Thursday, June 20, 2019

Trump loses interest in Venezuela issue

"Trump is giving up on regime change in Venezuela because it's complicated and he got bored.
Trump had always thought of Venezuela as "low-hanging fruit" on which he "could get a win and tout it as a major foreign policy victory.
He had viewed the prospect of a US-backed toppling of Maduro as an "easy win," at a time when other foreign policy initiatives had stalled.
He reportedly "chewed out" his national security adviser John Bolton and Latin America policy director Mauricio Claver-Carone as Maduro clung to power".
These are the reports of Washington Post.
Trump has moved on to other big-ticket issues such as Iran.
This explains the surprising silence on Venezuela issue these days in Washington where Bolton and company were screaming loud and threatening invasion in May leading up and after the failed coup attempt on 30 April.
The Washington silence is good news. There is no more threat of US military intervention. Atleast for the moment.. Latin Americans get a chance to resolve their problems by themselves instead of imposition under Monroe doctrine. And diplomacy and negotiations initiated by Norway gets an opportunity.

The statements by Guaido about meetings with US Southern Command and Pentagon had alarmed even the Latin American countries which had recognised him. Guaido is seen by these countries as immature, reckless and dangerous.
The Brazilian Generals got the most alarmed and they forced Bolsonaro government to cancel the presentation of credentials of Guaido ambassador after having recognized Guaido. 
So now there is stalemate.
But the bad news is that the Chavista regime of Maduro will continue to make Venezuelans suffer with mismanagement of the economy and impoverishing the people. The situation is going to get worse with the US sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports.
Venezuela needs a political change to come out of the crisis. Maduro needs some external pressure besides internal political opposition. The Latin American countries need to put constructive and effective pressure on Maduro and make him hold elections soon.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The land of Libertador of South America (Simon Bolivar) does not need external liberation.

Juan Guaido, the self proclaimed President of Venezuela, is openly establishing contact with Pentagon and reaching out to US Southern Command for intervention. This is an invitation for US military intervention.

This is an unwise and dangerous move, since it will harden the stand of Chavistas and military people who distrust the US military role in Venezuela. Guaido will be seen as an American puppet. Even the Americans will kick him around since they see him as their own creation. 

Guaido is more of a creation of US, unlike his other opposition colleagues who are veterans in the last fifteen years fighting the Chavista dictatorship. His claim to Presidency is as dubious as Maduro’s. He was never elected as President. He claims that Maduro’s election in May 2018 was rigged and therefore he got the right to become President.
Latin America has seen many such dramas in its history. The most recent example was in Mexico in 2006. After Felipe Calderon was elected as President with a very narrow margin, the loser Obrador refused to accept the result claiming irregularities in the election process. He had declared himself as the legitimate President and caused all kinds of problems for Calderon for the next six months. His supporters stopped the formal ceremony of Presidential assumption of power which had to be done privately. Obrador’s followers blocked traffic in the main roads of Mexico city and paralysed the government and normal life for several weeks.
Maduro’s regime would have imploded sooner or later due to the grave economic and social crisis which got worsened with the US sanctions. But the entry of Bolton in the issue with his arrogant and crude bravado has caused complication. He has freightened the thousands of Chavistas and military people who would have otherwise changed sides. They do not trust Bolton who has a history of sabotaging negotiations and favouring a shock and awe war or something equally brutal.

Guaido should learn from US military interventions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. 
Since Bolton’s threats and bluffs have failed, he is now going after Cuba with more sanctions and lifting of the ban on law suits against Cuba for reclamation of confiscated assets. This has hurt the European companies which do lot of business with Cuba, free of any competition from US companies. So the Europeans have woken up. The Spanish foreign minister called Trump's policy on Cuba and Venezuela as " acting like a cowboy" and criticised Washington's lifting of the ban on law suits against Cuba as " abuse of power". Till this, the Spanish blindly followed Trump's abuse of power to try for regime change in Venezuela and joined the European chorus of recognition of Maduro. The Spanish and the Europeans thought it was a cost-free way to please Trump by recognising Guaido. In any case, Maduro was not defensible. But now that the Cuba suits are going to hurt Spanish and European business interests, they are calling for negotiations to resolve the Venezuelan crisis. Mexico and Uruguay had been advocating this course from the beginning. The head of foreign relations of EU is now talking to some Latin American countries in the Lima group to advance the idea of negotiated solution for the Venezuelan issue.
Besides squeezing Cuba, Bolton is threatening with the military option. But Trump does not want to risk his run for second time by the shedding of American blood in Venezuela. The well armed and corrupt Chavistas and military people will fight for their life and to protect their ill gotten wealth and status. Even the Brazilian Vice President who represents the voice of the military has spoken against US invasion of Venezuela. Most other Latin American as well as European countries would also disapprove of US military boots in Venezuelan soil.
So there is no other option now but to make the two Venezuelan sides to negotiate and find an internal solution. It is interesting to see that the Trump officials have started talking to Cuba and Russia about the Venezuela issue. This is a come down from their earlier warnings to Russia and Cuba to keep their hands off from Venezuela.
Guaido should stop his open invitation to US SouthCom and Pentagon and focus on the Venezuelan military and Chavistas. He should persuade them to collaborate with him in rescuing Venezuela from the disastrous mismanagement of the country. He needs to try harder instead of running to Uncle Unreliable all the time. The land of Libertador of South America (Simon Bolivar) does not need external liberation.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Why there will not be a coup in Venezuela now?

