People’s Voice April 1-15, 2017
Volume 25 – Number 06   $1














13) MUSIC NOTES, by Wally Brooker



PEOPLE'S VOICE      April 1-15, 2017 (pdf)


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(The following articles are from the April 1-15, 2017, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)


Statement by the Central Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada

            The Liberals’ second budget, delivered March 22, made the corporations happy, but left working people, youth and the unemployed looking for the beef promised during the 2015 federal election, and in last year’s budget.

            For the corporations and the wealthy: no tax hikes, and no new taxes, and no loopholes closed, leaving the government with no revenue to deliver on their many promises. Pointing to the US, where big corporate tax cuts have been promised by the Trump administration, the Liberals say they can’t raise corporate taxes here. But they can and should, if they want to stem the tide of right-wing populism that has swept across the US and Europe, and is fueling the Tories and the far right in Canada.

            Closing corporate tax loopholes would have generated an estimated $16 billion in revenue that could have been used to fund a new federal health accord, reduce tuition for students, fund social housing and public transit, and create jobs.

            Raising the capital gains tax to 100% of the gain (realized and unrealized) could have been used to eliminate the bubble in housing prices across the country. It could have generated the funds needed to launch a system of universal, accessible, affordable, quality, public childcare in Canada, and enabled millions of women in the workforce to work full-time, to close the wage gap, and to also contribute and be eligible for full pensions and EI benefits. It would have put some real meaning into this much publicized gender-lensed budget that talks the talk, but is too weak to walk. 

            Introducing wealth and inheritance taxes, which most countries in Europe have had for decades, would have generated funds for an emergency program to create new jobs for youth, and to substantially raise the minimum wage.

            Raising the corporate tax rate – now the lowest in the industrialized world – would have provided the funds for massive job creation, putting the country to work, building affordable social housing for sale and for rent right across Canada, building secondary industry and manufacturing that’s environmentally sustainable and will help reduce greenhouse gases, developing an infrastructure program using corporate tax revenues to build publicly owned infrastructure, not the widely discredited public private partnerships that are privatization on public infrastructure and services on a massive basis. 

            It could have restored funding to the EI account, which previous Liberal governments raided for corporate tax cuts, and increased EI benefits to 90% of previous earnings for the duration of unemployment, and covered all the unemployed including part-time and precarious workers and first-time job seekers. Instead the government will water down EI benefits over an extended 18 month period for some parents. 

            Raising the corporate tax rate could have been partnered with the elimination of taxes on incomes under $40,000, or introduced a guaranteed annual income above the poverty line.

            But the government’s refusal to raise corporate taxes, or even close the gaping loopholes through which the corporations and the rich daily drive their Porsches, has increased the federal deficit (and provincial and municipal deficits as well in the trickle-down) and extended austerity measures imposed on working people, youth and the unemployed indefinitely. The government’s refusal to take decisive action to create jobs, raise wages and living standards, strengthen social programs, and address climate change will deepen the crisis of living that millions of working people face daily in Canada, and will create more fertile ground for the Tories and the extreme right.

            Instead the government chose to post notice that it intends to mirror US tax rates once they are set by the Trump administration. Working people should ask: will Trudeau also match Trump’s right-to-work laws when they arrive in the US? Will Trudeau go along with Trump’s “tweaks” to NAFTA which target our softwood lumber, Medicare, our supply management system in agriculture, our manufacturing industries and auto jobs?  

            The biggest prize for big business is the establishment of the Canada Infrastructure Bank, which is intended to facilitate and speed-up the privatization of federal public assets and services.  Euphemistically described as the means to “unlock and recycle the value of our public assets”, the bank will invite private investors to fund – and jointly own – what is now publicly owned infrastructure, including roads, bridges, water filtration, public buildings and land, etc. The P3 ownership arrangements that the bank will underwrite will make billions in profits for the private corporate investors, and bilk the public out of billions in new and higher user fees, and in the loss of publicly owned infrastructure. It is mass privatization.

            The government’s willingness to cater to the corporations’ demands in Canada, and in the White House, over the needs of working people, is nowhere better exposed than in the absence of equitable funding for Aboriginal education and health and social services for children. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ordered the government three times to pay the $382 million owing for First Nations child welfare. The $99 million in this budget is 30% of this legally required funding for 165,000 indigenous children across Canada, who are dying as a result of deliberate underfunding of services by this and previous governments, part of the genocidal policies that included the residential school system. 

            This government has lied about its willingness to change this horrendous policy towards indigenous people, just as they have lied about recognition of indigenous sovereignty while approving pipelines opposed by indigenous peoples, environmentalists, and a majority of working people. Like the 2016 budget, which promised $8.4 billion to address the crises in Aboriginal communities, the lion’s share of the funds will not be delivered before the next federal election – if ever. The government’s slow implementation of the Public Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Women and the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, prove that this the case.

            This corporate budget will cost lives of the most vulnerable, and result in a further loss of Canadian sovereignty, jobs, and social security. It could have been different, it should have been different. Canada is a rich country. Working people will have to take their opposition to the streets, and demand that this government deliver on the promises made.

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            “The government of Saskatchewan’s 2017 budget will make life more difficult for farmers and other rural residents while giving corporations and the extractive industries unnecessary tax breaks,” says Cam Goff, Hanley-area farmer and National Farmers Union 2nd Vice President. “With just over a million people in a province that is endowed with incredible wealth, there is no good reason to cut valuable public services and sell off crown corporations and crown lands to balance the books.”

            Released on March 22, the 2017-18 budget shuts down the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC), sells the Saskatchewan Grain Car Corporation and the Saskatchewan Pastures Program lands, and cuts the Regional Library system’s funding in half.

            As an NFU media release points out, “many farmers deal with small businesses in small communities that rely on STC to ship their orders to other small communities. Without STC, doing business will be more costly and time-consuming, to the extent that some of these businesses may not be able to survive.”

            “STC provides an essential service between smaller centers. Without the bus, shipping will become more expensive or even impossible. No doubt this will weaken the economic fabric of rural Saskatchewan,” says Goff. “Of course when people come in to the bus depot they often go shopping in town as well. With STC, people who don’t drive can still live in a small community and know they can get to the city if they need to for appointments.”

