Viva la solidaridad! Venezuela & the new Latin America stand in solidarity with Gaza

By Matt Willgress and Paul Dobson

In contrast with western complicity with Israel’s attack on Gaza over the summer and ongoing attacks and land grabs since, Venezuela and its allies in Latin America are offering concrete help to Palestine, says Matthew Willgress of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, with additional reporting from Paul Dobson in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s Government sent a third consignment of humanitarian aid to the embattled people of Palestine this month. In return, they greeted 119 young Palestinians who are going to be trained to be doctors at the Latin American Medical School in Caracas, demonstrating that genuine solidarity does not consist of excellent speeches, heartwarming discourses, nor best intentions, but rather has concrete actions and deeds at its centre.

“If the 21st Century saw a fighting and brave country, it is that which belongs to the people of Palestine” stated Minister for University Education, Science and Technology, Manuel Fernandez at the sendoff of the aid.

“[Hugo] Chavez brought the love of Palestine to Venezuela and left this legacy with .. Nicolas Maduro” commented the Palestinian Ambassador in Caracas, Linda Sobeh Ali.

The 10.3 tons of humanitarian aid follows 12 tones sent in August and 56 tones sent in September. It consists of mostly long life food, but also blankets, small cookers, and other items. Collection of aid continues amongst the Venezuelan people and public institutions following the devastating onslaught of the Israeli forces in August. As Israel carried out its onslaught on Gaza over the summer, the Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Ministry has been transformed into a hub of activity as Venezuelans responded en masse to their government’s call to provide donations for the people of Gaza. Many of those bringing donations to the centre felt that Palestine was suffering a massacre and that international organisations were failing to protect them.

“There is so much injustice and the world is asleep. The United Nations sits there with its arms folded,” commented Maribel Brazon, who brought medical supplies.

On unloading the aid in Palestine, the very same airplane was then filled by 119 young Palestinians who made the grueling journey back to Venezuela to enroll in the Latin American Medical School ‘Salvador Allende’ (ELAM), located on the outskirts of Caracas.

The students come from various regions of Palestine including war-torn Gaza, and are due to benefit from one of the most inspiring and internationalist projects of revolutionary Venezuela. Some lost their entire families in the recent onslaught which left thousands dead and the Gaza strip devastated. On graduating as doctors, they will return to Palestine to practice medicine.

“Today is a historic day” explained President Maduro whilst personally receiving the students. “Palestine is present here in Venezuela, here is its future, its youth… the voice of Venezuela is and always will be the voice of the truth of the struggle of the Palestinian people”.

The ELAM, where the 119 Palestinians will join a handful of their compatriots already studying, is the second of its type. The Caracas ELAM was inaugurated by Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro in 2006 and receives students from both within and outside Venezuela, trains them in a 6 year medicine degree, then returns them to their communities of origin to practice and alleviate the struggles of their people.

The Palestinian students will have no personal costs for studies, accommodation, or food whilst in Venezuela thanks to the Yasser Arafat grant scheme. The scheme has announced that it plans on increasing the number of Palestinians coming to study in Venezuela by 1,000. Minister Fernandez has also initiated proceedings to allow Palestinians to study other courses in Venezuelan universities, such as engineering.

The ELAM currently has students from Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, the Congo, Algeria, Honduras, Haiti, Ghana, Gambia, Mexico, Mali amongst other countries, and focusses on training students from impoverished or excluded backgrounds, such as indigenous communities.

“This is an expression of perfect support, its impressive” explained Mouath Daraghma, a fourth year Palestinian student at the ELAM. “Many thanks to the people of Venezuela and their President Nicolas Maduro. Thanks to this we feel like we are just more soldiers of this Revolution”.

Abuwatfa Sherin, a newly arrived student from Palestine, explained how Israeli forces tried to impede their travel out of blockaded Palestine, via Jordan, and ultimately to Venezuela. “We are very tired from the journey” he explained, “there were many checkpoints, all of the Gaza strip is completely closed on all sides…we suffered a lot to get into Jordan”.

Maduro also explained that “Israel did everything possible to block the journey, but despite all of the obstacles which they put in the way, I always had faith that things would work out alright, and so they have. Mission successful, kids, thanks for coming!”

