European Parliament: MEPs visit Palestine, Parliament votes for sanctions

13th April, 2002



Venezuelan coup-d’état: Eyewitness report

“First of all, the military is saying that the main reason for the coup is what happened April 11. "Civil society," as the opposition here refers to itself, organized a massive demonstration of perhaps 100,000 to 200,000 people to march to the headquarters of Venezuela's oil company, PDVSA, in defense of its fired management. The day leading up to the march all private television stations broadcast advertisements for the demonstration, approximately once every ten minutes. It was a successful march, peaceful, and without government interference of any kind, even though the march illegally blocked the entire freeway, which is Caracas' main artery of transportation, for several hours.

Supposedly at the spur of the moment, the organizers decided to re-route the march to Miraflores, the president's office building, so as to confront the pro-government demonstration, which was called in the last minute. About 5,000 Chavez-supporters had gathered there by the time the anti-government demonstrators got there. In-between the two demonstrations were the city police, under the control of the oppositional mayor of Caracas, and the National Guard, under control of the president. All sides claim that they were there peacefully and did not want to provoke anyone. I got there just when the opposition demonstration and the National Guard began fighting each other. Who started the fight, which involved mostly stones and tear gas, is, as is so often the case in such situations, nearly impossible to tell. A little later, shots were fired into the crowds and I clearly saw that there were three parties involved in the shooting, the city police, Chavez supporters, and snipers from buildings above. Again, who shot first has become a moot and probably impossible to resolve question. At least ten people were killed and nearly 100 wounded in this gun battle-almost all of them demonstrators.

One of the Television stations managed to film one of the three sides in this battle and broadcast the footage over and over again, making it look like the only ones shooting were Chavez supporters from within the demonstration at people beyond the view of the camera. The media over and over again showed the footage of the Chavez supporters and implied that they were shooting at an unarmed crowd. As it turns out, and as will probably never be reported by the media, most of the dead are Chavez supporters. Also, as will probably never be told, the snipers were members of an extreme opposition party, known as "Bandera Roja" [Red Flag].

These last two facts, crucial as they are, will not be known because they do not fit with the new mythology, which is that Chavez armed and then ordered his supporters to shoot at the opposition demonstration. Perhaps my information is incorrect, but what is certain is that the local media here will never bother to investigate this information. And the international media will probably simply ape what the local media reports (which they are already doing).

Chavez' biggest and perhaps only mistake of the day, which provided the last remaining proof his opposition needed for his anti-democratic credentials, was to order the black-out of the private television stations. They had been broadcasting the confrontations all afternoon and Chavez argued that these broadcasts were exacerbating the situation and should, in the name of public safety, be temporarily shut-down.

Now, all of "civil society," the media, and the military are saying that Chavez has to go because he turned against his own people. Aside from the lie this is, what is conveniently forgotten are all of the achievements of the Chavez administration: a new democratic constitution which broke the power monopoly of the two hopelessly corrupt and discredited main parties and put Venezuela at the forefront in terms of progressive constitutions; introduced fundamental land reform; financed numerous progressive ecological community development projects; cracked-down on corruption; promoted educational reform which schooled over 1 million children for the first time and doubled investment in education; regulated the informal economy so as to reduce the insecurity of the poor; achieved a fairer price for oil through OPEC and which significantly increased government income; internationally campaigned tirelessly against neo-liberalism; reduced official unemployment from 18% to 13%; introduced a large-scale micro-credit program for the poor and for women; reformed the tax system which dramatically reduced tax evasion and increased government revenue; lowered infant mortality from 21% to 17%; tripled literacy courses; modernized the legal system, etc., etc.

Chavez' opposition, which primarily consisted of Venezuela's old guard in the media, the union federation, the business sector, the church, and the traditionally conservative military, never cared about any of these achievements. Instead, they took advantage of their media monopoly to turn public opinion against him and managed to turn his biggest liability, his autocratic and inflammatory style, against him.

Progressive civil society had either been silenced or demonized as violent Chavez fanatics. At this point, it is impossible to know what will happen to Chavez' "Bolivarian Revolution"-whether it will be completely abandoned and whether things will return to Venezuela's 40-year tradition of patronage, corruption, and rentierism for the rich. What one can say without a doubt, is that by abandoning constitutional democracy, no matter how unpopular and supposedly inept the elected president, Venezuela's ruling class and its military show just how politically immature they are and deal a tremendous blow to political culture throughout Latin America, just as the coup against Salvador Allende did in 1973. This coup shows once again that democracy in Latin America is a matter of ruling class preference, not a matter of law.

