In defense of independent governance

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

My message of support for Ms Machado has touched a nerve, most strongly amongst free software advocates who live in Venezuela.

Every country will have its own culture and way of doing things, and we should pay great respect to the choices and decisions of that country. It is a tragic thing to impose ones own cultural, religious or political views on people who see things differently. That tragedy has played out far too many times – from Apartheid, to the Holocaust, to the invasion of Iraq in recent history, to the acts of the Conquistadors centuries ago. It shows up when a new government renames the streets and cities of the old government, which renamed them from the previous government. We lose our own identity when we lose the voice of history, even if it is a history of which we are ashamed. It also shows up in the homogenization of global culture, with McDonalds and Disney turning the rich culture of the world into large swathes of barren desert. I am very sensitive to the beauty of the cultures that I’ve been privileged to experience in depth – South Africa, Russia, England, America. And I find it sad when one culture arrogantly suppresses another. I believe in letting people make their own choices. The future belongs to those who embrace global thinking without losing their identity and their culture.

At its largest, grandest level, “making choices” is what democracy is all about. However, sometimes the illusion of democracy is used to give legitimacy to choices that were not, at all, democratic.

In Zimbabwe, for example, we have a government that is in power “democratically” because of the systematic culture of fear that was created every time people expressed an interest in making a different choice. I cannot therefor pay much respect to the idea that the government of Zimbabwe is a true reflection of the cultural choices of Zimbabweans.

In such cases, we are obliged to question the decisions made by governments who claim to hold power by democratic mandate, when in fact they hold it by brute force. They may make some good claims and have some noble ideals, but the foundation of their authority is rotten, and it’s highly unlikely that much good will come of it for the long term.

I’m not going to comment directly on the policies of Mr Chavez. Frankly, I’m not qualified to speak on the details of his administration. But I will say that my experience of countries and governance, across continents and decades, has taught me the value of certain key principles:

First, that human nature is unchanging across the world and across time. This, as they say, is why history rhymes with itself. We make the same mistakes, we inspire ourselves to fix them, rinse and repeat. It’s human nature that makes absolute power corrupt absolutely. And its human nature to seek additional power. It’s rare to find someone who will create checks and balances on themselves. This is most eloquently described in the early writings of the American constitutional authors, who sought to “pit ambition against ambition”, and create checks and balances in society, so that neither the authorities, nor the judges, nor the media, could dominate the decisions we make for ourselves.

Second, that the presumption of innocence until the proof of guilt is a vital choice in the maintenance of a free society. In a world where even good countries can elect bad governments, we cannot let the unchallenged word of a government, any government, be sufficient to silence and stifle the lives of their citizens. I find it equally disturbing that American citizens can be locked up without access to attorneys in confidence, and that Zimbabwean opposition members can be arrested and held without charge for long periods. I also find it equally disturbing that residents of the United Kingdom can find themselves in Guantanamo Bay, on what is clearly flimsy or false evidence, without the UK fighting for their release or impartial trial. I am neither for Mr Bush, nor Mr Mugabe, nor Mr Blair, I am simply for the presumption of innocence until an impartial trial finds one guilty.

Third, that freedom of speech is essential for a healthy society. This is a freedom which we cannot take for granted. There is constantly a desire on the part of those in power to reduce the volume of criticism they must face. We have to constantly remind ourselves that those in authority have chosen to play a public role, and they must accept a level of public accountability and criticism, even from people who may have a personal agenda. Of course, not all speech is truth, and conspiracies often arise which seek to use the media to spread misinformation. But we are all better off when multiple viewpoints can be expressed. I’m no believe in media infallibility – we’ve seen very bad journalism from the biggest media networks in the world, for example when they get “embedded” in a controlled fashion into armies of war. But I’m a big believer in allowing calm voices to be heard, globally.

These principles are not written in the laws of physics – we create them in society, and we must defend them. They cannot be taken for granted, even in countries like the USA, which have them written into their constitutional DNA. Since they are a choice that society makes, and since society is reborn in each generation, they are a choice that society must make, and remake, constantly. Sometimes, we fail. Usually, we fail for fear when we are confronted by a perceived threat to security, or for greed when we are presented with the opportunity to benefit ourselves at great cost to others. And it as at times like that, when there is great stress, noise, fear, anger and shouting, that it is most important for calm voices to be heard.

At times like these, we are our own worst enemy. We hear what we want to hear. It is painful to hear that one might be wrong, that one’s hero might have flaws, that one’s leaders might not be all that we wished them to be. The awful truth of the media is that it pays to tell people what they want to hear, much more than it pays to tell people what they need to hear, and so society can whip itself into a frenzy of mistaken greed or fear or anger, and make poor decisions.

