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Museveni dares the West to a fight

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Today Wednesday President Yoweri Museveni took oath to start his sixth term of office to extent his 35-year rule to potentially 40 years.

In his inauguration speech, Museveni once again attacked the West for always meddling in the affairs of Africa, saying Africans are capable of defending themselves even if it comes down to a physical fight. Below is his full speech. 

Your Excellencies, The visiting Heads of State and Their Excellencies the First Ladies;
Your Excellencies Heads of Delegation;
The Honourable Members of visiting delegations;
H.E. The Vice President of Uganda; Rt. Hon. Speaker of Parliament; His Lordship the Chief Justice;
Rt. Hon. Deputy Speaker;
His Lordship the Deputy Chief Justice;
Rt. Hon. Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly; The Rt. Hon. Prime Minister;
Their Highnesses the Cultural Leaders;
The Religious Leaders;
All the other Leaders of the State and the NRM Party; Your Excellencies High Commissioners and Ambassadors; The NRM fraternity;
Leaders and Members of other Parties;
Distinguished Guests;
All the Wanainchi;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Your Excellencies,

The people of Uganda and myself, welcome you to Uganda. I thank you for coming to show solidarity with us on this joyful occasion. By 1900, the whole of Africa had been colonized, except for Ethiopia. This was a big shame to Africa and it was all due to the political fragmentation of Africa into small kingdoms and chiefdoms.

Some of the traditional leaders, tried to fight to preserve their independence. They were, however, not co-ordinated and they were defeated one by one.

Taking Uganda as an example, our society was, that time, a pre-capitalist, mainly non-money one, using barter trade (kuchurika) and comprised of 3 social classes: the feudalists; the artisans (black-smiths, carpenters, potters, etc.); and the peasants (agriculturalists, pastoralists and fishermen).

By 1962, at independence, this pre-capitalist economy and society had, somewhat, metamorphosed into a typical enclave colonial economy with a small island of modernity that had entered the money economy, surrounded by a sea of backward subsistence economic activities, that only catered for food and no cash.

The small monetary enclave economy left by the British, was described as the economy of the 3Cs and the 3Ts. The 3Cs being: Coffee, Cotton and Copper and the 3Ts being: Tobacco, Tea and Tourism. This little enclave, was growing well.

In 1969, it grew at the rate of 11%. When the illiterate Idi Amin came in, in 1971, the small enclave collapsed, almost completely. By 1986, sixteen years after the onset of the Idi Amin regime, two of the 3Cs (cotton and copper) had disappeared and two of the 3Ts (Tourism and Tea), had either disappeared or radically shrank.

Tea exports, had gone from 23 million kgs in 1969 to only 3 million kgs. Hence, it was only coffee and tobacco that were still limping on.

With the clear-headed ideology of the NRM, we had correctly diagnosed the problem of Uganda. Philosophically and strategically, the main mistake was to emphasize identity (of religion, tribe and gender chauvinism), instead of emphasizing interests (markets, security, infrastructure, etc).

Accordingly, we distilled the four (4) principles of NRM: (i) Patriotism ─ loving Uganda and rejecting sectarianism of religion or tribe as well as gender chauvinism; this is, among other things, to ensure, that the united market of Uganda is available to our producers without any hindrances (multiple taxation by local governments, etc).

(ii) Realizing that the internal market of Uganda is not enough; in order to support our producers of goods and services, we saw that Pan-Africanism, was a necessity for the prosperity of our society.

(iii) Ugandans could not, however, benefit fully from the Ugandan market, the African market or, indeed, the global market, unless they underwent social-economic transformation ─ changing from the pre-capitalist traditional culture of only working for the stomach or engaging in uneconomic colonially demanded cash-crops production, to producing remunerative products and services that are market-driven.

While joining the money-economy is one of the stimuli for social-economic transformation, we cannot also forget the other one ─ the development of the human resource through education and improved health.

(iv) The fourth principle of the NRM’s diagnosis and prescription for Uganda’s society, is democracy. The Ugandans had not known democracy during the time of the pre-colonial kings and chiefs, during the time of colonialism and during much of the post-colonial time, except for the four years between 1962 and 1966.

