Thursday, 28 January 2010
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
IMPOVERISHED MASSES FACE NEW DISASTER
Disaster has struck the impoverished people of Haiti once again; a powerful earthquake, early on 13 January, toppled buildings in the capital Port-au-Prince. The 7.0 magnitude quake - the biggest recorded in this part of the Caribbean - left the capital's 3 million people who live on hillside slums made of wood, tin and cheap concrete, particularly vulnerable. There are growing fears that thousands of people were killed, with many more badly injured or missing. According to the Reuters news agency, "Bloodied and dazed survivors gathered in the open and corpses were pinned by debris." Many buildings were destroyed, including the headquarters of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission (around 9,000 UN police and troops are stationed there to "maintain order") and the presidential palace.
Power supplies and communications have also been disrupted. The desperately poor country has few resources to deal with the catastrophe, lacking heavy equipment to move debris and sufficient emergency personnel. Local people are reduced to trying to rescue victims from rubble with their bare hands.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has a history of destructive natural disasters. A series of hurricanes and tropical storms in 2008 left over 800 people dead and caused $1bn worth of damage.
President Obama issued a statement after the latest disaster: "We are closely monitoring the situation and we stand ready to assist the people of Haiti". But the record of US imperialism in Haiti, and indeed the region, is anything but helpful for the Haiti poor.
After decades of corrupt and often brutal rule, and imperialist meddling, some estimates put poverty levels in Haiti at 80%, with the figure at 82% in the rural areas, and with 54% reduced to "abject poverty." Adult literacy rates are at a mere 52%. Over 70% of the population is unemployed.
Going by their abysmal records, the ruling elite and US imperialism and other regional powers will not provide the necessary aid and rescue required urgently by the Haitian masses after the devastating earthquake, let alone the major resources needed to rebuild and to massively develop the country.
To respond to the earthquake emergency, the CWI calls for:
- Immediate massive funding for earthquake disaster relief and reconstruction
- Democratic control over all aid and emergency - rescue, relief and rehabilitation of the affected people - and massive reconstruction programmes, through elected committees of workers, land labourers and poor people in every area
- Build good quality housing, hospitals, schools, roads and infrastructure, and other vital public resources and services
- The cancellation of all foreign debts
For decades, Haiti has been plagued by poverty, joblessness and military dictatorships. The notorious US backed regime of 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, continued by his son, Baby Doc, from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, was finished off by a mass struggle of workers and students. A series of highly unstable and short-lived regimes followed.
Unfortunately, these years of radical urban movements did not have a revolutionary socialist leadership that could take power, sweep away capitalism and realise the demands of working people.
The political void was partially filled by Jean Bertrand Aristide, a popular priest working in the slum areas of Port-au-Prince, who won the 1990 presidential elections by promising to tackle poverty and to bring social justice.
Aristide's initial reforms were popular with the poor, if timid by the standards of what is actually necessary to end poverty and joblessness. Nonetheless, Aristide was viciously opposed by the reactionary rich elite that cannot abide any expression in office, however limited, of the basic needs of the masses. Aristide was subsequently overthrown by General Cedras, in 1991, but returned to power, in 1994, on the back of 20,000 US troops after the Clinton administration eventually lost patience with the previous volatile and defiant Haitian regime. In the elections that followed, Aristide was barred from standing, but Rene Preval, his close ally, took nearly 90% of the vote. In 2000, Aristide was again elected president with over 90% support.
Aristide's support lessened as he failed to make any real change to poverty conditions and as allegations of corruption and vote rigging increased. But still the ruling elite could not stomach Aristide's popular support. The reactionary opposition mounted an uprising in 2004, with the Bush administration's support, and Aristide was bundled out of Haiti by US troops. The situation worsened considerably, with lawlessness and kidnappings rife and factories shut down due to a lack of foreign investment. Poverty conditions led to the loss of 2,000 lives during heavy rains in May 2004.
Continuing crisis and violence
The years since Aristide's removal have seen continuing crisis and violence and a succession of prime ministers. In 2006, in the first elections since Aristide's removal, Rene Preval was announced winner of the presidential vote. The increase of foreign troops, led by Brazil (playing a regional imperialist role), saw bitter clashes between UN troops and armed gangs in Cite Soleil, one of the largest shanty towns. Food riots, in April 2008, forced the government to announce a plan to cut the price of rice.
