Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Venezuela’

Corbyn and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd July, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn smallThis morning, on the Andrew Marr show, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, argued that a country had to be a member of the European Union in order to remain part of the European single market. That is, of course, nonsense; Norway is a prime example of a country whose people voted not to join the EU but which enjoys the benefits of being within the single market. Given Corbyn’s more than 30 years as an MP (all the time as a back-bencher, until unexpectedly propelled into the leadership position) he must have learned enough about the EU to understand the difference. Or maybe he didn’t. The kindest interpretation of his remarks on the Marr show is that he believes that Britain must leave the single market as well as the EU (and presumably the Customs Union), presumably because he is implacably opposed to freedom of movement of workers in the EU, which is one of the pillars of the single market. But I fear his objection goes deeper. He knows he cannot build the sort of high-tax, dirigiste socialist Utopia that he and his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, dream of. They do not support the European project; they denigrate it as a capitalist club. One should never forget how much Corbyn revered Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. During last year’s EU Referendum campaign, Corbyn in principle sided with the remain camp, but so sotto voce that it made no positive impact. Rather like Theresa May’s position, in fact. And now Britain has the terrible situation in which both the Conservative Prime Minister and the Labour Opposition Leader are essentially arguing for what has been dubbed a Hard Brexit: a future outside the EU, the single market and the Customs Union, with the real possibility of the country crashing out of the EU in March 2019 with no deal in place covering our future relationship with our current 27 EU partners. No wonder the pound sterling has dived and banks and companies are starting to transfer operations out of London and other UK cities to places such as Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt. This is madness and absolutely not what a clear majority of the British public wants. The Leave side won by a tiny margin last year, following a campaign based on lies and false promises. Mrs May bears a terrible responsibility for pressing on with a Hard Brexit since then, but Jeremy Corbyn is now clearly also in the dock, which is why a growing number of Labour MPs and activists are calling for the UK to at least stay in the single market and customs union, if not the EU itself. It was the groundswell of new Labour activists that shot Jeremy Corbyn to where he is now. Perhaps it is time for them to bring him back down to reality.

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May Day Blues

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st May, 2017

Mayday 2012 Clerkenwell LondonI was having lunch at the Café Rouge in Kingsway, Camden, watching the rain outside when a May Day parade of trade unionists and socialists went past. I’ve always had a soft spot for trade union banners, some of which are truly beautiful, though my eyes nearly popped out when one particularly well-crafted banner went past with a large picture of Stalin on it. I’ve always considered Stalin to be just as bad as Hitler — two sides of the same coin — both guilty of presiding over the deaths of millions of their own people (not that Hitler considered Jews, Roma, gays etc as truly German). There are obviously still some Communists about in London, as the flurry of red flags, proudly bearing the hammer and sickle, went past on Kingsway, along with some banners proclaiming “Smash Capitalism!” Those made me feel almost nostalgic for the student revolutionary politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s, though such revolutionary romantic feelings evaporated when a large contingent of Venezuela’s government went past, seemingly unconcerned that years of socialism in that oil-rich country have brought the economy to its knees, while supermarket shelves are empty and those fortunate enough to live near enough to the border with Colombia go shopping there. As I saw for myself in Nicaragua in the mid-1980s and Cuba a decade later, leftist policies just don’t work. And whereas slogans such as Workers of the World Unite sound lovely and fraternal, the class hatred engendered by Marxism-Leninism and some of its later offshoots promises not nirvana but mayhem. Doubtless many of those marching on the parade today are all fired up because there is an election on and they have a new hate figure in Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May. Well, I dislike her too, mainly because of the way she has embraced Brexit, but I don’t buy into the discourse of smashing things in the name of the people. Besides, after the thousandth red banner went past, I felt quite bilious. Ah well, to all of those who were stirred by today’s May Day festivities:  enjoy its closing hours and reflect on the fact that Britain’s early May bank holiday won’t actually fall on May Day again for several more years.

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Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 8th November, 2015

Templo de Santo DomingoFor many Roman Catholics as well as journalists like myself who covered the tumultuous political and religious conflicts in Latin America in the 1980s, the name Puebla has great resonance. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Puebla in 1979 raised many issues linked to what was known as Liberation Theology, espoused by several leading clerics in Brazil and Central America. All too often, the Catholic Church had been on the side of the right-wing dictators and the moneyed élites who ruled most of Latin America in those days and not enough on the side of the poor. Of course, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then and most of the right-wing dictatorships are but a fading memory. Paradoxically, the most oppressive regimes these days tend to be on the left, including Venezuela, Nicaragua and that old chestnut Cuba. Anyway, Puebla has meanwhile grown into a city of five million souls, but I was delighted to see on a day trip there today that the centre has preserved most of its colonial architecture, complete with remarkable exterior tile work, and the city has a delightfully provincial atmosphere compared with that of Mexico City. There are, of course, churches galore, of which the most sumptuous is the Templo de Santo Domingo, whose golden chapel under a giant cupola is breath/taking, if distinctly disconcerting for someone of my Quaker tastes.

