Caracas – As crowds occupied the streets of Caracas, Venezuela on the evening of Sunday, October 7, to celebrate the successful re-election of President Hugo Chavez, a Lebanese flag was held aloft. As they poured into the grounds of Miraflores to hear him speak from the balcony of the Presidential palace, later that night, a Palestinian flag was also visible as it was waved above our heads. These symbols were not without meaning; the re-election of Chavez with 55 percent of ballots cast – eleven points ahead of his opponent, Henrique Radonski – will have repercussions not only across the continent of South America, but also in the Arab world.
On Tuesday, just two days after his electoral victory, Chavez reiterated his support for the Syrian government, about which he has been characteristically vocal over the last year. It is a far cry from the pre-election promises of Capriles, who was seen by many in Venezuela as the candidate of the United States and had pledged to develop “closer relations with Israel,” as well as re-thinking several areas of foreign policy. Chavez, on the other hand, took the step of expelling the Israeli ambassador in January 2009, during the bombing campaign of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. It was not the first time he had taken such action, having ordered the US ambassador to leave in September 2008.
From the evidence of his first press conference since being re-elected, and particularly in regard to the Arab world, it is clear that re-thinking foreign policy is the last thing on Chavez’s mind. He described Assad’s as the “only legitimate government” of Syria, before continuing:
“[He] has made a huge effort to make concessions, constitutional changes, [and has] called for elections, but none of that is true for those who want to overthrow [the regime].”
Whilst speaking from the “People’s Balcony” of Miraflores at just before midnight on Sunday, Chavez called for reconciliation with the opposition at home. But he knows that his victory, although down from the 26 percent margin he won by in 2006, would be considered a landslide in many other countries and gives him a strong democratic mandate for the next six years of government. Foreign policy has often been a talking point during the last fourteen years of Chavez’s government, and his popularity, so pervasive amongst the poorest sections of Venezuelan society, has also spread as far as occupied Palestine, the south of Lebanon, and many parts of the Arab world.
Chavez vehemently denounced the NATO bombing of Libya earlier this year, which he described at the time as “imperial cynicism,” a “massacre” and a “madness” that had “destroyed” the country. On Tuesday, Chavez took the opportunity to mention former Libyan President Colonel Gaddafi, saying that “the way he died was a barbarity.”
Some western commentators have criticised Chavez’s support for what they see as dictatorial governments in Libya and now Syria, whilst recognising the democratic credentials of Venezuela itself. However, Chavez is particularly aware of what demonization of political leaders who challenge or question the dominant narrative – once referred to as the “Washington Consensus” but now struggling to retain one hand, let alone a “consensus” in Latin America – can lead to. The April 2002 coup d’etat against his government, which resulted in huge demonstrations and the re-instatement of Chavez after just forty-eight hours, was preceded by much hysterical commentary in both the US and in the privately-owned Venezuelan media, which routinely referred to Chavez as an “autocrat,” a “monkey” or even “Venezuela’s Hitler.”
Chavez is of the view that, whilst undoubtedly embroiled in turmoil, there are more forces at work in Syria than usually portrayed in the mainstream media. On Tuesday, he repeated his opinion in regards to Syria that “the US government is largely responsible for this disaster.”
There is no doubt that Chavez’s presence will be continue to be felt in the Arab world over the next six years. With a wave of pro-poor, anti-imperialist governments continuing to enjoy widespread popularity in Latin America – Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina – the question remains as to how Arab people will respond to this example of resisting subservience to foreign interests. Indeed, in a speech following his decision to expel the Israeli ambassador, Hugo Chavez made a proposal of his own:
“Every day, Latin America will be more united and more free. I hope that one day, Arabs will be the same way; united. United or dominated, you decide!”
- Chavez Wins Venezuelan Presidential Election with 54% of the Vote (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won a resounding victory in last weekend’s elections. If you’ve been following U.S. corporate media coverage of the campaign, that may have come as a surprise to you. Chavez is routinely referred to as a “strongman” and other variations on “dictator” by the U.S. media when, in fact, he remains one of the most popular persons in all of Latin America. In the United States, his ten percent winning margin would be considered a landslide, but all the American media can talk about after Chavez’s latest victory at the polls is how much his lead has shrunk since the 2006 election, when he won by 25 percent.
