Convention Discussion: The Communist Party & the road ahead
| April 21, 2014 | 9:47 pm | About the CPUSA, Action | No comments

Via: http://www.cpusa.org/convention-discussion-the-communist-party-the-road-ahead-2/

by: Garon Archer
April 20 2014

Submitted by Garon Arhcer, of Johnson City, TN

As we enter 2014 and the 30th national convention of the Communist Party, we should be asking ourselves the important questions. Has the working class gained significant ground in the democratic struggle against the far-right agenda? How has the playing field changed post Occupy? Are we seeing a resurgence of militant working class struggle? What does this mean for the Communist Party?

Has the working class gained significant ground in the democratic struggle against the far right agenda?

The answer to this question is far too complex to be answered simply. Struggles for immigrants rights, LGBTQ equality, for higher wages and democratic representation have all taken place. But the struggle isn’t one-sided, reactionary representatives of the transnationals have not ceased in their attacks on the gains and democratic rights of the American people. Supreme Court attacks on the Voting Rights Act, failure to extend unemployment benefits, drastic billion dollar cuts to the food stamps and other social welfare programs, Supreme Court deregulation of campaign finance, etc… All of these attacks on working and oppressed Americans have taken place without real and lasting opposition. Much has been lost, but the attacks have spurred a militant resistance and given birth to struggle on a scale not seen in this country in decades.

How has the playing field changed post Occupy?

Just a few years ago an explosion of working class struggle took place on a scale not seen in decades. Taking place under the banner of a massive social movement known collectively as Occupy, the movement brought hundreds of thousand into struggle. Oppressed nationalities, immigrants, low wage workers, the bread & butter of the American working class launched a full scale resistance to the right-wing agenda. They popularized the class struggle with a call for the struggle of the 99% against the 1% and the corporate right-wing agenda. Unfortunately, the movement ultimately failed to offer a solid critique of the capitalist system, an electoral challenge to the far-right agenda, and the leadership required for concrete social change. As a result it dissipated, leaving the masses without leadership. Despite the failures of the Occupy movement, it will have an everlasting effect on American politics. It represents a left turn for many working Americans, a resurgence of working class militancy, and a new willingness for struggle outside of the normal channels.

Is there a resurgence of working class militancy?

Today it’s no doubt that widespread dissatisfaction with the system is growing. We live in an America where 49% of people aged 18-29 favor the concept of socialism over capitalism, according to a recent Pew Poll. An America where over 40% of Americans identify as independent rather than Republican or Democrat, according to a recent Gallup Poll. First we saw the Wisconsin Uprising and the Occupy movement, both examples of mass working class resistance. We’ve seen the heroic struggle of low wage workers through movements like Our Walmart and Fight for 15, both growing rapidly. We’ve seen highly successful independent labor and socialist campaigns in Ohio, Washington State, Mississippi, New England and beyond. We’ve seen the Chicago teachers fight back, we’ve witnessed UAW Volkswagen workers in Tennessee struggle against right-wing repression in a bid to form a union. Many important struggles have taken place lately, more than one can count. It’s clear that we are seeing a resurgence of working class militancy and a willingness to fight back against injustice and exploitation.

What does all of this mean for the Communist Party?

We have entered a new phase of the democratic struggle. The Democratic Party is increasingly pandering to the most reactionary sections of the transnational corporations, becoming increasingly hostile to progressives and the American worker. While the progressive wing of the Democratic Party remains essential in the struggle against the far-right agenda, it has become is increasingly necessary for the Communist Party to offer a left-wing challenge to reactionary Democrats. Many Democrats are lining up to appease capital, calling for compromise with Republicans and joining in on the war against the workers. The Communist Party has historically represented the most advanced sections of the American working class. We are duty bound to provide a challenge to the far-right agenda, be it Republicans or Democrats who are fostering it. We are duty bound to build and lead a mass movement capable of tackling the challenges of our generation.

Change in the political landscape means change for the Communist Party.

Now that the substance of the struggle is changing, so to must the party. The policy of building up an all-people’s front against the far-right has never been as important as it is right now, but we must consider how we can best approach this daunting task.

After witnessing the success of local progressive & socialist campaigns, it’d be foolish not to participate local electoral struggles. Exclusive support of non-Communists through standard progressive channels isn’t enough. The Communist Party should be fielding Communist candidates, supporting progressive candidates, and building a united progressive electoral bloc. Only the Communist Party can take on the task of building a progressive electoral bloc.

The rise of movements like Fight for 15 and Our Walmart mean that the party policy of industrial concentration has become somewhat outdated. We should be concentrating on low-wage workers in the fast-food & retail industries. The mass struggles of our generation are unfolding at super stores and burger joints, not factories and steel mills.

In conclusion, we must build a strong and independent Communist Party. A party capable of leading the working class into a new phase of struggle against the increasingly vicious far-right agenda. Most importantly, we must remember that struggle against the right-wing agenda is also taking place in the party. The right-wing of our party is fighting for the liquidation of the party into the broader progressive movement, a move that would no doubt have a devastating effect on real working class politics in this country.

Lavrov: US should face responsibility for powers it installed in Kiev
| April 21, 2014 | 9:36 pm | Action, International | No comments

Via: http://rt.com/news/us-responsibility-kiev-lavrov-788/

Published time: April 21, 2014 08:49
Edited time: April 21, 2014 11:34

​The Russian Foreign Minister says the US should take responsibility for those whom they put in power instead of issuing ultimatums to Moscow.

“Before giving us ultimatums, demanding that we fulfill demands within two or three days with the threat of sanctions, we would urgently call on our American partners to fully accept responsibility for those who they brought to power,” said Lavrov during a press conference with his colleague from Mozambique, Oldemiro Baloi.