If the United States and the democratic international community have the courage to practice what they preach, then they should not recognize this new government. Democrats around the world should pressure their governments to deny recognition to Venezuela's new military junta or any president they happen to choose. According to the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS), this would mean expelling Venezuela from the OAS, as a U.S. state department official recently threatened to do. Please call the U.S. state department or your foreign ministry and tell them to withdraw their ambassadors from Venezuela.”

                                                            Gregory Wilpert

On Wednesday, April 10, Gregory Wilpert, an American living in Caracas,  wrote "An Imminent Coup in Venezuela?"-  read it at this website

A group of Euro-MPs, most of them from the United Left Group (GUE-NGL) and including its leader Francis Wurtz of the French Communist Party (PCF) were in Palestine last weekend to express their solidarity with the victims of Sharon’s murderous pogroms. Mr Wurtz was accompanied by several other French Members, including Alain Krivine and Roseline Vachetta  of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) and Green Alima Boumediène-Thiry, as well as Greek GUE-NGL MEP Alexandros Alavanos of Synapismos. The party travelled from Jerusalem to Ramallah where they met another MEP, the Italian social democrat Claudio Fava.

The visit came just as another Euro-MP, Italian Communist Refoundation member Luisa Morgantini (PRC) was returning to Brussels, where she gave an eye-witness report of events in Ramallah to a gathering of the presidents of  the EP's political groups. Ms Morgantini recounted how she had seen the naked body of a young Palestinian who had been executed and left under a fig tree, and old people left to fend for themselves without any water or food. During a visit to a medical centre in the company of a group of peace activists, an Israeli army battalion of six tanks arrived with a group of soldiers, who began to demolish the entrance to the building opposite the medical centre. They made 20 men leave the building and publicly humiliated them in the street, then the tanks started firing on the building as a man threw himself out of a window on the third floor. Soldiers then came to the medical centre, demanding that everyone leave before they destroyed the building. “We, along with the doctor, tried to explain to them that there weren't any terrorists in the building. After a fierce discussion, they agreed to visit the building, including the cellars, but used civilians as human shields, thereby contravening international law. They were able to note that no Palestinians were hiding there but made us leave the centre all the same, dividing up the men and women and then destroyed the medical centre,” Ms Morgantini told the presidents.  She  went on to recount a catalogue of horrors: a young woman shot dead for no apparent reason, a communal grave set up opposite the hospital because the Israelis had banned funerals, a  woman forced to give birth in the street because the ambulance was not allowed through the roadblocks, the consequent death of the new-born baby.

Morgantini rejected any idea of military intervention,  calling instead for sanctions and the suspension of the EU/Israel Association Agreement, which gives Israel privileged access to the EU’s markets.  Her intervention was effective in swaying wavering MEPs into passing a resolution, last Wednesday, calling for the Agreement’s suspension and a number of other measures. The Parliament’s resolution, supported by social democrats, Greens, Liberals and the GUE-NGL also asked the EU, Russia, the US and NATO, whose representatives met on Wednesday in Madrid, to arrange for the sending of “an international (UN) force to stop the war and monitor the region".

The resolution is merely an expression of opinion, as in the area of foreign policy the European Parliament has no power, and unfortunately Germany has stated its intention to continue to block any such moves, which are also opposed by the European Commission. Belgium has taken the lead in calling for tough measures, particularly after an EU delegation was prevented from President Arafat.

Perhaps Germany’s leaders should read Ellen Cantarow: “As a Jew old enough to remember a childhood just after World War II I am filled with a mix of grief, helplessness, despair and anger as Israel, pretending to act in my name and using the Holocaust to exonerate its crimes, proceeds with a clear effort to obliterate the economy, the social, political and cultural institutions, and the entire infrastructure of the Palestinian people. Those who do not speak out against the abominations these horrors are complicit by their silence. Those who exonerate Israel for committing them are guilty by association.”

