Thursday, December 29, 2005

Venezuela: Chicago Rejects Discounted Gas for Poor

Taken liberally from Jessica Pupovic's piece in the NewStandard.

In a move that should be causing riots in Chicago (or at least make the news there) the City's transit authority (CTA) is refusing an opportunity to lower commuting costs for hundreds of thousands in low-income neighborhoods. Instead, the city is planning to raise fares to solve budget shortfalls.

Pupovic reports that in an October meeting with representatives from the CTA, and other City officials, CITGO unveiled a plan to provide the Chicago with low-cost diesel fuel. The only stipulation was that the CTA, in turn, pass those savings on to poor residents in the form free or discounted fare cards.

But two months later, despite claims of a looming budget crisis, the CTA president “has no intent or plan to accept the offer,” according to CTA spokesperson Ibis Antongiorgi. She gave no explanation.

Chicagoans who are unaware of the Venezuela offer will be hit with an increase of 25 cents per ride next month, and discounted route-to-route transfers will be eliminated for passengers paying cash.

The offer of discount fuel is not just confined to Chicago. In Boston and the South Bronx heating oil is being purchased at 45 percent below the market price by non profits, who are passsing the savings to tens of thousands of low-income Americans.
Heating oil however, is rarely used in Illinois.

Observers are seeing the heavy hand of Bush Administration politics involved as the CTA depends heavily on the Federal Government for funding.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Venezuela: More Gains for the People

Chavez and Uribe, now apparently on friendly terms.

This blog has documented the impressive success of Venezuela's "Mission" programs, started since Hugo Chavez has been in office. They include the eradication of illiteracy in Venezuela this year, the provision of free medical and dental care (and discounted food), in the poorest barrios and most remote pueblos, as well as the back-to-school programs and housing programs...

Add two more notches in belt of the people. A great expansion of the University system to the county (and region's poor) is set to begin, as is an innovative anti-AIDS program.

From the 65,000 students now enrolled in university studies, Venezuela says 100 new universities will be built next year all over the country to allow 365,000 students to begin studying in higher education; including a university for sports and another for the arts. Plans also include an extraordinary allotment for buses, books and computers, as well as lower interest for student loans and many more scholarships instead of loans. A new free nursing program to train 10,000 students was announced as well. Admissions policies will be changed to favor less advantaged students and a new Latin American school for Medicine will welcome students from the region.

Regarding AIDS, the Government has announced grants to 47 NGOs that deal with AIDS prevention and assist AIDS victims in the country. The prevention programs are aimed at those most at risk - street chilren, homosexuals drug addicts, and high-poverty areas. In addition, over 500 Integral Diagnostic Centers (IDC) are currently under construction, which will use cutting-edge technology and specialized staffs to offer HIV/AIDS services. Medical assistance and antiretroviral therapy are guaranteed free of charge by the Venezuelan State, but until now only a small percentage of those infected received care due to the lack of centers and equipment. Te Health Ministry reports that over 80 percent of its budget goes to buy high quality medicines and equipment to improve life quality and expectancy of Venezuelans, including those infected with HIV.

Meanwhile, it appears even more good news should be coming to the Venezuelan people as the Government announced Tuesday that tax receipts are up 67% from 2004 to 2005, representing a $15 trilion Bolivar increase (roughly $6.5 Billion US). The increase is the result of a program to crack down on once pervasive tax evasion from the upper income and corporate spheres.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Cuba Exhibits Homoerotic Art Banned in US

One of the biggest miconceptions about Cuba is its attitude against homosexuality. I will not deny that there were lingering machismo/anti-gay attitudes and laws from the pre-Revolutionary days that carried into the Revolution - as persist in many Latin and Carribean countries today. But the movie "Before Night Falls" ingrained a particularly vile and false view of Cuba's intolerance to the world (that is a whole other post).

I know things have changed there just from my visit in 2003. I was suprised to walk down the Malecon at midnight and see it thronged with hundreds of gay Cubans openly partying into the night. Of course, that is a freedom that I wish we had here in the US - partying in the parks all night long. But it also reflected a sanctioning of homosexuality that would never be tolerated here, perhaps outside of San Francisco.

