Drone warfare – now going international

US President Barack Obama gave the State of the Union address in January 2014, where he outlined how the United States is performing economically, the achievements of his administration, and the plans for the future. His speech contained the usual nationalistic clichés, militaristic sloganeering, vacuous rhetoric regarding economic inequality and posturing as the champion of the poor while advocating policies friendly to large corporations.

There is one area of policy that Obama has continued from the Bush-Cheney era. The one policy sphere that Obama has expanded upon during his administration only rated one mention in the entirety of his speech. This is the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, (UAV), popularly known as drones, to carry out wars of aggression overseas, targeting alleged political opponents and spread US imperial power throughout the world.

Drone warfare is the undisputed weapon of choice of the Obama administration. While Bush-Cheney-Rice clique began the process, Obama has expanded the operation and use of drones throughout various countries and continents. In fact, just three days after he was inaugurated in 2009, Obama authorised his first drone strike, in Pakistan, supposedly targeting a Taliban safe house. Actually, the main victims were a Pakistani tribal leader allied to the Pakistani government, and his family.

As Eric Ruder, writer for the Socialist Worker online magazine explained in January 2013, Obama’s drone wars involve black-ops, high-level secrecy, and death and destruction delivered by computer-assisted remote control. To quote Ruder, the United States “can dispatch lethal force half a world away by means that would look familiar to any teenage gamer: the joystick and the video screen.”

Back when drone warfare began in 2001, the United States held a virtual monopoly on the technology of drones and their usage. Well, just as the capitalist economic crisis has gone global, so too has drone warfare. Conn Hallinan, foreign policy expert and writer for the blog Foreign Policy in Focus, wrote an article published in Common Dreams online magazine, in which he explains that now 70 countries have acquired and built, or are in the process of building, their own version of the lethal weapon. As Hallinan explains;

For a sure-fire killer you want a Made-in-the-USA-by-General-Atomics Predator or Reaper, but there are other dangerous drones out there and they are expanding at a geometric pace.

While the rest of us, the 99 percent, struggle with the cost of living and cope with rising levels of inequality, drone warfare is not only expanding in reach and scope, but it is a growing business. Hallinan elaborates that:

Drones have become a multi-billion dollar industry, and countries across the planet are building and buying them. Many are used for surveillance, but the U.S., Britain, Sweden, Iran, Russia, China, Lebanon, Taiwan, Italy, Israel, France, Germany, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all own the more lethal varieties. The world’s biggest drone maker is Israel.

The Russian weapons manufacturer, Sukhoi, is developing its own version of predator drone, a 20-tonne attack vehicle that may be used to strike at stationary and moving targets on land and at sea. Israel has been an active participant in the drone warfare drama, producing its own drones and selling the military technology to various customers, mainly the United States. The activist group Drone War UK published an extensive report on the production, proliferation and usage of drones by the Israeli state.

The market for drones is rapidly expanding, and aviation experts contend that sales of UAVs will compose the largest market share of all aircraft sales, and it is businesses in Israel that will reap the rewards. Drone manufacture and proliferation is booming. Confirmation that Israel is using drones itself has arrived in a rather unexpected way; earlier in January 2014, an Israeli drone crashed in the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave currently blockaded by Israeli forces.

In November 2013, the Islamic Republic of Iran launched its Fotros drone, capable of flying for 30 hours, according to its manufacturers. Brazil is the leading commercial drone power in Latin America, having purchased the Hermes 450 drone from the Israeli arms manufacturer, Elbit Systems. Brazil has the highest number of drones in the Latin American region, both by purchasing them internationally and manufacturing them domestically.

The European Union’s first armed assault drone, the nEUROn, was unveiled in January 2012, produced by a consortium of European nations. While media attention has focused, quite rightly, on the drone strikes by the United States in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other countries, the military forces of European states are quietly and confidently building their own fleet of drones.

The United Kingdom, a long-term (satellite) ally of the United States, has built and used drones itself, and in mainland Europe, growing pressure from military lobbies and armaments manufacturers is having the intended effect of pushing more countries to buy and manufacture drones. Chris Cole, the director of Drone Wars UK, quoted the French Defence Minister, Thomas de Maiziere justifying the creation and use of drones by saying that “We cannot keep the stagecoach while others are developing the railway”. Interesting choice of words in 2014 – the development of the stagecoach was surpassed by the railway prior to 1914, exactly one hundred years ago when a little something called World War One exploded on the scene, the result of many factors including an arms race between the European imperialist states.

The main targets of all these drones are not each other, but the people living beneath them. The armaments manufacturers never admit that the principal victims of drone strikes are the civilians in targeted areas. Militarily, they are vulnerable to anti-aircraft systems, demonstrated by the downing of a US drone by the Iranians in late 2011. However, drones are deployed to surveil conflict zones, and strike targets in those areas with impunity, avoiding the deployment of American troops into the war zones. With the failure of the US to win ‘hearts and minds’ in the battle areas of Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and so on, the turn to drones by the US ruling class is an attempt to avoid domestic criticism that foreign troop deployments – and casualties – that are the inevitable result. Removing US casualties as a factor in overseas wars, the US ruling elite was hoping to make foreign wars more palatable to the domestic population. Warfare by remote-control seems like a victimless, ‘smart’ kind of war.

