We are mobilizing to Ecuador. Here’s why, from the Progressive International

The people of Ecuador are fighting to recover their popular sovereignty. International solidarity will be critical to their success.

On 7 February, the citizens of Ecuador will express their constitutional right to popular sovereignty, electing a new president and National Assembly to carry the country out of its most severe crisis in a generation.

Between violent crackdowns on IMF protests in 2019 to persistent threats to cancel next month’s election, Ecuador’s democracy is on the brink. The vigilance of the world will be critical to preserve it — and help restore democracy to a region in the midst of an authoritarian backslide.

Ecuador has been hit harder by the Covid-19 pandemic than almost any country in the world. The country has recorded an excess toll of 40,000 deaths in 2020, a per-capita record that is nearly double the magnitude of the United States.

The tragic consequences of Covid-19 have already damaged Ecuador’s democratic institutions: the government’s agreement with the IMF led to the dismissal of 3,680 public health workers, eroding citizens’ constitutional right to health assistance.

The concern now is that the pandemic will provide cover for further erosion. Rumors continue to circulate that Ecuador’s elections may be postponed, and the National Electoral Council (CNE) is now proposing that all representatives of political parties present negative PCR tests to be present at the polls — a stipulation that would place an insurmountable strain on the logistics of observation efforts and the personal finances of individual observers.

Tensions between Ecuador’s electoral authorities are also raising fresh fears of interference in the expression of popular sovereignty. The CNE — which is charged with administering the elections across all precincts — has come under attack by the Tribunal Contencioso Electoral (TCE), which has tried to remove four of the five leading members of the Council just days before the election.

But the conflict between the CNE and TCE is not only a question of personnel. It has also spread to the operations of the elections themselves. The two bodies have disputed the right to make final determinations on the contents of the ballot — a dispute that calls for immediate resolution now that scores of ballots have had to be reprinted following an error in the logo of the AMIGO Movement party. The destruction of these erroneous ballots to prevent ballot stuffing will be an urgent task for the CNE in order to preserve the integrity of the contest.

Ballots are, of course, the medium of democracy. The safe transport of Ecuador’s ballots and transparent transmission of their results will be the ultimate test of its democratic institutions. In Bolivia, baseless claims of ballot fraud by the Organization of American States (OAS) set the foundation of the illegal overthrow of the MAS government in November 2019, leading to street massacres and political repression for months to come. The international community — the OAS and the government of the United States, in particular — cannot fail the people of Ecuador as they did the people of Bolivia.

Scrutiny will be even more critical in the context of recent changes to the ballot counting process in Ecuador. In the 2017 elections, each precinct scanned its results and uploaded them directly to the CNE. On 7 February, however, they will be scanned and sent to a ballot receiving center, which will process the results and then send them onto the CNE. Extensive monitoring and observation at each step in this delicate process will be critical to providing confidence in the final result.

That is why the Progressive International is sending a delegation of observers to Ecuador: to ensure the integrity of its elections, and to help fortify the right to popular sovereignty. Working closely with Ecuador’s electoral authorities, the PI delegation will travel across scores of precincts on election day and monitor the process of ballot counting in the hours after they close.

The delegation of the Progressive International includes parliamentarians from five different countries, who will bring the eyes of the world to witness the elections in Ecuador. And the delegation includes technical experts and international lawyers, who will analyze the data from the electoral contests to avoid the tragic errors of the OAS in Bolivia.

The stakes of the mission are not only national. Ecuador’s elections are a tipping point for democracy across Latin America. In the Progressive International’s first mission to La Paz, we witnessed the people of Bolivia mobilize peacefully and courageously to restore democracy to their country. After years of legal warfare and economic devastation, the people of Ecuador are now demanding the recovery of their own democratic rights.

For our part, the delegation of the Progressive International hopes to witness them exercise these rights freely and fairly — and to send a powerful signal in defense of democracy everywhere.

Photo: Matthias / Flickr

Shortage of Black Physicians Is Legacy of Racism and Class-Based Discrimination, by Tom Whitney

1108 words

“Nobody wants to be an emergency at Harlem Hospital but if the Negro surgeon is visiting, pride cuts down the pain.”  Author Toni Morrison was alluding to the scarcity of Black physicians in 1926 (Jazz, 1992). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took similar note almost 100 years later.

The basketball legend pointed out that, “Black babies survive more often under the care of Black doctors than white …  Black people have a reasonable trust issue with the medical profession dating back to the Tuskegee Experiment.” He explained that U.S. government physicians, studying the natural progression of syphilis, administered inert material to Black men rather than actually treat them.

He regards U.S. healthcare as a “more insidious and damaging threat to the health, lives, and economic well-being of Black Americans” than police brutality. He indicates that, “Black men have the lowest life expectancy of any demographic group, living an average of 4.5 years less than white men.”

The number of Black physicians is far less than the proportion of Blacks in the U.S. population.  In 2018,  56.2 % of physicians were white,17.1% Asian, 5.8% Hispanic, and 5.0% Black.  White people that year made up 76% of the population; black people, 13%.

Black people’s health suffers. “Racial and ethnic minority physicians are more likely to practice primary care and serve in underserved communities,” says one investigator. Studies show that Black men trust Black doctors more than they do white doctors; communication is more open. According to one overview, preventative care provided by Black physicians resulted in “a 19% reduction in the black-white male gap in cardiovascular mortality and an 8% decline in the black-white male life expectancy gap.”

Black women die at higher rates than white women from various types of cancer and from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. One factor may be their lack of trust in their physicians, especially white physicians. Another may be that not enough Black doctors are studying medicine.

Of all medical students in the early 1960s, only 2% were Blacks; 75% of them attended all-Black Howard and Meharry medical colleges. Then began the era of affirmative action. Theoretically, affirmative action would allow population groups subjected to discrimination to gain equal access to education and employment. Black youths wanting to be doctors would benefit.  

Applied to the process of deciding who should enter medical schools, affirmative action had results.  By 1969 Blacks were 2.7%  of all first-year medical students. The rates varied subsequently from 6.3% in 1974 to 5.7% in 1980, 8.0% in 1996, 7.2% in 2001, and 7.1% in 2018.

Medical schools were accepting Black applicants almost as readily as they did whites. Data from the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) show 43.8% of the Black applicants being admitted in 1973, 37.6% in 1977, 50.3% in 1989, and 42.6% in 2001. Acceptance rates for whites were 35.8% in 1974, 67% in 1985, 38.5% in 1995, and 51.7% in 2001. The 2019 rates for Blacks and whites were 38% and 45%, respectively.

More Blacks were studying medicine, but not enough to meet affirmative action’s primary goal, which was to match the proportion of Black doctors to the share of Blacks in the general population. Regulation of the admissions process was supposed to have accomplished that.

