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Post Venezuela's Constitutional Referendum
Created by John Eipper on 07/29/17 7:45 AM

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Venezuela's Constitutional Referendum (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 07/29/17 7:45 am)

On Friday, July 28th, Massoud Malek wrote about the multiple times the US government has attempted to influence elections and generally intervene in foreign countries. A specific quote from Massoud interested me: "On Tuesday, the US House overwhelmingly voted to punish Putin for his intervention in the presidential election of 2016, by imposing new sanctions on Russia. It is ironic that on the same day, the US imposed fresh sanctions on Venezuela in an effort to stop the rewriting of its constitution."

I won't argue in favor or against the moral or ethical question of whether the US has attempted to influence other countries' politics or internal affairs. It is a historical fact that countries with some kind of power--you name it, the US, Russia, China, Iran, Israel, etc., and even Cuba--will try to influence or intervene in whatever way possible for the sake of its interests.

But the point I want to address is that Massoud seems to be very indulgent with the Venezuelan regime, as he has been with the Cuban regime.

Let me clarify what the Venezuelan government intends to do by means of "rewriting its constitution," the "constituyente" as it is called here.

The "constituyente" has been called and promoted by the regime with specific antidemocratic goals. The official objectives at first sight appear to be harmless: to gain peace and reassert the values of justice and establish a national dialogue, to improve the Venezuelan economic system based on productivity and diversification, to reinforce the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, to institutionalize the "comunas" or communes (soviets if you like), to give room for new forms of participative and direct democracy, to defend national sovereignty and to bring an end to the political violence.

These all seem to be good, except this government seeks peace as long as you submit to its ruling.  It has continuously violated the current constitution; its is well known that officials and military are involved in corruption and drug trafficking; it continuously ignores and overrules current democratic constitution or opposition institutions; it uses terror, repression, political harassment, and social extortion; they are willing to use "free" elections, direct or otherwise, as much as they are sure to win, etc.

The true underlying goals are more subtle:

--To overcome the current political and social turmoil by way of reinforcing repression and to legitimize the incarceration of opposition leaders and members of congress, or any other dissenting political expression.

--To eliminate or reduce the principles of Freedom of Expression, political dissent, Freedom of the Press and other basic democratic liberties.

--Secondly, to eliminate the current "democratic" institutions, to remove public officials in the opposition; to restructure institutions according to their political interests. Particularly the Congress (El Congreso), the General Attorney Office (La Fiscalia), Governors or Mayors, and to remove any other public servant suspected of being unfaithful to the revolution. To delete the democratic principle of Separation of Powers.

--Third, to suppress elections the regime suspects it would lose, including presidential referendums, as well as pending regional and municipal elections. Eliminating real free democratic elections.

--Finally, to give unlimited powers to the president, and extend the presidential period to an almost unlimited time. In summary, the constituyente is a coup through a supposedly legal means.

It is unnecessary to say this government´s strategy is directed by the Cuban regime, under which Maduro is simply a puppet.

Under the present circumstances, the regime has no real obstacles opposing its actions, and the political opposition has few real instruments to counter them. In this scenario, would I be against US intervention or for that matter any other foreign country? I believe the answer is pretty obvious even if sovereignty might be questioned.

JE comments:  The referendum will be held tomorrow (July 30th), and the last several weeks have been marred by violence and dozens of deaths.  Please stay safe, José Ignacio, and send us an update when you get the chance.

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  • Cuba and Venezuela (Massoud Malek, USA 07/31/17 9:00 AM)
    This is in response to José Ignacio Soler (29 July). The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries created a permanent underclass of workers in England, France and Germany, many of whom lived in poverty under terrible working conditions and with little political representation.

    In 1848, German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who were influenced by Hegel's philosophy, wrote "The Communist Manifesto," one of the world's most influential political manuscripts. The manuscript was basically an extension of the "Master-Slave Dialectic," a key element of Hegel's philosophical system.

    Modern Cuba was created based on Hegel's philosophy. Meanwhile, the leaders of its neighbor, Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, refused to follow the "Master-Slave Dialectic."

    Marx and Engels wrote their manuscript for an industrial society. They never imagined that an uneducated bus driver in Venezuela who never read Hegel's writings would claim to protect Venezuela's workers against its fortunate citizens who refuse to respect the dignity of the lower classes.

