Leading the fight for freedom – in Turkey and elsewhere

15 July

You’d have to love your president!

Saturday, 15 July, was the first anniversary of a failed attempt by some officers in the Turkish armed forces to overthrow the country’s democratically elected AK Party government. The government has planned a week of meetings and other activities to commemorate the courage of Turkish folk who stood up against tanks and automatic weapons to ensure that the attempted coup was unsuccessful. Before the perpetrators backed down, 250 citizens had lost their lives and an unknown number had been injured.

US and EU governments have been generous in their affirmations of support for Turkey’s struggle against forces working to bring down its government. – somewhat quicker than they were this time last year, when they seemed to delay their reaction until it was clear to all that the coup had failed. That’s not surprising, I guess. When Egypt’s first and only democratically elected government led by Muhammed Morsi was overthrown by army intervention in 2013, Western governments hardly paused for breath before announcing business as usual with the new regime. It seems we can work with military dictators – it’s leaders who have to answer to the will of their own people we’re uncomfortable with.

Chas I

Last successful military coup in Britain – 1649

So those Western leaders are expressing support for Turkey – but read on and you’ll find thinly veiled threats following close behind. Turkey’s government should be careful not to use the failed coup as an excuse to trample on the freedom of innocent citizens exercising their democratic right to dissent. Sounds fair enough – but the reality of highly trained and well-armed troops rising up to overthrow their lawful government is not something the United Kingdom or the United States have had to deal with since the 1640s and the 1860s respectively. Memory fades.

Let’s think about how these things happen. Above all, you need a significant chunk of the country’s people to be unhappy. No general, no matter how ambitious he may be for political power, is going to risk his all unless he feels he has a good chance of pulling it off – which means he has to believe there is substantial sympathy and support for his action. What does that mean in a country of 78 million people? Even 1% means 780,000 people! Last week the leader of an opposition party addressed a crowd estimated at two million to protest about the state of justice in Turkey. My guess is a good number of them wouldn’t have been sad to see President Erdoğan ousted by a military coup. Well, they were allowed to assemble, and Mr Kılıçdaroğlu was allowed to vehemently criticise the government. Nevertheless, there is still a state of emergency in force in Turkey, and many thousands of suspects have been rounded up to answer accusations of involvement in the attempted coup. What would you expect? The vast majority of citizens are going about their normal lawful daily business, and a good number of them are bitching and complaining about the government. That’s their democratic right. What do you have to do to get arrested, that’s my question.

mederes-3

Turkish PM Menderes – hanged by military junta, 1961

Then let’s imagine that the coup had been successful. Lawfully constituted governments in Turkey were overthrown by military intervention on four occasions in the second half of the 20th century. In 1960 the Prime Minister of ten years, Adnan Menderes, was hanged, along with two of his ministers, by the insurgent officers. Menderes was subsequently forgiven, exonerated and had his reputation restored – small consolation for his family, I imagine. After the first three coups there was a period of terror where political dissenters were rounded up, tortured, executed, “disappeared” or driven into exile. Military intervention in the democratic process is no light matter – and almost invariably leads to bloodshed and violent suppression of opposition. At the very least, Mr Erdoğan and his government would have found themselves imprisoned, and a lengthy period of sustained oppression would have been necessary to silence his millions of loyal supporters.

The simple fact is this: if you rise up against your lawful government in any country, and try to overthrow them by force of arms, you had better succeed. If you don’t, you’ll be lucky to escape with your life. Even if you weren’t among the actual rebels, if you are suspected of lending behind-the-scenes support or encouragement, you are likely to be called to account.

Sisi

Egypt’s Sisi – military dictator? No?

Why then are Western political spokespersons and media sources so critical now of the “lack of freedom and democracy” in Turkey? They seem to have been happy enough to accept Egyptian General Sisi’s violent suppression of opposition since the coup he led in 2013. A less publicised feature of most military coups in developing countries is the support, moral and actual, provided by forces beyond their borders who see economic benefits in a regime change. Turkey’s President Erdoğan is consistent in his denunciation of US-based Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gülen, whose tentacles extend into every corner of Turkey’s establishment. At the same time, Mr Erdoğan also maintains that behind Gülen more sinister forces are at work. US spokespersons deny their government had any part in the attempted coup – but they steadfastly refuse Turkey’s requests to extradite Gülen so that he can answer the charges against him. Perhaps they do have a genuine concern for the poor man’s democratic rights – but they also have a long-standing record of backing regime changes where elected leaders don’t seem to be supporting American “interests”.

Military allianceTwo recent articles caught my eye giving credence to the theory that Washington could have played a part in last July’s insurrection. The first appeared on the Foreign Policy website, bearing the headline Turkey’s Post-Coup Purge and Erdogan’s Private Army”. The article is an absurd mishmash of lies, distortions and internal contradictions that might seem convincing to a foreign reader – but to anyone who knows Turkey, is clearly working to a hidden agenda.

The writer, Leela Jacinto, nails her colours to the mast in her opening paragraph, expressing regret that Turkey’s military — the once mighty pillar of a secular, Muslim-majority state with the second-largest standing force in NATO — has lost its Kemalist oomph.” Surely any true democrat would applaud the relegation of generals to their proper role as defenders of the state from outside threats. The “secular Kemalist” label is used to lend a veneer of legitimacy to their previous overthrowing of elected governments, ensuring that a small US-friendly elite continued to hold the reins of power. It is widely accepted that the CIA had a hand in all four successful coups in Turkey in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.

Last year’s coup having failed, of course its supporters, overt and covert, are keen to imply that it wasn’t a “real” coup – that either it was staged from start to finish, or at least allowed to proceed and fail by President Erdoğan to cement his hold on power. Well, maybe George W Bush did orchestrate events of 9/11/2001 in the USA, and Maggie Thatcher certainly led her nation to war with Argentina for that reason – but I do not believe President Erdoğan is so evil. The evidence doesn’t stack up.

Jacinto contends that the Gülen organisation initially supported Erdoğan’s AK Party but the alliance fell apart when Gülenists exposed AK Party “corruption”. If it’s true, why would they do that to their ally? More likely is the scenario that Erdoğan used them to break the power of the army, but was subsequently unwilling to share power with an unelected shadowy cartel. The Gülenists got angry and decided to get rid of him – possibly/probably aligning themselves with the CIA, enemy of their new enemy.

Common enemyThen there is Turkey’s “lovefest” with Russia. What’s that about, “lovefest”? Implying some kind of drug-crazed, bacchanalian, neo-hippy debauchery. Better to focus on America’s “HATEfest” with Russia, Communists, Muslims, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, or any other group or country that doesn’t kowtow to their programme of world domination.

