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Year 2005 No. 124, November 1, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Latin America 2005 – Making Another World Possible

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Latin America 2005 – Making Another World Possible

Hypocritical and Retrogressive EU Sakharov Prize

Cuba Demands Freedom of Five Anti-terrorists before the Ibero-American Access to Justice Forum

US Blockade of Cuba Cannot be Ignored

Declaration of Cuban Ambassador to Brazil

Venezuela:
Building socialism – an interview with Marta Harnecker
Government Rejects Latest Slurs

Africa-Venezuela:
Weaving New Alliances with Cultural Threads

Chilean Struggle against Impunity

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Latin America 2005 – Making Another World Possible

Saturday 3rd Dec 2005, 9:30am - 5pm

Hamilton House, Marbledon Place, London WC1

Dayschool organised by Venezuela Information Centre, Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the Transport & General Workers Union.

From the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela to resistance in Colombia. From Cuba's experience of socialism and the fight against the US blockade. From the struggles for the rights of indigenous peoples, to the struggle to finally control its own destiny – Latin America is changing. From the southernmost tip of Patagonia to the Mexican-US border at the Rio Grande the continent is fighting back. Progressive forces are on the offensive and people are challenging the US neo-liberal agenda for the region.

Latin America 2005 brings together trade unionists, NGOs, academics and progressive movements from Latin America and Britain to explore recent developments across the region.

Speakers include: Tariq Ali (Broadcaster and Telesur advisory board), Barry Camfield (Assist.Gen.Sec. T&G), Nora Castañeda (Women’s Development Bank, Venezuela), Richard Gott (Author and journalist), Jenny Pearce (University of Bradford), Olga Salanueva (from Cuba, Campaign to Free the Miami Five), Tony Benn, John Crabtree (Oxford University), Rod Stoneman (Producer "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"), Sue Branford (Latin America Bureau), Isaac Saney (Author "Cuba – A Revolution in Motion") and Jeremy Corbyn MP.

Latin America 2005 also features films, music and discussion on:

To participate in Latin America 2005 you must book your place in advance, registration cost £8 waged (£6 unwaged) and you can register by credit card on 020 7263 6452.

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Hypocritical and Retrogressive EU Sakharov Prize

WDIE condemns the European Parliament’s decision to grant a "human rights prize" to female relatives of Cuban prisoners jailed for anti-Cuban criminal activities. The "Sakharov prize", reported to be for "freedom of thought", has been awarded to "Ladies in White" (Damas de Blanco), along with others, having been awarded in 2002 to an "opposition" figure Oswaldo Paya, who has no influence within Cuba.

Cuban president Fidel Castro accused the EU countries on October 28 of being "corrupt, immoral, exploitative hypocrites", indicting them for colonialism and unfair trade, which they "keep in place even today", according to AFP. "They are as low, as they always have been", Fidel said in an address at a national graduation ceremony of arts teachers, in which it was emphasised that Cuba has arts instructors at all of its 4,898 schools.

The official Sakharov prize ceremony is scheduled for December 16. The EU instituted diplomatic sanctions against Cuba in June 2003, which were only lifted earlier this year.

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Cuba Demands Freedom of Five Anti-terrorists before the Ibero-American Access to Justice Forum

Cuba denounced the unjust US imprisonment of the five anti-terrorism fighters to the I Ibero-American Access to Justice Forum and demanded their immediate liberation.

Cuba’s Minister of Justice Roberto Diaz affirmed before the delegates from 20 countries that the Miami trial, at which they were condemned seven years ago, was plagued with multiple irregularities and was politically motivated.

This assessment was validated, he pointed out, by the findings of the 11th District Court of Appeals in Atlanta last August that declared the trial and sentences null; however the Five continue to be held in high security prisons.

The forum opened Thursday in the Chilean capital under the sponsorship of the Chilean Justice Ministry and the UN Development Programme.

The Five: Cubans Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino and Rene Gonzalez were arrested in 1998 while working within counterrevolutionary organisations in Miami to prevent terrorist attacks against their country.

