Transcript: World After Covid with
Vijay Prashad and Helena Cobban

Webinar recorded on July 1, 2020 


Video and Session Transcript

Helena Cobban (00:00:03):

Hi, everybody. I'm so glad to welcome you to this fourth session of our “World After COVID” webinar series. The series, the project as a whole is evolving in really exciting ways. We've been having weekly webinars with distinguished globalists, thinkers from various places and various positions. And we're thinking to carry on that weekly webinar series through July, and then we'll take a break in August while we actually digest and exploit the intellectual property that we've been creating by doing this. And also do some brainstorming and planning for other directions that the project can go into in the fall. So anyway, today, very distinguished globalist thinker Vijay Prashad with us from North Hampton, Massachusetts. Welcome to you Vijay. It's great to have you with us.

Vijay Prashad (00:01:13)

Thanks a lot.

Helena Cobban (00:01:14):

And so you're there, looking after your family. I'm here looking after my husband, but like all of us around the world, we’re able to get together, which is great. So before I get into the conversation with Vijay, I have one other piece of news that I'm really happy to share. We have gone live with our resource center here on the Just World Educational website. So I'm going to share the URL for that. If you go to -- written just like that, it's case sensitive -- then you can see the videos of all our webinars, the growing collection of related resources and news of future “World After COVID” events. So really happy to have that. And my big thanks to Charlotte Kates, who has helped me with that and with many other aspects of this project.

So if you missed, for example, Medea Benjamin, Richard Falk, Bill Fletcher, you can see the videos there at the resource center. So Vijay, you have been producing the most amazing resources for everybody around the world over the past three months of this crisis. And by the way, I should just note that if people are watching this, if you go to the chat, so you can see all the things that Charlotte is putting into the chat, which are links and information that is sort of background information for our conversation, but Vijay and I will not be in the chat.

So one of the things that I was really struck by was the 10-point Agenda for the Global South. And I'm just actually right now looking for that, because of course I should have had it. So this was a 10 point agenda that you and your other colleagues from the global South posed together for dealing with the Covid crisis, which of course has attacked most parts of the global South, a lot worse than it has attacked most of the global North.

And so here's the 10 point agenda. I think Charlotte's probably going to share that in the chat, but the first one is obviously, tackle the global pandemic. And the second one is broadened medical solidarity. What I'd like to discuss with you, Vijay, as we go through these points is since most of our audience here on the webinar, not everybody, but most are people who are in the global North. What can we do to build support for this agenda?

I mean, for example, tackling the global pandemic globally, not just at a national level, broadening medical solidarity. What kinds of things do you think that Americans and other people in the global North should be doing?

Vijay Prashad (00:04:32):

You know, I'm very glad we're talking about this. This 10-point approach, program, agenda came out of a conversation in our team. You know, we are based in New Delhi in India, in Johannesburg in South Africa, in Buenos Aires in Argentina, and in Sao Paulo in Brazil. Our Institute was invited by the Venezuelan government to participate at a meeting of the ALBA, that’s the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, heads of government meeting a few weeks ago. And our team was asked to produce a charter, some way to start or stimulate a discussion about what should be, as it were, the developing country agenda towards a post COVID-19 world already.

We see that the capitalist firms and so on are beginning to position themselves, as new habits of living under the lockdown have developed. It's incredible, the kind of social changes that have taken place already, you know, habits of buying things off the platform of the web. So platform capitalism with Amazon and other firms like that will be enhanced, and so on.

So what is the developing country agenda? That was the brief given to us by the heads of government meeting of the ALBA States. So we produced the standpoint agenda that was presented in Caracas. The ALBA States, the governments, took it very seriously. These are the governments of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, of course, most of the Caribbean, and so on. And it was a very good reception. In fact, in their final document, they've utilized many of the points from this that should be circulating from today onwards, the final document of the high-level meeting on the post-COVID situation.

So that was the context of producing this. Particularly, we are interested in two angles where I think support from people in the North Atlantic states could be useful. One, the most pressing issue, is the cancellation of the debt. You see currently, external debt in the developing countries, as you know the block is called, is a standard roughly $11 trillion. Now this is of course different in different parts of the world. You know, some countries have much higher external debt burdens, others lower. This year itself, the debt servicing, that is the interest payments on the $11 trillion debt, is going to be about $3.9 trillion. Now there was some discussion, including in the IMF but certainly in UNCTAD, which is the UN conference on trade and development, there was some discussion in the OECD, the major block of the developed countries, for what is conventionally called debt postponement or debt suspension.

In other words, let's not have these countries that owe $3.9 trillion pay this calendar year. Let's put it off. Putting it off, of course, means it gets bundled into further payments. It's not getting forgiven, but we are asking for debt cancellation because I mean, these are in a sense odious debts. These are not normal debts. The debt burden is increased because of the coronavirus recession. The adverse situation with the strength of the dollar, this hurts these countries adversely. Currently, Argentina is in the process of another default. This is going to prevent Argentina from ever becoming solvent. You know, there's $32 trillion sitting in illegal tax havens. We think there's enough resources in the world to cancel the debt. So I would like people in the North Atlantic states to, you know, be much more vocal, I'd like movements in particular to take up the issue of debt cancellation.

