Category: Latin America
Is Cuba turning back to capitalism?
| July 28, 2014 | 9:38 pm | Analysis, International, Latin America | No comments

Is Cuba Turning Back to Capitalism?

July 2014

By Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny

In 2011, Cuban authorities adopted bold new Guidelines (Lineamientos) to deal with Cuba’s economic problems. Modified by pubic debate and adopted by Cuba’s parliament, the Guidelines now have the force of law and are embodied in regulations. In May 2011, after a visit to Cuba, we published an article, “Whither Cuba?” in which we argued that in spite of certain similarities between the Cuban problems in 2011 and the Soviet problems in 1985 and in spite of certain similarities between the solutions pursued by Mikhail Gorbachev known as perestroika and the Cuban reforms (actualizacion, or update), the differences in the two situations and the two sets of reforms were much greater than the similarities. Therefore, little reason existed to suppose that Cuba was heading down the path that ultimately destroyed Soviet socialism.

In February 2014 we visited Cuba again. This time we interviewed or re-interviewed workers, journalists, union officials, intellectuals, and academics. These discussions along with an examination of written material have not caused us to change our conclusion, but they have deepened our appreciation of the problems Cuban faces and the challenges faced by the new reforms and the differences with Soviet history. In this essay, we will revisit the question of whether the reforms signal a return to capitalism in Cuba and add some new insights.

The Problems

By nationalizing virtually all productive property and regulating economic activity by centralized planning in place of the market, competition, exploitation, and the pursuit of profit, Cuban socialism has achieved monumental gains for working people, including economic growth, full employment, free health care and education, housing, nutrition, and a high cultural level. Socialism, however, does not automatically produce a utopia.

State ownership and centralized planning engendered their own problems. Without the fearsome discipline of the market, socialism faces problems of motivation, productivity, efficiency and the quality of goods and services. Providing all people with employment can lead to overstaffing and inefficiency. Administering a large state fairly according to rules can lead to bureaucracy, red tape and delays. Ensuring all people of the basics of a decent life can lead to rationing, lines, and limitations on the quality and variety of consumer goods. Rationing and shortages can lead to corruption and a black market. Centralized planning can lead to a lack of initiative and responsibility at the local level.

Though such problems may be inherent in the nature of socialism, they have been exacerbated by the conditions of its birth. Never has a socialist revolution had the privilege of developing freely on its own terms. No socialist country could avoid imperialist attempts to suffocate it by invasion, diplomatic isolation, economic warfare (sanctions, blockade, sabotage, and military pressure), émigré terrorism, assassination, psychological warfare, and more recently the encouragement of “democratic movements,” and the use of cyber warfare and social media. Socialist states have always had to maneuver in a hostile world, a world even more hostile after the disappearance of the socialist bloc in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe.

In dealing with its economic problems, Cuba has always faced two disadvantages that did not pertain to the Soviet Union or China.

First, aside from abundant arable land, beautiful beaches, forests and nickel ore, Cuba does not possess abundant natural resources. It has lacked gas, oil, coal, iron, tin, and most other resources. (Though recent discoveries of offshore oil reserves may address one of these deficiencies in the future.)

Secondly, it has had to endure the fifty year U.S. blockade that deprived Cuba of export and import markets and greatly added to cost of imported medicine, food , capital goods, and consumer goods. According to some estimates in half a century the blockade has cost Cuba $975 billion, and without the boycott the Cuban standard of living might well equal Western Europe.[1]

None of these problems offset the unmistakable advantages of socialism for the mass of people, and none of them doomed the socialist project. Nonetheless, they did and do require constant attention and creative solutions. Cuba has revised its socialist model several times in attempts to deal with its economic challenges. Sometimes, the new models have had to correct deficiencies engendered by earlier ones.

1. First Model, 1960-1970. In the first period of the revolution, Cuba nationalized the big foreign companies, distributed land to the landless, developed a planning system, and coped with the U.S. blockade by developing trade with socialist countries. In this period, Cuba emphasized moral incentives over material incentives and set ambitious goals for rapid industrialization to be financed by the intensive production and export of sugar.

2. A Model Like Eastern Europe, 1970-1985. In this period Cuba joined the CMEA (the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, an organization of European socialist states designed to coordinate economic activities and develop economic, technical and scientific cooperation. In this period, Cuba developed its first Five-Year Plan that stressed the production of sugar and that placed more emphasis on material incentives in the pattern of other Eastern European socialist countries.

3. Rectification, 1985-1990. In this period, Cuba attempted to rectify the mistakes of uncritically applying Soviet economic recipes to the Cuban situation. Cuba abandoned some market mechanisms it had tried and enhanced economic centralization. It also tried to diversify the economy away from sugar by developing biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, tourism and nickel production.

