Sunday, May 4, 2008

THE RADICAL GRASSROOTS IN LATIN AMERICA PART II

By Luis Fleischman and Nicole Ferrand* (Please see sourcing at the end of the Report).

In our article “The Radical Grassroots” published on March 28, 2007, we discussed the potential situation generated by the emergence of new available masses represented in new populist movements in Latin America, formed by people who have been rather marginal in the political arena in the past. We also discussed the penetration of Islamists and Iran in the area as well as the role of Hugo Chávez as a catalyst and promoter of alliances between these groups and radical Islam.

In this piece we continue to explore this issue and try to understand the deeper meaning of these partnerships. We saw that Hezbollah Venezuela is a pro-Chávez organization formed in the Wayuu Indian community, which converted to Islam, a political Islam, revolutionary, anti-capitalistic, anti-Western, anti-American, and, of course, pro-Iranian. We have seen a case of a newly mobilized group, which has not adopted the form of a political party, or a political group with specific demands. Similar to Chávez, it represents a movement which intends to radically change the social system within Latin America.

In this article, we will try to explore the current situation in Argentina. The Israeli analyst Ely Karmon studies the presence of Islamic groups in Argentina.[i] Karmon points out that Hezbollah Argentina is differing from its Venezuelan counterpart as it is not based on the Indian community but it includes radical rightists and populist elements both of which have close relations with local Arab Shiia’s and the Iranian regime.[ii]

Hezbollah Argentina works with the Islamic Association of Argentina (AIA) that has links to Hezbollah and to the government of Iran. Its website http://www.asociacionislamica.org.ar/ celebrates the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, condemns the United Nations Security Council resolution that calls for sanctions against that country, and contains the most vicious attacks against Israel and the West.[iii]

Protest of “Quebracho” in Córdoba, Argentina. Protesters from the Arab community and from Islamic groups, with posters of the Ayatollah and of Hezbollah. Source: La Nación, Argentina.


The AIA consists mainly of Shiiah converts to Islam who cooperate closely with the Iranian Embassy. The AIA and its religious leader, Sheikh Abdala Madani, identify themselves with the Iranian regime. The AIA, according to Karmon, cooperates and works with the Argentinian piquetero group (picketer) violent group known as “Quebracho”. [iv]

In August 2006 during a peaceful and legal demonstration organized by members of the Argentinean Jewish community, including Jewish students, in front of the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires, “Quebracho” tried to prevent the protestors from arriving at the site. On that occasion they also expressed their support for Iran and their repudiation of Israel. “Quebracho” and AIA also organized anti-Israel demonstrations in the city of Córdoba. The group also has direct links with Hugo Chávez and by the same token it communicates with the Embassy of Iran via a direct line.[v]

“Quebracho” is described by Karmon as being a small group. However, we have reasons to believe that its importance may be stronger than its size. “Quebracho” whose official name is the Patriotic Revolutionary Movement (MPR) was created in August 1996 emanating from an alliance of activists in a number of lose popular organizations and other pre-existent organizations of the left including Peronists, Socialists, Communists and some former revolutionary movements that were active in the 1970’s. Their ideology (see http://www.quebracho.org.ar/) is based on anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. "Quebracho" targets concrete enemies: the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United States, Japan, Israel and those Argentinean businesses and families that are linked to this international power.[i]

The group believes in violence as a means to achieve the ends and advocates an understanding of self-defense which does not match any international legal standards: “Violence in the hands of the people is not violence but it is justice and self-defense”. They are convinced that violence should be generalized because it is more effective than any other form of struggle, particularly in comparison to the act of voting. Indeed blocking highways has proven for them to be more ‘successful’ than participating in elections because such actions brought about the collapse of the government of President Fernando De La Rúa[ii] (1999-2001). “Quebracho” does not believe in any electoral process, and in fact, they have never participated in one. They claim that “you do not need to convince the enemies, you must defeat them”. “Elections are nothing but a fraudulent game that conspires against the people”. Because of the collapse of De La Rúa in 2001, “Quebracho” believes that by deepening the concept of rebellion, it will achieve victory.[iii]

