“We must build an alternative” / by Matthew Cunningham-Cook

Philadelphia mayoral candidate Helen Gym. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)

Originally published: The Lever  on May 15, 2023

When private equity threatened to destroy a 133-year-old hospital, Helen Gym, a former teacher and parent organizer turned first-term Philadelphia City Council member, sprung into action.

“How corrupt is it for an investment banker and a real estate company to come in and buy a major medical hospital in the poorest large city in the country?” Gym’s voice boomed out to a crowd of hundreds in front of Hahnemann University Hospital in central Philadelphia at a July 2019 rally with Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt.), one the first times Gym’s organizing work caught national attention.

And how wrong are our laws when Joel Freedman and his cohort of vulture capitalists can run this hospital into the ground in less than 18 months and now they’re going to flip it for a real estate deal?

Just three weeks before, Joel Freedman, a private equity executive, had announced that he was closing the hospital. It was one of just five hospitals that could treat trauma patients, and one of just six hospitals where people could give birth, in the sixth-largest city in America.

Now Gym, after two terms on city council, is running for Philadelphia mayor on an ambitious platform to invest in and expand public institutions, especially health care and schools. If she wins in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, overcoming an entrenched Democratic Party establishment and powerful billionaires opposing her insurgent campaign, she will also confront Philadelphia’s major health and housing disparities. These deep inequities are a microcosm of yawning nationwide problems of which the federal government has effectively washed its hands.

Gym’s campaign–which is currently leading in the most recent poll for the race–asks a far-reaching question: In the most unequal country in the industrialized world, what can one city do to address the national health care and housing crises fueled by global financiers?

“I’m not running for office because I want to be a mayor per se,” Gym told The Lever in January. “I’m running for office because we have to dramatically change the way this city takes care of its own people from babies to senior citizens.” Gym speaks warmly and deliberately, with a candor that has endeared her to the city’s splintered activist communities and made powerful enemies, including the local Chamber of Commerce and the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I want to be able to show people that the government has a powerful role to play,” she added.

What’s transformative about that is to lead with a real people’s movement focused on the essentials of life: safety, housing, education, health care, the environment.

On the city council, Gym has fought the city’s business lobby to protect workers rights and promote safe schools. And while much of her campaign has been framed around public well-being and safety, her politics are actually best understood at an institutional level–in her unsuccessful but still transformative fight to save a century-old hospital.

Fighting To Save A Hospital

Philadelphia is the poorest big city in America. A progressive bastion in an increasingly blue state, the city is racially diverse and has growing inequality. It’s one of the few remaining American cities where organized labor plays a major role in political life, with more than 150,000 people represented by a union in a city of 1.6 million. In recent years, more than half-a-dozen progressives and socialists claimed victories in various offices.

In 2001, Gym was a mom sending her kids to public school, dismayed at the state takeover of the city’s education system–and joined other parent-activists seeking better resources for the city’s desperately underfunded public schools. In 2015, she ran for the city council, and in 2019, she was reelected as the highest vote-getter in the Democratic primary. In both campaigns, championing public schools and improving health care were central tenets of her platform.

When Hahnemann faced sudden closure in 2019, no elected official was more vocal than Gym about the dangers the shutdown foretold. Those warnings came to fruition less than a year later, when COVID-19 ravaged the city and killed more than 5,500 people.

Gym’s role in the effort to save Hahnemann from private equity managers who prioritized profits over patient care is a story that has never been fully told.

At the time, I worked as the staff researcher for the main nurses and health care professionals union in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), which represented 800 nurses at Hahnemann.

Hahnemann University Hospital was founded in 1885 as a teaching hospital for homeopathic medical students and later established itself as a center for traditional medicine in the city. In 1986, it became the city’s first Level 1 trauma center–the highest designation for treating trauma patients. The development was critically important in a city beset with a major gun violence epidemic.

In the late 1980s, a new nonprofit, the Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Health and Education Research Foundation (AHERF), began to transform the state’s hospitals. AHERF went on a Wall Street-backed buying spree of Pennsylvania health care assets, purchasing Hahnemann in 1993, but then filing for bankruptcy just five years later, in what was then the largest nonprofit health care bankruptcy ever.

AHERF’s Philadelphia assets were sold to Tenet Healthcare, what is now the second-largest publicly traded hospital firm. Hahnemann eventually affiliated with Drexel University, becoming the fifth-largest medical school in the U.S., and continued to serve vulnerable populations. Up to its closure, a majority of its patients had public health insurance or none at all.

By 2016, nurses at Hahnemann had become so frustrated that they overwhelmingly voted to unionize with PASNAP. But the following year, the hospitals were sold again, this time to Joel Freedman, a private equity manager backed by MidCap Financial, a subsidiary of Apollo Global Management, a major private equity firm with a long history of problems, including delivering subpar returns and associations with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Immediately, Hahnemann was saddled with onerous debt service payments several points higher than common commercial rates, leaving the hospital with fewer resources to shore up its troubled finances.

Freedman initially made pledges to invest in the hospital–and agreed to a contract with the nurses that contained precedent-setting language on safe staffing. But the hospital’s already-shaky finances were further stressed by the new private equity model. When MidCap sent in a notice of default to Freedman in May 2019, the hospital was on the verge of collapse.

When Freedman announced Hahnemann’s imminent closure the following month, hospital staff braced for the worst. Hahnemann employed nearly 10 percent of PASNAP’s membership, and the union’s research showed that the hospital’s closure would further stress the city’s already-overburdened emergency rooms.

Today, among the hospitals that ended up taking most of Hahnemann’s patients in Philadelphia, ER wait times are about a half hour longer than the average hospitals in Pennsylvania, according to a Lever analysis of federal health care data. Health care workers around the city reported that ERs near Hahnemann became burdened with additional patients in the immediate aftermath of the hospital’s closure.

Previous closures of hospital maternity wards in Philadelphia had led to increases in infant mortality as high as 50 percent, researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found in 2012.

The Hahnemann workers quickly found an ally in Gym, who had long been close with PASNAP’s former president, Patty Eakin. Eakin, a recently retired emergency room nurse at Temple University Hospital, said that Gym immediately jumped into action.

“Helen was furious when they closed Hahnemann,” said Eakin.

Because Hahnemann was a safety net hospital. There were lots of patients who depended on it for care, and would now need to travel great distances. She was very sharp in her critique of a private equity company and a bottom feeder like Joel Freedman buying a hospital and running it into the ground.

Samir Sonti, a labor studies professor at the City University of New York, had just started as PASNAP’s political organizer when Hahnemann’s closure became imminent, and noted her response was very different from the common politician’s response. Sonti said,

[Helen] was one of the first electeds that we spoke to. From the first conversation onward she was strategizing with us over how we could build a campaign to save Hahnemann. At no point was it about her using it as a political opportunity–she used it as an organizer.

Gym appeared at every union event, pressed for financial resources to support Hahnemann, pushed the city and state Departments of Health to block Hahnemann’s closure, and pressured Freedman to stop the disorderly closure of the hospital.

But as financial pressure mounted, real estate vultures were circling: Hahnemann sat on valuable real estate in Center City Philadelphia. And other hospitals wouldn’t throw their weight behind saving Hahnemann, eager to absorb its patient population and lucrative medical residencies.

The CEO of Thomas Jefferson University, the city’s second-largest hospital network, Stephen Klasko, wrote an email in April 2019–prior to Hahnemann’s bankruptcy and subsequent closure–saying,

No, we don’t need Hahnemann. In fact, we need many less hospitals.

Despite routine marches in front of the hospital, including the July 2019 rally headlined by Gym and Sanders, real estate pressure and hospital competition was overwhelming. By the summer, it was clear that Hahnemann was not salvageable; more powerful politicians than Gym had largely given up on it while private interests moved in. By August, the hospital had no patients and was effectively shut down.

But Gym was energized to increase her efforts to fight for progressive values in Philadelphia. Today, she remains firm that public investment and ownership is the answer to privatization:

What is most important right now is a really strong government sector that looks out for the people. Local governments have an enormous amount of power, and an enormous amount of responsibility as well.

