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US Republican Democrat policy differences tactical not ideological

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Political analyst says any apparent difference between policies adopted by Republican and Democratic politicians and administrations in the United States are mostly of a tactical, not ideological, nature.

Dan Kovalik is a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, human rights activist and author, he is a Latin America expert with very interesting insights into the mechanics of US imperialistic policies that have for long plagued the region.

He joins us from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on episode 46 of the podcast PressCast by Press TV as he compares Nicaraguan revolution with that of Iran.

This article is based on episode 46 of the podcast PressCast by Press TV.

Okay, maybe the first question is how's life under the pandemic? Have you received your vaccines? Please update us on what's happening with the US Coronavirus vaccination drive.

Yeah, I mean, like in a lot of places it's been really a roller coaster things looked really good. About a month ago, the numbers were going down. Now they're going back up again. So you know there's real concern for a fourth wave of the virus. I myself have not been vaccinated yet but I did have the virus so I have the antibodies.

Are there any studies to determine how long the antibody will stay in the human body?

Yes there are studies but of course they're limited because the Coronavirus has only existed for so long, right, so they don't know for sure but they know it's at least a few months could be more than that. So again, we're all learning that as we go.

When did you contract CVID-19?

In late November around Thanksgiving.

I presume you no longer have sufficient antibodies left. Do you have any plans to get vaccinated?

Yeah, when it's available, you know right now in my state they're focusing on people over 65 years old; thankfully, I'm not in that category.

So, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well, it's obviously a long story, at this point I have been a lawyer for 28 years, I guess, but I haven't really been practicing much for the last couple of years; I worked for the steelworkers union for 26 years and retired from there and now I mostly write.

And I do teach International Human Rights at the law school here in the fall, only in the fall so I'm not teaching presently.

Yeah, that's pretty much it.

How do you spend your days now that you are retired?

I spend some time writing but I also now, especially during the pandemic, I'm doing this thing with an organization called 412 Food Rescue. I volunteer to get food, from restaurants or other places that might be thrown away, and get it to people who need it so I do that, sometimes nearly every day or certainly every other day.

Okay. So, talking about your portfolio as an author, there are so many amazing titles here, but the first one that caught my eye is "Cancel this book", what's the story behind this, why did you call it cancel this book, why did it get cancelled?

No, but it is about, that latest book is about a phenomenon in the US, I don't know if in Iran you have this phenomenon, here (it is) called cancel culture about people who are essentially cancelled, that is they say something or do something people find offensive and then there's a movement to deplatform that person, shame that person and sometimes to get them fired from their job. So I write about that phenomenon that's, that's why it has that title.

But beside that you have extensively written on the general US plot to take control of different parts of the world although you specialize in Latin America.

Yes, what I generally write about is US foreign policy and US imperialism. And as you say, you know, I would say my expertise is in Latin America more than anywhere else.

So how did you get started?

Well, I really, as a kid, got very interested in the war in Central America, in the 1980s. If people aren't aware of what was happening then, President Reagan was very aggressive in fighting what he termed communism, but really was popular uprisings throughout Central America, particularly in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and this was something that was very much on the news every day it was a big thing and it, you know, I didn't. I was young, I was in junior school, at that time. You know well in 1980 I would have been 12 when that was really starting to ramp up. But I was Catholic and the death of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, by US backed forces, really affected me and that's where I started to at least think about these issues.

How could you start to think about this grand policy at such a young age? Walk me through that.

I mean, I was interested in politics, I think, because of my dad. I mean, my dad was very conservative to right wing. And so I ended up disagreeing with him on politics, but he was very actively thinking and talking about it so we talked about it at the dinner table and what you know so. And it was during the Cold War and he was obsessed with the Cold War and the Soviet Union and so at least he got me interested in those issues, again, from his perspective at first and I moved away from that perspective but he's certainly got me interested in thinking about politics and world politics.

Did you travel to Nicaragua back then?

The first time I went to Nicaragua was when I was 19. But that, you know, certainly the seeds were planted when I was younger than that, you know, I got very interested in Central America and then you know pretty much went the first time it became kind of practical.  For that was during the war, by the way, so that was in 1987. So that was the conflict in Nicaragua at that time was, was pretty intense and it was a very difficult time.

Please explain in simple layman’s terms what actually happened in Nicaragua. I mean I know that, as you said like the Reagan administration pushed for the contras, a group of militias that they supported, but how did it actually end?

Yeah, so first of all, just to explain what happened. And it's interesting because, well, we could start at any point. But what's interesting, particularly for an Iranian, is that there was a revolution against a US backed dictator named Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

So the same year that Iran overthrew, its very own US backed dictator, the Shah, right. So the Iranians did it in February of 79 and the Nicaraguans did it in July of 1979, actually 79 was kind of a big year for these types of popular revolutions.

