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March 19, 2015

A Statement of Solidarity with the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee

A panel entitled “From Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action” was planned for Thursday, March 19 at the Missouri History Museum. Two days ago, the Missouri History Museum informed organizers of the panel that the Museum could not host the event unless the topic of Palestine and the participation of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee were removed from the panel. We, the undersigned, condemn this silencing of part of our community and this brazen attempt to divide communities of color. Instead of talking about solidarity, we find ourselves actualizing solidarity by rejecting the Missouri History Museum’s demands. We stand by our Palestinian partners and are postponing the original panel until an alternative location can be confirmed.

The panel is being organized to explore intersections among our distinct struggles. We are baffled by the decision of the Museum, a publicly funded institution, to censor discourse. The Palestinian narrative has for too long been silenced and needs to be heard. The St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) was formed in 2009 by a group of grassroots activists in the St. Louis, Missouri area to respond to Israel’s devastating war on Gaza in the winter of 2008-09 and advocates for freedom from Israeli occupation, equality for Palestinians and Israelis, and justice for Palestinian refugees. We question what factors contributed to this decision to censor the panel. Shouldn’t an institution dedicated to intellectual inquiry and research be open to all viewpoints?

Our conversations leading to this panel demonstrate that we have much to learn from one another. Our stories of oppression and resistance are understood by us all. We recognize the overlapping state and economic forces that contribute to our trauma. While our histories and struggles are unique, deep in our hearts we know that no one is free until everyone is free. This attempt to divide us hurts us deeply and must be condemned.

We call on all people of conscience and heart  to join us in telling the newly dubbed “Selective History Museum” that their decision to silence us is wrong and contributes to the deep racial divisions in St. Louis. Join us to tell the Museum that justice is not selective and solidarity means we must stand together. We invite you to join us on Thursday, March 19 at 7 pm in front of the “Selective History Museum” at 5700 Lindell Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63112 for a press conference and presentation of a plan of action to hold the Museum accountable for its shameful decision.

AltaVoz

Organization for Black Struggle

Latinos en Axion STL

Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America

Declaración de Solidaridad con el Comité de Palestina en St. Louis

El Panel llamado “Desde Ferguson a Ayotzinapa a Palestina: Acción Solidaria y Colectiva” estaba planeada para este jueves 19 de Marzo en el Museo de Historia de Missouri (Missouri History Museum ) ayer, el Museo de Historia de Missouri informa a los organizadores del panel en el Museo no podrá llevarse a cabo a menos que el tema de Palestina así como la participación del Comité de Solidaridad de Palestina en St. Louis (St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committe fueran removidos del panel.  Nosotros, los que abajo firmamos, condenamos el silenciamiento de una parte de nuestra comunidad y este descarado intento de dividir a las comunidades de color. En vez de hablar de solidaridad, nos encontramos ahora y en solidaridad rechazando las demandas del Museo de Historia de Missouri (Missouri History Museum.) Nosotros apoyamos a nuestros aliados Palestinos y estamos posponiendo el panel original hasta que encontremos una ubicación alternativa que podamos confirmar.

El panel estaba organizado para explorar las intersecciones en las distintas luchas. Estamos desconcertados por la decisión del Museo, una institución financiada con fondos públicos, para censurar un discurso. El tema de Palestina ha sido por mucho tiempo callado y es necesario ser escuchado. El Comité de Solidaridad de Palestina en St. Louis (PSC) fue formado en el 2009 por un grupo de activistas comunes en el área de St. Louis, Missouri para responder a la guerra de Israel contra Gaza en el invierno del 2008 -2009 y aboga por la libertad dela ocupación Israelí, igualdad para los Palestinos e Israelitas, y justicia por los refugiados Palestinos. Cuestionamos que factores contribuyen a esta decisión de censurar el panel. ¿No debería una institución dedicada a la investigación y a la investigación intelectual a estar abiertos a todos los puntos de Vista?

