Let’s Not Be Fooled Again – this time about Venezuela

How are we to think about the crisis in Venezuela when the main proponents of U.S. policy are known liars and war criminals? Specifically, of course, I’m thinking about Donald Trump and Elliot Abrams — not to mention John Bolton. That, for me is the question.

It seems to me in such tragic circumstances, our attitude towards the crisis (regardless of our judgments about Nicolas Maduro and socialism) should be governed by principle.

In fact, the current policy of the United States violates at least half a dozen principles. They include:

  1. National Sovereignty: Venezuela’s political and economic problems should be of no concern to our government.  
  2. Self-Determination: Venezuela has the right to choose its own form of government and economy.
  3. Anti-Imperialism: Revealingly, most of the countries aligned with the Trump administration are either charter members of Europe’s Axis of Colonialism or representatives of Euro-American client states. Meanwhile those opposing Trump’s policy are former colonies of the U.S. and Europe and/or have been invaded by the military forces of those inveterate imperialists. The latter include Russia, China, India, South Africa, and Mexico along with countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. All of those countries know a thing or two about European and U.S. imperialist tyranny.
  4. Nuremberg (forbidding the punishment of civilian populations)
  5. Skepticism about the statements of proven liars
  6. Consistency

For starters, let me focus here on consistency. This principle dictates that:

  • If we’re worried about foreign interference in our own electoral process, we should stay out of Venezuela’s.
  • If Maduro’s jailing of political opponents concerns us, the same should be true relative to Brazil and Bolsonaro’s jailing of Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, the country’s most popular politician. (And yet, our government had no hesitation in recognizing Bolsonaro’s legitimacy.)
  • If we worry about humanitarian crises, we should stop cooperating with Saudi Arabia and its war against Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. That war has caused the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
  • If crooked elections are cause for delegitimizing governments, we shouldn’t recognize the current government of Honduras, whose election of Juan Orlando Hernandez was certified as unfree and unfair by the OAS. It called for new elections. (But, of course, both the Obama and Trump administrations have recognized Hernandez as a legitimate head of state.)
  • If we’re outraged by police violence against demonstrators, we should cut off all aid to Israel for killing hundreds of unarmed demonstrators (including women and children) at the Gaza border and wounding thousands of others.

But none of these issues matter at all to the Trump administration. They care not a bit about humanitarian crises, fair elections, the right to protest or the jailing of political opponents. As both Trump and John Bolton have said openly, their concern is Venezuelan oil, controlling it and profiting from that control. That’s imperialism.

Moreover, the so-called “humanitarian aid” at the country’s borders in Brazil and Colombia is a pittance worth some millions of dollars, while the profits frozen from the country’s sale of oil and its access to its own gold reserves are worth billions – as are the mercantile transactions with other countries now prevented by the U.S. embargo. According to the Red Cross and the U.N.  (both of whom refuse to participate in its distribution) the disputed humanitarian aid is nothing more than a political ploy. In other words, if the U.S. truly cared about the welfare of the people of Venezuela, it would stop its embargo and allow Venezuela access to its money and markets so the country itself could buy food and medicine on the open market.

The appointment of Elliot Abrams as the Trump’s point man for Venezuela speaks volumes about the administration’s criminal intentions. Abrams, of course, is a convicted felon. He was the U.S. brains behind the genocidal policy of Rios Montt in Guatemala during the 1980s, when more than 200,000 Guatemalans (mostly indigenous) were slaughtered by Montt and his generals. Elliot Abrams is a war criminal. And his selection by Mr. Trump to run his show in Venezuela indicates an embrace of the old CIA playbook used again and again in its more than 68 regime-changes operations since World War II – with most of the removed officials having been democratically elected.

The playbook runs like this:

  • Any country attempting to establish an economy that serves the interests of its poor majority
  • Is routinely accused of being run by a dictatorship
  • It is subject to regime change by direct U.S. invasion
  • Or by right wing (often terrorist) elements within the local population
  • To keep said country within the capitalist system
  • So that the U.S. might once again use the country’s resources for its own enrichment
  • And for that of the local elite.