This is not just a North-South issue, of course. This has to do with household debt in the North. I mean, it's one thing for governments to provide some sort of fiscal stimulus. Why don't they just wipe out, you know, credit cards for instance, or something - just some way to alleviate the burden on interest payments? I believe in the United States itself, credit card debt is over a trillion dollars. You know, let's think about a haircut on that. As it is, companies charge 24, 25% interest on a credit card debt. That is usurious, a very high rate. So the debt issue is one. The second issue that I think there needs to be much more forceful conversation again in movements, in political organizations, is the issue of the COVID-19 vaccine and more broadly the intellectual comments.

I mean, I'm of the view that all intellectual property, when it comes to medical devices, medical treatments, and so on, they should be in the commons. In other words, I don't mean that, you know, somebody in Switzerland should produce the vaccine and then, you know, deliver the actual vaccine free to countries. No, no, we're not asking for charity. All that is needed is the exact formulation of the vaccine should be put on the web and any country can then produce the vaccine at their own cost for their own people.

I mean, that's the way it should go, that there should be a kind of publicly delivered - you know, the vaccine formula should be public. The Chinese government has already pledged to do this, that if they discover a vaccine for COVID-19, it will be on the web. Any country, any company can then take that that knowledge and they can put it into place in their country.

So, I mean, I feel like these are the two issues. You know, we have the experience Helena of the AIDS crisis, AIDS pandemic, when the AIDS cocktail is so expensive, you know, that should be again on the web. The formula should be publicly available and any country should be able to produce it in the public sector pharmaceutical industry to be delivered basically for free to people. But by the way, this term for free is misleading. Nothing is ever free.

What we mean is it should be socially provided, because it's social wealth that gets transferred into goods that are given as social goods. Nothing is actually free. People work in the world, you know, whether they're working for wages or they're working, volunteering, or they're raising children, everybody works, everybody produces social wealth. That social wealth – a quantum of it goes to produce the vaccine, which is then delivered to people socially.

We are asking essentially not only for the creation of an intellectual commons on things like pharmaceutical drugs and on medical devices, but also for a decommodification of devices and drugs. Don't make them into commodities, just provide them to people.

Helena Cobban (00:11:32):

Yeah, of course, that would require a complete overhaul of the so-called health care system in this country, which is something that I think a lot of us could absolutely relate to. And so I think linking our demands for universal health care in this country, it seems to be a natural ally of a campaign to you know, open up intellectual property aspects of delivering medications and devices, and hopefully also healthcare, globally. So I think that's a wonderful thing for us to put into the debate here in the United States.

By the way, I don't know if you know that CODEPINK and some other organizations - we had Medea Benjamin on here a couple of weeks ago -  they have a big campaign to have the Cuban doctors’ brigade, the Henry Reeve brigade, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, which I think is a wonderful thing to do.

So that's also part of the anti-sanctions campaign, given that Cuba is the longest-standing victim of U.S. punitive sanctions of any country in the world. Another thing that's been happening is that we've had little bits of people challenging the U.S., mainly Iran sending oil and medicines and oilfield kind of devices and technology to Venezuela, which I think is a real sign that the U.S. hegemony has started to crack. Am I too optimistic to think that maybe U.S. hegemony is headed for the ashbin of history?

Vijay Prashad (00:13:38):

Well, let me start with the issue of the medical doctors, you know, in our 10 point program or agenda. The second point is about medical solidarity. This is a key issue, and as you quite rightly say, the Cuban doctors play a role in this, but not only the Cubans. The Chinese doctors have played a very important role, going to Italy, being in Iran and so on. And Chinese medical internationalism goes back to the 1950s. You know, we know about the Cuban doctors and there's a great affection for the role the Cubans have played, but Chinese medical internationalism is about a 60-year project. And I mean, I was a few years ago in Morocco on a train. I met some Chinese doctors. They had been there on a mission for two years, and they're still there actually, right now doing COVID-19 work.

You know, Chinese doctors came to Palestine about three weeks ago to train the Palestinian Authority’s medical, and health workers for how to tackle COVID-19. So there are these socialist countries, all have medical internationalism as a key part of their work. And when we talk about medical solidarity, I mean, we're talking also about how better understand and utilize and build up the World Health Organization. It plays a very important role. And about 10 years ago, when the there was an outbreak of H1N1 in San Diego, California, by the way, nobody called it an American flu.

But when that broke out in San Diego, California, the WHO declared a global pandemic at the time. They were heavily criticized, including sanctioned by the Council of Europe, accused of being in the pocket of pharmaceutical companies. Because when you declare a global pandemic, countries around the world are obliged to buy the current and important drugs to treat people, you know, they have to stockpile.

And so the Council of Europe said, because H1N1 didn't become a serious epidemic. They accused the WHO, who had to then become very circumspect about declaring a pandemic. You know, we need to free the WHO from this kind of pressure. They need to be able to say, look, there's a pandemic, or there's a public health emergency. We need a much more open attitude towards how to tackle these issues because they are going to become, I think, more and more grave in the years to come, for a variety of reasons. So medical solidarity is important.

