January 2013        


Mind your language

The year 2012 ended in rather strange circumstances. The Mayan “long calendar,” as interpreted by some people, announced the end of the world on or around the 21st of December. The Daily Telegraph of London stated that, sadly, their edition of the the 20th might be the last we would ever read. (For many people, that fact alone would have been a good reason for welcoming the end of the world.)
     Bizarrely, and sadly, there were reports that NASA had been besieged by people wondering whether they should commit suicide. On a humorous note, some people stated that while they believed that the world was going to end on the appointed date they were still going ahead with their Christmas shopping.
     Others—including Mayans—interpreted the calendar as merely marking the end of a cycle. The new cycle was to usher in an era when Earth and its inhabitants would undergo a physical and spiritual transformation.
     Looking for signs of this spiritual transformation at the beginning of our new year would quickly lead one to become a disbeliever. The Guardian on 1 January 2013 had an article in which the US ambassador to NATO advised us that Europe wasn’t spending enough on armaments, and that savings made by the withdrawal from Afghanistan should not be spent on other parts of the budget. I presume he meant health, education, and other social areas.
     In the financial section of the same paper it was reported that Venezuela was home to the best-performing stock market in the world, and also that its economy grew by 5½ per cent in 2012, as a consequence of government expenditure on homes for the poor and on pensions. The article then contradicted itself by stating that all this happened despite the policies of President Hugo Chávez. Yet these housing and pension schemes, and many other social programmes, are the very policies that have been implemented by the president and his government.
     Another article late in 2012 used the word “lavish” to describe Venezuela’s spending on these programmes. This word has connotations of wastefulness and extravagance. It rarely appears in our media to describe, say, profits, or the bonuses paid to bond-holders.
     The western media repeatedly mention the fact that the Venezuelan vice-president, Nicolás Maduro, is a former bus-driver and trade union official. The inference seems to be that such qualifications make him ill-equipped to take over the reins from the president.
     Apart from the “classist” aspects of this view there is no evidence that he could make a worse mess than that made by the so-called economists of the world. The Venezuelan economy before Chávez was a disaster area; an ex-soldier has turned it into one of the most progressive countries in the world. There’s no reason to believe that Maduro cannot keep up this progress.
     The ex-soldier is now very ill, and there has been an invasive and at times ghoulish campaign in the media concerning his health. There have been accusations of secrecy and a cover-up by the Venezuelan government—all this despite the fact that regular updates are issued by the Ministry of Health. The possibility is that, as with all serious illnesses, it is very difficult, even for the medical experts, to predict its course.
     Hillary Clinton has just gone through a difficult health procedure but in contrast was not subjected to anything like this sort of speculative reportage.
     What we have not seen on our television screens or in our papers are the pictures of tens of thousands of people in Latin America praying for the recovery of President Chávez.
     The Latin American television station Telesur recently covered these ceremonies in El Salvador, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, and of course Venezuela. The poor, to whom the president represents hope, were there in large numbers, but they were not the only ones. Good-will messages have been flooding into Venezuela from all around the world.
     There is a Mayan saying that “when an eagle falls, the vultures will come to feed on its carcase.”

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