Standardly, the strategy is to use a combination of terrorism, sanctions, embargoes to make civilians within the country so miserable that even the poor will rise up and join forces with the elite to remove the so-called “dictator” from office.  That’s what’s happening in Venezuela at this very moment. To repeat: it’s a violation of the Nuremberg Principles forbidding punishment of civilian populations.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Venezuela is how we believe our politicians on the subject of regime change. You’d think that at least after Iraq and Libya (not to mention Panama and Grenada) we’d show some skepticism. What was it that Great Man tried to say a few years ago? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”? I mean, how many times do we have to be fooled before we’re shamed out of our minds by our collective stupidity?

After all, these people (the Trumpists) are proven liars. Everybody knows that. It’s the subject of jokes every night on Colbert and on Saturday Night Live. Trump is a laughing stock. And yet when he speaks about his compassion for the Venezuelan people, about the lies of its government (!!), his concern for democracy and the integrity of elections, or about Maduro’s corruption (!!) the press actually takes him seriously. Give me a break, please!

Let me say it clearly, Donald Trump and his administration have not a shred of credibility. Period! Not a shred! Whatever he says (whatever they say) should be taken as an outright lie unless proven otherwise by absolutely unimpeachable sources.

And by the way, let me conclude by saying that it’s clearly wrong to blame Venezuela’s problems on socialism. First of all, Venezuela is not a socialist country. It’s governed by a socialist party, but its economy is dominated by private corporations. So is its news media.

France is more socialist than Venezuela. And besides, under Hugo Chavez, the economy thrived (largely because oil prices remained high). And just six years ago (after 14 years of so-called Bolivarian Socialism), polls determined that Venezuela was the happiest country in South America. As a matter of fact, it won that distinction two years in a row – in 2012 and 2013. Worldwide, in those years, its happiness index came out ahead of France, Spain, Italy, and Germany.

Right now, of course, it is not a happy place. Its condition is roughly the same as when Chavez took over in 1999 after decades of governance by its white elite creols. And, it’s true, the current unhappiness is surely due to mismanagement and corruption on the part of the Maduro administration. But it also has a lot to do with the fall of oil prices on the world market, but especially with the U.S. embargo and sanctions against Venezuela.

Bottom line: Please realize that we are being lied to about Venezuela! Our government is the main criminal there. Whatever we might think of Maduro or of socialism, the principles articulated at Nuremberg, as well as those of national sovereignty, self-determination, anti-imperialism, consistency, and common-sense skepticism before liars should be our guides.

Tell the president, your senators and congressional representatives: Yankee go home! Get out of Venezuela!

Rios Montt Is a Born Again Christian! A Prominent ‘Christianist’ Cleric Supported His Genocide. Should He Be Droned Next?

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In all the analysis of the Rios Montt trial and conviction for genocide, it is rarely even mentioned that the General was a born again Christian. He was directly and vocally supported not only by Ronald Reagan and Elliot Abrams, but by prominent clerics like Pat Robertson.

Robertson’s support of Montt was not casual. Nor was it ignorant of Montt’s tactics. In reference to those atrocities, Nikolas Kozloff of Counterpunch writes:

“Far from denouncing such practices, Robertson rushed to defend Rios Montt. ‘Little by little the miracle began to unfold,’ he wrote of the regime. ‘The country was stabilized. Democratic processes, never a reality in Guatemala, began to be put into place.’ Robertson also praised Rios Montt for eliminating death squads, despite recent estimates that tens of thousands were killed by death squads in the second half of 1982 and throughout 1983. Most damning of all, even as Rios Montt was carrying out the extermination of the Mayan population, Robertson held a fundraising telethon for the Guatemalan military. The televangelist urged donations for International Love Lift, Rios Montt’s relief program linked to Gospel Outreach, the dictator’s U.S. church. Meanwhile, Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network reportedly sponsored a campaign to provide money as well as agricultural and medical technicians to aid in the design of Rios Montt’s first model villages.”

Hmm. . . . Aid and comfort to a perpetrator of genocide, defense of its practice, fund-raising on its behalf, concealment of concentration camps as “model villages” . . . Those sound like the crimes that justify the droning of “Islamist” clerics. But there’s been not a word about this connection in the U.S. mainstream press, much less from our government officials.

The hypocrisy of it all is not surprising to me. It is exactly what I’ve come to expect from personal experience of Guatemala and of Central America in general. There during the ‘70s and ‘80s Evangelicals and the U.S. media supported dictators throughout the region. Moreover, far from being seen as the accomplices of terror, the Evangelicals were favored by the U.S. government in its fight against Roman Catholic liberation theology. Remember, Montt’s atrocities occurred during what Chomsky calls “the first religious war of the 21st century” – the war of the United States against the Catholic Church in Latin America.