Nuestra conversación de llevar a cabo este panel demuestra qué todavía tenemos mucho que aprender los unos de los otros. Nuestras historias de opresión y resistencia son entendidas por todos nosotros, Nosotros reconocemos que las fuerzas estatales y económicas que soplan contribuyen a nuestro trauma. Mientras nuestras historias y luchas son únicas, en lo profundo de nuestros corazones sabemos que nadie es libre hasta que todos seamos libres. Este intento por dividirnos duele profundamente y debe ser condenado.

Hacemos un llamado a todas las personas de conciencia a unirse a nosotros en la recién denominada “El Selectivo Museo de Historia ” que su decisión de silenciarnos está mal y contribuye a las divisiones raciales profundas en St. Louis. Únete a nosotros para decirle al Museo que la justicia no es selectiva y que solidaridad significa que debemos estar unidos. Te invitamos a acompañarnos el Jueves, Marzo 19 a las 6:30pm en frente del “Selectivo Museo de Historia” Localizado en el 5700 Lindell Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63112 para una conferencia de prensa y presentación de un plan de acción para exigirle cuentas al Museo por esta vergonzosa decisión.

Alta Voz

Organización for Black Struggle

Latinos En Axion STL

St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee of Latin America

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Mexico Solidarity Network – St. Louis Tour

This month, IFCLA is hosting a speaking tour featuring Luz Rivera Martinez of the Consejo Nacional Urbano Campesino (CNUC). Luz will speak about her 20 years of experience constructing autonomy, organizing outside the electoral system, and resisting genetically modified corn while protecting millennia-old varieties. Her talk will have important lessons for anyone interested in women’s, peasant, and labor movements. There will be two opportunities to see Luz present at SLU (Feb. 25) Wash U (Feb. 26).Image

Mexico Solidarity Network in St. Louis

IFCLA and the Mexico Solidarity Network present:

“Sowing Struggle: Social movements and the future of corn in Tlaxcala, Mexico” featuring Luz Rivera Martinez of the Consejo National Urbano Campesino (CNUC). 

Luz will speak about her 20 years of experience constructing autonomy, organizing outside the electoral system, and resisting genetically modified corn while protecting millennia-old varieties. Her talk will have important lessons for anyone interested in women’s, environmental, peasant, and labor movements.

In the early 1990s, Luz established CNUC and has since worked tirelessly to demand government accountability, defend family farms, and build a strong community. The CNUC has a long history of disposing of corrupt leaders, democratizing the budget, coordinating community-driven infrastructure projects, including peoples’ history in education, and expanding access to healthcare.

There will be two opportunities to attend presentations:

February 25, 5:30 p.m. – Baer-Fuller Lecture Hall, Saint Louis University

February 26, 6:00 p.m. – Brown 118, Washington University 

Chavez’s Legacy: Pt 2

Hugo Chávez Frías died at age 58 on March 5.  He was the dominant personality in Latin American politics over the past fifteen years. First, with the failed coup of 1992, which raised questions about the compatibility of neoliberal, free market economic policies with democracy; then, with his landslide election to the Venezuelan presidency in December 1998, he put himself at the leading edge of what has been called the “Pink Wave” – the rise of leftists to power after years in the wilderness.   

Chávez has to share some of that “glory” with Brazil’s Lula, and his career was a reflection, not just a cause, of Latin America’s left turn.  Still, he helped pull Latin America farther left than Lula could possibly have done alone and, backed by oil export power, he took initiatives that are unlikely to disappear simply because of his passing.

His most significant accomplishments at home are several. His leadership was indispensable to accomplishing the reincorporation of the masses of Venezuelans into politics and reducing poverty. He recovered national sovereignty over the subsoil wealth, the oil. 

Internationally, Chávez was the architect of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an economic integration scheme that really is an alternative to the laissez faire, neoliberal model promoted by the US. He championed the emergence of several new security and economic cooperation organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean.  On the international stage, he provided the crucial leadership to revitalize OPEC, while at the same time he provided an energy lifeline to many countries — and to some poor communities in the United States – with discounts on Venezuelan oil.

While he accomplished a significant redistribution of the oil wealth, significantly lowered poverty rates, and introduced new participatory institutions into Venezuela, he at times polarized the country with Manichean rhetoric and amassed more power in his own hands than is healthy for democracy.  High rates of violence, a dysfunctional justice system, and corruption remain significant problems. His absence will now test the viability of the new participatory institutions that function well in some parts of the country, but struggle in others.