This includes the Cuban doctors, Chinese doctors, but others need to be sending medical assistance to each other. You know, now the issue of Iran sending the oil, I just want to clarify for people that was not a free delivery of oil. That was a commercial transaction, the Iranians sold oil in the open market to the Venezuelans. The scandal of U.S. unilateral sanctions is it doesn't allow normal commercial activity to take place.

This was not an act of solidarity in the sense that they said, we'll donate oil. It was a commercial transaction. The United States government is against the free movement of commerce. It is in fact against the free market. It attempts to suffocate countries on political grounds. This should be a scandal to libertarians around the world. Why should the United States government suffocate Venezuela? It has some money. In fact, why is the bank of London holding Venezuelan money and holding it hostage? Why are American banks holding Venezuelan monies hostage?

This is against the freedom of commercial transactions. There should be no politics in this, in my opinion. I mean, yes, you can decide - we have some problem with you. Then return the money to the Venezuelans. Say don't bank in the United States. The Bank of London should return the gold to Venezuela, not hold it hostage.

That is a real criminal activity by the British and the United States in this case. So, you know, here's Iran. Last year, Helena, an Iranian oil tanker was going to Syria. It went in through the straits of Gibraltar. At the straits of Gibraltar, British special forces stopped this Iranian tanker, which did not carry an Iranian flag. It was a third country flag, and they did not openly say they were going to Syria. They captured the tanker, held it in Gibraltar. It was an international scandal. This year  - and this is very significant - this year, the Iranians said, look, and by the way, Iran sold oil to Syria as well, just to be clear. This year, the Iranians said: We are going to Venezuela. They kept the radars on, they had five ships. They put the Iranian flags on them and they sailed into open seas.

The United States government had a fleet of military vessels off the coast of Venezuela. And I was watching this very closely, because I was very worried that the United States military would stop the first Iranian tanker, board it, hold it. And there would be an international incident at high seas, just as there was last year in Gibraltar. And then in, just off the coast of Iran, when the Iranians boarded a vessel, I think it was a British vessel in retaliation. I was very worried that there would be a situation, but the five Iranian tankers went right through, threaded the needle through the American blockade. They were met by Venezuelan Navy and Air Force, and they were guided into harbor. They unloaded the thing. Now I talked to people in the U.S. State Department and I asked them, why did this happen? I mean, after all you are Pompeo-ites.

In other words, you are under the time of Mike Pompeo. One of the least imaginative heads at the State Department, that's saying a lot. I mean, the United States State Department has been, generously, headed by unimaginative people. So I asked him, why did you allow these tankers to go through the blockade? I mean, “allow,” I'm putting in quotes because the United States has no right to stop an oil tanker on normal commercial business. It has no right.

It's not given some anti-piracy laws by the UN. No right at all. So why did you “allow” in quotes? And they said, well, it had become clear to us that with the heavy Chinese involvement in Caracas in Venezuela, we didn't want an incident, you know, like a Cuban missile crisis, essentially at this time, because if they had stopped the ship I'm told that the Chinese had made it clear to the United States they would take up this issue at the UN and the U.S. just didn't want to do that.

They're already having enough problems in the trade war with China. So I'm not sure it's the exact fraying of U.S. hegemony. I don't want to exaggerate that the United States still has the largest military in the world. It has the most bases around the world. We should not exaggerate the demise of U.S. hegemony. They can bomb countries wherever they want, but they are certainly being challenged by countries outside the United States, including China. This is not led by China. Other countries are also challenging them, Russia being one, and so on, but let's be clear that the U.S.  has created an Indo-Pacific strategy to box in China.

And China is, in a way, in a defensive posture, not in an offensive posture. So U.S. power is very significant, that India, Australia, Japan, and the United States, the so-called quad states, are working to hem in China is I think important. And this clash in Galvan Valley, up in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, at the border, the line of control between India and China. That was a very significant demonstration of something. I don't know exactly what, Helena, nobody can tell you, but something happened in Galvan Valley, which showed that India is not capable of pressing the point against China. Is this the emergence of China? I don't want to exaggerate anything.

Helena Cobban (00:21:23):

Interesting. I just want to remind attendees at the at the webinar that you can send your questions through the chat or through the Q and A, and our colleague Charlotte Kates will be wrangling the questions, and we'll present them to Vijay when we finished our bilateral chat here, which will last probably about 10 or 15 more minutes. Because there's so much to talk about with you, Vijay.

I've been reading your stuff for a long time, and I urge everybody who's on the webinar to do the same. Right now the Tricontinental is launching, it has a great series of newsletters, maybe once a week.

I love the one you did a couple of months ago, maybe about how China actually contained COVID, which gave this very granular description of not just, you closed down Wuhan and Hubei, and you closed down the country, but you also see that the people in those closed down areas get food, get emergency medical care, get what they need at the street level. And so I urge people to go and look for that one on your website. What is to stop us having such effective social organization in this country? I know that's a big question, but, you know, I grew up in England, so we had back then we had a national health service. And you know, you had a sense that people were looking out for each other, but in this country it seems very different.