 Because, there is no American embassy in Caracas now. 

According to a statement attributed to former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, there is no coup in US because there is no American embassy in Washington DC.

In 2002, when there was a coup in which President Chavez was overthrown, there was American embassy in Caracas. Not only that. The office of the US Defence Attache was located within the Venezuelan military headquarters. After the coup, Chavez threw them out. 

Today 11 April is the anniversary of the 2002 Coup. 

I was in Caracas as Indian ambassador on 11 April 2002. Before the coup, there were demonstrations in front of the embassy and the residence of the ambassador when a few free lance Indian technicians were hired by PDVSA to run some essential technical operations. The Venezuelans wrote on the walls of the embassy, " How can the country of Gandhi support Chavez's dictatorship". But when I told the demonstrators that the technicians were not sent by the Indian government and that they were recruited by PDVSA directly through their own channels, the crowd dispersed peacefully.

The coup succeeded because the opposition and the Big brother were able to persuade some Generals to change sides. Before that, the pro-opposition and pro-US oil company (PDVSA) executives went on a strike stopping the production and exports of oil and prepared the ground for the coup. The generals who ditched Chavez were promised share in the power, amnesty to collaborators and an orderly transition. But as soon as Pedro Carmona, the US-backed businessman took over as interim President, he abolished the constituition, dissolved the legimately elected assembly and unleashed persecution of Chavistas. Carmona went back on the promise of sharing power to the military. This made the generals angry and they were afraid of mistreatment by the new regime. So, the Generals brought Chavez back in 48 hours and detained Carmona. It was all over in two days.

Initially, Chavez was repentant, introspective and even forgiving. But the opposition, having failed to unseat Chavez democratically or otherwise, went back to their Northern Patron and continued their conspiracies. Chavez wanted to teach a lesson to those oligarchic political and business leaders as well as the PDVSA executives and middle class which supported them. He sacked 15000 employees of PDVSA and filled the company with Chavistas who were incompetent and corrupt. He started systematic and ruthless destruction of the business, industry, economy and the society. When he died in Havana, the Cubans advised him to nominate Maduro as his successor. Maduro does not have the smartness, grassroot support, charisma and leadership quality. The Cubans preferred the manageable and incompetent Maduro over the clever Diosdado Cabello, the strongest leader after Chavez even now. 

The only point of interest for Indians is that Maduro is a Sai Baba follower. He has been to Puttaparthi a few times. 

Maduro is not running the country like Chavez, Saddam Hussain, Qaddafi or Noriega. He is just a figure head. The country is run by a collective of Chavistas and Military people. Most of them are corrupt. They realise that they would be punished if the opposition comes to power. They remember the 2002 experience. The only way to get them out of power is to offer general amnesty to all of them (several thousands) in the same way as Pinochet and the military dictatorship in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay got away with their atrocious crimes against their own people. The crimes of Maduro regime are much smaller in comparison to what the Chilean, Argentine and Brazilian dictators did.

If the US invades, the armed Chavistas and many military people will put up a fierce fight and cause bloodshed including those of the invaders. Even if Maduro is kidnapped from his palace as done in the case of Noriega, the others will fight. That’s why the Iraq, Libya and Panama model of regime change will not work in Venezuela.

Yesterday, the US Vice President Mike Pence spoke in the UN Security Council seeking UN recognition of Guaido and derecognition of Maduro. This is a clear indication that the US has not been able to do the regime change unilaterally or with its 'coalition of the willing'. US goes to UN only when it realises its limitation.

The attempt of US to get UN recognition of Guaido will fail because China and Russia will veto in UNSC in favour of Venezuela. And in the UN general Assembly, not many countries will support Guaido.

And there was Raul Castro who addressed the same UNSC meeting asking US to keep its hands off Venezuela. It is a powerful message from a country which has survived US invasion, many CIA plots and odious sanctions. In fact it is the Cubans who have been advising Maduro how to survive, based on their own remarkable and courageous experience.

Despite all the bravado of Trump, Marco Rubio and Elliot Abrams who threatened even military invasion, Guaido remains as the paper president while Maduro has checkmated him and his external supporters.

China made a mockery of Guaido recognition by InterAmerican development bank by refusing visa for Guaido nominee to IADB. OAS has given recognition because of the secretary general Luis Almagro, the Uruguayan who has sold his soul to Uncle Sam and has been taking blatantly partisan approach to Maduro regime. The Uruguayan government has disowned him. although he was a respected foreign minister during the government of President Mujica.

Putin's despatch of military advisors to Venezuela has emboldened the Maduro regime and surprised the US, complicating the American calculations.

But the US can strangle the Venezuelan economy and worsen the misery for the government and people by its ongoing and future sanctions on oil production and exports as well as other clandestine sabotage. The Maduro regime has no clues as to how to stop the hyper inflation (running in 5-6 digits), increase oil production and exports, stabilise the exchange rate and reset the economy. Those around Maduro are intensifying their stealing government money left and right, since they do not know how long the regime would last.