4. The Special Period, 1991-2010. The collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe meant the sudden loss of over two-thirds of its exports and a drastic contraction of its whole economy. The economic crisis was exacerbated by the intensification of the U.S. blockade by means of the Torricelli Act (1992) and the Helms-Burton Act (1996). In response, Cuba devised a new model that enforced belt-tightening, conserved foreign exchange, turned state farms into co-ops, allowed limited private enterprise in the retail sector, allowed remittances from Cuban exiles, and stressed the rapid build-up of tourism. To ensure that the remittances and tourism would bring in desperately needed foreign exchange, Cuba instituted a dual currency system.

The Special Period proved to be a very resourceful way of countering the extremely grave crisis posed by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the intensification of the blockade. With the policies of the Special Period coupled with the help of loans from China and oil from Venezuela, Cuba managed to bring its economy and standard of living back to pre-crisis levels.

Meanwhile, however, several new economic problems emerged. First, the world economic recession of 2008 hammered Cuban export markets, and this remains a problem. Moreover, in 2007-2010, several hurricanes caused widespread destruction. On top of these problems, the Special Period policies resulted in some unintended and unwelcome consequences related to the dual currency system.

Because of the difference between the Cuban Universal Currency (CUC), (which was used by tourists and those sending remittances from abroad) and the Cuban peso was roughly 1 to 25, Cuba was able to take in much needed foreign exchange. This difference in value also made access to the CUCs extremely desirable and gave its recipients considerable advantages.

Consequently, work in restaurants, hotels, taxis, and other parts of the tourist industry with access to payment or tips in CUCs became in many cases more attractive and more lucrative than work in the professions for which people were freely educated. There was thus a demoralizing and inefficient “brain drain” from teaching and other professions to tourism.

It also contributed to inequality, the black market, and corruption. For example, since the preponderance of the two million Cuban-American living in the United States are Cubans of European or mixed-race background, the preponderance of the billions of dollars of remittances went and are going to their relatives of European or mixed-race backgrounds in Cuba. This has exacerbated racial economic differences.

The only way out of these difficulties required eliminating the dual currency. Without causing tremendous economic dislocation, the dual currency could only be eliminated gradually by increasing Cuban wages and reducing the need for foreign exchange. This in turn required increasing productivity and efficiency to make Cuban products more competitive and to reduce the need for imported energy and raw materials. It also required increasing self-sufficiency particularly in food, since Cuba spends about $1 billion annually to purchase food abroad. Similarly, recouping export markets lost in the 2008 downturn required increasing productivity and efficiency.

All of these considerations—addressing some the endemic problems of socialism and combating problems caused by the 2008 downturn as well as those generated by the Special Period—provided the impetus for the “update” reforms inaugurated in 2011. Another circumstance that makes the reforms pressing is the uncertainty of the international situation.

Because of China, the Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, and progressive, social democratic governments in Brazil, Bolivia and elsewhere, Cuba now has more friends and support abroad than in the recent past, but none of these was guaranteed to last. China’s support for fraternal socialist lands has wavered before. The Bolivarian Revolution is not consolidated. And social democratic governments come and go.

Both Fidel Castro and Raul Castro have underscored the urgency of the reform. Fidel said, “the Cuban model doesn’t work for us anymore.”[2] In December 2010, Raul Castro said, “We either rectify things, or we run out of time to continue to skirt the abyss [and] we sink.”[3]

Understanding the nature and gravity of the problems faced by Cuba is an important component of making a political assessment of the Cuban reforms. The essence of opportunism as defined by Lenin is not in making compromises or concessions to the class enemy but in making unnecessary compromises and concessions.

In our view, the crux of the problem with Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost was that that they involved unnecessary concessions to American imperialism and compromises with capitalist ideology and practices. Gorbachev’s policies were less a requirement of the objective situation than of the class interests of a petty bourgeois sector that had developed in Soviet society rooted in years of growth of the second economy.

Though the Soviet system had problems that needed to be addressed. Gorbachev’s policies involved five unnecessary policies of opportunist retreat:

*The liquidation of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,
*The handover of the media to anti-socialist forces,
*The unleashing of nationalist separatism, and
*The surrender to U.S. imperialism,
*The wholesale privatizing and marketizing of the socialist economy.

Though the first four of these processes is not going on in Cuba, a certain reduction of the state’s role and a certain augmentation of private economic activity and the market is occurring.

Though the Cuban reforms today may be cheered by those connected to the Cuban second economy and by those who desire to undermine socialism, they are a response to very real problems that if unaddressed threaten the future of Cuban socialism. To the extent that the reforms are compromises with the market and capitalist ideas, they are necessary compromises. The short term goal is to eliminate the balance of payments deficit, enhance flows of external income, substitute domestic produce for imports, and increase economic efficiency, work motivation, and income. The long -term goal is to achieve food and energy self-sufficiency, the efficient use of human resources, a greater competitiveness and new forms of production.[4]

The Policies of Actualizacion

Still, the question arises: even if the Cuban reforms today are more necessary than the Gorbachev reforms of the late 1980s, are not the Cuban moves themselves similar in many ways to Gorbachev’s and do they not pose the same danger to socialism as Gorbachev’s reforms?

