Monday, July 17, 2006

Cuba: Sovereignty Matters

Two random Havana photos off the wires in recent days....

A second of two fine Bahamanian editorials (not usually a bastion of radical thinking) strongly condemning the Cuban Plan for Transition report approved by President Bush last week. It is interesting that regional countries, (even those of the right) supposedly the target of Castro-Chavez 'meddling,' are constantly more supporive of Cuba and Venezuela than even Democrats in the US are. For instance, they have the nerve to declare that the Revolution represents the majority in Cuba and works in their interests.

The Bahama Journal - 17th July editorial
We recently suggested that today we see a United States that will not rest in its efforts to destabilize that nation’s –namely Cuba- political system. In this regard, information reaching us suggests a US Cabinet-led panel has recommended tightening an embargo against Cuba and boosting opposition financing. The legend is being broadcast that Cuba is somehow teamed with Venezuela in a bid to thwart regional democracy.

We are also indicated that we were learning that the draft by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, presented to President George W. Bush last Wednesday at a National Security Council meeting, says "there are clear signs the (Cuban) regime is using money provided by the (Hugo) Chavez government in Venezuela to reactivate its networks in the hemisphere to subvert democratic governments."

As we noted, quite frankly, we believe none of this. What we do believe is that the United States is still embarked on a project designed to subvert Fidel Castro, his regime and all that they represent and signify in the world.

This is a pity.

And now, there is more information suggesting that chaos looms.

Laura Wides-Munoz suggests that a "presidential commission's report on U.S. plans to promote democracy in Cuba has earned applause from Cuban exiles, particularly for an $80 million commitment to bolster civil society and independent media. But while many expressed broad support for the commission's message, some were wary of how, and if, the promised funds will be spent".

As noted previously, the recommendations, released this week by the Presidential Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, would target money to help nongovernmental groups create change in Cuba. It was issued as Fidel Castro's government tries to maintain status quo."

Here the problems and bickering predictably arise, "It would be very harmful if they said that money will come and then people didn't get it," said Orlando Gutierrez, the National Secretary of the Miami-based Cuban Democratic Directorate, which seeks to provide humanitarian aid to the pro-democracy movement on the island."

We are also learning that "some dissidents on the island have expressed concern that the money will only bolster the Cuban government's allegations that the opposition is on the U.S. government's payrolls. Communist officials accused 75 opponents captured in 2003 of being on U.S. payrolls, an allegation dissidents and Washington deny."

We are also learning that "the report also recommends Interpol receive the names of Cuban officers who in 1996 shot down two private planes flying over international waters in search of Cuban rafters."

It might also be of interest to note that "during a discussion with students at Florida International University on Wednesday, Jose Basulto, the lone survivor of the 1996 attack and a member of the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, recalled how CIA agents selected and trained him and others for the failed attack, and how at the last minute President Kennedy chose not to send in air support."

This exile veteran, "Basulto said he didn't want to see the history of false promises repeated. He also expressed concern that the $80 million could be used by the U.S. government to cultivate leaders inside and outside the island who might not represent the interests of the majority".

Our question in this regard, is this: might it not be the turth that the Cuban people in Cuba do represent the "interests of the majority" as they have from 1959?

And might it not be true that the interests of the majority and the interests of the Cuban Revolution are in a state of congruence?

And might this fact more so than any other fact explain the longevity of the Cuban Revolution as it has been molded and shaped by Fidel Castro and others who were privileged to work, serve and lead?

We are inclined to agree with Cuban officials who say that "a US proposal aimed at ensuring a transition to US-style democracy on the communist-run island after President Fidel Castro is gone is a sinister plan for regime change".

We are also inclined to agree with those same Cuban officials when they say that "this is a true threat of aggression." More specifically, we are inclined to agree with Cuban parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon when he talks about the plans ‘sinister pretenses’.

An angry Alarcon explains, "We have the right to think the worst," he said of the classified section. "We have the right to think about an attempt to assassinate Fidel, or a war."

In time, we will know more.

But as of this moment, our conclusion is that the United States should step back from this latest provocation and allow Cuba to be Cuba that is as a free and truly sovereign space in the Americas.

Reinventing Venezuela with Socialism

A farmer cuts an organic cacao's fruit at his farm in Venezuela. Venezuela's cacao export industry dwindled after the 1920s when the South American country discovered massive oil reserves. But now an association of small farmers (helped by the Government) is aiming to revive Venezuela's chocolate tradition by expanding sales of organically grown cacao.

Before I present this AP article on the growing socialistic programs in place in Venezuela helping the poor, I wanted to contrast that with this Miami Herald piece about the parallel trend of growing riches there. Check what the (always right-wing) Ven-US Chamber of Commerce President is quoted as saying: "You can see the sense of prosperity flowing through all levels of society." Socialism is nothing to be scared of. It simply means identifying problems and seeing what the State can do to make them better - through participation in planning and implementing innovative programs like these.

