The US is a Leading Terrorist State

usa-criminal-stateBy Noam Chomsky

TeleSur” – An international poll found that the United States is ranked far in the lead as “the biggest threat to world peace today,” far ahead of second-place Pakistan, with no one else even close.

Imagine that the lead article in Pravda reported a study by the KGB that reviews major terrorist operations run by the Kremlin around the world, in an effort to determine the factors that led to their success or failure, finally concluding that unfortunately successes were rare so that some rethinking of policy is in order.  Suppose that the article went on to quote Putin as saying that he had asked the KGB to carry out such inquiries in order to find cases of “financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well.  And they couldn’t come up with much.” So he has some reluctance about continuing such efforts.

If, almost unimaginably, such an article were to appear, cries of outrage and indignation would rise to the heavens, and Russia would be bitterly condemned – or worse — not only for the vicious terrorist record openly acknowledged, but for the reaction among the leadership and the political class: no concern, except how well Russian state terrorism works and whether the practices can be improved.

It is indeed hard to imagine that such an article might appear, except for the fact that it just did – almost.

On October 14, the lead story in the New York Times reported a study by the CIA that reviews major terrorist operations run by the White House around the world, in an effort to determine the factors that led to their success or failure, finally concluding that unfortunately successes were rare so that some rethinking of policy is in order.  The article went on to quote Obama as saying that he had asked the CIA to carry out such inquiries in order to find cases of “financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well. And they couldn’t come up with much.” So he has some reluctance about continuing such efforts.

There were no cries of outrage, no indignation, nothing.

The conclusion seems quite clear.  In western political culture, it is taken to be entirely natural and appropriate that the Leader of the Free World should be a terrorist rogue state and should openly proclaim its eminence in such crimes.  And it is only natural and appropriate that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and liberal constitutional lawyer who holds the reins of power should be concerned only with how to carry out such actions more efficaciously.

A closer look establishes these conclusions quite firmly.

The article opens by citing US operations “from Angola to Nicaragua to Cuba.” Let us add a little of what is omitted.

In Angola, the US joined South Africa in providing the crucial support for Jonas Savimbi’s terrorist UNITA army, and continued to do so after Savimbi had been roundly defeated in a carefully monitored free election and even after South Africa had withdrawn support from this “monster whose lust for power had brought appalling misery to his people,” in the words of British Ambassador to Angola Marrack Goulding, seconded by the CIA station chief in neighboring Kinshasa who warned that “it wasn’t a good idea” to support the monster “because of the extent of Savimbi’s crimes.  He was terribly brutal.”

Despite extensive and murderous US-backed terrorist operations in Angola, Cuban forces drove South African aggressors out of the country, compelled them to leave illegally occupied Namibia, and opened the way for the Angolan election in which, after his defeat, Savimbi “dismissed entirely the views of nearly 800 foreign elections observers here that the balloting…was generally free and fair” (New York Times), and continued the terrorist war with US support.

Cuban achievements in the liberation of Africa and ending of Apartheid were hailed by Nelson Mandela when he was finally released from prison.  Among his first acts was to declare that “During all my years in prison, Cuba was an inspiration and Fidel Castro a tower of strength… [Cuban victories] destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor [and] inspired the fighting masses of South Africa … a turning point for the liberation of our continent — and of my people — from the scourge of apartheid. … What other country can point to a record of greater selflessness than Cuba has displayed in its relations to Africa?”

The terrorist commander Henry Kissinger, in contrast, was “apoplectic” over the insubordination of the “pipsqueak” Castro who should be “smash[ed],” as reported by William Leogrande and Peter Kornbluh in their book Back Channel to Cuba, relying on recently declassified documents.

Turning to Nicaragua, we need not tarry on Reagan’s terrorist war, which continued well after the International Court of Justice ordered Washington to cease its “illegal use of force” – that is, international terrorism — and pay substantial reparations, and after a resolution of the UN Security Council that called on all states (meaning the US) to observe international law – vetoed by Washington.

It should be acknowledged, however, that Reagan’s terrorist war against Nicaragua – extended by Bush I, the “statesman” Bush — was not as destructive as the state terrorism he backed enthusiastically in El Salvador and Guatemala.  Nicaragua had the advantage of having an army to confront the US-run terrorist forces, while in the neighboring states the terrorists assaulting the population were the security forces armed and trained by Washington.

In a few weeks we will be commemorating the Grand Finale of Washington’s terrorist wars in Latin America: the murder of six leading Latin American intellectuals, Jesuit priests, by an elite terrorist unit of the Salvadoran army, the Atlacatl Battalion, armed and trained by Washington, acting on the explicit orders of the High Command, and with a long record of massacres of the usual victims.

