Monday, March 7, 2022

Is Latin America shifting to the Left again?

 After the Left’s success in Chile, Honduras and Peru last year, will Brazil and Colombia follow suit in 2022?

Manuella Libardi
4 March 2022, 12.00am

When I first left the confines of my comfortable São Paulo home at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was met with scenes I thought I had said goodbye to in the 1990s.

Whole families living on the streets; children as young as four asking for change at the traffic lights; men lying on the pavements of upmarket neighbourhoods, passed out from hunger or intoxication or a combination of the two.

This was the reality when I was growing up in Brazil on the heels of the country’s hyperinflation crisis in the 1980s and early 1990s. As I grew older and Brazil became more stable, a growing number of Brazilians left the streets. Poverty fell by record numbers between 1992 and 2013, and markedly so after Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva became president in 2003.

Three decades on, Brazil and its Latin American neighbours are experiencing poverty at levels unseen for generations. Amid the economic and social crises aggravated by the pandemic, the region is also seeing a shift in its political preferences: after more than a decade of Right-wing governance, there has been a surge in the election of left-wing leaders.

Recent elections in ChileHondurasPeru and Bolivia have led to claims that Latin America is going through another “pink tide”, the political movement that saw the rise of left-wing leaders across the continent in the early 2000s – including Evo Morales in Bolivia, Lula in Brazil, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.

The shift to the Left had started before the pandemic, with the election in Argentina of Alberto Fernández (ally of former president Cristina de Fernández Kirchner) in 2019 and of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico a year earlier. Upcoming elections in the region, particularly in Colombia and Brazil, could strengthen that wave.

But is this new shift an actual vote of confidence for Latin America's Left or a vote against those currently in office?

Brazil: the return of Lula?

Candidates have yet to launch their presidential bids in Brazil, but some names seem all but already set in stone. Lula, who has been leading nearly all the polls since the annulment of his criminal convictions in March 2021 opened the doors for his possible candidacy, said he will decide “in February or March” whether his name will be on the 2 October ballot as the Workers’ Pathe Workers’ Party’s candidate.

Related story

The far-Right leader’s status as an international pariah masks some important points of continuity

A poll from mid-January showed that 45% of Brazilian voters intend to support Lula in October, putting him 22 percentage points ahead of the far-Right incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, who placed second with 23%. While Lula has consistently led the polls, his margin over Bolsonaro has never been this wide.

Lula, who led the country between 2003 and 2010, ended his second term with a staggering approval rate of 87%, a record in the 37 years since Brazil’s return to democracy. Lula’s popularity has withstood the hardships of the past decade, but his party hasn’t shared the same luck. The Workers’ Party, a giant on Brazil’s political stage, lost considerable ground in both the 2018 general election and the 2020 municipal elections, amid allegations of corruption.

Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s protegée and successor as president, ended 2015 with a measly approval rating of 9% – just months before her controversial impeachment, which many see as the undemocratic removal of an elected official akin to a coup d’état. Another key figure in the Workers’ Party, Fernando Haddad, who faced Bolsonaro in the second round of the 2018 election, finished his term as São Paulo’s mayor with a low approval rating of 17%.

But while Lula’s party has undeniably lost power, Lula hasn’t. As the main representative of Brazil’s Left, Lula’s popularity seems to transcend political-spectrum preferences and play on the old Latin American cult of personality. A repeat of his previous presidential success could very well put Brazil back on track – though he would inherit a vastly different country compared to when he first took power, in 2003.

Lula’s consistent lead in the polls doesn’t, however, seem to point to a resurgence of a cohesive Left, as indicated by his willingness to make an alliance with the centre-Right.

Colombia: first Leftist leader in modern history?

In Colombia, a five-decade-long civil conflict fought largely in the context of the cold war established a very clear line between the country’s Left and Right. Organised according to Leninist-Marxist ideals of land redistribution, the armed guerrillas of FARC who ravaged rural areas during their fight against the Colombian Army tainted the notion of the Left in the country. When the rest of Latin America was electing Leftists in the early to mid-2000s, Colombia remained solidly within the centre-Right camp.

