Monday, November 22, 2010

LPP Latest News...

TSA chief warns against boycott of airport scans

TSA Responds to Passenger Protests Play Video ABC News  – TSA Responds to Passenger Protests
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A father takes his child's shoes off as they go through security screening Monday, Nov.22, 2010, at the Los Angeles International airport. (AP Photo/D AP – A father takes his child's shoes off as they go through security screening Monday, Nov.22, 2010, at the …
ATLANTA – The nation's airport security chief pleaded with Thanksgiving travelers for understanding and urged them not to boycott full-body scans on Wednesday, lest their protest snarl what is already one of the busiest, mos27d rather do that than someone touching me," he said.
A loosely organized Internet campaign is urging people to refuse the scans on Wednesday in what is being called National Opt-Out Day. The extra time needed to pat down people could cause a cascade of delays at dozens of major airports, including those in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.
"Just one or two recalcitrant passengers at an airport is all it takes to cause huge delays," said Paul Ruden, a spokesman for the American Society of Travel Agents, which has warned its more than 8,000 members about delays. "It doesn't take much to mess things up anyway."
More than 400 imaging units are being used at about 70 airports. Since the new procedures began Nov. 1, 34 million travelers have gone through checkpoints and less than 3 percent are patted down, according to the TSA.
At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs said the government is "desperately" trying to balance security and privacy and will take the public's concerns and complaints into account as it evaluates the new, more stringent boarding checks.
The American Civil Liberties Union has received more than 600 complaints over three weeks from passengers who say they were subjected to humiliating pat-downs at U.S. airports, and the pace is accelerating, according to ACLU legislative counsel Christopher Calabrese.
"It really drives home how invasive it is and unhappy they are," he said.
Ricky D. McCoy, a TSA screener and president of a union local in Illinois and Wisconsin, said the atmosphere has changed in the past two weeks for officers in his region. Since word of the pat-downs hit the headlines, officers have been punched, pushed or shoved six times after they explained what would be happening, McCoy said.
"We have major problems because basically TSA never educated the public on what was going on," he said. "Our agency pretty much just threw the new search techniques out there."
Stories of alleged heavy-handed treatment by TSA agents captured people's imagination.
A bladder cancer survivor from Michigan who wears a bag that collects his urine said its contents spilled on his clothing after a security agent at a Detroit airport patted him down roughly.
Tom Sawyer, a 61-year-old retired special education teacher, said the Nov. 7 experience left him in tears. "I was absolutely humiliated. I couldn't even speak," he told
During an appearance on CBS, the TSA's Pistole expressed "great concern over anybody who feels like they have not been treated properly or had something embarrassing" happen.
A video showing a shirtless young boy resisting a pat-down at Salt Lake City's airport has become a YouTube sensation and led to demands for an investigation from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, an outspoken critic of TSA screening methods. The video of the unidentified boy was shot Friday by a bystander with a cell phone.
The TSA said in a blog posting that nobody has to disrobe at an airport checkpoint apart from removing shoes and jackets. According to the TSA, the boy was being searched because he triggered an alarm inside a metal detector, and his father removed the youngster's shirt to speed up the screening.
"That's it. No complaints were filed and the father was standing by his son for the entire procedure," said the posting by "Blogger Bob" of the TSA Blog Team.
The boycott campaign was launched Nov. 8 by Brian Sodergren, who lives in Ashburn, Va., and works in the health care industry.
"I just don't think the government has the right to look under people's clothes with no reasonable cause, no suspicion other than purchasing a plane ticket," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
He said he has no idea how many passengers plan to opt out, but added: "I am absolutely amazed at the response and how people have taken to it. I never would have predicted it. I think it hit a nerve."
In the meantime, security lines appeared to move briskly at many airports.
Frank Bell, 71, of Norfolk, Conn., said he took off his shoes and passed through a scanner at New York's Kennedy Airport — and wasn't even sure whether it was one of the full-body machines.
"It was absolutely nothing," he said. "If there was something that was supposed to tell what sex I was, I wasn't aware of it."
Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Sarah Brumfield and Joan Lowy in Washington; Russell Contreras in Boston; Dan Elliott in Denver; Karen Matthews in New York; and Sophia Tareen in Chicago also contributed to this report.

