Toward Freedom Board Member Jacqueline Luqman recently returned from a trip to Venezuela to take part in commemorations for the 20th anniversary of the defeat of the U.S. coup to oust then-President Hugo Chavez. Back in the United States, Jacqueline interviewed Carlos Ron, Venezuela’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs for North America as well as the president of the Simón Bolívar Institute for Peace and Solidarity Among Peoples. They discussed on the Black Power Media YouTube channel the Venezuelan people’s victory over the 2002 coup as well as their continued fight against fascism, the historical struggle against imperialism, and how people outside Venezuela can be in solidarity with the revolutionary process.
Now that my Toward Freedom guest editorship has come to an end, I am reflecting back on the stories we ran for the past 6+ months and the writers who wrote them.
The scenes coming out of Modi’s India and its pandemic nightmare have been particularly horrific, causing me to inquire about the health of Toward Freedom contributor Sanket Jain. Sanket is a freelance journalist based in western India. TF ran two of his stories in December and February about how India’s poorest citizens were barely coping with Covid. He emailed me back: “Fortunately, I am safe. For the past few weeks, I have been on the field documenting the disaster that’s unfolding in remote villages of India. Last week, I was shooting photos at the crematorium to see how many people have died of COVID because the Government is hiding official numbers. It’s a nightmare to see a human disaster unfolding at such a massive scale. From lack of oxygen, improper vaccination policy, COVID patients facing ostracism in the village, to frontline healthcare workers facing verbal abuse and even physical assault, India is witnessing a humanitarian crisis. I hope we come out of this disaster soon.”
Stay safe, Sanket, and keep sending us your stories.
Another writer who moved me deeply is Charles Wachira. His recent story on what’s happening in Uganda opened my eyes to what’s happening throughout much of Africa; the maintenance of dictatorial rule [e.g through the (truly) rigged election of President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda] to ensure “stability” for resource extraction by foreign corporations. With remarkable patience in responding to my queries, Charles produced evidence that the Great Game for Oil is now on steroids in East Africa (much of which lies opposite the Red Sea – and Saudi Arabia.)
Fascinatingly, a similar situation is playing out in West Africa, as explained by Eric Agnero in his story on how President Alassane Ouattara was able to extend his unconstitutional rule over Cote d’Ivoire, aided and abetted by France and the United States.
I admit: I came into this job with a geopolitical perspective, one which is followed by most world powers as they survey entire regions for riches. I discovered it during decades of researching my new book on endless wars. You’ll find a geopolitical analysis reflected in my article on Afghanistan: If you want to understand the many wars that have swept through the Middle East, Central Asia, and now Africa, you need only to follow the pipelines and the oil schemes taking place right now. All this, despite promises by Big Oil to invest in alternative energy to slow down climate change.
Trend Lines in the TF Stories
Looking back, it was a privilege to be able to choose stories that reflected extraordinary, indeed history-making events between October 2020 and early May. Below, I will highlight some of those stories, as certain trends begin to emerge. Call them patterns of history. Ten years from now, you may want to look back on them as if they were diary entries of an unforgettable period in your life, featuring Covid 19, Trump’s defeat, the January 6 assault on the capitol; the re-invigoration of the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd; the rise of the right wing in the United States based on claims of voter fraud, the similar tactics used by Trump’s fascist allies abroad. Democracy v Racist Authoritarianism is one overriding theme. Look for others:
In October 2020, Toward Freedom ran stories on two historic elections. Olivia Arigho-Stiles’s article on the elections in Bolivia, which returned the MAS party to power, gave us some hope that massive turnouts could turn the table on authoritarian regimes. Meanwhile, in the leadup to the November elections in the United States, Harvey Wasserman and Greg Palast sounded warnings that voter fraud mechanisms were in place in Florida and Wisconsin. Who could have guessed that Secretary of State Raffensperger (or, as Palast calls him, Raffens-purger) would later emerge as a hero for upholding the integrity of Georgia’s vote for Biden, when in 2020 he was responsible for purging 198,000 names from the voter roles!