It takes great courage to speak out, when these basic principles are at risk. In a free society, there is nevertheless pressure to conform, to stay with the herd. In a society that is not free, one speaks out at some considerable personal cost to life and liberty. I salute those who do.

66 Responses to “In defense of independent governance”

  1. bruni Says:

    I agree with you Mark.

    now one point that I should add is that real Freedom of Speech means not just to be able to talk, but it also involves the lack of fear to speak out. When a self-censorship is put in place, when there is an indirect cohersion for the media or for the individuals, then regardless of the possibility of speaking out, there is
    no real freedom of speech.

  2. Consultor Says:

    ” You have emitted partial judgments and you have made a great damage to the free software Bolivarian comunity that believe in Chávez and believed in Ubuntu.”

    Only laughs !!!

    Free software isn’t “bolivarian” flag, is a philosophical movement stupid girl!!! What a personnal point of view must take influences in any software based decission??? That is not ethical Sandra !!

    With this paragraph, you’re showing a complete ignorance about Free Software, you (and others with you) only have personnal interests in goverments software massive contracts and consulting for money. This the way that this little group (includes Bracci and others) are looking for, only money with free software contracts, I have been witness of that !!!

    The venezuelan people HATE Chávez, including Bracci, Sandra Parra and everyone in FS which are wolves dressed like ewe.

    Bracci why you don’t speak about Tascon List????

    Mark: In Venezuela every people was marked like an criminal only why put the sign in a paper requesting the Revocatory of president in 2004 as Constitution of Venezuela said. This information was digitized and distributed to EVERY public office like a single application (Visual BASIC made) to be consulted (mandatory) before any hiring of personnel. This application still are being used to avoid any against-Chavez take access to job or any request before public offices (passports, Id, Social Security pays, etc).

    Thanks Mark by your support to Maria Corina, now have more love to my UBUNTU laptop !!!

  3. Jonás A Reyes C Says:

    Hola Mark!! Solo quiero decirte que desde hace un año estoy en el mundo del Software Libre. Estoy con el porque me gusta “compartir”, porque es la anti tesis del INDIVIDUALISMO. Soy Venezolano. Leí sobre tu post donde apoyas a Maria Corina Machado. Al respecto te dire que si, yo Soy Chavista porque Quiero un mundo Mejor, Soy Chavista porque creo que Compartir es Mejor, Soy Chavista porque El dolor de los demas me duele, Soy Chavista qporque Quiero a mi País. Soy Chavista porque creo en el humanismo. Soy chavista porque creo en la Verdad y solo la Verdad te hace libre, Soy Chavista porque amo incluso a quienes se oponen a mi, Soy Chavista porque Lloro por las hambrunas en Africa, Soy Chavista porque odio las crueles dictaduras en Africa y en el Mundo, Soy Chavista porque estremese mi corazon ver inocentes morir en iraq por culpa del fascista y asesino Bush!, Soy chavista porque quiero usar el Software Libre Como un Medio y no un Fin, Soy Chavista porque creo que el conocimiento es libre, Soy Chavista porque quiero ayudar al desposeido, Soy Chavista poirque deseo que se acabe el Imperialismo en el Mundo, Soy Chavista porque no tengo miedo a pensar, Soy Chavista porque Deseo que se termine la Exclusion y El Racismo en el mundo. Soy Chavista porqque creo en la Democracia, Soy Chavista porque creo en el derecho de Auto Determinacion de los pueblos, Soy Chavista porque deseo tener medios de comunicacion y no medios de DEFORMACION. Tantas razones para ser Chavista. Ubuntu es la Distribucion Linux Mas Usable. ¿Sabes porque me gusta tanto ubuntu? por su codigo y compromiso Social. Acabo de Instalar UbuntuStudio, y supe que es una gran joya!! pense: “Al fin no dependere de Windows”. Pero Saber que no tienes conciencia sobre las realidades de los pueblos me lleno de un dolor, que ya estoy pensando en no usar Ubuntu, porque me ha dado la impresion que Ubuntu podria terminar siendo una Marca mas, un Producto mas para los mercados, con frases bonitas y elocuentes pero sin contenido. Ojala no sea Asi. Ojala solo hayas sido victima de La belleza y engañoza “ingenuidad” de Maria Corina Machado, quien avala con sus posturas el asesinato de la Mayoria venezolana. Y pensar que en mi Univertsidad (Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela) logre que todos los Laboratorios Migrasen a Ubuntu, que todos los cursos en areas de Tecnologias fuesen en Ubuntu. Y pensar que a mis compañeros de Clase todos los dias les asesoro sobre Ubuntu. ¿Que les dire Mañana?¿les dire que apoyas la disolucion de mi universidad porque eres amigo de Corina Machado? (Mi universidad fue creada por Chavez para brindar la oportunidad a los pobres de acceder a la educacion superior, ya que otras universidades publicas estan acaparadas por elites que conspiran contra mi pais, mi universidad es atacada muy seguido por la gente de Maria Corina MAchado porque les duele que los pobres tengamos acceso al conocimiento; obviamente ellos (los Opositores a chavez) siempre encuentran excusas para decir que es malo “Alfabetizar a la Poblacion, Es malo dejar que mas de 600.000 Bachilleres ingresen a las universidades, que es malo mantener la educacion publica.”) tantas cosas que decir. Las pude decir en ingles, pero hoy he querido hablar tambien para quienes no saben Ingles o para quienes no sabes traducir con Google.
    Un Abrazo!!! se que tu no tienes malas intenciones, se que opinaste a la ligera, pero igual tenia que expresar lo que siento. Un Abrazo Solidario, desde la Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela: Tierra de Hombres y Mentes Libres!!!