For almost all of the 21st century, Colombia has been ruled by Álvaro Uribe or his protegés – Juan Manuel Santos and now current president Iván Duque. But the Uribismo crown seems to be slipping. It began when Santos signed the historic, but divisive peace agreement with FARC in 2016, which Uribe himself opposed. Santos was replaced in 2018 by a more fervent Uribista, but Duque, who is approaching the end of his term, is the least popular president in Colombia’s history.

The presidential elections in May could put an end to the Uribismo reign. Gustavo Petro, who was the country’s most successful left-wing candidate in a presidential campaign, in 2018, has consistently led the polls. A mid-January poll of voting intentions shows Petro ahead with 25%. He is followed by the blank vote (an option on ballot papers in Colombia) at 18%, and then independent candidate Rodolfo Hernández on 13%. The Uribista candidate, Sergio Fajardo, came fourth with just 8%.

However, despite his steady lead, Petro has stagnated in the polls. Hernández, a millionaire who claims to be fighting the establishment, is one of the few candidates gaining new supporters.

Petro, current senator, former mayor of Bogotá and, in the 1980s, a member of the M-19 guerrilla group, has risen to prominence hand-in-hand with Colombia’s progressive movements, particularly feminists. But, as with Lula in Brazil, Petro has increasingly sought to make alliances with centrists in a bid to broaden his appeal and chances of winning, a move that many believe has alienated his loyal supporter base.

This could indicate that Colombians are more interested in dethroning the status quo than voting for leftist economic ideals. But the last few years have changed the country’s political and social arenas. The massive, youth-led protests of 2021, which were marred by police brutality and resulted in the deaths of at least 80 demonstrators, came as the country grew increasingly incensed by the neoliberal agenda of recent decades.

Can the old Left meet progressives halfway?

During the mid-2010s, the region shifted to the Right almost in unison after the price of commodities crashed to some of their lowest levels this century. The crash devastated economies across Latin America that had largely depended on the export of raw materials.

Fast-forward to today and a similar movement is now happening under similar circumstances. As in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis that hit left-wing leaders, current governments are struggling to keep their country’s economies afloat while managing their citizens’ discontent amid rampant inflation and poverty across the region. After rising to power with promises to end the corruption that plagued previous governments, current leaders have done little to combat it, with corruption as prevalent today in Latin America as it ever was.

There are differences, however. Latin Americans are growing more aware of the effects the lack of wealth redistribution efforts has had, leaving them in the world’s most unequal region.

In Chile, the true neoliberal experiment is facing a slow death in the country of its birth. Millions of Chileans swept the country’s streets from October 2019, igniting a movement just short of revolution. Following the popular revolt, the country elected a wildly progressive Constitutional Convention to rewrite its constitution and later elected 35-year-old progressive Gabriel Boric as president.

Progressive movements have gained ground in Latin America in recent years. This is evident in not only the powerful student-led events in Chile, but also the strides in women’s rights taken by the region’s increasingly organised feminist movement, especially concerning abortion, which was legalised in Argentina in December 2020, decriminalised in Mexico last September and decriminalised in Colombia just last week.

This Left, though, seems removed from the traditional “pink tide” leaders, such as Lula and Argentina’s vice president Cristina Kirchner, who focused largely on economic growth via extractivism. But some analysts believe the new “green tide” has sprouted from the old “pink” generation and, as such, has the political power to influence its forefathers. Indeed, Lula openly celebrated Boric’s victory in Chile, showing that, despite his recent alliances with centrists, he understands the power of the rising generation on the Left.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Just 6% of US House Seats Expected to Be Competitive Thanks to Rigged Maps

Gerrymandered congressional districts come alongside a wave of GOP voter suppression laws.


In a major blow to the democratic principle that lawmakers are accountable to voters who can remove them from office, the vast majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are becoming non-competitive—a trend that critics say threatens to exacerbate GOP extremism as incumbents in solidly red districts shift further right to fend off more reactionary primary challengers.