Accused unjustly of endangering US national security, they have been held in different prisons under an exceptionally stringent regime and illegally restricted from receiving family visits.

Within the theme of Justice, the minister referred to the ground-breaking resolution by the Ibero-American Heads of State and Government condemning the US blockade of the Island and its censorship of terrorism, supporting the extradition to Venezuela of notorious international criminal Luis Posada Carriles to be tried for blowing up the Cuban airline with 73 people aboard.

Diaz also denounced to the forum the situation of the hundreds of prisoners at the Naval Base the US illegally occupies in Guantanamo, Cuba, prisoners who have been neither charged nor brought to trial; like the Five, he pointed out, they also do not have access to justice.

The minister also offered an explanation of the structure and organisation of the Cuban judicial system and the active participation of the people through the institution of lay judges.

(Prensa Latin,a Santiago de Chile, Oct 27)

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US Blockade of Cuba Cannot be Ignored

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said on Wednesday in Havana that Washington's economic, financial and commercial blockade against the island is a fact of every day Cuban life.

The Cuban Foreign Minister said that every year there are more countries that oppose that obsolete policy. He spoke Wednesday at the International Conference "With All and for the Good of All", on the ideas of Jose Marti and their validity in today's world.

The almost 300 Latin American, European and Asian delegates who are attending the Havana event listened to an eloquent address by the diplomat on the genesis of the blockade in April 1960 to the most recent measures that have re-enforced that anti Cuba policy.

He reiterated that ten successive US administrations have applied, broadened and tightened the measures aimed at weakening the island's economic life. Perez Roque added that seven out of ten Cubans, born since the blockade began, have only known life with the restrictions and limitations of that policy.

The Cuban Foreign Minister said that a conservative figure shows that the blockade has cost the country at least 82 billion dollars. In just the past year the economic damage is over 2.7 billion dollars for increased freight costs and expenses in the transportation of supplies.

He stated that Washington's unilateral blockade on Cuba and its extraterritorial character is imposing US laws on companies and citizens of other nations.

Felipe Perez Roque gave a detailed explanation of the eight most significant aspects of the blockade and described it as an obsession to the point of being ridiculous.

In that sense, the Cuban diplomat gave as an example a State Department announcement in November 2004, warning that US citizens and permanent residents could not legally purchase products of Cuban origin, including cigars and alcohol, not even in a third country.

During his address, entitled: 'Despite the blockade', Perez Roque stressed that the health, education and food sectors have been the most affected. This is a situation which has forced Cuba into a position of resistance and to continue developing, overcoming any obstacles no matter how difficult they might be.

The Minister pointed out that on November 8, Cuba will once again present the UN General Assembly with the Resolution entitled: The necessity to end the economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba.

This document was introduced in 1992, when 59 countries voted in favour of the resolution, while in 2004 there were 179 nations in favour, despite the pressure from Washington.

The Cuban official added that the Revolution and socialism for the Cuban people means defending its State and nationality and in that sense recalled Jose Marti, who in 1880 wrote that "liberty is costly and it's necessary to resign oneself to living without it or deciding to buy it at any price".

The world needs an international economic order and a foreign policy based on mutual respect; and for that we will be contributing to the future of the new generations and the necessary stability which Jose Marti dreamed of, said Perez Roque.

Wednesday's session included work in commissions and an address by the President of the Cuban Parliament Ricardo Alarcon who also referred to the case of the Cuban Five unjustly incarcerated in the US.

The International Premiere of the film Jose Marti, ese soy yo (That's Me) by Venezuelan Edmundo Aray was shown at the Cinemateca de Cuba on Wednesday night as part of the event.

Havana, Oct 27 (AIN)

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Declaration of Cuban Ambassador to Brazil

The magazine Veja, in its Sunday morning edition, which already is on the internet, publishes a long and offensive article on the supposed Cuban aid to the electoral campaign of President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in the year 2000.

The Government of Cuba categorically rejects these slanders and states that it has never interfered in the internal affairs of this sister nation, and places total responsibility for this propagandistic manoeuvre on the aggressive plans of imperialism against Cuba and against Lula.

