[Marxism] 3 items of interest in today's NYT
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Oct 26 11:28:13 MDT 2009
October 27, 2009
Ex-Guerrilla Ahead in Uruguay Vote
By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — A Socialist former guerrilla fighter known
for speaking his mind emerged the clear winner of Sunday’s
election for president of Uruguay but did not muster enough votes
to avoid a November runoff, in what analysts said was a referendum
on the current leftist government.
José Mujica, a Socialist senator who spent 14 years in prison for
waging an urban guerilla war against the military dictatorship
here, was the candidate of the governing Broad Front coalition,
whose tenure has improved economic conditions here. The Broad
Front’s incumbent president, Tabaré Vázquez, remains popular and
Mr. Mujica was considered the front-runner.
Mr. Mujica’s top challenger was Luis Alberto Lacalle, a
conservative former president and the candidate of the National Party.
With 99 percent of the votes counted, the Broad Front had 47.5
percent of the votes; the National Party was trailing with 28.6
percent and the Colorado Party had 16.7 percent, according to the
Electoral Court of Uruguay.
Mr. Mujica needed more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a
runoff election on Nov. 29. Voters on Sunday also rejected a
much-discussed initiative to remove amnesty for human rights
abuses under the 1973-85 dictatorship.
Under President Vázquez, the Broad Front coalition led Uruguay out
of a deep economic funk earlier this decade. Broad Front was the
first leftist movement in Uruguay to break the hold of a two-party
system under which either the National or the Colorado party held
power for more than 150 years.
Broad Front quelled the fears of Uruguayans and foreign investors
by charting a pragmatic path closer to those followed by the
governments in Brazil, Chile and Peru, than to those of Venezuela,
Bolivia and Ecuador, which nationalized industries and made
conditions less favorable for foreign investors.
“Uruguay fits into the consolidated left of the hemisphere and
will probably stay there for the foreseeable future,” said Riordan
Roett, who chairs the Latin American Studies program at Johns
Mr. Vázquez, a doctor, has a 60 percent approval rating, opinion
polls show, a credit to his steady handling of the economy.
Uruguay’s Constitution does not allow for re-election, and Mr.
Vázquez, in contrast to leaders like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela or
Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, did not push for a referendum to loosen
But Uruguayans seemed inclined to give Broad Front a chance to
deepen its program.
“Five years is not a lot of time, and this government has done a
lot of good things with the economy in very little time, but there
is much more to do,” said Analia Chocho, 33, who attended the
final rally for Mr. Mujica on Thursday in Pando, a small city just
outside of Montevideo.
Mr. Vázquez followed a prescription of raising taxes on the
wealthy to finance social programs for the poor and working class,
like major construction of low-income housing and an expansion of
health care to all workers and their children.
Since the financial crisis of 2002, Uruguay’s unemployment rate
dropped by half to about 7 percent and the percentage of people
classified as poor fell to about 20 percent from 35 percent,
government figures show.
Uruguay’s race pitted Mr. Lacalle, a neo-liberal who wants to
eliminate the income tax and favors privatizing state firms and
shrinking government, against Mr. Mujica, who believes in more
state involvement in industries and has said he would continue to
deepen social programs.
“But both have said they want to continue the macroeconomic
policies of Tabaré Vázquez,” said Juan Carlos Doyenart, a
political analyst here. “But this race was transformed into a
contest of style over substance, more of images than of concrete
In style and background, the two men offer a stark contrast.
Mr. Lacalle, 68, is a former lawyer and journalist from Uruguay’s
political elite who helped found the Mercosur trade bloc during a
difficult period of hyperinflation.
Mr. Mujica, 74, a founder of the Tupamaro guerilla movement that
tried to lead a social revolution here, was jailed for most of the
military dictatorship and was also tortured.
He never attended university but managed to be elected a senator.
He did not take to the trappings of power, choosing to live in a
modest home in the country. He has proposed giving away his
presidential salary if elected and living on the salary of his
wife, also a senator.
He wears cardigan sweaters and captivates audiences with his
humble tone and plain language. At a speech on Thursday, he
promised social change and a government that would transform
Uruguay into a “modern and developed” country.
“Pepe,” he told supporters Thursday, referring to his nickname,
“is an old companion at your side, nothing more, nothing less.”
But Mr. Mujica has caused concerns for some voters because of his
political history and verbal indiscretions. He caused a ruckus in
Argentina last month when he questioned the government of Cristina
Fernandez de Kirchner, saying in an interview with La Nación
newspaper that it didn’t have “a plan for the future” and lived
“too much in the present.”
