Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?

August 2, 2015 at 8:33 AM

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It may not dominate international headlines as Greece has, but Puerto Rico is facing a strikingly similar crisis, one which threatens to tear apart the very fabric of its society. With a crushing debt burden poised to collapse the US commonwealth, many alleged experts have warned that only through painful “reforms” (read austerity) can the island territory make any economic progress. But at what price is this “progress” to be attained?

The question of ultimate responsibility is, just as with Greece, multifaceted. On the one hand, years of mismanagement have taken their toll on the economy, leading in part to the current crisis. On the other hand, Puerto Rico has been the victim of a predatory capitalist campaign waged by major Wall Street banks, as well as hedge funds and private speculators, who have become heavily overleveraged in Puerto Rican debt through reckless bond purchases while Wall Street has fattened itself playing the role of middleman.

But the crisis in Puerto Rico also raises a deeper political question that for years has lurked just beneath the surface of the US territory, namely Puerto Rico’s true status: dependent US commonwealth or neocolonial possession? While Greece has been a member of the European Union, thereby at the very least giving it the illusion of democratic representation, Puerto Rico has remained little more than a colonial possession – an economic and political vassal of the Empire, subject to its rules and at the mercy of its lenders, while having no political representation or legal recourse. In short, Puerto Rico’s crisis demonstrates unequivocally that the small island commonwealth, and its 3.5 million inhabitants, are little more than neocolonial subjects.

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CounterPunch Radio – Ep. 13 (José Pertierra)

July 31, 2015 at 2:24 PM

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Click here to listen to CounterPunch Radio – Ep. 13 with José Pertierra

This week, CounterPunch Radio host Eric Draitser sits down with renowned Cuban-American attorney José Pertierra to discuss the latest developments in Latin America, especially the warming of relations between the US and Cuba. Pertierra draws on his decades of experience working in international cases dealing with both Cuba and Venezuela, providing insight into issues ranging from the opening of embassies in Washington and Havana, to the geopolitical imperatives driving the shift in US policy. José and Eric contrast the US attitude toward Cuba and Venezuela, and discuss the political and strategic reasons for this. They also touch on the state of the Cuban economy, the mindset of young Cubans today, the importance of Hugo Chavez and his legacy, and the role of China and other non-western countries in the region.

All this and much more in Episode 13 of CounterPunch Radio featuring, as always, intro and outtro music from the Dr. of the Blues, the man with a PhD in Boogie Woogie, David Vest, and musical interlude from Rebel Diaz.

China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion

July 28, 2015 at 10:23 AM

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China has recently taken an important step in more tightly regulating foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) inside the country. Despite condemnation from so called human rights groups in the West, China’s move should be understood as a critical decision to assert sovereignty over its own political space. Naturally, the shrill cries of “repression” and “hostility toward civil society” from western NGOs have done little to shake the resolve of Beijing as the government has recognized the critical importance of cutting off all avenues for political and social destabilization.

The predictable argument, once again being made against China’sOverseas NGO Management Law, is that it is a restriction on freedom of association and expression, and a means of stifling the burgeoning civil society sector in China. The NGO advocates portray this proposed legislation as another example of the violation of human rights in China, and further evidence of Beijing’s lack of commitment to them. They posit that China is moving to further entrench an authoritarian government by closing off the democratic space which has emerged in recent years.

However, amid all the hand-wringing about human rights and democracy, what is conveniently left out of the narrative is the simple fact that foreign NGOs, and domestic ones funded by foreign money, are, to a large extent, agents of foreign interests, and are quite used as soft power weapons for destabilization. And this is no mere conspiracy theory as the documented record of the role of NGOs in recent political unrest in China is voluminous. It would not be a stretch to say that Beijing has finally recognized, just as Russia has before it, that in order to maintain political stability and true sovereignty, it must be able to control the civil society space otherwise manipulated by the US and its allies.

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US Targets Venezuela Using Border Dispute as Pretext

July 23, 2015 at 9:32 AM

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The ongoing border dispute between the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its eastern neighbor Guyana is no simple disagreement over an arbitrary line on a map. Actually, it is a conflict of significant political and economic dimensions, one which will have deep and far-reaching geopolitical implications in the near and long term.

The area in question is known as Guayana Esequiba (Essequibo), a region with competing territorial claims going back more than a century to a time when British imperial interests dominated the contours of the political map of much of the world, including Latin America. Since 1966, when Guyana became a nominally independent country, this territory has been under dispute by the interested parties; Venezuela has claimed the territory as part of its sovereign authority going back to an odious 1899 decision in favor of Britain. However, that has not stopped Guyana from seeking to undermine the stability of the region by claiming de facto sovereignty over the whole of the territory, selling highly valued oil and gas exploration concessions to key North American corporate energy interests. These actions have led to an intensification of the conflict, forcing Venezuela to respond with diplomatic and political pressure.

But of course, as with all things pertaining to Venezuela on the international stage, there is a hidden agenda rooted in the imperial politics of Washington. In its attempt to stifle Venezuela’s political and economic development as an independent regional actor, the US is using its influence to destabilize the region. The goals are distinct, but intimately connected: enrich US energy corporations at the expense of Venezuela and, simultaneously, both position military assets and shape propaganda that paints Venezuela as an aggressor, thereby providing the pretext for US escalation. In this way, Washington is attempting to reassert by stealth the hegemony it once maintained with brute force.

The Economics and Politics of Esequiba

At the heart of this border dispute is energy and the billions of dollars in profits likely to be extracted from the offshore territory. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), “The Guyana Suriname Basin [is] 2nd in the world for prospectivity among the world’s unexplored basins and 12th for oil among all the world’s basins – explored and unexplored.” The basin, which stretches from eastern Venezuela to the shores of northern Brazil, is one of the major prizes in the world for energy corporations and governments alike.

Indeed, the USGS estimates that roughly 15 billion barrels of undiscovered oil and 42 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves lie under the basin, just waiting to be extracted. Such staggering economic potential has made the territorial waters off Venezuela and Guyana highly sought after, especially since the contesting border claims make the legal obstacles to exploration far more surmountable as they allow companies to deal with a compliant government in Georgetown, rather than an independent one Caracas.

 

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Counterpunch Radio – Episode 12 (John Pilger)

July 21, 2015 at 6:02 PM

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Click here to listen to CounterPunch Radio – Ep. 12 with John Pilger

This week, CounterPunch Radio host Eric Draitser goes one on one with award winning filmmaker and journalist, the inimitable John Pilger. Eric and John discuss the role of the corporate media in manufacturing narratives, its relationship to capitalism and commodification, and the importance of independent media to pierce through the propaganda. Pilger provides his blistering critique of the especially insidious liberal media whose misinformation and disinformation is so critical to the ruling class. Eric and John touch on an array of other topics including Greece, Ukraine, and debt as a neocolonial weapon. All this and much more on a slightly abbreviated Episode 12 of CounterPunch Radio, featuring as always intro and outtro music from the Dr. of the Blues, the man with a PhD in Boogie Woogie, David Vest.