This shocking crime on November 16, 1989, at the Jesuit University in San Salvador was the coda to the enormous plague of terror that spread over the continent after John F. Kennedy changed the mission of the Latin American military from “hemispheric defense” – an outdated relic of World War II – to “internal security,” which means war against the domestic population.  The aftermath is described succinctly by Charles Maechling, who led US counterinsurgency and internal defense planning from 1961 to 1966.  He described Kennedy’s 1962 decision as a shift from toleration “of the rapacity and cruelty of the Latin American military” to “direct complicity” in their crimes, to US support for “the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.”

All forgotten, not the “right kind of facts.”

In Cuba, Washington’s terror operations were launched in full fury by President Kennedy to punish Cubans for defeating the US-run Bay of Pigs invasion.  As described by historian Piero Gleijeses, JFK “asked his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to lead the top-level interagency group that oversaw Operation Mongoose, a program of paramilitary operations, economic warfare, and sabotage he launched in late 1961 to visit the ‘terrors of the earth’ on Fidel Castro and, more prosaically, to topple him.”

The phrase “terrors of the earth” is quoted from Kennedy associate and historian Arthur Schlesinger, in his quasi-official biography of Robert Kennedy, who was assigned responsibility for conducting the terrorist war.  RFK informed the CIA that the Cuban problem carries “[t]he top priority in the United States Government — all else is secondary — no time, no effort, or manpower is to be spared” in the effort to overthrow the Castro regime, and to bring “the terrors of the earth” to Cuba.

The terrorist war launched by the Kennedy brothers was no small affair.  It involved 400 Americans, 2,000 Cubans, a private navy of fast boats, and a $50 million annual budget, run in part by a Miami CIA station functioning in violation of the Neutrality Act and, presumably, the law banning CIA operations in the United States.  Operations included bombing of hotels and industrial installations, sinking of fishing boats, poisoning of crops and livestock, contamination of sugar exports, etc.  Some of these operations were not specifically authorized by the CIA but carried out by the terrorist forces it funded and supported, a distinction without a difference in the case of official enemies.

The Mongoose terrorist operations were run by General Edward Lansdale, who had ample experience in US-run terrorist operations in the Philippines and Vietnam.  His timetable for Operation Mongoose called for “open revolt and overthrow of the Communist regime” in October 1962, which, for “final success will require decisive U.S. military intervention” after terrorism and subversion had laid the basis.

October 1962 is, of course, a very significant moment in modern history.  It was in that month that Nikita Khrushchev sent missiles to Cuba, setting off the missile crisis that came ominously close to terminal nuclear war.  Scholarship now recognizes that Khrushchev was in part motivated by the huge US preponderance in force after Kennedy had responded to his calls for reduction in offensive weapons by radically increasing the US advantage, and in part by concern over a possible US invasion of Cuba.  Years later, Kennedy’s Defense Secretary Robert McNamara recognized that Cuba and Russia were justified in fearing an attack. “If I were in Cuban or Soviet shoes, I would have thought so, too,” McNamara observed at a major international conference on the missile crisis on the 40th anniversary.

The highly regarded policy analyst Raymond Garthoff, who had many years of direct experience in US intelligence, reports that in the weeks before the October crisis erupted, a Cuban terrorist group operating from Florida with US government authorization carried out “a daring speedboat strafing attack on a Cuban seaside hotel near Havana where Soviet military technicians were known to congregate, killing a score of Russians and Cubans.” And shortly after, he continues, the terrorist forces attacked British and Cuban cargo ships and again raided Cuba, among other actions that were stepped up in early October. At a tense moment of the still-unresolved missile crisis, on November 8, a terrorist team dispatched from the United States blew up a Cuban industrial facility after the Mongoose operations had been officially suspended. Fidel Castro alleged that 400 workers had been killed in this operation, guided by “photographs taken by spying planes.” Attempts to assassinate Castro and other terrorist attacks continued immediately after the crisis terminated, and were escalated again in later years.

There has been some notice of one rather minor part of the terror war, the many attempts to assassinate Castro, generally dismissed as childish CIA shenanigans.  Apart from that, none of what happened has elicited much interest or commentary.  The first serious English-language inquiry into the impact on Cubans was published in 2010 by Canadian researcher Keith Bolender, in his Voices From The Other Side: An Oral History Of Terrorism Against Cuba, a very valuable study largely ignored.

The three examples highlighted in the New York Times report of US terrorism are only the tip of the iceberg.  Nevertheless, it is useful to have this prominent acknowledgment of Washington’s dedication to murderous and destructive terror operations and of the insignificance of all of this to the political class, which accepts it as normal and proper that the US should be a terrorist superpower, immune to law and civilized norms.