Those who orchestrate this campaign of lies against Cuba and against the Brazilian government seek to affect the bilateral relations between our two countries, characterized by fraternal dialogue, mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of our nations.

It is obvious that those who today shamelessly lie desire to block the ever-growing plans of cooperation between our two countries, and especially wish to affect the implementation of Operation Miracle in Brazil, which will allow tens of thousands of Brazilians with scarce resources to have eye operations and recover their vision.

That which Cuba has offered to the Brazilian government, totally free of charge, and which truly bothers the enemies of both countries, is that in solidarity we have made an altruistic proposal to daily operate on the sight of at least 100 Brazilian patients. Their treatment, housing and aerial transportation would not cost anything to the Government of Brazil nor to the patients. The Cuban offer, besides scholarships in specialized ophthalmology to Brazilian doctors recently graduated from the Latin American School of Medical Sciences, and the support of Cuban specialists as needed, also includes the decision to donate an ophthalmology centre equipped with the most advanced technology known in the world, which will allow Brazil to perform up to 100 thousand free operations annually.

It is clear to the Cuban government that these twisted accusations, in the context of a forthcoming visit of the President of the United States to Brazil, are intended to divert attention from the increasingly complex reality that mister George W Bush faces, hounded by investigations of important leaders of his own party and in his most intimate circle of collaborators; overwhelmed by the unsustainable and universally repudiated north American military presence in Iraq, which has now cost the lives of more than 2,000 soldiers from that country; faced with ever lower levels of popularity in polls; and besieged and opposed even by the most conservative sectors within the Republican Party, uneasy with the blunders of their government.

With these crude lies comes an intent to also divert attention from the growing repudiation on the part of the people of he continent to the aggressive, hegemonic and meddling policies of the present Administration of the United States and from the colossal failure of ALCA [the Free Trade Area of the Americas, FTAA, or ALCA in Spanish] as a project for regional domination.

The Government of Cuba reiterates its rejection of the lies published by the magazine Veja and confirms its respect and friendship toward the Brazilian people and toward the government headed by President Lula.

Brasilia, 29 October 2005

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Venezuela:

Building socialism – an interview with Marta Harnecker

Federico Fuentes, Caracas, from Green Left Weekly, October 26, 2005

The last time I spoke with long-time influential writer on Latin American politics Marta Harnecker was at the 2003 World Social Forum, where we talked of the "most important anti-neoliberal struggle in the world" unfolding in Venezuela. It was two years later at this same event that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, for the first time in the international arena, proclaimed his support for socialism as the only alternative to capitalism.

Harnecker now lives in Venezuela, trying to support the government however she can, including working as an adviser to the new Minister of Participation and Social Development. Meeting her again, I asked her what she thought Chavez’s comments on socialism represented in relation to changes in Venezuela over that period.

"I think you can say that nothing new has happened after the declaration of socialism, because the declaration is nothing more than giving a name to many things that were already occurring in this country. These were all things that were against the logic of capital. Instead they were based on the logic of a humanist solidarity.

"What had been occurring in practice helped to demonstrate to the leadership of this process that the logic of humanism and solidarity that they were proposing would at each step clash with the logic of capital.

"Look at the social missions. The missions are not socialist, but they can only be imagined in a society that wants to construct something different from capitalism, because they permit people to grow, to become subjects in this process and create a new way of looking at society."

The social missions – which began with Mission Barrio Adentro, taking health care into the poorest barrios of Caracas – have now been extended to incorporate Venezuelans who have traditionally been excluded from the education system through Mission Robinson (literacy), Mission Ribas (high school) and Mission Sucre (university). Other missions have been established to tackle the plight of indigenous peoples (Mission Guicapuro) and the struggle of campesinos (peasants) for land (Mission Zamora), among others.

Harnecker explained that "one of the most important missions is Mercal. Mercal is something that is contrary to the logic of capital. It attempts to give food to people at a price not fixed by the law of demand, but rather at below market prices." Products in Mercal outlets are usually sold at up to 40% below the market prices.