What is next? His chosen successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, should win the snap election (within 30 days) easily. The greater challenge facing the Bolivarian Revolution is consolidating the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). That party must now develop the institutional capability to choose candidates and leaders, formulate programs, and resolve internal conflicts without the personal (and personalist) authority of the populist caudillo. This can happen – the experience of Peronism in Argentina is proof.

Another big challenge will be oil policy.  Will oil minister Rafael Ramirez, strongly committed to OPEC and national control over the industry, keep his job?  Can the country cut its spiraling domestic consumption?  Can an extractive industry operate compatibly with those progressive provisions in the Bolivarian Constitution that enhance the rights of indigenous people?

Chávez steadfastly and effectively defended Venezuela’s right to have economic and political relations with other nations on its own terms.  In some instances, he went beyond exercising that sovereign right to more a questionable embrace of leaders whose record on political pluralism, rights, economic inclusion and democracy contradict the Bolivarian ideals that he espoused. 

The Chávez legacy is likely to be debated as long as the history of the Venezuelan nation is written.

Chavez’s political opposition faces challenges of its own. Chavez was a point of unity not just for the left in Venezuela, but for the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). The MUD probably will unite around the candidacy of Henrique Capriles again, but should he lose, any number of ambitious politicians will try to move to the front of the coalition.

Capriles has been deft in commenting on Chávez’s illness and more recently on his death. He expressed condolences and carefully avoided offending the sensibilities of the admirers of Chávez.  However, in the eastern, affluent suburbs, noisy celebrations marked the announcement of Chávez’s passing.  Such ostentatious insensitivity to the feelings of the majority only make it harder for Capriles to convince less committed Chávez voters, whom he needs to attract, that the MUD can be trusted not to dismantle the policies from which they benefit.

Chávez’s legacy in Venezuela is likely to be debated as long as historians try to write about his life and times. Whenever Venezuelans are asked, “What do you think of Chávez? “the answer will tell you something about their political views. For now, he has left behind his earthly pursuits and stepped into the realm of mythology.

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Contributed by Daniel Hellinger, a professor of Political Science and International Relations at Webster University. Daniel Hellinger is a Fulbright Scholar who holds a Ph. D. in political science from Rutgers University. He has been quoted in such media as The New York Times,the Financial Times, the Associated Press and the Christian Science Monitor. Hellinger is president of the advisory board for the Center for Democracy in America, an organization that promotes understanding between U.S. and Venezuelan decision makers. This article was previously published on the Caracas Connect, a website of the Center for Democracy in the Americas.

Chavez’s Legacy: Pt 1

Mixed emotions were expressed when it was announced that President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela died on Tuesday, March 5th. Chávez, known for his bombastic rhetoric against the United States, established himself as the leading figure of the Latin American Left.  He was elected on the promise of the ‘third way,’ a blend between socialism and capitalism, and he brought many changes to Venezuela during his fourteen years of power.  With his death, Chávez is leaving behind a mixed legacy that deserves to be examined before predictions are made about the outcome of the special presidential election that must be held within the next 30 days according to Venezuelan law.

Optimism surrounded Chávez’s first election in 1998. The Venezuelan public rallied around the charismatic leader’s platform of improving the quality of life in a country known for political corruption, high crime rates, and immense wealth disparity. Upon taking office, Chávez held a referendum on changing the Venezuelan constitution adding in necessary human rights protections. Such provisions garnered overwhelming support from the public that wanted a fresh start for democracy. The people then voted in favor of the constitution, confirming Chávez’s widespread popular support and unsurprisingly, reelected him to another six-year term in 2000.

Not everyone was enchanted with Chávez’s government’s policies, however. He faced a military coup in 2002, similar to the one he staged against then President Carlos Andrés Pérez as an army Lt. Col. in 1992. That same year, Chávez also faced a large strike from the country’s state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA). The repercussions against the dissenters in both cases were swift and harsh that drew a distinct line between his loyal supporters (Chavistas) and the opposition. This was just a hint of things to come. Over time the Venezuelan government continued to violate its own human rights protections and prosecuted those who criticized Chávez and his agenda.

