Saturday, 20 December 2014

US asserts itself with Cuba Shift

The German Marshall Fund of the Unites States, a philanthropic foundation/think tank, and general support of US/Western power, hails the shift in US policy to Cuba as a great opening and assertion of US power. It speaks of Cuban health internationalism as vital and a great resource, Cuba's governance as effective and Cuba as a key building block for a regional order.

What a far cry from the ways Cuba was ignored, attacked, belittled in full cold war mode. Now the US has spoken, all its civil society supporters discover Cuba's not such a bad place after all. Yet, they forget the socialist model of development that got Cuba this far in health and education and the damage done by the US to that country over 50 years.

There remains the old charge of anti-Americanism against anyone who dares criticise the US: Cuba, GMF claims, can now put its anti-Americanism behind it. First, Cuba made a principled stand for decades against a superpower that threatened it and the world with a combination of nuclear war, military invasion, fomenting rebellion, economic sabotage and assassination. In the orwellian world of American freedom, criticising any of those policies is obviously bordering on racism. And the US' civil society cheer-leaders continue to echo that line.

Below is a brief excerpt from the GMF article I refer to above:
President Obama’s announcement is bold and strategic — a major step toward aligning U.S. policy with that of our hemispheric and European friends. It removes one of the last props for some of the surviving pockets of backward-looking anti-Americanism in Latin America, and eliminates an irritant to friends by making it easier for U.S. subsidiaries overseas to engage in trade with Cuba. Most important, it underscores, on the 20th anniversary of the Summit of the Americas process, that the United States is determined to remain a strong player in the Western Hemisphere.
If the Atlantic, north and south, was the venue of conflict and diplomacy over Cuba, it is notable that it is in the Atlantic that the fruits of normalized U.S.-Cuban relations will likely be greatest.
Of all the countries in the Caribbean and Central America, Cuba may ultimately have the greatest capacity and will to contribute meaningfully to regional and global public goods. Its response to the Ebola epidemic in Africa dwarfed that of many large developed states, and its disaster preparedness expertise and response capacity in the Caribbean has long made worthy contributions to neighbors. Cuba also stands out in a region that is criss-crossed by cartel-run trafficking as the state with the most effective control of its national territory and its 3,570 miles of coastline.
It is not a stretch to imagine that its institutional capacity and human capital — in a freer political and economic context — might be important building blocks in a new architecture of regional and Atlantic cooperation. Much of that potential hinges on the outcome of Cuba’s ongoing transition to a more open and sustainable system. Paradoxically, perhaps, the normalization of U.S.-Cuba ties may make it easier for Latin America’s open societies to engage with Cuban society more effectively in support of that transition.

Friday, 19 December 2014

US-Cuba Thaw Welcome but US Must Lift the Embargo

The move towards strengthening relations between the US and Cuba has been in the offing for about a year or so and is not a complete surprise but is an important step for the two nations. A US Senate Report of 2009 indicated reduced support for the trade embargo's failure to destabilise the Cuban government. Yet, this is a breakthrough moment, most importantly for the trade embargo – the longest in history – but there are still highly sensitive issues that are yet to be resolved between the countries.

There are major human rights conflicts, questions over whether the US will apologise for assassination attempts and CIA sabotage and of course many hurdles to overcome to lift the trade embargo. Clearly, one of the biggest areas of uncertainty now is when the embargo will be removed. It has been in place since 1960 and has had a massive effect on the Cuban economy. The impact on costs of medicines in Cuba, due to scarcity of key imports, has led to epidemics, chronic disease and other health impacts, especially on men, as Cuba focuses scarce resources on women and children.

Yet, the Cuban health system has shown a resilience that is remarkable, despite the embargo, due to its socialised character, state food rationing, and a highly educated population.

Looking at the issue of trade helps to shed light on the timing of the announcement. As Obama said, the past policy of 'isolation' hasn't worked because others have violated it. The US has felt increasingly frozen out of Cuban trade opportunities that have resulted from economic reforms, especially as the EU is moving in through trade and other agreements. This has left the US becoming increasingly isolated while also increasing EU political influence.