President Vázquez later called some of Mr. Mujica’s statements
Those concerns have been tempered somewhat by his choice of Danilo
Astori, the finance minister under Mr. Vázquez, as his running
mate. Mr. Mujica has said he has asked Mr. Astori to run the
economy if they are elected.
Uruguay’s president faces the challenge of rebuilding frayed
relations with neighbor Argentina, which has been at odds with
Uruguay over a Finnish paper mill built on the Uruguayan side of a
river between the two countries. The Argentine government and
environmentalists argued the plant should have been relocated.
Mr. Mujica calmed fears during the campaign that he would push
Uruguay closer to Mr. Chavez’s orbit by saying he hopes to pattern
his government on that of Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da
Silva, who has taken a pragmatic approach to foreign investment
and macro-economic management while deepening social protections
for the underclasses. Mr. da Silva shares a similarly humble
background as a former auto-plant worker with a grade-school
October 26, 2009
Michael Moore Irks Supporters of Chávez
By SIMON ROMERO
CARACAS, Venezuela — Michael Moore, the filmmaker who is a bête
noire of conservatives in the United States, now appears to have
made some enemies among the leftist supporters of President Hugo
During a recent appearance on ABC’s late-night program “Jimmy
Kimmel Live,” Mr. Moore gave an account — apparently tongue in
cheek — of how he drank a bottle-and-a-half of tequila with Mr.
Chávez at the Venice Film Festival in September, and how he
mistook Venezuela’s burly foreign minister, Nicolás Maduro, for a
Those comments have created an uproar here among some of Mr.
Chávez’s loyal supporters, known as Chavistas.
“Michael Moore is a most unfortunate coward,” Eva Golinger, an
American lawyer who lives in Caracas and who is one of Mr.
Chávez’s most prominent defenders in international leftist
circles, wrote in an essay widely disseminated here that lambasted
Mr. Chávez, who had traveled to Venice for the screening of “South
of the Border,” Oliver Stone’s documentary about Venezuela’s
president and other leftist leaders in Latin America, has not
publicly remarked on Mr. Moore’s appearance on the show. Mr. Moore
did not respond to requests for comment.
But the reaction of some Chavistas offered a view into their
readiness to attack anyone criticizing their leader, without
stopping to ponder whether the criticism was meant to be amusing
Ms. Golinger and other Chavistas took particular umbrage at Mr.
Moore’s suggestion that he had imbibed with Mr. Chávez (the
president is a noted teetotaler) while giving him some
speechwriting advice. The advice, Mr. Moore said in the
appearance, had been accepted.
Mr. Moore’s comments “about President Chávez asking him to ‘help’
write his United Nations speech demonstrate Moore’s extreme ego,”
Ms. Golinger wrote.
“President Chávez is one of the most brilliant speakers in the
world, with an immense capacity to bring together a variety of
ideas while being coherent,” she added. “We know that nobody
writes his speeches, not even him! He speaks from his heart, and
not from a teleprompter!”
Yet the tirades against Mr. Moore, including requests broadcast on
state-controlled media that he rectify what he said, were followed
by a bit of soul-searching within Mr. Chávez’s political movement
as to whether a better-honed sense of humor was needed to absorb
comments like those by Mr. Moore.
“It’s a tremendous joke,” said Juan Carlos Monedero, a political
scientist from Spain who supports Mr. Chávez, referring to Mr.
Moore’s characterization of his meeting with Mr. Chávez. “What
happened to irony?”
Here, some critics of Mr. Chávez appeared to have about the same
sense of irony as some anti-Moore Chavistas.
For instance, the 2D Movement, which opposes Mr. Chávez’s
policies, used a photograph of Mr. Moore in newspaper
advertisements on Sunday attacking the president, contending that
his luxurious hotel suite in Venice was a site of “havoc”
illustrating wasteful spending abroad by Mr. Chávez while
Venezuelans contend with electricity and water shortages.
Others tried to treat Mr. Moore’s comments with at least some
“We all want to live in Venetian socialism,” said Alberto Barrera
Tyszka, a co-author of a biography of Mr. Chávez, in a column
published Sunday in the daily newspaper El Nacional.
But Ms. Golinger, the author of books that delve into what she
describes as Washington’s efforts to destabilize Venezuela, was
having none of it.