Several months into the decennial redistricting process, 335 congressional districts have been redrawn as of Thursday. Just 27 of them are considered competitive—meaning neither Democrats nor Republicans have an advantage of more than five points—according to FiveThirtyEight.

Dave Wasserman, an elections expert for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, told The Guardian on Thursday that by the time the remaining 100 boundaries are mapped, he expects just 30 to 35 seats—out of 435—to be competitive.

If as many as 94% of representatives are running in relatively safe districts, "that means that when voters show up at the polls in November to vote for their candidates, the contests will already be decided," The Guardian reported. "Their votes won't matter."

"Some of the decline in competitive seats is due to natural geographic clustering of likeminded voters," The Guardian noted. "That clumping means that when states draw new lines, it's harder to draw competitive districts. In 2012, there were 66 competitive districts, Wasserman noted. By 2020, under the same set of lines, there were 51."

However, "politicians are undoubtedly accelerating the decline in competition by distorting district lines to their advantage," the newspaper added.

Over the past year, as Common Dreams has reported, GOP-controlled states have supplemented their "tidal wave" of voter suppression laws by redrawing congressional and state legislative maps in ways that disenfranchise Democratic-leaning communities of color and give Republicans outsized representation, which could help them cement minority rule for at least a decade.

In perhaps the most egregious example of gerrymandering in the past year, Texas Republicans rigged congressional boundaries to slash the number of competitive U.S. House districts from 12 to one, doubling the number of safe GOP seats from 11 to 22 in the process. In an essay published last fall, voting rights expert Ari Berman called it "an ominous sign of things to come in other Southern battleground states," including Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina.

"Despite gaining nearly two million Hispanic residents and more than 500,000 Black residents since 2010, Republicans didn't draw a single new majority-Latino or majority-Black congressional district," Berman wrote of Texas. "Instead, the two new House seats the state gained due to population growth were given to majority-white areas in Austin and Houston."

Meanwhile, the right-wing dominated U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last week on the constitutionality of Alabama's new electoral maps gave lawmakers the green light to continue partisan and racial gerrymandering, effectively gutting what was left of the Voting Rights Act.

The diminishing number of competitive U.S. House seats has far-reaching implications. If only 6% of congressional districts are considered up for grabs, most politicians no longer have to worry about the general election and instead play to the party's base.

GOP incumbents in solidly red districts, in particular, have moved further right to avoid being unseated by more reactionary primary challengers.

According to The Guardian's Sam Levine, map-rigging has enabled Texas lawmakers to take "the state's long history of chest-thumping conservatism to new levels" in recent months.

"Republicans are steamrolling a series of extremist laws, undeterred by demographic shifts in the state favoring Democrats," wrote Levine. That includes GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been burnishing "his conservative bona fides" in anticipation of a challenge from the right in this year's primary.

The lack of competitive districts "will further increase polarization... it's also a reflection of polarization, but it'll also entrench polarization more deeply," Richard Pildes, a law professor at New York University, told The Guardian.

Michael Li of the Brennan Center for Justice has stressed that if Senate Democrats reform or scrap the filibuster and pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, racial and partisan gerrymandering of the sort being pushed by right-wing lawmakers in multiple states would be outlawed.

This article originally appeared at Originally published on February 2nd, 2022. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. 

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Western Media Fall in Lockstep for Neo-Nazi Publicity Stunt in Ukraine

Photo Credit:Spoilt.exile
When the corporate media push for war,  one of their main weapons is  propaganda by omission.

In the case of the recent crisis in  Ukraine, Western journalists have  omitted key context about the  expansion  of NATO since the end of the  Cold War, as well as US support for the  Maidan coup in 2014  (, 1/28/22).

A third and crucial case of propaganda by omission relates to the integration of neo-Nazis into the Ukrainian armed forces (FAIR.org3/7/14, 1/28/22). If the corporate media reported more critically about Western support for the neo-Nazi-infested Ukrainian security services, and how these forces function as a front-line proxy of US foreign policy, public support for war might be reduced and military budgets called into greater question.

