black agenda report

Left Lens Presents: Left Voice in Latin America, with Camila Escalante
Danny Haiphong, Black Agenda Report, Jun 23 2021


Biden, Putin and the Press
Margaret Kimberley, Back Agenda Report, Jun 23 2021

Corporate media in the US work hand-in-hand with the state and promote its neoliberal and imperialist agenda. There is great continuity from administration to administration, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the realm of foreign policy. The duopoly war party consensus doesn’t just dominate in the White House and Congress, but also in television news and newspapers. The recent summit meeting between Biden and Putin demonstrated that the media see themselves as governmental servants. They have little interest in being adversarial or keeping the public informed of anything meaningful. Biden’s team carefully chose who would be allowed to question him at his press conference, and no Russian media were invited. In contrast, American reporters were among those at Putin’s press conference and they gave him no consideration. Journalists are supposed to ask tough questions, but ideally those questions should further our understanding of events. If a head of state is put on the spot, it ought to be because important issues are being addressed. That is not the treatment Putin received. To be clear, he isn’t owed kid glove treatment, but Americans who take the time to watch should learn something other than the “Putin is evil” trope repeated endlessly. But that is what they got from one of the few Black reporters who had a chance to question a head of state after an historic meeting. Rachel Scott of ABC asked:

The list of your political opponents who are dead, imprisoned or jailed is long. Alexei Navalny, whose organization calls for free and fair elections, and an end to corruption, but Russia has outlawed that organization calling it extremist, and you have now prevented anyone who supports him to run for office. So my question is, Mr. President, what are you so afraid of?

Putin politely explained that the US has declared Russia an enemy and openly supports people who want to bring about regime change. Americans may be stuck in propaganda mode from the Soviet era, and see Russia as a land of revolution, but most Russians are horrified by protests, regardless of their opinions of Putin. Neither the Russian public nor their president are supportive of anyone seen as violating the order which they crave. Navalny may be a big name in the US, but he is an irrelevance in his homeland. All of the fraudulence of Russiagate has been accepted as fact by the media, and they pursued the same line of questioning with Biden, positing that Russia interfered in US elections and is responsible for every cyber attack taking place in this country. Biden didn’t disappoint in going along with what has been disproven, and in so doing told one of the biggest lies ever uttered by an American president in public, saying of Putin:

His credibility worldwide shrinks. Let’s get this straight. How would it be if the US were viewed by the rest of the world as interfering with the elections directly of other countries and everybody knew it? What would it be like if we engaged in activities that he’s engaged in? It diminishes the standing of a country that is desperately trying to make sure it maintains its standing as a major world power. And so it’s not just what I do, it’s what the actions that other countries take, in this case Russia, that are contrary to international norms. It is the price that they pay. They are not, they are not, able to dictate what happens in the world. There are other nations of significant consequence, ie the USA!

Biden’s statement about Russia was an obvious case of projection. Of course the US interferes with elections all over the world. There are at least 80 instances of the US subverting other governments since WW2. One of the most infamous is the 1996 Russian election which put Boris Yeltsin in power. It is the US that struggles to dictate to the rest of the world and that fears losing its status as a hegemon. But Biden received no follow-up questions after telling his whopper of a lie. The only push back was once again in regard to claims of Russian wrongdoing and whether he was up to the task of punishing Putin. Despite all claims of freedom and democracy, the corporate media in this country only repeat what they are told. They are partners with the people and institutions they should be investigating. Of course, that is why Black Agenda Report and sites like it play such a vital role. If not for news from a left perspective, the truth would rarely see the light of day.

Appearance Versus Essence: Biden is Stabilizing, Not Ending, Neoliberalism
Danny Haiphong, Black Agenda Report, Jun 23 2021

Since Biden announced upwards of $6t in federal spending priorities last April, including $2t for new infrastructure, a range of economists and media outlets in the US have sounded the death knell for neoliberalism. The logic is simple. Biden’s proposals raise federal expenditure to a level not seen since WW2. Instead of seeking corporate leadership to fund increased spending, the Biden administration has verbally committed to tax increases on the wealthy. Trillions in new federal spending proposals excited some Democrats who agreed with Bernie Sanders’ assertion that Biden would represent the most progressive US president since FDR. Such excitement was always misplaced. While Biden has committed to passing some version of his proposals, he has also demonstrated an obsession with bipartisanship. Negotiations with Republicans have already yielded significant concessions including a $1t reduction in his infrastructure plan. What form Biden’s proposals will ultimately take remains unclear. Republicans may no longer possess a political majority in Congress, but they inevitably benefit from the Democrats’ willingness to compromise the needs of their base to satisfy the capitalist class in control of both major parties. It is therefore necessary to revisit a key aspect of the Marxist philosophy of materialist dialectics: the struggle between appearance and essence.

