Monday, October 29, 2007

Argentina's President Elect is not Hillary

So sorry for the lack of postin' of late, I'm getting married!!! Check the extensive archives at random for fun in the meantime, or catch me over at Phil Peters' Cuban Triangle. I've been sucked in...

For now, I'll share 2 letters to the editor I recently wrote to the LA Times - calling them out for their misinformation on Cuba and the other arguing against the notion that Argetina's President-elect Fernandez de Kirchner would be close to Hillary Clinton and therefore "good for the US."

They printed 2 other great pro-Cuba letters, so I can't complain they didn't print mine (they did use the word hypocrisy in their subtitle though...

Re: "Madama President." Oct 26

Mrs. Fernandez de Kirchner will be elected in
Argentina by a wide margin because she represents
successful opposition to the very neo-liberal economic
policies both the LA Times and Hillary Clinton
champions. Therefore, she will not likely see eye to
eye with (President elect?) Clinton on these
contentious issues. To assume so based on her sex is
demeaning to both women.

Allegiance to the Washington concensus has been
rejected by the people in almost every Latin American
country. For three years, the top three growing
countries in the region have been Venezuela, Cuba and
Argentina, an inconvenient fact that few Americans

Re: "A New Course for Cuba Policy." Oct 26

I applaud the Times for pointing out the hypocrisy and
futility that defines US policy on Cuba. However, it
is wrong to assume that more information will kill the
resilliant Revolution. The Cuban people are well
informed about the world and know exactly what many
people think about it's human rights violations.
Cubans routinely hear these attacks directly,
including Bush's speech, which was printed and shown
in its entirety. Cuba prints these attacks because so
much rings false to Cubans ears.

Case in point is Bush's (and the Times) assumption
that Cuban authorities view the Internet as a
"existential threat." In fact the opposite is true,
evidenced by current training of 2 million Cubans in
IT at computer clubs. Internet cafes provide 100%
access (for a fee), as do many workplaces. In a recent
poll, 35% of Cubans said they are online. The lack of
universal free internet access (their goal) on the
island is a direct result of the embargo, which means
the Cubans must rely on a slow, expensive satellite
connection, rather than a US controlled fiber optics
cable 12 miles away. Universal free access would
simply render the system too slow to be useful,
therefore some prioritization is required. If the US
really wanted to call Castro's bluff, Bush should have
offered up the optics line.

Photos from the recent Heavy Metal "Rockero" festival in Holguin.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Amazing Legacy of Che Guevara - 40 Years After His Murder

Forty years after Ernesto "Che" Guevara was captured and killed by soldiers in a Bolivian jungle, Western newspapers have begun writing their obligitaory Che stories. As the google snapshot above (oh so) perfectly illustrates, there is some confusion as to the message they are supposed to contain. The killing of Che was celebrated in the West in 1967. US elites thought their struggles to dominate Latin America were over. And perhaps they were for 30-some odd years.

However today, with Che posters and t-shirts pretty much ubiquitous on college campuses of all continents and socialists taking back their country's natural resources from foreign companies, the elites are not quite so sure about this whole "dustbin of history" thesis. Some try to get around this fact by concentrating a story on Cuba, where they find a couple well known dissidents to back up the 'man on the street' view that while Che is still widely admired, Cuba has a ways to go to live up to his ideals. Others are more honest.

To me, Che is much more than an important symbol. He is a true model of what a human being can be. He never stopped trying to learn and relate political theory to the state of the world. He inspired and was inspired by the youth. He knew a better society was possible - one that shared, cared for each other and fought for justice. He criticised the Soviet Union and believed there was more to life than consumerism. He was a brave and inspired leader on the battlefield and as a Cuban Government Minister .

Who could predict how right on he would be when he yelled out to his shooter 40 years ago: "Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man".

Check out what Gary Hart, Evo Morales, the founder of the Buena vista Social Club and British artist Gavin Turk had to say about "What Che Meant to Me."

As a fitting aside, the BBC recently reported that Cuban doctors in Bolivia saved the sight of the Bolivian army officer who puit the final bullet in Che - Mario Teran - as a part of their humanitarian health programs across the Continent.