            Ending STC will increase rural isolation, promote depopulation and undermine the rural economy. The NFU says the government should keep STC on the road.

            The Saskatchewan Grain Car Corporation (SGCC) is up for sale. Its mandate is to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of transporting and handling grain in partnership with farmers and community groups and in cooperation with shippers and railroads. While the government says the shortlines will get first option to buy, it also says it will accept the offer that returns the most value to Saskatchewan. It is likely that CP Rail or the railcar leasing company GATX would be able to outbid the shortlines.

            “SGCC provides service to farmers, and thus to the whole prairie economy, by leasing out its 900 hopper cars and making sure they are well-maintained. Last year it paid a $2 million dividend to Saskatchewan and helped the province’s 13 shortline railways with grants totalling $900,000,” explains Goff. “It is a money-maker, and has contributed over $20 million in dividends to the government since it was established. If kept, the government would be in position to get another $30 million in dividends over the hopper cars’ remaining lifespan.”

            The budget also ends the Saskatchewan Pastures Program, putting the 780,000 acres of crown land farmers have been able to use for summer grazing up for sale.

            “The pastures program pays its own way -- farmers’ user-fees cover the cost of running the program. The pastures give more farmers a chance to raise cattle, and that helps them support their families and their communities,” says Goff. “Almost 600,000 acres of these pastures is protected for ecological reasons. Keeping it intact is an important way for us to help the climate as well.” 

            The government says it plans to consult with pasture patrons and Indigenous groups before selling the pastures.

            But Goff responds, “Our concern is that the lands would be sold to the highest bidder, maybe farmland investment corporations, that only think about how much money they can make. We are asking the government to reconsider this decision, or at least allow the patron groups enough time to develop a workable proposal.”

            The decision to cut provincial funding to the Regional Library system will also harm rural Saskatchewan. Service to local libraries will be cut; some libraries will likely be closed.

            “Libraries are important centers in rural communities. They are places where people can gather, connect with one another and with the wider world through the many resources libraries offer,” says Goff. “Impairing the library system will further isolate rural people and reduce our quality of life. The loss of STC compounded with library cuts will make it that much harder for young people to stay in rural communities to farm and raise their families.”

            Many other aspects of the budget disadvantage farmers and rural communities, including the reduction of the diesel fuel tax rebate and the elimination of the farm fuel tax rebate on gasoline, and the 6% PST being added to the cost of agricultural insurance premiums.

            “While all Saskatchewan residents are faced with resolving the financial mess, the government has not only let big business avoid taking its share of the burden, but has actually added to the corporate sector’s already excessive benefits,” concludes Goff.

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            The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Canada met in Toronto over the March 4-5 weekend to discuss the big political upheavals of the past few months.

            Elected at the 38th Central Convention last spring, the Party's top leadership body convenes in person twice a year to set policy and guide overall activity. Given the outcome of the U.S. election, and the growing threat of ultra-right and racist movements in many countries, this was a particularly significant gathering for the CC, which includes 22 members from all parts of the country.

            The meeting began with a political report, presented by leader Liz Rowley on behalf of the CPC's Central Executive Committee. The report calls the election of Donald Trump and Republican majorities in Congress "the worst possible electoral outcome for the US working class, for the international working class, for the environment, and for movement towards global peace, disarmament and mutual security. It is also an immediate threat to Canadian jobs and wages, environmental security, health and social programs. It sharply accelerates the attack on Canadian sovereignty and independence."

            As the report notes, Hillary Clinton actually won three million more votes, but the Electoral College system helped the most reactionary elements of the US ruling class take office. While Clinton (like Barack Obama) was backed by trade unions, the main Black and Hispanic organizations, women’s organizations, etc., "a significant number of their members either didn’t vote, couldn’t vote because of extensive voter suppression in key states, or didn’t vote for Clinton." Many others voted for Trump, including "an estimated 30% of trade union members, 53% of white women voters, 29% of Hispanics, 8% of African-Americans, and 46% of youth between the ages of 18 and 29."

            The political report points to widespread dissatisfaction with the pro-corporate and pro-war policies of the Democrats. After the defeat of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries, Trump focussed on winning over working class voters looking for immediate change from the status quo. But, the report stresses, his "coalition" included groups from the fascist right, sections of the police and military, and wealthy and powerful billionaires, bankers, and oilmen who financed his “outsider” campaign.

            "The Trump coalition used Islamophobia, anti-Black racism and anti-Semitism, as well as misogyny to promote their demagogic candidate," notes the report, creating increased political and organizing space for emboldened far-right groups. After posing as a candidate who could reduce the danger of war, Trump is instead escalating arms spending and threatening military action against a number of countries.

            The president is also moving to unilaterally strengthen US economic domination, with a sharply negative potential impact on Canada. A key section of the political report analyzes the implications of "tweaking" NAFTA, which since 1994 has created a deeply integrated patterns of trade, production, and movements of goods, services, workers, and capital, across the continent. "While it doesn’t have to be that way," the report says, "it is that way thanks to NAFTA."

            Instead of trying to win more favourable terms, the report says, Canada should withdraw from NAFTA, and negotiate new trade arrangements based on a policy of mutually beneficial, multi-lateral trade with all countries. The report outlines key priorities for "developing an environmentally sustainable industrial strategy, including a Canadian steel industry, and an energy policy based on public ownership and democratic control of energy resources and development of new sustainable energy such as solar, wind, thermal, tidal and others still in development. "

            A new economic strategy, it argues, should include a publicly owned and controlled Canadian transportation industry, and a massive program to build affordable social housing. "Instead of capitalist globalization, we fight for peace, jobs, sovereignty, equality, democracy, and for socialism," the report says.

            But in the immediate term, "the job of the labour and people’s movements is to make sure that the drive towards fascism is derailed before it gathers any more steam."

            The conditions that make this drive to the far right possible today include the deep economic crisis that has gripped the capitalist world, the growth of permanent mass unemployment, widespread anger at bourgeois politicians and governments, and deliberate efforts to stoke racial and religious prejudices against refugees and migrants. 