Vijay Prashad (00:23:04):

Well the first thing I'd like to say is, Helena, I forgot to say this earlier, but it's a pleasure to talk to you. I mean, I've read you for years in the Christian Science Monitor. And I know that you and I share Beirut together, such a tremendous city, which, you know, Lebanon now is in the throes of an extended protracted crisis, a currency crisis you know, on top of everything else.

And this of course comes back to the question of public finances, debt you know, the suffocation that countries face and so on. But you know, this is the week when the Israelis are to absorb the West Bank. I very well know your book on the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organization and how far things have come since those days when now this annexation will happen.

And, you know,  it's a whimper, not a bang. I don't know how much resistance will be possible to this. I mean, it is a international scandal that this annexation is taking place at all. And then in the middle of a pandemic, you know, one would have thought that the UN would have put peacekeepers on the ground immediately to prevent an annexation. I mean, we don't even know what annexation means. They've already annexed it. You know, 30% of the West Bank has settlements. This is a de facto annexation. Now it's just a de jure issue, you know, it's a tremendous scandal. It's a blot on humanity, what's happening this week.

Helena Cobban (00:24:44):

Our government here in the United States has, you know, recognized the annexation of Golan and recognize the annexation of East Jerusalem. And meantime for the past 70 years, for the past 53 years or whatever has protected Israel's settler colonial project inside Palestine at every turn in, in the Security Council. So you're right. It will be great if the United Nations did something about it, but given that there's a U.S. veto, it's not going to happen. I gather you're going to have an issue of your newsletter coming out on Palestine in the next couple of days.

Vijay Prashad (00:25:30):

Yes. I would like to point to two things. One is, there's a website on the international week of international struggles, anti-imperialist struggles. And, you know, the exact website maybe Charlotte can find, or it's basically

And there in the website, you will find under “News,” an excellent declaration in solidarity with the Palestinian people from this platform to which my organization belongs, which is the International Assembly of the Peoples.

That declaration is a very strong declaration. It was essentially produced by the International Assembly of the Peoples, which is a 200 political movement organization – not an organization, a network really. Our organization, Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, puts out a weekly newsletter, as you mentioned, and this week's newsletter is going to be a pretty hard hitting letter on Palestine and on, you know what I believe is an open public crime against humanity.

There is no need for you and I to report anything. Everything is in plain light, plain sight of day. There are UN resolutions that are being openly violated. There are International Court of Justice rulings that are openly violated. I mean, there's no need, you know, we have been to Palestine, we've reported the issue from Palestine, but there is no need to report anything.

You know, what am I supposed to say again, that the settlers with impunity cut down olive groves of the Palestinian people? If I say that again, what impact does it have? None? This is the scandal. So I say it's an open sore on humanity. You know, and it's extraordinary that there is not much more public denunciation and condemnation. I was very surprised and heartened to see the Financial Times make a very strong editorial against annexation. And now this might have something to do with the fact that the new editor of the FT is superb, and she's doing a great job steering that newspaper into a kind of, into rationality. Let's put it that way.

Helena Cobban (00:27:50):

Maybe we can see something like that with the Wall Street Journal.

Vijay Prashad (00:27:54):

It's unlikely -- that paper is genuinely lost its way. You know, gone are the days when they allowed Alexander Cockburn, my dear friend and an editor Alexander Cockburn, used to have a column in the Wall Street Journal. Gone are those days, you know, now the columnists just are hard to read. I mean, I look at it every day, just to see what they're thinking. And I must say highly disreputable now, even in the news pages. That's what’s scandalous, the news pages that have deteriorated in the Wall Street Journal.

Helena Cobban (00:28:30):

Used to be a lot better. That's true. That's what they used to say in, in Britain when I was growing up, you know, the Times of London is not what it used to be, and then you'd say, well, actually it never was.

Vijay Prashad (00:28:43):

Correct. I mean, that's exactly correct.

Helena Cobban (00:28:46):

So I did want to just ask you about this thing in your 10 point agenda about shifting to non-dollar-based regional trade, which I think is not only a question of regionally, and that has to do also with food security and a lot of linked issues, but globally. Non-dollar alternatives to Department of Treasury controlled payment mechanisms, for example, is something that a lot of people have been talking about the need for, and especially after Trump left the JCPO and the Europeans started talking about maybe making a an alternative to the Swift system, but they never got it together. The Chinese and Russians talked about it and they never got it together. What are the prospects for some alternative to Washington-controlled financial systems in the world?

Vijay Prashad (00:29:49):

I mean, there's several parts to that question. The first part is that regional trade should be denominated in something other than the dollar, and it need not be conducted via a monetary payment. You know, there is a precedent and we already see it, you know, during the period of the high period of the Bolivarian project in South America, when commodity prices were high, you know, when Chavez was really driving. That was Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, really driving the ALBA process you know, they produced a virtual currency called the Sucre. That was, the theory was what your currency would come in, but there was already a lot of barter trade across borders. You know, one country said, I'll take natural gas of so much. And then we'll provide you with so many primary commodities of a different kind.