The victims of the drone strikes are speaking up about the atrocities they have witnessed. In an article for AlterNet online magazine called ‘The Constant Presence of US drones in the Sky Traumatize and Ruin Lives on the Ground’, the journalist H. H. Bhojani summarised the experiences of Pakistani children that have gone through the horrific experience of a drone strike. The families that live in North West Pakistan, a constant target of US drone strikes, have experienced firsthand the slaughter, mayhem and bloodshed of these computer-guided weapons systems. Bhojani looks at the story of Nabila, one of many children in the village of Tapi, in the Pakistani northwest. In October 2012, she witnessed her grandmother being blasted to smithereens by a drone strike. She, her brothers and sisters were injured, and while the physical wounds may have healed, the psychological scars still remain. As the article in AlterNet elaborates:

Nabila’s drawings are like any other nine-year-old’s. A house rests besides a winding path, a winding path on which wander two stick figures. Tall trees, rising against the back drop of majestic hills. Clouds sprinkled over a clear sky.

Nabila’s drawings are like any other nine-year-old’s. With one disturbing exception.

Hovering over the house, amidst the clouds, above the people, are two drone aircraft.

Perhaps this is the scene she saw moments before the drone strike, a mental photograph captured with crayons.

The capricious nature of drone warfare makes it all the more frightening for its intended victims. The AlterNet article elaborates further that;

Like terrorism, drones generate disproportionate fear because they can happen anytime. “I’m afraid to go outside. I don’t even see my friends anymore,” Nabila says.

There is increasing attention given to the psychological trauma caused by drone strikes. Psychiatrist Peter Schaapveld spoke of a ‘psychological emergency’ in towns that are the routine targets of drones. He described the children living in drone-stricken areas as being ‘traumatized and re-traumatized’ by the lethal weapons constantly hovering overhead. And what is ironic is that the more that people on the ground are intimidated by drone warfare, the more that resentful and angry young men are being driven into the arms of extremist and fundamentalist anti-American groups, such as al Qaeda. As Schaapveld explained:

[I]nstead of keeping us safe, they breed animosity and tear apart the fabric of some of the poorest and disenfranchised communities in the world,” said Schaapveld. “A hellfire missile costs over $60,000, which could be spent building schools and wells. Yemen needs aid and our support, not drones.”

The full article is available on Truth Out online magazine here.

There are encouraging signs that the horrors of drone warfare are spurring people into action. In November 2013, there was an anti-drone summit in Washington DC, organised by various activist and human rights groups. Gathering people from around the world, the summit heard the stories and shared experiences of people whose lives have been impacted by drones. The political leaders in the imperialist states must be held to account for the criminal actions of drone warfare.

It is only fitting to conclude with the words that the current author used in an earlier article about this subject; that drone warfare is just the latest technological incarnation of strategic aerial bombing, a campaign of raining terror from the skies that has bedevilled the twentieth century:

The Obama administration’s policy of drone strikes is only the latest technological application of the old, discredited, nightmarish and criminal practice of strategic aerial bombing. Its enthusiasts have proposed its supposed ‘surgical’ feature, ignoring the mass civilian deaths and casualties that accompany such bombing. This doctrine is an essential tool of the imperialist states in their quest to build and expand economic empires, and has nothing to do with minimising the loss of lives or damage to property.

……

What kind of political and economic system is it, which fails to acknowledge the people that have died as a result of all the aerial bombing campaigns, and then applies the central doctrine of their killers?

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Fifty years of the war on poverty – inequality is still the issue

January 2014 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the speech – the State of the Union address – by former US president Lyndon Johnson announcing the War on Poverty. This war involved a series of legislative reforms intended to resolve a rising national poverty rate in the United States. In 1964, the United States Congress passed an initiative of the Johnson administration, the Economic Opportunity Act. This established local Community Action Agencies, administered by the Federal government, to implement poverty reduction strategies in their local communities. Eliminating poverty, expanding educational opportunities, and tending to the needs of the elderly, disadvantaged and unemployed were objectives of these community action agencies.

The Social Security Act of 1965 created Medicare and Medicaid, two agencies that provided health insurance for the underprivileged, helping millions of elderly people and the disabled. The most well-known reforms that the Johnson administration enacted are the civil rights measures, granting the right to vote to millions of previously disenfranchised African Americans in the deeply segregated Southern states.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is the seminal measure of federal legislation that prohibits discrimination in voting on the basis of race. This act outlawed any measures that specifically discriminated against ethnic minorities from voting, and ensured that mass enfranchisement of the racially-excluded African American communities was enacted in the Southern states of the US. Federal authority thus overrode the segregationist local authorities in the southern states. Interestingly, in 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down the main provision of the Voting Rights Act, Section 4 of the legislation that mandates Federal supervision of all electoral laws in individual states, thus eviscerating a significant piece of legislation that guaranteed the democratic right to vote for racial and ethnic minority groups.