That is how and why we designed a most elaborate democratic structure involving 96,860 elective positions in the whole country. In Parliament, we have 353 directly elective constituencies, open for all Ugandans that have A-level education and are above the age of 18 years old.

On account of the reasons of our culture, out of this number, only a small number of women, always make it through this “law of survival of the fittest”. In the outgoing Parliament, such women, were only 19 and in the incoming, such women are only 14.

At Independence in 1962, out of a Parliament of 92 MPs, only 2 were women ─ Florence Alice Lubega and Sugra Visram (an Indian lady). It is on account of this structural marginalization of some sectors of our society, that we added special seats for: women ─ one per district; youth ─ 1 per region; disabled ─ 1 per region; workers ─ 5 seats; the Liberation Army (UPDF) ─ 10; and, recently, 5 for the older persons ─ those above 65 years ─ 1 per region. I doubt very much that there are many comparable pro-people democratic structures in the World.

That is how, we end up with an additional: 146 women MPs; 10 MPs for the Liberation Army; 5 for the workers; 5 for the youth (between 18years and 30years); 5 for the disabled (numbering 4.5millions); and, recently, 5 for the older persons. It is, therefore, quite comic to hear of some actors in the World, giving us lectures about democracy!!

We designed this system, not from air-conditioned rooms, but, from the jungles of our country where we lived with the people ─ in their huts in those days ─ for much of the 16 years of the Resistance (1971-1986), if you discount the student years where, again, we interacted closely with the masses.

What is needed is to expunge the corruption of the use of money that has been creeping-in ─ brought in by the opportunist careerists ─ looking for jobs and not service. It is quite laughable to try to give lectures about democracy to architects of such a system. We built this system for our people.

We neither seek nor need any approbation from anybody outside Uganda, except our peers in the AU and NEPAD to whom we are linked by African brotherhood, solidarity and shared values, based on mutual respect. We can also share our experience with those beyond the African shores, on the basis of mutual respect.

The 4 principles have served us well. In the last 35 years, the economy has been growing at the rate of 6.2% per annum. It now stands at US$40.5billion if you use the exchange rate method and US$116billion, if you use the PPP method.

With the activation of the oil sector, which has been dormant ever since 2006 when we discovered the petroleum and if you add the expected average growth rate of 6% per annum post Covid-19, the combination will expand the economy to an estimated US$67billion by 2026 using the exchange rate method and US$193billion, using the PPP method; meaning that the economy will be growing at the rate of between 9- 10% in the initial years of oil production.

This rate of growth, although reasonable, is not what I want. With the rise of the literacy rate from 43% in 1986 to now 76.53%, we can achieve much-faster rates of growth and I will see to that. We have achieved rapid rates of growth in some sectors. These isolated positive rapid rates of growth, can be generalized throughout the whole economy.

There is a French phrase that I have never forgotten since my aborted attempt to learn French, 59 years ago, in 1962 at Ntare.

Apart from femme la Porte, auvir la Porte, Jene comproper etc., I will never forget, the phrase dolmir bouk. Certainly in Uganda, I do not know about the other parts of Africa, there has been alot of dolmir bouk (kulambaala, nino-matek, okwebaka, kugwejegyera, kulaala saana, too much sleep).

In Uganda, one of the phenomena that we have had to deal with, has been the dolmir bouk. That is how you would get poverty with people who have good land with fresh water but only working for the stomach (okukolera ekidda kyoonka, tic me ic keken) and no effort at all for the pocket.

Sleeping is, however, also good in its own paradoxical way. There are so many things, you do not worry about, because you are asleep. A snake can come and enter the bedroom when you are asleep and it will bite you and you die peacefully, because you did not have time to worry.

When you are awake, however, you worry about so many realities that you continue to face. The NRM has been able to wake-up sections of the population of Uganda. In 1986, Uganda was a land of shortages ─ no sugar, no soap, no paraffin, no textiles, no sodas, no salt, no beer, no petrol, etc.

With the limited waking up of some sections of the population, Uganda now is a country of surpluses: maize, where we produce 5 million tonnes per year, but consume only 1 million tonne within Uganda; milk where we produce 2.6 billion litres, but consume only 800million litres; bananas; beef; sugar where we produce 600,000 tonnes, but consume only 380,000 tonnes; cement; steel bars (mitayiimbwa); tyres and tubes for motor-cycles; textiles; ceramic tiles; coffee – 7 million bags; tea – 60million kgs; etc.