Many of the guidelines do bear a resemblance to Gorbachev’s policies, and these have drawn the most attention. Unquestionably, many of the guidelines aim to increase the role of the market, private enterprise and local autonomy, and hence to reduce the role of state planning, state employment, and state subsidies.

A course that increases the size of petty bourgeois interests does pose dangers. Invariably, voices will arise that want to push things faster and further toward capitalism. In the prologue to the Spanish translation of our book, Socialismo Traicionado, Ramon Labanino, one of the imprisoned Cuban Five, speaks of the need at this moment to “be alert and vigilant in order to avoid errors and weaknesses that could bring us to failure.”

Many things about the handling of the updating so far, not the least that men like Labanino are aware of the Soviet history, give confidence that Cuba can avoid the pitfalls that doomed Soviet socialism.

Most importantly, in adopting the Cuban Communist Party Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) affirmed that the government’s commitment to socialism and to preserving the livelihood, security and standard of life of the Cuban people. In the PCC’s words, the government will “continue preserving the achievements of the Revolution, such as access to medical attention, education, culture, sports, recreation, retirement pensions and social security for those who need it.”

Also, of crucial importance, the formulation and implementation of the guidelines occurred and are occurring in a process that differed widely from what happened in the Soviet Union. The Cuban “updating” emerged from a highly democratic process and the mass participation rank and file Communists and workers.

In Cuba, the development of the guidelines in 2010 through their ongoing implementation in 2014 embraced popular consultation and discussion and the building of mass consensus. The process began in December 2010 through February 2011 with discussions by the people as a whole, followed by discussions by the party in every province, and then by discussions at the Sixth PCC Congress in April. In total 163,079 meetings occurred in which 8,913,838 people participated.

These discussion modified or incorporated 68 percent of the original 291 guidelines, modified 181 others, and created 36 new guidelines. Discussion of the guidelines also occurred in the letter pages of Granma, radio phone-ins, internet blogs, and the trade unions. One observer noted: “A key point here is that the drafting of new employment law involves a process of consultation with the CTC (the Central Confederation of Trade Unions) so detailed and extensive that unions have a de facto veto.”[5]

Because of this mass involvement, the Cuban people are united and confident about the direction of the updating. The question of whether Cuba is going back to capitalism is more prevalent outside Cuba than inside. No one with whom we spoke expressed the slightest fear that the updating would hurt the interests of workers or threaten the future of socialism.

The Cuban “updating” is a multifaceted and sweeping effort that involves 291 guidelines touching nearly every corner of economic life. In another difference from Gorbachev’s approach, the Cuban reforms are almost exclusively geared to economic changes, not changes in politics, ideology, the media, and foreign policy.

Moreover, many of the guidelines are geared to peculiar Cuban conditions and have no resemblance to Gorbachev’s perestroika. For instance, some of the guidelines have to do with encouraging the cultivation of currently unused land and developing rural areas by giving unused state farmland in usufruct to those who can produce food for national consumption. Some of the guidelines have to do with a return to the socialist principle of distribution — “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work,’’— that is to say, rewarding workers for their productivity, from which the Cubans had moved away during the Special Period.

To increase productivity and efficiency, the responsibility for various national enterprises will devolve to the provinces and municipalities. These lower levels will acquire control over their own revenues and are expected to operate on the basis of financial profitability. The sugar industry for example will reduce the number of personnel and each mill will become a separate enterprise.

Decentralization involves a departure from central planning, and this can cause complications for what centralized planning remains, and it can also introduce inequalities as some localities enjoy more favorable conditions than others. Still, decentralization does not necessitate tampering with the fundamentals of socialist ownership and the provision of social needs. All socialist countries have experimented with various mixes of centralization and decentralization.

The state plans to reduce other activity including as many as a million or more jobs. The state will also eliminate workers’ cafeterias with subsidized meals or will transform them into commercial eateries. The state will limit number of months of eligibility and the size of unemployment benefits. The state also plans to eliminate the subsidized ration book for those who can afford to buy food. The idea is to do these changes in a gradual and systematic way, so that those losing state jobs find employment in an invigorated private sector.

Though the reforms involve an expansion of private enterprise and thus capitalist relations of production, the expansion is highly regulated. According to one estimate, as of 2014, 450,000 Cubans work in the private sector in farms, cooperatives and small firms.[6] As of December 2013, 78 percent of the workforce was in the public sector and 22 percent in the private sector. The goal of the updating is sixty percent in the public sector and forty percent in the private sector.[7] The private and cooperative sector will embrace almost half of the workforce by 2015. In this process, the state will lease to private individuals such enterprises as in-home restaurants (paladares) , bakeries, barber shops, beauty salons, watch, bike and auto repair shops. The state is raising the number of permissible customers for in-home restaurants from 12 to 50 and suspending taxes for a year for those paladares that employ up to 5 persons.