            Several fascist movements are growing in Canada, including "La Meute" in Quebec, with a military leadership and a claimed membership of 43,000; the so-called "Coalition of Concerned Canadian Citizens," which has called two country-wide days of action to promote hatred of Muslims; and the fascist “Your Ward News” publication in Toronto, which glorifies Nazism and targets Communists, Jews, immigrants, LGBTQ, women, and minorities. These racist, xenophobic, misogynist and fascist forces, the report says, are "the shock troops of the most violent and reactionary sections of capital".

            The only real option for fundamental reform, the report stresses, is based on systemic and revolutionary change. The Communist Party calls for a People’s Coalition, with a platform to create good jobs and full employment; raise wages, pensions and living standards; and strengthen the social safety net. "These are the policies that can take Canada out of the crisis, and open to the door to fundamental change and to socialism," says the political report.

            From there, it looks at a wide range of struggles against reactionary governments and corporate interests. The Trudeau Liberals, it points out, have broken promises to indigenous peoples, dropped the PM's pledge for electoral reform, and failed to achieve a new health accord to strengthen universal Medicare. These factors "will all have a significant impact on the next election slated for 2019."

            For that campaign, the Tories are positioning themselves on the far right of the Liberals, and the Bloc Quebecois has tied itself to the rising right-wing movements. Meanwhile, "unless the left-wing of the party is able to change the direction, the NDP is unlikely to pose a serious challenge to either the Liberals or the Tories in the next election.  In the interim, the NDP’s support for NAFTA renegotiations, for NATO and NORAD, and for balanced budgets will not endear it to Canadians, nor help to mount the fight needed to defeat the corporate agenda, and secure the policies Canadians voted for in the 2015 election campaign. "

            However, the report does note important developments in the fightback against right-wing forces, such as the huge Women’s March  demonstrations in cities across Canada on the day after Trump's inauguration: "It was a remarkable demonstration of the unity, militancy, and power of women in action," indicating better conditions for mass action to defend and expand women’s equality rights.

            Other positive signs include the outpouring of solidarity with Muslims in the wake of murders by a white supremacist in Quebec, and last November's pan-Canadian day of protest against skyrocketing tuition fees, the first in several years called by the Canadian Federation of Students. Recent labour struggles have included the militant battle by teachers and educational workers in Nova Scotia against the provincial government’s imposition of a four-year collective agreement that undermines teaching and learning conditions; the strike (now in its second year) by the Chronicle Herald  newspaper workers in Halifax; the struggle in Newfoundland against the government’s 2016 austerity budget; the huge victory by British Columbia teachers against 15 years of attacks against public education by the Liberal government; the growing strike movement in Quebec, where the demand for a $15 minimum wage is now part of the bargaining strategy of the main labour centrals; and the strikes by cafeteria workers at York University and other campuses.         

            But the attacks on the working class, on racialized and indigenous people, on women and immigrants, and on organized labour, says the report, "can’t be rolled back by the lobbying that has been the main, and perhaps the only  tool in the CLC’s arsenal for the past several years."

            With the Canadian Labour Congress convention taking place this May in Toronto, the Congress will "need to unite and mobilize the 3.3 million workers  it represents to take on the employers and their governments in the streets, on the shop floor and in the workplace, in bargaining and on the picket lines, in the Legislatures and on their front steps, in the media, and in every way to  stop them and to beat them back this vicious and deadly assault. "

            To help move the fightback in such a militant and united direction, the report says, requires a much stronger Communist Party and Young Communist League. Provincial leaders of the Party and other CC members spoke about the increased level of recruitment to both organizations, as more and more people turn to the ideas of socialism.

            The next issue of People's Voice will feature excerpts from the CC political report, which will also be posted online at the website of the Communist Party,

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            For the third time in just one year, investigators with the Quebec Ministry of Labour have caught strikebreakers brought in by a company involved in a labour dispute. The United Steelworkers is now calling on the Quebec government to add some teeth to its anti-scab legislation.

            Three scabs were found at Samuel & Fils, a metal processing company where about a hundred workers launched a strike earlier this year, to protest a collective agreement clause that would disadvantage new workers.

            “This confirms our suspicions. We saw trucks coming and going, day after day, so it was obvious that the company wasn’t operating using only its managers,” explained the president of USW Local Union 9441, Alain Paiement.

            The USW will pursue the process at the judicial level.

            “As soon as possible, our lawyers will file an application with the court for a ruling an order to be issued. If the company really wants to restart its plant, it will have to return to the table to negotiate seriously. We’ve had enough of this employer’s shenanigans and hiring of strikebreakers in violation of the Labour Code,” said Staff Representative Silvy Vaudry.

            Fines are not initially imposed on companies that bring in scabs - only after the Labour Court issues an order, which can take some time. These fines are rather limited, reaching a maximum of $1,000 per day.

            “It’s a ridiculously low amount,”said Donald Noël, Steelworkers Area Coordinator for the North/North-West region. “These companies calculate the fines into their operating costs and laugh all the way to the bank heaven. The legislation should be stronger, and should provide for fines to be applied from the moment the violation begins. These fines should be high enough to act as a deterrent against such behaviour by companies,”

            During a labour dispute in Quebec, only managers hired before negotiations begin are authorized to perform the duties that are normally performed by the unionized workers.

            Just recently, investigators discovered that strikebreakers were also being used by CEZinc in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, where workers have been on strike since February 12. The same scenario played out earlier last winter, during the Steelworkers’ labour dispute at Ciment Lafarge in Saint-Constant.

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By Paul Bentley

            The corporate media has left many questions unanswered about recent news that Mykhailo Chomiak, the grandfather of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, was editor of the Krakivski Visti, referred to as a Nazi “collaborationist newspaper” by the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

            The most important question is, how did Khomiak gain admission to the United States and Canada after the war? The second, is why he was never prosecuted like many other Nazi collaborators for his crimes?

            According to David Matas, senior legal counsel for B’nai Brith, “Chomiak died in 1984.  He has been dead for more than 30 years. The Deschenes and Government files on him, if there are any, should be made public”.

            A second set of questions are raised by Freeland’s association to this figure, with whose right-wing Ukrainian nationalist dreams she openly identifies: “That dream persisted into the next generation, and in some cases the generation after that”, as she wrote in May 2015.