Entering students, both Black and white, had benefited from favorable family circumstances. They very likely had received encouragement for academic achievement. Their families had provided them with both educational and financial support as they prepared themselves for medical school.

Financial capabilities, of course, are crucial to meet the well-documented high costs of medical education in the United States. Scholarships are in short supply.

Most Black young people don’t grow up in families able to offer the educational and financial resources required for all kinds of advanced education. Any long-term aspirations may be short-circuited at an early stage. Money is short, and even short-term planning is difficult.

Census Bureau data for 10 years from 2010 on show a yearly average of 36.5% Black children living in poverty, compared with 12.4% of all white children. Public schools that Black children attend are often segregated (still), crowded, and inadequate. Their parents may work at low-pay jobs, if they can find work. Homelessness is common. Parents – sometimes “essential workers” – work irregular hours and are often away from their children. Lives are precarious.

These children and their families would have had to move mountains for young people in their circumstances to gain a medical education. They represent a different Black population from the population group that does send Black students to medical schools. 

Data provided the present writer by the AAMC in 2002 is revealing. Parents of all U. S. first-year medical students between 1990 and 2000 provided the AAMC with information. They numbered 11,515 mothers and 11,203 fathers of Black students and 110,587 mothers and 110,315 fathers of white students.

The median yearly income for Black families was $49,000; for all Black families, $29,114. Half the fathers of the Black medical students had completed college; 25% of both fathers and mothers had obtained master’s degree. Half the mothers had attended college. Only 13% of all Black men and 13.6% of all Black women had completed college.

A divide stands between those Black students who have been able to study medicine and the unprepared group of young people who never made the attempt. The two groups are divided by social class. Being a doctor is not in the cards for the great majority of Black working-class children. That’s true also, it must be added, for white young people of working-class origin.

Public health experts Magnus and Mick argued convincingly in 2001 that affirmative action was not equipped to target social and economic discrimination. And so, the vast majority of working-class Black young people are still unable to attend medical school. However, to imagine that affirmative action might have been programed to allow them to attend would be wishful thinking. What’s required, it seems here, is overhaul of an unjust, discriminatory society.

Meanwhile, more Black women are studying medicine than Black men.  In 2018, 60.8% of entering Black medical students were female. Male and female white students were divided more or less equally. What accounts for the disparity? Is it a problem?

At issue is another imbalance, also with adverse consequences.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar mentions both Black people’s diminished trust in white physicians and a shorter- life span for Black men than for white men. To the extent that Black men bestow more trust in the male doctors caring for them than they do in female doctors, then surely, it’s a problem.

Kerala Communists Serve the People, Look to Youth and Women, by Tom Whitney

Kerala, a state in India, is a bizarre anomaly among developing nations … Kerala has a population as big as California’s and a per capita annual income of less than $300. But its infant mortality rate is very low, its literacy rate among the highest on Earth … Though mostly a land of paddy-covered plains, statistically Kerala stands out as the Mount Everest of social development” – Bill McKibben, environmentalist and author

At 21 years of age, Arya Rajendran is barely eligible to vote. Nevertheless, she is now the mayor of Kerala’s capital city Thiruvananthapuram, population 2,585,000. She is a second-year student at All Saints College. She concentrates in math.

Youngest Mayor from Kerala Capital

Rajendran told a reporter that,  

“From the time I remember my childhood, I was going to Balasangham. … I am now the State President for Balasingham. I am also the Students Federation of India state committee member. My parents are branch committee members of CPI(M). And we firmly believe in what the party stands for.” Balasingham is the youth organization of the Communist Party of India, Marxist – the CPI(M).

In early December, Arya Rajendran was the candidate of Left Democratic Front (LDF) as voting took place in Mudavanmughal ward for the city council. She won 2,872 votes, 549 more than the candidate for the United Democratic Front (UDF), a coalition led by India’s National Congress political party. The CPI(M) is by far the largest force in the LDF, which also includes the Communist Party of India (CPI) and smaller leftist parties.

In city-wide voting, LDF candidates won 51 of the city council’s 100 seats. The council chooses the city’s mayor, and the CPI (M) district committee named Arya Rajendran as the LDF candidate for that office. Gaining the votes of 54 councilpersons on December 28, Rajendra became India’s youngest mayor.

The LDF government in Kerala in 2009 determined that women shall make up at least 50% of elected officials at every level of government. The CPI(M) in Kerala recently took steps to encourage young people to run for political office. One women, 22 years old and a candidate in the  in the local elections, stated that, “In Thiruvananthapuram, 66 per cent of CPI(M)’s candidates are women. Five of them are below 25 years of age. This is a party with a difference.” 

The CPI(M) – led government in Kerala is riding on a wave of good will   following success in organizing life-saving relief after massive floods in 2018 and dealing with outbreaks of the lethal Nipah virus in 2018 and 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic recently.

Communist – led governments have held power intermittently in Kerala since 1957. That year the CPI gained political control through electoral victory – one of the world’s first socialist political parties to do so – and was immediately removed by India’s central government because of turbulence associated with land reform efforts.

Even so, the CPI retained a strong presence in Kerala during the 1960s.  From then on, however, the new CPI(M) has regularly won state elections as the dominant partner in the LDF coalition. Leadership of the state has alternated between the CPI(M) and India’s National Congress Party, leader of the UDF coalition.  The current LDF government, in office since 2016, will gain a new term if the LDF is victorious in state-assembly elections set for May, 2021.

CPI dissidents formed the CPI(M) in 1964. They were protesting both CPI collaboration with the Congress Party, viewed as serving business interests, and CPI affinity with the Soviet Union. In concert with Chinese Communists, the CPI(M) objected to the Soviet Union’s turn to “peaceful coexistence” with capitalist powers.

The CPI(M) held power in West Bengal state from 1977 until 2011 and in the small state of Tripura intermittently from 1978 until 2018. The Party claimed a national membership of 10,000,520 in 2018.

Kerala governments headed by the CPI(M) instituted social and economic reforms starting with equitable use of land and continuing   with improved access to healthcare and education and programs of social rescue.  Reforms introduced by LDF governments stayed mostly intact during periods of the opposition coalition being in power

Communist reformers in Kerala had the advantage of rudimentary social reforms already in place prior to national independence in 1947. The principalities of Travancore and Cochin, converted into Kerala state in 1956, had avoided some of the depredations of British colonialism, and officials there had collaborated with missionaries and eventually with international aid agencies.  

The new Kerala government quickly integrated illness and preventative care into a single health services agency. It prioritized planning capabilities, attended to urgent healthcare needs in rural areas, and gradually built a system of primary health care that’s been crucial to Kerala’s healthcare achievements.  

