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Why is the US So Frightened of Venezuela? April 4, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, Imperialism, Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: Israel is armed to the teeth and possesses a formidable nuclear armory, the only one in the Middle East, yet the prostituted mainstream media would have us believe that the real nuclear danger is an Iran, which has zero nuclear weapons (of course, this is not to mention the United States, Russia, UK, China, France, etc. who have enough nuclear power to destroy the globe many times over).  And now we have a medium third world power in totally nuclear weapons free South America declared a security threat to the United States.  Does the mainstream media point out to us the ridiculous nature of this measure and the hidden agenda behind it; or does it lie low and wait for its instructions from official Washington?  This article shows us how absurd is the notion of Venezuela posing a material threat to Uncle Sam unless you consider the bad example of a government dedicated to social and economic equality.  Indeed, that hurts.

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Standing Up to the Empire

by MARIA PAEZ VICTOR

Obama is not in Kansas anymore, but he does not seem to know it. Latin America no longer slavishly accepts orders from the USA; it is no longer the USA’s “back yard”.

The mainstream media has downplayed the fact that President Obama has just declared yet another country an enemy of the USA –one in the American Hemisphere. He has issued an Executive Order declaring Venezuela an “extraordinary and unusual threat to the national security of the United States” [i]

How a nation that spends less than 1% of its GDP on military expenditures, has no latest state-of-the-art military weaponry, and an army of merely 120,000 can possibly threaten the security of the mighty United States, is entirely incomprehensible.

And yet, an invasion of Venezuela, before a theoretical possibility, after Obama’s order has become a scenario with real probabilities. The Venezuelan government is not taking this threat lightly having seen what the greed for oil has done to Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

After recovering from the initial surprise and bewilderment of being labeled a threat to the world’s superpower, Venezuelans have been left with one great consolation: that it is not alone before the threats of the empire of the North.

The media have ignored even more the fact that 138 nations of the world have openly sided with Venezuela against Obama’s surreal decree. This includes the United Nations G-77 countries, all of the regional associations of Latin American and Caribbean, plus Russia and China.[ii]

In the diplomatic world where finessing and weasel words are customary, the strong, categorical language with which Latin America condemned Obama’s decree has been remarkable. The decree was -in no uncertain terms- reviled.

The union and integration of Latin America and the Caribbean has been an amazing achievement. Simón Bolívar in the 19th Century urged and longed for it, however, it was President Hugo Chávez who laid the institutional base that made it possible. These two giants of Latin American history saw very clearly that only through unity could the republics of the region defend themselves from the rapacity of the world powers, especially of the United States.

Latin America (with the exception of that fiefdom of a country, Panama) has repudiated Obama’s decree, including those with right wing governments. They have all seen what the executive order really is: a gross intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, thus violating international law, specifically the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations, and it also violates the United Nations Charter.

While the blockade against Cuba affected mainly only that island nation, the region knows very well that this decree affects them all and if not repudiated, no country will be secure from USA attacks.

The first country to express its solidarity with Venezuela was Cuba who labeled Obama’s order, arbitrary and aggressive. The Cuban support has an altruistic, humanist and unique merit in the history of international politics, one that reveals the greatness of the Cuban people. Just at the moment when the USA offers to re-establish relations with Cuba after 50 years of the suffering of the Cubans people due to the criminal blockade that the USA has unjustly maintained against them, just at this delicate and crucial diplomatic moment, Raúl Castro firmly denounced the aggression against Venezuela declaring, “The United States should understand once and for all that it is impossible to seduce and buy Cuba, nor to intimidate Venezuela. Our unity is indestructible.”[iii] Venezuela can never forget such solidarity.

At an Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State of the ALBA countries[iv] on 17 March 2015, Obama’s decree was denounced as false and unjust, unilateral and disproportionate and Venezuela was given unconditional support. [v.] 

Argentina stated Obama’s decree caused stupor and surprise. “ It is absolutely implausible to any moderately informed person that Venezuela or any country in South America or Latin America could possibly be considered a threat to the national security of the United States.”[vi] Its Foreign Minister said that any attempt to destabilize a democratic government of the region, Argentina will take as an attack on itself “[vii]

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales demanded that the USA beg pardon to Latin America and especially to Venezuela.These undemocratic actions of President Barack Obama threaten the peace and security of all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Bolivia reiterates its full support for the legitimate government of brother Nicolas Maduro, a president democratically elected by his people, and pledge our solidarity to the Venezuelan people in this unfair and difficult time in which democracy is again trying to be sacrificed to serve foreign interests.”[viii]

 

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said sarcastically that the only thing missing is for the USA to sanction Venezuelan voters, and added: “It must be a bad joke, which reminds us of the darkest hours of our America, when we received invasions and dictatorships imposed by imperialism… Will they understand that Latin America has changed?[ix]

Nicaragua expressed its “profound rejection and indignation before an unacceptable imperial declaration.” President Daniel Ortega condemned the “criminal and futile attempts of the Empire to undermine the Bolivarian Revolution”[x]

Pepe Mujica, former president of Uruguay who enjoys almost universal admiration in Latin America, said: “Anyone who looks at a map to say that Venezuela could be a threat has to be quite mad. Venezuelans have a marvelous Constitution – the most audacious in all of Latin America.” [xi]

As for the regional associations, they all condemned Obama’s order and supported Venezuela: UNASUR, CELAC, ALBA, OAS, PARLATINO, MERCOSUR, ALADI. Plus the UN’s G-77 plus China and Russia added their condemnation[xii]

UNASUR (Union of South American Countries) rejected the decree “because it constitute an interventionist threat to sovereignty and to the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations.”

