Climate Crisis & a Green New Deal for Agriculture in Kentucky.

By Stephen Bartlett, Sustainable Ag of Louisville, Common Earth Gardens
US Food Sovereignty Alliance
estebanbartlett@gmail.com

“Better to die standing tall on your feet, than surrender to slow death on your knees.” A paraphrase of an old proverb.

I am daily heartened by the steady and strategic work of friends and compañeros with whom I roll as a local agriculturalist or as we of the international food justice movement call ourselves, peasants or campesinos (“people of the land”). Farmers and gardeners by our natures are hopeful, because we know that the plant world and the world of soil life, with sun and rain and the passing seasons, perform regular miracles of producing everything us two-leggeds need to live, sometimes in extravagant abundance.

No need to repeat ad infinitum the litany of challenges we all face today as two-leggeds on Mother Earth: extreme weather, limited access to land, expensive water bills, increasing economic inequality, raw, cunning, divisive and often violent political power in the hands of the extremely wealthy 1%, getting wealthier all the time, imperialism, racism, classism, media spin and propaganda, an uninformed and badly educated electorate manipulated by hate speech.

So here is how I envision a Green New Deal for agriculture in Kentucky: the organized people guided and led by the Urban Ag Coalition/ Food in Neighborhoods Coalition wage a campaign with Metro Council and the Mayor, to hold them to their public promises about acting in the face of the current and worsening climate crisis. The demands we bring are:

1) to streamline and prioritize the distribution of vacant and abandoned properties to individuals, entrepreneurs, organizations and associations, with a transparent and accountable process, in order to dedicate those properties to a variety of green space uses: food and medicine production, recreational green spaces, reforestation, water storage (in healthy soils and biomass) to reduce flood runoff problems, and to lower the heat sink that overly paved Louisville suffers.
2) to pressure the city to underwrite/ subsidize water dedicated to agricultural, forestry and other ecologically favorable uses. Such a policy would also help subsidize the installation of water conservation infrastructure in agricultural and silvicultural (forest) spaces, such as drip irrigation and other water conservation methods.

In order to prepare for the increasingly dangerous extreme weather events and their aftermaths, we absolutely need to increase our resiliency as a community to the impacts of climate change and find ways to contribute to mitigating climate warming by sequestering carbon and conserving resources including water. Such investments save money needed for repairs of infrastructure from excess flooding damage, reduce electric usage from air conditioning during heat events, moderate extreme high or low temperatures and maintain or increase biodiversity in our city to balance our ecosystem.

In addition, I believe the city should dedicate additional resources toward increasing local food production, that will lower the overall carbon footprint required when we ship most of our food in from distant regions of production. In addition, such productive green spaces will increase local economic activity in the sale and exchange of healthy foods and locally grown medicinal herbs and crops, and increase the amount of firewood for home heating and quality wood products from locally managed woodlots. Multiple benefits come from such public investments into a sustainable future, and cost a lot less on the front end, than it will cost to deal with the damage done by not being prepared for what is now scientifically proven to be an inevitability: extreme climate crisis impacting the very living systems humans rely on to survive, from shelter to a sustainable food system.

Agriculture and green space development absolutely need to be an integral part of a Green New Deal for Kentucky. It just makes sense.

One example can help illustrate this. The Common Earth Gardens organization facilitates and supports the agricultural activity of approximately 350 families of refugees from Asia and Africa in the Louisville area. 12 years ago the program began with two gardens and about 40 families. Today on six major gardens and small farm plots, there are 350 families of experienced gardeners and farmers producing an enormous amount of food that nourish several thousands of people with healthy fresh vegetables and roots and medicinal herbs to eat. There are many more such farmers and gardeners on waiting lists, and many of the current farmers have expressed a capacity to double or triple their production plot areas. The main obstacles to dramatically increasing production of such local gardens and farm plots are limited land access and the cost of water for irrigation, as well as a general lack of knowledge or appreciation of the general public to the benefits of localized agriculture and large piles of rich manure in the vicinity.

A forward thinking government would see the benefit of subsidizing water for such purposes and clearing away bureaucratic obstacles for people to access enough land near where they live, in order to green the overbuilt environment and feed the beautiful diverse people who live here. Proximity of productive garden spaces to where people live is important, given the demands our economy places on families to work multiple, often low paying jobs, people have little time to travel long distances to where they do their gardening or farming, not to mention the gasoline or bus money to waste. In addition, if the cost of local food production becomes prohibitive for maintaining optimum production or for expansion due to the high cost of city water, as is becoming the case in several of these gardens, this becomes an issue for the wider society and local government to seriously remedy.

We are fortunate here in Louisville to live on fertile land in a well watered river valley, and with people with the considerable knowledge and experience needed to be good food producers, not to mention decent infrastructure support for the transition back toward more local food production in terms of roads, vehicles, tools, machines, and other inputs for agriculture. Let’s get our government to see and act on the wisdom of providing a leg up to unleash People Power to transform our economy in these trying times of danger, corruption and crisis, but also of mobilization, indignation and increasing social movement organizing.

Venezuela Delegation Journal Part 3-5

Venezuela Delegation Journal Part 3

When we pulled into the gates of the luxurious Massey Ferguson retail outlet in the city of Banquisimeto, I wondered why.  We were supposed to be visiting a wholesale food distribution center where trucks laden with freshly harvested crops from distant farming communities like the one we just left, converged to sort out crops and then reload onto other trucks that pulled in from urban comunas to deliver into the teeming popular barrios of Venezuelan cities for distribution.  It turns out we weren’t in the wrong place after all.  Nevertheless, the historic Massey Ferguson tractor on the showroom floor was there, all dusted and ready for photo ops and reminiscing, as were the polished floor to ceiling windows and tasteful lighting, and the stairs that led straight up to the air conditioned boss’  offices.

