Monday, July 30, 2007

Venezuela: The Economic Miracle Under Hugo Chavez

We tend to hear the same things from the Chavez bashers about Venezuela's economy: That it is headed over a cliff, that the current prosperity is just an oil illusion, that the private sector is being choked, that the poor are not really better off, etc. We never get any date to prove those remarks, but they "seem" true to enough newspaper writers and bloggers to get repeated ad nauseum.

Well here are the real facts, from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which shows all of that is just plain bull. I call the impressive results an "economic miracle" because we have been told by our leaders and economists for years that it is impossible to pursue socialistsic economic policies and have results such as these:

Since the bottom of that downturn in the first quarter of 2003, Venezuela's real GDP has grown by 76 percent.

Moreover, the private sector is still a larger share of the economy than it was before President Chávez took office.

In real (inflation-adjusted) terms, social spending per person has increased by 170 percent during the period 1998-2006. But this does not include the state oil company PDVSA’s social spending, which was 7.3 percent of GDP in 2006. With this included, social spending was at least 314 percent more in 2006 than in 1998 (in terms of real social spending per person). This has brought about significant gains for the poor in health care, subsidized food, and access to education, some of which are detailed in the paper.

The official poverty rate, which measures only cash income and does not include such advances as increased access to health care and education, has dropped by 31 percent from 1998 to the end of 2006 – from 43.9 percent of households to 30.6 percent. Measured unemployment has dropped from 15 percent in June 1999 to 8.3 percent in June 2007.

The government's revenue increased even faster than spending during this period, from 17.4 to 30 percent of GDP over the same period, leaving the central government with a balanced budget for 2006. The government has planned conservatively with respect to oil prices: for example, for 2007, the budget plans for oil at $29 per barrel, 52 percent under the average $60.20 dollars per barrel that Venezuelan crude sold for last year.

In 1998 there were 1,628 primary care physicians for a population of 23.4. Today, there are 19,571 for a population of 27 million. The Venezuelan government has also provided widespread access to subsidized food. By 2006, there were 15,726 stores throughout the country that offered mainly food items at subsidized prices (with average savings of 27% and
39% compared to market prices in 2005 and 2006, respectively).


In Cuba, the Obese Can Become Ballerinas

Wonderful stories like this are commonplace in Cuba - whether it is sports leagues for the mentally disabled, good jobs for the physically disabled, exercise for the elderly. The State assures the all marginalized sectors are given ample opportunities to the rights of work, study and play.

This dance troupe does not hide from the reality of obesity in Cuba, while giving the obese a chance to express themselves through dance, something denied in most places. It is hard to even consider something like this being taken seriously in the United States - let alone funded and being so well recieved. The market does not even allow obese people to be on TV or the theatre, let alone dance.

New York Times
HAVANA, July 28 — The prima ballerina of the Danza Voluminosa troupe weighs 286 pounds, and as she thumps gracefully across the floor, she gives new meaning to the words stage presence. Her body is a riotous celebration of weight — of ample belly and breasts, of thick legs and arms, of the crushing reality of gravity.

“I always liked to dance,” the dancer, Mailín Daza, said later. “I wanted to dance in the classical ballet, but my mother told me fat girls could not dance. I always dreamed of being a ballerina. With this group, I feel I am a ballerina.”

Formed a decade ago by Juan Miguel Mas, this company of obese dancers has become a cultural phenomenon in Cuba, breaking stereotypes here of dance, redefining the aesthetics of beauty and, along the way, raising the self-esteem of heavyset people.
For the dancers, working with Mr. Mas has changed their lives. Several said they suffered from constant embarrassment and guilt over their weight before they began dancing. But dancing has taught them to accept, if not love, their bodies. They also say that after a performance, they feel self-esteem that is foreign to most them, having suffered from the gibes of their peers since childhood.
The reaction of audiences has been immensely positive. The government lets the troupe practice and perform in the National Theater of Cuba. Mr. Mas now receives a state salary to continue his work. The dancers who have been with the troupe for years say that when the group started in November 1996, they faced ridicule and laughter. These days, people take them seriously.
Whole Thing


Friday, July 20, 2007

Cuba: Benicio to play 'Che' Guevara in "Guerilla"

It is the so perfectly ironic (and a classic example of "blowback") that in killing Che, the CIA did more to create a socialist icon than could have ever been dreamed of. Che seems to be going nowhere and more popular than ever...