Colombia's Uribe Tied to Escobar, Attacks Journalist

It has not been a good week for the US's best bud in Latin America - Colombia's President Uribe. First a book comes out from Pablo Escobar's ex-lover alleging Uribe assisted Pablo Escobar's drug activities as head of the aviation administration. Then press freedom groups CPG and RSF condemned Uribe for his reckless comments against a US-based journalist whom be blamed for the book (a journalist who has required official bodyguards for 3 months due to a death threat). And now today Uribe's first cousin was forced to resign his seat in the Senate in order to avoid investigation by the Supreme Court. As an expert was quited in Rueters, "It is looking more and more like President Uribe and allies such as cousin Mario won office in 2002 with paramilitary support." But at least he met our Defense Secretary Robert Gates (above). The NY Times reports:

BOGOTÁ: President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia has lashed out at allegations in a new book that he had close ties to the late cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. He said he never aided Escobar's drug dealings or benefited from his political patronage.

Uribe's comments Monday were in response to the book "Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar," by Virginia Vallejo, Escobar's former mistress. Vallejo repeats claims that Uribe, as head of the civil aviation authority in the early 1980s, helped Escobar's cartel secure licenses for landing strips used to transport cocaine.

"I had no political relations with Escobar, I had no business dealings with Escobar and I was not a friend of Virginia Vallejo," Uribe said in comments broadcast on Caracol Radio. Vallejo, who is believed to be living outside Colombia, could not be reached for comment.

Uribe, the Bush administration's closest ally in South America, has been dogged by claims of his links to Escobar since his political star began to rise in the 1990s, allegations that became pronounced during his presidential campaign in 2002. Vallejo's book, published here last month, had not received much publicity in Colombia until Uribe's emotional reaction to it this week.

The president also denounced a journalist, Gonzalo Guillén, a correspondent in Bogotá for El Nuevo Herald of Miami, claiming he had helped Vallejo write the book. The claim drew a sharp denial from Guillén, who said he would sue Uribe for slander.

Vallejo, a former actress and television personality, also refers to Uribe's father as one of Colombia's "first drug traffickers" in her book. The president says his father was killed in 1983 by Marxist rebels.

A declassified U.S. intelligence report from 1991 described Uribe as a "close personal friend" of Escobar's. The report, by the Defense Intelligence Agency, also listed Uribe among Colombia's important drug traffickers and said he was linked to an unidentified business involved in narcotics in the United States.

Uribe's office denounced the intelligence report when it was first publicized in 2004 as fitting within a trend of political attacks against him, but it did not specifically address the assertion that Uribe was linked to Escobar. U.S. officials have also disavowed the report's findings. But Uribe's comments Tuesday showed more explicit efforts to distance himself from any association with Escobar, who was killed by the police in Medellín in 1993.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Iran-Venezuela Axis Myth Explodes at Tehran Conference on Che

It is fashionable in foreign policy circles today to be warning Americans about the approaching danger from a supposed growing alliance between Iran and the leftist governments in Latin America, particularly Hugo Chavez. This piece from today's LATimes is indicitive of the tone most observers strike, which is somewhere between mild worrying and outright alarm.

But the truth is that while relationships are budding between the two regions, the issue is nothing the US needs to worry about. The reality is that there are huge differences between the new Latin socialists in Caracas or Quito and Islamists in Tehran (or Beirut). All the diabolical meetings and agreements that have been signed have yielded very little. While the press says trade is "booming", the reality is that less than $17 million in trade has actually occured this year between Venezuela and Iran. There has been increased coordination on the OPEC bloc as would be expected, but little success in deviating from the pro-US Saudi policy.

Of course there are similarities in their experiences with the Empire that people in the Middle East and socialist south can bond over. The desire for more friends in a hostile world is understandable. But as the embarrassing episode in Tehran described below shows, they new axis of evil has a ways to go to even get on the same page, let along threaten anyone. But of course, the Western press failed to pick up on this disaster and instead focussed on the new steel and cement factory Iran is helping to build. Be afraid America, be very afraid.

POLITICS-IRAN: Islamist, Socialist Revolutions Don't Mix
By Kimia Sanati

TEHRAN, Oct 3 (IPS) - An attempt to rope in the son and daughter of the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara to forge a parallel between Iran’s Islamist revolution and the socialist revolution in Latin America through a four-day conference has ended in fiasco.

After Aleida Guevara protested from the podium against perceived distortions of her father’s ideology by the first Iranian speaker, Haj Saeed Ghasemi, the four-day ‘Che Like Chamran’ conference, that started Sep. 25, was aborted and the Latin American guests whisked away.