All attempts to isolate Russia will lead to a dead end because Russia is “a big, independent power that knows what it wants,” he added

Meanwhile, the Russian FM also criticized statements from Western countries and Kiev’s authorities, which “invent possible and impossible arguments against Russia,” claiming that a large amount of Russian arms in the conflict zones proves Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs.

He called the statements absurd as Ukraine has traditionally used Russian-made arms.

“This statement is ludicrous. Everyone has Russian arms in Ukraine,” Lavrov said.

Meanwhile, he also said that TV outlets have reported that US arms were also found in Ukraine and illegal armed groups, not the Ukrainian army were in possession of these American arms.

Speaking about the crisis situation in eastern Ukraine and Kiev’s crackdown on the Donetsk region, Lavrov also said that Kiev authorities don’t want or maybe cannot control the extremists who continue to control the situation in the country.

“The authorities are doing nothing, not even lifting a finger, to address the causes behind this deep internal crisis in Ukraine,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lavrov also said that the Kiev coup-appointed government has violated the Geneva agreements of April 17, after the four-sided talks between the EU, the US, Russia and Ukraine.

“The Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) group has been “running the show” in the streets of central and western Ukraine and is trying to affect eastern regions,” he said, adding that buildings in Kiev seized by the protesters haven’t been freed and the streets haven’t been cleared.

“However, Kiev authorities say that “Maidan” is acting legally which is totally inadmissible,” he said.

Meanwhile, the attack by militants on the checkpoint in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on Easter Sunday is a crime beneficial only for those who want to derail the Geneva agreements, said the Russian FM.

“The fact that extremists started to shoot at unarmed civilians is unacceptable,” he added.

Meanwhile, he also criticized the attitude of Kiev to foreign journalists in Ukraine as journalists in the country are being arrested and the authorities won’t let them into the regions for them to observe what is happening.

He also stressed that one of the Geneva agreement’s points is to amnesty political prisoners and participants in the protests.

“Instead of releasing the Donetsk governor, Pavel Gubarev, Kiev authorities continue to arrest activists in southeastern Ukraine,” said Lavrov.

According to Lavrov, the Kiev authorities are still spinning out the implementation of constitutional reform in the country.

“Why were they waiting for so long to speak about the necessity of constitutional reform? Why are they spinning out the process?” he asked at the conference.

Lavrov also stressed the necessity of restoring order in the crisis-torn country. By this he meant stopping extremism and religious intolerance, starting constitutional dialogue and disarming the illegally armed groups.

Convention Discussion: No to social democracy
| April 21, 2014 | 12:55 pm | About the CPUSA, Action | No comments

Via: http://www.cpusa.org/convention-discussion-no-to-social-democracy/

by: Jim Lane
April 20 2014

Submitted by Jim Lane, Dallas Texas.

If I have misunderstood the direction that the present leadership seems to be taking us, I apologize. As for the main thrust of party work today, defending the working class against the worst of the capitalist class and standing up for democracy, I agree with it. But I am not alone in believing that leadership has been taking our party away from being a revolutionary organization and toward joining the social democracy.

It isn’t just one or two comrades asking, “Why should people join CPUSA?”

For the human race to prosper, capitalism must be overcome. For capitalism to be overcome, the Communist Party must choose the best possible and clearest political path. I would like to be wrong, but I think we have been meandering since shortly after the 2010 convention. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, instead of going forward into 21st century thinking, we are regressing into 19th century social democracy.

For the present purpose, I’ll take the Merriam Webster definition of social democracy: “a political movement advocating a gradual and peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism by democratic means.” This was the methodology of the minority of the Russian socialists before the majority took a revolutionary course, and it is the ideology of the old American Socialist Party that more or less kicked us out for being too revolutionary in 1919. It was the ideology of the ruling party of the German government that terminated in the Hitler takeover. Social democracy was one of the trends of our own CPUSA minority during the split of 1991. CPUSA Chairman Sam Webb, at that time, sided with the Marxist majority, but has since then indicated that he has rethought his position.

Social democracy is nothing new, and is certainly not 21st century.

Chairman Sam Webb has periodically written long rambling statements that are often more taken up with what he does not mean than what he means, It’s hard to see what he’s getting at, but some themes seem to repeat. For example, he is opposed to our using Russian symbolism and French vocabulary. I agree, even though I don’t think it’s worth nearly the volume of words that Webb has expended. It’s come up so many times that one can only conclude that we aren’t just talking about vocabulary.

I would point out, while we’re on vocabulary and semantics, that “communist” and “revolution” are neither Russian nor French and can’t be stamped out under that particular ruse.

While carrying out our immediate struggles, we must also be clear that our ultimate purpose is to remove the capitalist class from power. We are not social democrats because social democratic ideology has never worked and never will. It ignores the ruthlessness and determination of the ruling capitalist class.

Another point that Comrade Webb has mentioned many times is that the U.S. is in a certain stage of development. That may seem true on the face of it, but how do we define this stage beyond saying, over and over, that “socialism is not on the horizon.” Marxists know that everything is constantly changing and that political horizons, like everything else, are not fixed in time nor space. The suddenness of the government overthrows in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya all occurred since Comrade Webb started defining the horizons. Some of the news reports indicate that modern communications had a great deal to do with these very rapid and unexpected events. The point is that things can change rapidly.

Should a revolutionary party sideline the need to overcome capitalism because it does not immediately appear on somebody’s definition of a horizon?

Comrade Webb has made it very clear that he believes the Soviet Union imploded from its own fault, and that Stalin, whom our party steadfastly supported, was a “monster.” He dismisses the role of capitalist imperialism in quashing the Soviet Union. But do we not see the hand of imperialism today in attempting to overthrow the gains made in Central and South America? If imperialism succeeds in overthrowing the Cubans and Venezuelans, are we going to blame them?