Long story short, the former outlet owner, a Venezuelan oligarch named Avid had fled the country to England as a wanted Narco trafficker capo.  Following this dramatic bombshell, the workers of this outlet, we were told, admitted to some misgivings regarding the higher than normal salaries they had enjoyed while working for this establishment, but never, they said, suspected that this business’  primary function had been to launder drug money, and not to optimize profits from the sales of tractors.  Once the business was expropriated by the Venezuelan state, and more ordinary salaries were offered to avoid a sudden unemployment shock for the workers, and there turned out to be little actual work to perform, these workers eventually drifted away to other jobs or to leave the country.

 

Plan Pueblo a Pueblo was provided the space as a food distribution facility indefinitely by the revolutionary Venezuelan government.  The only significant alterations we saw were the portraits of Bolivar and Chavez placed on the wall behind the boss’ desk, and in a corner of the sprawling grounds a pig breeding facility had been installed.  A pregnant sow nursed piglets and a clean and well fed male barraco watched on from an adjacent stall.  Many vehicles were parked around the grounds:  two giant rice harvesting combines, refrigerator trucks large and small, flat bed cargo trucks and jeeps.  Most of these vehicles, we were informed, were impounded vehicles apprehended in the course of black market trips across the Colombian border, still not available for other uses by our hosts until the legal processes of expropriation had run their course through the courts.

After we ate a delicious lunch of sandwiches and chicken salad,  with mango or cantaloupe juice and coffee, served by the distribution brigade volunteers of Plan Pueblo a Pueblo, we watched a couple of short documentary videos about Plan Pueblo a Pueblo’s production and distribution networks and activities.  Afterwards we toured the facility.  Joseph, a self educated English interpreter, gave the presentations.  Out of a pile of pig manure a fantastically lush guandul (pigeon pea) bush had sprouted, a plant Venezuelans called Quinchocho.  Notwithstanding having its own  African name, Venezuelans, we learned, were not familiar with the consumption of pigeon peas with rice and coconut as is common in the Caribbean West Indies. Quinchocho was viewed primarily as animal feed, as this pig had evidently enjoyed.

The name Quinchocho seemed as strange to my ears, myself a long time producer and consumer of guandules,  as seeing an antique Massey Ferguson tractor in this context.  As strange as witnessing a bourgeois agro- import business turned into a peoples’  food distribution wholesale center that by now helped feed more than 300,000 families impacted by food speculation and a Draconian economic blockade.  This swanky facility now played a critical role in supporting a socialist project by means of enabling the distribution of healthy food to the former underclass of the country.  A kind of poetic justice was happening that came full circle to the original 1930s Massey Ferguson tractor that had helped many a US based family farmer feed the U.S. at a time when New Deal policies had enabled prosperity for family farmers for decades, before neoliberal policies brought in by Thatcher and Reagan labeled all of that socialist and therefore evil and farm bankruptcies spread like wildfire (1970s and 80s to the present time).  This Bolivarian Revolution, with its push for genuine agrarian reform indeed was an emancipator and democratizing process underway.  “Bravo!”  I thought as I played a card game with the 4 year old daughter of one of the Brigadistas in the boss’  air conditioned office.  Bravo to you faithful Bolivarians!

I liked the concrete manifestations of this revolutionary process had taken, especially as it was ushered in by Hugo Chavez pushing an agrarian reform process following international economic disruptions in 2008.  Maduro would have probably been subsequently overturned at the ballot box were it not for the structural gains in a economy that benefitted thousands as it developed, summoning the resources necessary to jump start a new peoples’  economy from below.  The process was slowed following the death of Hugo Chavez but it continued, albeit more slowly, and here was direct evidence, this Massey Ferguson popular food distribution center off the highway overlooking Banquisimeto.

 

Part 4

The Press Conference was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the La Ceiba station of the Cable Car transport system that sails daily over San Agustín parish like an angel´s spider web, like the generous and protective hand of a government for all of the people.  The cable car transit, free of charge, served residents of San Augustín Parish, and today also camera-lugging journalists, international delegates, and even tempered Bolivarian ex-guerrilleros and seasoned community assets turned community organizers.   The cable car system was impressive in its own right, making the downtown area of Caracas with its schools, government offices, libraries, public squares and health care personnel and infrastructure conveniently accessible to the people dwelling in the crowded back lanes and staircases of hillside popular neighborhoods rising high around the city.  The Chavez government had spent $1 billion USD on this project.  I tried to imagine my own government building such a fabulous transport system for the benefit of the poorest communities of my own city, and I couldn´t.  Each cable car had a message as well, and it wasn´t a consumerist advertisement. We rode up in a car seated on benches facing each other and with a panoramic view of the city, with the word “ethics” written boldly on its side.  Other cars we passed said:  humanism, literacy, equality, health.  We traveled back down later in a car labeled “social ethics.” There were also the names of neighborhoods and Venezuelan cities and states.  All of this spelled  “affirmation” of the Bolivarian revolution and its core values.