Every time Chavez and his Bolivarian socialists win at the polls, the corporate media have to eat crow. One would think all that heartburn would force the U.S. press to finally admit that Chavez is the leader of oil rich Venezuela because large majorities of its citizens want him in the presidential palace, and are enjoying the fruits of his wealth distribution policies.
It is also impossible for American media, which are mouthpieces for their corporate owners and take their day-to-day cues from the State Department and the White House, to understand that most Venezuelans agree with Chavez when he denounces the imperialists in Washington. They knew what Chavez meant when he called President Bush “the devil” and said that he stank of sulfur, back in 2006. Venezuelans remembered how Bush backed a coup that almost toppled Chavez in 2002 – a coup that was reversed by a counter-rebellion of the people and loyal soldiers. They remember that the coup leaders’ first act was to abolish the Constitution and start drawing up lists of people to be thrown into prison, or worse. They remember the dark days when nearly all of Latin America was placed under the rule of generals allied with Washington, and the hands of the torturers and the death squads could reach into every family with impunity. They know who was the author of that nightmare: the United States.
That’s why Latin America is the corner of the world that has achieved the greatest success over the last 20 years in throwing off the dead weight of the North, by rejecting the so-called Washington Consensus. And that’s why, this time around, the Venezuelan opposition chose a candidate who pretended to be a leftist, himself. Challenger Henrique Capriles, a young state governor, styled himself as a protégé of former Brazilian president “Lula” da Silva, a more business-friendly type of leftwing politician. But Venezuela’s poor know who the opposition really are: affluent, mostly light-skinned people that live in swank neighborhoods and whose hearts dwell in Miami. The people who draw cartoons in opposition newspapers depicting Chavez as a monkey and openly sneer at his mixed race heritage – the heritage of most Venezuelans. They know what real democracy feels like, because they remember what living under the yoke of a rich white minority felt like. Democracy is having a government that’s not made up of those people whose hearts are in Miami. Democracy calls the top Yankee a devil, and the people cheer, and then the people vote.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
- Chavez Wins Venezuelan Presidential Election with 54% of the Vote (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- A Hall of Shame for Venezuelan Elections Coverage (alethonews.wordpress.com)
By MICHAEL KAUFMAN | October 10, 2012
“…it reads like the pages of a Hollywood script.”
– FBI director Robert S. Mueller III
You’ve probably forgotten the plot: Mansour Arbabsiar, an Iranian-American used car salesman living in Texas, is arrested and charged with acting on behalf of high ranking officials in Iran’s government to conspire with a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.
This case begins dramatically, with Attorney General Holder announcing the arrest, stating that the plot was“directed and approved by elements of the Iranian government and, specifically, senior members of the Quds Force.” This is followed by President Obama asserting that “we know that he had direct links, was paid by, and directed by individuals in the Iranian government.” Thus, the utmost importance is conferred upon the arrest of Arbabsiar.
So, we have international intrigue spanning three countries, well-known villains mixed together in fresh combination and charismatic, award-winning stars hitting their marks in supporting roles—all indications point to a critically acclaimed blockbuster. Then Arbabsiar shuffles in front of the camera. Noooo! He’s all wrong for the part! Although his antics in a second tier reality show had once made him briefly popular, he can’t convey the cunning and menace necessary for the role of terrorist mastermind. This jarring bit of miscasting immediately brings greater scrutiny to the whole production and a realization that the entire plot doesn’t make any sense at all.
It becomes hard for the audience to concentrate on the intended theme– The Iranians are plotting against us– when fundamental questions of common sense are crowding the mind: Why would the Iranians be so careless as to use Arbabsiar, a man who seems singularly unqualified to carry out such a mission? Why would they initiate such a dangerous escalation? What tangible benefits would be gained from killing the Ambassador?
Publicity didn’t go as planned, as reporting of events immediately began to diverge from the usual pattern. Most significant were the strong assertions of doubt about the plot from those cited in the media as experts. At the polite end of the spectrum, Iran expert Volker Perthes says, “I don’t regard it as impossible but rather improbable.” Coverage was especially notable for how prominently the skeptics were featured and in how lacking most articles were in finding competing expert opinions to try to achieve the usual veneer of balance. (2 thumbs down!) The response of the general public, as judged by the comments sections of the news articles, was overwhelmingly incredulous and dismissive of the charges. Unsure of how to respond to the push-back, supporters of the administration’s claims appeared half-hearted at best, to the point that Hillary Clinton could only lamely offer that” nobody could make that up, right?”, implying that the story’s very improbability lent it credibility. To sum up, after a disastrous opening day, blasted by the critics, this film went straight to video.