On arrival, the 119 students gifted a kefiyeh (Palestinian headscarf) to Maduro, and the Palestinian Ambassador Sobeh Ali gifted him a Palestinian flag and an olive tree in the name of Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas. “You are creating our future, our doctors” she explained. “I don’t know how to thank the people of Venezuela, I don’t know how to thank you”.

Venezuela also has a scheme involving sending 240 million litres of oil to Palestine every four months as part of the creation of the new body PetroPalestina.

Although the oil was originally intended to be sent to the West Bank, Palestinian authorities have confirmed that it will now be sent to Gaza, where it will be used to restart electricity generation since, as Palestinian ambassador to Venezuela, Linda Sabeh Ali, explained, “the only plant in the zone was bombed by Israel and now is in total darkness.”

During this year, thousands have marched through Caracas on multiple occasions, demanding an end to Israel’s siege of Gaza. In stark contrast to the attitude of many Western governments, these rallies have been announced in government media as well as progressive independent news sources, with a Twitter account associated with President Maduro even publicising them.

In motivating support, President Maduro said, “[Some] say that there is a war between Israel and Palestine, but there is no war,” adding that ”Israel, [is] recognised by the UN [as] an occupying power that has been displacing Palestinians from their historic territory, carrying out a war of extermination,” before confirming his government will give asylum and shelter to children orphaned by the onslaught.

Earlier this summer, President Maduro condemned “Israel’s unjust, disproportionate and illegal military attack on the heroic Palestinian people.” Launching an “SOS Palestine” campaign he said: “Enough already, I’ve joined the campaign.”

Support for Palestine Across Latin America & A Proud Tradition of Solidarity

Venezuela is not alone in standing in solidarity with Palestine — other progressive governments in Latin America have also taken action.

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has said it is high time something was done “to end the genocide that Israel is carrying out on Palestine” and labelled Israel a “terrorist state.”

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused Benjamin Netanyahu of trying to “annihilate the Palestinian people.”

Cuba meanwhile has a long tradition of standing shoulder to shoulder with Palestine, while Chile (where the left recently returned to government) has halted free trade negotiations with Israel, withdrawn its ambassador is sending $75 million of aid and called for an immediate ceasefire.

Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru and Brazil have also recalled their ambassadors.

Additionally, during the summer’s onslaught, as Latin American leaders met in Venezuela for a summit of the regional trade bloc Mercosur, the presidents of four of the five countries in the organisation demanded an end to the military actions in Gaza and called for Israel to permit the free flow of people, food and aid.

Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela (all except Paraguay which saw a left-wing president overthrown a couple of years ago in what was termed an “express coup d’etat”) announced in a statement that they “energetically condemn the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip, which in the majority affects civilians, including children and women.”

These positions and initiatives in solidarity with Palestine reflect a proud tradition in Venezuela in recent years.

Former President Hugo Chavez cut diplomatic relations with Israeli after its earlier war on Gaza. This was followed by a statement in which Chavez declared that the presidents of both Israel and the US should be tried at the International Criminal Court. His stance was again emphasised in the aftermath of the massacre on board the Gaza-bound aid ship Mavi Marmara in 2010, with Chavez asserting that the attack was “an act of war undertaken by the Israeli army against defenceless civilians.”

Following the UN vote which established Palestine as a non-member state, a Palestinian delegation from Ramallah visited Venezuela. A further notable gesture on behalf of Venezuela was the abolition of visas for Palestinians wishing to travel to the country.

Most recently, just weeks before Israel’s attacks on Gaza, President Maduro received Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, explaining that “the Palestinian cause is the world’s cause.”

A key reason for the visit was to establish PetroPalestina, an organisation aimed at helping fulfil the oil demands of the besieged Palestinian economy that will, in the words of Maduro, “firm up the supplying of diesel from Venezuela to Palestine.”

Discussions were also held on the creation of a Palestinian centre of Mission Miracle, a health programme which, free of charge, uses laser surgery to restore sight to people who can’t afford private attention.

As the holder of the world’s largest oil reserves, with a repeatedly elected progressive government in power committed to national sovereignty  and the redistribution of wealth, Venezuela has faced constant hostility from the US in recent years. No doubt Venezuela’s stance on Palestine and other Middle East questions, and its support for international justice more generally — the government opposed the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq — is another reason for this hostility.

It can also be added that one certain consequence if Venezuela’s revolution was ever overthrown would be the country’s dramatic realignment with the US camp internationally and the reactionary positions resulting from this. A hint of the right’s true alignments was made clear in 2012 when a Caracas mayor and leading figure in Venezuela’s right-wing opposition met Benjamin Netanyahu and pledged a future restoration of relations with Israel.