The cable car stops themselves were multilevel sports facilities, community meeting halls and museums and art galleries featuring famous Venezuelan music groups of the past and photos of important figures and quotes from social justice struggles in the history of these marginalized neighborhoods. There were elevators as well as staircases to navigate the stations for people confined to wheelchairs or with other disabilities. Dramatic panoramic vistas greeted your gaze at every turn, the city center, the mountains and the colorful compact hillside dwellings and freshly painted government-constructed low income housing flats, many built by the Chavez and Maduro governments to house the poorly housed.*

The travel time for a woman in labor to a downtown hospital or for workers or students heading to their places of work or study was dramatically shortened.  The cable car system was a marvel, putting to shame superpower first world governments across the global north unable to summon such a spirit of uplift for all.  These were indeed oil profits well spent.  And all of this, we couldn’t help remembering, and much more, was under the direct threat of regime change by the US government.

* Earlier in the week, we had toured such a housing complex in San Felipe, Lara state and saw how communities of low income people had benefited tremendously and were enjoying decent housing even in the midst of the current economic crisis.  Farmers involved in a nearby 125 acre agricultural cooperative were housed in that development enabling them short travel distance to both their farm and their markets in the city, with subsidized electricity and other utilities, as well as a local school set up in the middle of the community.  The current crisis, it is true, had led to a brain drain of some of the government teachers, a problem that had not yet been solved, and could not easily be solved until the sanctions and blockade were ended.

 

Part 5

According to Carlos Lazo a philosopher and Marxist theorist we heard from on our first day in Venezuela, in the long term the only way Venezuela could become truly autonomous was to develop its own science and technology.  In that way Venezuela, or any truly anti-capitalistic, independent country, could become the holders of the most important capital assets in the world today, machines and the knowledge to produce these machines, with homegrown intellectual capital.  Massive technology transfer was required for the ”have nots” to “have some.”

This was one of Carlos’ conclusions in the context of what could become a prolonged blockade, much like what Cuba suffered for more than 6 decades, or what Haiti suffered in the 19th century after the establishment of the first Black republic in the Americas in 1803, considered a “bad example” for slave-holding and mercantile, semi-feudal colonial societies.

Consider these figures:  prior to Chavez winning the presidential elections in 1998 there was a 67% poverty rate in Venezuela, with 35% living in extreme poverty (less than $1 per day per person).  92-97% of total government revenue came from oil sales, with the wealthy elites contributing only 2-3% of national income (from taxes).  Of the oil profits the government spent 116% on services and programs for the already wealthy.  That is, the government essentially went into debt to benefit the super wealthy of Venezuela.

Chavez in contrast increased revenue from oil by cutting out extortion and corruption and repatriating many billions of dollars from CITGO profits in the US.  That revenue was largely dedicated to the poor and extremely poor super majority of Venezuela.  Venezuela as a result, was among the only countries in the world to achieve the UN Millennium Goals for education and health indices well ahead of time, through comprehensively overcoming impoverishment.  This was done through “missions” of various kinds ranging from housing and health, to education, transportation, etc… by mobilizing people at the grassroots levels to participate and engage in building these programs together.

I would hope that international journalists could take note of and inform readers and listeners as well as decision-makers how strong a loyalty many Venezuelans have for this revolution that has so dramatically transformed and improved life for the Venezuelan majority.

 

Venezuela Journal 8/19- 8/28 Part 1 & 2

Venezuela journal August 2019

Part 1

The propaganda offensive against Venezuela was impressive from the start, way before the arrival of the toxic mix of Elliott Abrams to the rogues gallery of Pompeo, Pence, Bolton, Marco Rubio, and the ill-fated pretty boy Manchurian candidate Juan Guaidó. Obama himself had in 2015 declared Venezuela a “threat to US national security” when he decreed the first economic sanctions, looking for his own imperialist legacy. The use of the term “dictator” to describe the democratically elected president Nicolás Maduro was so widespread that even consumers of NPR were bombarded by this lie on a daily basis, not to mention the corporate media or worse FOX news.  Even Bernie Sanders had called Hugo Chavez, the most popularly elected president in Latin America, a dictator.

 

That this was outrageous right wing propaganda, stirred up by the Venezuelan oil-dependent oligarchy was obvious to me or any well-informed observer from day 1. However, since I had not been in Venezuela since 2008 and since a large number of very critical Venezuelans had left the country due to what was undeniably an economic meltdown, even I was uncertain of the merits of the Maduro administration, and the full range of causes of the multiple crises Venezuela was facing. I kept asking myself “What did Maduro do that was so bad, to deserve the visceral hatred of a large sector of the Venezuelan people?  I hadn’t heard any details of Maduro’s alleged transgressions, and it wasn’t clear how much support there still was for his administration among the base that had voted for Chavez andent Maduro so many times over the course of the Bolivarian revolution, in fact with majorities 22 of the past 24 elections. It had seemed like a miracle to begin with that an elected socialist government could have turned the massive oil industry into a force for good for the Venezuelan people and for the world. Yet this had happened and with such a track record, it was understandable how Maduro won the most recent election in October 2018 despite a severe financial and economic collapse, receiving more than 60% at the polls.