"It also has attempted to establish a network for national production by buying from cooperatives. One of the problems of cooperatives is the competition they face in the capitalist market. This is resolved by a state market which buys the products for the people and offers them at below market prices, where during the whole process profit is not the objective.

"It is interesting if we look at how the idea of Mercal comes about. It originates from the necessity of food sovereignty, coming out of the bosses’ strike in December 2002." Harnecker said that the government at that time saw "how weak they were, all the food was in the hands of private businesses, so they could strangle the process through hunger. So the government rapidly saw the necessity to resolve this problem."

Harnecker noted that the missions "were only possible by going outside the inherited state. One of the biggest problems of this revolution is the inherited state apparatus and the inherited habits of the people. The missions were a way of doing things outside the state and beginning to transform it from the outside, something that is very difficult."

Participatory democracy

Along with attempting to transform the state and the logic of the capitalist market, the Bolivarian revolution has fought to replace the so-called representative democracy that existed for 40 years prior to the 1998 election of Chavez and replace it with a real participatory and protagonist democracy, under which the people begin to take control of their lives, their community and their country. It is in this area of popular participation that Harnecker spends most of her time, studying and promoting new experiences and initiatives that are attempting to transfer real decision-making power to the people. For Harnecker, "Venezuela is a country that gives its citizens all the opportunities possible for people to participate".

We discussed the experience of the community governments in Carabobo. There, in the municipality of Libertador, the mayor has worked on the division of the parroquiales into sectors, where community governments are established to decentralise tasks and resources, such as rubbish collection and the maintenance and payment of electricity supply. All these tasks are taken on by the whole community, with resources from the council.

The Chavez government has also promoted the establishment of community committees to tackle problems of health, education, sport and other issues, working closely with the missions. The Comites de Salud (health committees) are one example. They work closely with the Cuban doctors in Mission Barrio Adentro, helping to carry out censuses of the community and encouraging those that are ill to visit the local doctor, whom many couldn’t previously afford to see.

Harnecker explained: "There are many different experiences, with different names, but similar objectives." Together with the ministry for popular participation and social development, Harnecker is working on the promotion of the communal councils. "One of the problems we have here is that the new constitution has created excellent conditions for the protagonist participation of the people, but these ideas are not always implemented correctly."

Harnecker cited the example of the Local Councils of Public Planning (CLPPs), established in the constitution and codified into law. These aimed to establish a council involving the mayor, the elected members of the municipal council, the presidents of the Juntas Parroquiales and leaders of the organised community elected in citizens’ assemblies. The idea was that the community would have 50%-plus-one membership of this body and it would help to establish where a certain portion of the municipality’s budget went. Yet in reality there have been many problems in getting these off the ground.

"For example", said Harnecker, "how do you democratically elect representatives from a community in a citizen’s assembly when we are talking of a geographic area which is inhabited by thousands or tens of thousands of people? Whilst the grassroots of the society are not organised, it will be very difficult for those who make up the CLPP as an expression of the people to be truly representative.

"That is why it is so important to form the communal councils in small communities of 200 to 600 families in urban areas and much smaller in rural areas. The spokespeople of those councils should be the representatives of that community in the CLPP. The councils also help to resolve the problem of the dispersion of the organisations that are in the community. There are many popular organisations which are very focused on their own sector."

Harnecker explained that what they are proposing with the communal councils is "that the community put forward an organisation or space that articulates all the organisations which exist in a community and that allows the elaboration of a single plan for the community which includes health, education, everything, but that it be a single plan".

Leadership

Through increasing popular participation, Harnecker explained that it "will help consolidate this process at the grassroots level, take it forward and broaden it, creating more forces that are in favour of the process". Facilitating popular participation will also help create a whole new generation of leaders, because "that is where the people will have to do things and will have to demonstrate in practice that they are capable of leading this process. This is why I am enthusiastic about working with the construction of popular participation at the grassroots level, with the ideas of the communal councils, because these people are elected according to the leadership they display in their day-to-day activities."

