Tikkun Daily button
Laura Wells
Laura Wells
Laura Wells is a political activist who blogs about the electoral and social revolutions in Latin America, and how they might apply to California and the United States.



Women in Power, South American Style

Mar7

by: on March 7th, 2016 | Comments Off

In the past 10 years, three women were elected – and reelected – as presidents of Argentina, Chile, and Brazil. They are, from left to right in the photo, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Michelle Bachelet, and Dilma Rousseff. (See mini-bios in Notes below.)

Unlike Margaret Thatcher, the first and only female Prime Minister of Great Britain, or Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, these three women are not conservatives. They were elected as part of the “Pink Tide” that swept much of South America following the 1998 election of Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela.

Women in power in South America is not what I would have expected when I was in school. The picture presented then was that Latin American countries staged frequent military coups and traded one dictator for another. This was all due, I was led to believe, to their extreme macho culture and volatile, militaristic temperaments. They favored a strongman type of leader, a “caudillo.” Decades later, as I learned more about history, I realized how much power the United States wielded in that region designated “America’s Backyard.” The instability and violence had less to do with culture and temperament than it had to do with the School of the Americas, IMF loans, and the CIA, and later the War on Drugs and the wrongly named National Endowment for Democracy.

Meanwhile, these three women have joined other Latin American leaders in turning their focus away from the superpower to the North and toward their own people.

We can find more examples of women in power in the World Bank’s chart showing the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. Three of the top ten are Latin American countries: Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador. If you’re curious, as I was, about where the United States falls when you sort by the year 2015, you’ll find it in the middle of the list of 187 countries.

Read more...

Political Revolution, South American Style

Feb26

by: on February 26th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

To achieve a political revolution – effecting a real change in society’s priorities – it is vital to have some hope that such a change is even possible. Latin America, and particularly South America, shows us that it is possible.

Voters in South America have elected presidents who were not the U.S. first choice. That is good news for the people of South America. As John Perkins’ book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man detailed, heads of state who were cozy with the United States arranged loans for U.S. contractors to develop projects that locals did not want or need, but which were paid for with resources – natural and financial – that otherwise would benefit the people.

The new presidents rejected this cozy relationship, and achieved nothing short of a revolution against a huge power that had dominated them for almost two centuries. The new leaders have not been perfect; it’s a huge challenge, like trying to change the engine of a car while it’s still running. And yet they have made great progress in their separate countries and in solidarity with other countries in the region. Despite setbacks and reversals, the legacy of revolutionary change has prevailed, in important areas such as healthcare, education, housing, and the environment, and in important systemic changes such as new constitutions and regional integration.

Keep in mind that the U.S. was literally an economic and military empire in the region, so you can bet it misrepresents what’s going on in South America now, from shamelessly calling Hugo Chavez a dictator, to reporting criminal activity by rich delinquents as if they were popular uprisings. To have hope for a real revolution, we need to look beyond the lies told by our government and corporate media.

Read more...

Trumbo, Bernie, and Communist Dictators

Jan4

by: on January 4th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

Heads of State gathered at BRICS Summit 2014

Heads of State gathered at BRICS Summit 2014

Especially since Hugo Chavez was elected President of Venezuela in 1998, many countries in Latin America have been moving beyond progressive politics toward socialism. The list includes, to varying degrees, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela. These governments have shown themselves to be more stable than when Latin America was much more solidly the backyard of the United States. Socialist-leaning presidents have been elected and reelected again and again.

Even in the United States there is a shift in the wind that is breaking up the TINA lie articulated by Margaret Thatcher, “there is no alternative.” Americans are now acknowledging that there really are alternatives to the system of capitalism that has been showing its weaknesses more intensely in recent years.

“Trumbo” is one example of this shift. The film came out just in time for the Academy Awards nominations which it will undoubtedly receive. This is significant, because the film is a sympathetic treatment of Dalton Trumbo, a communist screenwriter who was jailed and blacklisted for his political beliefs during the red-baiting period of McCarthyism.