His remains are still being battled over between ex CIA agents and Cuba, who just yesterday, claimed to have put to rest questions about the authenticity of the handless body shipped to Havana in 1995.

Oh yeah, speaking of Che, the blowhards over at Babalu blog have a new censorship campaign. This time against the Smithsonian, who has dared issue a collection of music and speeches collected in Cuba in the 60s, including one from Che. Mambi Watch has got the scoop - and where you can write to help preserve free speech and counteract the small but radical Miami crowd.

As for the "Guerilla" movie, I wonder if it will be about more than just Che in Bolivia? Hopefully Soderbergh and Benicio del Toro coming together again will result in something as good as Traffic. I'll probably find reasons to hate it...

The Associated Press, July 19, 2007
MADRID, Spain: Benicio del Toro will play Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara in a film directed by Steve Soderbergh, the film's production company said Thursday.

The production company did not release the title of the film, but del Toro's official Web site said it would be called "Guerrilla." The Spain-United States co-production will be filmed entirely in Spanish.

It is the second biography about the famous Argentine guerrilla in recent years following 2004's "The Motorcycle Diaries."

The film reunites del Toro with Soderbergh for the first time since "Traffic," for which del Toro won an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his portrayal of a Mexican police officer.

Julia Ormond, who starred with Brad Pitt in "Legends of the Fall," and Catalina Sandino of "Maria Full of Grace" will co-star.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Canada's Harper Takes Shot at US, Gets Earful on Cuba

New Conservative Canadian President Stephen Harper is testing the waters down south, trying to promote Canada as a kind of 3rd Way "model" for development (between Venezuela and US I suppose). Apparently things are not working out so well. His presence has been greeted by a big yawn from the Latin press, as well as protests and controversy.

In trying to present itself as distinct from the US, Harper mada an amazing shot at the United State. Unlike the US, Harper said the region has nothing to fear from Canada. "It is not in our past, nor within our power, to conquer or dominate," he said. He added Canada differs from the U.S. in its policies of "social cohesion," such as universal health care, equalization and other progressive institutions. Of course, he went on to bash Venezuela though not by name, for its "syndrome of economic nationalism, political authoritarianism and class warfare."

In Colombia, Harper seemed eager to present himself as a stong ally of beseigned President Uribe, facing a swirling and deepening "para-gate" scandal. In response, Uribe seemed to latch himself to Harper "like a piece of floating wood in an unfriendly ocean." Amnesty International and other Candadian NGOs are rightfully pissed

In the Carribean, Harper got an earful from the President of Barbados, Owen Arthur, on Cuba. Arthur said said Cuba should be respected for what it is, and be allowed to follow its own path, without foreign criticism or interference. "We have a relationship with Cuba that's over 30 years old," The world's approach to Cuba should be guided by principles of "respect for people's sovereignty, and non-interference, and the right of people to pursue alternative paths to their development," Arthur said. "Our hemisphere is diminished when we do not recognize Cuba, and validly so, as a citizen of our hemisphere, that needs to be integrated in the affairs of our hemisphere," he said, in particular reference to the United States's policy of non-engagement with Cuba.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Justice at Last for Leader of Haiti Coup

UPDATE: It appears Philippe managed to escape arrest and is nowhere to be found. A brother over at Haiti-Cuba-Venezuela Analysis has some... well, analysis. Given all that Phillipe knows about the events of 2004 (the roles of prominent businessmen and the US) anything is possible.

It seems the reprecussions of the US backed toppling of Haitian President Aristide in 2004 coup are not going away. On Sunday thousands of Aristide supporters marched in the capital - against Rene Preval for not allowing his return. And now, we have reports that coupster Guy Philippe, trained by US Special Forces and installed by the US supported coup, has been arrested for drug running.