There were many other socially redistributive policies adopted by the Johnson administration as part of the Great Society, implementing the war on poverty. Nutritional assistance programs for those in dire poverty, educational programs such as Head Start which provided comprehensive educational, nutritional and parent-guardian involvement in the early childhood education of children from low-income backgrounds, food stamp programs for those in dire need – these encompass just some of the major changes that Johnson introduced as part of the War on Poverty. While Kennedy initiated many of the policies that became known collectively as the Great Society, Johnson carried them through over conservative opposition.

The collective legislative reforms enacted as part of the War on Poverty have undoubtedly had enormous social benefits for millions of Americans. Without programs like food stamps, nutritional and educational assistance, the Job Corps, poverty would be immeasurably worse. Does this mean that the war on poverty is a resounding success after 50 years? No it is not.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, representing Florida’s 24th District, wrote in the Huffington Post that while the positive impacts of the social programs under the War on Poverty are still with us today, the Republican Party, the political representatives of the financial and industrial elite, have defunded many of these programs and have waged an unrelenting assault on all the socially redistributive measures of the 1960s. In fact, there is a war against the poverty-stricken, and an economic assault on the wages and conditions of the working class in order to transfer even more wealth to the highest echelons of the financial oligarchy.

In July 2013, CBS News reported that according to economic data made available to The Associated Press revealed that four out of five American adults will rely on welfare at some point in their lives, because they face poverty, unemployment and loss of income in deteriorating economic conditions. More people are pessimistic about job prospects for the future, and increasing job insecurity, along with the massive loss in secure, well-paying manufacturing jobs is contributing to this sense of heightened pessimism. Economic insecurity includes periodic bouts of unemployment, and the corresponding rise in levels of anxiety and stress that accompany such periods.

Let us not forget that Johnson’s war on poverty measures also included tax cuts for the wealthy. He advocated the ‘trickle down’ theory of economic rationalism, that is, by decreasing marginal and capital gains taxes on the large corporations, the latter will invest that money into productive activities, create jobs and thus wealth will ‘trickle down’ to the poorer segments of society. In 1964, at the urging of the Johnson administration, the US Congress passed the Revenue Act, also known as the Tax Reduction Act, which cut marginal and capital gains taxes. It had the support of both sides of American politics. So the Johnson administration was not anti-business, as the conservative side of politics would have us believe, but actually did its utmost to cater for the needs of big business.

The trickle down theorists omitted to mention that wealth, rather than being dispersed by the corporate class, tends to coagulate at the very top. Johnson was no friend of the working class – his policies, derived from the platform of the Democrat Party, never sought to challenge the fundamental structural inequalities of the American capitalist system. Johnson witnessed the increasing level of poverty in the US, reaching 22.4 percent in the late 1950s, the idle capacity of closed factories and the unemployed members of the workforce, and the great strides made by the USSR during the 1950s and early 1960s in developing their economy and educational resources, launching the first artificial satellite into space in the late 1950s, and the first person into outer space in 1961. In 1957, the American economy entered a recession, and while the economy recovered by 1961, the US was still growing more slowly than West Germany and Japan. The US economy began the 1960s with high unemployment, millions of idle workers, unused industrial capacity and a flow of gold and dollars out of the country. The Johnson administration launched measures to revive American capitalism domestically, while also escalating and intensifying American militarism abroad, namely in Vietnam.

The war on poverty and all its associated measures, tax cuts and social programs, were not only advocated by the Democrat Party, but were fully supported by the Republicans at the time. Bipartisan support for the war on poverty is an important point that is often overlooked in today’s more right-wing political climate of attacks on social security. Ferocious anti-socialist and extreme right-wing successor to Lyndon Johnson as president, Richard Nixon, not only embraced the war on poverty, but actually extended its application. Nixon advocated an increase in welfare payment, plus an automatic cost-of-living adjustment to social security payments to cater for inflation. Both these measures became law in 1972.

Nixon expanded the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps upon which millions of American families depend; provided supplemental security income (SSI) to the elderly and people with disabilities, and initiated a tax break for moderate income earners so they could keep a greater proportion of their earnings. All these measures were adopted by a Republican president who escalated the Vietnam war, expanded the US bombing campaign into neighbouring Cambodia, suppressed and spied upon anti-war protests domestically, and authorised covert assassinations and death squad operations in the south of Vietnam to stamp out the anti-colonial liberation movement there.

It is true that since the late 1970s, with the advent of the Thatcher-Reagan consensus on the primacy of ‘free market’ economics, there has been a sustained assault by the ruling class on social security by the conservative side of politics. The era of deregulation of financial markets, and the privatisation of public assets had begun. Government programs were viewed as bloated and wasteful. The economic campaign to widen the operation of the private sector was accompanied by an ideological campaign to demonise government-run services as inefficient hotbeds of nepotism, and people living on welfare as ‘scroungers’ avoiding personal responsibility to find work. There was no comparable denunciation of the real benefit claimant abusers, the corporations that rely on state subsidies, and who receive payouts on a massive scale until today.