China is moving into Cuban economic development while Brazil, a key regional rival to the US, is also moving into the Cuban economy with major trade deals. Florida businessmen, including Cuban exiles, have also favoured reopening of ties with the USA.

There has been ongoing pressure from the UN, with the General Assembly consistently voting for lifting the trade embargo. However, even as recently as November 2014 the US voted against other UN states on the matter with only Israel backing the US in a 188-2 vote.

The timing of the move to improve diplomatic relations could also be linked with other international factors, which are not reflecting well on the President. Obama may be looking for a legacy achievement in the second half of his final term. Nothing else is going as planned – Ukraine, Iraq, ISIS and Syria – so this could be a cheap goal to score.

In assessing the potential problems ahead we should not forget arguments over human rights. Obama still cites these issues in Cuba, yet the country is seen as a beacon of health humanitarianism around South America and Africa. Cuba sends abroad tens of thousands of doctors to assist weaker states and it has more doctors and health workers in Ebola-hit nations in West Africa than any other country. However, I am not sure if US human rights stand much scrutiny after Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and the most recent US Senate report into CIA torture programmes.

There is also still the question of whether the US will apologise for the eight attempts it made to assassinate Fidel Castro in the 1960s. We also don’t know if the US will apologise for a wide range of economic sabotage and damage, by CIA and other US forces, which were carried out in attempts to destabilise the Castro administration after the 1959 revolution.

And Republican opposition in Congress has already begun - with support from some Democrats. Some of them are saying that they will refuse to ratify the appointment of a US ambassador to the tiny island state that has been under virtual siege by the US for over 50 years. Yet, the majority of second-generation Cuban-Americans want the restoration of normal relations with the 'old country'.

In the broader sense, what could this development say about the current view of US international authority? The country has tried to overthrow the Cuban government since the Bay of Pigs – military invasion, assassination attempts, spraying poisonous chemicals on Cuban crops, cutting aid to any third world nations that dared to help Cuba, and through a crippling trade embargo.

This move represents an admission of the limits of US power against a minnow state.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

US-sponsored torture continues despite Senate Report

The question of the likelihood of US officials facing prosecution in light of the US Senate's recent CIA torture report is a bit narrow. It does not include Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld who actually pushed the practices from the very top of the administration. I doubt there will be any prosecutions; only CIA whistle-blowers get prosecuted.

The US Senate Report is pretty much along lines one would expect. It further undermines US moral authority, its disregard for US law and international law, including the UN Convention against Torture. There will be lots of denials and hand-wringing but many of those practices are still going on.

The Bush administration placed CIA interrogators under severe pressure in the wake of 9-11 to find a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, to no avail of course as there was no link. Unsurprisingly, Bush has come out to defend the CIA, which seems like a self-justification for his, Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld's and Vice President Cheney's roles in the torture policy.

But torture has been a fairly routine practice of successive US administrations -during the Philippine insurrection of 1900-1908, for example, when waterboarding was used. 

The Obama administration wanted the report, including the summary, classified, (i.e. censored). And despite halting torture by Americans, Obama has done nothing about the torture carried out by US allies in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Bangladesh, Kenya and other nations under American supervision. Hence, torture and the US remain inextricably linked. Blacksites, and secret prisons remain and are staffed by non-Americans, who are doing exactly what the US Senate Report highlights.

Guantanamo and Bagram remain open and holding a number of 'enemy combatants' without charge. The mere fact that they are outside of US constitutional reach tells anyone who cares to stop and think that they must be torture chambers.
In regard to Bangladesh and Kenya there seems evidence, or at least strong claims, that British security services were either complicit or involved. There are claims by a parliamentary committee into the death of Lee Rigby, to the effect that one of the killers was tortured by a unit in Kenya that collaborates with, and has been funded and trained by, the British secret services.

There will be lots of declarations of America having lost its way but the fact is that the practices are still going on either by Americans or supervised by Americans in allied states. The fact that torture does not even yield accurate or useful information is, to my mind, beside the point; it's logic suggests that if torture did yield information, it would be justified.