July 17, 2006

Wifredo Rodriguez owns a shoe factory near Caracas, Venezuela, that
was rebuilt with government loans under a program that is fostering
President Hugo Chavez's push toward so-called 21st-Century socialism.
(FERNANDO LLANO/Associated Press)

CARACAS, Venezuela -- A landslide all but wiped out Wilfredo
Rodriguez's small shoemaking business last year, entitling him to a
government loan -- money he says he never would've found elsewhere.

It came with strings -- his workers get limited co-ownership, and he
must make mandatory donations to local projects. But the factory is
thriving. Its 14 workers produce 1,200 pairs of shoes per month, and
it has begun selling sandals to Cuba.

Cooperatives and comanaged social production companies, such as
Rodriguez's factory, are the backbone of the new 21st-Century
socialism that President Hugo Chavez is trying to create.

Venezuela's leader is fond of saying he's inventing a new sort of
economy that won't just forever alter Venezuelan society, but also
will serve as an egalitarian model for the world.

In little more than seven years, the nation's oil wealth and Chavez's
personality have transformed Venezuela's economy into a unique mix of
public and private enterprise.

Billions of dollars are diverted annually to social spending;
cooperatives jointly owned and operated by workers are favored for
government loans and contracts; and new government-owned companies
challenge private sector heavyweights, producing everything from
tractors to laptop computers for poor people.

Banking regulations require a third of all loans to go to small
businesses, low-income mortgages and government-favored sectors at
below-market rates.

Economists say the experiment -- to subordinate private enterprise to
broader social aims -- has become a powerful symbol in Latin America,
where U.S.-backed free-market policies of the 1980s and '90s caused

"I think we are seeing something innovative. Venezuela is aspiring to
represent an alternative way of organizing," said Laura Enriquez, a
Latin America expert at the University of California-Berkeley. She
said Chavez has succeeded by posing a challenge to U.S.-backed
economic theories.

Chavez has repeatedly expressed admiration for the communist China of
Mao Tse-tung, the leftist dictatorships of Gen. Juan Velasco in Peru
and Gen. Omar Torrijos in Panama, and Libya under Moammar Qaddafi
whose economy was similarly oil-based and included government

But he also has emphasized that Venezuela isn't modeling itself on
failed examples of the past, such as the Soviet-style command

Under Chavez's plan, the government also helps pay stipends to
workers in farming and industrial cooperatives.

Official statistics reveal positive signs: 9.4% economic growth last
year -- South America's highest -- and a poverty level that's
declined from 48% in 1997 to 37%. Last year, Venezuelans' per capita
income was $4,900 compared with $42,000 for Americans.

But others say they don't believe Chavez is creating the conditions
for long-term growth. The economy remains dominated by oil; capital
flight continues, and nearly half the workforce is estimated to
remain in the informal economy in dead-end jobs, including street
vendors and laborers.

Copyright C 2006 Detroit Free Press Inc.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pastors for Peace: 'No Permission to love its Neighbor'

A Granma piece on the relatively easy arrival of the (US based) Pastors for Peace 'Caravanistas' (delivering aid) to Cuba this year. I remember seeing the bus in Havana 3 years ago getting the thumbs up from Cubans walking down the street. Oddly, the US Customs officials let the caravan through with no problem this year, after making a big stand last year - holding aid for 10 months and fining religious people transporting humanitarian donations to our neighbor.

"WE have come at a time when there are new threats coming from the administration of George W. Bush, which indicate how much fear they have of Cuba’s achievements," said Rev. Lucius Walker, upon arriving in Havana at the head of the solidarity caravan.
Cuban Reverend Raúl Suárez, director of the Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, affirmed that the caravanistas travel without permission from the U.S. Treasury Department, thus defying measures designed to block humanitarian aid to Cuba.

"This attitude," he explained, "follows what is clear to Walker and to many U.S. —as well as Cuban— Christians: the church does not need to ask permission to love its neighbor." (PL)

"This attitude," he explained, "follows what is clear to Walker and to many U.S. —as well as Cuban— Christians: the church does not need to ask permission to love its neighbor.

Would the Left be Better for Latin America?

A very clear piece on the reality and basic facts relevant to Mexico and the region's left vs. right battles... that only the San Jose Mercury News has printed.

Would the left be better for Mexico?
By Mark Weisbrot

... (edited - It begins by noting the near-universal anti-Obrador opinion in the US papers, coinciding with the immigration debate...)

Mexico's most pressing economic problem is to restore economic growth. Like the region as a whole, the country has suffered a profound economic growth failure over the past 25 years. From 2000-2005, Mexico's income per person -- the most basic number that economists use to measure economic progress -- grew only 2 percent. From 1980 to 2000, it grew just 15 percent. If we compare this to the 1960-1980 period, when income per person grew 99 percent, it is easy to see that this last quarter-century is a failure of disastrous proportions.

Supporters of Mexico's current economic policies point to the North American Free Trade Agreement as a success, but the country's average annual growth since NAFTA was implemented in 1994 -- again looking at income per person -- has only been about one-third of its pre-1980 growth rate. This is in spite of the fact that foreign direct investment increased from $4.4 billion in 1993 to a peak of $22.7 billion in 2001, and Mexico's exports nearly doubled as a percent of GDP, from 16.8 percent to 29.9 percent, from 1994-2005.

If Mexico had simply continued to grow at its pre-1980 rate, the country would have about the same per-capita income now as Spain. There would not be millions of Mexicans willing to take the risks of illegal immigration to the United States for a wage that would not be much higher than what they could get back home.
Calderón promises to continue the policies of the (recent) past.... López Obrador has also proposed a stipend for the elderly and universal health care to help the poor. And he has said he will renegotiate parts of NAFTA that have hurt millions of rural Mexicans by flooding Mexico's markets with subsidized U.S. corn and other food crops.
The past 25 years have been so exceptionally bad in terms of economic growth for Latin America that in order to find anything comparable, one has to go back more than 100 years, and pick a period that includes both World War I and the start of the Great Depression. This is the main reason for the widespread poverty in the region, and for the continuing revolts at the ballot box, and sometimes in the streets.

The past 25 years have also seen the implementation of a number of economic reforms in the region, some of them implemented during the Latin American debt crisis in the 1980s. The reforms included: an indiscriminate opening up to international trade and investment flows; privatization of public enterprises; higher interest rates set by central banks that are less accountable to elected governments; tighter fiscal policies; and the abandonment by governments of overall industrial policies or development strategies. These reforms are often described as ``neoliberalism'' in Latin America, or ``the Washington consensus,'' since they were strongly backed by the United States.
In Argentina ....Kirchner ... stuck to a number of economic policies that Washington economists predicted would lead to ruin. ...The economy has grown at about 9 percent annually for more than three years, pulling 8 million people (more than 20 percent of the population) across the poverty line.

In Bolivia.... the government raised the royalties it charges foreign oil and gas companies, increasing government revenue from the country's natural gas by about 3.4 percent of GDP -- an amount equivalent to most of our federal budget deficit in the United States. On May 1, the government also renationalized the gas industry and is negotiating terms with gas producers that will further increase the government's revenue. So far, no major gas producers have left the country. The government also seems committed to keeping its promises to the poor.

And then there's Venezuela.... Despite bad relations with the United States, Venezuela is tied with Argentina for the fastest-growing economy in the hemisphere. In addition, the majority of the population -- mostly poor people who never before shared in the country's oil wealth -- has free health care for the first time. They also have subsidized food and greatly increased access to education.

Some think that Venezuela's current economic boom is a result only of high oil prices, but the country had high oil prices in the past and the poor never shared in the windfall. Furthermore, Venezuela's per capita income actually declined in the 1970s despite very high oil prices.

Given those economic realities, Americans should be extremely skeptical of their politicians' and pundits' hostility to the political changes sweeping Latin America. Much of it is based on ideology and a desire to maintain Washington's influence in the region. But most people on both sides of our southern border will be better off as Latin America becomes more politically independent and finds new ways to restore economic growth.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, DC

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Carribean States back Venezuela for UN Security Council

Radio Jamaica
Regional leaders have agreed to back Venezuela in its quest for a non-permanent seat on a reformed United Nations Security Council.

This was revealed by Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, who told reporters Thursday afternoon that the heads of government made this decision at their retreat in Nevis on Wednesday.

The seat will be vacated by Argentina in October this year and Guatemala and Venezuela are the two countries seeking the vote of the Caribbean for the seat.

Cuba: Bay of Pigs Pt. 2 in the Works?

From the UK's Independent (only a dozen US rags have sought fit to print that we are preparing for another round of regime change). If you don't beleive me, check the first section's title = HASTENING CHANGE IN CUBA: TRANSITION, NOT SUCCESSION

Among other things, the Commission recommends immediate privitization of health care, education and real estate - meaning millions can be kicked out of their homes, colleges, and hospitals. It also would make ANY US-based humanitarian assistance to Cuba, like the 80 year old World Council of Churches aid program, illegal. Furthermore a classified section is menacingly attached to this report.

Bush Urged To Intervene After Castro’s Death
July 3, 2006
A new high-level report (leaked here) due for publication later this week urges the United States government to begin preparations to intervene in Cuba in the event President Fidel Castro’s death. The goal is to help spawn a speedy transition on the island towards "democracy and political freedom".

The recommendations, which include the creation of an $80m (£43m) fund to promote democracy in Cuba, are contained in the latest report compiled by the Commission for Assitance to a Free Cuba, created by President George Bush three years ago.