Jobs and working conditions were under sustained attack by the financial oligarchy, and one of the targets of the American Republican political offensive was the war on poverty. However, the Republican effort at derailing the social security measures of the war on poverty have been enabled, and extended, by the Democrat Party. We have gone from a war on poverty, to a war on the poor. While more American politicians are discussing the issue of inequality, the debate is framed as a singular attack on the public purse as the allegedly worst offender for waste and inefficiency.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, discusses the effects of the war on the poor and the demonisation of the unemployed in her article. She correctly notes that the Republicans have led the attack on the working poor, and that unemployment is not the result of personal failings, but the result of an ever-shrinking number of jobs that pay a liveable wage.

However, she puts her political faith in the Democrats, a party that is ostensibly an opposition force, but which has done its utmost to implement policies that are not far removed from the right-wing neoliberal economic agenda. The Democrat party has also encouraged a climate of economic insecurity, which sees not just the unemployed struggling, but a significant section of the employed not earning nearly enough, finding themselves sinking into poverty. It is not just the manufacturing workers that are descending into penurious circumstances; adjunct professors are also facing temporary employment, with no health benefits, declining hours of work, and compose a new and growing proportion of the working poor.

Former US President, Democrat Bill Clinton fulfilled his 1992 campaign promise to ‘end welfare as we know it’ by passing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in 1996. This legislation reformed the entire basis of welfare in the United States, and introduced a workfare component to the disbursement of payments. Open-ended unemployment benefits were ended, and time limits introduced. The unemployed were now required to work for their payments, and this exerted downward pressure on the wages of the full-time employed. This kind of scheme was a centrepiece of the Republican party’s efforts to transform welfare – it took a Democrat president to do it.

In the words of the late Professor Tony Judt, who wrote the following observation in an article for the New York Review of Books:

Consider the 1996 “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act” (a more Orwellian title would be hard to conceive), the Clinton-era legislation that sought to gut welfare provision here in the US. The terms of this act should put us in mind of another act, passed in England nearly two centuries ago: the New Poor Law of 1834. The provisions of the New Poor Law are familiar to us, thanks to Charles Dickens’s depiction of its workings in Oliver Twist. When Noah Claypole famously sneers at little Oliver, calling him “Work’us” (“Workhouse”), he is implying, for 1838, precisely what we convey today when we speak disparagingly of “welfare queens.”

When a Democrat president enacts a law that was a cornerstone of the Republican Party’s platform in dealing with the poor, there is hardly a murmur of protest.

To quote Tony Judt further;

In the contemporary United States, at a time of growing unemployment, a jobless man or woman is not a full member of the community. In order to receive even the exiguous welfare payments available, they must first have sought and, where applicable, accepted employment at whatever wage is on offer, however low the pay and distasteful the work. Only then are they entitled to the consideration and assistance of their fellow citizens.

The implementation of the reasonable-sounding Personal Responsibility Act was the first step in undermining the conditions of stable employment and liveable wages for the majority of the working class. Poverty has become a permanent and expanding feature of the American capitalist system. More people are being pauperised, pushed down into the ranks of the working poor.

For the vast majority of people in the US, poverty will be an experience to endure for at least a portion of their lives. The myth of upward social mobility is being eroded, as increasing numbers of Americans rely on food stamps, welfare payments and charitable organisations to make ends meet. Working people, especially those on minimum wage, are unable to cope with an ever-increasing cost of living. No longer can a working person achieve the much-vaunted ‘American dream’ of a ‘middle class’ lifestyle. However, some people are doing very well out of this most recent economic crisis; as the Socialist Worker’s writer Gary Lapon explained:

The 400 richest Americans, with a total net worth of $1.7 trillion as of last year, were worth an average of $4.2 billion each, enough to support over 89,000 families of four at 200 percent of the poverty level for an entire year.

In the meantime, in major American cities, the numbers of homeless are increasing. In Chicago, where Obama’s close political adviser and friend Rahm Emanuel is mayor, the homeless shelters can barely cope with the demand, and those turned away were forced to stay riding on public transportation in order to keep warm. The public school system is breaking down, with dilapidated buildings housing ever-growing classes, the electricity and lighting systems are stretched to the limit, but Mayor Emanuel still found the time to do the important things, like go holidaying in Indonesia while the city’s residents shuddered in the freezing conditions.

The Obama administration is continuing the pro-business policies of his Democratic predecessors, announcing a new anti-poverty initiative – promise zones. Five impoverished communities are selected to be the targets of deregulatory measures, tax breaks for the corporations to invest in, and these communities will serve as cheap labour pools for capital investment. This deregulation and encouragement of business investment has its origins in the failed ‘trickle down’ theory of economic investment. Once again, rather than implement socially redistributive policies, a Democrat President is relying on the goodwill of the private sector with inducements that have failed to attract investment in the past. Writing in Jacobin online magazine, Sam Wetherell states that deregulatory-driven solutions to poverty reduction are more accurately called ‘Enterprise Solutions’. These areas are friendly to big capital, exempt from state oversight and regulation – including state taxation – this solution supposedly encourages private investment and jobs growth. The workforce is corresponding impoverished.