But the State TV broadcast of images yesterday from an opening of Robert Mapplethorpe's photography exhibit, called "Sacred and Profane," complete with National Assembly Presidnet Ricardo Alvarez in attandance, is just the kind of signal that the attitude shift in Cuba has permeated society. This comes on the heels of a film shown at the Havana Film Festival called "Sexuality, A Right to Live," which depicted transvestites being trained to teach other men how to practice safer sex and avoid HIV-AIDS.

Mapplethorpe is a celebrated photographer who achieved worldwide fame when in 1990, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati and its director were charged with obscenity for exhibiting Mapplethorpe's photographs. Many frankly depit male nudity and homoerotic themes.

US Blocks Cuba from MLBs World Baseball Championship

Unbelieveable. While all the speculation around the exciting World Baseball Championship centered around Fidel's decision to participate or not, Cuba watchers should have known it was the US that one should really be looking at as a spoiler.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are "very disappointed with the government's decision to deny the participation of a team from Cuba in the World Baseball Classic". The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets (OFAC) denied Cuba a permit to enter the US and play in the World Baseball Classic for purely political reasons.

Of course the folks in Miami are extatic with this thumb in the eye. Babalu notes that Cuba did not allow the so-called "Ladies in White" to leave the country to receive the Sahkarov Prize in Europe, so this is fair game. Of course this logic equates the most politically charged of all events (rewarding Cuba's dissidents) with the most non-political of events (baseball). It also fails to note that the Cuban Government allowed Oswalso Paya to travel for the award 2 years ago and in this case, did not actually turn down the travel request, but claims the correct forms were not filed in time.

The US denial of Cuban travel is nothing new for the Bush Administration. We deny Grammy nominees, we deny scientists, we deny artists, we deny anyone who is loyal to the Cuban Revolution. But with Major League Baseball pushing so hard for Cuba's participation, and sounding near-certain about it last week, this was a suprise lesson in the harshness of US-Cuba policy, even for me. it also represents a clear case of hypocrisy as the US recenty allowed Cuba's soccer team to particupate in the Gold Cup in the US.

The Cuban street is justifiable outraged. "Enough already!" said Antonio Mayeta, whose brother is a baseball player in Cuba. "It's unbelievable. This is about sports, not politics. In Cuba, baseball is our culture. Everyone was so anxious to see these games."

Good thing I did not muy my tickets for the games in Anaheim and San Diego yet.

Colombia: Massacre in the Americas

On the eve of an amnesty deal signed between right-wing paramilitary forces and the Colombian government, it appears the militias decided to go out on a bang. 22 peasant farmers were killed December 4th in Cesar Province by the rightist AUC Bloque 40 group. The group is linked to drug trafficking and more than a few hundred murders this year alone.

Under the deal inked with president Uribe, Bloque 40's commander Rodrigo Tovar is due to receive amnesty from murder and trafficking charges, "return to civilian life" and possibly receive a seat in the Legislature. Just for the record, we call that appeasing terrorists in this country (in fact the AUC is on our State Dept. terrorist list... it was added by Colin Powell in late 2001 despite Bush Admin. resistance. By that time it was clear the majority of displacement and killings were attrributable to this group, rather than the left-wing groups FARC and ELN. Still, State Dept. chooses to describe the group's mission as "to protect economic interests and combat insurgents locally."

It is also widely understood that previous deals to have the group give up their weapons have not been fully implemented and has left them in an even stronger position... they just hand in old rusty guns. Meanwhile, the book will be closed on thousands of horrendus crimes against humanity and some of the biggest known drug dealers in the world are free.

You would think with Billions of our money going to Venezuela - and 500 US personnel there "training troops" - there might be at least some coverage in the US press of what is going on in Colombia. I have found exactly ZERO mentions of the massacre in the US press. There is lots of upbeat news about the amnesty deal for 2,000 AUC fighters but not one mention of the mass killing that took place a week before.

In a great piece of irony, on the very day the massacre in Cesar took place, our State Department decided to release a press statement titled "US Says Colombian Army Opposing Colombian Terrorists." Two weeks earlier the State Dept. said that Uribe's "stance against drug trafficking" is good for us all. We must take that to include an endoresement of the amnesty given to drug producers, sellers, traffickers and murderers.