My personal experience makes all of this unforgettable for me. For the last 20 years and more, I’ve been associated with an evangelical term-abroad program for North American students in Central America. My job was to teach our students about liberation theology.

Each semester we would take students to Guatemala to visit the killing fields there. For a period, Rios Montt was always among the speakers interviewed by our students. So were professors at the Evangelical Seminary in Guatemala City. To a man, they supported Rios Montt amid the charges of genocide that always swirled around him. They echoed Robertson’s defense and/or denial of the on-going genocide. They spoke glowingly of Montt’s quasi-sermons delivered with great passion each Sunday morning as he explained his policies in terms of the Bible.

On one occasion, a student of ours summoned the courage to ask “President” Montt the question that was on everyone’s mind: “There are charges,” he said, “that you were behind mass killings of Mayan Indians. Now that it’s over, do you have any regrets about your policy?”

The ex-president’s face grew angry. He stepped from behind the podium and shook his finger at our student. “Listen,” he thundered. “I did what I did because God told me to do it! To ‘regret’ my actions would be a sin against God!”

That’s the kind of man Christianist clerics like Robertson supported. That’s the kind of Christian jihadist outlook that motivated genocide.

Now imagine what would happen to “Islamist” clerics responsible for aiding, advising and supporting Muslim acts of terrorism exactly like Montt’s, in exactly the way the Christianist cleric, Pat Robertson did.

In fact, little imagination is required. Think of the fate of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. citizen and Muslim cleric who recently was listed as droned by the Obama national security state. His “crimes” in relation to Islamic terrorism allegedly mirrored those of Robertson in his support of Rios Montt. The C.I.A. not only killed Awlaki, but later murdered his 16 year old son in the same way.

Could it be that Rev. Robertson and some members of his family will be droned next? Hmm . . . .

“You Lose; You Lose; You Lose; You Lose, and then You Win”: The Difference between Knowledge and Wisdom (Sunday Homily)

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Readings for Trinity Sunday: Prv. 8: 22-31; Ps. 8: 4-9; Rom. 5: 1-5; Jn. 16: 12-15. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/052613.cfm

As I was preparing this week’s homily, I thought I would focus on a piece of good news for people of faith. For me, that would be a change of pace, because the pages of our newspapers are daily filled with such bad news. At last, I thought, there was something good to report – and related to this morning’s liturgy of the word and its surprisingly indigenous and tribal themes about Wisdom, the Great Spirit and their manifestations in God’s creation. Unfortunately my piece of good news did not stand up to history’s harshness to indigenous people and to the rest of us who are not rich and powerful.

I’m referring to the recent conviction of Guatemala’s ex-president, Rios Montt on charges of genocide. As a frequent visitor to Guatemala along with my students, I’ve followed closely efforts by Guatemala’s Mayan population to bring Montt to justice.

General Efrain Rios Montt was the U.S.-supported dictator who took power by a coup d’état in 1982. On May 10th (just a couple of weeks ago) he was held responsible for the deaths of more than 1700 Guatemalan Mayans in a 40 year-long war that killed more than 200,000 “Indians,” and disappeared more than 30,000 others.

It was the first time a modern head of state has been convicted of genocide in his own country. The octogenarian president, who had been trained at Washington’s Kennedy School, was a vocal born-again Christian, and supported by President Reagan and the Washington establishment was sentenced to more than 80 years in prison.

Montt’s conviction represented a huge victory for Guatemalan priests, religious, catechists who served Guatemala’s poor. Thousands of them had been butchered by the brutal Guatemalan military. It was a victory for peasants, workers, union leaders, social workers, teachers, students and others without public power. They had been working on this case for more than two decades despite threats and violence coming from the Guatemalan oligarchy and the U.S.-trained military that supports it. Above all, Montt’s conviction was a victory for Guatemalan Mayans whose various tribes compose 70% of the country’s population.

I was going to say that the Montt conviction showed that the Forces of Life and Justice coupled with hard work and dedication of ordinary people can achieve miracles even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. I intended to point out how the patient indigenous understanding of the unity of all creation, the long arc of history, and the Great Spirit’s powerful Wisdom finally received improbable confirmation.

But then last Tuesday, Guatemala’s Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision on a technicality. As a result, the 86 year old genocide is (at least for the moment) a free man.