    I defend Cuba, because of its accomplishments. Fidel Castro, an educated lawyer, decided to follow Hegel's philosophy, by providing universal health care and free education to its citizens, and also wiping out homelessness. But both the United States and Haiti struggle with these three basic human rights.

    JE comments:  I wonder how many Venezuelan workers believe they are being "protected" right now.  Only the truest of the True Believers are still in the Maduro camp, although there must be fear among the faithful that a post-Maduro regime will seek to even the score.

    Yesterday's Constituyente vote was marked by rampant violence that left at least nine people dead.  The results should be announced by the end of the day.

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    • Cuba and Venezuela (Istvan Simon, USA 08/01/17 7:07 AM)
      My friend Massoud Malek (31 July) presents a rosy and unrealistic view of Cuba under the Castros, to say nothing about the idiot in Venezuela who is maintained in power only by his goons.

      I do not much care about Hegel or Marx, and frankly they offer nothing very useful in today's world. Marx's ideas failed on a grand scale everywhere. Communism collapsed in Europe, and is maintained only in name in Vietnam and China. It would be hard to say that the regime in Pyongyang is communist. It is just a garbage hereditary regime that maintains itself in power through terror. Communism should and will collapse in Cuba as well, where Massoud ignores the absurd staying in power for decades of another hereditary dictatorship. Why is Raúl Castro the president of Cuba? What has he done which justifies his remaining in power 58 years after the Cuban Revolution? Why does Massoud so conveniently forget the thousands murdered by Castro and Che Guevara, another man Massoud admires, who does not deserve admiration?

      Cuba is a poor country where women can be bought for sex for a few dollars. This is much worse than was the case under Batista, when prostitution was a main feature in the casinos. Now a very large number of women have become disguised prostitutes. Cuba was a relatively rich country under Batista compared to Cuba today. Though the poverty now is distributed evenly, except of course to the top top elites like the Castros, who live in luxury. The Castro regime has few accomplishments (like health care and education} and many many giant failures.

      Cuba remains dependent and poor 58 years after the Castros came to power. There is no justification for a one-party state in Cuba, and it will not remain for long.

      JE comments:  The Cuban regime "will not remain for long"--but it has.  Will we be saying the same thing about Chavismo in Venezuela, ten or twenty years hence?

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      • Hegel, Marx, Cuba (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/08/17 5:13 AM)
        In his post of August 1st, Istvan Simon was critical of Massoud Malek's view of Cuba's performance as a sociopolitical and economic system. While Istvan makes some good points, one of the major factors that every critic of Cuba's performance have so far neglected to consider is the huge impact on such a little country that a powerful enemy country like the US can have. Just the fact that Cuba survived the US pressure is impressive enough, particularly after the USSR was terminated.

        Also, in his criticism of Massoud's post, Istvan stated, "I do not much care about Hegel or Marx, and frankly they offer nothing very useful in today's world. Marx's ideas failed on a grand scale everywhere. Communism collapsed in Europe, and is maintained only in name in Vietnam and China."

        This shows a profound misunderstanding of what Marx actually proposed. He did not propose Communism. He merely provided clear evidence that rampant Capitalism carries its own self-destruction. While I am a proud capitalist and can clearly see its constructive powers (from the benefits of savings and investments in innovative ideas, free markets, etc.), it has also become obvious that Marx is correct in his assessment of rampant capitalism.  It exploits the workers, it eliminates competition and destroys free markets, and its creates economic turmoil.

        JE comments:  We should also keep in mind the opposite: the huge impact such a little country (Cuba) has had on its powerful neighbor.

        Remember the old Soviet aphorism?  In Capitalism, Man exploits Man.  In Communism, it's the other way around.  (Apologies; I think I ran this one just a few weeks back.  So here's another chuckle from the USSR:  We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.)

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        • Are Capitalism and Market Economies the Same Thing? (Cameron Sawyer, USA 08/08/17 8:28 AM)

          There are two important points in Tor Guimaraes's post of August 8th:

          Capitalism and market economics are not the same thing at all, and capitalism (economic system dominated by the power of finance capital) is frequently acting against the market when capitalism is strong.

          Marx was at his best when he was criticizing other systems. His own self-constructed system was highly flawed, in my opinion, but he correctly identified a number of weaknesses in industrial capitalism.