Jumping from one illusory accusation to another, Jacinto raises a bogey by the name of Doğu Perinçek to justify her suggestion of unholy alliances against the West taking place at “deep state” level involving the AK Party government, communists and ultra-nationalists. Somehow she manages to work in Armenian holocaust denialism and the heroine of the world’s oppressed and downtrodden masses, Amal Clooney. Well, Perinçek is an interesting character, having been incarcerated on several occasions by military regimes in the past for leftist activities. He does seem recently to have reincarnated as a kind of nationalist/socialist – but he continues to operate, as he always has, on the fringe of Turkish political circles, and his miniscule polling in the last general election suggests that he poses no threat to the United States empire, or anyone else.

Jacinto’s final shot is the assertion that President Erdoğan has a private army, a paramilitary “Praetorian Guard” that not only faced down the soldiers last July, but is working behind the scenes to foster some kind of global Islamic order aimed at bringing down the West.

Who is this woman? Who is pulling her strings?

The other article that caught my eye appeared in Time Magazine: Turkey’s ‘Iron Lady’ Meral Aksener Is Getting Ready to Challenge Erdogan. Like Doğu Perinçek, Ms Akşener is known in Turkey, but tends to lurk these days at the fringes of the political sphere. Like Nobel prize-winner Orhan Pamuk, she likes to present herself as one who has courageously stood against the corrupt power of a dictatorial state. In fact, her brief spell as Minister for Internal Affairs occurred during the unlikely and short-lived coalition of discredited “secular Kemalist” Tansu Çiller and Islamic firebrand Necmettin Erbakan. Journalist Jared Malsin portrays Akşener as a scary synthesis of Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton and Marie le Pen. Try selling that to the Turkish electorate, Jared!

puppet govtIt does, however, strike me that something sinister could be going on here. Malsin acknowledges that one of the main problems with the current political scene in Turkey is the lack of a credible leader to oppose the charismatic Erdoğan. HDP leader, Selahattin Demirtaş provided a brief spark of hope before committing political suicide by throwing in his lot with the Kurdish separatists. Nationalist MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli seems to have decided that his best chance of achieving office is by working with the government; and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, still hankering for the one-party state where Atatürk’s own party held sway, has lost so many elections the Guinness people are thinking of opening a category for him in their 2018 edition.

Clearly, then, if the movers and shakers of world capitalism are going to have another try at overthrowing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, they’re going to need a figurehead to put in his place. Far-fetched theory? I don’t think so.

Hate USAVenezuela’s long-term president Hugo Chavez was one of Washington’s most hated world leaders. A vocal socialist, Chavez utilised his country’s enormous oil resources to initiate domestic programmes aimed at a more equitable distribution of wealth. He lent support to Cuba and other Central and South American nations struggling to escape US hegemony, and committed probably the ultimate unpardonable sin: befriending Iran. In 2002 a CIA-sponsored military coup actually ousted Chavez, but the result was overturned by a huge outpouring of popular support for the President. When Chavez died in 2013, his protégé Nicholas Maduro took over his role. Now, in spite of having the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela’s economy is shattered – as a result of plummeting oil prices. Why did oil prices plummet? Because the United States, the world’s largest consumer, moved from being a buyer to a seller. How did they do that? They began to exploit previously uneconomic reserves using the expensive and environmentally disastrous fracking technique. Why would they do that? Surely not to destroy Venezuela’s economy, get rid of President Maduro and install a US-friendly right wing dictator . . . would they? Can they really be that evil?

http://www.trtworld.com/magazine/how-the-us-right-demonised-a-venezuelan-leader-384234

http://www.news.com.au/finance/economy/world-economy/venezuela-crisis-2017-protesters-demand-political-economic-reform/news-story/b52e0a2985930d072cde86527bf2b50c

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Who’s Behind the Attempted Coup in Turkey?

“I am deeply hurt!”

Blond John Bass

More than just another bimbo

It was John Bass, United States’ Ambassador to Turkey speaking in an interview with several Turkish journalists reported in our local daily on Sunday. He had been asked for his evaluation of the failed coup attempt on 15 July, and said he was deeply hurt that some commentators were suggesting, without a scrap of proof, that the United States had had prior knowledge of, and may even have had a finger in it. In fact, there was nothing in the report to say that any of the journalists present had even implied such a thing, so it may be that the ambassador “doth protest too much.”

As usual with diplomats, lawyers and politicians, however, the wording of the denial is very important. The honourable ambassador, you will note, is not hurt that his government is being accused, but that they are being accused without a scrap of proof. Well, of course, it’s not easy to prove these things at the time – the evidence tends to come out much later. Spooks are notoriously good at covering their tracks. It’s their job. Turkey’s political leaders also have to be particularly careful with the wording of their statements, whatever their suspicions, or even evidence, may be. President Erdoğan has been quoted as saying, “Gulen’s followers “are simply the visible tools of the threat against our country. We know that this game, this scenario is far beyond their league.”

The Brothers

Probably they would have been deeply hurt too

Turkey experienced three full-on military coups between 1960 and 1980, and there is ample evidence for CIA involvement. In recent years there has been much written on the subject of Gladio, an Italian word referring to CIA and NATO-sponsored secret armies that “colluded with, funded and often even directed terrorist organizations throughout Europe in what was termed a ‘strategy of tension’ with the aim of preventing a rise of the left in Western European politics.” American writer and journalist Stephen Kinzer published a book “The Brothers” in 2013 in which he details the activities of John Foster and Allen Dulles who, as head of the CIA and Secretary of State in the 50s and early 60s instigated “six regime-change operations . . . Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cuba, and the Congo, including the first presidentially authorized assassinations of foreign leaders in American history.”

Mr Bass, you guys have a long history of removing, or attempting to remove, leaders of sovereign nations whose policies and activities don’t meet with your approval. So don’t come the raw prawn with us!

Dear readers, you may think the following notes on falling oil prices have nothing to do with a failed military coup in Turkey, but don’t be too hasty.

I read an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph a week or so ago entitled Texas shale oil has fought Saudi Arabia to a standstill. Quoting a number of sources, the article was lauding the success of the shale oil industry in reducing the costs of the fracking process, enabling the United States to meet its own needs and drive down the global price of oil, thereby dealing a severe blow to the OPEC countries who, as we all know, are Muslim Arabs. The headline and much of the text focuses on Saudi Arabia and the damage the US is inflicting on the Saudi economy with its industrial might.

