisa Oake, published by CNBC on July 27, 2012. http://www.cnbc.com/id/48349503/Are_Fiat_Currencies_Headed_for_a_Collapse

5 As I write, the price of gold is $1687 per oz and silver stands at $31.7 per oz. Over the last five years this compares to lows and highs of $709 and $1900 for gold and ranging between $8.92 and $48.5 for silver. In other words, the current values are still below the high peaks that were reached in 2011. However, if you judge from the trend rather than from spot values then both graphs are very clearly climbing throughout the 5 years – and in that period (a period which approximately coincides with the length of the current crisis) gold has almost doubled in value (being around $900 in January 2008) and silver likewise (from just over $15 in January 2008). A doubling of prices over five years would equate to an inflation rate of very slightly under 15%. Click on the links to see price charts over 5 years for gold and silver.

Copper is a little different. The price of copper as I write is $3.6 per pound. If you study the price over the last 5 years then there has been a more modest rise compared to gold and silver (beginning with a price already a little over $3 in January 2008, before sharply falling by December 2008 and then recovering again in late 2010). But the trend for copper is very much more interesting when considered over ten years. Back in 2003, silver was still in a dip at around $0.7 but in early 2004 it sudden began to rise spectacularly, reaching $3.5 by mid 2006 – an incredible five-fold increase. It has more or less maintained this high price ever since, flattening off in recent years, although as the chart below shows, the overall trend remains modestly upward:

Historical Copper Prices - Copper Price History Chart

2 Comments

Filed under analysis & opinion, austerity measures, China, Germany, Netherlands, Venezuela

Brown, Bernanke, Chavez and the price of gold

They say that a fool and his gold are soon parted, and it turns out that was certainly the case when it came to Gordon Brown; squandering not his own reserves, but the nation’s:

Between 1999 and 2002, Mr Brown ordered the sale of almost 400 tons of the gold reserves when the price was at a 20-year low. Since then, the price has more than quadrupled, meaning the decision cost taxpayers an estimated £7 billion, according to Mike Warburton of the accountants Grant Thornton.1

Having settled for such a poor return on our national savings — a decision described in the article as “one of the Treasury’s worst mistakes” (which is putting things mildly) — we also learn (in the same article) that Brown and the Treasury “have repeatedly refused to disclose information about the gold sale amid allegations that warnings were ignored.”

Here is financial journalist Max Keiser trying to get to the bottom of what’s become known as, ah-hum, “Brown’s Bottom”:

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, Hugo Chavez sat tight on his own country’s gold reserves – and now he’s asking for them back:

Venezuela plans to transfer billions of dollars in cash reserves from abroad to banks in Russia, China and Brazil and tons of gold from European banks to its central bank vaults, according to documents reviewed Tuesday by The Wall Street Journal.

The planned moves would include transferring $6.3 billion in cash reserves, most of which Venezuela now keeps in banks such as the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, and Barclays Bank in London to unnamed Russian, Chinese and Brazilian banks, one document said.

Venezuela also plans to move 211 tons of gold it keeps abroad and values at $11 billion to the vaults of the Venezuelan Central Bank in Caracas where the government keeps its remaining 154 tons of bullion, the document says.2

As Venezuela demands its gold back, some commentators are feigning incomprehension. Why on earth would anyone want their gold back at a time like this…? But perhaps the question they should really be asking is this: what if Chavez is refused?

Keiser, a former equities broker, runs a campaign that encourages people to buy up physical silver in an effort to crash JP Morgan; an organisation that he describes as “the biggest financial terrorist on Wall Street”. He says that Chavez’s demands for the return of Venezuelan gold could have a similar effect on JPM:

The fun begins if Chavez demands physical delivery of more than 10.6 tons of physical because as today’s CME update of metal depository statistics, JPM only has 338,303 ounces of registered gold in storage. Or roughly 10.6 tons. A modest deposit of this size would cause some serious white hair at JPM as the bank scrambles to find the replacement gold, which has already been pledged about 100 times across the various paper markets.

Posted at maxkeiser.com on 17th August.

The price of gold has skyrocketed during the last few weeks, but this doesn’t automatically mean we are witnessing a bubble, at least not in the usual sense. If you look over the longer term, you’ll see that the price of gold has actually been rising steadily for around a decade (about the same time when Gordon Brown decided to sell). That same trend is true for silver, as well as other “physicals”. So is it that the value of gold and silver are rising, or is it that paper currencies (most significantly the dollar) have been devalued?

About a month ago, when the price of an ounce of gold was a mere $1,500, Congressman Ron Paul confronted Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in a U.S. House Financial Services Committee. Paul asked Bernanke directly: “do you think gold is money?” Bernanke’s answer: “No”.