Does Trickle-Down Work in Totalitarianism?...

In yesterday's ABC "This Week," billionaire investor Warren Buffet argued:

"The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we'll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you. But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on."

Trickle-down effect is one of the most hotly debated economic theories of the late 20th century -- and obviously the early 21st century, as well.

While proponents and detractors can argue about its effectiveness, they all agree on one thing:

For trickle-down to succeed at any level, it requires the free movement of capital.
Thus, while it is arguable whether trickle-down works in a free market, capitalist society -- it is inarguable, that it does not work in a closed, totalitarian society, i.e., Cuba.
But that hasn't stopped advocates of normalizing trade and tourism with the Castro regime, who like to argue about its potential trickle-down effects. (Ironically, most advocates of trickle-down in Castro's Cuba are critics of the same theory in the U.S.)

As one pro-normalization advocate told The New York Times (about tourism travel to Cuba) this summer:

"Of course it benefits the regime, but it benefits the people more. There is a very clear trickle down, especially in the tourism industry."

So where does all the tourism and other hard currency that enters Cuba end up?
Not with the Cuban people, or even with U.S. farmers (as the Farm Bureau would like for you to believe).

It ends up at the top -- and with its security forces.

Cuba Cuts Workers, Expands Security Forces

Sunday, November 21, 2010
Who's Castro afraid of?

From The Miami Herald:

As Cuba cuts back, security appears to grow
As 500,000 workers are trimmed from Cuba's public payrolls, public security sectors appear to be expanding.

A brutal economic crisis is forcing the Cuban government to lay off half a million workers, slash imports and subsidized food sales and even trim its keystone health services.

Yet the government has given no sign it will reduce its domestic or national security agencies - the Ministries of Interior and Revolutionary Armed Forces - and appears instead to be expanding them [...]

The criminal and traffic police, meanwhile, have launched unusually public recruitment drives, Cuba's defense and security budget has been rising and the government has bought riot-control and light military equipment abroad.

S:Capitol Hill Cubans
S: Uncommon Sense

LPP Archive...