A recent article in The Economist purported to explain, in a similar vein, why oil prices are falling so low on the world market. The two main factors put forward were:

  • America has become the world’s largest oil producer, and
  • The Saudis and their Gulf allies have decided not to sacrifice their own market share to restore the price.

fracking dangersWell and good, but let’s take a closer look. First of all, how has the US suddenly gone from being a major importer of oil, to the world’s largest producer? By fracking shale oil is the answer. What’s that all about, you may ask. Like any other natural resource, supplies of oil run out as you consume the stuff. The United States has long since used up all its easily accessible supplies of oil, and found it cheaper to buy elsewhere. They still have oil, of course – that Telegraph article claims the Permian Basin in Texas has as much as Saudi Arabia’s largest oil field – but it’s not easy to get at. Enter the fracking process. Wikipedia explains: “The process involves the high-pressure injection of ‘fracking fluid’ (primarily water, containing sand or other proppants suspended with the aid of thickening agents) into a wellbore to create cracks in the deep-rock formations through which natural gas, petroleum, and brine will flow more freely.” There are serious environmental concerns with this:

  • The process requires huge amounts of water, which inevitably becomes contaminated, even if it does return to the surface, and a lot of it doesn’t.
  • There seems to be some secrecy in the industry about chemicals used in the process.
  • Large areas of land are rendered unsuitable for other uses, including wildlife.
  • There is enormous noise pollution, both from the process itself and from convoys of trucks bringing sand and other necessary materials to the site.
  • There is also a danger of increased seismic activity resulting in earthquakes.

For these reasons, the extraction of oil by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is under international scrutiny, and has been banned outright in some countries.

Wall St crooks

Where do you slot in?

According to a source quoted in that Telegraph article, much of the finance for the fracking industry is being supplied by Wall Street private equity groups such as the Blackstone and Carlyle Groups. Of course wise investment is an important motive for those businesses, but some might argue that equally important is the need to keep the world safe for capitalism. Daniel Rubenstein, one of Carlyle’s founders is identified in his Wikipedia biography as “financier and philanthropist”. He is also credited with having foreseen, in 2006, that private equity “activity” was about to crash – which it did indeed – but predicted in 2008 that the lean period would soon be over and he and his cronies would be back sucking the world dry more profitably than before. Three big cheers for philanthropy, people!

Do I sound sceptical? Apart from the involvement of Mr Rubenstein and his “philanthropic” ilk, I have other reasons. My primary concern is I do not believe Saudi Arabia is the main target of US strategy here, nor is a desire to be self-sufficient in oil production for its own sake, and I’ll tell you why.

Saudi Arabia is a firm ally of the United States, and the single biggest customer of the US arms industry. What do they do with all that military hardware, given that they don’t seem to be directly involved in any actual wars, to the best of my knowledge. Another source in that Telegraph article asserts that the Saudis are proxy suppliers of military hardware to Egypt and “an opaque nexus of clients in the Saudi sphere.” Whose proxy? No prizes for guessing that one! Furthermore Saudi Arabia has ample foreign reserves and its oil is very cheap to extract. It is well placed to withstand a long siege of low oil prices without seriously affecting the bloated lifestyle of its citizens.

OPEC, however, is not just composed of Middle Eastern Arabs and Muslims. Venezuela, with the world’s second largest oil reserves, was one of the five founding members of OPEC in 1960. Also in the group are Ecuador, Indonesia and several African countries with low per capita incomes: Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. Do you see any countries in that list that Wall Street financiers might not love? Ecuador and Venezuela have been at the forefront of South American Bolivarian socialist progress for two decades. Rafael Correa and his neighbour Hugo Chavez began the process of nationalising their countries’ resources and using them to raise living standards for all their people, and Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro has continued on the same track.

USA wants Venezuela

When the fracking’s over . . .

In 2002 a military coup in Venezuela succeeded in overthrowing President Chavez, but after huge demonstrations of public support, the generals handed the reins of government back 47 hours later. According to Wikipedia, In December 2004, The New York Times reported on the release of newly declassified intelligence documents that showed that the CIA and Bush administration officials had advance knowledge of an imminent plot to oust President Chavez, although the same documents do not indicate the United States supported the plot.” Well, they wouldn’t, would they? Not a scrap of evidence, as the US Ambassador to Turkey would say. However, those Wall St financiers don’t give up easily, and they don’t have to win elections to stay in power. There is more than one way to bring down a government you don’t like. Ask Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi.

I came across an article in Global Research last month entitled US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, is Tearing Venezuela Apart. The writer, Caleb T Maupin, argues, The political and economic crisis facing Venezuela is being endlessly pointed to as proof of the superiority of the free market . . . In reality, millions of Venezuelans have seen their living conditions vastly improved through the Bolivarian process. The problems plaguing the Venezuelan economy are not due to some inherent fault in socialism, but to artificially low oil prices and sabotage by forces hostile to the revolution . . . The goal is to weaken these opponents of Wall Street, London, and Tel Aviv, whose economies are centered around oil and natural gas exports”.

NIGERIA POVERTY

A Nigerian child’s share of his nation’s oil wealth

Who benefits from this economic war? No prizes for guessing that one either. Who suffers? Well, that’s pretty obvious too. The people of Venezuela and Ecuador in the short term, of course – but more so in the long term if the populist economic reform process can be derailed. The people of those African oil-rich countries, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola, certainly, if the multi-national oil companies can retain their control of production. But there are others too, who receive even less publicity: the millions of migrant labourers from India and other poor countries who have been working in Saudi Arabia and other wealthy states in the region. A news report ten days ago revealed  that the Indian government had come to the rescue of more than ten thousand of their citizens starving in Saudi Arabia. 16,000 kg of food was distributed by the consulate in Jeddah to penniless workers who had lost their jobs and not been paid. The report claimed that there are more than three million Indians living and working in Saudi Arabia, and more than 800,000 in Kuwait, many of whom have not been paid for months after factories closed down, and employers are refusing to feed them. The Indian government is taking steps to evacuate as many as possible.

Supporting Turkey

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge . . .

It seems there are many ways the world’s sole remaining super power and its financial backers can get rid of “unfriendly” foreign governments and individuals:

  • Invasion and total destruction is one;
  • Drone strikes are more incisive and undoubtedly cheaper;
  • CIA-sponsored military coups have had some success;
  • Destroying a country’s economy is slower, but leaves less obvious dirt on the hands of the perpetrators, and has the additional advantage of inciting the people of the targeted country to oust the government themselves.

It is clear that the United States, or at least the small amoral power group who control it, do not care if they irreparably destroy their country’s natural environment, nor how many helpless, innocent people at home and abroad suffer for their greed. The US Ambassador to Turkey may be deeply hurt – but I doubt it. Any moisture you see in his eyes will surely be crocodile tears.