In fairness, the guy was supposedly estranged from US officials for quite some time. But this does not explain how Mr. Philippe ended up with all his new guns and uniforms before the coup, nor why the US forbid Aristide's security company from bringing in additional guards, nor help protect democracy from thugs and criminals when it mattered. instead the 1000 Marines stationed offshore landed the day AFTER Phillipe marched on Port Au Prince.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested a former rebel leader and presidential candidate with alleged ties to drug traffickers, Haitian radio reported.

U.S. and Haitian officials declined to comment on the Radio Metropole report, which cited eyewitnesses who said officers swooped down Monday in helicopters on the home of Guy Philippe, who helped toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.

Earlier, both Metropole and Radio Vision2000 reported that foreign-looking agents searched Philippe's home in the southern coastal town of Les Cayes but found only his wife.

Metropole said later that the former rebel leader was captured in Les Cayes by DEA officers, but the station cited no source and gave no details on the status of the 39-year-old former police commander who ran for president in 2006.

Philippe was the police chief of Haiti's second largest city, Cap-Haitien, but fled the country in 2000 after being accused of plotting a coup. He returned in 2004 to help rebels topple Aristide in a three-week uprising.

Aristide called Philippe and other rebels "terrorists," and accused them of ties to drug traffickers who use Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic to reach the U.S.

Human Rights Watch says that while Philippe was police chief in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas from 1997 to 1999, dozens of suspected gang members were executed by police under the command of his deputy.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Venezuela: Copa America a Success

World Cup 2014 … in Venezuela?
By Simon Romero and Daniel Cancel, in Caracas - NY Times

Before this edition of the Copa América began, there were some dire predictions of political turmoil, organizational snafus, general chaos, and even local indifference to soccer from Venezuela’s baseball-loving public. So the bar was set fairly low for what might constitute success. But the tournament was a success even by objective terms — so successful, in fact, that today Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez will present FIFA president Sepp Blatter with the country’s formal application to play host to the 2014 World Cup.

It’s hugs all round among Chávez and the lords of football these days. On Sunday Blatter officially rescinded FIFA’s altitude ban which would have barred most Bolivian cities from staging World Cup qualifying games, thus acceding to the request of Chávez’s political ally, Bolivian president Evo Morales. And over the weekend Blatter noted that this year’s Copa was having “unprecedented repercussions” around the world, by which he meant that more people were paying attention to it than ever before.

Today at the presidential palace in Caracas, Chávez bestowed upon Blatter with a sash of the Order of Francisco de Miranda. “The Copa was incredible,” Blatter said, according to the Caracas daily El Universal. “It presented good football and an infrastructure of the first level.” The FIFA president went on to say that now, on his third visit to the country, he sees that soccer is now the “No. 1 sport” among Venezuelans. Still, Venezuela’s candidacy for 2014 would have to be considered a long shot; Brazil are tipped as the favorites to host the Mundial.

Nevertheless, Chávez praised the Vinotinto for their fifth-place finish at the Copa, as well as the champions — “¡Congratulations to my friend Lula and to Brazil on their championship!” he said — and tournament organizers for finishing the stadiums on time.
Whole thing



Monday, July 16, 2007

Bush Vs. Castro on Latin American Social Justice

For years US foreign policy elites have been telling the Bush Administration to get serious about the mounting problems of poverty and exclusion in Latin America. This is almost always framed as a way to counteract the growing anti-American and anti-free market sentiment - in order to reassert US & corporate dominance in the region.

Finally, almost 7 years of tone deafness and mounting electoral losses, we had the failed Bush trip to the region in March, which was preceded by Bush saying the words "social justice" and "the neighborhood" more than he ever had before. There were a couple new modest (but perfectly nice) health and educational programs, many pronnouncements about American values and mucho rehash of the same ole same ole.

Then we had 4 more months of the usual Castro-Chavez obsession, until last Monday's Bush chaired “Conversation on the Americas” event - designed as a follow up (echo chamber) to March's newfound social justice themes. But in the end we had nothing but a well rehearsed PR event full of press releases and empty rhetoric.

Everyone in Latin America knows the initiatives are too little too late, rife with hypocrisy, shallow in actual good deeds and therefore unlikely to produce anything near the desired result - reversing the dreadful polling data on the US in Latin America. The reason, like all US Government initiatives, is because any response must be organized solely within the confines of free market ideology and US foreign policy dictates.

