[Marxism] ML International Newsletter: January-February 2007 (text)

CPI (ML) Intl Liaison Office cpiml_elo at yahoo.com
Wed Dec 20 08:26:32 MST 2006


ML International Newsletter
January-February 2007

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An update on news and ideas from the revolutionary
left in India. 
Produced by: Communist Party of India
(Marxist-Leninist) Liberation international team 
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Website: www.cpiml.org
Email: cpimllib at bol.net.in and cpiml_elo at yahoo.com

Table of Contents

1)	Unprecedented Success of All India Workers’ Strike
2)	Scrap the India-US Nuke Deal!
3)	All Roads Lead to Singur in Buddha’s Bengal
4)	Healthcare and not Warfare: Spotlight on Health
Care in Venezuela and Cuba
5)	South America: Where the Left is definitely right!
6)	Crisis of Imperial Proportions and the 2006 US
Mid-Term Elections
7)	Asian tsunami: Redefining Disaster
8)	Chennai Meeting of Health Activists

Struggle Report

Unprecedented Success of All India Workers’ Strike

- ML Update, 19-25 December, 2006.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist)
Liberation [CPI (ML)] General Secretary Dipankar
Bhattacharya congratulated workers for the
unprecedented success of the All-India General Strike
called by the central trade unions on December 14. The
CPI (ML) participated in massive state level bandhs in
Assam, West Bengal, and Jharkhand, while in the states
of Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and
Pondicherry successful and militant 'Chakka Jam' was
conducted and Party workers courted arrest in large
numbers. The CPI (ML) mobilised thousands of agrarian
labourers and peasants in the strike, protesting
against the corruption and non-implementation of the
NREGA and against SEZs, under the banner of its Khet
Mazdoor and Kisan Organisations. In West Bengal, the
Party workers rallied against the acquisition of
farmers' land in Singur while in Jharkhand, despite
active opposition and disruption by Indian National
Trade Union Congress (INTUC), Congress’s trade union,
and Bharathiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), Bhartiya Janata
Party’s (BJP) trade union, work in the entire Coal
Belt was paralysed. In Assam thousands of tea workers
participated in the strike while in Uttar Pradesh,
workers took out protest marches in several districts.
Unorganised workers participated in large numbers too.
The message of this strike has been driven home -- a
total negation of the anti-worker, anti-people
policies of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
Government and the Party heartily congratulates
workers and peasants for this.

The All India Central Council of Trade Unions
(AICCTU), CPI (ML)’s trade union, congratulated the
working people of India for making all-India general
strike a success. The working masses and the toiling
people of the country have once again shown their
resolute resistance to the anti-worker, pro-corporate,
pro-MNC policies of UPA government. This was the
second all India general strike called by the
sponsoring committee of central trade unions against
the policies of UPA government.

In West Bengal (WB) AICCTU specifically raised the
issues of repression on the peasants of Singur and
participation of information technology (IT) workers
in the strike condemning the stand of WB Chief
Minister Buddhadeb to “keep IT sector out” of 14
December general strike. Led by AICCTU, thousands of
workers courted arrest/demonstrated at several places
including states like Assam, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Assam,
Orissa, Pondicherry, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh (UP),
and Gujarat. AICCTU along with CPI (ML) and its other
mass organisations played a leading role in organising
a successful ‘Chakka Jam’ and ‘Bandh’ in several
states like Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam, Orissa and
Pondicherry. Unorganised sector workers particularly
agricultural and construction labour participated in
large numbers against the constant betrayal by the
central government on the issue of bringing bill for
their social and job security despite promise of the
same in common minimum programme. In Bihar CPI (ML)
members of legislative assembly (MLAs) boycotted the
assembly. In Delhi, a “Save DTC” rally of Delhi
Transport Corporation (DTC) employees was held from
DTC headquarters to Delhi Secretariat. This apart,
AICCTU played a leading role in organising a strike in
industrial areas of Patparganj, Jhilmil and area of
Narela and Noida.

In Ranchi, workers led by CPI (ML) State Secretary
Suvendu Sen, All India Agricultural Labour Association
(AIALA) National Secretary Janardan Prasad and MLA
Vinod Singh courted arrest. National highway remained
blocked for several hours here. Similarly, GT Road was
blocked at Bagodar. In Jamshedpur CPI (ML) central
committee member Rajaram and AICCTU leader Om Prakash
led the court arrest. Several districts including
Garwha, Kodarma, Dumka, Latehar, Devgarh, Ramgarh,
Lohardagga, and Gumla witnessed complete Bandh. In all
around 2000 activists courted arrest throughout the
state. Rail roko was organised in Barwadih.

In Bihar, ‘Chakka Jam’ was organised by AIALA in
Bhojpur and many other districts, in which
agricultural workers participated in large number.
Arrah town observed complete bandh. In Gaya and
Bhagalpur, thousands of construction workers observed
strike and took out rallies. In Patna an impressive
rally of construction workers and state govt.
employees was held ending in court arrest at Dak
Bunglow Chowk. In Bihar Sharif, a rally of Bidi and
construction workers was held. The state government
employees in Bihar and Jharkhand went in support of
the strike. The torch light processions were also held
on the eve of the strike at many places including
Patna.

Unions affiliated to AICCTU picketed at six points in
Pondicherry. Road block and rail roko was also
organised. The liquid petroleum gas (LPG) Bottling
plant remained closed. Construction workers also
observed strike. Workers held out a rally in Bangalore
and at HP Halli at Bellary in Karnataka. In Gangawati
a demonstration was held.

AICCTU organised rallies in several cities including
Lucknow, Anpara, Robertsganj, Kanpur and Allahabad in
UP. The road was blocked in front of LML factory in
Kanpur.

In Sabarkanta district in Gujarat AICCTU played a
leading role among ceramic industry workers and Ambuja
group company. A dharna was also held at the
collectorate.

The Maharashtra Rajya Sarva Shramik Sanghthana
organised successful strike in sugar industry, in
several factories and Municipalities in 4 districts.
Agricultural workers also participated in strike in
large numbers. An impressive rally was held in Jaipur
by AICCTU along with other central TUs.  Thousands of
brick-kiln, construction and agricultural workers
stopped work and took out rallies at several places
like Bhikhi, Moud (Bhatinda), Mansa, Sunam (Sangrur)
and Ludhiana in Punjab. A dharna was held at
secretariat in Port Blair in Andamans.

India-US Nuclear Deal

Expose the Hyde Act’s Assaults on India’s Sovereignty:
Scrap the Nuke Deal!

- Kavita Krishnan

No more can anyone peddle the fiction that the Indo-US
Nuke Deal would not have US strategic strings
attached. Contrary to the claims of Manmohan Singh
that the Act passed by US Congress last week is a
welcome one, despite some ‘extraneous and
prescriptive’ provisions, the Henry J. Hyde United
States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of
2006 (Hyde Act) signed by the US President on December
19 makes it abundantly clear that the restrictive and
prescriptive strategic strings, far from being
‘extraneous’, form the warp and weft of the Deal and
are nothing short of a noose for Indian sovereignty
and self-respect. The Hyde Act goes far beyond the
Deal itself – it spells out what kind of relation the
US visualises with India: a relation a client state
that is fully ‘compliant’ with the US master.  

‘Civilian nuclear cooperation’ as defined by the Hyde
Act is hedged around with restrictions, giving the US
ample leverage to control and punish Indian behaviour.
It spells out that India can receive nuclear fuel or
nuclear reactors but not any technology that could be
used for its nuclear fuel cycle – be it fuel
enrichment, fuel reprocessing or heavy water
production. Further, India is barred from building up
any strategic reserves of nuclear fuel to run its
reactors, and the Hyde Act warns that in case the US
decides to cancel fuel supplies due to any but market
reasons, it will ensure that other NSG suppliers also
are barred from supplying India with fuel. 

The version of the Bill introduced in Congress stated
that India could qualify for the Deal if it ‘has a
functioning and uninterrupted democratic system of
government, has a foreign policy that is congruent to
that of the United States, and is working with the
United States in key foreign policy initiatives
related to non-proliferation’. The fact that these
words do not appear in the final version is cosmetic –
the intention continues to suffuse the Hyde Act.