The Murder of Chávez. The CIA and DEA Cover Their Tracks

I’m reblogging this from a blog I follow. No direct connection to Turkey – but I have written about Hugo Chavez in the past, and this seemed worth passing on:

or-37029Journalist continues to raise inconvenient questions about Hugo Chavez’s death . . . Source: The Murder of Chávez. The CIA and DEA Cover Their Tracks By Nil Nikandrov The journalist Eva Golin…

Source: The Murder of Chávez. The CIA and DEA Cover Their Tracks

Neo-con-spiracy: Egypt, Turkey and the spirit of true democracy

‘Egypt’s February 28’ran the headline in our local newspaper. If you don’t live in Turkey, or you are not a student of the country’s affairs, that date won’t mean much to you – so I’d better tell you that it was the day in 1997 when senior military commanders had a quiet word in the ear of Turkey’s Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan, resulting in that gentleman’s resignation from office. It has become known as Turkey’s ‘post-modern coup’, to distinguish it from the three military coups that had taken place between 1960 and 1980 and were more orthodox in terms of martial law, executions, torture and civilian disappearances.

Older Turks, then, are familiar with the pattern, and some, including the current Turkish government, raised their voices in protest when, on July 3, Egypt’s military ousted elected President Mohammed Morsi and installed an ’interim’ replacement more supportive of their aims and objectives.

Now I do not know, and I certainly cannot prove that the United States Government or its operatives abroad had any involvement in last Wednesday’s events in Egypt. What I can say with some certainty, however, is that successive US administrations were strong supporters of Hosni Mubarak, unseated in 2011 by Egypt’s Arab Spring uprising after a 29 year military dictatorship– to the extent that they had provided him with sufficient weaponry to make Egypt the world’s 10th largest military machine. I can also say that, under Mubarak’s tutelage, Egypt had become a friendly supporter of Israel – somewhat surprisingly given that from its beginning in 1948, they had fought several wars with their emergent Middle Eastern neighbour, again in 1956, 1967, 1969, 1970, and 1974, and had consistently refused to recognise its right to exist.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is evident that Western ‘democracies’ are not unhappy with the current military ‘intervention’ in Egypt. US and European spokespersons are tying their tongues in knots trying to avoid labelling it a military coup, since doing so would require them to cut off financial aid to the illegal regime. It also seems clear that Egypt’s economic problems under the Morsi administration were, at least in part, caused by reluctance on the part of Western countries to lend their support to the democratically elected president.

Still, it’s also interesting to note that Egypt’s Middle Eastern Arab neighbours (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates), whom you might have expected to approve of the Morsi government, seem also to be supportive of the military takeover. Clearly their own vested interests and their dislike of democracy per se override what sympathy they may have felt for a Muslim brother.


Well, enough of Egypt. My wife and I just returned from a visit to the USA. We had a great time. My stepdaughter got married in a delightful celebration, and I caught up with a couple of old friends in New York City from way back when. As you may imagine, I didn’t do a lot of reading, but I did glance at a newspaper occasionally. My Turkish friends and readers will be proud to know that their country is in the news over there. No publicity is bad publicity, goes the saying – though they might be a little concerned at the nature of the exposure Turkey is getting in some sections of the US media.


My attention was drawn to an opinion piece in the New York Post by one Amir Taheri. OK, the Post is probably not a shining example of journalistic objectivity and integrity, but people over there read it, and their world view may well be influenced by what they see in its pages. Just a quick sample selection from Mr Taheri’s piece:


When Ottoman Sultans failed on the battlefield they sought glory in building a mosque – and now Sultan Tayyip Erdoğan is doing the same. Taheri claims that the government plans to build, on thirty square miles of prime urban land in the Taksim area, a mosque whose minaret will be the world’s highest man-made structure. Prime Minister Erdoğan, he asserts, is turning Istanbul into the largest building site in the world, giving contracts to supporters and making the AKP administration the most corrupt since the fall of the caliphate. One of his projects is a canal to be named after Sultan Selim, known in English as ‘the Bloodsucker’.


Erdoğan united twenty different Islamic groups and got himself elected by a majority of Turks while sneakily making no mention of Islam. The policies of his AK Party government are an ideological hodgepodge.


Hard to know where to start demolishing such a breath-taking collection of misrepresentations, distortions and downright untruths, but let’s start with the minaret. Currently the world’s tallest minaret is in Casablanca, Morocco, and stands 210 metres (689 feet) tall. By contrast, the world’s tallest man-made structure is the Burj Khalifa, a non-religious edifice in Dubai. It will take a miraculous feat of engineering and architecture to construct a minaret able to exceed that building’s 830 metres (2,722 feet). As for the building site in ‘downtown’ Istanbul, one square mile is equal to 640 acres, or 2.6 km2. Thirty square miles means an area not quite as large as the entire island of Manhattan, but almost! I can’t imagine the most absolute of military dictators managing to demolish that much of the city.


Undoubtedly there is a major construction boom taking place in Turkey at present, and not only in Istanbul. I don’t know how it would compare to the activity that transformed New York City in the first half of the 20thcentury – but few Americans would argue that that was a bad thing. Certainly there is a plan to build a canal allowing foreign shipping to bypass the urban centre of Turkey’s largest city – but it will not be named after Sultan Selim (whose name is mooted for a third bridge being built across the Bosporus Strait– not river, Mr Taheri).


The principal architectural feature of old Istanbul is its domed and minaretted skyline, its monumental mosques built by extremely successful conquering sultans in the glory days of the Ottoman Empire. One of these was Selim (reigned 1512-1520) known to Turks as Yavuz(the Tough, or Ferocious) and in English usually as Selim the Grim. I hadn’t come across the Bloodsucker nickname before, but very likely some of those his armies conquered would have been less than overjoyed and may have attached less flattering names to him. Erdoğan’s AK Party Government, however, has indeed managed to win and retain the support of a majority of Turks, largely as a result of policies with a broad appeal to a cross-section of the voting public – so the term hodgepodge may be a trifle unfair. Would Mr Taheri have preferred a more overt Islamic agenda?


Anyway, after reading his piece on Turkey, I felt I had to check out Amir Taheri’s credentials as a journalist, and let me share with you some of my findings. Wikipedia informs us that he is Iranian by birth, and was quite a high-profile chap in the last years of the Shah’s regime, filling, among other roles, the position of executive editor-in-chief of the pro-Shah propagandist daily, ‘Kayhan’. Needless to say, his services were no longer required after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and he sought refuge in the United States who had installed the Shah in the first place.