Indeed the movement continuously organizes protests against the government in any occasion and anywhere in the country. They protested against the visits of President Clinton, Prince Charles of England, and George W. Bush as well as against delegations from International Organizations such as the IMF (The International Monetary Fund), and others. They violently protested the death of a teacher at the hands of the police in the Argentinian city of Neuquén and they vandalized a train station causing damage to trains and equipment voicing their opposition to fraud and the privatization of state companies. They have confronted the police numerous times and their members have often been arrested.

“Quebracho” reaches out to and works with the popular classes, the unemployed, students, the youth and others and “even though they may pursue partial goals, they potentially could contribute to the revolution.” The group advocates refusing the payment of foreign debt. They also oppose foreign investment and support the re-nationalization of companies that were privatized during the 1990’s. They are also in favor of a strong popular state that can protect Argentina’s “capital and national assets, the nation’s national industry and the internal market”. The state must be in charge of the economic life of society.

“Quebracho” explicitly rejects the government of President Néstor Kirchner which they accuse of trying to restore the decaying old oligarchy. However, they fully embrace Hugo Chávez. “Quebracho” is closely linked with the regional Chávez-sponsored Continental Bolivarian Stream and is a founding member of the Argentinean chapter of the Bolivarian Circles. Ideologically, the group shares all aforementioned views with Chávez and the Bolivarians, including the idea that “the different nations of Latin America are the result of an imperialist arrangement of what originally was one nation for which heroes such as Simón Bolivar, and others fought”.[iv] This idea is perhaps the most significant to understand the role played by Hugo Chávez.

Despite the group’s well written pamphlets, their content is simple and easy to communicate to the general population. Moreover, its leaders such as Fernando Esteche and others speak a plain, often vulgar language. In some cases their discourse reflects what they preach, namely violence. Despite claiming to be a coalition, the character of its leadership is more akin to a lumpenproletariat, riffraff, than to an authentic social movement with a concrete agenda with a set of specific demands. “Quebracho” defines and denigrates their enemies at length, and talks about radical change, expressing very clearly what is they want to destroy but offers little constructive approach.

In order to understand the function that “Quebracho” like the Bolivarian Circles and other violent groups play, let us appeal, even if it seems paradoxical in our pages, to Karl Marx who also happens to be one of the heroes of these revolutionary groups. Marx analyzes the coup d’etat carried by Louis Bonaparte in 1851 amidst social and political struggles in France, and specifically talks about the role played by this type of violent group in the hands of a power seeker Machiavelist like Bonaparte.[v] Bonaparte took advantage of a chaotic social struggle to take over the reins of the state and he did it through a group called the “Society of December 10”. This group, Marx writes, “on the pretext of being a benevolent society, it epitomizes the lumpenproletariat of Paris which consists of people with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origins…vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, swindlers, lazzaroni, pickpockets, and tricksters”, etc. According to Marx the lumpenproletariat has been organized by agents of Bonaparte to serve as “Bonaparte’s party fighting”. “They had to improvise a public for him, stage public enthusiasm, roar “long live the Emperor”, and [...] insult and trash supporters of the French Republic.”

In other words, violence plays a role in so far, as it gives the perpetrators and those surrounding them a sense that victory is right around the corner. Paraphrasing the French syndicalist Georges Sorel from whom fascists and totalitarians borrowed ideas, acts of violence are capable of “evoking a mass of sentiments” which embodies the war against the establishment. In the mind of groups like “Quebracho” the utopia that guides their violence is the simple anti-western socialism but violence makes the reality of this change imminent. This type of violence and this type of groups are supported by Chávez in Venezuela and abroad.

This is why “Quebracho” and other similar groups establish a special direct relationship with Hugo Chávez. At the same time the connection between these groups and radical Islam is important because radical Islam has provided unprecedented “effective” violence. Iran, Hezbollah and their spectacular murderous attacks provide a fascinating model, not only in so far as they are capable of shocking and demoralizing the enemy, but also because of their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the cause.[vi] This is the spirit of the Chávez-sponsored alliances.