In Section 105 of the act, the US President is called
upon to submit a ‘written determination that 
 India
is fully and actively participating in United States
and international efforts to dissuade, sanction, and
contain Iran for its nuclear program consistent with
United Nations Security Council resolutions.’ That the
US was using the Nuke Deal to twist India’s arms over
Iran was always obvious, and the UPA Government, with
its anti-Iran vote in the IAEA, showed its abject
eagerness to ‘comply’ even without any written
obligation. The US is no longer even bothering to veil
its intention to secure India’s ‘full and active
participation’ in the US efforts – be they mere
bullying or military aggression - to ‘dissuade,
sanction, and contain’ Iran.   

The PM in his Parliamentary address in August gave an
assurance that the Nuke Deal would insist on
‘India-specific’ safeguards in the IAEA, rather than
the IAEA’s existing Modified Additional Protocol. It
is now obvious that that assurance was deliberately
misleading. According to Section 107 of the Hyde Act,
not only is India bound to open up its nuclear
facilities to the intrusive IAEA regime as it applies
now – ‘in the event the IAEA is unable to implement
safeguards’, US inspectors will be empowered to do so.


Several clauses of the Hyde Act require the US
President’s ‘report’ and ‘certification’ of India’s
‘compliance’ with a range of US ‘non-proliferation’
objectives. The Hyde Act leaves no doubt that the Nuke
Deal is an attempt to bind India to the highly unequal
non-proliferation US-sponsored regime of CTBT/NPT by
the backdoor, by barring India from producing ‘fissile
material’ and imposing ‘compliance’ with NPT as built
into the Nuke Deal.

The UPA Government is now peddling the myth that India
need not bother itself about the Hyde Act since it is
internal to the US; all that concerns us should be the
bilateral 123 Agreement which is yet to be signed. But
the 123 agreement gets its name from Section 123 of
the US Atomic Energy Act. Since both Section 123 and
the Hyde Act both are part and parcel of US law, it is
ridiculous to imagine that they might contradict each
other. The fiction that the restrictions and
prescriptions of the Hyde Act may not apply to ‘123’
just doesn’t pass muster.   

In August the CPI (M) had restricted its critique of
the Nuke Deal to the apprehension that the US was
‘shifting of goalposts’, and accepted Manmohan’s
assurances as a ‘sense of the House’, though his
actions of repeatedly voting against Iran at the IAEA
flew in the face of those very assurances. Basic
questions were ignored: What were the goals for which
the original goalposts were fixed? Were there ever any
other goals but those of the US strategic and
hegemonic ones? Now, it seems the CPI (M) is finally
asking the UPA Govt to ‘walk away from the Deal’. But
even at this point, the CPI (M) is ambiguous; Prakash
Karat has called upon the UPA Govt to ‘renegotiate the
Deal’, not scrap it. The CPI (M) had hailed the very
fact that the Deal is being discussed in Parliament as
a victory for the Left forces and an assertion that
India’s democracy was paramount. But the ‘debate’ in
Parliament will be a mere genuflection, an empty
gesture to ‘democracy’; unless democracy is exercised
to actually stop the Nuke Deal in its tracks and scrap
it. The indications are that by opting for a ‘debate’
rather than a vote, the CPI (M) will once again show
that its bark lacks bite, even on this most crucial
matter of safeguarding India’s sovereignty.
    
The Act passed by US Congress reeks of the cocky
confidence that the Indian ruling class and Indian
Parliament lack the spine to stand up to the US and
reject a humiliating and enslaving Deal. Indian
Parliament is only too willing to justify that
confidence; it is upto the Indian people to build up a
democratic assertion on the streets that can show the
ruling class the consequences of such a shameful blow
to India’s sovereignty and self-respect.
  
Struggles in India

All Roads Lead to Singur in Buddha’s Bengal

- Liberation, January, 2007.

Is there at all any case for a debate and agitation
over Singur? The Communist Party of India (Marxist)
[CPI (M)] leadership would like us to believe there is
absolutely none and that the people questioning the
great Singur model of industrialisation and
rehabilitation are either stupid or mad or driven by
ulterior motives. Some members of the CPI (M) Polit
Bureau and Central Committee have even attributed the
parentage of the whole campaign to defend the people’s
right to their land and livelihood to corporate rivals
of the Tata group. For the Left Front government of
West Bengal, the campaign is of course just another
law and order problem that the state must crush by all
means. The Chief Minister has proudly declared that
nobody would be allowed to touch the tip of a single
hair on Tata’s head. Singur has been sealed off from
the rest of West Bengal by an unprecedented extension
of Section 144 to cover every road that could remotely
be suspected of ‘approaching’ Singur and stop all
persons who seemingly have ‘malicious intent’ writ
large on their faces! 

Beyond West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, wherever the
CPI (M) is not in power, it asserts its right to
question and oppose attempts by various state
governments to forcibly acquire agricultural land in
the name of setting up industries or SEZs. No problems
with that, but should not the CPI (M) then tell us how
it is following a different course in states where it
is in power? Before Singur, the CPI (M) said it would
indeed follow a different course. It would not acquire
fertile agricultural land. And before acquiring any
land, it would take not only the landowning peasants
but also other landless toilers whose livelihood
depended on the concerned plot of land into
confidence. Singur has proved each of these assurances
absolutely hollow.  

Singur in Hooghly district lies at the heart of the
green revolution belt of West Bengal; it is precisely
the kind of area that the Left Front government
showcased till the other day as the biggest success
story of agriculture under Left Front rule in West
Bengal, in fact industrialisation was supposed to
proceed by consolidating the gains achieved on the
agricultural front. But now the CPI (M) tells us that
it is imperative to sacrifice the fertile farm land of
Singur at the altar of industrialisation simply
because the Tatas have chosen this area. To downplay
the extent of loss to agriculture, the state
government is claiming that more than 90 per cent of
the land acquired is monocrop. That is of course some
concession to the truth, for the powers that be could
just as well declare the whole land barren and fallow!
But what do the sharecroppers and agricultural
labourers of Singur have to say about this? They will
tell you that it is mischievous to talk about such
generously endowed land producing just one crop a
year. The truth is that the area has excellent
irrigation facilities and produces four or even five
crops a year, has as many as four cold-storage centres
and attracts agricultural labour even from
neighbouring Bardhaman district during days of busy
agricultural operations. 

As for taking the concerned local people into
confidence, we know it from none other than Jyoti Basu
that the local peasant association secretary of the
CPI (M) was literally caught napping at home when the
local women chased away the combined team of
government officials and Tata Motors representatives.
The mammoth CPI (M)-led peasant organisation with a
claimed membership of 1.5 crore (15 million) in West
Bengal alone and the celebrated panchayati raj
machinery of West Bengal were nowhere to be seen on
the ground ‘convincing’ the agricultural population of
Singur that the time had come for them to move on from
the drudgery and misery of agriculture to the comfort
and security of living off interest income by
depositing the jackpot of ‘compensation’ in a bank!
Even according to the status report released by the
West Bengal government it is clear that out of 997.11
acres of land acquired by the government, ‘prior
consent’ for 586 acres was obtained only on the day
the land was fenced off while for another 411.11 acres
no consent had been obtained till the publication of
the report (TOI, 16 December, 2006). 

And how was this partial ‘consent’ manufactured?
Meetings with landowners started only on 27 May 2006,
after the whole world had known and even seen how the
peasant women of Singur – ‘armed with brooms’ – had
sent out ‘the wrong signal’ by chasing away the Tata
team. The meetings happened first at the district
magistrate’s (DM) bungalow and the venue was later
shifted to Kolkata, but nothing concrete emerged from
these meetings and the ‘consent’ could only be
obtained in the ‘benign and gracious’ presence of the
police, who were incidentally raining lathis and
firing tear gas shells and rubber bullets. A
two-year-old girl detained in police custody and
implicated in criminal cases, women harassed and
tortured, sixty-year-old peasants beaten up and
humiliated, not to mention the injuries suffered by
student and peasant activists, and now this ghastly
rape and murder of a young woman that even the state
government has been forced to refer for a CBI probe –
is this the CPI (M)’s model of participatory democracy
at work at the grassroots? 

The Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which the West Bengal
government has invoked to acquire the Singur land
authorises the state to acquire land in public
interest and in national emergencies (the colonial
rulers needed to set up military cantonments, among
other things, following the shock of 1857). It is
nothing short of a legal fraud to invoke this Act to
acquire land for the purpose of setting up private
industries. To camouflage such fraud all state
governments use State Industrial Development
Corporations as a middleman and the West Bengal
government too has done the same thing. But Buddhadev
Bhattacharya has surely gone one step ahead by
describing the proposed Tata plant as an epitome of
public interest. The CPI (M) in power seems to have
become oblivious of any demarcation between private
interest and public utility!