‘Che Like Chamran’, the title of the conference, was chosen for the alliteration in the names of the two revolutionaries and because both Che and the Iranian, Mostafa Chamran, fought alongside revolutionaries in other countries. But the similarities end there, no matter what the organisers intended to promote.
Organised by the student militia of Tehran University, the conference was attended mostly by counterparts from various other universities as well as members of hardline student groups such as the PJSM that strongly support President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies. These groups regularly organise demonstrations and protest rallies against the US and other western countries.

But Ghasemi, who is associated with Iran’s Esteshhadiyoun (volunteers of suicide operations) must take credit for scuttling the conference. Referring to a translated version of a Che Guevara book that he held in his hand, he said Che Guevara was religious and believed in God. "The people of Cuba, Fidel (Casro) and Che Guevara were never socialists or communists. Fidel has several times admitted that he and Che and the people of Cuba hated the Soviets for all they had done.’’

''Today communism has been thrown into the trash bin of history as it was predicted by Ayatollah Khomeini," Ghasemi told the conference and added that the only way to save the world was through the ‘’the religious, pro-justice movement’’.

An indignant Aleida (Guevara), however, started her own address "in the name of the people of Cuba". "We are a socialist nation," she asserted. She also said the people of Cuba were grateful to the Soviet Union and there had never been any discord between the two nations, as mentioned by Ghasemi. She advised him to "always refer to original sources instead of translations to find out about Che Guevara’s beliefs".

"My father never talked about God. He never met God. My father knew there was no absolute truth,’’ Aleida said, responding to Ghasemi’s speech. The coverage of her address by state-sponsored news agencies like ISNA was brief and excluded most of her contradictory remarks.
"Belief in socialism is considered a crime in the Islamic state, punishable by death. Ahmadinejad’s slogans against the West and the U.S., his pro-justice rap, and his promises of economic assistance bring them here -- much to our disappointment," she (an Iranian leftist student leader) said. "Daniel Ortega and other leftist leaders too must clarify their position about their relations with Iran. We feel greatly betrayed when for their countries’ economic benefit they choose to support extreme rightists, fascists like Ahmadinejad," she added.

Following Aleida’s outspoken address to the conference, the organisers took flak from their own comrades. "It is appreciable to commemorate Che Guevara as a revolutionary figure. Otherwise, our former perspectives on his ideas, methods and attitude are still the same. We are Muslims and he is non-Muslim. The difference will always remain," Mohammad Sedaghat, the leader of Student Militia of Shahed University was quoted by ISNA as saying.

Whole thing


Monday, October 01, 2007

Landslide for Correa's Socialist Project in Ecuador

The results will take weeks to roll in from Ecuador's hinterlands (and abroad), but all indications are that Rafael Correa's bid to change the Constitution of Ecudaor has recieved the massive support of the people. The apparent landslide (80 of 130 seats) for the Constitutional Assembly is striking as just a few days ago most polls were forecasting a less than majority result for Correa's ad-hoc party Alianza Pais.

Congratualtions to Rafael Correa - a fellow alum of mine from the University of Illinois - where he earned his Doctorate in Economics. Let us hope he can marshall the enormous potential of this small country and turn the tide against poverty and an entrenched elite that has expoited the country while hopelessness festered. Already his reforms have given the country some economic breathing room. But the bond traders are not at all happy and his opponents are likely to get more radical - like in Bolivia. Alos look for more cheap hit-job pieces like this from the media, trying to say Correa is a Chavez replica. It is an insult.

QUITO, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on Monday emerged with a strong mandate to dissolve Congress and seek broad reforms after claiming a majority in a weekend vote for an assembly to rewrite the constitution.

The left-winger joins allies Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales in convoking a national assembly to push through a constitutional rewrite and limit the influence of powerful elites who resist his proposals.

A convincing victory for his Alianza Pais, or Country Alliance, party in the assembly will allow Correa to shore up legislative control and push through his "21st Century" socialism and plans for tighter state economic control that have already rattled Wall Street.

Correa on Monday called for his delegates to press for early presidential and congressional elections after the assembly, end the central bank's autonomy and abolish special oil saving funds that restrict government spending.

He also struck a more moderate tone in dismissing concerns he wants to expand his authority and saying his renegotiation of oil contracts would be "friendly," with no deep reforms expected in the energy and mining sectors.

"This is a great slap on the back for the government ... we will take this with great responsibility because we cannot fail," Correa said at a press conference. "No one is trying to establish a monarchy here."

Correa, who came into office in January, wants to purge the influence of traditional parties, which are widely blamed for the instability that ousted three presidents in a decade.

Whole thing