The same can be said of the gains that the American working class has made in our unions. Are not the capitalists forever and always seeking to destroy those unions and those gains? If an American union fails completely, are we going to blame them?

Is Chairman Sam Webb for revolution in the United States? I once heard the question put to him in a meeting. He failed to answer. Later, I asked the questioner why he didn’t push Webb for a response and he replied, “I was afraid of what the answer would be.” I, too, am afraid of what direction the leadership of CPUSA is taking us.

For the human race to prosper, capitalism must be overcome.

Art exhibit illustrates horrors of Iraq occupation
| April 20, 2014 | 7:46 pm | Action | No comments

by: Bernadette StewardIraqi art

April 15 2009

HOUSTON – Upon entering The Station Museum of Contemporary Art on the edge of the city’s downtown to view the exhibition “Iraqi Artists in Exile,” I was hit with the questions “How do we justify the destruction of a country and her people? What do we say?” This wonderful museum is renowned for its thought provoking exhibitions. This phenomenal exhibition has not been placed at any other museum in the United States due to its controversial nature. The exhibition evokes feelings of what oppressed people around the world are experiencing.

The first piece you see upon entering is a man disrobed with his hands bound and his head completely covered by a bag, and he is sitting in a very vulnerable position. This sculpture symbolizes the subjugation of the Iraqi people under the occupation. By some estimates, more than a million people, mostly women and children, have been killed since the 2003 invasion.

While viewing “Iraqi Artists in Exile,” you cannot help but feel the helplessness that comes from someone knocking down the doors of your home and forcing themselves in and kicking you out.

One sixty-five year old Iraqi artist had all of the art that he had created over four decades destroyed. His home was leveled and he was exiled from his country. He said “I must start over.” The one thing that he is holding on to is hope.

Before the U.S. invasion, Baghdad was one of the cultural centers of the world. Like the U.S., Iraq is ethnically and culturally diverse and this is reflected in the exhibition. There were libraries and museums containing historical documents and works of art that were seven thousand years old. These ancient libraries and museums were looted, pillaged and turned into rubble as a result of the occupation. Within these institutions were librarians, curators, and museum staff. All of these tragedies are dramatized by the exhibition, to include the traumatized state of these people, the destruction of their lives, their jobs, their art and their history.

Another theme of the exhibition reveals the true reason for this unnecessary war: a fight for oil and imperial dominance. The use of religious fundamentalism to justify warfare was also highlighted. There is also a reference to the heavily publicized prison atrocities in Abu Ghraib that became the face of the occupation. One artist reminisces about a mother he met and her response to seeing the photograph of her tortured son in prison. She said she wept as if she were the Virgin Mary looking at her crucified son.

The exhibition forces one to consider the question, “Could this happen here?” The great, collective hope is that the occupation of Iraq will end and the world can embark on positive policies that will move us forward.

Bernadette Steward is a graduate student at Texas Southern University.

Free Alan Gross—and the Cuban Five!
| April 18, 2014 | 8:44 pm | Action, Cuban Five, International | No comments

If the U.S. wants Cuba to release USAID contractor Alan Gross, it should give up its own political prisoners from Cuba.

Art by Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban 5

Art by Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban 5

Painting by Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban 5

http://www.thecuban5.org/wordpress/2014/04/18/7435/

While the U.S. government has vigorously protested Cuba’s imprisonment of USAID contractor Alan Gross, it has proven unwilling to make the diplomatic overtures—like releasing the Cuban Five—that could secure his release.

Alan Gross, an American imprisoned in Cuba since December 3, 2009, recently went on a hunger strike in Havana that lasted for eight days. He did so to protest the U.S. and Cuban governments’ inaction in negotiating a solution to his tragedy.

Gross is the latest victim in a long history of conflicts between Cuba and the United States. An international development expert subcontracted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Gross entered Cuba as a non-registered foreign agent. His mission was to create a wireless internet satellite network based in Jewish community centers that would circumvent detection by the Cuban government.

Gross was quickly apprehended. But while the U.S. government has vigorously protested his treatment, it has proven unwilling to make the diplomatic overtures—like releasing the Cuban Five—that could secure his release.

Regime Change “Cockamamie”

The USAID program that landed Gross in prison was designed during the George W. Bush administration. It received approval under the Helms-Burton Act, a 1996 law that essentially committed the U.S. government to the overthrow of the Cuban regime.

Gross’ program took an indisputably covert and incendiary approach to democracy promotion, never bothering to obtain the informed consent of the Cuban Jewish community. Like most Cuban religious groups, Jews in Cuba have opposed any attempt to politicize religious organizations by turning them into tools to promote opposition to the regime. The Bush administration’s holy warriors at USAID, however, had aspirations far beyond the temple doors¾they aimed to overthrow the Cuban government. If that involved getting Cuban Jews in trouble without their consent, then so be it.

USAID made a peculiar choice in selecting Gross for actions that would come to be condemned in Cuba as subversive. Gross did not know Cuba and did not speak Spanish. He loved Cuban music, but that hardly qualified him for the covert mission he was sent on. Moreover, the U.S. government systematically misinformed Gross about Cuba. According to a confidential summary of an August 2008 meeting between USAID high officials and representatives of Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI)—the contractor that hired Gross—Bush-era USAID officials recommended that project team members “stay well informed” about Cuba by reading certain blogs. At the head of the USAID-recommended list of go-to sources about Cuba was Babalu, a rabidly right wing blog based in Miami. One of Babalu’s more recent posts labels current U.S. president Barack Obama a “Marxist tyrant” in the tradition of “Mao, Stalin, and Fidel Castro.”

Rather than revising USAID’s regime change program, the Obama administration preferred to cover up the mess that the Bush administration had left behind. Worse still, as we just learned this April, even after Gross’ arrest, USAID implemented another covert operation in Cuba: ZunZuneo, or “Cuban Twitter.”