But, of course, this is not a film but what should have been one of the most important stories of the year. Given the widespread disbelief of the government’s charges, it would have been reasonable to expect journalists to pursue the story with increased aggressiveness. That this story was allowed to fade out after such an auspicious beginning seems curious. A comparison with The New York Times’ coverage of the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, is instructive. In the aftermath of this attempted act of terror we saw numerous articles, which continued to develop throughout the days and weeks. These articles, with datelines from New York, London, Nigeria, Yemen and Lebanon, tried to piece together Abdulmutullab’s actions and movements across several continents, attempting to dig deeper into the details of the plot. Multiple authors tried to fill out the story and understand the process by which this young man reached his extremist position. On December 30, only 5 days after the incident, reporters are already printing information from the NSA discussing their previous four months tracking the plot; this in a case where there was huge intelligence failure!
In contrast, it seems as if after the first day very little coverage has been given to the Arbabsiar case, where claims of involvement at the highest levels of the Iranian government, if true, make it a much more serious matter than previous failed plots. We learned superficial details about Arbabsiar’s failed businesses, absent mindedness and difficulty in retaining his keys and cell phone, but very little of substance has come to light since that would help us make sense of the story. I haven’t seen any follow-up on a more serious discussion of who Mansour Arbabsiar is. Initially, a friend is quoted as saying Arbabsiar is a businessman and so he did it for money, not out of religious fanaticism. That’s all. Mystery, apparently, solved. Arbabsiar may not be a religious zealot, but surely it’s a complicated and fascinating question how a person with no history of violence progresses from pursuing his fortune through multiple small business ventures to being willing to blow up a crowded restaurant and saying if one hundred people are killed with the ambassador, “Fuck ‘em. No big deal.” as alleged in the criminal complaint filed against him. [...]
Now at last, an article appears in the New York Times that whets the appetite for the coming trial, scheduled to begin October 22. It gives a fascinating description of Arbabsiar’s 32 hours of interviews with the government’s psychiatrist, depicting him as a person by turns naïve, likable, grandiose, charming, with a darker side with the potential to erupt. We see a man having only the thinnest thread of connection to the world we actually inhabit, seemingly unaware of the adversarial nature of his predicament, making it even harder to take a plot with such a character seriously. Suddenly Arbabsiar’s cinematic analogue occurs to me: Timothy Treadwell, the protagonist of Warner Herzog’s documentary Grizzly Man. Treadwell, like Arbabsiar, is a former “party boy” suffering from bi-polar disorder, but whose wildly fluctuating monologues and rants we actually got to see on camera. Imagine David Petraeus directing Treadwell to arrange with the Taliban to assassinate Venezuela’s ambassador to Iran. Now we’re getting somewhere.
One key component of the government-created conspiracy has been the selection of deluded, marginal figures to entrap. It seems no stretch to believe that Arbabsiar fits snuggly into this demographic and it is quite easy to imagine him, with delusions of grandeur and eager to please, participating enthusiastically in such a fictitious plot. When the word terrorism is invoked, we are not supposed to care about the lives of a few unfortunate, hapless characters, who are quite easily disposed of with little protection or interference from the courts and minimal interest from the press and public. There’s no reason to believe Arbabsiar will be an exception.
What is extremely difficult to imagine, however, is any responsible party, especially one portrayed to be as ruthless and disciplined as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, involving him in its schemes. On the surface, there might appear to be more pressure on the administration to prove its case regarding involvement of the Iranian government. After all, President Obama himself has put his credibility on the line by stating categorically that “We would not be bringing forward a case unless we knew exactly how to support all the allegations that are contained in the indictment.” Although, as we saw with the dirty bomb allegations in the Jose Padilla case some pretty extraordinary claims can disappear quite easily without any challenge or uproar.