As recent coverage demonstrates, one way of resolving this issue is by not mentioning the inconvenient matter of Ukrainian neo-Nazis altogether.

The Azov Battalion

MSNBC: Growing Threat of Ukraine Invasion

The Azov Battalion’s Nazi-inspired logo can be seen in an MSNBC segment (2/14/22).

In 2014, the Azov Battalion was incorporated into the National Guard of Ukraine (NGU) to assist with fighting against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

At the time, the militia’s association with neo-Nazism was well documented: The unit used the Nazi-inspired Wolfsangel symbol as its logo, while its soldiers sported Nazi insignia on their combat helmets. In 2010, the Azov Battalion’s founder declared that Ukraine should “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade…against Semite-led Untermenschen.”

The Azov Battalion is now an official regiment of the NGU, and operates under the authority of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

‘A granny with a gun’

London Times: Leaders in Final Push to Avert Ukraine Invasion

Pointing out that people training the 79-year-old woman to use an assault weapon (London Times,  2/13/22) were members of a fascist force would have spoiled the heart-warming aspect of the image.

In mid-February 2022, as tensions mounted between the US and Russia over Ukraine, the Azov Battalion organized a military training course for Ukrainian civilians in the port city of Mariupol.

Images of Valentyna Konstantynovska, a 79-year-old Ukrainian learning to handle an AK-47, soon featured across the Western broadcast and print media.

The figure of a pensioner lining up to protect her homeland made for an emotive image, collapsing the conflict into a simple good versus evil binary, while adding weight to US and British intelligence assessments forecasting an immediate full-scale Russian invasion.

Such a narrative was not to be ruined by reference to the neo-Nazi group training her. Indeed, mention of the Azov Battalion was largely erased from mainstream coverage of the event.

The BBC (2/13/22), for instance, showed a clip of “civilians lining up for a few hours’ military training with the National Guard,” with International Correspondent Orla Guerin describing Konstantynovska endearingly as “a granny with a gun.” Though Azov Battalion insignia was visible in the report, Guerin made no reference to it, and the report ends perversely with an NGU combatant helping a child to load an ammunition magazine.

BBC depiction of a boy learning how to load ammo

The BBC (2/13/22) depicts a young boy getting a lesson on how to load ammo—without mentioning that the training was sponsored by a far-right paramilitary.

The BBC (12/13/14) has not always been so reluctant to discuss the Azov Battalion’s neo-Nazism. In 2014, the broadcaster noted that its leader “considers Jews and other minorities ‘sub-human’ and calls for a white, Christian crusade against them,” while it “sports three Nazi symbols on its insignia.”

Both MSNBC (2/14/22) and ABC News (2/13/22) also reported from Mariupol, showing similar video footage of an Azov Battalion member teaching Konstantynovska to use a rifle. As with the BBC, no mention was made of the regiment’s far right association.

Sky News updated its initial report (2/13/22) to include mention of the “far right” trainers (2/14/22), while Euronews (2/13/22) made a rare mention of the Azov Battalion in its initial coverage.

‘Glorification of Nazism’

Telegraph: Ukraine Crisis: The Neo-Nazi Brigade Fighting Pro-Russian Separatists

There was a time when Western news outlets (Daily Telegraph8/11/14) recognized the Azov Battalion as a neo-Nazi force rather than a source of photo ops.

The printed press fared little better. On February 13, UK newspapers the London Times and the Daily Telegraph ran front-page spreads showing Konstantynovska preparing her weapon, without any reference to the Azov Battalion running the training course.

Worse still, both the Times and the Daily Telegraph had already reported on the militia’s neo-Nazi associations. In September 2014, the Times described the Azov Battalion as “a group of heavily armed men” with “at least one sporting a Nazi logo…preparing for the defense of Mariupol,” adding that the group had been “formed by a white supremacist.” For its part, the Daily Telegraph described the battalion in 2014 as “the neo-Nazi brigade fighting pro-Russian separatists.”

In light of NATO’s recent posturing in defense of Ukraine, the fact of the Azov Battalion’s neo-Nazism seems to have become an inconvenience.

