Monthly Archives: February 2010

Towards a Fifth Socialist International

Communism and communists were famously targets of McCarthy in the USA. Today Socialism is also a taboo word, not only in North America but across Europe. New Labour threw it out after Clause 4 was banished so now it is excluded from political discourse. Even at a conference organised by Compass, which puts itself on the left of New Labour attempts to refer to Socialism or its language (Common ownership) was taboo in the sessions I attended.
Now in Latin America there is a resurgence of socialism, and the reviled (in Western media) Hugo Chavez calls for a Fifth Socialist International
To illustrate the problem states like Venezuela face, criticism of Venezuela’s efforts to help Haiti was made in the Huffington Post. Why? It seems that Venezuela has not allied itself with a group effort because it was felt that much aid effort had the aim of landing lucrative contracts to rebuild this shattered nation. Already Haiti is the subject of continuing colonialisation. This is not what the socialist states of Venezuela and Cuba see themselves joining with.

Cuban Medical Care in Haiti

Cuban medical care has been extended in Haiti and includes volunteers from across Latin America who are currently training, or have been trained in Cuba. There have been systematic vaccinations to combat the danger of disease spreading in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake.
The help is not seen as short term as permanent hospitals are being set up in outlying regions short on doctors, and often supply of essentials such as water.
The Cuban medical staff are working with extremely limited resources yet they are seeing and treating a huge number of people with very serious injuries, performing operations and caring. This report is from CNN.

Advice and advocacy services go out of the window as commissioning takes hold

A report from the Baring Foundation, a grant giving body which helps voluntary organisations, now known by the authorities as “the third sector”, has criticised the commissioning system and commissioners.
I haven’t found anyone in the voluntary sector who likes being categorised as “third sector”. It smacks of patronage and fits in well with a view of voluntary organisations as being dependent on hand-outs and aid much as an internal “third world”. The irony is that the health service has long since recognised the need to work closely with community-based groups in order to reach the many in need of help and support. Mental health is a good example of an area of concern where much could be done in the community to give help and support to those known to be at risk. The Government gave a priority to supporting groups through its Delivering Race Equality (DRE) agenda. Commissioners were advised of the need to work closely with the community-based organisations. This well-paid group of people who have come into existence with the commissioning system make it their task to closely guard the scarce resources they administer. Yes quite so, but the effect has been to make it extremely difficult for many organisations with a long track record of care and in-depth knowledge of community needs to either disappear, or as the Baring report says, compromise their independence, vital for effective advice and advocacy services. Another trend has been for those in receipt of direct payments for the social care and health needs has been for them to have to pay for the advice services that were once free to them.

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Aha President Sarkozy is going to Haiti

The former French colony of Haiti was a jewel in the crown of French colonial rule until 1804 when Toussaint L’Ouverture led the rebellion that defeated the Napoleonic forces. The cost to the French was enormous. Now, with the promise of a visit from President Sarkozy, there is a cautious welcome back because some would prefer French intervention to that of the USA which has invaded 3 times now and helped install the hated Duvaliers who creamed off the country’s wealth leaving destitution in their wake. The President will have reconstruction plans under his arm.
i seriously doubt, given the background, that M Sarkozy will see things in the same light as Naomi Klein. Writing in The Nation magazine she makes the case that it is Haiti that is owed money and the former and present colonial powers are in debt to them. More likely the time is seen as ripe to return to ways of harnessing a people made desperate by the impositions of despotic rulers placed there to ensure they don’t follow Cuba and others into the socialism now taking hold to the south of the USA.

Guantanamo Bay Mark 2

After all the hype and fuss about Guantanamo closing you’d think there would be second thoughts on secret prisons. What a stupid thing to think. We hear that the new “shock and awe” tactic to deal with the Taliban is to “win hearts and minds”. ‘Tis shock and awe you feel when you see your family lying dead and mutilated. Are you impressed as I assume you are supposed to be by this obscene language and strategy? Hm. It’s certainly shocking.
The first thing to do is to kill a dozen or so civilians. Another good ploy is to kidnap suspects so that everyone is sending our search parties for them and send them away to a secret location. No not Guantanamo Bay but somewhere inside Afghanistan. For goodness sake!
The once notorious Bagram prison has cleaned up its act according to the article in the Nation. The dirty work of torture, which continues, goes on elsewhere. No Bush in sight now but the man Obama who promised us the longed for change and hope. Don’t look for it here.

Caribbean Art. Another Haitian Tragedy

The late Professor John Figueroa visited us regularly in Birmingham to talk about and discuss Caribbean art and literature. Teachers and pupils alike warmed to his enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the subject. He had known many writers and artists of note and I believe there exists an unpublished work on the Nobel Prize winner, Derek Walcott, together with his own autobiography which has also still to find a publisher. John also possessed a sizable collection of slides. I remember him saying that if anything Caribbean art was even more remarkable than its literature, although much less well known. On visiting John’s house in Milton Keynes you could see a collection of paintings given to him by various artists over the years. I remember him doing a television programme for the Open University in the “Third World Studies” series he prepared for them.
What has been overlooked is what has happened to art treasures in Haiti. In short they were ruined. Clearly when it comes to human tragedy on this scale it is not the first matter of concern what happens to artifacts and treasures. Ultimately though the wrecking of a nation’s heritage does affect the people whose achievements and histories are recorded. We have seen the consequences of war in Iraq to national treasures, an essential part of that nations identity. While Haiti is known as a “poor” nation in terms of wealth when it comes to artistic traditions it is far from true. Haiti has one of the richest traditions of art in the region. It seems there is little to be salvaged. As one commentator remarked “we have to start all over again”.