Civilised states do not torture people.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Shane Harris @War Repeats Racist Stereotypes

Despite its information-packed strengths, Shane Harris's @War appears to be another inside critique of the military-internet complex: when push comes to shove, the Foreign Policy writer opts for the old mentalities associated with the original 'military-industrial' complex: that, as Eisenhower warned, was potentially dangerous but also necessary - to protect America, freedom, civilisation and the West against the barbarians at the gates. This approach puts him squarely behind the conventional approach championed by American presidents since the beginning of the republic but especially since the social Darwinism of the late twentieth-century.

As the Anglo-Americans pulverised Korea through saturation bombing, 1950-53, dropping at least half the tonnage of bombs dropped on Germany throughout the Second World War, not to mention thousands of tons of napalm, and headed up towards the Yalu River bordering China, their leaders spoke of the sneaky methods of the Chinese and Koreans - fighting assymetrically as they were less well armed than the Americans, possessing few war planes, naval warships, missiles, tanks etc... They spoke about the lower value of Asian lives as there were 'so many of them'. They were willing to die in great numbers as a result while the Anglo-Americans valued life, though only their own, far more.

When General Douglas MacArthur's armies advanced at speed, theirs was heroic advance showing military prowess and strategic and tactical genius. When the Chinese entered the war, all the Anglo-Americans saw were "hordes" of Chinese, a rising tide, the 'yellow peril' inspired by Red fanaticism.

Shane Harris repeats the same old racist stereotypes and myths in @War: The Chinese cyber warriors are on the march. Apparently, and inexplicably, 'they' get really angry after events like the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War, and start retaliating via cyber warfare. And they filled official US government websites with 'anti-American' messages like: "Protest NATO's brutal action".

Any opposition or protest against US actions is therefore automatically 'anti-American' - bordering on racism - the 'anti-Semitism of the intellectuals'.

China's hackers are described as 'relentless... and shameless' and they know how to 'overwhelm' a more powerful enemy "by attacking his weaknesses with basic weapons." Probably unwittingly, Harris's argument chimes with the traditional narratives of the civilised Western ways of war with that of the barbarians: "Cyber espionage and warfare are just the latest examples in a long and, for the Chinese, proud tradition".

Forgotten, as inconvenient, was the guerilla warfare of the American patriots against English colonial armies during the War of Independence.

But what the Chinese do and think remains a "mystery" - the inscrutable East lives on; alien, different, beyond the pale, frustrating to the Western mind.

In the end, they are just a "Chinese cyber horde" motivated by "national pride" - unlike truly patriotic Americans motivated by a just cause.

In the Korean War, the advancing "Chinese hordes" - which on the spot war journalists showed to be an entirely spurious claim - were considered targets for atomic warfare.

The most critical, liberal elements of the military-internet complex today, like their military-industrial' complex counterparts of yesteryear, remain saturated in racialised and imperial thinking, threatened by any force, state or power that does not think or act like them.

US Must End Cuba Blockade

Cuba’s extraordinary global medical record shames the US blockade

From Ebola to earthquakes, Havana’s doctors have saved millions. Obama must lift this embargo