Bush continues to hold dear to the BS that “the best way to help defeat poverty is to encourage commerce and trade.” While these are not necessarily bad things in and of themselves, the Administration does not say how that differs from the policy dictates of the last 27 years. Nor why the secret medicine is the narrow vision of NAFTA-style free trade pacts, which ignore the rights of workers, the environment and anyone or thing that can not be protected from the ravages of survival of the fittest? And nobody asks US officialdom why neoliberalism is so discredited in the world, why the 1980s and 90s were the worst decades on record for the poor people of Latin America, why Mexico has fared so badly, why Venezuela has prospered under Hugo Chavez?

In all the press releases and PR events, we have oft-repeated claims that Bush has “nearly doubled foreign assistance to the Western Hemisphere. But in fact Bush has proposed slashing “core development assistance” every year he has been in office, and that total aid dollars have dropped precipitously since 2001. In this year's budget, the proposed Bush Administration cuts amount to a 26% decrease from 2006 figures. Bush’s new money is mostly in the form of Millennium Challenge accounts, but these dollars only go towards 3 countries right now and are tied to discredited neo-liberal measures of progress.

We also hear repeatedly that the best way to overcome poverty in Latin America is through people to people relations, not government to government. This is little more than ideological trickery, as of course only people can help people, but only Governments can organize ways and means for people to help people. Of course, this is simply a way to say that the US may not be doing much directly, but we have billions in remittances and plenty of do-gooder Churches doing good work south of the border.

We have calls for extending health care and education “to all” at the same time the Bush Administration seems poised to veto a bi-partisan against extending basic health care to more children of the United States under the CHIP program. And for those who wonder whether such calls for universal health care in other countries is a bit absurd, when 50 million Americans lack access, don’t worry. According to Bush the United States already has universal health care access - “After all, you just go to an emergency room.” (July 10, 2007)

We have endless calls for “open and transparent government” from the same Government that has set new records for bogus claims of executive privilege and secrecy. And perhaps that is the central problem. Anything coming from war ciminal Senor Bush - this far into his term sounds as hollow as tin.

The list of relatively modest US Government development/aid programs on the fact sheet is aimed at winning hearts and minds, but are so limited and self-interested that they seem petty in comparision with the programs that even poor old Cuba manages to expand year after year. I will let Fidel Castro compare and contrast:

By Marc Frank, HAVANA
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Fidel Castro on Sunday scoffed at Bush administration efforts to ease social problems in Latin America, boasting his poor country could run circles around the United States in health and education aid.

"Bush will discover that the empire's political and economic system can't compete in the area of vital services such as education and health with Cuba, assaulted and blockaded for almost 50 years," Castro wrote in an editorial published by the official newspaper Rebel Youth.

"Everyone knows the U.S. specialty in the area of education is to steal brains," Castro charged, citing an International Labor Organization report that 47 percent of foreign-born students that complete a Ph.D. in the United States stay on there.

A Cuban literacy program is being used by millions throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, Castro said.

The 80-year-old Cuban leader has taken to writing opinion pieces as he recovers from a series of intestinal surgeries over the last year.
Castro on Sunday ridiculed the current four-month tour of the region by the U.S. hospital ship Comfort.

"You can't carry out medical programs by episodes," he said, comparing the ship's coming weeklong stop in Haiti with the hundreds of Cuban doctors working for nearly a decade there alongside Haitians trained in Cuba.

Bush highlighted a Panama-based center that has upgraded the skills of 100 Central American doctors and plans to establish a nursing school, among other projects, during his opening speech at the Conference of the Americas.

Castro countered on Sunday with the Cuban-run eye clinics in the region that have operated on 700,000 of the region's poor.

"Our country has dozens of thousands of Latin American and Caribbean students studying medicine in an absolutely free program," Castro said.

"We are cooperating with Venezuela to train more than 20,000 youth there as doctors," he added.

Also check the excellent wrap up over at Left I on the News


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Colombia: Uribe's Cousin Probed on Death Squad Links

I am losing count, but I think we now have probes and indictments against the head of Colombia's Army, the head of the secret police, the ex-Foreign Minster's father and cousin, at least a dozen pro-Uribe legislators and now we have President Uribe's own first cousin. This comes a week after a video surfaced showing then candidate Uribe meeting with a most wanted terrorist.