Gym went on to pass legislation that would crack down on disorderly hospital and nursing home closures, which the mayor signed in December of 2019.

Gym connected Hahnemann’s plight to poor state and national hospital regulations. Nationwide, hospital closures are major issues for cities and rural areas, reflecting a divestment of private interest in public health and the serious risks that come with for-profit ownership of hospitals.

“It is absolutely vital that local governments strengthen their responsibilities to the health and well being of our residents, because state and federal policies are so weak in this area” said Gym.

The Philadelphia region, meanwhile, is still vulnerable to hospital closures. In 2020, Mercy hospital in West Philadelphia substantially closed their inpatient operations and became an outpatient clinic, and private equity-owned Delaware County Memorial Hospital, right outside of the city in Upper Darby, closed at the end of 2022.

Gym’s Philadelphia

Inspired by what she learned in her fight to save Hahnemann, Gym said she sees Philly’s mayoral race as an opportunity to make the city a model for what can be accomplished in America as a whole: developing municipal responses to national problems.

“Progressives spent enormous sums of money and a lot of hair pulling to focus on Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida in the 2022 elections,” Gym said.

But at the municipal level, we can actually see a blueprint for the nation written through America’s largest cities. Philadelphia is a Democratic city. And that means that it should demonstrate what the country could and should look like, in the next 10 to 20 years.

Critical to Gym’s overall perspective on Philadelphia’s public health is the city’s school system. Philadelphia’s public schools have been routinely closed to deal with lead issues, which United States Public Interest Research Group, a federation of state-based consumer advocacy organizations, calls a “widespread” problem in Philadelphia’s schools.

Instead of recognizing Philly’s school crisis for what it is: an emergency, the city council and the current Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration have kicked the can down the road, cutting business and wage taxes that could have been used for lead abatement.

Gym and her two main progressive allies Kendra Brooks and Jamie Gauthier were the only members of the council to vote against the tax cuts. Gym has proposed a $10 billion city-wide Green New Deal, funded by property taxes and the city’s bonding authority to address the lead crisis.

Gym has also focused on the city’s housing crisis, with 48 percent of the city’s renters being considered as rent-burdened. In December 2021, the city council passed Gym’s landmark eviction diversion program which has been praised by the Biden White House, building on earlier legislation that Gym and her allies on Philadelphia’s 17-member city council had passed in June 2020. The program appears to have reduced evictions by about one third compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

Buttressing Gym’s broader vision for the city is her emphasis on workers’ rights. In December 2018, Gym won passage of the Fair Workweek legislation, which cracked down on unfair flex scheduling practices for workers, particularly in the retail industry. The legislation affects an estimated 130,000 workers.

“What we have demonstrated is a real push by everyday people to see a government that truly works for them,” Gym said,

But it starts at the local level by making sure that schools are safe and functioning and open and staffed and funded, by making sure that libraries and recreation centers are open and vibrant, that health care is not about just hospitals, but that health care is about meeting people’s needs, on the ground, and really connecting the government to its people.

Building An Alternative

Of the three frontrunners in the race, Gym is the only mayoral candidate running who has won citywide more than once, and she brings a loyal set of volunteers as the city’s progressive insurgency has bloomed.

Since 2019, when Gym was reelected and Brooks and Gauthier defeated incumbents to win seats on the council, Philadelphia’s progressives have experienced a resurgence. In 2020, Nikil Saval, a socialist writer and organizer, won election to the state Senate, and Rick Krajewski, also an organizer, won a spot in the state House.

In 2022, Tarik Khan, a nurse practitioner who had been active in the fight to save Hahnemann, defeated an incumbent to win a spot in the Pennsylvania House. Larry Krasner, the city’s progressive district attorney who has overseen a 40 percent reduction in the city’s jail population, was reelected with 67 percent of the vote in 2021, along with a slate of seven progressive judges.

On Sunday, Gym reprised her 2019 rally with Sanders, as he stumped for her with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

This election comes on the heels of progressive Brandon Johnson’s April upset in Chicago’s mayoral election, backed by a comparable coalition of progressives and the city’s teachers union. There, Brandon Johnson campaigned on a platform that prioritized workers, emphasized investment in schools, and reimagined public safety. His trajectory could point to a similar opportunity for Gym.

Philadelphia, a city similarly hollowed out by disinvestment and energized by a progressive insurgency, can be a model for the nation. As corporate interests threaten the city’s future, Gym is naming and fighting privatization.

“We must build an alternative,” Gym concluded.

“I think that that is my life’s work, even before I ever came into office. It’s one of the most important things that I think politics needs to do right now. I think we’re very clear about our repudiation of Trumpism and the extreme right, but it will resonate if we live differently, as people deserve to live. And that is the most important thing for me in Philadelphia, that people’s lives have to actually be different.”

Matthew Cunningham-Cook is a researcher and writer focusing on capital markets, health care and retirement policy

U.S. media searched for crisis at China Party Congress / by Eric Horowitz

The New York Times (10/27/22) invited readers to scrutinize video of a 79-year-old retiree being escorted from a meeting for signs that he was “purged”—a conjecture that the Times otherwise provides no evidence for.

For the Western press, the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party offered a number of signals which—if read in good faith—could have been perceived as reassuring.

Instead, establishment outlets reverted to familiar narratives regarding China’s Covid mitigation strategy and tied these into renewed predictions of a long-prophesied economic disaster—one that would inevitably befall China as a result of its government’s decision to forsake the orthodoxy of open markets.

More than anything else, corporate media fixated on Hu Jintao’s departure from the congress hall, engaging in tabloid-variety speculation around the fate of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s 79-year-old predecessor.

SCMP (10/16/22): “Analysts said Xi’s remarks suggested that Beijing was exercising restraint on Taiwan, despite the soaring tensions.”

SCMP (10/16/22): “Analysts said Xi’s remarks suggested that Beijing was exercising restraint on Taiwan, despite the soaring tensions.”

Invoking the specter of a purge, outlets like the New York Times and CNN pushed the narrative that Xi manipulated events to consolidate his power. However, the “evidence” used by corporate media to suggest that Xi orchestrated Hu’s exit as part of a power grab was far from convincing.

| SCMP 101622 Analysts said Xis remarks suggested that Beijing was exercising restraint on Taiwan despite the soaring tensions | MR Online

Substantive developments

If establishment outlets covering the congress were on the lookout for substantive developments—rather than additional fodder to comport with their prefabricated narratives—they could have found them.

Despite the Biden administration’s belligerent posture vis-à-vis Taiwan, demonstrated by escalations like Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island and Biden’s own promise to deploy U.S. forces in the event of a forced reunification, Xi indicated that China would continue to approach cross-strait relations with restraint.

Of Xi’s relatively measured statements on reunification, Sung Wen-ti, a political scientist at the Australian National University (Guardian10/16/22), said, “The lack of ‘hows’ is a sign he wants to preserve policy flexibility and doesn’t want to irreversibly commit to a particularly adversarial path.” Lim John Chuan-tiong, a former researcher at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica (SCMP10/16/22), deemed Xi’s message to the Taiwanese people “balanced and not combative.” This sounds like good news for everyone who wants to avoid a potential nuclear war.

In addition, Xi’s opening report to the congress placed particular emphasis on the task of combating climate change. The section titled “Pursuing Green Development and Promoting Harmony between Humanity and Nature” presented a four-part framework to guide China’s policy efforts in this area. Even the avidly pro-Western Atlantic Council had to admit that “China is showing its leadership in green development in a number of ways.”

Since China is home to one-fifth of the global population, and is currently the most prolific CO2-emitting country on Earth, its government’s decision to prioritize a comprehensive response to the climate crisis seems like an unambiguously positive development.

The congress even provided some encouraging news for those who claim to care about human rights. In a surprise move, Chen Quanguo, who was hit with U.S. sanctions for his hardline approach as party secretary in both Tibet and Xinjiang, was ousted from the central committee.

The New York Times (10/16/22) refers to the “idea” that China’s zero Covid policies “have saved lives”—as though it’s possible that China could have allowed the coronavirus to spread throughout its population without killing anyone.