Read the rest at this website

Well, the Germans can do business with Israel if they like, but many of us would rather not. An international campaign has been launched to co-ordinate a boycott. The Boycott Israeli Goods campaign, BIG, can be contacted at here, or visit the website

Reports from the besieged Palestinian towns can be found here

A report is shortly to be presented to the European Parliament assessing the Commission’s response to instances of fraud uncovered under the leadership of President Jacques Santer. Mr Santer, who was not personally accused of wrongdoing, stood down along with his entire 19-person Commission in 1999. The resignations followed revelations by Dutch official and  whistle blower Paul van Buitenen. Herbert Bösch, the Austrian social democrat charged with preparing the report for his fellow MEPs, is reportedly angry that many proven cases of fraud and misappropriation go unpunished.

As we reported last week, Mr van Buitenen has now presented a new dossier of findings, all of which relate to the pre-resignation Commission. Mr Bösch is concerned by the defensive reaction to this by numerous Commission employees, which have included accusations by staff unions that van Buitenen is responsible for Commissioner Neil Kinnock’s proposed reform of the institutions, which they oppose. There is also concern that van Buitenen’s own career is being blocked by hostile superiors.  Bösch has opposed plans to invite Mr van Buitenen to address the Parliament, and does not intend to speak directly to him whilst compiling the report.

Meanwhile, Mr van Buitenen has spoken out against a Commission proposal to forward his report, which has sparked four separate investigations by the EU’s anti-fraud unit OLAF, to the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee.  He has already been reviled by elements in the Commission, and fears that for what he describes as his “incomplete” report to be made public at this stage would leave him further exposed.

The report has already been leaked to the press, however, as has OLAF’s initial assessment of it. In the view of numerous members of the Budgetary Control Committee, the fact that the press has already had sight of the report invalidates Mr van Buitenen’s objections.

European Parliament: MEPs divided over pay hike

  Following a vote in Strasbourg this week to adopt a “common statute” governing the conditions of all Euro-MPs, ten Belgian MEPs have sent a letter to the country’s prime minister Guy Verhofstadt urging him to oppose the deal, which must now win the approval of the member states.

Currently, MEPs are paid the same salaries as those received by national parliamentarians in their own countries. This avoids problems back home, but has led to very wide differentials between people doing the same job, which some find unacceptable. In reality, generous expenses and perks make membership of the European Parliament a generally more lucrative business than is being a national MP.

The proposed common salary would be 8,500 euro per month, while no improvements are proposed to the expenses system, which is not only overly generous even to the honest, but easily abused.  The 8,500 euros is based, for no reason whatsoever, on 50% of the salary of a judge at the EU’s Court of Justice. It is much higher than the current average salary from MEPs, which stands at 6,350 euro, so more members will gain than lose. 

The new pay rate requires unanimous approval by all 15 member states, so if you live in the EU and want to stop the MEPs from trousering even more of your money, don’t write to them - write to your national MP if you live in a country where members represent single regions, or to your government’s Minister for Europe, if it has one, or direct to the Prime Minister. 

British peace activists fail to turn up at court

A Scottish court has issued warrants for the arrest of two peace activists who refused to attend trial for alleged offences at Faslane naval base. Sylvia Boyes from Keighley in Yorkshire and Peter Lanyon from Leiston in Suffolk both wrote to Helensburgh District Court saying that they would not be coming. Both have indicated that they regard it as a waste of their valuable time to travel long distances for trials in Helensburgh. Sylvia said: “When the world is so full of oppression, murder and threats I do not feel that it is a good use of my time to travel to a court which has heard from me on countless occasions the case against Britain’s weapons of mass destruction and has paid no heed whatsoever. Frankly, there are more important things to do.”  Their refusal is one more indication of the growing impatience with the courts among people who have taken direct action against Trident.

In the same court today Eileen Cooke, a student from Edinburgh, was admonished after being found guilty of a breach of the peace at the Big Blockade of Faslane last February. Louise Robertson, a Women’s Aid worker from Renton, appeared after failing to pay a fine of £150 imposed for her part in the Big Blockade. Today she told the court again that she had no intention of paying. Justice of the Peace Duncan gave her a 30-hour Supervised Attendance Order, which in theory should provide opportunities to challenge her “offending” behaviour and is likely to have an element of community service.

A spokesperson for peace group Trident Ploughshares said, “Presumably JP Duncan felt he had few options in dealing with Louise. At least he had sense enough not to send her pointlessly to the already overcrowded Cornton Vale. The choice of a Supervised Attendance Order is only marginally less daft. It would have been obvious to him that the order would not reduce Louise’s commitment and her diary is already full of community service and activism. We can wonder whether the third option was considered, that of remitting the fine on the basis that there was nothing criminal in her behaviour.”