Revealed: Chávez role in cocaine trail to Europe

The guerrilla group Farc has long been suspected of running the Colombian cocaine industry. But how does it move the drug so readily out of the country? In a special investigation, John Carlin in Venezuela reports on the remarkable collusion between Colombia's rebels and its neighbour's armed forces
 rebels and its neighbour's armed forces
Some fighters desert from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) because they feel betrayed by the leadership, demoralised by a sense that the socialist ideals that first informed the guerrilla group have been replaced by the savage capitalism of drug trafficking. Others leave to be with their families. Still others leave because they begin to think that, if they do not, they will die. Such is the case of Rafael, who deserted last September after 18 months operating in a Farc base inside Venezuela, with which Colombia shares a long border.The logic of Rafael's decision seems, at first, perverse. He is back in Colombia today where, as a guerrilla deserter, he will live for the rest of his days under permanent threat of assassination by his former comrades. Venezuela, on the other hand, ought to have been a safe place to be a Farc guerrilla. President Hugo Chávez has publicly given Farc his political support and the Colombian army seems unlikely to succumb to the temptation to cross the border in violation of international law.
'All this is true,' says Rafael. 'The Colombian army doesn't cross the border and the guerrillas have a non-aggression pact with the Venezuelan military. The Venezuelan government lets Farc operate freely because they share the same left-wing, Bolivarian ideals, and because Farc bribes their people.'
Then what did he run away from? 'From a greater risk than the one I run now: from the daily battles with other guerrilla groups to see who controls the cocaine-trafficking routes. There is a lot of money at stake in control of the border where the drugs come in from Colombia. The safest route to transport cocaine to Europe is via Venezuela.'
Rafael is one of 2,400 guerrillas who deserted Farc last year. He is one of four I spoke to, all of whom had grown despondent about a purportedly left-wing revolutionary movement whose power and influence rests less on its political legitimacy and more on the benefits of having become the world's biggest kidnapping organisation and the world's leading traffickers in cocaine.
Farc has come a long way from its leftist revolutionary roots and is now commonly referred to in Colombia and elsewhere as 'narco-guerrillas'. Pushed out to the border areas, it has been rendered increasingly irrelevant politically and militarily due to the combined efforts of Colombia's centre-right President, Alvaro Uribe, and his principal backers, the United States, whose Plan Colombia, devised under the presidency of Bill Clinton, has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the Colombian military and police. A large part of Plan Colombia is designed to eradicate the vast coca plantations cultivated and maintained by Farc and other Colombian groups.
However, the impact on Farc has been ambiguous: its chances of launching a left-wing insurrection in the manner of Nicaragua's Sandinistas in 1979 are nil, but then they probably always were; yet it looks capable of surviving indefinitely as an armed force as a result of the income from its kidnapping, extortion and cocaine interests.
Helping it to survive, and prosper, is its friend and neighbour Hugo Chávez. The Venezuelan President sought to extract some international credit from the role he played as mediator in the release last month in Venezuelan territory of two kidnapped women, friends of Ingrid Betancourt, a French citizen and former Colombian presidential candidate held by Farc for six years. But Chávez has not denounced Farc for holding Betancourt and 43 other 'political' hostages.
I spoke at length to Rafael (not his real name) and three other Farc deserters about the links between the guerrilla group and Chávez's Venezuela, in particular their co-operation in the drug business. All four have handed themselves in to the Colombian government in recent months under an official programme to help former guerrillas adapt back to civilian life.
I also spoke to high-level security, intelligence and diplomatic sources from five countries, some of them face to face in Colombia and London, some of them by phone. All of them insisted on speaking off the record, either for political or safety reasons, both of which converge in Farc, the oldest functioning guerrilla organisation in the world and one that is richer, more numerous and better armed than any other single Colombian drug cartel and is classified as 'terrorist' by the European Union and the US.
All the sources I reached agreed that powerful elements within the Venezuelan state apparatus have forged a strong working relationship with Farc. They told me that Farc and Venezuelan state officials operated actively together on the ground, where military and drug-trafficking activities coincide. But the relationship becomes more passive, they said, less actively involved, the higher up the Venezuelan government you go. No source I spoke to accused Chávez himself of having a direct role in Colombia's giant drug-trafficking business. Yet the same people I interviewed struggled to believe that Chávez was not aware of the collusion between his armed forces and the leadership of Farc, as they also found it difficult to imagine that he has no knowledge of the degree to which Farc is involved in the cocaine trade.
I made various attempts to extract an official response to these allegations from the Venezuelan government. In the end Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro made a public pronouncement in Uruguay in which he said, without addressing the substance of the allegations, that they were part of a 'racist' and 'colonialist' campaign against Venezuela by the centre-left Spanish newspaper El País, where I originally wrote about Farc and the Venezuelan connection.