          JE comments:  Re:  Marx, Cameron Sawyer is echoing our earlier point about the "usefully wrong." 

          A hypothesis:  Marx's doomsday warnings may actually have preserved capitalism over the years, by showing the cigar-chomping robber barons what could happen if they don't shape up.  I'm reminded of the Monopoly oligarch, Rich Uncle Pennybags.  Ironically, he was born during the Great Depression (1935).

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        • Defending Against US Aggression? (Timothy Brown, USA 08/09/17 4:12 AM)
          Tor Guimaraes's post of August 8th sounds like a great argument in favor of Kim and North Korea. Someone should bring it to the attention of Kim since, by this reasoning, because the US is gigantic and North Korea so small, it must be obvious to peace-loving people everywhere that all Kim is trying to do is defend his country against American aggression. Just look what happened in Europe during the 20th century when they didn't defend themselves well enough. The Great Aggressor forced Germany and the Axis to defend themselves against their will, thereby causing World Wars I and II. If the US had just left Europe alone, today Europe would be a far better place.

          Just look at what would have happened if the US had just stayed out to the Cold War, this sort of reasoning did not apply to the much nicer Soviet Union. In that case, all the nice, peace-loving Soviet Union was trying to do was help its ungrateful neighbors escape from the claws of the real aggressor nation, the US. And on it goes. Today Nicaragua and Venezuela are, by this reasoning, not dictatorships. They, and all the Marxist dictatorships to come, are just innocent victims of the Great Empire, just as are all the other nations of the world.

          I beg to differ.

          JE comments:  Tim Brown's point is well taken, but there is a middle ground here.  The US is not innocent of aggression against its weaker neighbors, especially in its dealings with Latin America since the days of Monroe.

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          • Defending Against US Aggression: Cuba, North Korea (Tor Guimaraes, USA 08/09/17 10:39 AM)
            The overdose of sarcasm and convoluted logic in Timothy Brown's last post go beyond my comprehension. How anyone could read my August 8th post and see an argument in favor of North Korea's present dictator, or any other Communist dictator, is totally made up in his own mind.

            Just because it is impressive that Cuba's government be able to survive the US government's undermining influence for so many years is not an endorsement of all their deeds or objectives. Further, it is also beyond my understanding what the North Korean dictator hopes to accomplish with what I believe to be totally irrational behavior: he is verbally threatening the militarily most powerful nation in the world with a few nuclear weapons in his arsenal. He should know that the US can vaporize his entire country with just one MIRV missile launched from just one of our many nuclear subs.

            Either Kim is crazy or I am crazy.

            JE comments:  I wonder what kind of advisers, if any, Lil' Kim listens to.  The North's actions are pure evil, but madness, too?  We could build an analogy with the schoolkid acting out in class.  Kim knows that with his nukes, the West will pay attention when they otherwise would not, and maybe throw in some concessions to prevent the destruction of Seoul, Tokyo, and perhaps San Francisco.  There's a cruel logic to all this.

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            • Psychology of the North Korea Standoff; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 08/09/17 4:50 PM)

              Gary Moore writes:

              Re: the debate between Tor Guimaraes and Timothy Brown on North Korea,
              with JE adding that Latin America shows US aggression can be wrong:
              It's true that even General Grant later said we should never have launched
              the confiscatory 1846 war on Mexico, and 1898 in Cuba was classic war fever,
              though subsequent notorious interventions like Nicaragua were embroiled in
              such local chaos that they are arguable.

              But unfortunately on North Korea
              there's a larger point of psychology: In the history of mass violence one
              of the major mysteries is the tendency of far-outnumbered but emotionally
              driven belligerents to suicidally and delusionally provoke their own doom--and the
              doom of many others. There are sharper examples than the most familiar one,
              the Confederacy in the US Civil War. Since nobody understands the grandiosity
              x-factor in L'il Kim, or his willingness to manipulate that air of mystery, the
              guesswork now called for is what makes policy makers turn gray. Trump has already
              shown that his own blustering techniques can sometimes work--for example on
              illegal immigration at the Mexican border. Both USA Today and, impressively, the
              ferociously anti-Trump New York Times, have run stories saying that the flow of
              indocumentados has been drastically cut--in part by increased enforcement but
              in part by Trump's seemingly crazy rhetoric, which in this case has worked as a
              tacit negotiating tool, scaring prospective immigrants, especially in Central America,
              into refraining from shelling out the big smuggler fees, which they would lose if
              they're caught.