Benefiting already powerful market forces, Obama’s initiative of promise zones sounds very similar to the most extreme right-wing Republican economic freedom zones, allowing business to run rampant at the expense of health and safety standards, environmental concerns and working conditions. In November 2013, the Obama administration made the largest cuts to the food stamp programme it was first introduced in the 1960s. Long-term stagnation and recurring joblessness are the order of the day – so let us not expect the Obama regime to end this recession any time soon.

Barbara Ehrenreich, the American investigative journalist, democratic socialist and activist, raises an interesting point in her article about poverty and the minimum wage published in The Atlantic. One of the main charges by the financial oligarchy against welfare expenditure is that poverty is the fault of the poor; the irresponsible habits and spending of the poor is the reason for their penurious circumstances. Government intervention, it is argued, does nothing to alleviate poverty because the poor have made thoughtless and feckless lifestyle choices. Single mothers seem to attract the most criticism, being singled out as particularly wasteful and overly-dependent on welfare, scrounging off the system while the rest of us hard-working taxpayers foot the bill.

Ehrenreich addresses these charges in her article ‘It is Expensive to be Poor’. For people in poverty, it is not capricious lifestyle choices that are responsible, but the lack of decent paying, secure jobs. Low-paying and minimum wage jobs are a kind financial trap – they pay too little and are too insecure to help a person build up savings and move to a more secure area of employment. In fact, being on a minimum wage is a big incentive for a worker to be extremely frugal with their money, carefully monitoring their spending, making sure the essentials are paid and working according to a budget. As Ehrenreich explains;

I was also dismayed to find that in some ways, it is actually more expensive to be poor than not poor. If you can’t afford the first month’s rent and security deposit you need in order to rent an apartment, you may get stuck in an overpriced residential motel. If you don’t have a kitchen or even a refrigerator and microwave, you will find yourself falling back on convenience store food, which—in addition to its nutritional deficits—is also alarmingly overpriced. If you need a loan, as most poor people eventually do, you will end up paying an interest rate many times more than what a more affluent borrower would be charged. To be poor—especially with children to support and care for—is a perpetual high-wire act.

Being poor in today’s America is an expensive proposition. Ehrenreich concludes her article by stating that we need to revive a sense of collective responsibility to assist the poor, and not view them as irredeemable miscreants. Since the 2008 economic crisis, it is not just the manufacturing workers that have been downsized, but middle managers, technical workers, information technology specialists, lawyers and legal professionals – people that were once doing well but now face difficult circumstances. It is difficult to maintain the narrative of failing personal responsibility, blaming the victims for their poverty when the one percent is accumulating massive amounts of wealth at the expense of the ninety-nine percent.

Inequality is the major issue of our times, highlighted by the ongoing capitalist economic crisis. The Obama administration, while pay lip service to the issue of wealth redistribution, has actually presided over a transfer of income from the nation’s working class to the top one percent. Mike Treen, in a wide-ranging article on inequality published in Links online magazine, reports that in September 2013 95 percent of America’s income gains over the 2008-2013-period have accrued to the nation’s wealthiest one percent. Obama acknowledged that greater numbers of Americans are feeling frustrated with Washington in a speech he gave in December 2013. A few weeks later, 1.3 million unemployed people were cut off from receiving any benefits as part of a budget deal approved by both sides of the US Congress.

Inequality is not just an issue for the United States, but a global affliction.

For poverty to be reduced, we must go beyond redistributive measures, important as they are, and address the structural inequities of the capitalist system itself. There is one politician who has done just that, but he was not an American. He became president of a country that is dwarfed by the United States economically and militarily. It has nothing like the mineral and labour power resources of the US, and has suffered horrendous levels of poverty for decades. He took power in a democratic election in 1999, and by the end of his presidency in early 2013, he not only consistently maintained and expanded his popularity, regularly winning elections, he set an example for other countries to follow in poverty reduction.

That politician was the socialist President of Venezuela, the late Hugo Chavez.

In an article published in Counterpunch in 2012 entitled ‘The Achievements of Hugo Chavez’, the writers explain how Chavez maintained his popularity with the electorate:

One of the main factors for the popularity of the Chávez Government and its landslide victory in this re-election results of October 2012, is the reduction of poverty, made possible because the government took back control of the national petroleum company PDVSA, and has used the abundant oil revenues, not for benefit of a small class of renters as previous governments had done, but to build needed infrastructure and invest in the social services that Venezuelans so sorely needed.  During the last ten years, the government has increased social spending by 60.6%, a total of $772 billion.

Which other political leader of recent times can demonstrate the following achievement;

Before the Chavez government in 1998, 21% of the population was malnourished. Venezuela now has established a network of subsidized food distribution including grocery stores and supermarkets. While 90% of the food was imported in 1980, today this is less than 30%.  Misión Agro-Venezuela has given out 454,238 credits to rural producers and 39,000 rural producers have received credit in 2012 alone.  Five million Venezuelan receive free food, four million of them are children in schools and 6,000 food kitchens feed 900,000 people.  The agrarian reform and policies to help agricultural producers have increased domestic food supply. The results of all these food security measures is that  today  malnourishment  is only 5%, and child malnutrition  which was  7.7% in 1990 today is at 2.9%. This is an impressive health achievement by any standards.