 

Spending 9 days in Venezuela, Aug 18-28, as a co-leader and Spanish-English interpreter for a solidarity delegation of folk from the US, England and Ireland, dispelled 99% of my doubts and confusion. I saw clearly that the Venezuelan people who had supported Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution had not abandoned this movement. In fact, many of them were digging in for a longterm revolutionary resistance and grassroots organizing phase, in the face of US threats of invasion, regime change, and even the attempt to starve Venezuela.  With nearly 80% of Venezuelan media outlets in the hands of opposition oligarchs, the support base of the Bolivarian project had become strongly immunized against the constant stream of distirtions, ideological attacks and systematic falsehoods gushing forth, as it had since Chavez’ first election in 1998. Some of the organizing happening in the face of the criminal economic sanctions-turned-wholesale-blockade were extremely strategic in concept and brilliant in execution. I felt privileged to be in a position as part of our delegation and every person we could subsequently mobilize to add dynamic support to their courageous and creative efforts.

 

PlanPueblo a Pueblo is one such effort among many that demonstrates how crisis can indeed be transformed at times into opportunity. Chavez had demonstrated this during the oil executive strike, and during and after the failed coup in 2002 and then again following the world wide economic crisis of 2008. The Venezuelan people, we saw, were capable of doing so again in the current crisis. The only path not imaginable was to surrender to the interventionist alternative sitting up in full view on the imperialist table.

 

Venezuela Journal Part 2

 

It took about 7 hours to drive from our hotel in Caracas to Carache in Trujillo state, westward and southwest about half way to the Colombian border. We arrived in Carache down switchbacks from an approaching ridge in the foothills of the Andes just before dusk. It was cool and quiet. Carache is an historic valley town about 1,800 meters above sea level, famous for its guerrilla movement and leader Algieri Galbadano, whose image, along with Bolivar and Chavez, was visible here and there in local farm houses and activists meeting rooms. The location of Carache for rebellion was strategic, being at a crossroads linking five productive and mountainous rural states covering every ecosystem from hot lowlands to high Andean “párramo” above the tree line, perfect climates for every variety of tubor, fruit, leafy or cucurbit vegetable or herb, and also good terrain on horse or muleback to stage a guerrilla resistance to tyrannical governments.

 

Just arrived in Carache I made a gaff when the owner of the guest house we were to stay in led us into a room with high ceilings and adobe walls appointed like a colonial chapel served up cool refreshing hibiscus tea. Our Irish delegate Fra saw his opportunity and began offering with little to no resistance to spike the tea with Irish whiskey he had brought across the Atlantic. The hostess Aide made a toast for the occasion to “Venezuela libre” to which I added “sovereign and in resistance”, words that caused a momentary pause and glance from Aide. I became suddenly aware that Doña Aide probably supported the bourgeois opposition to the Bolivarian government. To Aide’s credit, she didn’t miss more than a single beat and was a gracious host and spectacular host and fabulous cook for the duration of our stay. As guests we had the advantage of paying our bill with dollars, so highly coveted throughout the country for their buying power and stability.

 

Once settled in our new digs our partners from Plan Pueblo a Pueblo invited myself and Jenny to join them for an evening tour of their headquarters and staging warehouse up in the hills. The evening breeze was cool but not freezing, a good thing since I only had a t shirt on. Crouched in the back of a double cabin pickup, we wound up a  bumpy road road following a ridge line bordered by a swift flowing stream and dramatic drop offs on one side. Shortly in the pitch dark of the waning moon we reached a warehouse and got to observe a flatbed truck loaded with peppers, celery, cabbage, carrots and cilantro stacked in plastic crates. The truck was to leave at 3 am for the aggregation depot four hours away, en route to distribution fair # 199 since 2016, surpassing the 300,000 families fed mark.  We also saw the on loan house used for lodging local organizers that serves as Plan Pueblo a Pueblo Carache headquarters. Out back were stalls filled with a white breed of goats soon to be distributed to farmers with a 50/50 agreement, half home consumption, half sale through Plan PaP, and the first female born to go to a new farm household. The house was lively and full of children and seasoned multitasking activist farmer parents. There were computers around and revolutionary posters on the walls. We were handed sweet fruits called “tree tomatoes” which I had never seen before and which looked like barcelo sauce tomatoes but which definitely were not.

 

The next morning after a deluxe breakfast the delegation was eventually herded from our hotel in two batches and transported back up into the hills of La Mesa for a day of farm visits and a large and joyous community gathering and ceremony where we were honored for our solidarity and 20 kilo veggie seed delivery, and we in turn honored our hosts with affirmations and the announcement of the 2019 Food Sovereignty Prize awarded to Plan Pueblo a Pueblo by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. Beautiful cultural presentations followed including a young adult and children dance performances and a guitar singing group with whom I eventually played my trumpet for singing rendition of “Cielito Lindo”.  One of the guitar players, Pascual, asked me to bring him on our next visit a set of guitar strings which the blockade had made replacement strings hard to come by. An elderly chisel-faced cowboy with considerable gravitas told me about his remote veggie operation way up in the mountains, inviting me to join him there in a future visit.

 

Young female and male leaders from other producer communities also participated in the festivities including a sturdy compact woman who had driven nearly 2 hours on a motorcycle and a group led by a dynamic young man from a high “párramo” community. There in La Mesa we had a genuine meeting of hearts and minds. Before we left this ridge top community in the late afternoon we made one last stop, at what we were told was a local bar. But drinks were not being served there for the time being. The fine wood worker who owned the bar showed us his extraordinary hand crafted building. The bar upon which drinks could be served itself was a glossy work of art. The wall and ceiling trim likewise were exquisite set off by the pristine white plastered walls. Above the gilded entryway were high end framed images of scantily clad maidens. Beneath that were sober photos of his own children at graduation ceremonies in solemn robes. A shiney sword once wielded no doubt by a Spaniard Lord or warrior hung on a side wall behind the bar. But the climax of this eclectic visual experience was the room behind the bar. Occupying most of the room from floor to ceiling was a colonial style bed built w exquisite hardwoods and said to be an exact replica of the bed belonging to none other than General Simón Bolivar himself. Stunned, the only thing I could think of to utter was a question to the owner who stood proudly by the adorned head board and vaulted guilded bed canopy: “Does,” I muttered “Does anyone sleep in this bed?”  To which the owner replied with a contented smile “Yes. I do.”