Now they monetize the amounts. Obviously it was against the certain monetary value, but they didn't have to actually exchange dollars even digitally. It was done in the barter way. That means your holdings of foreign exchange, particularly dollars, euros, etc., was not impacted by the trade. You just traded with each other in a barter way. So whatever minimal foreign exchange you had, by which, I mean international currencies, could have been utilized for other things, you know, other things that you buy, you don't have to use it in all the trades.

So regional non-dollar trade is very respectable and it's already existed. It needs to be encouraged and increased. And creating a digital currency, regional currency is a very valuable thing. Then you may not even denominate it directly with the dollar, the trade, so that's one set of issues. The second is actual financial institutions.

Now you mentioned Swift. Swift technically is a European - you know it's a European-controlled network. It's based in the Low Countries. It's not American, but Europeans play a very hypocritical game here. You know, they allow Swift to take instructions from the U.S. Treasury Department, but actually vis-a-vis Iran, the Europeans could have allowed Iran to trade, you know, to use the Swift network to move money around. But they didn't want to antagonize the Americans, for fear of secondary sanctions against Swift itself, the company, because it is a private entity, against companies that use Swift, and so on.

So they don't have the political nerve to stand up to the U.S. That's a different issue, but other institutions need to be created. Why should they be just one European, Europe-based money transfer system? You know, why can't there be a one international system or, or one for Asia, one for Africa, one for Latin America, multiple institutions, which then intersect with each other?

Otherwise you are controlled by a European entity. You know, your movement is controlled by European entity, or it could be, you know, something that gets managed by UNCTAD, you know, the UN conference on trade and development. So a UN system to move money, something like that, more democratic, controlled by the General Assembly of the United Nations. I'm just throwing out ideas.

The third set of issues is the question of developing finance for development. You know, if a country wants to borrow money, they generally go to the Paris or London Clubs. These are multilateral lenders, either private or public lenders. These are dominated by basically the dollar Wall Street system. You know, they are borrowing in dollars. These are banks that are - whether in Frankfurt or in City of London or in New York - they are basically captive to U.S. Treasury rules.

I mean, why can't there be other ways, other bundlings of finance for development? You know, the Chinese do it bilaterally. They will come into a country, and they'll offer finance for development, but it's often bilateral. You know, it would be interesting to create different things. There was an issue on the table to have a BRICS bank. The Bolivarian project in South America created the Bank of the South, you know, Bancosur. The Asian Development Bank is actually -  this is not an independent multilateral institution. It's certainly based in Manila, but it's controlled by the Japanese and the U.S. Treasury Department. So it's not exactly what we're talking about.

Helena Cobban (00:34:11):

I guess the Chinese have this new vehicle called the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is a multilateral bank. And they've just made one or two big, big loans to India to deal with COVID-related costs. I mean, is that a potential alternative to the World Bank system and the whole Dunbarton Oaks kind of Washington-dominated system?

Vijay Prashad (00:34:37)

I mean, look, one should look at how these things develop. You know, the intention is one thing because we saw the BRICS bank when it was first proposed, it had a very expansive agenda and then it just fizzled out. It didn't really meet its agenda. So I'm cautious about these things. Let's keep looking to see what they're doing. I'm not sure it will be an alternative immediately. Some of this has to do with the fact that sovereign wealth funds generally go through these older multilateral institutions, then that's where the money is. You know, it's the Norwegian sovereign debt fund, it’s the Gulf Arab sovereign debt funds. Where are they going to be comfortable?

You know, there's an old idea of recycling the surplus. Countries with a big surplus, with a big positive capital account. What are they going to do with that money? They have to recycle it somewhere where it's needed. It will earn them some capital against some interest, against the investment, but other countries get a hold of capital. Well, what's the terms of recycling?

That's the issue. It's not, we know that in a capitalist system, you have to recycle the surplus. The issue isn't the recycling itself, but what are the terms of recycling? So that's what we have to see. If you, if there's terms that too onerous for a developing country, then development is just not going to happen. They are being leeched forever. You know, as we've seen with the World Bank, the IMF, they have actually not been able to engender development. What they will engender is a trap. They help these countries - and now you're talking $11 trillion in external debt. It's insane.

Helena Cobban (00:36:15):

It's beyond insane. It's immoral, actually. So Vijay, I read a couple of your books, but I haven't read “The Darker Nations,” which,. I mean, I just love the title of the book, because it resonates with Rudyard Kipling and, and all of that - that's your account of the Bandung conference process. Right now, I think we're seeing, and we explored this a little bit with Bill Fletcher last week, we're seeing some kind of a reckoning in the countries of the global North about the harms that they inflicted on the countries of the global South. I mean, you know, when you get the King of Belgium expressing regret as to what his grandfather or whatever did in Congo. I mean, regret is like not nearly enough for what Leopold II did in Congo. But you know, you have these, these movements, these Black Lives Matter-like movements in so many countries of the global North. Do you see this as something that's new and really fascinating?