Despite President Preval's description as "a champion of the poor" he has not tackled the deep inequalities in Haiti. His latest prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, installed in October 2009, is an economist who courts foreign investors. The huge social gap between the poor Creole-speaking black majority, that make up 95% of the population, and the French-speaking mulattos, 1% of whom own nearly half the country's wealth, remains unaddressed.
In 2009, a mere $324 million aid was 'pledged' by 'international donors' to help Haiti recover from hurricanes and food shortages. But the worldwide economic recession has even further lessened any meaningful aid or debt relief for Haiti. Moreover, Haiti's poverty is fundamentally due to the consequences of centuries of imperialist oppression and exploitation, including the imposition of neo-liberal policies over the last two decades. Trade policies imposed on the country by international financial agencies saw, in 1994, the tariff on rice imports lowered from 36% to 3%. This left Haiti dependent on food imports, particularly from the US, because local farmers could not compete with imported rice and home production vastly reduced. Soaring rice prices and other staples in 2009 hit the Haitian people very hard. In July, last year, the World Bank an IMF canceled $1.2bn of Haiti's debt – 80% of the total, which the capitalist institutions probably concluded would never be repaid – but only after deciding Haiti had fulfilled "economic reform".
Only the masses of Haiti, with the working class playing the leading role, can find a way out of the endless poverty, joblessness, violence, coups and dictatorships. Haiti has a proud, revolutionary history. Just over 200 years ago, the black masses abolished slavery and won national independence for Haiti. Their deeds were an inspiration to the masses of the Caribbean and the working people of Europe.
Vengeful ruling class
The colonial and, later, the imperialist powers, were vengefully determined that the 'black republic' would be seen to fail and embarked on a series of interventions and endless meddling. The 1930s and 1940s saw social and class turmoil in Haiti, including student and workers' protests. In these decades, the small working class created trade unions. Several communist parties were also established but faced severe repression. In the absence of powerful working class organisations, reaction was able to triumph with the coming to power of the Duvalier dictatorships.
Today, more than ever, a workers' and poor people's mass alternative has to be constructed in opposition to the tiny rich elite. The current earthquake disaster and likely character of the 'reconstruction programme' under the auspices of the rotten ruling elite and regional capitalist powers, will highlight to the Haitian masses the need for democratic control of the resources in society. On the basis of capitalism, the vast majority of people will remain impoverished, jobless, illiterate and hungry and living in shantytowns or in the countryside, without electricity. This barely subsistence existence means that the mass of people are highly vulnerable to 'natural disasters', such as the recent earthquake.
Workers and poor need their own independent class organizations – unions and a mass party - a socialist alternative that would fight for real fundamental change, making an appeal to the working class and poor across the Caribbean and the whole Americas.
The CWI says:
- End unjust trade policies and the imposed policies of the World Bank and IMF
- State subsidies for struggling small farmers
- Jobs and a living wage for all
- Properly funded education and public health service
- Bring the resources and main planks of the economy into public ownership, under democratic workers' control and management
- UN forces out of Haiti – End imperialist meddling
- Build a new mass party of the working class and poor, with socialist policies
- For a socialist Haiti, with a democratically-run planned economy, under the control and management of working people, as part of a voluntary and equal socialist federation of the Caribbean
Niall Mulholland, CWI
Sunday, 10 January 2010
One year ago, millions of Americans were in the streets cheering the election of Obama as the end of Republican policies and the start of a new era. How quickly these hopes have been dashed. One year after Obama's election, it's hard to identify one positive achievement of his presidency.
Obama's campaign was filled with lofty speeches, and he repeatedly promised to change who controls politics in Washington. He promised that ordinary Americans "will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally [been] reserved for the wealthy and the powerful."
Almost immediately, Obama packed his cabinet full of Wall Street executives and powerful political figures from previous administrations, both Democrat and Republican. This was followed by another huge bailout for the architects of the financial meltdown – the big banks – with few, if any, strings attached.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration refused to support legislation in the Senate which would have allowed judges to force banks to renegotiate mortgage instruments to give desperate homeowners reduced monthly payments to avoid foreclosure or eviction. This follows his decision the previous year, while in the Senate, to vote against a cap on the interest rates on credit cards.
Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone, "the aid that Obama has provided to real people has been dwarfed in size and scope by the taxpayer money that has been handed over to America's financial giants" (9 December 2009). This showed the extent to which Obama is beholden to the bankers and financiers who helped fund his election campaign.