              Long ago on the brinksmanship front we managed to slip past
              the Cuban Missile Crisis on a sheen of mistakes and illusions in the Kennedy ranks.
              Do we now again face Russian roulette--or Korean roulette?

              JE comments:  Might war be the pursuit of psychology by other means?  Regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis, I have an analysis from Tim Brown in my inbox.  Be sure to sign on to WAIS early tomorrow!

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              • What Kennedy Knew during Cuban Missile Crisis (Timothy Brown, USA 08/10/17 4:37 AM)
                My apologies if Tor Guimaraes was offended. But it's the norm not exception that those who are not fully informed of the realities of history are the most fervent believers of falsehoods.

                Two examples. Contrary to popular opinion, the Cuba missile crisis was not just about missiles. As President Kennedy knew at the time, there were nuclear warheads in Cuba that could have been quickly married to the IRBMs.  While Soviet Spesznaz had control of the warheads, had Kennedy told the American public this it could have set off an essentially uncontrollable panic among the populations of Florida and our southern states because they would have been well within their range. This became public knowledge, and has been confirmed by the Cuban government recently. Personally, I applaud Kennedy for not telling the public everything he knew.

                When Castro thought the Soviets were going to withdraw their missiles, there were a number of reports that he tried to block their removal.

                (An aside.  At the time of the Missile Crisis I was both a Thai and Spanish Marine Corps Intelligence-Linguist and received Flash orders to report to a unit that was deploying to Florida.  The orders were countermanded just as I was mounting by a second Flash ordering me to report to the CG of Task Force 116,"wherever he may be" that turned out to be in Thailand because the Pathet Lao were making a lunge towards Thailand simultaneously, just possibly coordinated with the Soviet effort to install IRBMs within miles of our southern mainland.)

                Another widely believed myth is that had the United States been nicer to Castro, since at first he was not a Marxist, he would never have established a Marxist government there. Therefore it was the US's fault, not Fidel's, that Cuba became a Marxist dictatorship. That's certainly what most of those I met during my decades serving in European and Latin America countries believed. But that's precisely the opposite of what my Marxist-Leninist friends who actually knew him say. But don't just believe me. Instead, check out what is said about Fidel in my When the AK-47s Fall Silent by a handful of his close revolution-era comrades.

                They are all, to this day, proud Marxists. But they are also all very critical of Fidel (and, for that matter, Che Guevara). Their comments are listed in its index on pages 308 and 309. Unfortunately I was not prepared when I published it to include the strongest critic of Fidel, Noel Guerrero Santiago, the secret COMINTERN agent that worked closely with Fidel, Raul and Che Guevara before, during and after the Cuban revolution. So perhaps the myth-believers would have refused to believe what he said, either.

                JE comments:  Wouldn't a Marxist True Believer want to think that Fidel had their politics ingrained in his DNA?  Especially, because Marxism preaches the dogma of its inevitable triumph.  It's not as appealing to accept that Fidel may have sought Soviet sponsorship out of expediency or opportunism--or especially, that a Marxist system could ever be a second choice.

                Just thinking out loud...

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              • Abelard's "Sic et Non" (Enrique Torner, USA 08/10/17 6:17 AM)
                The latest discussions on WAIS, the one on the latest North Korea/US exchanges, and the one on Ellen Horup (whom I had never heard of before) hit me hard as I found it amazing how scholarly, intelligent people like WAISers can disagree so much about a given subject, even when it's not politics.

                During the three years (I think) I have been a member of WAIS, if I had to mention one characteristic of this Forum, it would be how contradictory opinions can be on a single subject. This reminded me of a work written in Latin by French medieval philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard (1079-1142): "Sic et Non," translated as "Yes and No." This work is considered as one of the most important medieval theological/philosophical treatises in Western civilization.

                It is a fascinating essay about the Church Fathers that examines the many contradictions among them about all kinds of theological subjects. For each one, he offers examples of contradictory statements. Peter Abelard offers rules for reconciling these contradictions, and provides suggestions on how to deal with these disagreements.