Reports have it that the CPI (M) now contemplates
marketing Singur as a great model in terms of
rehabilitation of the displaced and even empowerment
of women. Ganashakti, the Bengali daily of the CPI (M)
is full of stories telling us how the rural women of
Singur are being trained on a war footing to enable
them to stitch uniforms for workers of the proposed
Tata Motors plant and prepare snacks and fast food to
be served at the factory canteen! The CPI (M)
ideologues do not however bother to tell us how many
land-losers of Singur, if at all, will be absorbed
directly as workers in the Tata plant! If we insist on
an answer, they might well give us a few lessons in
economics and remind us that the job of an
industrialist is to maximise his profit and not to
create jobs for every Tom, Dick and Harry. Bored with
complaints regarding the role of the police, the CPI
(M)’s peasant leader and Central Committee member
Benoy Konar does something similar. He gives us
lessons in statecraft and tells us about the job of
the police: “The work of the police is not to make
drawings or teach in schools and colleges. The police
are the instrument of repression.” (People’s Democracy
(PD), December 10, 2006). Well, could Benoybabu tell
us what the job of a peasant leader is? Is it just to
lure peasants away from their land and agriculture by
telling them that the sale value of their land if
deposited in bank would yield them an interest income
“10-15 times more than that from land.” (Konar in PD,
10.12.06)? 

Indeed, the biggest claim of the CPI (M) regarding
Singur revolves around the compensation package which
we are told is the best on offer to people facing
eviction and takes care of all those who are dependent
on the land for their livelihood. In her article
Singur: ‘just the facts, please’ published in The
Hindu (December 13, 2006), Brinda Karat tells us that
the compensation package covers not only the
landowners and registered sharecroppers, but even the
case of unregistered sharecroppers “is under
consideration”. As advised by Brinda, let us look at
the facts as furnished by the December 4-10, 2006
issue of People’s Democracy in its editorial Singur:
Myth and Reality (Facts submitted before the people’s
tribunal held at Singur and collected by non-CPI (M)
investigators through extensive interaction with the
local people are often at variance with the CPI (M)
version of the story, but one guesses that in Bengal
in  2006 the CPI(M) alone has the ‘moral’ and
political monopoly over the real facts – facts backed
by state power and endorsed by major sections of the
corporate media – just as perhaps the Congress can be
credited to have had its historical monopoly over
facts in the state in the fifties and sixties when
every election used to return it to power!). 

The PD editorial tells us that 12,000 landowners and
sharecroppers are entitled to receive compensation the
total quantum of which has been declared at Rs. 130
crore. The average amount works out to a little over
Rs. 1,08,300 – hardly the kind of money that if put
away in fixed deposits can yield an interest income
“10-15 times more than that from land”! The claim made
by Benoy Konar could of course be somewhat realistic
for the big absentee landowners (Konar tells us that
there are actually two families living abroad), whose
current income from land is confined to the 25 per
cent share he gets from the sharecropper. But what
about the small and marginal farmers and
sharecroppers? A sharecropper who is much more
attached to and dependent on the land than the
absentee landowner will be entitled to only 25 per
cent of the compensation received by the latter. If
‘Operation Barga’ saved the sharecropper from being
evicted by the landowner and limited the landowner’s
share of income to 25% of the produce, the
compensation package has now completely reversed the
terms. The state evicts the sharecropper and gives him
only 25% of what it gives to the landowner! And as for
the toiler, the agricultural labourer who puts in the
greatest efforts to produce the crop, s/he becomes
even more ‘free’ than before – s/he is freed from all
his erstwhile occupational ties with the land, and in
place of the agricultural wages s/he now gets the
consolation of a promise of an alternative avenue of
future employment! So the old slogan of ‘land to the
tiller’ has now boiled down to land to the buyer,
hefty compensation to the absentee owner, token
‘severance’ money for the actual tiller and empty
promise for the toiler.

Indeed, there are facts and facts, but there is also
something called the truth which has to be sought out
on the basis of the facts. And worse still, in a
class-divided society, the truth is also divided – the
ruler’s truth is often at loggerheads with the truth
experienced by the ruled, the gainer’s truth
‘triumphs’ at the expense of the losses suffered by
the loser. The truth of the tillers and toilers of
Singur cannot be the same as the truth of the Tata
Motors and of Buddhadev Bhattacharya who is behaving
more like a CEO of the Tatas than an elected Chief
Minister of West Bengal. It may be easy to equate the
interest of the Tatas (the fact that they want 1,000
acres of fertile farm land at Singur to set up their
plant) with the interest of industrial development of
West Bengal (industry calls for more and more of
private investment and if a big name like the Tatas
can be shown to have been ‘attracted’ by West Bengal,
it will have a demonstration effect on other potential
investors), pit the combined weight of the brand power
of the Tatas and the state power wielded by the CPI
(M)-led government and paint the opposition put up by
the affected people of Singur as an anti-Bengal
attempt to halt the progress of the state, but this is
a dangerous logic that may boomerang on the very
forces of reason and progress.

The CPI (M) has tried its level best to discredit the
entire movement over Singur as the handiwork of the
Trinamool Congress (TMC), as a desperate and
disruptive move by a politically frustrated and
defeated opposition to foment trouble. By ransacking
the Assembly, the TMC MLAs have also provided the CPI
(M) with considerable opportunities to try and divert
public attention away from Singur. Indeed, the state
government made a veritable spectacle of the TMC
vandalism in the Assembly encouraging the people to
come and see the broken chairs on display even as it
sealed off Singur and all the signs of police
brutality and the people’s lived experiences behind
the protective wall of Section 144! But the courage
and determination displayed by the people of Singur in
the course of their sustained struggle has been far
too powerful to be brushed aside as TMC tantrums
against the Tatas or the CPI (M). It is this strength
of the popular resistance in Singur which has evoked
such widespread public response in West Bengal and
beyond. 

The CPI (M) is extremely peeved by the solidarity
evoked by the Singur struggle. From Medha Patkar to
Mahashweta Devi, anybody and everybody questioning the
government’s move on Singur – the systematic violation
of democracy coupled with complete lack of
transparency regarding the terms of the state
government’s deal with the Tatas and implications for
the local people – has been dubbed an ‘outsider’ and
his or her credentials have been subjected to vulgar
and vitriolic comments. The nomenclature is indeed
quite interesting – for the Left Front government
Ratan Tata is an insider while Medha Patkar is an
outsider! Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat have all
the credentials to represent West Bengal in the Rajya
Sabha, but Mahasweta Devi who has spent her whole life
defending democracy and the struggles and rights of
the oppressed and the marginalised becomes an
‘outsider’ to be greeted with a disdainful
‘who-is-Mahasweta’ by the CPI (M) top brass in West
Bengal! 

The CPI (M)’s constant propaganda regarding
‘outsiders’ raking up trouble in Singur is best
rebuffed by field reports from the site of struggle.
Of the 54 people arrested in early December on charges
of ‘attempted murder’ for their attempt to resist the
police and stop the forcible fencing off of the land,
as many as 47 are local peasants. There are also
reports of murder and rape of local people – Rajkumar
Bhul succumbed to injuries sustained during the police
attack in late September and the charred body of young
Tapasi Malik, brutally raped and killed by the CPI (M)
‘night guards’ in league with the police was
discovered in the early hours of December 18. The CPI
(M) and the State government of course describe the
first incident as a case of natural death and the
latter as a suicide! And who are the ‘outsiders’
beaten up and arrested by the police at Singur? They
are all known political activists, including Comrades
Tapan Batabyal, a state committee member of the CPI
(ML) (Liberation) and Bilas Sarkar, an activist of the
All India Students’ Association (AISA) from Jadavpur
University. What business can Jadavpur University
students have in Singur, ask the CPI (M) leaders. The
CPI (M)’s paradigm of politics now revolves only
around state power and its twin pillars – capital and
coercion – and its leaders will surely find it hard to
understand why student activists should stand by the
people of Singur. We are however proud of our comrades
who have held high the revolutionary tradition of
Indian communists and braved police repression to
forge strong ties of fighting solidarity with the
people of Singur. 