Oddly, the world may not agree.  An international poll released a year ago by the Worldwide Independent Network/Gallup International Association (WIN/GIA) found that the United States is ranked far in the lead as “the biggest threat to world peace today,” far ahead of second-place Pakistan (doubtless inflated by the Indian vote), with no one else even close.

Fortunately, Americans were spared this insignificant information.


Rwanda’s Untold Story Documentary

Twenty years on from the Rwandan genocide, This World reveals evidence that challenges the accepted story of one of the most horrifying events of the late 20th century. The current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, has long been portrayed as the man who brought an end to the killing and rescued his country from oblivion. Now there are increasing questions about the role of Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front forces in the dark days of 1994 and in the 20 years since.

The film investigates evidence of Kagame’s role in the shooting down of the presidential plane that sparked the killings in 1994 and questions his claims to have ended the genocide. It also examines claims of war crimes committed by Kagame’s forces and their allies in the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo and allegations of human rights abuses in today’s Rwanda.

Former close associates from within Kagame’s inner circle and government speak out from hiding abroad. They present a very different portrait of a man who is often hailed as presiding over a model African state. Rwanda’s economic miracle and apparent ethnic harmony has led to the country being one of the biggest recipients of aid from the UK. Former prime minister Tony Blair is an unpaid adviser to Kagame, but some now question the closeness of Mr Blair and other western leaders to Rwanda’s president.

Pull Out the Occupation Troops – The United Nations Will Fail Haiti Once Again

protesters in haiti

On October 15, the United Nations Security Council will meet to “debate” the extension of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) which has acted as an occupying force in the country since the summer of 2004. MINUSTAH was created to put an end to the Multinational Interim Force (primarily made up of U.S., French, Canadian and Chilean troops) which occupied Haiti after an internationally backed coup d’état ousted the democratically elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas party from power on February 29, 2004.

During these ten years, MINUSTAH has compiled a horrific record of human rights abuses, including but not limited to extrajudicial murder, an epidemic of sexual assault against Haitian men, women and children, the repression of peaceful political protests, in addition to unleashing cholera through criminal negligence which has caused the death of over 9,000 people and infecting nearly a million more. Despite these well documented abuses, the historical record has shown that the Security Council will mostly likely renew MINUSTAH for another year without any thought to damage being done to Haiti. As evidence of how little resistance there is to the renewal of MINUSTAH’s mandate in the United Nations, on August 21, MINUSTAH’s budget was extended to June 2015 – clearly signalling that the occupation is certain to continue.

When one examines the level of instability in Haiti which is used as the justification for MINUSTAH’s continued presence in the country, the United Nations’ argument of protecting the Haitian people from themselves falls flat. Despite the mainstream media portrayal of Haiti as a lawless and dangerous country, in 2012, it had a homicide rate of 10.2 per 100,000 people, ranking it as one of the least violent countries in Latin America and the Caribbean – in contrast to Washington DC which sat at 13.71 per 100,000. Furthermore, to argue that it is the presence MINUSTAH which has acted as a stabilizing force which has kept violence down, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that between 2007 and 2012, Haiti’s homicide rate doubled from 5.1 to 10.2 per 100,000.

For the fiscal year running from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, $609.18 million was allocated to MINUSTAH. In the ten years in which MINUSTAH has been operational, their total budget is over $5.5 billion. If this same amount had been applied towards human development in the form of investments in clean water, sanitation, healthcare and education – Haiti would have the potential reclaim its sovereignty and self-determination.

We must be clear, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti is not based on any principles of humanitarianism, but rather those of an imperialist occupation which seeks to make sure that the island’s government can implement and maintain repressive policies favourable to international investors. Thus the reasons for MINUSTAH’s continued presence in Haiti were confirmed thanks to revelations by WikiLeaks. In one of the most up-front classified cables, from US Ambassador Janet Sanderson on October 1, 2008, stated that, “A premature departure of MINUSTAH would leave the [Haitian] government…vulnerable to…resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces—reversing gains of the last two years.”

The corrupt and repressive regime of President Michel Martelly has proudly boasted that “Haiti is open for business”. Indeed, this is true – however it is the people and the land that are being sold. Canadian mining companies like St. Genevive and Eurasian Minerals have taken advantage of weak laws to prospect new sites covering enormous swaths of territory (an estimated 1/3 of Northern Haiti has been granted to companies via permit), setting up the potential for substantial displacement through forced evictions and environmental destruction. Montreal based Gildan Activewear (the world’s largest manufacturer of blank T-shirts) has routinely pressured the Haitian government to block an increase in Haiti’s abysmally low daily minimum wage and have undermined unionization efforts in their plants.

MINUSTAH has carried out a series of human rights violations resulting in a loss of Haitian sovereignty, stability, dignity and life. Its record of engaging in acts of extrajudicial murder, sexual assault, suppressing peaceful political protests, undermining democracy and introducing cholera into Haiti are more than enough grounds to revoke its mandate. Yet for geopolitical and economic reasons, this does not happen.

