Arctic stronghold: Might of Russia’s Northern Fleet shown in anniversary video – By RT


Arctic stronghold: Might of Russia’s Northern Fleet shown in anniversary video
The Northern Fleet, which is arguably the most powerful Russian naval force, is celebrating 285 years of operations. Its anniversary video shows state-of-the-art vessels and unique installations in the Russian Arctic region.

Established back in 1733, the Northern Fleet comprises some of Russia’s most remarkable military hardware, with 41 submarines, 37 surface vessels and ground troops making it a “cross-branch strategic force”, as the Russian Defense Ministry puts it in a Twitter post. Its anniversary video shows various military exercises staged by the Northern Fleet forces, including submarines firing cruise and ballistic missiles, Tu-95 strategic bombers flying training sorties and military divers holding underwater firing drills.

The flagship of the fleet is a nuclear-powered battlecruiser the ‘Pyotr Velikiy,’ one of the biggest nuclear-propelled ships in the world. The ‘Admiral Kuznetsov,’ Russia’s only serving aircraft carrier, which took part in the fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists in Syria in 2016, is also part of the Northern Fleet.

The naval force also has some of Russia’s most advanced nuclear-powered multipurpose submarines equipped with cruise and ballistic missiles. Two state-of-the-art submarines – a Yasen-M class vessel the Severodvinsk, carrying as many as 32 Onyx and Kalibr supersonic cruise missiles, and a Borei-class submarine the Yury Dolgorukiy, equipped with 16 Bulava nuclear ballistic missiles – are already in service in the fleet, while another Yasen-M class submarine, the Kazan, is currently undergoing sea trials.

The strategic force, which is particularly tasked with “defending Russia’s national interests in the Arctic,” also controls some unique military bases within the Polar circle. Of particular interest is Russia’s northernmost military base, called Arctic Shamrock.

The unique base is the world’s only permanent infrastructure facility built in the area located 80 degrees of latitude north of the Equator. The autonomous complex, which occupies an area of 14,000 square meters, allows up to 150 people to live and work there for as long as 18 months without any external support.

The Russian infrastructure in the Polar region is “unmatched” by any other country, the country’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said, in December 2017.

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Pleasing Investors at the Expense of the People, Argentina Sells out to the IMF – By Jon Jeter (MINT PRESS)

Latin America

President Mauricio Macri has put the country back on the neoliberal path with policies that favor big agricultural producers inside the country, and investors both inside and outside of Argentina.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — Days before Christmas of 2001, a 54-year-old Argentine woman named Norma Cecilia Albino shoved her way past the throngs of demonstrators protesting the government’s new banking restrictions, walked into a bank branch in a northern Buenos Aires neighborhood, strolled to the counter, and asked to withdraw a few pesos from her account.

When the cashier explained to Albino that she’d already reached her limit and would not be able to withdraw more until the following month, Albino calmly rumbled through her purse for a bottle of alcohol, doused herself with it, and then, to the horror of a nation, set herself ablaze inside the bank lobby.

Albino survived after bank employees rushed to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher and clothing. But the traumatic moment is emblematic of the trauma inflicted on the country by a  deep economic downturn that rivaled the Great Depression; Argentines dubbed it “La Crisis.”


Snatching poverty from the jaws of prosperity

For most of the 20th century, Argentina’s was the most prosperous and industrialized economy in Latin America, and virtually everyone who wanted a job could find one. Israeli agents managed to kidnap the fugitive Nazi Adolf Eichmann in 1960 simply by waiting for him to finish his shift at a Buenos Aires water plant. Then in 1991 — with the encouragement of the world’s two most powerful financial institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund — Argentina’s investor-friendly government decided to root out inflation by fixing the exchange rate of the local currency: one peso for one U.S. dollar.

People line up outside Norma Colque's home to fill their containers with free food. Colque, who gets food from the state to serve about 200 a day, says she has had to stretch the pasta and stew because twice as many people are lining up for food. Natacha Pisarenko | AP

Within two years, the peg had sharply curbed inflation, from an annual rate of 84 percent to one of 7.4 percent. But it also raised prices on locally produced goods, making Argentina’s products too expensive to sell abroad and goods shipped into the country artificially cheap. Brands made in Spain and the U.S. began to fly off the shelves and — much like the disillusioned, bankrupt protagonist of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises — Argentina went broke, “gradually at first, and then suddenly.”

In the postwar period, the country had never seen its unemployment rate rise above 4 percent; by the time of Albino’s self-immolation, it was 22 percent. The percentage of Argentines living in poverty soared to 56 percent, more than the previous peak by a factor of 10.


Recovery through isolation

But, beginning with the 2002 devaluation of the peso and President Nestor Kirchner’s default on nearly $100 billion in government loans the following year, Argentina’s economy began to recover. With less money leaving the country to buy foreign-made goods and pay foreign bondholders, more was available for investment and poverty relief; Argentina’s economy grew by an average of 8 percent a year for the next five years, and continued even after Kirchner died unexpectedly and was succeeded as head-of-state by his widow, Cristina, in 2010. As a result of its default, Argentina was a pariah in the capital markets but a quarter of the population put poverty in their rearview mirror.


Back into the debtor-nation buzzsaw: a lesson apparently not learned

But now Argentines are beginning to worry that La Crisis is returning. On May 8, President Mauricio Macri announced that he is seeking a credit line worth at least $19.7 billion from the IMF to fund the government through the end of his first term in late 2019. Days later, Argentina’s central bank announced it would raise interest rates to 40 percent — the highest in the world — to curb runaway inflation.

The return to the international financial system sent thousands of angry Argentines into the streets this month, some with signs declaring “enough of the IMF.” Retail sales contracted by 3 percent in April; consulting houses, like the London-based Capital Economics, predict high interest rates will tip Argentina into a recession this year. Workers are demanding higher wages, Macri’s popularity has plummeted, and some data suggests that many Argentines have returned to the custom of hiding dollars underneath their mattresses: dollar deposits in Argentine banks fell 2 percent between April 27 and May 14, according to data obtained by Reuters.

Protesters stand behind a barrier with a sign bearing a message for the FMI, the Spanish acronym for International Monetary Fund, during a protest in Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 25, 2018. Victor R. Caivano | AP

Small-business owners like Maria Florencia Humano are closing for good. Unable to pay either the rent or the business loans she took out, she told Reuters that she has moved in with her sister to cut costs. Said Humano of Macri, who is the scion of one of the country’s wealthiest families:

I voted for him. I made a bet and believed in him. Now I don’t believe anyone.”

What is unfolding in Argentina is the third act of a sovereign-debt crisis that began in the late 1970s after a military junta introduced neoliberal trade policies, Paul Cooney, an economist at the National University of General Sarmiento in Buenos Aires, told Mintpress. The military’s reforms were quite mild, however, compared to those implemented by Carlos Saul Menem, who was elected president in 1989 and went on to effectively dismantle the modern industrial state in Argentina — a country that boasted its living standards were more comparable to those of France than to any of its South American neighbors, save perhaps Chile. The Kirchners represented a return to Keynesian macroeconomic policies, but Macri has put the country back on the neoliberal path with policies that favor big agricultural producers inside the country, and investors both inside and outside of Argentina. Said Cooney:

The same thing is happening again. Industry has really worsened and Argentina is once again on the edge of a likely transformative recession.”

Macri campaigned to reverse the Kirchners’ trade policies, which have isolated the country from the global marketplace. He settled with the nation’s remaining creditors and last year issued $2.75 billion of dollar-denominated bonds with a 100-year maturity; investors snapped them up.

Macri’s free-market credentials earned him a 2017 invitation to the White House to meet U.S. President Donald Trump, who earlier this month on Twitter hailed the Argentine leader’s “vision for transforming his country’s economy.”


A contraction that only global investors could love

This economy is not identical to the depression that began in 1998, Cooney said. That downturn was grounded in the 1-to-1 peg between the dollar and the Argentine peso, which effectively took an elephant gun to inflation. But the central bank’s interest rate hikes exert the same contractionary pressures on the economy by drying up lending to households and small businesses in Argentina. Buying power declines, businesses have to lay off employees, and the government, grappling with a shrinking tax base, has to borrow to make ends meet. Argentina is saddled with more than $320 billion in external debt, equivalent to 57 percent of Gross Domestic Product, much of it denominated in dollars.

A woman looks up at a board showing the exchange rates between the Argentine peso and the U.S. dollar, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 15, 2018. Natacha Pisarenko | AP

French Supermarket chain Carrefour, which employs 19,000 people in Argentina, announced in April a plan to lay off an unspecified number of workers as part of a “crisis prevention plan.”

Eduardo Fernandez — head of an organization known by its Spanish acronym, APYME, which represents about 10,000 small firms nationwide — told Reuters that Argentina’s return to the IMF represents a failure of Macri’s economic policies, which are now clobbering mom-and-pop operators. He said:

With this rate increase, we can’t request credit; we are in a very difficult situation.”

