Monday, April 28, 2008

The Ballad of Hugo y Cristina: Will it be decision time?

A rapport had already been established between Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Argentina’s ex-President Nestor Kirchner before the latter became the first First Gentleman in the history of Argentina. He confirmed "integration" between the two countries and nothing until the talk of Chavez re-nationalising SIDOR had threatened this. That is to say nothing until this had contradicted who both Kirchners’ had in their close circle.

Last Friday Lady Kirchner met with the powerful Businessman Paulo Rocca who is the President for and top shareholder of the Techint Group - the Group which had a majority stake of 60% in the steel merchants SIDOR – to discuss how to carry out their part in the re-nationalisation process.

Rocca - whose personal interest would have been to secure a minority share in the Argentine-Italian company, so it can maintain access to the US market - is still close to Nestor Kirchner. However since Chavez’s part in the Orinoco Declaration in late 2005, which saw Chavez buy a large amount of Argentina’s debt so as to, in his own words “help Argentina end its dependence on the IMF,” the Kirchners have remained faithful to him.

Chavez had curried support from Cristina Kirchner, among others, when he struck up a humanitarian accord with Columbia in securing the release of hostages taken in by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). Earlier on this year, Kirchner united with Chavez when he accused the Columbian Government of committing a ‘war crime’ around the time the Columbian military raided a rebel camp inside Ecuador.

The two leaders also shared a defensive last year against the Miami court who accused the Venezuelan Government of secretly funding Cristina Kirchner’s election campaign the sum of $800,000 (£392,000).

The re-nationalisation of SIDOR has come at a fragile time for Kirchner who, though originally opposed to any change to the steel firm, must decide to do one of two things; be seen to defend the national capital as Rocca sees fit (as he addressed in a letter for Kirchner before their meeting) or be seen to favour a Venezuelan Government majority stake, along with a compensation fee Chavez and Rocca accept on during their negotiations.

For Chavez, he must risk upsetting the Argentines and going against Kirchner’s wishes in order to deliver his promises of nationalising “all that was privatised” which means securing wage increases of 55%, pension deals and winning back support for his “Bolivarian Revolution.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fernando Lugo - Who he is and what he can do for Paraguay

Sunday 20th April - The Paraguayan electorate have relieved their country from the party which brought them 35 years of General Alfredo Stroessner, the Colorado Party's Military Dictator. His rule ended in 1989 with 43% of the 6.5 million population living in poverty. On the 15th of August this year, the leftist Patriotic Alliance for Change candidate Fernando Lugo will be sworn in to his position as President for the next five years. (Read on)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Pound recently hit a low but the conditions are not ripe for a union of economies

It is a Double Standard of the Left to support a common market in the current conditions of the economy

The current state of English football is a useful simile for the common market in Europe. Rob Williams recently summed it up perfectly in the following quote; “It's not just the likelihood of [Watford FC] being relegated immediately that is depressing. In the Premiership, there is no real competition any more. There are the big four - Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool - in with a chance of winning the league: the rest have no chance. A total of 40 clubs have competed in the Premier League, but only four have won the title - Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal, and Chelsea.” This is precisely the point; the big four have so much money they can create a super team that involves the best workforce and remain unstoppable forever.

The reason I use football as a simile for the common market in Europe is that when a football team has more than its fair share and can afford the pick of the market, the competitive element becomes nullified since the conditions have been created that no one else gets a look in. The same implicit reality which binds the European Union together is that the big rich countries stay rich and the countries in their shadow suffer as a consequence.

When a relatively poorer country - let us take for our examples Bulgaria (73rd highest GDP, 14.1% below poverty line) and Romania (50th highest GDP, 25% below poverty line) - enters into an economic union with - let us take for example United Kingdom (5th highest GDP, 17% below poverty line) - the gap which divides rich and poor will inevitably grow. Although in the former two, a short-term economic shift will put a smile on the Europhiles' faces, the long-term effect will without doubt show that market bullying and industry wipe-outs become a certainty.