Venezuela now boasts the lowest inequality level in the South American region; reducing poverty from 70.8 percent in 1996 to 21 percent in 2010. Extreme poverty was 40 percent in 1996; it was 7.3 percent in 2010.

Spearheading massive social and political change, the Bolivarian Revolution achieved an enormous reduction in severe poverty that had afflicted millions for decades, blighting the lives and prospects of families and children in that country.

War on Poverty – Chavez showed the world how it is done. The Venezuelan revolution continues.

When it comes to humanitarian intervention, the French are the quiet achievers

For most of 2013, the attention of the international media, at least the corporate-controlled media, has been focused on the ongoing crisis in Syria, the continued American interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the increasing tensions with China. All these issues are vitally important, and deserve the attention of the international community. The US has continued to use ‘humanitarian’ reasoning as a pretext to intervene either directly or indirectly in various countries in the Arabic-speaking and African worlds. The invocation of ‘humanitarian’ reasons, however flimsy or laughable, is convenient for disguising the predatory, plundering, imperialist interests that motivate these military invasions. For the moment, direct military intervention in Syria has been avoided, and American-supported efforts to cobble together international support for a military strike against Iran have so far been derailed. But one country has taken to humanitarian interventions with quiet enthusiasm; interventions that are motivated by economic and political interests that intend to shift the balance of power in Africa: France.

French President Francois Hollande made a lightning visit to the impoverished African nation the Central African Republic. French paratroopers were deployed to the former French colony in December 2013, ostensibly to restore law and order in an increasingly chaotic situation resulting from clashes between rival Muslim and Christian groups. Hollande, stopping over in the nation’s capital Bangui after attending the funeral for the late Nelson Mandela, made a speech thanking the services of French soldiers and commemorated the lives of those military personnel that had been killed. He justified the speedy intervention in the Central African Republic as dangerous but necessary to protect human life. In fact, he made the following remark;

France is not here in the Central African Republic out of any self-interest,” Mr Hollande said. “France has come to defend human dignity.

The notion that French ruling class policymakers are motivated by purely humanitarian considerations is preposterous in the extreme. France has maintained extensive economic and political interests in its former African colonies since the granting of formal independence in the 1960s. The ambitious programme of neo-colonialism, given the name ‘Francafrique’ by the French establishment, was quiescent in recent times but has witnessed a resurgence since 2008.

Francafrique refers to the network of political, economic and military relations that the French ruling class has maintained with the political authorities in the former African colonies. This ‘opaque conglomerate’ maintains friendly relations with African political clients that are amenable to French interests. While France formally withdrew from its African colonies, such as the Ivory Coast, it still exerts heavy political and economic influence in its former sphere of influence. The natural resources and exports of its African dependencies are funnelled into the coffers of the French bourgeoisie. France is the main customer of the Ivory Coast’s primary produce exports. Most of the citizens of the Ivory Coast, 70 percent in fact, work in or are dependent upon agricultural sector. If French interests are undermined or threatened in any way, France has the resources to intervene decisively and impose a political outcome suitable to its agenda – as it did in the Ivory Coast back in 2011.

In the 1990s, European integration became the main preoccupation of the French bourgeoisie, the latter rushing to penetrate the former Eastern Bloc countries, making investments, exploiting the cheap labour and focusing on absorbing the previously closed-off countries into the European capitalist network. As the much-vaunted European Union falls to pieces and is kept barely alive by massive transfusions of public money, the French ruling class looked to its former African possessions as an area where they could escalate their exploitative practices. Also throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the Chinese have invested heavily in African countries, financing and carrying out projects, building infrastructure and increasing their influence. This ‘soft power’ has rattled the cages of the French imperialist bourgeoisie.

At the beginning of 2013, the French government of the ostensibly ‘socialist’ Francois Hollande took decisive military action in its former African colony of Mali. Roger Annis, a long-term Canadian activist and writer, has written extensive articles about the situation in Mali. In January 2013, Annis wrote that:

France, the former slave power of west Africa, has poured into Mali with a vengeance in a military attack launched on January 11. French warplanes are bombing towns and cities across the vast swath of northern Mali, a territory measuring some one thousand kilometres from south to north and east to west. French soldiers in armoured columns have launched a ground offensive, beginning with towns in the south of the northern territory, some 300 kilometres north and east of the Malian capital of Bamako.

The motivations of the French to commit to Mali, coming after the 2011 French intervention in the Ivory Coast, are not hard to discern. While the usual, tired and well-worn clichés of ‘Islamic terrorism’ and ‘defending human rights’ were trotted out to drum up public support for the Mali intervention, one can discover the calculations of the French imperialists by digging a little deeper. Maintaining access to and domination over the natural resources and riches of Africa for the transnational corporations is the important calculation motivating military interventions. As Roger Annis explains in his article regarding Mali:

West Africa is a region of great resource wealth, including gold, oil and uranium.

