How not to manufacture patriotism

30 January 2005 |

by TJS George

Was anyone patriotically inspired by this year's Republic Day speeches? Or any year's for that matter. Or by any of the Independence Day speeches over the years. These have become mere rituals. Rituals do not inspire.

This is not necessarily the fault of our leaders. Speeches that lift the souls of listeners have been heard only rarely in history. The occasion, the mood, the speaker's personality and convictions are all decisive in giving a speech lasting impact.

As Macaulay's children know, Edmund Burke made many a memorable speech. But none of them acquired the stamp of greatness that a short speech by Abraham Lincoln did _ the Gettysburg address. Pre-independence India bristled with great scholars, orators and visionaries. None made the impact Vivekananda did at the Parliament of Religions with the opening words, "Sisters and brothers of America .... I thank you in the name of the mother of religions.

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan could hold audiences spellbound around the world with his extempore expositions of Indian philosophy. Yet on the historic night of August 14-15, 1947, his speech at the Constituent Assembly was a tame affair with tame sentences like "History and legend will grow around this day." Minutes later, one of the greatest speeches of all time reverberated from the same hall with Jawaharlal Nehru's "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially."

That became a classic speech because Nehru's words were filled with the passion of his own experience as a sufferer in the battle for freedom. Radhakrishnan passed through no crucible of suffering, so his words carried wisdom, but no passion. Nehru matched himself in his Last Will, especially where he went lyrical with, "The Ganga is the river of India, beloved of her people ... ever changing, ever flowing and yet ever the same Ganga."

With their immortal speeches, Lincoln and Nehru proved the irrelevance of ghost writers. Words that touch other people's souls can only come as reflections of one's own inner worth. This was borne out again by John Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address. Every president since has tried to imitate him and his play on apposite opposites, like "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." None succeeded because only Kennedy had the passion of searing personal experience.

Even Kennedy's opponents were moved by sentences like, "Let the word go forth from this time and place that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans." That new generation was described by him as "born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage." Those words, which Kennedy wrote himself, were a distilled expression of his own life as a war hero who had faced death more than once and lost many close relatives in battle.

When the force of belief shaped by experience is absent, a leader's speech merely becomes a bunch of words. That's what happened to George Bush's inaugural speech. As a man who had used family connections to dodge war service, he carried no conviction, not to mention moral authority, when he talked of sacrifice in a war against unseen enemies.

Words are a mirror; Bush used them as a mask. His inaugural address, like our Republic Day rituals, merely proved that manufactured speeches cannot manufacture patriotism.

Federal Johns hire hookers


President Bush has told subordinates to stop seducing phony "journalists" with cash.

What's depressing is that he needed to: depressing that government officials would sink so low and more depressing that people who pretend to be journalists would sink even lower.

The feds have armies of PR people on the payroll. They hire even more. And every administration has thousands of loyal political appointees sprinkled through the bureaucracy to pitch the president's line.

That massive PR firepower wasn't enough for some Bush officials. They also wanted spokesmen who appeared to be independent and honest - who appeared to be working for their readers and viewers, not for paying politicians.

These officials created phony "news" programs that pushed administration policies. They sent these programs to TV stations dim enough, desperate enough or dishonest enough to air them.

Other officials made outright cash payments to corruptible opinion mongers. The most egregious example was the $241,000 that columnist and broadcaster Armstrong Williams accepted to push Mr. Bush's No Child Left Behind program.

By comparison, columnist Maggie Gallagher was a piker, taking $21,500 directly from the government for assorted services that just happened to promote the president's "pro-marriage" policies. She took another $20,000 in a roundabout deal involving a private group.

Mr. Williams and Ms. Gallagher say it never occurred to them that taking money from federal officials to betray their readers and viewers was wrong, or that they should have mentioned it to the readers and viewers who thought they were getting unbought opinions.

These people aren't journalists. They're prostitutes. If they had any principles, they'd quit writing and find an honest way to make a living.

Of course, if they had any principles, they wouldn't have sold themselves to the government.

More American Crap!

28 January 2005 |

America, America, America!
Have a fuckin heart!

"There was a time, when the sun was shining bright
So I went down to the beach to catch me a tan.
Then the next thing I knew, a wave 20 feet high
Came and washed your whole country away.
And all at once, you can hear the screaming chinks.
And no one was saved from the wave.
There were Africans drowning, little Chinamen swept away.
You can hear God laughing, 'Swim you bitches swim.'

"So now you're screwed. It's the tsunami,
You better run and kiss your ass away. Go find your mommy.
I just saw her float by, a tree went through her head.
And now your children will be sold. Child slavery.

US radio staff suspended over tsunami song

Stephen Brook
Thursday January 27, 2005

Only days after Rodney Marsh was sacked by Sky Sports over a tsumani joke, the entire staff of a New York radio programme have been suspended indefinitely after thousands of listeners complained about a bad taste tsunami song.

The song was a parody based on the 1985 famine fundraising single, We are the World, and featured lyrics about a woman floating through the water with a tree in her head.

The seven-member morning team at WQHT-FM Hot 97 repeatedly played the song, which also included references to "screaming chinks" and orphaned children "sold into child slavery".

"You can hear God laughing, 'Swim you bitches swim'," was one line in the song.

Another said: "Go find your mommy/I just saw her float by/a tree went through her head/and now the children will be sold to child slavery."

Thousands of listeners protested, complaining it was in poor taste to make fun of the Asian catastrophe, which has claimed the lives of more than 250,000.

Emmis Radio, owner of the station, labelled the song "morally and socially indefensible" but failed to sack the programme staff responsible.

Initially the station did not suspend DJ Tarsha Nicole Jones, who uses the on-air name Miss Jones. Instead, she apologised on-air and said the morning team would donate a week's salary to tsunami relief.

The station acted after listeners demanded Jones be sacked and management decided "stronger action was necessary to demonstrate the severity of the situation".

"All involved, including myself, are ashamed and deeply sorry," said the president of Emmis Radio , Rick Cummings.

"I know the members of the morning team are contrite. They know their actions are inexcusable."

WQHT-FM Hot 97 has been criticised in the past for poor taste.

In 2001 two different morning hosts were suspended after mocking the death of R&B singer Aaliyah in a plane crash.

Sky Sports earlier this week sacked its football pundit Rodney Marsh for making a tasteless joke about the Asian disaster on a phone-in show. He made a pun likening the fans of Newcastle United's football team - known as the Toon Army - to the tsunami.

Where the People Voted Against Fear

27 January 2005 |

by Eduardo Galeano

A few days before the election of the President of the planet in North America, in South America elections and a plebiscite were held in a little-known, almost secret country called Uruguay. In these elections, for the first time in the country's history, the left won. And in the plebiscite, for the first time in world history, the privatization of water was rejected by popular vote, asserting that water is the right of all people.
* * *
The movement headed by President-elect Tabare Vazquez ended the monopoly of the two traditional parties--the Blanco and the Colorado parties--which governed Uruguay since the creation of the universe.

And after each election you would hear this exclamation: ''I thought that we Blancos won but it turns out we Colorados did"--or the other way around. Out of opportunism, yes, but also because after so many years of ruling together, the two parties had fused into one, disguised as two.

Tired of being cheated, this time the people made use of that little-used instrument, common sense. The people asked, Why do they promise change yet ask us to chose between the same and the same? Why didn't they make any of these changes in the eternity they have been in power?

Never had the abyss between the real country and electioneering rhetoric been so evident. In the real country, badly wounded, where the only growth is in the number of emigrants and beggars, the majority chose to cover their ears to block out the oratory of these Martians competing for the government of Jupiter with highfalutin words imported from the moon.

* * *

About thirty or so years ago, the Broad Front (Frente Amplio) sprouted on these southern plains. ''Brother, don't leave,'' the new movement implored. ''There is hope.'' But crisis moved faster than hope, and the hemorrhaging of the country's youth accelerated. The dream of a Switzerland of the Americas ended, and the nightmare of violence and poverty began, culminating in a military dictatorship that converted Uruguay into a vast torture chamber.

Afterward, when democracy was restored, the dominant politicians destroyed the little that remained of the system of production and converted Uruguay into a giant bank. And as is often the case when it is assaulted by bankers, the bank went bust and Uruguay found itself emptied of people and filled with debt.

In all these years of disaster after disaster, we lost a multitude. And as if in a bad joke, not content to just force its youth from the country, this sclerotic system also prohibits them from voting-one of a small number of countries that do so. It seems inexplicable, but there is an explanation: Who would these emigrants vote for? The owners of the country suspect the worst, and with good reason.

In the final act of his campaign, the vice presidential candidate for the Colorado Party announced that if the left won the elections, all Uruguayans would have to dress identically, like the Chinese under Mao.