And what the contra war is about, very shortly after the Sandinistas were victorious. The US moved to overturn that revolution. Right, just as it tried to overthrow the Islamic Revolution in Iran through various means including supporting Saddam Hussein invading the country and whatnot. In Nicaragua what the US did was they took the nucleus of Somoza the dictator, of the former dictator at that point, his National Guard. They were the ones who were repressive against the population, much like the SAVAK in Iran. And they took them and move them to Honduras, which borders, Nicaragua, and they armed them and they created this counter revolutionary organisation, that's where the word contra comes from culture in Spanish is against, right. So they, they created this counter revolutionary organisation which terrorised Nicaragua, from early 1980s until 1990.

US extortion of the Nicaraguan people

And then what happened in 1990 was that the US basically extorted the Nicaraguan people. So, Nicaragua held elections in 1990, the Sandinistas by the way, had held elections in 1984 and they won those elections, in 1990 they agreed to have elections again.

And the US made its position clear to the Nicaraguan voters and in fact, the US Ambassador went around helping the opposition throughout Nicaragua tell the Nicaraguan people you have a choice.

You can vote for the Sandinistas but if you do, we're going to continue the contra war. We're going to continue sanctions, and you won't get any humanitarian aid, but if you vote against the Sandinistas, the US will end the contra war, will end the sanctions, economic sanctions, and will give humanitarian aid to the country.

And so under that pressure, the Nicaraguans voted for Violeta Chamorro the opposition candidate. And that brought in neoliberal governments from 1990 until finally in 2006, the Nicaraguans voted back in the Sandinistas who remain in power to this day. And so now the US is sanctioning Nicaragua, again, and is trying to get rid of the Sandinistas again. So, Again, it has a lot of similarities to what Iran has experienced over the years.

Now let's talk a little talk about Venezuela and what's happening there.

So again, Venezuela, bears a lot of similarities to Nicaragua and Iran, in the sense that for 100 years, the US really treated Venezuela as a vassal state. And and what it was and is interested in the most is Venezuela's vast oil supplies and of course it is interested in Iran for the same reason.

And for 100 years the US managed to control Venezuela's oil, and to use that oil to benefit US companies, and the US economy, again, in the same way that Britain controled Iranian oil up until Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. And then, the US in particular took control of Irannian oil from 1953 to 1979 in Iran. So very similar again. So, in Venezuela, the US domination of that country ended with the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998. And he was elected then and held office until his untimely death from cancer in 2013, but his successor, Nicolas Maduro, was elected in 2013 and he continues to be the president of Venezuela, so you have uninterrupted. since 1998, the Chavista Presidents. First Chavez and now Nicolas Maduro, who have attempted to use Venezuelan oil and resources for the Venezuelan people. Chavez was very successful in this, even the World Bank applauded him in 2012 for having done a great job in largely eradicating extreme poverty and cutting back, you know, less extreme poverty, getting food to people, building the healthcare system. A free health care system for people. And then, with Chavez's death the US saw an opportunity, I mean the US was trying to overthrow that government since its inception and actually did so in 2002.

You may remember there was a coup in 2002 that the US supported and actually got Chavez out of office for a couple days, but the people demanded his return and he did return. But then, the US did many things to try to topple that government, but it was in 2015 that Obama declared, without any basis, that Venezuela was a unique threat to US national security, and began sanctioning Venezuela in a very serious way, making it very hard for Venezuela to get important goods like food and medicine on the international market and preventing Venezuela from getting financing on the international market, which every country needs to support its economy and in the case of Venezuela to support its ability to produce oil.

Like Iran.

Just like Iran,exactly.

And then in 2017, I think it was, the new President, Donald Trump, really turned the screws on Venezuela, and effectively cut it off from all international financing from the west. And from the ability to trade with Western partners which is who Venezuela traded with because, you know, the US had dominated for so long and because it's in the Western Hemisphere. Right. And so the US, effectively, was able to cripple Venezuela's economy. And we know there was an interesting report from a group called the Centre for Economic Policy Research that showed that in the one year after Trump began those sanctions 40,000 Venezuelans died as a result of those sanctions or inability to get food, medicine, thousands have continued to die every year since then   And so the US has been able to successfully undermine Venezuela's economy in a way that it has not been able to fully do in Iran because Iran, will have a longer amount of time to really build an independent economy where, it makes almost everything that it uses.

Apart from the things that they import from China!

Right. And yeah, they have Eastern partners that they're closer to they can get things from, of course. Venezuela has turned to the east now, to China, Russia and Iran. Iran has been very helpful to Venezuela, has sent experts to help them with their oil production, which of course, Iranians know a heck of a lot about. They have sent refined oil to Venezuela because Venezuela has had difficulty getting the chemicals and supplies they need to convert oil to gasoline. So then, Iran has shipped gasoline to Venezuela and Iran has opened up, grocery stores in Venezuela and stocked  them with supplies.

Have you been to one of these shops?

Oh, yeah. Beautiful shopping. Yeah, stores their grocery stores. And so they have turned to the East and the East has helped them a lot but they haven't been able to help enough for Venezuela to really rebuild its economy and its oil infrastructure. So Venezuela is really suffering greatly, and it remains to be seen if they will be able to come out of this crisis.