The Great Debate: the opening of the flood gates to oppression

I trained as a teacher in the 1960’s. I’m glad I’ve got that out – but I’ll be branded. I’m still involved in education as a school governor and a director of Vital Link Educational and see the results of what was called “The Great Debate” as Jim Callaghan launched an attack on “trendy education methods”. This was just the beginning. The oppressive political involvement on education has been turning the screw tighter and tighter until the whole system is shrieking with pain. Teachers – never mind the sixties brigade – have been ignored. No doubt they’ll blame us for their troubles. Time, one head teacher believes, for the “Second Great Debate”.
State schools are paid for by governments not without good reason. There are expectations that they will provide cohesion in society, That is they will contribute to the reproduction of the “culture”, “values”, “norms” (as Pierre Bourdieu expounds it) that establishment figures trot out. Part of “State Repressive Apparatus” according to Althusser.

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A long walk to freedom

I was with a group of people at the Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre in Birmingham partying as Nelson Mandela stepped out into the world as a free man with Winnie along side. We did it again as Obama was elected President of the USA. Highly significant events, especially for black people. On each occasion the joy was shared universally eclipsing the voices of racism and hatred. 20 years on a Guardian article looks back at achievements and disappointments since.
I had the great privilege of joining thousands of others in the Birmingham Convention Centre when Mandela came. He started locally in Handsworth where he asked to go personally to meet with the black population. Facing 3000 or so he began jestingly “if I known there were so many I wouldn’t have come” before talking for two hours without a note in sight. I raised my clenched fist in salute as he left the building receiving a smiling acknowledgment.
While Mandela’s example was pointed to as an example to be followed what has been reported so frequently in the 20 years that followed is the self-indulgence and greed of so many entrusted with leadership in democratic elections. Mandela’s own successor, Jacob Zuma, is embroiled in controversy and it will be a strange sight to see him speaking in tribute to the person he so singularly fails to emulate.
Most regrettable is that the promise of socialism has receded as personal greed eclipses all else as international capitalism continues to encourage and support it.

Power to pay out

AIG has announced another round of payouts even though the company was bailed out a year ago.
It’s an indication of the locus of power to have the ability to command funds in this way. This is a group of people who don’t themselves manufacture anything but have access to money. Whose money? The very people who do, or did, useful jobs and have lost not only their livelihood but their homes and their pensions. In the USA they now have a government struggling against the odds to get health cover for many more citizens, a move viciously opposed by those who have the bonuses to pay for their well being. A classless society? In no way. The one group can command their pay and pensions and then announce that they cannot afford the other group’s (i.e. the productive workers) pensions, health care or benefits. Any government that can be voted in will not have the power to deal with the power brokers, rather they will have to jump to their tune. So it is not governments that rule in the so-called democracies of the Western world, big business controls them. This is abundantly clear in the European Union which has enshrined the right to move capital and labour around at will regardless of the consequences for local communities.
The inherent contradictions in capitalist society cannot, or will not be fixed by itself. The parties supposed to represent working people are themselves under the control of the elite group, as we see time and again under New Labour. Rumour has it that Peter Mandelson has already fixed himself up with a £500,000 job with BP if and when New Labour goes pear shaped after the next election. Whose side is he on? Whose side was he ever on?
Only in Latin America is country after country saying “enough is enough” and turning to a different way of doing things. Socialism is being introduced here by democratic means. Not that it gets a fair coverage from a western press controlled by the elite group. Those countries can do nothing right. Improving the education and wealth of ordinary folk is a crime and steps are being taken to hold back the tide. So under Obama’s regime there is a build up of US bases in Columbia. Why is this? Because Chavez is planning for war chorus the press. Castro says Hugo is not like that, I know him well. But who is listening to that? Chavez has announced the cancellation of Haiti’s debt. What a crime! Will the Capitalist world that has exploited the long-suffering Haitians do the same? Not bloody likely. The self-imporetant tele-evangelist Pat Robertson has said the Haitians ‘deserve it”. That will teach them to have a rebellion against their colonial masters 200 years ago.

Help for Haiti

Haitians don’t want the politisation of help they receive but at the same time wish to acknowledge who has been involved. The political process has certainly been at work in the western media questioning the role of near neighbours, ignoring significant acts of support. This report from Granma serves to illustrate how Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela’ s presence has contributed to international effort.
That Haitians recognised their Cuban doctors is illustrated in the story of the birth of a little one, Fidel, among the chaos.
The record needs to be set straight as some of those helping in Haiti have their own struggles to improve education and health in their own populations. UNESCO have reported on the success of Venezuela’s efforts to improve education there for example. Chavez has announced that Venezuela is writing off Haiti’s debt saying that it was not Venezuela in debt to Haiti, but Venzuela owed a historic debt to Haiti when Toussaint L’Ouverture overthrew colonial rule. The question remains, will others follow to take a huge burden off Haiti?