The only solution is to bring Maduro and the Opposition to the negotiating table and put pressure on them to reach an agreement for holding an internationally supervised election. Mexico and Uruguay advocate this course. But Maduro will come to the table only after iron-clad amnesty to all the military and Chavistas.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Indio meets Indiano.

Indio meets Indiano.

First civilisational and historic encounter between a native Latin American Indian President and the original Indian President.

When I met Evo in La Paz on 10 August 2006, he embraced me saying, " tambien Indio" ( brother I am also an Indian)

Evo Morales is the first native Indian in South America to become President. Under his presidency since 2006, Bolivia has achieved unprecedented democratic stability, economic growth, poverty alleviation and social equality. His priority agenda has been emancipation and empowerment of the native Indians who were discriminated ruthlessly for five hundred years. Native Indians form 60 percent of the population.

In the Bolivian history, Evo Morales is the longest serving President for three terms since 2006. Bolivia has never had such a long period of political stability as it has experienced in the last thirteen years. Bolivia had been notorious for coups and political instability. 36 of the 83 governments in the past had lasted a year or less. Between 2001 and 2005 there were five Presidents.

Evo won the elections despite the overt preventive intervention and conspiracies of US and its oligarchic allies in Bolivia. He stood upto even his friend President Lula and got a better price for the gas exports to Brazil. 

Although the west has labelled him as a radical leftist, Morales has managed the economy prudently, pragmatically and successfully. A report of UNDP has put Bolivia as the most successful in reducing poverty in the last decade in Latin America.He has financed his pro-poor programmes with the increase in revenue from exports, taxes and better financial management. He has ensured fiscal surplus every year since 2006. The GDP of Bolivia has grown an average of five percent since he assumed presidency in 2006. In 2018, the growth rate was 4.4% and it is projected at 4.3% in 2019. This is much higher than the average growth of Latin America at 1.1% in 2018 and forecast of 1.7% in 2019.The foreign exchange reserves are comfortable at 8.5 billion dollars. External debt is reasonable at 12.8 billion. Exchange rate is stable and predictable. The inflation of the country which in the eighties had touched five digits has been brought down to single digit under the presidency of Morales. Inflation in 2018 was a commendable 1.3%. Financial Times has said, ' Mr Morales may well be Latin America's most successful socialist presidents ever'.

Evo lives a simple life without any ostentation. He has not enriched himself with properties or business. He is a bachelor and dedicates his full energy and time for the country. Coming from a poor Aymara Indian family, he could not afford college education. He started off his political career as a coca leaf workers trade unionist. He loves playing football even as President.

During the visit of the Indian President 28-30 March, the two governments signed a number of agreements for cooperation. India has announced a credit of 100 million dollars.

India-Bolivia bilateral trade in 2018 was an impressive 863 million dollars. India's exports were 100 million dollars and imports 763 million. Bolivia has emerged as the seventh largest supplier of gold with 760 million dollars out of the total Indian global imports of 32 billion dollars.

A Telugu film " Sarrainodu" starring Allu Arjun was shot in Bolivia (salar de uyuni) in March 2016.

The only regrettable episode in Indo-Bolivian reactions was the failed investment project by Navin Jindal in the Mutun iron mining project in Bolivia. He had announced plan to invest 2 billion dollars in the iron ore mining and in a steel plant. He had spent about 20 million dollars. But when the Bolivian government realised that Jindal had no intention to invest in the steel plant, they cancelled the contract and encashed the guarantee. The case is before arbitration for release of the guarantee money. More information on this in

Bolivia has one of the largest Lithium reserves in the world. Indian companies and government have shown interest in Lithium mining.

The only problem with Evo is that he has not groomed any native Indian successor. He plans to contest for the fourth term in the October 2019 elections. The Constitution framed by Evo Morales himself had imposed term limits. He tried a referendum in 2016 asking the voters if he could run for a fourth term. The voters rejected it. Later, the Supreme Court has overruled the constitution allowing unlimited presidential terms. 

Evo is leading in the opinion polls and could win. But this will cause a dent in his democratic credentials. In any case, it is a slippery road to hubris and disaster as seen in the cases of   Chavez and Ortega. 

Hope Panchamama, the Andean goddess, guides Evo Morales in the right direction..

Friday, March 22, 2019

US- China games in the Inter American Development Bank

In 2008, US tried to block the entry of China in Inter American Development Bank and blackballed for over a year. But China succeeded in forcing its way by rallying the Latin Americans behind and became member in 2009. This was mainly due to Lula, Cristina, Chavez and other leftist presidents who had swept to power in the region in the first decade of this century and defied US successfully many times.
China has started using the IADB funds for its project contracts in the region over and above its own direct investment and credit.