The CPI (M) should remember that beyond the borders of
West Bengal, the ‘outsider’ argument could well
boomerang against it every time it might try and raise
its voice against another Gurgaon-type assault on
workers or Gujarat-type genocide of Muslims. And
should power change hands in Bengal, the same might
well happen right in West Bengal. History is replete
with examples of how opportunist sins of the Left end
up paving the way for the revival of right reaction.
To understand the implications we need not go any
further than West Bengal itself. Some forty years ago
peasants in many parts of West Bengal had embarked on
a militant struggle to establish their rights over
their land. Revolutionary sections within the CPI (M)
had sought to raise this struggle to the level of a
protracted war for bringing about a revolutionary
change in agrarian relations and to usher in, on this
basis, a new kind of people’s democracy in India.
Naxalbari emerged as the storm centre of this brewing
agrarian revolutionary campaign. The CPI (M) as the
leading partner of the United Front government then in
power in Kolkata played the leading role in unleashing
severe state repression on that movement. And soon the
reins of repression had passed on to the hands of the
Congress and the repression, initially directed
against revolutionary communists, generalised to let
loose a veritable reign of terror against all Left,
progressive and democratic forces. Subsequently, this
policy of state terror and repression developed and
perfected by the Congress in the laboratory of West
Bengal was extended to the whole of the country and
democracy was pushed into a state of coma as India
experienced her first encounter with Internal
Emergency for as many as nineteen months from June
1975 to January 1977. 
 
Singur 2006 is of course vastly different from
Naxalbari of 1967. During the Naxalbari days, the
whole of West Bengal was passing through a period of
upswing in the Left movement. The CPI (M) crushed
Naxalbari by saying that peasants had no business
linking the question of land to revolution and their
demand for land could very well be fulfilled by a Left
government in West Bengal. Back in power in 1977 after
the semi-fascist interlude of the Emergency, the CPI
(M) de-revolutionised the agenda of agrarian reforms
and consolidated its grip over governance by
implementing a three-point package of reforms and
democracy for rural Bengal (redistribution of
ceiling-surplus land, Operation Barga and Panchayati
Raj). 

Things have now come a full circle in West Bengal. The
small peasants and sharecroppers of Singur are not
demanding a revolution. All that they want is to
retain their land and their right to earn their
livelihood and live their lives with dignity. But like
Naxalbari, Singur too is being crushed by the CPI(M)
led state government. During the Naxalbari days, the
CPI(M) wanted peasants to stay as peasants and not
dare to dream and fight for a revolution. In Singur,
the CPI(M) wants to depeasantise the peasantry by
making them passive and dispossessed participants in a
process of industrialisation that has little
connection with the vast untapped and underdeveloped
home market lying beyond the islands of urban
affluence. 

CPI(M)’s land reform and Operation Barga campaigns
have long run out of steam in West Bengal. The new
agenda is reversal of land reform, depeasantisation,
corporate farming, SEZs ... Over the last two decades
as the Left Front government of West Bengal has
steadily moved towards the neo-liberal agenda, and we
have seen signs of unrest among the rural poor,
agricultural labourers, and the urban working class
engaged in the unorganised and organised sectors of
Bengal. We have also seen this disillusionment turn
into electoral resentment and this has contributed
considerably to the rise of the TMC as a political
force and trend in West Bengal. The CPI(M) may have
managed to stem the tide by weaning away a section of
the Congress base and the upwardly mobile middle
class, but the Left Front has clearly lost much of its
‘left’ appeal among large sections of its old support
base. Now Singur signals the beginning of the
alienation of sharecroppers and small and middle
peasantry from the CPI(M), an alienation that clearly
has the potential of upsetting the CPI(M)’s
three-decade-old applecart in West Bengal. In the West
Bengal Assembly, Singur is represented by a TMC MLA,
and the TMC being the main opposition party in West
Bengal – the fact cannot be wished away even if
Buddhadev ridicules it for its small size with a
patronising small-is-beautiful certificate – lost no
opportunity to cash in on the Singur issue. 

Like a power-obsessed ruling party, the CPI(M) may
only choose to see Singur as a TMC-inspired conspiracy
to destabilise its government, but revolutionary
communists cannot but see the simmering and
potentially quite explosive peasant discontent that
lies underneath. When Ratan Tata becomes an insider
for the CPI(M)’s house of power and the dissenting
people of Singur are dubbed outsiders, peasants in
West Bengal cannot miss the irony of the whole
situation. How long will the Bengal peasantry agree to
play the role of political extras in a script that
revolves around the ‘Buddha-Tata bhai-bhai’  
equation? The revival of the land question, albeit in
a changed context and on quite different terms, has
its obvious implication for the political landscape of
Bengal. In Rabindranath’s immortal poem Dui bigha jomi
(two bighas of land, written in June 1894, the year
the colonial land acquisition act was passed) the
‘Babu’ landlord buys off indebted and impoverished
Upen’s last two bighas by exercising his feudal power
and reduces him to a pauper. Today the Singur peasants
are fighting to save their ‘Do Bigha Zameen’ from the
‘babudom’ driven by the growing Buddha-Tata bonhomie.
But if Singur fails, how long will the CPI(M) be able
to hold on to its political ‘landholding’ among the
Bengal peasantry? For revolutionary communists, the
question is not whatever might or would happen to the
CPI(M) and its political fiefdom in West Bengal. The
point is to radicalise the anger of the peasantry and
shape a communist resurgence in West Bengal. Far from
making common cause with the TMC, revolutionary
communists must step up their independent initiative
and efforts and lead a radical realignment of forces
within the broad Left and democratic camp to prevent a
possible right resurgence in the state. Too much is at
stake in Singur, and revolutionary communists cannot
be stopped by either repression or malicious
disinformation from discharging their political
responsibility.

Latin America

Healthcare and not Warfare: Spotlight on Health Care
in Venezuela and Cuba

- Padma.

Venezuela: Background
Venezuela is the 6th most populous country in Latin
America with a population close to 27 million. About
85% of the population lives in urban areas with more
than 8 million living in Caracas, the capital city.
The Venezuelan society historically has been a highly
polarized society with extreme poverty surrounding
pockets of wealth. About 100 or so very wealthy
families (the ‘oligarchy’) have controlled key
industrial sectors like telecommunications, ports,
steel, and transportation, including the airlines.
Venezuela is the 5th largest producer of oil in the
world; the oil industry was nationalized in 1976.
Interestingly enough, even after that, the tremendous
earnings from oil exports went into the pockets of the
oligarchy and not into social programmes.

Against the background of great inequality in the
society, Hugo Chavez was elected in December of 1996
in the presidential elections on a populist platform.
Chavez won again in the recent presidential elections
in Venezuela inspite of attempts to sabotage the
elections by the Venezuelan elite in cahoots with U.S
imperialism. In 1999, through a constituent assembly,
a Bolivarian constitution (named after their national
hero Simon Bolivar who fought Spanish colonialism) was
created. Articles 83-85 enshrine free health care to
all citizens. Article 84 under Title III mandates that
the healthcare furnished through programs be publicly
funded, and explicitly proscribes its privatization.
Mission Barrio Adentro (Inside the Neighbourhood)
programme was thus established in 2003. It has since
drawn international praise from WHO, UNICEF and UN.

Health care in Venezuela Then and Now
In the early 1980’s Venezuela transformed its economy
to neoliberalism from state led industrialization.
Free trade, open markets and limited government
spending led to significant increases in poverty and
unemployment. The Chamber of Food Industries reported
in 1989 that the food situation was “hyper-critical”.
Hospital officials indicated that malnutrition was so
prevalent that often it was not even mentioned in
medical histories. Public expenditure on health care
fell from 2.1 percent of gross domestic product in
1993 to 1.9 percent in 1996. Cuts in medical spending
led to deterioration of hospitals and clinics which
were more reasonable in the 1960’s and 70’s. The
infant mortality and child mortality rates rose in the
1990s, reaching 22 and 25, respectively, per thousand
live births. The cost of medicines, previously
subsidized by the government, rose by nearly 2,000
percent in the 1990s, making it more difficult than
ever for the poor to obtain them. The extreme
inequalities in the society with nearly 60% of the
population living in poverty were certainly an
important factor in Hugo Chavez’s victory on a
populist platform.