Kerala’s Centre for Development Studies, established in 1970 and assisted by the United Nations, has guided efforts of government planners, politicians, healthcare providers, and educators. Teachers and researchers there did much to shape what’s known as the “Kerala model” of development, which implies: high “material quality of life” despite low per-capita income, “wealth and redistribution programs,” and “High levels of political participation and activism among ordinary people.”

Kerala’s government in the mid-1990s decentralized planning and policy-making for healthcare and education; many responsibilities were transferred to local political authorities. According to a report released in 2014, “In 2011, Kerala attained the highest Human Development Index of all Indian states.”  Markers included: 

  • Infant mortality rate of 12 per 1,000 live births in Kerala vs. 40 per 1,000 live births in India
  • Maternal mortality ratio of 66 per 100,000 live births in Kerala vs. 178 per 100,000 live births in India
  • Male literacy – 96% in Kerala vs. 82% in India; female literacy – 92% in Kerala vs. 65% in India 

U.S. Communist, author, and veteran trade unionist Beatrice Lumpkin was a math teacher. She recently extolled the performance of K. K. Shailaja, Kerala’s Minister of Health and Social Welfare, as she took on the Covid-19 Pandemic. The minister is a member of the Central Committee of the CPI(M) and formerly a physics teacher.

Ms. Lumpkin recalls that she “was invited to attend the conference of mathematics teachers in Kerala,” adding that, “To reach Kerala, I overnighted in Mumbai to change planes. In Mumbai, I saw many families living on the sidewalk, with at most a lean-to over their heads. It was a school day, but school-age children were on the sidewalk, with their families … In my two weeks in Kerala, I walked and rode all around the streets of the Kerala capital city of Thiruvananthapuram and never saw anyone living on the streets. In answer to my question my hosts said, ‘You don’t see any homeless because we had a land reform in Kerala. Everybody owns a piece of land, no matter how small.’”

Treatment of Migrant Children on the US Southern Border Is Consistent with Torture

By Charles Oberg, Coleen Kivlahan, Ranit Mishori, William Martinez, Juan Raul Gutierrez, Zarin Noor and Jeffrey Goldhagen

Editor’s note: This statement in regard to migrant children crossing the U.S. southern border that appeared in the pediatricians’ journal “Pediatrics,” in its January 2021 issue, ought to be of interest to those of us opposed in any way to our government which is dedicated to profits over people. References cited by the authors do nor appear below.  (For the PDF version of the statement go to: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/147/1/e2020012930.full.pdf.

Migrants crossing the US Southwestern border (border) have previously been predominantly male adults from Mexico. However, since 2000, border crossings have increasingly involved families and unaccompanied children. In 2019, over 851 000 persons were apprehended on the border, including 473 682 family members and 76 020 unaccompanied minors, vastly increasing the number of children subjected to immigration policies.

To deter migration, the current administration has implemented punitive policies toward children that have affected their physical and mental health, including separation from their families. Under the pretext of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently ordered the deportation of immigrant children without notification of their families. The treatment of children at the border constitutes cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment that rises to the level of torture.

The prohibition of torture, in particular against children, was codified through the Geneva Conventions (1949) and the Additional Protocols (1977). In addition, it is prohibited by the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT; 1984). Articles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC; 1989), which the United States has signed but not ratified, define the rights of migrant and refugee children to remain with their families, be free from violence and exploitation, and enjoy optimal health and development.

According to the CAT and Rome Statute, treatment of children at the border fulfills the 3 criteria for torture.

1. Severe pain and suffering: intentional infliction of severe physical and/or psychological pain or suffering.

  • Children have been separated from their families, housed in hotels, some as young as 1 year of age, and cared for by personnel with limited to no training in the care of children.
  • Children have been detained in unsanitary and dangerous conditions and exposed to harsh overcrowded surroundings, including being caged in holding cells with no beds, referred to as hieleras (iceboxes) by detainees, given their frigid conditions. Sleeping mats and blankets are inconsistently provided, with children forced to sleep in freezing rooms, concrete floors, with constant illumination, and with only aluminum covers for warmth, resulting in sleep deprivation.
  • Access to physical and mental health care, medications, and vaccines have been denied, resulting in preventable illnesses, hospitalizations, and death. Since 2018, at least 7 children have died in US custody or immediately after release.

As a result of this treatment, children have exhibited traumatic internalized and regressive behavior, such as crying, fear, language regression, thumb sucking, enuresis, and encopresis. Psychological trauma has resulted in general anxiety disorder, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicide attempts Mitigation of this trauma will require years of intense treatment and interventions.

2. Purposeful: the physical or psychological trauma is intentional and serves a specific purpose, such as coercion, intimidation, punishment, and/or as a deterrence.

  • The current administration has specifically stated the purpose of the Zero Tolerance policy, which includes separation of children from their families, is meant to serve as a strong deterrent to migration.

3. State consent: The trauma happens with the consent and/or acquiescence of State authorities.

  • The treatment of children at the border is state sponsored and directed by the US President through executive orders and policies implemented through governmental agencies. The separation of children from their families is part of an anti-immigration strategy that includes repeated attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, implementing the “public charge” policy, construction of a border wall, and deportation of unaccompanied minors because of a purported risk for spreading severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus.

This administration’s treatment of children at the border meets the criteria for torture as outlined above. Targeted physical and psychological abuse is inflicted on children. Their suffering can be painful and severe, especially given their stage of development and vulnerability. It is a purposeful US strategy to use children to reduce border crossings by their parents.

Numerous national and international organizations and experts have concluded the treatment of children at the border constitutes torture. In the words of Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, “The physical, psychological and developmental harms to children implicit to the immigration detention environment can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Multiple international organizations concur, including Amnesty International and Physicians for Human Rights. A recent Physicians for Human Rights report, You Will Never See Your Child Again: The Persistent Psychological Effects of Family Separation, concluded that current border policies have had “profound health implications for migrant children and violate their basic human rights, including the right to be free from torture and enforced disappearance.” The US policy of family separation in particular constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, consistent with torture.

It is critically important that pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) collaborate with other advocates and advocacy organizations to forge local, national, and international responses to stop and prevent torture of migrant children at the border and globally. This includes the following:

Pediatricians and other child and mental health professionals should be trained in forensic assessments to identify, document, and disseminate the effects of severe ill treatment on migrant children. Pediatricians should inquire and disseminate elected officials’ positions on immigration and treatment of children at the border. Individual pediatricians and AAP state chapters can engage in letter writing campaigns, media appearances, and publication of individual experiences working with migrant families and children.

The AAP and other organizations should adopt a child rights–based approach that grounds advocacy in the principles and parlance of human rights and standards and norms of social justice and equity …. A child rights–based approach expands the framework for advocacy, moves the parlance from “needs” to “rights,” links local advocacy initiatives to global child rights movements, empowers adults and youth to claim the full spectrum of rights articulated in the CRC, and expands the ability of pediatricians and organizations to optimize the health and development of all children. As the foundation for advocacy, the AAP should issue and disseminate a Policy Statement, Prohibiting Torture of Children.