Four examples highlight some uncomfortable truths of the EU; firstly, Fiona Hall noted in October last year that 76 of the world's poorest countries in the ACP group (Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific) were to sign an EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) with the EU, ridding those countries of 80% of their tariffs imposed on EU imports. If those countries did not sign by the end of 2007, they risked higher tariffs on their exports to the EU. Some members of the ACP group, especially in West Africa, were unable to sign the agreement before the end of the year, which meant the outcome saw 35 ACP countries sign a watered down version of the EPA to avoid the tariff increases. It is expected that the Caribbean Community (Caricom) will sign a new trade agreement by the end of June. Can this bullying not clearly be summerised by Fiona Hall's own admission "Unfair Trade?"

Secondly; it has been detailed by one left-wing eurosceptic that in "1984 there were 450,000 jobs in the European steel industry. Now there are only 250,000, and this will have to be reduced still further." For one hard-line Pinochet supporter (aka Maggie) Britain, not a colonial power any longer, had to make a name for itself in the common market. Shutting down the mines was one thing, but the philosophy as a whole relied on a complete transformation of the workforce from an industrial one to a post-industrial one - hence the advent of importance on such things as the “Mcjob.” Of course the post-industrial job spurred on a need for extra labour from abroad. There was a dark hint of irony when Thatcher warned of "flooding" and Powell gave his "Rivers of Blood" speech, when it was precisely their economic philosophy which demanded the extra labour (incidentally, whenever I walk into a supermarket and see that it has replaced at least 3 jobs with a "Self-Service" machine, I do stop and think, well this is exactly what Thatcher would have wanted).

As the EU philosophy generally is a cut down on industrial jobs and subservience to monopoly conglomerates, the new second-class member states will edge further and further into the laps of the Laissez-faire looters, exposing the truth of the EU and their bullying motives.

Thirdly; Professor Margaret Blunden of the University of Westminster in her paper ‘The European Union and Cuba: Not so Constructive Engagement’ notices that Cuba is the only Latin American country without a bilateral agreement with the EU, whilst highlighting a contradiction by comparing this to Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia who do enjoy EU partnership agreements but are ranked lower on Human Rights according to (a hardly sympathetic) American based Organisation, Freedom House. It’s this academic’s pursuit that Cuba be more integrated with the EU. Implicitly, it is the view that Cuba be opened up to the EU so it can also be bullied with blackmailing on tariff controls, leaving the small island at a huge disadvantage.

Finally; the attraction of migrating to richer European countries is based on a simulacrum (in the Baudrillardian sense). The examples of immigrants being used as cheap labour, working many jobs, overqualified workers limited to only unskilled and low paid work are numerous. But work is a key element in the liberal left's embrace of the economic union. How many times have we heard the argument "immigrants are an enormous benefit to the economy?" And how true this is, but at what cost to the immigrant her/himself? It seems not only unfair to those immigrants who prop up a certain portion of the economy through being exploited in the most terrifically dreadful conditions with low pay and no union options, but also absolutely necessary in order for the rich countries to remain rich and the economy generally to remain at a massive imbalance.

Strangely enough, this has not been quite enough to mobilise a credible left-wing eurosceptic platform. The No! vote in the UK goes to one of three right-wing parties (Tories, UKIP, and the far-right). This kind of scepticism of a common market under the current economic conditions, which I have presented here, seems to come from the most unlikely of candidates, like the right-wing Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding who expressed his fears in that CARICOM had only redistributed poverty - wiping out industries such as biscuit manufacturing in Trinidad.

An economic union can only work fairly when the rich/poor imbalance has been curtailed, and not before. The EU in its present climate only redistributes poverty. It is unashamed of the bullying techniques that give to the rich and take from the poor (example 1), it is unashamed of its anti-union, industry killing philosophy (example 2), it is unashamed of its opposition to nationalisation in Cuba which allows every Cuban her/his daily calorie allowance, free healthcare, and free housing (no other rich country can promise these - example 3), and it is unashamed of the exploitation it afflicts on migrant workers (example 4). And what surely is most unpalatable is that a lot of "left-wingers" embrace it with open arms.

Returning to the football simile, a competition is only a competition when all teams have an equal chance of success and prosperity, might an economical union embrace a similar philosophy?