Mission Barrio Adentro 1, since its establishment in
2003, has constructed more than 2100 neighborhood
clinics. An estimated 14.5 million people in
Venezuela, roughly 54% of the population, receive free
health care through the Barrio Adentro programme. In
the last 3 years, more than $1 billion has gone toward
fixing up 44 hospitals, and building some 600
diagnostic centers. Mission Barrio Adentro II provides
medical diagnostics and physical therapy and
rehabilitation. The newly established Comprehensive
Diagnostic Centers handled more than 800,000 emergency
room visits and performed 7.2 million diagnostic exams
and the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Wards also
established under Barrio Adentro II handled more than
500,000 rehabilitation consultations and instituted
more than 1.5 million rehabilitation treatments.
Mission Barrio Adentro 3 has also been launched which
will upgrade 42 existing hospitals and construct new
secondary medical facilities. The first phase will be
infrastructure enhancements and repairs and the second
phase will be medical equipment purchases. The
government has spent $52 million building a
state-of-the-art children's cardiac hospital which
opened in August this year. About 183 children with
serious cardiac conditions have been treated free so
far.

Venezuela-Cuba Partnership
Venezuela under the leadership of Hugo Chavez is
pursuing ALBA- the Bolivarian Alternative for the
Americas. This is an economic plan that counters the
hegemonic policies the United States has pushed on the
South American countries which benefit corporations at
the expense of the people. A key feature of the plan
is the exchange of goods and services outside the
usual international banking and corporate trading
system. Cuba and Venezuela have had an agreement which
gives Cuba oil at preferential pricing for its
‘export’ of medical personnel to remote and
underserved areas in Venezuela. Venezuela has about
30,000 doctors and other medical professionals from
Cuba. Cuba will train 40,000 doctors and 5,000
healthcare workers in Venezuela and provide full
medical scholarships to Cuban medical schools for
10,000 Venezuelan medical and nursing students. An
additional recent agreement includes the expansion of
the Latin American and Caribbean region-wide
ophthalmologic surgery program (Operation Miracle) to
perform 600,000 eye operations over ten years. The
Venezuelan Medical Association has been a vociferous
opponent of the Mission Barrio Adentro. During the
initiation process of the Mission only 50 Venezuelan
doctors answered the advertisement to work in the
neighbourhood clinics. However in the future it is
expected that more Venezuelan young doctors will work
in the government clinics and hospitals. 

Venezuela subsidizes a national chain of pharmacies
called SUMED (an abbreviation for sumistro de medicos,
or distribution of medicine) where subsidized
prescription drugs are 30 to 40 percent cheaper than
market prices. At this time, 129 essential medicines
are prescribed free of cost and cover more than 97% of
the most common illnesses in Venezuela.  Patients with
AIDS, cancer and chronic diseases receive treatment
and medications at no cost. Mission Mercal is a
network that was instituted to distribute food and
commodities at a low cost to the poor and rural
communities.  More than 14,000 food distribution sites
are present and more than 10 million people continue
to benefit from this.

Cuban Health Care: Not a Commercial Enterprise but
Medicine for People
The legendary Che Guevara in a speech “On
Revolutionary Medicine” said, “The life of a single
human being is worth a million times more than all the
property of the richest man on earth
.Far more
important than a good remuneration is the pride of
serving one’s neighbour”. In the same speech he said,
“
Our task is to orient the creative abilities of all
medical professionals towards the tasks of social
medicine”. And, Cuba has done just that. 

The revolution in 1959 over threw the dictator Batista
and Fidel Castro became the head of a socialist
government. Prior to 1959 the medical services and
doctors were concentrated in two cities, the capital
Havana and Santiago. The very rich, a small proportion
of Cubans, went to private clinics, the middle class,
about 10% of the population, went to family owned pre
paid insurance managements. The remaining populace
went to 46 overcrowded understaffed government
hospitals. There were 8 maternal and child health
stations for 8.5 million people. The pharmaceutical
industry was largely controlled by the United States.

The socialist government after assuming power in 1959
gave importance to agrarian reform, universal free
education and universal free health care. Health care
was seen as a basic human right and the responsibility
of the state. In the first 2 years in power the
government set about an aggressive road building
programme along with construction of rural boarding
schools. In 1961, 156 rural hospitals and 118
dispensaries were launched in the interior of the
country. Peasants living in the mountains and low
lands were able to come in contact with the mainstream
life. Private practice was banned in 1965. In 1976,
336 modern polyclinics were set up with preventive and
curative functions’. By 1983, the New England Journal
of Medicine reported, “Cuba has engineered a national
medical apparatus that is the envy of many developing
nations. For some of these nations, it is not Boston,
but Havana that is the centre of the medical world.”

The polyclinics, however, were unable to deliver
continuity and coordination of primary care. People
complained of long waits and impersonal attitudes, and
they were not getting the care they needed. In 1984,
Cuba introduced to its health care system the Family
Doctor programme. By 1998, there was one family doctor
and ancillary nurse to every 100-110 families in Cuba.
In 2004 there were 32,200 such teams, each responsible
for 600–800 people, located in cities, on
mountainsides, and in the country. 99 percent of the
Cuban population is cared for by such teams. Most
family doctors and their families live upstairs in
medical buildings built by voluntary community labour.
Family doctors have been able to achieve high
immunization rates, making preventative programs
universally available, and have introduced sex
education programs, teen programs and rehabilitation
services. They work closely with polyclinics and other
institutions and make appropriate referrals. Cuba has
eradicated malaria since 1968, diphtheria disappeared
in 1971.  The life expectancy at birth in 2005 is 76.5
years. Cuba’s infant mortality rate in 2005 was an
astounding 5.8 per 1,000 live births—compared to 6.5
per 1,000 in the United States. The remarkable Cuban
health care system is a product of social policy and
achievements in science and bio technology. An
editorial in the premier journal Nature eulogized
Cuba’s investments in education at all levels. It goes
on to say, “Cuba’s state sponsored science is
structured like a corporate research laboratory except
its output consists of social outcomes rather than
commercial products”. Cuba has been able to introduce
drugs and vaccines by establishing its biotechnology
and pharmaceutical industry. All this in the face of a
ruthless trade embargo imposed by the United States
which has extended to scientific knowledge. 
Medical diplomacy and Internationalism

Since the revolution Cuba has sent medical aid to
millions of people in developing countries each year.
Cuban medical professionals are collaborating in 68
countries around the world. Today, over 10,000
developing country scholarship students are studying
in Cuban medical schools. In the earthquake disaster
in Pakistan Cuban medical personnel attended to 1.7
million patients and helped with 166,000 in
rehabilitation and physical therapy, 32,000 of them
children.

Conclusions
Comprehensive free health care to all citizens has
been considered a human right in Cuba for more than 5
decades. Venezuela is attempting to replicate this
humane system in the face of stiff opposition by its
elite. Human dignity, solidarity and justice are not
elusive goals as is being demonstrated in these two
countries and the struggle for health care is only one
piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

Latin America

South America: Where the Left is definitely right!

- Srilata Swaminathan.

As though the elections in Bolivia, Brazil and
Nicaragua hadn’t given the US enough nightmares, the
ones in Ecuador and Venezuela may prove to be the
final nail in the coffin of not only the Monroe
Doctrine form of neo-colonialism but the Washington
Consensus as well! This region has seen 12
presidential elections in the past 13 months and
except Columbia, Surinam and Paraguay all the other
countries are now ruled by left or left-of-centre
governments.

Venezuela
>From the balcony of the Miraflores Palace in Caracas,
capital of Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez Frias
addressed his jubilant red-shirted supporters,
dedicating his victory to Fidel Castro and hailing his
election as a triumph of socialism of the 21st
century. This distinction that he makes is important
as he explains that the socialism of the 21st century
is different both from 20th Century European Socialism
and from the so-called ‘real Socialism’ which was
unable to survive precisely because it was not real.
He stressed the need to learn from past history about
these two and move forward to build new socialism.