The uranium mines in neighbouring Niger and the uranium deposits in Mali are of particular interest to France, which generates 78 per cent of its electricity from nuclear energy. Niger’s uranium mines are highly polluting and deeply resented by the population, including among the semi-nomadic Touareg people who reside in the mining regions. The French company Areva is presently constructing in Imouraren, Niger, what will become the second-largest uranium mine in the world.

Notwithstanding the fabulous wealth created by uranium mining, Niger is one of the poorest countries on Earth. As one European researcher puts it, “Uranium mining in Niger sustains light in France and darkness in Niger.”

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, where displaced Malians are subject to food insecurity and crippling poverty. Malnutrition in Mali has reached endemic proportions in some parts of the country. All the military fighting has disrupted farming and agricultural activity, and schoolchildren are reliant on food programs run by international aid agencies to guarantee their daily caloric intake. Still, 1.3 million people are in desperate need of food, and 200,000 children are suffering from severe malnutrition, according to the aid agency CARE, the Cooperate for Assistance and Relief Everywhere.

Despite this pervasive poverty, the imperialist states have included Mali in their most important plans – the war on terror and militarisation of the African continent. As Roger Annis explained in his essay, back in 2005 the United States established the Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Initiative group, roping in eleven African states including Mali. The aim of this agency was to combine the military efforts of participating states in combating terrorism; but as the foreign policy experts Conn Hallinan and John Gershman explained in their examination of this issue back in 2006, the Sahara contains many mirages, one of them being ‘terrorism’, a pretext for military aid to governments that will use that military power to suppress domestic political opponents. In 2008, the work of the Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Initiative was absorbed into the United States Africa Command, Africom.

In December 2013, just under a year after the French intervention in Mali, turmoil and political instability returned to the country. Two French journalists, working for Radio France Internationale, (RFI), were killed after being abducted by unidentified assailants. They were kidnapped in an area of Northern Mali where French troops have maintained a heavy presence. France has responded by moving even more troops from the relative safety of southern Mali into the regions of the north where the instability has flared.

No-one takes any solace or pleasure in the kidnapping and murder of journalists. Such abductions only provide grist to the mill for imperialist propaganda outlets to tarnish their opponents as remorseless killers, and further whip up national chauvinist support for overseas wars. However, the main politically criminal behaviour in the Mali war has been performed by the French political and military establishment.

This latest upsurge of French military activity, disguised as another episode in the never-ending ‘war on terror’, is motivated by French imperial designs in Africa, protecting and extending access to raw materials, strategic resources and increasing markets at a time of deepening economic crisis in Europe itself. The worn-out cliché of fighting ‘Islamist extremism’ is trotted out at every turn to justify further resource wars in Africa. The plight of Mali is not the responsibility of Islamist guerrillas; the culpability of the criminal war in Mali rests squarely on the shoulders of the French ruling class. The latter has intensified its scramble for resources and markets, and its push to project its military and economic power is reframed as a part of the global ‘war on terrorism.’ The humanitarian pretext serves to neutralise anti-war sentiment and mobilise public opinion in favour of resource wars.

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The Tuareg people, a semi-nomadic Berber group, have staged a number of nationalist uprisings throughout the 20th century. Their homeland extends across northern Mali and West Africa. The Tuareg are the main, Muslim-majority group in the north of Mali, and they inhabit parts of Algeria, Libya, Niger and Burkina Faso.

The French conquered large swathes of Africa in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including what is today Mali. The Tuareg were brutally suppressed, and after the formal declaration of independence of Mali in 1960, the Tuareg’s grievances remained unresolved. As Patrick Cockburn states in his article on the Mali crisis, the struggle of the Tuareg people for self-determination is at the heart of the political and economic instability in Mali. Tuareg nationalism, remaining unfulfilled, continues to simmer beneath the surface and has erupted into open rebellion a number of times since 1960.

The Tuareg Area (courtesy of en.wikipedia)
The Tuareg Area (courtesy of en.wikipedia)

Through forced sedenterisation, and the repressive policies of the Malian state backed by the French, the Tuareg have become part of the urban workforce, migrating to other parts of Africa in search of work. Some still practice pastoralism, and the Tuareg have maintained their dominant presence in northern Mali. The Tuareg organised the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) to fight for autonomy and independence. This political and military movement has been a thorn in the side of the Malian state. The Malian military forces have severely repressed all attempts by the Tuareg to establish an independent state. The MNLA fights until today for a thorough reform of the corrupt and dictatorial Malian state, an end to military brutality, and greater powers of self-governance.

In early 2012, the MNLA, reinforced by Tuaregs fleeing from the Libyan imbroglio, launched a series of offensives against the Malian military. The Tuaregs from Libya, having fought in the ranks of the Libyan army of Qadhafi, brought their military training, expertise and weapons into northern Mali. The Malian government, stung by a string of losses, began to totter. A group of Malian military officers, led by Captain Amadou Sanogo, ousted the president and established an open military dictatorship. The coup plotters justified their actions on the basis that they could deal effectively with the growing Tuareg insurgency. It is worthwhile to note that Sanogo, the coup leader, was trained in the United States.

