Brother Barack, Comrade Chavez

By Raffique Shah
Sunday, April 19th 2009

Barack Obama and Hugo ChavezBY the time this column appears in print the Summit will be almost over. The 34 heads of governments will have had their say, hopefully in a civil manner. Hugo Chavez has indicated he would insist on the US trade blockade of Cuba be addressed in the document. Canada, too, is not happy with it, albeit for other reasons. What I found distasteful about the media pre-Summit hype was the focus on Chavez and US President Barack Obama at the expense of other leaders.

Brazil’s Lula de Silva is, for me, maybe the most important president attending the Summit. Besides the reality that his country is poised to become a global economic powerhouse in the near future, it is home to what has been described as “the lungs of Earth”, the Amazon forest. No discussion on global warming can exclude Brazil, and, to a lesser extent, countries like Guyana, Venezuela and several in Central America that are also blessed with vast swaths of tropical forests.

But since the media and most people see the Summit as a Barack-Hugo showdown, I shall address some issues that have cast long shadows over these two charismatic leaders. The first is respect for the sovereignty of nations.

Traditionally, the US being the world’s biggest consumer nation (note well, not the biggest producer), and the mightiest military power, has thrown its weight around for far too long. That was accepted yesterday, before the global recession that is rooted in American financial delinquency triggered a contagion that adversely affected the entire world. Today, the US is mired in debt so deep, we all feel for President Obama whose job it is to clean up the Aegean-stables mess his predecessors excreted.

To be fair to him, Obama has tackled this problem head on. Whether his trillion-dollar stimulus would work is left to be seen. But he has come down hard on the bandits who are stealing even from the bailout-pot, those who believe it’s their right to live the good life at the expense of ordinary Americans and poverty-stricken people and nations around the world. His plan to use most of the money to “put America back to work” would, if properly monitored, address that country’s ageing infrastructure and realign its productive priorities. His alternative energy thrust is laudable.

More important, the President has not assumed the arrogance that typified his predecessors. He speaks as an equal, even if he remains the first among equals. Chavez faced similar problems when he first came to power. There are too many people who point to poverty levels in Venezuela and cast blame on Hugo’s socialist policies. But poverty in that oil-rich nation was institutionalised by the capitalist policies of his predecessors. If anything, Hugo, like Barack, has started programmes that are lifting the poor out of their misery, focussing on education, health, housing and utilities. Should he remain in power for another ten years, I think Venezuela will be a far better country than it was ten years ago.

The other contentious issue is that of the exclusion of Cuba from the Summit. Almost all the leaders attending the Summit see this as an aberration much the way they view the US economic blockade that has served only to strangle Cuba. Barack has made some pre-Summit concessions, easing the travel ban and remission of money. He needs to do two things more: lift the blockade and get the hell out of Guantanamo. The issue is not the prison: it is one of Cuba’s sovereignty over its own land.

Realistically, Brother Barack cannot effect these dramatic though justifiable changes overnight. Bear in mind he won the presidential elections by a few percentage points, and worse, check on the rise of the “White Right” that is undermining his presidency every which way. These neo-cons will stop at nothing to regain ascendency in America. Do not rule out attempts on Obama’s life. Comrade Chavez knows that. In fact, he has been a victim of the “right” in his country, and intervention by US agents.

He should therefore cut the Brother some slack, allow him time to prove his bona fides. To exclude Cuba from the OAS, hence the Summit, on the basis that it is not a democratic country is hypocritical. How come America is trading with, and coddling, China? Is there a “democratically elected” government there? What about Vietnam, which now has trade and travel arrangements with the USA? Or Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries where feudalism remains intact?

There are no valid reasons for excluding Cuba from the OAS or any other hemispheric organisation. This is what riles Comrade Chavez, as it does most of the leaders who attended the Summit. It is an issue that must be resolved sooner rather than later. Brother Barack would win global admiration if he were to dismantle the blockade and return Guantanamo to Cuba during his first term in the White House. Nothing less is acceptable to those who seek a just world, a world without war, a world in which all men (and women) who were born equal are allowed to enjoy that equality.

