Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
25 May 2008

UK Observer on xenophpobic violence

I read the Observer today as I am in Madrid and have no access to the Sunday Crimes. There is a two page article on the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. As is always the case with these things, the article is a bit simplistic, but the headline was striking: ¨End of the Rainbow Nationa?¨ Money quote:

An astounding lack of political delivery surrounds the South African crisis. Neither Mbeki nor his likely successor, Jacob Zuma, have altered their diaries in the past week to visit the displaced or speak to the nation. Instead, ministers, police chiefs and senior civil servants have put their energy into a two-pronged exercise of denial, aimed at proving that the attacks are linked neither to poverty nor to xenophobia. The intention is clearly to deflect any accusations that Mbeki’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ over Zimbabwe has led to an uncontrollable influx of foreigners and, thus, to xenophobia. Neither will the ANC tolerate suggestions that it has neglected its own poor.

Ministers and senior civil servants have gone to extraordinary lengths. National Intelligence Agency director-general Manala Manzini has dusted off struggle rhetoric and claimed that a ‘third force’ – mysterious right-wing ‘elements’ that supported the apartheid regime – is at work with a view to destabilising the 2009 elections.

Others, such as police spokesman Govandsami Mariemuthoo in Gauteng province, insist that ‘copycat criminal elements, not xenophobia’ are at work. As a result, it is now unclear what charges, if any, will be brought against the 400 people police claimed last week had been arrested in connection with the attacks in the Johannesburg area.

The reigning confusion feeds into the foreigners’ widely expressed belief that the attacks have been orchestrated by elements within the ANC – a party that has been deeply divided since Zuma was elected party president against Mbeki’s will last December. Grassroots supporters of the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party, which fought the ANC in the early 1990s, are also being accused of involvement.

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