The big news in November 2020, was the defeat of Donald Trump thanks to the commitment of black and brown voters, who ensured “the largest turnout ever by U.S. voters in a presidential election.” We were so hopeful, I wrote back then. noting that Trump’s “multiple lawsuits claiming ‘voter fraud’ have been rejected so far by U.S. courts for lack of evidence.” As It turned out, Trump continued to use voter fraud to enrage his base…even against fellow Republicans. The fight against a fascist movement in America is far from over.
We also witnessed through the reporting of Serbian journalist Nicolas Micovec some tense super-power standoffs. In Belarus, a proxy battle by “the Western-backed Belarusian opposition” failed to topple President Alexander Lukashenko, who is still firmly supported by Russia.” In Nagorno-Karabakh, more deadly proxy battles were raging between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, where “the conflict is being carefully watched for two reasons: 1) its potential to spread beyond its borders, and 2) an underlying energy war between Russia, the US, and the European Union.”
In December 2020, we began to take stock of what the world would soon face with the new Biden administration. Climate change was high on the agenda, especially since the Trump administration in November officially withdrew the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement. Rashika Pardikar, an Indian journalist, wrote of the “responsibility to both undo the damage done by the Trump administration and do more to address climate vulnerability concerns, especially in the developing world.’ Especially, she notes, because “the US is responsible for 25% of global emissions.” And what could provide better evidence of the dangers of climate change than two horrific Category 4 hurricanes which slammed into Nicaragua and Honduras in November, two weeks apart? Toward Freedom contacted Dan Higgins of the Burlington-Puerto Cabezas Sister City program. His and others’ reporting helped raise aid for the people of Puerto Cabezas, where roughly 2,000 homes were destroyed, and another 9,000 properties were damaged. The article turned into a good opportunity for Higgins to reflect on the history of “Port,” whose “peoples, languages, culture and history [on the Atlantic Coast} are very different from the Spanish-speaking side of Nicaragua.” He writes that the issue of autonomy “continues to be a flash point in Nicaraguan politics, with differing interpretations of what autonomy means.”
Elections in Venezuela, another hot point in international affairs (due in large part to the Trump administration’s economic sanctions to bring about regime change), came into focus as CodePink sent reporter Teri Mattison to observe the country’s December 6 legislative elections. “The sanctions imposed on Venezuela are a form of economic warfare… meant to create hardship and unrest,” Teri reported. (The elections resulted in a victory for President Nicolas Maduro and his allies. The opposition, which boycotted the elections, claimed “election fraud!” Thanks to reporting from Peter Lacowski, “Cries of election fraud by Donald Trump and his followers are familiar to Venezuelans; their right-wing opposition has been doing the same thing for years.”
In January 2021, we focused on Trump’s lies about a “stolen election,” which triggered the right wing assault on the Capitol on January 6, causing TF to immediately probe for details. Jonathan Ben Menachem provided some shocking details in “Cops at the Capitol,” which revealed, “at least 26 sworn members of U.S. law enforcement agencies from at least 11 states have been identified by law enforcement agencies and local reporting as attendees of the Jan. 6 rally.” Alexander Hinton, in his evaluation of the raid, warned us –correctly as it turned out – not to underestimate far right extremists in the US.
The other big news of January, of course, was the Inauguration of Joe Biden, and “Why Poet Amanda Gorman Stole the Inaugural Show” with her reading of her newest poem, “The Hill We Climb.” We published her poem in full, noting that Gorman was about halfway through the poem on Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters stormed into the halls of Congress, some bearing weapons and Confederate flags. She stayed awake late into the night and finished the poem, adding verses about the apocalyptic scene that unfolded at the Capitol that day.” Her eloquent performance was a source of pride for the Black Lives Matter movement and its supporters.
By February 2021, Toward Freedom reported that Trump’s voter fraud allegations seem to have found a receptive audience with generals in Myanmar. Emily Blumenthal observed “glaring similarities between the attempted coup in the US and the successful coup in Myanmar.” She quotes from the rightwing US group QAnon, which supported the coup: “The Burmese military has arrested the country’s leaders after credible evidence of widespread voter fraud became impossible to ignore…Sounds like the controlled media and Biden admin are scared this might happen here. “ An expert on Myanmar concluded, “Trump has given despots across the world fresh rhetorical ammunition to justify their authoritarian actions.”