Therefore, the small colonial enclave economy of 1971 that had been wiped out by the Amin regime, has been restored, greatly expanded and totally new products have been added. This has now vindicated the stand of the NRM eversince 1965, encapsulated in the 4 principles ─ one of which is Pan-Africanism.

The question is: “When all the Ugandans wake up and start using their assets fully ─ land, labour, capital ─ to create more wealth in the four sectors of commercial agriculture, industry, services and ICT, who will buy or utilize all those products? Will the internal market of Uganda be enough? The answer is a clear: “No”. The internal market, cannot be enough, if serious production takes off in Uganda and, may be, in the other African countries.

Do we need examples? Look at China and India. Each of them, has an internal market of 1.4billion people. Yet, they have been greatly assisted by exporting to other countries, including the African ones. How could, then, the population of Uganda of 46million people, be considered enough to sustainably stimulate and absorb the enhanced products of the Ugandans that have woken from the sleep of ignorance about modern opportunities?

This is the moment the Ugandans and the other Africans need to answer the question: “Is this generation of the African leaders, determined to build a Latin America in Africa or a United States of Africa in Africa?”

In 1776, when the British settlers in North America got independence, they wisely decided to unite the 13 colonies of the British of: Virginia, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia. They have been adding other States ever since; that is how, you now have the mighty USA.

The Spanish colonies, in South America, on the other hand, decided to remain scattered into the 18 countries of Latin America of: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, French Guiana, Paraguay, Chille, Argentina and Uraguay.

What is the result after 246 years? Prosperity in the USA and misery in Latin America ─ almost universally. How will a big business enterprise in Honduras (population 9.904million), Guatemala (17.915million), Costa Rica (5.094million), Panama (4.314million), etc., succeed?

Even bigger countries like Brazil (population 212million), may not easily succeed for the reason that even bigger countries like China and India, still need additional markets. By 1900, Argentina was the 10th richest country in the World. What, then, happened? It was the biggest exporter of beef in the World. That is what we were taught in P.3, in 1955.

What, then, happened? It seems the emergence of the protected beef market of the EU, may have been the cause of Argentina’s decline.

I would, therefore, like to use this occasion to remind the African fraternity, that economic and, where possible, political integration in Africa, is a sine qua non of the success for Africa, if we are to address the issue of the prosperity of our people and strategic security of Africa, apart from other considerations.

President Museveni after being presented with a copy of the Constitution 

I am glad we are working on the CFTA for the common market of the whole of Africa and on the confederation of East Africa as a first step to the East African Political Federation. In East Africa, we should not repeat the mistake of 1963, when some actors made us miss our objective of the Political Federation.

East African Leaders call for Kenya Independence now and…. Federation this Year…..

Top-level Talks end in Nairobi – 3/6/1963

We must, where we can, build a centre of gravity for the African race. There are some small countries in the World. However, many of them, have centres of gravity: USA for the Europeans; Russia for the Balkans; China for the Far East; India for South Asia. Where is the economic and strategic centre of gravity for the African race?

When you see black people suffering almost everywhere ─ in Africa, the USA, Brazil, etc., it is partly on account of lacking this centre of gravity.

In order, therefore, to solve the problem of the new happy phenomenon of surpluses in Uganda, we need to deal, along with our brothers and sisters in Africa, with 3 issues: regional and continental integration to unite the regional and continental markets to support production of goods and services better; higher purchasing power in Uganda so that the Ugandans can buy more; and good quality products at comparative costs that can be accepted in national, regional, continental and international markets.

To intensify the struggle for social-economic transformation, we shall aggressively and without compromise, deal with some obstacles.

There was some resistance by some parasite groups to our policies of creating and properly using the wealth funds (OWC, Youth, Women, Emyooga, etc.); implementing free education in Government Primary and Secondary Schools; providing free vaccines and therapeutic drugs in Government health centres; protecting bibanja (tenants) owners on the iniquitous mailo land system; ensuring that the feeder roads are in good condition following the provision of good road equipment to all the districts; fighting corruption of Government officials including magistrates and the Policemen; and dealing decisively with the cattle thieves and those who steal crops from the gardens.

