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In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act

Hugo! The Hugo Chavez Story by Bart Jones

I have just finished this hugely enjoyable biography of Hugo Chavez, in fact once you start reading it is ridiculously hard to put down. The book is excellently written and paced and is easily one of my top five books of the year.

Bart Jones is clearly a Hugo Chavez apologist but then against the mountain of manipulated stories that are constantly churned out against Chavez, it feels comforting that someone is prepared to present the other side.

The book comprehensively recounts his life, from an impoverished child living in a mud hut to him as a (democratically elected many times!) president of a country with the highest oil reserves in the world, Venezuela. If America didn’t hate him so much, it would make an excellent Hollywood film!

So many elements of this book are fascinating. Both Chavez’s failed coup in 1992 and then the (American Backed, who else?) coup against him in 2002, are as gripping as any thriller novel you could hope to find. I had already read a lot about the 2002 coup and watched the documentary ‘The revolution will not be televised’ (well worth a watch) but I was still totally gripped as the narrative of the coup unfurled.

Why do the elite hate him so much? When he came to power, Chavez rejected neo liberalism completely; instead his plan was to use the vast income from oil to make life better for the millions of poor that dwelt in the barrios. A US government spokesman said they disliked him because they believed that ‘He didn’t have American interests at heart’ (Why the fuck would he? He’s Venezuelan. Come to that, why the fuck should anyone, other than Americans, have the interests of America at heart?)

He initiated huge social programmes for health, food and education. Obviously, the money he was using for his social programmes was previously being diverted to the super wealthy elite leaders of Venezuela and to the US of A, neither of them were happy with this new turn of events. Chavez should have been afraid, as we have seen in the last decade America will stop at nothing for oil. Chavez stood toe to toe with them though.

So equally fascinating then, is the constant battle waged against him by the elite right of the country and the US. They tirelessly work behind the scenes to get rid of him, by coups, industrial action, constant lies in the mainstream press and disinformation. It is an insightful expose of how far the west will go to punish apostates to the new cult of neo liberalism.

The most enjoyable part of the book for me, was a chance to look at Chavez as a man. He is often unconventional, sometimes erratic, certainly unpredictable but always hugely likeable. He seems, as we all are, an imperfect person whose heart is in the right place though. He has tried with all his energies to empower the poor and make their lives better. He is desperate to eradicate the inequality between rich and poor. He is above all an egalitarian.

We are just 18 days away from the next election in Venezuela and a cursory search on Google will show you how they media are trying with all their might to discredit him. He is constantly called a dictator although he has won four democratic elections by a landslide. He is often accused of harbouring terrorist and allowing drug trafficking, which is clearly untrue. Whatever happens, it seems Chavez may have done even more for his country than his hero, Bolivar ever managed.

Long live Chavez!

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Book review – Swallowing Stones by Lisa St Aubin de Terán

When I was 17 I read Lisa St Aubin de Terán’s novel ‘Slow train to Milan’ which was based on her actual experiences with her new, more than slightly, unhinged husband Cesar and his two friends Elias (a very serious man) and Otto, who was always my favourite character of the three. They were infamous South American revolutionists and bank robbers. After buying it, I read it three times back to back and I have read it scores of times since, in fact I often take it with me when I travel like a security blanket.

It turned out to be a life-altering book for me. I grew up in a grey and damp suburb of Manchester, which was situated in the bottom of a valley. This tended to give the people who lived there (including me) the same world view, a man trapped in a well looking up at the sky would have.

To read about living in Italy and travelling around by the slow train, seemed to me, the most sophisticated thing you could ever do with your life. More importantly, I realized for the first time, that another kind of life was possible for me. Four years later I did actually move to Italy and I lived there for two and a half years and of course, I only ever travelled by the slow train.

Swallowing Stones is an ‘almost’ true biography of Otto from the novel, who is in fact Oswaldo Antonio Barreto Miliani. It follows him from being a hirsute, sickly and timid child growing up in 1930s Venezuela, to him being unintentionally at the epicenter of all the major revolutions around the globe.

Along the way he became a trusted adviser to Fidel Castro, a friend of Che Guevara, and tries unsuccessfully, to save Salvador Allende from the American backed coup in Chile. (The bastards)

Lisa St Aubin de Terán has remained a life long friend of Otto and she sympathetically tells his story. She chose to write the book in the first person and she manages, surprisingly, to maintain one clear and consistent voice for him throughout.

The book is sublime! I enjoyed every single page of it, although I fear I may have read it too fast, like a greedy kid at a free buffet. Although the story is gripping, she finds time for evocative description and meaningful dialogue, which was not just a device to move the story forward.

Above all, she allows Otto’s voice time for reflection and rumination on events and observations, which are always insightful and blisteringly honest. The whole book is beautifully written and has a similar feel to a Gabriel García Márquez novel.

