Gaddafi might soon look for friends to harbour him

4 Sep

In Venezuela he has one

Hugo Chavez and Muammar Gaddafi have had many ambitious plans to challenge the West

When Libyan rebels defeated Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli two weeks ago, they found the colonel was missing. They have offered a reward for those who capture or kill the former Libyan leader and slammed neighbouring Algeria for letting in his fleeing wife Safia, daughter Aisha and two of his sons.

Local newspapers reported that should Colonel Gaddafi also enter Algeria, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika would hand him over to the International Criminal Court. However, Gaddafi is not lacking friends ready to provide him with refuge. He forged a number of alliances while he was in power and enjoyed substantial oil wealth.  African media has recently speculated that the colonel could seek exile in South Africa ,Angola, Zimbabwe, Ghana or Burkina Faso.

However, Gaddafi’s options are not limited to the African continent. One of his best known allies is Venezuela’s outspoken President Hugo Chavez. Just a month ago, on 1st August, he howled “Long live Muammar Gaddafi! Shame on NATO”, after he had received a letter from then still the Libyan leader.

In the part of the letter that has been published, Gaddafi labelled the attempts to remove him from power “a conspiracy” and urged his “brother” not to abandon the struggle against imperialists, who were behind it.

The fight against imperialism (the West and the USA in particular), has been a shared goal for Chavez and Gaddafi.  In 2009, Chavez likened Gaddafi to his hero, Simon Bolivar, who liberated Venezuela and several other South American countries from Spanish rule in 19th century. “What Simon Bolivar is to us, Gaddafi is to the Libyan people,” he said as he was presenting him with a replica of Bolivar’s sword.

It’s difficult to judge whether their friendship is based just on the logic of “an enemy of my enemy is my friend”, but in many aspects Gaddafi is a natural match for Chavez.

Humberto de la Calle gave a detail account of many similarities between Chavez and Gaddafi in his February article in the Colombian newspaper El Espectador.

Both were born into a poor family, both started their careers in the army and both created rebel groups among officers. A coup led by Chavez in 1992 failed and he had to wait six years to win a presidential election. However, Gaddafi successfully ousted King Idris I in 1969 and ruled until recently.

Both were nurtured on nationalist ideas when young. Gaddafi’s mentors were Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser and Algeria’s Houari Boumedienne, while Chavez has greatly admired Simon Bolivar and another 19th century leftist leader Ezequiel Zamora.

Since they came to power, they both embarked on nationalisation, expropriation and fierce anti-western politics. Both of them enjoyed oil money and had a nepotistic tendency. The Chavez family is present at all levels of bureaucracy and Gaddafi apparently groomed his son Saif al Islam to succeed him as the head of state.

Some internet users have gone further and suggested that even their future might be similar.

“Just go in wishing another criminal long life… after 40 years his tyranny is nearing the end… perhaps he’ll serve you as an example, your days are numbered.Venezuelais on the same route as Libya, the change is coming,” the user willkobi commented on the Venezuelan news website

Chavez has always spoken very fondly of Gaddafi and since the war in Libya started he has not hesitated to show whose side he takes.

“Just because the whole world calls Gaddafi an assassin doesn’t mean Chavez will call him an assassin,” he declared in his February speech. “That would be cowardly… He’s been a friend of mine and a friend of ours for a long time.”

“I respect and love Muammar Gaddafi a lot,” he said during the 1st August meeting.

Shortly after the war in Libya started, Hugo Chavez offered to mediate between the two sides in the conflict. The offer, initially rejected by Gaddafi’s son Saif al Islam and accepted later, has never materialized, and now the only help Chavez is able to offer to his “brother” is a refuge.

It’s far from certain that the former Libyan strongman will flee into exile so distant (geographically as well as culture-wise) from his native country. But if he does, Chavez is quite likely to welcome him with open arms.Venezuela’s president has never cared too much about international opinion and doesn’t tend to yield to pressure. However, Colonel Gaddafi would probably think twice before he picks this South American country. With Chavez’s health problems and the uncertain results of the presidential election next year, he might better look for a safer place to seek refuge.


Human Rights under Peru’s new president

27 Jul

Tomorrow Ollanta Humala will take his presidential oath

Worth all the sweat...

Lima’s stock exchange reacted by a record drop to the election of Ollanta Humala as a new Peruvian head of state. Investors worried that the left-wing nationalist, sometimes likened to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, would bring an end to country’s free market environment. Surprisingly little attention was given to the future of human rights under the new president. And yet, it appears that human rights was the issue that swayed voters from picking Humala’s rival – Keiko Fujimori.