The New York Times (10/16/22) refers to the “idea” that China’s zero Covid policies “have saved lives”—as though it’s possible that China could have allowed the coronavirus to spread throughout its population without killing anyone.

But U.S. corporate media generally failed to highlight these developments as positive news. In fact, with the exception of some coverage of Xi’s statements on Taiwan—which largely misrepresented China’s posture as more threatening than a good-faith reading would indicate—US news outlets had remarkably little to say about the substance of any news coming out of the congress.

Recycled narratives

As FAIR (3/24/201/29/219/9/22) has pointed out at various points in the pandemic, corporate media—seemingly disturbed by China’s unwillingness to sacrifice millions of lives at the altar of economic growth—have been almost uniformly critical of the Chinese government’s Covid mitigation strategy.

Indeed, establishment outlets have persistently demonized the “zero-Covid” policy despite its successes—in terms of both lives saved and economic development. After Xi indicated to the congress that China would continue along this path, corporate media were predictably dismayed.

Returning to its familiar line that, contrary to evidence, China’s decision to prioritize public health would ravage its economy, the New York Times (10/16/22) reported:

Mr. Xi argued that the Communist Party had waged an “all out people’s war to stop the spread of the virus.” China’s leadership has done everything it can to protect people’s health, he said, putting “the people and their lives above all else.” He made no mention of how the stringent measures were holding back economic growth and frustrating residents.

The article went on to quote Jude Blanchette, a “China expert” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who declared, “There is nothing positive or aspirational about zero Covid.” That CSIS would disseminate such a narrative—with the assistance of the reliably hawkish Times—is unsurprising, since the think tank’s chief patrons share a common interest in vilifying China.

CSIS’s roster of major donors includes military contractors Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, as well as a litany of oil and gas companies—all of whom derive financial benefit from America’s military build-up in the Pacific.

CNN (10/17/22) reported that “experts are concerned that Xi offered no signs of moving away from the country’s rigid zero-Covid policy or its tight regulatory stance on various businesses, both of which have hampered growth in the world’s second-largest economy.” CNN‘s experts don’t point out that China’s economy has grown 9% since 2019, when Covid struck, vs. 2% for the US.

CSIS has also received millions of dollars from the governments of Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Sitting on its board of trustees are Phebe Novakovic, chair and CEO of General Dynamics, and Leon Panetta who—as Defense secretary in the Obama administration—helped craft the DOD’s “pivot to Asia.”

‘No to market reforms’

In “Xi Jinping’s Speech: Yes to Zero Covid, No to Market Reforms?” CNN (10/17/22) framed Xi’s statement that China would not allow the deadly coronavirus to spread freely across its population as part of a broader rejection of liberalized markets by the CCP.

Aside from the obvious shortcomings of a framework that evaluates public health policy on the basis of its relationship to economic growth, CNN presented the opening of Chinese markets to foreign capital as an objective good—the forsaking of which would bode poorly for China’s economic prospects.

While China’s “reform and opening-up” has been immensely profitable for corporations—as evidenced in media coverage (Forbes10/24/22NYT11/7/22) of global markets’ uneasiness over Xi’s alleged “return to Marxism”—its impact on Chinese workers has been uneven, to say the least. Living standards have improved generally, but labor conditions remain poor and inequality is growing.

Like the TimesCNN went the think tank route to support its thesis, quoting Craig Singleton—senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD):

Yesterday’s speech confirms what many China watchers have long suspected—Xi has no intention of embracing market liberalization or relaxing China’s zero-Covid policies, at least not anytime soon…. Instead, he intends to double down on policies geared towards security and self-reliance at the expense of China’s long-term economic growth.

Despite the fact that China watchers have, for as long as one can remember, predicted a collapse of China’s economy that has yet to materialize, corporate media keep on returning to that same old well.

For its part, FDD—to which CNN attached the inconspicuous label of “DC-based think tank”—is a neoconservative advocacy group that has an ax to grind with China. The chairman of FDD’s China Program is Matt Pottinger, former deputy national security advisor to Donald Trump.

CNN (10/17/22) reported that “experts are concerned that Xi offered no signs of moving away from the country’s rigid zero-Covid policy or its tight regulatory stance on various businesses, both of which have hampered growth in the world’s second-largest economy.” CNN‘s experts don’t point out that China’s economy has grown 9% since 2019, when Covid struck, vs. 2% for the US.

The New York Times (10/27/22) invited readers to scrutinize video of a 79-year-old retiree being escorted from a meeting for signs that he was “purged”—a conjecture that the Times otherwise provides no evidence for.

Early on in the pandemic, a Washington Post profile (4/29/20) of Pottinger stated that he “believes Beijing’s handling of the virus has been ‘catastrophic’ and ‘the whole world is the collateral damage of China’s internal governance problems.’” The article quoted Trump’s second national security advisor, H.R. McMaster—who is also currently employed as a “China expert” at FDD—as calling Pottinger “central to the biggest shift in U.S. foreign policy since the Cold War, which is the competitive approach to China.”

Desperate search for a purge

If consumers of corporate media only encountered one story about the congress, it probably had something to do with this seemingly innocuous development: During the congress’s closing session, aides escorted Hu Jintao—Xi’s predecessor as China’s paramount leader—out of the Great Hall of the People.

Later that day, Xinhua, China’s state news agency, said that Hu’s departure was health related. This explanation isn’t exactly far-fetched, since the 79-year-old Hu has long been said to be suffering from an illness—as early as 2012, some observers posited that the then-outgoing leader had Parkinson’s disease.

Since the whole episode was caught on camera, however, corporate media were not satisfied with China’s mundane account of events. Instead, establishment outlets seized the moment and transformed Hu’s departure into a dramatic spectacle, laden with sinister connotations. The speculation that followed was almost obsessive in nature.

In a piece titled “What Happened to Hu Jintao,” the New York Times (10/27/22) resorted to a form of video and image analysis one would typically expect from the most committed conspiracy theorist. Despite conceding that “it’s far from evident that Mr. Hu’s exit was planned, and many analysts have warned against drawing assumptions,” the Times went on to do just that.

The article centered on nine video clips and three stills, providing a moment-by-moment breakdown of Hu’s exit from various angles and zoom levels. Some images even included Monday Night Football—style telestrator circles, which surrounded the heads of certain CCP cadres like halos in a Renaissance painting.

In reference to the haloed party figures whose “expressions did not change” as Hu was escorted away, the Times quoted Wu Guoguang, a professor at Canada’s University of Victoria:

Here was Hu Jintao, the former highest leader of your party and a man who had given so many of you political opportunities. And how do you treat him now?… This incident demonstrated the tragic reality of Chinese politics and the fundamental lack of human decency in the Communist Party.

While noting that Wu “said he did not want to speculate about what had unfolded,” the Times evidently did not consider this statement of caution as being at odds with his subsequent use of Hu’s departure to condemn the CCP in the broadest possible terms.

Indeed, the paper of record saw no problem with attributing the failure of Hu’s colleagues to react in a more appropriate manner—whatever that may have been—to “the tragic reality of Chinese politics” and a “fundamental lack of human decency” on the part of the CCP.

Here was a microcosm of corporate media’s contradictory approach to the episode: a professed reluctance to engage in conjecture, persistently negated by an overwhelming eagerness to cast aspersions. In line with this tack, the Times resorted to innuendo by posing a hypothetical question:

Was Mr. Hu, 79, suffering from poor health, as Chinese state media would later report? Or was he being purged in a dramatic show by China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, for the world to see?

The New York Times (10/27/22) invited readers to scrutinize video of a 79-year-old retiree being escorted from a meeting for signs that he was “purged”—a conjecture that the Times otherwise provides no evidence for.

The Wall Street Journal (10/27/22) subjected Hu’s exit to the kind of analysis usually done in movies with photos linked by string on a basement wall.

Rather than asserting outright that Hu was the victim of a purge, the Times advanced this familiar red-scare narrative by including two photographs from the Cultural Revolution—one of which depicts Xi’s father being subjected to humiliation during a struggle session. With these images, the Times coaxed readers into making a spurious connection between Hu’s exit and the political repressions of yesteryear.

