Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hillary and Obama BOTH Flip on Cuba - to the Right

The Hill reported this morning on the flip (or "pivot") that Hillary Clinton has done on Cuba. Hillary's "fact squad" struck back (after the polls in Florida were closed) defending herself and claiming that that Obama has a flop of his own.

Hillary voted to allow US citizens the freedom to travel to Cuba in 2003 and '05, but on a recent questionairre said she doesn't support that (basic human) right. Obama has voted to end the embargo in the past, but said he supports it now.

Big surprise right? Democratic candidates move to the right on Cuba once running for National office. Some hoped that the democratic candidates might not pander to Miami as much because the primary was invalid. But no, the American people and common sense continue to have no input into the Cuba issue. Florida is too important in November.

Hillary tries to weasal out of her flip (and perhaps intentionally confuse the issue) by claiming that the old votes were consistent because she "has always been in favor of easing travel restrictions for humanitarian reasons." In fact, her votes were not humanitarian, but strategic - that they would help bring along regime change in Cuba by providing a "rebuke". She also gets extra nasty points for her campaign's attempt to sneak a lie past reporters. Before her fact squad responded in writing, her spokesman tried to claim to reporters that her votes were for family travel only (when they were for ALL US travel).

Obama's boldness to vote for dropping the entire embargo was one of the first things that attracted me to him. It is a shame he felt compelled to make his position more palatable in Florida, but that is the sad political reality.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fidel Castro to be Nominated for President of Cuba

Hidden in a Cuban report about today's election from an hour ago was this:

Vice President Carlos Lage and First Vice President Raul Castro Ruz said they would support the reelection of Fidel Castro as President of the State Council ('el Presidente').

Maybe I am looking to much into it. But I believe these are the first clear statements by the top 2 (acting) Cuban officials potentially contradicting convention wisdom, which has been that Fidel would be formally stepping down from his post.

The Parliament elected today is predicted to be more than 2/3 new blood, 43% women and include representatives from the island's main religions. The body will have 45 days to elect 31 persons to the Council of State, which then chooses its President.

It seems likely now that Fidel will at least be put up for re-election. This will put the onus on Fidel to reject the nomination, if we are to take his words about not "clinging to power" literally. But perhaps he is truly feeling better. Perhaps the leadership situation is still unresolved and Fidel is needed to broker differences...

I doubt it. My thinking is that this announcement is intended to confuse the US and those plotting in the shadows (keeping cards close to vest). It also makes for a more dignified exit for Fidel, with him declining an invitation to stay on as President. All very well planned...

The election results will not be known until tomorrow, but we already know the turnout is as high as it has been in previous elections - above 95% (amazing). The only question will be how many voters heeded Fidel's advice and voted for "the slate" rather than making individual yes or no choices on particular candidates. The NY Times noted that voting against well known figures, or leaving a ballot blanked, are forms of protest that should be closely compared to previous years. In Cuba, candidates for office have been pre-elected directly by open neighborhood-level meetings and mass organizations. Candidates must gain at least 50% of the vote to be elected.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Venezuela: Unemployment Reaches Record LOW

Using the table above (the only one I can find), Venezeuela has literally gone off the charts in terms of employment. Has unemployment ever dropped so fast as it has in the 4+ since? The huge increases in the unemployed in 02 and 03 were due to the Coup and related employer-led strikes and oil lockout.

Venezuela December Unemployment Drops to Record Low
By Matthew Walter

Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuela's unemployment rate fell to a record low in December as a fourth year of economic growth spurred increased hiring.

The country's unemployment rate fell to 6.2 percent in December, down from 6.3 percent in November and 8.4 percent in the same month a year earlier, according to an e-mailed statement from the government-run National Statistics institute.

Rising employment, spurred in part by increased hiring at government ministries and state-owned companies, has fueled a consumption boom in Venezuela, which has in turn led to a jump in inflation. Consumer prices rose 22.5 percent last year, the biggest increase in Latin America.

Employment in the ``formal sector'' of the economy rose to 56.2 percent in December from 55.5 percent a year earlier, the government said.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Miami: Cuban Militants Prevent Free Speech, Defend Terrorist

By Ruth Morris | Sun-Sentinel.com
Peace activists in pink dresses and tiaras demanded the arrest of anti-communist militant Luis Posada Carriles Saturday, but aborted plans for a demonstration in Little Havana after Carriles supporters rushed their vehicle.

The six activists, of the Codepink anti-war group, had planned to speak to reporters outside the landmark Versailles restaurant to publicize their campaign against Carriles-- a former CIA operative wanted in Venezuela in connection with the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner.

However they were met by some 200 irate Cuban-Americans who consider Carriles a champion of freedom. Some ran at the activists' truck as they arrived, tearing off its pink fringe, while others shouted sexist slurs. More...

Watch the local Miami CBS4 news segment on the terrible incident here. A great new agit-prop styled CodePink video on Posada Carriles (and Bush's hypocrisy) can also be watched below.


Venezuela: Is Hugo Chavez Getting Bad Rap from U.S. Media?