The reversal raises the question about the direction of history, who’s really in charge, and what forces (good or evil) will ultimately triumph. An answer to that question, I think, is implied in today’s readings, which, as I said reflect a peculiarly indigenous, tribal point of view about the direction of history and its Sovereign.

That shouldn’t surprise us because the Jewish Testament is a tribal document, isn’t it? Jesus himself was a tribal person – not a product of bourgeois society like us. Once again, according to tribal beliefs the world over, the earth and its history ultimately belong to God. The planet has been given as gift to earthly creatures and to humans as a trust. If it “belongs” to anyone, it belongs to ordinary people – to the poor and not to those whose only claim to ownership resides in their bank accounts.

Today’s liturgy of the word celebrates that viewpoint in terms of the Wisdom of Jesus and his Holy Spirit. In effect, the readings tell us not to worry whether good or evil will triumph in history. From time’s beginning that issue has already been settled, because in the long run God’s Wisdom is in charge not only of human history, but of the entire cosmos. Far from asking us to worry, God’s Wisdom requires us to know one thing only – what every tribal person knows.

You see, wisdom is different from knowledge. Knowledge is the intellectual grasp of data and so-called “reality.” The knowledgeable person knows many things. And that knowledge often tells us that the world is hopeless; the cards are stacked against ordinary people – like the Mayans of Guatemala – and their thirst for justice and hope. The powerful have insured the maintenance of the status quo, for instance by retaining power to annul unfavorable court rulings.

The tribal wise people on the other hand need to know one thing only. In theological terms, they know (and act on the knowledge) that the Lord is present in every human being and in all of the earth and that in the big scheme of things, God’s Wisdom will triumph. Hinduism’s Shveshvatara Upanishad puts it this way: “Know that the Lord is enshrined in your heart always. Indeed there is nothing more to know in life. Meditate and realize the presence of God in all the universe.”

The first reading from the Book of Proverbs seconds that insight from the Upanishads. Proverbs portrays Wisdom as God’s guiding principle for the creation of the entire universe. Wisdom is embedded in the very laws of creation. The author pictures it as playing before God as the Creator pours God’s Self into the earth, its oceans, skies, and mountains – and into the human race.

Today’s responsorial psalm also agrees. It praises wise human beings. In God’s creative order, they are almost angels. They are crowned with honor and glory, the psalmist says; they rule the earth. This is because they realize (as the Mayan indigenous of Guatemala do) that they are sisters and brothers with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and with the creatures of the deep.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus said something similar; he saw the wise as “gentle” (meek); he promised that they would have the earth for their possession. They are princesses and princes, kings and queens in disguise whatever their earthly social status and wherever they find themselves.

Finally, the Gospel reading from John concurs with the understanding of the wise which sees them as single-minded – as knowing only that one necessary thing (God’s presence in each and every creature). John says that the wise who (like Jesus) know that one thing, ultimately receive everything from God, the origin of all things good and wise. So John has Jesus again tell his friends not to worry about anything – not even about remembering the many things he might tell them.

Instead, they should rely on God’s Spirit of Truth who will remind them of the one thing necessary. That Spirit will remind them that Jesus, the Gentle and Incomparable One embodied conscious awareness of God’s presence in everything. Consequently (like all the gentle) he has been given everything that belongs to God. “Everything that the Father has is mine,” says the crucified and apparently defeated one.

Living in accord with Jesus’ spirit of conscious unity with God brings peace even in the face of ostensible failure. That’s what Paul says in today’s second reading. Even though we might be otherwise afflicted, those very afflictions will strengthen our character, Paul writes. The love which Jesus’ Spirit pours into our hearts will produce great hope when those around us are mired in and depressed by their despair.

Can you imagine the despair of the Mayans during the genocide – and now by the reversal of the Montt decision? Can you imagine their temptations to discouragement before the overwhelming odds they face in pursuing God’s justice against the brutal killers of their relatives and friends?

The message of today’s readings: Don’t be discouraged. Instead be mindful of God’s Wisdom. It is present in your heart and in the very fabric of the cosmos. Despite appearances to the contrary, and despite the best-laid plans of the powerful, the Forces of Life and Justice will prevail in the end.

Or as the great community and labor organizer, Mother Jones said “You lose; you lose; you lose; you lose, and then you win.”

That final, improbable victory of God’s wisdom and justice is what’s promised in our readings today.