Cuba after Castro: An Obvious Perspective

The moment has now passed: Fidel Castro has resigned his premiership of Cuba. But it is a moment which has been talked about by both opponents and supporters for many years. The future of Cuba has been analysed by strategists arguing for a system which best suits either the needs of Cuba itself, or market Capitalism. Of course its important here to distinguish the two. Concerning the latter, it is important to divide the analysis into three more categories; a system which suits the European Union; Washington (particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement); and more Libertarian Institutions such as the Lexington Institute – the American free trade think-tank.

Professor Margaret Blunden of the University of Westminster reminds us in her paper ‘The European Union and Cuba: Not so Constructive Engagement’ that Cuba is the only Latin American country without a bilateral agreement with the EU, whilst highlighting a contradiction by comparing this to Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia who do enjoy EU partnership agreements but are ranked lower on Human Rights according to (a hardly sympathetic) American based Organisation, Freedom House. Its this academic’s pursuit that Cuba be more integrated with the EU – the Globalized Big Business charter.

For Washington, “regime change” is a taboo topic, even Condoleezza Rice conceals the true intention by saying further enforcement of the embargo is preferable to overthrowing the Cuban Government. It is this very enforcement which Washington had hoped would spur on “regime change”. It seems here that, according to Rice, Washington cannot rid a foreign power simply because they don’t like it (as the Constitution decrees), but they can try to cripple the economy for the people of Cuba. Herein lies the ultimate contradiction of the US and its policy on Cuba: Bush, like so many other Presidents before him, will urge the people of Cuba to overthrow Castro so as to appear within the law, organise CIA operations and restrict trade. The implicit hand of trying to overthrow leaders not palatable with American hegemony.

One organ of the market-centric divide who do at least see the contradictions inherent in the sanctions imposed by America is the Lexington Institute, particularly Philip Peters. A former State Department appointee of Reagan and Bush, he opposes the State sanctions on Cuba on the grounds that a free trade pact with North America can be beneficial for both, calling this Post-Castro change an “American Perspective”. Further, Peters has also said that ‘Centralisation, collectivism, state control, bureaucracy, and restrictions on private initiative are fundamentally to blame for the hardships that many Cubans face in their daily lives’. It seems that the very thing Peter argues against - the embargo - is the one thing he fails to see as the bigger problem. Centralised Government is not inherently problematic, but it can become considerably weaker if a super power next door persists in knocking at its infrastructure.

The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 prevents the President from reducing sanctions until sufficient (for Washington) reform has taken place in Cuba. This, consequently, precludes a reduction in the event of a Raul Castro replacement, Carlos Lage or any other of the leading candidates. Even a return to something like the Torcelli Law (1992) – a reduction or increase on the embargo according to the President’s own terms – seems unlikely to change anything due to the lack of appropriate pressure by any Presidential candidate in the forthcoming American elections.

Having said this, Dr. Stephen Wilkinson, Assistant Director of International Institute for the study of Cuba at London Metropolitan University, has noted in his paper ‘US Cuba policy after Bush: Succession or Transition’ that there are eight bills in Congress regarding aspects of embargo lifting which include repealing restrictions on American travel, Agriculture and Medicine.

It is imperative not to ignore the true motives of Washington with regards to Free Trade with Cuba. The record of the US is tarnished enough concerning the fairness of trade, and Cuba will be no exception to such exploitation. The lifting of the embargo could potentially be the first stage into America using Cuba as a charter for hegemonic Capitalism.

This outcome of embargo lifting can be avoided, so how best to? On the advent of the revolution in1959, Cuba was able to be a dependent of the former Soviet Union, however after the Cold War Cuba was virtually isolated. What Cuba needed was allies, not just on an economic level, but for legitimacy against an emerging re-think on US-Cuba policy. Venezuela, Bolivia and other Popular Leftwing shifts certified the possibility of Cuba’s regional integration. A positive change would be an emphasis on the trade and economic co-operation agreement with Caricom and Mercosur.

Effectively, an opening of Inter-Cuban trade the way Washington, the EU, or the Lexington Institute would like to see would immediately play into the hands of Washington Imperialism and Capitalism. Cuba should immerse itself entirely within the new Socialist alternatives spreading in Latin America and embrace the characteristics of this revolution. Reformist agenda should only be insofar as Cuba is compatible with the emergence of opposition towards North American Imperialism.

On this very subject, I criticised an article on The Guardian's Comment is Free section here (Carl4Sparta)