Viva Venezuela, Viva Palestina!

Matt Willgress is national coordinator of Venezuela Solidarity. For more information about the campaign visit www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk. To learn more about social change in Latin America come to the Latin America Conference on Saturday November 29 – tickets available soon at www.latinamerica2014.org.uk

For Peace, Development & Progress – The New Latin America in the World Today
Kate Hudson • Kamel Hawwash (Palestine Solidarity Campaign)
• Victoria Brittain • Guisell Morales Echaverry
Chair: Bernard Regan

 

 

M&S, more Marley & Scrooge than #magicandsparkle

slough-demo-011416334343803424340outside M&S

The way M&S is acting the letters M&S could stands for Marley and Scrooge over the mean spirited way these workers are being treated over the Christmas period says GMB

GMB members, employed by Tempay Ltd at a Marks and Spencer distribution centre in Swindon, protested outside M&S’s store in High Street Slough on Tuesday 18th November over being required to work six days every week until January with only one day off in a 14 day period.

More than 150 formal grievances have been submitted to Tempay Ltd about the Christmas work rotas, from among their 500 staff on the site.

The Marks and Spencer distribution centre in Swindon is run by Wincanton. However most of the staff are employed by an employment agency, 24.7 Recruitment. They are then formally employed through a further company, called Tempay Ltd. Workers employed through Tempay earn the minimum wage of £6.50 per hour compared to the £8.50 per hour paid to workers doing exactly the same job but employed directly through Wincanton.

GMB is also calling on Marks and Spencer to address the pay inequalities between workers carrying out the same work on their behalf. The loophole in the law which allows companies to pay staff doing the same job a different wage is under Section 10 of the Agency Workers Regulations – otherwise known as the Swedish derogation. But while the practice is legal, GMB members say it is unethical and runs against the Marks and Spencer ethos. See notes to editors for GMB press release on an earlier GMB protest on this.

Andy Newman, GMB branch secretary, said “Despite the arms-length relationship that Marks and Spencer chooses to have with these workers, this is an M&S warehouse, where M&S products are stored and dispatched to M&S stores, to be sold to M&S customers to make profits for M&S shareholders.
The way M&S is acting the letters M&S could stands for Marley and Scrooge, the mean spirited way these workers are being treated over the Christmas period. GMB members accuse M&S of getting the Ghost of Christmas Past to draw up these contracts with Victorian working conditions”

Our members are saying “Bah Humbug!” to M&S. We asked M&S to sort this out, and they failed to do so, which is why our members are protesting outside the store in Slough.
The difference between how the Wincanton and Tempay workers are being treated is a miserly attempt to push down wage costs over the Christmas period, that Scrooge would have been proud of.

Marks and Spencer claim to have an ethical supply chain when it comes to their overseas manufacturing suppliers. GMB is calling for them to take the same interest in ethical business much closer to home.”

Band Aid is offensive

Bob GeldofBack in 1984 a group of rich pop stars gathered together to ‘save Africa’ in response to famine in Ethiopia. The result was Band Aid. Thirty years on and another group of rich pop stars has come together to ‘save Africa’ in response to Ebola.

Tarzan of the Apes is a fictional character who first appeared in a 1912 book of the same name by Edgar Rice Burroughs. At the time the popular view of Africa and Africans in the West was of a primitive, backward, and retrograde culture and people who needed to be ‘saved’ by the white man and white civilization.

It was the very mindset responsible for the continent’s colonisation, which over a period of 400 years devastated its people and plundered its natural resources, leaving deep economic, social, and historical scars that have yet to heal. While Africa no longer suffers the colonisation that it did when Tarzan first appeared in popular culture, it continues to suffer from the colonial mindset and from a global economic system that has ensured its continued under development up to the present day.

The Ebola crisis has succeeded in forcing its way into Western consciousness as no other disease has in recent years. Why? What precisely is it about Ebola that has struck fears into our hearts that sets it apart from diseases such as malaria, which according to the World Health Organization kills one child in Africa every minute?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Ebola is an equal opportunities disease, every bit as capable of spreading among and killing people in the West as in Africa, where it originates. In an article for The Lancet back in April, Melissa Leach of the Institute of Developmental Studies in Brighton writes, “Ebola is being highlighted as an “exceptional” disease – one well worthy of dramatic political and public attention. This contrasts with more mundane diseases – malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea – that more regularly afflict Guinea’s women, men, and children.”