  4. Ricardo C. Fernández de C. Says:

    Hey Mark, than you very much about this and the other post, now i have a lot of work to do! im getting a lot of calls from everywhere in the goverment to change their desktops/servers from Ubuntu to Debian! YAY! the Venezuela Debian Community really loves you Mark! thank you so much for this GREAT notice, keep supporting terrorist and murderers in Venezuela! thats the way to go man! it was like that time a CEO of RH called us “pig” and right now no one want to use RH ’cause that! More Debian users. Damn im so happy. Thank you.

  5. Rafael Says:

    I guess by now you´ve seen how intolerant Chavistas are of other peoples´ opinion if it doesn´t match their own…

  6. Consultor Says:

    Ricardo C. Fernández de C:

    Gordo grasiento oportunista ladron!!!!!!!!!!
    Anda a que te coja un burro con los ojos azules malnacido !!!

    Se te notan las costuras de que solo estas en SL solo por dinero, capitalismo tecnologico?

    Tu y toda la cuerda de focas que aplauden esa estúpida robo-ilución, deben ir presos y si es posible, aplicarles la inyeccion letal…

    Basura gordo de mierda !!!

  7. Kira Says:

    Your post is absolutely equilibrated and from a person that stands for principles instead of ideologies, and that, ubuntu chavistas friends, is something you should learn from Mr. Mark. It is about defending principles, not a president or a candidate or an ideology but principles, if a principle like freedom of speech gets harmed by a decission however justifiable to your eyes by the government you should cast a doubt over it and think deeply about it, because if it is harming to the development of democracy and the display of diverse voices it may not be so good.

    I am a Venezuelan and is heart breaking to see that a man comes first for his fanatic followers than the nation.

  8. Max Says:

    Let’s see if Luigino Bracci and others can explain someday things like this that happened last days after Chavez close the most viewed TV channel of the country…

  9. Seán Says:

    Well OpenSolaris and DesktopBSD are pretty good alternatives to Kubuntu. I’ll be ditching ubuntu as will a lot of people. It’s a pity, I really had gotten behind ubuntu but this ignorant and misguided support of the rich right wing scum undermining democracy in Venezuela is too much.

    What a pity, it was all going so well.

  10. totedati Says:

    time for a trip to venezuela … ;-p … then you can have a better view of the matter … ;-p

  11. El Blog de Jose » Blog Archive » Recent political issues, travelling to DC and emdevs hacking Says:

    […] A few days ago, some people in Venezuela were shocked by Mark Shuttleworth’s claims against Hugo Chávez Government and supporting María Corina Machado, a minor opposition leader in the Country. […]

  12. Al. Go. Says:

    Yeah, Ms Machado “Independent governance”, oh yeah! haha hoho

  13. Andrei Rublyov Says:

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely… hence democracy, justice, equality.

    Democraticaly defined constitution,

    Equality before the law,

    Right to inform and BE informed, it ain’t enough to have the freedom to speak if it is not TRANSMITTED.

    Equality of CONDITIONS, not just oportunity…

    Transparency in affairs not justified to secrecy, the right to public inquest, and the duty of justice to prevent corruption in affairs whether public or PSEUDO PRIVATE (ie CORPORATE).

    A corporation is not a person, it has nor conscience, nor freedom, nor ethics (other than psychotic ones that bind it to profit maximisation)


    Therefore an “autonomous” European Central Bank, and the special laws that give corporations the rights of a PERSON under law are INCOMPATIBLE WITH NEITHER DEMOCRACY, CULTURE NOR HUMANITY.