The wealth funds will be concentrated at the Parish (Muruka), in the Parish Model, except for the myooga (specializations) funds that will remain at the constituency. The wealth funds, unlike in the past, will be controlled by the members and not by Government officials (CAO, OWC, etc).

These funds will, henceforth, be members-owned and run. The only prohibition will be to divert the money to the non-mission areas. The allocations will be grants to the Parish SACCOs. In the past, it was Government officials to select beneficiaries. The members will now prioritize the allocations themselves.

With free education, after due considerations, there will be no head-teacher, that will be tolerated if he/she re-imposes school charges. Dealing with corruption and stealing drugs, part of the solution, will be E-Government. All Government transactions, will be computer-based; no more human to human contact. This will be easier to monitor even for remote supervisions.

The corona pandemic hit some sectors badly, especially the hotels, the performing arts, the boda bodas, the sportsmen, etc. This financial year and the next financial year, we have put aside Shs464billion (about US$130million) to help these groups as soon as the residual lockdown is removed.

The UDB will be further empowered to give low-interest loans to manufacturers, agricultural entrepreneurs and some actors in the services sector ─ tourism, etc.

As far as corona-19 virus is concerned, we shall open up once we have vaccinated fully 4.8million people as follows:

(a) Population over 50years (8%) – 3,348,500

(b) Health Workers (Public & Private) –  150,000

(c) Teachers, Lectures, etc –  550,000

(d) Security Personnel –  250,000

(e) Those with Comorbidities –  500,000
Below 50 years (estimate)

TOTAL – 4,798,500

We have so far vaccinated 375,283 people. Apart from importing vaccines from others, we are developing our own vaccine, able to deal with all the known variants. We have also been trying, in humans, some therapeutics, which seem to be effective.

Our diagnostics are reaching industrial level and we have finalized the construction plans for the diagnostics factory. Construction should commence soon. On prevention, the tough measures we took, limited the damage. Until today, we have had 42,226 infections, 41,652 recoveries and 346 deaths.

Finally, I thank Their Excellencies that have honoured us with their presence on this occasion. This is real brotherhood. We also appreciate the delegations that came from all the other countries. I need to express my concern to the African brothers and sisters that are here today and those that are not here, that the situation in a number of points in Africa does not give credit to the African people.

The security situations in: Libya; Mali; Niger; some parts of Nigeria; Chad; Central African Republic; some parts of Cameroon; Eastern Congo; Somalia; recently, Northern Mozambique; etc., must be addressed and can be addressed.

First of all, the situation in Libya, was created by the arrogant and irresponsible actions of some actors that took actions that were against the express position of the African Union. I can reveal to you now, that those actors, had a narrow escape. When some actors started attacking Libya against the decision of the African Union, I contacted H.E. Jacob Zuma of South Africa for African Armies, that so decided, to intervene in Libya and confront and teach a lesson to those aggressors.

We were let down by Muammar Gaddaffi who abandoned Tripoli without a fight. Although, at that time, I did not have direct link with Muammar Gaddaffi, I advised his envoy who came to see me, to turn Tripoli into a Stalingrad. With H.E. Jacob Zuma, we had to work out a solution for the aircraft and cruise missiles that attack defenceless people from far away, so that if the aggressors so wished, could come on the ground and we fight man to man.

Such a confrontation would, of course, have been imposed on us unnecessarily. We have, since long time ago, stated that African patriots, like we in the NRM, are neither pro-West nor pro- East. We are, first and foremost, pro-Africa. It is on account of that, that good friends should only deal with contentious strategic African issues via the African Union.

By-passing the African Union, is not acceptable when it comes to dangerous strategic African issues. We have no interest in fighting anybody except poverty and under-development in Africa, starting with Uganda. However, some actors are always “in search of enemies”.

Our role there, is to advise those who are advisable, but also do our patriotic duty if unavoidable. Unfortunately, the Libyans collapsed quickly. On account of that, much of North West Africa, has been with security problems that were not there before: Libya, Chad, Mali, Niger, parts of Nigeria, Central African Republic and Cameroon.