As people of good conscience and principled internationalists, we collectively have the capacity and the resources to force an end to the military occupation of Haiti. However, we will not be able to fulfill this potential and stand in solidarity with the laboring classes in Haiti, if we don’t organize campaigns in Canada and across the world that pressure contributing states to end their provision of military and police personnel to MINUSTAH’s occupation force.

Our opposition to the military occupation of Haiti ought to take the form of grassroots-oriented campaigns that educate, mobilize, and organize membership-based organizations to add the end to the occupation to their organizational programme. It is critically necessary to reach out to the people in the spaces in which they are present, and offer specific actions that they may carry out to force the withdrawal of the occupation troops.

We have a moral and political obligation to support the struggle for self-determination by the popular classes in Haiti. The successful Haitian Revolution eliminated the enslavement of Afrikans in Haiti, and lit the fire of freedom in slaveholding states in the Americas.

The people of Haiti demonstrated their solidarity with the colonized peoples in South America by providing a place of refuge, guns, ammunition, personnel, and a printing press to Simon Bolivar’s campaign to liberate the region from Spanish colonialism. The French Revolution and the American Revolution cannot lay claim to being beacons and agents of emancipation in the Americas.

As we work to rid Haiti of MINUSTAH’s occupation forces, we ought to be motivated by the fact that we are continuing a long and proud tradition of people-to-people solidarity in support of emancipation in the Americas. Haiti is the architect and pioneer of this principled political tradition. We should remember this legacy as we call for the Security Council to pull out the occupation troops from Haiti.

Kevin Edmonds is a PhD student and member of the Toronto Haiti Action Committee and the Campaign to End the Occupation of Haiti.

Ajamu Nangwaya Ph.D., is an educator. He is an organizer with the Campaign to End the Occupation of Haiti, and the Organization of Afrikan Struggles and International Solidarity.


The 27th anniversary of the death of Thomas Sankara


It is the 27th anniversary of the death of Thomas Sankara, and once again we mark the passing of one of the great leaders of the Twentieth Century. Sankara was a Marxist revolutionary in the last years of the Cold War, a Pan-Africanist when the Pan-African project was at its lowest ebb, a committed feminist long before so-called “global civil society” started to preach about “empowerment” of women, a leader who sought to organize the uplift of a whole society long before elites began to boast about “Africa Rising”.

Sankara was murdered on October 15, 1987, by a conspiracy of European and African interests afraid of what transformative potential Burkina Faso under Sankara suggested and the danger of those ideas spreading. Here’s what Fela Anikulapo Kuti (don’t let anyone colonize Fela btw) said after Sankara’s death:

“His departure is a terrible blow to the political life of Africans, because he was the only one talking about African unity, what Africans need, to progress. He was the only one talking. His loss is bad (Long silence) but my mind is cool because Sankara’s death must have a meaning for Africa. Now that Sankara has been killed, if the leader of Burkina Faso, today, is not doing well, you will see it clearly. This means that in future, bad leaders would be very careful in killing good leaders.”

You can look at Blaise Compaore’s record in power since Sankara’s murder, and decide for yourself if he’s a “bad leader”. Back in 2008, AIAC life-president Sean Jacobs remembered Sankara in the Guardian. Here’s a snippet (read the whole thing):

Sankara preached economic self-reliance. He shunned World Bank loans and promoted local food and textile production. Women, the poor and the country’s peasantry benefited mostly from the reforms. Sankara outlawed tribute payments and obligatory labour to village chiefs, abolished rural poll taxes, promoted gender equality in a very male-dominated society (including outlawing female circumcision and polygamy), instituted a massive immunisation programme, built railways and kick-started public housing construction. His administration aggressively pushed literacy programmes, tackled river blindness and embarked on an anti-corruption drive in the civil service.

He discouraged the luxuries that came with government office and encouraged others to do the same. He earned a small salary ($450 a month), refused to have his picture displayed in public buildings, and forbade the uses of chauffeur-driven Mercedes and first class airline tickets by his ministers and senior civil servants.

We remembered Sankara last year and called for a political biopic to be made that could fire the contemporary political imagination:

A revolutionary leader possessed of a towering intellect and extraordinary magnetism,Sankara had rejected the orthodoxies that still today ensure that African nations are structurally dependent on old colonial powers and their global financial institutions.

Like Che Guevara, Malcolm X, and Steve Biko, Sankara’s appeal (to young people in particular) has endured precisely because his transgressive radical politics have proved impossible to subsume within a liberal narrative which is all about the heroism of moderation and non-violence and is in fact predicated on deep racist anxieties. Martin Luther King Jnr and Nelson Mandela were treated as dangerous pariahs by the Western establishment, but in time their histories have been absorbed in popular culture within a bland politics of respectability based on non-racialism and willingness to compromise.