Fabian Castillo, owner of a Buenos Aires shoe factory, told Reuters that with the cost of essentials like rent, food, and utilities rising, Argentines are simply doing without extras.

Anyone selling perfume, clothes or shoes is having a hard time getting to the end of the month.”

Whether through raising interest rates or pegging domestic currencies to the U.S. dollar, the objective is to reduce inflation, which is, to be sure, not good for anyone. Poor people hate to see higher prices for a loaf of bread or a bag of rice, but studies have shown that moderate levels of inflation don’t adversely impact economic growth. It does, however, impact profits, which is why financiers have been obsessed with inflation since the 1973 stagflation crisis in the U.S. that was driven by high wages and high commodity prices. Milton Friedman and his coterie of advisors from the University of Chicago — the Chicago Boys as they were famously dubbed — coaxed the dictator Augusto Pinochet to fix the exchange rate of the Chilean peso at 1.4 to the U.S. dollar in 1974, months after the General led a military coup that overthrew the Socialist president, Salvador Allende.

The country’s jobless rate climbed to 33 percent.

Today, Chileans of a certain age jokingly refer to the Chicago Boys derisively in Spanish as “Si, Cago, Voy,” which translates as “Yes, I shit, I go.

Top Photo | A demonstrator wearing a mask showing a detail of a U.S. dollar bill protests the government’s plans to make a deal with the IMF and increase the price of services such as gas and electricity in Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 14, 2018. President Mauricio Macri announced that he will seek a financing deal with the IMF following a sharp devaluation of its currency. Natacha Pisarenko | AP

 Jon Jeter is a published book author and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist with more than 20 years of journalistic experience. He is a former Washington Post bureau chief and award-winning foreign correspondent on two continents, as well as a former radio and television producer for Chicago Public Media’s “This American Life.”

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NATO Comes to South America: Colombia Becomes Alliance’s Official Partner – By Alex GORKA (Strategic Culture Foundation)

NATO Comes to South America: Colombia Becomes Alliance’s Official Partner
Alex GORKA | 28.05.2018 | WORLD / Americas

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on May 25 that his country had formally become a “global partner” of NATO — the first Latin American state to obtain an official status in the organization, which is to be formalized this week. Colombia joins Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, and Pakistan — other nations also listed as “partners across the globe” or “global partners,” but none of them in Latin America. The areas for cooperation include improvements to the combat capabilities of the Colombian military, good governance, military education and training, the security of sea lanes, cyber security, and ways to combat terrorism and organized crime. A partnership agreement with NATO was reached a year ago (May 2017) after the Colombian government concluded a peace accord with FARC, a former terrorist group that has since become a respectable political party. The president’s statement came on the same day that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said that Bogota would be officially invited to join — their reward for steering a pro-Western course.

Cooperation between Colombia and NATO has been on the rise since 2013. In 2016, Bogota signed a military cooperation agreement with the bloc. A 2009 bilateral deal allows the US to maintain bases on Colombian territory. In its move to become a NATO partner, Bogota is violating an essential principle of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which specifies that its member states cannot join military alliances.

In practice, the partnership indicates that NATO is expanding its traditional zone of responsibility to encompass another continent across the ocean. This is yet another confirmation that the alliance has ceased to be a European group. It has conducted a ground operation in Afghanistan and a naval operation in the Indian Ocean fighting Somali pirates. Many member states have joined the US forces in Iraq as members of this coalition of the willing.

It is true that Colombia is the first South American nation to be granted a NATO status, but it does not mean that the organization’s presence on that continent’s soil is something absolutely new. The US has special operations forces deployed under the pretext of fighting drug traffickers. UK forces are on duty on the Falkland Islands. The bloc members have military facilities in the Caribbean, which is not exactly part of South America but rather a suboceanic basin of the western Atlantic Ocean, bordered by the coasts of two South American nations: Venezuela and Colombia (Panama is part of Central America). The report NATO 2020: Assured Security, Dynamic Engagement mentions the possibility of military operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Colombia is an essential country for NATO’s global expansion, because it’s the only one in South America with coasts on both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Status in NATO paves the way for the bloc’s bases on Colombian soil to be added to the US facilities already in place.

The South American Defense Council (SADC) created in 2009 is a 12-country-strong defense arm of UNASUR, which does not include the United States and operates outside its influence. Its emergence demonstrates the growing trend of solving regional security issues independently of the United States. Washington is not even an observer, although the possibility of becoming one has not been ruled out if it changes its policy toward Cuba. Moreover, the group includes Venezuela and Bolivia, states openly unfriendly toward the US. Argentina is to host the 2018 South American Defense Conference in August. Colombia’s new status will influence those proceedings. Bogota may become a connecting link between NATO and South America, in an attempt to sideline the SADC as the entity that defines the continent’s defense policy.

There is a backstory to the announcement about Bogota being granted official NATO status. Last month, six South American states, including Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia, suspended their memberships in UNASUR, the anti-US bloc, to express their dissatisfaction with Bolivia’s leadership, thus rendering the SADC irrelevant. UNASUR sought to bypass the US-influenced Organization of American States (OAS). Colombia’s NATO status is part of a trend — the US is making efforts to boost its influence in Latin America while the continent is becoming increasingly divided.

It should be noted that the six countries that have left UNASUR are members of the Lima Group that was set up last August by twelve North and South American nations, including Canada, which are by and large friendly to the United States, especially after the left-wing leaders lost power in Argentina and Brazil. The group opposes the governments of Bolivia and Venezuela, which call for the continent’s independence from Washington.

Syria, Iran, and the unpredictable foreign policy of the US, which includes canceling summits previously agreed to, as well as many other surprises for the world community, are on the radar screen, undeservedly eclipsing other events of great importance. Colombia’s new NATO status is one such example. The North Atlantic Alliance has moved to the South American continent. The bloc’s privileged partner has access to the Pacific. The organization has acquired a new geographical scope. It’s not the end, it’s the beginning. The military presence that will emerge there will be followed by political meddling in South America’s politics and attempts to bring more South American states into the NATO orbit.

Financial Experts: US Will Fail to Undermine China-South America Free Trade Deal – By SPUTNIK

A US 100-dollar banknote with a portrait of Benjamin Franklin and Chinese 100-yuan banknotes with portrait of late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong are seen in the picture illustration in Beijing, China

© REUTERS / Jason Lee

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Financial experts discussed with Sputnik remarks by Argentine Ambassador to China Diego Ramiro Guelar, who said recently that talks about a possible free-trade deal between China and South America’s major economies could start as early as next year.

Following the Summit of the Americas held in Lima, Peru, earlier in April, the ambassador said that China’s investments were essential for Argentina, which is struggling to reform its isolated economy and regain access to the international capital market.

“China is as important as the US and sometimes it is more important than the US,” Guelar told the South China Morning Post, adding that “the Americans might be worried because they used to think that they would be hegemonic in the region.”

Financial experts told Sputnik that while the Latin American Market apparently seeks to strengthen economic ties with China and it is very likely that the free-trade deal will be reached, the US will certainly hinder the negotiations, pile political pressure on certain countries and try to unravel regional organizations.

Bian Yongzu, a researcher with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at the People’s University of China, told Sputnik that the beginning of free trade zone negotiations between China, Argentina and other South American states has been greatly anticipated.

READ MORE: Pentagon Chief Pushes to Waive Sanctions for US Allies That Buy Russian S-400s

“In recent years, trade and economic cooperation between [these parties] has been tightening. The project is predetermined by the structure and interrelatedness of the region’s economic paradigms,” the expert said.

He explained that China, for instance, has invested in the extraction of mineral resources, infrastructure and agriculture of South America. In its turn, South America exports minerals and agricultural products to China; and the volume of trade between the regions has been consistently growing.

“On the other hand, South America has traditionally been the United States’ backyard. [The US] interferes in South America’s politics and economy, sanctioning some of the region’s states at every given opportunity,” Bian said. “Meanwhile, China’s economic clout in the world has been growing, which allows South American nations to consider other ways of cooperation on development.”

“All indications are that China’s development provides South America with a chance to solidify its positions in dialogue with the US. It is safe to say that negotiations between China and South America on a free-trade zone are exigencies of modern times,” the expert said.

Bian cautioned that the US may still try to slow the process down with a demonstration of power, but in the end it cannot do anything to stop the growing trend away from American dominance of the region, given the numerous and growing alternatives.

READ MORE: Grab the Popcorn: Trump Promises to ‘Take On’ EU in New Trade War

Alexander Kharlamenko, an expert from Russia’s Institute of Latin America, told Sputnik that China has long and successfully been developing relations with Cuba, Venezuela and some of the other countries in the region, and these countries will have to deal with political blows aimed at disrupting the unity of Latin America.

The expert suggested that the US will likely continue to pressure some of the region’s right-wing governments, seeking to undermine the system of regional organizations, including MERCOSUR [Southern Common Market].

“China will counter with its economic power,” the expert said. “It obviously seeks to avoid an open politicization of relations with countries in this region, securing normal relations and economic cooperation even amid regime changes.”

