“There are good terrorists and bad terrorists“ – James Petras
Efrain Churiy – Radio Centenario
Chury: We’re talking with the sociologist James Petras there in the United States, who we welcome, good day, how’s it going…
Petras: Good day.
Chury: In terms of work, what subjects are you working on?
Petras: There are a variety of things that interest me; one of the interesting things is the fact that the New York Times published an article by an Israel academic writer named Benny Morris, who favors an atomic bomb being dropped on Iran and the fact that the New York Times is publishing articles that could kill 70 million people is a very important cultural fact; it’s 10, 11 times greater than the Holocaust that Hitler unleashed against the Jews.
Second, I’m reading an excellent book about Colombia, by a Colombian writer named Hernando Calvo Ospina, that shows how the Uribe government, the paramilitaries and the army are working together and killing and displacing almost 2 million people since he became president. An important fact: the military officers, colonels and captains who go to the North American training schools return with a recommendation: almost all the generals in Colombia are graduates of this education. In other words, the military and political certification by North American military academies is mandatory if you’re going to end up commanding troops in Colombia. There are other important facts in the book, which is called “Colombia, Haunted Laboratory”.
Chury: What’s new after the international moves made by both Obama and McCain and what’s the resulting balance?
Petras: Here we’ve seen Obama’s move rightward; he’s the main proponent of extending and deepening the war in Afghanistan, he talks about sending 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, his foreign policy even revolves around the projection of North American power, something he calls re-asserting leadership, recovering North American hegemony in the world. In this sense I believe he’s showing a new aggressiveness toward the rest of the world, when he speaks of negotiations, multilateralism, collaboration with Europe. And he has no proposal for dealing with the economic recession here. So here we find that the dailies and the media don’t talk about the discontent with both candidates; the Democratic party which dominates the congress has a popularity rating of 20%. Bush and the Republicans themselves get lots of advertising, every hour the media, radio, television, newspapers report and advertise the campaign, but the average man here is not enthusiastic about the elections. One polls says that just like last time around, barely 50% of the citizens are going to vote in the next elections. Once again we have two main candidates who are unable to provide an incentive for people to vote.
Chury: In other words, the abstentions will be the same as in the last election…
Petras: Yes, something like that. I believe that Obama might win because of the simple fact that people are tired of Bush and the Republican party. There’s no doubt that the people (those who are going to vote) are blaming Bush for the war in Iraq and those who are against that are going to vote. There’s a big vote against that and Obama will capitalize on it. Also Obama has three times more financing than Mr. McCain. He’s received the support of the middle and upper classes. In this case, big capital has already given its approval to Obama. They need to give politics a new luster, and are looking for a new face as a replacement, and that’s evident with the financing that Obama is receiving, more than $50 million a month.
Chury: Several days ago there was a sharp drop in the market which was attributed to the internal U.S. situation and the fall of the dollar. How do you see the economy there today?
Petras: There are a variety of things; the unemployment crisis is evident. We’ve lost 100,000 jobs in July, and according to official figures unemployment has grown to 5.6%. Inflation is the subject that no-one talks about but it affects the pocketbooks of many people who are very worried. We also have the crisis in the financial sector which has affected the credit economy, mortgages, the fall in housing sales; there’s an enormous backlog of houses for sale with no buyers. Now the sector that’s improving is the export sector which, with the fall of the dollar, has made North American exports more competitive. Figures for the last trimester say that the North American economy grew between 1% and 2%. That’s what they say officially, but it’s growth that if it’s true, has not affected the income, nor the employment of the unemployed.
So they talk about whether we can avoid a recession while the financial sector needs an injection of $30 billion dollars to avoid a collapse.
Chury: Could you analyze Chávez’s recent visit to Russia and Spain?
Petras: I think the trip to Russia is normal; the two countries have had relations because Russia as much as Venezuela is under attack by the United States. They have a common enemy and may find themselves in a friendly relationship. Relations with Russia are important because Venezuela is now buying a lot of arms, a billion dollars in new arms from Russia for its security against the threats from Colombia and North America. I don’t know to what degree the expenditures are necessary, I’m not going to comment on that.