He was one of the many involuntary publicity agents of the victorious left. Not even the most tireless electoral workers did as much for this victory as the tribunes of the homeland who alerted the population to the imminent danger if democracy were to fall to the tyrannical enemies of freedom and the terrorists, kidnappers, and assassins who oppose democracy. Their attacks were extremely efficient: The more they denounced the devils, the more people voted for hell.

Largely thanks to these heralds of the apocalypse, the left won by an absolute majority, without a runoff. The people voted against fear.

* * *

The plebiscite on water was also a victory against fear. Uruguayans were bombarded with extortion, threats, and lies: A vote against privatizing water will condemn you to a future of sewage-filled wells and putrid ponds.

As in the elections, in the plebiscite common sense triumphed. In their vote, the people asserted that water, a scarce and finite natural resource, must be a right of all people and not a privilege for those who can pay for it. The people also showed they know that sooner rather than later, in a thirsty world, the reserves of fresh water will be as, or more, coveted than oil reserves. Countries that are poor but rich in water must learn to defend themselves. More than five centuries have passed since Columbus. How long can we go on trading gold for glass beads?

Wouldn't it be worthwhile for other countries to put the issue of water to a popular vote? In a democracy, a true democracy, who should decide? The World Bank, or the citizens of each country? Do democratic rights exist for real, or are they just the icing on a poisoned cake?

In 1992, Uruguay was the only country in the world to put the privatization of public companies to a popular vote: 72 percent opposed. Wouldn't it be democratic to do the same in every country?

* * *

For centuries, Latin Americans have been trained in impotence. A pedagogy passed down from the colonial times, taught by violent soldiers, timorous teachers, and frail fatalists, has rooted in our souls the belief that reality is untouchable and that all we can do is swallow in silence the woes each day brings.

The Uruguay of other days was the exception. That Uruguay instituted free public education before England, women's suffrage before France, the eight-hour workday before the United States, and divorce before Spain-seventy years before Spain, to be exact.

Now we are trying to revive this creative energy and would do well to recall that the Uruguay of that sunny period was the child of audacity, and not fear.

* * *

It will not be easy. Implacable reality will promptly remind us of the inevitable distance between the desired and the possible. The left is coming to power in a shattered country, which, in the distant past, was at the vanguard of universal progress but today is one of the furthest behind, in debt up to its ears and subjected to the international financial dictatorship, which doesn't vote but simply vetoes.

Today, we have very little maneuvering room. But what is usually difficult, even impossible, can be imagined and even achieved if we join together with neighboring countries, just as we have joined together with our neighbors.

* * *

In the Broad Front's very first demonstration, which flooded the streets with people, someone shouted, half-joyous, half-scared, ''Let's dare to win.''
Thirty or so years later, it came true.

The country is unrecognizable. Uruguayans, so unbelieving that even nihilism was beyond them, have started to believe, and with fervor. And today this melancholic and subdued people, who at first glance might be Argentineans on valium, are dancing on air.

The winners have a tremendous burden of responsibility. This rebirth of faith and revival of happiness must be watched over carefully. We should recall every day how right Carlos Quijano was when he said that sins against hope are the only sins beyond forgiveness and redemption.

Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan writer and novelist, is the author of "The Open Veins of Latin America," "Memory of Fire," and "Soccer in Sun and Shadow." This article is published with permission of the IPS Columnist Service.

Decorporatising Jawaharlal Nehru University campus

26 January 2005 |

Dear friends,

Kindly mail the text that follows to these email addresses:;;;;;;;

+++++++++++++ snip +++++++++

I support Students' Solidarity and the larger collective, Forum Against Corporatisation, in their fight to reclaim their campus space from big corporations like Nestle and to hand it over to more deserving local entrepreneurs.

Previously local entrepreneurs and those from the socially deprived sections of the society were given preferential access to campus space, but increasingly small businesses are being driven out, and larger corporations welcomed in. Nestle is only one particularly bad example: the company has violated workers' rights and supported the violent suppression of workers' unions in countries like Colombia, Philippines and Thailand; acquired cocoa for its chocolates from plantations in Ivory Coast and Indonesia where the work force is made up of children, who are treated like slaves; and marketed infant formula to poor nations for years at the cost of thousands of infant lives.

I also urge you to read this report from 2002, which does reveal a lot more about Nestle and their hunger for profits - no matter what!:

" Nestle Corporation, which last year earned 5.5 billion dollars in profits is demanding 6 million dollars from Ethiopia, a country facing famine. That over 14 million people are in danger of dying of starvation in a country so poor (an average income of less than $2 per day) that it can't afford to buy enough food on the overabundant world market doesn't seem to bother the world's largest food corporation. Hey, business is business! "

Here is something more potent - and something that should open up the eyes of the powers-that-be in JNU.

" Practices like sending sales reps into hospitals dressed as nurses to promote products to mothers were common place. The pitch was that Nestle's formula was better than breast milk - in fact, any mother that "really" cared about her baby would use Nestle breast-milk substitute. Mothers were often given a free supply of baby formula that lasted just long enough to dry out their own breast milk. These mothers, lacking sanitized water, and with their breast milk now dried up, mixed the formula with the only water they had. The results were predictable. According to the World Health Organisation a child bottle fed using unsafe water is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhea than a breast fed child. 1.5 million children die in this manner each year. "

I am deeply concerned about the increasing corporatisation of JNU, from academic research to the contracting out of basic services, as we do not believe this serves the interests of the students, the local community, or society at large. It only serves the interest of large corporations.

I support the demands of Students' Solidarity and the larger collective, Forum Against Corporatisation, and believe that the Campus Development Committee should scrap the contract with Nestle immediately.

I hope reason would prevail over greed for profits.

+++++++++++++ snip +++++++++

The Granda Kidnapping Explodes


The US / Colombia Plot Against Venezuela


A major diplomatic and political conflict has exploded between Colombia and Venezuela after the revelation of a Colombian government covert operation in Venezuela, involving the recruitment of Venezuelan military and security officers in the kidnapping of a Colombian leftist leader. Following an investigation by the Venezuelan Ministry of Interior and reports and testimony from journalists and other knowledgeable political observers it was determined that the highest echelons of the Colombian government, including President Uribe, planned and executed this onslaught on Venezuelan sovereignty.

Once direct Colombian involvement was established, the Venezuelan government demanded a public apology from the Colombian government while seeking a diplomatic solution by blaming Colombian Presidential advisers. The Colombian regime took the offensive, launching an aggressive defense of its involvement in the violation of Venezuelan sovereignty and, beyond that, seeking to establish in advance, under the rationale of "national security" the legitimacy of future acts of aggression. As a result President Chavez has recalled the Venezuelan Ambassador from Bogota, suspended all state-to-state commercial and political agreements pending an official state apology. In response the US Government gave unconditional support to Colombian violation of Venezuelan sovereignty and urged the Uribe regime to push the conflict further. What began as a diplomatic conflict over a specific incident has turned into a major, defining crises in US and Latin American political relations with potentially explosive military, economic and political consequences for the entire region.

In justifying the kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda, the Colombian leftist leader, the Uribe regime has promulgated a new foreign policy doctrine which echoes that of the Bush Administration: the right of unilateral intervention in any country in which the Colombian government perceives or claims is harboring or providing refuge to political adversaries (which the regime labels as "terrorists") which might threaten the security of the state. The Uribe doctrine of unilateral intervention echoes the preventive war speech, enunciated in late 2001 by President Bush. Clearly Uribe's action and pronouncement is profoundly influenced by the dominance that Washington exercises over the Uribe regime's policies through its extended $3 billion dollar military aid program and deep penetration of the entire political-defense apparatus.
Uribe's offensive military doctrine involves several major policy propositions:

1.) The right to violate any country's sovereignty, including the use of force and violence, directly or in cooperation with local mercenaries.

2.) The right to recruit and subvert military and security officials to serve the interests of the Colombian state.

3.) The right to allocate funds to bounty hunters or "third parties" to engage in illegal violent acts within a target country.

4.) The assertion of the supremacy of Colombian laws, decrees and policies over and against the sovereign laws of the intervened country.

The Uribe doctrine clearly echoes Washington's global pronouncements. While the immediate point of aggression involves Colombia's relations to Venezuela, the Uribe doctrine lays the basis for unilateral military intervention anywhere in the hemisphere. Uribe's doctrine is a threat to sovereignty of any country in the hemisphere: its intervention in Venezuela and the justification provides a precedent for future aggression.

Colombia's adoption and implementation of the extraterritorial policy as part of its strategy of unilateral intervention is not coincidental, as the Colombian security forces have been trained and advised by US and Israeli secret agencies. More directly, through its $3 billion dollar military aid program Washington is in a command-and-control position within all sectors of the Colombian state and thus able to determine the security doctrine of the Uribe regime. More important Uribe has been a long-time, large-scale practitioner of death squad politics prior to his ascendancy to the Presidency and prior to receiving large scale US aid. By borrowing the Bush Doctrine from his patron-state, Uribe has internationalized the terror practices which he has pursued for the past 20 years within Colombia.

