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Issue #1672      February 11, 2015

Culture & Life

Pro-democracy thugs, political prisoners and the destruction of the NHS

The US has been pressuring Venezuela to release Leopoldo Lopez, a far-right political activist who was jailed for playing a leading part in organising a three-month wave of street violence supposedly in support of democracy. In reality, the US-backed campaign was openly aimed at forcing the removal of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and his policy of continuing Hugo Chávez’ Bolivarian Revolution.

With a blithe disregard for truth, the US resolutely describes Leopoldo Lopez as a “pro-democracy campaigner”.

Previously, when imperialist powers wanted to remove a progressive or left-wing government, they organised a military coup. But riding so blatantly over democracy while posing publicly as its champion simply won’t wash any more. So the Western powers’ political tacticians have fallen back on seemingly “spontaneous” violent demonstrations. Masked Fascist thugs armed with chains and clubs set about winning control of the streets.

In a pattern that has become familiar from Ukraine to Moldova, Chile to Venezuela, violent mobs strive to intimidate and cow everyone on the Left, create an atmosphere of chaos and violence, and ultimately destabilise and unseat the government and force “regime change” on the country. Not a coup, you see, but the expression of the popular will. But, as the Duke of Wellington once famously said, “If you believe that you’ll believe anything!”

In the “protests” that Leopoldo Lopez organised in Venezuela for Washington, streets were blocked by the usual violent masked thugs and extreme right-wing terrorists. Dozens were killed at their hands. With a blithe disregard for truth, the US resolutely describes him as a “pro-democracy campaigner”.

In response to US demands for the release of this notorious terrorist, Venezuela’s President Maduro has offered to exchange him for Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar Lopez Rivera, who has been in jail in the US for a staggering 33 years. Curiously, the democratic rights of the Puerto Rican people apparently count for a lot less than those of people in countries the US is seeking to control.

Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has also sent an open letter to Barack Obama calling for Rivera’s release. Even Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla has called on the White House to release him, and popular Puerto Rican singer Rene Perez has also been vocal in support of Rivera. In addition, the National Boricua Human Rights Network and La Respuesta magazine have organised a worldwide campaign calling for freedom for Rivera.

However, for all their talk about “freedom” and “liberty”, the US authorities clearly intend to hang on to their Puerto Rican colony come hell or high water. And in typical US fashion, those who try to object will be silenced with horrendous jail sentences.

On the other side of the world, in the UK, people are waging a campaign in defence of the country’s prized National Health Service, once the jewel in the British welfare state’s crown but which the Tories are now doing their best to destroy. To Britain’s capitalist politicians, just like ours, health care is not a person’s right. In fact, as far as they are concerned it is not a right at all. Instead, it is a commodity that can – in fact, should – be marketed for private profit. So the reactionaries there, as here, are undermining the public health service, trying to make it unworkable, to create opportunities for private entrepreneurs to replace the public system with a private one run for profit.

Already, nine major British hospitals are operating on a crisis basis: routine operations are being postponed, staff from different departments are being transferred to the Accident and Emergency units while patients are being held waiting on trolleys in corridors and ambulances, unable to unload their patients, are being kept in queues outside the A&E departments.

One tactic the Tories use is to not employ enough nurses, forcing hospitals to make up the difference by employing nurses and other staff from private agencies, at much greater expense. Of course, the owners of the agencies are making a mint from this tactic, which is a form of privatisation by stealth.

The rationale for private health care is the usual one, that “all who get it should pay for it”. But, as Daphne Liddle points out in the British Communist paper The New Worker, the people already do pay for it, through their taxes and other government charges. “But that cuts out big business and leaves no room for profit-making.”

In all the developed capitalist countries, they are trying to force everyone to take out private health insurance, which creates a bonanza for insurance companies while failing miserably to fund proper health care.

At the same time, the British authorities cut some ten thousand jobs from the NHS last year while the real value of NHS pay has fallen by 15 percent over the last five years. NHS staff are in the unenviable position of being representatives of “in-work poverty”. If big government employers can get away with paying poverty wages, private employers are emboldened to do so too.

In October last year, members of the giant union Unite working in the NHS, along with colleagues from ten leading health unions, took strike action for the first time in more than 30 years over pay, followed by a second walkout in November. The government caved and offered a deal which the unions are considering. Said Gail Cartmail of Unite: “The offer moves the NHS towards becoming a living wage employer and begins to address issues around low pay.”

Minimal pay offers notwithstanding, the British Tories are still intent on doing away with the NHS and replacing it with the same sort of US-style for-profit health care system favoured by Abbott and Hockey and Co. But the British people, like the Australian people, know when they are being robbed blind, and whether it’s called the NHS or Medicare, the destruction of a system of public health funded out of government revenue with no charges for medical care and its replacement by a system of private health care provided only if you can pay hefty prices for it is clearly the theft of a valuable asset from the people.

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