The worst fears of conscientious observers is being confirmed in front of the world's eyes, but is barely being reported on because it is a bit inconvenient to have the Empire's bulwark against Chavismo implicated in such crimes. We now have proof that Colombia's most influential political, military and business figures helped build and assisted death squads and terrorists to operate with impunity, kill civilians and send cocaine to the U.S.

STILL, with the walls crumbling around Mr Uribe, we must read about conservative Canadian President wanting to cozy up to Uribe at this very moment. We must also read that Colombia's Foreign Minister thinks that anyone who has doubts about Uribe and his Government must be treated like "slow students." Likewise the Economist bemoans the fact that the international community does not show enough love towards Uribe and his Government. Darn state sponsored terrorism... how dare it interfere with trade preferences and military aid deals

Cousin of Colombia's Uribe probed for "para" links
By Hugh Bronstein
BOGOTA (Reuters) - A scandal linking political allies of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to right-wing death squads deepened on Wednesday when the Supreme Court opened an investigation into his first cousin, Senator Mario Uribe.

The president's international standing has already been damaged by the scandal in which his former security chief and some of his closest allies in Congress have been jailed and are awaiting trial for supporting paramilitary militias.

The scandal began late last year when members of Congress admitted they had signed a document agreeing to support paramilitary groups formed in the 1980s to help defend drug lords and cattle ranchers against left-wing rebels.

Since the 1990s the "paras" have grown rich on Colombia's multibillion-dollar cocaine trade and notorious for massacring peasants suspected of leftist sympathies.

"It is very worrying that the 'para-political' scandal is getting closer and closer to the president's inner circle," said Jorge Rojas, head of Colombia's top human rights group.
Whole thing


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fidel Castro: Cuba's Self Criticism

Below is an excerpt from Fidel Castro's latest editorial. In it he bemoans the "irritating ineequalities" that have arisen in the wake of the 'special period' as a result of 50% or more of the population receiving dollars (or convertable pesos), while 50% receives only pesos. Dollars in Cuba provide an opportunity to buy many non-subsidized Western consumer goods because they are bought and sold in international market prices.

While we are on self-criticism, check out an exceprt from a new 'harsh' Cuban documentary about the migrants of Eastern Cuba to Havana called Buscándote Habana (Looking for Havana). It is an isse Fidel addresses frankly in a recently translated excerpt from Ignacio Ramonet's book Cien Horas Con Fidel (100 Hours With Fidel).

But I thought Cuba did not permit complaints (let alone award them at film festivals). Here is Fidel's latest missive:

Not all workers receive the incentive of convertible pesos, a practice that became generalized in a large number of companies during the Special Period, without always fulfilling the minimum committed requirements. Not everybody receives convertible currency from abroad, something which is not illegal but which at times creates irritating inequalities and privileges in a country that does its utmost to supply vital services free of charge to the entire population. I do not mention the juicy profits being made by those who transport people clandestinely, nor the way they would fool us by changing the US bills into other currencies in order to avoid our response measures against the dollar.

The real and visible lack of equality and the lack of pertinent information gives way to critical opinions, especially in the neediest sectors.

In Cuba, without a doubt, those who some way or another receive convertible pesos –even though in these cases the sums are limited –or those receiving currency from abroad, also acquire free essential social services, food, medicines and other goods at extremely low subsidized prices. However we are strictly fulfilling our financial obligations precisely because we are not a consumer society. We need serious, brave and conscientious managers.

Those using up gasoline all over the place with our current fleet of vehicles of all kinds; those who forget that the prices of food increase sharply and that raw materials for agriculture and industry, many of whose products are distributed to all at subsidized prices, must be acquired at market prices; those that forget that the country has the sacred duty to struggle until our last drop of blood and must spend money for raw materials and defensive measures faced with an enemy who is permanently on guard, they can compromise the independence and life of Cuba. We cannot fool around with that!


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Venezuela: RCTV Back on the Air

As even the opposition bloggers and newspapers seem to begrudgingly report, the"closed" and "banned" RCTV channel is set to be back on Venezuelan airwaves very soon.