ZunZuneo had been developed under Bush in 2007-2008, but was implemented under Obama between 2010 and 2012. The program’s designers aimed to create a Twitter-like social network among Cuban youth to mobilize “smart mobs” and further the possibility of a revolt. It involved the same disrespect for Cuban sovereignty and civil society that the Helms-Burton law has repeatedly advanced. As always, the purpose was to create chaos and destabilization—this time with the intent of generating a Cuban Spring modeled after the Arab Spring revolts.

Washington maintains that USAID does regular humanitarian work in Cuba. Yet the agency’s own officials show that to be untrue. During an April 8 budget hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, USAID director Rajiv Shah said that the Helms-Burton law precludes any program to promote child healthcare on the island. Shah is correct. The law only authorizes humanitarian activities, travel, or trade if they are certified to serve the goal of overthrowing the Cuban government. In other words, these programs have nothing to do with promoting human rights or Cuba’s peaceful transition to democracy.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has called ZunZuneo a “cockamamie idea.” His remarks highlight the way USAID’s deviation from humanitarian aid standards in Cuba has caused tremendous harm to the organization’s more legitimate development efforts elsewhere. Citing Gross and ZunZuneo among other examples, several world governments and political parties have denounced USAID altogether as a tool of American subversion and hypocrisy.

Gross and the Cuban Five

Gross’ detention is considered arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions that analyzed his case. According to that panel of experts, his trial in Cuba was politically motivated and lacked the international minimal standards of a fair and just legal process.

But Cuba is not the only government holding political prisoners. The same UN body also considers “arbitrary” the 1998 detention of five Cuban agents, three of whom remain in prison, by the U.S. government. The “Cuban Five” infiltrated anti-Castro groups with a long pedigree of violent actions against Cuba—acts that were planned on U.S. soil with the knowledge of the U.S. government. Most assessments agree that the Cuban agents caused no harm to U.S. national security. According to the UN panel, the political circus surrounding the trial of the Cuban Five in Miami made a fair and just trial impossible. The Cuban government has indicated that it will release Gross if the United States releases the three “Cuban Five” agents who remain in prison.

Aiming to inspire parallel acts of international conciliation, Uruguayan president José Mujica has indicated his country’s willingness to accept some of the detainees who remain imprisoned in the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. This would contribute to the closure of a camp that has brought tremendous harm to America’s reputation and raised serious questions about Washington’s commitment to international human rights. Mujica said that he hopes the gesture will lead Obama to think about the potential benefit for U.S.-Latin America relations that would follow a release of the three Cubans still in U.S. prisons.

But the same pro-embargo crowd that sent Alan Gross on the ill-conceived covert action leading to his arrest is now willing to keep him locked in prison. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have called on the White House to demand Cuba’s “unilateral and unconditional” release of Gross—an irrational requirement. Their insistence is a transparent attempt to torpedo Obama’s overall dialogue with Cuba, even when improving relations between the two countries would clearly serve the national interests of the United States.

Rather than seek a realistic solution to Gross’ tragedy, the Obama administration has engaged in semantic nonsense. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her successor John Kerry have both held that Gross was not a spy. They are correct only at the most technical level, since he did not seek secret information. Still, Cuba’s description of Gross as part of a subversive regime-change strategy is difficult to dispute, not the least because U.S. legislation says so openly. In the meantime, while the U.S. and Cuban governments engage in the “spy-not spy” discussion, Gross remains a prisoner.

Gross will be released only as a result of diplomatic compromise. Gross has written to Obama “on behalf of every American who might ever find himself or herself in trouble abroad” and asked him “to direct his administration to take meaningful, proactive steps to secure my immediate release.”

It’s time to do it.
Arturo Lopez-Levy is a PhD Candidate at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies of the University of Denver. You can follow him on TwitterCuban five UN @turylevy .

AfricaFocus Bulletin
| April 18, 2014 | 8:26 pm | Action | No comments

Mali: Polls Show Turn to Optimism

AfricaFocus Bulletin
April 17, 2014 (140417)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“In an Afrobarometer survey in December 2012, three quarters of adult
Malians were worried that the country was moving in ‘the wrong
direction.’ At that time, at the depths of a profound national
crisis, most Malians thought the future looked bleak. A year later,
however, a follow-up survey reveals newfound hope in the future. By
December 2013, two thirds of all Malians now consider that that the
country is headed in the ‘right direction.’”

For a version of this Bulletin in html format, more suitable for
printing, go to http://www.africafocus.org/docs14/mali1404.php , and
click on “format for print or mobile.”

To share this on Facebook, click on
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The survey did not ask about views of the international
intervention, which involved multiple forces with different interests
(France, African Union, UN, logistic support from USA), and responses
to open-ended questions clearly put major responsibility for the
crisis on internal factors and on outside “terrorists” in the North.
But the implication of the polls is that this stabilization, together
with the elections that Mali pulled off successfully (according to
the survey) in 2013, on balance improved the situation, according to
the majority of Malians. [On the UN involvement, with some background
from UN perspective, see http://tinyurl.com/o8u97wa]

Whatever one’s analysis of the broader international and regional
factors lying behind the ongoing crisis in Mali, it is critical
to give primary weight to the opinions of the people of Mali
themselves. The Afrobarometer surveys are careful and balanced. Even
such a dramatic shift towards overall optimism, however, should be
measured against the fact that ‘the right direction’ does not mean
satisfaction with the new status quo. Four out of six Malians, and
over half of Northerners, said that basic security had not been
restored in the country as a whole in 2013.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes a summary article on the polls,
and brief excerpts from two reports from AfroBarometer.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Mali, visit
http://www.africafocus.org/country/mali.php

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on peace and security, visit
http://www.africafocus.org/peaceexp.php

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

Malians Show Dramatic Leap in Confidence

31 March 2014

AllAfrica.com

http://allafrica.com/stories/201403312507.html

Cape Town – The return of democracy and peace to much of Mali has
generated a complete turnaround in public confidence in the country’s
future, according to a new opinion survey.