The BBC correspondent in Lima noted on 2 June that voters made a choice between their wallets and consciences. Ms. Fujimori is a daughter of Peru’s former President Alberto Fujimori, who is serving 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses committed during his ten year-long rule. Surrounded by her father’s advisers, Keiko was the business elite’s favourite, seen as likely to continue in the liberal policies that set Peru on the track of fast growth. However, her opponents warned that Keiko’s victory would not only mean a symbolic triumph for Fujimori’s dictatorship, but also an amnesty for the former dictator .

However, Ollanta Humala’s name has also been mentioned in connection with human rights violations on several occasions. He served as an army officer under President Fujimori. In 2006, five criminal complaints were filed, charging Humala with atrocities committed in 1992, while he was commanding a jungle counterinsurgency base in Tocache. He and his men were accused of “forced disappearances, torture and attempted murder”. The allegations probably cost him victory in the 2006 presidential election run-off against President Alan Garcia. He was investigated and indicted, but not convicted. Ollanta denies any wrongdoing, claiming that he has been mistaken with someone who used the same “nom de guerra” – Captain Carlos.

Peru went through a bitter, two-decade conflict between the state and the leftist guerrilla groups, the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement at the end of twentieth century. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded in 2003 that some 24,000 people were killed or disappeared, thousand of others experienced human rights violations, including torture, sexual violence, abductions and violation of fundamental rights of children and indigenous peoples.

Many of the crimes were committed by the country’s armed forces, but more than ten years on, few of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. Human rights organizations complain that military authorities conceal the real identities behind the nicknames military commanders used during the conflict. Successive Defence Ministers consistently denied that the army had any records about the real names corresponding to the nicknames. Human Rights Watch, a US-based NGO, claimed in its letter to then President Alejandro Toledo in 2006 that it had proof that at least in some cases they were hiding the information.

Now the question arises of which position Ollanta Humala will adopt. Will he continue the approach of his predecessors by being, if not openly obstructive, then at least uncooperative? His predecessor, President Alan Garcia even signed a decree in 2010 that would have amounted to blanket amnesty for the perpetrators of human rights abuses during the conflict. This was later withdrawn after a strong international and national outcry.

Or, will Humala be willing to prove that he has nothing to hide, forget his loyalty to the army and put pressure on military authorities to disclose the information that prosecutors seek.

On other human rights fronts, Humala has promised to improve the situation. He backs the law that would give indigenous communities veto on mining projects on their land as opposed to mere right to consultations. He has also pledged to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the forced sterilisation campaign in 1990s under Fujimori, targeting poor indigenous women.

The moment when Humala will be expected to take the first decision regarding human rights might come very soon. Ironically, it might be on the issue that helped him to power. Just few days after Humala declared election victory, Alberto Fujimori was transferred to the hospital amid the concerns that the bleeding in his month signals that the tongue cancer, he had suffer from, recurred. And, then presidential candidate Ollanta Humala had said in the CNN interview on 3 July that if Fujimori’s health further deteriorates, he would grant him pardon on “humanitarian basis”.

Everyone is replaceable… but what about Chavez?

21 Jul

Supporters of Hugo Chavez have found it difficult to accept that he is seriously ill

Hugo Chavez – faithful to his character – is keeping his hands on the reins despite the fact that he is back in Cuba undergoing further cancer treatment. He is upholding his presence in Venezuela through numerous daily tweets, informing about money he has just approved for that and that project. The messages usually end by the phrase “Vivirimos y Venceremos” – we’ll live and we’ll win.

Although this time, he has delegated some of his powers to the vice president and finance minister, he has refused the calls from the opposition to hand over all the presidential authority during his absence. He and his entourage maintain that he is perfectly capable of continuing to lead the country and will run for another term in office next year.

“There is no doubt the president will be present at the 2012 elections and then for many years,” Jorge Giordani, the finance minister said in an interview on state television on 18 July.

However, his illness has given rise to speculation about who is going to be his successor. According to the constitution, the Vice President steps in to replace the head of state when necessary. However, Elias Jaua, second-in-command in Venezuela, refused to do so when Chavez stayed in Cuba for more then three weeks in June to have a tumour removed. The question is why: was it loyalty, insufficient self-confidence to run the country, or instructions from Chavez?

There has also been a rumour that Chavez’s brother, Adan, could replace him, like Raul Castro of Cuba, succeeded his brother Fidel when he fell ill in 2006. The New York Times dedicated an entire article to the analysis of Adan Chavez’s prospects on 28 June.