 

Outside the window from Bolivar’s bed, was an elegantly built stone masonry sluice where themountain stream powered a waterwheel where corn could be ground. To my mind this was a slice of paradise and a demonstration of rural creativity and quality rarely seen in most colonized and exploited rural communities. This rural hamlet instilled me with a renewed hope for the Venezuelan people and indeed for the world. Where a humble but ambitious farmer could sleep in a bed like the one a great Liberator once slept in when resting between battles for freedom from colonial tyranny.

 

 

Crystal Bay Resolves to Respond to Climate Emergency

(Prepared and introduced to Crystal Bay Township Council by my brother David Abazs and his wife Lise Abazs in April, 2019)

RESOLUTION ENDORSING THE DECLARATION OF A CLIMATE EMERGENCY AND REQUESTING AN IMMEDIATE TRANSITION TO RESTORE A SAFE CLIMATE

WHEREAS, the United States of America has disproportionately contributed to the climate and ecological crises and has repeatedly obstructed global efforts to transition toward a sustainable economy, and thus bears an extraordinary responsibility to rapidly solve these crises;

WHEREAS, the national government has neglected the seriousness of climate change, the need to address the seriousness of the climate change is immediate and needs swift action and  community’s like ours around the country to take a stand and take action;

WHEREAS, restoring a safe and stable climate requires an emergency mobilization on a rapid scale to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of our world, to rapidly and safely drawdown or remove all the excess carbon from the atmosphere, and to implement measures to protect all people and species from the consequences of abrupt climate change;

WHEREAS, ecological justice requires that frontline communities, which have historically borne the brunt of the extractive fossil-fuel economy, participate actively in the planning and implementation of this mobilization effort at all levels of government and that we transition to a renewable energy economy;

WHEREAS, Crystal Bay Township can act as a global leader by both converting to an ecologically, socially and economically regenerative economy at emergency speed, and by catalyzing a unified regional just transition and climate emergency mobilization effort;

NOW BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, the Crystal Bay Township declares that a climate emergency threatens our community, our region and the world;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Crystal Bay Township commits to a climate emergency mobilization effort to reverse global warming, and end greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, immediately initiating efforts to safely draw down carbon from the atmosphere, and accelerates adaptation and resilience strategies in preparation for intensifying climate impacts to the best of our ability;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Crystal Bay Township commits to educating ourselves and others about the climate emergency and working to catalyze a just transition and climate emergency mobilization effort to provide maximum protection for our residents as well as all the people and species of the world; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Crystal Bay Township joins a nation-wide call for a regional just transition and climate emergency mobilization collaborative effort focused on transforming our region and rapidly catalyzing a mobilization at all levels of government to restore a safe and lasting safe climate and environment.

Dan Kovalik on Venezuela and International Law, Presented at University of Louisville, Law School April 8, 2019

https://youtu.be/hjLddyZBw9s

My take away: The emergence of ´humanitarian interventionism´ based on a lense of the privileged and powerful nations looking down upon the less powerful has led to violations of international law, from Libya to Venezuela. State sponsored genocides such as that taking place in Yemen, or extreme humanitarian violations like that taking place in Gaza, for example, are largely ignored. 40,000 US people living in poverty are never viewed through this lense. Particularly when there is a desire to overthrow a regime, does this pretext come into use. The case of this pretext being used in favor of regime change in Venezuela is a flagrant on-going example.

Green New Deal for Agriculture

“The food system is breaking the planet.”  This is the opening line from an article entitled a Green New Deal for Agriculture just out by authors Raj Patel and Jim Goodman.  Jim Goodman is president of the National Family Farm Coalition and a dairy farmer who together with his wife Rebecca finally succumbed to reality and sold off their dairy herd in great sadness and closed shop after decades producing organic milk in Wisconsin.  Please read the whole article at the following link below.  The article goes on: “Nearly a quarter of human made greenhouse gases are driven by how we eat, and it’s impossible to tackle climate change without transforming agriculture. So the Green New Deal is wise to call for “a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.” Better yet, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey’s proposal includes a call to work “collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.”

This has the makings of a bonanza for rural America. Healthy food costs more and is harder to access than processed food. Under a Green New Deal that helped Americans eat better, more cash might flow back to the land.”

If the federal government would truly represent the interests of the farm economy and rural communities, and recognize that well-managed soil would both sequester carbon and create living wage farm and agricultural jobs across the heartland, sustainable farming might become a way to end America’s rural poverty.

Let’s be clear, the family farmers still “outstanding in their fields” in the US are suffering impoverishment and bankruptcy.  The latest statistics paint a dire situation:  82% of farm income will come from off-farm jobs in 2019, median income from farms is now a negative number and farmer suicides are on a dramatic rise in recent years!  Due to decades of low prices and high costs for farmers, 75% of America’s farmed cropland is now controlled by 12% of farms.  These are cold statistics that harbor an immense hot bitter loss for millions of people and thousands of rural communities since the 80s, and arguably contributed to a situation that was leveraged in a deceptive way to elect Donald Trump.   Why has this happened?