Market relations are expanding. People with access to foreign exchange will be able to use the tourist facilities and purchase cell phones, telephones and computers. People will be able to buy and sell automobiles, houses and apartments and to build private homes and hire private building crews.

The guidelines attempt to handle such controversial aspects as privatization and foreign investment in ways that guarantee the living standards of workers and the future of socialism.

For example, the expansion of cuentapropistas (workers on own account or the self-employed) is being done not only to absorb those displaced from state employment but also to encourage workers in the illegal second economy to become part of the legal economy.

A trade union official told us about a relative who had worked as an illegal taxi driver, where he was often arrested, paid no taxes and had no social benefits. Now as a cuentapropista he drives a cab legally, pays taxes, and receives social benefits, including eventually a pension.[8] Moreover, all of the cuentapropistas are eligible to join trade unions. The unions are devising strategies to recruit them and to offset the petty bourgeois thinking that could arise with the expansion of self-employment.

The updating seeks to expand foreign investment, beyond what was allowed by a 1997 law. Already in the plans is a new Mariel container port financed by Brazil. At the same time, the updating seeks to minimize the potentially harmful consequences of foreign investment.

For example, the law creates incentives for joint ventures. It excludes investment from Cuban exiles. It requires joint ventures and other forms of enterprise to hire labor through the state-run Cuban agencies.

It requires foreign investors to follow the labor code in terms of environmental, health and safety protections and social security. With the exception of high-level management, companies must employ Cuban citizens and residents for all positions.

Though all of these changes are breathtaking in their sweep and aspirations, Raul Castro and the PCC are implementing them cautiously with an eye to thwarting unintended consequences. At the Sixth Congress of the CPP, Castro said, “The challenge is clear: higher output levels in material production, by volume and efficiency are essential; but have to be made in the context of socialist relations of social production, socialist property relations.”[9] On the licensing of cooperatives, Castro said, “We cannot hurry in the constant approval of these cooperatives. We shall go at a suitable pace.” In 2013, Castro issued a stern warning to entrepreneurs against rushing headlong in violation of the guidelines.[10]

In a similar vein, the party has warned people not to expect the updating to lead to privatizing the economy. In 2010 the PCC declared: “In the new forms of non-state management, the concentration of ownership in legal or natural entities shall not be permitted.”[11]

In July 2013, Marino Murillo, a top economics official in the Cuban government, reinforced this idea before the National Assembly of People’s Power: It is not correct to say that in Cuba today a transformation of property into private property is taking place. Do not mistake the transformation of property for the modernization of management. They are two different things….[12]

What is being transferred into private hands is not ownership but the management of socially owned property.[13]

Clearly, the path ahead is not without danger. Referring to the Paris Commune, Karl Marx said, “World history would indeed be very easy to make, if the struggle were taken up only on condition of infallibly favorable chances.”[14] So it is with the Cuban actualizacion. The Cubans are undertaking a course with certain risks and with no infallibly favorable chances, but they are doing so gradually and cautiously with their eyes wide open and with the entire population involved. It is a course that is contradictory, but necessary. They are doing so with the understanding that, as Raul Castro said, to do nothing risks falling into the abyss.

Those in the United States who are watching the Cuban developments with intense interest and boundless hope, could give concrete aid to the Cuban updating process by redoubling the effort to free all the Cuban Five and to end the criminal U.S. blockade.

[1] Interview of Manuel Yepe, Havana, Cuba, February 18, 2014. Yepe is a former diplomat and now a journalist. As a young man he was an assistant to Che Guevara. See also: Cuba vs Bloqueo: Cuba’s Report on Resolution 65/6 of the United Nations General Assembly entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (July 2011), 54.
[2] Quoted by Anton L. Allahar and Nelson P. Valdès://, 36.
[3]<> , March 24, 2012 .
[4] Allahar and Valdès, 41.
[5] Steve Ludlam, “Cuba’s Socialist Development Strategy,” Science & Society 76, no. 1 (January 2012), 2.
[6]The Economist, Feb. 15, 2014.
[7] Interview of Marta Nunez, Havana, Cuba, February 18, 2014.
[8] Interview of Lic. Anibal Melo Infante, Department of International Relations, Centro De Trabajadores de Cuba, (CTC) Feb.17, 2014.
[9] Raul Castro, at the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.
[10] “Cuba: Raul Castro Issues Stern Warning to Entrepreneurs,” Associated Press (December 21, 2013).
[11] Quoted by Allahar and Valdès, 41.
[12] .
[13] Letter, Marce Cameron, Green Left Weekly, July 1, 2012. Marce Cameron has produced a useful blog, “Cuba’s Socialist Renewal.”
[14] Marx to L. Kugelmann, April 17, 1871 in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works in Two Volumes, Vol. II, (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), 464

Tariq Ali Interviews Nicolas Maduro on the launch of teleSUR English
| July 24, 2014 | 9:22 pm | International, Latin America | No comments


Published 24 July 2014

President Nicolas Maduro sat down with
Tariq Ali over 40 minutes, for an interview
which will be featured on the new teleSUR
English website.