Materialist dialectics explain the development of political economy in terms of contradictions, or a struggle between opposites which is in constant motion and rooted in the material world. Capitalists cannot exist without exploited labor, racism cannot exist without an oppressed race and an oppressor, and so on and so forth. How these contradictions ultimately change is by no means linear and is shaped by conflict, both in the form of objective developments within the overall system and the subjective efforts of social classes to assert or reinforce their interests (a contradiction in and of itself). Appearance refers to what is readily visible to the naked eye. The essence of any phenomenon, especially a social system such as capitalism, is generally shrouded in an ongoing struggle between the hegemony of the dominant class and the material reality of the exploited classes. Biden’s federal spending plan, for example, appears to be a departure from neoliberal orthodoxy of the past two generations. The essence of Biden’s budgetary priorities, however, is firmly grounded in neoliberalism, which is generally defined as putting the market in command of society. This takes the form of tax reductions, austerity measures and full-scale privatization of state functions. Such a definition is limited to the appearance of the capitalist system and often disregards its essence. The diminution of public assets and labor power is an important aspect of neoliberalism, but does not reflect the essence or the quality of the system itself.

In essence, neoliberalism is an epoch of capitalism whereby the general crisis of the system is mitigated by the increased enrichment of capital at the expense of the people and the planet. In 2007-08, the US addressed economic collapse by empowering finance capital through trillions worth in bailout dollars. Federal debt was used as an excuse to target public entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security. The Obama administration worked diligently with Republicans to privatize schools and pass a law that solidified the role of for-profit insurance companies in the administration of healthcare. It is important to remember that Biden entered the Oval Office amid an unprecedented crisis in the history of capitalism. The world was (and still is) struggling with a deadly pandemic that triggered a history-altering economic crisis. Biden’s spending plans represent the bare minimum of what is required of the capitalist class to remedy a fraction of the economic damage caused by the US’s failed pandemic response. While comparative to WW2 numbers in aggregate spending, Biden’s proposals will only increase public investment in production by 0.5% of overall GDP, from 3% to 3.5%. Private corporations and banks remain in the driver’s seat of investment and production.

The essence of neoliberalism is reflected not only in the quantity of public expenditure but also in its quality. Neoliberalism is defined both by the expansion of capital’s supremacy and the limitation of what is possible. A massive increase in the standard of living of workers and oppressed people must occur before neoliberalism can be declared “dead.” The last real rise in the standard of living of workers in the US occurred following WW2, when a combination of worker organizing and federal investment in jobs led to an increase in the social wage , albeit at the relative exclusion of a large portion of Black America, Indigenous people and people of the Global South. The same cannot be said about Biden’s proposals, whatever negotiated form they may take in the future. On the campaign trail, Biden promised to cancel student loans, implement a public (healthcare) option, and raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hr. All of these proposals have been left out of debates over federal spending. Also left out is a jobs guarantee and a change in labor law, both of which are necessary if the condition of labor is to improve and the balance of power is to shift from the capitalist class to workers. Instead, Biden has requested the largest military budget in US history at $753b to further satisfy the profits of military contractors.

Massive infusions of federal dollars alone do not alter the essence of neoliberalism, especially when a large portion of them will go to bolstering the New Cold War on China economically and militarily. Thus, it is premature if not dangerous to declare neoliberalism dead just because the Biden administration has been forced to increase federal spending. To do so is an exercise in political dishonesty and offers a window into how low expectations have become. For neoliberalism to truly end, austerity and privatization must also come to an end. Universal public programs such as nationalized healthcare and free higher education must exist within a context of peace. White supremacy must be uprooted from the base of society. Neoliberalism thrives on social chaos and disaster, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how even the most rapacious stage of capitalism has its limits. Mistaking these limits for the death of the system itself only places further barriers in front of what is truly needed to bury neoliberal capitalism in its grave: a mass movement led by workers and oppressed people that is armed with demands and a sound strategy for exerting the necessary pressure on the state to either comply with the aspirations of the masses or face significant consequences. That is the true definition of power to the people.