Mali for Dummies (Part One: General Background)

Are you confused by what’s happening in Mali? Welcome to the club. We’re probably all puzzled and feel like dummies overwhelmed by information pieces that provide a welter of names, dates, organizations and explanations that are complicated, contradictory and vague. As a result, we probably accept the “official story” behind France’s U.S. – supported intervention in Mali as promulgated by our own State Department, France, Algiers and others.

That story goes that “we” are fighting AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) which has suddenly materialized in Mali as part of a world-wide terrorist offensive that justifies the “Global War on Terrorism.” Well, if it’s a fight against al-Qaeda, we might reason, I guess I have to be for it.

I too felt drawn to just throwing up my hands and participating in the dummy syndrome of simply surrendering to government de-contextualized muddle and propaganda. But then I remembered what I’ve been reading in Oliver Stone’s and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States. I recalled what I studied in Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, and in Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. I drew on my recollections of Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America.

All of those taught me that the real justifications for invading the former colonial world rarely coincide with the stated rationale. It’s virtually never about democracy or protecting national sovereignty (though it might be about “maintaining regional stability” in lands where the median income is less than $2.00 per day!) Instead developed-world intervention is invariably connected with continuing the process of transferring wealth and commodities from the resource-rich south to the “developed” north. It’s about keeping the rich south subservient and impoverished.

In fact, as pointed out by J.W. Smith of the Institute for Economic Democracy, there’s a pattern to all interventions like the one we’re witnessing in Mali. In its starkest form, the pattern runs like this:

1. Any country (or group within a country) attempting to break for economic freedom
2. By establishing government representing the interests of its own people rather than those of the former Mother Country
3. Will be accused of communism or terrorism
4. And will be overthrown by military intervention
5. Or by right wing (often terrorist) elements from within the local population
6. To keep that country within the ex-mother country’s sphere of influence
7. So that the former colonists might continue to use the country’s resources for the invaders own enrichment,
8. And that of the local elite.

To put a finer point on all of that, the sources I have mentioned have taught me that the West is not interested in democracy or in the freedom of its former colonies. That’s proven by examining a short list of dictators the West (particularly the United States) has supported. The list includes Bonzer (Bolivia), Mobutu (Zaire), the Duvaliers (Haiti), Rios Montt (Guatemala), the Somozas (Nicaragua), Resa Palavi (Iran), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Suharto (Indonesia), Pinochet (Chile), Fujimori (Peru), Diem (Vietnam), Marcos (Philippines), Noriega (Panama), Al Saud family (Saudi Arabia), Batista (Cuba).

All of these are robbers and thugs. In fact, colonialism is little more than a system of robbery intended to transfer raw materials and agricultural produce from the resource-rich colonies to the “Mother Countries.”

European and American colonists initially achieved control of the colonies by military power. The power was used indiscriminately, viciously and “necessarily” since the colonies were overwhelmingly inhabited by tribal peoples who typically did not share western values. You just couldn’t do business with most of them. After all, they usually believed that their land belonged to their God and cannot be treated simply as another commodity. So at least since 1492 the West has engaged in a world-wide genocidal process of eliminating and neutralizing tribal peoples. We’re witnessing the latest chapter of that process today in Mali.

Because of the business-averse tendencies of most tribal people, the colonial process also involved identification of individuals or groups within tribes who were willing to sell out their brothers and sisters. Alternatively it consisted in identifying and exploiting rivalries between tribes. In either case the point was to employ cooperative local elites (frequently, it turns out, Christian and lighter skinned) who were richly rewarded for controlling and using violence to oppress their own people or rival peoples on behalf of the colonists. In other words, the favored locals ended up being mercenary puppets of the colonists during the colonial era.

Following the end of formal colonialism (1950s and ‘60s), the departing colonists typically tried to keep their puppets in control by rigging “free” elections to elect “the willing” who would continue doing business with their former masters on favorable terms. Colonial powers also arbitrarily drew up gerrymandered borders delineating colonist-created “countries” that separated tribal peoples from fellow tribe members. This was done in order to segregate natural allies from one another and to set them against each other in competing states. The result was the creation of artificial “countries” like Mali and Niger whose boundaries have little meaning for the tribal families they separate, while the primary loyalties of those families remain to their tribes.

The processes and consequences of all this are being demonstrated in Mali today as the French, attempt to reassert control of rebels in their former resource-rich colony.

(On Wednesday we’ll review the particulars.)