Since taking up residence in the USA, Taheri has authored a number of books and written columns for many prestigious newspapers, where his ‘Bomb Iran’ and general anti-Islamic opinions have made him a popular commentator in certain circles – a popularity seemingly undiminished by his reputation for fabricating false stories, distorting facts and citing nonexistent sources. One reviewer of his 1988 book ‘A Nest of Spies’ wrote that it is ‘the sort of book that gives contemporary history a bad name.’ Jonathan Schwarz, writing for Mother Jones, called Taheri ‘one of the strangest ingredients in America’s media soup.’ He went on to say, ‘There may not be anyone else who simply makes things up as regularly as he does with so few consequences.’


Just why the guy gets away with the nonsense he writes may be explained by his primary audience and his connections. According to Wikipedia, Taheri has a PR agent by the name of Eliana Benador whose company, now apparently defunct, was particularly active publishing the writings of leading neo-conservatives during the George W Bush presidency. According to Source Watch, Ms Benador hails from Peru, but lives in the United States and acts as a ‘sort of theatrical agent for experts on the Middle East and terrorism’. Many of her clients, it seems, are associated with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), ‘an extremely influential, pro-business, conservative think tank which promotes the advancement of free enterprise capitalism, and succeeds in placing its people in influential governmental positions. It is the center base for many neo-conservatives’. Taheri himself has been associated with two Islamophobic organisations, the Gatestone Institute and the Hudson Institute, founded and funded by Sears Roebuck heiress Nina Rosenwald, a lady labelled the ‘Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate’ by journalist Max Blumenthal.


Well, on the subject of guys who have made themselves unpopular with their own governments seeking refuge elsewhere, it seems the United States operates a double standard. Probably, like me, you have been following the case of Edward Snowden, former contractor to the National Security Agency and CIA employee who made a name for himself by leaking details of top-secret US and British mass surveillance programmes to the press.


Most of the current media attention seems to be focused on US attempts to get Snowden back from Moscow where he has apparently been holed up in the airport for a couple of weeks. The guy has been applying to a number of countries for political asylum, but his task has been complicated by the fact that the US Government has revoked his passport, and used its diplomatic muscle to dissuade others from sheltering him. Bolivian President, Evo Morales was evidently suspected of sneaking Snowden out of Moscow on his private plane – which was forced to land in Vienna and be searched by authorities. France, Spain, Portugal and Austria denied bowing to US pressure in refusing passage through their airspace – but you’d have to wonder if they had their fingers crossed behind their backs.


Anyway, as of today, it seems that Venezuela and Nicaragua have offered asylum to the American whistle-blower, perhaps adding a third party to that interesting duo of Julian Assange and Kim Dotcom. Evidently the spirit of Hugo Chavez lives on in Venezuela – and clearly some states in South America continue to have misgivings about their large northern neighbour.


In the midst of all the excitement about whether US law enforcement agencies will be able to snatch Snowden or not, it is easy to lose sight of what all the fuss is actually about. Last month the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers published a series of articles containing revelations that the United States and UK governments were using high tech surveillance systems to spy or eavesdrop on supposedly friendly allies like France, Italy, Japan and South Korea. As a result, Germany’s Andrea Merkel and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have been seeking clarification from high-ups in the United States about the true nature of their friendship. I wish them luck. A White House spokesman announced that ‘The president assured the chancellor that the United States takes seriously the concerns of our European allies and partners’ – politician-speak for ‘Calm down, Angie baby, and don’t get your knickers in a twist!’

I hear what you’re saying, Angie
President Obama himself offered more honesty, if little consolation, ‘Every intelligence service, not just ours . . . is going to be trying to understand the world better and what’s going on in world capitals around the world from sources that aren’t available through the New York Times or NBC News’– president-speak for ‘Calm down, Angie baby, and don’t get your knickers in a twist!’
Well, when all’s said and done, we kind of knew that, didn’t we? That’s what spying’s all about, isn’t it? It has recently emerged that some delegates to the G20 conference in London in 2009, including Turkey’s Finance Minister Ahmet Şimşek and his delegation, had their phone calls and emails monitored by UK authorities. So far there has been no response from the British Government to official Turkish demands for an explanation.
In the end, as President Obama implied in his response to Chancellor Merkel, everybody’s doing it, and sometimes they get caught. There will be a bit of a fuss, some red faces, and then it’ll be back to business as usual. Nevertheless, there are two serious moral dilemmas that emerge. The first is the responsibility of an employee who learns that his or her employer is up to some skullduggery. The Nuremburg Trials after the Second World War established the principle that following orders is not a defense for crimes against humanity. So what should a guy like Snowden do when he sees his employer (the United States Government) carrying out actions that would outrage the international community?
The second is on a much larger scale and with far more serious implications. To what extent is a government justified in involving itself in the internal affairs of another sovereign state when it considers its own interests are threatened? When Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh planned to nationalize his country’s oil industry in 1953, Britain persuaded the US to overthrow his government and reinstall the Shah. When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, Britain felt justified in sending troops – though this time the Americans didn’t play along.
For the United States, there are two crucial issues in the Middle East – oil supplies and the existence of Israel. Anything that threatens US interests here will provoke a strong response. In terms of preserving the status quo, in spite of all the rhetoric about democracy, it is much easier to deal with autocratic governments than with administrations answerable to the changeable will of the local people. We must hope that recent events in Turkey and Egypt are, in fact, expressions of popular sentiment in those countries, and not a result of cynical outside interference. In the final analysis, however, it may be merely a matter of how big you are and what you believe you can get away with.