10 thoughts on “Brother Barack, Comrade Chavez”

  1. I want to raise to points Mr. Shah
    It is often said that Mr. Obama is undermined by the “white right”. It gives the impression of an otherwise right-thinking(no pun intended)man without a conscious commitment to US imperialistic agenda among other things and some very right-wing perspectives regarding domestic and foreign policy who is being undermined by some group who is almost diametrically opposed to his “real” agenda. I do not think that Obama’s conscious choices(whether or not strategic and in the interest of winning the Presidency) before and after winning the presidency support this view. I think it grossly inaccurate to make an analogy between the Chavez and Obama in terms of problems with the “right” in their countries. I find it difficulty to distinguish Obama from a supposedly distinct “right” in his country.

    Secondly, when America speaks of using the existence of “democracy” as a basis for having or not having relations with other countries. It needs to disabuse itself there also of its delusion, arrogance and dishonesty. The US and the current president continues arrogantly touting a particular structure of running elections as democracy. Its own house has to be corrected and its conception of democracy needs to show the ideals of democracy including a country’s right to their self-determination and creating their own models of democracy. The American populace itself does not believe America to be democratic. What greater indictment is there. Vox populi

    Noam Chomsky interviewed by Tom Morello
    Summer, 1996

    TM: First question is, in this election year, I thought we would talk a little bit about democracy. One of the unquestionable ideas that were force fed from our first days in school is that we do live in a democracy. In your opinion, in what sense is our society democratic?

    NC: Well, I should say that if that is true an awful lot people don’t believe it. A Gallup poll for years has been regularly asking people who they think the government works for, and it has usually been running about 50% saying “the few and the special interests, not the people.” Last year it went up to 82%.

  2. Raffique’s points are well taken Media hype for The Summit was driven by the Obama Chavez “Faceoff” that the press intendedto ine for all its worth. Let us see what happened instead. Pes. Chavez flw in unannounced, via Chaguaramus, and avoided the Airport congestion. At the hyatt, pres. Obama arrived quietly via a back entrane. (US presidents tend to do that after Reagan, it lets their Secret Cervice breathe easier). This gave Chavez the media spotlight at the front entrance. Thenn at the end of the conference, Pres. obam held court on the “rooftop” of theHilton, letting eveyone see our beautiful hills.

    The Police in TnT ,in conjunction with Immigration adopted a no-nonsense attitude to demonstrations, and trouble makers from abroad were sent away.

    This third item helped diffuse possible tension. Media rush to demonstrations, crowds rush there too, recipe for disaster.

    Thus the stag e was clear for two man-rt to exist in one hole for three days, and they succeeded.

    Now, if the Americas are about Democracy, why is it the peopleof Nanavut in Northern Cnada are not allowed as members? They have sacrosnct territory, laws and a fla of their own.

    Obama and Chavez both signal a ner era in Latin America.”The south lso matters”is a real issue. Progress can be maede by the next Summit. A vote of a two thirds majority could be taken, to seat Cuba as a member nation. Other regimes of dubious legality- Fujimoro’s Peru, Pinochet’s Chile, and the Anti-Sandinistas people in Nicaragua all have attended meetings.

    The agenda of the OAS cannot be driven by the USA and the North American media.It is time for a simple vote on seating Cuba.

  3. You can really tell when your argument is on shaky ground when you have to depend on status quo emperor 80 year old Jewish Linguist Professor Chomsky . Tell you what Nkrumah Lucien , I want you to take a chance and make quarter of the comments that Chomsky made over the years on his country USSA or ancestral home Israel, and see how long you’ll survive before you were placed in chains and locked in an asylum ward.
    As student ,one is free to humor comedians such as the good Professor while you are en route to the acquisition of a piece of educational document call a degree/ diploma, as this is expected. However do not fall into the trap of taking these capitalist opportunist any more serious than the power elites they like to feign disgust over . Tell me of a political system that you feel is worth emulating , that would have someone that looks like Obama be in charge of their country. Pick your poison from Japan, China, India, Germany, Russia, Pakistan, England, Australia, Canada , France, Saudi Arabia , Israel ,Holland, Brazil, Cuba?

