Update: Today, Saturday May 17th, the strike has ended after 12 days. Transport workers will get subsidies of 1.30 USD/gallon, but cargo transport will be excluded from that offer as they are “not regulated”. Where the money for that suddenly comes from is unclear.
The Central American Republic of Nicaragua was in the 1980s portrayed as one of the greatest communist threats in the western hemisphere. Once the political right won presidential elections in 1990s, the ideological education so many had received for a decade suddenly didn’t seem to have mattered. That is until now, in May 2008 little more than a year after the Sandinistas regained the presidency with a promise of national reconciliation, when transport workers take to the streets, shut down all public transport built barricades on major highways and demand for the government to go back to politics of price control and subsidization. Now running on its 9th consecutive day with all talks between drivers and government not anywhere close to a positive the solution, the immediate future of Nicaragua is uncertain.
The strike started on May 5th. The first day only busses between major cities stopped while city busses and taxis in Managua as well as busses between minor destinations continued to operate. Since then all transportation has been shut-down with the exception of occasional pirate taxis. In the city of León drivers have set up camp at the exit of the highway to Managua, and most afternoons they block each lane for ten minutes at a time to stop most traffic, although only past Tuesday did it end up with violent confrontations between police and demonstrators.
The demand brought forth by the transport cooperatives are frozen petrol prices at the equivalent of 2.88 USD/gallon or 0.49 Euro/L for public transport, as they claim is the case for those operating in Managua already. Currently prices run around 5.18 USD/gallon or 0.88 Euro/L. The money that is to be used on this is the money that the government allegedly has access to through an oil deal with Venezuela which lets the country buy oil at market price, but with only 50% having to be paid within 90 days and the remainder in 23 years with an extremely low 2% interest rate. The government on the other hand claims that there isn’t sufficient funding available for such heavy subsidization and that part of the available funds are to be used for other projects, such as anti-hunger measures, micro-credits for small shop owners and road infrastructure measures.
A few months ago I took an Austrian girl on a tour of the old German Democratic Republic (GDR). Part of the point was to show that the view of East German history differed quite a bit depending on where one was. Now unfortunately we did not meet all that many people with a positive view of the previous regime, and so i, who usually count myself as quite opposed to Stalinism, had to step in and try to show some of the positive points of the GDR as well.
One of these is without question that Western Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), has media that is at least as false and brainwashing as that of the GDR, and by following both one could therefore escape most of the propaganda.
But now a report on some states in East and Western Germany by the research community “SUP-State” (the SUP was the Socialist Unity Party, the ruling party of East Germany) at the Free University of Berlin (FUB) shows that views amongst students in East Germany on the GDR are more positive than what they had expected. It appears that the selection of informants the Austrian girl and I had made was skewed.
Some have asked for me to tell a bit more about what Rostock really was like. In some of the international media the G8 protests were completely ignored, and in for example the Norwegian media, the stone throwing on Saturday the 2nd were big time news with, as far as I understand, live pictures of riots being beamed to living rooms across the country. Also in Germany, stations such as N-TV showed the same two burned out cars from all angles at various stages of burning, making it look like there had been a whole line of cars that had been whole line of burned out cars. On top of that you had the number of 433 hurt police officers (status Sunday, 3rd). Sounds like civil war, huh?
Well, on the ground it was not quite like that. For anyone reading this only to find action, I can tell you now already that I was never arrested nor hit by a water cannon. I was neither anywhere close to stones being thrown and I did I do anything that in itself, forgetting the special circumstances, would have been very exciting. Well, maybe. If sleeping on a street counts.
On the 6-8th of June 2007, Germany hosted the annual G8 meeting in Heiligendamm. For many of the academic-intellectual organizations that came into life with the advent of the globalization-from-below movement around Seattle 1999 or who are older but have redefined themselves as being part of the movement, this was planned to be just another meeting space. Almost all the Norwegians who came down (I was on a bus with around 50 and we arrived in Rostock, the closest bigger city, on the morning of the 2nd) were here for a big demonstration some days before the meeting started, and those few who stayed for the time of the actual summit were to participate in an “anti-summit” in Rostock during the summit. Now there have been loads such summits over the last few years, and they have a few things in common: all the main speakers speak within some post-Marxist framework, preferably the speakers argue for applying some kind of wonder tax which would magically transform this world back to the early eighties, and no-one ever has any real proposal on what to do to exert power. Even in times when countries go to war with over 90% of their population being against it, there is somehow this strange notion in these conferences that everything will be good if only one speaks and demonstrates. A perfect example thereof is Mr. Peter Wahl of the coordinating group of German Attac, who tried to convince everybody to just sit down in front of the first line of policemen.
However, in Germany things were somewhat different. 10,000 activists ended up blocking all entrance ways to the conference center physically for hours on end and made all transport in and out of the center at times impossible at other times very dangerous. The fence around the whole thing that cost around 15 million USD and security was supposed to be on top; 16400 police from all over the country and an unknown amount of the army had coordinated for months and months in order to keep demonstrators at least 200m away from the fence. Some politicians had even talked about using the special anti terror unit GSG9 and equip police with rubber bullets in order to keep them away from the fence.