            Of most concern to leftists is her activist anti-communism.  For example, on January 28, 2015 Freeland was the only Liberal MP to join with Conservative MPs, including Jason Kenney, in a ceremony celebrating a gift from the government of Latvia to the “Memorial for the Victims of Communism” project.   

            In her book entitled Plutocrats, moreover, she offers a shocking defense of “global capitalism”. Not only is it strange that she chose this term for her title, given its history as code word for “Jew” in the speeches of Hitler and Goebbels, but statements like the following in the book are a warning signal to all leftists about her agenda:

            “America really does need many of its plutocrats. We benefit from the goods they produce and the jobs they create. And even if a growing portion of those jobs are overseas, it is better to be the home of these innovators—native and immigrant alike—than not. In today’s hypercompetitive global environment, we need a creative, dynamic super-elite more than ever.”

            Freeland’s stance goes a long way to explain her anti-communism and her collaboration with the global capitalist elite as an editor for the Globe and Mail and the Financial Times.

            Ukrainian nationalism is in no small part a reaction to the difficult early period in Soviet history marked by Civil War and the Holodomor (though the causes of the latter event are still debated by historians). However, her grandfather’s education and white-collar career suggest that her family’s nationalist aspirations were of a different order than that of the peasants in the field. 

            In her previous post as Minister of Trade, Freeland’s success in pushing through the EU-Canada free trade deal (CETA), which protects investor rights at the expense of those of labour and the environment, was a major victory for her capitalist agenda. 

            Now as Minister of Foreign Affairs, she has turned her attention to a major military build-up in the Ukraine and Latvia designed to secure the economic benefits of CETA, and the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA), which she also pushed through Parliament. No wonder she is banned from travel in Russia.

            They say the apple does not fall far from the tree.

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People’s Voice Editorial

            Twenty-two years ago, People's Voice printed a series on the staggering profits by Canada's six largest banks - totalling six billion dollars a year. Our readers took part in a public campaign to draw attention to this profiteering scandal, holding rallies and pickets in a number of cities across the country. As we wrote at the time, if those profits were stuffed into burlap sacks, each containing a million dollars, the sacks would stretch for six kilometers. It was a startling image.

            How things change in just a generation! Today, six billion sounds like pocket change for the big banks, in Canada and even more so internationally. A recent Oxfam report, for example, calls out 20 Eurozone banks which stashed US$27 billion in profits into tax havens in the year 2015 alone.  Luxembourg and Ireland are among the favourite destinations. Europe's fifth-biggest bank, Barclays, posted profits of 557 million euros in Luxembourg during 2015, and paid only one million euros in taxes – an effective tax rate of 0.2 percent.

            The latest news on banking profits in Canada is equally shocking. "Strong results" from Toronto-Dominion Bank helped push the Big Six banks’ total profits to more than $10.5-billion for the three month period ending January 31, 2017. Projected over a 12-month period, that’s $42 billion, seven times as much as these banks racked up in the mid-1990s. As one business analyst put it, "In general, I think that bank earnings showed that there is still a lot to be positive about when it comes to the Canadian banks."

            No kidding. Show us a single group of workers whose earning power jumped seven-fold over the past two decades, and we'll eat this newspaper. But when the richest corporations in the country announce record profits year after year, well, that's just "positive news."

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People’s Voice Editorial

            The threat posed by hate groups across North America is growing rapidly. The latest evidence of this danger came on March 26, during an event in Vancouver organized by the Coalition Against Bigotry-Pacific to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (officially March 21). As about 200 participants walked along Hastings Street,  marchers near the back were approached by men in black outfits covered with ominous symbols - members of the anti-immigrant Soldiers of Odin, who tried to pick fights. When the diverse group of marchers gathered at Victory Square, a smoke bomb was tossed into the crowd and the thugs grew increasingly aggressive, as Vancouver police stood by and observed. The rally did take place, including a powerful speech by Jenny Kwan, Vancouver East NDP MP, herself an immigrant and a target of racism. But the provocations continued, including by members of the so-called “UBC Free Speech Club,” which specializes in condemning free speech by anti-racists and political radicals. Three fascists were finally handcuffed and taken away by police, only to be released soon afterwards, when more attacks took place.

            As Coalition organizers said, the main lesson is that the anti-racism movements must become much larger and better organized. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual census, the number of hate groups in the United States is rising as the radical right becomes energized by Donald Trump. The number of explicitly anti-Muslim groups has nearly tripled since 2015, to over 100 across the U.S. Similar trends are visible here in Canada. We call upon police and politicians to treat the Soldiers of Odin and similar groups as criminal gangs intent on violence. But even more important, labour and other progressive movements must unite to stand up against hate, before more people are killed.

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By Nino Pagliccia

            In a recent article titled “The Venezuela ‘Opposition’ We Never Hear About”, Canadian journalist and author Arnold August, wrote about the real nature of the “opposition” in Venezuela.

            In the context of a meeting of delegates of the international Network of Intellectuals, Artists and Social Movements in Defense of Humanity in Caracas, August refers to one of the speakers, the Venezuelan deputy at the National Assembly, Hector Rodríguez, who is the leader of the minority pro-Chavismo group, a fact that puts him effectively on the opposition - at least in a conventional sense.

            We learn from August the “conventional“ opposition is based simply on the smaller number of representatives, who nevertheless remain loyal (are not opposed) to the capitalist system’s ideology (Republicans and Democrats in the U.S.), or to the head of state, the Queen in the case of Conservatives and Liberals in Canada. But in Venezuela, Rodríguez’s loyalty lies with the ideology of the Bolivarian Revolution. This makes him invisible to, or ignored by the corporate media.

            August writes, “the Bolivarian Revolution … is based in words and deeds on opposition to U.S. imperialism and capitalism. While the Revolution is flexible on tactics …  when it comes to the question of principles and objectives, there is no compromise possible.”

            This ideological opposition is different from the numeric or size-based opposition. The former is a deeper and more meaningful opposition, and should not be penalized by the U.S. and its enablers, as is the often the case, when it is the free sovereign choice of the people.

            Venezuela’s ideological opposition to the Empire must have been at the forefront of Luis Almagro’s mind, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), when he singled out Venezuela in his accusatory, aggressive and damning report on March 14, 2017.