Who is responsible for this haemorrhage? Of course, Muammar Gaddaffi had his own problems. I had had the task of fighting him twice ─ 1972 and 1979 ─ as he intervened in Uganda on the side of Idi Amin because he was a Moslem. However, foreign armies attacking an African country against the express objection of the African Union, is not the solution.

The huge concomitant suffering of the Africans in Libya and the surrounding countries, has proven that, if any proof was needed.

Africa can defend itself against any and all aggressors if we co-ordinate. In 1963, our leaders met in Addis Ababa (only 36 of them at that time) and declared that the rest of Africa must be freed peacefully or Africa will use force.

That time, some actors thought, as they seem to think now, that this was just idle talk. Exactly 11 years later, in 1974, the African Armies, of Mozambique, Angola and Guinnea-Bissau, supported by the courageous Mwalimu Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Sekou Toure, Boumeddiene, Nasser and briefly Nkrumah and the socialist countries, had defeated the Portuguese African Armies, totaling almost 200,000 soldiers.

Just before this victory, there had been the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, where the Egyptian Army put up a better performance and quite bled the Israelis before the latter crossed the canal and surrounded the Egyptian 2nd and 3rd Armies in Suez and Port Said.

They (the Israelis) badly needed resupplies by the USA. However, the USA had a problem because many of the European countries did not want to refuel the American transport planes in fear of the Arab anger.

The Arabs had announced the 1973 oil boycott against those that they saw as their enemies. That left the Portuguese Islands of the Azores. In the USA National Security Council meeting of 1974, the issue of using the Azores came up. Somebody in the meeting, pointed out that Africans will be very annoyed.

Henry Kissinger, who was said to be a very clever man, is said to have said that African anger does not matter because they have no capacity to enforce it. Exactly 5 months from the date of that meeting, the Africans who did not matter, defeated the Portuguese who mattered.

I am told Kissinger is still alive. It would be good for his record, if he cleared up this allegation. It is up to us to show all and sundry, that we matter and we have the capacity. We defeated the Islamic hoodlums in Somalia; we defeated the racist Whites in Southern Africa. We can defend Africa, if we act together and act right.

Back to Uganda, the elections are over. Let us get down to work. The four (4) economic sectors where there are jobs and wealth are: commercial agriculture with ekibaro, cura, aimair, otita; ─ counting profitability; industries; services; and ICT.

With your individual savings, collective savings by groups, borrowing from banks, or with Government support, you should enter one or more of these sectors so as to chase poverty from your homesteads, create wealth and jobs for some of your family and also for others.

I thank you.

Source – observer.ug

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US pulls antimissile batteries from Middle East: Report | Joe Biden News

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As tensions ease with Iran, Biden administration moves to put US forces on more normal footing, Wall Street Journal reports.

The Biden administration is withdrawing Patriot antimissile batteries from four Middle East countries as the US reduces its military footprint in the region amid a reduction in tensions with Iran, a US news outlet reported on Friday.

The Pentagon is pulling about eight Patriot antimissile batteries from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and Jordan, as well as a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system from Saudi Arabia that had been deployed by the previous Trump administration, the Wall Street Journal reported citing unnamed US officials.

The redeployment includes hundreds of US troops who operate the systems and began earlier this month following a June 2 phone call in which US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin informed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of the shift, according to the Journal.

The withdrawal of anti-missile batteries marks a return to a more normal level of defence in the region where the US continues to maintain tens of thousands of troops even as it has reduced forces deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Journal reported.

“We still have our bases in the countries of our Gulf partners, they aren’t shutting down, there is still substantial presence, substantial posture in the region,” a senior defence official told the Journal.

The US deployed Patriot antimissile batteries and troops to Saudi Arabia after Iranian drone attacks hit Saudi oil facilities and to Iraq in 2020 after a spate of missile and rocket attacks on US forces by Iran and Iranian-backed militias.

The US military acknowledged that more than 109 US troops had suffered concussions and other brain injuries in an Iranian ballistic missile attack on the Ain al-Assad military base in Iraq following the US air strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

President Joe Biden, who took over from former President Donald Trump in January, has sought to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East and US diplomats have been engaged in indirect talks with Iran on reviving the Iran nuclear deal.