But if gold isn’t money, then just what is? The ever increasing supply of virtual ones and zeros orbiting the global markets, or those tattered pieces of paper in your wallet which declare: “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds” – five pounds, ten pounds, twenty pounds, but pounds of what exactly? Hugo Chavez isn’t waiting to find out, and he’s not alone.

1 From an article entitled “Explain why you sold Britain’s gold, Gordon Brown told”, by Holly Watt and Robert Winnett, published March 24, 2010. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/investing/gold/7511589/Explain-why-you-sold-Britains-gold-Gordon-Brown-told.html

2 From an article entitled “Venezuela Plans to Move Reserve Funds” by Jose De Cordoba and Ezequiel Minaya, published in The Wall Street Journal on August 17, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903392904576512961180570694.html

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, Max Keiser, Uncategorized, Venezuela

double standards in “war on terror” – the trials of Posada Carriles

On January 10[th] one of the most dangerous terrorists in recent history will go on trial in a small courtroom in El Paso, Texas. This is not the venue the Obama administration has finally selected to prosecute the perpetrators of 9/11; it is where the reputed godfather of Cuban exile violence, Luis Posada Carriles, may finally face a modicum of accountability for his many crimes.

Writes Peter Kornbluh in an article published on January 24th in The Nation magazine :

In the annals of modern justice, the Posada trial stands out as one of the most bizarre and disreputable of legal proceedings. The man identified by US intelligence reports as a mastermind of the midair destruction of a Cuban airliner—all seventy-three people on board were killed when the plane plunged into the sea off the coast of Barbados on October 6, 1976—and who publicly bragged about being behind a series of hotel bombings in Havana that killed an Italian businessman, Fabio Di Celmo, is being prosecuted for perjury and fraud, not murder and mayhem. The handling of his case during the Bush years became an international embarrassment and reflected poorly on the willingness and/or abilities of the Justice Department to prosecute crimes of terror when that terrorist was once an agent and ally of America. For the Obama administration, the verdict will carry significant implications for US credibility in the fight against terrorism, as well as for the future of US-Cuban relations.1

Whilst James C. McKinley Jr., writing in The New York Times on January 9th, asks why this elderly former CIA agent is on trial not for terrorism but perjury:

An elderly Cuban exile who once worked for the C.I.A. and has been linked to bombings in Havana and the downing of an airliner in the 1970s is scheduled to go on trial this week in a Texas courtroom — not on terrorism charges, but for perjury.

His article continues:

“The C.I.A. trained and unleashed a Frankenstein,” said Peter Kornbluh, an analyst with the National Security Archive who has studied Mr. Posada’s career. “It is long past time he be identified as a terrorist and be held accountable as a terrorist.”

Mr. Posada’s lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, predicted that his client would be acquitted. “He’s innocent of everything,” Mr. Hernandez said.

The defendant in question, Luis Posada Carriles, has in fact worked with the CIA on many different occasions – and especially during America’s Cold War campaign against Castro:

Mr. Posada has long been entwined with American intelligence services, going back to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. He worked directly for the agency until 1967, spying on Cuban exile groups in Miami and running paramilitary training camps, according to declassified documents. He was also a “paid asset” of the agency in Venezuela from 1968 to 1976, according to declassified documents and an unclassified summary of his career in the court record.

“The C.I.A. taught us everything — everything,” he told The [New York] Times in 1998. “They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb[,] trained us in acts of sabotage.”2

Click here to read the full article.

But then, back in May 2005, the 77-year-old Posada Carriles was arrested in Miami, and held for entering the US illegally; the judge eventually ruling that he could not be deported to face charges in Venezuela:

The judge said Luis Posada Carriles – wanted by Caracas over a 1976 plane bombing which killed 73 people – faced the threat of torture in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan government reacted angrily to the ruling, accusing the US of having a “double standard in its so-called war on terrorism”.3

Click here to read full report from the BBC News in September 2005.

The record of terrorist offences Mr Posada is charged with is a very long one: Posada has actually admitted to involvement with bombings of Cuban hotels and nightclubs, and has already been convicted in Panama for his involvement in many other plots, including the attack which brought down Cubana Flight 455. Stephen Kinzer, writing for The Guardian, in May 2007, says he only narrowly escaped becoming one of those victims:

One October day in 1976, a Cuban airliner exploded over the Caribbean and crashed, killing all 73 people aboard. There should have been 74. I had a ticket on that flight, but changed my reservation at the last moment and flew to Havana on an earlier plane.

I was sitting by the pool of the Hotel Riviera when I heard news of the crash. A few days later, I attended a powerfully moving ceremony at which one million Cubans turned out to hear Fidel Castro denounce the bomb attack. On the reviewing stand next to him were flag-draped coffins of the few victims whose remains had been found.

Investigators in Venezuela, where the doomed flight originated, quickly determined that a famous anti-Castro terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, had probably planned this attack. More than 30 years later, however, Posada remains amazingly immune to prosecution. Instead of going to jail, he went to work for the CIA.