Last year, when the Chinese requested the Bank to to hold its 2019 annual meeting in Chengdu, US tried again its best to stop this. The Chinese won this round too and the meeting is to be held next week. This was possible because the Latinos realised that China has given 150 billion dollars of credit to Latin America in the last decade. This is more than the combined credit of IADB, World bank and US Eximbank together.
Earlier this month, the US had forced the Bank to recognise the so-called Guaido's presidency. Guaido does not have a government, central bank or finance ministry. Recognition of his presidency is not legal according to the charter of the Bank. But US bullied and broke the rule and got the bank to recognise Guaido.
Now the US is trying to sabotage the meeting in China by insisting that the Guaido presidency should be represented in the meeting and not the Maduro government. Logical..since Guaido has got the Bank recognition.
But China has given over 50 bilion dollars of credit to Maduro's regime and need to protect its interests.
This time there is no Lula or Chavez who could stand upto US and support China.
Will China lose this round? China is trying a smart argument that the Bank meeting should not be politicised. They propose that neither Maduro nor Guaido should be invited. But Bolsonaro is more anti-Maduro than Trump and does not mind even military intervention of US. He even made an unprecedented visit to CIA heaquarters during his visit to US last week.
Finally, the US- China match in InterAmerican development bank has ended in a 1-1 draw. US scored one goal cancelling the China meeting. China scored by rejecting Guaido representation. on.. to the next round...

Venezuela beats Messi's Argentine team by 3-1.. Bravo... something to celebrate ..amidst the Venezulean misery and chaos for my pobrecitos amigos Venezuelanos..

Monday, February 04, 2019

Can the new President be a Salvador (saviour) of El Salvador ?

Nayib Bukele has won the presidential elections held last Sunday in El Salvador. Bukele is the first outsider who does not belong to either of the established ARENA (right wing) or FMLN ( left wing) parties which dominated the politics of the country in the last two decades. He got around 54% of the votes which was more than the combined total percentage of the votes obtained by the candidates of the two main parties.  The ARENA candidate got 32% while the ruling party FMLN’s got only 14%. With his impressive victory of getting more than fifty percent of votes, Bukele has avoided a second round of elections. He was the candidate of an alliance of smaller parties called as GANA. 

The young ( 37 years old) Bukele has earned his reputation as an able and visionary administrator as the mayor of the capital city San Salvador from 2015 to 2018. He is a social media star who used tools such as Twitter and Facebook effectively reaching out to millions of voters directly. He announced his candidature and manifesto through Facebook Live. This  had appealed to the young generation disillusioned with the traditional parties. Supremely confident of the social media strength, he refused to participate in the traditional debate with the other presidential candidates. Nor did he hold any press conferences. 

Bukele has kept away from the ideological polarisation of the country and promises to govern pragmatically. The voters liked his quote, I don’t talk about left or right anymore, this is outdated in the modern era.” Although his alliance includes right wing elements, he had started off his political career as member of the left wing FMLN party, which expelled him when he questioned the party’s leadership. Bukele is of Palestine origin.

El Salvador, the smallest country (in area) in Central America with 6.5 million people, has huge problems. The main issue is the ongoing gang violence and crime. The country has become notorious with one of the highest murder rates in the world. Mara Salvatrucha, popularly known as MS-13 and the Barrio 18 (18thstreet gang) are the two dominant gangs which hold the country to ransom with killings, crimes and drug trafficking. The rivalry between these two became so violent at one stage in 2012, the government intervened and brokered a ceasefire between MS 13 and the Barrio 18. In order to bring the two sides to the negotiating table, the government relaxed conditions in the prisons in which the members of the two gangs were held. Following this peace deal, the murder rate had dropped immediately. But this truce broke down in 2014 and crime has gone up again.

The origin of these two gangs is Los Angeles.  During the civil war in Central America in the eighties, several hundred thousands had fled to US to escape the violence. The US had destabilised El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras during the cold war and Contra War and had subverted democracy by supporting right wing military dictatorship. The Americans had armed and trained right wing militias which killed thousands of people including the famous Archbishop Romero in 1980.  Many of those who wanted to escape the civil war went to Los Angeles. In the nineties, the US authorities cracked down on the gangs and deported thousands of the gang members to El Salvador. But many of the deported, who were born or brought up in US, found it difficult to adjust in Central America and continued with their LA gang culture. They regrouped themselves locally with guns smuggled from US and scaled up their crimes, taking advantage of the weak law enforcement and justice system of El Salvador. The gangs have evolved a culture of tattoos, brutal rites of initiation, extortion and crime. 

The Salvadoreans are again fleeing to escape the violence of the gang wars. This is the reason for the caravans trying to enter US for seeking asylum.The US which is responsible for the violence has a moral duty to accept the victims of their destructive policies and guns. In this context it is worth noting that the remittances of Salvadoreans in US is a major source of foreign exchange for the country.

The second major problem of El Salvador is the rampant corruption. Some of the previous presidents of the country have been accused and convicted of massive corruption. Bukele’s campaign slogan was,“There’s enough money when no one steals.” He has promised to establish an international anti-corruption agency, as it was done in Guatemala.  

Of course, the most fundamental problem is poverty. The country needs poverty alleviation and job creation programmes. 

The Salvadoreans are praying that Bukele turn out to be the saviour of the country which needs rescue from its acute problems and suffering. 

India’s exports to El Salvador were 70 million dollars in 2017-18. There is scope to increase the exports to 200 million if Indian companies explore the opportunities seriously. El Salvador has established an embassy in New Delhi and is seeking Indian investment and development assistance.