But to end on a somewhat hopeful note, I offer today's Chicago Tribune piece by Gary Marx on the peace talks starting this week in Havana, Cuba between the left-wing ELN group and Colombian Government. Uribe did a 180 on his criticisms of past "cease-fire zones" and accepted such a premise under heavy rpessure form the Europeans (the US is against such moves - for left-wing groups at least). Marx notes that the ELN talks may be a convenient buffer against criticism that he is too close to right-wing paramilitary groups. But lets hope for the best to end the bloodshed and improve the social situation in Colombia.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Syria: US and Western Press Eat SeriousCrow

An amazing turn of events in the Syria-Lebanon-Hariri matter has been unfolding in the last week. Most of it has (not suprisingly) gone under the radar until the NYTimes put it on the front page today.

Turns out that guy who said he saw the Syrian intelligence van being packed with explosives, and that Assad's half-brother was involved, and who quoted the Syrian official talking about an impending "earthquake" - was spinning dangerous tales. And he's not alone, it seems all the main stories contained in the so-called "damning," "conclusive" UN Report condemning Syria for assassinating their neighbor's President was all Bullshit! OOOPPPS!!!

And this comes on a day contained another great 1, 2 combo. First, the US State Department, no doubt told to stay on the offiensive, came out withy a ridicuous new low, saying saying "Syria is on the side of terrorists." A bit later Syria happens to have a friendly shoot-out bust with said Islamic terrorists, leaving 6 wounded and disrupting a deadly group.

But the real story is that the NY Times has finally broken the Western Press's silence on the matter of the diappearing case against Syria. Not only has the main "witness" flipped sides, but the other 3 are no longer credible:

>NYTIMES, DEC 7, 2005
DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 6 - The United Nations investigation into the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, is beginning to show some cracks: one witness is dead, another is in jail and still another has recanted his testimony with a fantastic story of abduction, drugging and bribery.

(the developments)" have at least raised questions about the validity of crucial evidence supporting the charge that the Syrian state was responsible for Mr. Hariri's assassination, according to Western diplomats based in Syria and a draft of an interim report by the United Nations investigator, Detlev Mehlis."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Venezuela: Mass Suicide and/or Haiti Pt. 2?

With the results of today's boycotted Parlimentary elections in Venezuela known early on, we can already read and hear the way the "Opposition" is trying to spin the story of their annihilation as a political force. On the BBC World I heard an oppositon leading calling the results a success and another said the vote was a ddefeat for Chavez. When preessed why gettng kicked out of the political system was good, she sad because "the internatonal community will now pay attention."

That is as much honesty as we can hope for from the opposition parties. I am sure there are good people out there who don't like Chavez because they were taught the evils of socialism, and others are scared they may not benefit as much as others from it (the business elite). But they must now realize that their preferred Right-Wing parties have failed them and the country with this cowardly action.

They are also claiming that the relatively low turnout (said to be 25% at the moment) showed the people were actually rejecting Chavez. Of course this is a lie. Don't they understand that it an election has been conceded, there is not much incentive for ANYONE to vote. 25% approaches what we'd be happy for in many states for Congressional races.

Everyone who has followed the story knows the opposition was set to get trounced in the poll - with most predicting a 2/3 margin being achived by Chavez's MVR coalition. That is the main fact here we can't forget... and it appears most US reports are omitting it. The other point is that the opposition's claims of election fraus have been widely discredited. This would be like Democrats boycotting the Congressional election after Mondale got trounced.

An excellent Red Pepper analysis concentrates on the notion of mass "political suicide" (like Lemmings) and even mantions what I thought of when first hearing of the boycott plan a week ago - the apparent copying of similarly decrepit "opposition" tactics in Haiti to Aristide... before he was snatched up by US forces.

So then we get back to the importance the opposition is apparently placing in the "International Community," ie. the United States. As they have chosen to totally divorce themselves from Democratic solutions, I suspect we will be seeing more f these moves designed for US public consumption to further paint Chavez as a Dictator. And I must say that I also fear that the acts of terrorism (numerous sabotage and bombing attempts) we saw today may not be so rare any more.

Needless to say, the next few years should be real interesting - both in the Chavez Government's policy arena and with whatever the opposition's next steps are.