Unfazed by lack of evidence

The same day as the Times released its “analysis,” the Wall Street Journal (10/27/22) published a similar piece under the headline “Hu Jintao’s Removal From China’s Party Congress, a Frame-by-Frame Breakdown.”

Short on substance, since there was no actual evidence to suggest that the 79-year-old—who hasn’t held power for a decade and has never even been rumored to oppose Xi—was being purged or publicly humiliated, the Journal chose to hyperfixate on every aspect of the footage.

Predictably, cable news networks and China watchers also took part in the orgy of speculation. On CNN’s Erin Burnett Out Front (10/25/22), international correspondent Selina Wang said this:

Now, I have spoken to experts who think there is more to this than that pure health explanation, including Steve Tsang of [the] SOAS China Institute. He told me that this is humiliation of Hu Jintao. It is a clear message that there is only one leader who matters in China right now and that is Xi Jinping.

She did not mention the fact that Tsang is a fellow at Chatham House, a think tank that derives a substantial proportion of its funding from the U.S. State Department and the governments of Britain and Japan.

The Wall Street Journal (10/27/22) subjected Hu’s exit to the kind of analysis usually done in movies with photos linked by string on a basement wall.

The day before, on CNN Newsroom (10/24/22), Wang stated, “Hu Jintao. . . was publicly humiliated at the closing ceremony of the Party Congress.” The only support she offered for this assertion came from Victor Shih, another China watcher from the aforementioned CSIS, who conjectured:

I am not a believer of the pure health explanation. And it seemed like [Hu] sat down in a pretty stable manner. And then suddenly, he was asked to leave. I’m not sure if he whispered something, said something to Xi Jinping.

Half-acknowledging that Shih’s description of events actually said nothing at all, Wang concluded: “Regardless, it was a symbolic moment. Out with Hu and the collective leadership of his era.” For Wang and for corporate media’s treatment of the episode writ large, “regardless” was the operative word—regardless of the fact that they were merely engaged in baseless speculation, they would still inevitably arrive at the most sinister conclusion.

MRonline, November 17, 2022, https://mronline.org/

Commune or nothing! Venezuela’s transition to socialism / by Venezuelanalysis.com

Originally published in Venezuelanalysis.com on November 9, 2022

Amidst Washington’s economic siege, Venezuela’s communes have continued advancing to offer long-standing solutions to the economic crisis in order to build a socialist future where life trumps capital. Communes are, by definition, deeply anti-imperialist and anticapitalist.

Currently, Venezuela has dozens of communes, between rural and urban, some new and others with a baggage of revolutionary struggle. They are made up of people that occupy a shared territory and have historical, cultural, social, ethnic, and economic ties that bind them together. Some rural communes were set up after campesino families took back lands that had historically belonged to them but were seized by landowners for private profit.

Today, communes are a wonderful demonstration of socialism as a viable way to practice substantial democracy and build sovereign production while taking care of the planet.

In his last political address, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez stated that communes were the cornerstone of the Bolivarian Revolution, with the power to truly emancipate the people. He urged cadres and organizations to prioritize the communes with his battle cry: “Commune or Nothing!”

| The Bolivarian Process | MR Online' political horizon got clearer with time, as Chávez set his sights on the construction of socialism and with communes being the "unit cells." Find out more in our latest infographic. (Venezuelanalysis)

The Bolivarian Process’ political horizon got clearer with time, as Chávez set his sights on the construction of socialism and with communes being the “unit cells.” Find out more in our latest infographic. (Venezuelanalysis)

The American Empire Runs Through the Compact States / by Edward Hunt

Pohnpei International Airport. (Photo: Mike LaMonaca/Flickr)

Originally published in Antiwar.com on October 24, 2022

U.S. officials are working to integrate the compact states more closely into the American empire in the Pacific Ocean.

For the past year, U.S. diplomats and military leaders have been advising the leaders of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) that their countries are part of the U.S. homeland, despite the fact that the countries are neither states nor territories of the United States.

“The United States regards our country as part of the homeland, and we regard ourselves as part of the homeland,” FSM President David Panuelo said in a September 27 lecture at Georgetown University.

For decades, the United States has administered compacts of free association with Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. The compacts create a unique relationship between the United States and these three Pacific Island countries. Essentially, the United States provides the islands with economic assistance in exchange for military controls.

The compact states “receive U.S. economic assistance and grant the United States the prerogatives to operate military bases on their soil and make decisions that affect mutual security,” notes a 2020 report by the Congressional Research Service.

Many U.S. officials argue that the islands are strategically important. They view the compact states as important components of a U.S.-controlled oceanic highway the starts in California, extends toward U.S. insular areas in the Pacific Ocean, and connects to U.S. military sites in East Asia.

“Together these three countries form a strategic bridge that stretches from Hawai’i to the Philippines, an area that is geographically larger than the continental United States,” State Department official Mark Lambert told Congress earlier this year.

U.S. strategists hope to use the compact states to contain the rise of China. They are working to integrate the compact states into U.S.-led “island chains” that encircle China.

The Pacific Islands “comprise the land features that form the first, second, and third island chains that serve as defensive buffers to threats from our west,” former U.S. diplomat James Loi advised Congress last year.

The compacts provide the United States with significant military powers. The United States wields the power of “strategic denial,” which empowers the U.S. military to exclude military forces from other countries from the islands. With the power of the “defense veto,” the United States prohibits the islands from implementing policies that are inconsistent with U.S. military priorities.

Under these controls, the compact states have refrained from joining the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone, which Pacific Island countries implemented in the 1980s with the goal of keeping nuclear weapons out of the area. At this year’s review conference for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Pacific Island countries called on the United States to join the nuclear-free zone, only to hear little in response from Washington.

At a military base in the Marshall Islands, the United States tests hypersonic missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles. More recently, the U.S. military has begun developing plans to create a radar station in Palau and military facilities in the Federated States of Micronesia.

“The compacts deny an enormous and strategically important section of the Western Pacific to potential U.S. adversaries, while enabling U.S. presence and power projection in the region,” notes a 2019 report by the RAND Corporation.

Each compact state is a member of the United Nations. Their membership indicates that they are sovereign states, but they are highly deferential to the United States.

A 2009 diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks includes a message from Palauan leaders that their country will “never change its loyalty” to the United States. A Palauan diplomat told U.S. officials that a “good part of Palau’s sovereignty has been given to the United States” and “no modern, normative international law would allow this.”

According to the leaders of the compact states, U.S. officials have begun describing the islands as parts of the U.S. homeland. Over the past year, Palauan President Surangel Whipps and FSM President David Panuelo have been saying that U.S. diplomats and military officials have been talking about the compact states as if they are integrated into the United States, particularly on security matters.

“The United States said the FSM is part of the homeland defense,” FSM President Panuelo said in February. The United States will treat any attack on the Federated States of Micronesia as if it is an attack on the United States, he added.

It means we are part of the homeland like one of the states or territories of the United States.

When the leaders of the three compact states met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on September 29, Whipps and Panuelo repeated these claims, attributing them to the Defense Department.

The compact states form “a special relationship with the United States and, as the Defense Department says, part of the homeland,” Whipps said.

“Part of the homeland,” Panuelo agreed.

Many islanders develop close ties to the United States through service in the U.S. military. Island leaders often boast that their citizens serve in the U.S. military at higher rates than U.S. citizens in the states and territories.

The three countries “have a long tradition and high rate of service by their citizens in the United States armed forces,” Lambert acknowledged.

Still, islanders struggle with economic hardships. In comparison to the states and territories, the compact states remain poor and underdeveloped. Over the past several years, islanders have been fleeing their homes in large numbers, often moving to the states and territories.

According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the number of migrants moving to the United States and its territories increased by nearly 70 percent from 2009 to 2018, as islanders fled poverty, economic duress, and environmental threats.

As U.S. officials focus on how they can use the islands to advance their geopolitical objectives, island leaders remain far more concerned about climate change. In 2018, the Pacific Islands Forum identified climate change as the “single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and well-being of peoples of the Pacific.”

Recently, the Biden administration has made some effort to acknowledge the threat of climate change to the Pacific Islands. In its Pacific Partnership Strategy and National Security Strategy, the White House emphasized the importance of addressing climate change.