If this weren’t unsettling news in the post-Trump era, our apprehension about Biden’s foreign policy turned to alarm after US forces bombed Syria in February. In their piece, Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies remind us that “the airstrikes were supposedly authorized by the 20-year-old, post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), legislation that Rep. Barbara Lee has been trying for years to repeal since it has been misused, ‘to justify waging war in at least seven different countries, against a continuously expanding list of targetable adversaries.’
In March 2021, Toward Freedom observed the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring with disturbing reportage about the least known revolts in Bahrain. Finian Cunningham reveals that “Western powers played a nefarious role to ensure that the Arab Spring was kneecapped in order to cripple any progressive potential.” In Tunisia, where popular revolts launched the Arab Spring, Alessandra Bajek provides an in-depth report, noting that “Tunisia has failed to make any substantial progress in the daily lives of its citizens as the country’s democratization is not accompanied by a socio-economic transition. Nor should we forget that it was the Obama-Biden administration that oversaw the Arab Spring, as well as the regime change in Libya, which devolved into a disastrous civil (read proxy) war, killing thousands with many more displaced. According to Mathew Cole, Blackwater mercenaries poured into Libya, portraying themselves as “unarmed logistical personnel being sent in to support oil and gas companies.”
In April 2021, Toward Freedom reported on escalated tensions between Israel and Iran, after Israel bombed Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Kim Zeter reports, “The sabotage seemed timed to send a message — both to Iran and to the U.S. and Europe. It occurred just days after talks began in Vienna to revive the Obama-instigated 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran to control its uranium enrichment production.” Fortunately, cooler heads once again prevailed, and the negotiations are continuing. There is even talk that Saudi Arabia and Iran have been holding secret talks.
The situation in Yemen, as revealed by William Boardman, is not as rosy as the Biden administration would have us believe. “Biden,” he writes, “promised that the US would be ‘ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen.’ Biden gave no specific details. The six-year bombing continues. The six-year naval blockade of Yemen continues. The humanitarian crisis continues, with the threat of famine looming. In effect, Biden has participated in war crimes since January 20, with no policy in sight to end the killing.” Long-time activist Kathy Kelley, worried that the American people were becoming desensitized to the killings in Yemen, reporting on a hunger strike taking place in Washington, DC. demanding an end to the war in Yemen.
Concluding Thoughts: The pandemic brought us many challenges. I, for one, was fortunate to have a job that allowed me to connect with writers from around the world from the safety of my own home.
Now that the pandemic is gradually lifting, I hope to spend more time promoting my book, which suffered greatly from being published during the lockdown. I wish all readers well as they hopefully recalibrate their lives toward a better future. Maybe a new Renaissance will be born out of COVID-19, just as the Renaissance emerged out of Italy’s Black Death in the 15th century. Let history—and science—be our guide, and may today’s movements –for democracy, justice and true equality—be our inspiration!
U.S. Trying to Extradite Venezuelan Diplomat for ‘Crime’ of Importing Food: The Case of Alex Saab vs. the Empire
As the International #FreeAlexSaab Solidarity Committee reported June 6, a delegation is in Cabo Verde to meet Venezuelan envoy Alex Saab, who is imprisoned on U.S. orders. They aim to document the conditions of his confinement and demand his release.
Heading the humanitarian delegation is Cape Verdean religious leader Bishop Felipe Teixeira, Cape Verdean politician Pericles Tavares, and human rights activists Sara Flounders of International Action Center and Roger Harris of Task Force on the Americas.
In their first full day in Cabo Verde on June 4, the emergency human-rights delegation met with Saab’s lawyer and the Venezuelan ambassador, tried to meet with the local police commander, and saw first hand the prison-house where Saab is jailed. Heavily armed guards prevented a visit.