A Thomas Sankara biopic would work partly because there is no white man in this story (except the various shadowy figures of Francafrique). In “Cry Freedom” (1987) Richard Attenborough managed to present Steve Biko’s life as a story in which the hero is white.

There’s the Shakespearian denouement of the trusted lieutenant (Blaise Compaoré) murdering his great friend, usurping his position and tearing up Sankara’s great social project.

But we don’t want to see a film about what might have been, however seductive that aspect of Burkina Faso’s history is. The point is that Sankara’s visionary politics of African sovereignty and unity — like Lumumba’s — remain as impossible today as they were within the context of international affairs towards the end of the Cold War.

We want to see a film showing Sankara’s commitment to feminism and women’s rights, his environmental projects against desertification in the Sahel, his reform of traditional leadership; a film about how his rejection of “support” from the World Bank and IMF enabled a project of galvanizing Burkinabe society that is unimaginable today where these structures of dependency and Western control have come to be the “common sense” basis for all politics in countries like Burkina Faso.

The best film about Sankara is a fantastic 2006 documentary, “The Upright Man” by Robin Shuffield.


Bolivarian Education in Venezuela

By KEN JONES, July 26th 2013.


I never heard the words “accountability”or“high stakes testing” once in a recent educator delegation to Venezuela. As a U.S. professor of teacher education, I seldom have discussions about education policies and realities in my own country without confronting these fraught concepts. But in the schools and educational systems of Venezuela? Not part of the discussion. 

The dialogue there is more about education as a human right and what the government is responsible to provide. It’s not about outcomes, as we might say, but more about access and opportunity. What our small group from the U.S. encountered was a wealth of testimonials, not testing. 

We also learned about some very concrete and positive results that have occurred since President Chavez began addressing the country’s widespread illiteracy and lack of access to schooling upon being elected to office in 1998. For example, by 2005, UNESCO declared that Venezuela had essentially eradicated illiteracy, with over 1.5 million people having newly learned to read and write, primarily through a Cuban-developed curriculum and pedagogical approach. The rate of secondary school enrollment rose from 53.6% in 2000 to 73.3% in 2011. Recently, UNESCO put Venezuela in 5th place in the world for the percentage of people enrolled in higher education – in second place in Latin America, behind Cuba. Public education in Venezuela is free for all, from pre-school through university, with free meals and transportation also provided. 

Chavez set into motion a new school system, called Bolivarian schools after the inspirational Latin American liberator Simón Bolivar for whom the country is now named – the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The educational aspect of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution is part of the new socialist fabric being woven into the society, working in concert with other governmental initiatives that are fostering work cooperatives, free health care (again in cooperation with Cuba), and subsidized food. Together, these and other new governmental initiatives are designed to empower the until-now disenfranchised and impoverished majority of people in the country and to build a socialist future rather than a capitalist one. 

Our delegation visited a Bolivarian pre-school, elementary school, high school, vocational school, adult education program, university, music conservatory, and police academy. We also visited a women’s cooperative in a farm community, a cultural center in a barrio, and a government human rights agency. The common thread among all of these places and initiatives was a focus on building a new society through building new knowledge and skills, responsible citizenship, co-operativism, and contributing to and learning from the local community. We saw delight and accomplishment in the arts, project-oriented learning, and close attention being given to people’s well-being and the health of various eco-systems. 

There was an almost tangible feeling of hope and energy connected with these schools, a sense of not only working productively towards one’s own betterment, but also on behalf of something bigger than one’s self. There was also a keen and informed political consciousness about the country and world – people were eager to talk about the changes happening in their country. They talked about their democratic vision of a future for their country free from exploitation by transnational companies and our own imperialist nation. They spoke knowingly about their national history of dictatorship and extreme capitalism and cried heartfelt tears over the death of their beloved leader and teacher, Hugo Chavez. They knew that Chavez and the revolution they are still enacting have been demonized in their own corporate-controlled media and that of the U.S. and western world. They wanted us to know the truth on the ground there. 

We also met with a couple of university students who identified themselves as in the opposition to Chavez. They were not so positive about the changes, of course, calling into question the quality of the new educational missions and schools, and voicing concerns about the sustainability of these new programs that have been largely funded through oil revenues. They also expressed concerns about individual achievement, competitive advantage, and the disincentives and inequities built into what they saw as an educational system of “handouts.” Coming from the United States, this sounded very familiar to the members of our delegation and we could see the values of a capitalist worldview standing in stark contrast to those of a socialist one. An oversimplification maybe, but nonetheless apparent. 