US and Iranian diplomats engaged in a sixth round of talks in Vienna earlier this month as Iran considers rejoining the 2015 agreement prohibiting it from obtaining nuclear weapons in exchange for relief from punishing US economic sanctions.

Trump had unilaterally withdrawn from the Iran nuclear agreement and instituted a “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran that Biden officials have said failed to achieve goals and had the effect of accelerating Iran’s nuclear development.

Iranians were voting on Friday for a new president to replace outgoing President Hassan Rouhani who had championed the nuclear agreement with the US in 2015.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Venezuela’s Maduro expresses desire for foreign aid, Biden deal | Business and Economy News

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Seated on a gilded Louis XVI chair in his office at Miraflores, a sprawling, neo-Baroque palace in northwest Caracas, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro projects unflappable confidence.

The country, he says in an 85-minute interview with Bloomberg Television, has broken free of “irrational, extremist, cruel” U.S. oppression. Russia, China, Iran and Cuba are allies, his domestic opposition is impotent. If Venezuela suffers from a bad image, it’s because of a well-funded campaign to demonize him and his socialist government.

The bombast is predictable. But in between his denunciations of Yankee imperialism, Maduro, who’s been allowing dollars to circulate and private enterprise to flourish, is making a public plea and aiming it directly at Joe Biden. The message: It’s time for a deal.

Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves, is starved for capital and desperate to regain access to global debt and commodity markets after two decades of anti-capitalist transformation and four years of crippling U.S. sanctions. The country is in default, its infrastructure crumbling and life for millions a struggle for survival.

“If Venezuela can’t produce oil and sell it, can’t produce and sell its gold, can’t produce and sell its bauxite, can’t produce iron, etcetera, and can’t earn revenue in the international market, how is it supposed to pay the holders of Venezuelan bonds?” Maduro, 58, says, his palms upturned in appeal. “This world has to change. This situation has to change.”

In fact, much has changed since Donald Trump put the sanctions on Caracas and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as president. His explicit goal, to drive Maduro from office, failed. Today, Guaido is marginalized, Venezuelans are suffering more than ever and Maduro remains firmly in power. “I’m here in this presidential palace!” he notes.

There has, however, been little of the one thing urgently needed to end the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian disaster: compromise — from Maduro, from his opposition, from Washington.

Maduro hopes a deal to relieve the sanctions will open the floodgates to foreign investment, create jobs and reduce misery. It might even assure his legacy as the torchbearer of Chavismo, Venezuela’s peculiar brand of left-wing nationalism.

“Venezuela is going to become the land of opportunities,” he says. “I’m inviting U.S. investors so they don’t get left behind.”

Over the past few months, Democrats including Gregory Meeks, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Representative Jim McGovern and Senator Chris Murphy, have argued that the U.S. should reconsider its policy. Maduro, who these days rarely leaves Miraflores or the military base where he sleeps, has been waiting for a sign that the Biden administration is ready to negotiate.

“There hasn’t been a single positive sign,” he says. “None.”

A sudden turnabout seems unlikely. With broad support from Congress, the Trump administration cited Venezuela for human-rights violations, rigged elections, drug-trafficking, corruption and currency manipulation. The sanctions it placed on Maduro, his wife, dozens of officials and state-owned companies remain in place. While Biden’s policy of restoring democracy with “free and fair elections” is notably different from Trump’s, the U.S. still considers Guaido Venezuela’s rightful leader.

Maduro has been giving a bit of ground. In recent weeks, he moved six executives — five of them U.S. citizens — from prison to house arrest, gave the political opposition two of five seats on the council responsible for national elections and allowed the World Food Program to enter the country.

Although Maduro is seeking better relations with Washington, he has built close ties with Russia, Iran and China [File: Gaby Oraa/Bloomberg

The opposition, while fragmented, is talking about participating in the next round of elections in November. Norway is trying to facilitate talks between the two sides. Henrique Capriles, a key leader who lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential vote, says it’s time for winner-take-all politics to end.

“There are people on Maduro’s side who also have noticed that the existential conflict isn’t good for their positions, because there’s no way the country is going to recover economically,” he says, taking time out from a visit to the impoverished Valles del Tuy region outside Caracas. “I imagine the government is under heavy internal pressure.”