The MERCOSUR Parliament expressed its most energetic and categorical rejection of the USA sanctions denouncing it as “ a real threat to sovereignty, peace and democratic stability (of Venezuela) and consequently, of MERCOSUR.[xiii]

The Latin American Parliament (PARLATINO) which includes 23 countries, stated, “What is at risk here is the defense of our independence, control of our natural resources and the freedom to decide our own destiny.” [xiv]

The Latin American Association for Integration (ALADI) called Obama’s decree inexplicable and arbitrary, stating, “The world knows that no country in Latin America is a threat to peace.” [xv]

At the Organization of the American States (OAS) on March 7th, Obama’s decree was rejected by a majority of 29 countries, with only three nations opposed: (no surprise) the USA, Canada and Panama.

At the United Nations, the Council of Human Rights in Geneva, denounced Obama’s aggressive policy. The UN G-77 plus China also rejected it, saying: “The Group of 77 and China conveys its solidarity and support to the Venezuelan Government affected by these measures which do not contribute, in any way, to the spirit of political and economic dialogue and understanding among countries.”[xvi]

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations (CELAC), composed of 33 nations, unanimously condemned the decree and its coercive unilateral measures denouncing them as mechanisms of political and economic pressure that violate the UN Charter. [xvii]

In Great Britain, 100 members of parliament signed a declaration repudiating Obama’s decree and affirming their “opposition to all external interference and all USA sanctions against Venezuela.” Among those signing were members of 6 different British political parties from the British Parliament, the House of Lords, the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly of Wales and the Assembly of London.

There have been demonstrations all over the world in favour of Venezuela but have been given little or no media attention.

The Summit of the Americas is scheduled for April 10 and 11 in Panama. Instead of the USA being welcomed for recently thawing its relationship with Cuba, Obamas’ decree has assured that the USA will receive a very cold shoulder. A united Latin America and the Caribbean will stand up to the  will stand up to the empire and say: Venezuela is not alone!

María Páez Victor, Ph.D. is a Venezuelan born sociologist living in Canada. 

Notes.

[i] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/03/09/fact-sheet-venezuela-executive-order

[ii] http://www.primicias24.com/nacionales/maduro-138-paises-apoyan-a-venezuela-y-piden-que-se-derogue-el-decreto-obama/

[iii] http://www.michelcollon.info/Rechazo-mundial-de-la-agresion-de,5071.html?lang=es

[iv] The ALBA countries are: Antigua & Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Venezuela. Observers: Iran, Syria and Haiti

[v] https://youthandeldersja.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/alba-extraordinary-summit-supports-maduro-rejects-obamas-executive-order/

[vi] Salim Lamrani, Rechazo mundial de la agresión de EEUU a Venezuela, Rebelión, 25-03-2015

[vii] http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1664954-el-gobierno-manifesto-total-y-absoluto-apoyo-a-nicolas-maduro

[viii] http://rt.com/news/240325-venezuela-sanctions-obama-america/

[ix] http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Ecuadors-Correa-Calls-US-Sanctions-on-Venezuela-a-Bad-Joke–20150310-0003.html.

[x] http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Nicaragua-Offers-Backing-for-Venezuela-against-Coup-Plot—20150214-0021.html

[xi] El Observador, “Mujica no duda de que’los gringos se meten en Venezuela”, 12 marzo 2015

[xii] Resumen Latinoamericano/ Russia Today, 26 March 2015

[xiii] Salim Lamrani, Rechazo mundial de la agresión de EEUU a Venezuela, Rebelión, 25-03-2015

[xiv] PARLATINO, 17 March 2015 http://parlatino.org.ve/index.php/noticias/politica-nacional-e-internacional

[xv] Salim Lamrani, Rechazo mundial de la agresión de EEUU a Venezuela, Rebelión, 25-03-2015

[xvi] http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Venezuelan-President-Maduro-Appreciates-Support-from-G-77-20150326-0009.html

[xvii] http://www.aporrea.org/internacionales/n267602.html

 

U.S. gives Cuba cold shoulder over prisoners and their suffering families April 27, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Cuba, Foreign Policy, Labor.
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Roger’s note: here is just another example of Obama following the same  foreign policy as bush and his predecessors  with respect to Latin America, as with  his ((and Secretary of State Clinton’s) tacit support for the coup in Honduras and Paraguay, not to mention Venezuela.  As a Latin Americanist I am more than disgusted with Obama and his phony campaign gimmick about change you can believe in.
cuban_five.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox
JOSE GOITIA / Toronto Star file photo

The Cuban Five, who were convicted in Miami of espionage, are portrayed on a billboard near Havana as then Cuban president Fidel Castro delivers a speech, in this photo from June 23, 2001

She’s 43 years old, childless, and lives in Cuba, while her husband of a quarter-century is incarcerated in a U.S. maximum-security prison, having served just 14 years of a soul-crushing sentence — two life terms plus 15 years.

So what are the odds that Adriana Perez and her spouse, Gerardo Hernandez, will ever have a child together?

Right now, those chances are looking extremely slim.

Or, as Perez put it just the other day: “It’s another one of our rights that is being violated.”

In this case, the right to bear children.

An intense, somewhat diminutive woman with dark, striking features and a crown of wavy black hair, the Cuban activist was in town last week to address an assembly of about 160 mostly left-leaning Torontonians. They crowded into the United Steelworkers Hall at 25 Cecil St. to hear a tale of American hard-heartedness and duplicity, at least as it’s framed by one of its victims.

Perez’s husband belongs to a group of convicted men who are now widely known as the Cuban Five, men long regarded as national heroes in Cuba, their pictures splashed across billboards, posters, TV screens and car bumpers.

In the United States, however, the same individuals are vilified as foreign spies, criminals who broke the law and who richly deserve to be behind bars.

Behold the core configuration of Cuba-U.S. relations in the early years of the third millennium: a tale of five Cuban convicts — plus one yanqui detainee.

The gringo in this story is a 63-year-old American by the name of Alan Gross, who is currently doing time in a Cuban jail.

Put them together, and what you’ve got is possibly the main obstacle to progress on what may well be the most bizarrely dysfunctional bilateral relationship in the world, a state of bitter enmity that has alternately fumed and flared for more than 50 years, pitting Washington and Havana in what some regard as the final battleground of the Cold War.

The Cold War, of course, is over — and ideological disagreement no longer has much to do with the stubborn antipathy that continues to dominate U.S.-Cuba relations.

Even the experts seem stymied by the remarkable and seemingly illogical persistence of the dispute.

“There is no explanation,” says Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington-based think-tank. “This is the war without end — the war against Cuba.”

To some degree, that war can now be reduced to a conflict over prisoners — five Cubans and one American.

Where the Cubans are concerned, time is fast running out.

“The real fear is that the United States is essentially destroying the prospects of these families to have children,” says Birns. “The inability to have children confronts all of them.”

It is certainly staring Adriana Perez straight in the face, as she travels the world trying to drum up support for her husband and his four comrades.

In fact, her hopes for children may already be moot.

Here’s the story so far.

Dispatched to south Florida in the 1990s, the five Cuban men were on a long-term clandestine mission — no one denies that — but they were not spies in the conventional sense, according to their defenders. They were not interested in undermining the U.S. government or its institutions. Instead, they spent their time monitoring the activities of radical Cuban-American groups fiercely opposed to the government of Fidel Castro and not averse to violence.

Later, Havana offered to share its intelligence with the U.S. government.

That was a mistake.

Instead of saying gracias, compañeros, American authorities responded by arresting the five Cubans and charging them with a raft of espionage-related crimes.

Lawyers for the five sought to move the trial out of Miami, with its volatile anti-Castro community, but those efforts were rebuffed.

“That was quite shocking,” says Birns. “In south Florida, it’s hard to imagine you could get an impartial jury.”

Impartial or not, the Miami jurors subsequently convicted the defendants on all counts, and the men were sentenced in 2001 to sometimes astoundingly long prison terms, most notably the sentence meted out to the husband of Adriana Perez.

With one exception — Rene Gonzalez, who was released from a federal prison in 2011 but is still serving three years of parole — the Cubans have remained behind bars ever since.

“In spite of this, they have not lost their optimism that they will return to Cuba,” said Perez, who hasn’t seen her husband since the 1990s — and not for lack of trying.

On at least 10 occasions, she has sought a U.S. visa in order to visit Hernández in jail, only to be turned down each time.

This past week, she called on a highly sympathetic Toronto audience to step up their efforts to win the release of the five.

“I ask each one of you, when you leave here, to think, ‘What would I do if it was my son or brother or father who was in jail?’ ” she said. U.S. President Barack Obama “is not going to give freedom to the five spontaneously or because he is a good person.”

What’s needed, she said, is political pressure.

That pressure could take many different forms, but it seems unlikely they will include a prisoner exchange, although the Cubans have earnestly sought one.

Cue Alan Gross, a possibly somewhat naive American who was arrested in Havana in 2009, while working on a “pro-democracy” project funded by the United States Agency for International Development, a contract that involved providing electronic communications equipment to the island’s minuscule Jewish community.

For that activity, the Cubans arrested the American and put him on trial. He is now serving a 15-year sentence for crimes against the Cuban state.

Havana has left no doubt that it would agree to a swap — Gross’s freedom in return for the release of some or all of the five. But Washington says no.

“The U.S. position is these are not comparable detainees,” says Christopher Sabatini, policy director at the Council of the Americas, a research and analysis forum based in New York. “I don’t think the United States is going to budge on this.”

As a result, the two neighbours remain suspended in the same state of mutual hostility and diplomatic paralysis that has prevailed for almost as long as Cuba has been governed by someone named Castro.

Nowadays, the man in charge in Havana is Raul Castro, Fidel’s slightly younger brother and a considerably more pragmatic individual than his elder sibling ever was.

By most accounts, Raul badly wants to ease tensions with Washington — for economic reasons, above all, given the dilapidated state of the island’s economy. But his government also seems deeply committed to securing the release of the Cuban Five.

“They have tried every conceivable measure to show they are conciliatory,” says Birns in Washington. “They are giving away the store in terms of the concessions they are granting. You would think that Washington would want to dance around the maypole.”

Instead, the Obama administration continues to include Cuba on its list of “terrorist” states — a tired anachronism at best — and to maintain its long-running economic embargo against the island.

“We’re in a complete stalemate,” says Sabatini.

It sometimes seems that nothing short of the Second Coming could inspire a change in the official U.S. stance on Cuba.

Consider the recent appointment of John Kerry as U.S. secretary of state. Many observers expected the former Democratic presidential candidate to provide a fresh new look to Washington’s outmoded policy toward the island. After all, he has long advocated a range of measures that would reduce tensions between the two sides. So far, however, there is little sign that Kerry is sparing much time pondering the fate either of the Cuban Five or of the remaining 11 million islanders still sweltering in the Antillean sea breeze roughly 100 kilometres across the Straits of Florida from Key West.

“That’s the shamefulness of it,” says Birns. “This is the great curse. It’s an unvisited policy.”

According to Sabatini, Cuba receives little attention from the State Department in Washington at least partly because the U.S. has far bigger foreign-policy concerns, from North Korea to China to the Middle East.

Besides, he says, improved relations with the island would spell only minor economic and political benefits for the United States, while risking a much more formidable downside — the outrage of Cuban-Americans in south Florida.

“The amount of noise they would cause is huge,” he says. “So why do it?”

In the absence of a clear directive from the White House, he believes it is inevitable that Cuba policy will remain mired in bureaucratic inertia and outdated thinking.

After all, the U.S. Senate’s foreign affairs committee is chaired by Bob Menendez, a retrograde Cuban-American who would not look fondly on ambassadorial candidates with a history of progressive-minded ideas about his ancestral island home.

“The problem is that, for career people in Washington, being behind a Cuba change is a death sentence,” says Sabatini. “They want to be ambassadors. They’d never be approved.”

Still, there may be at least a glimmer of change on the short-term horizon, as Obama prepares to travel to the region next month, a trip that will include stops in Mexico and Costa Rica.

The United States is now the only country in the Americas that does not have normal diplomatic relations with Havana, and Latin American leaders are impatient with what they see as U.S. foot-dragging.

That frustration might be enough to produce a shift in Washington’s tone, if not something more concrete.

“There are rumblings of change,” says Sabatini. “But it will have to come from the White House.”

Meanwhile, Adriana Perez continues to traverse the globe, on an increasingly urgent campaign to secure the release of her husband.

“We hope it comes soon,” she said in Toronto last Saturday, “because it’s already too late.”

For more about Cuba — the good, the not-so-good, and the downright glorious — check out Oakland Ross’s eRead, Cuba Libre. Simply go to stardispatches.com and subscribe for $1/week. Cuba Libre is also available for single-copy purchase at itunes.ca or starstore.ca for $2.99.

Fidel to Ahmadinejad: ‘Stop Slandering the Jews’ September 10, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, Iran, Latin America.
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Sep 7 2010, 12:06 PM ET

(This is Part I of a report on my recent visit to Havana. I hope to post Part II tomorrow. And I also hope to be publishing a more comprehensive article about this subject in a forthcoming print edition of The Atlantic.)

A couple of weeks ago, while I was on vacation, my cell phone rang; it was Jorge Bolanos, the head of the Cuban Interest Section (we of course don’t have diplomatic relations with Cuba) in Washington. “I have a message for you from Fidel,” he said. This made me sit up straight. “He has read your Atlantic article about Iran and Israel. He invites you to Havana on Sunday to discuss the article.” I am always eager, of course, to interact with readers of The Atlantic, so I called a friend at the Council on Foreign Relations, Julia Sweig, who is a preeminent expert on Cuba and Latin America: “Road trip,” I said.


MORE ON Fidel Castro: 
Jeffrey Goldberg: Castro: “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”


I quickly departed the People’s Republic of Martha’s Vineyard for Fidel’s more tropical socialist island paradise. Despite the self-defeating American ban on travel to Cuba, both Julia and I, as journalists and researchers, qualified for a State Department exemption. The charter flight from Miami was bursting with Cuban-Americans carrying flat-screen televisions and computers for their technologically-bereft families. Fifty minutes after take-off, we arrived at the mostly-empty Jose Marti International Airport. Fidel’s people met us on the tarmac (despite giving up his formal role as commandante en jefe after falling ill several years ago, Fidel still has many people). We were soon deposited at a “protocol house” in a government compound whose architecture reminded me of the gated communities of Boca Raton. The only other guest in this vast enclosure was the president of Guinea-Bissau.
 
I was aware that Castro had become preoccupied with the threat of a military confrontation in the Middle East between Iran and the U.S. (and Israel, the country he calls its Middle East “gendarme”). Since emerging from his medically induced, four-year purdah early this summer (various gastrointestinal maladies had combined to nearly kill him), the 84-year-old Castro has spoken mainly about the catastrophic threat of what he sees as an inevitable war.
 
I was curious to know why he saw conflict as unavoidable, and I wondered, of course, if personal experience – the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 that nearly caused the annihilation of most of humanity – informed his belief that a conflict between America and Iran would escalate into nuclear war.  I was even more curious, however, to get a glimpse of the great man. Few people had seen him since he fell ill in 2006, and the state of his health has been a subject of much speculation. There were questions, too, about the role he plays now in governing Cuba; he formally handed off power to his younger brother, Raul, two years ago, but it was not clear how many strings Fidel still pulled.

The morning after our arrival in Havana, Julia and I were driven to a nearby convention center, and escorted upstairs, to a large and spare office. A frail and aged Fidel stood to greet us. He was wearing a red shirt, sweatpants, and black New Balance sneakers. The room was crowded with officials and family: His wife, Dalia, and son Antonio, as well as an Interior Ministry general, a translator, a doctor and several bodyguards, all of whom appeared to have been recruited from the Cuban national wrestling team. Two of these bodyguards held Castro at the elbow.
 
We shook hands, and he greeted Julia warmly; they have known each other for more than twenty years. Fidel lowered himself gently into his seat, and we began a conversation that would continue, in fits and starts, for three days. His body may be frail, but his mind is acute, his energy level is high, and not only that: the late-stage Fidel Castro turns out to possess something of a self-deprecating sense of humor. When I asked him, over lunch, to answer what I’ve come to think of as the Christopher Hitchens question – has your illness caused you to change your mind about the existence of God? – he answered, “Sorry, I’m still a dialectical materialist.” (This is funnier if you are, like me, an ex-self-defined socialist.) At another point, he showed us a series of recent photographs taken of him, one of which portrayed him with a fierce expression. “This was how my face looked when I was angry with Khruschev,” he said. 

Castro opened our initial meeting by telling me that he read the recent Atlantic article carefully, and that it confirmed his view that Israel and America were moving precipitously and gratuitously toward confrontation with Iran. This interpretation was not surprising, of course: Castro is the grandfather of global anti-Americanism, and he has been a severe critic of Israel. His message to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, he said, was simple: Israel will only have security if it gives up its nuclear arsenal, and the rest of the world’s nuclear powers will only have security if they, too, give up their weapons. Global and simultaneous nuclear disarmament is, of course, a worthy goal, but it is not, in the short term, realistic. 

Castro’s message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not so abstract, however. Over the course of this first, five-hour discussion, Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the “unique” history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.

 
He began this discussion by describing his own, first encounters with anti-Semitism, as a small boy. “I remember when I was a boy – a long time ago – when I was five or six years old and I lived in the countryside,” he said, “and I remember Good Friday. What was the atmosphere a child breathed? `Be quiet, God is dead.’ God died every year between Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, and it made a profound impression on everyone. What happened? They would say, `The Jews killed God.’ They blamed the Jews for killing God! Do you realize this?”

He went on, “Well, I didn’t know what a Jew was. I knew of a bird that was a called a ‘Jew,’ and so for me the Jews were those birds.  These birds had big noses. I don’t even know why they were called that. That’s what I remember. This is how ignorant the entire population was.”

He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. “This went on for maybe two thousand years,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything.” The Iranian government should understand that the Jews “were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here’s what happened to them: Reverse selection. What’s reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation.” He continued: “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.” I asked him if he would tell Ahmadinejad what he was telling me. “I am saying this so you can communicate it,” he answered.

Castro went on to analyze the conflict between Israel and Iran. He said he understood Iranian fears of Israeli-American aggression and he added that, in his view, American sanctions and Israeli threats will not dissuade the Iranian leadership from pursuing nuclear weapons. “This problem is not going to get resolved, because the Iranians are not going to back down in the face of threats. That’s my opinion,” he said. He then noted that, unlike Cuba, Iran is a “profoundly religious country,” and he said that religious leaders are less apt to compromise. He noted that even secular Cuba has resisted various American demands over the past 50 years.
 
We returned repeatedly in this first conversation to Castro’s fear that a confrontation between the West and Iran could escalate into a nuclear conflict. “The Iranian capacity to inflict damage is not appreciated,” he said. “Men think they can control themselves but Obama could overreact and a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war.” I asked him if this fear was informed by his own experiences during the 1962 missile crisis, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. nearly went to war other over the presence of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba (missiles installed at the invitation, of course, of Fidel Castro). I mentioned to Castro the letter he wrote to Khruschev, the Soviet premier, at the height of the crisis, in which he recommended that the Soviets consider launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. if the Americans attack Cuba. “That would be the time to think about liquidating such a danger forever through a legal right of self-defense,” Castro wrote at the time.

I asked him, “At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the U.S. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?” He answered: “After I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn’t worth it all.”

I was surprised to hear Castro express such doubts about his own behavior in the missile crisis – and I was, I admit, also surprised to hear him express such sympathy for Jews, and for Israel’s right to exist (which he endorsed unequivocally). 

After this first meeting, I asked Julia to explain the meaning of Castro’s invitation to me, and of his message to Ahmadinejad. “Fidel is at an early stage of reinventing himself as a senior statesman, not as head of state, on the domestic stage, but primarily on the international stage, which has always been a priority for him,” she said. “Matters of war, peace and international security are a central focus: Nuclear proliferation climate change, these are the major issues for him, and he’s really just getting started, using any potential media platform to communicate his views. He has time on his hands now that he didn’t expect to have. And he’s revisiting history, and revisiting his own history.”

There is a great deal more to report from this conversation, and from subsequent conversations, which I will do in posts to follow. But I will begin the next post on this subject by describing one of the stranger days I have experienced, a day which began with a simple question from Fidel: “Would you like to go to the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?”

Fidel Castro Demands Obama Return Guantanamo Base January 31, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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www.truthout.org

29 January 2009

by: Marc Frank, Reuters

Havana – Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro demanded on Thursday that President Barack Obama return the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo to Cuba without conditions, and he accused the new U.S. leader of supporting “Israeli genocide” against Palestinians.

    Castro, who had recently praised Obama as “honest” and “noble”, lashed out at his administration for stating that Washington will not return Guantanamo if it has any military use for the United States and without concessions in return.

    “Maintaining a military base in Cuba against the will of the people violates the most elemental principles of international law,” Castro wrote in a column posted on the government-run website www.cubadebate.cu.

    “Not respecting Cuba’s will is an arrogant act and an abuse of immense power against a little country,” Castro said, resorting to a charge he has leveled against the 10 previous U.S. presidents since he came to power in a 1959 revolution.

    Cuba indefinitely leased Guantanamo to the United States in 1903 after the United States occupied the country during the 1898 Spanish-American War. Castro charges that the base at the south-eastern tip of Cuba was taken over illegally.

    Earlier on Thursday, Washington’s loudest critic in Latin America, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, also urged Obama to return the Guantanamo base, after applauding his decision to close the prison camp for terrorism suspects there.

    “Now he should return Guantanamo and Guantanamo Bay to the Cubans because that is Cuban territory,” Chavez, Cuba’s closest ally, said in a speech in Brazil.

    Fidel Castro has been seen only in a few videos and photos since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006 from which he never fully recovered.

    But he has maintained a public profile through his writings and meetings with visiting foreign leaders, and he is believed to retain an important political role behind the scenes.

    His brother Raul Castro provisionally took power after the surgery, then officially became president in February.

    Obama has said he wants to move toward normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations but would not eliminate the 46-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the communist-led island without political reforms.

    Until Thursday’s column, the Castro brothers had praised Obama and held back direct criticism of his administration.

    Fidel Castro on Thursday also attacked Obama for supporting Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

    “It is the way our friend Obama has fallen into sharing Israel’s genocide against Palestinians,” Castro wrote in his column called “Deciphering the thought of the new U.S. president.”

——–    

    Editing by Anthony Boadle.

Bush Excluded by Latin Summit as China, Russia Loom December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Latin America.
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www.bloomberg.com

December 17, 2008

By Joshua Goodman

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) — Latin American and Caribbean leaders gathering in Brazil tomorrow will mark a historic occasion: a region-wide summit that excludes the United States.

Almost two centuries after President James Monroe declared Latin America a U.S. sphere of influence, the region is breaking away. From socialist-leaning Venezuela to market-friendly Brazil, governments are expanding military, economic and diplomatic ties with potential U.S. adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran.

“Monroe certainly would be rolling over in his grave,” says Julia Sweig, director of the Latin America program at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington and author of the 2006 book “Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century.”

The U.S., she says, “is no longer the exclusive go-to power in the region, especially in South America, where U.S. economic ties are much less important.”

Since November, Russian warships have engaged in joint naval exercises with Venezuela, the first in the Caribbean since the Cold War; Chinese President Hu Jintao signed a free-trade agreement with Peru; and Brazil invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a state visit.

“While the U.S. remains aloof from a region it no longer sees as relevant to its strategic interests, other countries are making unprecedented, serious moves to fill the void,” says Luiz Felipe Lampreia, Brazil’s foreign minister from 1995 until 2001. “Countries in the region are more aware than ever that they live in a globalized, post-American world.”

A Castro Triumph

The two-day gathering, called by Brazil at a beach resort in Bahia state, is also a diplomatic triumph for Cuban President Raul Castro, making his first trip abroad since taking over from his brother Fidel two years ago. The communist island was suspended from the hemisphere-wide Organization of American States in 1962 over its ties with the former Soviet Union.

“A lot of this is designed to stick it in the eye of the U.S.,” says Peter Romero, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere from 1999 to 2001. “But underlying the bluster, there’s a genuine effort to exploit the gap left by a distant and distracted U.S.”

The effort is most evident in the bloc of countries allied with the anti-American president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.

Bolivian President Evo Morales last month expelled the Drug Enforcement Administration, alleging that DEA agents were conspiring to overthrow him; U.S. President George W. Bush dismissed the charges as absurd and suspended trade privileges for the Andean nation.

Drug-War Defeat

In Ecuador, meanwhile, President Rafael Correa has refused to renew the lease on the U.S.’s only military outpost in South America, a critical platform for the U.S. war on drugs.

For Brazil, tomorrow’s summit caps a decade-long diplomatic drive to use its growing economic and political stability to play a bigger role in the world.

While little concrete action is expected from the first-ever Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development, the fact that the U.S. wasn’t invited has symbolic importance, says Lampreia.

The summit reinforces such regional initiatives as the Union of South American Nations, which was formed in May by 12 countries to mediate conflicts such as political violence in Bolivia, bypassing the U.S.-dominated OAS.

Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, says the nature of American influence is only changing, not declining, as the region matures.

No Invitation Sought

The U.S. “didn’t ask to be invited” to the summit, he says, although it had discussed with Brazil and Mexico ways the meeting’s agenda could be used during the U.S.-backed Summit of the Americas, in April in Trinidad and Tobago.

“We don’t subscribe to the hydraulic theory of diplomacy that when one country is up, the other is down — that if China and Russia are in the area our influence has somehow waned,” Shannon said in a telephone interview.

The fact that “there’s no warfare, weapons proliferation, suicide bombers or jihadists” in Latin America may make its issues “less urgent,” though no less important, Shannon said. The U.S. remains the region’s dominant investor and trading partner: Foreign aid to Colombia to fight drug traffickers and Marxist rebels totals $700 million a year, and remittances from Latin Americans living in the U.S. totaled $66.5 billion last year.

Monroe’s Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine, which dates back to 1823, declared Latin America off-limits to European powers. Whether welcomed by the region or not, it has been invoked whenever real or imagined security threats to U.S. interests arise, says Gaddis Smith, a retired Yale University historian of American foreign policy.

“Its essence is unilateralism; no Latin American country had any say in it,” says Smith, whose more than a dozen books on American foreign policy include “The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine.”

The real battle is for a larger share of the region’s abundant resources and expanding economies, and China has led the way.

Two-way trade with the region shot up 12-fold since 1995 to $110 billion last year, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. China’s share of the region’s imports also jumped, to 24 percent from 9.8 percent in 1990, while the U.S. share shrunk to 34 percent from 43 percent. Two years after reaching a bilateral free-trade agreement, China’s demand for copper made it Chile’s biggest export market in 2007, replacing the U.S.

Hu’s Trips

Since making his first of three trips to Latin America in 2004, China’s President Hu Jintao has spent more time in the region than Bush — 22 days to 20 for the U.S. president. In October, as the global credit crunch dried up lending in the region, China joined the Inter-American Development Bank with a $350 million loan to finance small businesses. This month it pledged $10 billion in loans to state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA so Brazil can develop the Western Hemisphere’s largest oil discovery since 1976.

“The Chinese play up the development side of diplomacy so much better than the Americans,” says William Ratliff, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who has a Ph.D. in Chinese and Latin American history. “Deals come with none or very few strings attached.”

Even Colombia, which is spending $115,000 a month lobbying the U.S. Congress to approve a stalled free-trade pact, signed an investment treaty last month with China. During this year’s U.S. campaign, President-elect Barack Obama said he opposed the accord over concerns that Colombia isn’t doing enough to stamp out violence against labor organizers.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe today canceled his plans for the summit to monitor rescue efforts involving 200,000 people affected by flooding over the weekend.

Arms Deals

Changing relationships are also evident in arms deals. Chavez turned to Russia for at least $4.4 billion in weapons after the U.S. blocked sales of aircraft parts. Brazil, the region’s largest economy, is also shopping around: Defense Minister Nelson Jobimsaid in Washington this month that his government will only buy weapons from countries that agree to transfer technology for local production.

Plans to purchase 36 new fighter jets, in which Boeing’s F- 18 is competing for a contract against Stockholm-based Saab AB and France’s Dassault Systemes SA, “can only be justified politically if they contribute to national development,” Jobim said.

Brazil may sign a deal with France for four nuclear submarines intended to help secure its oil basins in the Atlantic when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visits Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva this month.

Reactivating a Fleet

The U.S. plan to reassert its naval presence by reactivating the Fourth Fleet after 58 years to patrol the Caribbean has triggered negative reactions ranging from Chavez’s threat to sink the convoys to the more-diplomatic Lula’s demand for explanations from the Bush administration.

Latin American leaders are looking to Obama to restore relations after the Bush presidency’s initial pledges of greater engagement gave way to a focus on the 9/11 terror attacks and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the honeymoon with Obama may be short-lived, says Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter- American Dialogue in Washington. He says that the issues that have dominated Latin American relations — including Cuba, immigration and U.S. trade barriers on agricultural products — may remain in dispute.

“Latin America wants the U.S. to be engaged, but in very different terms that it has in the past,” says Shifter. “In any case, they’re not waiting around for the U.S. to change its mindset.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joshua Goodman in Rio de Janeiro jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: December 15, 2008 10:40 EST

Morales urges action over Cuba December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, Latin America.
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 latin-american-presidentsMorales, far left,  said Latin American leaders
should express ‘solidarity’ with Cuba [AFP]

www.aljazeera.net

December, 17, 2008

“If the United States does not raise the blockade, we will remove our ambassadors until the United States government lifts its economic blockade on the Cuban people,” he said.

Morales expelled the US ambassador to Bolivia in September, accusing him of siding with violent opposition protests.