“I think I was right to say that Moore was being quite, and
unfortunately, cowardly,” she said over the weekend, “about
meeting one of Latin America’s greatest and most influential leaders.”
October 26, 2009
A Hero (or Villain) for the Left (or the Right)
By PETER APPLEBOME
Given that Wall Street has turned the myths of Sherwood Forest
upside down, the timing was perfect over the weekend for the
seventh biennial meeting of the International Association for
Robin Hood Studies at the University of Rochester.
The current Sheriff of Nottingham, Leon Unczur, who has cycled
across the United States and in 2006 celebrated his civil union
with his partner, Jonathan, was there for a live interview via
Skype. Friday night featured a long-lost 1912 silent film, with
actors gamboling through the New Jersey Palisades in the oldest
surviving of perhaps 80 English-language Robin Hood movies and
television productions. Saturday night featured what was billed as
the 21st-century premiere of a new 35-millimeter tinted print of
the landmark 1922 Douglas Fairbanks version, which was the first
film with a million-dollar budget.
Some of the research papers were a tad academic (“The Slavic Robin
Hood: Juraj Janosik”). But reflecting the conference theme, “Robin
Hood: Media Creature,” most of it was amazingly contemporary for a
guy who may never have existed but has been around for more than
700 years nonetheless. Topics included: “African-American
Traditions and the Robin Hood Ballads,” “Robin Hood for the
PlayStation Generation, or Every Age Gets the Robin Hood It
Deserves,” and, lest we forget Joe the Plumber, Marcus A. J.
Smith’s “Robin Hood and the 2008 Presidential Election.”
Redistributional politics may be perilous political turf, but with
yet another Robin Hood mega-film due out next year (the director
Ridley Scott’s version, starring Russell Crowe and Cate
Blanchett), it’s clear Americans can’t get enough of the guy.
“I’m very quiet about this with my British friends here, but I
think he’s more American than British,” said Dr. Smith, a retired
English professor at Loyola University in New Orleans.
No one knows if there was ever a single Robin Hood or if he was
just a composite patched together from legend and reality. But one
thing scholars agree on is that, alas, he did not steal from the
rich and give to the poor.
Robin has received a steady image and status upgrade over the
centuries, but most of the experts agree that Robin as woodland
Marxist is, oddly, a mostly American embellishment.
“Americans like the redistribution myth, but it isn’t a medieval
part of the story,” said Stephen Knight of Cardiff University in
Wales, perhaps the leading Robin Hood scholar. “He isn’t a
revolutionary. He’s not interested in regime change.”
Robin’s real enemies, he said, are bad abbots or sheriffs
thwarting the king’s will, not those at the top of the social
Robin Hood has thrived for so long, Professor Knight said, in
large part because there is so little that’s certain about his
story that cultures can embellish it as they see fit. So scholars
reflected on grunge, action hero, ninja, Star Wars, Harry Potter
and multicultural aspects of recent versions. Maid Marian, it
turns out, was barely there at the beginning, but is pretty much a
co-star now and a template for much feminist theorizing. And the
original violent forest thug has become an authentic figure of the
woods and frontier, fighting for the generic good, whatever that
is, against the bad (ditto), like a Jimmy Stewart or John Wayne
character with a bow and feathered cap.
Still, here in the golden era of stealing from the poor and giving
to the rich, it’s perhaps no accident that Robin is around like
never before. If you Google “Obama” and “Robin Hood” you get about
And just as Americans seem torn between angry populism (Why not
take from the bankers and give to the peons?) and a defense of
capitalism (perhaps one argument against redistribution), the
Robin Hood myth in politics and on the Web is up for grabs, too.
Some see an Obama Robin Hood as a scary thing, confiscating money
for the unworthy poor. Others see a populist hero taking money
from the unworthy rich. Dr. Smith thinks Robin is too slippery to
be perfect for either, but still a more natural ornament for the
left than the right. “Trying to turn Robin Hood into the Sheriff
of Nottingham is a really hard task,” he said.
Professor Knight said he will be curious to see if there are any
evil bankers or other stand-ins for populist outrage in next
year’s Robin Hood epic. But Thomas Hahn, an English professor at
Rochester and the conference organizer, said there is a reason we
prefer our Robin Hood hard to pin down.
“I think over the history of the story, the least successful
versions have been ones that tried to bundle him into some set of
causes or interests,” he said. “You could get him on board
regulating bonuses for investment bankers, but the more
politicized and specific the story becomes, the less interesting
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