While the two biggest democracies of the Americas chose to elect crazy, polarising and right wing extremists Trump and Bolsonaro and that too after so much controversies and hoopla, the little El Salvador has elected a young, sensible, balanced and pragmatic outsider Nayib Bukele as President. The clean election and the decisive victory of an outsider and social media star is a sign of the growing maturity of the young democracy of El Salvador and is an inspiration for the hemisphere.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Creation of poverty out of prosperity: the magical realism of Venezuela

Nicolas Maduro started his second term for six years as President of Venezuela on 10 January. But the political drama of his rigged re-election, the economic collapse of the country and the traumatisation of the society resemble the story of “one hundred years of solitude” by the Colombian Nobel prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The Venezuelan reality is even more bizarre than the magical fiction of Marquez in which the people of Macondo are cursed to suffer one disaster after another. Creation of poverty in Venezuela which was the richest Latin American country in the recent past, is pure Magical Realism.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, more than that of Saudi Arabia. Besides oil, the country is blessed with minerals, hydroelectric potential, arable land, pleasant climate, beautiful beaches and many Miss World and Universe titles. In the sixties, the per capita GDP of Venezuela was many times bigger than that of Brazil and Colombia. Caracas was only destination for Concorde flights in Latin America. The Venezuelan middle class people used to go to Miami for shopping during weekend. The country had a vibrant democracy while many countries in Latin America went under military dictatorship during the cold war. 

But today, Latin America has progressed and moved on to the twenty first century with a new paradigm of democratic maturity and economic growth. But Venezuela has gone backwards with a toxic combination of authoritarianism, political chaos, economic disaster, hyperinflation, shortage of food and medicine, rampant crime and corruption.  The Chavistas have given a bad name to socialism which had seen resurgence in the region in the last two decades.

The GDP of Venezuela has contracted consecutively for the last five years to over fifty percent. It is forecast to shrink by another ten percent in 2019. The country has the highest inflation in the world running into six digits. The government has stopped publishing inflation and other economic statistics. Since most of the domestic manufacturing industry and agriculture have been destroyed, the country has become desperately dependent on imports. But there is severe shortage of foreign exchange reserves which are inadequate to cover even essential imports. The Venezuelan currency Bolivar has lost 99.9% of its value and has become worthless. The government keeps changing currencies and exchange rates, which has given rise to huge black market for dollars and goods, run by those with Chavista connections. 

Poor people scavenge for food in the rubbish bins. Soviet-Cuban style queues are common in front of super markets and shops which are often empty and running short of medicines,food and essential items such as toilet paper and soap. There are frequent power cuts and shortage of water. Most international airlines have stopped flights to Venezuela due to payment issues.

Crime and violence is rampant in Caracas which has one of the highest murder rates in the region. The city has become unsafe even for diplomats who need to use bullet proof cars. The happy-go-lucky party-loving people of Caracas have stopped going out in the night.   

According to UNHCR, three million Venezuelans (ten percent of the total population) have fled to other countries to escape the poverty, misery and persecution. This has become the biggest migration and humanitarian crisis in the history of Latin America. This is disgraceful, given the fact that over a million South Americans used to work in Venezuela which offered better prospects than their countries. 

The country’s oil production has come down from 3 million barrels per day to 1.5 mbpd due to mismanagement and lack of investment. PDVSA, the state oil company, which had the best oil experts and managers in the region, is run these days by unprofessional Chavistas. Neither the company nor the government  publish figures of oil exports and revenue which are kept as secrets. A significant part of oil is sent to China as barter payment for the 50 billion dollar plus debt.

The people of Venezuela, subjected to the worst suffering, are seething with frustration and outrage. Chavez himself was a product of such a public anger against the two establishment political parties which plundered the country and got the country into a mess in the nineties. Hugo Chavez asked, “ Venezuela is a rich country. Why are you people poor?”. The masses voted for him overwhelmingly in 1998 and the two traditional parties were completely discredited and decimated. Chavez started off as a real revolutionary who wanted to uplift the poor with sincere commitment. But later his agenda got totally lost in hubris and anger against the opposition which overthrew him (for 48 hours) in the 2002 coup. Chavez went on a ruthless revenge against the political and business oligarchs as well as the middle class with a series of destructive measures such as currency, import and price controls and systematic dismantling of checks and balances of democratic instituitions. He squandered the windfall oil profits in wasteful and fancy projects.

Maduro’s re-election in May 2018 has been called as illegitimate and  has not been recognised by the Venezuelan opposition parties. The Maduro government had banned opposition parties and imprisoned or exiled many leaders preventing participation in the elections on trumped up charges. The snap election itself was called prematurely by an illegal Constituent Assembly which usurped the powers of the legitimate Congress in which the opposition has the majority. If a proper election is held, the opposition would come to power undoubtedly as they won in the Congressional elections in 2015.