On December 16, 2021, only the US and Ukraine voted against a United Nations resolution condemning the “glorification of Nazism,” while the United Kingdom and Canada abstained. There can be little doubt that this decision was made with the conflict in Ukraine in mind.

In the doctrine of Western militarism, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And if that friend happens to enlist neo-Nazis, Western corporate media can be relied on to look the other way.

Reprinted with permission.  FAIR’s work is sustained by their generous contributors, who allow them to remain independent. Donate today to be a part of this important mission.
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Friday, February 4, 2022

'Shame on Them': DOJ Will Not Reopen Tamir Rice Case

"I think they're pitiful and pathetic, and at this point no one is going to get justice when it comes to police shootings in America," said Rice's mother.

February 1, 2022                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
The mother of Tamir Rice, who was shot to death at age 12 by a Cleveland, Ohio police officer, condemned the U.S. Department of Justice's decision not to reopen her son's case.  "Shame on them," Samaria Rice told Buzzfeed News Monday after receiving a letter from the DOJ regarding the Biden administration's decision. "I think they're pitiful and pathetic, and at this point no one is going to get justice when it comes to police shootings in America. It's disgusting I don't have an indictment for my 12-year-old son."

"Curing a defective state process... is consistent with the fundamental purpose of the federal civil rights laws and squarely within the mandate of the DOJ."

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who heads the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, told the Rice family in a letter dated last Friday that federal prosecutors who looked at the case could not prove that Rice's civil rights were violated intentionally when he was shot and killed by the officer.

The letter referenced Section 242 of Title 18 in the U.S. Code, which states that "an officer acted ‘willfully’ if he did so with bad purpose—that is, with the specific intent to do something the law forbids—to deprive a person of their constitutional rights."

"After viewing, and exhaustively evaluating the available evidence in this matter," Clarke wrote, "career prosecutors determined that the federal government could not meet this high standard."

Rice was killed in 2014 after a witness called 911 to report that he was playing with a pellet gun outside a recreation center in Cleveland. Officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed the boy less than two seconds after pulling up to the scene in a police car, according to video evidence.

The Trump administration said in December 2020 that it would not bring charges against the officer and a grand jury decided not to indict Loehmann as well.

The Cleveland Police Department has been under court-ordered supervision since 2015 after an investigation that began before Rice's killing found its officers had a "pattern or practice" of using excessive force and violating people's civil rights.

Samaria Rice sent four letters to the Biden administration asking the DOJ to reopen her son's case, citing the "long-standing and systemic excessive force problem" in the Cleveland Police Department as one reason to consider federal charges.

Fifty legal scholars signed one of the letters arguing that "covening a federal grand jury and prosecution under Section 242 is warranted."

The scholars cited two federal cases that demonstrate the fact of the case "satisfy the requirement" of Loehmann's intent to violate Rice's civil rights, including United States v. Couch:

The Sixth Circuit upheld jury instructions that explained the intent element to include "reckless disregard" of constitutional rights, and that intent could be inferred from circumstantial evidence. Specifically, the jury instructions in Couch included the explanation that "intent is a state of mind and can be proven by circumstantial evidence" and that it is "not necessary for you to find that the defendants were thinking in constitutional terms at the time of the incident, as a reckless disregard for a person’s constitutional rights is evidence of a specific intent to deprive that person of those rights."

In our view, the tragic and unnecessary shooting death of Tamir Rice presents an important opportunity for the Department to clarify and cement a clear, fair, and proper interpretation of Section 242 that fully realizes the purpose of the statute as enacted by Congress.

"Curing a defective state process—in this case, one that appears to have been impermissibly slanted to protect local white law enforcement officials from accountability in the shooting death of a young black child—is consistent with the fundamental purpose of the federal civil rights laws and squarely within the mandate of the DOJ," wrote the scholars.

This article originally appeared at Originally published on February 2nd, 2022. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. 

Please support and visit The Brooks Blackboard's websiteour INTEL pageOPEN MIND page, and LIKE and FOLLOW our Facebook page.

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