To solidify his power over the opposition, he and his allies in the National Assembly added seats to the Supreme Court and filled them with loyal Chavistas. This court made its support of the government’s agenda its top priority, regularly ruling in favor of the government and against the opposition, dissenters, and non-governmental organizations, including human rights organizations. In the 2005 elections, Chavista loyalists won all of the seats in the National Assembly because the opposition boycotted the elections alleging corruption and fraud. A year later, Hugo Chávez was re-elected to the presidency with a solid majority (63%) of the vote. While the elections were democratic, concerns about fraud and suppression of opposition were well documented.

With his allies in firm control of the legislature, Chávez received powers to legislate by decree for 18 months. During this time period, he began a wide sweeping plan to create a socialist state. He nationalized Venezuela’s largest private electric company and curtailed free speech by signing an agreement for a state take-over of Venezuela’s largest telecommunications company. He also refused to renew the broadcasting license of Radio Caracas Television—the country’s oldest private media network after the media outlet had aired a video of Chávez’s energy minister advising his employees at PDVSA to quit their jobs if they did not support the government. At the end of 2007, the Venezuelan people voted against Chávez-proposed amendments to the constitution, but that did not stop his populist agenda. To the dismay of the local and global business communities he announced the nationalization of the state’s cement industry and the country’s largest steel producer.

The Chávez government continued its ambitious agenda by proposing a referendum that would abolish term limits in 2009. The referendum passed, after which Chávez declared he would rule for at least another decade. News about Chávez’s health problems was made public in 2011 amidst the expansion of his populist agenda. Many people and media outlets were distracted by his health concerns instead of evaluating the efficacy of the policies enacted by the government. Meanwhile, human rights activists, indigenous communities, and the press received a crushing blow when Venezuela withdrew from the American Convention on Human Rights in September of 2012. While battling cancer, Hugo Chávez sought re-election in October of 2012 and was able to defeat a younger and charismatic Henrique Capriles. The presidential elections were again tainted by allegations of fraud brought against Chávez and his supporters.

Over the course of his presidency, Chávez was revered by many of the poor whose lives he improved and disdained by the elite, the business community, journalists, and human rights defenders. Using profits from oil production to fund social programs, Chávez’s administration was able to bring many people out of poverty and procure a more equal distribution of income. According to the CIA Factbook, the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, had dropped in Venezuela from nearly .5 in 1998 to .39 in 2011, rivaling only Canada for a more equal distribution of income in the Western Hemisphere. However, the nationalization of oil fields has made the economy more dependent on oil revenue and has made production less efficient with production levels dropping over the past five years. Impending nationalization also threatens direct investment from other foreign countries and corporations.

However, any voice of dissent has been curbed by the ever-decreasing freedom of speech under Chávez. Under his rule, the government has expanded state media coverage from one outlet to six and has significantly marginalized the private media. Outspoken critics were subject to human rights abuses and often jailed. Most famously, Chávez jailed government critic Judge María Lourdes Afiuni in 2009 after her conditional release was granted in accordance with Venezuelan law and was supported by a recommendation from United Nations human rights monitors. Judge Afiuni is still under house arrest at this writing. Chávez also restricted the involvement of the international human rights community within Venezuela when the Supreme Court declared that organizations receiving foreign funding could be tried for treason. The National Assembly also passed legislation that would prohibit organizations that “defend political rights” or “monitor the performance of public bodies” from receiving international funding—their primary, and sometimes only, source of funds. This has made the government less transparent and jeopardizes at-risk portions of society.

In relation to the upcoming election, Hugo Chávez did handpick a successor, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro. The opposition candidate from this past October’s presidential election, Henrique Capriles, is Maduro’s likely opponent. Loyalty to the Chavista movement and the “sympathy” vote have been cited by some analysts as potential factors that could affect the outcome of the upcoming special election. While these are important considerations, the most important factors that the Venezuelan people will weigh at the polls are their personal experiences under the Chávez government and their current quality of life.

 

Contributed by Max Ivan Rava, an affiliate of the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America, Latin Americanist, and policy analyst.