The AAP should lead a global call for the worldwide reunification of children on the move separated from their families and the cessation of all cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment directed toward them. The AAP, with other stakeholder organizations, should initiate and support a case against the United States in the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights. As an autonomous body of the Organization of American States, the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights can investigate and resolve petitions alleging violations of specific human rights, monitor and publish reports, and request measures be taken to prevent future violations. Child health professionals should engage and support cross-disciplinary colleagues and organizations, such as Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Doctors without Borders, World Vision, Save the Children, International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health, and United Nations International Children’s Fund, in their efforts to prevent and mitigate child rights violations.

No profession bears witness to the impact of trauma on children more than pediatrics. As such, we have a unique responsibility to fulfill the rights of children to optimal survival and development. We must engage as advocates to reverse US border policies that continue to result in the torture of children. The need for action is clear.

Venezuela Elections: A Key Victory for Anti Imperialist Movement in Latin America, by Alison Bodine

The people of Venezuela have dealt another decisive blow against U.S. domination in Latin America. On December 6, 2020, more than 6.2 million Venezuelans voted for a new National Assembly in what was Venezuela’s 25 election in the 21 years since the Bolivarian revolution began. Despite being under massive pressure from the U.S.-led war on Venezuela and the Covid-19 pandemic, the people of Venezuela went to the polls and delivered the National Assembly back into the service of the Bolivarian revolution.

As reported by the National Electoral Council, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which is the political party of the revolutionary government of Venezuela, won 69% of the votes – and 253 out of 277 seats in the assembly. The opposition party Acción Democrática, who received 7% of the votes and 11 seats followed in second place far behind. In total, there were 107 political parties represented in the election by more than 14,000 candidates. 98 of these political parties identify themselves as members of Venezuela’s opposition, meaning that they do not support the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Sectors of Venezuela’s pro-U.S., violent opposition, including the so-called “interim President,” of Venezuela Juan Guaidó, boycotted the election.

Contrary to what has been reported in mainstream capitalist media, the international and national election observers confirmed that the December 6, 2020 National Assembly election was democratic, free and fair. Over 1500 international election observers witnessed the December 6 election. This included the Council of Latin American Electoral Experts and several former heads of state including Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain.

SURES, non-governmental human rights organization was appointed by the National Electoral Council (a branch of Venezuela’s government that oversees elections), as the National electoral observers. As SURES states in their final report, “it is necessary to conclude that the people who participated in the electoral process exercised their human right to vote universally, freely, informed, secretly, without any coercion and under condition of equality.”

The International Observation Committee has also presented their findings, which included, “an increased citizen confidence in political organizations and candidates,” as reported by Venezuela Analysis.

It is not surprising, however, that none of this information graced the pages of the Washington Post, the New York Times, any major Canadian media, or the major Television networks in the U.S. and Canada. The United States government and their allies, bent on maintaining their supremacy in Latin America, declared the Dec 6 elections in Venezuela “illegitimate,” before they even began.

Question: “Democracy for Whom?” The U.S., and Venezuela Elections

Voter turnout was 31%, which is a victory considering the exceedingly difficult conditions imposed on Venezuela by the pandemic as well as U.S. led war, sanctions, and sabotage. In their Bulletin No.231, released following the elections, the PSUV correctly noted that for the U.S. government at their allies, “It would not be enough for 100% of the voters registered in the Permanent Electoral Registry to vote… because the legitimacy is not questioned in the legal arena, it is raised eminently in the political one. Their plan is to destroy the revolution, fragment the country and distribute it among the imperialist transnational corporations to recolonize the continent, and they will not cease their perverse plans against Venezuela and it revolutionary and Bolivarian government.”

Venezuela’s National Assembly elections were called by the government based on the 5-year election cycle established by the Constitution. Knowing this, the United States government, and their allies, including the government of Canada did not waste any time in their campaign of sabotage and interference in Venezuela’s democratic process. In addition to the economic and financial blockade, threats of war and attempted invasions, military exercises funding the violent pro- U.S. opposition, and other such attacks, the U.S. government and their allies launched a targeted campaign meant to deter people in Venezuela from voting.

In March 2020 right-wing counterrevolutionaries calling themselves the “Venezuelan Patriotic Front” burned down a warehouse containing 50,000 electronic voting machines. This attack was reminiscent to other attacks on voting machines and equipment carried out by the violent U.S.- backed opposition between 2014-2017.

The Lima Group – a collection of right-wing governments in Latin America spear-headed by the government of Canada, released a statement in October announcing that they, “Renew their support of President Juan Guaidó and the National Assembly as legitimate and democratically elected authorities and highlight their evident will and commitment to contribute to the democratic transition, led by Venezuelans themselves, as the only way to achieve institutional, economic and social reconstruction in Venezuela.” Far from original, this statement continues to parrot the Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela, released in March by the U.S. State Department. Wherein, the United States government openly offers to provide the people of Venezuela relief from the economic war in exchange for the overthrow of President Maduro.

The day before the election, the Virtual Embassy of the United States in Venezuela (the verified account name includes the word “virtual” because the U.S. does not have an Embassy in Venezuela) sent a tweet advising people in Venezuela how to report allegations of fraud and encouraging people in Venezuela not to vote.

On top of this arrogant interference, people in Venezuela also went to the polls under the stress of the U.S. blockade of Venezuela. This illegal and inhumane policy is being wielded against the people of Venezuela as a form of collective punishment for choosing to break free from U.S. domination.

The United States, Canada, the European Union, and Switzerland have all imposed sanctions aiming to coerce the people of Venezuela into overthrowing the democratically elected government of President Maduro and reverse the gains of the Bolivarian revolutionary process.

Beginning with President Obama in 2015, when Venezuela was declared a, “threat to U.S. national security,” the U.S. government has unleashed a brutal regime of sanctions against Venezuela through Congressional laws, Executive Orders, and 300 administrative measures. These sanctions make it virtually impossible for Venezuela to conduct typical business transactions, cutting Venezuela off from food, medicines, and numerous other basic goods, machinery and technology. They have also enabled the theft of billions of dollars from Venezuela. This includes funds which have been frozen in bank accounts throughout the United States and Europe, and exceptions have not been made for those being transferred for the payment of lifesaving medicines.

The Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) has estimated that these sanctions on Venezuela killed 40,000 people between 2017-2018 alone. Since that time, the strangle-hold of the United States on the Venezuelan economy has grown tighter.

On December 6, people of Venezuela mobilized for the election and cast their votes knowing that the sanctions and war against Venezuela would continue, and perhaps even worsen. However, they also did so knowing the importance of defending their sovereignty and self-determination by once again defying the orders coming from Washington DC.