Chávez direct relation with groups such as “Quebracho”, other Piquetero (picketer) groups and the inspiration of radical Islam could serve him exactly in the same way that the “Society of December 10” served Louis Bonaparte more than 150 years ago.

Then we can ask the next question, what would be Chávez’s ultimate purpose?

The Venezuelan President dictator spends a large part of his time outside Venezuela, not attending his domestic affairs so much but expanding his alliances with political and grassroots leaders. At the same time Chávez automatically introduces his new partners to Iran. Hugo Chávez’s Boliviarianism is not mere populism or socialism. It literally means to unify Latin America under a single government. A position Chávez considers himself to be the natural candidate. We reasonable assume that he believes that such Latin American unity may take place in his lifetime under his leadership. He unfortunately finds reinforcement by those Latin American leaders who visit Caracas as the new Mecca of a new socialist era and display a genuflecting attitude towards Chávez. Chávez often behaves in ways as if he were the President and leader of all of these countries. A clear example is the decision by the Morales’ Bolivian government to nationalize the oil and natural gas industries immediately after spending a whole weekend with Chávez. After that action, the Venezuelan head of state spoke to the press as if he were the President of Bolivia. Chávez assumed a similar attitude when he pushed the recently elected Ecuadorian President into a confrontation with Colombia over border anti-coca fumigations.

In Argentina, the Venezuelan Ambassador in Buenos Aires, Roger Capella, personally supervises welfare programs paid for by Venezuela in poor neighborhoods. Here we see a clear case where the Venezuelan state fulfills responsibilities which fall exclusively under the realm of the Argentinean state or, at the most, a non-profit organization. Will residents of these recipient neighborhoods be loyal to the Argentinean government or to the new savior Hugo Chávez? At the end of the day it is Chávez who delivers the goods while the successive Argentinean governments have turned their backs on them. The answer is given by Ambassador Capella himself, stating that “the Venezuelan diplomacy is transforming itself from being a traditional diplomacy into an active militancy”.[vii] This militancy also includes Iranian elements. Ambassador Capella has been also giving lectures throughout Colleges and Universities in Argentina together with the Iranian business envoy, Moshen Baharvand.[viii]

Other Piquetero groups such as ‘Barrio de Pie’, whose leader Jorge Ceballos is a current member of the Kirchner government, and, Luis D’Elía’s ‘Movement for Housing and Land’ (D’Elía was, until recently, part of the Kirchner government), have very close relations with the Venezuelan President. D’Elía also has connections to Iran via Chávez. Kirchner allowed Ceballos and D’Elía to organize Chávez’s anti-Bush demonstration at the Ferrocarril Oeste (‘Ferro’ as it is popular known) soccer stadium in Buenos Aires early in March 2007. Ceballos is a key member of the People’s Bolivarian Congress (CBP), an organization founded by Hugo Chávez which gathers various grassroots organizations from all over Latin America (including “Quebracho”) such as indigenous, peasants, workers, unemployed, women and youth” that, according to Chávez, “constitute the main ingredient of Latin American unity” [i]. It seems that Ceballos’ loyalty to Chávez could well compete with his loyalty to Kirchner. In the words of a Piquetero close to Ambassador Capella, “Chavism welcomes all people.”[ii]
Luis D’Elía, the former Argentinian Social Land and Housing Under-Secretary, was asked to resign at the request of President Néstor Kirchner for his support of Iran over this country’s alleged involvement in the terrorist attack on the Jewish community center, AMIA, in 1994. D’Elía’s public support for Iran had been determined days before while having lunch with Ambassador Capella. After D’Elía communicated to Kirchner his intention to support Iran, the President requested that D’Elía abstain from doing that. However, the picketer did not comply. At the end of the day Chávez carried more weight than Kirchner himself. In other words, it looks that the ground is being prepared in case Chávez wants to turn against any government including the Argentinian because his alliances with local groups, could provide a basis of subversion and conspiracy just at the heart of Argentina itself.
We are not suggesting that Chávez will take Argentina or any other country overnight. But any government in Latin America, particularly those who have developed close relations with Hugo Chávez, need to take this possible scenario with utmost seriousness. The fact that Kirchner provided this stage to Chávez de-legitimized the Argentinian government while, at the same time, enhanced Chávez as a supra-national leader. In other words, this is not just a case of “dual loyalty” by Argentinians. The event at ‘Ferro’ is almost an actual image of “dual power” where Chávez intentionally played the role of a parallel leader. In a country such as Argentina where charismatic leaders tend to prevail over institutions, the power of this image is even stronger.