Bernie Sanders is another example of the shift. Bernie started bringing the phrase “democratic socialism” into his presidential campaign, and he’s backing up his words by taking no corporate money.

But last September Bernie red-baited Hugo Chavez. A fundraising email contained this paragraph, “Yesterday, one of Hillary Clinton’s most prominent Super PACs attacked our campaign pretty viciously. They suggested I’d be friendly with Middle East terrorist organizations, and even tried to link me to a dead communist dictator.”

Many people, especially my dear friends and fellow participants in political delegations to Latin America, wanted to believe that Bernie didn’t mean Hugo Chavez, or that Bernie didn’t say it at all, it was just a low-level staffer. Unfortunately, Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs eliminated those excuses when he said, “It is disappointing that Secretary Clinton’s super PAC is spreading disinformation about Bernie. This is exactly the kind of politics that Bernie is trying to change. To equate bringing home heating oil to low-income Vermonters with support for the Chavez government is dishonest.”

Bernie Sanders has not retracted nor softened the blow since.

Read more...

Venezuelans Face Off in Crucial December 6 Elections

Nov29

by: on November 29th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Before we dive into problems with elections, I will say this: there are solutions. I need to pull out this long-time campaign slogan of mine as a reminder to myself and everyone else. You will see the section “There Are Solutions” below. As to the problems…

A friend sent me an Associated Press news article with the conniving title “Opposition gains as Chavez family loses supporters on its home turf.”

They know what they’re doing. By publishing such an article, the super-rich and their media outlets know the value of social approval. People want to fit in with what they think others are doing. The concentrated wealth know that if they say they are winning, people believe it and lose heart. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. They assert, “Everyone is turning away from candidates we don’t support (such as Socialists, Greens, and other alternative parties), and turning toward the candidates we feature. Or they’re not voting at all,” and people fall in line to fit in with “everyone.” I remember leaning about it in school as the “bandwagon approach.”
(nicolasmaduro.org) Associated Press is not on the side of regular people. The corporate press, whether in Venezuela or elsewhere, has never been on the side of presidents like Hugo Chavez. The article’s focus on the wealth of Chavez’ brothers reminds me of Matt Gonzalez and his no-corporate-money mayoral race in San Francisco in 2003. The press tries to turn regular folks against legitimate people’s candidates like Matt Gonzalez and Hugo Chavez by painting them as rich.

Meanwhile, the really rich use their incredible stock of resources, including media, banks and other huge corporations, to create the economic hardships, scarcity, and sacrifices people suffer, whether in Venezuela or elsewhere. Then their media outlets report the crime and poverty as a problem of the Chavez or Maduro government rather than a problem the super-rich are creating.

Read more...

What will happen to Cuba after normalization with the United States?

Oct14

by: on October 14th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Cuban President Raúl Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced almost a year ago that we would begin the process of normalization of relations between the two countries, after more than 50 years of strained relationships including a U.S. embargo.

It is no surprise that experts can’t agree on what will happen. Diplomatic relations with Cuba will be unlike diplomatic relations with any other country. Cuba is unique and fascinating in many areas: geography, environment, history, politics, and culture. While there are daunting challenges ahead, I will focus this piece on strengths I gained awareness of during my first trip to Cuba in April 2015.

It’s ironic that so many Americans want to “visit Cuba now before a whole bunch of Americans go there and spoil it.” What really amuses me is that while I poke fun at the idea, that’s exactly what I did. I had been on several political delegations to other Latin American countries, especially the ones with revolutionary new constitutions that empower people and even nature: Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Many of my colleagues couldn’t believe I’d never been to Cuba, the country that has been independent of super-power domination for decades.

I used the term “Americans” above, but I want to switch to a term for people from the U.S.A. that differentiates us from the rest of the people living in this hemisphere. “Estadounidense” is the Spanish word, based on Estados Unidos. (I’ve often wondered if we should adopt an English-language word, “USers” for US people, since we have about 5% of the world’s population and use about 20% of the world’s resources.)