Prior to the recent spate of high profile trans-border kidnapping (Trinidad in Ecuador, Granda in Venezuela), the Uribe regime has engaged in frequent interventions, kidnapping and assassinating popular leaders and soldiers from bordering countries, and providing material and political support to would-be 'golpistas', especially in Venezuela. Dozens of Colombian refugees fleeing marauding death squads have been pursued into Venezuela and killed or kidnapped over the past three years by Colombian paramilitary and security forces. Six Venezuelan soldiers were killed by Colombian security forces in an "unexplained" incident. More recently, in 2004, over 130 Colombian paramilitary forces and other irregulars were infiltrated into Venezuela to engage in terrorist violence ­ to trigger action by Venezuelan-US coup-makers. Shortly thereafter Colombian security forces and the US CIA intervened in Ecuador to kidnap a former peace negotiator of the FARC, Colombia's major guerrilla group.

What is new and more ominous is that the Uribe regime's de facto policy of extra-territoriality has been converted into a de jure strategic doctrine of unilateral military intervention. Colombia no longer pretends to be engaged in a "covert" selective policy of violating other countries sovereignty but has publicly declared the supremacy of its laws and the right to apply them anywhere in the world where it unilaterally declares its case for national security. Colombia's gross violations of Venezuelan and Ecuadorian sovereignty is a policy clearly endorsed and dictated at the highest levels of the Colombian state ­ exclusively the prerogative of President Uribe ­ and endorsed at the highest level of the US government by its principal diplomatic spokesperson in Colombia, Ambassador Woods ("We endorse Uribe's action 100%"). The 'Granda incident' is not simply an isolated diplomatic incident which can be resolved through good faith bilateral negotiations. The kidnapping is part of a larger strategy involving preparations ­ ideological, political and military ­ for a large-scale, political-military confrontation with Venezuela.

The enunciation and practice of the Uribe Doctrine has several purposes. One is in line with US and Colombian elite policy: To overthrow the Chavez regime. Chavez opposes the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its plans to invade Iran. In Latin America, Chavez opposes the US-dominated Free Trade of the Americas Pact. Secondly the Uribe doctrine seeks to destroy Cuban-Venezuelan trade ties, in order to undermine the Cuban revolutionary government. Thirdly the Uribe doctrine is aimed at maintaining Venezuela as an exclusive oil exporter to the US ­ at a time when the Chavez government has signed trade agreements to diversify its oil markets to China and elsewhere. Fourthly, and most probably most important from the strict perspective of the Uribe regime's survival, the Colombian government is profoundly disturbed by the positive social impact which the Chavez welfare policies have on the majority of Colombians living in poverty, especially his newly announced agrarian reform, and his defense of national public enterprises (especially the state petroleum company) within the framework of free and democratic institutions. Uribe's austerity policies, his military and paramilitary forces displacement of three million peasants, his promotion of greater and greater concentration of wealth and the slashing of social services, and worse, the systematic long-term large-scale violations of human and democratic rights stand in polar opposition to Venezuela under President Chavez which provides a viable, accessible and visible alternative easily understood by vast numbers of Colombians who migrate to Venezuela. By intervening in Venezuela, by supporting US and its local coup-makers, Uribe hopes to undercut the political appeal of revolutionary politics, whether it takes the form of electoral, guerrilla and /or social movements.

The most immediate purpose of the Uribe doctrine is to defeat the 20,000 person guerrilla armies which control or influence half of Colombia's territory. The purpose of the recent interventions is to pressure neighboring governments to ally themselves with the Colombian death-squads in a regional campaign to resolve the Colombian elites internal problems ­ i.e. the decimation of the opposition to US regional domination. The bombastic "anti-terror" international propaganda campaign of the Uribe regime is an admission of the failure of its internal counter-insurgency campaign. Uribe's accusations that the Venezuelan State is "protecting" or "providing sanctuary to terrorists" is patently false. Uribe provides no systematic evidence. The real purpose is to blackmail the Venezuelan state ­ or its most malleable sectors ­ into abdicating their role as a neutral peace mediators and submitting to the dictates of the Colombian-US security apparatus.

The Uribe regime has been widely recognized as one of the worst practitioners of state terrorism in the world.

Tens of thousands of peasants, social and human rights activists, trade unionists and journalists have been murdered by the security forces ­ the military directly, or via the state financed paramilitary groups. Every day of every year, scores of peasants and critics of the regime are slaughtered. State terror is the defining characteristic of the Uribe regime and its US military advisory and military mission.

Uribe who sends 130 paramilitary forces to terrorize Venezuela, supports a failed violent coup and then provides asylum and material support to the exiled senior members of the coup and who blatantly bribes Venezuelan soldiers to betray their country to perpetuate a kidnapping, accuses Chavez of harboring terrorists and calls for an "international conference" on "terrorism". Uribe's purpose in calling for a regional conference is not to discuss the state terrorism which is endemic to and embedded in his regime (with US backing), but to justify the Uribe doctrine of unilateral intervention and to mobilize other regional US clients in support of its internal war and to pressure the Chavez regime to subordinate itself to Colombia's security doctrine.

Chavez has recognized the growing security threat posed by the kidnapping and has terminated state-to-state economic and military projects and recalled his ambassador from Bogotá. He has proposed to Uribe a bi-lateral meeting of heads of state to resolve differences with regard to the kidnapping and related incidents. But no amount of diplomatic maneuvering on the part of Venezuela's foreign ministry nor aggressive propaganda campaign by the Colombian security state can obviate the fact that the Colombian state is bent on a course of direct military confrontation with Venezuela.
Implication of Uribe Doctrine

The political and military implications of the Uribe Doctrine are an extreme departure from the recognized norms of international law and closely approximate the belligerent practices of imperial satraps. If all countries were the apply the Uribe Doctrine we would face a world of constant wars, conquests and prolonged liberation struggles throughout Latin America.

Explicit in the Uribe Doctrine's claim to militarily intervene across national borders is a state of permanent belligerency. This policy means that every Latin American country must limit its sovereignty according to the Colombian definitions of "national security". This is clearly unacceptable to any independent country, like Venezuela, though the Gutierrez regime in Ecuador has accepted the role of a "second level client" , of the Uribe regime which in turn is a client of the US.

Equally serious, the Uribe Doctrine rejects recognized frontiers, meaning that it arrogates to itself the right to cross national boundaries at will without consulting the countries whose borders it violates. It is a short step from not recognizing borders and national boundaries to annexing adjacent regions for "security" or economic reasons. Colombia has in the recent past (1992) nearly provoked a major war by sending its warships into Venezuelan waters. Uribe's notion of an international ideological war without frontiers is an exact replica of the Bush imperial project, translated into the Andean region. Clearly Uribe aspires to play a sub-imperial role in the Northern region of South America under US tutelage.

The Uribe Doctrine stands as a stark rejection of all United Nation's principles and in violation of international law-which, however, has already been weakened by the acquiescence of most of the major Latin American countries in the US-led invasion of Haiti, the kidnapping of its elected leader (President Bertrand Aristide) and the presence of Latin American colonial occupation forces on the island.

The Colombian threat to Venezuela's sovereignty has been taken by Venezuela's rightwing opposition as a welcome intervention. This was manifest in the Congressional debates following the kidnapping of Granda when opposition members of congress condemned the Venezuelan government's defense of national sovereignty and justified Uribe's intervention in Venezuela.

Washington has provided more military aid to Colombia than all the rest of Latin America combined, and only second to Israel in the world. The US strategy revolves around defeating the guerrilla movement as a first step toward consolidating power in the Andean region and the upper Amazon basin. Once secured this region would become a springboard toward invading and taking over Venezuela and its oil fields. The US, through Uribe, has tripled the size of the Colombian armed forces over the past few years to over 267,000 troops. It has vastly increased its aerial firepower (combat helicopters and fighter planes) and provided the most advanced technological weaponry to detect and track guerrilla movements. Yet the strategy, while massacring thousands of peasant sympathizers and displacing millions of others, has failed to gain any strategic military advantage over the guerrillas. As long as the Colombian regime is tied down by the guerrilla resistance, it can only play a limited role in any military invasion of Venezuela. For Uribe to engage in a US-sponsored invasion of Venezuela is a very risky proposition, opening a large swathe of territory for a guerrilla offensive

The kidnapping of Granda is only the "dress rehearsal" of a larger project of escalating provocations to test the loyalty, discipline and effectiveness of the Venezuelan security system. Washington is probing to see how far it can push Venezuela in surrendering its sovereignty and control over its borders.

Uribe and Washington's effort to drive a wedge between the popular resistance in Colombia and the Chavez government by using the "terrorist issue" as a political club has, in part, backfired , arousing a potent undercurrent of nationalist sentiment in Venezuela, while seriously jeopardizing important sectors of the Colombian economy, including elite classes which normally back Uribe.