  14. Andrei Rublyov Says:

    “It’s human nature that makes absolute power corrupt absolutely.”

    Hence the concept of democracy. Division of power.

    Why then are our constitutions not democraticaly constituted, when latin america is taking steps in that direction… Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela?

    Why are we sent on handing over absolute power over the economy on national and international basis to “autonomous” central banks, and international subdivisions (eg. IMF)?

    Why do we only have a single form of media, the private one?

    Why do we let private industrial interests dominate all interests public?

    – one of the definitions of fascism:

    “I’ve removed this spurious section, which appears to have been based on a quote by Ronald Reagan. State intervention in the economy is not fascism.FelixFelix talk 18:22, 9 February 2007 (UTC)

    Reagan is far from the only one. President Hoover talking about the New Deal said, “I tried to show him that this stuff was pure fascism; that it was a remaking of Mussolini’s “corporate state” -Herbert Hoover. Alot of politicians around that time admired fascism and the New Deal was American version of it. For example, US Conferssman Milford Howard said “I want to go on record at the beginning of this unpretentious book by avowing my faith in Benito Mussolini, Italy’s great premier, and Fascism, the child of his marvelous brain, as the highest expression of a pragmatic philosophy of government…”Anarcho-capitalism 19:05, 9 February 2007 (UTC)

    Corporatism is a defining characteristic of fascism. Corporatism is characterized by a high degree of state intervention in the economy. It just doesn’t require the nationalism and militarism of fascism. The New Deal doesn’t deserve its own section but FDR’s government certainly warrants a mention in the first paragraph of this section.
    (JoeCarson 18:33, 9 February 2007 (UTC))

    You are correct in saying corporatism is a defining characteristic of fascism and you seem to be using corporatism mostly correctly. However, that section sounded almost overtly POV. If the section was rewritten in a more NPOV tone it could possibly be included. For example, the line “Some aspects of the Roosevelts New Deal were labeled as fascist.” is very vague and seems to be almost intentionally so to be weasel-y. Did FDR call the New Deal fascist or use fascist models? Do scholars call the New Deal fascist and are those scholars reputable and/or neutral? Etc. – DNewhall 18:52, 9 February 2007 (UTC)

    Lots of reputable scholars say the New Deal was fascist, largely from the Austrian School of economics. As far as “neutral” I don’t know, but, is there such a thing as a “neutral” scholar?Anarcho-capitalism 18:56, 9 February 2007 (UTC)
    The passive tense is not anybody’s friend. To say that conservative opponents of Roosevelt labelled the New Deal as fascist (or, alternately, communist!) is true, and perhaps should be mentioned somewhere. It is going a good deal further to say that “reputable scholars” have made this claim. What are these people scholars of? I would posit that they were not scholars of fascism. john k 19:53, 9 February 2007 (UTC)”

    – source:

    “Franklin D. Roosevelt in an April 29, 1938 message to Congress warned that the growth of private power could lead to fascism:

    The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism–ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.[18][19][20]

    From the same message:

    The Growing Concentration of Economic Power. Statistics of the Bureau of Internal Revenue reveal the following amazing figures for 1935: “Ownership of corporate assets: Of all corporations reporting from every part of the Nation, one-tenth of 1 percent of them owned 52 percent of the assets of all of them.”[18][20]

    – source:

    “In Washington, the headquarters of both the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) face each other on the same street. What are these organisations, and who controls them?

    To find out we need to look back to just after WWI. At this point the money changers were attempting to consolidate the central banks under the guise of peacemaking. To stop future wars they put forward the formation of a world central bank named the Bank of International Settlements, a world court called the World Court in the Hague, and a world executive for legislation called the League of Nations.

    In his 1966 book entitled Tragedy and Hope, president Clinton’s mentor Carroll Quigley writes about this.

    “The powers of financial capitalism had [a] far-reaching [plan], nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole.

    This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent meetings and conferences.

    The apex of the system was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, a private bank owned and controlled by the world’s central banks which were themselves private corporations.

    Each central bank… Sought to dominate its government by its ability to control treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world.”
    Carroll Quigley, Professor, Georgetown University

    They got 2 out of 3. The league of nations failed largely owing to the suspicions of the people and while opposition concentrated on this, the other two proposals snuck their way through.

    It would take another war to wear the public resistance down. Wall street invested heavily to rebuild Germany, as the Chase bank had propped up the Russian revolution.

    Now the Chase merged with the Warburg’s Manhattan Bank to form the Chase Manhattan which would later merge with the Chemical Bank to become the largest bank on Wall Street.