“For you all, it’s an existential threat,” President Biden acknowledged when he met with island leaders last month.

Still, the Biden administration is prioritizing its geopolitical objectives. Viewing China as the greatest long-term geopolitical challenge to the United States, administration officials are working to incorporate the compact states into the U.S. oceanic highway that crosses the Pacific Ocean and the U.S.-led island chains that encircle China.

In short, U.S. officials are moving to establish new imperial roles for the compact states, going so far as to advise the leaders of the compact states that their countries are now part of the U.S. homeland.

“The United States considered the Federated States of Micronesia, as I said, as part of the homeland, and we consider ourselves as part of the homeland,” Panuelo said in his lecture.

Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary. Originally published in Lobelog. Reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy In Focus.

MR Online, October 26, 2022, https://mronline.org/

The ‘Leftism’ of the Americas Collapses at the Door of Haitian Sovereignty / by Jemima Pierre

United Nations peacekeepers from Brazil conduct a security patrol in Cité Soleil, Haiti, during the second round of senatorial elections in 2009 / credit: United Nations

The following opinion was originally published in Black Agenda Report.

It is an exhilarating time for the “leftists” of the Americas. This past week, at the 77th meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, leader after Latin American leader made grand statements against U.S. and Western imperialism, the hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy, the violations of human rights, and the West’s assault on the sovereignty of smaller nations. Colombia’s brand-new president, Gustavo Petro, made an impassioned plea against the genocidal “War on Drugs.” Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla, rejected the attacks on the sovereignty of China and Russia. Venezuela’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Faría railed against the Western sanctions against Nicaragua, Cuba, Iran and Russia. Honduran President Xiomara Castro demanded that the United States stop its attempts at destabilizing her country and strongly pushed against Western policies of intervention in the region. Nicaragua’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Denis Ronaldo Moncada Colindres, made perhaps the most explosive claims when he stated :

“The assault, the robbery, the disgraceful abominable depredation, the looting and the genocides unleashed by the colonialists and imperialists of the Earth, are the real crimes and they are the real criminals against humanity, and we denounce this… It’s time to say enough to hypocritical imperialism that politicizes, falsifies and denigrates the very human rights which they themselves violate and deny on a daily basis.”

Most of these leaders spoke to the urgent question of Cuba, calling for the lifting of the economic blockade against the country and for Cuba’s removal from the U.S.-created list of countries that supposedly “sponsor terrorism.”

Yet, for all the eloquent denunciations of imperialism and the impassioned defenses of Latin American and Caribbean sovereignty and independence, one country was conspicuously avoided: Haiti. Not a single one of these countries applied their critiques of imperialism to Haiti. Sure, Cuba and Venezuela mentioned Haiti. Cuba’s representative called for reparations for the Caribbean for slavery, said that humanity owed a debt to the Haitian revolution, and stressed that Haiti needed international support “through a special contribution for its reconstruction and development.” Venezuela’s representative name-dropped Haiti within a list of countries, which have suffered bloodshed from “imperialism and supremacism.”

Beyond the casual mentions, the hollow rhetorics, and the empty invocations, there were no concrete critiques of the current imperial machinations in Haiti—of Haiti’s complete loss of sovereignty through the ongoing destruction of the Haitian state apparatus, of the current occupation of the country by the Western-led Core Group, and of the repression (and violent misrepresentation) of the Haitian people as they have taken to the streets to demand their sovereignty and call for an end to foreign intervention. Instead, the extension and intensification of foreign intervention appears to be the strategic end goal of not only the usual suspects of the West, but our supposed Leftist allies in the Americas.

One has to ask: Do the leaders of the region even know what has been going on in Haiti? Surely they know about the 2004 U.S./Canada/France-led coup d’etat against Haiti’s democratically elected president, and the Chapter 7 deployment of a United Nations occupation force (euphemistically known as a “peacekeeping” force). Indeed, it was Lula’s Brazil that led the military wing of that occupation that brought nothing but violence and devastation to Haitian peoples. Brazil’s active participation in that occupation led to the migration of thousands of Haitian workers to Brazil, where they provided cheap labor to build the infrastructure for the Olympics and World Cup. The savage racism experienced by Haitian migrants in Brazil, combined with the disappearance of work, led them to flee overland through Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border in search of asylum.

The leaders of the Americas must also know about the Core Group—the self-selected, unelected group of foreigners, with representatives from the European Union, the United States, Brazil, Canada, that was created during the early months of the occupation. The Core Group continues to control Haiti’s internal political affairs. They certainly know that the UN still occupies Haiti; after all, it is the left’s “anti-imperialist” darling, Andrés Manual López Obrador (AMLO), who is serving, along with the United States, as “co-penholder” and writing the UN Security Council’s imperial policies on Haiti. Similar to Brazil, will Mexico’s bid to play power-broker in the region come at the expense of Haitian people and Haiti’s sovereignty?

AMLO must know what he’s doing. After all, even as it gets celebrated for its “leftist” credentials, the Mexican government continues to collude with the U.S. Border Patrol to militarize its southern border against migrants, and enforce the U.S. “Remain in Mexico” policy. Meanwhile, Haitian and other Black migrants continue to suffer racist abuse in Mexico.

It is not lost on me that there is a deep-seated, racist view of Haiti as exceptional—and therefore exceptionally difficult to engage. The constant refrain from anti-imperialist groupings in the West is that Haiti is so “complex” and its sociopolitical terrain so difficult that there’s no way to truly understand what’s going on there. During a recent webinar against U.S. imperialism in Latin America, I brought up the current UN/US occupation in Haiti, only to have the host soberly agree with me that this was, indeed, an important problem to engage, but that, perhaps, Haiti needed a separate webinar. Many webinars later, discussion of Haiti’s destruction by a brutal Western imperialism, continues to get short shrift.

While we celebrate the rise of another “Pink Tide” in Latin America, the emergence of a truly multipolar world, with new economic and political alignments, it seems clear that Haiti will continue to be on the outside of “leftist” imaginations—beyond, of course, the non-specific words of “solidarity” thrown its way.

In a discussion on Twitter about the ways that Haiti appears— and dismissed—in global discourses, a colleague, Vik Sohonie lamented , “Haiti is unfortunately where all good will, solidarity, and Third Worldism goes to die… The ‘international community’ that occupies it, as you know, is Nepali, Brazilian. You get looked at funny elsewhere in the Carib if you compliment Haiti. It’s astonishing.” He’s not wrong. One of the reasons that the brutal UN military occupation of Haiti could fly under the radar was because it was populated by a multi-national and multi-racial military and civilian force. The United States admitted as much, as revealed in the Wikileaks files. Former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson lauded the occupation force (MINUSTAH) as a cheap source of U.S. power in Haiti, as it is made up of a multinational coalition of Western and non-Western forces, including countries ranging from Benin and Kenya to Brazil and Ecuador, who seem all bent on using Haiti as their training ground.

Why is it so easy for these nonwhite and oppressed nations to come and serve U.S. and Western imperial interests in Haiti? Could it be that they, too, have imbibed the dehumanized and, frankly, racist views about Haitian people? Is Haiti’s Blackness seen as the root cause of its problems and struggles—even by many Black people? One would think so if one reviewed the recent actions of the leaders of CARICOM who, also, deploy the dehumanizing language and white supremacist assumptions about Haiti that is the foundation of Western imperialist actions in the country.

This wasn’t always the case, of course. Back in 2004, under the leadership of PJ Patterson, CARICOM at least spoke up against the U.S./France/Canada coup d’etat against elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide (and this was despite his often problematic public positions against him). Jamaica was even threatened with sanctions—by the Bush administration’s Condoleeza Rice—if it attempted to provide Aristide asylum. The other bold voice was Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who railed against the coup and later provided direct support to Haiti’s masses through the PetroCaribe fuel subsidies.

Where are those voices now?

Perhaps if people in the region saw Haiti less as an abstraction and more as a place with real humans, citizens of the world, with the same claims to rights and livelihood, confronting a white supremacist imperialism, they would recognize the current denial of its sovereignty. Until that time, the Leftists of the Americas are betraying a people that have given so much to the struggles for sovereignty and independence in the region.