Washington and Uribe's proposal for an international conference to discuss the issue of terror is based on their knowledge that most of the Latin American regimes today are eager to serve US interests. During the previous period of sustained economic and political warfare against the elected Chavez government by the authoritarian right, Brazil's Celso Amorin organized a group of countries calling themselves "The Friends of Venezuela" made up of hostile neo-liberal Ibero-Americans leaders, including ex-Presidents Aznar of Spain and Bush of the US (who both supported the failed military coup), Fox of Mexico and Lagos of Chile (notorious free marketers) and, of course, Brazil which gave equal political standing to the Venezuelan rightwing opposition as to the elected government. Chavez rightly rejected the mediation of such "friends".

Today Lula offers his services once again to "mediate" between an international aggressor and a sovereign country. Except for Cuba, not a single Latin American client regime has condemned Uribe's aggression or, worse, spoken out clearly in opposition to his doctrine of extra-territoriality. President Chavez is clearly aware of the pitfalls of meeting in an "international summit" dominated by hostile neo-liberal, pro-empire regimes that have already accepted and submitted to the Bush-Uribe anti-terrorist doctrine.

Chavez is absolutely correct to counterpoise the notion of a bilateral forum in which the focus is on Colombia's intervention, where the issues of Uribe's policy of state terrorism could become part of the public debate on "terrorism". Of course, Washington will "advise" Uribe to refuse. Chavez could then advise his foreign minister to take the matter to the UN General Assembly as a matter of urgent importance of peace, security and national sovereignty. Chavez has already retaliated to continued US overt aggression by signing oil export and investment agreements with China, Russia, Latin America and Europe. Shutting off imports of Colombian agricultural imports could stimulate a more intensified effort to promote local agricultural production, push for a more expeditious agrarian reform and greater public investment in local food production.

The kidnapping of Granda and the subverting of a few Venezuelan officials can serve as a wake-up call for the Venezuelan leadership to the real threats to national sovereignty which emanate from the US-backed Uribe doctrine. The threat is real, it is systemic and it is immediate. President Uribe has the backing of an imperial power but Chavez has the backing of the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans and the fact that they will be willing to fight to defend their land, their government and their right to live as a sovereign people. The question of Venezuelan sovereignty is now not simply a question of diplomatic maneuvers but of organizing the mass of the Venezuelans into becoming a military deterrent to any armed aggression.

James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). He can be reached at:

An Oligarch climbs up the political tree

25 January 2005 |

Yulia Tymoshenko, the 44-year-old Oligarch, has finally made it to the top of the political tree in Ukraine - which was once the land of the soviets.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, another prominent Oligarch, did not hide his ambitions in Russia - and had to pay the price for it. He is languishing in a Russian prison.

It is quite absurd to even think that the politicians of EU are of a superior moral quality. I wouldn't be shocked if EU leaders line up to embrace Tymoshenko. Her rise to power has a direct link with her ability to manage capital (albeit stolen public money) - and facilitate the growth of big corporations.

The creation of a few billionaires and their prosperity at the expense of a billion poor people is what Capitalism is all about. That was exactly what Feudalism was all about. Russians and Ukraninans are not too young enough or even old enough to forget the hardship during the times of Czar.

Wealth has never been generated in this world. I just cannot believe Europe (or whatever that is meant by West) created wealth. Of course, the colonial powers did bring home (Europe) a lot wealth from the colonies.

One need not look any beyond to find the reasons and cause for abject poverty in Africa, Asia and South America. The real wealth of these continents can be seen in Europe and North America.

USA stole the real wealth of Africa - healthy strong young men.

If Robert Mugabe is an Oligarch of Africa... Britain created him.

World must keep a close eye on Tymoshenko; here is a woman who has proven anbility to steal public funds. To give her the keys to a Nation's treasury... sets a new low in what we have come to cherish as democracy'.

Don't you hear Orwell laughing at us?


Ukraine's 'goddess of revolution'
By Marina Denysenko
BBC News, Ukraine

Orange-clad protesters call her "Goddess of the Revolution" while outgoing President Leonid Kuchma and some of the oligarchs - Ukraine's business and political elite - are believed to hate her.

Glamorous Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the key figures of the ongoing Orange Revolution in Ukraine, ignites passion on both sides.

She is a close ally of Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the Ukrainian opposition that believes he won the bitterly disputed presidential run-off on 21 November.

Recent events have elevated Ms Tymoshenko's popularity to new heights, literally. On one occasion, riot police guarding Mr Kuchma's office raised their shields to allow her through to where talks were being held.

On another, she perched on top of a bus, from where she whipped the crowd into a frenzy with her calls for the government's resignation.

"I would even prefer her to be the president," one of the Kiev protesters says.

Controversial character

In her speeches, Ms Tymoshenko has referred to Mr Kuchma as a "red-haired cockroach".

And when talking about the supporters of Viktor Yanukovych, who claimed victory in the election, she suggested they should hang themselves on the blue and white scarves they wear.

Her opponents say she is demagogic and pretentious.

She sports an elaborate hairdo reminiscent of a peasant plait, meant to appeal to ordinary Ukrainians.

But her followers point to her intelligence and charisma.

Ms Tymoshenko is seen as one of the candidates for the post of prime minister in post-Kuchma Ukraine, and that makes many Ukrainians feel uncomfortable.

They point to her controversial past when in the 1990s she reportedly made a fortune from questionable gas trading.

She was briefly arrested in February 2001, but the next month a court in Kiev quashed all the charges and annulled the arrest warrant.

She became one of the key players in Mr Yushchenko's government of 1999-2001, launching an all-out assault on the oligarchs' interests in Ukraine's highly corrupt energy sector.

As the result of her efforts, some $2bn were re-directed into the state budget.

Ms Tymoshenko's critics say that once she is in power she is likely to be driven by revenge for those oligarchs in the energy sector.

Lady Yu's charisma

Her radicalism is offset by the more moderate tactics of Mr Yushchenko.

"If Tymoshenko had been in charge, the breakthrough would have already been achieved," BBC Kiev office head Svitlana Dorosh says.

But local observers agree that Mr Yushchenko's team needs such a personality. With a new poll just days away, it is essential to keep the momentum of the street protests going, they say.

And the charisma of Lady Yu may be indispensable.

Mr Yushchenko's flamboyant aide is adored by the crowds that seem to have forgotten that she used to be an oligarch herself.

* * *
Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko to get tough

Monday January 24, 2005

By Natasha Lisova

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - With her trademark blond braid, Yulia Tymoshenko was Viktor Yushchenko's most visible ally in the ``Orange Revolution,'' that paved the way for Yushchenko's victory in the fiercely contested presidential race.

But the 44-year-old firebrand opposition leader is dogged by corruption allegations from her time as head of a natural gas trading company, and Russia has twice sought her arrest.

Nominated Monday to become Ukraine's prime minister, Tymoshenko's ringing calls to action were key to keeping thousands of demonstrators in the streets for weeks after Yushchenko was declared the loser in the fraudulent Nov. 21 election, which was later annulled.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Tymoshenko said her first tasks as prime minister would include reviewing the national budget and restarting Ukraine's efforts to join the European Union.

Ukraine's new leadership cannot go into the EU integration processes ``half-ready,'' she said. ``It is a bilateral process and Ukraine cannot decide by itself when it will join the EU.''

Ukraine is still far from being considered for EU membership because of its record of human rights and press freedom abuses and the poor state of the economy.

Tymoshenko has also pledged to improve Ukraine's ties with Russia, which supported Yushchenko's opponent in the presidential campaign, former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Last year, Russian military prosecutors announced they wanted to press charges against her for alleged bribes given to Russian Defense Ministry officials in the mid-1990s.

Tymoshenko has refused to travel to Moscow for questioning and even accused the government in Russia - Ukraine's key trade partner and energy supplier - of plotting to abduct her.

But in a recent conciliatory message, she said that not a ``single man or a politician ... can destroy Ukraine's relations with Russia.''

Oleksandr Lytvynenko, an analyst at Kiev's Razumkov think tank, welcomed Tymoshenko's nomination, saying she has the ``economic education and experience of work in executive bodies.''

``She is quite capable of solving international problems, particularly with neighboring Russia,'' he said.

In contrast to Yushchenko's stolid speaking style, Tymoshenko's fiery rhetoric was key to keeping up demonstrators' morale in the weeks before Yushchenko won the Dec. 26 election rerun.

``I believe in her, she went through the revolution with us and didn't betray us,'' said Ihor Vovkun, 20, who spent two months in the tent camp in downtown Kiev.

Her personal style, combining up-to-the-minute couture with a traditional blond braid ringing her head, made her a highly telegenic symbol during the mass demonstrations.