Last week a federal judge in Texas threw out a case against Posada. The Bush administration has power under the Patriot Act to detain him indefinitely, and could even extradite him to Venezuela. Instead it has chosen to protect him. 4

Click here to read the full article.

Posada Carriles was released from US custody on April 19th 2007, after paying his bond. Peter Kornbluh picks up the story again:

In April 2006 government lawyers decided to hold a naturalization interview with Posada while he was in jail, surreptitiously gathering self-incriminating evidence against him in the hotel bombing case…

Instead, on January 11, 2007, Posada was indicted in El Paso on six counts of making “false statements” and one of fraud about how he came to the United States and for his use of false names and false passports—charges that carry an maximum sentence of five to ten years each. To make matters worse for the credibility of the US legal system, four months later Judge Kathleen Cardone dismissed all charges against Posada. The government, she ruled, had engaged in “fraud, deceit and trickery” in obtaining evidence against Posada under the guise of conducting a naturalization review. The court, she declared, could “not set aside [Posada’s legal] rights nor overlook Government misconduct [just] because Defendant is a political hot potato.”

A free man, Posada took up residence in Miami…

Ironically, it is now the legal proceedings against Posada that could be embarrassing to, and carry significant implications for, WOLADY [the CIA’s codeword for the United States]. In the six years Posada has been in the United States, his case has become a spectacle around the world. Now, if he is found guilty and in effect proven to be a mastermind of terrorism, the US government will have to address the scandalously short sentence the perjury charges carry. If he is found innocent and released, the Obama administration will have to confront the fact that the US legal system is inadequate to hold Posada even minimally accountable for his violent crimes, and that the United States is, in the end, harboring an international terrorist.”

Hardly surprisingly, some of the relatives of Posada’s victims were already outraged that a known terrorist was only going to trial to face charges of perjury:

He is not being charged as a terrorist but rather as a liar,” says Livio Di Celmo, whose brother, Fabio, was killed in one of the hotel bombings in Cuba. “My family and I are outraged and disappointed that a known terrorist, Luis Posada, is going to trial for perjury and immigration fraud, not for the horrific crime of masterminding the bombing of a civilian airliner,” Roseanne Nenninger, whose 19-year-old brother, Raymond, was aboard the Cuban plane, told The Nation. “Our hope is that the US government will designate Posada as a terrorist and hold him accountable for the pain, suffering and loss he has caused to us and so many other families.”

But they needn’t have worried because in April, the now 83-year-old Posada Carriles was acquitted of even these relatively minor offences, and so the case is presumably closed:

A US court has acquitted a veteran Cuban anti-communist activist and former CIA agent, Luis Posada Carriles, on immigration charges.

US federal prosecutors had accused him of lying to immigration officials, but a jury found him not guilty.5

Click here  to read the full report from BBC News on April 8th.

Back in May 2007, Stephen Kinzer had written:

“After last week’s verdict, a spokesman for the US Department of Justice said Posada’s case is under review. A grand jury in New Jersey is investigating his role in the bombing of Cuban hotels in the 1990s. So far, though, the services he provided to the CIA for more than four decades have protected him.

“If you harbour a terrorist, you are a terrorist,” President Bush famously declared after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The United States is now harbouring Luis Posada Carriles. His continued freedom mocks victims of terrorism everywhere. It also shows how heavily the “war on terror” is overlaid with politics and hypocrisy.”

This latest verdict merely goes to show how the double standards that applied during Bush’s “war on terror” have been perpetuated under the Obama administration.

To learn more watch Posada Carriles: Terrorism Made in the USA (2007) — a documentary from renowned Venezuelan filmmaker Angel Palacios which details his longstanding relationship with the CIA, dating back to the 1960’s.

The film took two years of meticulous research by an investigative team that examined declassified documents and criminal files, and interviewed witnesses and survivors from several Latin American countries.

1 From an article entitled: “Former CIA Asset Luis Posada Goes to Trial” by Peter Kornbluh, published in The Nation, January 24th 2011. www.thenation.com/article/157510/former-cia-asset-luis-posada-goes-trial

2 From an article entitled “Terror Accusations, but Perjury Charges” by James C. McKinley Jr, published in The New York Times on January 9th 2011. www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/us/10posada.html

3 “No deportation for Cuban militant” from BBC News published on Wednesday 28th September 2005. news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4289136.stm

4 From article entitled: “The terrorist Bush isn’t after: Luis Posada Carriles is a terrorist – but an anti-Castro one, so as far as America is concerned he’s all right.” by Stephen Kinzer, The Guardian, Tuesday 15th May 2007. www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/may/15/theterroristbushisntafter

5 From an article entitled “US court acquites Cuba militant Luis Posada Carriles” published by BBC News on April 8th 2011. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-13021002

Leave a comment

Filed under did you see?, Latin America, Uncategorized, USA, Venezuela