He Who Pays the Piper Eats the Turkey

Great news! I’ve found a new journalist to dislike! Now I don’t have anything personal with journalists, you must understand. It’s just that, as a group their job requires them to sensationalise situations, look for the negatives in an issue, employ emotive language when short of facts, and toe the party line of whichever media magnate is paying their salary. In that last respect, they are much like economists.
Journalistic wit – example of
I came across an article about Turkey the other day. That’s Turkey with a capital ‘T’ – though it wasn’t immediately obvious from the headline, ‘Overdone Turkey’, and the accompanying photograph, a close-up shot of a mouth-watering, golden roasted, juicy fowl straight from the oven. Well, we all enjoy a little joke, of course, but you might have expected something slightly more creative, or at least less trite, from a professional writer with a PhD in Political Science and several books to his name, as this gentleman, Steven A Cook seemingly is. Anyone who has googled the name of this blog site will be aware that the simple brain of the world’s most popular search engine is incapable of distinguishing between the bird that adorns American tables on the fourth Thursday of November, and the nation of 75 million people on the eastern fringe of Europe that has been a loyal ally and key figure in United States strategic planning in the region since at least the beginning of the Cold War. That’s an unfortunate semantic fact of life for Turks, in whose own language the two words have no similarity whatsoever. They don’t get your joke, Steve – they just think you have a puerile, sub-adolescent sense of humour.
OK, admittedly, that article was published in November last year, and I don’t want to be too hard on the guy. Situations can change pretty rapidly in world affairs. Still, you’d think that a trained academic setting himself up as some kind of guru on US foreign policy would have a tad more objectivity, and an ability to make more accurate predictions than are evident in this piece. To save you the trouble of laughing your way through an article with more opinionated fluff than substance, here’s a brief summary:
The Turkish Prime Minister and his insignificant little country had been getting ideas above their station. They were starting to think of themselves as some kind of regional power with the clout to solve the problems of the Middle East – and some Americans (less intelligent and perceptive than Dr Steven A Cook) had been starting to believe the hype. The truth, we are told, is that the Turkish government had blown its relations with Israel in order to curry favour with neighbouring Muslim states and its own Islamist electorate, with the result that it was now relegated to the sidelines of Middle East diplomacy, its place taken by the new Egypt of Mohammed Morsi.
Wow! Steve, I hope you are enjoying eating those words. Afiyet olsun, as the Turks say, before a meal. May the dish prove beneficial to your health and well-being. Without the advantages conferred by a doctorate in pol. studs, I can nevertheless assure US readers that Turkey has no aspirations to return to the glory days of imperial Ottoman power. They may perhaps, with some justification, see themselves as a moderately successful secular democratic republic with a healthily diverse economy, serving as an example to neighbouring Muslim nations in the Middle East and Central Asia. On the whole, however, they adhere to the doctrine of their founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, one of whose goals, often quoted, was ‘Peace at home, peace in the world’. He is also reputed to have said that the only justifiable war was one fought to defend your own home turf.
Certainly, Turkish-Israeli relations were somewhat strained there for a time, for reasons Dr Steve itemises, and certainly not all of Turkey’s making. However, recently, there has been a reconciliation of sorts, instituted, we believe, by the mediation of US President Obama. ‘Why would he bother?’ you may ask. Undoubtedly because he and his advisors have a better grasp of regional affairs than Dr Steve. The simple fact is that Turkey and Israel are two of the saner, more balanced, moderate, democratic states in that part of the world – and if push comes to shove, I’m not so sure about Israel. I am, however, pretty sure about Egypt. If Steve still believes that Egypt is stable and secular enough to perform the role of credible mediator between Israel and Palestine when it can’t govern itself without the army and martial law . . . well, I suspect he may now be having second thoughts.
The thing is, though, Steven A Cook is not alone. Time magazine on May 16, published an article by one Ishaan Tharoor mocking Turkish PM Erdoğan over his recent visit to the USA, where he met and had dinner and discussions with President Obama – an honour, I suspect, not granted to every visiting head of a tin-pot state. I’ve never been a big believer in conspiracy theories, but it does seem to me that a good deal of ink is being expended in influential media in the West aimed at belittling and discrediting Turkey, and I can’t help wondering why. So I did a little digging, and came up with some interesting stuff.
The article referred to above, by Steven A Cook, appeared in a publication called Foreign Policy Magazine. FPM was founded by a certain Samuel P Huntington, author of the 1993 book ‘Clash of Civilisations’ which, rightly or wrongly, seemed to inspire much of the focus on the Muslim world as a substitute for the Soviet evil Empire in the post-Cold War age. Samuel P’s business partner was Warren Demian Manshel, an investment banker, director and Chief Administrative Officer of the CIA-backed Council for Cultural Freedom. Foreign Policy Mag’s editor-in-chief for fourteen years until 2010 was a guy called Moises Naim, who (despite the name), prior to taking up the reins at FPM, was Minister of Trade and Industry of Venezuela, and Executive Director of the World Bank. Naim served in the government of Carlos Andres Perez who was forced out of office and subsequently convicted of large-scale embezzlement of government money, which he is said to have stashed in secret bank accounts in the USA, held jointly with his ‘mistress’. Perez fled to the US where he lived in exile in Florida until his death in 2010. You might think the new Venezuelan government would have wanted to bring him back for trial, as the US does with Julian Assange and Kim Dotcom. What stopped them, I wonder? Incidentally, the CIA is suspected of involvement in an unsuccessful 2002 coup to overturn that new democratically elected Venezuelan government headed by Hugo Chavez.
Moises Naim, the while, was editing Foreign Policy Magazine, which, incidentally is owned by the Washington Post, whose principal shareholders are apparently, the family of Eugene Isaac Meyer and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Eugene Isaac Meyer (despite the name, no Venezuelan connection, as far as I can discover) was Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank in the early days of the Great Depression, going on to become first president of the World Bank Group. Berkshire Hathaway is a ginormous multinational corporate behemoth that, according to Wikipedia, ‘wholly owns GEICO, BNSF, Lubrizol, Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, Helzberg Diamonds and NetJets, owns half of Heinz, owns an undisclosed percentage of Mars, Incorporated and has significant minority holdings in American Express, The Coca-Cola Company, Wells Fargo, and IBM’  – controlled by chairman, president and CEO, Warren Buffett, consistently ranked in the top three on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest human beings.
Now I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty that Mr Buffett calls Foreign Policy Magazine writers into his office of a Monday morning to give specific instructions on what they are going to write this week. I do suspect, however, that there are some men in the United States (and women too, for all I know) who feel they are entitled to a major say in shaping the nations domestic and foreign policy. Presidents come and go, but the Buffetts and the Meyers are in this for the long haul. If all those starry-eyed US citizens who, full of hope for a better future, voted for Barack Obama in 2008, wonder what went wrong, they just need to take a look at the policy movers and shakers who weren’t actually up for election.
But why pick on Turkey? With its 75 million people and economy ranked 17th in the world, it’s never going to be a major global power again. It seems to have minimal fossil fuel resources, treats its people relatively well, welcomes tourists from wealthier nations to its bars, beaches and historical sites, and has no aggressive territorial aims. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, Turkey’s location gives it huge geo-political significance. Situated on the back-doorstep of Europe, buffering Christendom against the Islamic tide of the Middle East and straddling the narrow sea-lane that gives warm water access for shipping to and from Russia and the land-locked republics of Central Asia, Turkey inevitably looms large in the strategic planning of the world’s big players. It has always been so, since time immemorial.
If you want a military base from which to bomb Baghdad, or site nuclear missiles within easy reach of Moscow, Turkey’s a good location. If you want to run a pipeline bringing oil from Kazakhstan to Europe, you might want to run it through Turkey. If you want diplomatically immune and reasonably secure  consulates and embassies from which to manage intelligence-gathering operations in Russia, the Middle East and beyond, hard to find a better place. Turkey, as noted above, has a stable democracy, a relatively satisfied population, fairly reliable and efficient internal security, and, despite the doom-sayers, little likelihood of being taken over by Al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. Plus, it’s a nice place to live, if you’re a big wheel in business or the diplomatic corps, and you have to be posted abroad.
The downside, from the perspective of those big world players, is that Turkey is a bit of a free spirit in the world of international affairs. The Ottoman Empire it may not be, but there is a strong residual memory of a time when Istanbul was capital of an empire wielding considerable power in early modern Europe. Apart from a brief spell of five years after the First World War when the city was occupied by British and French military, the heartland of modern Turkey was never subsumed into, nor colonised by any foreign empire. In the early years of the Republic, Turkey managed to maintain neutrality during the Second World War and avoid invasion by the Nazi war machine.
They did send troops to Korea in the early 1950s, and put their lives on the line for NATO as a bulwark against Soviet expansion during the Cold War years. Nevertheless, they have always reserved the right to make their own decisions, as George Dubya found out when he invaded Iraq in 2003. Bush and his team would have dearly loved to include Turkey in their ‘Coalition of the Willing’ to show that they were not just a coalition of willing Christians against the Muslims. It was said the US Government offered a substantial financial incentive to secure Turkey’s participation. Unfortunately some indiscreet aide let slip the opinion that the Turks could be bought, and the Turks, whose sense of pride and honour sometimes gets them into trouble, not only pulled out, but also refused to allow their İncirlik base to be used for launching US bombers.
So, democracy, despite the hype, is probably less popular in their corridors of power than Western leaders would have us believe.  When Egyptians rose in Tahrir Square against 30-year President Hosni Mubarak, their protest led to the ousting of a ruler much loved by US leaders but not awfully popular in his own country. It has been suggested that he at least had prior knowledge of the assassination of predecessor Anwar Sadat. At no time did Egyptian citizens elect him in a free and democratic election. He was widely regarded at home as an American puppet, and there is no doubt that his huge military machine was supplied by the generosity of successive United States Governments.
The big question is, who makes these things happen? And who controls the news media so that ordinary citizens in the United States and elsewhere are kept in the dark about what is actually going on? Clearly Barack Obama is not the only one calling the tune of American foreign and domestic policy. And Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has a hard job to maintain his country’s independence in the face of a slanderous campaign by Western media. And I will refrain from adolescent speculation on what the ‘A’ in Steven A Cook stands for.