Among the people most afraid that “Americans will spoil Cuba” are … Canadians. They’ve been enjoying Cuba for years and many Canadians are not keen on the prospect of loads of estadounidenses descending on the island.

This leads me to the first item on my list of strengths likely to help Cuba remain Cuba, and not be overrun by the United States of America.

1. TOURISM IS NOT NEW. Cuba has hosted tourists for a long time, including Canadians, Europeans, and Latin Americans. Cuba has resorts, stunning nature, excellent beaches, and even golf courses, not to mention great music, and vintage cars from the 1950s. Cuba has learned from successes and mistakes in its tourism development during the past 25 years.

Billboard reads, "Socialist Revolution of the Humble, by the Humble, and for the Humble. "Humilde" also indicates "poor."

Translation: Socialist Revolution of the humble, by the humble, and for the humble. ("Humilde" also means "poor.")

2. NEW FOREIGN INVESTMENT LAWS. In 2014 Cuba passed a new foreign investment law that gives tax breaks and more investment security to foreign-owned companies engaged in joint ventures with the Cuban state and between foreign and Cuban companies. The law does not permit foreign investment in health care and education, and that sounds like a valuable protection for Cubans.

3. THEY’VE SURVIVED. Cuba and Cubans have a long history of successfully surviving economic and military hostility aimed toward them by the greatest economic and military power the world has ever known – the U.S.A. – 90 miles from their shores.

4. LATIN AMERICA IS STRONGER NOW. The region is certainly stronger than it was in 1959 when the Castro government began, and even stronger than it was 20 years ago before Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela. The region is now so strong that both Bush and Obama went down to obtain the FTAA, a free trade agreement for all countries in the Americas, and both Bush and Obama came back empty-handed. (Meanwhile, U.S. activists are trying to “Flush the TPP” – a truly bad free trade agreement – and are struggling against formidable bipartisan support.) Cuba is well integrated into the rest of the Americas, and is not isolated in the world.

5. JOSÉ MARTÍ. He is the Cuban national hero whose statue is found in the town centers. Many people consider that the Cuban Revolution began with Martí in 1868, reached a new level in 1959, and continues to this day. Martí also authored poetry, political theory, revolutionary philosophy, and even writings for children, called The Golden Age. It seems all Cuban children and their parents, regardless of political ideology, are familiar with these readable teachings about history and science as well as formation of character and civic consciousness. What writings do most children in the United States have in common? The Bible? The Gettysburg Address?

6. STRONG FAMILY AND COMMUNITY ORIENTATION. This strength is tangible in Cuba, and it has helped Cubans survive during the “special period” after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, and during all the obstacles they’ve encountered in more than 50 years of the U.S. embargo.

7. CUBAN PRIDE. Cubans are very proud of being Cuban, and they are not eager to be changed into something else.

* * *

These are my thoughts and reactions regarding “What will happen next?” As indicated at the start, I believe it’s hard for anyone to be an expert on Cuba. Questions about Cuba lead to more questions, mysteries, complications, and contradictions. No wonder so many people – including the Miami-Cubans – want to go back again and again.

Ten Things I Learned from Hugo Chávez

Sep2

by: on September 2nd, 2015 | 12 Comments »

I like to gather signs of hope that things really can change for the better in a major way. With that in mind, I keep the website venezuelanalysis.com as my browser’s home page. Ten years ago I would have said, “No way!” if anyone had told me I would have great enthusiasm for a country where these elements combine forces: government, military, religion, and the oil industry. But there I was, initially inspired by the documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, participating in political delegations to Venezuela as often as my budget would allow.

On the afternoon of March 5, 2013, I had to catch my breath when I saw the venezuelanalysis.com headline, “President Hugo Chávez has Died.” Because the typical characterization of Hugo Chávez by media and government in the United States has been so different from what I observed, I have been moved to share what I learned.

Read more...