Otto is now added to my ‘hero list’. Later in his life he comes to denounce violent revolution after seeing the effects it has on the very people he hopes to liberate from crushing neo-liberalism, he looses his faith in communism and to a degree, socialism. He laments that all his endeavors to free the poor may have been in vain. I disagree, I believe him to be a fighter for the only ism worth fighting for, egalitarianism.

I suppose that the one torturous element of the book is, how much of it is true and how much is actually fictionalized? I hope it’s all true.

By the by, I once went to a book signing by Lisa St Aubin de Terán. I took my tattered copy of ‘Slow train to Milan’ to be signed and I was determined to tell her how much the book meant to me and how it had changed my life.

When my turn came however, my mind went completely blank. I could not think of a single thing to say. She looked at me quizzically for what seemed like an hour. Eventually I managed to mutter ‘this book is my favourite’. She signed it and sent me on my way with a ‘What a moron!’ look.

Oh well, you have to be able to laugh at yourself eh?

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The criminalisation of squatting – another anti-poor law!

The new law making squatting illegal comes into effect today (1 September 2012). Anyone caught squatting from today faces up to six months in prison and up to a £5,000 fine.

‘Good’ you may say ‘let the dread haired, new age, work shy bastards, pay for their accommodation like the rest of us have to!’ We have all read the stories in the press about someone popping out to by a loaf of bread, to come back to their home an hour later to find a 50 strong, new age community living in their house.

That’s what they are though, just stories. The truth is there already are adequate laws protecting people who live in their homes against squatting. The 1977 Criminal Law Act protects displaced residential occupiers (DROs) and protected intending occupiers (PIOs). So if you live in a property or you intend to live in a property and anyone tries to squat there, they would be instantly evicted by the police.

So, to be very clear, this new law has been brought into effect to protect people who own multiple properties and have no intention of living in them, nor are they planning to live in them. In other words, the rich.

There has been a massive propaganda campaign by the mainstream media over the last couple of years jumping on every negative squatting story. They have exaggerated the truth, lied and used blatant scaremongering to create fear of the squatting bogeyman, who is loitering in the shadows outside your front door. Waiting for you to pop down to the shops, so in he can move into your home and set up a commune.

There are many things that don’t add up in the run up to the new law.

For example, the government carried out a consultation in March 2012, of the 2,217 people that responded 2,126 (96%) said do not change the law, concerned about the impact of criminalising squatting and only 10 people supported it. (By the way, that means one sad person had no opinion on the subject, they went to the trouble to register their details, only to tick ‘Don’t know’. I mean, why would you bother ffs?)

The government completely ignored the responses from it’s own consultation.

What did the people say who will have to police and deal with this new law change?

The law society said ‘The current law is comprehensive and effective … the proposals in this consultation are based on misunderstandings by the media of the scale of the problem and a misunderstanding of the current law’

In an open letter written to The Guardian 160 lawyers and legal experts said ‘Repeated inaccurate reporting of this issue has created fear for homeowners, confusion for the police and ill-informed debate among both the public and politicians on reforming the law’

The Metropolitan Police said ‘Criminalisation of squatting and subsequent enforcement would have an impact on policing, in terms of community relations, local policing, objectives and cost’

The people, who will have to deal with this, clearly say ‘don’t change the existing law’

Another inexplicable aspect of this law change is the timing.

We are, after all, in the middle of the world’s biggest recession. Government available money to help the homeless has already been cut by 23%, they simply say that they do not have the money to help. On top of that, there is virtually no additional social housing being planned.

So what is going to happen to the 50,000 people currently squatting in empty buildings? They are going to be criminalized and set to prison. Paid for by….. you guessed it ……. us, the taxpayers.

The cost of implementing this new law is estimated to be 790 million and the subsequent policing of it are estimated to be one billion.

To a cynic it could seem that, the super wealthy, who can afford to own multiple properties and allow them to remain empty for decades, no longer have to worry about keeping the properties safe from squatters, nor do they need to bother themselves with the costs involved in removing them. This is now a state problem and the taxpayer will meet any subsequent costs involved in getting squatters out. Neat trick.

So a law no one wanted to change (obviously this excludes the entire readership of The Sun and The Daily Mail) which benefits only the very wealthy, has in fact been changed.

The people who have to deal with this never wanted the law to change.
This has happened while the world experiences it’s biggest recession.
There is no provision in place to help those homeless people currently squatting.
There is, in fact no money to help those homeless people at all.
There is, however, money to implement this change and police it.

This is plain and simply an enhancement and enforcement of existing property rights for the super wealthy. These property rights take precedent over the basic human right of shelter for a human being. Although, the human being in question has committed the unforgivable crime of being a poor human being in the UK.

It has often been said that there are millions of people who are just one sacking and two big arguments away from being homeless. I sincerely hope that in light of this new law change, this never happens to you or me.

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