As Yushchenko walked to an outdoor rostrum Sunday to give his inauguration speech, cheers for the president were mixed with chants of ``Tymoshenko!'' and ``Yulia for premier!''

But Tymoshenko also has a lot of enemies.

A crusading political opponent of former President Leonid Kuchma, she gained prominence when she headed the now-defunct Unified Energy Systems, Ukraine's predominant gas dealer, in the 1990s. Western governments and industry experts later applauded her for pushing through energy sector reforms as Kuchma's deputy prime minister.

She was ousted from government in 2001, turning against Kuchma and forming a party bloc and a parliamentary faction under her name.

Since 2001, prosecutors have opened several probes against her, and she was jailed briefly on charges of bribery, money-laundering, corruption and abuse of power while working for Unified Energy Systems. She has dismissed the charges as politically motivated.

As prime minister, Tymoshenko would likely strike back at her foes, with Kuchma as a prime target.

The scandal-tainted former president was implicated in several murky affairs including the slaying of an investigative journalist - allegations he denies.

Although many speculate Kuchma sought assurances for his immunity from prosecution from top opposition leaders, Tymoshenko claims she ``gave no guarantees'' to the former president.

``I believe that he must be accountable for everything he did with Ukraine,'' she told the AP last week.

She also pledged to crack down on wealthy coal and steel tycoons from Ukraine's east who backed Kuchma and Yanukovych, his hand-picked presidential candidate.

``They skimmed off the best cream of Ukrainian industry ... all factories that were more or less profitable, were divided between them,'' she said.

Khodorkovsky - The Dubious Martyr


-- Eric Kraus
It is difficult not to feel sympathy for a man confined to Russia's grim prison system, yet the letter by Mikhail Khodorkovsky printed by Vedomosti and The Moscow Times in December was neither a plea for leniency nor an acknowledgement of past errors. Instead, Khodorkovsky's letter constitutes a broad-brush condemnation of the political direction of Russia, by implication justifying the disastrous abuses of and by the Russian state during the late Yeltsin years when Khodorkovsky and his ilk held absolute power. Memories can be short, and a reply is called for.
Khodorkovsky rails against the rapacious bureaucracy, predicting that the angry mob will soon be baying for its promised bread and circus. Well, perhaps, but wouldn't it be odd if a nation that quietly suffered the indignities of 1998 -- left hungry, cold and utterly destitute following the collapse of the pyramid erected by the oligarchs -- should rise up in protest now? To use his own analogy, at present the people enjoy both bread and circuses. During the Boris Yeltsin regime they lacked not for circuses -- loans-for-shares was my personal favorite -- but the bread was cruelly missing. The bureaucracy may well be rapacious, but the state budget apparently benefits, too. Wages and pensions are now paid, in cash, in full and on time.
Similarly, a second redistribution of Soviet property would indeed be a dangerous undertaking, yet does this constitute a moral justification for the criminal carve-ups of the 1990s? Does it justify the original purchase of Yukos for some $300 million -- never actually paid -- in a rigged auction or the bloody takeover of Apatit? Does some notion of abstract justice require that Group Menatep now be allowed to sell half its plunder to Exxon for some $30 billion, a 200-fold profit? Though pragmatism mandates that past misdeeds be amnestied, new rules apply: Taxes will be paid, the Duma is not for rent, and money no longer buys absolute power.
A serious injustice has indeed been done. Not to the robber barons who treated Russia as their personal property but to the Yukos minority shareholders caught in a fierce political battle they were ill-equipped to understand. They have a very legitimate grievance, yet the blame lies at least as much with Menatep management as with the Russian state.
Certainly, it would have behooved the administration to find a less destructive means of prying Yukos from Menatep's grip, but equally -- from the beginning -- Menatep policy has been one of scorched earth. Hundreds of millions of dollars were lavished on a fiercely anti-Russian PR campaign, corrupting eminent academics and foundations in Moscow and abroad. Yukos' skillful spin management and press-agentry -- compounded by the Russian government's almost comical inability to communicate effectively -- have succeeded in trashing Russia's international reputation. Nevertheless, the benefits of this campaign for the Yukos minority shareholders are not intuitively obvious. Had it not been for the supreme arrogance of Menatep, had they instead relinquished their stake and sued for peace, the unfortunate shareholders would have doubtlessly been spared.
Khodorkovsky rightfully affirms that Russian history is characterized by an irrational worship of the state and the personalization of power. Yes, such power is potentially dangerous, yet with Russia still recovering from major surgery -- the breakup of the Soviet Union, the bankruptcy of the communist system, the Soviet Union's collapse as a global superpower -- isn't there a pressing need for the common man to have something to believe in? Is it somehow contrary to the natural order of things that Ivan Ivanovich should have a president he admires? Does Khodorkovsky still imagine himself the rightful successor to the throne?
Mikhail, the oligarchic model has been tried already. It was not a resounding success. Perhaps it was unavoidable, yet it was a road that led past ruin, default and penury, through the plunder of Russia and the impoverishment of Russians. Where was your concern for justice and the sanctity of property rights when Menatep Bank defaulted, or when cash flows were diverted offshore and multibillion dollar assets redistributed among a handful of cronies? Why such virtuous indignation only now? Isn't it a question of whose ox is being gored?
Let's not be disingenuous, Mikhail. The game is nearly over. This was no more about a tax bill than it was about you tossing a few rubles to the comically ineffectual Grigory Yavlinsky. It was about power. It was about who rules Russia, the oligarchs or the Kremlin. It was about the taxation of oil revenues and about the control of Transneft and Gazprom. It was about the basic definition of Russia's oil policy, the only useful tool remaining in Russia's diplomatic arsenal.
Though hubris is not defined in the Criminal Code, its consequences can be devastating. Impotent observers of a totally unequal battle, we wondered how could anyone of such obvious intelligence have overplayed their hand so catastrophically. We added up the forces on the chessboard, assuming you could too. There were precedents: Berezovsky and Gusinsky.
Did you imagine that the Russian people would storm the Kremlin walls for you? Or was it your American friends whose openly avowed neo-imperialism blinded them to the Russian political realities? Mikhail, you are Russian, and you should have known that President Vladimir Putin, as a child of the Cold War, would no more countenance American interference in Russian domestic affairs than Washington would allow the Kremlin to oversee the Federal Reserve. Did you really believe that, come Judgment Day, such dubious saints could intercede for you?
Mikhail, your conception of patriotism is quite singular. Yes, others before you have fought the state tooth and nail, but they at least refrained from couching their self-interest in terms of patriotism. Your courage is striking, and you have wreaked considerable havoc. Yet how has this advanced an open society in Russia? You have savaged your own cause, and the victories you won have pushed Russia to look inward, alienating her from newfound friends in the West. Your robust challenge to the state has served only to strengthen the conservative siloviki faction. In attaining your desired martyrdom, you have done Russia no favors.
Eric Kraus is chief strategist for Sovlink Securities. He submitted this comment to The Moscow Times.

Interview with Mikhail Gorbachev

24 January 2005 |

HARDtalk's Tim Sebastian interviewed former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. Here is the full transcript of the interview, broadcast on 15 September 2000

Tim Sebastian: How much do you share the concern of many people in Russia about how the loss of the Kursk submarine was handled by the authorities?

Mikhail Gorbachev: August was really tough - you could say we went through a kind of crisis. The explosion in the underpass in Moscow, then the nuclear submarine catastrophe, and the fire in the Ostankino television tower - all this put the spotlight on some poor media management.

Tim Sebastian: So the information was handled badly, the information handed down to the public?

Mikhail Gorbachev: I think the authorities initially - in all cases, but particularly with the submarine - well actually, things were pretty clear straight away with the blast in Moscow - the authorities didn't give out the full information. I even felt that the president himself didn't get all the facts. And that's really bad.

Tim Sebastian: Did it remind you of Soviet days when the authorities used to lie about everything?

Mikhail Gorbachev: It certainly did. I'd been through all that. Why do you think I pushed through the policy of glasnost and gave people some freedom? I used to say we couldn't have no-go areas for the public. That's what bureaucracy thrives on - lack of information. So if we want to be free and democratic people have to be informed and should know.

Tim Sebastian: So Putin did not draw any lessons from the past?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Everyone's got to live his own life and learn his own lessons, everyone has his share of failure and success.

Tim Sebastian: That's a very diplomatic answer.

Mikhail Gorbachev: No, no. I've already said this publicly. It seems to me that Putin didn't get the facts at the start of the crisis. The problem is he needed to intervene - and instead of doing that, he stalled for time. That was clearly an error of judgement.

Tim Sebastian: There was a situation when people stopped believing the authorities because they lied about specific events concerning the situation and then people found out that the authorities lied to them, and so the trust in Putin's government is finished, isn't it?

Mikhail Gorbachev: It wasn't quite as you are saying. There was a succession of events. Putin made a mistake when he saw that something serious had happened - he stayed put and took no action.