The answer is quite simple:  Corporations that buy, process, distribute and sell agricultural products , whether it is tobacco, meat or vegetables, and those that sell seeds, fertilizers and chemicals to farmers, and those who sell insurance to farmers,  have become way too few, too powerful and too profitable.  They have through their cash and lobbying apparatus over decades stripped away the legislative advances made by the original New Deal and, as is a chronic problem for corporate led capitalism, turned the farm economy into monopoly capitalism, wiping out any semblance of free markets and rigging the system, rules and laws around trade, farm and economic policy through their campaign contributions.  Family farmers have been the victims of this system, not to mention the family members and farm workers those farmers need to hire for the labor intensive work of crops like tobacco or fruit or vegetable production.  Not to mention the Mom and Pop businesses that farm income supports in rural communities and towns.   The Green New Deal, if it is to succeed in both providing a Just Transition to Living Wage Jobs for Millions of Marginalized workers, and effectively slow and eventually reverse climate change and climate catastrophe, must break up Big Ag Corporate control, strip away their Virtual Monopoly powers, provide support for prices above the cost of production for essential commodities, and empower government agencies to respond to the needs of the many current and potential producers, over the needs of corporate merchants and their lobbyists such as the Farm Bureau and Chamber of Commerce and the Financial Wall Street Crowd who have systematically captured and destroyed family farmers as a viable sector of the US economy.    Family farmers need to organize themselves in cooperatives, advocacy organizations and coalitions;  farm workers need to organize themselves into unions and coalitions, and people who need healthy food, into consumer associations in solidarity with the people who work the land.  Income should not be an obstacle to eating healthy food for the most impoverished and sickened communities in our country.  A GreenNew Deal could be a golden opportunity to both save humanity from climate catastrophe and from economic death through a thousands cuts of corporate economic predation and inequality by the 1% .  In short that death is very real, from eating in a fast food culture that makes you sick, because there is not enough $$ or time or community health and well being  to eat well.  Viable farm economy where agroecology can flourish is a keg solution to climate change.  On my 10 acre tropical farm in the Dominican Republic we sequestered the equivalent of 1,500 tons of carbon in 20 years.  That doesn’t even count the smaller carbon footprints of self-reliant people who live and work in rural communities overall.  Imagine if that can be multiplied a million times!   Please push to get the farmers and the farmworkers and their organizations to the table to help hammer out the policies the Green New Deal will need to implement in order to succeed in this urgent transformation to save humanity.    I believe in my heart that a powerful new rural, urban alliance in support of a Green New Deal is about to be born!   Carpei Diem! To quote a prophetic Filipino Climate negotiator:  If not now, then when!  If not us, then who?

HoeLine

Notes on Current Venezuela situation

by Joao Pedro Stedile[1]
São Paulo, February 18, 2019/latest update, March 18, 2019.

  1. Since 2008 there has been an international crisis of the capitalist mode of production that has only deepened. In light of this, the hegemony of finance capital means that only large corporations and banks can accumulate in contrast to the economies of countries and people specially the working class who pay with more unemployment, an increase in inequalities, migration, social conflicts and the loss of rights. We also see cuts to basic public services such as education, health and housing, etc.

 

  1. With the emergence of the economic crisis, governments that are based on agreements of class reconciliation for political stability are no longer able to sustain themselves because the State and its finances transform in the terrain of class struggle.

 

  1. There is also a crisis of the so-called formal bourgeois democracy. Governments and elections are no longer able to represent the real interests of the majority of society and its electoral triumphs are the result of manipulation, fraud and paid for with millions. An effect of this crisis is people’s disbelief in politicians and the regime of formal representation.

 

  1. In this context, ruling capital, through large corporations and banks, prioritizes the private appropriation of natural resources: oil, minerals, water, trees, biodiversity and energy as a way of obtaining high rates of profit and thanks to the extraordinary revenues continue to accumulate and grow. In this sense, only the capitalists that appropriate these natural resources that were once common, weren’t produced by labor and are transformed into commodities are able to achieve great profit.

 

  1. In this international dispute over these markets for natural resources, a new correlation of forces is unfolding between the United States, Western Europe and Eurasia (Russia, Iran and China). These economies wrestle among themselves for the appropriation of natural resources and markets. This leads American capitalists to increase their pressure over Latin America in order to maintain it as a territory controlled by their interests. Their “backyard” as they call it and therefore guarantee their resources, markets and be in better conditions to confront their international competitors.

 

  1. In the fields of politics and ideology, the crisis allowed for the emergence of a world of new bourgeois forces of the extreme right. These reactionary forces promoted the construction of new enemies: immigrants, worker’s rights, customs and culture, etc.

 

  1. Sadly, these forces of the extreme right have conquered several governments through elections. Such was the case of Donald Trump in the United States. We saw this in Europe with Italy, Hungary and Andalucía, in Asia with India and the Philippines. In Latin America, these forces have conquered the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Perú and El Salvador.

 

  1. In order to win these elections, the forces of the extreme right don’t clearly expose their true projects and ideological conceptions because they know they wouldn’t get support from the majority of the population. Therefore, they dedicate themselves to manipulate public opinion for example with the massive use of the internet and the production of systematic lies against the left and progressive sectors. They have also used Pentecostal churches to influence the poor who depend on them.