Viva Bolivia! Viva Venezuela! Failure of US and imperialist Intervention in Latin America

On October 18, 2020, the people of Bolivia secured a resounding victory against a violent U.S.-backed coup d’état that removed President Evo Morales almost one year earlier. On this day, the heroic people of Bolivia elected Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) as the President and Vice President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia.

This great victory was due to the courageous resistance of the people of Bolivia. By electing a progressive leftist government, the mainly poor Indigenous Bolivians who believed in the revolutionary ideals and leadership of MAS and Evo Morales reversed the tremendous effort of the United States to destroy the progressive process in Bolivia. Without the heroic resistance of Bolivia’s oppressed people and working class to rightwing coup government and their resistance to imperialism, this victory would not have been possible.

However, it should also not be forgotten that the continuation of the Bolivarian revolution, its dynamic and its impact was also driving factor of keeping the anti-imperialist movement strong and resilient in Bolivia. The resistance of the Bolivarian revolutionary people of Venezuela to U.S. domination maintains and nourishes the anti-imperialist spirit in Bolivia and Latin America. In this sense, it is like a resonating core of resistance and defense against U.S. aggression. The successful continuity of two decades of Venezuelan Bolivarian revolutionary process has turned Venezuela into the backbone of the Latin American anti-imperialist and revolutionary movement.

We have seen how, over the last few years, the United States and their right-wing allies have consolidated some of their forces in Latin America, for example with the election of Bolsonaro in Brazil in 2018. However, the victory in Bolivia has reminded poor, working and oppressed people around the world that this reactionary backlash was just a pause. The progressive and revolutionary movement in Latin America has continued, and even with a partial set-back the United States and their imperialist allies cannot win.

Throughout Latin America, poor masses, the working class and young people are rising – in response to the deepening crisis imposed upon them by U.S. imperialist domination and neo-Liberal governments. Over the past two years, the landscape is shifting, and one can observe how people are moving to the left in South America – Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.

It is also significant that since the beginning of the Bolivarian revolutionary process until today, the United States has failed to isolate Venezuela from the rest of the world. Despite the inhuman and criminal unilateral sanctions imposed on them, Venezuela continues to have economic and cooperative relationships with other developing countries, especially those that have also been targeted by the U.S. government. This too, demonstrates to the rest of poor, working and oppressed people in Latin America that there is a possibility for continued development without relying on the United States, the World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Although the severe impact of the U.S. economic war on Venezuela cannot be completely mitigated, there are several examples of the ways that the government of Venezuela has lessened the impact on the people of Venezuela.

For example, the Russian Vaccine Sputnik V is undergoing phase 3 trials in Venezuela today. Venezuela has received more than 274 tons of medicines, medical supplies and medical equipment from China to assist in their struggle against the pandemic. Venezuela and Cuba have also continued to expand their cooperation, especially though the presence of Cuban doctors in Venezuela that have contributed to the development of Venezuela’s free and universal healthcare system.

Since May 2020, Iran has also been sending tankers of gasoline to relieve the severe shortages in Venezuela brought on by U.S. sanctions aimed at destroying Venezuela’s oil industry. Ten tankers are currently on their way to Venezuela, following three that arrived in October.

In this way, the people of Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolutionary government are breaking the economic sanctions by expanding friendship with other nations, especially those that are also facing severe U.S. sanctions themselves. They learned many good lessons from the example of revolutionary Cuba. With the belief and practice of revolutionary internationalism and cooperation with oppressed nations and countries, revolutionary socialist Cuba set an example for a successful anti-imperialist struggle. For whomever is interested in fighting Yankee imperialism, the example of the people of Cuba, Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolutionary process shows that this is possible, that there is an alternative to staying under the domination and pressure of the United States.

Build the Movement in Solidarity with Venezuela Today and Tomorrow

The blow that the people of Venezuela have dealt to the domination of the United States and their imperialist allies in Latin America also gives a boost those fighting against the war at home. Poor, working and oppressed people within the “belly of the beast,” are in a better position to fight for their rights when beast is wounded.

On February 19, 2019 the Foreign Minister of Venezuela Jorge Arreaza tweeted, “The time and resources that these imperialist gentlemen spend on Bolivarian Venezuela can only mean one thing: like 200 years ago, today we are also at the geopolitical epicenter of the multipolar world in the making #HandsOffVenezuela”

Anti-imperialists and fighters for liberation must have a sense for the accuracy of Arreaza’s analysis. However, it is also good that we take this further, that we understand Venezuela not just as epicentre, but also the critical point for the anti-imperialist movement in Latin America. The success and progress of the whole anti-imperialist, anti-Yankee domination movement in Latin America is dependent on the resistance of the people of Venezuela. The continuation of Bolivarian revolutionary process is the necessity for the road to freedom in Latin America.

Thus, defending Venezuela is a central task for anti-imperialists and anyone who believes that a better and just world is not only necessary, but possible. We must see with clarity that standing for Venezuela’s sovereignty and self-determination is not a question of defending progressive causes, the left or socialists. Let’s not get distracted. The continuity of the Bolivarian revolutionary process is the critical point for revolution and counter-revolution in Latin America and it is directly related to defending a new movement of working and oppressed people in Latin America. Anyone who believes that defeating imperialism in Latin America is an essential task will support Venezuela.

There is no doubt that the new U.S. Biden Administration understands this just as well as President Trump’s. When the new Venezuelan National Assembly takes office on January 5, 2020 – they will cement the victory of the December 6 elections and begin to further the Bolivarian revolutionary process.

As people living in the United States and Canada, and around the world, we must also take on a new responsibility – and redouble our efforts to end the U.S. blockade and war on Venezuela!

In the words of Comandante Hugo Chavez “Let the dogs of the empire bark, that’s their job; ours is to battle to achieve the true liberation of our people.”

Follow Alison Bodine on Twitter: @Alisoncolette

In Parting Blow, Trump Administration Hits Again at Cuba, by Tom Whitney

589 words

In a stunning announcement on January 11, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo communicated that “The State Department has designated Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism for repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists.”

This additional U.S. insult to Cuba occurs with only a week remaining before President-elect Biden takes office. Many hope that Biden will  restore openings to Cuba initiated by President Obama in late 2014 which the Trump administration trashed.

The U. S. government created its list of “state sponsors of terrorism” in 1979, adding Cuba in 1982. The Obama administration ended that designation in 2015. Re-assigned to the list, Cuba joins Iran, North Korea, and Syria. The U.S. classification of Cuba as a terrorist-sponsoring nation represents one element of U. S. aggression against Cuba that began more than 60 years ago as part of the Cold War.