Bolivarian schools are taking seriously the idea of educating all people and offer U.S. educators a view of how this can be done in a way that differs markedly from what passes for education reform in our country. This can be seen in a variety of the details and perspectives we observed and heard about as we went from place to place. 

Pre-schools are called Simoncitos, a reference to Simón Bolivar. According to government statistics, some 70% of Venezuelan children attend these free schools, where the government pays teachers’ salaries and local community councils (funded by the federal government) provide buildings and supplies. Parents often also come as volunteers, if they can. On our visit to a pre-school, we saw a group of 14 little ones with 3 adults. They told us their names, ages, favorite colors and animals, and danced the hokey-pokey with us. 

Elementary schools are now all-day schools (most in the past were run on two half-day schedules for two different student populations) that include free meals and health services, and extra-curricular activities. Existing school buildings are being refurbished and new buildings are rapidly being constructed. All students are provided with a laptop (although, we learned, there is still a great need for teacher professional development in how to use them effectively). Through student projects and adult education services, they are closely connected to the life of their surrounding communities. Our group of ten got to be guests of honor at an elementary school that was having an all-day graduation celebration that featured very skillful and beautiful student performances in dance and song, including traditional costumes and displays of original art. Graduating students came up to us and asked us to add our signatures to the t-shirts they were wearing – a custom akin to signing yearbooks in our country. 

The secondary school we visited was in a rural community, Monte Carmelo. It is newly housed in a building completed in 2010 – a gift from President Chavez, who was personally persuaded to do so by its charismatic principal, Gaudy Garcia. The school’s curriculum focuses on the study of the lives of people in the town through oral histories and also includes learning about natural ways of growing food, local traditions of crafts, sweets, and healers. Student projects this year are focused on the history of their own community, including the educational history. The projects are done in groups and must have social impact, not just be investigative. The student-chosen topics included agro-ecology, the women of the local women’s coop, plants that serve as bug repellants, worm cultures, and greenhouses. 

There is also a focus in this high school on seed collection and on the dishes made from the crops produced by these seeds. Gaudy spoke knowingly about the problems with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In 2005, she did an inventory of local seeds and realized there were still many native seeds in her own local community and that they should collect and protect their seeds. “Monsanto has its hand everywhere,” she said. “We have to be careful they don’t take over our seeds, especially corn. We don’t want to have happen to us what happened to Mexico.” The school is creating a “reserve” or “reservoir” of seeds. Gaudy does not want to call it a “bank” of seeds. “We have to change our language from capitalism to socialism,” she said. 

Mision Robinson is the adult education program that has been so successful in eliminating illiteracy in Venezuela. Irlanda Espinoza, the regional director of this program in the town of Sanare, met with us. She spoke movingly about how this program was a response to the social debt to the poor that had accrued for many years prior to Chavez, when the prevailing belief was that not all people had a right to education. She added that they had also stopped providing an education for pregnant girls prior to the revolution, so now there was a debt owed to the children of these girls. 

Irlanda described the labor intensive efforts they use to try to include everyone in the literacy program. For example, the government sent her office education statistics culled from a recent census of people in the area who were enrolled inAmor Mayor, the mission for those over 60. Irlanda goes from house to house out in the country visiting those who said in the census that they do not know how to read and write, asking them if they want to learn. If not, they sign off that they do not want this service. The program is going for a 100% recruitment effort, which she believes is essential. “This is a way of making everyone an active citizen,” she says. “If you can’t read or write, you don’t know your rights and responsibilities and you really can’t serve on a community council.” She knows all about the liberationist educational philosophy of Paulo Freire. 

In the city of Barquisimeto, we visited El Sistema, the local branch of the national music conservatory for youth. El Sistema is a government sponsored classical music education program that reaches 350,000 youth in 125 orchestras. They report that about 70% of their participants come from lower income brackets. It began in 1975 and has become a world famous system and has been adopted around Latin America and Europe. Well-known director Gustavo Dudamel, currently serving as music director of both the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was trained at this Barquisimeto branch. El Sistema has special programs for children with disabilities, and has a White Hands Choir for deaf children. Last month, the founder of El Sistema, Jose Antonio Abreu, met with newly-elected President Maduro and got him to agree to expand this program to involve 1 million children learning to play musical instruments. 

With 2,000 students enrolled in its programs, the Barquisimeto school was a beehive of rehearsals on our Saturday visit. There was a group of twenty 4-year olds playing violins and cellos in an open courtyard, hallways full of individuals playing all varieties of instruments, small rooms full of section practices, and two full youth orchestras rehearsing – one full ensemble with conductors, and one chamber music orchestra with no conductor (“It makes them listen to each other,” said our guide). 

We were told that the pedagogical system used at the conservatory depends on co-operativism. “If you know a little bit, you teach a little bit,” was the saying they used. Our guide explained that music instruction provides a perfect balance of individual excellence and group cooperation – students of all ages play in an orchestra. “Music is a natural way to be in solidarity with each other,” he said. 