The Band Aid phenomenon of the 1980s was created by Bob Geldof. It began with the Christmas single, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, and went on to spawn twin Live Aid rock concerts in the UK and US. It succeeded in raising an estimated £30 million to aid the victims of famine in Ethiopia and was the catalyst for the proliferation of Africa-focused charities and NGOs operating throughout the continent and creating a veritable industry in the process. However, if judged by results, those charities and NGOs have had little or no impact when it comes to reversing the conditions responsible for 40% of people in sub-Sahara Africa continuing to live in absolute poverty.

The underlying problem afflicting Africa, and making it easier for diseases such as Ebola to spread and gain traction, is a simple and enduring one. It is capitalism. The non negotiable condition of the development of the northern hemisphere has been the under development of the southern hemisphere, and until this changes Africa will continue to labour under the weight of economic exploitation and oppression.

Band Aid reinforces negative stereotypes of Africa and Africans. It reflects a colonial mindset that is so deeply entrenched in Western culture that we aren’t even aware it exists. The sight of a bunch of rich pop stars parading themselves as paragons of virtue and heroes is crass and eminently offensive. While it may allow them to wallow in self congratulation and positive PR, it is paternalism of the most grievous kind. Solidarity demands a response that is rooted in challenging the political and economic status quo responsible for Africa’s under development and with it the ability of diseases like Ebola to gain traction and spread. It does not equate to acquiescing in it with a charity song that jars with lyrics which objectify and essentialis Africans as a homogeneous mass of helpless and hapless children waiting to be saved by ‘whitey’. It denies Africans their own voice and in so doing undermines their dignity.

Ultimately, it is not Africa that needs to be saved, it is us. Only when we are saved from the greed and paternalism that distorts our understanding will Africa and the rest of the developing world finally begin to emerge from under the iron heel of Western hegemony.

Beyond the froth

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football picks out the best of the autumn sports books

I’m sorry but you won’t find here the just-in-time-for-Christmas sports autobiography blockbusters. With just enough manufactured controversy to ensure blanket coverage when they are launched. Even a skim read will reveal that, on the contrary, they tell the reader very little they didn’t either know or suspect already.

Instead I would recommend a weighty volume of this sort. A Companion to Sport edited by David Andrews and Ben Carrington. The range of coverage from Monty Panesar to football’s 2010 World Cup is matched by the variety of insights, sport as a contested space being the overarching theme. As an academic book scandalously expensive, but any well-stocked library should have a copy.

Played in London

As a writer Rob Steen straddles that frustrating divide between the academic and the journalistic. His new book Floodlights and Touchlines reveals the richness of writing this mix can sometimes produce. A living history of the relationship between the spectator and his, or increasingly as Rob chronicles, her sport. This is social history of the very highest standard. Simon Inglis is rightly renowned for his writing on the cultural significance of stadia and other sporting buildings. Simon’s Played in Britain project has helped transform our understanding of what these structures mean to their localities, and his latest account of this relationship, Played in London not only continues the richness of Simon’s explanation but is unarguably his finest book in this extraordinary Played in… series yet.

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A vote for Jim Murphy in the Scottish Labour leadership election is a vote for a Tory government in 2015

Jim MurphyWhen it comes to the three candidates fighting it out for the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party – Jim Murphy, Sarah Boyack, and Neil Findlay – if the Tories in Scotland and the SNP could cast a vote between November 17, when the ballot commences, and Dec 13, when the new leader is announced, you can be sure it would be for Jim Murphy. Why? Because with Murphy as leader the likelihood of a Tory government at Westminster in 2015 increases to the point of being almost guaranteed, and likewise the continued dominance of the SNP in Scotland, bringing with it renewed danger of the break-up of the United Kingdom.