Jemima Pierre is a sociocultural anthropologist whose research and teaching interests are located in the overlaps between African Studies and African Diaspora Studies and engage three broad areas: race, racial formation theory, and political economy; culture and the history of anthropological theory; and transnationalism, globalization, and diaspora. She is the author of The Predicament of Blackness: Postcolonial Ghana and the Politics of Race. She is currently completing a manuscript whose working title is “Racial Americanization: Conceptualizing African Immigrants in the U.S.,” and working on a project on the racialized political economy of multinational resource extraction in Ghana. 

Toward Freedom, September 30, 2022, https://towardfreedom.org/

How Cuba is dealing with the devastation of Hurricane Ian / by Vijay Prashad, Manolo De Los Santos

Relief work in Cuba in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. (Photo: José Manuel Correa/Granma)

Originally published in People’s Dispatch on October 5, 2022

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

On September 27, 2022, a tropical cyclone—Hurricane Ian—struck Cuba’s western province of Pinar del Río. Sustained winds of around 125 miles per hour lingered over Cuba for more than eight hours, bringing down trees and power lines, and causing damage not seen during previous tropical cyclones. The hurricane then lingered over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, picking up energy before striking the U.S. island of Cayo Costa, Florida, with approximately 155 mph winds. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) called it “one of the worst hurricanes to hit the area in a century.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center said that this year will be the “seventh consecutive above-average hurricane season.” Both Cuba and Florida have faced the wrath of the waters and winds, but beneath this lies the ferocity of the climate catastrophe. “Climate science is increasingly able to show that many of the extreme weather events that we are experiencing have become more likely and more intense due to human-induced climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Prepare and relieve

Cuba, said the WMO, is one of the “world leaders in terms of hurricane preparedness and disaster management.” This was not always the case. Hurricane Flora hit the eastern coast of the island on October 4, 1963. When news of the approaching hurricane reached Fidel Castro, he immediately ordered the evacuation of the homes of people who lived in the projected path of the storm (in Haiti, former dictator François Duvalier did not call for an evacuation, which led to the death of more than 5,000 people). Castro rushed to Camagüey, almost dying in the Cauto River as his amphibious vehicle was struck by a drifting log. Two years later, in his Socialism and Man in Cuba, Che Guevara wrote the Cuban people showed “exceptional deeds of valor and sacrifice” as they rebuilt the country after the devastation caused by Flora.

In 1966, the Cuban government created the Civil Defense System to prepare for not only extreme weather events such as hurricanes but also the outbreak of epidemics. Using science as the foundation for its hurricane preparedness, the Cuban government was able to evacuate 2 million people as Hurricane Ivan moved toward the island in 2004. As part of disaster management, the entire Cuban population participates in drills, and the Cuban mass organizations (the Federation of Cuban Women and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) work in an integrated manner to mobilize the population to respond to disasters.

The day before Hurricane Ian hit Cuba, 50,000 people were evacuated and taken to 55 shelters. No private vehicles or public transportation was visible on the streets. Work brigades were mobilized to work on the resumption of electricity supply after the storm had passed. In Artemisa, for instance, the Provincial Defense Council met to discuss how to react to the inevitable flooding. Despite the best efforts made by Cubans, three people died because of the hurricane, and the electrical grid suffered significant damage.


The entire island—including Havana—had no power for more than three days. The electrical grid, which was already suffering from a lack of major repairs, collapsed. Without power, Cubans had to throw away food that needed to be refrigerated and faced difficulty in preparing meals, among other hardships. By October 1, less than five days after landfall, 82% of the residents of Havana had their power restored with work ongoing for the western part of the island (the amount of time without power in Puerto Rico, which was hit by Hurricane Fiona on September 18, is longer—a quarter of a million people remain without power more than two weeks later).

The long-term impact of Hurricane Ian is yet to be assessed, although some believe the cost of damages will surpass $1 billion. More than 8,500 hectares of cropland have been hit by the flooding, with the banana crop most impacted. The most dramatic problem will be faced by Cuba’s tobacco industry since Pinar del Río—where 5,000 farms were destroyed—is its heartland (with 65% of the country’s tobacco production). Hirochi Robaina, a tobacco farmer in Pinar del Río, wrote,

It was apocalyptic. A real disaster.


Mexico and Venezuela immediately pledged to send materials to assist in the reconstruction of the electrical grid on the island.

All eyes turned to Washington—not only to see whether it would send aid, which would be welcome, but also if it would remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list and end sanctions imposed by the United States. These measures cause banks in both the United States and elsewhere to be reluctant to process any financial transactions, including humanitarian donations. The U.S. has a mixed record regarding humanitarian aid to Cuba. After Hurricane Michelle (2001), Hurricane Charley (2004), and Hurricane Wilma (2005), the U.S. did offer assistance, but would not even temporarily lift the blockade. After the fire at a Matanzas oil storage facility in August 2022, the U.S. did offer to join Mexico and Venezuela to help the Cubans put out the fire. Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossio offered “profound gratitude” for the gesture, but the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden did not follow through.

Rather than lift the sanctions even for a limited period, the U.S. government sat back and watched as mysterious forces from Miami unleashed a torrent of Facebook and WhatsApp messages to drive desperate Cubans onto the street. Not a moment is wasted by Washington to use even a natural disaster to try to destabilize the situation in Cuba (a history that goes back to 1963, when the Central Intelligence Agency reflected on how to leverage natural disasters for political gains). “Most people don’t shout out freedom,” a person who observed one of these protests told us.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than twenty books, including The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (The New Press, 2007), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013), The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016) and Red Star Over the Third World (LeftWord, 2017). He writes regularly for Frontline, the Hindu, Newsclick, AlterNet and BirGün.

Manolo De Los Santos is a researcher and a political activist. For 10 years, he worked in the organization of solidarity and education programs to challenge the United States’ regime of illegal sanctions and blockades. Based out of Cuba for many years, Manolo has worked toward building international networks of people’s movements and organizations. In 2018, he became the founding director of the People’s Forum in New York City, a movement incubator for working-class communities to build unity across historic lines of division at home and abroad. He also collaborates as a researcher with Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and is a Globetrotter/Peoples Dispatch fellow.

MR Online, October 6, 2022, https://mronline.org/

Uprising targets Canada’s man in Haiti / by Frantz Elbé, Jovenel Moïse, Mike Duheme, Sébastien Carrière

Sign reads: “Banks are not innocent in our misery.”

Originally published in Canadian Dimension, 09.15.2022

A popular uprising has paralyzed life in much of Haiti. While police are violently suppressing protesters, don’t expect Canadian officials to criticize security forces they fund.

Major centres across Haiti have been blocked for days. Protesters want foreign appointed leader Ariel Henry to go. They are angry about insecurity and the cost-of-living. Stoking the growing protests, the government ended a fuel subsidy on Monday that will have a broad economic implication.

In response to the strikes and marches, as well as some property destruction and looting, foreign embassies and banks have closed. The Dominican Republic reportedly sent special forces to Haiti on Thursday.

On Wednesday in the southern city of Les Cayes protesters held a casket draped with the U.S., French and Canadian flags and a picture of prime minister Henry. After President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated fourteen months ago the Core Group (representatives of U.S., Canada, France, Brazil, Spain, Germany, EU, UN and OAS) effectively appointed Henry to lead the country.

Since the U.S., France and Canada overthrew thousands of elected officials and instigated a UN occupation, Haitians have regularly targeted Ottawa at marches. Previously, protesters have hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails, as well as burned tires, in front of the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. Millions of Haitians clearly view Canada as an imperialist force.

As part of its influence Ottawa has devoted significant political capital and resources to the Haitian police. Since the 2004 coup Canada has spent hundreds of million dollars on the Haitian police. Last month the federal government approved the export of Canadian-made armored personnel carriers to the Haitian police. Canadian ambassador Sébastien Carrière recently boasted about Canada spending $30 million on the Haitian police in 2022 and Ottawa is leading the push for the United Nations basket fund to assist the Haitian police.