This is also how Harnecker sees that the Venezuelan process will be able to overcome one of its biggest weaknesses – the lack of a political instrument. "The different parties and different leaderships have not been able to integrate in a real way, they are too worried about their own group’s interests and there is a big problem within the MVR [Chavez’s party, the Movement for a Fifth Republic], which attempts to impose its hegemony. It is a ‘majoritarian’ party that is not really very generous. The problem is not so much in the top leadership, who understand that it is necessary to give and create spaces for their allies, but because there are many groups within the MVR they need to respond to the requirements of each group and that is where the problem comes from.

"For a while after the referendum it appeared that the UBEs [Units for Electoral Battle], a brilliant form of organisation, would allow Chavez to resolve the issue of the connection with the people and how to organise them. At that moment, a political front could maybe have been created from the UBEs, where the people involved would have really been those who worked in the grassroots, with representatives from the parties, but with a majority who came through because of work in the grassroots. Unfortunately the conditions were not there, particularly from what I have been told about the discussion inside the MVR, to accept the idea."

Harnecker believes that "unless some very grave event happens that forces [the parties] to put the interests of the process above all else ... I foresee a process much longer of construction of leaders, the growth of leaders via popular participation. In six years I believe we are going to have a generation of leaders that will impose themselves on this process."

Asked whether the revolution has six years to solve the problem, Harnecker replied: "What Chavez is doing is looking for mechanisms to substitute for that deficiency. He is the clear conductor of this process, the process depends a lot on Chavez and that is why the threat of assassination is real. However, with that conductor and with the popular pedagogy and with a process that creates opportunities for the people to participate and grow, this problem is being overcome. It is not a process where the people are waiting for the leader to deliver them a present, it is a process where the people are waking up, are auto-affirming themselves, are growing as people, and are forming themselves in the missions, through [Chavez’s weekly TV programme] Alo Presidente, and through their daily participation."

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Venezuela:

Government Rejects Latest Slurs

Stuart Munckton, from Green Left Weekly, October 26, 2005.

The Venezuelan government has reacted to fresh allegations, originating from inside the US. According to an October 11 Venezuelanalysis.com article, the Miami-based Inter-American Press Association accused the left-wing government of President Hugo Chavez of violations of freedom of speech during its annual meeting in Indianapolis. The IAPA has more than 1000 members, including editors and publishers from across the Americas.

Head of the IAPA committee of freedom of press and information Gonzalo Marroquon claimed that the Chavez government "maintains a constant confrontation with media companies linked to the opposition or those which are independent". The IAPA called on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to "maintain a permanent vigilance" over the Chavez government.

The IAPA singled out the Law for Social Responsibility and Television, passed last year by the National Assembly, as an example of attempts to silence criticism of the government. The law has come under fire from the opposition inside Venezuela, as well as from the US government, despite the fact that the law doesn’t give the government the power to censor the media, but merely introduces basic regulation over content, tasked to an independent body, along the lines that exist in most countries.

Despite the fact that the private media in Venezuela (overwhelmingly owned by two wealthy families) not only supported but was crucial to helping organise a military coup that briefly overthrew the elected Chavez government in 2002, no media outlet has been shut down and the private media continues to run a constant campaign criticising the government.

Responding to the allegations, vice-president Jose Vincent Rangel claimed that the IAPA "is an organisation totally discredited by its silence during true aggressions against liberty which have served all the dictators of Latin America". He said that over the decades "they kept silent while shameful things happened against freedom of expression such as the murder of journalists and the closing down of newspapers and other means of communication".

According to Venezuelanalysis.com, during the 2002 military coup, the IAPA remained silent when the regime established by the coup – in power for just 48 hours – carried out vicious state repression against community media and also took the state-run TV station off air. One IAPA member in Venezuela, the pro-opposition El Universal, carried a front-page report hailing the coup, which not only removed Chavez from power but also dissolved the constitution, the Supreme Court and the National Assembly, with the headline "A Step Forward", while the IAPA itself released a statement that was "broadly supportive" of the regime established by the coup.

