Hugo and the FARC

An old friend has called my attention to Interpol desacredita a Colombia en el caso del computador de Raúl Reyes (“INTERPOL discredits Colombia in the case of Raúl Reyes' computer”). I'd seen most of this (except the signatures on the letter). Yes, it seems that Uribe and his policemen are manipulating info to make the Chávez-Farc connection look worse than it probably is. Meanwhile, Chávez lets himself be photographed embracing Farc leaders and makes speeches calling for respect for the Farc as "interlocutores válidos". I don't know what truth there is in claims that the Venezuelan military gives sanctuary to Farc, but probably some truth -- if not from the top command, at more local levels. In isolated army or Guardia Nacional posts, there will be commanders either sympathetic to Farc or susceptible to bribes, or both, and it's pretty clear that Farc units move regularly across the borders into Venezuela and Ecuador. Some of the testimony in this report in Spain's El País from last December sounds more than plausible: El narcosantuario de las FARC.

I just learned (from a speech by Chávez) that there is a Venezuelan guerrilla group in the border area calling itself "Frente de Liberación Bolivariano" claiming to support Chávez -- he has disowned them.

Anyway, its a chaotic frontier, where bands of armed men and a few women make up their own rules while obeying no central authority. And some of those bands are no doubt in the pay of outside organizations who want to exploit the area's resources, including private, state and mixed enterprises looking for oil, pharmaceuticals, and other riches. Just like in José Eustasio Rivera's famous novel, La vorágine (1924, when the coveted resource was rubber).

Photo: Iván Márquez del Secretariado de las Farc y el presidente Hugo Chávez, durante la reunión que sostuvieron en Caracas como parte del proceso en búsqueda de un acuerdo humanitario con el grupo guerrillero. (November 2007. Source: La Tarde)


My '68

Since Daniel Cohn-Bendit and everybody else who was involved is doing it, I too will tell you what I was up to 40 years ago. In 1968, like everybody else who mattered to me, I wanted to be a communist. The problem was that, unlike Danny the Red, I was in the United States (a grad student at Northwestern U., just outside Chicago), where we didn't really know what a communist was or how to be one. There was a CPUSA, but it was practically invisible, driven underground by the likes of Joseph McCarthy and infiltrated so thoroughly by the FBI that it smelled like a maggoty corpse. This was very unlike the case in France, where there was a real Parti communiste that the students had seen up close and rejected. For us, "communism" was an available old label that we could stick onto whatever revolutionary movement most appealed to us. Some people were memorizing Mao's little red book, others were debating Trotsky, others were arguing Rosa Luxembourg against Lenin, lot of people were quoting Frantz Fanon, and everybody admired Fidel and the late Che.

Me, I looked to Spain as one of my main examples of what a communist was supposed to be. I hadn't ever been to Spain and didn't really want to go while Franco was governing, but I read a lot about it. The Republic of 1931-36 liberated people in ways that were worth fighting for, I believed -- and still do. And the communists were the strongest and most effective force for defending it, I believed -- though now I see it was all much more complicated. The book that my colleague Baltasar Lotroyo has just reviewed on our companion, Spanish-language website Lecturas y Lectores, tells us much about the enormous strengths and fatal weakness of the Spanish Communist Party and, I think, of Communist Parties everywhere. (See review of La voz dormida.) The main weaknesses have always been corollaries to its "democratic centralism," the rigidity of its line and resistance to self-criticism and insistence on obedience, which made it vulnerable to the great Stalinist distortion. But the strengths are also real: the courage and persistence of its members in pursuing ideals that still seem worthwhile. Those strengths, and the party's tough history of resistance during the Franco years, have kept the party alive in Spain while it has virtually died everywhere else in Europe.

In '68 and the years following, I steered clear of the Maoists and stayed skeptical of the Trots, and channeled my political energies into setting up an SDS chapter on campus that agitated against the war (Vietnam in those days) and around local civil rights issues like integrating the public schools. And I'm still trying to figure out how to be the kind of communist I've always admired, the kind who makes cultural and economic liberation possible but doesn't accept democratic centralism.

Gender in Spain and Italy

Here's a very good BBC article by Danny Wood contrasting Spain's and Italy's gender policies: Diverging paths on gender equality.

One quibble, though, with the phrase, “Spain - the land that coined the word "macho" -”. The Spanish word macho (from Latin masculus, masculine) has always meant a male animal, usually a mule. It's application to overbearing male humans seems to have started in Mexico, and has only in recent years become widespread in Spain. Its introduction is a sign of moral progress: if people earlier didn't have a specific word for this behavior, it was because they didn't see it as a problem.