Vijay Prashad (00:37:34):

This comes in waves, you know, because over time, the question is raised about the enslavement of human beings, you know, questions of cultural wealth being brought into museums in the North. I mean, these protests have happened over waves. It's not that this is the first time, but I want to add something to that, because I feel like there's insufficient debate and discussion about the question of reparations in this.

So let's put on the table, the fact that when the French were defeated in Haiti they nonetheless fought to get an indemnity. In other words, the Haitian people had to pay the French people for the freedom of human beings who had been enslaved and that amounted to billions of dollars. And the payment, I think they finished paying the French only in the 20th century.

After the enslavement of human beings was abolished in Jamaica as a consequence of the uprising of the enslaved people in Jamaica. I mean, Morant Bay rebellion in 1865. After that, the British government began to pay the plantation owners for the loss of the property, by which we mean human beings. And that payment ended only in 2016 or 2017. That means for about almost, I don't know, you do the math, I mean, 170 years or something, the British government was paying British citizens money for the loss of human life, capital, you know, human beings who are treated, treated as property.

Helena Cobban (00:39:27):

Enslaved persons.

Vijay Prashad (00:39:28):

So there were reparations, of course, there were reparations to the slave owner.

And I want to put this on the table because when people say that reparations, that's a historic thing, a ridiculous idea. Really, if it's that ridiculous, then why did France claim reparations for the loss of so-called human property? And then why did the British government from its own Exchequer pay these descendants of the of the plantation owners of Jamaica for the loss of property, which is human beings. I mean, they did pay reparations to the owners. They didn't pay reparations to the people who had been enslaved and their descendants.

So I think it's one thing to say, let's remove the statues. Let's write “Racist” on the statute of Churchill and let's remove the statues of Confederate generals and so on. But I think that's not enough. I think that question of reparations has to be on the table. Otherwise you're just talking about cultural symbols, and I don't mean merely cultural symbols. These are very important struggles, but they must be accompanied with the demand for reparation payments. Jamaica's debt was actually paid off at great cost to Jamaica a few years ago. It's going to go into debt again because tourism has gone to zero and Jamaica relies on tourism, not just on aluminum and bauxite sales alone, but you know, the British Exchequer needs to write a check to the people of Jamaica, to the people of Trinidad, to the people of Tobago, and you name it.

I mean, where is the talk? You know, when India came to Britain, to the Bank of London, for a loan in 1991, the Bank of London, forced the Indian government to airlift gold from India to London before they underwrote the loan. I mean, India airlifted gold to London in 1991. There's never been reparations for colonialism.

Helena Cobban (00:41:26):

I mean, I never knew that about India. That is mind boggling. Wow. So your next book is Washington Bullets, and it's coming out next week. Can we buy it here in the, in the United States? I looked on the website looked as though I could only pay in rupees.

Vijay Prashad (00:41:48):

No, the website is And on top you can just change the currency. Usually when it says INR or Indian rupees, you can change the currency. If there's any problem, you can send the team an email. The book is available already for purchase as an ebook. We can't print books yet because our printer is offline and supply chains are slightly damaged. You know, we also going to struggle with the cost of paper and ink in this immediate period. But the book is very fairly priced. I mean, the price is $7.

Helena Cobban (00:42:25):

And you will also give us an excerpt for our website.

Vijay Prashad (00:42:29):

Exactly. And by the way, the book is about CIA coups and hybrid wars. And the preface of the book is written by Evo Morales. You know, the president of Bolivia. And the reason I was very happy with, of course, President Morales writing the preface, but especially happy because, as he puts it in the preface, he was the most recent recipient of Washington bullets in the guise of the November 2019 coup against him by the Bolivian aristocracy and by the CIA and the U S government.

Helena Cobban (00:43:07):

Certainly that one was more successful than the long standing attempt against a President Maduro of Venezuela. I am delighted that Charlotte has put the link to that and the link to a lot of the other things that you've been mentioning into the chat box. And now I'm going to open things up and hand over to Charlotte so that she can - I'm afraid we don't have much time now - maybe about 10 minutes. Charlotte's going to bring in questions from the attendees. If anybody has any more questions, put them in the chat box or in the Q and A, and Charlotte, over to you.

Charlotte Kates (00:43:30)

Thank you. Great, thank you so much. And we're, getting some questions in, and if folks have more questions that they'd like us to ask, I'd encourage you to put them in the Q and A so that we can refer to that conversation. But Vijay, thank you again for your participation today. And I wanted to ask you, as we're seeing the potential development of a new cold war with China, how do you think this relates to the same economic tensions and the same issues of global capital that you've been discussing around the world, particularly with both China and the U.S.’ involvement in various parts of the world, such as throughout Asia and Africa and Latin America and elsewhere.

What do you think that holds for the future of U.S. imperialism? And what is your perspective on what's taking place and the kind of the rise of China? Is this a progressive force in the world? Is it a mixed force? Is it something that opens space? How do you view this changing global balance?