Afrobarometer, the leading continent-wide researcher of African
public opinion, says that a survey in southern Mali in December 2012
- following a military takeover of the government, the seizure of the
north by insurgents, an attack on a civilian president and the arrest
of the prime minister – showed that only one in four people believed
the country was headed in the right direction.

However, following the recovery of the north from rebels and the
holding of parliamentary and presidential elections in 2013, two in
three Malians believed a year later they were heading in the right
direction.

“Interestingly,” Afrobarometer adds, “people residing in the three
northern regions – who could now be interviewed due to an improved
security situation – were slightly more optimistic about the
country’s trajectory than people living in the south (71 versus 66
percent).

“One possible reason is that northerners experienced the biggest
change, namely from the strict rules of sharia law to a more relaxed,
secular regime. Furthermore, persons displaced by the conflict – who
were identified during the survey in both north and south – were the
most likely to say that the country was back on the ‘right’ track.”

The Afrobarometer report, written by researchers Professor Michael
Bratton and Peter Penar of Michigan State University in the United
States, added that 60 percent of Malians and 67 percent of
internally-displaced people felt secure at the end of 2013, compared
with 17 percent and 10 percent respectively a year earlier.

In a second analysis, Afrobarometer found that Malians had changed
their views over the year on the causes of their country’s crisis.

“In the December 2012 Afrobarometer survey,” writes researcher
Professor Massa Coulibaly of the University of Bamako, “Malians
highlighted the primary causes of the serious sociopolitical crisis
that their country was going through, as lack of patriotism on the
part of the leaders and weakness of the State. At that time, most
Malians had lost trust in the political class and in politicians.

“One year later, however, a follow-up Afrobarometer survey revealed
that foreign terrorists and corruption are rather the two primary
causes of the Northern conflict and occupation.”

Other key findings cited by Afrobarometer:

“Some 60 percent of adult citizens also consider that their country
is now safe and secure from armed conflict, up from 17 percent in
2012.

“But Malians still regard political instability as the country’s most
important problem, especially those who live in the northern regions
or have been displaced from their homes.

“Malians feel very positive about the quality of national elections
held in 2013, with 83 percent seeing the presidential contest as
“completely free and fair.

“Although still cautious about prevailing economic conditions,
Malians perceive recent signs of recovery and hold high expectations
for future economic wellbeing.

“In changing their minds about the direction of the country, Malians
make reference mainly to economic and security considerations and, to
a lesser extent, the quality of elections.”

**************************************************************

Mali’s Public Mood Reflects Newfound Hope

Afrobarometer Policy Paper 9 | Michael Bratton and Peter Penar

March 2014

[full text available at  http://afrobarometer.org/publications/policy-papers]

Introduction

In an Afrobarometer survey in December 2012, three quarters of adult
Malians were worried that the country was moving in “the wrong
direction.” At that time, at the depths of a profound national
crisis, most Malians thought the future looked bleak. A year later,
however, a follow-up survey reveals newfound hope in the future. By
December 2013, two thirds of all Malians now consider that that the
country is headed in the “right direction.”

What explains this remarkable turnaround in the public mood? The
upswing in the country’s collective frame of mind within the space of
a single year is traced to several positive developments. These
include an improved security situation, the restoration of a freely
elected government, and rising confidence in economic recovery.

Perhaps unexpectedly, the residents of Mali’s three Northern regions
as well as internally displaced persons (IDPs) – two groups that bore
the brunt of the crisis – are especially sanguine about the direction
of the country. But major challenges remain for these groups
including an uncertain peace and persistent inequalities in regional
development.

Key Findings

* In a complete reversal of opinion from one year earlier, two out of
three Malians say that their country is moving in the “right
direction” at the end of 2013.

* Some 60% of adult citizens also consider that their country is now
safe and secure from armed conflict, up from 17% in 2012.

* But Malians still regard political instability as the country’s
most important problem, especially those who live in the northern
regions or have been displaced from their homes.

* Malians feel very positive about the quality of national elections
held in 2013, with 83% seeing the presidential contest as “completely
free and fair.”

* Although still cautious about prevailing economic conditions,
Malians perceive recent signs of recovery and hold high expectations
for future economic wellbeing.

* In changing their minds about the direction of the country, Malians
make reference mainly to economic and security considerations and, to
a lesser extent, the quality of elections.

The Perceived Direction of the Country

To measure the general public mood in a country, the Afrobarometer
survey asks: “What about the overall direction of the country? Would
you say that the country is going in the wrong direction or the right
direction?” This question was first asked in Mali in December 2012
following the largest series of calamities in the country’s post-
colonial history. A March 2012 coup d’etat against the elected
national government was prompted by a Touareg-led rebellion in the
north in January 2012 and followed by the takeover of northern cities
by Islamic jihadists. Tens of thousands of people fled their homes
and travel and trade became dangerous in many localities. For all
intents and purposes, the Malian state collapsed in the three
northern regions and also in Douentza cercle (in Mopti region). There
was also a marked deterioration in the rule of law in the south,
exemplified by the abduction of journalists and the extra-judicial
execution of coup opponents.

Faced with democratic breakdown, a failing state and a weakening
economy, most Malian citizens expressed alarm. In December 2012, only
25% stated that Mali was headed in the “right direction”; fully 75%
saw the country moving in the “wrong direction” (see Table 1). These
figures represent popular opinion in the six southern regions because
the 2012 survey could not be conducted in the north due to ongoing
conflict. At that time too, internally displaced persons were still
on the move and their numbers and locations remained fluid.