  • Illustration for Cuba's global medical record
    Illustration: Eva Bee
    Four months into the internationally declared Ebola emergency that has devastated west Africa, Cuba leads the world in direct medical support to fight the epidemic. The US and Britain have sent thousands of troops and, along with other countries, promised aid – most of which has yet to materialise. But, as the World Health Organisation has insisted, what’s most urgently needed are health workers. The Caribbean island, with a population of just 11m and official per capita income of $6,000 (£3,824), answered that call before it was made. It was first on the Ebola frontline and has sent the largest contingent of doctors and nurses – 256 are already in the field, with another 200 volunteers on their way.
    While western media interest has faded with the receding threat of global infection, hundreds of British health service workers have volunteered to join them. The first 30 arrived in Sierra Leone last week, while troops have been building clinics. But the Cuban doctors have been on the ground in force since October and are there for the long haul.
    The need could not be greater. More than 6,000 people have already died. So shaming has the Cuban operation been that British and US politicians have felt obliged to offer congratulations. John Kerry described the contribution of the state the US has been trying to overthrow for half a century “impressive”. The first Cuban doctor to contract Ebola has been treated by British medics, and US officials promised they would “collaborate” with Cuba to fight Ebola.
    But it’s not the first time that Cuba has provided the lion’s share of medical relief following a humanitarian disaster. Four years ago, after the devastating earthquake in impoverished Haiti, Cuba sent the largest medical contingent and cared for 40% of the victims. In the aftermath of the Kashmir earthquake of 2005, Cuba sent 2,400 medical workers to Pakistan and treated more than 70% of those affected; they also left behind 32 field hospitals and donated a thousand medical scholarships.
    That tradition of emergency relief goes back to the first years of the Cuban revolution. But it is only one part of an extraordinary and mushrooming global medical internationalism. There are now 50,000 Cuban doctors and nurses working in 60 developing countries. As Canadian professor John Kirk puts it: “Cuban medical internationalism has saved millions of lives.” But this unparalleled solidarity has barely registered in the western media.
    Cuban doctors have carried out 3m free eye operations in 33 countries, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, and largely funded by revolutionary Venezuela. That’s how Mario Teran, the Bolivian sergeant who killed Che Guevara on CIA orders in 1967, had his sight restored 40 years later by Cuban doctors in an operation paid for by Venezuela in the radical Bolivia of Evo Morales. While emergency support has often been funded by Cuba itself, the country’s global medical services are usually paid for by recipient governments and have now become by far Cuba’s largest export, linking revolutionary ideals with economic development. That has depended in turn on the central role of public health and education in Cuba, as Havana has built a low-cost biotech industry along with medical infrastructure and literacy programmes in the developing countries it serves – rather than sucking out doctors and nurses on the western model.
    Internationalism was built into Cuba’s DNA. As Guevara’s daughter, Aleida, herself a doctor who served in Africa, says: “We are Afro-Latin Americans and we’ll take our solidarity to the children of that continent.” But what began as an attempt to spread the Cuban revolution in the 60s and became the decisive military intervention in support of Angola against apartheid in the 80s, has now morphed into the world’s most ambitious medical solidarity project.
    Its success has depended on the progressive tide that has swept Latin America over the past decade, inspired by socialist Cuba’s example during the years of rightwing military dictatorships. Leftwing and centre-left governments continue to be elected and re-elected across the region, allowing Cuba to reinvent itself as a beacon of international humanitarianism.
    But the island is still suffocated by the US trade embargo that has kept it in an economic and political vice for more than half a century. If Barack Obama wants to do something worthwhile in his final years as president he could use Cuba’s role in the Ebola crisis as an opening to start to lift that blockade and wind down the US destabilisation war.
    There are certainly straws in the wind. In what looked like an outriding operation for the administration, the New York Times published six editorials over five weeks in October and November praising Cuba’s global medical record, demanding an end to the embargo, attacking US efforts to induce Cuban doctors to defect, and calling for a negotiated exchange of prisoners.
    The paper’s campaign ran as the UN general assembly voted for the 23rd time, by 188 votes to 2 (US and Israel), to demand the lifting of the US blockade, originally imposed in retaliation for the nationalisation of American businesses and now justified on human rights grounds – by a state allied to some of the most repressive regimes in the world.
    The embargo can only be scrapped by congress, still stymied by the heirs of the corrupt US-backed dictatorship which Fidel Castro and Guevara overthrew. But the US president has executive scope to loosen it substantially and restore diplomatic ties. He could start by releasing the remaining three “Miami Five” Cuban intelligence agents jailed 13 years ago for spying on anti-Cuba activist groups linked to terrorism.
    The obvious moment for Obama to call time on the 50-year US campaign against Cuban independence would be at next April’s Summit of the Americas – which Latin American governments had threatened to boycott unless Cuba was invited. The greatest contribution those genuinely concerned about democratic freedoms in Cuba can make is to get the US off the country’s back.
    If the blockade really were to be dismantled, it would not only be a vindication of Cuba’s remarkable record of social justice at home and solidarity abroad, backed by the growing confidence of an independent Latin America. It would also be a boon for millions around the world who would benefit from a Cuba unshackled – and a demonstration of what can be achieved when people are put before corporate profit.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

US Dominates Cyber Warfare

Facebook and other internet giants may be getting the blame for terrorism at home and abroad, but we know that the blame for fanning the flames lies a lot closer to home in the governments of Britain and the United States.