Ethiopians go to the polls, even after the US tells them not to
Ann Garrison, Black Agenda Report, Jun 23 2021

On Monday Jun 21, Ethiopians went to the polls to select a parliament, which will elect a prime minister, even though US officials told them not to, warning of chaos and violence. Maybe they think it’s arrogant of the US to presume to be the global arbiter of peace, justice, and democracy. The African Union sent an election observer mission headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who told the press midday on Monday that it was going well, far better than previous Ethiopian elections.

Lawyer, judge, and politician Birtukan Mideksa, chairperson of the National Election Board, no doubt agrees. In 2005, she helped found the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) Party, ran for parliament a second time, claimed the election was rigged, and was then among thousands imprisoned by the US puppet government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in the ensuing crackdown. She was sentenced to life in prison, pardoned in 2007, after signing a controversial document regretting past mistakes, but sent back to prison for life in 2008.  International human rights advocacy, including that of Amnesty International, led to her release and exile in the US, where she attended the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and spent time employed by the NED, the CIA cutout that claims to promote democracy around the world while in fact promoting US global hegemony.

It’s not clear whether her brief tenure with NED should be a red flag or simply something to keep in mind as her political career advances. The US foreign policy establishment often likes to invest in any promising African leaders, even if they are opposed to a government the US is supporting at the time, as was the case with Mideksa. And the leaders they invest in don’t always toe the line over time. Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, aka Farmaajo, is a case in point. Abiy, Farmaajo, and Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki are now alarming US political and military elites by forming an alliance and threatening to chart an independent path in the Horn of Africa. In any case, Mideksa seems to be enjoying rock star status in Ethiopia today. The BBC ran a lengthy profile of her, including many of the aforementioned details.

Sitting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party is widely expected to win a majority large enough to make him prime minister and increase both his legitimacy and the party’s. Abiy has served as Ethiopia’s caretaker prime minister since April 2018, when a popular uprising finally forced the Tigray People’s Liberation Front from power after 27 years. In 2019, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating peace with Eritrea, a former Ethiopian colony. Under the rule of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, commonly known as the TPLF, Ethiopia was a key US ally and military proxy in the Horn of Africa and on the African continent, putting boots on the ground under US command in both Somalia and South Sudan. The US and NATO have been hostile to Abiy, seemingly because of his alliance with Eritrea, the only African nation that refuses to cooperate with AFRICOM or submit to the debt peonage that the IMF and World Bank have imposed on other African nations.

Last year, Abiy postponed elections because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the US’s former ally, the TPLF, held elections in Tigray Regional State nevertheless and then attacked a federal army base in the state capital, Mekelle, ambushing and killing Ethiopian National Defense Forces who had been sleeping. Abiy responded as any head of state would, by sending in the national army to put down the insurrection, and fighting is ongoing. Eritrea was drawn in after the TPLF fired rockets across its border at the Eritrean military.

Elections were not held on Monday in Tigray because of the civil conflict. They were reportedly not held in Somali State, because of logistical problems or in Harrar City because of an unresolved lawsuit over who can vote. It was also reported that some did not vote in Benishangul-Gumuz region, because ethnic violence prevented voter registration. However, these regions are all expected to elect parliamentary representatives by September, and many Ethiopians expressed enthusiasm for what they consider the country’s first real competitive election. Fitsum Alemu, a member of the Ethiopian diaspora living in Virginia, told me that he didn’t expect the election to solve all of Ethiopia’s problems, but that voting was so important to members of his family that they stood in line for several hours in the rain to vote in Addis Ababa. Benyam Kitaw, a member of the diaspora living in Los Angeles, said:

All the people I spoke with in Ethiopia stated that they are excited about voting and the prospect of true democracy starting to take hold there for the first time. Democracy may be bumpy and have flaws, but progress towards the common Ethiopian finally having their vote counted means that Ethiopia is closer to self-determination, and this is a very good thing.