This time could be different. The government could proceed in an open trial and prove its case conclusively regarding both Arbabsiar and his Iranian co-conspirators. The press could take a skeptical, confrontational stance toward any charges which don’t withstand scrutiny, challenging those who propagated them and demanding accountability for such reckless behavior in the highly sensitive area of U. S.-Iran relations. While either of these could happen this time, you don’t need to be an expert to feel comfortable saying, “It’s possible, but not probable.”
Michael Kaufman can be reached at: email@example.com.
- Government’s Psychological Evaluation of Manssor Arbabsiar Fails to Impress (my.firedoglake.com)
- Psychiatrist Details Talks With Suspect in Bomb Plot (nytimes.com)
For several months, impressive demonstrations against the war with Syria have taken place in Turkey, but only in the Arabic or Kurdish regions. On Thursday, October 4th 2012, for the first time, a massive demonstration streamed through Istanbul shouting “This war is not ours!”
The choice made by the Erdogan government to join NATO’s operations against Libya, and to support the covert war against Syria has brutally stunted Turkey’s economic growth.
Quite apart from the economic difficulties flogging the whole of society, certain sectors of the population feel particularly sympathetic towards the Syrian people and the regime in Damascus. This applies especially to one million Arabs, 15 million Kurds and an equal number of Alevis.
- Turkish parliament authorizes cross-border military operations in Syria (alethonews.wordpress.com)
TEHRAN – In a statement read out at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on Monday, Iran and other members of the Non-Aligned Movement called for total nuclear disarmament in the world.
The statement was read out by the Iranian ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee, on behalf of the NAM member states, during a meeting of the First Committee on all disarmament and international security agenda items.
Following are the main points of the statement:
- NAM reaffirms its principled positions on nuclear disarmament, which remains its highest priority. The movement reiterates its deep concern over the threat to humanity posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons and of their possible use or threat of use and expresses its concern over the lack of progress by the Nuclear-Weapon States (NWS) to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.
- NAM reaffirms that the total elimination of nuclear weapons is the only absolute guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons and reaffirms further that all Non-Nuclear-Weapon States (NNWS) should be effectively assured by the NWS against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.
- The movement remains deeply concerned by the strategic defense doctrines of the Nuclear-Weapon States and NATO’s Deterrence and Defense Posture Review adopted at its summit in May 2012 that set out the rationales for the use of nuclear weapons. NAM strongly calls for the complete exclusion of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons from their military doctrines.
- The movement also calls on the NWS to immediately cease their plans to further modernize, upgrade, refurbish, or extend the lives of their nuclear weapons and related facilities.
- NAM calls for convening a high level international conference to identify ways and means of eliminating nuclear weapons, at the earliest possible date, with the objective of an agreement on a phased program for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, to prohibit their development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of use, and to provide for their destruction.
- NAM recognizes the need to enhance the effectiveness of the UN disarmament machinery. NAM notes that the main difficulty of the disarmament machinery lies in the lack of genuine political will by some states to achieve actual progress, including in particular on nuclear disarmament.
- NAM considers the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones as an important measure, and, in this context, NAM continues its strong support for the establishment in the Middle East of a nuclear-weapon-free zone. Pending its establishment, NAM demands that Israel, the only country in the region that has not joined the NPT nor declared its intention to do so, renounce any possession of nuclear weapons, accede to the NPT without precondition and further delay, and place promptly all its nuclear facilities under IAEA full-scope safeguards. The movement also calls for the total and complete prohibition of the transfer of all nuclear-related equipment, information, material and facilities, resources or devices and the extension of assistance in the nuclear related scientific or technological fields to Israel. NAM also supports the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.
- NAM reaffirms the inalienable right of each state to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy, including the sovereign right to develop full national nuclear fuel cycle, for peaceful purposes without discrimination. The movement once again reaffirms the sovereign right of each state to define its national energy policies, including the inalienable right of each state to develop a full national nuclear fuel cycle.
- NAM is of the firm belief that non-proliferation policies shall not undermine the inalienable right of states to acquire and access material, equipment, and technology for peaceful purposes.
- NAM expresses its deep concern at the continued imposition of and/or maintaining limitations and restrictions on exports to developing countries of nuclear material, equipment, and technology for peaceful purposes.