Nations designated as sponsors of terrorism may expect “prohibition of U. S. arms exports and economic assistance,” controls over exports and services useful to terrorists or various militaries, and “imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.” The U.S. government uses this provision as one justification for its economic blockade against Cuba and for punishment of international banks and financial institutions dealing with Cuba.

Pompeo harked back to old pretexts for terrorist accusations against Cuba. He mentioned the presence in Cuba of three U.S. citizens charged with crimes in the United Stand and facing punishment. The most well-known of these persons is Black liberation fighter Assata Shakur.

Pompeo also referred to representatives of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) who remained in Cuba following the collapse of peace talks between that leftist insurgency and the Colombian government. He alleged that Cuban agents are instrumental in helping Venezuelan President Maduro “maintain his stranglehold over his people.”

Senator Bernie Sanders highlighted the irony of a nation recently the victim of domestic terrorism to now turn around and accuse Cuba of terrorist leanings: “This blatantly politicized designation” overlooks the fact that “domestic terrorism in the United States poses a far greater threat to Americans than Cuba does.”

Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern did likewise:  “Coming less than a week after a failed coup attempt at the hands of his own domestic terrorists, Donald Trump’s reckless and baseless decision is nothing more than a vindictive attempt to make it harder for President-elect Biden to clean up after the last four years of failure.” McGovern lamented Trump’s legacy “of inflicting unnecessary suffering and hardship on the Cuban people.”

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry responded at once, declaring that Cuba “rejects … terrorism in all its forms …  by anybody, against anyone, and from wherever it’s committed.” The Ministry’s statement referred to “an arrogant act by a discredited, dishonest, and morally bankrupt government.” It took note of 3,478 Cubans killed and 2,099 wounded by the U.S. government or by U. S. – based terrorists tolerated by that government.

Change may be in the wind.  On December 17, the 6th anniversary of the announcement of Obama’s opening to Cuba, two foreign-policy advocacy groups, the Washington Office on Latin America and the Center for Democracy in the Americas, presented the Biden Administration with a joint proposal for re-engagement with Cuba.

The first steps would include: Biden personally inviting Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel to the Summit of the Americas to be hosted by the United States in late 2021, returning a U.S. ambassador to Havana, and restoring the diplomatic staff there.

A socialist response to the pandemic: People first, by Gordon McWilliams

From People’s World, December 11, 2020

As the United States experiences a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to look at how other countries have combated this virus and have basically returned to their normal lives, so that we can adapt based on what policies do, and do not, work.

Cuba, an island nation of over 11 million citizens, has taken necessary measures to combat the virus and has maintained remarkably low rates, considering the harsh embargo imposed by the United States. At the time of writing, there are a total of 8,610 cases, 7,858 recovered individuals, and an unfortunate 136 deaths. Cuba is seeing between 25 and 75 additional cases per day.

Cuba has employed its medical students to go door-to-door and check the temperatures and symptoms of its residents in an effort to contact trace and deploy medical supplies where they are needed. New arrivals to the country are quarantined for 14 days, and they have their temperatures taken three times a day to ensure they do not have the virus. The Cuban state employs regular testing, face mask requirements, and regular visits from nursing professionals to contain the virus. Due to Cuba’s extensive education and medical programs, they were able to send doctors around the world to assist other countries with their efforts at curbing disease spread while maintaining their own remarkable statistics.

The pandemic has not been easy on the Cuban economy, which relies heavily on tourism and the tourists’ consumption of commodities. Cuba is already under very strict U.S. sanctions, and the additional sanctions from the Trump administration do not help its ailments. But Cuba says that it has contained the virus, and that 13 of its 16 provinces are open to accept tourists. President Miguel Diaz-Canel says: “The pandemic has cost us and had a high impact on our state budget, but we have worked according to a non-negotiable principle: the main treasure is the life of the Cuban people.” The Cuban state is dedicated to its people and their lives.

Vietnam is a country of nearly 100 million people and, despite sharing a border with China, has handled the coronavirus pandemic in an extremely successful manner. Vietnam’s 1,391 cases have resulted in 1,238 recoveries and 35 deaths. The results here are admirable — the extensive measures taken by the Vietnamese government were laborious but ultimately resulted in a healthy population.

Early in the pandemic on March 31, Vietnam ordered a nationwide 15-day quarantine, which was followed by grocery delivery services to prevent panic buying from grocery stores, as well as paying people to go to hospitals if they were showing symptoms. Following this quarantine, the nation opened non-essential services such as restaurants and allowed in-person school visits. On May 15, movie theaters were reopened while promoting domestic tourism.

In July there was an outbreak in the city of Da Nang, which, after 99 days without a local transmission, reported dozens of community infections. The government worked quickly to evacuate as many tourists as possible to stop the spread of COVID-19. Vietnam has had practice with pandemics in the past, including SARS in 2003. Through publicity campaigns, Vietnam has been encouraging civilians to participate in virus-suppression efforts learned from previous experience. The country remains in a stable state, as they have not seen a local transmission for over three months (even closing a hospital built to combat the pandemic after it was vacant for three months).

China has truly been a model of virus preparedness during this pandemic. It is a country of over 1.4 billion people and has had a mere 86,688 cases (0.0061% of total population). In contrast, the United States has a population of over 331 million and 16 million cases (4.5% of the total population so far). In China over 81,000 of the cases have recovered, and 4,634 people have died due to the virus; in the United States, over 9 million have recovered, and over 300,000 have died. The United States has had an extremely negligent pandemic response by the administration. The virus’s high transmissibility made the epidemic in China turn into a global pandemic, with an ongoing daily reporting of new cases and deaths. However, as fast as viruses spread, the detection of pandemics and taking early measures have become much easier due to advances in science. The early responses and measures adopted by China, such as early reporting and situation monitoring, large-scale surveillance, and preparation of medical facilities and supplies, were all successful in reducing the epidemic.

China’s responses have received mixed reviews in the West, some of which have even been condemned by the Communist Party of China as being too strict and inappropriate.

Chinese provinces have developed four comprehensive goals to recover from this virus: 1) prevention, control, and treatment; 2) resumption of work, and production of enterprises; 3) protecting the lives of people; and 4) prevention of anxiety among people in the affected areas.

Similar to Cuba, China has implemented knock-on-door checkups, meal deliveries, and guidance by medical staff to prevent people from going out and getting infected.

At the CPUSA, we argue in favor of commonsense pandemic policies like those above. We are tired of the downplaying of deaths in our country, the lies perpetrated in the media regarding the virus, and the absolute lack of a nationwide, comprehensive response by the Trump administration, which has resulted in the avoidable deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.  And we are tired of business owners risking workers’ lives to make profits for them during the most highly infectious pandemic of the modern era.

In a socialist USA, whether in a pandemic or not, people’s lives would take priority over profits. Join the CPUSA today to find out how we are working to pursue a socialist nation.