Sec State Antony Blinken and USAID Chief Samantha Power said that the Tigray conflict, and more, made an honest and peaceful election impossible and demanded that Abiy postpone the election. However, in 2015, when Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and the TPLF claimed to have won an impossible 100% of the vote, Barack Obama called it democratic. Susan Rice, who was then Obama’s National Security Advisor, addressed reporters prior to their trip to Kenya and Ethiopia and said that the TPLF’s 100% victory suggested some procedural problems, but she didn’t doubt the rightness of the outcome. When a reporter asked whether she considered that an honest election, she responded “100%,” and then laughed, helping to make herself one of the most despised US officials in Ethiopia and on the African continent.

Nicaragua’s Benedict Arnolds: Political Opposition as Organized Crime
Stephen Sefton, Black Agenda Report, Jun 23 2021 (Originally in Tortilla con Sal)

Ever since they lost badly in the 2011 elections to the Frente Sandinista, Nicaragua’s political opposition has divided into conventional political parties working in the country’s legislature and an extra-parliamentary opposition based in local NGOs. The US government, in particular, gave up supporting Nicaragua’s opposition political parties financially so as to focus on consolidating an opposition bloc exploiting the figure of “civil society” but excluding the country’s main labor and rural workers’ organizations and the cooperative movement. The member organizations of this exclusive, bogus civil society were all financed either directly by the US and allied governments or indirectly via foreign corporate and state-funded foundations. After a period of accumulation of resources from 2011 onward, this extra-parliamentary opposition mounted the violent, US designed coup attempt which lasted from April to July in 2018. But the main opposition political parties for the most part respected the country’s institutions and refrained from taking part either in the widespread extreme violence or in the national dialogue between the coup promoters and the government. For that reason, no leading figure from Nicaragua’s opposition political parties has been affected by the recent series of arrests of people from organizations that supported the 2018 coup attempt.

All those arrested face well-supported indictments for illegal activities that would incur criminal prosecution in the US, any country of the EU and practically every country in Latin America and the Caribbean. The main formal indictment against all the individuals under investigation is that of acting in violation of Nicaragua’s Law 1055, “Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination for Peace.” Under the law, it is a crime to seek foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs, request military intervention, organize acts of terrorism and destabilization, promote coercive economic, commercial and financial measures against the country and its institutions, or request and welcome sanctions against the State of Nicaragua and its citizens. In addition, Cristiana Chamorro of the Violeta Chamorro Foundation, Juan Sebastian Chamorro of the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES), Felix Maradiaga of the Institute for Strategic and Public Policy Studies (IEEPP) and Violeta Granera of the Centre for Communications Research (CINCO) may also face charges for money laundering and breaking the “Foreign Agents” law which requires all organizations receiving finance from overseas to register with the authorities, report the amount of money received and how it is used. The law strengthens the already existing Law 147 regulating non-profit organizations under the supervision of the Ministry of Governance (MIGOB) which obliges non profits to report annually on their sources of income and how the money was spent.

Despite numerous reports in international media to the contrary, none of the people arrested had been selected by any of Nicaragua’s political alliances or parties as possible candidates for the upcoming general election on Nov 7 this year. Cristiana Chamorro, Juan Sebastan Chamorro, Arturo Cruz and Felix Maradiaga had earlier stated they aspired to the candidacy of one of the political parties, most likely the Citizens for Liberty political alliance. But none of them was formally under consideration. In any case, as many observers have noted, the figure of their possible candidacy in the elections has served as a smokescreen to distract from the criminal charges against them, for which they would face prosecution in practically any country in the world. The other main group of Nicaragua’s extra-parliamentary opposition facing indictment under Law 1055 are the leaders of the Unamos political movement, formerly the Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS). These are former leading Sandinistas Dora Maria Tellez, Victor Hugo Tinoco and Hugo Torres and their younger colleagues Ana Margarita Vigil, Suyen Barahona, and Tamara Davila. With the cosmetic political makeover from MRS to Unamos, the MRS old guard have tried to play down their Sandinista past and links to their network of ex-combatant supporters. A relatively small but experienced and committed group of these ex-combatant MRS supporters played a key role organizing, directing and leading the violence of 2018 that resulted in over 260 deaths. Former guerrilla hero Hugo Torres is reported by the UK Guardian as noting in relation to the recent arrests of well-known opposition figures in Nicaragua:

That’s how life goes. Those who once held their principles high have now betrayed them.