Only later did he go to the scene of the accident, he met sailors' relatives, tried to make amends. But he'd already made a grave miscalculation. It seems to me that since then he's grown noticeably older. It's been a lesson to him.

Tim Sebastian: Vladimir Putin - a relatively inexperienced politician. Do you trust him to lead the Russia that you left behind?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Yes, I think he's making some headway - handling the levers of government, sitting pretty confidently in the saddle. I met him a couple of days after the underpass bombing, and he retained his composure. He wasn't panicking, he was thinking pretty clearly about how to handle it.

Tim Sebastian: Something cold there in his eyes, do you think?

Mikhail Gorbachev: I'll tell you something, he's different, he's got his own style. He's not Gorbachev or Yeltsin. He is Putin. He is off a different generation

He's 47 - and that's quite a change from the old Soviet days. He comes from the provinces, so he's not tied in with any of the old boy networks in Moscow.

That's an advantage on one level, but it's also a problem. It's hard for him to get his own team together, he's learning the ropes. And in a country like Russia, with so many problems, I think he should be given time.

Tim Sebastian: Putin came from the KGB. And I wondered if you ever trusted the KGB as general secretary. Because I remember from your memoirs when you were made general secretary you and your wife went into the garden to talk about it because you didn't want to be overheard. Did you ever trust the KGB or indeed did you ever control them?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Well if you mean to suggest that Putin isn't to be trusted then I'm sorry - [laughs].

Tim Sebastian: No, that was not my question.

Mikhail Gorbachev: Well I'll answer that too. It's a question that's come up a few times both in Russia and here in the West. They'd say to me, "President Gorbachev, Putin's from the KGB." And I'd say, you could ask the same question of the Americans. Where did George Bush once work? The CIA.

Tim Sebastian: Director of Central Intelligence.

Mikhail Gorbachev: There you go. So it all depends on the particular individual.

Tim Sebastian: The second part of the question.

Mikhail Gorbachev: I'll tell you - and this is very important. Putin's involvement in the KGB was not at the time when it was playing a role that was fairly repressive, shall we say. He was involved in completely different things that were pretty inconsequential, compared to the old KGB.

Tim Sebastian: But the second part of the question - did you control the KGB?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Alright. You think I'm not going to answer you - but I will. The old KGB cried out for reform.

Of course, every country needs its security and intelligence agencies - nothing new in that. But what the KGB was, was something different.

Then, its job was not only to ensure security and intelligence, but also to suppress any and all free thought - in the name of the KGB. So I knew pretty well what I was dealing with and when I should go out into the garden for a chat.

Tim Sebastian: One direct question. Where you ever afraid of the KGB?

Mikhail Gorbachev: I wasn't afraid of anything. I really wasn't. I'm not that kind of person.

Tim Sebastian: No fear, no nightmares?

Mikhail Gorbachev: No. But I knew I had to be careful. And that's different.

Tim Sebastian: Can we talk about Chechnya? There is a huge amount of concern in the West - not only about terrorism - and those acts have been attributed to Chechen rebels - but also about the activities of Russian forces . Do you share the widespread concern that atrocities may have been carried out by Russian troops in Chechnya?

Mikhail Gorbachev: I think they were carried out. There were violations that might have been unintentional, but there were actions that require proper investigation.

While these investigations are underway I cannot assume the role of judge and jury. As for politics, back in 1994 Yeltsin issued an ultimatum to Chechnya about disbanding their fighters and handing over weapons and said the troops would attack within 48 hours.

I said on television - both Russian and international - that I was against all that - moving in the troops, against ultimatums. And I warned that if we continued in this way, we'd run the risk of a bloodbath or full-scale war in the Caucasus.

After all I know that region - I grew up there, worked there, the situation is very delicate there - it needs constant attention, flexibility. People need to be treated with respect. In fact I offered to act as intermediary - that was the only time I did.

Tim Sebastian: But the offer was rejected.

Mikhail Gorbachev: Yeltsin never replied. The result was a war in which 100 thousand people died - 100 thousand people sacrificed in this region in peacetime - in a war against our own citizens. It should never have happened.

Tim Sebastian: But are you telling me you could have stopped this conflict?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Yes, there were plenty of opportunities to stop it.

Tim Sebastian: How many lessons did you learn from the time in the early '90s when Soviet troops opened fire in Lithuania and Georgia? From the blood that was shed then?

Mikhail Gorbachev: I actually devoted two volumes of my memoirs to this whole drama and the political epic. There are quite a few admissions in there. Even though perestroika and glasnost brought about important changes, greater freedom, political pluralism, religion, dissent, all that sort of thing.

Tim Sebastian: But personal lessons from those incidents ...

Mikhail Gorbachev: Listen, I can only say this my way - so if you keep asking questions it just takes up more time.

So anyway if we hadn't changed those things at home, there would have been no changes abroad. All the same we made major mistakes.

We were too late reforming the Soviet Union. If we'd dealt with these issues earlier, we could have removed the problems and they wouldn't have got out of hand. We should have reformed the Communist Party earlier.

I think I also made mistakes. I could have done far more if I'd co-operated with the newly emerging democratic movements in the country.

Tim Sebastian: But for all the things that you did do you blame yourself for those deaths in the Baltics and Georgia?

Mikhail Gorbachev: How can I not blame myself? I was the president. Nothing can take away that responsibility. Even if I hadn't been directly involved and didn't issue the orders myself to use the troops - which I didn't.

It was worse than that. It all took place behind my back. And it wasn't until last year's elections in Georgia that Eduard Shevardnadze released documents that he'd had but kept quiet about all this time.

But when he did, it became clear who it was that gave the orders to move in troops and use force to move people from that square in Tbilisi. By doing that he won the election. A huge victory. Because those orders came directly from the former communist party leader in Georgia, Patiashvili. As for my stand in these matters, in Baku a critical situation developed.

All the various Part's activities were paralysed, gallows were erected and for 200 km along the state border, property was destroyed. In many areas, the local authorities were simply overthrown.

It was then that I decided that the troops had to be sent in and a state of emergency declared. It was my opinion, and I was firmly convinced that it would end in a bloodbath.

Blood was shed - there had been blood already, and more was to come. And to this day, I regret having sent in the troops. But it had to happen, otherwise there would have been even more bloodshed. So that was the one time when I did order the troops in. To restore order.

Tim Sebastian: How did the years in power change you as a person?

Mikhail Gorbachev: I think I'm still largely the same person. I became General Secretary of the Communist Party when I was 54. People don't change much at that age.

Yes, you gain experience, learn some lessons, but your morality, your creed stays the same. And if I became president of the Soviet Union all over again I'd still carry out the same reforms, and abide by the same choices I made then. As for my tactics - in many instances I'd do it differently.

Tim Sebastian: Do you miss the power, do you miss the responsibility?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Well, I'm getting on for 70, it's time to settle down. And I still have my hands full. I've been doing many things which I hope are useful - my foundation, the International Green Cross, and I have many other responsibilities, now we're setting up the United Social-Democratic Party of Russia.

Tim Sebastian: Tell me about your last day in the Kremlin when you spoke to George Bush for the last time on the hot line and walked out of the Kremlin for the last time as president. What was going through your mind?

Mikhail Gorbachev: That was a sad time, very sad. All the reforms were stopped in their tracks - and at such a critical time! Since the coup, of course, my political power had been severely undercut. So Yeltsin simply took advantage of that to launch his assault on the Kremlin. He didn't even care about the unity of the country. On the contrary he began dismantling it.

Tim Sebastian: People say Gorbachev's mistake was that he wanted to transform the country but did not want to transform the instrument that had kept it from being transformed, the Communist Party.

Mikhail Gorbachev: That's not corroborated by fact. When I became the leader, during the first year I replaced much of the Central Committee and nearly all the Politburo. Two or three times the heads of regional and districts bodies were replaced. And finally we began to make the Party more democratic.

Tim Sebastian: But the one party system stayed.

Mikhail Gorbachev: Do you think - once you become a boss, you can change things overnight? There is quite a road to be covered. I had to form a team of my own but only after coming to power because doing that before you're in power - in a totalitarian society - was a nonsense, it was unthinkable.

So I had to make a lot of personnel changes.

I had to amend policies, gradually develop long-term plans for the people. And I did this. Moreover when we had our first elections it was the Party hierarchy that suffered a major defeat.

They couldn't forgive me for that - so they plotted and planned to bring me down. They failed politically - so that's why they resorted to a coup.

Tim Sebastian: Does Gorbachev inside remain a communist as he was for so many years?

Mikhail Gorbachev: I think Gorbachev's social-democratic leanings became apparent at the start of perestroika, particularly in 1988 and in 1990, when we put forward a new, and essentially social-democratic programme.

Just think about it - it took just four or five years to make a U-turn in a country like that to persuade all of Europe to review its policies, to embark on a relationship of trust with the United States.