With the consolidation of Chavez’s position there are
a number of developments that will be followed with
keen interest. The first is ALBA (Bolivarian
Alternative for the Americas) or the trade agreement
that Chavez and Castro are trying to float in central
and south America which is a direct alternative to the
imperialist trade agreement CAFTA (Central America
Free Trade Agreement) and FTAA (Free Trade Agreement
of the Americas) being pushed through by the US.
ALBA—as proposed by the Venezuelan government—provides
a counterweight to the policies and goals of the FTAA
emphasises egalitarian principles of justice and
equality that are innate in human beings, the
well-being of the most dispossessed sectors of
society, and a reinvigorated sense of solidarity
toward the underdeveloped countries of the western
hemisphere, so that with the required assistance, they
can enter into trade negotiations on more favourable
terms than has been the case under the dictates of
developed countries. Along with tackling poverty and
other regional disparities it also attempts to
identify the most crucial impediments to achieve a
genuine regional integration that transcends the
priorities of the imperialists and transnational
corporations. ALBA is now supported by Venezuela,
Cuba, Bolivia and, recently, Nicaragua.

The second development worth noting is the Bolivarian
revolution (named after Simon Bolivar, the 18-19th
century liberator who fought and freed Venezuela,
Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Bolivia from
Spanish colonialism) which is what the Venezuelans say
they are pushing through is a mixed bag of tricks and
allows Chavez to use a wide range of  devices from the
nationalism and independence movements of  Simon
Bolivar to strategies of socialism and even to using
Jesus Christ, liberation theology and religion where
necessary. The Bolivarian phrase also confuses his
rabidly anti-socialist enemies at home and abroad.

On the night of December 18, 2006, when the
red-shirted chavistas (Chavez supporters) gathered to
celebrate their electoral victory, Hugo Chavez
announced plans to dissolve the party, MVR, that he
had formed in 2000 and that had brought him to power,
in order to form a new ‘unique and unifying’ party
called United Socialist party of Venezuela in the hope
this will encourage all the 23 other parties that
supported his regime to follow suit. This is to
forestall the infighting among the various pro-Chavez
groups and also to neutralise the domination of the
MVR over its weaker factions and rivals. This new
party will have to tackle the corrupt bureaucracy,
corruption and other counter revolutionary problems
which are a stumbling block to the socialist
development of Venezuela.

Ecuador
On 26 November Rafael Correa won the elections to
become President. Last year he served as finance
minister for months in the rightwing government of his
predecessor Alfred Palacio. During that time he took a
very pro-people stand and was vociferous against US
and imperialism. It was due to pressure by the US and
the IMF that he was forced to resign.

Correa founded the Alianza Pais party and allied with
the Ecuadorian Socialist Party in the elections. He is
a political economist and studied in the US. He is
staunchly nationalist and against any threat to
Ecuador’s sovereignty and is keen to forge economic
and other links, like Chavez, with countries of Latin
America. His five key area of reform are:
constitutional revolution, ethical revolution,
economic and productivity revolution, education and
health revolution, and dignity, sovereignty and Latin
American integration revolution.

Like Venezuela, Ecuador too has rich oil reserves and
he has promised reform of this sector which will mean
confrontation with the MNCs who are presently
exploiting the country’s oil and other resources. In
an interview he stated, “Many of the oil contracts are
a true entrapment for the country. Of every five
barrels of oil that the multinationals produce, they
leave only one for us and take four... That is
absolutely unacceptable. We're going to revise and
renegotiate the contracts.”  He opposed the Free Trade
Agreement signed between Ecuador and the US and also
advocates reform of the financial sector, including
limiting offshore deposits by local banks to no more
than 10% of their holdings. Another bold move Correa
has promised to make is to close down the US military
base at Manta and jokingly stated that “We can
negotiate with the U.S. about a base in Manta, and if
they let us put a military base in Miami, if there is
no problem, we’ll accept”.

Another issue which will put him on a collision course
with the US is regarding the FARC guerrilla group in
Columbia (borders Ecuador to the north) which he does
not consider a terrorist organisation. Correa
considers himself a humanist and a Christian of the
Left (96.8% of the population are Christian). 
The movements of South and Central America are
different in the past ten-fifteen years as they are
increasingly deriving their strength from the mass
movements of the indigenous and marginalised people.
Take Ecuador, the peoples’ movements have thrown out
five different government in as many years for selling
indigenous resources to MNCs, for pushing through the
anti-people diktats of Washington, IMF, WB etc and for
corruption. 

Whatever the debate over what type of socialism is
emerging one thing is for certain, whether in
Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador or Nicaragua it was an
upsurge of the people, overwhelmingly the poor, the
workers and peasants, women and tribals and
unequivocally an anti-imperialist, anti-US and anti-
MNC in nature! And, in any third world country, this
kind of upsurge is definitely also one against their
own ruling classes. In fact, one clear indicator of
whether a regime is left or not is the knee-jerk
reaction of the US - if they oppose it, it means that
the regime is anti-imperialist and bad news for the US
and good news for the peoples of the world! 

Tariq Ali is correct when he juxtaposes Bush’s “Axis
of Evil” with what he calls Latin America’s “Axis of
Hope”! One can almost hear the tramp of thousands of
feet and the enthusiastic chanting of the peoples of
this region as they awaken, rise and march to one of
their most powerful slogans- 
“El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!”
A People United Can Never Be Defeated!

North America

Crisis of Imperial Proportions and the 2006 US
Mid-Term Elections

- PB.

“If you think the Democrats’ triumph will bring fresh
young faces pushing a well-honed agenda, think again”
[1]. This candid analysis is from a radical magazine,
a radical magazine of the right, The Economist. 

The Democratic Party in the 2006 US elections won a
comfortable majority in the House and a narrow
majority in the Senate. They also secured a majority
of the state governorships. The mid-term elections
take place every two years in November to elect
representatives to both the House and the Senate. The
loss was a major setback to the section of the ruling
elite led by the Bush/Cheney administration. 

Money and Democracy
The capitalist political system creates a myth of a
genuine democracy. The 2006 elections, like the ones
before, had their share of voter roll purges and
electronic voting machine issues. The US based Carter
Center, a self promoter of ‘democracy’ worldwide,
commenting on Nicaraguan elections, commended “a much
more careful and meticulous process and much more
uniform throughout the country than anything we've
ever seen in the United States” [2]. Even the Carter
Center could not conceal election issues in the US. 

More importantly, but as usual, big money dominated
the elections. The Center for Responsive Politics in
its preliminary report stated that the total spending
in this election was $2.8 billion, which included
spending by candidates, national political parties and
issue advocacy groups. This made it the most expensive
midterm election ever. The average cost of winning a
Senate seat was $7.8 million and a House seat was
about $966,000. No wonder, as of November 9, the
candidate who spent the most money won in 93 percent
of House and 67 percent of Senate seats [3]. 

Although the Republicans collected more over the year,
during 18 days in October, the Democrats collected
$25.9 million compared to $18.6 million by the
Republicans [4]. Seeing the wave, big money started to
switch sides. Nevertheless, the power of money is one
of the reasons that progressive parties do not have
any voice in the Congress. In constituencies where it
did not have its own candidates, the Green party had
several socialist candidates running but none of them
succeeded. Bernie Sanders, an independent and the
first self described socialist, who caucuses with the
Democrats, was elected to the Senate from Vermont. 

Jobs and Scandals
The issue that dominated this election was the war in
Iraq. But contrary to international perception, it was
not the only issue. Although gay marriage was banned
in several states but in South Dakota a referendum to
ban virtually all abortions was easily defeated. After
Enron, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal maligned the
Republican elite in a major way. The Center for Public
Integrity reports that lobbyists spent $4 billion in
2004. The organic relationship between big business,
lobbyists and politicians was exposed. Most
politicians connected with the scandal either resigned
or were defeated in this election. Flooding after
Hurricane Katrina was on everybody’s mind too,
especially people of colour. 

The economy was also an important issue. Millions of
jobs have been lost in the last few years. In Ohio
alone 200,000 manufacturing jobs were lost since Bush
came to power; it was the decisive factor there.
Nationally, with people spending $1.1 trillion more
than they earned, the negative personal savings rate
is unprecedented since the Great Depression. This when
the total 2005 US debt was nearly three and a half
times the US’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that is
close to world’s GDP of $44 trillion [5]. 

Even though the official unemployment rate in July
2006 was 4.8 percent it is estimated that more than 8
percent of the potential labour force is underemployed
or unemployed [5]. The minimum wage of $5.15 an hour
has not been increased for more than 10 years. Six
states that had a referendum to raise the minimum wage
overwhelmingly voted to raise it. The main labour
unions played a major part in this. They spent more
than $100 million and had 100,000 volunteers to
increase voter turnout in the election for the
Democratic Party [6]. This nexus with a party of the
ruling class has been an impediment in building a more
militant labour movement.