The renowned scholar Tariq Ali conducted an interview today in Caracas with president Nicolas Maduro, as celebrations on the 231st birthday of Simon Bolivar mark the launch of teleSUR English.

During the interview, which took place in Bolivar’s birth home, Ali and Maduro spoke about the legacy of former president Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan opposition, the economy, and the most recent developments in the world.

Regarding the Venezuelan opposition’s stance against his government, Maduro underscored the importance of recognizing democratic rule.

“In 15 years of Revolution, we have won 18 out of 19 elections, we have built a solid majority based on our projects and on national and international values. The oligarchy, which has inherited anti-values, has a superiority complex and has not been able to respect this new majority that was built by Commander Hugo Chavez” he said.

President Maduro highlighted the importance of the recent changes in world affairs, assuring that the new mechanisms – such as the SUCRE monetary mechanism – and the new Development Bank and the Reserves Bank announced by the BRICS would reshape the world economy.

“We got new mechanisms that have been born…the power of these economies [BRICS] will eventually determine, inevitably, the new world system, and Latin America must spearhead this process”, said Maduro.

During the interview, the Venezuelan president also took the opportunity to call on the Arab leaders to stop the ongoing massacre in Gaza.

Statement of Presbyterian Church on Cuba and USA
| July 4, 2014 | 4:18 pm | International, Latin America | No comments

Date: Friday, 2014 June 27 22:59

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Takes Actions Regarding CubaJun 27, 2014 by NNOC Admin« The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Annual Report 2014 The just-concluded General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved two resolutions regarding Cuba. End Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” By a vote of 481 to 63, the General Assembly adopted resolution 11-03: “Petition the President of the United States and the U.S. Department of State to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism as soon as possible.” [1] The stated rationale for the resolution included the following:“[T]here is no evidence that Cuba has provided [logistical and financial or political support to groups that carry out terrorist attacks on civilians] in recent decades or is currently providing it.”“To the contrary, Cuba has made international commitments to combat terrorism, has ratified all twelve international counterterrorism conventions, and has offered to sign a bilateral agreement with the United States on counterterrorism.”“In an immediate response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., by Islamist militants belonging to Al Qaeda, Cuba expressed solidarity with the U.S, condemning the attacks and offering Cuban airports for the emergency diversion of airplanes from U.S. airports.”“Cuba is a sponsor of the peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo or FARC) guerrillas and the Columbian government and is playing a constructive mediating in these talks in an effort to bring an end to one of the regions’ longest-standing conflicts and has been lauded by the Columbian government for its assistance.”“Cuba collaborates with the U.S. in counter-drug traffic efforts, interdicting narcotic shipments in the Caribbean and has been publicly thanked by the United States government for this cooperation.”“Under these circumstances, keeping Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism weakens the credibility of the entire list. . . . Removing Cuba from the list would send a positive signal to all Latin American governments and would enhance the image of the U.S. in this hemisphere and around the world.”End Restrictions on U.S. Citizens Traveling to CubaBy a hand vote the General Assembly approved resolution 11-05: “Petition the President of the United States, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to remove all of the restrictions on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba, which it is legally possible for them to do, and to openly and vigorously advocate to Congress the repeal of all laws restricting the constitutional right of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba.” The resolution also stated: “Petition the majority and minority leaders of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives to work to repeal all of the laws restricting travel to that nation.”The rationale for this resolution included the following: “[M]illions of U. S. citizens are unable to visit Cuba because of restrictions still in place that limit travel to that nation. Speaking to the Organization of American States in 2013, U. S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, stated that ‘our people are actually our best ambassadors.’ . . . Increased travel by U. S. citizens will help support thousands of . . . [new] Cuban entrepreneurs and will enable them to purchase food and clothing and provide for their other basic needs.” Consultation of U.S. and Cuban Presbyterian Churches The General Assembly also considered Resolution 11-06 calling for developing a process for consultation between the U.S. and Cuban Presbyterian churches. By a hand vote, it was referred back to the appropriate church committee to find the necessary funding for such a process in light of the U.S. church’s “commitment to deepening our relationship [with Cuba] by careful analysis of the ongoing complex situation in Cuba.”ConclusionThe biennial General Assembly is the national governing body of the Presbyterian church (U.S.A.) that brings together commissioners and advisory delegates from all 172 presbyteries in the U.S., as well as other delegates and observers from around the world.