Ding Dong. Who’s There? A Witch and a Wizard

A Facebook group had, it seems, been planning for several years to make ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’, from the 1939 film ‘The Wizard of Oz’, No 1 song in the UK when Margaret Thatcher died. I have no idea what’s topping the charts in Venezuela these days, because I’ve been busy marking student essays at the university where I work. Maybe that’s what did it. An essay topic insinuated itself into my brain, and like the Ancient Mariner’s woeful agony, wouldn’t leave me alone until I’d buttonholed you and shared my tale, so here it is:
‘Compare and contrast the lives and political careers of Hugo Chavez and Margaret Thatcher’
The world lost two colourful and controversial political figures in 2013. Both had served long terms as leader of their countries: Hugo Chavez as President of Venezuela for fourteen years; Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of Britain for almost twelve.
Both leaders divided their nations into dramatically polarised groups – those who loved them and those who hated and detested them. Both achieved considerable international recognition during their lifetime. Time ranked Chavez among the world’s ‘100 Most Influential People’ in 2005 and 2006. The same weekly had Thatcher in its ‘100 Most Important People of the 20th Century’. The British magazine New Statesman (admittedly leftist) placed Chavez eleventh on their list of ‘Heroes of Our Time’. A BBC poll to find the ‘100 Greatest Britons’ had Dame Maggie at number sixteen on the list – a ranking somewhat devalued, I fear, by its having Princess Diana in third place.
Pouring cold water in Northern Ireland
Thatcher is said to be the only post-war Oxford-educated PM not to have been awarded an honorary doctorate by her alma mater. Chavez on the other hand received several such awards, from universities as far away as South Korea, Russia and Beijing.
Both were ideologues, committed to particular, somewhat extreme political doctrines which they single-mindedly applied in the face of strong opposition: Thatcher to the monetarism of Milton Friedman, and Chavez to socialism and populism, and his revolutionary heroes, Simon Bolivar and Che Guevara.
Both formed strong bonds with like-minded leaders on the international stage: Thatcher with US presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush the Father, Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet and the Prime Minister of apartheid-era South Africa, PW Botha; Chavez with South American neighbours Fidel Castro and Rafael Correa, and Iranian president Mahmud Ahmedinejad.
Thatcher crushed the unions, broke down the traditions of collective workplace bargaining, championed an individualistic, free-market privatised economy where financiers were given free reign, and paved the way for a new society with summers of content for the wealthy and an underclass tucked away out of sight, occasionally rising in disorganised protest and ruthlessly suppressed. British Labour MP Glenda Jackson, speaking in a parliamentary debate after Thatcher’s death, described that lady’s achievement as ‘the most heinous social, economic and spiritual damage upon this country.’
Chavez took on the problems of poverty and slums associated with uncontrolled urbanisation, addressed the evils of inadequate food production and profiteering, and reduced poverty in Venezuela from 59 to 24 percent of the population. He was the leader of a South American nation struggling with the legacy of colonialism, corruption, large-scale poverty and huge inequalities of wealth distribution.
Thatcher, on the other hand, headed a West European country with a history of imperialist and colonial exploitation, and the sixth largest economy in the world, who went to war with a much poorer and technologically inferior South American state to preserve her nation’s right to own a tiny island in the South Atlantic Ocean 12,500 km from its own shores. Cynics have suggested that, if not for the wave of jingoistic patriotism and media frenzy generated by this ten-week mini-war, Thatcher might have been a one-term rather than a three-term Prime Minster. Even her first election victory, in 1979, was achieved with the support of former National Front voters, who deserted their far right nationalist whites-only party to side with the ‘Iron Lady’.
Both premiers came from relatively humble origins – Thatcher, daughter of a Grantham grocer, who did, though, own two stores; Chavez born to small-town working class parents. Margaret Hilda Roberts, however was able to marry a millionaire businessman, Denis Thatcher, who financed her through law school (after her first career as a chemist foundered), supported her in her early political career, and purchased their two comfortable homes, in Chelsea and rural Kent. In an interview in 1970, Hubby Thatcher is quoted as saying, ‘I don’t pretend that I’m anything but an honest-to-God right-winger – those are my views and I don’t care who knows ’em’. Funny how those right-wing loonies always seem to find a way to bring God in on their side. Maggie’s father-in-law, incidentally, was apparently born in New Zealand, so I and my fellow Kiwis can claim some interest in the Baroness’s rise to power.
The Venezuelan leader died in office after a battle with cancer, still popular enough in his own country to have been re-elected to a fourth term as president in 2012. The dear departed Briton was more or less obliged to resign as PM in 1990, shortly before the first Gulf War, which she had egged on – and in the face of serious opposition to her iniquitous poll tax. She lived to see Britain plunged into an economic crisis from which it still has not recovered, brought about in large part by her policies of deregulating the finance sector and fostering greed-driven capitalism. According to reports, she went slowly insane, afflicted with dementia for the last thirteen years of her life.
Perhaps Thatcher’s most shameful legacy was facilitating the destruction of an alternative political voice representing the viewpoint of ordinary people. Her long-term political crony, Lord Howe of Aberavon put it differently: ‘Her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible.’ Indeed, the subsequent Labour Government under Tony Blah was ‘labour’ in nothing but name.