    White America tend to loose very little sleep over electing the last President that most historians today would say was the dumbest the country has ever seen in it’s entire history. I choose not to deny the veracity of such astute opinions, as the evidence is clear based on the economic and political chaos that he left the country in after taking over from Clinton who left a surplus.
    We need to curb this penchant for ‘paralysis by analysis’ , and show some confidence in the new head Don Mr. O , at least until 20012.
    Notice how the Right wing nuts are scampering about , jumping from issue to issue like headless chickens as they attempt to find their ways politically. These range from CIA stewardships ,gay rights , wars, abortion ,taxation , education, immigration , offshore drilling/ energy , nuclear security , international diplomacy merits , or domestic and foreign conglomerate’s behaviors.

  4. Greetings Neal
    I do appreciate your comment and I am not a follower of Chomsky, much less a blind follower, however I do think he shares some useful perspectives on certain issues as well has helps to put them in a wider historical context.
    I am not able to follow exactly which of my points who addressed. I would appreciate if you would do that so we all can benefit. My views on Obama and U.S “democracy” are not based solely or primarily on Noam Chomsky’s views nor purely on the perspective and assessments of others but based on my assessment of information I have been exposed to. I do not have a basis to invest the confidence that you do in Mr. O as you say, but you do have a right to your opinion, based on whatever information you have been exposed to. Likewise U.S “democracy.

  5. Interesting our American Presidenta and his meeting with other leaders in South America and Central.Although dont agree with this President of the United States of America and his apologizing to the world for everything American he is doing many things to change even if it isnt that good of change. The real change that needs though to take place is for peoples hearts of all nations to be changed from sin to God our Creator by faith in his Son,The Lord Jesus Christ.If any man be in Christ old things are passed away,behold,all things are become new,the Holy Bible,Gods word says.He alone was born of a virgin,lived a sinless life,and died for all our sins against God on the cross 2000 years ago. He was buried,and rose from the dead the third day.He was seen of men,and went back up to heaven.To have Gods gift of eternal life we must repent of our sins and trust him alone to forgive our sins and save our souls from hell and take us to his heaven. Thank You,very much, Sincerely;

  6. A wonderful and very balance article as usual Uncle Shah. In reference to the media hype over Chavez and Barrack. The latter is understandable after what the 1st MBA President of these United States along with his diabolical sidekick Cheny subjected them to over the last 8 years. He cousin O is a novelty , whose stated intention though noble ,are very challenging unless the gutless leaders that comprise most of our neighbors are willing to step out of their comfort zones and take actions. Do not expect too much , shift on that score especially when it comes to Haiti or Cuba ,or meaningful security or environmental issues and matters of concrete economically viable sustainable development-. You wonder why? Simple, neocolonialism as a tool has worked well for European as an effective mechanism of latter day control. What are you saddled with? Idiots professing to be leaders like we have here in sweet T&T aka Rainbow Country. Many are claiming pride in being independent, when the Queen and 90 year old Law Lords are still dictating who is a criminal in our country, and our Caribbean Court of Appeal struggles for recognition. Go figure. Need I mention Baker and his political defenders? Let me see a few leaders across the Caribbean take the lead and openly develop bold bilateral relationships with Cuba , or demand that Aristide be reinstated in defiance of the USA their benefactor and I would know that they are serious about real engagements with the USA .
    I am fortunate to work for the past 19 years in an organization that gave me the opportunity to see leaders from each state of the global North/ South divide at play daily , and it is amazing how most cannot recognize why wanton neglect, destruction, waste, mayhem , abuse , exploitation , injustices still exist as outdated , social economic and political systems prevails via skillful manipulations by shady global power elites .I know why the latter would like the status quo , but as for the latter , I need help. Can you imagine what can be the result if the ACP nations in collaboration with friends from the Asian continent were to work together what they can do against the push of so called global hegemonic rivals ?