“China will rely upon its traditional flexibility, the policy of non-interference in internal affairs, supporting the independence of states in the region. That is a traditional Chinese policy to counter hegemonism,” Kharlamenko concluded.    

Another Latin American Soft Coup on Tap? Western Media Decries Evo Morales’ Candidacy – By Mint Press

Bolivia's President Evo Morales, top, attends a ritual ceremony honoring Pachamama, Mother Earth, at the government palace in La Paz, Bolivia. (AP/Juan Karita)

Supporters of Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, Evo Morales, wonder why his popular government can’t enjoy the same privilege of indefinite re-election afforded to many Western leaders without being called a “dictator” by media. Is it truly concern for “democracy” or is another agenda at play?

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA (Analysis) — When Bolivia’s Constitutional Court made the decision in January to modify aspects of the Constitution that placed limits on the number of times an elected official could seek re-election, it sparked a flurry of negative coverage in mainstream media.

“Bolivia Tells President His Time Is Up. He Isn’t Listening,” a New York Times headline read. “President Evo Morales of Bolivia seems obsessed with staying in power,” another declared. Other mainstream publications have followed suit, with phrases such as “president for life” adorning the headlines and pages of The Washington Post and Bloomberg.

Nicolas Melendres, a Bolivian journalist and activist with La Resistencia, an alternative media platform, believes such statements by media are hypocritical. He told MintPress:

This is something that is not only done in Bolivia … we have the example of Angela Merkel in Germany. I believe it is already going to be her fourth term re-elected as Chancellor. And it’s okay, because she is democratically re-elected. There are other examples, if I’m not mistaken; they have the same electoral system in Spain. Spain does not have term limits…

And so why is it that they try to make us believe here in Latin America that re-election is bad? That continuity in governance is bad?”

While corporate media cries “dictator,” Morales’ supporters ask why it is that Bolivia’s most popular president, under whose leadership poverty and unemployment have decreased dramatically — a fact that even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has had to admit — cannot enjoy the same privilege of indefinite re-election as do many First-World leaders.

Melendres argues that opposition to Morales’ candidacy in 2019’s elections does not lie in any true concern for “democracy,” but rather in the threat Morales’ government has represented for Bolivia’s landed oligarchy and its associated foreign interests:

President Evo Morales has captured the aspirations of the majority of Bolivians, and made them reality… Naturally, the opposition is scared that they won’t win the elections in 2019 up against Evo Morales. And when we speak of the opposition, we are not only talking about the Bolivian opposition, but also foreign interests for whom Evo Morales represents a threat… Basically, Evo Morales represents a threat to global capitalism. He represents a threat to many capitalist interests in the world, and so it is natural that they try to bring him down.”


The “Cartel of Lies”

Carlos Valverde, the journalist who broke the story of Evo Morales' alleged secret son with a teenage partner, would later admit his information was wrong, but not after the damage to Morales' was already done.

The Bolivian right-wing, along with its North American allies and media, claim that the court’s decision on re-election is fundamentally anti-democratic, and that it is contradicting a referendum held on February 29, 2016 asking whether or not Bolivians wanted to amend the constitutional article imposing presidential term limits.

The vote was closely split, with the “no” securing barely 51 percent of the electorate for a surprise victory. The results of this vote are cited as evidence that “Bolivia said no” by much of the opposition and media like The New York Times, but Melendres argues that this is an oversimplification and generalization of what actually happened:

What is the discourse the opposition is using in respect to this? … That “Bolivia said no.” … The first idea that must be clear is that Bolivia did not “say no.” Fifty percent of Bolivia, or rather 50 percent of the electorate, said no. This is not “Bolivia.” The other 50 percent said yes.”

In the months leading up to the vote, polls showed a polarized Bolivia, but with the “yes” vote holding a small but consistent lead.

However, in the days leading up to the vote, a media scandal consumed Bolivia’s press when journalist Carlos Valverde broke a story that Morales supposedly had fathered a secret son with a teenage partner, Gabriela Zapata, and covered it up. The story was later revealed to be “fake news,” but the damage was done. The supposed “scandal,” along with other stories claiming that Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera had lied about his education, was enough to tip the vote, just barely, in favor of the “no” vote.

In the months following the referendum, Morales’ government denounced a group of the country’s most powerful journalists as a “cartel of lies,” fabricating sensationalist stories to manipulate public opinion during key electoral moments.


Media lies, a transnational venture

Himself a journalist on the front-lines of Bolivia’s media battle, La Resistencia’s Melendres told MintPress that in political processes like Bolivia’s, capitalist media can often be a determining factor:

The media, when all is said and done, can decide whether a government enters or not… It is deception, lying, that can confuse the people … The media can’t be unlinked from the ones who finance it … The media is always financed by a certain social class that has a determined interest. They want that the people hear only what this social class has in its own interest. The majority of the media outlets in the world are capitalist enterprises that naturally exercise global capitalism and imperialism as hegemony over public opinion.”

Indeed, Bolivia’s “cartel of lies” reveals a national media landscape intimately tied to foreign, imperialist interests.

One of the most prominent members of the “cartel,” Raul Peñaranda, is the founder of Pagina Siete, one of Bolivia’s most prominent papers, and currently is managing editor of the Agencia Noticias de Fides.

Raul Peñaranda speaks at a National Endowment for Democracy sponsored event in Washington D.C. (Photo: Susana Escobar/Twitter)

Peñaranda, however, is closely tied to the U.S. Department of State-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), where he currently holds a fellowship. His NED biography bills him as an “independent” journalist, who is fighting against “mechanisms used by the Bolivian government to infringe on democratic liberties and to control and co-opt independent media outlets.”

Rather than denying his activities in concert with the U.S. Department of State, Peñaranda has published articles on NED-associated websites bragging about his role in affecting the outcome of 2016’s referendum.

Peñaranda’s successor at Pagina Siete is Juan Carlos Salazar, who was also appointed as the director of the Bolivian NGO, Foundation for Journalism, in 2016. The Foundation for Journalism claims to be “a non-profit organization that was founded by Bolivian journalists,” which “does not have ideological, political, racial or religious commitments.”

The supposedly “independent” Foundation for Journalism is, however, afforded a spot on the list of organizations funded by the NED.


The NGO-media complex

Tens of thousands of supporters of Bolivia's President Evo Morales marched towards the opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, to demand the imprisonment of Pando's province Gov. Leopoldo Fernandez following the massacre of 13 Morales supporters in Pando on Sept. 11, 2008. (AP/Dado Galdieri)

Evo Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism began to surge in popularity and influence in 2004 as an alliance of campesino coca farmers with leftists and marxists. This alliance is embodied in the duo of Morales, a cocalero, and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, who was a former leftist guerrilla member on the U.S. terrorist list.

Argentine journalist Stella Calloni argues in her book, Evo en la Mira: CIA y DEA en Bolivia, that the United States has engaged in “low intensity war” tactics to undermine Morales’ leadership and set the stage for possible regime change. She argues that this became clear during an attempted coup of September 2008, when it was discovered that U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg had been working with separatist groups in several regions of the country. He was expelled as ambassador that same year. According to Calloni:

They tried to depict a ‘popular rebellion’ against Evo Morales, which was in reality an action of low intensity warfare, that had, as it is now known, the support of mercenary groups within and outside the country; and special troops of the United States in Paraguay, in the border zone with Bolivia, to ‘enter’ as soon as the coup happened ‘to help the Bolivian people’ in their struggle against the supposed ‘dictator.’

Furthermore, the plan was to separate the wealthiest region of the country, called the ‘Media Luna’ zone (Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando), where the greater part of the Amazon and Tarija region extends. This is an old dream of the oligarchs of this region, brutally racist and separatist, who furthermore covered up Nazis such as the ‘butcher of Lyon,’ Klaus Barbie, and other Nazis who arrived from Croatia, that together with ex-military officers of the Argentine dictatorship form the elite oligarchy of Santa Cruz.”

The conflict with right-wing separatists reached its climax on September 11, 2008, when at least 13 Indigenous supporters of Morales were killed in the Pando region, prompting the government to declare the region under a state of siege and bringing in the military to control the area. An emergency UNASUR session called by Chilean president Michelle Bachelet declared “full and decided support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales.”

The Media Luna region has continued being a center of conflict for the Morales government, and of efforts to undermine its image, mostly in the form of the controversy surrounding plans to construct a highway through the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory, commonly known as TIPNIS, to connect the Beni department with Cochabamba.

A consultation was held in 2013 with the Indigenous communities of the region, in which the majority supported the project. However the highway has been strongly opposed by various environmental NGOs and foreign media, which have broadcasted the controversy to an international stage. Much of this began when AVAAZ, an advocacy group that has been known to promote war in Syria, launched an online petition asking recipients to demand the Bolivian government cease the project.