Images:  Top, Reisen Nach Vietnamnet; Cuban doctors in Qatar, Telesur; Foreigner in Da Nang tested for COVID, Vietnamnet; Chinese COVID patients discharged from hospital, China Daily.

Ban the bomb becomes law, by Henry Lowendorf

December 16, 2020

Arguably the first step in half a century to eliminate nuclear weapons, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) makes it internationally illegal to “develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess, or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

At the United Nations in 2017, 122 countries, none of them possessing nuclear weapons, negotiated and voted for the TPNW, which required 50 nations to ratify it before becoming law. On October 24, 2020, Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the historic nuclear weapons–ban treaty. The Treaty goes into force on January 22, 2021.

Abolishing nuclear weapons has been a goal for much of the human race since the United States first disclosed them by incinerating two cities in Japan at the end of World War II in 1945.

On two days in August 75 years ago, nearly a quarter of a million Japanese were vaporized instantly or died horribly within hours or days after the U.S. exploded atomic bombs in the midst of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The scale of such quickfire mass slaughter by nuclear war is hard to comprehend.

The U.S.’s atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even as Japan was essentially defenseless, defeated, and desperate, aimed to keep the Red Army from overrunning and occupying Japan. It was a warning to the USSR and all other nations that the U.S. planned to rule the world.

In 1946, as the hope for peace by means of the United Nations was being established, the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin proposed that nuclear weapons be handed over to that body. U.S. President Harry Truman refused.

Since then, the U.S. government steadily led the nuclear arms race, exponentially increasing the bombs’ destructive power and portability while amassing, deploying, and stockpiling a huge arsenal threatening widespread death.

But the U.S. was unable to keep its monopoly on nuclear weapons. Since 1949 nine other countries have obtained these civilization killers — the Soviet Union (now Russia),  Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and South Africa, which relinquished them in the early 1990s. As the nuclear weapons club grew, so did the risk that these weapons would be used.

Since 1945 the U.S. ruling class has considered nuclear weapons as its final solution to the challenges of socialism and national liberation that resist the demands and rule of monopoly capitalism. The U.S. has threatened to drop nuclear explosives on countries whose governments it tried to overthrow, North Korea and Vietnam among them, and has consistently resisted attempts at controlling and even eliminating these devices of mass slaughter.

In a “small” nuclear exchange with today’s modern thermonuclear weapons, the numbers of instantaneous deaths by incineration would be in the tens of millions, with hundreds of millions more soon to die of sustained burns, wounds, and radiation poisoning and even more survivors dying of starvation from nuclear clouds over much of the planet preventing growth of food crops.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock has been set at 100 seconds to midnight, based on the likelihood of either nuclear war or climate catastrophe, two human-caused innovations that threaten to extinguish the human race along with untold species of plants and other animals.

Under President Barack Obama and continued under President Donald Trump, the U.S. initiated a new nuclear arms race that will cost U.S. society $1.7 trillion, underwriting a policy that will profit the military industries; draw thousands of skilled workers, scientists, and engineers into the merchandising of death; and further militarize our nation and the world.

At the same time, spending that treasure on renewing the nuclear existential threat starves our people of resources desperately needed for health care, food security, affordable housing, education, infrastructure repair, and the Green New Deal. It is another means of waging endless war.

To date, the overall global effort to eliminate nuclear weapons has failed, but there have been some successes in minimizing their numbers and preventing the technology from spreading beyond the existing weapons states. The nations of the world negotiated and put into force the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970 to limit spread, promote disarmament, and encourage peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The NPT limited nuclear weapons to the then existing possessors — the U.S., USSR, Britain, France, and the People’s Republic of China. Subsequently, three states — India, Pakistan, and Israel — that didn’t sign the treaty developed their own weapons, and the DPR Korea, which had signed the treaty, backed out to build its own bombs.

Significantly, Article 6 of the NPT, which requires nuclear weapons states to disarm, has been blatantly ignored. And until this year nuclear weapons have not been legally banned.

There have been numerous other attempts to reduce the nuclear weapons threat, and many of the agreements have unilaterally been cancelled by the United States:

The Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 resulted from public anxiety over nuclear fallout and limited nuclear tests to underground.

The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (1972). The ABM Treaty aimed to prevent a first-strike nuclear attack by a nation that had means to shoot down incoming retaliatory missiles to protect itself. George W. Bush scrapped it in 2002 as the U.S. pursued first-strike dominance.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (1988). Ronald Reagan was forced to negotiate and sign the INF Treaty banning intermediate range ballistic missiles in Europe and the western Soviet Union because of massive public pressure both in Europe and the U.S. Donald Trump scrapped this treaty and, following the policies of his predecessor, has been moving NATO forces, including missiles, up to the western border of Russia.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (1996). The U.S. never ratified this, and thus it has not come into force. However, aside from DPR Korea, the nuclear weapons states have since avoided testing nuclear weapons, although the U.S. carries out tests of systems, stopping just short of exploding them.

Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (1994). START I was the first treaty to limit the deployment of nuclear warheads and to reduce the numbers the U.S. and Russia maintained. Jointly these two countries hold by far the biggest arsenals. The treaty is up for renewal in February 2021, but the Trump administration has decided to let it die. What a President Biden will do is uncertain.

The Open Skies Treaty (2002) allowed unarmed surveillance flights over member countries to collect information about military activities and build international security. President Trump killed this treaty on November 22, 2020.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (2015). The JCPOA is a multi-lateral treaty that specifically prevents Iran from developing nuclear weaponry. President Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from this treaty in 2018 and reimposed deadly sanctions on Iran.

It is important to note that there are numerous regional treaties that create nuclear-weapons-free zones, for example in Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and Africa.

After the failure of numerous other efforts to remove nuclear weapons from the face of the earth, the Nuclear Ban Treaty was conceived by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), with support organized and promoted by over 400 partner organizations in 103 countries.

From its inception and promotion in the United Nations, the nine nuclear-weapons states opposed this treaty and boycotted negotiations. Opposition to the treaty came as well from five U.S. allies in NATO that stockpile U.S. weapons — Belgium, Holland, Germany, Turkey, and France.

Moreover, the Trump administration has been twisting the arms of ratifying countries to retract their ratification.

While the Ban Treaty applies only to those countries that have ratified the treaty, it is still truly historic.

Based on earlier experience with treaties banning chemical and anti-personnel weapons and land mines, the Ban Treaty can create a norm that pressures the nuclear-weapons states to change their actions. For example, now that nuclear weapons are prohibited by international law, anti-nuclear activists have another political tool to pressure financial institutions and pension funds, among others, to divest from companies that make nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles.

As pressure increases from non-nuclear-weapons states to abolish the bombs, those of us living under governments threatening catastrophic war have increased responsibility to force them to join this new treaty and eliminate one of the gravest dangers to civilization.