In Barquisimeto, we also visited a vocational school for students of ages 14-25 who had left the formal school system. We Americans were surprised to learn that this is part of a national network of such schools administered by the Catholic Church, but funded by the federal government. Short term and long term vocational courses are offered in areas such as electricity, plumbing, hair styling, cooking, and ceramics. There are 222 of these programs in the country, located in the poorest sectors, according to the government. Even more surprising to learn was that, despite the fact that these schools are paid for by the government, the Church takes a strong anti-Chavez stance, seeing the government as “Castro communism.” The teacher meeting with us said, “It’s something they get in their heads, but it’s not the reality. They see it as a right to get money from the federal government.” 

One of the most interesting parts of the Bolivarian school system is the new system of territorial universities. These new universities were begun by Chavez as an alternative to the traditional, so-called autonomous universities, which have primarily served the elites and still have the lion’s share of the government funding for higher education. Local community colleges are being converted to territorial universities with the intention that they will educate everyone and also contribute to the strategic projects of the nation. The university we visited in Barquisimeto has 12,500 students who are studying science & technology, ergonomics, library research, integral systems, public administration, applied computer sciences, food sovereignty, security, conservation, and other areas. As in the Bolivarian schools at lower levels, the curricula are focused on projects intended to contribute to the local communities. And unlike the traditional universities, studies are not housed in disciplinary departments, but are generated by the faculty and students in an integrated, multidisciplinary approach. Professors and instructors do not always hold traditional degrees. “It is important that popular wisdom be integrated with academic knowledge,” we were told. 

One unique area of study at this university is called Free Studies and includes studies in popular culture, social transformation, gender equality, and “good living.” The latter focus is developed collaboratively with students in order to construct what “our socialism has to do with our way of living with each other,” and draws heavily from indigenous thinking related to living in harmony with nature. 

Other universities are still in the process of being created, including a Worker’s University (where studies are conducted at the workplace and build on workers’ knowledge), an experimental art university, and an Indigenous University (located in a remote area near Angel’s Falls and designed by indigenous people). 

Perhaps the biggest challenge being addressed by the Venezuelan educational system is the problem of police corruption and violence. In this country, the armed forces are understood to be solidly on the side of the government and generally trusted by the people. Chavez was a military man and those in the military have historically come from the working and poor classes. And so they defend the Bolivarian revolution. The police, on the other hand, are not so trusted, having had a role in violence and corruption through the years, including collusion in the current prevalence of kidnapping and homicide in Caracas. 

In order to transform policing in the country, Chavez created a national police force and appointed Soraya El Achkar, a former Maryknoll lay volunteer and human rights activist, to be the head of a new police academy, the National Experimental Security University (UNES). We met with Soraya at the academy in Caracas, where the construction of new buildings was still in process. The site was, pre-Chavez, a much-hated prison. Soraya persuaded Chavez to make this the site of the academy, a place of hope arising from the ashes of despair. 

Founded in 2009 with the idea of transforming policing methods so that officers are attentive to human rights and work closely with communities, UNES now has nine sites throughout the country, and plans for seven more. At this time, Soraya reports, there are 25,000 students, and 4,000 staff (professors, administrators, workers). They teach police at all levels as well as district attorneys and prison guards. 

The approach to education used is a collective decision-making process about what should be in the curriculum, with police, teachers, and human rights groups working together. There are three axes in the curriculum, Soraya said: eco-socialism, human rights, and equality of gender. 

The curriculum itself revolves around four aspects of working with the community: youth; disarmament (what we would call gun control); culture, sports, music, and art; and living together (i.e., mediating difficulties). Community partnerships and coalitions are fostered and efforts made to help youth find jobs and productive activities. 

There are two cross-cutting themes through all the policing coursework:

·         The progressive and differential use of force, adjusting police response to the people and context involved. Violence is prohibited. The judicious and appropriate use of force is what is taught.

·        Community policing. Police are taught to develop working and collaborative relationships in the community and to looking for community solutions to crime. 

Soraya told us that Chavez was “big on education.” He would say, “We need to have more intelligence and less force.” Police reform, she said, “embodies the spirit of Chavez, the revolution, and human rights.” 

Her vision for the academy is that it will go from UNES (national academy) to ULES (a Latin American academy), to be the equivalent of Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine. Soraya also sees this work to be a counterweight to the U.S. School of the Americas (SOA) and to the U.S. International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), both of which are known for training military and police in methods or repression and whose graduates have a reputation for torture, assassinations, and coups. Venezuela is now taking its turn as the leader of Mercosur and police education may be one of the emphases it brings to that group of nations. 