This support for a coup that installed a new regime headed by the head of Venezuela’s main business federation to power, which during its brief reign dissolved the pro-poor laws introduced by Chavez, helps explains why Rangel, in rejecting the IAPA’s criticisms, referred to the organisation as "a latrine", claiming that "it represents the dirtier and darker interests of the world media business".

The IAPA annual meeting coincided with fresh slurs against the Chavez government by US televangelist and Republican Pat Robertson. Robertson caused outrage both inside and outside the US in August when, on his weekly television programme viewed by more than 1 million people, he urged the US government to assassinate Chavez. The Bush administration ignored calls from Venezuela to condemn the comments. Robertson later retracted his call for the assassination of Chavez, suggesting that he could be kidnapped instead.

Venezuelanalysis.com reported on October 10 that the previous night Robertson had claimed on CNN’s Late Edition that Chavez, who he accused of establishing a "Marxist dictatorship", had given US$1.2 million to Osama Bin Laden immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Robertson refused to reveal the source of his allegations and also claimed that the US could face a nuclear attack from Venezuela.

Venezuelan officials rejected the allegations as ridiculous and irrational. Rangel suggested that Robertson be "submitted to a team of psychiatrists". Yet Rangel pointed out that Robertson’s allegations were dangerous because of his close ties to the White House.

Venezuelan ambassador to the US Bernardo Alvarez pointed out that the allegation that Venezuela had provided funds to Bin Laden had been decisively disproved by a US court. The money the accusation is based on was actually allocated to Afghan refugees via the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Venezuela has no nuclear weapons.

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Africa-Venezuela:

Weaving New Alliances with Cultural Threads

Humberto Márquez, IPS, October 28, 2005

Venezuela, the biggest oil producer in Latin America and the fifth biggest in the world, has launched an offensive to forge closer diplomatic ties with Africa, initially focusing on political and cultural questions while leaving the matter of energy cooperation to the future.

"We want a new diplomatic map, with 18 embassies, each of which would serve two other countries as well, in order to cover the entire continent," said Venezuela's deputy foreign minister for Africa, Reinaldo Bolívar, on his return from a tour that took him to Senegal, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Benin.

Bolívar, whose office was created just a few months ago, has already visited Morocco, Mali, Egypt and Sudan, and is now packing his bags to head to southern Africa.

"We'll be the third country in the region in terms of presence in Africa, after Brazil and Cuba," Bolívar told IPS.

The main objective of the government's new offensive is "to strengthen ties with a continent that we have largely ignored for decades, despite our belonging to the Group of 77 (the largest bloc in the United Nations, made up of 132 developing countries) and the Non-Aligned Movement," he said.

Caracas has traditionally maintained formal relations with nearly all of Africa, but it has only had embassies in Nigeria, the oil-producing countries of North Africa, Tanzania – after former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere (1964-1985) promoted the creation of the group of 15 developing countries, aimed at fostering cooperation and providing input for other international groups and bodies – and South Africa, after the elimination of the apartheid regime of institutionalised racism and racial segregation.

For several years, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela – the members of the Group of Three free trade agreement – kept a joint embassy in Namibia, which was closed as part of a restructuring of the foreign services of Bogotá and Mexico, Bolívar noted.

"Now we want to support the work of our embassies by drawing on the experiences and activities of Cuba and Brazil," said the official, who was upbeat about Venezuela's imminent admission to the African Union as an observer, for which it will open an office in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the AU.

The first aims are "cultural and educational cooperation, to establish agreements that provide a foundation for economic, trade and technological exchanges," said Bolívar. "For example, textile experts will come from Mali, a major cotton producer, and together with Cuba we are looking at founding a medical school in southern Africa."

"We are also seeking political exchange and common positions in the framework of the United Nations, 36 percent of whose 191 members are African states," he added.

But there are also complex situations in Africa, Bolívar observed, pointing for example to the conflict over the Western Sahara between Morocco and the Polisario Front, with respect to which Caracas advocates "a permanent, peaceful and lasting solution."

The intensification of ties with Africa is being undertaken in the second year of President Hugo Chavez’s international offensive aimed at weaving or strengthening alliances to move towards a "multipolar world order" to counteract US hegemony.