While La Resistencia’s Melendres emphasizes that the debate over TIPNIS and how best to minimize environmental impact is important and ongoing in Bolivia, he offers a scathing critique of foreign environmentalists coming into the country:

What are the most polluting countries in the world? They are the “post industrial” countries … all of the First World … And naturally, what do these countries do? What they do is, instead of reduce their environmental pollution, they give funds to NGOs in Third-World countries, so that these NGOs go and tell the governments of those countries that they don’t develop themselves … In Bolivia, we are not going to serve environmentalists from First-World countries. We need to develop ourselves. We need to transform nature, so that there are not children who go to sleep hungry and with empty stomachs.”

Indeed, the regions within and around TIPNIS are among the most isolated and poor of Bolivia, with little access to basic services, such as health centers or hospitals. Although concerns about environmental damage are real, supporters say the highway has the potential to lift people out of a situation of extreme poverty.

The Beni region is also the country’s major meat producing region; however, its isolation has made it difficult for producers to engage in trade.

Melendres explained to MintPress that Beni’s inability to directly bring its product to market has kept the area in poverty, dependent on ranchers acting as middlemen to transport the product by plane to Santa Cruz, where it is then resold and exported to the rest of the country. “And so, we are speaking of … a type of profiting bourgeoisie, or a social class in Santa Cruz of these ranchers that have a monopoly,” Melendez said.

These material interests in defense of a lucrative monopoly add greater nuance to the TIPNIS matter than the overly simplistic image that some environmentalist groups portray.

The TIPNIS conflict has been a symbolic struggle for Bolivia. It embodies the genuine difficulties that come with leading and transforming a historically colonized country, and the contradictions of developing a country mired in poverty while also caring for the environment.

Unfortunately, it has also demonstrated all too well the insidious ways in which media and organizations connected to both foreign and local interests can exploit internal tensions. Rather than seeking to understand the nuanced facets of an internal problem, an exaggerated version is broadcast to the world, of an Indigenous leader-turned-president trying to destroy the Amazon and the communities who live there.


Can Bolivia avoid regime change?

Before Morales had even arrived to office, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed in 2005 that the United States was “very concerned” about a “party of coca cultivators” that was surging in popularity. “Something curious” was happening in Bolivia, she said.

Morales, all too aware of the magnitude and complexity of his project, has not been shy about taking measures to curb activity against his leadership. Among the first measures taken was requiring all U.S. citizens to obtain a visa to enter the country.

In 2013, Morales expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), claiming that it was attempting to foment opposition by funding and backing various NGOs and separatist groups.

Supporters of Bolivia's President Evo Morales attend a rally in favor of his reelection, in La Paz, Bolivia, Feb. 21, 2018. Supporters of Morales marched in the 2 year anniversary of the referendum that rejected his bid for another reelection. Bolivia's Constitutional Court is allowing him to go forward with his run to a fourth mandate. (AP/Juan Karita)

When U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg was expelled in 2008, the measure enjoyed wide support among a country that is known for its anti-imperialist sentiments. Morales embodies this popular sentiment, and has not softened his rhetoric toward the United States with time, as some perhaps hoped he would. An active social media user, Morales frequently takes to Twitter, condemning U.S. interference around the world.

To one who pays attention to sessions in the United Nations Security Council, the small Andean country’s large presence in international relations would be obvious. Bolivian Ambassador, and close friend to Morales, Sacha Llorenti, has been known to show up to sessions on Palestine wearing a Keffiyeh.

In April, 2017, when several Western governments held up photos of supposed “evidence” that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, Llorenti came prepared with his own photos, of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell holding the infamous vial of “anthrax” he used to make the case for war in Iraq. “I believe it’s vital for us to remember what history teaches us,” Llorenti told the council.

But while Bolivia enjoys more success domestically and makes its presence known internationally, the stakes have continued to grow, as Morales finds himself representing one of the last strongholds of the 21st century’s surge of South American leftism. With soft coups having taken down leftist governments in Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador, a new right-wing administration in Chile, and an ongoing economic war crippling Venezuela, the geopolitical situation is far different from what it was when Evo came to power riding the Bolivarian wave.

Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa assessed the situation for the Latin American left in a recent opinion piece for Granma, concluding that media is currently acting as the primary destabilizing instrument of regime change:

The problem is much more complex if we consider the hegemonic culture constructed by the media — in the Gramscian sense, that is — assuring that the wishes of the great majorities are in line with the interests of the elites. Our democracies should be called media democracies instead. The media is now a more important component of the political process than parties and electoral systems. It has become the true representative of conservative and business political power.”

It is perhaps unsurprising then that Evo Morales — who concluded his 2005 inauguration speech with a cry of “death to the Yankees!” — is targeted by media. As he situates himself for re-election, one should have no doubt that such efforts toward destabilization and misinformation will only continue growing.

Top Photo | Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, top, attends a ritual ceremony honoring Pachamama, Mother Earth, at the government palace in La Paz, Bolivia. (AP/Juan Karita)

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Betraying the Bolivarian Revolution: Vichy Journalism at teleSUR English – By Jon Jeter (MINT PRESS)

QUITO, ECUADOR (Special Report) — Rita Anaya was a 25-year-old graduate student living in southern California when Venezuelan activists invited her to travel to their homeland for the first time in 2007. Her initial response, she freely acknowledges now, was one of ambivalence, but when you’re the daughter of a Chicano farmworker and a Jewish labor organizer (from Queens, no less), there’s a sort of Calvinist inevitability to these things: ”You are who you are before you’re born, player,” as Jay-Z might say. So not only did she make the trip, but she was accompanied by the whole of her immediate family — mother, father, and sister – in a kind of social-justice family vacation.

What beckoned the Anaya clan was, of course, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, which was, by that time, in its ninth year. And indeed, Rita found the experience exhilarating, if not downright transformative. It wasn’t just seeing the material impact of President Hugo Chavez’s socialist policies up-close – the nationalization of the oil industry, the ambitious land reform program, a steep reduction in the percentage of Venezuelans living in poverty, the sharp spike in the nation’s literacy rates or the health clinics that proliferated across the gorgeous Caribbean landscape like daffodils after a spring rain, each of which ran counter to global economic trends of that time.

All of those achievements were impressive, to be sure, but what really beguiled Rita was that in a corner of the New World that has for centuries been governed by the European settlers who own the country, the non-white workers who built it were beginning to demand their fair share with growing confidence. And in the process, they were not only improving their material reality, but raising their level of consciousness, and fulfilling Frantz Fanon’s prophetic vision of a new, post-colonial (Wo)Man.


A new media for a newly awakened people

The perfect manifestation of the Venezuelan people’s newfound faith were the grassroots community media outlets that began to sprout in the years following the 1989 Caracazo, when state security forces and military personnel roamed the streets of the capital city of Caracas, shooting indiscriminately at demonstrators protesting the government’s abrupt shift to neoliberal policies. The practice of pirating airwaves to broadcast the news from the barrios was done largely clandestinely for fear of reprisals from the state, until Chavez was first elected president in late 1998, and promptly deployed community assemblies throughout the country to rewrite the constitution.

The resulting 1999 constitution is one of the world’s most progressive and enshrines, as a human right, access to education, healthcare, housing, employment, political participation, and even the media. According to the news agency Venezuelanalysis, Article 58 of the constitution specifically states, “Communication is free and plural and must adhere to the obligations and responsibilities under the law. Every person has the right to objective, true and impartial information, without censorship…,” and goes on to assert that all communication media, public and private, must contribute to the social development of citizens. It further guarantees public access to radio, television, libraries and other information networks.

President Hugo Chavez smiles during his weekly radio show broadcast from San Sebastian de Los Reyes in the state of Aragua, Venezuela, June 10, 2001. Chavez's well publicized war with the news media is a staple of his "cadenas," or speeches, which by law must be broadcast by Venezuelan TV and radio, usually during prime time. (AP/Juan Carlos Solorzano)

In her 2007 junket and her subsequent trips to Venezuela as an intern for the human rights organization, School of the Americas Watch, Anaya found herself enthralled with citizens’ media —  its reimagining of the Fourth Estate as a kind of bulletin board for revolution, and of the journalist as a public servant, tasked with helping build a Beloved Community.

When provincial officials announced plans to privatize the local water supply, the alternative press didn’t just cover the subsequent protests; it helped organize them. Similarly, the citizens’ press led the peaceful takeover of a bullfighting ring that was converted into an arts and cultural center, and weekly radio shows allow high school students to combine hip-hop and politics. TV cameramen take great pains to photograph their subjects from below rather than from above — as the former camera angle tends to empower people and make them appear almost larger than life, while the latter is, quite literally, condescending.

Said one indigenous woman whose program was broadcast weekly on community radio:

Our children turn on the radio, and they hear their aunt, their friend’s mother, their older sister and her friends. They hear stories from the mouths of those who know the community and what we need. And they hear our language. All of this makes the children proud and eager to participate, and it gives our own community some of the power we lost to the lies of the media stations.”

It was almost as if the media collectives were riffing on the Marxist intellectual C.L.R. James’ famous supposition and asserting that if every cook can govern, surely every housemaid or gardener can report the news.

This democratization of the press was largely emblematic of a new political relationship in Venezuela, in which the unwashed passed an average of 200 handwritten messages a day to the head-of-state – “I need a bag of cement to fix my house,” or “I need a job as a teacher,” or simply “God Bless You, Hugo” – and Chavez reciprocated with the most extraordinary of gestures: he spoke back.