When it comes to cyber warfare, the US claims that the terrorists are the real threat. Yet, a new book gives the lie to that assertion: the US has led the world in developing the weapons of 'information wars' and now has greater technical reach and sophistication than any other force on the planet. Shane Harris's new book, @War, is a gold mine of information on the historical development of US cyber power, initially as a defensive move and increasingly thereafter as an offensive weapon against all rivals, large or small, nation states, non-state actors or particular individuals. And, despite continual and loud claims about the rule of law, America's cyber warfare violates American, international and others' laws through the sheer level of intrusion and sabotage carried out.

For example, had Iran planted the Stuxnet virus into the American nuclear enrichment process, President Obama would declare it an act of war requiring the superpower to exact revenge. Yet, that's exactly what the US and Israelis did to Iran's nuclear plant at Natanz, causing massive damage.

Harris talks about the emergence of a new 'military-internet complex' of state and private corporations collaborating to make data available to the NSA and a whole myriad of state agencies surveilling everything that moves in our social media, emails, phone calls, and other electronic communications. So much for the rule of law; and even when there's a hint that the law does not adequately serve the American foreign policy establishment's voracious appetite for information, the law can be changed.

That's what happened under the Bush administration when several top officials at the Justice Department threatened to resign if the president authorised the bulk collection of metadata, including details of an email sender's other information. The programme was pulled for a few months, the law altered to permit the previously illegal actions and this was all handed over to the Obama administration in 2009.

What does Haris mean by military-internet complex? It means the nine largest corporations - like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook (yes, Facebook), YouTube and Apple -  allowed the US government access to their information: that's 20% of total download traffic via YouTube; 425 million Gmail users; 281 million Yahoo accounts; and 420 million Outlook users; and 250 million iPhones sold by Apple in 2012.

Some corporations are so close to the NSA that they have a decades-long connection: SAIC in California, for example, is known by the NSA as "NSA-West".

Military-internet complex also has a face or faces, moving around the complex, making money, selling skills, and developing ever more powerful weapons of cyber warfare for full spectrum dominance. Mike McConnell, for example, who was intelligence adviser to General Colin Powell in the early 1990s, went on to head the NSA and created "offensive cyber teams" that would, among other things, violate international law by trying to "knock out the lights in Tehran". After leaving the NSA in 1996, McConnell worked as head of cyber security for Booz Allen Hamilton, making millions by selling back to the government what he'd learned at the NSA. In 2006, McConnell moved to director of national intelligence after a phone call from his old patron, VP Dick Cheney, and a chat with his old friend secretary of defence, Robert Gates.

Hacking into others' computers and networks and information flows, much of which flows through America itself, is now routine and integrated into the other forms of lethal military violence at the disposal of the United States.

And its efffects are lethal: it means intercepting phone calls, emails, etc... and relaying them all in real time to someone who decides that it is time to kill the enemy.

Not for the first time, complaints about the power of others - states, groups - and the relative weakness of the United States bear little resemblance to reality, in the post-truth virtual world of US power and paranoia.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Obama's Post-Racial Society? Not in Ferguson

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We share this important post-verdict message from United for Peace & Justice with which we are in full accord. USLAW is affiliated with UFPJ.
The Verdict Is In:
"As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government."
- Martin Luther King, Jr., Beyond Vietnam - A Time to Break Silence, April 4, 1967, Riverside Church, New York City
Dr. King understood the fundamental connections between the war at home and the wars abroad. In the wake of yesterday's grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown, United for Peace and Justice continues to stand in solidarity with Mr. Brown's family, the people of Ferguson and communities around the country who are committed to transforming this tragic miscarriage of justice into a powerful movement to replace racism, injustice, violence and the militarization of police with economic and social justice for all.
In the days to come, we call on groups around the country to express their solidarity by joining or organizing local nonviolent actions.