Venezuela’s economy was already a shambles by the time Maduro took office. His predecessor, Hugo Chavez, overspent wildly and created huge inefficiencies with a byzantine program of price controls, subsidies and the nationalization of hundreds of companies.

“When Chavez came into power, there were four steps you had to take to export a container of chocolate,” Jorge Redmond, chief executive officer of family-run Chocolates El Rey, explains at his sales office in the Caracas neighborhood of La Urbina. “Today there are 90 steps, and there are 19 ministries involved.”

Once the richest country in South America, Venezuela is now among the poorest. Inflation has been running at about 2,300% a year. By some estimates, the economy has shrunk by 80% in nine years — the deepest depression in modern history.

Signs of decay are everywhere. At the foreign ministry in downtown Caracas, most of the lights are turned off and signs on the bathroom doors say, “No Water.” Employees at the central bank bring their own toilet paper.

Throughout the country, blackouts are daily occurrences. In Caracas, the subway barely works and gangs rule the barrios. Some 5.4 million Venezuelans, a fifth of the population, have fled abroad, causing strains across the continent. The border with Colombia is a lawless no-man’s land. Cuba, of all places, has provided humanitarian aid.

Sanctions on Venezuela date back to the presidency of George W. Bush. In 2017, the Trump administration barred access to U.S. financial markets, and it subsequently banned trading in Venezuelan debt and doing business with the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA.

The offensive was brutally effective, accelerating the economic collapse. Last year, Venezuelan oil production slid to 410,000 barrels a day, the lowest in more than a century. According to the government, 99% of the country’s export revenue has been wiped out.

Juan Guaido during a Bloomberg Television interview in Caracas on June 8 [File: Gaby Ora/Bloomberg]

All along, Maduro was working back channels, trying to start negotiations with the U.S. He sent his foreign minister to a meeting at Trump Tower in New York and her brother, then the communications minister, to one in Mexico City.

Maduro says he almost had a one-on-one with Trump himself at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2018. The White House, he recalls, had called to make arrangements, only to break off contact. Maduro blames it on the foreign-policy hawks in Trump’s orbit, many of them in thrall to Venezuelan expats in Florida.

“The pressures were unbearable for him,” he says. “Had we met, history might be different.”

A onetime bus driver and union leader, Maduro has proven the consummate survivor. He defeated rivals to cement control of the United Sociality Party after Chavez died in 2013, withstood attacks in 2018 and 2019, and outlasted Trump.

Guaido, who worked closely with the U.S. campaign to oust Maduro, has been forced to shift strategy from regime change to negotiations.

“I support any effort that delivers a free and fair election,” Guaido says in his makeshift offices in Eastern Caracas, surrounded by unofficial, state-by-state counts of Covid-19 cases. “Venezuela is worn out, not just the democratic alternative but the dictatorship, the whole country.”

If Maduro feels the heat, he doesn’t show it. Several times a week, often for as long as 90 minutes, he appears on state TV to blast the “economic blockade” and pledge his servitude to the people’s power. The populist theatrics drive home a carefully scripted narrative: Venezuela’s sovereignty, dignity and right to self-determination are being trampled by the immoral abuse of financial power.

During the interview, Maduro insists he won’t budge if the U.S. continues to hold a proverbial gun to his head. Any demands for changes in domestic policy are “game over.”

“We would turn into a colony, we would turn into a protectorate,” he says. “No country in the world — no country, and even less Venezuela — is willing to kneel down and betray its legacy.”

The reality, as every Venezuelan knows, is Maduro has already been forced to make major concessions. Guided by Vice President Delcy Rodriguez and her adviser, Patricio Rivera, a former Ecuadoran economy minister, he eliminated price controls, pared subsidies, dropped restrictions on imports, allowed the bolivar to float freely against the dollar and created incentives for private investment.

Rural areas continue to suffer, but in Caracas the impact has been dramatic. Customers no longer have to pay with stacks of banknotes and the supermarket aisles, far from being bare, are often piled high.

Maduro even passed a law full of guarantees for private investors.

Henrique Capriles speaks to residents in the Valles del Tuy region of Venezuela on June 8 [File: Gabriela Ora/Bloomberg]

The reforms are so orthodox, they could be mistaken for an International Monetary Fund stabilization program, hardly the stuff of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution. Maduro responds that they’re tools of a “war economy.” Sure, dollarization has been “a useful escape valve” for consumers and businesses, but it and the other reluctant nods to capitalism are temporary.