Video of yesterday’s attempt to visit Alex Saab. Intimidating police presence. #FreeAlexSaabDelegation #FreeAlexSaab @FreedomAlexSaab @iacenter @TaskAmericas @RojoCamacaro @ecowas_cedeao @ghananews @CaboVerdeNews @All4GlobalJust @ninopagliccia @OrinocoTribune pic.twitter.com/bmXcm611GC
— FreedomForAlexSaab (@FreedomAlexSaab) June 6, 2021
Below is an edited version of Roger Harris’ May 26 article, which appeared in venezuelanalysis.com, after first being published in Dissident Voice.
The case of Alex Saab raises dangerous precedents in terms of extraterritorial judicial abuse, violation of diplomatic status and even the use of torture to extract false confessions. This is according to Montréal-based international human-rights lawyer John Philpot. He spoke on May 19 at a webinar sponsored by the Alliance for Global Justice and other groups about this example of the long reach of the U.S. empire enforcing its deadly sanctions on some one-third of humanity.
United States Sanctions Venezuela for Being Sovereign
Activist Stansfield Smith of Chicago ALBA Solidarity commented that the Saab case is part of a larger U.S. effort to use “lawfare” to impose its illegal sanctions, which the United Nations condemns as “unilateral coercive measures.” The United States employs sanctions to discipline countries that attempt to develop independently of U.S. domination.
The United States is able to extend its imperial reach through its domination of the international financial system, which is U.S. dollar-denominated and mediated through the monetary exchange known as SWIFT. By controlling the international financial system, Smith explained, Washington can demand banks in foreign countries accept U.S. restrictions or face sanctions themselves.
Venezuela’s resistance to U.S. interference, starting with Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution two decades ago, has been punished by the United States with mounting sanctions so extreme that they now amount to an asphyxiating blockade, causing severe shortages of food and medicine. Activist William Camacaro of the Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle attested to the impact on the people of Venezuela. This U.S. effort to achieve regime change is, in effect, collective punishment to coerce the Venezuelans to reject their elected government.
Even a report from the U.S. government readily admits “sanctions, particularly on the state oil company in 2019, likely contributed to the steeper decline of the Venezuelan economy.” This crippling blow to its oil industry has impacted Venezuela’s capability to generate electricity, conduct agriculture, and generate income from oil sales to fund social programs and import vital necessities, all of which have negatively impacted the lives of ordinary Venezuelans.
Once a leading oil exporter, Venezuela’s ability to import equipment components for its oil refineries and light oil to mix with its heavy crude has been cut off by the United States, devastating its productive capacity. The United States has even blocked international oil-for-food swaps by Venezuela.
United States Targets Mission to Import Fuel and Food
Alex Saab, Venezuelan special envoy and ambassador to the African Union, was on a mission flying from Caracas to Iran to procure food and gasoline for the Venezuelan CLAP food assistance program. Saab was detained on a refueling stop in the African nation of Cabo Verde and has been held in custody since June 12, 2020.
Saab’s “crime,” according to the U.S. government, which ordered the imprisonment, was money laundering. That is, Washington considers Saab’s international trade circumventing deadly U.S. sanctions to be money laundering.
After a 2-year investigation into Saab’s transactions with Swiss banks, the Swiss government concluded on March 25 no money laundering was involved. The real reason Saab is being persecuted is because he is serving his country’s interest rather than that of the United States. Saab was born in Colombia, but now holds Venezuelan citizenship.
The U.S. mandate for the arrest and extradition of Saab would be like Saudi Arabia demanding the arrest and extradition of a British citizen visiting Italy for wearing short-shorts. In essence, the United States does not have legal jurisdiction over a Venezuelan in Cabo Verde on his way to Iran.
The legal fig leaf for what amounts to a kidnapping was an INTERPOL “red notice,” which was not issued until a day after Saab’s arrest and was subsequently dropped. Saab has specified, “they tortured me and pressured me to sign voluntary extradition declarations and bear false witness against my government.”
Saab’s Distinguished African Defense Team
Saab’s attorney in Cabo Verde, Geraldo da Cruz Almeida, explained to the webinar the absurdity of the politically motivated legal case against his client. Saab has violated neither Cabo Verdean nor Venezuelan law. Moreover, Saab’s diplomatic status should have given him immunity from arrest.