“When Chavez talks, it is like he is one of us,” Pablo Rosales, 53, a black cab driver told me when I visited Caracas in 2004. After returning from a state visit abroad, for example, Chavez would appear on his weekly television broadcast — Halo, Presidente — using a map and pointer.

“He will say this is where I was and it takes X number of hours to travel there by plane from Caracas,” an advisor, Maximilien Arvelaiz, told me, continuing:  

For the rich and the middle class, this is all quite boring because of course they know where Spain is on the map. They think it is stupid. But poor people love this. No one has ever taken the time to explain this to them. He is the first president I’ve seen who talks to the poor and not just the high class. He includes us when he talks.”


Grassroots media helps rescue Chavez, Venezuela in 2002

But alternative media really began to blossom after throngs of protesters managed to reverse a 2002 coup attempt orchestrated by Venezuela’s oligarchs. In the hours after Chavez was abducted at gunpoint from the presidential palace known as Miraflores, Venezuela’s major broadcasters and newspapers reported that he had simply resigned, and abandoned his presidency for Cuba, where presumably, he would live in comfort as a guest of his close friend, Fidel Castro.

Supporters of ousted president Hugo Chavez run towards Miraflores presidential palace during protests, Saturday, April 13, 2002. Pro-Chavez protests were reported in at least 20 neighborhoods throughout the capital, Caracas, as well as the cities of Los Teques, Guarenas, Maracay and Coro. (AP/Dario Lopez Mills)

But, knowing that the country’s media moguls were in league with the coup-plotters (indeed, four media channels had ties to Chavez’s conservative opposition), the Afro-Caribbeans and mixed-race mestizos who lived in the slums and the countryside refused to buy it, and took to pirated radio frequencies to rally the grassroots. Within hours, the barrios of Caracas rose up in unison, and tens of thousands of Chavistas streamed into the streets to assert their displeasure, louder than the proverbial bomb.

Armed mostly with pots-and-pans and white-hot indignation, the rainbow-colored phalanx marched on the military base where Chavez was held, Fuerte Tiuna — engaging well-armed soldiers who fired on them along the route — to arrive, finally, at their destination, and demand the release of their democratically-elected leader.

Outnumbered, and outmaneuvered in the court of public opinion, the shocked oligarchs had no choice but to relent; Chavez was restored to power a mere 48 hours after he was ousted, and went on to rule the coastal country of 31 million people for another 11 years until his death from cancer in 2013.

Despite his common touch and his sometimes coarse language, Chavez, who was himself of mestizo and African ancestry, was an avid reader and an intellectual whose political ideology was steeped in his interrogation of revolutionary texts. While he admired Bolivar tremendously for his emancipation of the continent’s northern rim, he fully understood that the Great Liberator would never have managed to loosen Spain’s colonial chokehold on the continent without adding 250 Haitian soldiers, a small fleet, 4,000 muskets, 15,000 pounds of gunpowder, money, food and a printing press from Haiti, which had waged the first successful slave revolt in the Western hemisphere.

Chavez saw, moreover, that while Bolivar had indeed honored his promise to the Haitians to abolish slavery in the liberated colonies, his Republic never formally recognized Haiti, and, in fact, excluded his benefactors from the inaugural meeting of the Americas’ newly independent states in 1826, while inviting one U.S. President James Madison, who supported both imperialism and the peculiar institution of slavery.

Once he had been extricated from the clutches of his own country’s plutocrats, the savvy Chavez realized that, like Bolivar, he was singularly indebted to the black and brown Venezuelans who mobilized on his behalf, and that an independent media was a predicate for insulating the revolution from the future attacks that were inevitable. In the months following the aborted coup, his government introduced a flurry of proclamations and legislation to “darken” the state, including the Presidential Commission for the Prevention and Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in the Venezuelan Educational System — requiring, among other things, that public schools teach the contributions of Afro-Venezuelans.

After the ravaging of Hurricane Katrina through the Gulf Coast in 2005, despite a strained political relationship with the United States government, Venezuela offered aid to the region through its Venezuelan Embassy in the form of mobile hospitals, medical workers, power plants, and food. (A humiliated President George W. Bush, however, wouldn’t even entertain the offer).

In the aftermath of a catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, Venezuela forgave Haiti’s over $395 million dollars in foreign debt, and pledged more financial support to the Caribbean nation than did either the United States or the European Union. In 2005 Venezuela began leading initiatives in Afro-descendant communities such as New Orleans and the South Bronx, providing discounted heating oil and free energy-saving light bulbs to low-income families during the winter months. Venezuela also provided grants to community-based organizations to build self-sustaining institutions, such as worker-owned cooperatives and holistic healthcare centers for women.

When the actor Danny Glover visited in early 2004 and attended a ceremony to name an elementary school for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., televised news accounts showed Chavez pointing to his curly hair and broad nose and saying that he, like Glover, was of African heritage. Simultaneously, community media was exploding, from 13 licensed radio, television and print outlets in 2002 to 193 licensed outlets by 2007, and another 300 or so unlicensed enterprises, according to Henry Fernandes, one of the founders of Radio Crepuscular, a popular station in Caracas.


The birth of teleSUR

In 2005, Chavez announced Venezuela’s high-profile collaboration with the leftist governments of Cuba, Argentina, and Uruguay (and later Bolivia and Ecuador) to launch the state-financed, independent network teleSUR, to counter the corporate media that monopolizes information across the Americas. The network’s first director general, Uruguayan journalist Aram Aharonian, described teleSUR’s objective as:

 . . . to see ourselves as we truly were. . . . We were presented through a colonial mentality as blond and tall and European, and some of us are, but we’re also short, dark, Zambo, Indian. We needed to shake off our inferiority complex and tell our own stories.”

Aram Aharonian, center, Director of Telesur, meets with the station's news director Jorge Botero, left, and news producer Isabel Rui in a hotel room in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 25, 2005, where the groundwork for teleSUR was laid. (AP/Leslie Mazoch)

Rita Anaya was working on her dissertation and teaching at a Nigerian university when she spotted an online ad calling for reporters and editors to work at teleSUR’s new English-language website in early 2014. She fired off her application immediately, and was among the first group of hires when teleSUR English began publishing from Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, in the spring of that year.


The top-down ethos of teleSUR English

But it became immediately apparent that teleSUR English couldn’t be more different from the grassroots media she’d observed in Venezuela. The citizen-journalists she saw at work on-the-ground in Venezuela were constantly out in the community, their reportage crackling with the energy, and chatter, of the streets. TeleSUR English is located in Quito’s toniest neighborhood and resembles an insurance office. Its reporters seldom venture outside, conduct phone interviews, or even discuss news stories at length.

They are, for the most part, not reporters at all, but aggregators, rewriting news stories published elsewhere, and churning out a daily requirement of five stories, all of which are reproductions, typically absent any original reporting. While the editorial structure of Venezuela’s community journalism was bottom-up, with reporters driving the coverage, top editors at teleSUR English exercised almost total control over coverage.

“What I saw in the community media was democratic, participatory and horizontal,” Rita told MintPress, “while teleSUR English was a top-down structure where we had to agree with the editorial line of the organization and we were never clear on where the line was. There was no transparency.”

About six weeks into the job, however, Rita pounced on an opening for the local correspondent’s job in the Quito office, which would afford her an opportunity to engage with the community and generate her own stories. She beat out another writer for the job — a blonde, blue-eyed American — and started her new assignment in early July of 2014.

But from the start, no one seemed invested in her success. She received no training on how to edit video, nor did she receive any instructions on what kind of stories to pursue. It was difficult to find a cameraman to accompany her and, flying blind, she typically worked 12-hour days.

After two weeks on the job, she was summoned to a video conference meeting with teleSUR’s top editors. The organization’s top editors in Caracas, and Quito — including Greg Wilpert, who is of German extraction and married to Venezuela’s ambassador to Ecuador — were unhappy with her work. Her Spanish wasn’t great, and she wasn’t as productive as they hoped. As evidence of her shortcomings, they cited a segment she’d reported on indigenous women organizing collectives and labor unions since the 2007 election of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, whose liberal policies teleSUR supported.

Read more by Jon Jeter

What seemed particularly nettlesome was that she mentioned, even in passing, the patriarchal attitudes that were prevalent in Ecuadorian society. Rita exploded, noting that she’d received practically no training, no instruction and very little support. “Greg, whose side are you on?” she asked, singling out Wilpert, who had hired her. “You’re not a leader; you’re a ball-less piece of shit.”

But it was all to no avail. Management had already decided to replace Rita with the blue-eyed, blond-haired woman whom she’d just beat out for the correspondents’ job three weeks earlier. Rita returned to a desk rewrite job, and then, after a month in which she uttered not a single word to any of the top editors, quit and returned to the U.S. to finish her doctoral studies.