Crisis of Imperialism
This election year Iraq was the main reason that the
US electorate voted against the Republicans. Since the
Democratic Party did not have an alternative peace
plan either, it was largely a negative vote. The
cumulative effect of lies about weapons of mass
destruction, torture at Abu Ghraib, detention at
Guantanamo Bay, secret CIA prisons, no bid contracts
to Halliburton and Bechtel, billions of dollars of
missing cash and latest attack on habeas corpus became
too difficult to manage. 

According to recent estimates, more than 655, 000
Iraqi people and 3000 US soldiers have died and more
than 20000 US soldiers have been wounded. General
Maples testified that in Iraq, the attacks on
occupation troops have increased from 70 per day in
January to 170 per day in September to 180 per day in
October [7]. This made 2006 October one of the
deadliest months since the occupation started. The
forecast for 2007 is worse for not just Iraq but also
Afghanistan.

Drawing parallels with the Vietnam War right wing
columnist Tom Freidman of the New York Times said
“what we’re seeing in Iraq seems like the jihadist
equivalent of the Tet offensive.” General John
Abizaid, top American military commander for the
Middle East, has warned of the possibility of
occupation going out of control. The incoming
Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services
Committee accused the Bush administration of ignoring
the reality that ''we're getting deeper and deeper
into a hole'' in Iraq. As the Iraqi resistance and
anti-war movement intensify, the imperial crisis
deepens and the occupation becomes untenable. 

The US ruling elite is now hard at work in an
endeavour to formulate a strategy for ‘success in
Iraq.’ Several potential presidential candidates
including Republican John McCain and Democratic
Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have called for more
troop deployment. Despite massive public opinion
against the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, before
the elections, the Senate passed (100-0 vote) the
record $447 billion US military budget along with a
supplemental $70 billion bridge fund for the next six
months of occupation. The entire ruling class
establishment is in it together. 

The first casualty of the elections was Defense
Secretary “shock and awe” Rumsfeld. Bush chose his
father’s CIA director Robert Gates as the replacement.
Before his appointment, he was also a member of the
Iraq Study Group (ISG), the ‘bipartisan commission’
co-chaired by Republican James Baker, former Secretary
of State, and Democrat Lee Hamilton, former Chairman
of House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Both Republican
and Democratic leadership are working closely with the
ISG. It has been meeting with numerous political and
military leaders, including George Bush, Bill Clinton
and Tony Blair. The ISG is slated to release its
‘policy recommendations’ to prevent the US Empire from
sinking in the Iraqi quicksand. 

The unpopularity of the Iraqi occupation in the US and
the anti-imperial resistance of the Iraqi people have
forced the ruling class to rethink its Iraq strategy.
This pressure is also being felt by elected
politicians who are part of the Democratic Party’s
Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) with about 71
members. They have introduced the “End the War in Iraq
Act of 2005” that would prohibit further use of
Defense Department funds to deploy United States Armed
Forces to Iraq. Since both the Republican and
Democratic parties are not interested this bill is
gathering dust. 
 
Challenging the System
History informs us that progressive legislations, in a
capitalist political system, are the fruits of a
vigorous movement. They have never been a gift. Now is
the time to connect the struggles against exploitation
in the US with the occupations abroad to re-energize
this movement. These will include the struggles of
workers, people of colour, undocumented immigrants,
gays and women for an egalitarian and just society. 

Progressive forces have called for anti-war marches on
Washington in January and March. Momentum is building
to demand universal health coverage, minimum wage
increase, investigation of war crimes, impeachment of
Bush, worker’s right to organize, Katrina victims’
right to return and ending the occupation from Iraq to
Palestine. Active duty soldiers are also resisting the
occupation by becoming conscientious objectors. This
should also be the time for the anti-imperialist
struggles to introspect on protest tactics and
movement strategies to intensify the struggle. 

It is clear that the invasion of any country,
corruption of politicians, reign of big business and
attack on the working class will not end with this
election. These problems are endemic to the
capitalistic political system. It cannot be reformed.
A new society has to rise from the ashes of
imperialism and capitalism. Building a movement, which
does just that, is the challenge. 

End Notes
1. The Economist, After The Victory: The Democrats'
Plans, November 9, 2006. 
2. Michael Fox, Chavez Congratulates Nicaraguan
Presidential-elect Daniel Ortega,
Venezuelanalysis.com, November 9, 2006. 
3. Center for Responsive Politics, 2006 Election
Analysis: Incumbents Linked to Corruption Lose, but
Money Still Wins, November 9, 2006.
4. John Catalinotto, Voters Say Stop the War!, Workers
World, November 9, 2006. 
5. Fred Magdoff, The Explosion of Debt and
Speculation, Monthly Review, November 2006.
6. Steven Greenhouse, Labor Movement Dusts Off Agenda
as Power Shifts in Congress, New York Times, November
11, 2006.
7. Michael Gordon and Mark Mazzetti, General Warns of
Risks in Iraq if G.I.'s Are Cut, New York Times,
November 16, 2006.

Asia

Asian tsunami: Redefining Disaster

- Satya Sagar.

On the second anniversary of the Asian earthquake and
tsunami of 26 December 2004 it is worthwhile pondering
what the entire tragedy was really all about. 

Going by the numbers - over 225,000 dead, a million
more displaced and impoverished or by the area
affected-12 countries across two continents- the event
was described as the single biggest disaster in modern
history. 

For the traumatized fishing communities on the coasts
of South and Southeast Asia, it overturned their
deeply held idea of the sea as the very source of all
life. And in a world already rife with the
uncertainties of conflict and the mysterious workings
of global capital the Asian tsunami showed how we
cannot take even the earth and the oceans for granted
anymore. 

In many of the communities in southern India affected
by the tsunami there is a tradition of funerals being
accompanied by song and dance. It is an ancient
mechanism that helps people cope with their personal
grief. On the day of the tsunami they died in such
large numbers that in an instant all mourning became
meaningless. 

And yet for all its heart-rending, graphic images of
death, destruction and sorrow I am still very confused
about what really constitutes a disaster. Is it about
the numbers involved? Is it about the way people died
or suffered? Is it about the identity of the people
involved? 

To just give an example of how the mathematics of mass
disasters works or does not work – some three months
after the tsunami the Indonesian authorities made a
quiet announcement that few noticed. Apparently over
56,000 people who had gone missing since the tsunami
and had been feared dead were in fact found to be
alive and living in the temporary camps set up for the
displaced people. It occurred to me then that if I had
mourned for those 56,000 people prematurely what a
waste of very high quality mourning it would have
been! 

This is how ridiculous the situation gets when one
starts measuring disasters in terms of the numbers
involved. The simple truth is that every individual is
an entire, unique universe on his or her own and with
the passing of every individual an entire universe
collapses. For those who are afraid of impending
apocalypses anywhere I have a message- the apocalypse
is already over, it happened yesterday and it is
happening right now. There are a million little
apocalypses happening all the time. So stop searching
for the BIG one and look more carefully at the little
one in your immediate line of sight. 

The lack of focus on the individuals caught up in
disasters is however just one of the problems with the
general response of the world, governments and NGOs to
the Asian tsunami over the past two years. There are
many other problems too. 

Lack of context: One of the most obvious shortcomings
of the international response to the tsunami disaster
has been the complete lack of investigation or thought
about what was happening to the coastal communities
before the sea boiled over on 26 December 2004. In
country after affected country the fact is that these
communities were almost as badly off, socially and
economically, before as after the tsunami. 

While the specific problems generated by the tsunami
are unique and need to be addressed as such, this can
be done best only by taking into serious account the
background in which the disaster occurred. Among the
pre-tsunami factors ignored while planning the
rehabilitation were the entire civil conflict in Aceh
and Sri Lanka, the money and muscle power of tourism
operators in Thailand and the chronic socio-economic
problems of affected populations in countries like
India. 

The lack of understanding of history, culture and
local level politics is evident in the way the
thoughtless pouring of large sums of money in the name
of the name of tsunami response in Sri Lanka has
actually played a role in reviving the dormant civil
conflict there. According to numerous local accounts
and media reports in the first week after the tsunami
the conflict torn island saw a remarkable thawing in
relations between the Tamil and Sinhala populations
who spontaneously responded to the disaster by sending
aid and material help to each other. 