However, analysts as well as ordinary people doubt that any of Chavez’s close collaborators would be able to replace him. “I’m sorry to spoil the party, but there is not a “successor” that equals Chavez,” @FJBetancour tweeted on 9 July as one of many with similar opinion.

Then, there are those who don’t particularly like the current president. The opposition has repeatedly attempted to remove Chavez from power without success. In 2004, they organized a “Recall Referendum” to cut his mandate as president short only to see Chavez winning 59 per cent support. In 2002, Chavez was forced by the military to resign and to remove all his ministers, only to be reinstated two days later.

Eight people involved in the unsuccessful coup were sentenced to up to six years in prison in 2004. They should be out now. What has happened to them and to their intention to rid Venezuela of Chavez? Will they take their chances again now when the strongman seems to be weakened?

Pinochet’s ongoing triumph

17 Jul

Photographer and human rights activist Luis Navarro speaks about his disappointment with post-dictatorship Chile

Photo by Tom Maher

By Mira Galanova

During the years following his detention by Pinochet’s secret police, Luis Navarro used to wake up filled with hatred. Not anymore. The return of democracy, replaced the hatred by disappointment.

Navarro was one of the brave individuals who fought against the violation of human rights during the military regime of 1973-90. He became known as the “Photographer of the Dead” for his work in Vicaria de la Solidaridad, a Catholic Church organization speaking up for the victims of human rights abuses. He reproduced pictures of the Detained-Disappeared persons to be included in Vicaria’s judicial evidence. In 1978 he documented the discovery in the Lonquen ovens of the remains of 15 peasants, the first proof that in Chile, as in Argentina, people were secretly arrested and killed.

In the early 1980s, Navarro, despite his own fear, took to the streets to document the first mass demonstrations against Pinochet. In 1981 he was arrested, just as he was about to take part in an investigation in La Colonia Dignidad, a German colony and secret police detention centre. He was tortured, drugged and released on the verge of death only through the intervention by Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez and international organisations.

He didn’t work for Vicaria again. He says the police spread lies that he had collaborated with them and many of his colleagues believed that. He could have left the country, but decided to stay to clear his name.

Now in his late sixties, Navarro works as a curator of the photography hall in the Santiago cultural centre Estacion Mapucho. He also continues with his own photographic projects. Last September he opened an exhibition looking back at 30 years of his work.

He says he wants to stop talking about the past, but journalists keep coming and asking about it. “They want to hear the most dreadful details of my torture and very few ask about what I am doing now,” he complained.

We spoke about his current work and the situation in Chile. But the Pinochet era kept coming up.


After having stopped working in Vicaria, you contributed to several newspapers. Why did you finish with journalism?

There have been many reasons. First, the media in which I worked were purely the media that shaped the fight against the dictatorship. Therefore they didn’t get any advertising from the regime and no written media can survive without advertising. When democracy arrived, the state companies, such as Codelco, went on advertising in the pro-government media. This meant that in short time, opposition magazines succumbed to economic problems. Also our association [Association of Independent Photographers, AFI, of which Navarro was a co-founder] died from starvation.

Second, most of us were foreign correspondents and when news about Pinochet finished, the world lost interest in what was happening in Chile.

Moreover, Pinochet didn’t leave, he stayed at the head of the army and went on menacing. The people from Concentracion (post-dictatorship coalition government) were afraid. I believe that a certain deal was made, part of which was to eliminate the remaining opposition media. In addition there were few opportunities to work in the official media. Nobody from El Mercurio, La Tercera, the duopoly that continues in news business, would contract the people who had worked against the establishment. With the return of democracy, many journalists came back, and didn’t have a job.

Since 1981 you have continued working on the project of gypsies. What is it that fascinates you so much about gypsies?

The rebelliousness, the sense of freedom, their way of life that hasn’t changed for centuries. I like people who have an identity.Chile has lost it, including even its eating habits, Chile has lost a bit of its identity. This is the area in which Pinochet triumphed. He took a country that had a sense of solidarity and turned it into an individualist country.

How did he do this?

Photo by Tom Maher

First of all, by instilling fear of politics. The first thing that a regime of this kind does is to leave all the credible organisations, such as cultural institutions and unions, without a leader. Many of these people died. The method is to fuel collective fear. As a result, people don’t associate, they don’t join unions. People then assimilate into what is offered to them.