“Sooner rather than later, the bolivar will once again occupy a strong and preponderant role in the economic and commercial life of the country,” he says.

It wasn’t so long ago that the U.S. saw Venezuela as a strategic ally. Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and Chevron Corp. had major holdings in the country’s oil industry and refineries in Texas and Louisiana were retooled to process heavy crude from the Orinoco Belt. Wealthy Venezuelans traveled to Miami so frequently, they talked about it like a second home.

All that changed when Chavez was elected in 1998. He expropriated billions of dollars in U.S. oil assets and built alliances with socialists in Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Maduro has gone further, embracing Washington’s most threatening enemies. He describes the relationship with Russia as “extraordinary” and sends a birthday card to Chinese President Xi Jinping. It’s a taunt to Biden: Keep mistreating Venezuela and you’ll be dealing with another Castro, not a leader who still holds out hope for a win-win deal.

Guests at the VIP Lounge at Simon Bolivar International Airport were reminded of Venezuela’s new friendships. Three clocks mounted in a vertical row showed the time in Caracas, Moscow and Beijing.

Asked in the interview what they signify, Maduro replies that the “world of the future is in Asia.” But an idea crosses his mind. Perhaps, he says, there should be clocks for New Delhi, Madrid and New York, too.

The following afternoon, there are indeed six clocks on the lounge wall. In this country, Maduro is still all-powerful.

Except for one thing: Like so much else in Venezuela, the clocks don’t work.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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UN chief Antonio Guterres sworn in for second term | Antonio Guterres News

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Guterres, the only candidate for the UN’s top post, said he was ‘humbled and energised’ by the support of world’s nations.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been unanimously re-elected for a second five-year term by the 193-member United Nations General Assembly.

The 72-year-old Portuguese, the only candidate for the world body’s top post, said on Friday he was “humbled and energised” by the support, adding that the “driving theme” of his second term will be “prevention in all its aspects – from conflicts, climate change, pandemics to poverty and inequality”.

“I will give it my all to ensure the blossoming of trust between and among nations large and small, to build bridges, and to engage relentlessly in confidence building,” Guterres told the General Assembly after taking the oath of office.

Ambassadors in the assembly chamber burst into applause as Assembly President Volkan Bozkir announced Guterres’ re-election by “acclamation”, without a vote.

The 15-member Security Council earlier this month recommended the General Assembly reappoint Guterres. His second term officially starts on January 1, 2022.

Guterres succeeded Ban Ki-moon in January 2017, just weeks before Donald Trump became president of the United States. Much of Guterres’s first term was focused on placating Trump, who questioned the value of the UN and multilateralism.

Washington is the largest UN financial contributor, responsible for 22 percent of the regular budget and about a quarter of the peacekeeping budget. President Joe Biden, who took office in January, has started restoring fundings cut by his predecessor to UN agencies and re-engaged with the world body.

‘Capable leader’

Among those to welcome Guterres’s re-election were US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Blinken called Guterres a “results-oriented” and “capable leader in a demanding role”.

The US “looks forward to continuing our strong and constructive relationship … as we advance the urgent task of bringing about a more peaceful world and prosperous future,” Blinken said. “The United Nations is an indispensable anchor of the multilateral system” where nations work together “to meet such unprecedented challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, human rights, development, migration, and humanitarian crises”.

For her part, Merkel praised Guterres’s commitment to peaceful solutions to conflicts, climate protection and “innovative solutions to global problems” in his first term and thanked him for helping set up the COVAX facility to get COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries.

“The coronavirus pandemic in particular has shown us that the United Nations’ ability to react quickly to current challenges is essential,” she said.

Guterres was prime minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002 and head of the UN refugee agency from 2005 to 2015. As secretary-general, he has championed climate action, COVID-19 vaccines for all and digital cooperation.

When he took the reins as the UN chief, the world body was struggling to end wars and deal with humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen. Those conflicts are still unresolved, and Guterres is now also faced with emergencies in Myanmar and the Tigray region of Ethiopia.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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