From March 2012, the MNLA posed a serious threat to the fragile Malian state. The Malian government forces were expelled from large portions of northern Mali. At this point, the hardline Islamist guerrilla groups enter the fray; the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Ansar Dine. These militias added the more orthodox Salafist objectives to the northern Mali conflict, implementing their version of strict Sharia in the areas they conquered. The MNLA was ousted as the Islamist guerrillas quickly reoriented the uprising from purely political, economic and social goals into a religiously-dominated project. Stories about cultural repression, the demolition of Sufi mosques deemed unacceptable by the Salafist-oriented groups, the imposition of social controls and the attacks on architectural monuments and shrines by Ansar Dine militants provided a public relations bonanza for the French ruling class to obtain public support for another military intervention.

It should be noted that during the entire mini-civil-war between the MNLA and the Islamist guerrillas throughout the second half of 2012, the French government and military did nothing. As the Islamist surge began to tighten its grip on the capital city, Bamako, and the Malian government was on the brink of total collapse, only then did the French decide to militarily intervene. Operation Serval, the name of the French operation in Mali, began in January 2013 and continues until today. It appears that defending human dignity does not factor into political calculations until French interests are directly threatened.

The standard clichés were deployed by French President Hollande to portray the French invasion in humanitarian terms. Only a few days after the initial incursion in January 2013, Hollande stated that;

France is a liberating force, living up to its ethics, its values. It has no material interests in Mali. There are no economic or political calculations involved (in explaining its military intervention). It is acting uniquely in the service of peace.

Rob Prince, in an extensive article about the Mali intervention published in Foreign Policy in Focus noted:

Brings a tear to my eyes to know that its military intervention in Mali is purely humanitarian, in solidarity with the Malian people with no ulterior motive! Perhaps in the next world, but not in this one!

He later elaborates the true nature of France’s role in Africa:

Indeed quite the contrary to Hollande’s assertion can be argued: that in Africa, France has been an oppressive force, one that in this case and always puts its self-interests (in the case of Africa for raw materials, strategic minerals, uranium, oil, natural gas) before any humanitarian consideration and will stop at nothing – and has stopped at nothing – to achieve its goals.

Roger Annis, the Canadian writer, socialist and expert on Mali, wrote in his article in relation to the public relations campaign regarding the Mali invasion;

It is true that Islamic fundamentalists have ruled northern Mali with an iron hand since taking over in 2012. But the reasons for this latest intervention lie in the determination of the world’s imperial powers to keep the human and natural resources of poor regions of the world as preserves for capitalist profits. West Africa is a region of great resource wealth, including gold, oil and uranium.

In fact, the Sahara region, and West Africa, represent a vast untapped cornucopia of natural resources. The French bourgeoisie are angling to acquire the riches of the north African region as Europe sinks further into economic crisis and disarray. As Rob Prince explained in his article:

For France, the Sahara as a whole is nothing short of a strategic gold mine, both in terms of the known wealth the region possesses (uranium, oil, gold for starters) and what might yet to be discovered. Mali’s strategic potential today lays more in future resources wealth, although gold is mined in the country’s northern regions. If the mineral/strategic resource wealth of its neighbors is any indication, northern Mali is rich in similar potential. Neighboring Niger (to Mali’s east) is one of France’s main sources of uranium for its powerful nuclear industries.

The first step in disentangling ourselves from overseas imperialist adventures is recognising the false pretence of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and its misrepresentation of reality. The mirage of ‘terrorism’ and ‘Islamic extremism’ is used to disguise the predatory ambitions of imperialist powers to reassert their control and domination of strategic markets and resources. To portray an imperialist conquest as a war of liberation is nothing but a grotesque deception. On Bastille Day 2013, the military led the annual parade of celebration and commemoration for the French revolution. The current French republic maintains the slogan ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ which encapsulates the motivating spirit of the original French revolution.

In 2013, on Bastille Day, the troops from 13 African countries that participated alongside the French military in the Mali invasion, marched down the Champs Elysees Avenue in Paris, accompanied by flyovers by military aircraft and giant military vehicles loaded with land-to-air defence systems. The traditional celebration of liberty and equality was turned into a triumphal display of French imperial might, saying to the world “we won in Mali”.

This grotesque perversion was challenged by at least one French voice – the non-government group Survie, whose representatives stated that France has adopted a self-proclaimed role of gendarme in Africa, and in particular in Mali. The New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in France also denounced the military intervention in Mali.

The French invasion of Mali is turning out to be trap; a quagmire from which the French military cannot quickly extricate itself. The Mali war lingers on, and the natural resources of that country will be exploited by the French ruling elite, while the Malian people continue to live in poverty. Horace Campbell, professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University stated in his article on France, the US and the Mali intervention that the Tuaregs have genuine grievances against the corrupt Malian state. Until this question of self-determination and economic justice is resolved, Mali will continue to be unstable and any foreign intervention will have precarious and fragile results. Imperialist invasion only worsens Mali’s problems.