Hey?!! What the...? I thought RCTV was banned or closed might be a likely response from anyone relying on the MSM.

Seems like something a US newspaper might be interested. We will see, so far not a peep.


Friday, July 06, 2007

US Must Reject Giving Colombia More Money, Trade Preferences

While the right-wing in Colombia is trying to distract public opinion from the ever growing "para-gate" scandal, it appears Democrats in the US may finally be ready to put human rights concerns over narrow business and foreign policy (anti-Chavez) considerations. Or at least lets hope so, as the Bush Administration is giving this a full court press.

By Mark Weisbrot
Washington Post

A May 22 news report in The Washington Post summed up Colombia's ever-widening scandal: "Top paramilitary commanders have in recent days confirmed what human rights groups and others have long alleged: some of Colombia's most influential political, military and business figures helped build a powerful anti-guerrilla movement that operated with impunity, killed civilians and shipped cocaine to U.S. cities."

Yet the Bush administration wants to sign a "free trade" agreement with Colombia, which is the Bush administration's closest ally in Latin America and receives $700 million annually in mostly military aid. Congress is threatening to block the agreement, and they should.

The word "paramilitary" is a euphemism. In the 1980s, when the Reagan administration was supporting the mass murder of tens of thousands of civilians in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador, these organizations were called "death squads."

The Colombian death squads -- which are classified as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department -- were mostly demobilized in recent years under an agreement that allows lenient sentences for the murderers in exchange for telling the truth about their crimes. But the truth has shown increasingly close ties between the death squads and high-ranking allies of President Alvaro Uribe. More than a dozen legislators, mostly Uribe allies, have been arrested, and his foreign minister has resigned. As the investigation progresses, including to President Uribe's home state, it is becoming clear that the death squads have been an integral part of the government.

One of the most sinister revelations has been the government's role in the murder of trade unionists, which continues despite the incomplete demobilization. Last year 72 trade unionists were killed, making Colombia the most dangerous place in the world by far for a union activist. According to witnesses cooperating with the Colombian Attorney General's office, the government's intelligence services provided names and security details of union activists to the death squads. The former chief of the intelligence service -- who managed Uribe's 2002 presidential campaign in the state of Magdalena -- has been arrested and charged with conspiring with the death squads to kill union leaders and others.

Over the past three decades the United States has greatly expanded trade with -- and moved factories to -- countries where workers have limited rights to form unions or bargain collectively. One of the main purposes of such commercial agreements as the NAFTA and the WTO has been to reduce wages here by throwing U.S. workers into competition with their much lower-paid counterparts throughout the world. Partly as a result of these policies, the average real wage in the United States has hardly moved over the last 30 years, despite productivity increases every year. These "free trade" agreements have therefore become increasingly unpopular, and this issue helped tip the balance of Congress to the Democrats in the 2006 election.

These agreements have also lost popularity in Latin America, where the governments of Ecuador and Bolivia -- accountable to their voters -- cannot sign the kind of agreement that Colombia and Peru are willing to accept. All four countries currently have access to U.S. markets under the ATPDEA (Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act). But some Republicans in Congress are threatening that duty-free access in order to punish Ecuador and Bolivia for not signing a "free trade" agreement, and for not being sufficiently subservient to foreign investors. This kind of bullying will not force these governments to ignore their electoral mandates and will only increase resentment against the United States in the region.

Congress should allow a two-year extension of the current ATPDEA, and reject the agreements with Colombia and Peru. Approving the Colombian agreement would send an especially chilling message to the world that Washington is seeking access to cheap and repressed labor -- and doesn't care how much violence is used to terrorize workers into submission.


Cuban Hero Jailed in US Interviewed on BBC

For the first time, a major international news organization (BBC Radio) has profiled the case of the Cuban Five - five Cubans who infiltrated Miami-based terrorist groups in order to protect their country from attack. The extreme sentences and inhumane treatment of the five Cubans has been condemned by Amnesty International, 8 Nobel Prize winners, 5 British MPs and a host of international organizations. Here is an excerpt of the interview that was broadcast to 70 million people Monday:

BBC: Next month, a court in Florida is going to hear an appeal in a case that sums up much about the relationship between the United States and Cuba. Gerardo Hernández is serving a double life sentence, but he argues that all he was trying to do was protect Cuba from what he calls "terrorist groups," anti-Castro organizations based in the U.S. He and his fellow defendants also argue that their trial was unfair because of the anti-Castro mood in Florida where it was held (a charge a Georgia appeals court agreed with, but was later overturned).