    I would say that it should be mandatory that every politician learn how to play and perfect the game at chess, it can be very useful. Chavez must jig and dance to his domestic audience, and so must the new President with much more to loose. Need we refer to his wife armless sleeve Jackie O- like outfit , and her hugging the Queen during his Buckingham Palace visit, or his bowing to the Saudi King as a sign of respect , and finally ,daring to shake the proffered hands and smiling with Chavez as his predecessor Bush did? Patience is of essence to se if this President possess the ‘cohenes’ to follow through on his campaign agenda. I’ll tell you what if the US with it’s stagnant economy stays on the sideline and not quickly start to capitalize on deeper relations with Latin America particularly Venezuela, that economy will remain in the doldrums for a long time with Iran, Russia and perhaps China getting right in. Take a look at my commentaries via the following:-

    Nkrumah , I know that you are not a blind follower of Chomsky , and fully agree that he posses quite a useful alternative perspectives that is worth knowing and assessing. I have read all his books and listened to 90 % or more of his interviews . When I look at individuals like him or cousin Obama for example. What I am really doing is trying to see how I can and others can ‘piggyback’ their successes by utilizing similar strategies. Chomsky is a master media and manipulator , and so is Obama at playing the political game . The former is an aged yet influential academic guru with only words and theories to play with . The latter has political power . I too would be watching to see where his heart is . Remember he is going up against a 233 year historical tradition , my young friend , and needs support and encouragements.
    No need to remind you that the joker who wrote the glowing Constitution that said “all men are created equal,” raped and impregnated his female slaves , still viewed them as non humans, and lacked even the decency to free them upon leaving office. Two centuries later the great grand kids had to go to court to get some recognition as off seeds of the immoral writing genius and 3rd President ,Thomas Jefferson.
    Back to Obama , here is the master point guard at work :-He depicted himself as a skinny half black kid from Hawaii , but went to the best schools from birth , had two PhDs parents, used the fact that his useless father abandoned him to pen a bestselling memoir and remained motivated all the way to the Presidency . He had senior executive white grandparents who raised him in splendor , went to south side of Chicago, married an Ivy leaguer like him self with just the correct hue for local consumption, got involved with authentic black liberation theology -with Rev Wright the head guru -for most of his mature life , then dump the Reverent when on the verge of success . He ignored most aspect of his whiteness unless politically expedient , played basket ball , did photo up with Hip hop and star Rappers , and hung out with local hall of fame cricketers for good measure in good old T&T . He lived in a 2million dollar mansion on the better side of Chicago as a Senator , and still able to come across as a rags to riches poor liberal underdog .To use a sporting commentary analogy Nkrumah- “you just don’t want to sleep on this guy.” Politically that is – yes we can is more than a catch phrase , I want to think. Again the task ahead is difficult , but as the once beautiful and relevant Toni Braxon said in song I “can breath again.” So can you and other political and socially conscious across the globe , for a progressive leader is the moral leader of the free world .

    Stay up. Let’s keep them honest .Your humble voice of reason.

  7. I read Neal’s comment and was not amused.
    Media manipulator! Why would any educated person dis all of Chomsky’s works? I wonder what Chomsky did to Neal to be the subject of such drivel. Also, I wonder if this is what is referred to as anti-intellectualism. Perhaps if more Trinbagonians read Chomsky’s books they would realise that they are being manipulated daily by Manning and Panday. Reading Chomsky’s books could also result in Trinbagonians making informed decisions with respect to voting and elections. Something tells me that the Manning apologist might disagree strongly.