    In 1944 the US approved its full participation in the IMF and the World Bank. By 1945 the second League of Nations was approved under the new name ‘The United Nations’. The war had dissolved all opposition. The methods used in the National Banking Act of 1864 and the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 were now simply used on a Global scale.

    The Federal Reserve Act allowing the creation of Federal Reserve notes is mirrored by the IMF’s authority to produce money called Special Drawing Rights (SDR’s). It is estimated the IMF has produced $30 billion dollars worth of SDR’s so far. In the United States SDR’s are already accepted as legal money, and all other member nations are being pressured to follow suit. With SDR’s being partially backed by gold, a world gold standard is sneaking its way in through the back door, which comes with no objection from the money changers who now hold two-thirds of the worlds gold and can use this to structure the worlds economy to their further advantage.

    We have gone from the goldsmith’s fraud being reproduced on a national scale through the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve, to a Global level with the IMF and the World Bank. Unless we together stop giving these exchange units their power by our collective faith in them, the future will probably see the Intergalactic Bank and the Federation of Planets Reserve set up in much the same way.

    This radical transfer of power has taken place with absolutely no mandate from the people.

    Nations borrow Special Drawing Right from the International Monetary Fund in order to pay interest on their mounting debts. With these SDR’s produced at no cost, the IMF charges more interest. This contrary to bold claims does not alleviate poverty or further any development. It just creates a steady flow of wealth from borrowing nations to the money changers who now control the IMF and the World Bank.

    The permanent debt of Third World Countries is constantly being increased to provide temporary relief from the poverty being caused by previous borrowing.

    These repayments already exceed the amount of new loans. By 1992 Africa’s debt had reached $290 billion dollars, which is two and a half times greater than it was in 1980. A noble attempt to repay it has caused increased infant mortality and unemployment, plus deteriorating schools, and general health and welfare problems.

    As world resources continue to be sucked into this insatiable black hole of greed, if allowed to continue the entire world will face a simular fate.

    As one prominent Brazilian politician, Luis Ignacio Silva,ðput it.

    “Without being radical or overly bold, I will tell you that the Third World War has already started – a silent war, not for that reason any the less sinister. This war is tearing down Brazil, Latin America and practically all the Third World. Instead of soldiers dying there are children, instead of millions of wounded there are millions of unemployed; instead of destruction of bridges there is the tearing down of factories, schools, hospitals, and entire economies . . . It is a war by the United States against the Latin American continent and the Third World. It is a war over the foreign debt, one which has as its main weapon interest, a weapon more deadly than the atom bomb, more shattering than a laser beam . .”1 ”

    – source:



    Lord ActonThis arose as a quotation by Lord Acton in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887:

    “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

    William Pitt the Younger, The Earl of Chatham and British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1778, is sometimes wrongly attributed as the source. He did say something similar though, in a speech to the UK House of Lords in 1770:

    “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it””
    – source:
    Firstly is there such a thing as absolute power? Clearly there is an absolute power over certain matters possible but it is hard to see how there could be a truly absolute power as such.

    Is it the aquisition of power that corrupts, or the nature of the system in place that requires corruption as a trait?
    The documentary “spin” might give some food for thought:

  15. Andrei Rublyov Says:

    “The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks.”

    Lord Acton

    Yet he somehow managed to support the confederates… nobody is perfect.

  16. andresorozco Says:

    I read with many interest the observations you made in both articles about Venezuela. I am foreigner, I left Venezuela after 5 years of work, after building house with my earned money, married a venezuelan woman, payed taxes and with all the intention to settle in that wonderful country. I have never get involved in local politics, but I can form my politic point of view. I felt the venezuelan process conducted by Mr.president Chavez was not suitable to our family project. My wife comes from a poor family of chavist moderate political views. Mother went through some of Chavez missions. All what she got was a debt caused by the organization of her cooperative project who cashed the money and let the coop fall apart. My wife graduated from university couldn’t apply from work because she never take a political position (and Chavism says that no active involvement in the project means you are against that). I saw the Tascon “enemies” lists from a collegue, who survived two rounds of them while three other collegues were fired. One privat company was forced to dismiss one of them after they employed him due to pressures by the government company they were partnering. I saw many corruption, and the worst is the arbitrariety to which mr. President and his followers manage everything. If they refused to use Ubuntu (as I read in this blog replies, I haven’t confirmed this news) just for your blog entries, you don’t really need to travel to Venezuela to form your own opinion about what Chavism is. I think what you wrote is extremely equilibrated, and no statement you made should have hurted anybody. But as we see extreme political partialization is the trademark of chavism. Congratulations for you work and efforts. Looking forward for more insights.