 

  1. All of this also occurred in the crisis of the 1930s when the capitalists used a nationalist discourse and fascist ideas to conquer governments and get out of the crisis. They also used world wars to dispute markets and eliminate means of production at the cost of millions of human lives.

 

  1. It’s in this context that we can understand the defeats of progressive governments in Latin America that governed on the basis of class reconciliation. Even though these were not revolutionary governments they were taken out of power by the bourgeois forces they were allied with.

 

  1. In this framework we seek to analyze the political, ideological and now military offensive of U.S. capital against Venezuela which is focused towards controlling its oil reserves through private and international means. Venezuela has one of the largest reserves of oil in the world and one of the closest ones to the United States market. No other country or territory in the world could guarantee and expand the oil supply of the United States.

 

  1. In addition to this, let’s consider that analysts foresee that oil prices will continue to reach higher prices above $100 per barrel in the next two years. By the end of 2019, it’s expected to reach $70. This would provide who ever controls the Venezuelan reserves of hydrocarbons with incredibly high oil revenues.

 

  1. The people of Venezuela have been confronting this war during the last 20 years and now comes the time in which it can become a military conflict.

 

  1. Throughout this period, since Hugo Chavez won the first election in 1999, there has been a permanent scenario of attack by the Venezuelan and international capitalists against the process of economic and social change in Venezuela. They could always allow for a military official to govern Venezuela as so many had already done in Latin America but they could never allow for oil to be used as a fundamental resource to restructure the Venezuelan economy, finance the distribution of wealth and solve the needs of the people such as housing, health, education, public transportation and social infrastructure.

 

  1. During these years, capitalists and the government of the United States have applied their historic experience as they’ve done in other countries to try to overthrow the Bolivarian government and process.

 

  1. First, they try to build a government of class reconciliation with Chavez, proposing neoliberal policies, suggesting ministers and even a president of the Central Bank. But that didn’t work and Chavez responded by calling for a constitutional assembly that redacted a new constitution that returned sovereignty of political power and the future of the nation to the people and not the conservative parties.

 

  1. Afterwards in 2002, they appealed to the classic coup d’état as they’ve done in many countries. They kidnapped President Hugo Chavez from the Presidential Palace of Miraflores and put a businessman in his place. The people responded, besieging the palace and in 48 hours the coup was defeated by the people and an important group of cadets and new military. These had entered the military service with a Bolivarian formation even while the high command supported the coup due to their historic relations with the local oligarchy. This important moment marked a significant step in the civilian-military unity that would play a significant role in the development of the Bolivarian revolution moving forward.

 

  1. The businessmen who were still in PDVSA, the state oil company led a general oil strike that paralyzed all activities and provoked chaos in the country, promoting a climate of social destabilization. The government along with the workers were able to revert this process and promote a profound renovation of the company’s structure, reorganizing its command in between the government and the working class.

 

  1. They then tried the Chilean tactic promoting the speculation over prices of certain goods in order to generate panic in the people and create shortages. These included shortages of flour, medicine and other highly used goods such as toilet paper, sugar, milk, coffee and tooth paste. The government then used the income from the oil reserves for the state purchase and distribution of these basic goods for the population.

 

  1. They then went on to use the tactics used in the Ukraine with public terrorism in the streets and the use of guarimbas (street riots) in which middle class and lumpen youth were paid in US dollars to block streets, burn local symbols, throw incendiary bombs at childcare centers, hospitals and even military bases. But once again, this didn’t work and the people confronted this terrorism and defeated the guarimbas.

 

  1. They also tried to subvert and win over military officers to their project. They were able to buy some off but were never able to achieve an uprising or a division within the military. Among other reasons, the majority of the officials they were able to buy off were abroad, which means they lacked direct influence inside Venezuela.

 

  1. On the other hand, they consistently accused the Venezuelan government of being a dictatorship, equally against Chavez as they do now against Maduro. In the meantime, the opposition parties participated in 25 elections during 20 years, in which they elected different governors, mayors and members of congress. They organized multiple activities in the public arena and continue to control the majority of the of mass media outlets. With all of this, how can they justify calling it a dictatorship? In no western country are there similar conditions. At the same time, the Venezuelan electoral process, with its electronic voting machines and printed receipts became one of the most transparent processes, verified by diverse foundations in the United States that have observed recent elections there.

 

  1. In the last few months, an economic blockade was intensified to prevent foreign consumer goods from arriving. Due to its oil-based economy, Venezuela is very dependent on imported goods. On top of this, they began to openly manipulate the currency exchange rates of the Bolivar from a website located without any reason in Miami. In a symptomatic manner, the local bourgeoise began to refer to this website without any real economic base in order to speculate with the US dollar which became more of a commodity than a currency, a commodity of reference for all others.

 

  1. They promoted an intense campaign stimulating and motivating thousands of people to leave the country with the promise of jobs and dreamy futures. More than 30% of those who left have already returned disillusioned, receiving support from the Venezuelan government for their return. On the other hand, migration is not unknown or a problem to the Venezuelan people, since in the country there are more than 5 million Colombians, thousands of Haitians as well as thousands of Europeans who arrived with the oil boom of 1970s such as Spaniards, Italians, Portuguese and also Lebanese.

 

  1. The thesis of demanding new elections has no parallel in the history of modern bourgeois democracies. New elections must be called simply because the rightwing lost the elections against Maduro despite these being observed and verified by hundreds of authorities around the world. Why if there is legal or moral basis to remove a legitimate government. This same thesis could also be applied to other governments then such as Bolsonaro and Macri. The same members of the National Assembly that want to remove Maduro were elected under the same system.