The crisis escalated in January 2013, when insurgents occupied
territory close to Mopti and threatened to advance on Segou, then
Bamako. In response to an urgent call for military intervention from
Mali’s interim government, a French-led air and ground force, later
backed by the United Nations Security Council, drove the rebels out
of the northern cities. The quick success of this military offensive
created political space for the government to approve a “roadmap” for
political transition that promised elections, the reestablishment of
order, and national reconciliation. In a landmark achievement,
legitimate civilian authority was restored by means of open elections
for president (July/August 2013) and parliament (November/December
2013).

By the end of the year, public opinion had turned around completely.
In late December 2013, a clear majority of Malians (67%) now
considered that their country was progressing in the “right
direction.” Only one third of all adults (33%) now expressed concern
that the country was on the “wrong” path. Interestingly, people
residing in the three northern regions – who could now be interviewed
due to an improved security situation – were slightly more optimistic
about the country’s trajectory than people living in the south (71
versus 66%). One possible reason is that northerners experienced the
biggest change, namely from the strict rules of sharia law to a more
relaxed, secular regime. Furthermore, persons displaced by the
conflict – who were identified during the survey in both north and
south – were the most likely to say that the country was back on the
“right” track (75%).

Most Important Problems

But Mali’s complex crisis is far from resolved. Major difficulties
remain. To obtain people’s views of the challenging terrain ahead,
the Afrobarometer survey asked: “In your opinion, what are the most
important problems facing this country that the government should
address?” Although respondents were offered the opportunity to name
up to three problems, the one mentioned first is taken to be the
priority problem and thus is reported here (see Table 2).

Malians regard political instability as the country’s biggest
challenge, which is not surprising in the aftermath of armed
rebellion. More than one quarter (27%) of all adult citizens place
the resolution of conflict and the return of peace at the top of the
list of important problems. This sentiment is especially widespread
among northerners (35%), who continue to experience political
violence (though at greatly reduced levels), and among internally
displaced persons, who were interviewed in both the north and the
south (43%).

Food insecurity is the other prominent concern on the minds of
Malians. Southerners are especially likely to be preoccupied with
hunger (25%, not shown in Table 2) as compared to both northerners
(16%) and IDPs (17%). This regional and intergroup disparity is
probably due to the preponderance of rural areas, where self-provided
food supplies are sometimes unreliable, in the survey sample for the
southern regions. By contrast, food is usually available for purchase
in urban areas, where northern and IDP respondents are concentrated;
moreover, the north is the focus of emergency food relief efforts,
making food supplies more readily available there than in the south.
Residential location (rural or urban) also helps to explain the
higher levels of concern among northerners about unemployment and
crime and the lower priority they grant to addressing problems of
water shortage.

This wide array of basic developmental problems does not seem to dent
popular expectations for social and economic progress. Remarkably, a
strong majority of Malians (62%) supposes that the government is
potentially able to solve “all” these problems. And a further 31%
estimates that the government can solve “most” of them. These high
levels of public confidence, shared equally across north and south,
seem inconsistent with the fact that armed conflict and military coup
have undermined the capacity of the state. But rising expectations
are consistent with the observation that, by the end of 2013 – and
especially compared to the dark days of 2012 – Malians think that
their country is embarked on a brighter future.

What Explains the Public Mood?

Several factors may drive the observed U-turn in Malians’ popular
outlook. Three will be considered here:

* An improved security situation;

* The restoration of elected government; and

* Perceived economic recovery.

[full report looks in detail at opinion on each of these issues]

Conclusion: What Drives the Public Mood?

This paper found evidence that Malians believe that their country has
a fresh chance to correct problems that led to an armed conflict and
a military coup. In the interval of just one year, between December
2012 and December 2013, the public mood swung from deep pessimism
(75% “wrong direction”) to solid optimism (67% “right direction”).
The analysis in this paper has established that the current bout of
popular hope is linked to positive mass attitudes about security,
democracy and the economy.

But which of these factors matters most? If policy makers are to make
decisions that contribute to sustaining the country’s recent
progress, where should they concentrate their efforts? To compare the
relative effects of security, electoral and economic considerations,
this paper concludes with a simple logistic regression analysis (see
Table 6). It reveals that, even when controlled for each other, all
three factors remain statistically significant, that is, influential
in explaining the public mood. So each factor – state strengthening,
democracy building, and equitable economic growth – deserves policy
attention.

In sum, the main driver of the public mood appears to be popular
attitudes about the condition of the economy. The obvious implication
- without neglecting the rebuilding of a flimsy state or the
consolidation of a fragile democracy – is that the new government
ought to direct priority attention to choosing effective policies for
economic development. A good starting point would be those policy
areas – especially food security, but also employment creation and
poverty alleviation – that citizens have identified as the country’s
most important economic problems. In so doing, the government would
also be well advised to first target the special needs of internally
displaced persons and the long-neglected issue of the economic
development of Mali’s northern regions.

**************************************************************

Popular Perceptions of the Causes and Consequences of the Conflict in
Mali

Afrobarometer Policy Paper 10 – Massa Coulibaly

March 2014

[full text available at http://afrobarometer.org/publications/policy-papers]

Summary

In the December 2012 Afrobarometer survey, Malians highlighted the
primary causes of the serious sociopolitical crisis that their
country was going through, as lack of patriotism on the part of the
leaders and weakness of the State. At that time, most Malians had
lost trust in the political class and in politicians. One year later
(December 2013), however, a follow-up Afrobarometer survey revealed
that foreign terrorists and corruption are rather the two primary
causes of the Northern conflict and occupation.