            Totally outside his mandate as secretary general, Almagro lays out serious accusations against the government of Nicolas Maduro, that do not have any support aside from his compromised words. After Venezuela had been internationally recognized for holding the most transparent presidential elections, Almagro has the audacity to state that “a call to general elections be made in the next 30 days.” He goes on to state that “if no general election are held under the stipulated conditions, that would be the time necessary to apply Venezuela’s suspension from the activities of the Organization in light of Article 21 of the Interamerican Democratic Charter.”

            This is the same Almagro who did not suggest a suspension for Brazil when in 2016 its then vice-president Michel Temer and his associates ousted legitimately elected President Dilma Rousseff in a so-called parliamentary coup, to implement rightwing neoliberal policies in line with the requirements of the U.S.

            But Almagro’s words cannot be trusted, precisely because he is not in opposition to the ideology of the empire. His words are compromised by his adherence to the neoliberal dogma that the Bolivarian Revolution has rejected.

            In an immediate public reply through the ministry of external affairs the Venezuelan government stated its "deepest repudiation to the illegitimate and illicit pretense report on Venezuela presented by Mr. Luis Almagro who...ignores the institutional processes and principles of [the OAS]."

            The Latin American community in the hemisphere has reacted solidly in support of Venezuela, with strong words of rejection for the Almagro report. For instance, the senator from Chile, Alejandro Navarro, who is the president of the Chile-Venezuela interparliamentary group, has firmly stated that instead it is Almagro who “should be suspended from the OAS”, and that Chile should send a “clear signal against the continued conduct of this person, who during his whole term of office all he has aimed for has been destabilizing the government of president Nicolas Maduro, and the intervention in a country that is free and that elects its leaders democratically.”

            Canada, an OAS member since 1990, has not issued its position at the time of this writing. The Canadian based group Hugo Chavez People’s Defense Front, representing organizations and activists with Latin American roots, has asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “to call for the institutional respect for the process and principles of the OAS Charter when they are trampled upon by the Secretary General.”

            It is particularly poignant and not coincidental that the Almagro report is released on the heels of two important statements issued earlier in March, but totally opposite in nature. One is from the 14th Summit of Heads of State and Governments of the member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Trade Treaty of the Peoples (ALBA-TCP) and a second is from the 15th meeting of the Network of Intellectuals, Artists and Social movements in Defense of Humanity.

            The ALBA-TCP document states that “the main attack is against the Bolivarian Revolution”, and asks to cancel “the arbitrary U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and its executive Vice President Tareck El Aissami.” In a similar tone, the statement by the Network of intellectuals focuses on the negative communication campaign used in those attacks: “The people of the ALBA countries, in particular of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia have been the target of constant toxic disinformation campaigns through messages and images intended to strip away all their political and ideological references that do not correspond to the logic of the empire.”

            Ultimately, the exclusion of Venezuela from the OAS lacks support within the organization, and will not happen. However, it is a matter of principle to oppose the Almagro report. It is Venezuelan deputy Hector Rodriguez’s uncompromising principle that must unite in solidarity all people who are in opposition to the neoliberal ideology that creates disinformation, wars, poverty and interventions in sovereign countries.

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Cora Lewis, BuzzFeed News

            Almost 350,000 U.S. service workers plan to strike on May 1, a traditional day for labor activism across the world, in the most direct attempt yet by organized labor to capture the energy from a resurgent wave of activism across the country since the election of Donald Trump.

            Tens of thousands of members of a powerful California branch of the Service Employees International Union will participate in the strike, according to David Huerta, the president of the chapter.

            “We understand that there’s risk involved in that,” Huerta told BuzzFeed News, “but we’re willing to take that risk in order to be able to move forward in this moment, while the most marginalized are in the crosshairs of this administration.”

            Since Donald Trump’s election, there has been no shortage of wildcat strikes by groups disproportionately affected by his administration’s policies. But this time around, organized labor is driving the effort. According to a coalition of groups leading the strike, more than 300,000 food chain workers and 40,000 unionized service workers have said they will walk off the job so far.

            Huerta’s union chapter represents tens of thousands of workers, including janitors, security officers and airport staff, while the Food Chain Workers Alliance, which represents workers throughout the food industry, says hundreds of thousands of its non-unionized members have committed to striking.

            Best known for its creative and militant organizing, Huerta’s SEIU United Service Workers West local was one of the forces behind the successful campaign to unionize janitors in the 1990’s, which many see as the model for today’s wave of fast-food organizing. The Food Chain Workers Alliance, for its part, has built a nationwide network of workers across the food system, from farm fields to restaurant kitchens.

            “We are a workforce made up mostly of immigrants, women, African Americans, and indigenous people,” wrote the alliance in a statement announcing the strike, provided to BuzzFeed News. “Without workers, who does Trump think will harvest the crops, craft the food, transport it to market, stock the shelves, cook in kitchens, and serve the meals?”

            Speaking by phone from Milan, Missouri, organizer Axel Fuentes, of the Rural Community Workers Alliance, told BuzzFeed News that a thousand workers at a pork plant in the town will be striking May 1. Fuentes provides services to meat-processing workers in three towns in the northern part of Missouri, most of whom are immigrants and refugees.

            “There are workers in this area that voted for Donald Trump,” Fuentes said, citing abortion as the decisive issue for many. “But what they are seeing is not what they were expecting to happen with this administration. They’re seeing freedom of religion under threat, immigration under threat, and they’ve expressed regret for voting for him.”

            Fuentes said he has never seen workers express a desire to go on strike in his ten years of organizing, but on May Day, the majority of workers at the local Smithfield meat processing plant have pledged not to go into work, shutting down operations. They also plan to keep their children home from school and not to shop, he said.

            The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, a food industry worker advocacy group, will also participate in the strike, according to Saru Jayaraman, its co-director. ROC United and its network of restaurant owners and workers were instrumental in organizing the recent Day Without Immigrants protest, which shuttered hundreds of restaurants in cities across the country.

            America’s last major general strike was the first such Day Without Immigrants, in 2006, in which more than a million workers struck.

            “That was the largest national rising in many, many decades,” said Daniel Gross, founder and executive director of Brandworkers, which organizes food manufacturing workers. “For those of us who were fortunate enough to be involved, we’ll tell you, it was a strike. That 2006 momentum has not yet been duplicated on May 1 to date.”