All that meant a completely new world vision, a new understanding of our own and each other's interests and so on. Does that indicate that Gorbachev remained shackled to old policies?

Tim Sebastian: Can we talk for a moment about the future. You are going to be 70, you have to manage without your wife. How hard is that for you without her?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Sad, it is sad. When Andrei Kirilenko, a member of Brezhnev's old cabinet, reached 70 they gave him yet another gold star medal - Hero of Socialist Labour. And he said to Brezhnev, "What's all the fuss about 70? It's just middle age. Imagine what that sounded like to those of us who were around 40 then.

We were all out in the provinces saying, "These old guys have dug themselves into the Kremlin, and not even a bulldozer will get them out. " That's how we felt then. Well, today I told the story to some young friends here in New York who asked, "Was Kirilenko right or not?"

With a straight face, I said, "He was probably right in many ways. "

And they just burst out laughing at my expense.

So you see, I haven't held a government post for ten years, which means I retired at 60. So these last 10 years out of office have given me a chance to feel more free, a chance to find qualities inside me which I knew nothing about when I was in government. You know I was never obsessed with power - some people, like Yeltsin, are destroyed by it. Power is the main thing for him.

No matter how he uses it, it's the power, the being in power that's important. And that was never a major concern of mine.

Tim Sebastian: You haven't lost your sense of humour, I see.

Mikhail Gorbachev: [Laughs] No, of course not. And it stood me in good stead. My wife Raisa was a very serious person and she appreciated my humour. Our life was really intense, there we moments of extreme pressure.

I wanted to alleviate that tension, because she was always aware of it. She was very sensitive that way, and had such a delicate personality. She worried.

And there were many rumours about her, all sorts of empty gossip - only now have I learned that people were plotting to get back at me by compromising my wife. She was a fine person, so fine, and so reliable. Very honest. A person of high moral standards, with a sense of duty and a conscience So during the bad times I would make a joke and that would somehow defuse the situation.

Tim Sebastian: Thank you very much, it was a pleasure having you on the programme.

Mikhail Gorbachev: I was very glad to see you and talk to you again.

US: Washington Post retracts story on Saddam era torture

22 January 2005 |

2003 story told of Iraqi heroin who said she was imprisoned for eloping with Indian man

Thursday, January 20, 2005

WASHINGTON: The Washington Post on Thursday retracted a 2003 story about an Iraqi woman who claimed to have been arrested, sexually assaulted and made to watch soldiers of the Saddam regime mutilating her husband's body.

"Fresh examination of her statement," shows that Jumana Michael Hanna, had "made false claims about her past," the Post said.

Hanna's story was used, among others, by US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in congressional testimony to justify the invasion of Iraq.

In the July 2003 story, Hanna was quoted as saying that she was imprisoned after she had eloped with her husband, Haitam Jamil Anwar, whom she said was of Indian origin. The marriage, she said, was not valid under Iraqi law because she had not received the proper permission to marry a foreign national.

She said she had gone to the Iraqi Olympic Committee building in Baghdad, hoping that Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, would help. Instead, she said, she was arrested, and between November 1993 and early 1996, was held in cells at the adjoining police academy where she said she and other female prisoners were beaten and raped.

Soon after the Post published the story, other US newspapers blew it out of proportion and turned Hanna into an Iraqi heroin who somehow managed to escape to the US from the clutches of the Saddam regime.

Her testimony led to the arrest of several Iraqi security officials for torturing her and killing her husband. Based on her testimony, US officials took her into protective custody in Baghdad, and then brought to the US where she received political asylum and financial support.

The reporter, Peter Finn, who wrote the July 2003 story, said in his article on Thursday that recent interviews in Baghdad showed that her husband was alive and had left Iraq several months ago. They also said that while Hanna was imprisoned in Baghdad in the 1990s, it was not for the reason she told The Post.

Toma Kalabat, a cousin of Hanna's husband, offered a different account in an interview with The Post. He said Hanna had been imprisoned, but said he believed she was jailed for cheating people out of money on the promise that she could get them visas to emigrate to Western Europe.

A Lone Woman Testifies To Iraq's Order of Terror

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 21, 2003

BAGHDAD -- She was walking hurriedly, as if in a trance, oblivious to the weakness in her legs, not seeing the bewildered looks of the American troops trailing her, not hearing her own cries of anguish. Jumana Michael Hanna, tears streaming down her face, had slipped into the darkest recesses of memory.

Hanna, a 41-year-old Assyrian Christian from a formerly rich and prominent Iraqi family, returned last week to the well of her nightmares: the police academy in Baghdad, a sprawling complex of offices, classrooms, soccer, polo and parade grounds -- and prison cells, some of them converted dog kennels, according to American officials who now control the campus.

This is the place where in the 1990s Hanna was hung from a rod and beaten with a special stick when she called out for Jesus or the Virgin Mary. This is where she and other female prisoners were dragged outside and tied to a dead tree trunk, nicknamed "Walid" by the guards, and raped in the shadow of palm trees. This is the place where electric shock was applied to Hanna's vagina. And this is where in February 2001 someone put a bullet in her husband's head and handed his corpse through the steel gate like a piece of butcher's meat.

Hanna has come back here to help the new occupation authorities in Iraq find the men who tormented her. After she identified some of the men through a series of photos of officers in the new Iraqi police force and provided other corroborating information to American and Iraqi officials, on Saturday morning an Iraqi police anti-corruption squad detained three men, including a brigadier general. U.S. and Iraqi officials are talking to a fourth man and seeking his cooperation. As of yesterday, none had been formally charged, but the investigation is continuing.

"For two months I've been here and heard the rumors about what happened to women, but no one came forward," said Bernard B. Kerik, the senior policy adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and former police commissioner in New York City. "This is the first case where someone has given us information that appears to be credible and that we can corroborate and act on. A lot of Iraqi women will see that we are serious. This is an event that will lead to closure for a lot of people -- and justice."

Hanna, who agreed to the use of her full name, is just one of hundreds and possibly thousands of women who were tortured and sexually assaulted by the agents of the last government, human rights officials said. For those who survived, their ordeal was often left unspoken, swept behind a cloak of family and societal shame. That will make prosecutions extremely difficult, American officials said, and makes Hanna's determination to expose her jailors all the more dramatic for an occupying authority eager to build a clean, new police force.

A month ago, homeless and seeking assistance from Americans for her mother, her two children and herself, Hanna went to the Baghdad Convention Center. A leadership conference was underway for about 60 officers in the reconstituted Iraqi police force. There, in the crowd, she said she saw the man she and the other female prisoners knew as the Major. She recalled he was the man who had laughed at their pain as he inflicted more and more of it, the man who extinguished his cigarette on Hanna's leg on the day she was ordered released. "Pain that no one can imagine," said Hanna. "Terrible, terrible pain. Pain that steals your honor."

Hanna fled the convention center in a blind panic, wandering aimlessly through the streets. Nearly two weeks later, she made her way to the Human Rights Society of Iraq, housed in a two-story building near the Ministry of Justice. Activists there told her that the U.S. occupying authorities in Iraq would want to know about her jailors, especially if they had returned to the police force.

And so, trembling, Hanna stood last week at the arched entryway of the police academy, seeking justice but fearing what lay beyond. Between tears and bouts of breathlessness, her story tumbled out in fragments as she guided her hosts, U.S. officials working to rebuild the Iraqi police force, from one scene of torture to another.

She pointed to a wall in a cell and said it hid a stairwell; the academy's Iraqi commissioner later confirmed its existence, U.S. officials said. At one moment, she walked through an open yard trying to find a second tree trunk, just like the first one, "Walid," but used only to tie prisoners for beatings with sticks or cable wire. She was convinced it was there, but no one could see a second trunk. And, finally, there it was, hidden behind some wild reeds and heaped brush. The guards called that one "Haneen," she said.

"We'll nail the bastards," said Dennis Henley, the American director of reconstruction at the police academy.

Among those detained Saturday morning was the one-star brigadier general, who Hanna identified as taking part in her initial detention in November 1993. U.S. officials have not been able to identify the Major, who was Hanna's principal tormentor, and whose family name Hanna does not know. U.S. officials hope the detentions will provide further leads, Kerik said.

An Iraqi judge and an Iraqi female prosecutor were assigned to the case by the Ministry of Interior. U.S. officials said they planned to offer security to Hanna, who has been sleeping in an abandoned school on some nights in recent weeks because her friends were not able to house her entire family. She remains afraid that her future testimony could endanger her and her children.

A Dangerous Love Affair

The torment of Jumana Michael Hanna began as a love story in the summer of 1993. She was the only child of a venerable Iraqi family. She met Haitam Jamil Anwar, then a 30-year-old wood carver, son of immigrants from pre-independence India. It was an unsuitable match for Hanna's mother and, much more dangerously, Saddam Hussein's paranoid state.