Cuba responds to Google CEO’s call for open Internet
| July 4, 2014 | 4:14 pm | International, Latin America | No comments

Published July 02, 2014
The U.S. economic embargo prevents Cubans from accessing many Google services, Communist Party daily Granma said Wednesday, reacting to comments by the search giant’s chief during a recent visit to the island.

CEO Eric Schmidt and three other Google executives traveled to Cuba last week “to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet,” dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez said in a post on her site, 14ymedio.

Cuba is “one of the few countries in the world that cannot access a good part of the services” offered by Google because the California-based company is bound by the “unjust laws” of the U.S. economic embargo, Granma said.

Neither Android apps nor platforms such as Google Analytics are available to Internet users in Cuba, the newspaper said.

Granma noted that Schmidt criticized the U.S. embargo in comments online after his visit to Cuba.

Very few Cubans have Web access from their homes and the only option for most people is going to a government-run Internet cafe or to a hotel serving tourists.

Connection charges are steep for a country where the average monthly wage is $20.

While Cuba’s Internet links improved substantially with the arrival in 2011 of an underwater fiber-optic cable connecting the island with Venezuela, the government says it will take years to upgrade telecommunications infrastructure to the point where widespread home Web access will be possible. EFE

Father Geoffrey Bottoms sends a letter to President Obama
| July 4, 2014 | 4:09 pm | Cuban Five, International, Latin America | No comments

Father Geoffrey Bottoms is a British Catholic priest. He is an executive member of the British Cuba Solidarity Campaign and has visited Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, and Fernando González in their various US prisons and met regularly with their families. He also leads Group Study Tours of Cuba each year on behalf of the British campaign. Father Bottoms is a follower of liberation theology and is actively involved in the labour and trade movement. He is a member of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union in the UK.

July 5, 2014

Dear President Obama,

As a Catholic priest in Britain I have followed the case of five Cuban prisoners in the United States known as the Cuban Five since 2002. They were convicted in Miami of charges ranging from failure to disclose themselves as foreign agents to conspiracy to commit espionage and even murder and were given sentences stretching from fifteen years to double life. In reality they were defending their people against acts of terrorism by certain Cuban-American groups in Miami hostile to Havana that have killed almost three thousand five hundred people and injured over two thousand others.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the recommendation of its Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions and Amnesty International have both raised concerns as to the fairness and impartiality of a trial that took place in such a hostile environment as Miami where there were irregularities in the due process of law. An International Commission of Inquiry held in London in March of 2014 led by three internationally renowned judges reached a similar conclusion.

I have attended three appeals on behalf of the Five in Miami and Atlanta and heard the arguments for myself. I have also visited three of the prisoners and met with their families and am convinced that there has been a gross miscarriage of justice.

Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez have both returned to Cuba having served their sentences but I am appealing for the release of Gerardo Hernandez serving double life in USP Victorville, California, Antonio Guerrero serving 22 years in FCI Marianna, and Ramon Labanino (known as Luis Medina) serving thirty years in FCI Ashland. The appeal process has now reached the stage of Habeas Corpus with fresh evidence having come to light of journalists in the pay of the US government writing biased reports both before and during the trial itself.

Mr. President, I know that you are a man of peace having won the Nobel Peace Prize and that you are also a man of faith who attempts to put his Christian principles into practice in public life. I therefore appeal for the release of the remaining three Cuban prisoners in the interests of furthering relations between the US and Cuba and world peace. Surely a humanitarian resolution to this case can be found?

The world has moved on since 1959 and it is obvious that US policy towards Cuba since then has failed to achieve its objectives. Meanwhile much suffering has been caused not least to these men and their families and especially Adriana, the wife of Gerardo Hernandez, who has been consistently denied a visa to visit her husband since 1998. I believe that they are victims of this failed strategy.

Both your country and Cuba stand to benefit from a relationship of mutual respect and co-operation and your presidency could be defined by ending decades of this sterile policy towards a noble and heroic developing country on your doorstep that only wishes to pursue its humanitarian future free from outside interference.

Can you do it? Yes you can!

With the greatest respect,

Fr. Geoffrey Bottoms
Sheffield UK.

ZunZuneo and the U.S. Policy
| June 29, 2014 | 8:19 pm | International, Latin America | No comments

Destabiliziation in Latin America
June 27, 2014

ZunZuneo and the U.S. Policy
Destabiliziation in Latin America
by Matt Peppe

News from the AP about the U.S. government’s secret project to create a Cuban Twitter or “ZunZuneo,” to be used for disseminating propaganda and fomenting unrest in Cuba, spurring young people in that country to overthrow their government, comes as no surprise to anyone with even the most cursory understanding of U.S. policy in Cuba and Latin America in general. It is but a tiny part of a 55-year-old, completely unprovoked, genocidal policy against a nation whose only offense is failing to subordinate itself to the will of the U.S. government.