Find out more about Trident Ploughshares’ campaign       here 

Oil company objects to climate scientist, blocks renomination

Despite ten years of effort, Esso/ExxonMobil hasn't been able to top the world's climate scientists saying that global warming is here and is caused by burning oil, coal and gas. So what does Esso do next? It tries to change the scientists. First on the hit list is Dr Robert Watson, a well-respected, former NASA climate scientist who has led the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for nearly six years. "Can Watson be replaced now at the request of the U.S.?" Arthur G. Randol III, senior environmental adviser for ExxonMobil, asked the White House in a recently leaked letter. True to form, the US government has taken the advice and is now refusing to re-nominate Watson.

Email Mr Randol. Tell him (politely) what you think about his efforts to oust Dr Watson: arthur.g.randol@exxon.com  And please copy your letter to the Stop Esso campaign (UK) at  materials@stopesso.com

For more information, go to http://www.stopesso.com

Thanks to the Stop Esso Campaign for this item.

In Brief

Spring fever: EU social affairs Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou is urging us all to start producing more babies. Speaking in Madrid at the UN Second World Assembly on Ageing, she warned that there would be major economic as well as social implications if the average age of the population continued to rise. So what are you folks doing sitting reading this? As Ms Diamantopoulou says “the policy implications are clear.”   Mind you, according to her website, Ms Diamantopoulou has just one son. Not exactly leading by example, is it, Anna?

No euro please, we’re British: A group of 34 Labour members of the British parliament has launched a campaign against their country’s adopting the euro, the new currency now in use in 12 of the EU’s 15 member states. A poll of all MPs from Britain’s governing party revealed that just over half want to keep the pound.

Eat up and shut up: You have no right to know whether the food you eat comes from a genetically modified source or not, unless it can be shown to contain a potentially dangerous allergen, according to a ruling from the international body responsible for trade in food, the United Nations Codex Alimentarius Commission. The ruling could cause problems for the EU, which is proposing a series of legal measures designed to ensure that GMOs and foods derived from them are clearly labelled. Go to this website for more.

“The unspeakable in pursuit the uneatable” was Oscar Wilde’s description of fox hunting. A new study, The history of foxhunting and land ownership in Britain looks at the way this barbaric ritual props up the archaic class system still prevailing in what’s left of the British countryside and exposes the Countryside Alliance, which exists to preserve the right of the rich to do what the hell they like, for what it is. Go to this website for more information.

Recently published, Statewatch bulletin, vol 12 no 1 includes news on civil liberties issues in the UK and Europe,  a round-up of new books, reports and publications,  and features on a joint EU-US plan to establish a common area on asylum and exclusion of "inadmissibles", on Home Secretary Blunkett’s white paper on immigration, nationality and asylum. Go to this website

Friends of the Earth Europe has a new issue of its informative Bulletin now available. The Bulletin provides an informal overview of environmental issues at the European level, where most environmental law for the 15 EU member states is now made. Go to this website for more information.

  Australia’s socialist newspaper, Green Left Weekly provides news, information, opinion and debate from an environmental and left perspective. Featured in this week’s issue, “Oppose Israel’s War of Terror”, comment and an eyewitness account from Ramallah of the brutal attacks by the Israeli war machine on Palestinian towns and refugee camps. Also, GLW continues its campaign against the Australian authorities’ racist handling of refugees, and begins preparations for a new World Social Forum, proposed for India the year after next. At this website

War Times has a new issue out April 12.It includes a two-page article on Palestine which can also be downloaded as a leaflet from this website  If you can distribute 25 or more copies write straight away to distribution@war-times.org See our Progressive Press list for more about War Times.

Quote of the week

‘The Pentagon announced today that its new "smart missiles" are being "withdrawn for more study", the implication being that the weapons, as one Special Forces Colonel put it: "are just too smart." Sources at the Pentagon said that the new weapons, part of the Bono-Sting-Pop Abdullah series, have a range of only four feet after launching. The reason: the missile’s computer - on firing - works out that violence only breeds more violence, and that all war is futile. Realizing the utter idiocy of its mission, the computer then directs the missile - either toward the White House, or to a farm where it will spend its final years-grazing and floating happily in the air. Pentagon sources now insist that in future: the missiles computer intelligence will be geared to that of the average Supreme Court Justice’

Warren Leming, writer, Chicago