The change in perceptions on this question in the space of a year is
explained by the change in the nature and scale of the crisis. The
crisis went from the occupation of two-thirds of the territory to war
via the intensified radicalism in the occupants’ management of the
occupied areas and their many acts of banning and punishment. Next,
the change in perceptions is also explained by the peaceful
organization of presidential and legislative elections with record
participation rates of Malian citizens since the advent of democracy
in 1992, more than 50% in the presidential ones and a little less
than 50% in the legislative ones. These elections deemed free and
honest explain in turn that the need to resort to violence for a good
cause is perceived by close to one out of five Malians versus close
to one out of three Malians one year prior.

One of the major challenges of the governance in Mali is still
maintaining and deepening confidence between Malians and their ruling
class. To do so, measuring the populations’ perceptions helps to
track the will of the people and ensure that policies serve this will
and not the reverse.

Key Findings

The main popular perceptions from the December 2013 Afrobarometer
survey can be summarized as follows:

* The three main reasons for the Northern conflict and occupation are
foreign terrorists, corruption and the desire for natural resources.
However, in formerly occupied areas, the weakness of the State is in
conflict with the desire for natural resources.

* For the overwhelming majority of Malians, rebels and Islamists
appear in first place of those presumed to be involved in drug
trafficking, alongside transnational organized crime.

* The Northern conflict brought about internal displacement of
populations of around 6% with 3% who already returned home, 2% with
the intention of returning and 1% with no intention of returning.
This phenomenon proportionally affects city dwellers, women and those
under 25 or age 35-44 slightly more.

* In total, close to one out of three Malians were affected,
personally or through family members, by the Northern conflict and
occupation, in one of the many ways in which one could be affected,
from the explosion of one’s domicile to death via sharia punishment
or physical aggression of any kind

* For the very large majority of Malians (86% to 95%), three major
options would help resolve the conflict: civic education, justice and
a strong State

* For close to two out of three Malians, signing a new agreement will
probably be the basis for sustainable peace in Mali.

1. Causes of the conflict

There were quite a few causes for the conflict, from the arrival of
foreign terrorists on the national territory to the military coup
d’etat via corruption, incompetence or lack of patriotism of the
Malian leaders, etc. We can certainly add drug trafficking including
rebels and Islamist groups as well as foreigners, and even
transnational organized crime who are suspected of this, based on the
survey data.

1.1. A variety of reasons

In December 2012 when we surveyed Malians on the causes of the crisis
that the country was experiencing, they put at the top the lack of
patriotism of the leaders, weakness of the State, foreign terrorists
and incompetence of the political class, four reasons which accounted
for more than two-thirds of all of the causes listed (68%). When we
know that foreign terrorists accounted for only 11%, it becomes
apparent that the three main reasons were internal, for 57% in total,
with 67% for survey respondents from Segu and 69% from Sikasso.

When we asked the same question in December 2013, thus coming out of
the occupation of two-thirds of the national territory, foreign
terrorists were by far the primary cause of the occupation and
Northern conflict. Lack of patriotism of the leaders went down to
fifth place, replaced by corruption, desire for natural resources and
weakness of the State. Note that this classification experiences some
regional effects except that regardless of region, foreign terrorists
are still perceived as the primary cause for the Northern conflict
and occupation thus with no regional effects.

On the 9 reasons listed, lack of development in the North is ranked
8th, just before the coup d’Etat that occupies last place, except in
the regions directly concerned, where it occupies 4th, 5th, and 7th
place respectively in Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. For all of the areas
occupied by armed groups, rebels and Islamists, this reason climbed
to 4th place. Likewise, the desire for natural resources is perceived
as the 3rd reason for the conflict versus a modest position of 6th
place in formerly occupied areas.

1.2. Drug trafficking

It has always been said that drug trafficking was one of the major
causes of the crisis in the North and thus the occupation and armed
conflict. Studies (GREAT, 2013) have also revealed that generally,
trafficking of all kinds was the basic issue between all those
involved in the Sahel-Saharan strip: trafficking of drugs, arms,
cigarettes, human beings, etc. Among those most involved in this
traffic, rebels, transnational organized crime and Islamic groups are
at the top. In Gao and Kidal, the primary offenders are rebels and
Islamists, specifically the two occupants of the north, with the
highest scores, 96% each. This must be considered a revelation from
actual experience and not just a simple perception. In two other
regions of the country, in this instance Kayes and Sikasso, these two
groups (rebels and Islamists) are perceived as being the two biggest
drug traffickers.

One significant difference between Kidal and the other two Northern
regions, even with the entire rest of the country, is the clearly
higher score in Kidal than everywhere else of the involvement of
public bodies like customs (61% in Kidal versus 29% in Gao and 5% in
Timbuktu), Malian military (22% versus 3% each of the two other
Northern regions) and local elected officials (28% versus 6%
respectively 2%). Isn’t that also another revelation from actual
experience of the populations of this region and not just a simple
perception?

*****************************************************

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication
providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a
particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus
Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at africafocus@igc.org. Please
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Obama Shouldn’t Forget Our Man in Havana
| April 17, 2014 | 8:31 pm | Action | No comments

Via: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-03-19/obama-shouldn-t-forget-our-man-in-havana

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Mar 19, 2014 4:39 PM ET
By Jeffrey Goldberg

When U.S. President Barack Obama looks abroad, he sees only the possibility of frustration and more frustration. He will not be supervising the return of Crimea to Ukraine. He and the West are unable to end the slaughter of Syria’s citizens by its government. There is little chance his administration will forge a final peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

I believe that Obama should continue to apply himself assiduously to these problems. But I also have a suggestion for something he could do that might actually work. It’s something that would help undo a five-decade-old American policy disaster, something that would begin the process of resetting (to borrow a word) the U.S.’s relations with an entire region, and something that would free a U.S. government contractor — an American whose imprisonment is largely his own government’s fault — from a foreign prison.

The dysfunctional U.S. relationship with Cuba is Washington’s longest-running tragicomedy. For almost 55 years, the U.S. has treated Cuba like a pariah state in the hope that sanctions, embargoes and broad isolation would bring about the end of the Communist government. As a general rule, if a policy hasn’t worked in more than half a century, it’s probably time to find a new policy.