Their first encounter was at Anwar's workshop when Hanna brought an old ornamental box inlaid with fine Iranian stones to the Indian craftsman for repair. He was funny, charming and flirtatious, she remembers. There was a promise that the box would be ready in two days and an immediate attraction that left her giddy afterward. The courtship began when, upon her return for the box, Anwar asked if he could see her again.

Because of Iraq's tribal traditions, where each marries his own, Hanna said she felt forced to hide her relationship from her mother. "I wanted her to marry an Iraqi man, a Christian man, not a foreigner," said Hanna's mother, Jeanne d'Arc Jacob Bahnam, 73, the daughter of an iron merchant who married a pharmacist from her own community. Her husband died in 1974.

The family lived in a fine house in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood, were members of the exclusive and largely Christian al-Hindia club, and vacationed in the United States and Europe. Wealthy and well-known, Hanna didn't lack suitors, her mother said. But she rejected them. She wanted, Hanna said, to fall in love.

On Aug. 15, 1993, Hanna and Anwar eloped and were secretly married by a sympathetic priest. In Iraq, however, the country's citizens needed state permission to marry a foreigner and the newlyweds had broken the law. A trip to the immigration authorities in Baghdad might have solved the problem, but Hanna, confident of her status as a member of a prominent family, went instead to the Olympic Committee in hopes that she could shortcut the bureaucracy. The Olympic Committee was the personal fiefdom of Hussein's eldest son, Uday, a psychopath and serial rapist whose penchant for cruelty and violence led him to even run afoul of his father when he bludgeoned to the death one of Hussein's close associates. The Olympic Committee building, now a burned-out ruin abutting the police academy grounds, was a symbol of the venality of Hussein's rule.

Hanna arrived at the building at 10 a.m. on Nov. 15, 1993. It was the beginning of a prison sentence of two years, three months and seven days without the approval of any court of law. Through much of that first day, she waited in one room after another on the promise that a meeting about her problem was imminent.

In the last room, where she was held for several hours, the door was locked. At sunset two men entered. She recalled they said they had to take routine security precautions in advance of a meeting with Uday Hussein. They slipped a black hood over her head and tied her hands behind her back. The anxiety, which had mounted through the day, flared into terror.

'They Took My Honor'

She was taken down to a lower level in an elevator and then along a passageway that seemed narrow because of the way the two men bumped against her. She was pushed into a room and tied, spread-eagle, to a bed.

"All of this period, I didn't resist," she said. "But on the bed, I knew. I said, 'I am like your sister; please don't do this.' I started to beg. They said if our sister married an Indian and started a network against the government, we would kill her. I kept praying, calling for Jesus and the Virgin Mary. I prayed to Muhammad. They damned them all."

"They raped me twice that first day," she continued. "I don't know the persons. Two of them. I couldn't see them. They kept raping for four days as well as I can remember. They took my honor."

A guard, who was not one of the rapists, took her periodically to a bathroom and washed her himself because he said he couldn't untie her. He lifted the hood to allow her to smoke a cigarette before taking her back to the room in which she was held. "I thank him for this small favor," Hanna said.

On what she believes was the fifth day, another man entered the room. She recalled he railed at her about a British spy network. He told her she had wanted her papers stamped so he would stamp them. He applied electric shock to her vagina; she lost consciousness.

Hanna awoke in what she thought was a veterinary clinic for dogs because of the sound of barking. She was, in fact, in a room adjacent to the police academy kennels. A woman applied alcohol to her vagina in a crude attempt to clean it. Hanna was given a painkiller and put in a cell with 17 other women where she was kept for 10 days before she was questioned again.

"We were one body and soul," she said of the women in the cell. "We helped each other." All of the women, she said, had been detained or kidnapped and then raped, some for as long as six months before they were discarded by their captors and brought to the police academy. She remembers, in particular, a Christian girl, a 16-year-old from Baghdad who said she was kidnapped outside her school. She was beautiful, "like Barbie the doll," said Hanna, who speaks some English and French.

On the 10th day, Hanna said, she met the Major, then about 35 years of age, a broad-shoulder man with curly black hair balding at the temples. "He wanted to know about a British network," said Hanna, who said he began by slapping her in the face. "He was sure I was working for the British. He gave me names, Iraqi names, men. I said, 'Yes, yes. I signed every paper he wants.' "

Over the next seven months, Hanna said, she implicated people she had never heard of in a spy network she knew nothing about. She was routinely beaten and she said the Major, in a grotesque joke, kept three sticks on a wall hanging under the names Jesus, the prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali, whom Shiite Muslims believe is Muhammad's true heir. Whichever holy man a prisoner called out for determined which stick they were beaten with. The Major, she said, also routinely used electric shock and once set a police dog on her in a small room; the scar of the bite mark is still on her arm.

The Major "is a sadist," said Hanna. "He loves torturing, especially in the sensitive spot." But, she added, the Major never raped the prisoners. The women were sexually assaulted by other guards, particularly at night when they would come to the cells. "They choose a girl and take her to the yard," Hanna said.

Family Bled Dry

For months, Hanna's mother thought her daughter had simply fled with her new husband. But he had also been arrested. "I asked my relatives if they knew where they were," Bahnam said. "No one knew. I thought she had disgraced me."

After seven months, three men arrived at Bahnam's house and told her that her daughter had been arrested. They produced a handwritten letter from Hanna, secured by the Major, asking Bahnam to sign over her house to them in order to secure her daughter's release.

"I agreed," said Bahnam. "I asked for time and they said they would give me 15 days to get out." The house has since been sold and re-sold and is one of thousands of similar cases that may clog the Iraqi courts for years as victims of the last government seek compensation.

"I took my gold and went out," said Bahnam. "I went to a Muslim house and begged him and he said, 'You are welcome.' " That man, Ahmed Safar, who is still living in Baghdad, said he sheltered Bahnam because it was his obligation as a Muslim once she asked for his help. He had never seen her before she showed up at his doorstep.

Over the next 19 months, the security officers drained Bahnam of her remaining wealth, forcing her to convert her gold into cash -- about $25,000 in all, she estimates.

In early 1996, Hanna and her husband, who had been held in a detention center directly across from the police academy, were finally released. Anwar's body bore the marks of torture and one of his legs had been broken while he was in custody, Hanna said.

Moving from rental to rental over the next few years, the couple subsisted on part-time jobs. They had two children, Sabr, a girl, and Ayoub, a boy, but they never had their marriage sanctioned by the state.

In January 2001, Anwar went to the Ministry of Interior to try and sort out his children's papers before they started school; he also needed the papers so their church would baptize them. He was arrested and taken back to the cells near the police academy where he had been held before.

"He never came home," Hanna said. On Feb. 14, 2001, Anwar's body was passed through the front gate of the detention center to Hanna after she had been summoned there. "I lost my mind," she said. "I was hysterical." A taxi driver agreed to take the body to her church, where Hanna washed and dressed her husband for burial. Anwar had been shot in the head.

With her husband's body, she was also handed a piece of government paper recognizing her as the two children's legal guardian. They could now be baptized and go to school.

Finding Her Tormentors

Last Wednesday evening, Henley and Gerald F. Burke from the U.S. occupation authority's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance took Hanna to a trailer near the former Republican Palace to examine photographs of officers who had joined the reconstituted police force since the fall of Baghdad.

As an American soldier scrolled through pictures on a computer screen, Hanna suddenly said, "Go back, go back." Klumb gave the mouse to Hanna, who stopped at one picture.

"This is Salah, this is Salah," shouted Hanna, dressed in black, as she has been since her husband's death. "He brought me to jail."

The computer showed a brigadier general, a smiling, gray-haired man, in the photo. Hanna said he was the man who detained her at the Olympic Committee when a hood was placed over her head before her supposed meeting with Uday Hussein.

Hanna continued to click through pictures. "No, no, no," she said.

And then: "Saddam, Saddam." She identified a police sergeant, the man who washed her in the bathroom at the Olympic Committee and gave her cigarettes.

Then she found two of the men who allegedly raped her and other women at the police academy, a police captain and a senior sergeant.

"They raped us, they raped us in the night," she said. The pictures continued to scroll, hundreds of them, and she identified two men who escorted her to interrogations but did not abuse her.

"This is Raad, Raad," she said at another point.

"He was responsible for the dogs. For the dogs." He was among those detained on Saturday. Hanna said that this man brought her and other women out to the tree trunk known as "Haneen." One of his preferred forms of torture, she said, was to order the women to strip, then tie them to the tree trunk, and smear wet sugar on them so the dogs would terrorize them as they licked it off their bodies. Hanna also identified his superior at the academy.

But Hanna failed to find the Major among the photographs. U.S. officials promised they would continue to look for him.

Once he is found, she said, "I will take off my black clothes."

Special correspondents Souad Mekhennet and Hoda Lazin contributed to this report.