The Venezuelan opposition, which used to organise vigorous protests in the past has now run out of steam and is divided. They tried dialogue with the government through the mediation of Vatican. This too failed. People fear coming out for protests after violent crackdown in which over one hundred protestors were killed in police shootings in 2017.
Clearly, the country is crying out for liberation from the hopeless mess. There is no possibility of economic recovery or correction of political course under President Maduro who is simply incompetent and impotent. His rivals are waiting to stab him in the back at the first opportunity. He has ensured the support of the military by giving them control of lucrative businesses such as food distribution and the petroleum sector. The Chavistas and their military collaborators plunder the country with impunity and in a hurry since they do not know how long the regime would last.
Chavez, a long time admirer of Fidel Castro sought the “merger of the two revolutions. He nominated Maduro as successor from his deathbed in Havana, on the advice of the Castros. The Cubans have been helping the Chavista regimes with intelligence through their advisors in Venezuela. They guide Maduro how to survive American conspiracies and sanctions, based on their long experience. The thousands of Cuban doctors who work in the slums and rural areas of Venezuela are the eyes and ears of the Chavista government. In return, Cuba gets Venezuelan oil on generous terms. 

Venezuela has become like a Cuba with shortage of essential items, long queues and citizen controls. But there is a big difference. The Cuban people, although denied freedom, do not go hungry. They have the best healthcare and education. They are optimistic that life could become only better in the future. The Cubans have a joke, ‘It is only the first hundred years of the revolution which are difficult, before the socialist paradise’. But the Venezuelans suffering under the Chavista regime for the last twenty years are wondering if they are in for “One Hundred years of Suffering”.  

The twelve Latin American countries of the Lima Group (including Brazil, Argentina and Colombia) as well as the European Union, Canada and USA have  condemned the rigged re-election of Maduro and refused recognition. They have threatened sanctions and restrictions to further isolate Venezuela which has already been suspended from Mercosur. But Venezuela receives some limited support from China, Russia and Turkey as well as from Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico in Latin America.

The Maduro regime would collapse if the US imposes oil sanctions against Venezuela, as it did in the case of Iran. US, the largest importer of Venezuelan oil, can afford to forego since it has become much less dependent on imported oil thanks to the shale revolution which has made US as the largest oil producer in the world again. Although the US has imposed some cosmetic sanctions against Venezuelan bonds and leaders, the Administration does not want to cause losses to the few American refineries which use exclusively Venezuelan crude. In any case, the US is not in a hurry to stop the bleeding of Venezuela since it is enjoying the spectacle of the Venezuelan misery as a scarecrow deterring the spread of socialism in the region. Along with Venezuela, Ortega’s authoritarianism in Nicaragua and the traditional bogey of Cuba have given a new agenda to fight against the “ Troika of Tyranny and Triangle of Terror” for the neo-cold war warrior National Security Advisor John Bolton who is eager to repeat interventions in the ‘backyard’ since the days of the Monroe Doctrine.

India is the second largest importer of Venezuelan oil, importing around 350,000 barrels per day annually. In 2017-18 imports were 5.85 billion dollars. In the first six months of 2018-19 (April-October), the imports increased to 4.6 billion dollars due to the rise in oil prices. These imports are part of the strategic energy policy of India to reduce overdependence on the Middle East and to diversify sources of imports. ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) has invested over a billion dollars in the Venezuelan oil fields. Although India’s exports are not high, there is potential for growth. With these interests, India does not comment on Venezuelan domestic affairs and maintains relations with the government in power pragmatically.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bolsonaro, Bible and Bullet

When the Argentine cardinal Francis was elected as Pope, the Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff was asked for her reaction by an Argentine journalist. She said ” The Pope might be Argentine but the God is Brazilian”. God seems to have sent his messenger in the form of Jair Messias Bolsonaro who has taken over as President of Brazil on 1 January.  The middle name Messias means Messiah. Bolsonaro has promised to take the country to “Jewish-Christian tradition” and place “God above all”. Bolsonaro, the ex-army captain is a firm believer in the power of bullet besides that of bible. 

As part of his victory celebrations, Bolsonaro attended a worship service conducted by the celebrity evangelical pastor Silas Malafia who declared, “ God will change the fortune of Brazilians. Brazil belongs to Lord Jesus”. 

Ernesto Araujo, the new foreign minister, seems to be even more close to God than his boss. In an article published after his nomination, he says, “ My detractors have called me crazy for believing in God and for believing that God acts in history—but I don’t care. God is back and the nation is back: a nation with God; God through the nation”. He has ended the article saying, “Tony Blair’s spokesman Alastair Campbell famously said of Britain: “We don’t do God.” Well, in Brazil, now we do”.In his personal blog “Metapolitica 17 contra globalismo” (újo states his goal is to “help Brazil and the world liberate themselves from globalist ideology”, which he sees as anti-Christianand anti-human beings. He claims that the ultimate aim of globalization is to break the link between God and man. He quotes Biblical texts extensively to support his divine views including about Brazil’s place in the Western world in international affairs. Araujo believes that theophobia is a bigger problem than xenophobia.