In addition, for many years there was curfew in Chile, so people were obliged to shut themselves in at home and watch TV. And all the television programs had an intention… What has been left to us is an exaggerated individualism. I think that if this kind of idea is offered collectively, in just a short time people individually don’t care about each other. They live in their personality and their individualism. In this sense Pinochet triumphed.

How did you feel when the dictatorship finished? Did you still care?

I have to say that there have been so many disillusions regarding this. Pinochet was never jailed. Pinochet, when he was sought by tribunals, he shut himself in a military hospital and declared himself ill. So, we, citizens in general, we have lost the hope that this man would pay for all the evils he had done… Well, my feelings went from one extreme to another. On one hand, immense tranquillity, on the other hand great frustration. Because Pinochet died in his bed without paying for anything. Many of his protégés go on free. Obviously this was the feeling of all the Chileans who were against Pinochet’s dictatorial regime.

But, do you think that what you fought for with Vicaria has been achieved?

Yes, I think so. The case of Lonquen for the first time greatly discredited. Pinochet, who had systematically denied the existence of the Disappeared. He had said they didn’t exist. The intelligence services conducted operations with some people who had disappeared in Chile appearing as murdered in Argentina, for example. They even invented magazines of one issue only to report the death of 119 members of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) who had killed each. Of course, nobody believed this version, because many had been in jail with some of these people. They had seen them imprisoned here, in detention centres in Chile.

So is the post-dictatorship Chile what you wanted?

Chile today? No, I don’t like it. We fought for a better Chile. A more sympathetic, more human Chile. Pinochet triumphed in the impact of his economic ideas as well as in his 17-year-long efforts to systematically convince people that politics is a bad thing. Today people don’t participate. Young people don’t vote. All of that served to create extreme individualism, in which people are not interested in anything that is collective, everybody does what benefits him personally, individually. So there is very little compassion in this society that has changed in such a short time. Thirty-seven years have passed, if we take into account 20 years of Concentracion (coalition government), in which Chile has changed into a first world country. I’m not saying economically, but in the human aspect. Everyone kills their own flea. I wasn’t used to this kind of society, because many of us, who fought, we are not individualists, but marginalized.

Do you think compassion is stronger in difficult times?

Of course. Especially when it is needed to help people and get those persecuted out of the country, because they could die here. After the coup in Chile at least a million people left. To various countries in the world. The sympathy of the world was very very big. Chileans were everywhere. Many of them left for economic reasons. Because there was a big economic crisis here, in which people, who in addition were leftist, didn’t have the right to work. Therefore they had to go to look for new horizons, new places.

Do you have any regrets about your past?

I regret having been such an idealist.


I was too much of an idealist.

Isn’t that a good thing?

It depends.

What on?

It depends on how you are treated afterwards. I have a friend who is a priest and he told me that I should have been a priest too. As a leftist, I was dedicated a lot to the others, to the common good. Rarely did I think of me. And this is a characteristic of believers, and I am an atheist. However, there is Christian humanism and leftist humanism. I have taken the leftist humanism literally, without caring about what has happened. I mean, I do care deeply about what happened in the Soviet Union, the injustice that was done there. But in Chile, we wanted to carry out a revolution without arms. That is a chimera, a utopia. We wanted to change the mentality of our country, first of all through education, but we didn’t have time.

So what would you have done differently?

What I lack is pragmatism. Like all the people who like art, I am a dreamer. And this is very difficult to change. This comes in the genes. It’s not a question of making a turn in the air and I’d change today or tomorrow. No. In spite of all that has happened, all that I have experienced, all I have suffered, I go on. I go on believing. In spite of everything, I go on believing, that a man has a soul that he needs to control. We have two sides. A good and a bad side. This is the eternal problem, the eternal dichotomy of a human being. And we have to learn to take control when we are losing to the bad. Maybe, I regret that I was not a bit more calculating.

What do you mean?

I ventured into many things. I often went out with my camera and did things that nobody dared to do. I took photos of secret venues. Driving at night to take photos of security personnel. Many risky things. I was too naïve

Does it mean that you regret having worked for Vicaria?

No. Not the work for Vicaria. Some people do, but very few. I regret having been a party member. I don’t need a party to believe in what I believe in. I think that a much nobler thing is to help without asking which label you wear, which T-shirt you wear, or what your ideas are, as we did. It was enough that they were suffering to help them. In this sense I don’t regret anything. When I say I regret having been so naïve I mean that I didn’t imagine that when a strong reprisal comes, some people wouldn’t fight for you in the same way you would fight for them. This is probably the only thing I regret.

First published in The Santiago Times on 30 January 2011