Monday, September 11, 2006

Latin America Committee revisited on 9/11

Latin America Committee revisited.

Amigos - once again we are approaching 9/11 when we remember the
events of 1973 and the violent overthrow of the democratically
elected government of the Chilean President Salvador Allende by
the CIA.

The Latin America Committee has been constant in its support
for the struggle of the Chilean people for a return to normalcy
since that fateful day 33 years ago. We pay respect to all those
who have died fighting for the basic human rights of freedom of
expression and the right to earn a fair living, especially for
those hundreds of thousands of Chileans who were forced to flee
their country.

Well over a million refugees left Chile, and some came here to
NZ. We especially acknowledge Rolando Olmedo, one of that
initial group of Chilean in 1975.

Rolando, like most other migrants, has made an enormous
contribution to our community, working tirelessly with people
with special needs through the use of theatre and music,
founding the Theatre company for the Deaf in Palmerston
North, and continuing this work today through the Hutt
Community Arts and Training Centre, and with Incal Casa Latina.

Roland and I meet in 1977 on my return from two years in Chile
and Bolivia, and I well remember the warm hospitality. We
collaborated over many projects. The Chilean Human Rights
Committee lead on to the formation of the Third World Cafe -
a community Cafe which fundraised for aid projects around the
world, the Nicargua Must Survive Campaign and the Latin American
Solidarity Committee.

Refugees such as Rolando Olmedo continue to make a strong
contribution to our community, and we have observed with great
sadness the treatment meted out to refugee Ahmed Zaoui, an elected
Algerian MP, also a campaigner for peace and human rights. Ahmed
Zaoui was held in prison for two years after the Security
Intelligence Service declared him a threat. The SIS never produced
any evidence to support their case, and the case is still pending.

The democratically elected Government of Chile was overthrown on
September 11th 1973, a 9/11 which resulted in a military
dictatorship of 17 years, torture, death, exile, and the
overturning of the progressive social agenda of Salvador Allende.

The US backed military coup was preceded by a long period of
destabilisation involving purchase of local media, the training of
military officials, the infiltration of key trade unions and the
assassination of key public figures. The USA created the
"El Condor" torture network which operated with fellow
military governments in Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay.

The return to parliamentary elections in 1993 was not a return to
full democracy. It is still a constrained democracy, with a portion
of the senate claimed by the military and ex Presidents, and the
impunity law still in place. The constitution written by Pinochet
survives in part to this day, and inequalities within the country
are amongst the largest in the world. The Mapuche people continue
the fight to have past wrongs addressed.

However, we welcome the election of Chile's first Women President,
Michelle Bachelet in March this year. She won the 2006 election
with 53.5% of the vote. A moderate Socialist, she campaigned on a
platform of continuing Chile's free market policies, while
increasing social benefits to help reduce the country's gap between
rich and poor.

Today, the world is much less safe place with the US on a war
footing. The United States has launched a diplomatic offensive to
block Venezuela's bid for a two-year rotating seat on the United
Nations Security Council. However, Venezuela has now received the
backing of Arab League, Caribbean Community and Common Market
(Caricom) and the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) countries.
Robertson, the right-wing evangelist and friend of the Bush
family, publicly called last year for the U.S. government to kill
- or at least kidnap - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. "This
is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil,
that could hurt us badly," Robertson said.

That "problem," quite simply, is that Chavez, a radical populist
who has been voted into office repeatedly by huge majorities in his
own country, controls the largest reserve of petroleum outside the
Middle East.

Even more scandalous for Big Oil, Chavez is using Venezuela's
windfall not to fatten his own country's oligarchy but to benefit
the Venezuelan poor and help neighboring countries.

While Robertson was issuing his accusations, the Venezuelan
president was in Jamaica, where he announced a new oil agreement.

Under the agreement, Venezuela supplied oil to Jamaica for a mere
$40 a barrel. The Chavez plan meant more than half a million dollars
a day in savings for Jamaica.

The agreement is part of a broader Chavez plan called Petrocaribe,
in which Chavez has offered the same kind of deal to the leaders of
more than a dozen other neighboring nations.

Chavez - A dangerous man, indeed! There are parallels between Chile
and Venezuela. However, the US should not be tempted into a new
adventure in the southern hemisphere against Venezuela, because
today there is a much stronger alliance between the major countries
of South America and the Caribbean.

Here in the Pacific Region, another Caribbean nation, Cuba, offered
over 800 full scholarships for young East Timorese to study at
Havana’s Latin American Medical School (ELAM). The first phase of
the scholarship program is well under way, with 361 students from
East Timor already matriculating in the medical school. Creating
a sustainable health system where East Timorese provide health
services for their own is the long-term strategy, says Dr. Francisco
Medina, head of Cuba’s Comprehensive Health Program (CHP) in the
small island nation. There are currently 182 Cuban professionals
and technicians working in East Timor under the medical cooperation
project and in Dili, Cuba has funded a new medical faculty at Dili's
National University.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation programme The World Today, tells
us when the Indonesians pulled out in 1999, there were barely 20
practicing doctors left in the country. Entire communities had never
had a single doctor, under Indonesian rule or the Portuguese.
In the last year it's Cuba that has stepped in to help.
Since 2004, Cuban doctors have spread to every district and
sub-district in East Timor, staffing clinics and field hospitals,
often for a pittance in pay.

Cuban Dr Medina says he plans to stay for at least six years. "We are
just some of the 27,000 Cuban doctors," he says, "working in 69
countries - in Africa, America, countries that need help, like East
Timor. The problems in East Timor are very similar to all the poor
nations throughout the world, Malaria, tuberculosis, infant mortality."

In New Zealand, Latin America Committee solidarity activities are
picking up.

Last year, solidarity events were held with Argentina, Chile, Colombia
and Venezuela, a major forum on the Proposed Chile/New Zealand Closer
Economic Partnership (Prue Hyman), Fair Trade as Sustainable
Development in an Egalitarian Society (Elinor Chisholm), Participatory
Democracy within the Context of Free Trade Agreements (Terence Wood)
and the World Social Forum 2005 Porto Alegre (Gary Williams & Betsan
Martin), and more recently a "Self Determination in Action Workshop"
including eye witness accounts from Mike Treen recently back form
Venezuela. Other solidarity events have been organised on behalf of
Nicaragua, Colombia and the Mapuche in Chile with the support of the
Los Andes Latin American Folk Group and others. LAC has also taken an
active part in the Council for International Development (CID) forums
on trade and the environment, also in the Point 7 campaign (

Coming up this year we can look forward to the launching of a
fundraising project for for the autonomous Zapatista communities of
Chiapas, Mexico, a new brigade to Venezuela as well as the annual
New Year Cuba Brigade, plus lots of Cultural events, such as a video
link up with celebrated Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano!

The film "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived its Peak Oil"
soon showing in your area is also highly recommended. If you miss
the film, contact us to borrow a copy.

Paul Bruce
Convenor LAC
August 2006