These words of Bolsonaro and Araujo from the country which has the world’s largest catholic population, should be music to the ears of Pope. Not exactly. On the contrary, he should be worried. The number of catholics keeps going down in Brazil and is less than 70 % of the population. More and more people are drawn to evangelical sects attracted by the Prosperity Theology. In return for the divine help, the followers are made to contribute (tithe) a part of their income to the Industry of Faith of the pastors some of whom have become multimillionaires. The charismatic and pop-star like evangelical pastors of Brazil have converted more than twenty five percent of the Catholics to various evangelical sects which have become rich and powerful. Edir Macedo is the richest pastor with a wealth of more than a billion dollars and private jet costing 45 million dollars. His Universal Church of the Kingdom of God has over five million members and 13,000 temples across Brazil, as well as presence in several other countries, including the United States. This church owns the second-largest TV station in Brazil, Rede Record, as well as newspapers and radio stations across 27 states.Macedo has been accused of money laundering and other illegal activities for which he spent a few days in jail. The Evangelicals use the entertainment industry to spread their message across Brazil. There are 128 Evangelical record labelsandmore than 600 radio stations dedicated exclusively to gospel programming.

These evangelical churches are politically active and advise their members to vote for evangelical candidates and sympathisers with the slogan “Brother votes for Brother”. The Biblical caucus in the Congress is proactive on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Bolsonaro himself has said that he would prefer a dead son over a gay one.

Bolsonaro calls himself catholic while his wife and son are Baptists. In May2016, Bolsonaro was baptizedin the Jordan River by Pastor Everaldo, a prominent leader of the Assembly of God. Bolsonaro came back from the trip full of praise for Israel’s military prowess andachievements.

Bolsonaro reaffirmed in his inaugural speech, “ Good citizens deserve the means to defend themselves through gun ownership”. His supporters in the Congress greeted him by pointing their fingers in the shape of a gun. 

He has inducted seven ex-military officers in his 22-member cabinet, besides choosing a General as his Vice President. He has plans to strengthen the armed forces. Never mind, the country does not face any external threat. Brazil, which has borders with ten South American countries, has no territorial disputes and has never faced any aggression from neighbours.  The only enemy the Brazilian armed forces has fought and killed in the modern history is its own people during the military dictatorships. The Brazilian armed forces got away with its crimes with impunity under the amnesty law unlike some other South American countries which had brought the killer Colonels to justice. Bolsonaro is proud of the criminal military dictatorship and his only complaint is that not enough were killed. He wants to give extra powers to the police to shoot and kill. His son Carlos, who is his social media manager, circulates video clips praising police shootings. Bolsonaro was part of the Bullet Caucus in the Congress which lobbied for easy access to guns, tough policies against crimes and privatisation of prisons. The members of the Bullet Caucus are mostlyformer police and military officials, many of whom have received major campaign contributions from Brazilian handgun manufacturing giant Taurus and the Brazilian Cartridge Company, the nation’s largest ammunition manufacturer. Not surprisingly, the share price of Taurus has almost doubled after the election of Bolsonaro.The Bullet Caucus successfully prevented a bill in 2006 to ban the civilian purchase of hand guns. The Brazilian lobby benefitted from the support of the National Rifle Association of US.

Araujo believes that climate change is  part of a plot by “cultural Marxists” to stifle western economies and promote the growth of China. He claims that climate science is merely  a dogma which has been used to justify increasing the regulatory power of states over the economy and the power of international institutions on the nation states and their populationsJust like Bolsonaro, Araujo is a fervent admirer of U.S. President Donald Trump, whom he believes can “save the West.”
The God and Gun rule of Bolsonaro is a reminder of how the Portuguese and Spanish conquered and colonised Latin America with “the Sword and the Cross”. The colonisers exterminated millions of indigenous people, destroyed their faiths and converted most of them. Bolsonaro, has launched an assault on environmental and Amazon protections with an executive order transferring the regulation and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry – which is controlled by the powerful Bible, Beef and Bullet caucus (known as Bancada BBB) in the Congress. This caucus consists of evangelicals, rich landlords, cattle and meat industry representativesas well as ex-police and armed forces members.The move sparked outcry from indigenous leaders, who said it threatened their reserves, Previously, demarcation of reserves was controlled by the indigenous agency Funai, which has been moved from the justice ministry to a new ministry of women, family and human rights controlled by an evangelical pastor. The new health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, has called for spending cuts on healthcare for indigenous people.
Bolsonaro, in his inaugural speech, has vowed to liberate Brazil from socialism and political correctness. His anti-affirmative action and racist views are a set back for the large poor and marginalised black population of over 80 million out of the total of 210 million. Under the pro-poor socialistpolicies of President Lula,nearly forty million were pulled out from below poverty line into middle class. Bolsonaro is against giving hand outs and says it make them lazy. 

Bolsonaro has dismantled the Labor Ministry and distributed its functions three other ministries of justice and public security, economy and citizenship. Brazil, which has one of the highest disparities in wealth distribution in the world, is likely to increase the gap between the rich and poor under the neoliberalistic Finance Minister Paulo Guedes and his Chicago Boys who are at the helm of economic and financial policies.

Bolsonaro has been given a clear mandate by the Brazilians who desperately sought a change from the hubris and corruption of the politicians of Workers Party as well as all the other establishment parties.  The economy, which was in recession in the last two years, is already recovering and the business sector is bullish. God has blessed Brazil with plenty of natural and mineral resources, conducive climate, fertile land and beautiful beaches. The country has a large population of which a good proportion is young and vibrant. The happy -go- lucky and football -and -beach loving Brazilians are now looking upwards to the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro  and are preparing for the Rule of God and the Gun..