            The plans for May 1 this year, and the organizations pushing them, highlight the role of so-called alt-labor groups, which can move faster than their larger, richer and more powerful institutional peers. Jayaraman, from ROC United, said groups like hers have more flexibility to call for their members to stop work, while established unions feel a need to tread carefully.

            Striking is “a legal term for them, and it isn’t for us,” she said. “It’s not part of collective bargaining agreements that our members can or cannot strike, so it’s not the same. Since it’s a legal situation in a contract [for unionized workers,] under the purview of the National Labor Relations Act, they’re definitely warier.”

            That wariness means no national union has yet called on its workers to join a general strike, even though plenty of their ground-level leaders are actively involved in the upcoming protests.

            “This is a strike from below, from the bottom of the economy,” Gross said of the May 1 action.

            The same migrant and immigrant constituency that struck eleven years ago will mobilize this year, joined by the Black Lives Matter movement, native sovereignty rights groups, and organizations Voces de La Frontera and Movimiento Cosecha.

            SEIU-USWW’s Huerta acknowledged that “there’s always been tension between institutions and movements.”

            “Although we are part of an institution, we see ourselves as part of a movement,” he said. “The question is, ‘How do we use our institutional power to move the movement?’”

            Since Trump’s election, a strike by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance has led to a consumer boycott of Uber; a one-day work-stoppage by New York City bodega owners rallied the city around its Yemeni business owners; February’s Day Without Immigrants shut down food service in urban centers; and the Women’s Strike this month closed schools and filled streets.

            But Jayaraman dismissed the idea of ‘protest fatigue’ among her membership, which has turned out in high numbers for marches and strikes numerous times in recent months.

            “If I see fatigue,” she said, “it’s among organizers who are trying to keep up with the workers.”

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By W.T. Whitney

            The Wayúu Indigenous people make up nearly half the population of La Guajira department in Colombia’s extreme northeast. They won’t be finding much peace from the agreement Colombia’s government and FARC insurgents signed in late 2016 to end their war. The government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said as much in 2012 when negotiations were beginning.

            A report states that, “more than 4,770 children of this Indigenous community have died over eight years due to malnourishment and a lack of drinking water.”

            The former Colombian vice-president warned that, “We are not going to negotiate the development model of Colombia, nor the legal framework which supports private property, nor the current foreign investment model in the country, nor the military doctrine of the government.”

            The owners of El Cerrejón coal mine, nemesis of the Wayúu, must have been satisfied. They are: BHP Billiton (Australia), which, operating in 100 locations in 25 countries, extracts iron ore, oil, coal, and diamonds; Anglo-American (South Africa) which mines coal, iron ore, and copper in South Africa, Australia, and the Western Hemisphere; and Glencore (Switzerland), the tenth largest corporation in the world, producing 90 commodities. Profits of the three in 2016 were: US$3.2 billion (July through December), US$1.59 billion, and US$3.67 billion, respectively.

            The Colombian government’s version of peace suits the US government. That was the message of the Obama administration’s “Peace Colombia” plan, announced in February 2016. Military and police assistance to Colombia would continue, and even exceed recent levels. Funds for social and humanitarian purposes were reduced.

            The stage was set for humanitarian disaster. In 2012, 87.7% of jobs in Guajira were in the informal sector, and 60% of workers received less than the legal minimum wage. Unemployment was 47%, and more than half the population lived in poverty; 25%, in extreme poverty.

            Wayúu vulnerability contrasts with the immensity of El Cerrejón. It’s the world’s largest open pit coal mine; annually 32 million tons of coal are exported. The company owns a 93–mile long railway and a deep-water seaport.

            Despite an arid climate, the Wayúu had been able to feed themselves. Water and land were available. Then mining and oil extraction expanded and farmers lost land. London activist Richard Solly reports that in 1960, “104,963 hectares of the department [were] suitable for agriculture; but in 2001 only 30,752 hectares were under cultivation and in 2008 much less.”

            The coal mine has dominated the region since the 1980s. Cerrejón bulldozers began razing Wayúu villages in 2001. Some 30,000 acres of forest have been ravaged. Steps were taken to supply the mine with water, essential to its operations.

            Beginning in 2010, the Cerrejón owners put dams across the Ranchería River and a couple of tributaries. River water now flows to the mine, 17 million litres every day. Since then – and there’s been drought – twelve rivers have disappeared, or almost so. Farm animals died because of no water. Irrigation of crops came to a halt. Now individual Wayúu people living nearby can find, on the average, only 0.7 liters each day of untreated water to drink.

            A report from 2016 says, “around 27 percent of children under five are suffering from malnutrition,” Another one that year states that, “more than 4,770 children of this Indigenous community have died over eight years due to malnourishment and a lack of drinking water.” In 2016, 36 mothers died of malnutrition.

            Actual deaths may exceed these numbers inasmuch as official record keepers are unaware of the deaths of many Wayúu infants. The Colombian pediatric society pointed out that, “an Indigenous child [in La Guajira] has a 24 times greater risk of dying than children elsewhere in the country.”

            In Bogota, an observer claims, “They have no idea of La Guajira, there’s laxity in understanding it, studying it, respecting it.” A socially-conscious physician writes of “state abandonment, violent stealing of resources, and institutional and political crisis.”

            Tax income and royalties from coal mining aren’t enough to bankroll social spending in La Guajira. Formerly 85 percent of royalties from mineral extraction stayed in the local area; now “only 9.3 percent of the royalties come to the producing department.” Cerrejón benefits from a concession of no taxation until 2034. Royalties paid by Cerrejón barely exceed the value of government subsidies for the company.

            Corrupt officials waylay money the national government sends to La Guajira to pay for schooling, health care, water, and food. El Cerrejón allegedly bribes officials. Two departmental governors have gone to prison recently, one for buying votes, the other for murder.

            The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights insisted on “precautionary measures”; it made recommendations in late 2015 for dealing with malnutrition affecting babies and children and a year later did likewise on behalf of pregnant women and lactating mothers.