A fortnight after the disaster the coming of large
international donors with pots of ‘aid’ money (upto
US$1.5 billion on offer) diverted attention from local
efforts and sparked off a race between the Sri Lankan
government and the LTTE to garner a share of the funds
being dangled before them. The Chandrika Bandarnaike
regime in Colombo, fearful of the political
repercussions of recognizing the LTTE as the de facto
civil authority in the Tamil areas, kept delaying
transfer of resources to the affected areas of
northeast Sri Lanka resulting in increasing bitterness
among the Tiger leadership as well as the local
population. 

The net result of all this petty politicking has been
the tragic revival of the Sri Lankan civil war after a
period of absolute peace in the three years preceding
the tsunami.

Identifying the ‘affected people’: Throughout the
rehabilitation efforts of the past two years the
government and NGO focus has been on dealing with the
problems of ‘tsunami survivors’, meaning those who
were ‘touched’ by the saltwater on that fateful day.
All others living in the same context, however
vulnerable, have been deemed ‘irrelevant’. So for
example many poor communities in coastal Tamil Nadu
with very low development indicators prior to the
tsunami or the thousands of refugees of the civil war
in Sri Lanka living without basic necessities for long
have been completely bypassed in the distribution of
relief and material aid. 

All this is of course apart from the active
discrimination faced by low-income ‘untouchable’ Dalit
communities all along the coast whose livelihoods were
devastated by the tsunami but never got any
compensation at all. In that sense a fantastic
opportunity has been lost to use the huge sums of
money pouring in after the tsunami to launch long-term
social justice programs to benefit everybody
concerned. 

Lack of linkage with other disasters: It is quite
amazing that almost all the relief and rehabilitation
efforts undertaken in the tsunami affected countries
have been done with little reference to other natural
disasters that have taken place in recent years.
Whether it is the earthquakes in Turkey and Iran or
Hurricane Mitch that hit Central America, there is a
huge bank of experiences and knowledge of dos and
don’ts that can benefit those dealing with the
situation in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka or Thailand. 

The Gujarat earthquake of 2001, in which over 30,000
people lost their lives also  offered ample lessons at
least in what should not be done while rehabilitating
survivors in India. Not one lesson was incorporated
though into the post-tsunami efforts leading to
similar problems as occurred in Gujarat- lack of
public participation in design of rehabilitation
plans, poor quality and inappropriate shelter,
competition among NGOs to ‘capture’ survivor
communities and of course Gujarat’s trade mark feature
of discrimination against minority communities. 

Another important shortcoming, in this day of
globalization and instant communication, has been the
complete disconnect between the rehabilitation work
going on in one affected country and the other. No one
in coastal India knows about what is happening in
coastal Thailand or Indonesia or even Sri Lanka. Apart
from the valuable lessons to be learnt from each other
if there had been greater efforts in this direction
this could also have been the beginning of a new
South-South international solidarity movement. 

Learn from the survivors: Another very disturbing
aspect of the way governments and NGOs have approached
the ‘affected population’ has been to look at them as
completely helpless people in need of relief,
rehabilitation, counselling and so on. There has been
little attempt to identify and use existing local
talent and capabilities for rehabilitation with the
emphasis being on flying in consultants from outside
on high salaries. 

In Sri Lanka for example, the International Red Cross,
which raised almost US$2 billion for post-Tsunami
reconstruction, employed 183 expatriate “volunteers”,
each worth over US$120,000 annually, but with little
technical expertise, knowledge of local society,
politics or culture, local languages or institutional
structures. No wonder then that by the first
anniversary of the tsunami the IRC had managed to
build only a measly 64 of the 15,000 permanent homes
it had promised to build. 

There has also been very little attention paid to the
skills, inherent strengths and human resources of the
affected communities. 

For example the Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka coasts are
home to some of the world’s most skilled traditional
fishermen and to treat them as ‘illiterate,
uneducated, underdeveloped’ rural folk is travesty of
the lowest order. Unfortunately even many city-based
NGO officials operating in the tsunami hit areas were
quite guilty of precisely such an approach. 

As a result of such attitudes there are no programs to
help the survivor community consolidate and develop
their own traditional skills, and better still use
these talents to make additional income or create new
livelihood opportunities. It is time for the world to
stop being so patronizing, become a little more humble
and realize that while those who survived the tsunami
do need help in many ways they also have many things
to teach all of us. 

Disaster as Godzilla
Thinking a bit more along these lines one feels that
the fundamental problem with ‘disaster management’ and
‘disaster response’ efforts all over is the way they
are fixated with the definition of the disaster as a
sudden one-off calamitous event that we need special
institutions, policies and even gadgets to cope with. 

So in the wake of every disaster we hear of ‘rapid
response’ teams and task forces being set up, the need
to mobilize large amounts of resources, demands for
using high technology to warn people of cyclones and
tsunamis and increasing calls for the use of armed
forces to deal with disasters. 

Whether it is nationally elected bodies, the
bureaucracy or other government agencies the sad fact
is that, in many developing countries, over the years
they have become defunct and in a sense quite useless
when it comes to dealing with crisis of any sort. This
leaves the military and the police among the few state
institutions that are still relatively intact and
functional. (If today even the US government talks of
using the military to deal with natural disasters it
is only a stark commentary on how the US too hides a
‘Third World’ within its glamorous and glossy folds.) 

This is a deeply worrying trend and one with long-term
negative implications for all democratic societies. 
In the short run of course it is indeed a tempting
proposition to pull out the military to manage a large
national crisis. 

But where does all this leave ordinary citizens- the
ones who actually die, lose loved ones and grieve
after every disaster? Are they to remain forever
dependent on the arrival of ‘heroic troops’ from
remote corners of the country (and globe) after every
disaster?  Is there nothing that can be done at more
local levels where citizens themselves are empowered
to solve their own problems? 

 Or for that matter what happens to all our democratic
institutions if we are to use cops and soldiers all
the time to solve what are essentially civilian
emergencies? Why bother to have an elected government
at all if their only job is send the men in uniform to
do what they are supposed to manage? It is these
disturbing questions that we need to ask if we are to
find any long-term solutions to the problem of
disasters- both natural and manmade. 

Disaster and Democracy
The core perspective, which guides this approach, is
one that looks at ‘disasters’ as being some kind of
hidden monster or enemy out there to combat whom we
need large and sophisticated weaponry. So not only is
there a ‘War on Terror’ and a ‘War on Bird Flu’ going
on in our world but what they want is nothing less
than a ‘War on Disasters’ complete with early warning
systems spying on the weather and  commandoes fighting
cyclones! 

But, as mentioned before, in many poor countries one
does not need a tsunami or a hurricane to cause misery
for that is the general state of being for a majority
of citizens. Instead of rushing in large amount of
resources after every disaster why not give them these
resources on a regular basis well before they are hit
by a natural calamity?  After all the best ‘disaster
preparedness’ policy any government can come up with
is one that deals effectively with all the mini and
major disasters that occur in our societies on a daily
basis. 

There is little room though for the simple thought
that a proper response is possible only when those
likely to be affected are themselves properly equipped
to deal with the disaster. That would call for
long-term investments in human resources or basic
infrastructure such as roads, energy, drinking water
and health facilities- something anathema to the
entire neo-liberal economic policy making that
dominates global elite thinking these days.


Reminder

Chennai Meeting of Health Activists

Dear Friends,

We have communicated with you before regarding the
Health Activists Meeting in Chennai.  You are
cordially invited to the meeting to be held on
December 24, 2006 (Sunday) in Chennai. The venue for
the meeting is AICUF House in Chennai. Please RSVP as
soon as possible so that we could inform you about
your accommodation arrangements. Please check the
following website for latest updates:

http://indianhealthfront.blogspot.com/

If you have any questions, please email
doctors_for_people at yahoo.co.in 

Regards,
Doctors for People

The meeting in Chennai will be the first in a series
of similar meetings in different parts of the country,
including Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai.

Meeting Location: 
AICUF House
Sterling Road, Nungambakkam
Chennai, 600 034. 
[Located near Loyola College and Nungambakkam Railway
Station]
AICUF Phone: 044 28272283 (Not for meeting
information)

Contact Information:
482, Mandakini Enclave
Alakhnanda, New Delhi 110019.
Primary email: doctors_for_people at yahoo.co.in
Alternate email: satyasagar at gmail.com



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