This was followed by his decision to offer major concessions to the private hospitals, drug companies, and insurance companies as part of building the framework for his health care reform bill (New York Times, 8 December 2008). For example, Obama stepped in personally to promise drug companies that the government would not use its clout to force down drug prices. This paved the way for the massive handout to private medicine that is at the heart of the Obama-supported health bill recently passed through the House and Senate.
Then came the decision for a 30,000-troop surge in Afghanistan, the failure to support the international treaty to ban land mines and the failure to support the issues dear to the LGBT community. He also failed to address the massive poverty and imprisonment that afflict the African-American community; he refused to enact a powerful jobs program or to seriously fight to protect the environment. And, of course, he put on the backburner promises to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for workers to form unions at their workplaces.
Millions of working-class and poor people are now forced to grapple with the fact that Obama's promises to be a transformative figure were just that – electoral promises. In the real world, he is the chosen candidate of the Democratic Party. He got there, as every other candidate of the Democratic Party, by proving his loyalty to the big corporate sponsors who fund the party and its candidates. He received more corporate money than any other candidate in 2008.
So what does this tell us about the nature of the Democratic Party? In the Democratic Party, as in the Republican Party, corporate interests consistently trump the concerns of working people and the poor. How else can one explain the policies of the Obama administration on issue after issue? Obama is the current spokesperson for a big business political party.
With the Obama administration stepping back from any progressive promises it made, this alienated its supporters and weakened the powerful majority of Americans who were willing to help push through Obama's promise to break with the agenda of the Republicans.
This left working-class people disarmed and confused. Into this vacuum stepped the right-wing populist spokespersons of the Republicans, distorting the issues, playing on people's fears, hammering away at Obama and attempting to block his agenda by any means necessary.
Democratic Party Fails
Instead of exposing this motley crew and mobilizing the public, the Obama administration sat down to negotiate away one progressive element after another from its legislation. For what? With each concession, Republicans have called his policies "socialist" and "un-American" while demanding more. All these concessions resulted in not one Republican vote in the Senate for the health care bill.
We can now expect apologists for the Democratic Party to blame the American people for not being willing to support Obama's progressive agenda, and to claim that Obama "was forced" to make concessions to the Republicans. The opposite is true. The majority of the public has been consistently to the left of both political parties in the last ten years. They have demanded troops be withdrawn first from Iraq and now Afghanistan, constantly supported a government-run universal health care system, called for fundamental change to protect the environment, and demanded controls be put on Wall Street corruption and hand outs to wealthy CEOs. These are policies neither of the two major parties will touch.
Time and again we have seen the same process. The Republicans get exposed; the Democrats promise change in order to get elected. Once safely in power, they shed promises and reveal their corporate core. Clinton also made promises - and then delivered NAFTA, the WTO, the abolition of welfare, the militarization of the border with Mexico, the bombing of Serbia and inhumane sanctions on the people of Iraq.
Call to Action
It's time to step up and say "enough is enough." We will only get the policies we need by building a powerful movement to demand them. This has always been the way progress has been won in the past. This is the way we forced big business to concede social security, the 40-hour workweek, and civil rights for women and African Americans – not by depending on the voluntary votes of Democrats.
This is the best we can get from Democrats. Their corporate character is there for all to see. In this health care debate their priority has been big business's agenda, making the health care bill "fiscally neutral." They refused to even discuss a single-payer system, which would have provided quality health care for all by eliminating the wasteful insurance companies. Compare this to Obama's statement in a primary debate in 2007: "I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer health care program. I see no reason why the U.S. cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody."
There is massive anger at the economic conditions – humiliation and pain from fighting just to keep our heads above water and our bodies from being forced out on to the streets.
That anger will demand change. We need to channel that anger to build a new political party and a socialist program that stands for working people, not corporate America. That is the only way we can achieve real change.
Tony Wilsdon, CWI USA
Tuesday, 5 January 2010
We are sickeningly familiar with the arrogant, cruel statements of Sri Lankan prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his cronies. They dismiss any criticism of their brutal war against Tamil-speaking people and the horrific aftermath of mass internment camps, militarised zones and a clampdown on media freedoms and democratic rights. But how can Rajapaksa & Company get away with it?
The reality is that Sri Lanka is in demand. One of the reasons that quiet, diplomatic appeals to establishment governments and political parties have practically no impact is that all of these governments have their fingers in the Sri Lankan pie. They want a piece of the action. So, they cannot be too critical for fear of being frozen out of lucrative economic and strategic deals. The only time governments act in the interests of workers and poor people is when they are put under massive pressure.