To cite only the most recent of the literally thousands of examples of media bias against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, last week the bastion of liberal thinking, the NY Times, changed wording in a Rueters story from "pro-poor" to "self-styled socialist." The sentence that apparently offended NY Times editors was: "Chavez said it was important to reach out to Venezuela's middle class and other sectors of society often alienated by his pro-poor policies."

Is Hugo Chavez Getting Bad Rap from U.S. Media?

YES: It's absurd to call Venezuelan leader anti-U.S., dictatorial
MARK WEISBROT, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)

(The truly laughable "NO" response to this question can be found here).

If we read the newspapers and watch TV in the United States, we are told that President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is a "dictator," "authoritarian," "a threat to democracy" in his own country and the region, and "anti-U.S."

But leaders who try to empower poor people are generally vilified in the media and hated by those in power. Martin Luther King, Jr. now has a national holiday named after him, but when he was leading marches in the Chicago suburbs or denouncing the Vietnam War, the press treated him about as badly as they treat Chavez.

The idea that Venezuela under Chavez is authoritarian or dictatorial is absurd. Most of the press there opposes the government, more so than in the rest of the hemisphere -- including the United States.

Chavez and his allies have won 10 elections, the most important of which were all certified by international observers. Last month Chavez lost a referendum that would have abolished term limits on the presidency and ratified a move toward "21st-century socialism."

After losing by a razor-thin margin, Chavez not only immediately accepted the results but last Sunday announced a shift of policy in line with the electorate's wants. He said that the government would slow its efforts at political change and concentrate on solving some of the voters' top-priority problems, such as crime and public services.

Chavez's relations with the Bush administration and the rest of the hemisphere are also commonly misrepresented.

The standard media description of the U.S. role in the military coup that temporarily overthrew Chavez in 2002 is that the Bush administration gave it "tacit support." But "tacit support" is what the administration gave to the opposition oil strike in 2002-2003, which devastated the economy in another attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government. In the April 2002 coup, the Bush administration actually funded opposition leaders involved in the coup, according to the U.S. State Department.

Rather than apologizing for supporting these attempts to overthrow and destabilize Venezuela's democratic government, the Bush administration went on to fund further opposition efforts, and continues to do so today -- including funding of the recent student movement in Venezuela, according to U.S. government documents.

Is it any wonder that Chavez does not have kind words to say about Bush?

Most of South America has left-of-center governments who understand that the Bush administration's hostility toward Venezuela is really about the U.S. losing illegitimate power over sovereign governments, in a region that Washington considers its "back yard."

Their leaders -- including President Lula da Silva of Brazil -- consistently defend Venezuela. In Venezuela, the economy (real GDP) has grown by 87 percent since the government got control over its national oil industry in early 2003; poverty has been cut by half.

Venezuelans have repeatedly elected Chavez for the same reasons Americans are voting for Barack Obama -- they see him as representing hope, and change, in a region that needs both.


Friday, January 04, 2008

Cuba: Lesbians Marry With Government Blessing

Two women were symbolically married in Cuba last week in the courtyard of a Government Ministry. It is not the first gay marriage in Cuba, but the first to receive high-level State support and publicity.

The issue is a bold move by the Havana authorities, as there still remains quite a bit of social unease with homosexuality in Cuba. When I was in Cuba I was amazed by the scenes of hundreds of gays openly partying and making out in public deep into the night. It was a far cry from the repression I was warned about before visiting. Still, I cringed when a cab driver used the "M" word when describing the scene.

As IPS reports:

A proposal for legal reform advocated by the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) and the Cuban Women’s Federation calls for the recognition of de facto unions between same-sex couples and equal rights for heterosexual and homosexual couples, as well as eligibility to adopt children and, for women, access to assisted fertilisation services.

The legal machinery is already rolling and the initiative may reach parliament in 2008, but no one can predict how long it will take to come to a vote. Meanwhile, CENESEX was advised by the ruling Communist Party to make efforts to prepare the public through a media campaign.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Mexico: NAFTA Begins Its Endgame for Small Farmers

An incredibly important occasion just passed. One that could affect the immigration, environment and free trade debates as much or more than all the garbage tossed around by the politicians. On January 1st, the final phase of NAFTA went into effect. It removed the remaining subsidies Mexico provided for its small scale famers of (national staples) corn, tomatoes, bean and sugar.

Since 1994, NAFTA has already displaced some 1.7 million Mexican farmers off their land. When forced to compete with large-scale American mechanized agri-business (and their billions of subsidies), campesinos are unable to compete. The dispossed go to el Norte (the US) or to the slums of Mexico City (immigration rates to both have doubled since NAFTA).

When the midnight bell rang, there were loud protests in towns across Mexico, including a very Latin American-style tactic right up against our gates in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez (above). A thousand Mexicans manged to block one of the most critical points of entry into this country for most of a day - the highway border crossing.

While President Calderon says the date is a happy one, I doubt the Mexican people will much like what they will begin to see this year. The best thing about the Mexican Revolution was land reform, which gave plots of land to the peasants. NAFTA will inevitably swallow that up, with one of a few US companies buying up land piece by piece until the entire heritage of traditional Mexican rural life disappears. On top of the social disaster will be an environmental one, as land that can not be profitably tractored dries up (not to mention the immigration impact).