Pueblo ZocaloBut Puebla is also a city of museums, including the fascinating collection of 19th century interior decoration at the Museo Bello and a remarkable 17th century library on the first floor of the Casa de Cultura, containing thousands of rare old theological texts, not least relating to the Jewish Old Testament and its Christian interpretation. It was interesting to see that all of the churches we passed had plenty of people inside, but the real place to catch the population of Puebla, especially at the weekend, is the Zócalo, or main square, dominated by the cathedral but surounded on the other three sides by cafés and shaded galleries. This afternoon there was street theatre, several small musical bands, people in costume as everything from a clown to Tutankhamun, vendors selling helium balloons and candy as well as hordes of small children with their parents, in a joyous, celebratory mass.

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Reaching Out to Latin America

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th June, 2012

Latin America has been the Cinderella of British diplomacty in recent decades, though that situation has mercifully been changing since the Coalition Government came into office twp year ago and Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne took over responsibility as junior Minister for the region (along with East Asia, Australasia and most recently India). Several new British Embassies have been opened in Central and South America — some resuscitating posts the previous Labour government closed down — and staff beefed up at others. There has been a series of new consulates too, one of the latest being in Recife in North East Brazil, which Jeremy recently opened. This evening he came to talk to the International Relations Committee of the Liberal Democrats to explain the thinking in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There is recognition that as well as the BRIC, Brazil, there are other countries in the region that have been developing economically to a notable degree. Interestingly, he divided the states of Latin America up into three groups, from his point of view: those with liberal economies (the new Pacific Alliance of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile), the Left-leaning fraternity (Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and to an extent Bolivia) and the rest. Most have undergone profound and in general positive political change over the past three decades, but British companies have by and large not capitalised on new opportunities there. Despite the ongoing difference of views regarding the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands — in which Argentina’s claim to ‘Las Malvinas’ gets widespread support across the region — in general Latin Americans have a fairly positive view of Britain and we are a country that still punches well above our weight. Although Jeremy did not say so, another reason we are liked in Latin America is because Britain is not the United States, though often the British government — of whatever political colour — finds itself in close partnership with Washington.

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There Is No Excuse for Anti-Semitism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st February, 2009

200px-nicolas_maduro An armed gang has broken into the oldest synagogue in the Venezuelan capital Caracas, desecreating the building and calling for Jews to be expelled from the country. This follows the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador and his staff by President Hugo Chavez in protest at the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, but the Venezuelan government has been quick to denounce the synagogue attack, in which the walls were daubed with anti-Semitiuc and anti-Israel slogans. Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro condemned this ‘criminal act of vandalism’, adding, ‘we call on all the Venezuelan people, the entire Venezuerlan community, to reject these actions, with the same moral force with which we reject the crimes committed against the Palestinian people.’

There has been a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the world, including Britain, since the Israeli assault on Gaza. But the one does not justify the other. Attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions now are as vilely inappropriate as assaults on Muslims and Islamic institutions were in the wake of 9/11. Only four days ago in the United Kingdom we marked Holocaust Memorial Day, reminding ourselves of the horrific extremes to which anti-Semitism can go and the obscenity of genocide against any people. I don’t often agree with the rhetoric of Venezuela’s radical socialist government, but in this case Minister Maduro got it right. Just as we should morally condemn killings and abuses against Palestinians, so we should decry assaults on Jews.

(photo of Nicolas Maduro)

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Gas Exporters Gang Together

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th December, 2008

The world’s leading gas producers have formalised a collaborative association, the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), which will have its headquarters here in Doha. Qatar has the third largest reserves of natural gas after Russia and Iran; together with Algeria and Venezuela, these countries are responsible for two-thirds of the world’s gas supply. It’s a roll-call of states (with the notable exception of Qatar) that sends shivers down the spine of many Western leaders, who are already murmuring their discontent at the emergence of an OPEC-style cartel that could wield enormous power.

Attempts by some GECF members to dismiss the notion of a cartel have been undermined by the Venezuelan Energy Minister, Rafael Ramirez, who declared yesterday at the GCEF charter-signing meeting in Moscow that ‘we see in this forum an opportunity to build a solid organisation, which has in its foundation the same principles that gave birth to OPEC.’

The nature of gas contracts means that the natural gas market is quite different from the oil market. But as Russia has shown vis-a-vis Ukraine, for example, controlling the gas supply can be used as an economic or political weapon. And gas-importing countries will hardly have been reassured by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s comment yesterday that the ‘era of cheap gas’ is over.

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