Vijay Prashad (00:44:55):

Yeah, I mean it's very interesting that last year was the first year that the World Intellectual Property Organization said that, for the first time, the United States no longer had the highest number of patent applications. Those came from China. I think there's an interesting worry, anxiety, particularly in Silicon Valley among the big tech firms, which is that China seems to have advanced quite rapidly in the tech arena. You see, there was no problem in the United States, as long as China was merely the producer of finished goods. If it was merely a place to explore Chinese labor, that was fine. You know, we'll build Foxconn factories, build iPhones and so on, you know, across the Pacific Rim of China, that was adequate and fine. But the Chinese played a very interesting game, which, you know, the Indians just didn't play this game.

The Chinese said, you can come in and you can set up factories in Shenzhen and so on, and you can hire Chinese labor. You know Chinese labor was extremely well-educated compared to labor in places like India, and was much healthier. You know, had better discipline and so on, and then Chinese infrastructure was better than most places in the world. So this is what they provided.

But they said in exchange, you have to do two things. We insist on science transfer and technology transfer. So the test here was in solar energy. The Chinese essentially told these French companies, you can come in and produce your voltaic cells and your things, but you have to show us what you're doing. And now you can’t complain and say, this is espionage. You know, it was a commercial transaction.

They said, you can come and use that infrastructure. But part of the contract is you have to tell us what you're doing. And the Chinese learned very fast. And now Chinese science and industry is much higher than most parts of the world. So on the question of 5G and in particular Huawei, Huawei technology is up there with, you know, anybody in the world.

And in fact Silicon Valley firms have greatly worried that if Huawei and other firms like Huawei, take an advantage, this is a multiple generation advantage. It's not just 10 years, five year advantages. It might be one or two generations of advantage that Chinese firms have over U.S. and European firms, German firms, French firms, and so on. And so they have been putting a lot of pressure. Just because Silicon Valley is in California, doesn't mean that they don't like what Trump is doing with China.

They want a political solution to Chinese domination. They are not willing to compete freely with Chinese companies. So then you start saying, well, look, what is a security risk? By the way, Google openly says that they share information with the U.S. government. If you read Edward Snowden's revelations, all these Silicon Valley firms openly collude with the U.S. government. So somehow the Silicon Valley firms and the U.S. State Department have been able to convince people that it's Chinese companies that pose a security threat when American companies routinely pipeline information to government authorities.

You know, that's what Snowden told us. So they are trying to politically manage what is this scientific and commercial advance made by Chinese firms. Now, okay, let's be open about it. This is not a question of security. It's a question of the future of Silicon Valley and of American capitalism and its ability to dominate these sectors of high tech and so on. You know the Europeans understand what's going on.

The reason they are worried about five G technology isn't snooping. Hello. I mean, in Britain, you know, the security agencies have been snooping on people with the utter connivance of all the big tech firms, you know, that has come out already. It's not that they are worried that if 5G comes through Huawei and other firms, companies like Nokia and so on will get wiped out, at least for a generation. And the Norwegians and others, they have a commercial interest here. So they are using extra economic measures to hem in the emergence of Chinese high tech.

That's what's happening. I mean, why would you arrest the chief financial officer while she’s in Vancouver airport? Do you know where she was going? She was just transferring in Vancouver, flying to Latin America, because that's where they have a big growth area.

So they catch her in Vancouver, put her in house arrest and now this extradition warrant to the United States. I mean, this is plain intimidation to try to prevent these firms from having an expansion in Latin America, and so on. The Indian government, in retaliation for Galvan, banned Chinese apps in India. By the way, there are no Indian apps developed to ban in China. So the Chinese can't retaliate tit-for-tat, because Indian high tech is simply not developed indigenously. Indian high tech workers work for American companies. So, you know, this is something India needs to really reflect on.

You ban Chinese apps. By the way, 99% of phones used in India, including  GEO phones, you know, the big company close to prime minister, Modi, GEO - the GEO phones are made in China. So when you say, oh, we are going to ban things from China, you're basically undercutting yourself. Today, the Financial Times had an excellent piece about this, saying that India is, by banning Chinese apps, they've put the Indian economy into threat. This is about the advance - next 10, 15, 20 years of who is going to dominate areas of high tech. That's what's happening. This is not a war about Chinese currency. It's not about that. It's Silicon Valley pretending to be liberal, enjoying the fact that Trump is fighting the battle for them extra-economically, and by the way, on the world stage looking quite ridiculous doing so.

Charlotte Kates (00:50:54):

Thank you so much. Just to ask one more question, just to note that case has been quite controversial in Canada as well, because there are some former officials saying that Canada shouldn't be getting itself caught up in the U.S.’ potentially losing war, but the government is nonetheless pursuing its typical path. But we have a question from Eduardo Missoni to ask you. Do you really realistically think that there is a chance to make future development of anti-COVID-19 drugs or vaccines a global common good? Do you think it's possible and not just a demand?

Vijay Prashad (00:51:34):

I mean, there's many things here to say here. One is, the WHO, the World Health Organization has actually made this a plea. They’ve asked that the COVID vaccine be part of a kind of medical commons. This is actually on the table. The Chinese government has made a public pledge. You know, Xi Jinping has publicly said that if China develops a COVID-19 vaccine, it will be part of the medical commons. I mean, I very much hope that other countries follow suit. And even if you say this is an issue, the argument is made that firms, they take risks, they develop vaccines, they invest a lot of money, and therefore they need to recoup the investment. Well, it turns out that a lot of the money used to do the research is public money. We're seeing that now.

