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Saturday, 20 December 2014

US asserts itself with Cuba Shift

Published 23 January 2015


The US asserts itself with Cuba thaw

The US asserts itself with Cuba thaw
The breakthrough in US-Cuba relations came after months of secret negotiations (photo:dpa)

THE German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMFUS), a philanthropic foundation, think tank, and promoter of US-European co-operation, has hailed the shift in US policy towards Cuba as a great assertion of US power, writes Professor Inderjeet Parmar, Professor in International Politics, City University, London, UK.

The organisation praises Cuba’s health internationalism as a great and vital resource, the country’s governance as effective, and highlights Cuba as playing a key role in regional order.
William McIlhenny, senior Wider Atlantic fellow in The German Marshall Fund’s Washington DC office, described President Obama’s thawing in relations as 'bold and strategic'.

It was, he writes, 'a major step toward aligning US 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 US subsidiaries overseas to engage in trade with Cuba.'

It is a far cry from the Cold War days, when Cuba was ignored, attacked and belittled.
Now that the US has declared itself open to discussing normalised relations with Cuba, its civil society supporters find that Cuba is not such a bad place after all. Yet, they have forgotten the socialist model of development that has helped Cuba to progress so far in health and education and of the damage caused by the US to that Caribbean country over the past 50 years.

Cuba appears to be a stable oasis, a nation with organisational capacity and control of its territory and surrounding coasts, as well as the capacity to do good in the region.
As Mr McIlhenny’s GMFUS’s report attests, '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 neighbours.'

There remains, of course, the old charge of anti-Americanism against anyone who dares criticise the US.
GMFUS claims that Cuba can now put its anti-Americanism behind it.

In fact, for decades Cuba made a principled stand against a superpower which 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 bordering on racism. And the US’s civil society props continue to echo that line.

The geopolitical and economic benefits to the US and Europe remain central in thinking about the US-Cuba thaw.
Mr McIlhenny says, '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 normalised US-Cuban relations will likely be greatest.'
He goes on to say that Cuba could become central to regional institutions if it transitions to 'openness', ie, neoliberalism, arguing that its institutional capacity and human capital are likely to be vital when organising regional and Atlantic co-operation.

It could also help Cuba’s relations with Latin-America, he says. 'Paradoxically, perhaps, the normalisation of US-Cuba ties may make it easier for Latin America’s open societies to engage with Cuban society more effectively in support of that transition.'

As US President Barack Obama noted, the US has tried embargo, blockade and sabotage, not to mention illegal attempts on Fidel Castro’s life, none of which succeeded.

The US is now changing tack and this is an important move that may well result in significant improvements in the region and on Cubans’ life chances.

Yet there is no mistaking the underlying motivation, as reflected in the GMFUS report: to subordinate Cuba to broader geo-economic and strategic imperatives in strengthening the US and weakening opposing statist, anti-neo-liberal strategies in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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.