April 26th to 27th 2007, Oslo hosted the annual informal NATO summit which was accompanied with a series of protests. I will try to give you an overview of the events surrounding these days from the perspective of an Oslo activist. This is the second part.
One factor in the special way the Norwegian left is handled is the huge amount of media attention it gets — and that is of the positive kind. I believe it is fair to say that the vast majority of the non-parliamentary left, or those who are active in parliaments but do not believe much in parliaments’ abilities to fundamentally change society, there is _one_ common strategy on how to change government policy:
Make your case known in the media -> your proposal gains popular support -> politicians react to opinion polls and more parties are willing to adopt a stance closer to your’s -> the government implements a law or a policy that encompasses what you wanted.
Generally the entire anti-capitalist left agrees on most issues. In this case it would be for Norway to pull out of NATO, for NATO to be shut down, and for all NATO (Norwegian and from other countries) soldiers to be pulled out of Afghanistan as fast as possible. So there is not really a difference in the amount of radicalism among us. However, some groups have to consider other groups outside the anti-capitalist left and they therefore moderate what they can ask for. One example is the left of the Socialist Left Party which, although itself through and through anti-capitalist, has to consider the right in the party, which is social liberal and does not understand much of the ideas of the anti-capitalist left. Other major considerations are how radical ideas one wants to gain support for can be, whether one should prioritize a long-term perspective of changing society fundamentally or a short-term perspective of changing one tiny bit of society, and what kind of measures to gain media attention are productive.
April 26th to 27th 2007, Oslo hosted the annual informal NATO summit which was accompanied with a series of protests. I will try to give you an overview of the events surrounding these days from the perspective of an Oslo activist. This is the first part.
Friday April 20th, I was on my way to Bergen for the national council meeting of Pedagogstudentene to represent the University of Oslo, when my phone rang as I was passing through security control. “This is XX from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs […] We were wondering if you were showing up on the meeting on Monday?” What were they talking about? Why would I, just a simple student without any offices be asked to show up at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? “It’s a meeting on the NATO summit later on next week, we sent you an invitation…” OK, I got it. This must have had something to do with my previous involvement with Blindern Fred. Since I started coordinating the group fall 2004, never more than about 4-5 activists at any given time had been involved with the group at any given time. It was tiny. But we had quite a few successes in setting the agenda by getting media attention on various issues. When I had left for the Americas, the group had pretty much dissolved. Only one older employee of the meteorological faculty, Rolf Solvang, continued running the organization in his less activist style, by for example arranging a debate on “Norwegian media’s role in war” (Wednesday this week).
But now Blindern Fred somehow was considered an organization that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs needed to talk to before they could hold a NATO summit. Nice!
Upon returning to Europe I notice how little actually has changed here. It seems as if the whole continent just took a break while I was gone and started right back up with me. Here in Norway I witnessed a pre-seminar for this years national convention of the teacher’s union’s student group and as always, it was an (overly) consensus-driven milieu. Although the average member probably has opinions spread, but somewhat left of the center, it is hard to make out much of any exact political differences.
How does one effectively a national campaign to change how one’s country’s deputies vote on a certain issue when there seems to be a clear parliamentary majority established already? How radical does one have to be in order to actually change the outcome of the vote? How broad does one need to be in order to have any impact?
Such considerations, people active in social movements, need to make everywhere — and the different positions in the question seem to be awfully similar as well. Or at least those activists active in CAFTA protests I met here in Costa Rica had to discuss things very similar to what we activists in Europe often do.
Let me try to exemplify with the activists Grace García and Marcela Aguilar. Grace from Friends of the Earth Central America, has worked in the national coordination committee against CAFTA for the past year, but also the two preceding years she has been working against CAFTA. The ecologist movement is something I personally do not know very much from the Norwegian activist scene. Marcela is from the Socialist Party of the Workers (PST), and was one of the three I talked to last time. The PST is considered one of the more radical groups that also tend to be quite small. But they do get noticed, “like the black block in Germany” a German journalist Torge Loeding from the media group Voces Nuestras tells me.
After leaving Nicaragua southward, I bumped into Katie Niemeyer for the 4th time, this time walking down a high way In Liberia, and we decided to go to the town of Santa Cruz in northern Costa Rica, where there was to be some kind of cowboy festival. But because this seemed rather posh, we decided to go on to the capital, San Jose, yesterday, and at the bus station I saw a guy with a button saying “NO TLC.” TLC stands for Tratado de Libre Comercio — or the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in English. He told me a little about the campaign to keep Costa Rica out of the agreement, and ended up giving me the button.
Today, I decided to go to the University of Costa Rica, and try to find some more information about the campaign against CAFTA.
…or rather Chavez’ and Morales’ night. Fact is that the plaza were Ortega was to give his first public speech after inauguration was filled with cheering leftists while Chavez and Morales spoke, but when Ortega finally got to speak, everyone seemed to have better thing to do.
Sure, we had all been waiting three hours beyond the expected arrival of the 14 leaders of states (7PM rather than 4PM), and the way he spoke, it just seemed to be the beginning of a very long and tiresome discourse quite different from the political messages Chavez and Morales came with (Chavez: “Socialismo o Muerte”, Morales announcing the nationalization of the Bolivian mining industry), which made the crowd come alive.
However, Ortega did not just lack rhetoric and speech writing skills.