ZunZuneo was initiated and run by the ostensibly “humanitarian” U.S. Agency for International Development through a series of shell corporations which were not supposed to be traced back to the government. The project is typical of the type of subversion and interference with another nation that the U.S. government has always felt entitled to undertake, regardless of the principles of sovereignty and self-determination fundamental to international law.

Due to Cuba’s successful revolution in 1959 and their ongoing ability to resist U.S. subversion of their socioeconomic system, U.S. actions against the tiny nation in the Carribean have been harsher than any other victim who fails to recognize the U.S. as its rightful master. Early destabilization efforts included a vicious campaign of terrorism against Cuba, part of a massive CIA effort that later evolved into a policy of providing safe haven to terrorist exile groups and looking the other way as they violate the U.S. Neutrality Act and international law.

The largest act of subversion is, of course, the blockade, euphemistically known in the U.S. as an “embargo.” The U.S. blockade against Cuba has now lasted more than a half century as a punishment for Cuba achieving self-determination. The blockade is an act of warfare, as it is based on the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 (TWEA), which is only applicable during times of war. The blockade has been expanded and strengthened over the years with various violations of international law such as the Helms-Burton Act and the Torricelli Act. The policy of the U.S. blockade has been found to be an illegal violation of international law for 22 straight years by 99% of the world’s nations, who have demanded its end.

The attempted subversion of a country’s political system is not unique to U.S. actions against Cuba, nor is it unique to USAID. Other U.S. government agencies, such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), have long carried out similar actions. Such organizations purport to be apolitical groups for “democratic” promotion but are in reality nothing more than fronts, essentially political action committees (PACs). Due to the concealment of their purpose, they are more like political slush funds used to advanced the perceived interest of the United States.

Of course, they are not used to promote American “values” or “humanitarian principles” with abstract names like “freedom” and “democracy”, but the interests of the corporate sector eager to seek new investment opportunities outside their own country and control over the resources that they refuse to recognize as the property of local populations.

For example, over the last 15 years in Venezuela the U.S. spent $90 million funding opposition groups, including $5 million in the current federal budget. During this time, since Hugo Chavez first assumed office, his revolutionary party has won 18 elections and lost only 1. The margins of victory during Chavez’s tenure reached higher than 20%. After his death, his hand-picked successor Nicolás Maduro won by a margin of 1.6% in 2012. This is a very narrow margin, to be sure, but as Dan Kovalik points out it is a margin of victory larger than JFK’s victory over Richard Nixon and certainly larger than George Bush’s victory over Al Gore. Bush actually lost the popular vote but was declared the winner by the Supreme Court in an instance of political mettling that would be hard to imagine in any other democracy in the world.

Despite the success of the Chavista party, the opposition, aided and abetted by the U.S. government, has tried to portray the elections as “questionable” or “illegitimate”. Secretary of State John Kerry led the way by calling for a recount, encouraging the opposition to challenge the results of the election and refuse to concede.

“Washington’s efforts to de-legitimise the election mark a significant escalation of US efforts at regime change in Venezuela,” wrote Mark Weisbrot. “Not since its involvement in the 2002 military coup has the US government done this much to promote open conflict in Venezuela… It amounted to telling the government of Venezuela what was necessary to make their elections legitimate.”

In fact, international organizations monitoring the Venezuelan Presidential vote attested to the “fair and transparent” election process and former President Jimmy Carter called the country’s electoral system “the best in the world.”

The U.S. government has also refused to recognize the vast advances social progress made under the current government. Under Chavez, the country drastically reduced poverty, especially extreme poverty, with the latter falling from 23.4% in 1999 to 8.5% in 2011. As the government has put its massive revenues from oil sales to use to provide universal education and health care for all Venezuela’s citizens, people traditionally shut out of the country’s economic gains have benefited tremendously. Venezuela has gone from one of the highest rates of income inequality in Latin America to the lowest, a truly Herculean accomplishment.

Yet this does not even factor into the U.S.’s policy toward Venezuela. As a cable published by Wikileaks from 2006 demonstrates, the U.S. policy of destabilization and regime change against Hugo Chavez was pursued until his death. Now, with the perceived weakness of Maduro and the propaganda value of violent street protests portrayed in the international media as a “student movement”, it seems that Kerry is like a shark who smells blood in the water when he slanderously proclaims a “terror campaign” and foments further unrest.

U.S. government officials must feel frustrated at their inability to project their will for Venezuela to be subservient to the United States. After all, it has proved much easier in countries such as Honduras to oust a democratically elected President as happened with Manuel Zelaya.