Both Morales and Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader, have expressed hope that Barack Obama, the US president-elect, will remove the embargo on Cuba.

On Tuesday, leaders attending the Mercosur summit in the resort town of Costa Do Sauipe also issued a special statement demanding an end to the US sanctions which have been imposed on Cuba since 1962.

The regional meeting, aimed at solidifying South American unity, includes senior officials from 33 countries including Raul Castro, the Cuban president, on his first foreign tour abroad.

‘Political violation’

Raul Castro said he was in ‘no hurry’ to
mend US diplomatic relations [AFP]

Speaking on Tuesday, Raul Castro, the Cuban president, said that leaders at the Mercosur summit had supported a request to demand the US “cease this illegal and unjust political violation of the human rights of our people”.

Castro said in his speech to the other leaders that regional integration was needed in Latin America to help it advance against what he said was the failure of US-backed policies.

Castro, 77, took over as Cuban leader from his brother, Fidel, in February.

The summit is the largest in the Western hemisphere to exclude US representation and has been hailed as a sign that Latin America is demanding a new independence from Washington.

“The presence of Cuba is a very strong signal that America is no longer the boss in Latin America,” Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, said as he arrived.

‘Concessions’ demanded

On Monday, Castro told Al Jazeera that the US must make concessions first if the two countries are ever to restore diplomatic ties severed for more than 40 years.

Reports say Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian president, could mediate between Washington and Havana.

Castro, said the “era of unilateral concessions was over”, and insisted that Cuba had only ever defended itself against the US.

“We have never hurt the United States, we have only defended ourselves. We are the ones who have been hurt so we are not the ones who have to make a gesture. Let them do it,” he said on Monday.

The Cuban leader said he was in “no hurry” to mend diplomatic relations with the US, which were severed in 1961, following the overthrow of the US-backed government by Fidel’s revolutionary movement.

“More than 70 per cent of Cubans were born under the blockade which has been in place for almost 50 years,” Castro said.

“I’m 77-years old but I feel good and young. In other words, if this doesn’t get resolved now, we’ll wait another 50 years.”

 

Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, has said that all
Latin American nations should expel US ambassadors in their country’s until the American economic embargo against Cuba is ended.

Speaking on Wednesday at the end of a two-day summit of Latin American leaders in Brazil, Morales said it would be a “radical move” to express “solidarity” with the Carribbean nation.

Latin America summit excludes U.S. and welcomes Cuba December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Latin America.
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www.truthdig.com

Reuters UK, December 17, 2008

By Raymond Colitt

 

COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil (Reuters) – Latin American leaders on Tuesday blamed the global economic crisis on rich countries and welcomed Communist-run Cuba at a summit meeting designed to weaken U.S. influence in the region.

 

The presence of Cuban President Raul Castro at the meeting in northeastern Brazil was touted as a sign of Latin America’s growing independence from the United States, a far cry from the Cold War era when Cuba was expelled from the Washington-based Organisation of American States.

 

“Cuba returns to where it always belonged. We’re complete, we’re forming a team, a good team,” said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the region’s most vehement U.S. critic and Cuba’s closest ally.

 

“The most positive thing for the independence of our continent is that we meet alone without the hegemony of the empire,” Chavez said in reference to the United States.

 

Previous summits of Latin American and Caribbean leaders have always included former colonial powers Spain and Portugal or the United States.

 

Castro, on his first foreign trip since taking over from his ailing brother Fidel Castro earlier this year, said an unfair, world economic order benefiting rich countries and multinational companies was in crisis.

 

“It’s the demise of an economic model,” he said.

 

Cuba’s admission on Tuesday into the long-standing Rio Group of more than 20 Latin American and Caribbean countries brought renewed calls for an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

Castro said on the eve of the summit meeting here that he was open to meeting with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to discuss the issue.

 

PROGRESS AT RISK

 

The global crisis, which has cut off credit lines and hit demand for the commodity exports of many countries, has threatened to undo years of economic and social progress in the region, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said.

 

“Crises like the current one reveal the perversities of the current economic system,” Lula said.

 

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, who defaulted on a foreign debt payment this week, said emerging market economies didn’t cause the crisis but would end up paying a high price for it.

 

He said Latin American countries should pool their international reserves and speed up the creation of a regional development bank to help overcome the global credit crunch.

 

“The answer is integration,” said Correa.

 

Leaders also agreed to create a South American defence council aimed at preventing local conflicts and reducing dependence on U.S. weaponry. Brazil is the largest arms manufacturer in South America and could gain ground against U.S. manufacturers if the region’s governments came together on some defence issues.

 

“The idea is cooperation for the basis of a (common) defence industry,” Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told reporters

But behind the scenes, the show of unity looked fragile.

 

The newly-formed South American Union failed on Tuesday to agree on a secretary-general to lead it, and the regional customs union Mercosur failed to eliminate double taxation on imports that have held up negotiations with other trade blocs.

 

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo said he was studying the legality of his country’s foreign debt, echoing the arguments made by Ecuador this week and raising the possibility of another default that would reinforce doubts about Latin America’s investment climate.

 

(Additional reporting by Carmen Munari and Julio Villaverde; Editing by Kieran Murray)