The United States does not recognize Saab’s diplomatic status. But then again, U.S. President Joe Biden maintains the fiction that the self-appointed and Trump-anointed Juan Guaidó is president of Venezuela.
Femi Falana, former president of the West African Bar Association, spoke to the webinar from Nigeria. Attorney Falana represented Saab before the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court. On March 15, the court ordered Saab’s release and cancellation of the extradition.
Under U.S. pressure, Cabo Verde continues to hold Saab. Attorney Falana has called on Biden to respect the rule of law and human rights in Africa. Activist Sara Flounders of the International Action Center pointed out 15 of the 39 countries under illegal U.S. sanctions are African.
Ranking 175th and 185th among the countries of the world in terms of geographic area and economic size, respectively, the Republic of Cabo Verde is vulnerable to U.S. strong-arm tactics. It is resource-poor and depends on tourism and remittances from abroad. Shortly after Saab’s arrest, the United States gifted $1.5 million to private-sector entities in Cabo Verde on top of some $284 million total in U.S. aid over the last 20 years.
The U.S. State Department describes Cabo Verde as “an important partner” where the “current administration has prioritized relations with the United States and Europe.” The U.S. Bureau for International Narcotics Law Enforcement funds and supports activities in Cabo Verde, while the Boston Police Department works with Cabo Verde police.
Cabo Verde, it should be noted, is important in the history of African liberation. Marxist Amílcar Cabral led the liberation movement of Guinea-Bissau and Cabo Verde Islands and was assassinated in 1973, only months before declaring its independence from Portugal.
Setting a Precedent
Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese national doing business in Canada, is under arrest for “bank fraud” and is fighting extradition to the United States. North Korean Mun Chol Myong has already been extradited to the United States from Malaysia on similar charges to those used against Saab, for doing business according to international law rather than abiding by illegal U.S. measures.
In short, Saab’s is not an isolated case of U.S. misconduct around enforcing its illegal sanctions, but an emerging pattern.
That the United States can engineer the arrest of a diplomat—who has immunity per international law even in a time of war—is a dangerous precedent. That the arrest was extraterritorial is worse. This harkens back to the flagrantly illegal and inhumane U.S. practice of extraordinary rendition, which was used to populate the Guantánamo torture chambers.
The award-winning movie The Mauritanian is about the true story of crusading lawyer Nancy Hollander, who successfully freed a tortured innocent man from the made-in-the-USA hell of Guantánamo. The Hollander character, played in the movie by Jodie Foster, says: “I am not just defending him, I am defending the rule of law.”
The real-life Nancy Hollander attended the webinar. A lawyer’s delegation to Cabo Verde in solidarity with Saab is being planned and a petition campaign on his behalf is underway. These efforts recognize that the defense of Alex Saab is a defense of the rule of international law against illegal U.S. sanctions.
With the possible extradition of a Venezuelan diplomat to the United States on bogus charges, an emergency human-rights delegation organized by the International Campaign to Free Alex Saab was quickly dispatched to Cabo Verde, where he is imprisoned. This island archipelago nation off the west coast of Africa is one of the smallest, poorest and geographically isolated countries in the world.
The international human-rights delegation did not gain Alex Saab’s freedom. Officials denied them a visit with him. But breakthroughs were made in raising the visibility of the case, which involves enormous political, legal and moral issues with long-term political consequences.
The case involves the abduction of a diplomat by the world’s sole superpower locked in an unequal struggle to destroy the formerly prosperous, oil-rich country of Venezuela. The attack on Venezuela is not motivated on the U.S. part by the imperfections in Venezuelan society, but on Venezuela’s past successes in fighting poverty, promoting regional integration, and acting like a sovereign nation. Otherwise, the United States would be lavishing aid on Venezuela, instead of on the apartheid state of Israel, the nacro-state of Colombia and the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia.