On Tuesday in Port-au-Prince police shot towards a journalist and when he complained one of the officers walked over and shot him. With video of the incident, BNN Canada reported,

Police open fire on a journalist who states, ‘I’m the press!’ during protests in Haiti’s capital. A police officer approaches and shoots him in the stomach with a handgun hidden behind his riot shield.

But don’t expect ambassador Carrière to criticize this incident or any other police violence. Over the past few weeks, the Haitian police have killed a number of protesters and beat many others with no comment from Canadian officials. Almost without fail Canadian officials have stayed mum about Haitian police repression. Instead, Canada’s ambassador to Haiti regularly tweets about supporting the police.

Recently Carrière tweeted about Haitian police Chief Frantz Elbé addressing the UN and about RCMP Deputy Commissioner Mike Duheme meeting Elbé. Last week Carrière also retweeted a Miami Herald article about the Haitian police and a few days earlier an Alterpresse story on the same subject.

Canada has chosen a side and it’s not the long-suffering Haitian people. Ottawa has trained and funds police to maintain its chosen leader, Ariel Henry, in office.

Canada’s actions speak loud and clear: ‘We support police violence. Popular uprising be damned. Democracy be damned. Non-interference in other country’s affairs be damned.’ Ottawa is sticking to its guns. Literally.

MR Online, September 21, 2022, https://mronline.org/

Imperialism and Taiwan / by Graham Harrington

Originally published in Socialist Voice on September 5, 2022

The recent visit of the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwan has sharply increased the prospect of war in the region.

The Chinese government and people strongly believe Taiwan to be their territory; and the no. 3 official in the U.S. government visiting Taiwan is a clear provocation.

Taiwan was invaded by Dutch colonists in 1624, only to be repulsed in 1662 by the Chinese national hero Zheng Chenggong. Taiwan became a full province in Qing Dynasty China in 1885. Ten years later the then Qing government lost Taiwan in a war with imperialist Japan. The Japanese were sold weapons by the United States with which to do this.

After the surrender of the Japanese following the Second World War, the Republic of China continued its war against the Chinese communists, who would go on to defeat the nationalist KMT and proclaim the People’s Republic in 1949, thus bringing to an end the Chinese Civil War.

Efforts to defeat the remaining KMT forces on Taiwan were delayed by the U.S. aggression in Korea, with hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers engaging American and other troops; and by the time the Korean War ended the United States had deployed forces to prevent the communists entering Taiwan. This would later increase to tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers, and nuclear weapons, on the territory.

The present entity known as the “Republic of China” had China’s seat at the United Nations until 1971, when the People’s Republic was recognised by the international community as the true representative of the Chinese people, with even the United States opening diplomatic relations with the PRC in 1979—and, in the process, abandoning its military presence in Taiwan.

It was clear that the Taiwan authorities could not seriously claim to represent the Chinese people. Their case only weakened further after China’s “Reform and Opening Up” led to its economic boom and corresponding improvement in the PRC’s global standing. Taiwan remained a dictatorship under the KMT until the late 1980s, with underlying tensions between the mainland KMT elite who arrived in 1949 and those who had emigrated from Fujian province over the centuries. During its rule the KMT brutally suppressed communists and leftists.

After so-called “democratisation” a variety of political forces emerged in Taiwan. These included, for the first time, pro-independence forces, and even some who wanted Taiwan to become the 51st state of the United States! Chief among these was the Democratic Progressive Party, the present ruling party in Taiwan, which is pro-secession.

In recent decades the Taiwan authorities have promoted a distinct “Taiwanese” identity, and political leaders have endorsed abandoning the One China principle.

Of course Taiwan will never be an independent state. Firstly, the PRC has stated that a declaration of independence would force it into military action to retake the territory. Secondly, a hypothetical “independent” Taiwan would essentially be a colony of the United States: its fate would be much the same as U.S. military colonies in Guam, Hawaii, and Okinawa.

Hawaii was a sovereign state until the United States invaded and annexed it in 1895. It is now the site of the U.S. army’s Pacific Command. Okinawa, a part of the Ryukyu Islands, was independent until invaded by Japan in 1879 and then occupied by the United States after Japan’s defeat in the Second World War. Today, while Okinawa only makes up 1 per cent of Japan’s territory, it has 70 per cent of the U.S. military presence in Japan.

In Okinawa alone, more than 576 American military personnel have been arrested for serious crimes, such as murder and rape. No wonder that these bases are sites of regular protests.

The People’s Republic and Taiwan enjoyed developing relations up to very recently, with students from both travelling to attend university, and tourists going on holiday. Taiwan is dependent on the mainland’s economy for its own economic development.

The PRC has offered reunification under the “One Country, Two Systems” model, similar to Hong Kong and Macau. This would bring Taiwan into the People’s Republic as an autonomous region, keeping its own political-economic system for now.

China’s recent military exercises, which surrounded the territory of Taiwan, show that the United States cannot prevent China taking military action should the situation continue to deteriorate. The United States has given Taiwan $70 billion in military aid since 1979. It is clear that U.S. imperialism is intent on provoking the Chinese leadership, despite the Chinese having the military advantage when it comes to the region around Taiwan.

The desire of China’s people to reunify with Taiwan needs no justification for an Irish audience, given our own situation in a country partitioned by external forces. The United States is making a mistake in not concentrating on its own problems rather than meddling in China’s internal affairs, as a defeat against China—coming so soon after the war in Ukraine and the withdrawal from Afghanistan—would show U.S. imperialism to be just a paper tiger.

MR Online, September 13, 2022, https://mronline.org/

Former CIA chief admits to U.S. meddling in foreign elections / by Morning Star Online

Former CIA director James Woolsey | Photo: Christopher Michel Creative Commons

Originally published: Morning Star Online on July 26, 2022

Former CIA director James Woolsey has admitted that the U.S. “interferes” in elections in other countries to protect its interests.

He made the candid remarks during an interview with Fox News presenter Laura Ingraham on Saturday.

Asked whether the U.S. “meddles in other countries elections,” the former CIA chief replied:

Oh probably, but it was for the good of the system in order to prevent the communists from taking over.

Mr Woolsey cited Greece and Italy in the years following World War II as examples of how the U.S. has intervened to prevent communist parties from coming to power.

“We don’t mess around,” he told the Fox News host.

Nazi collaborators known as the Holy Bond of Greek Officers were handed $1 million (worth approx £13.7m today) annually by the CIA to prevent the country coming under the influence of the Soviet Union.

Greece was an integral part of the NATO military alliance, with the Mountain Raiding Companies acting as part of its so-called stay-behind teams which crushed leftist groups across Europe.

The Greek Communist Party was banned and the country was ruled by right-wing dictatorships for decades until an uprising finally overthrew the military junta in1974.

When pressed on whether the U.S. continues to interfere in elections today Mr Woolsey laughed and said:

Only for a very good cause and in the interest of democracy.

The former CIA chief’s admission comes a week after former US national security adviser John Bolton confirmed Washington’s involvement in coups, including plans to overthrow the Venezuelan government.

Venezuela branded the former Trump aide “a psychopath.”

MR Online, July 26, 2022, https://mronline.org/

Nicaragua celebrates 43 years of revolution: a clash between reality and media misrepresentation / by John Perry

Sandinista supporters in Masaya, July 2022. Credit: John Perry

Originally published: Council on Hemispheric Affairs on July 19, 2022 by John Perry

July 19th is a day of celebration in Nicaragua: the anniversary of the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship. But the international media will have it penciled in their diaries for another reason: it’s yet another opportunity to pour scorn on Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. We’ll hear again about how the government “clamps down on dissent,”1 about its “political prisoners,”2 its recent “pantomime election,”3 its “damaging crackdown on civil society”4 and much more. All of these accusations have been answered but the media will continue to shut out any evidence that conflicts with the consensus narrative about Nicaragua, that its president, Daniel Ortega, has “crushed the Nicaraguan dream.”5

Mainstream media tells its own story

Since the violent, U.S.-directed coup attempt in 2018, in which more than 200 people died, it has been very difficult to find objective analysis of the political situation in Nicaragua in mainstream media, much less any examination of the revolution’s achievements. In disregarding what is actually happening in the country, the media is ignoring and excluding the lived experience of ordinary Nicaraguans, as if their daily lives are irrelevant to any judgment about the direction the country is taking. Most notably, instead of recognizing that 75% of Nicaraguan voters supported the government in last November’s election, in which two-thirds of the electorate participated, the result is seen as “a turn toward an openly dictatorial model.”6 This judgment is backed by confected claims of electoral fraud from “secret poll watchers,”7 which ignore COHA’s strong evidence that no fraud took place.8

Streets show the political reality

In the run-up to the anniversary of the revolution on July 19th, Sandinista supporters have been filling the streets of every main city with celebratory marches. In Masaya, where I live, I took part in a procession with around 3,000 people and discovered afterwards that three other marches took place at the same time in different parts of Masaya, with even more people participating in each of those. People have much to celebrate: the city was one of those most damaged by the violent coup attempt in Nicaragua four years ago, but has since lived in peace.