Some of the problems Venezuela is having are homemade

Well, are some of the problems Venezuela is having, you know, homemade problems, you know, government made problems? Yes obviously, I mean, no government is perfect, they've made mistakes, though a lot of the mistakes have been in how to confront the US sanctions. And they've tried to do different things with their currency to deal with inflation and every time they do that, the US, and the opposition bourgeoisie within Venezuela, does something to counter what they do to prevent it from working, you know, so I compare the missteps Venezuela has made in trying to counter US sanctions is, you know to blame them for that is like blaming, you know, domestic abuse victim because, you know, she doesn't know how to block the blows from her abusive husband right, it is blaming the victim.

One of the criticisms has always been that Maduro is not half as charismatic as Chavez was and, maybe, not to defend United States policies, but maybe Maduro is not as capable as Chavez was; maybe if Chavez were still alive, nothing like that would have happened to the country.

How do you view this?

I don't believe that. Yes Chavez was amazing and charismatic. He was loved on an emotional level by the Venezuelans, more than Maduro. There's no question. And I suppose that it has made Maduro's job more difficult but charisma is not enough to deal with some of these economic problems. And I think Chavez. firstly, was not confronted with the economic assault that Maduro has, and secondly, the truth is, and I love Hugo Chavez, but he kicked the can down the road a little bit right he did a lot of things that papered over the economic problems they were facing. And in the end left them for Maduro to deal with, right. So in many ways Maduro inherited the worst job on the planet. Right, so he's not as beloved Chavez he takes over from Chavez who dies, people mourning his death, even to this day. And he's dealing with greater economic problems, and he inherits some of the problems that Chavez was unwilling to deal with. So, you know, you can criticise Maduro but in many ways I think he has done an extraordinary job under extraordinarily bad circumstances and I admire him quite a bit. Again, I don't have the emotional connection with Maduro, that I had with Chavez, because Chavez was a different guy, but I admire that Maduro has even survived; it is a small miracle.

We talked about Nicaragua, we talked about Venezuela, and you talked about Iran, and I see an underlying pattern, I mean, in the general foreign policy of the United States that regardless of who the president is they follow the same foreign policies supposedly I mean back in the 1970's in Nicaragua, and then Iran, and then, Venezuela and again Iran, so it doesn't really matter who is in office. Are they following just like there's one rule that they have to follow all the presidents, how's it work there?

Yeah, I mean, the US is an imperial power and so it acts as an imperial nation. The governments, no matter who the president is invariably act to dominate the world, and to keep countries down and to keep people from engaging in, you know, successful social movements within their countries in the developing world, ideologicaly there's no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans on this. Now what the differences are, are more tactical. Now, those tactics can mean a lot, right, so I mentioned Reagan in the 1980s. I don't think Jimmy Carter would have done what Reagan did in Central America, he wouldn't have been as brutal. Okay, he would have tried to dominate those countries. But again, I think there would have been a lot less bloodshed, so there's not a difference between the presidents in terms of their aims of domination, but again, I think, the way they go about it, yeah, there are differences that make a heck of a lot of of difference to people in the developing world, I mean for an individual. Yeah,

When as a US citizen you go out and vote, as an individual, can you change this whole thing, or, I mean, does this voting system this election, whatever you have? Does the electoral system allow you, or any other citizens, to change this whole thing, I mean, if you don't want your country to invade other countries can you do anything about it?

Voting really by and large cannot change that, you know, there have been moments in US history where we've had huge peace movements, like during the Vietnamese war. Also during the war in Central America in the 80s and of course, you may recall the huge demonstrations that were held trying to prevent the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I think, you know, those sorts of movements can make a difference. I think merely voting doesn't, you know, and right now sadly the US does not have a mass peace movement. The last time we did was in 2002 - 2003 with the run up to the Iraq War. So you're looking at almost 20 years where the US peace movement has been more or less quiet even though the US continues to wage wars in many many theatres.

You are a peace activist what action are you taking on this front?

Well, my main thing is writing, trying to, you know, convince people, particularly in the US, about the wrongness of our foreign policy. Because right now even most liberals are, at best, passive about US involvement in other countries if not supportive, they've been convinced that the US invades countries for humanitarian purposes, for example, which is not true but that's almost a religious belief in the United States so I mean my goal in writing and in advocating is to try to, you know, convince people that the idea of humanitarian intervention is a lie. But that's a big task because you know what people hear in the mainstream media convinces them that we do things to other countries for humanitarian purposes. And there's very few people speaking out against that, you know, And a lot of the people we turn to, you know, for those issues have gotten older and some have died, you know, Robert Fisk, the great journalist out of the UK passed away recently. Michael Peretti who was great on these issues is still alive but he's, he's very old and doesn't write anymore. Noam Chomsky he's getting up there in years. You know, so they're the, there's not a lot of intellectuals that are countering this narrative.

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