Four years in, teleSUR English is, by any critical measure — the size of its audience, the impact of its journalism, or its strengthening of democracy — an abysmal failure, and represents nothing less than a betrayal of the Bolivarian revolution.

The cause of this failure is clear: central to Venezuela’s socialist uprising are people of color and women who are, intent on finally slaying the white-settler colonial state that reduced them to guest workers in the country of their birth, while the editorial policies and reportage of teleSUR English have, since its birth, been decided unilaterally by a battery of white men from North America who seem intent on maintaining the status quo.


The dysfunction of teleSUR English’s reverse meritocracy

By the time I arrived in Quito in the summer of 2016 to start working for teleSUR English, Wilpert had been replaced as the newsroom’s top director by Pablo Vivanco, Chilean by birth but raised in Toronto; and his top deputy, Cyril Mychalejko, who is of Ukrainian descent but raised in Philadelphia. TeleSUR English, I quickly discovered, is an inverse meritocracy, where the two least qualified journalists in the newsroom were charged with managing some of the most talented, hungry, and committed young journalists I’ve met in nearly 30 years in-and-around the media.  

In interviews and conversations with more than a dozen staffers at teleSUR English, Pablo, Cyril, Greg Wilpert and most of the outlet’s top editors are consistently described in the most disparaging terms, and indeed it is hard to imagine that the hiring of such inept and morale-killing managers was an accident. Were teleSUR’s top newsroom managers hired to rewrite the history of the Bolivarian Revolution, to return the European settler to power, and to restore the white man’s unquestioned authority?

Telesur coordinator Luis Ramos directs news anchor Marcela Eredia at a rehearsal for a live news broadcast in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Oct. 31, 2005. (AP/Leslie Mazoch)

“I call it white respectability politics,” said a young black woman who once worked as an editor at teleSUR. “Why else would you have white men who are anti-black and anti-woman in charge of telling the story of the New World?”

Without access to the organization’s top decision-makers, their motives can only be a matter of speculation. What’s hard to refute, however, is that under Vivanco and Mychalejko’s leadership, the newsroom was a hive of misogyny, racism and mediocrity.

For starters, neither had worked for any mainstream journalism outlet, but had instead spent much of their careers prior to teleSUR in the NGO world. Neither one ever demonstrated any profound understanding of journalism, nor did they seem even remotely interested in developing one.

At an editors’ meeting to discuss what we could do about teleSUR English’s plummeting numbers and dwindling audience, the social media editor deconstructed our readership and concluded that we had no foundational audience and were reliant almost solely on clickbait and other gimmicks.

Her prescription echoed the broad newsroom consensus: we needed to produce more original and compelling content. Cyril was unconvinced, however, and turned to the young editor after her presentation to ask rather sharply: “How do we know our numbers aren’t down because some of our writers aren’t producing their five stories a day?”

Pablo’s delayed response was even more bewildering. A week later he addressed the presentation in an email, writing: “How do we even know that our audience wants original content?”


A primer in how to stunt, thwart, and drive away talented journalists

In my four months at teleSUR, I don’t recall a single conversation with Pablo or Cyril about the quality of our reportage or writing. Their entire raison d’etre was disciplining the writing staff, which was comprised mostly of hard-working and gifted women and people of color. Once, the staff’s best writer, a young Canadian woman whose parents had fled Pakistan, reported for her Sunday morning shift nearly three hours late. I was the only editor working that morning, and because she was never late, typically skipped lunch, and brought boundless energy and enthusiasm to her job, the thought of writing her up never crossed my mind.

“Jon,” Cyril snarled hysterically in a meeting two days later, “when they’re late you have to get in their face!”

“For what?” I shot back dismissively. “You want to lose your best writer over a one-off?”

With Pablo’s blessing, Cyril fetishized authority, no matter how illegitimate. He once came into work two hours early to run the morning huddle to crack down on one enthusiastic copy editor who would pitch three or sometimes four stories, instead of the two that Cyril demanded, in a power move that was openly mocked by nearly the entire morning shift. Another time, the normally morose Cyril was almost giddy as he wrote up two women writers who had reported to work a few minutes late because of a parade near the office.

“Are you serious?” one of them asked in bewilderment. “We were like six minutes late.”

“Yeah, I know,” Cyril said, grinning awkwardly, “but you know the rules.”

Pablo and Cyril’s mismanagement had unmistakable racial and patriarchal overtones.  

The young woman who worked as the social media editor told me that Cyril and another top male editor had reprimanded her with such demonstrative hostility that she felt physically threatened. Paid op-ed articles were disproportionately commissioned to white writers, and writers of color like Matt Sedillo complained that their payments were routinely delayed for weeks, when white writers they’d befriended told them that they’d already received payment for articles published around the same time.

A young man of Mexican ancestry, who was the most fully-developed writer at teleSUR when I was there, was banished to the graveyard shift for no other reason than that he had complained about working six days a week. When teleSUR’s Venezuelan correspondent examined the country’s chronic food shortages, he did so by explaining how difficult it was for him, a white British expatriate, to find his favorite foods, rather than interviewing a Venezuelan family. A black woman from Washington, D.C., who had worked for teleSUR, told me that Pablo was dismissive of suggestions to aggressively cover the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014 until the story was too big to ignore.

“He said that Michael Brown was just another police shooting,” she recalled, “and it would soon blow over.”

The only writers spared Cyril and Pablo’s micro-aggressions were a young Arab man named Mohammed — who was the only Muslim Uncle Tom I’ve ever encountered and once publicly repeated the trope that Middle-Eastern men, including his own father, are more prone to commit violence against women than are other men — and a Canadian woman named Heather, who many of us had taken to calling “Cointelpro” because she tipped off Cyril and Pablo when a fellow writer either was late or pitched three stories instead of two at the morning huddle.

Heather was also the author of a profile of a blonde-haired Dutch woman who had joined the Marxist-influenced revolutionary militia known by its Spanish acronym, the FARC. The story was problematic for a couple of reasons.

Only weeks earlier, a young woman – who I thought was the most aggressive reporter on staff – had pitched a story about the organizing efforts of indigenous women working in Bolivia’s male-dominated mining industry. At an editor’s meeting one afternoon, Pablo had openly derided the story idea and the woman who’d proposed it, on the grounds that it might portray Bolivia’s first indigenous president — Evo Morales, a socialist and friend of the late Chavez — in a negative light.

“That’s not journalism,” I said to Pablo in the meeting. “That’s cheerleading.”

But both he and Cyril had championed Heather’s profile of the Dutch guerilla fighter, going so far as to publish it as the lead story, and allow it to remain in that position on the website for nearly twenty-four hours, when most stories remained in the top spot for no more than a few hours.

The entire staff ridiculed the profile as Orientalist dross. “There are enough n!@#$% in the FARC to make a Tarzan movie,” I said to my coworkers, paraphrasing an old joke told on the 70s television sitcom Sanford and Son, “and they find the one white girl to write a story on.”


Last straw — over and out

A week before the 2016 election, I discovered that the Content Management System (CMS) was once again on the fritz. It would not allow me to save my edits. This was a recurring problem and one that I had complained to both Cyril and Pablo about just five days earlier. The system went down at 9:21 a.m; I called tech services to report the problem at 9:37. When they told me it would be at least half an hour before the problem was fixed, I ran an errand to the bank.

I returned to find an email from Cyril reprimanding me for failing to alert CMS to the problem. I responded in an email, cc’ing Pablo:

Fuck you and your written warning, Cyril. I have been having problems with CMS since Thursday . . . both of you are well aware . . . and yet, those same problems have not only continued but gotten worse.”

Pablo wrote back that I should “stand down.” I responded:

Who is responsible for CMS not working, if not you two? It is wholly unprofessional to write someone up for something that is (a) your responsibility, and (b) I handled appropriately.

In 30 years in newsrooms, that is something else that I have never seen occur.

In my 4 months here, I have seen absolutely NO investment in producing quality journalism. But you and Pablo seem awfully invested in being the BOSS, except when something really needs to be done. Our numbers are falling through the fucking basement and the only idea that comes from you and Pablo is writing someone up.

It strikes me that you and Pablo are heavily invested in holding everyone accountable.

And yet, the only two people in the office who are not accountable are you two.”

Fearing that I would do time in an Ecuadorian jail if I saw Cyril or Pablo, I quit an hour later, and walked off the job.

Top Photo | Workers set up for the inauguration of TeleSur in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, July 24, 2005. (AP Photo/Leslie Mazoch)

Jon Jeter is a published book author and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist with more than 20 years of journalistic experience. He is a former Washington Post bureau chief and award-winning foreign correspondent on two continents, as well as a former radio and television producer for Chicago Public Media’s “This American Life.”

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Pentagon Falsifies Paperwork To Keep Syrian Rebels Armed With Quasi-Covert Program – by Whitney Webb


On July 19, the Trump administration announced that it would end the CIA’s covert program aimed at arming and training terrorist-linked “moderate rebels” in Syria, sparking hope among some Trump supporters that he was finally enacting the anti-interventionist rhetoric of his campaign.