The major regional powers, China and India, are jostling for position in the Indian Ocean, where the US administration also has strategic economic and military interests. There can be no doubt that the provision of weapons by the Chinese regime, streaming into Sri Lanka from 2007, played a big part in the defeat of the LTTE. China increased its bilateral aid fivefold in a year to $1bn in 2008 to become Sri Lanka's biggest donor. In return, it has been awarded the project to develop the important deep-sea port of Hambantota. This fits with China's 'string of pearls' policy, whereby it seeks to control the Indian Ocean seaway, which carries nearly half of all global seaborne trade.
The Indian government opened up unlimited military credit for Sri Lanka. It also extended naval and intelligence cooperation and other support. The Malaysian operator, Dialog Telecom, is moving in to profit out of the war-ravaged north and east.
Australia has pledged $1bn, its representatives say, to help with Tamil resettlement. But one of the main concerns of the Australian government is to stop Tamil refugees leaving Sri Lanka for Australia. This money will go to Rajapaksa's administration and will be used to control Tamil-speaking people. Aid should be in the hands of those it is intended to help. It should be administered by elected representatives accountable to the communities they serve.
As for the western powers, they are playing a particularly hypocritical role. At one time or another they have all issued statements mildly critical of the Rajapaska regime. But trade and military links are more important to these powers than the rights of workers and poor people.
The US, for example, uses Sri Lankan ports as naval bases. The US is the only country with a veto in the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yet, in July, the US abstained in the vote to agree a $2.8bn loan. If the US administration really cared about the Tamil-speaking people it could have stopped the money going through. The IMF loan is supposed to go towards the post-war 'reconstruction effort'. One of the developments under way is for a string of luxury hotels along the east coast near Nilaveli – luxury hotels for the rich, prison camps with open sewers for the Tamil-speaking people.
Meanwhile, the British government – having supplied military equipment to Sri Lanka throughout the war – turns its back on the hundreds of thousands in the camps. It, too, is more worried about contracts for British companies, including military goods. So Des Browne, Britain's special envoy to Sri Lanka, said: "We take the view that it is safe to return people, including Tamils, to Sri Lanka". This was said in connection with the Tamil boat people stranded off the coast of Indonesia who have been refused entry into Australia. These powers stick together when they see it is in their own vested interests – and humanitarian concerns are quickly dropped.
Rajapaksa seems able to act with impunity. Last year, John Holmes, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, was accused of being in the pay of the LTTE after he stated the simple fact that Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers. The UN Children's Fund communications chief was ordered to leave Sri Lanka after he raised the plight of children caught up in the conflict. Sadly, it matters little how well-meaning many in agencies such as the United Nations are, there is, in reality, little they can do when blocked by the major powers.
On top of this, the clampdown on reporting in Sri Lanka continues. Around 20 journalists have been murdered there over the last few years. Lawyers taking up sensitive cases have been threatened, public meetings cannot be held without advance government permission, and emergency regulations remain in place, including wide-ranging powers of search, arrest and seizure of property. Individuals can be arrested and held in unacknowledged detention for up to 18 months.
But the promise by Rajapaksa to the Sinhalese workers and poor that the declared end of the war will bring some kind of peace dividend is a rotten lie. Military spending in Sri Lanka swallows 5% of gross domestic product – one of the largest in the world. The regular army is five times bigger than it was in the late 1980s – now 200,000 strong, larger than the British (with three times the population) and Israeli armed forces. The Sri Lankan regime plans further increases to 300,000 – more troops than France, Japan or Germany.
Having crushed the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan government has set up militarised zones throughout the north and east. It now occupies that area and will proceed to subjugate a whole people. This humanitarian catastrophe for Tamil-speaking people will also prove to be a massive financial drain. The living standards of all working class and poor people will be driven down even further. In time, this will lead to increasing resistance from Sinhalese workers. The oppression and poverty will also provide fertile ground for a new generation of Tamils raised on bitterness and hatred.
The Rajapaksa regime is not in the interests of the workers and poor in Sri Lanka, including the Sinhalese majority. It is a defender of the rich and powerful, aiming to keep itself in power as long as possible. That is why Tamil Solidarity supports united struggle by and in the interests of the working class and poor against this vicious regime, regardless of ethnic or religious background.
Manny Thain, CWI