Petras on Argentina, Israel, Ireland and more…

Interview with James Petras

Ephraim Chury Iribarne – Radio Centennial

Translation: Machetera

“In Argentina it’s the ultra right-wing that’s resurgent, and the Marxists, the Trotskyists, don’t realize that they are the ones who will reap all the consequences of the strike.”

Chury: We’re saying good day to James Petras as we do every Monday; how’s it going James?

Petras: Very well, we have really good weather here right now, rain at night, harvests in the day.

Chury: That’s very good, here we’ve only got cold weather at the moment…

Petras: Yes, winter’s begun.

Chury: Winter’s begun, that’s for sure. Petras, I’m going to start with the south, the Uruguayan government with the president at the head, but also Danilo Astori, Marina Arismendi (of the Communist Party), various ministers, more than 50 businessmen and union leaders from the PIT-CNT, Juan Castillo and Richard Read are touring Panama, Mexico and Cuba. And the question is whether this is a political tour or a tourist junket.

Petras: Okay, first, for the union leaders it’s tourism, to enjoy themselves a little with Mexico’s mariachis, a bit of salsa in Cuba and all the rest; because effectively, there’s not a lot to discuss in Mexico with union officials, and in Cuba there’s not been a lot of militancy shown toward the exchange of economic strategy. In Panama, I imagine that the conditions for the visit are that certain class unions should not be touched, for example, those that exist between the ports and others. Now the important part of the trip is between the businessmen, particularly those who are looking to extend their trade in food products and their financial links with Mexico. I think this is the principal core of the visits. With Panama, I don’t see much of a market. Panama is notorious for contraband, unregulated banks that launder plenty of money. With Cuba, there are very few things that Cuba might export to Uruguay, more than anything, it’s importing food because of the failed agricultural policies. With Cuba I think there are two things: one, is to give the slight impression that in Uruguay, Danilo Astori and Tabare Vazquez haven’t gone so far to the right as to leave Cuba completely out of the picture; therefore it has a public relations effect and maybe an effort to connect with the Cuban market and export more food. Cuba imports more than $1.3 billion dollars worth of food, something that maybe Uruguay could get in on. Mexico is a market of almost 100 million people, it’s a country with high oil income and perhaps there could be some important economic agreements for the private sector, particularly with President Calderón, who is ultra-rightwing and so there might be more congruence between Uruguayan style neoliberalism and Mexican neoliberalism.

Chury: In Argentina, the police lifted one of the pickets on the highways of Gualeguaychú, in many areas of that country, food shortages have been seen. One must ask, what interests are on either side of this conflict, where the rural sectors threaten to prolong this protest another 100 days?

Petras: I believe there there’s a dynamic in Argentina that many people have not understood. I think that in the beginning of the conflict, it was a vindictive conflict to lower tariffs on exports from the agricultural sector, but with time and the success that the agricultural exporters have had, particularly in mobilizing the small and medium agricultural producers and with the advance of the strikes and the incapacity of the government to resolve the problem either through strong intervention or through concessions, I believe that those who are directing the strike are from the economic right-wing, and the small, combative farmers are their shock troops. In any case they are not going to dictate the conditions for a settlement, still less will they benefit from the consequences. But more than that, lately, the political right-wing has become involved, particularly in mobilizing the middle class in Buenos Aires, Rosario and the interior; and lately it’s taken on a political physiognomy in order to weaken and discredit the government. And since the government doesn’t have a policy for stopping or mobilizing against the parties, it’s left with declarations that are hard one moment, and conciliatory the next, and this vacillation has stimulated a right-wing policy now with the pot-bangers in Buenos Aires, and those go beyond the vindictive struggle.

I believe that the right-wing and ultra right-wing are behind the strike of the agricultural exporters, not just trying to discredit the government, but to displace it forcefully, through an economic crisis of food shortages. They are looking to provoke a crisis as much in external accounts as with internal inflation, through the lack of products and the lack of control over the roads and transportation. This makes me think that something has entered the picture that three months ago was not considered, that they are putschists who are immersed in this process, who don’t only want to change economic policy but want to change the regime itself.

In this sense, I think that the government has two alternatives facing it. One, a capitulation, which I believe is the most probable. Accept economic concessions and suffer a loss of character, a discrediting of its policies. The other alternative, that’s not on the table, is to intervene in the major agricultural exporting units. Threaten to take them over, displace the oligarchy, and reorganize production. And this is one way of fighting the exaggerated rural demands. But for this, a far more leftist government is needed, a government capable of presenting the citizens, the unions, the workers, the poor, with an alternative program saying that “if capitalism is not inclined to produce, we shall take these units and make them work under the control of the state, with the collaboration of rural workers and laborers.” But this is not even considered; the Argentine left hasn’t even discussed this alternative. So I think that in the world of the probable, these strikes will continue until the government folds.

The government has no other alternative to negotiating with the capitalists directing the strike and within the typical Argentine left, the radical left has taken the agricultural sector’s side, supposedly in solidarity with the small producers. But the fact is that the small producers are in solidarity with the huge exporters, and are even more combative as shock troops, and as in other countries, the petty bourgeoisie has taken note and the large bourgeois is simply biding its time, provoking in order to seize power at the right moment. I don’t believe that the small farmers have indicated consideration of any kind of alliance with the left, less still with the workers and unions. In this case, one has to reject any effort to distinguish between small and large agriculture, because they already form a hegemony, a political block, and they are on a confrontational trajectory that seeks to topple the government.