I mean, it's government money that's going to private firms to fast track research and development of a COVID-19 vaccine. If it's public money going to produce the vaccine, then why should the vaccine be utilized to make profit by a private company? You know, profits should be annulled.

And as I was saying, if you had this in the commons, then countries, depending on their ability to do so, should be able to produce the vaccine in their own pharmaceutical industries and provide it to people. I mean, there's got to be the demand. It's a totally realistic demand. It's not some, you know, ridiculous idea of unicorns and so on. This is a real demand. I mean, it's a real possibility. Most countries have some kind of indigenous pharmaceutical industry. This is not, I'm told this is not such a complicated vaccine to produce, to develop. Once it's produced, others can make it.

Helena Cobban (00:53:24):

Yeah, I think we've already seen this issue with remdesivir, which is this kind of marginal treatment.  It's not a silver bullet. Remdesivir, which was developed with massive amounts of public money here in the United States and Gilead Sciences, which is now producing it, is charging like $6,000 for a course of it. And that's almost certainly going to happen with a vaccine and with further, more effective treatments for COVID-19 or the other Covids that may well be coming along behind it, unless we get the public demand here in this country. And we need to put this into the political system. I mean, I think all the things that you've talked about today, Vijay, we need to raise them. Like ending debt, canceling debt, lifting sanctions, you know, making these medical advances part of the commons.

We need to get these demands embedded into the the political system here in this country. And you know, we are an educational nonprofit. We have to say that, you know, we make these demands of both the major parties.

I'm afraid that we're out of time for more questions, but I want to thank Charlotte for  having fielded the questions there. Just before we go away, I want to recall that this is a continuing conversation with already had Richard Falk, Medea Benjamin, Bill Fletcher. Now we have you, Vijay, and we're really happy to have you here. All these materials are going to go onto our resource page.

And so I'm just going to put that up again, in case people didn't catch the URL, by the way, all the URLs that were in the chat box during this session will also be on the resource page.

So people can go there, you know, and continue their own research into all these matters. Now, putting together this program and the resource page and the other kinds of things that we're hoping to explore doing in the fall takes resources. People will appreciate that we are a very small, very lean nonprofit and we use your money super wisely.

If you want to donate, please go to our website and you'll find the donate button up at the top there. And it w it's really a way for us to keep on doing the work that we're doing. I've been amazed that it's taken some of the big think tanks here in the United States so long to recognize that this COVID crisis, which is not just a health crisis, but also an economic crisis, and now a crisis of social justice and trust in institutions. This massive crisis, it's taken them a long time to realize that this does affect the United States’ position in the world.

I noticed the Council on Foreign Relations, whose budget must be approximately a hundred thousand times greater than our budget, they finally have one little piece by, by Richard Haass, saying, “Oh gosh, you know, this is going to do us a little bit of harm as the United States and our position in the world.” So anyway, if you want to help us go to the website, click the donate button and we will keep this stuff coming. We have a great conversation lined up for next Wednesday, when I'm going to be talking to Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr. Who is a very distinguished diplomat. He was not only the interpreter when Nixon went to meet with Chairman Mao in Beijing in 1972.

He also negotiated with Fidel Castro for the withdrawal of Cuban and South African forces from Angola back in the, I guess, early nineties. And amongst his other distinguished credentials is the fact that he was nixed from being Obama's Director of National Intelligence by virtue of the fact that he actually thinks that Palestinians are people and have rights that need to be recognized. So, anyway, next week, next Wednesday, I'll have Ambassador Chas W Freeman Jr.. with me.

The week after that on Wednesday, we'll have Professor Hilal Elver, who is the recently retired UN special rapporteur for the right to food. So with Freeman, we'll be talking about U.S.-China and other issues. With Hilal Elver, we'll be talking about food security and other issues.

And then we're going to have a couple more guests for the last two Wednesdays in July. As I said earlier, we'll be taking a break from doing the weekly webinars in August, but as a way to give us time to exploit this fabulous intellectual property, I know I'm sure Vijay and I both have this attitude toward the concept of intellectual property, but what can I say, intellectual commons? We're going to exploit it and think of different things that we can do in the in the fall.

And so it just remains to me to thank you, Vijay, for being with us and just giving us these explosive, you know, ideas and very concrete things that we can all do.

Vijay Prashad (00:59:20)

Thanks a lot, Helena. And thanks, Charlotte. It's great to be with you at Just World and I look forward to more collaborations.

Helena Cobban (00:59:28):

So do we, thank you. And I want to thank Charlotte as well, who was with us from Vancouver. She always does a great job semi-behind the scenes. And I want to thank everybody who's attended this webinar and let you know that as you leave the webinar, you will have an evaluation form. We really, really value your evaluations because they help us sort of take the project in good directions. So thank you, Vijay. Thank you, Charlotte. And thank you, everybody else and see you next Wednesday.


Session Resources

Speakers for the Session


Vijay Prashad


Helena Cobban

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