Interview with Sociologist James Petras
Centennial Radio Uruguay
May 11, 2020
(translation from Spanish by Michael K. Smith)
Hernan Salina: There is no way to escape each week the internal reality of the United States with respect to the consequences of Covid-19. What is happening these days?
Petras: Yes, the first interesting thing here is that the Trump White House is infected by the coronavirus, three advisers of the president are already in quarantine, they're shut up in their homes and undergoing treatment. Another important person is vice-president Pence, who is shut away and they're examining him hourly to see if he's infected. This is the government that didn't accept the necessity of using masks, maintaining social distance and other things. Now these measures have collided with the President himself in office. Many times a day Trump has to be examined for the virus. Beyond that we also have the Treasury Secretary saying that unemployment is possibly going to exceed 25% in the coming months or even weeks. And in spite of that we have the fact that the government has said it's going to inject 9 billion dollars in hopes of stimulating the economy because it's collapsing. In spite of everything reassuring Trump tries to say about the economy, it doesn't work.
Now almost all 50 states have relaxed the quarantine and made other openings for the economy, but at the same time there are protests going on. The unemployed are protesting, renters are protesting in New York and other places, small business owners are marching on City Hall in every city. So there's a great social mobilization that is growing like a wave, but we don't have any political direction. Senator Bernie Sanders hasn't headed up these movements, he has lent support to Biden, who is a conservative Democrat.
HS: A video has circulated of a young nurse in New York crying on camera, denouncing the fact that since they're overflowing with (corona) patients they are letting African Americans and poor Latinos die, when they can't cope, can't keep up with demand, and besides they're being attended at times by people who don't have sufficient training and so patients die.
Petras: Yes, we have data from Johns Hopkins Hospital that a (disproportionate) percentage of patients that die are of Latin American or African American descendance. These ethnic groups are more affected than whites.
But whites are differentiated between those of lesser and greater income. There are more cases of infection among whites with lower incomes than among richer whites who can access medical treatment and support themselves working from home while the badly paid have to go to work in dangerous conditions.
These workers complain that their employers haven't provided enough safety regulations and protective equipment, that they've had to work in meat packing plants, for example, with workers right next to people without adequate protections.
HS: In an interview on Fox News on Friday, president Trump tried to distance himself from responsibility for these mercenary actions in Venezuela. He said that if he'd wanted to take military action, he would have invaded directly, that is to say, he would have attacked with full U.S. military force. What repercussions or consequences has this event had, which Venezuela is denouncing to all the world?
Petras: It's all true, even the New York Times and the Washington Post have published information revealing that the directors of the coup were members of a mercenary outfit headquartered in Miami, and that those mercenaries were Green Beret and worked with the CIA and had confessed that they had ties with the U.S. government.
Nobody believes it when Trump says the United States isn't involved, everyone understands that the reverse is true, that the U.S. government fomented the coup. Juan Guaido, the U.S. puppet, was implicated with the terrorists, and the Green Berets have confessed that they have ties with groups in the U.S. that hire mercenaries.
HS: Do you believe that the Trump administration is going to strongly pressure Venezuela to return these captured mercenaries?
Petras: Obviously, yes, obviously what they're going to try to do is capture some Venezuelans linked to the Maduro government and then offer an exchange. That is, we have Venezuelans, you have Americans, we should have an exchange.
I don't know if they'll be successful, I don't know if they're going to be able to get Venezuelans for this trade, but in any case at the moment the Americans implicated in the coup with the mercenaries are in jail and they're going to stay there until there is a change in the political tone between the two countries.
HS: And can this have a political consequence for Trump? There were some voices raised in the Democratic Party saying that the person in charge of the security contracting firm must have violated U.S. law by taking arms out of the United States, and by the action carried out by this firm.
Petras: I don't think so. Judicial authority is part of the American government, so I don't think they're going to punish the mercenaries. It's possible that they'll launch an investigation, but one without consequences. The fact is that this is a political act, and it can only be resolved by political means, which would mean the United States recognizing the Maduro government and sitting down to negotiate an arrangement that would end the sanctions and repression against the Venezuelan government. In contrast, what we can expect is that the United States is going to continue and even increase its terrorist attacks, which is a tragedy for the Venezuelan people.
HS: Israel has postponed the swearing in of its new government because U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Israel. What's being said officially is that they're going to talk about the coronavirus, Iranian influence, and of course the Palestine conflict. What new developments might emerge?
Petras: It's a long term partnership, one in which Israel dictates the policies, Israel pressures the United States to increase its attacks on Iran. And I think that in this situation, Israel dictates the policy and not vice versa. I don't think there is any possibility of a rethinking of American policy. The power of the Zionists in the United States is too great to change the strategy.
HS: Very well. Are there other things you'd like to mention in the final section of the column this week, James?
Petras: There are two things, one is that there is an enormous scandal in the state of Georgia in the United States, where the police are implicated in assassinating an African American that was walking, exercising in the street. This ended in a preliminary investigation that concluded that the police weren't responsible for the killing. But with enormous protest in the African American community, some videos and other evidence, they've proved that the police in fact killed an innocent man.
Thanks to the protest, the mobilization, and the evidence, they will open an investigation into the killing in two months. And now there is the possibility of a conviction, they could take the two killers to court, who were friends and accomplices of the police, who didn't investigate them. This is evidence that the police in the U.S. don't function with impartiality but are always linked with racism.