  8. When I wrote my response Martin , the objective was to educate and or inform the sleeping and confused masses like your self , and not amuse. We have enough comedians lying around whose sole intentions are to titillate and distract with nonsense disguised as serious discourse on a daily basis. Anti- intellectualism eh? Let me see if I get you correctly, I said that I read all his books and listened to 90% of his interview but was sensible enough unlike some dopey , pimple face non working college kid enthused by every utterances that came out of the mouth of the crafty Professor , and I fit this characterization.
    Very well then I now choose to observe how the mind of an intellectual functions. Firstly you said , Trinidadians as a whole can benefit more from reading more of the works of this great American author, as it would curb this daily manipulation menace that they are subjected to from the likes of Manning and Panday. Secondly, you said that one of the ways that change could occur is that they’ll make informed decisions come election and voting time. Now pay close attention folks at this particular punch line that finally exposed Martin as a fraud. It’s when he assert that only “the Manning apologist might disagree strongly.” Can you believe that I was one the verge of stretching my hand across the so called divide , but then ran smack into his tribal logic and its Walla! What it is you are saying? They are both bad, but however the 75 year old corrupt ,nepotistic, drunken master and party dictator , is much better than a 63 three old nepotistic, egomaniac , party dictator .One cares only for his local tribe , and individual family, the other cares about his regional tribe only and his family. I am lost .
    You see guys like Martin never ceases to amaze me, . They refer to you as dumb , mainly because you think and question dogma, be they from the left or right. They view you as some misguided bohemian racist due to the fact that you look suspiciously at cultural traditions that are merely status quo class strategies aimed at empowering a few to ensure continued subjugation of others . They view the collective masses as stupid for falling into the trap set by fervent neocolonialist leaders and so vote their fears and narrow interest. Most importantly they wish to destroy bridges and roads without even giving a thought as to what they are prepared to replace it with.
    Now come on ,who really gives a hoot about the opinions of a 80 year old millionaire MIT Jewish Linguist tenured Professor ? Should we not be putting our heads together to effect changes in our own country and backyard so that our frustrated fellow nationals can begin to see the real fruits of the toils and sacrifices their wonderful ancestors have placed in this country so that it can one day assume its rightfully position as a economic and politically vibrant emerging nation?
    Good luck in your studies Martin, you have what 80 credits? Hang in there son, 40 more to go. If it gets your rocks off then go ahead with the cultish mantra and adulations of Chomsky . He is the greatest human being since Solomon was sleeping with the Queen of Sheba. Didn’t some one once say that too much education could be a dangerous thing? I prefer to add purposeless education .
    What’s your motivation , Martin? You are correct, as far as we know the Opposition leader only had daughters so do not expect to get a call to run for a safe seat when you leave NYU in 2012. You are not related to Hazel Manning so don’t expect to get any calls to hold governmental portfolios that should be given to much more qualified and or competent individuals . You are then stuck to coming home yearly to amuse yourself in boring , tasteless ,and sometimes useless Carnivals escapades ,so as to sing and shout in praise to yourself and gullible foreigners , that your country Sweet T&T aka Rainbow Nation is nice ,and indeed a paradise. Keep dreaming , or get ready for action with progressives in pursuit of an authentic revolution my son. Let’s keep them honest.
    Your humble voice of reason.

  9. Neal- Why does Martin get to attend NYU but I can only attend Saskatchewan Community College? I was under the impression that I was UWI material.

  10. Neal, again your whole line of ‘reasoning’ here is asinine, to say the least. I wonder if you read any of Chomsky’s books. If you did, then it would be amazing how you would be investing so much time trying to sell your ego as the voice of reason while ‘dissing’ him.

    People can learn from anyone and especially those who have invested much time in research. People cannot be truly educated if they limit their sources for research and consideration. You are dismissing Chomsky, not because his views are wrong (at least you have not shown how he is wrong) but because he is old and maybe other things that are not clear in your comment.

    You invest so much time attacking others as if that makes you appear smart, and quite often, your position is so much worse than the people who you attack.

    Claiming that you are the “humble voice of reason” is inconsistent with someone who is really humble. In fact, to make such a claim about yourself is testimony of your arrogance and false sense of self-indulgence.

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