Images: Top, Hiroshima dome, Antonello (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0); Nagasaki bombing, bswise (CC BY 2.0); Anti-nuke march, New York, 2010, People’s World.

All the Cannons Will Silently Rust: The Fifty-Second Tricontinental Newsletter (2020)

December 24th, 2020

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

Our year has been eclipsed by the pandemic, the rush of a virus paralysing societies across the world. Some governments offered smarter, more scientific, and humane approaches to the pandemic; many (but not all) of these have been governments with a socialist orientation. Amongst them is the Indian state of Kerala, tucked into the country’s south-west with a population of 35 million and governed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF). Kerala’s Health Minister KK Shailaja was later celebrated as the ‘Coronavirus Slayer’ for her leadership within a government that puts the needs of the population ahead of profit and superstition.

It is not as if there have been no cases of COVID-19 in Kerala, nor that there have been no deaths; it is rather that the government operated in a measured, swift, and deliberate way to inform the public, to use the government machinery to test the population for COVID-19, to carry out contact tracing, to isolate and treat the infected, and to take all possible measures to flatten the curve. Furthermore, as a result of a long history of organised public action in the state – often led by the communists and social reformers – trade unions, cooperatives, student and youth organisations, women’s organisations, and others operated in a very disciplined way to provide information and relief to the public.

 In early December, Kerala held local body elections across the state. The communists won more seats in these elections than all the seats won by the opposition. The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which runs the Indian government in Delhi under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the centre-right Indian National Congress, which is the main opposition in Kerala, ran a vicious campaign against the Left, including harsh personal attacks directed at Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The media – controlled almost exclusively by the major private corporations – led the attack on the Left and ignored new initiatives pushed by the Left in this remarkably difficult period.

For instance, the corporate media ignored the inauguration of thirty-four new public schools for the ‘Centre of Excellence’ project, which resulted in the slow return of children from expensive private schools to the revamped state schools. If they did report the initiatives, such as the building of about 250,000 homes for the working class and the indigent through the ‘Life Mission’, the media focused on mischievous allegations that charity money from the United Arab Emirates had violated foreign exchange regulations. These unfounded attacks shaped the harsh context of these local body elections.

PP Divya leads a protest in solidarity with Indian farmers

Kerala’s Left went into this election with a series of important advantages. First, over the course of a century of struggle and governance, the communist movement has driven an agenda to improve the living conditions of the people, including by promoting health, education, and housing, and has inculcated a tradition of public action. Second, it was the Left that initiated a people’s planning campaign twenty-five years ago; this process enlivened the local self-government bodies and made them crucial platforms for public action and for the development of the Left alternative. Third, the current Left Democratic Front government has an exemplary record of managing crises that predates the pandemic, such as the catastrophic floods and the outbreak of the Nipah virus, both of which struck the state in 2018. Fourth, the Left’s mass organisations in the state are alert to the needs of the people and are often found working to provide relief, to fight against social indignity, and to fight to expand the rights of people. This was most clearly visible during the pandemic, when student, youth, women’s, workers, and peasant organisations delivered food and medicine to the people, built public washing facilities, and assisted local governments with testing, tracing, and enforcing the quarantine. It was this mass work that provided the best antidote to the virulence of the corporate media.

It was out of this remarkable mass work that the Left chose its candidates for the local body elections, most of them very young and a large number of them young women leaders from across the state. Below are short impressions of five of these new elected officials.

Reshma Mariam Roy writes in her diary

Reshma Mariam Roy won her seat from the Aruvappulam grama panchayat (local self-government at the village level), which had been represented by the Congress for the past fifteen years. Reshma turned twenty-one, the minimum age to contest these polls, the day before she filed her nomination. She is a member of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), both mass organisations of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and a leader in her college union. During the pandemic, Reshma had worked for the ‘helping hand’ programme started by KU Jineesh Kumar, another Left youth leader and the local representative to the state legislature; through the programme, they aid anyone who required it during the lockdown. During her campaign, Reshma kept a diary, in which she noted down the frustrations and demands of the people. She was happy that the Left gave young people the opportunity to run in these elections. ‘If people have a good opinion of me after five years’, she said, ‘that is the real victory’.

Arya Rajendran marches during the campaign

Arya Rajendran, twenty-one years old, is the president of Balasangham, an organisation of a million children that works to promote scientific and secular values in children that was set up on 28 December 1938 in Kalliasseri, Kannur (Kerala); its first president was the young communist (and later chief minister of Kerala for eleven years) E.K. Nayanar. Arya, a member of the SFI, sat for her final college exams at the same time as she campaigned for her seat on the Thiruvananthapuram city council. ‘Local bodies are the nerves of the democratic process of Kerala’, she said. ‘It is important that we have young people committed to the cause of democracy being elected to office. It is through local office that we can make sure that everyone benefits from the Left alternative being developed in the state’.

PP Divya campaigns in Kannur district

PP Divya, at thirty-six-year-old, is already a veteran in the communist movement. She is a leader in the DYFI and the All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) and is a district committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). She had already been a member of the district panchayat (council) since 2015, but now she has been re-elected and is expected to become the president of the district council. Not only has Divya been a key person in the fight against COVID-19 in her district, but she has led from the front to make basic improvements in daily life there and has led protests in solidarity with the farmers’ revolt that has gripped India.

Afsal campaigns in Malappuram

E. Afsal, like Reshma and Arya, is a leader of the SFI. At age twenty-five, he won from the Mangalam ward of the Malappuram district council. Afsal, Reshma, and Arya walk in the footprints of KV Sudheesh, who was a student leader and an elected office holder of the Kannur district council. On 26 January 1994, Sudheesh was stabbed to death by members of the fascist RSS, which is connected to India’s ruling BJP.

P. Prameela, who won a landslide at Pilicode, returns to work the next day

Comrade Prameela, who works as an agricultural wage labour, was one of the 58% of women who won seats in this local body election. Prameela is a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), one of the directors of the board of the Kodakkad service co-operative bank, and a leader of AIDWA. She won more than 90% of the votes to take a seat on the Pilicode panchayat.

In 1976, the communist poet Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan wrote Kannurkkotta, or ‘Kannur Fort’, a poem that reflected his hope that the old can fade away and the youth can bring forth a new world. Ramakrishnan was president of the Purogamana Kala Sahitya Sangham (the progressive writers’ association) and an elected member of the state assembly (his candidacy supported by the Left).

All the fortresses will become antiques.
All the cannons will silently rust.
All the sultans will run away into the dark caves.
My children, who are not sleep deprived,
Will witness curiously all these events. 

They will witness these curiously because they will not be fixated on the past. With names like Reshma, Arya, Divya, Prameela and Afsal, they will set aside the cannons and the sultans to construct a democratic world. And we will be walking right beside them.