The Brazilian Government has already anticipated this possible scenario. Therefore, policies such as signing agreements with the United States to develop production of ethanol for Latin America indicates Brazil’s desire, among other things, to strangle Chávez’s impact in the region.

But Mr. Kirchner’s vision is myopic and his way of thinking represents the typical shortsightedness of his own Peronist background. The populist welfare state seduces Kirchner and his followers as Delilah’s beauty seduced Samson. Kirchner’s pro-Chávez attitude and policy is therefore, dangerous to the region and beyond.

We will continue to explore further how these dynamics play out in other countries and try to assess the possible scenarios that these may lead to.

*Dr. Luis Fleischman is an advisor to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. He is also an adjunct professor of Political Science and Sociology at Wilkes Honor College at Florida Atlantic University.

*Nicole M. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.

[1] Ely Karmon, “Hezbollah Latin America: Strange Group or Real Threat”, Institute fro Couterterrorism, 11/14/2006
[2] Ely Karmon, “Hezbollah Latin America: Strange Group or Real Threat”, Institute fro Couterterrorism, 11/14/2006
[3] Ely Karmon, “Hezbollah Latin America: Strange Group or Real Threat”, Institute fro Couterterrorism, 11/14/2006
[4] http://organizacionislam.org.ar/index.htm
[5] Daniel Gallo “Controvertida Agenda Politica del Embajador de Venezuela”, La Nacion, Buenos Aires, 11/16/2006
[6] http://www.quebracho.org.ar/
[7] Fernando de la Rúa Bruno (born September 15, 1937) is an Argentinan politician. He was president of the country from December 10, 1999 to December 21, 2001 for the Alliance for Work, Justice and Education (a political alliance of the Radical Civic Union and Frepaso). He was finally forced out of office by the popular demonstrations carried out by Piquetero Movements and people in general in the midst of the December 2001 riots, the financial crisis, and growing popular unrest.
[8] http://www.quebracho.org.ar/
[9] http://www.quebracho.org.ar/
[10] Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, International Publishers, New York, 1984, p- 75-77
[11] This idea has been articulated by Jorge Verstrynge, the author of a book titled “La Guerra Periferica y el Islam Revolucionario: Origenes, Reglas y Etica de la Guerra Asimetrica.” (The Peripheric War and Revolutionary Islam: Origins, Rules and Ethics of Radical Islam” .The book, praises Islamic terrorism as “the ultimate and preferred method of asymmetric warfare because it involves fighters willing to sacrifice their lives to kill the enemy”. According to Joe Sweeny, the Chávez government financed a special edition of Verstrynge’s book exclusively for the Army of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Verstrynge spoke in Army-sponsored conferences and has become a Guru in the Chávez –controlled Venezuelan army. See Joe Sweeny, “Jorge Verstrynge: The Guru of Bolivarian Asymmetric Warfare” in http://www.vcrisis.com/index.php?content=letters/200509091152
[12] Daniel Gallo, La Nación, ibid
[13] Controvertida agenda politica del embajador de Venezuela. November 16, 2006. Venezuela Real. By Daniel Gallo.
[14] http://www.congresobolivariano.org/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=28
[15] Daniel Gallo, La Nación, ibid

No comments: