Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cuba: US & MSM Wrong, Castro Bueno

Since Castro underwent surgury a few months ago, the ability of Cuban-Americans and DC neo-cons to influence a news story has been under full display. Nearly every article about Castro until about a week ago had Fidel on his death bed, basically calling Cuban reports to the contrary lies.

Our Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, said our spy agencies believed that Fidel was “terminally ill” and that he had “months, not years." Despite Cuba's 100% truthful (if guarded) statments on his illness and condition, conventional wisdom in the US had it that Castro and was gone for good.

But then an eminent Spanish colon doctor Mr. Garcia Sabrido said the same thing: that Fidel was far from death and could even govern Cuba again.

"His is physical activity is excellent, his intellectual activity intact,” the doctor said in Madrid. “I’d say fantastic. He’s recovering from his previous operation.” Sabrido went on to say that Fidel asked every day to go back to his old work but has been forbidden by his "excellent" doctors.

Still, the MSM continues the lies. ABC News writes: It is difficult to find another example in modern history where the whereabouts and condition of an ailing head of state have been kept secret for so long.

The bizarre situation and distrust of communist authorities led the United States and many other governments to speculate that Castro was dying of cancer.

BIZARRE situation? Kept under secret? Cuba said Fidel had colon surgery, that he was recovering but it would take time and require much rest. That is what is happening, despite all the other lies they've printed. What is bizarre about not letting a country who has vowed to disrupt a "Communist succession" know the details of their arch enemy's exact state?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cuba: Impressive Housing Results in 2006

The United States saw more housing units constructed in 2005 than it had in history (2.15 million according to the US Census). Still, this paled in comparison to the effort of the Cuban state in 2006, which produced 110,000 units, or 85 units per 1000 people. The US number is 71 units per every 1000.

Like most countries in the world (including the US), Cuba has a housing shortage. Even though the housing stock has grown by 80% on the island since the Revolution, a growth rate much faster than population growth (57%), it has not been enough to house all those young families and singles who desire a place of their own. Cost is not so much the issue as is availability.

To this end, Cuba embarked on an ambitious program in 2006. It spent $300 million on new housing units, or roughly $3,000 per unit - an amazing figure in itself. In California, houses cost at least $300,000 to build without profit and without land costs factored in.

Unlike in the US, where nearly all but the few thousand subsidized apartments go to those able to pay market prices for homes (maybe the top 20% of the country) - in Cuba the new units are distributed accroding to need and social criteria such as those living in overcrowded homes.

While we're on housing, it is worth mentioning that more Cubans own their homes than in the US and most other nations in the world. This is because the Revolutionary Urban Reform Law declared that all new housing would cost just 10% of Cubans salary and would be paid off between 10 and 20 years. Also, rent by law, can not cost more than 10% of salary. In the US, most pay upwards of 25% of their income and the poor usually pay more than 30% (a guideline even the US government considers unacceptably high). Also, the propostion of those in Cuba living in good living conditions has gone from 57% to more than 80% since the Revolution.

The main reason for the differences: in Cuba housing is considered a right and is connected to larger issues of equality and fairness. Housing is not a commodity, but a means of ensuring equal access to jobs, health, schools and culture. Here in the US, where housing is 100% a commodity, we see the results in our segregation, our inequality, our divisions.

Still Cuba knows it has a ways to go (Granma noted continued insufficiencies) and is looking at repeating the results in 2007.

Raul to Cuban Students: "Fearlessly" Debate and Analyse Ideas

Raul Castro calls for more policy debate in Cuba
By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's interim leader Raul Castro, signaling a different style of government from his ailing brother Fidel Castro, on Wednesday called for greater debate on public policies in the communist-run country.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma said Castro told about 800 university leaders they should ``fearlessly'' engage in public debate and analysis - expressing a different leadership style than that of his 80-year-old brother.

"Sometimes people fear the word disagree, but I say the more debate and the more disagreement you have, the better the decisions will be," he told students in Havana.

Raul Castro said he was delegating more responsibilities and making fewer speeches than his famously verbose brother, and running the country of 11 million in a more collegial way.
"Fidel is irreplaceable, unless we all replace him together," he said, repeating a statement he made in June that Fidel Castro's only possible heir is Cuba's Communist Party.

"Fidel is irreplaceable and I don't intend to imitate him. Those who imitate fail," Raul said in the short speech to a conference of Cuba's Federation of University Students.

The younger Castro had the 800 delegates in stitches with humorous stories about his childhood, including one about getting thrown off a horse the day he tried to copy a peasant and ride bareback.

Looking relaxed even though he was dressed in his army uniform, Raul said Cuba was at an "historic" moment.

"I say historic because, like it or not, we are finishing the fulfillment of our duty and we have to give way to new generations," he said.
(Foreign Minister) Perez Roque (gave the final address and) announced increases in grants and reductions in bus fares for the students.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Gallup: Surpise - 66% of Americans Want Increased Ties with Cuba

U.S. Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo, and Cuba's Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque enjoy a moment

Published: December 15, 2006 10:45 AM ET
NEW YORK Judging by press coverage and political rhetoric, one would imagine that most Americans take a very dim view of establishing diplomatic ties with Fidel Castro's Cuba. A new Gallup poll, however, reveals that this is far from true.

The national poll, taken Dec. 8-10, found that two in three Americans (67%) actually endorse the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba. "Americans' support for diplomacy with the island nation is higher now than it has been in recent years," Gallup reports, jumping 12% just since 2004.

Surprisingly, support among Republicans (59%) does not lag far behind Democrats (71%).

Unlike many officials, American appear to be able to both have a dim view of Cuba -- and back diplomatic ties. Gallup annually asks Americans to assess whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of various countries, and the latest results show that Cuba rates near the bottom of the list of 22 nations tested. It ranks only above Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, North Korea, and Iran. Only 21% have a favorable view of Castro's Cuba.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Largest Ever US Congressional Delegation Arrives in Cuba

U.S. Congresswoman Hilda Solis, D-California, talk to the media at the National Hotel in Havana, Friday, Dec.15, 2006

Boy, things are moving along fast in terms of the US relationshipo with Cuba and Venezuela.

Ten American lawmakers landed in Cuba today, led by U.S. Reps.Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and William Delahunt(D-Ma). Both have been outspoken advocates of dialogue with Cuba and the trip is seen as a momentum builder on the way to legislation that will roll back elements of the travel ban and embargo, which has been significantly tightened since Bush has been in office.

"We sense this is an important time and we hope to meet with officials and hopefully launch a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations," said Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican.

The Bush administration, which opposes an apparent succession in Cuba, has rejected talks. The State Department opposed the trip. "The bottom line is, we think it is the right thing to do," said Rep. Jim McGovern. "I've long thought our policy toward Cuba has been arrogant and dumb."

This movement comes at a time when several Democrats who are skeptical of Bush's Cuba policies will chair committees that will give them a platform on Cuba matters, including New York Rep. Charles Rangel on the Ways and Means Committee, Michigan Rep. John Conyers on the House Judiciary Committee and Wisconsin Rep. David Obey on the House Appropriations Committee. In the Senate, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden is expected to head the Foreign Relations Committee and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, who once held up Treasury Department nominations to protest restrictions on U.S. trade with Cuba, probably will chair the Finance Committee.

MEANWHILE, in Caracas, the first meeting between the US Ambassador (W. Brownfield) to Venezuela and the Venezuelan Foriegn Minister (Maduro) has gone off without a hitch. Brownfield called the meeting "highly positive." However, he underscored, it is just the first step for bilateral talks. The Venzuelan minister labeled the event as "candid, very clear, we could say it was cordial, in spite of any tension that may arise when speaking honestly." The Venezuelan Government, he said, "has the height and maturity to talk respectfully, outspokenly, by means of conversation and exchange with the US Government."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pinochet: The Deception Continues

The leading story at 9:55pm on Google News is "Wake Held for Pinochet as Chileans Mourn, Celbrate" (Bloomberg). Most other MSM outlets are running some varient on the "unpleasant but necessary" cop-out. This is balanced news for you - a torturing murdering thief becomes respectable because of the supposedly good economic policies he rammed down Chile's throat.

The term you keep seeing to describe his economic policies is "miracle." But this is total crap. Yes, he tamed inflation (by putting a million out of work) and saw some (US assisted) good growth spurts. But over the entire 15 years, Chile's vaunted GDP growth was 5th worst in the region. The economy was deeply erratic and employment often topped 20%. Inequality became the worst in the region because the top 20% received 85% of all the growth. Poverty was at more than 40 percent when he was forced out (by the US and his own people. He was an embarressment).

And never mind the 30,000 tortured, the 200,000 FORCED to leave, the 4,000 killed.

The bombing of La Moneda Palace in Santiago, where Allende was killed

The growth and stability only came after Pinochet left - presided over mostly by the Socialist party - and a period of reconcilliation (but no responsibility). It is also worth saying that Picochet was not the perfect free marketeer the US right made him out to be. He never reversed Allende's copper nationalization and never hesitated to use the State to bail out private companies (usually those he'd just privitized). He was a corporatist, a fasict, a militarist - in the true sense.

What may be worse than the distoritions and justifications is the way most accounts seem to totally ignore what should be a good moment for a US history lesson, ie. that the good ole US backed this man to the T during his worst period, fully aware and assisting in many of the crimes.

By now we are also seeing some interesting commentary and editorials. I always like the one's from old Pinochet apologists, like National Review,, where D. Frum claims he has "No Tears for Pinochet." He heaps on disdain, whilst providing thinly veiled justifications and excuses for anti-Commie deeds. And like I excpect a good many of these right-wing hacks, invokes Fidel Castro in the last paragraph to make clear the hierchy of Latin caudillos (though Castro killed no one outside of war and the law, never tortured, never stole and inspired.

UPDATE: About to post and I see the Washington Post has just opined in even stronger terms against Castro. They give us a preview of the lies to come:

By way of contrast, Fidel Castro -- Mr. Pinochet's nemesis and a hero to many in Latin America and beyond -- will leave behind an economically ruined and freedomless country with his approaching death. Mr. Castro also killed and exiled thousands. But even when it became obvious that his communist economic system had impoverished his country, he refused to abandon that system: He spent the last years of his rule reversing a partial liberalization. To the end he also imprisoned or persecuted anyone who suggested Cubans could benefit from freedom of speech or the right to vote. The contrast between Cuba and Chile more than 30 years after Mr. Pinochet's coup is a reminder...

Excuse me Mr. Post, you are fucking wrong on every point.

Chile is some paradise? My brother lived in Chile and told me of the rampant racism, excclusion of the rural and urban poor, the 1/2 of his small town he could not walk through, the alcohol, the environmental degradation, the disenchantment of the young...

Cuba is economically ruinined, impoverished? Are we talking about the same country with HIGHER GDP growth since 1995, and growing at 10% today? Are we talking about a country that has "non-economic" (non-GDP health, education, culture) facilities second to none? The only country in Latin America/Carribean where one can walk day and night in every corner of the country without feat and in awe - at the people and society they've created, while retaining the best parts of the past.

Castro has "killed thousands"? Were any of them non-violent, peaceful opponents free from foreign influence? Were any of them during peacetime? Any of them disappeared without any official mention? Any of them tortured?

Who exactly did Castro "exile" or force out? There are 200,000 Chileans who are political refugees.

Castro reversed the "partial liberalization" after the post-Soviet economic troubles stabilized. He didn't like the inequality it was bringing. He kept many other reforms though.

Pinoceht waited for the best time to have an election, and lost handily. He didn't leave for 2 more years. Castro, as anyone paying attention will admit, would whip anyone's ass who dare ran against him. And he is elected - indirectly...

Castro has not "imprisoned or persecuted anyone who suggested Cubans could benefit from freedom of speech or the right to vote." This implies there are only 300 Cubans who believe this statement (the total # of supposed political prisoners - most of whom were mercenaries or traitors). Cuba is a nation of laws, and if you don't like their laws, you should realize why they have those laws... ok long enough

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cuban-American Congresswoman Calls for Castro's Assasination

The top Republican on the House International Relations Committee appears (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen-R Fl) in this clip saying: "I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people."

But, even despite it being there (on You-Tube) for all to see, the Havana-born lawmaker
claims the filmmakers spliced clips together to get the sound bite.

"It's twisted in a way that gives the viewer a totally wrong impression," Ros-Lehtinen told The Miami Herald. "I've said the community has moved on, that those strategies are not being used today, but apparently the filmmakers think we're still in a '60s mentality."

A spokesman for Ros-Lehtinen said the congresswoman has never called for anyone's assassination, though the politician herself said she can't rule out that she ever mentioned Castro and a potential assassination.

"If someone were to do it, I wouldn't be crying," she said.

Make up your own mind whether this esteemed Congressmoman has pulled another Pat Robertson.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

South America Runnings: US Trade Deal, Oil help and Unification?

There was much speculation as how the first meeting of (Peru's new President) Alan Garcia and Hugo Chavez would get along this weekend at the South American Summit in Bolivia. According to the press, there were hugs (above), laughter and public talk of putting past electoral pettiness behind them (Chavez had supported Garcia's rival).

Though the two did not meet one-on-one, Mr. Chavez and Peruvian President Alan Garcia took advantage of the summit to bury the hatchet after exchanging personal insults during Mr. Garcia's presidential campaign earlier this year.

But the real news is that the leaders of the major South American nations agreed to move forward on continental integration and unification.

South American leaders agreed Saturday to create a high-level commission to study the idea of forming a continent-wide community similar to the European Union

Hugo Chavez wanted more integration faster. He urged leaders to go beyond typical talks on energy, trade, roads and ports, and take steps to create a formal political and economic confederation. "We need to find a different road, one that is different from neoliberalism which is the road to hell.''

As expected, Rafael Correa and Ecuador got a Christmas gift from Hugo, in the form of oil refinary assistance, which will cut their production costs and boost profits big time.

Meanwhile, last night around midnight, the outgoing US Congress finally passed the languishing trade preferences bill with Haiti, and the Andrean countries (Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia). A House version that excluded Ecuador and Bolivia because was left behind in favor of this six-month extension. After that only normal (non preferential) bilateral trade bills will go forward. Rafael Correa and Evo Morales have pledged to reject bilateral trade bills in current form.

Finally, a couple somewhat sensible op-eds in the Boston Herald, Deleware Voice and Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Mariela Castro: The New Face of Cuba?

A cool piece from the Scotsman introducing Fidel's niece (Raul's daughter), the government's leading sexologist and homosexual rights campaigner - Mariela Castro (above). While I don't buy the whole"dynasty" thing, Mariela certainly seems smart and capable of anything.

New face of Cuba's Castro dynasty
SHE may be the troublemaking, free-spirited rebel of the family, but Mariela Castro is seen by some as the future of Cuban socialism.

While her father, Raúl Castro, has become the de facto leader of the country, with her uncle, the ailing president, Fidel, too sick to wield power, people are already looking to the next generation.

Fidel Castro is 80 and his brother Raúl five years younger, whereas Ms Castro, a leading academic and campaigner for gay and lesbian rights, is among a group of more youthful political leaders, including Carlos Lage, the prime minister, and Abel Prieto, the culture minister, who are all in their forties.
Ms Castro, 43, brings an air of youthful passion, an expectation of change and glasnost, to a country in the process of saying a long farewell to its ageing revolutionaries. And, despite being well known as a passionate defender of a tolerant society
who is opposed to all kinds of dogma, she insists socialism will survive the death of the president.

In an interview with The Scotsman, she called for more open debate on economic problems. "I would like to hear more discussion. We need to experiment and to test what really works, to make the public ownership more effective, rather than simply adopting wholesale free-market reforms," she said.

"As a Cuban citizen, I think we have to explain, discuss and listen to people's questions and criticisms. I don't agree with closing the door on people's experiences."

She said that dealing with criticism of Cuba's human-rights record and its lack of political rights was "complicated because of the US threat".

Referring to the US trade embargo and other efforts to topple President Castro, she said: "We are a besieged country and, under these conditions, some puritans and authoritarians take advantage to impose their point of view. We have constant contradictions in Cuban society."
"My father is well aware of the economic hardships, that many things are not working."

However, Ms Castro said too many former Communists in the country now "think the market economy is the only alternative".

Evidently impatient with old orthodoxies herself, she hopes for an economic debate about decentralisation and community-run co-operatives which could provide a different answer to Cuba's problems.
The death of Fidel Castro will see Cuban socialism lose its charismatic leader, and Ms Castro accepts her father is never likely to dominate decision-making in the same way. But his legacy will remain, she believes.

"We will rely on our collective capacity," she said. "We have seen the country is working very well under a co-ordinated leadership. Cuban socialism has been based on Fidel's leadership, but there are other leaders. The process will change."

Monday, December 04, 2006

Cuba, Venezuela and the United States: Getting Warmer?

Nicaraguan President-elect Daniel Ortega, right, shakes hands with Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon

In a wild moment of optimism, after Chavez's triumph Sunday night, I postulated that the US may have to finally give in to the reality and try a different, more humble game in its dealings with its southern neighbors. I didn't expect any of it to come into the realm of possibility.

But yet, already maybe there is some movement - and some press has taken note. I first sensed a new tone when Correa got a cheery reception and a phone call from Bush himself (Morales got nonesuch). Same with Ortega (see above photo).

Now I believe there may be something new at work with Venezuela, evidenced by this unusually cheery statement by State department spokesman Sean McCormack in response to Sunday's landslide result: "From our standpoint, there doesn't have to be any friction. We would hope that we can have a positive, constructive relationship."

12/5/06 UPDATE: Chavez responses:

"If the United States wants dialogue, Venezuela will always keep the door open. But I doubt they are sincere in this,'' Mr Chavez said at a news conference shortly after electoral authorities formally proclaimed he had won another six-year term in Sunday's presidential vote.

The statement contrasted with the tone of MR Chavez's remarks and sounded outright positive following years of relations marked by bitter verbal attacks and mutual distrust.

"As of Monday, a process of communication has started between the two governments,'' US ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield said on Union Radio on Tuesday.

"Hopefully it will be positive because I think we have several areas that are of national interest to both Venezuela and the United States,'' he said.

Before the election, there was this US-Chavez "olive branch" that got noticed by the NYTimes:

He (Chavez) responded to remarks by Thomas A. Shannon Jr., the United States assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, which had quoted him as saying, “The political battle that is unfolding within Venezuela is now conducted through democratic institutions.”

Mr. Chávez said that Mr. Shannon “at least recognized we have democracy in Venezuela,” and added, “I think these are good signs.”

And in response to what has also been called an olive branch by Raul Castro the US said no thanks but also: " any deepening of our engagement with Cuba depends on this dialogue and the willingness of the Cuban regime to adopt concrete measures towards a political opening and a transition to democracy”, said Sunday Janelle Hironimus from the White House spokesperson office."

It's not much, but those are relatively soft words from the State Department. Instead of calls for "multi-party elections" we have "measures towards a political opening..."

Fidel's Final Victory

Below is an excellent, hot off the press, article from the forthcoming (often right-tilted) Foreign Affairs policy journal. It is a great primer on US-Cuba relations that is not afraid to state truths that are unheard of in the MSM.

The piece will be read by serious Latin policy thinkers across the Board and deservedly so. It obliterates the hard-linters positions with logic and reason, even from a US-first perspective. It is not often a piece questioning so much of official US foreign policy dogma on any country gets such exposure. That it was commissioned for Cuba at this time shows the importance of the moment and the complete wrong-headedness of US policy on Cuba - at least viewed by the Council on Foreign Relations-type elite.

Fidel's Final Victory
By Julia E. Sweig
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2007

Summary (by Author): The smooth transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his successors is exposing the willful ignorance and wishful thinking of U.S. policy toward Cuba. The post-Fidel transition is already well under way, and change in Cuba will come only gradually from here on out. With or without Fidel, renewed U.S. efforts to topple the revolutionary regime in Havana can do no good -- and have the potential to do considerable harm.


Ever since Fidel Castro gained power in 1959, Washington and the Cuban exile community have been eagerly awaiting the moment when he would lose it -- at which point, the thinking went, they would have carte blanche to remake Cuba in their own image. Without Fidel's iron fist to keep Cubans in their place, the island would erupt into a collective demand for rapid change. The long-oppressed population would overthrow Fidel's revolutionary cronies and clamor for capital, expertise, and leadership from the north to transform Cuba into a market democracy with strong ties to the United States.

But that moment has come and gone -- and none of what Washington and the exiles anticipated has come to pass. Even as Cuba-watchers speculate about how much longer the ailing Fidel will survive, the post-Fidel transition is already well under way. Power has been successfully transferred to a new set of leaders, whose priority is to preserve the system while permitting only very gradual reform. Cubans have not revolted, and their national identity remains tied to the defense of the homeland against U.S. attacks on its sovereignty. As the post-Fidel regime responds to pent-up demands for more democratic participation and economic opportunity, Cuba will undoubtedly change -- but the pace and nature of that change will be mostly imperceptible to the naked American eye.
In Washington, however, Cuba policy -- aimed essentially at regime change -- has long been dominated by wishful thinking ever more disconnected from the reality on the island. Thanks to the votes and campaign contributions of the 1.5 million Cuban Americans who live in florida and New Jersey, domestic politics has driven policymaking. That tendency has been indulged by a U.S. intelligence community hamstrung by a breathtaking and largely self-imposed isolation from Cuba and reinforced by a political environment that rewards feeding the White House whatever it wants to hear. Why alter the status quo when it is so familiar, so well funded, and so rhetorically pleasing to politicians in both parties?

But if consigning Cuba to domestic politics has been the path of least resistance so far, it will begin to have real costs as the post-Fidel transition continues -- for Cuba and the United States alike. Fidel's death, especially if it comes in the run-up to a presidential election, could bring instability precisely because of the perception in the United States that Cuba will be vulnerable to meddling from abroad. Some exiles may try to draw the United States into direct conflict with Havana, whether by egging on potential Cuban refugees to take to the florida Straits or by appealing to Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon to attempt to strangle the post-Fidel government.

Washington must finally wake up to the reality of how and why the Castro regime has proved so durable -- and recognize that, as a result of its willful ignorance, it has few tools with which to effectively influence Cuba after Fidel is gone. With U.S. credibility in Latin America and the rest of the world at an all-time low, it is time to put to rest a policy that Fidel's handover of power has already so clearly exposed as a complete failure.
"By continuing the current course and making threats about what kind of change is and is not acceptable after Fidel, Washington will only slow the pace of liberalization and political reform in Cuba and guarantee many more years of hostility between the two countries."

More, much more

Lift US-Cuba Travel Restrictions: Dissidents, Exiles and Democrats Unite

Cubans wave flags at a military parade in Havana, December 2006. The United States should bury the hatchet with Cuba and accept overtures from its acting leader Raul Castro, who has called for talks to end more than 40 years of hostile relations, analysts say.(AFP/File/Rodrigo Arangua)

With an eye to the olive branch Raul Castro extended to the United States on Sunday (see below), Cubans on the island and off are adding to the momentum for normalization with unprecedented calls to begin lifting restrictions betwen the countries. Following up on a group of Cuban dissidents similar announcement last week, today leading Miami exile groups (including CANF and the Cuba Study Group) banded together to call for easing of the current restrictions on travel and sending of correspondence between the countries. The primary aim is the rollback of Bush Administration measures imposed in 2004.

UPDATE: Late today, it appears the Democrats are ready to move on the travel ban at least. A Bill to allow US citizens to travel to Cuba (and thus reclaim their "freedom to travel") was passed by Congress last year but got sidelined by threat of Bush veto.

Latin America: Continent of the Left

An already out of date map I found. Color Nicaragua and ecuador rojo as well!

Check out the timely opinion piece from the Guardian UK saying more eloquently what I was trying to say below about how the US should react to the recent events.

Monday December 4, 2006

At opposite ends of the continent, two old men whose very different careers defined an era in Latin America are nearing their ends. In Chile, the 91-year-old Augusto Pinochet was yesterday just holding on to life after heart surgery. In Cuba, Fidel Castro was absent because of illness, thought to be serious, from the military parade staged to celebrate his 80th birthday. If General Pinochet survives, he will return to house arrest on charges relating to two of the many thousands of deaths that marked his years as dictator in Chile. If President Castro recovers, few think it likely that he will take an active role in government again. Their importance is now above all symbolic. Without suggesting any false equivalence between the two, for Mr Castro is obviously by far the greater figure, they embody the years of harsh confrontation across Latin America, a confrontation deepened and darkened by the decisions and policies of a United States ready to embrace almost any course to prevent a continental victory for the forces of the left.

There is no question in a general way as to whose legacy has prevailed. Rightwing dictatorship and military rule have long disappeared from the Latin American scene. Left-of-centre governments, many of them explicitly cherishing their links with Cuba, now outnumber right-of-centre administrations. Even where conservative candidates have prevailed in elections, a notable shift is discernible. That has been evident during the presidential campaign in Venezuela, where the opposition candidate, Manuel Rosales, has been in the barrios pitching for the support of poor and indigenous people in a way that would have been unimaginable in an earlier period in the country's politics. Hugo Chávez, the incumbent president, is the man whose victory eight years ago is seen as the moment when a red tide began to wash over the continent's political landscape. Lula da Silva in Brazil, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Tabaré Vasquez in Uruguay, and Evo Morales in Bolivia followed. The tide was checked in Mexico this summer where a leftwing candidate fell just short of victory in a contest he and his followers are still energetically disputing, and in Peru, where the left also failed. But it began to swell again with Daniel Ortega's victory in Nicaragua and Rafael Correa's in Ecuador. If Mr Chávez wins handily in Venezuela, as is expected, his victory will be seen as consolidating the left's dominant position still further.

Pessimists like the political scientist and former Mexican foreign minister Jorge G Castañeda distinguish between a constructive moderate left, mainly in the southern part of the continent, and an irresponsible populist left to the north, of which Mr Chávez is, to them, the foremost example. Optimists counter that a degree of pragmatism characterises both kinds of governments, that there are strong links between them, that the oil companies are happier with their rule than they let on, and that capitalism is alive and well in all these countries.

They also note that the United States is sometimes reacting in ways that suggest accommodation is a possibility. George Bush this week sent a message of congratulations to Mr Correa, who welcomed the gesture. Raúl Castro, speaking at the Havana parade, stressed Cuba's readiness to resolve its disputes with the United States through negotiation. It is his second message in three weeks along these lines - and a settlement between Cuba and the United States would of course have continental significance. Mr Bush is probably not the man to do it, but more practical minds in Washington should think hard. It is difficult to see any alternative to left-of-centre rule in Latin America and, while some anxieties about democracy are reasonable, it is hard not to see hope in the continuing victories of movements that have brought huge numbers of hitherto excluded and marginalised people into politics.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Chavez Wins By Highest Margin Ever

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez celebrate in the rain in front of the Miraflores Palace as Chavez gives a speech from the balcony after official election results gave him a victory by a wide margin in Caracas December 3, 2006. The anti-U.S. Venezuelan president claimed victory with a cry of 'long live the revolution' as official results showed him heading for a landslide re-election win on Sunday. REUTERS/Rickey Rogers (VENEZUELA)

Hugo Chavez exceeded his goal of topping his 60% winning percentage in the previous election, with an apparent 61-36 victory over his conservative opponent. This tops a historic week in Latin America - the election in Ecuador, the happenings in Cuba and now Venezuela. Opponents of Latin America's "hard left" in Washington, Miami and Caracas will need to figure out how to proceed.

Imagine America taking the following steps: 1) Reacting positively to Raul Castro's diplmatic overture to the US. 2) Apologizing to Hugo Chavez for its lack of action in protecting against the 2002 coup and propose a new start based on mutual respect. 3) Have Congress try to pass the most favored trade partner status with the Andean nations - Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. These steps would signal a new beginning in which the overheated language can simmer down.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Big Day in Cuba / Exerpt of Raul Castro's Speech

Raul Castro, alongside Evo Morales, (Haiti's) Rene Preval and Daniel Ortega

So today's big festivities in Cuba (Fidel's delayed 80th BDay and 50th Anniversary of the Revolution's start) went off without a hitch and without Fidel. Pundits (mostly in the US) are declaring "the end of the Fidel era" But whether Fidel's absence is symbolic or just his doctor's showing caution, it is becoming increasingly clear that the physical Fidel is not as important as his ideas.

As Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque said during the week: "The enemies of the Cuban revolution are counting the minutes waiting and hoping that he dies, without understanding that Fidel no longer is Fidel. Now, he is the people, and he is every man and woman prepared to fight for the idea that a better world is possible.”

But it is true that Fidel would have done anything to be there today. His absence is a serious phycological shock to the Cuban people, who roared loudest whenever 'Viva Fidel' was shouted during the day.

The other big Cuba news coming out of today is the repeated offer by acting President Raul Castro to negotiate with the United States to normalize relations, provided the US respects Cuba's independence. Though this has been Cuba's policy for 47 years, the fact Raul has said it twice now, in his 2 major speeches since Fidel got ill, seems to signal something stronger. It seems the US media is taking note.

Below is a portion of Raul's speech From Revolution Square at today's 50th Anniversary celebration of the Cuban Revolution:

We are experiencing an exceptional moment in history.

Many thought that the demise of the socialist block and the collapse of the Soviet Union would spell the end for the international revolutionary movement.

Some even suggested that we abandon the ideals to which entire generations of Cubans had dedicated their lives, while over the last few years the US government, in the opportunistic manner characteristic of them, have stepped up their hostility and aggressiveness against Cuba to an unprecedented high, in the hope of economically suffocating the country and overthrowing the revolution by intensifying their subversive acts.

In this regard, the surprise and frustration of our enemies was great, and the admiration of the oppressed masses even greater, when they witnessed the perseverance, equanimity, maturity and self-confidence that our people have shown over these last four months.

Despite the manoeuvres and pressure of the United States and its allies, the prestige enjoyed by Cuba around the world has strengthened.

An example of this was the 14th Non-Aligned Summit successfully held in our capital last September, and more recently the unprecedented support given in the United Nations General Assembly to the resolution condemning the US blockade on our country.

In Latin America, the application the neo-liberal formula imposed by the United States and their European buddies has led the continent into the sad situation of being the region in the planet where the opulence of the oligarchy with close links to foreign capital is the most insulting and obnoxious when compared to the poverty, insalubrities and ignorance in which the majority of the population lives.

Over recent years, the peoples of Latin America have been progressively expressing their feelings of indignation and repudiation towards the treacherous and submissive policies adopted by traditional governments and parties.

Popular and revolutionary movements are getting stronger and despite Washington's multimillion-dollar campaigns of disinformation, the blackmail and brazen interference, new and experienced leaders are assuming the leadership of their nations.

The attempt by the United States to economically annex Latin America by way of the FTAA was thwarted while a project of integration known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, Alba, is taking its place following a proposal by president and brother, Hugo Chavez, to benefit the dispossessed masses.

Recent events in the international arena bear witness to the failure of the adventurous policies of the current US administration. On 7 November, the people of that country showed by the ballot box their rejection of the strategic concept of pre-emptive war, the use of lies to justify military interventions, kidnappings and secret prisons, and the despicable legalisation of torture in the so-called war on terrorism.

Three years and seven months after President Bush euphorically and precipitately declared on board an aircraft carrier "mission accomplished" with regards to the war in Iraq, the bodies of young American soldiers killed in a war spurred by the desire to control the region's energy resources continue to be sent back to the United States.

Nobody dares anymore to predict when it will end.

The US government is at a dead-end: on the one hand, it realises that it cannot prolong occupation in Iraq, while on the other it admits that it doesn't have the minimum conditions needed to pull out without damaging their interests.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths and mutilations continues to mount among civilians subjected to an internecine war, the result of the anarchy and chaos created by the US invasion.

Some in the United States are now suggesting that they simply withdraw from the chaos that they themselves created.

We don't know what they will do in this case, with the Nato left high and dry by its American buddies in the conflict in Afghanistan, which is also becoming increasingly unmanageable and dangerous.

In the eyes of the world, the so-called "crusade on terrorism" is unavoidably heading down the path to a humiliating defeat.

The American people, just as in the case of Vietnam, will put an end to these unjust and criminal wars.

We hope that the US authorities will learn that war is not the solution to the growing problems afflicting the planet; that proclaiming their right to irresponsibly attack "60 or more dark corners" of the world, even when they are already stuck in two of them, makes their differences with other countries more complex and profound; that power based on intimidation and terror will never be anything more than a passing illusion and that the terrible consequences of this on the peoples of the world, including the American, are clear to see.

We feel certain that the way to resolve the pressing conflicts afflicting mankind is not through war, but rather political solutions.

We take this opportunity to once again state that we are willing to resolve at the negotiating table the longstanding dispute between the United States and Cuba, of course, provided they accept, as we have previously said, our condition as a country that will not tolerate any blemishes on its independence, and as long as said resolution is based on the principles of equality, reciprocity, non-interference and mutual respect.

In the meantime, after almost half a century, we are willing to wait patiently until the moment when common sense prevails in the Washington power circles.