            The national government recently announced it would be managing “health, education, and drinkable water resources” in La Guajira for three years, although President Juan Manuel Santos insists there’s no emergency. Colombia’s Constitutional Court sent inspectors to La Guajira. But they avoided southern regions of the department where suffering is extreme. The Council of State recently did stop the diversion of one tributary of the Ranchería River.

            A powerful company, one concludes, is laying waste to the very weak, with state collusion. The process is hardly new; rapacious individuals and commercial entities have long set forth from centres of wealth and power to plunder distant regions. Capitalist imperatives dominate, wealth and power are concentrated, and marginalised peoples don’t matter. These are the markers of imperialism.

            Those in charge in Colombia evidently support El Cerrejón’s successful pursuit of imperialist goals. They and the Cerrejón owners tolerate Wayúu suffering. Civil war in Colombia may be ending, but war against the Wayúu – and presumably other rural Colombians – is not.

            Lastly, to suppose a creative response from the US government to suffering and human rights violations in Colombia would be wishful thinking. The US government supported Colombia in its internal war for decades, and there’s no sign of changed priorities.

            The United States, Colombia’s partner, is the self-appointed protector and protagonist of the prevailing world economic order. The two are united in the imperialist project by which, generally, high-rollers thrive and bystanders suffer.

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            A “giant of Irish politics,” Martin McGuinness, died on March 21 at the age of 66, several months after retiring due to illness. Hundreds of people accompanied the coffin that was draped in the Irish flag as it was carried through the Bogside area of Derry to his home.

            McGuinness’s long-time friend and political ally Gerry Adams said he was “a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the reunification of his country.”

            Irish President Michael Higgins paid tribute to “his immense contribution to the advancement of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.”

            He was born James Martin Pacelli McGuinness in Derry’s deprived Bogside neighbourhood in 1950. He spent his political life fighting for the unification of Ireland and will be remembered for his role as the main republican architect of the peace process that led to the power-sharing Good Friday Agreement. It was part of a process that saw him transform from paramilitary to peacemaker — which culminated in the former IRA commander becoming Stormont’s deputy first minister in 2007.

            McGuinness joined the IRA after witnessing the vicious treatment of Catholics protesting peacefully for civil rights in the 1960s. Rising quickly through the ranks, he was the IRA’s second-in-command in Derry at the age of 21 when British troops opened fire on a peace march in the city on Bloody Sunday in 1972. Fourteen people were killed by British Army soldiers who shot unarmed protesters and those who were helping the injured.

            Adams explained: “Martin McGuinness didn’t go to war, the war came to him. It came to his streets, it came to his city, it came to his community. When we were arguing for civil rights, we got the answer. When we were arguing for basic modern reform, we got the answer, and it was a militaristic answer.”

            Sinn Fein leader in the north Michelle O’Neill said McGuinness “was truly a giant of Irish politics and was known and respected across the world. He was an international statesman. He was a man that was recognised as a peacemaker and a man that touched the lives of so many people … his impact will be felt for many years to come.”

            British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn praised his “immeasurable role in bringing about peace in Ireland,” saying “the past 20 years have shown us that if there is leadership and the will on all sides, we can achieve change.”

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The Vimy Trap: Or, How We learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War, Ian McKay and Jamie Swift, Toronto, Between the Lines, 2016. Review by Tony Quarrington.

            This book is a very interesting read: well-written, deeply researched, mostly well-organized, and definitely impassioned. Its central thesis is that the pervasive 'national myth' or 'folk memory' of Canada's supposed 'coming of age', (or perhaps even 'achieving real nationhood') at the 1917 victory on France's Vimy Ridge is actually a fabrication of much later vintage, cynically utilized by governments (particularly, that of Stephen Harper) to re-imagine and rebrand Canada as a militaristic 'Warrior Nation' (which is, in fact, the title and gist of these authors' previous collaboration, published in 2012).

            The present book is somewhat short on information regarding the actual battle; although it references many related events pre-1900, right up through 2015, it does not really consider Vimy Ridge proper in any detail until around its 200-page mark. It does talk about Second Ypres, current history textbooks, Mackenzie King, Walter Allward (the architect and sculptor of the Vimy Memorial), Arthur Currie, the Ottawa War Museum, Don Cherry, and much else besides.

            The authors see the syndrome of 'Vimyism' (or what Pierre Berton called 'Vimy Fever') as a 'highly dubious, mythologized narrative' that leads to an unsettling, obsessive fascination with war. In their view, no war could ever truly be 'Great': they are all dismal, terrible, and brutalizing, to be avoided at any cost. Many people (including myself!) would agree. However, if your viewpoint is pacifist, you will probably write an unsympathetic brand of military history, somewhat as if a vegetarian were to write a book about meat. The Vimy Trap is really extended cultural analysis of a military event, rather than a more straightforward military history.

            The authors minimize the importance of Vimy as a battle, seeing it as neither a turning point, nor a strategic breakthrough. They assert that full-blown 'Vimyism' was largely a political creation of the 1980s and 90s. They (correctly) point out that most non-Canadian historians do not even acknowledge that there was such a battle, it being seen as merely one phase of the larger Battle of Arras, an extended, multi-national, effort. On the German side, it has even been asserted that Vimy was in fact a German victory, or at the worst a draw, or at any rate, an insignificant loss.

            Despite the nay-saying here, I believe something big did happen at Vimy Ridge. In that war where battles usually meant gains or losses of only a few yards, to force the enemy into a two-mile retreat from a long-held, strategic promontory was, simply, a huge thing. And while the resultant sense of pride and developing nationalism may have found its fullest expression in later years, the fighting men certainly knew at the time that something momentous and formative was up.

            McKay and Swift quote the words of soldier and journalist Greg Clark, who asserted “[I felt my] first full sense of nationhood [on Vimy Ridge]”, but they point out that he waited fifty years, till 1967, to say so. However, he did write to his father, on April 6, 1917, that he was about to 'take part in the greatest battle in Canadian history, and perhaps in the history of the world'.

            Lt. Edward Sewell wrote in his diary, after the first day of conflict, 'Canadian soldiers this day did more to give Canada a real standing among nations of the world, than any previous single act in [our] history.' P.W. McClure, writing on April 13, said 'It will be one of the biggest things in Canadian history'. A Major Dibblee wrote in his journal of his sense of 'undying glory'.

