Dec. 17, 2002

Nuevas Amenazas y Viejos Apologistas

A Reply to Horacio Verbitsky

James Petras

In an article, "Nuevas Amenazas" published in Pagina/12 ( December 15, 2002 ) Horacio Verbitsky makes a series of unsubstantiated accusations, personal attacks that are absolutely and totally false, in the process of opposing popular mobilizations directed against the Duhalde regime.

His method of personal defamation is directed at linking supporters of the popular struggle to US military strategists – an old Stalinist technique, recycled as the "theory of the 'doble demonios'".

Verbitsky proceeds by citing a document of the Junta Interamericana of Defensa (JID) which refers to the "new threats" to US domination by the popular mobilizations and movements throughout Latin America. The JID document cited by Verbitsky proposes to militarize Latin America to repress the "new threats". Verbitsky's "opposition" to militarization is to attack the popular movements struggling against malnutrition, unemployment and poverty as facilitating the military repression. He writes "Facilitar los pretextos ( luchas populares) necesarios a esa decision ( remilitarizacion ) no parece lo mas conveniente para los intereses populares."

In this context it is understandable why Verbitsky does not consider 19-20 of December 2001, a popular victory and condemns demands and efforts to construct new representative institutions – these are "new threats" in the words of the JID, or "pretexts" for remilitarization according to Verbitsky.

Both Verbitsky and the JID oppose the new extra-parliamentary democratic movements, one in the name of "Hemispheric Security" ( read: US imperialism ) and the other in the name of "popular interests" ( read a corrupt civilian regime subordinated to the US.) For the JID the overthrow of De La Rua created a "threat" – and according to Verbitsky is a "pretext" for re-militarization, better to suffer billion dollar theft of savings – over half of the population living in poverty.

But Verbitsky is not content with denouncing popular struggles against De La Rua, Duhalde and other "pretexts" for US military intervention. He not only denounces me for supporting the popular struggles in Argentina, he goes on to denounce my principled criticism of Lula's right turn in Brazil. If Verbitsky read anything beyond his column, he would discover that every newspaper from the Financial Times of London to Folho de Sao Paolo to the Wall Street Journal he would discover that all reputable journalists come to the same conclusion. Lula has moved to the right: appointing a neo-liberal banker to head the Central Bank, another liberal to the vice presidency and another to the Finance Ministry. Secondly if Verbitsky read the statements of the leading trade unions ( CUT, Forza Sindical ) and the Landless Workers Movement (MST), he would also discover that they reject Lula's right-turn, assert their independence and are mobilizing against his economic and social agenda. There is a coincidence of views between Petras, MST, and CUT on Lula's right turn and the need to mobilize because the policies Lula and his ministerial appointees propose are contrary to his electoral promises to the 50 million poor Brazilians who voted for him. Neither the Brazilian MST and CUT nor the Argentinian popular assemblies, and piqueteros need my advice to act and mobilize, there are more than enough competent local leaders to accomplish that.

One of the elementary rules of ethical journalism is to get the basic biographical facts about a subject correct. Verbitsky claims I live in "su comfortable casa de Boston". I have never lived in Boston. I live in Binghamton, New York, an impoverished provincial city in a de-industrialized wasteland with the cheapest housing prices in the country. I do not own a house. For the past 50 years I have been active in trade unions, university, community and solidarity movements in the US as well as in Latin America, Europe and Asia. Every year I am invited to lecture and teach by many popular movements throughout Latin America. In December of this year, I was invited by Evo Morales to a national meeting to discuss U.S. imperialism in Chapare, Bolivia before 500 delegates of the Cocalero farmers. Earlier in November, the petroleum workers in Esmeralda, Ecuador and the electrical workers in Mexico invited me. The MST in Belen, Brazil have invited me to participate in a Tribunal in May 2003 as well as the piqueteros in Neuquen . I go because the popular movements invite me and I accept because I am actively committed to their struggles and want to learn from their experiences and our dialogues.

I have traveled through mud and swatted mosquitos speaking at encampments of landless peasants in Rio Grande de Sul; I have shared beans and rice with Zapatistas in Mexico while discussing politics; I have discussed and shared an asado with peasant activists in Santiago de Estero. I don't need lectures about my activities or my lifestyle from a sworn enemy of the Madres – but you, Verbitsky, have plenty to answer for.

Verbitsky, is there a problem in my accepting invitations from these movements and from the University of the Madres? Do you object when your financial sponsors, the academic directors of the Ford Foundation, advise the State Department on how to "contain" the " new threats " to US imperialism? Verbitsky, why not face up to the fact that you know nothing of the style and substance of my political activity in Latin America over the last 40 years? Why not openly discuss the new social movements, instead of slandering them with your recycled notion of the 'double demon'? Perhaps as a conservative, but honest, writer you might be recognized as a journalist and not a propagandist.