During the attempted coup, for three months the city of Masaya was controlled by armed thugs (still regularly described in the media as “peaceful” protesters). Five police officers and several civilians were killed. The town hall, the main secondary school, the old tourist market and other government buildings were set on fire. Houses of Sandinista supporters were ransacked. Shops were looted and the economic life of one of Nicaragua’s most important commercial centers was suspended. My own doctor’s house went up in flames and a friend who was defending the municipal depot when it was ransacked was kidnapped, tortured and later had to have an arm amputated as a result.

So one strong motive for the marches is to reaffirm most people’s wishes that this should never happen again: 43 years ago a revolutionary war ended in the Sandinistas’ triumph over Somoza, but this was quickly followed by the U.S.-sponsored Contra attacks that cost thousands more lives. For anyone over 35, the violence in 2018 was a sickening reminder of these wars. Since then, not the least of the government’s achievements is that Nicaragua has returned to having the lowest homicide level in Central America,9 and people want it to stay that way.

Progress under Sandinistas is not recognized internationally

But this is far from the government’s only success since it returned to power in 2007. It inherited a country broken by 17 years of neoliberal governments by and for the rich (after the Sandinistas lost power in the 1990 election). Nothing worked during those years: there were daily power cuts, roads were in shocking disrepair, some 100,000s of children didn’t go to school and poverty was rampant. When the Sandinistas regained the presidency in 2007, and helped by the alliance with Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela and a boom in commodities prices, the government began a massive investment program. For the second poorest country in Latin America, the transformation was remarkable.

Take the practical issues that affect everyone. Power cuts stopped because the new government quickly built small new power stations and then encouraged massive investment in renewable energy. Electricity coverage now reaches over 99% of households, up from just 50% in 2016, with three-quarters now generated from renewables. Piped water reaches 93% of city dwellers compared with 65% in 2007. In 2007, Nicaragua had 2,044 km of paved roads, mostly in bad condition. Now it has 4,300 km, half of them built in the last 15 years, giving it the best roads in Central America.10

Its remarkable advances in health care were evidenced by how Nicaragua handled the COVID-19 pandemic, with (according to the World Health Organization11) a level of excess mortality far lower than that of many wealthier countries in Latin America, including neighboring Costa Rica. It now has one of the world’s highest levels of completed vaccinations against the virus (83%),12 exceeding levels in the U.S. and many European countries. There has been massive investment in the public health service: Nicaragua has built 23 new hospitals in the past 15 years and now has more hospital beds (1.8 per 1,000 population)13 than richer countries such as Mexico (1.5) and Colombia (1.7).14 The country has one of the highest regional levels of public health spending, relative to GDP (“PIB” in Spanish–see chart), and its service is completely free.

Nicaragua is 6th out of 17 Latin American countries in public health investment
Look at education. School attendance increased from 79% to 91% when charges imposed by previous governments were abolished; now pupils get help with uniforms and books and all receive free school lunches. Free education now extends into adulthood, so out of a population of 6.6 million, some 1.7 million are currently receiving public education in some form. Under neoliberal governments illiteracy rose to 22% of the population, and now it’s down to 4-6%.

Source: Centre for Economic and Social Rights, p.58. http://www.amnesty.org

Strides in gender parity: another victory

Nicaraguan women have been integral to the revolution. More than half of ministerial posts are held by women, an achievement for which Nicaragua is ranked seventh in the world in gender equality in 2022.15 Only two countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have a smaller gender pay gap than Nicaragua. More than a third of police officers are female and there are special women’s centers in 119 police stations. Maternal health has been significantly improved, with maternal mortality falling from 92.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006, to 31.6 in 2021, a reduction of 66%.16 This is partly due to the 180 casas maternas where women stay close to a hospital or health center for the weeks before giving birth. The state also provides family planning free of charge in all health centers, including tubal ligations for women who do not wish to have more children. It is also true, of course, that abortion is illegal, but (unlike in other Latin American countries) no woman or doctor has ever been prosecuted under this law.

At the moment, people’s biggest concern is the state of the economy and the cost-of-living crisis. Nicaragua has advantages here, too: it is more than 80% self-sufficient in basic foodstuffs and prices have been controlled because the government is capping the cost of fuel (both for vehicles and for cooking). Nicaragua’s economy grew by more than 10% in 2021, returning to 2019, pre-pandemic economic levels, although growth was still not sufficient for the country to recover from the economic damage caused by the 2018 coup attempt. Government debt (forecast to be 46% of GDP in 2022) is lower than its neighbors, especially that of Costa Rica (70%), where poverty now extends to 30% of the population. However, Nicaragua and Costa Rica are economically interdependent, and the latter’s economic problems are a large part of the explanation for the growth in migration by Nicaraguans to the United States.17

Daniel Ortega enjoys high approval ratings

These are only a few of the factors that underlie people’s support for Daniel Ortega’s government. And this support continues: according to polling by CID Gallup,18 in early January President Ortega was more popular than the then presidents of Honduras, Costa Rica or Guatemala. M&R Consultants, in a more recent poll,19 found that Ortega has a 70% approval rating and ranks second among Latin American presidents. This was obvious when huge numbers of Nicaraguans celebrated November’s election result and it is still obvious as they go out onto the streets during “victorious July”.

At a meeting with Central American foreign ministers in June 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken urged governments “to work to improve the lives of people in our countries in real, concrete ways.”20 Blinken deliberately ignores the ample proof that Daniel Ortega’s government is not only doing that but has been more successful in this respect than any other Central American government. Yet the more that the international media parrot Washington’s criticisms of Daniel Ortega, the more that people here will reaffirm their support for his government.


1. “Nicaragua Seizes Universities, Inching Toward Dictatorship,” http://www.nytimes.com
2. “Nicaragua’s Secretive Ruling Family Reaches Out Quietly to the U.S.,” http://www.nytimes.com
3. “Statement by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on Nicaragua’s Sham Elections,” http://www.whitehouse.gov
4. “Nicaragua shuts down 50 non-profits in new crackdown,” http://www.bbc.com
5. “Daniel Ortega and the Crushing of the Nicaraguan Dream,” http://www.nytimes.com
6. “Nicaragua Descends Into Autocratic Rule as Ortega Crushes Dissent,” http://www.nytimes.com
7. “The secret-poll watchers of Nicaragua. How they monitored a questionable presidential election,” http://www.latimes.com
8. “If there was ‘fraud’ in Nicaragua’s elections, where is the proof?” http://www.coha.org
9. See http://www.statista.com
10. “Nicaragua posee las mejores carreteras de Centroamérica,” revistamyt.com
11. See http://www.who.int
12. See ourworldindata.org
13. See the Nicaraguan government White paper, downloadable at http://www.el19digital.com
14. See http://www.cia.gov
15. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report for 2022 (www.weforum.org)
16. “Nicaragua ha logrado disminuir la mortalidad materna,” radiolaprimerisima.com
17. “The UN Refugee Agency is exaggerating the number of Nicaraguan refugees,” http://www.coha.org
18. See http://www.cidgallup.com
19. See http://www.myrconsultores.com
20. “Blinken urges Central America to defend democracy to alleviate migration,” ticotimes.net

John Perry is a COHA Senior Research Fellow and writer living in Masaya, Nicaragua.

MR Online, July 21, 2022, https://mronline.org/