But a hard-line Cuban exile community, and its supporters in Congress, has long made it difficult for any administration to imagine a new path forward. Why, it’s almost as if opponents of a normalized relationship with Cuba want to see the Communists under the Castro brothers rule the island forever! A normal, functioning relationship, built on respect and trade and the exchange of people and ideas, might lead to the very thing the embargo has failed to achieve: a more open, less-besieged Cuba.

American attitudes are changing in ways that would make an Obama push to normalize relations less of a political risk. A recent poll conducted on behalf of the Atlantic Council found that 56 percent of respondents nationally favored a change in the U.S.-Cuba policy, but not only that: 63 percent of Floridians polled wanted a change, and 62 percent of Latinos nationwide. The survey found that even 52 percent of self-identified Republicans supported normalization of ties.

I can also report, based on my own data-driven journalism, that exactly zero percent of Obama administration officials with broad national security and foreign policy responsibilities think that U.S. Cuba policy makes any sense. In fact, to most foreign policy practitioners, it’s an obvious negative: U.S. relations with much of Latin America are strained precisely because of our archaic approach to the challenge of Cuba. U.S. policy makers with responsibility for the Western hemisphere report with regularity the puzzlement and frustration of Latin American leaders, who note — correctly — that the U.S. somehow manages to maintain productive relations with the People’s Republic of China. We moved, a very long time ago, away from a policy of regime change in the matter of Beijing’s Communists. But our policy today on Cuba is still one of regime change — a policy put in place in the days of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

Which brings us to one of the main stumbling blocks on the path to normalization, the imprisonment, in a Cuban military hospital, of one Alan Gross, a resident of suburban Maryland and a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which dispatched Gross in 2009 to Cuba on a semi-covert mission so farcical and lunkheaded as to defy belief.

Gross, who is now 64, was hired by a USAID contractor, Development Alternatives Inc., to deliver satellite Internet equipment to Cuban Jews as part of a program funded as part of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which authorized the U.S. government to engage in “democracy building efforts” that would speed the removal of the Castro brothers.

How, you ask, could the provision of a modest quantity of satellite Internet equipment to Cuba’s tiny — and notably unpersecuted — Jewish community, a community that already has access to the Internet (I e-mail with its members quite frequently), speed the downfall of Fidel and Raul Castro? If you can figure out the answer to this question, then you could work for the U.S. government.

Soon after the passage of Helms-Burton, the government of Cuba outlawed collaboration with the program. In other words, any American government employee or contractor who visited Cuba to advance the Helms-Burton mission would be breaking Cuban law. You would think, of course, that the U.S. would send its best secret agents — think Ben Affleck in “Argo” — to advance this obviously dangerous mission. But Gross had no experience in semi-covert operations, no knowledge of Spanish and no particular training for this mission. He also seemingly didn’t have much sense that what he was doing was illegal, at least at first: By his third trip, he was warning his employers that “this is very risky business in no uncertain terms.” On his fifth trip to Cuba — on a tourist visa — he was arrested. After a trial, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

And then he was, in essence, abandoned by the government that sent him to Cuba.

His lawyer in Washington, Scott Gilbert, told me last week that, when he described the harebrained mission USAID hired his well-meaning but entirely unprepared client to carry out, government officials reacted with a combination of amusement and horror. “I ask people, ‘If this project came across your desk when you were at USAID, what would you have thought?’ The answer I often get is that they would have thought it was an interoffice practical joke.” He went on, “I’ve been told by former USAID officials that never in the history of that agency have they sent a civilian into an environment like that of Cuba, a country with which we have no diplomatic relations. As I’ve told U.S. government officials, you knew with certainty that he would be arrested. Anyone who has visited Cuba would understand that. What you guessed wrong on was the severity of the penalty.”

Gilbert has been working pro bono for several years to help free Gross. But he is getting no help at all from the government that sent him to Cuba. “The U.S. government has effectively done nothing — nothing,” he says, in the years since Gross was arrested, “to attempt to obtain his freedom other than standing up and demanding his unconditional release, which is like looking up at the sky and demanding rain.”

As it happens, there is an obvious way to obtain Gross’s release. Three Cuban intelligence agents are sitting today in American prisons. They are members of what is known as the “Cuban Five,” a network of spies rounded up in 1998. The Cuban Five were spying mainly on right-wing Cuban dissident groups in Florida. Two of the five have already completed their sentences and have been returned to Cuba. Three remain in prison, and one, the leader of the group, Gerardo Hernandez, was sentenced to two life terms. The Cuban government is desperate to see the return of these men, and would, by all accounts, be open to a trade. There is huge precedent for such a trade (the U.S. conducted such exchanges throughout the Cold War), and the Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, has repeatedly indicated an openness to meet U.S. officials without preconditions to discuss what he has termed a humanitarian issue.

The U.S. argues — correctly — that Gross was not a spy, and that therefore his actions were not equivalent to those of the Cuban Five. But these sorts of trades are never neat. The U.S. should give up the Cuban Five for Gross, especially because its own incompetence caused his imprisonment. It should also negotiate with Cuba over Gross because this is the only way toward normalization.

“Establishing a process to return Alan Gross home and the remaining members of the Cuban Five to Cuba is necessary for more than just the obvious humanitarian reasons,” Julia Sweig, a prominent Latin America expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “This could open the door to a fundamental realignment of the entire relationship, and set it on a normal and healthy path, and also vastly enhance Washington’s standing across Latin America.”

At the very least, negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba would begin to right a wrong the U.S. committed against one its own.

To contact the writer of this article: Jeffrey Goldberg at jgoldberg50@bloomberg.net .

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Zara Kessler at zkessler@bloomberg.net .