            Even the New York Times weighed in, asserting that '[Vimy] would be in Canada's history... a day of glory to furnish inspiration to her sons, for generations'. These contemporary estimates somewhat belie the 'Vimy Trap's central assertions that the battle did not amount to very much, and was not perceived as important or iconic till much later.

            Now, it happens that military historian Tim Cook (Shock Troops, etc.) has quite recently brought out his own book on the same topic, Vimy - The Battle and the Legend (2017), containing a true wealth of detail on the conflict, and using a number of first-hand accounts. Cook wisely sums up - 'Vimy, like all legends, is a layered skein of stories, myths, wishful thinking, and conflicting narratives'. He cautions further that 'Canada is a country- like most- that places little stock in its history, teaching it badly, embracing it little, feeding it only episodically' (6). For the actual sequence of events of the battle, and a measured consideration of their later significance, this book is well worth consulting. And Pierre Berton's Vimy (1986) is still a compelling yarn. Ted Barris's more recent “Victory at Vimy” (2007) brings in a lot of new material, and Hayes et al., “Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment”, is a good collection of essays on some of the very contentious historical issues that Vimy Trap raises. And finally, it bears saying, one of the best features of McKay's and Swift's book is the excellent (and lengthy) bibliographical essay 'Reading Further', 24 pages of very helpful analysis.

            The authors' chief point, that we should not allow politicians to co-opt the legends and imagery of the Great War to further their militaristic purposes, and to drain our national budget, is well-taken. But we should also not allow our modernism and/or cynicism to devalue the sacrifices that were made in that war, or minimize the extreme bravery that was demonstrated.

            Tony Quarrington is a Toronto-area guitarist, songwriter, and amateur historian whose most recent project is the soon-to-be-released 'WAR STORIES', a CD of new original tunes about Canadians in the First World War. His song about Vimy is called 'The Day We Took the Ridge', a collaboration with veteran folkie James Gordon.

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13) MUSIC NOTES, by Wally Brooker

Bragg fires up folk music convention

British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg delivered a rousing keynote address on February 16 to several thousand folk musicians at the 29th annual Folk Alliance International conference in Kansas City. Bragg's plea for "compassion" and "solidarity" matched the conference theme, "to celebrate activism in art by exploring the past and present role of folk music in civil, labor, pacifist, and environmental movements." The singer, now 59, described his political awakening, as a young punk rocker, at a 1978 Rock Against Racism concert, organized to build resistance to England's fascist National Front. He went on to describe a lesson learned at a gig in Northern England in the eighties in support of striking miners. There, to his dismay, he found that his political songs were no match for the repertoire of a miner-musician named Jock, his opening act. Jock showed him that he was a link in a chain of generations of folk musicians. Bragg told the assembly that his experience working with Woody Guthrie's archive of unpublished lyrics, at the invitation of daughter Nora Guthrie, taught him the important of resisting cynicism. "You've got to have that optimism to be a socialist", he declared, adding that socialism a form of "organized compassion". He concluded with an appeal to folk music's history of struggle. "Its tradition", he said, "is to pass on that struggle to the next generation of musicians". Listen to Bragg's address at

Residente denounces U.S. colonialism

René Pérez (a.k.a. Residente), co-founder of the Puerto Rican rap duo Calle 13, was at the SXSW music festival in Austin on March 13, promoting his new documentary film. Residente, who has won three Grammy awards and 21 Latin Grammys, used the occasion to denounce American colonial rule over his homeland. The long-time supporter of Puerto Rican independence called it "ridiculous" that the island remains a colony. Residente was commenting on the U.S. appointment of an oversight board with a fiscal plan that will force the Puerto Rican government to impose punishing austerity measures on the people. Puerto Rico has been a U.S. colony since 1898, when it was seized from the Spanish Empire. Its colonial status prevents it from making independent decisions about its economy, particularly regarding debt. Residente had a few other choice comments about racism in the U.S.  He called President Donald Trump an "idiot", while crediting him, in a backhanded way, with inspiring racists to identify themselves. "You can see them with the little cap," he said, alluding to the red "Make America Great Again" caps that are popular with Trump supporters.

Rock On, Chuck Berry!

Chuck Berry, the major architect of the mid-fifties cultural revolution that was rock & roll, died on March 18. He was 90. Given the co-optation of rock music in later years, and its relative eclipse in the digital age, it may be difficult for younger generations to appreciate Berry's accomplishments. Simply put, Chuck Berry, a southern Black man from St. Louis, had the audacity to cross over from the segregated "race music" categories of the day to bring a hybrid contemporary style of rhythm & blues and hillbilly swing to "mainstream" (i.e. "white") American culture. Berry's lyrics celebrated the everyday life of teenagers and young adults in their quest for freedom and independence, while slipping in democratic, anti-racist and anti-military content. He was both the first poet of rock & roll, and a brilliant guitarist who laid the musical foundations of a musical genre that ruled the airwaves for several generations. As he cried out in his 1957 hit School Days: "Hail, hail, rock and roll! Deliver me from the days of old!"

Ángel Parra: 1943-2017

Chilean singer and guitarist Ángel Parra died in Paris, France on March 11. He was one of the leading exponents of Nueva Canción, the revolutionary Latin American song movement that swept the world in the sixties and seventies. Ángel Parra was a member of a family of Chilean musicians, poets, and visual artists that has left a profound impact on Latin American culture. His mother was Violeta Parra, a singer-songwriter, folklorist, and cultural organizer best known for her famous anthem Gracias a la Vida. His uncle is the renowned poet Nicanor Parra. His sister Isabel is a prominent folk musician. Another sister, Catalina, is a well-known visual artist. Ángel, possessor of an unforgettable voice, was a passionate interpreter of contemporary revolutionary songs. He was arrested and imprisoned shortly after the overthrow of the socialist government of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. Parra was freed thanks to an international solidarity campaign led by U.S. singer Joan Baez and French singer Charles Aznavour.  He eventually settled in France, where he lived for 40 years. While Parra recorded many albums, they are not easily found in the English-speaking world, but his fine 2005 album "Le Prix de la Liberté",  can be listened to for free on Spotify.


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