In Latin America, the Chavez administration won approval for Venezuela to be admitted as a full member of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, while offering generously financed oil supplies to Venezuela's South American neighbours, through the Petrosur joint venture, and to a number of Caribbean nations through Petrocaribe.

In search of "strategic alliances", the president has also made several visits to countries like China, India, Russia, France, Spain and Iran, negotiating agreements for purchases of arms in several of these nations, tractors in Iran and satellites in China.

The anti-Chavez opposition movement, which has won around 40 percent of the vote in the numerous electoral processes held over the past few years, has criticised the leftist leader's "oil diplomacy" as well as the series of international meetings financed by his government, arguing that they are a poor use of public funds.

With respect to Africa, cultural activities are an initial focus of the diplomatic thrust.

The next step is a November 13-20 cultural festival that Venezuela will host in Caracas, with the participation of a dozen African artistic and cultural groups like the Benin national ballet company and Gnaoua musicians from Morocco, as well as a number of Venezuelan groups and artists.

"Venezuela, like other Latin American countries, owes a spiritual debt to Africa," Jesús García, president of the non-governmental Afroamérica Foundation, told IPS. "Thousands of slaves from the Wolof ethnic group of Senegal or the Mina from the (West African) equatorial coast came to this country."

The festival "gives us a chance to eradicate the 'Tarzan-like' vision of Africa that we still have in Venezuela, where we often see it merely as a primitive continent with enormous needs. We want African intellectuals to come and show us their reality," said García.

In the activist's view, the government's offensive provides an opportunity to support intergovernmental efforts by promoting agreements between universities, parliaments, regional authorities and city governments in Africa and Venezuela, "and with the rest of the region, in search of a new relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean as well."

The backdrop, said García, "should be the energy question and possible accords between Venezuela, which supplies13 percent of US oil imports, and African countries that within 10 years will provide one out of every four barrels consumed in the United States."

In the mid- to long-term, Venezuela's new "Africa agenda" is seeking strategic alliances in the area of energy, in both technological cooperation and trade, in search of which Chavez will visit Africa next year, said Bolívar.

Other initiatives include the creation of a Venezuela-Africa Friendship House, new university courses on Africa, and a centre for research and preservation of the African heritage.

"We are in debt to Africans, whose forced labour contributed to building economic powers and to integrating cultures," said Bolívar.

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Chilean Struggle against Impunity

September 11, 2005, was the 32nd anniversary of the US instigated and backed coup d'etat in Chile headed by General Augusto Pinochet. The fascist forces killed the constitutional President, Salvador Allende, and began killing several thousand Chileans seen as a threat to their repressive rule. Many thousands more were jailed, tortured and driven into exile. Civilian rule under a constitution imposed by Pinochet returned in 1988.

As in past years, the infamous date was marked with demonstrations and other actions by the Chilean people, to commemorate the victims of the Pinochet regime, demand justice for them and an end to the impunity that for so long protected their murderers. In recent years great efforts have led to legal action against some of the criminals, including Pinochet himself, the conviction and jailing of a few.

But President Lagos of the Socialist Party, who himself many years ago loudly demanded their punishment, has been promoting the idea of forgiveness, an end to prosecutions for the Pinochet period, and forgetting the past. On August 19 he even gave a presidential pardon to Manuel Contreras, the top military officer sentenced to eight years in jail for the 1982 murder of labour leader Tucapel Jimenez.

Commenting on the dire consequences of imposition of an end point to the prosecutions, human rights lawyer Carmen Herz stated, "After 32 years, Lagos is creating a monster of impunity that puts in danger everything that has been achieved with so much work and sacrifice concerning human rights."

Massive repudiation of the pardon and end point proposal of Lagos and the most reactionary political elements has been manifest in Chile and was the focus of this year's September 11 actions. In Santiago thousands marched to the tomb of President Allende with signs like "No to Impunity!" "Lagos Traitor!" and "Put Pinochet behind Bars!" A number of people were arrested or injured in confrontations with police and a 16-year-old boy was killed when police fired at a neighbourhood gathering.

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