However, a recently released report shows that the Pentagon has picked up the slack left by the end of the CIA’s program — pumping billions of dollars worth of weapons into the hands of Syrian “rebels,” while attempting to mask the paper trail and their suppliers’ ties to organized crime.

The report, published Tuesday by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), provides conclusive evidence that the Pentagon plans to provide up to $2.2 billion in weapons to Syrian “rebel” groups, particularly Kurdish militant groups like the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). While the Pentagon has been arming “rebels” since 2015, the Department of Defense began requesting increased funding for the program once the CIA covert arms program was ostensibly slated to shut down

While the Pentagon has been arming “rebels” since 2015, the Department of Defense began requesting increased funding for the program once the CIA covert arms program was ostensibly slated to shut down.

The Pentagon has requested an additional $322.5 million for the financial year ending October 2017 and $261.9 million for the following 12 months. For fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the budget for the program has been set at $584 million while another $900 million has been earmarked to continue the program through 2022.


Working the Balkan arms pipeline

Weapons were shipped from Eastern-Europe via Silk Way airlines, who offered security-free diplomatic flights to clients ranging from Saudi Arabia, Israel to US Central Command.

The program utilizes the Pentagon’s so-called “Balkan arms pipeline,” a network first exposed by Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva. The arms-supply chain involves the U.S. purchasing vast amounts of Soviet-Era weaponry from Eastern Europe, from which it is then shipped to air bases in Turkey and Kuwait, via the Azerbaijan commercial airline Silk Way, and later sent into Syria. The BIRN/OCCRP report adds, notably, that several of the Pentagon’s weapons suppliers in these countries share links to organized crime organizations and other unsavory actors.

In addition, the report details how this Pentagon program to arm “rebels” has essentially sidestepped long-established checks on international weapons trafficking that are intended to curb illicit deals. Many of these safety checks are included in the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, which the U.S. has yet to ratify but ostensibly supports.

Related | Journalist Interrogated For Linking CIA Weapons Shipments To Syrian Jihadists

Patrick Wilcken, an arms researcher at Amnesty International, told BIRN that the Pentagon’s actions are undermining the treaty in its entirety.


Masking the recipients

Syrian militants are seen with a Serbian made MO2 Coyote machine gun, a weapon which was shipped to Syria via Saudi Arabia and Turkey on diplomatic flights a few months earlier.

The specific “sidesteps” the Pentagon has been taking involve the alleged removal of documentation regarding who or what groups ultimately receive the purchased weapons. By removing this documentation, the Pentagon enables weapon transfers to any armed group within Syria it chooses – including Syrian rebels – without providing documentation as to who received what.

“The Pentagon is removing any evidence in their procurement records that weapons are actually going to the Syrian opposition,” Ivan Angelovski, who co-wrote the report, told Foreign Policy. Indeed, when the report authors contacted authorities in Romania, Bulgaria, and other nations involved in the program, several of the governments responded that they had granted export licenses for the weapons where the U.S., not Syria, was listed as the final destination. They claimed to have been unaware that the weapons were destined for Syria.

Thus, the Pentagon’s alteration of documentation is, in fact, illegal, given the U.S.’ membership in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which requires that end-user certificates include the final destination country.


Exhausting the Balkan weapons’ supplies

A visitor looks at assault rifles made by the Serbian company Zastava Arms, during a defense fair, in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP/Darko Vojinovic)

Furthermore, the report notes that the arms transfers are so massive that they are fundamentally altering the economies of the Eastern European nations that are supplying the weapons. The report notes that factories in Serbia and Bulgaria have been drastically increasing arms and ammunition production in order to keep up with demand. In order to meet the increasing demand to be generated by the program over the next several years, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic promised in July to turn “meadows and forests” into arms factories and almost double Serbia’s arms exports to $750 million by 2020.

Increased production alone has proven insufficient, however, with the Pentagon being forced to lower its standards for weapons and ammunitions to meet demand, while also forcing the U.S. to procure even more arms from “non-traditional” countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.

While the U.S. has ostensibly accepted that Syria’s government will remain in power and even reclaim most, if not all, of its territory, it seems the Pentagon – along with its regional ally, Israel – are unwilling to let the billions already spent on arming the Syrian “rebels” go for naught, spending billions more in hopes that the situation will finally favor their long-standing goal of regime change.

Top photo | Free Syrian Army militants clean their weapons and check ammunition at their base on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

Russia deploys MiG-29SMT fighters to Syria – Deterring Israel? – By Alexander Mercouris


Russia air force deployment of advanced MiG fighter to Syria may precede its transfer to Syria’s air force

The Russian Ministry of Defence has unexpectedly confirmed the deployment of MiG-29SMT fighters to Russia’s Khmeimim air base in north east Syria.

The MiG-29SMT should not be confused with the new MiG-35, which has yet to enter service with the Russian Aerospace Forces, and which is an essentially new aircraft with new electronics and engines and a new airplane structure, though one which uses the old MiG-29’s planform. By contrast the MiG-29SMT is essentially a heavily modernised MiG-29, an aircraft that entered service with the Russian air force in the 1980s.

It is nonetheless a potent aircraft which however is designed for air to air combat against enemy fighters rather than for strike roles or ground attack. In this it differs from the SU-35 and SU-30 fighters also deployed by the Russian Aerospace Forces to Syria, which though exceptionally effective air combat fighters are nonetheless true multirole fighters, which are also very effective when used for ground strikes.

What explains the deployment of the MiG-29SMT to Syria?

Ever since the start of the Russian intervention in Syria in 2015 the Russians have openly and frankly spoken of Syria as a testing ground for their military systems. It would be in keeping with this approach to use Syria to test the combat performance of the MiG-29SMT, making it incidentally the first MiG fighter deployed by the Russians to Syria on a sustained basis, though four much more advanced naval MiG-29K fighters were also briefly deployed to Syria last autumn on board Russia’s carrier Admiral Kuznetsov.

However a more likely reason for the deployment to Syria of the MiG-29SMT is that the Russians are preparing a delivery of MiG-29SMT aircraft to Syria and the deployment of some examples of this aircraft to Khmeimim air base is intended to familiarise the Syrians with it.

In 2009 the Russians confirmed that a contract had been agreed between Russia and Syria for the supply of 24 MiG-29SMT fighters to Syria. The sale was however postponed in 2012 because of the Syrian war. However with most of western Syria now pacified and under the Syrian government’s control, and with ISIS just weeks away from final defeat in eastern Syria, it is now possible to speak of the Syrian war finally winding down, making it possible for the supply of the 24 MiG-29SMTs to proceed.

When the Syrian war is finally over the Syrian air force – which has experienced heavy equipment losses because of the war, and whose aircraft are anyway largely obsolete Soviet designs delivered to Syria by the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s – will need modern new aircraft to re-equip itself, especially in light of the increasing threats to Syria from Israel.

At that point the transfer of the 24 MiG-29SMT fighters to Syria may finally take place, with the deployment of some of these aircraft to Syria being intended to prepare the ground for this.


The Limelight Defeat of America’s “Assad Must Go” Policy – by Salman Rafi Sheikh



As the events of war in Syria have emphatically shown, the self-styled Islamic State and the US-supported “moderate” jihadi groups have been defeated, and with it has died down the cornerstone of America’s direct and indirect military intervention i.e., “Assad must go” in Syria. This is evident not only from the way the Syrian army, supported by its Iranian and Russian allies, has rolled back the destroyers of Syria, but also how Assad has started to re-assert his standing as a legitimate ruler of Syria, representing Syria’s interests in major international forums and setting rules of engagement with regard to discussing Syria’s future and the role other countries can play in it. This assertion came to full limelight in a recent speech that Assad made in the second half of the month of August and outlined his vision for Syria’s post-war reconstruction. Of particualr importance were his words with regard to the role some foreign powers have been playing in Syria since the beginning of the so-called “civil war” as he said that he expects those foreign powers, the US and its Arab allies, who have pushed a regime change agenda – an agenda that has caused a lot of destruction and yet failed spectacularly –to abandon their residual links with rebel groups. Until this is done, Assad said further, “there will be neither security cooperation, nor the opening of embassies.”

Clearly, Assad is setting his terms of engagement with the powers that have sought to oust him in the last five years or so. What is equally evident here is the way Assad himself has set his own position as the ruler at the helm of Syrian affairs, intending to extend his control on the whole of Syria and deciding both its domestic and foreign policies. As such, while Assad was explicit in chiding some foreign powers for their role in Syria, he was equally explicit in setting his country’s future foreign policy orientation towards “the East.” He said, the “strategic future of Syria must be towards the East.”

Assad’s speech coincided with the defeat of one of the most powerful “rebel groups” in Syria, Ahrar-al-Sham. Not only was this group one of the West’s “moderate elements” but also played an instrumental role in a number of “rebel” victories against government troops during the years 2013-2015. Many in the West pinned high hopes on it, seeing it as a potential player in the future of Syria, especially after its troops joined in the fight against the IS and also agreed to support a political endgame to the Syrian conflict. Its defeat has, as such, turned out to be the last nail in the coffin of America’s “Assad must go” policy. With Ahrar’s fighters now fleeing and joining other group and with Syrian and Russian elements controlling Syria’s geo-political terrain, the West is left with minimum options to enliven the war through some other groups. Therefore, it is not surprising to see some influential policy makers in the US coming to terms with a Syria under Assad’s control.