Torres should know. He has collaborated with US government intervention in Nicaragua since at least 2005. Ever since then, until very recently, Tellez, Torres, Tinoco and other ex-Sandinistas like Monica Baltodano and Henry Ruiz successfully fooled their foreign supporters by claiming they were loyal to some kind of authentic Sandinismo which they could never quite define. Monica Baltodano posed as a super-revolutionary, fooling leftists in Europe especially, while all the time collaborating closely with Nicaragua’s right wing and accepting substantial funding for her Popol Nah NGO from the EU and USAID. From 2007 to 2011, she served as a legislative deputy for the center-right social democrat MRS party of Tellez and Torres, at the very time that party was allied with Nicaragua’s right wing. For example, in the 2008 municipal elections they openly campaigned for oligarch banker Eduardo Montealegre, PLC political party candidate for mayor of Managua, when the PLC was still controlled by corrupt ex-president Arnoldo Alemán. For her part Baltodano has so far not figured in the current series of indictments.

Baltodano’s ex-Sandinista allies in the Unamos leadership are accused of breaking the law against collusion with foreign powers, but that may well turn out to be less serious than their possible role in planning new attacks, similar to those of 2018. Between April and July that year, 22 police officers were killed and 400 suffered gunshot wounds at the hands of well-armed opposition activists. The MRS ex-sandinistas and their accomplices, like Medardo Mairena and Francisca Ramirez of the extremely violent Anti-Canal Movement and right wing Catholic Church bishops and priests, including Silvio Baez, Rolando Alvarez and Abelardo Mata, organized and supported widespread mass extortion and violence, including murder, torture, arson, rape and other serious assaults affecting many hundreds of victims and their families. After the 2018 coup attempt failed, the authorities refrained from arresting its organizers, instead focusing on people who had directly committed criminal offenses. Subsequently, the 2019 government amnesty meant that the MRS leadership, as well as Felix Maradiaga, Cristiana and Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Violeta Granera and their accomplices escaped prosecution and sentencing for their role in the coup attempt. In fact, the extremely violent events of 2018 were a massive exercise in organized crime and terrorism, during which the various components of Nicaragua’s opposition involved in it operated according to a very clear program.

For example, the MRS leadership coordinated experienced ex-combatants among their movement’s activists to help organize the violence more effectively, for example in Masaya. Felix Maradiaga coordinated with his contacts in local and regional organized crime networks to attack public buildings and run extortion operations out of Managua’s UPOLI and UNAN universities and at dozens of roadblocks. Medardo Mairena and Francisca Ramirez activated their Anti-Canal Movement thugs to do the same along the main highways leading to Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean Coast. Renegade local politicians of traditional political parties followed suit on the highway leading to the northern Caribbean Coast, for example at Rio Blanco and Mulukuku. Right-wing Catholic Church bishops and priests guaranteed logistics ensuring that churches in dioceses across the country served as headquarters for the violent opposition gangs. The private business organization COSEP also played an important role in logistics, as did opposition aligned NGO’s like the human rights organization CENIDH, and Baltodano’s Popol Nah, among others. In addition, human rights organizations like CENIDH, the Permanent Commission for Human Rights (CPDH) and the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH), all funded by foreign governments, systematically misrepresented human rights abuses, inventing abuses by the authorities and concealing innumerable abuses by violent opposition activists.

Like all those organizations, the Chamorro NGOs, Cristiana’s Violeta Chamorro Foundation, Juan Sebastian’s FUNIDES and Carlos Fernando Chamorro’s CINCO, also facilitated the coup attempt by distributing money they received from foreign governments and foundations. Felix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastian Chamorro and others traveled internationally projecting a false “freedom and democracy” narrative, appearing in influential European media like the BBC, among others. The Chamorro media outlets La Prensa and Confidencial, and the plethora of online proxies they set up with USAID funding, coordinated the massive online disinformation campaign to mislead national and foreign opinion. This massive and complex operation had been planned by the US authorities in coordination with their agents in Nicaragua over many years following the collapse of the traditional opposition political parties in 2011. Among other things, the current investigation is likely to determine whether or not the Chamorros, the Unamos ex-Sandinistas and their opposition allies, in addition to their illegal collusion with US and allied government intervention, were planning another coup attempt in the context of this year’s elections. In any case, should those currently accused end up being prosecuted and sentenced for their crimes, few people in Nicaragua will have much sympathy for them.

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