A classified annex to the document lists future measures the US should consider further to undermine the regime of Mr Castro, who has led the island since 1959. The report’s release, probably this Wednesday, is certain further to aggravate already tense relations between the two governments.

The president of the Cuban parliament, Ricardo Alarcon, condemned the report over the weekend, describing its publication as an act of war. "What’s most important is that they admit to a secret plan to overthrow another government," Mr Alarcon told reporters. "What on earth could the secret part say when the public part violates all kinds of international law?"
In addition to the two-year $80m fund, the US should also be ready to spend $20m a year on pro-democracy programmes, the panel said.

To what degree the US can expect to influence events is open to question given its efforts over the past four decades to isolate and punish Cuba’s leaders. In recent years, Mr Bush has moved to tighten a US embargo, for instance by limiting the amount of money Cuban exiles can send to family back home.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mexico: Calderon's Lead Cut By Third... and Counting

Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, of the Democratic Revolution Party, (PRD), listens as Claudia Scheinbaum, spokesperson for the campaign, points to a document which he purported to show irregularities in the election process, during a news conference at his headquarters office.

The Mexican Federal Election President stunned Mexicans Tuesday night when he had to embarrassingly admit authorities had failed to include 2.6 million 'irregualar' votes in the preliminary tally. This information was not made public until the PRD forced the issue publicly. Including these votes, the lead of Felipe Calderon (PAN) over Lopez Obrador (PRD) was cut by more than a third - to just over 250,000 votes, or less than .6%. Officials said there is no winner yet and that final results will wait until at least Sunday, after a re-count and verification of the tallys.

Still, many irregularities remain unsolved and many votes uncounted. Consider:

As in the US, first in Florida, then in Ohio, the exit polls are at odds with “official” polls.

Wednesday, Lopez Obrador said the vote tally registered in the preliminary count at 50,000 polling stations exceeded the number of voters registered at the stations.

Respected newsmagazine Processo is reporting a leak from the Police Intelligence office that claims (Fox/PAN) officials phoned major TV news stations and 'requested' they not provide the actual exit poll data, which showed Obrador winning. The Interior Minster ha not denied the report, but said the stations acted indpendetly out of respect for the

900,000 ballots still have not arrived at regional election headquarters to be tallied. Most come from the rural South, a bastion of strong Lopez Obrador support. If Obrador could calim about 64% of these votes he'd win the election.

Another estimated 800,000 nullified votes were likely to be scrutinized carefully in the final count.

Protesters in Mexico City carried ballots marked for Mr. López Obrador that they said they had found in dumpsters in Milpa Alta.

The head of Mexico's IFE, the electoral monitoring agency, is alleged to have had conversations with Vicente Fox on the night of the election.

Some voting places (mostly in the more conservative Northern regions) were counted twice while others were not counted at all.

There is a strikingly high percentage of votes declared 'null' - 2.14%, much larger than the gap separating the two main presidential candidates.

For the first time in Mexican eleciton history more votes were recorder for the Legislative seats than the Presidential race. That is highly suspect.

In a truly disturbing case, the FBI had obtained Mexico’s voter files under a secret “counter-terrorism” contract with the database company ChoicePoint of Alpharetta, Georgia (yes the same company involved in Florida vote-scrubbing). The firm claimed not to have known that collecting this information violated Mexican law. Mexican officials arrested Choicepoint officials, who claimed the voter lists had been burned. Such files can be very useful in challenging a voter’s right to cast a ballot or in preventing that vote from counting. What the Mexican election had to do with terror is different quesiton.

Newspaper La Jornada reported that Calderon's PAN Party has instructed its representatives at the counting centers to resist the opening of ballot boxes to recount votes, as is being requested by PRD officials. This comes after shocking comments from the (PAN) Interior Minister saying that ballots could not phyisically and legally be recounted. The IM has no role in the eleciton proceedings as Election officials are (nominally) independent. Still the head of the Election Commission is also PAN.

Despite all this, the mainstream press has already announced that Mexico’s elections were fair and clean, which would be a first for that country where Lopez Obrador’s party has seen its candidates defeated by “blatant fraud” twice before. Most have also declared Calderon the winner. The LA Times went even further calling Obradors complaints and victory claim (after Calderon declared first) "a definitive answer" to whether he is a demagogue. One could only imagine the furor if all this was taking place in Venezuela.

We'll wait and see how this all turns out. Many are saying it is a 'worst case' scenerio unfolding. The Mexican stock market is plummeting at the moment, after it had a record day Monday when things seemed clearer. The spectre of stree protests is growing as election authorities are appearing to side with PAN's demands to not allow a full recount. A full accounting of the irregularities is expected soon, and we'll see how authorities respond to those complaints. Certainly the history of elections in Mexico does not bode well when true leftists are involved.