It was apparent to our delegation from this brief tour of Bolivarian education in Venezuela that what is meant by the term “education reform” in that country is virtually the opposite of what we call education reform in the United States. Here, that term has come to mean a centralized and standardized approach that works from a premise of blaming and disempowering public school teachers. It operates through a regimen of external testing and individualism, diminished public funding, and government-sponsored privatized decision-making. The rationale is to engender greater competitiveness on the world stage. The effect is exclusionary. It is a capitalist model, framed in terms of world domination. 

In Venezuela, by contrast, education reform means inspiring local and diverse approaches that work from the premise of empowering the people working in the schools. It operates through an ethic of internal responsibility and collectivism, increased public funding, and government-sponsored local decision-making. The rationale is to build greater cooperation at the community level. The effect is inclusionary. It is a socialist model, framed in terms of “good living.” 

One evening in Venezuela, as a few of us were discussing what we see as the tragic attacks on public education in the United States, one person asked where we could see hope. I answered, “In Venezuela.” 

Ken Jones is an associate professor of education at the University of Southern Maine. He can be contacted at

Thousands of anti-govt protesters teargassed by Peru police

Riot police blocked the passage of thousands of anti-government protesters marching on congress in Peru’s capital, Lima. Officers used tear gas and water cannon on activists who slammed government corruption and called on the president for change. Clashes broke out between police and the protesters as the crowd tried to push its way to congress. Hooded youths pelted riot officers with stones, while some protesters burnt and trampled a coffin-shaped box with President Ollanta Humala’s name on it.

Lima police Chief General Luis Praeli said 15 people were arrested during the unrest Protesters allege that President Humala has not implemented the changes he promised in the public sector two years after his election in 2011. “The citizens, trade unions, youth are expressing our opposition and our grievance against the policies of the government of Humala, a government that promised a series of changes, a series of reforms and all he has done in these two years of government is not fulfill them,” said protester Javier Torres.

The protest is the latest in a wave of anti-government demonstrations as discontent with Humala’s rule grows. His rating in popularity polls has slipped to 33 percent, the lowest since he assumed the presidency. Public discontent focuses on new legislation that seeks to reform government bureaucracy and universities. Civil workers are worried that the new laws will lead to massive cuts in the public sector.

‘Broken promises’

Professor Fernando Tuesta of the Peruvian Catholic University told RT’s Spanish channel, RT Actualidad, that President Humala had lost the support of the left without achieving the support of the right. “Humala has left himself dangerously isolated from the left,” said Tuesta, adding that the Ollanta promised “totally different policies” to the ones he has adopted for the last two years. Political analyst Yusef Fernandez stressed that Humala gained popular support with pledges of a political and economic policy based of the demands of the people, but never came good on his promises. He told RT Actualidad that the real winners under Humala’s rule had been foreign businesses investing in Peru.

US approves drones for civilian use

RT.COM, July 27, 2013

AFP Photo / Don Emmert

AFP Photo / Don Emmert


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued certificates for two types of unmanned aircraft for civilian use. The move is expected to lead to the first approved commercial drone operation later this summer.

The two unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are the Scan Eagle X200 and Aero Vironment’s PUMA. They both measure around 4 ½ feet long, weighing less than 55 pounds, and have a wing span of ten and nine feet respectively.

Both the Scan Eagle and the PUMA received “restricted category type certificates”which permit aerial surveillance. Prior to the FAA’s decision, the only way the private sector could operate UAS in US airspace was by obtaining an experimental airworthiness certificate which specifically restricts commercial operations.

The PUMA is expected to support emergency response crews for wildlife surveillance and oil spill monitoring over the Beaufort Sea to the north of Canada and Alaska. The Scan Eagle will be used by a major energy company off the Alaskan Coast to survey ice floes and migrating whales in Arctic oil exploration areas.

The issuing of the certificates is seen as an important step to integrating UAS into US airspace. Both drone operations will meet the requirements of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which includes a mandate to increase Arctic UAS commercial operations.

Most non-military use of drones in the US has so far been limited to the police and other government agencies. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in March that drones will soon be used by the NYPD and will become as ubiquitous as security cameras. 

Documents released by the American civil Liberties Union (ACLU) via the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that the US Marshals Service has also experimented with the use of drones for domestic surveillance.

Military drones are used extensively by the US Air Force for targeting terrorist suspects in several countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.

The strikes have been highly controversial, as they are ordered without the knowledge or participation of the countries concerned, and are sometimes inaccurate and kill civilians.

Pakistan’s relations with the US have been soured because of drone strikes. Just last month, the new government in Islamabad summoned a top US envoy who was given a letter of protest against drone strikes by the US military.

In May, a Pakistani court ruled that US drone strikes in its tribal regions should be considered war crimes, and that the government should use force to protect its civilians.


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