“Zelaya was initiating such dangerous measures as a rise in minimum wage in a country where 60 percent live in poverty. He had to go,” wrote Noam Chomsky, who goes on to note that the U.S. virtually alone in the world in recognizing the “elections” later held under military rule of Pepe Lobo. “The endorsement also preserved the use of Honduras’ Palmerola air base, increasingly valuable as the U.S. military is being driven out of most of Latin America.”

Unsurprisingly, four years after the coup a Center for Economic and Policy Research report finds that “much of the economic and social progress experienced from 2006 – 2009 has been reversed in the years since,” with “economic inequality in Honduras” rising “dramatically.”

The next success of Obama’s administration in Latin America was the coup in Paraguay, in which the right-wing, elite opposition was able to drive democratically-elected Fernando Lugo from the Presidency and thus stop his program of promoting land rights for a long-oppressed peasant population.

“The United States promotes the interests of the wealthy of these mostly-poor countries, and in turn, these elite-run countries are obedient to the pro-corporate foreign policy of the United States,” writes Shamus Cooke.

There was also the coup last year against the progressive former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, Gustavo Petro. His supposed abuse of power was de-privatizing garbage collection in the capital city, which allegedly harmed the “freedom of free enterprise.” The anti-democratic actions in Colombia, a beneficiary of an enormous amount of U.S. aid, have not affected the U.S. policy toward the nation. Kovalik notes that the actions taken against Petro are part of a much larger pattern.

“While the press, as well as the U.S. government, will not acknowledge it, the elimination of progressive political leaders by coup d’ état is taking place in Latin America with increasing frequency,” Kovalik writes.
Of course this is part of long-standing U.S. policy that has destroyed democracies in countries such as Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and many other nations since the end of WWII alone. The anti-democratic measures enabled and supported by the U.S. have taken decades to recover from, if the nations victimized have been able to recover at all.

Media reporting of the story has tended to downplay or apologize for the Cuban Twitter program by stressing the U.S. government denials that it was meant to overthrow the government, or it was beneficial in allowing Cubans to communicate with each other.

Not surprisingly, Cubans themselves do not see it this way. They understandably do not appreciate an underhanded attempt to collect their personal data or to use them as pawns in a political game.

This should be a reasonable position for any American to understand. Would you support China or Russia setting up a social network meant to overthrow your government to impose one more to their liking?

Certainly not. The plot in the fictitious House of Cards of infiltration of the U.S. political process by foreign money probably seems shocking to the average American. In this country, it is a crime for foreign countries or nationals to influence democracy and domestic affairs through political contributions.In reality, this is exactly what the U.S. government has carried out in foreign countries for decades. ZunZuneo is demonstrable proof they continue to do so to this day. ZunZuneo is not just a case of USAID and the U.S. government getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar. It is part of an ongoing assault against sovereignty and self-determination of any country who opposes U.S. foreign policy. People of these countries are just as smart, capable, and deserving of a government independent of outside interference as U.S. citizens are.By simply recognizing that their government has no business in determining another country’s political affairs, and demanding that their government stop spending their tax dollars to do so, U.S. citizens could do more to advance democracy and the ideals their country claims to stand for than the U.S. government has ever done.

Matt Peppe holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at SUNY Albany and a bachelor’s degree in English and American Literature from NYU. His writing about U.S. foreign policy and Latin America has appeared in Countercurrents, La Respuesta Magazine and other outlets. You can read his blog or follow him on twitter.

Red Bull Roped and Punished at Washington’s Anti-Cuba Rodeo
| June 29, 2014 | 8:12 pm | International, Latin America | No comments

HAVANA, Cuba, Jun 28 (acn) Red Bull North America energy drinks firm became the most recent victim of the over-50-year US economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba, thus joining the list of companies punished by Washington for violating the unilateral US sanctions.

According to Reuters news agency, the US Treasury announced that the energy drinks company settled a potential civil liability suit for allege violations of the US’s anti-Cuba policy, which has been repeatedly condemned by the international community.

Red Bull North America agreed to pay 89 thousand 775 dollars for having shot a documentary film in Cuba without authorization from the Department of the Treasury, the agency reported.

But this is not the first time that Washington punishes commercial or financial entities for having any kind of relations with Cuba.

The United States now intends to fine the National Bank of Paris BNP Paribas with 10 billion dollars for alleged violations of US sanctions against Cuba and other countries.

In May, American International Group, in the field of international insurance and services, also agreed to pay a 279-thousand-dollar fine for having relations with the Caribbean nation.

Earlier that month, travel agency, based in Argentina, also agreed to pay 2.8 million dollars for having made transactions that allegedly violated the US blockade of Cuba.

Other banks were also punished by Washington, including UBS of Switzerland and Australia and New Zealand Bank for the same reasons.

The cost of the US blockade on Cuba has been calculated at over one trillion 157 billion dollars and constitutes a violation of the UN Charter and international law.