- NAM once again reaffirms the inviolability of peaceful nuclear activities and that any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities – operational or under construction – poses a great danger to human beings and the environment, and constitutes a grave violation of international law, principles of the UN Charter and regulations of the IAEA.
- While noting that considerable progress has been made in developing and applying the latest information technologies and means of telecommunication, the movement expresses concern that these technologies and means can potentially be used for purposes that are inconsistent with the objectives of maintaining international stability and security and may adversely affect the integrity of the infrastructure of states to the detriment of their security in both civil and military fields. NAM emphasizes that these technologies and means should be utilized by member states in a manner consistent with international law and the principles and purposes of the UN Charter.
- NAM stresses the need for a multilaterally negotiated, universal, comprehensive, transparent, and non-discriminatory approach toward the issue of missiles in all its aspects, as a contribution to international peace and security.
- NAM stresses the importance of the sovereign rights and security concerns of all states at regional and global levels in any approach to the issue of missiles in all its aspects. NAM further stresses the importance of contribution of peaceful uses of space technologies, including space launch vehicle technologies, to human advancement.
- NAM states parties to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions call for their balanced, effective, and non-discriminatory implementation.
- NAM reaffirms the sovereign right of states to acquire, manufacture, export, import and retain conventional arms and their parts and components for their self-defense and security needs.
- NAM demands that Israel join the NPT without further delay (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- NAM calls for total abolition of chemical weapons (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iran FM Salehi: NAM Should Oppose Sanctions, Foreign Intervention Unacceptable (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iranian defense minister: Israel should set red lines for itself (theuglytruth.wordpress.com)
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has confirmed that US troops have been dispatched to the Jordan-Syrian border to help bolster the former’s military capabilities in case violence escalates in the volatile region.
”We have a group of our forces there working to help build a headquarters there and to insure that we make the relationship between the United States and Jordan a strong one so that we can deal with all the possible consequences of what’s happening in Syria,” Panetta said.
Panetta’s comments came during a NATO conference of defense ministers in Brussels, where he said the US had been working with Jordan to monitor chemical and biological weapons sites in Syria and help the country deal with Syrian refugees crossing over the border.
The US has previously used Jordan as a base for other Syria-related military activities. In May of this year, Washington held military drills in Jordan dubbed ‘Operation Eager Lion,’ which saw around 12,000 troops from several nations participate in undisclosed training exercises.
The Obama administration denied accusations in the Syrian media that the exercises were a threat against President Assad, and maintained that the action focused on the treatment of refugees, anti-terrorism tactics and naval interception of smuggling vessels.
Following the operation, a small US contingent stayed behind to establish the center in Amman, paving the way for the arrival of more personnel.
“We have been working closely with our Jordanian partners on a variety of issues related to Syria for some time now,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said. Citing Washington’s concern over Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, he said that the US has been planning “various contingencies, both unilaterally and with our regional partners.”
The Syrian conflict took an unexpected turn last week when mortar fire struck across the border at neighboring Turkey, sparking outcry from the Turkish government which subsequently returned fire. Turkey deployed 25 new F-16 fighter jets to reinforce its borders this week as NATO pledged support if the conflict spills into the country again.
Since uprisings against the embattled President Assad began last year, the UN estimated that more than 20,000 people were killed in the conflict and some 700,000 fled Syria to seek refuge in neighboring countries.
Foreign-backed insurgents in Syria have killed a cameraman working for Syrian state TV al-Ikhbariya in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour.
Mohammad al-Ashmar was killed on Wednesday while covering clashes between Syrian troops and armed groups, the official SANA news agency reported.
Several journalists have so far been killed in Syria since the unrest erupted in the country in March 2011.
On September 26, insurgents in the capital Damascus attacked the Press TV staff, killing the Iranian English-language news network’s correspondent, Maya Naser, and injuring Press TV and Al-Alam Damascus Bureau Chief Hosein Mortada.
Naser was shot and killed by a sniper, while Mortada, a Lebanese national, was shot in the back. The two were covering twin bomb attacks that targeted the military command building in the capital and killed at least four Syrian security forces.
Many people, including large numbers of security forces, have been killed in the turmoil in Syria.
The Syrian government says that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the armed militants are foreign nationals.
- Press TV correspondent killed in Syrian capital (alethonews.wordpress.com)