                Here is an excerpt from "Sic et Non" I think you will find useful as you (we all, including me) think through and write about WAIS discussions:


                JE comments:  We should never deprive ourselves of a spirited discussion.  As Abelard argues, it's an excellent intellectual exercise.  An interesting aside is how Abelard excludes the Bible from fallibility.  Any patent absurdity in Scripture, he assures us, is the work of a sloppy copyist or translator.  Would that make him (Abelard) a Fundamentalist avant la lettre?  Or rather, weren't all medieval theologians literal readers of the Bible?  More creative exegesis came along with the Renaissance, or perhaps even spurred it.

                We Romantics best remember Abelard as the ill-fated lover of Héloïse, whose uncle (father?) put an end to their hanky-panky by having him attacked and castrated.  Yikes.  And you thought your in-laws were mean...

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            • Kim as Nero? (John Heelan, -UK 08/10/17 5:17 AM)
              There appear to be some parallels between Kim's reign and that of Nero (AD 54-AD 68).

              Nero murdered relatives (mother and two wives). Kim killed his uncle and his family and allegedly more recently his half-brother. Perhaps he should learn from Nero's fate, as the Roman dictator eventually lost public support from food shortages and over-taxation as well as the trust of the military.

              In AD 68, the Gallic and Spanish legions, along with the Praetorian Guards, rose against Nero and he fled Rome. The senate declared Nero a public enemy and to avoid assassination by the military, he attempted and botched suicide on AD 9 June 68.

              JE comments: Ah, but does Lil' Kim play the violin? (I couldn't help myself with that one.)

              The crucial element for Kim's survival is his continued control of the world's fourth-largest military. This I assume can only be achieved by fomenting paranoia, pitting one faction against another, and a purge from time to time.

              I found this illustration, courtesy of artist Steve Vanderhorst.

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  • "The Day Venezuela was Buried": 30 July 2017 (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 08/01/17 6:20 AM)
    July 30th 2017 was the day Venezuelan democracy was buried. The government's "Constituyente" election this Sunday was the beginning of the announced dictatorship. As Gabriel García Márquez wrote in Crónica de una muerte anunciada--chronicle of a death foretold--the death announcement for democracy is in Venezuela, which has been met with indifference and timid reactions from the democratic governments of the world.

    Not only was the process illegal and against current constitutional norms, but it was dishonest with fraudulent results.

    The "call" for a referendum was not legal because the president called for it without a previous general referendum, as required by the constitution, which most likely would have been defeated.

    The election process was irregular because there were no previous audits of the electoral system or the voter rolls. Nor was there any oversight of the results, no local or international observers, press coverage was forbidden, and there were no neutral witnesses at the polling stations or during the vote count. Moreover, the government's extortion and manipulation over public employees forced them to vote, and the hungry population was offered food in exchange for votes.

    The result claimed by the government is not credible. Very soon they claimed a participation of over 8 million. There are plenty of videos, as well as local and international witnesses, to show that this number of votes is not possible. It is a fraud, only aimed at countering the 7.6 million opposition votes in the recent June 16th non-binding rejection of the "constituyente." According to more objective sources, there were only 2 to 2.6 million votes, about 9% of the total electorate.

    In a previous WAIS post I mentioned the government's real objectives of this process, and the possible outcomes. There is nothing new to add to this: a concentration of power, dictatorship, political persecution, removal of democratic freedoms and institutions, etc. The list is as extensive as anyone might suspect.

    Today I participated in a public poll in Spain, on whether I believe Venezuela is on the path to become the new Cuba. 95% voted affirmatively.

    Now, in response to Massoud Malek´s post of July 31st. I really appreciate his ideological and historical lessons on Socialism and Communism but, frankly, I doubt the virtues and benefits of Hegel's philosophy, the Communist Manifesto or the master-slave dialectic, on even his beloved Cuban revolution. It is very tempting to sympathize romantically with all these socialist theories when you live in a free and democratic society. The price to pay is too high for having supposedly "free" education or universal health care. This price includes hunger, lack of basic freedoms, repression, and a dictatorial and criminal regime which produces a privileged and corrupt ruling class.

    JE comments:  The Venezuelan opposition called for a boycott of the referendum, and with turnout as low as 9%, they clearly got the result they sought.  The big question is, what now?  Does the opposition have a Plan B of protests, general strikes, and the like?

    Thank you for the update, José Ignacio.  Has there been a more crippling blow to democracy in the Western Hemisphere since, perhaps, the military coups of the 1970s?

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