In this sense, I believe that the struggle right now is between an institutionalized and paralyzed center left, but within the nuances of a bourgeois democratic system; and outside, the ultra right-wing headed by the agricultural exporters is rapidly accumulating force and that’s the most important thing, while the government is paralyzed. The left doesn’t show any indication of presenting an alternative. It’s the ultra right-wing that is resurgent. The Marxists, the Trotskyists don’t recognize that they’re not going to benefit as a result of this strike, rather, it’s the ultra right-wing that will reap all the consequences. In this situation I believe that one has to put all forces against the striking bosses, mobilize all the available forces who are suffering shortages, inflation, and in any case withhold support from the Kirchner government, but defend instead the institutions and democratic laws against these resurgent putschists.

Chury: I agree totally with what you’re saying, Petras, and I’m going to another subject. Today in the international press it appears that peace talks will continue between Syria and Israel and from Egypt it’s also been mentioned that an agreement between Israel and Hamas may be reached. Do you think that these conversations will arrive at some kind of peace?

Petras: If we look back at history we have to say that Israel has never been consistent; it’s opened dialogues, discussions on various occasions but within a tactic of dividing and seeking, trying to conquer the Arab countries. But never in the past 20 years has Israel opened serious discussions; it’s not inclined to hand over the Golan Heights, it’s not inclined to reach a non-aggression agreement, etcetera. While it talks of peace today, yesterday it launched bombs against Syria. While it talks about an agreement with Hamas, in the past three weeks it’s killed almost 100 civilians and Hamas fighters. In concrete terms, with feet on the ground, it doesn’t talk of reconciliation, Israel has not taken one positive step toward an accord. There are rumors, there are discussions, but at this moment we have to say that the most likely next Prime Minister is the Zionist fascist Netanyahu, which the polls in Israel say is the most likely to be elected; he’s the Hitler of the Jews. Second, a poll says that 65% of Jewish citizens do not agree with the de-colonization of Golan, and these facts for me are very revealing, because Israel circulates these rumors to get international cover, that they’re not as totalitarian as the daily massacres they’re committing would appear, but until one sees something more concrete such as stopping their rockets and bombs over the cities and homes of Gaza, one has no reason to believe much in relation to Hamas.

Hamas has offered peace, has offered a ceasefire, has offered a prisoner exchange, etcetera, and every peace proposal, every concrete step taken by Hamas is rejected by the Zionists. And here in the United States, all the Zionist mafia, the main organizations, have not shown any kind of support for peace; they continue to parrot any kind of statement by the state of Israel and right now there is no initiative whatsoever.

I believe that Israel’s entire policy is to disarm worldwide economic policy in order to accelerate its aggressions against Iran. They want to separate Syria from Iran, they want to weaken any ally of Iran, aside from these pseudo-offers of negotiation.

Chury: After Ireland’s rejection of the European Union treaty, is it impaired, or will everything go on the same until January 1st, 2009, which would be when it should take force?

Petras: You’re talking about the vote in Ireland?

Chury: Exactly.

Petras: Well, the vote in Ireland was very impressive because it was like in Uruguay, the PIT-CNT, the bankers association, the large capitalists and he three principal political fronts were in favor, and the popular masses with their very minor parties won with the No vote.

It’s very impressive that civil society, individuals, citizens and social movements captured some 54 or 55% of the vote.

And why did they vote No? Because in the first place Ireland has a policy of neutrality. It never participated in the Second World War, nor in the Cold War, and has always maintained a position independent of imperialism, and this is notable in Ireland. The people don’t wish to subordinate themselves to the imperialist policies of the Economic Community; they want to maintain their traditional position.

In this sense it’s very peculiar, it’s a conservative progressive vote, that preserves the progressive tradition of the past in relation to its options for external relations. Second, the Irish who suffered 800 years of colonialism, value their democratic rights. In this sense they don’t want to submit to policy made in Brussels, they want at least to control the way their politics work in Ireland and not have to look for solutions from or influence over a supposedly European government in Brussels that’s going to be dominated by the large countries; France, Germany, England.

This second reason I believe is the operative one, and Europe, as a consequence, is not going to accept this defeat. What I think is most likely is that they will begin with all their political engineering, that is, take part in the measures that were in the referendum, for instance, elect a president, have their own Foreign Minister, etcetera, and it’ll be implemented piecemeal. In other words, since they couldn’t implement the entire package, they’ll do it bit by bit. And they’ll do it through a connected agreement in order to advance in small steps, now that they’ve lost or failed to do it in one great leap.

I believe that this way of manipulating the results confirms that when the bourgeoisie lose an election, they look for other authoritarian or administrative ways to achieve the same objective.

Chury: Petras, we thank you very much for these interpretations and we’ll see you again next Monday, like always.

Petras: Yes, a hug.

Chury: Be very well, Petras.

Petras: Thanks, you too.

Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.

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