In regard to Spain, a lot of confusion has been sown among the Chavistas who always repeat what their leader says and now have done a 180 degree turn with the king, speaking well of Spain. Chávez’s politics are very, how to say, very changeable, very volatile. He gets angry, he denounces, and later he turns around and hugs [people]. It’s a very inconsistent diplomacy and it confounds the unconditional Chavistas who one moment take part in the momentary hostilities toward a government, the politics, and the next, Chávez does a turnaround and they remain hanging like they’re a little stupid. I think that right now, Chávez is on a wave of getting close to all the bourgeois governments everywhere, even the rightwing governments, in order to isolate the North American position. I think it’s a diplomatic offensive toward foreign bourgeois governments, independent of his internal policies.
I believe that we should understand this diplomatic policy but on the other hand, we should distance ourselves when Chávez begins to pay tribute to the King and other politicians because this harms and confuses the people who live in those countries, the people who have to suffer under those governments and those repressive people, for example the autonomous movements there, the Catalans, the Basques, the Galicians who are very critical of the monarchic centralism, and when Chavez plays with the monarch I think it goes beyond simply improving diplomacy.
Chury: Here in the Southern Hemisphere, the media have given quite a lot of coverage to stories about rapists and drug traffickers in Iran, and it’s noticeable, because when this happens in countries with the death penalty such as the United States or certain other Western countries, it barely merits a line or two. In other words, it’s like a large campaign is being orchestrated that may have negative results for Iran, no matter how much they may be acting within their legal framework…
Petras: We’re against the death penalty in Iran, in the United States, in Texas, anywhere. What one must say is that the media are very selective; there are good terrorists and bad terrorists. There’s no criticism when Israel kills Palestinians. But when an Arab group commits an atrocity, they magnify it. This is part of the politics of class, of social economic politics. They have no principles. The media have interests. When those interests say so, Darfur, Sudán is condemned, but when Israel is killing Palestinians every day in Gaza and other parts of Palestine, there’s silence, no condemnation. Simply speaking, the media are part of the class struggle and they take part in it. They have no principles whatsoever and we should denounce this double standard but also understand that it is part of a national and popular struggle.
Chury: In the Argentine republic, there was a big tug of war between the government’s tax policy and the large ranching landowners and multinational businesses, particularly those dedicated to the planting of soy. How did you see the government’s situation facing this?
Petras: The government never took serious measures against the large plantations and large agribusiness; it was even working with Dreyfus and other sectors of agribusiness. I believe that the withholdings have a class component; it’s fair to impose a tariff on the large earnings of the large exporters. But how are they using this withholding? They’re not using it to finance improvements in the minimum wage, unemployment compensation, to finance employment programs. They’re using it to pay the external debt, to subsidize large industrial capital sectors. In this sense, I believe that we shouldn’t simply condemn the victory of the agro-exporting rightwing but also present alternative programs. In other words, not simply say yes to withholding, but yes to demanding a withholding channeled to popular programs, strengthening the working sector. No-one talked, for example, during these strikes by the agro-exporters, about the peasants in the rural areas, or the day laborers who continue working and continue gaining only 60% of the minimum salary in the cities, which is totally insufficient to maintain a basic food basket.
For me, it’s an important fact that in this struggle, no-one talked about the conditions of the workers in the rural areas and the cities, as a means of supporting the withholding. It’s evident that the Kirchners have lost the great ability to mobilize because the large agricultural businesses were able to mobilize more people in the streets than the government, even in Buenos Aires. It’s a negative comment on the trajectory of the Kirchner’s economic policy.
Because never in history have we had an example where the oligarchy had more mobilizing power among the middle class than a supposedly popular government had among the poor.
We shouldn’t simply embrace a supposedly legitimate and democratic government because we’re forgetting the great failures in social policy toward the people.
Chury: I wish you a very good day and send you greetings on behalf of the listeners.
Petras: Thanks very much. A hug.
Chury: Be well Petras, good luck.
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