“Bashar Assad’s government has won the war militarily,” said Robert Ford, a former US ambassador to Damascus, who is said to have played an instrumental role in fomenting the crisis in Syria back in 2011-12, adding further that “I can’t see any prospect of the Syrian opposition being able to compel him to make dramatic concessions in a peace negotiation.”

And while raw material i.e., human element to sustain these groups exit, sources of support for them have dried. The Syrian “rebels” have been frustrated by the way Europe, for instance, has become more interested in stanching the flow of Syrian refugees and stabilizing the country enough to send many of those already in Europe back. Continuation of war, therefore, doesn’t suit Europe.

Persian Gulf is squabbling, and due to that internal rift, flow of support to previously supported groups has shrunk dramatically, adding to the opposition group’s sense of frustration. Therefore, the directions they’re now receiving are markedly different from that of past 2 years. “The nations who supported us the most … they’re all shifting their position,” told Osama Abu Zaid, an opposition spokesman, to an American newspaper. “We’re being pressured from all sides to draw up a more realistic vision, to accept Assad staying.”

While the US has established a number of military establishments in Kurdish dominated northern parts of Syria, indicating its intentions to prolong its stay in Syria, the speed of the Syrian forces’ recovery of the lost ground and the fact that regional powers, Turkey and Iran, have joined hands to prevent the establishment of Kurdistan show that the US plan is increasingly looking like a pipe dream. The US, realistically speaking, apparently has no source on the ground to sustain itself or influence the final outcome. With direct military intervention out of the question, it is much more than even an uphill task of cobbling together a fresh “rebel force” to be able to challenge the combined forces of Syria and Iran backed militias, including Hizbollah, in the southern and eastern regions of Syria.

What is adding more problems is the fact that the US-backed groups and the US-led coalition have miserably failed to give a positive message to the masses they are supposedly protecting against a “brutal” regime. The so-called “unfortunate” incidents of civilian deaths at the hands of these forces are furthering the distance between these groups and the people who might have supported them in the past. In a latest incident of this nature, the US led coalition fighting the IS militants said on last Friday that its strike had caused at least 61 civilian deaths. Much for the erosion of “popular support” these forces and powers claimed to have in the country!

All in all, it is clear that the ground has been cleared of any possibility of Assad’s exit from Syria. The only hope left for the US to realize its erstwhile agenda is through massive mobilization of Kurdish forces. However, were this to happen, the US would end up unwittingly cementing the Turkish-Iranian and Syrian alliance further and increase the likelihood that the Iranian militias and Assad’s forces, duly supported by Turkey, would start an offensive against the Kurds. In such a scenario, the Americans won’t use troops to defend the Syrian Kurds. There is no appetite for this among the American public, and the Syrian Kurds would be making a terrible mistake thinking the US will come and save them.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


Syria’s victory at Deir ez-Zor turns the tide on US regime-change plans – By Finian Cunningham (RT )

© Ammar Safarjalani / Global Look Press

The breaking of the siege of Deir ez-Zor by the Syrian army and its Russian ally marks the defeat of not just foreign-backed anti-government militants. It signals victory over the regime-change plot orchestrated by the US and its partners.

For three years, the eastern Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor had been besieged by militants affiliated with the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terror network. This week the Syrian army broke the stranglehold and liberated the city with crucial help from Russian air power.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly sent a letter of congratulations to Syria’s Bashar Assad, a measure of the strategic significance of the event.

Deir ez-Zor on the Euphrates River had been the main terror hub in the country, serving as a supply corridor for IS between neighboring Iraq and Syria, according to Russia’s Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi. Now with the vanquishing of that hub, the terrorist remnants in Syria “face a crushing defeat.”

Last week, a headline in Britain’s Guardian newspaper put it succinctly, if not mendaciously. “Victory for Assad looks increasingly likely as world loses interest in Syria.”

The report went on to say: “States that were until recently committed to toppling the Syrian leader are now resigned to him staying.”

What the Guardian meant by its anodyne phrase “the world losing interest in Syria” is that the US and its NATO and regional allies have given up the ghost of overthrowing the Syrian government.

For more than six years since conflict broke out in March 2011, Syria has been the victim of an international criminal conspiracy led by the United States to topple President Assad and the Syrian state. The regime-change operation has been instrumented by the US and its allies sponsoring terrorist mercenary armies, while the Western mainstream news media served to distort the criminal enterprise by depicting it as a civil war.

It was Russia’s military intervention at the end of 2015 in support of the Syrian state that turned the tide. Military support from Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah also played a crucial role in turning the war in favor of the Syrian Arab Army.

The liberation of the northern city of Aleppo at the end of 2016 by Syrian and Russian forces was the beginning of the end for the US-backed covert war. Now the liberation of Deir ez-Zor spells the definitive defeat.

What The Guardian coyly calls “world losing interest in Syria” is attested to by several recent developments.

The general dropping by Western corporate news media of coverage on the war in Syria is a telltale signal that the geopolitical agenda of Western governments had shifted. Before the liberation of Aleppo in December, there were shrill, hysterical Western media reports of Syrian-Russian war crimes. The hysteria proved to be a complete fabrication as the liberated citizens of Aleppo and returning refugees began to rebuild their lives.

Over the past nine months, Western media coverage on Syria has steadily declined. To the point where this week’s momentous military victory by Syrian and Russian forces in Deir ez-Zor was bizarrely under-reported. Tellingly, instead of reporting on the liberation of the former ISIS stronghold, Western media tried to focus on a dubious report from the UN claiming that Assad’s forces had used sarin chemical weapons in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April. Those hackneyed claims have been largely debunked by Russia and other independent sources, which said the CW attack was most likely a propaganda stunt by the Al Nusra terror group occupying the town, along with their White Helmets confederates.

Increasingly, the Western narrative on Syria has been shown to be a fraud. The reality of the US and its British and French allies, as well as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel attempting to topple a sovereign state, has become too transparent to continue concealing. Same too for the reality of Syria, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah liberating a country from Western-backed terrorist mercenaries. Therefore, Western media have, by necessity, had to drop their mendacious coverage.

The decision two months ago by US President Donald Trump to end CIA militant training programs in Syria was a de facto acknowledgment by Washington that the game was up. That has been followed by British Special Forces withdrawing from training camps for militants in Syria, as well as reports that the Saudi regime has terminated its bankrolling of the terror proxies.

The Kremlin’s confirmation this week that Saudi King Salman is to visit Moscow at the end of October is another indicator that the Saudis are trying to stem their losses in Syria.

Trump has backed off earlier US demands President Assad had to step down. French President Emmanuel Macron and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have also reportedly resigned to accepting that the Syrian government is secure from being forcibly removed.

Reports of Jordan and Turkey lately trying to reestablish bilateral relations with Syria are further admissions that the regime-change plot against Assad has failed. Those two neighboring countries were vital conduits for US and NATO training camps, and Saudi-financed arms supplies to the militant proxies in Syria.

When Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu made his surprise trip to Moscow at the end of last month, his reported appeal to President Putin over Iran’s forces in Syria was another data point for the strategic sea-change.

It’s not totally clear-cut, however. The US-backed Kurdish forces assailing the other last remaining IS-held city of Raqqa in Syria’s northeast has seen relentless American air power deployed with horrendous civilian slaughter. US forces in Syria are of course illegal without any mandate from the Syrian government or the UN. While the US-led regime-change covert war in Syria appears to be all but lost, US military intervention still poses a threat to Syrian territorial integrity.

Nevertheless, Syria and its Russian, Iranian and Lebanese allies are emerging as the victors. The historical significance cannot be overstated. For the past two decades, the US and its allies have been on a roll of criminal regime-change wars across the Middle East – with impunity.

That roll has now hit a strategic dead-end in Syria, largely because of Russia’s principled military intervention under President Putin.

Syria has been saved from a fate of failed state unlike so many other victims of America’s Orwellian “nation-building.” Or, to put it more accurately, Russia has saved Syria from US state-sponsored terrorism.

It is a seminal historical victory. But American imperialism will not give up there. We should expect the global battlefield to shift. The West’s contempt for Russia and Putin will doubtless intensify because of the strategic setback in Syria.

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that Washington has turned to stoking war with North Korea as a way to create problems for Russia. The Pentagon’s proposed stepping up of lethal weapons to the anti-Russian Kiev regime in Ukraine, as well as provocations from the seizure of Russian diplomatic properties in the US, are also acts of revenge for Putin’s successes in Syria.

Comment: Over three years under siege, Deir-ez-Zor joins Aleppo and Homs as some of the longest besieged cities in all history.

And now it’s (almost) liberated, thanks to Russian and Syrian allied forces. With it, the last remaining substantial pocket of ISIS forces is removed from Syria.


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