Whatever you may think of Hugo Chavez, he kept alive the belief in other possibilities – at considerable personal risk. He was actually ousted in 2002 by a coup (said by some, himself included, to have been supported by the United States and the CIA). This belief is lent strength by the fact that the coup leaders had so little local support they were forced to hand back the reigns of power to Chavez after a mere forty-seven hours, making it possibly the shortest military takeover in history. Well, to be fair to Dame Maragaret, she did survive an assassination attempt by the Irish Republican Army in 1984, and no one would deny that she had the courage of her dubious convictions. According to one source, she was turned down for a job in 1948 as a research chemist for ICI on the grounds that she was ‘headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated’. Violence in Northern Ireland increased considerably in her first term of office, and nine IRA members died on hunger strikes in English prisons. After the assassination attempt, however, she did seem to moderate her stance on Ireland, so perhaps she was not entirely unresponsive to the alternative point-of-view.
Thatcher’s economic policies have sometimes been credited with putting the ‘Great’ back in Great Britain – though the gloss seems to have gone off the ‘Great’-ness again in the last year or two. Even at the time, however, it depended very much on where you were looking from. Her first term as Prime Minister saw a decline of thirty percent in manufacturing output, and unemployment reaching an all-time high of three million plus. Much of her apparent success could be attributed to the huge sell-off of state assets, and increased profits for the companies that survived.
After her resignation from active politics, Thatcher was employed by tobacco giant Philip Morris as a ‘geopolitical consultant’, in a role similar to that played by Aaron Eckhart in the 2005 movie ‘Thank You For Smoking’ – only Thatcher was for real.
As for Hugo Chavez, it would be hard to find a national leader with more starkly contrasting economic and social policies. Undoubtedly, he had the major advantage of heading a country said to have the world’s largest reserves of crude oil. Nevertheless, that doesn’t seem necessarily to oblige a government to show concern for its people.  Chavez’s so-called ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ nationalised several key industries, increased spending on health and education, and aimed to develop systems facilitating participatory democracy. His ‘Mission Zamora’ was a reform programme aimed at redistributing land to the landless. Needless to say it was vehemently opposed by vested interests who hired assassins to terminate supporters and beneficiaries of the reforms. In 2009, Chavez and other like-minded South American leaders established the Bank of the South as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund, which they perceived as pursuing an unsympathetic political agenda. Former World Bank chief economist, Nobel Laureate and Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz is on record as expressing approval of this project.
Of course, Chavez had his critics abroad as well as at home. He did not endear himself to the Younger Bush’s administration with his criticism of the US invasion of Iraq. The organisation Human Rights Watch issued a report in 2008 claiming that government action in Venezuela was eroding the independence of the judiciary and ‘undercutting journalists’ freedom of expression’. To put that in perspective, HRW’s headquarters is in the Empire State Building in New York City, and its principal source of funding is George Soros – of whom I have written before.
One example of the independence of the judiciary in Venezuela is a case involving a judge Maria Afiuni, who was arrested on charges of corruption. Apparently she had released on bail a banker charged with large-scale fraud and illegal currency trading. HRW and other groups including the US Department of State felt that the learned judge was being unfairly treated. Chavez’s government was of the opinion that she might have been unduly influenced by under-the-table incentives. Who’s to know?
Well, no doubt debate over the legacies of these two late lamented will go on, with little agreement possible between entrenched positions. Baroness Thatcher was seen off at a state funeral on Wednesday with much British pomp and ceremony. Sadly, some might feel, US President Obama was otherwise engaged, and Hilary Clinton declined her invitation. In their stead the US was represented by George Schultz, Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney – relics, one might think, of a more clearly defined political age.  Former apartheid South African President FW de Clerk was there – but not Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, current president of Argentina, who, I understand, was not invited.
Chavez’s funeral was apparently a less formal, more musical affair. Ms de Kirchner was in attendance, as were Cuba’s Raul Castro, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko as well as Brazil’s Dilma Vana Rousseff. Actor Sean Penn and Hollywood director Oliver Stone had kind words to say, as did maverick film-maker Michael Moore, who quoted Chavez as saying, on their meeting in 2009, ‘He was happy to finally meet someone Bush hated more than him.’ A man could have worse things inscribed on his tombstone.

Hugo Chavez RIP

No minute of silence in USA for Venezuelan baseball fan
Hugo Chavez died on Wednesday after 14 years as President of Venezuela. He didn’t love everyone, and not everyone loved him – but he had strong opinions, and wasn’t afraid to express them. Here’s a brief sample, and a site you can check out for more:

The Devil at the UN
Chavez infamously referred to US President George W. Bush as the devil in a 2006 address to the UN: “And the Devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the Devil came here. Right here. [crosses himself] And it smells of sulphur still today. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the Devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.”
Tony Blair as an imperial pawn
After UK Prime Minister Tony Blair advised Chavez to abide by international law and avoid close relations with Cuba, the Venezuelan president hit back with this: “Don’t be shameless, Mr Blair. Don’t be immoral, Mr Blair. You are one of those who have no morals. You are not one who has the right to criticise anyone about the rules of the international community.  You are an imperialist pawn who attempts to curry favour with Danger Bush-Hitler, the number one mass murderer and assassin there is on the planet.  Go straight to hell, Mr Blair.”
Capitalism destroyed life on Mars
On World Water Day in 2011, Chavez marked the occasion by noting the destructive potential of capitalism: “I have always said, heard, that it would not be strange that there had been civilization on Mars, but maybe capitalism arrived there, imperialism arrived and finished off the planet. Careful! Here on planet Earth where hundreds of years ago or less there were great forests, now there are deserts. Where there were rivers, there are deserts.”