An edited version of the article was published by the magazine The Week on 10 January

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Roma - the Mexican film

Roma, the latest film of the Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron (it can be seen in India in Netflix) has earned rave reviews and is an Oscar contender. It stands out as an unusual film defying the common genres. It is the story of Cleo, the live-in maid from the Mexican indigenous community Mixtec serving a wealthy white family. She toils from early morning till late nightpreparing food, cleaning floors,washing dishes and ironing clothes. She looks after the four kids in the house with motherly affection. She talks very little, contains her emotions and works silently. She does not rebel nor does she protest when the world is unfair to her. The shy and naïve Cleo has no big expectations or ambitions or even dreams. She accepts the life of domestic help as fixed for her in the social hierarchy. During her day off, she goes out with her boyfriend. But he runs away when she becomes pregnant. She loses the child but takes it in stoically and fatalistically. She never wavers from her devotion and loyalty to the family, which treats her with kindness.

Sofia, the lady of the house in which Cleo works, also undergoes suffering caused by her unfaithful husband who runs away with a lover. She confesses to Cleo, “ No matter what they tell you, we the women, are always alone”. 

The story is set in the upscale neighbourhood of Colonia Roma in Mexico city and the Mexico of seventies which had witnessed student protests with fatal consequences.

The film is a plain but intense portrayal of everyday life of the maid. It is like a documentary without big drama, suspense or mystery. No digression with sub plots. No narco trafficking gangster violence. No Latin American magical realism. No Argentine psychological complexity. But the film packs powerful emotions and poignant moments in subtle and discreet ways. It has elaborate and vivid details of physical work of the maid and the mental turmoil in the family.

The film is a masterpiece of Alfonso Cuaron who has based the story on his own childhood memories. He says it is very personal to him and at the same time it is about the family, the city, the country and about humanity. 

Roma is a tribute to the maid Libo Rodriguezwho used to work in Cuaron’s house like Cleo in the film. He has, in fact, dedicated the film to her. He searched for almost a year for the right person to act as Cleo and found YalitzaAparacio, a twenty four year old primary school teacher who lived in a one room flat with her family in rural Mexico. She had no professional acting experience. But she has fit the character perfectly and has left a lasting impression with her spontaneous acting and natural demeanour. Her mother is still working as a domestic workerHer father left home when she was in her teens and her two youngest siblings were still toddlers, leaving her mother to bring up four children.
The movie is in black and white. The actors are non-professionals. The dialogues are in Spanish except when the two maids talk in their indigenous Mixtec language.  

Cuaron is the first Mexican and Latin American to win Oscar award for the best director in 2013 for the Hollywood film “Gravity”. His other Mexican film “ Y tu mama tambien” was a hit commercially and a cultural shocker. He has done a Harry Potter film too.

After Cuaron, two other Mexican film directors Alejandro González Iñárritu ( won twice in 2014 and 2015) and Guillermo del Toro (2017) have won Oscar awards. These “three amigos” have raised the profile of Mexican film industry which is in resurgence these days.

The success of Roma has now made Aparicio famous. She appeared in the cover of the Vogue magazine (December edition) wearinga Gucci dress,next to the title “In tiu’n ntav’i” – “A star is born” – in the indigenous Mixtec language. 

In a video released by Vogue, Aparicio said: “Certain stereotypes are being broken: that only people with a certain profile can be actresses or be on the cover of magazines.Other faces of Mexico are now being recognized. It is something that makes me happy and proud of my roots.”
This is the first time that an indigenous woman has become the heroine of a Mexican hit film and appeared in the cover page of a fashion magazine. Naturally there is jubilation and celebration in the Mexican indigenous community and especially among their women. Although indigenous Mexicanscomprise twenty percentof the population,theyare marginalized from public life and politics, and many live in poverty.This is true of most of the forty million indigenous people in Latin America spread out from Mexico to Chile. For the first time, an indigenous leader Evo Morales was elected as President in Bolivia in 2006. Inspired by his example, Rigoberta Mengchu stood in the presidential elections of Guatemala but did not make it. 
Cuaron’s bold art movie celebrating the indigenous community has found its match in the revolutionary spirit of the new Leftist Mexican president Lopez Obrador who has got the film screened for the public for free in Los Pinos, the presidential palace on 13 december. He got the culture ministry to supply popcorn and soft drinks to the audience. Obrador has refused to move into the luxurious presidential mansion and has converted it into a museum for public to visit. He continues to live in his own modest residence. He has put the presidential plane on sale and travels by economy class in commercial flights. Hehas promised to give priority to emancipation of indigenous people, as part of his grand plan for the transformation of the country. He gained national exposure as an advocate for the rights of indigenous people when in 1996 he appeared on national TV drenched in blood following confrontations with the police for blocking oil wells to defend the rights of local indigenous people impacted by pollution.On 16 December, President Obrador attended an indigenous ceremony seeking the blessing of Mother Earth for the Maya tourist train project.

Roma, the film about the native Indian maid, ends with a message from the real Indiawith the words “Shantih shantih shantih”.