Chávez and His People

Brownsville, Tex.

Greg Grandin’s “Chávez: Why Venezuelans Loved Him” [April 1] prompted this reflection. Revolutions are imperfect social and economic events led by imperfect people. Venezuela’s revolution and the late Hugo Chávez fit that bill. But I recall a former student, an upper-middle-class Venezuelan, who had a telling reply when I asked her why she hated Chávez. “It’s because after the revolution you would see people in restaurants, dark people, who would have never been there before.” I had my answer.


Greg Grandin’s article deserves national recognition because it kills the journalistic Hugo Chávez stereotypes. See venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/8064.

GUILMO BARRIO, a proud subscriber

Bust the Banks Back to the Stone Age!

Baltimore, Ohio

William Greider, in “Bank Buster Brown” [April 1], describes how a handful of banks now control 63 percent of our GNP. I wonder how obscene these numbers have to get before people begin connecting the dots on the bigger corporate game plan. When Grover Norquist said the ultra-right’s goal is to “shrink government down to a size sufficient to drown it in a bathtub,” no one seemed to recognize this as the mission statement of corporate America.


‘No Child’ Heads South of the Border


Thanks to David Bacon for “US-Style School Reform Goes South” [April 1], his comprehensive report on the Mexican government’s recent passage of a program that mimics many of the flawed provisions of “No Child Left Behind.” Basing teacher hiring, raises and benefits on standardized test scores is a familiar theme. Also familiar are the education establishment’s tactics for squashing resistance. In Mexico, they have a powerful lobbyist, Claudio Gonzalez, who calls teachers “tyrants.” He must be using the playbook of George W. Bush’s education secretary, Rod Paige, who called the National Education Association a “terrorist organization.” We need more reports like this to shine light on the move to privatize and profit from public education.


New York City

David Bacon ties the Mexican film ¡De Panzazo! (“Barely Passing”) to the US film Waiting for Superman as evidence of “the corporate offensive to gain control of the country’s schools.” But ¡De Panzazo! encouraged Mexican voters, in an election year, to ask candidates how they would improve schools. Despite having the eleventh-largest economy in the world, Mexico spends more on education and achieves less than its neighbors. Mexico’s National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) has total control over teachers, strangling education. Only SNTE may license, hire, fire or promote teachers, rewarding friends, punishing reformers. More than 90 percent of the money spent on education goes to teachers’ salaries, which SNTE negotiates annually, but no one can detail where the money really goes. “No-show” jobs may number in the thousands, and teaching licenses are bought and sold. SNTE’s leader was recently arrested for embezzlement. Unionism is not at fault; it is the SNTE.


Oaxaca de Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico

After living in Oaxaca for five years, I still find it tough to know what to think about Sección 22, the powerful, radical Oaxacan teachers’ union. On the one hand, Sección 22 provided the only organized, disciplined muscle in the 2006 insurrection that nearly overthrew and certainly crippled the overtly corrupt and widely hated Oaxacan state government. That action galvanized citizens into uniting and subsequently electing a more responsive coalition government. Oaxaca badly needs just such powerful, organized, progressive organizations.

On the other hand, there’s a growing perception that Sección 22 is abusing its power and public support by “blackmailing” the state with interminable and often lengthy protests that shut down major streets, commercial areas and the entire city center, with kids out of school on those numerous protest days. The union’s protests are increasingly seen as the usual institutional imperative of prioritizing its own power and wealth while masquerading as meeting the educational needs of students. 

Pressure for educational reform is powerful and comes from parents and business. It’s clear some of the reforms serve to break the union and should be fought, but completely stonewalling on others, like objective testing, strikes many as self-serving avoidance of accountability—because testing, whatever its shortcomings and limitations, can and does provide useful data about student and school performance. The public justifiably wants from the schools exactly what they and the teachers demand of government: far greater accountability. Future Sección 22 viability depends on it.  


Vietnam Vets Spoke—No One Listened

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Regarding “The Real Vietnam War,” Jonathan Schell’s insightful and provocative article about Kill Anything That Moves, by Nick Turse [Feb. 4], and your readers’ reactions [“Letters,” March 4]: I welcome Turse’s comprehensive account of the American war against the people of South Vietnam, but I must respectfully disagree that such a view was not available before. In the 1971 book Standard Operating Procedure, Vietnam veterans recount shooting civilians for target practice, torching villages, torturing and murdering captives—all the elements of the “pattern of savagery” and “systematic war against the people” Turse’s book describes. As one vet put it, “Gooks were gooks and you killed them. That’s what they were for.”

The book grew out of the Citizens Commission of Inquiry, an event at which veterans gathered in Washington to tell their stories to the press and public. At the soldiers’ request, I edited the transcripts and added interviews and commentary in order to get their accounts published. Alas, neither the Washington event nor the book garnered very much attention. Perhaps, at long last, the American people may be willing to begin to listen to Vietnam vets and face the truth.


Update & Correction

Jon Wiener, in “LA’s Homeless Vets” (April 8), reported that the Veterans Administration in West Los Angeles was leasing its land to various corporations, including Enterprise Rent-A-Car for use as a parking lot. Enterprise terminated its lease with the VA last May.

Roane Carey’s “Documenting Israel-Palestine in Film” (March 11/18) should have said that according to an Israeli government commission, the Shin Bet used torture to wring confessions from Palestinian detainees from the very beginning of the occupation, not intifada.

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