In the first-ever media interview given by any of the five prisoners, I spoke to Mr. Hernández on the telephone from his maximum security prison in Victorville, California, and asked him to explain his story from the beginning. What was he doing in Florida in the first place?

Gerardo Hernández: Well in the first place, I was gathering information on terrorist groups that used to operate in Florida with total impunity. So at a certain point Cuba decided to send some people to gather information on those groups and send it back to Cuba to prevent those actions. In 1998, Cuba passed to the FBI some information regarding those groups, hoping that the FBI would do something against them. And unfortunately, what they did was arrest the people that had gathered that information.

BBC:But you do acknowledge that you were working as an agent for a foreign government, and in one of your defense statements you do say that you were working with false documents, false identity documents?

GH: Yes, I do acknowlege that. But there is something called "necessity defense," that says that if in order to prevent crime you have to violate a law, you can understand that. In my case, yes I have fake I.D., I was working for foreign government, but not to affect the U.S. interest, but to defend Cuban interests, to defend the Cuban people from terrorism.

And the crime you were trying to stop, what exactly were they, the crimes?

GH: Well, for example, in 1997, a bomb exploded in a Cuban hotel and killed an Italian tourist. And in 1976, as you know, a bomb exploded in a Cuban airplane and killed 73 people. And that's only two examples of terrorist acts committed against Cuba. Anybody who lives in Miami, they know what Comandos F-4 is, and they know what Alpha 66 is. They've got training camps in the Everglades, they dress in camouflage, and have weapons, and they train for the day they're going to "liberate Cuba." They used to go to Cuba in boats and fire at Cuban buildings and they tried to organize an internal sabotage and all kinds of actions. Hopefully the U.S. government and the U.S. authorities will do something, because they say they have a war against terrorists, but why are you going to allow those terrorists to operate freely in Miami?

Read whole thing or listen


Thursday, July 05, 2007

UN: Cuba has Solved Energy Crisis the Green Way

The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 4, 2007

HAVANA: Cuba has solved crippling energy shortages that plagued the island as recently as 2004 without sacrificing a long-term commitment to promoting environmentally friendly fuels, the head of the U.N. Environment Program said Wednesday.

The electric grid still relies too heavily on wasteful gas-flare reactors and heavy polluting diesel generators, but the communist government has taken important steps toward developing wind and solar power, as well as ethanol from sugar cane, said Achim Steiner, the program's executive director.

"Cuba a few years ago was facing a real energy crisis, 16 hours of ... electricity cuts and therefore a realization that the economy was going to collapse under this system," said Steiner, in Havana for a conference on the environment and development.

"In terms of a short term response, it is quite remarkable how Cuba, under its economic conditions, managed to solve that crisis," he said.

At a news conference, Steiner said "Cuba can look proudly at having solved a short-term crisis with a long-term commitment toward cleaner energy." He said his organization wanted to "put a spotlight on Cuba's efforts."

Just three years ago, the country was hit by blackouts that wounded the economy while enraging a population suffering through the merciless summer months without air conditioning, fans or any way to refrigerate food.

The government's response was a sweeping "energy revolution" that included an overall of the antiquated electrical grid, as well conservation drives.

Fidel Castro appeared on television nearly daily to explain improvements in excruciating detail and government workers went door to door in many neighborhoods, replacing incandescent light bulbs with more-efficient alternatives.

Steiner praised the energy revolution, but noted that things were far from ideal. A gas reactor throws a plume of dark smoke over Havana's otherwise idyllic bay and most vehicles here use leaded gasoline and diesel that fill the air with pollutants.

Meanwhile, Cuba's economy has recovered well after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union cost Havana billions in generous subsidies. But that recovery has largely been fueled by oil-rich Venezuela, whose socialist president, Hugo Chavez, provides the island with oil at favorable prices.