 

  1. We now enter a final stage. Time is running short. The Trump administration only has two years left and could lose the next elections. At the same time, the price of oil is rising. In the end, the ideological definition of removing progressive and left governments is expressed in the necessity to end Maduro’s government. Trump has said, “first we are going to get rid of Maduro, then come Cuba and Nicaragua, etc.”

 

  1. Before beginning this phase of major foreign offensive, the Trump administration has tried to create the internal conditions for economic and political destabilization, naming Guaido as the new legitimate government, unrecognizing the political forces inside the country including those of the bourgeois opposition. Essentially, they have tried a constitutional coup which of course is illegal. This repeats the formula already used against President Lugo in Paraguay, President Zelaya in Honduras and President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.
  2. In this new period, the possibility of a military invasion is put on the table. A phantom government that no one in the country knows is created completely at the margins of any elections and legality. Now they focus on strengthening the siege, international pressure and who knows even a surgical military intervention.

 

 

  1. But this final tactic depends on multiple variables. American public opinion wouldn’t accept the loss of its soldiers in an unjustifiable war and therefore they must use multilateral forces such as the Organization of American States (OAS). But in the OAS, they were only able to obtain 16 out of 34 votes and didn’t have a majority to authorize an invasion under the wing of this institution. They then tried in the United Nations Security Council, which also denied them the right to invade Venezuela with the veto of Russia, China and other countries. This effort also required the participation of the armed forces of Colombia and Brazil. Going along with this is not as simple due to the consequences this conflict would have in their internal politics and the little willingness of the military in these countries.

 

  1. The last tactic could then be a surgical military intervention for example by air as they did in Yugoslavia, the Ukraine, Libya and Syria in order to break the economic sustainability of the government and force its collapse. But before any military intervention they must break the unity between the Bolivarian armed forces and the majority of the people that today exists in Venezuela. This unity is capable of defeating any military intervention, causing high costs in lives and also politically against the Trump Administration.

 

  1. This military adventure could become an international military conflict with the probable solidarity from Russia, Iran and Turkey, transforming Venezuela into a Latin American Syria with unknown consequences and at a high cost to the United States as in fact happened in Syria.

 

  1. A military intervention of this type could also create a grave contradiction for the imperialist forces. A probable defeat of the invading forces of the right would mean that the United States would have to receive a new and larger migration of all the Venezuelan bourgeoise which after a military defeat would no longer have the political or social space to remain in the country like what occurred after the military defeat at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba.

 

  1. In this framework, for February 23rd, the United States and their Colombian allies had planned an invasion through the Colombian border with the plan to install the self-proclaimed government of Gauido in one of the border towns. But Guaido lied when he said that he had the support of the Venezuelan people and they fell into their own trap. There were no multitudes supporting him on either side of the border. On the contrary, apart from the armed forces, thousands of Venezuelans came out to defend their country. The humanitarian aid is now a farce that has been denounced even by CNN and they themselves has to burn the two trucks that hid the military supplies that were being transported. This was a victory for the Venezuelan people.

 

  1. On February 25th, a meeting had been prepared with all the governments of the Lima Group, that in case of an invasion were going to provide their approval of the new government. After the defeat of this initiative, the meeting was more of a wake, made worse by the position taken by the Brazilian military which represented by General Mourao, voted against any form of military aggression.

 

  1. After that defeat, they thought the Venezuelan government would imprison Guaido on his return, turning him into a victim and hero of the right. But the Venezuelan government was patient, left him alone and nothing significant occurred on his return. On the contrary the constant mass protests by the people gave more legitimacy to Maduro’s government.

 

  1. They then intensified their sabotage. The CIA’s intelligence forces and who knows from what other agencies, operated on the computers of the Guri Hydroelectric Plant and over the distribution of the electric energy grid, creating a national black-out which caused havoc. The government responded with more mobilizations and denunciations while the international bourgeois press as usual placed the blame on them. It’s really pathetic that the CIA and other intelligence agencies led this cyber-attack and then want to blame the government.

 

  1. They will certainly continue with their economic and financial blockade and against companies and individuals that act in favor of Venezuela. They have done the same to Cuba for 60 years and against Iran for 30 years. But the will of a united people is hard to defeat.

 

  1. The next weeks and months will be decisive to understanding which tactic will be adopted by the United States. In Venezuela a global battle of class struggle is being waged that could mark the geopolitics of the rest of the 21st This could be as significant as the Spanish Civil War was a preamble to the Second World War.

 

  1. In this battle it will be necessary for the Venezuelan government to maintain the unity of the Bolivarian Armed Forces and maintain the majority of the Chavista people mobilized in defense of the nation. In the short-term and long-term, it will also be necessary to create a new economic program that is able to overcome the challenges imposed by the blockade of the West and the dependency on oil in order to propose a program of economic development with social equality.

 

  1. Today the defense of Venezuela’s sovereignty signifies the defense of self-determination of the people against the empire. We must stay active and well informed of all the actions that take place. The next steps will be decisive and all the forces of the people and the left in the continent and the world must clearly take a stand in defense of the Bolivarian process which without a doubt has its own contradictions and challenges as is the case of any process of structural change in a society.

 

[1] João Pedro Stedile is a member of the National Coordination of the Movement of Landless Workers of Brazil