The kidnapping of Alex Saab is a dramatic and far-reaching effort to enforce the illegal U.S.-decreed policy of economic sanctions. The United States is attempting to impose its will on a country by deliberately attacking the civilian population. Illegal sanctions are a conscious policy of imposing economic havoc to “make the economy scream.”
Saab, a Venezuelan diplomat abducted by the U.S. government a year ago, has been held under torturous conditions. The United States denying diplomatic immunity violates international law.
International Campaign to Free Alex Saab
The powerful corporate media, by omission, can render a news item invisible. The Saab case is virtually unknown in the United States, even among progressive political journalists, left organizations and solidarity activists. Washington’s demand for the extradition of Alex Saab is being covered more extensively in African and Latin American publications. In Venezuela, as expected, the case is well known.
Among some who are aware of the case, an inordinate concentration on the Saab, the individual, obscures the larger issues of national sovereignty and human rights.
Gathering information on what was involved was no easy task. The U.S. charge of “money laundering” by a private businessman in a country wracked by extreme shortages hardly created sympathy for Saab’s case. It was only as the actual facts emerged that a support plan evolved for the international solidarity campaign.
That Saab has withstood a year-long arrest, torture and months of solitary confinement rather than comply with U.S. demands to cooperate indicates he is not just a businessman willing to sell to the highest bidder.
The four-person human-rights delegation in Cabo Verde knocked on government doors, conducted interviews and spoke with the media. The local activist movement and a strong legal team supported them. The delegation was led by a Cabo Verde citizen, Bishop Filipe Teixeira, OFSCJ, a religious leader who lives in the Boston area and leads a congregation of Cabo Verdeans. Teixeira has a history of participating in social justice campaigns. Tweets, Facebook links and news reports have helped penetrate the wall of silence.
After collecting thousands of signatures, an international petition is being forwarded to the president and prime minister of Cabo Verde as well as to U.S. President Joe Biden. Several webinars to raise awareness were held, including one with Saab’s lawyers speaking from Cabo Verde and Nigeria.
Visit: Attorney General’s Office/Department of Justice to request Emergency meeting on US demand for extradition.Letter also be sent #FreeAlexSaabDelegation #FreeAlexSaab @iacenter @TaskAmericas @RojoCamacaro @ecowas_cedeao @ghananews @CaboVerdeNews @All4GlobalJust @ninopagliccia pic.twitter.com/9KyEDXgs4e
— FreedomForAlexSaab (@FreedomAlexSaab) June 7, 2021
Role of Solidarity Activists
Solidarity and people’s movements working together can become a powerful material force, breaking through silence, fear and repression. The focus for international solidarity work in this period is to defend movements and even countries under relentless U.S. imperialist attack and destabilization. This is done without placing unrealistic expectations or creating unrealistic images of how wonderful the internal situation in the targeted country is. Solidarity is not a pass for interference, second guessing, criticism or for euphoric idealism.
It is essential to focus full attention on the source of the problem—U.S. imperialism—and not get lost in the weeds of criticizing the victim. U.S. sabotage, imposed shortages, mercenary attacks and fueling national antagonism are intended to create and intensify internal divisions. Shortages are intended to increase corruption, side deals, privilege and resentment. The targeted country may be wrongly blamed for the crisis created by U.S. actions.
Simply put, many progressive goals are thwarted under conditions of illegal sanctions, because that is the purpose of sanctions. The victimized country is obligated to defend itself in the face of destabilization and constant sabotage.
At each step, keeping the focus on the crime of U.S. actions provides a grounding for progressive solidarity. This is true not only in defending attempts at revolutionary change, such as in Cuba or Venezuela. We also raised the U.S. role in Cabo Verde, a country that clearly didn’t decide on its own to pull Saab from his flight or order him detained. Cabo Verde’s isolation and strategic position simply made that country a convenient location for the long arm of U.S. extraterritorial judicial overreach.
This case must be used in the global challenge against arrogant U.S. lawlessness.
Sara Flounders of International Action Center and Roger D. Harris of Task Force on the Americas were in Cabo Verde June 3-10 on the emergency human-rights delegation organized by the International Campaign to Free Alex Saab. The case can be followed on Twitter.