This is the reason it is no exaggeration to state that the upcoming election of the next leader of Scottish Labour is the most important internal election in the party’s history, not only in Scotland but UK-wide. For on the result hinges not just the future of Scottish Labour but also the outcome of the 2015 general election and, even more importantly, the very future of the United Kingdom.
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Debunking the myth of the Special Relationship

By Numan Abd al-Wahid

Whether one is critical of the alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States or in favour of the so-called “Special Relationship” it is perceived to be an amicable, natural and trans-historical partnership between two nations who share the same language and whose global interests are more or less the same. Over the last fifteen years these two nations assumed the lead in their continuing support of the colonialist state of Israel and waging war on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and calling for more military intervention in Syria and Iran. So it is no surprise that many find it hard to accept that this alliance is a recent advent rooted in geo-political exigencies of the historical moment at hand. British imperialism was animus, if not outright antithetical, in the first 150 years of the Republic.

Writing, if not gloating, in the midst of the American civil war in the nineteenth century, the future British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (a.k.a. Robert Cecil) heralded not only the end of the United States of America but democracy itself or as he referred to it the “evil of universal suffrage.”[i] American democracy and the vaunted republic he gleefully boasted were not only a failed experiment and a busted flush but the “most ignominious failure the world had ever seen.” It had become, in our esteemed Lord’s eyes, what today would be referred to derogatively and pejoratively, as a ‘failed state’.

The main reason for this inevitable failure according to Cecil was that the United States had rejected and overthrown its natural leaders, i.e. the British establishment. As such they are now richly “reaping a harvest that was sown as far back as the time of Jefferson.” The Americans had substituted genuine leadership for a dreamer’s theory (the works of Thomas Jefferson) and more so, in the present climate, Abraham Lincoln was an “ass”, an incompetent and “the most conspicuous cause of the present calamities.”[ii]

Another British Minister, William Gladstone too had little time for Lincoln and came out in support of the Southern Confederacy. The Gladstone family had become wealthy largely owing to the family’s slave camps in Jamaica and William’s maiden speech in parliament was a defence of the family business which arose from the slave trading port of Liverpool. Although William Gladstone represented constituents in the family’s native parliamentary seat of Midlothian, Scotland, his father had represented Liverpool in Parliament.[iii]

At the time of the civil war Liverpool’s economy as well as that of the wider North-west region of England was mostly reliant on cotton imported from the American south and then distributed to the cotton mills of Lancashire and Cheshire. Lincoln’s Union army’s blockade of Southern ports caused a massive disruption to this trade.

The blockade also affected the South’s ship manufacturing facilities. As such they turned to Great Britain for ship and gunboat manufacturing. Two ships stand out. The first was the ‘Alabama’ which once operational sunk 65 union ships. The other Confederate ship was a trade ship re-fitted as a gunboat, ‘Shenandoah’ which once sent out to battle “captured nearly 40 prizes” i.e. that is hijacked and looted 40 union and other ships. Needless to say the crew on both ships were mostly manned by British personnel.[iv]Claims were made that these ships were “decoying their victims with the British flag.”[v]

In parliament 74 members were in favour of the confederacy, while only 17 were pro North, pro Lincoln.[vi]The British political establishment were clearly waiting for the right time to intervene on behalf of the south yet at the same time they were loathe to spread the Empire’s resources “too thinly across the globe.” [vii] Click to continue reading

25 years on: East Germany in context

By Hans Modrow

Morning Star

Before I deal with the demise of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) it makes sense to remind ourselves of the circumstances of its birth.

The conclusion of the second world war was sealed at Potsdam between the Soviet Union, the US and Britain.

France was later included and from then on the future development of Germany was dependent on the four allied powers that had defeated fascism.

A new order was created in Europe which led first to the division of Germany and then, with the onset of the cold war in 1946, the division of Europe.
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Political Assassination In Venezuela: Serra’s Death Blamed On Right Wing Paramilitaries

By Paul Dobson

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign

“Some of the media tycoons and imperial elites don’t want to understand that if they come to destabilize Venezuela, then the entire continent will move itself like an earthquake. The best guarantee of tranquility and social stability in Latin America and the Caribbean is a stable, democratic, peaceful Venezuela” – Venezuela’s elected President Nicolas Maduro.

One of the youngest and brightest Venezuelan revolutionaries was assassinated by right wing paramilitaries in October, sending shock waves through the country, writes Paul Dobson in Venezuela.

“It’s painful and regrettable to inform that in the Pastora, Libertador Municipality of Caracas, the bodies were found of the Deputy Robert Serra- a young Venezuelan leader of the PSUV (the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela)- and his companion” announced the Interior Minister, Rodriguez Torres on the 1st October. “They were vilely assassinated in their homes”.
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