What no one disputes, however, is that Chávez is a political ally of Farc (last month he called on the EU and US to stop labelling its members 'terrorists') or that for many years Farc has used Venezuelan territory as a refuge. A less uncontroversial claim, made by all the sources to whom I spoke (the four disaffected guerrillas included), is that if it were not for cocaine, the fuel that feeds the Colombian war, Farc would long ago have disbanded.
The varied testimonies I have heard reveal that the co-operation between Venezuela and the guerrillas in transporting cocaine by land, air and sea is both extensive and systematic. Venezuela is also supplying arms to the guerrillas, offering them the protection of their armed forces in the field, and providing them with legal immunity de facto as they go about their giant illegal business.
Thirty per cent of the 600 tons of cocaine smuggled from Colombia each year goes through Venezuela. Most of that 30 per cent ends up in Europe, with Spain and Portugal being the principal ports of entry. The drug's value on European streets is some £7.5bn a year.
The infrastructure that Venezuela provides for the cocaine business has expanded dramatically over the past five years of Chávez's presidency, according to intelligence sources. Chávez's decision to expel the US Drug Enforcement Administration from his country in 2005 was celebrated both by Farc and drug lords in the conventional cartels with whom they sometimes work. According to Luis Hernando Gómez Bustamante, a Colombian kingpin caught by the police last February, 'Venezuela is the temple of drug trafficking.'
A European diplomat with many years of experience in Latin America echoed this view. 'The so-called anti-imperialist, socialist and Bolivarian nation that Chávez says he wants to create is en route to becoming a narco-state in the same way that Farc members have turned themselves into narco-guerrillas. Perhaps Chávez does not realise it but, unchecked, this phenomenon will corrode Venezuela like a cancer.'
The deserters I interviewed said that not only did the Venezuelan authorities provide armed protection to at least four permanent guerrilla camps inside their country, they turned a blind eye to bomb-making factories and bomber training programmes going on inside Farc camps. Rafael - tall and lithe, with the sculptured facial features of the classic Latin American 'guerrillero' - said he was trained in Venezuela to participate in a series of bomb attacks in Bogotá, Colombia's capital.
Co-operation between the Colombian guerrillas and the Venezuelan government extended, Rafael said, to the sale of arms by Chávez's military to Farc; to the supply of Venezuelan ID cards to regular guerrilla fighters and of Venezuelan passports to the guerrilla leaders so they were able to travel to Cuba and Europe; and also to a reciprocal understanding whereby Farc gave military training to the Bolivarian Forces of Liberation, a peculiar paramilitary group created by the Chávez government purportedly for the purpose of defending the motherland in case of American invasion.
Chávez's contacts with Farc are conducted via one of the members of the organisation's leadership, Iván Márquez, who also has a farm in Venezuela and who communicates with the President via senior officials of the Venezuelan intelligence service. As a Farc deserter who had filled a senior position in the propaganda department said: 'Farc shares three basic Bolivarian principles with Chávez: Latin American unity; the anti-imperialist struggle; and national sovereignty. These ideological positions lead them to converge on the tactical terrain.'
The tactical benefits of this Bolivarian (after the 19th-century Latin American liberator, Simón Bolívar) solidarity reach their maximum expression in the multinational cocaine industry. Different methods exist to transport the drug from Colombia to Europe, but what they all have in common is the participation, by omission or commission, of the Venezuelan authorities.
The most direct route is the aerial one. Small planes take off from remote jungle strips in Colombia and land in Venezuelan airfields. Then there are two options, according to intelligence sources. Either the same light planes continue on to Haiti or the Dominican Republic (the US government says that since 2006 its radar network has detected an increase from three to 15 in the number of 'suspicious flights' a week out of Venezuela); or the cocaine is loaded on to large planes that fly directly to countries in West Africa such as Guinea-Bissau or Ghana, from where it continues by sea to Portugal or the north-western Spanish province of Galicia, the entry points to the EU Schengen zone.
A less cumbersome traditional method for getting the drugs to Europe in small quantities is via passengers on international commercial flights - 'mules', as they call them in Colombia. One of the guerrilla deserters I spoke to, Marcelo, said he had taken part in 'eight or nine' missions of this type over 12 months. 'Operating inside Venezuela is the easiest thing in the world,' he said. 'Farc guerrillas are in there completely and the National Guard, the army and other Venezuelans in official positions offer them their services, in exchange for money. There are never shoot-outs between Farc and the guardia or army.'
Rafael said he took part in operations on a bigger scale, their final objective being to transport the cocaine by sea from Venezuelan ports on the Caribbean Sea. His rank in Farc was higher than Marcelo's and he had access to more confidential information. 'You receive the merchandise on the border, brought in by lorry,' he said. 'When the vehicle arrives the National Guard is waiting, already alerted to the fact that it was on its way. They have already been paid a bribe up front, so that the lorry can cross into Venezuela without problems.
'Sometimes they provide us with an escort for the next phase, which involves me and other comrades getting on to the lorry, or into a car that will drive along with it. We then make the 16-hour trip to Puerto Cabello, which is on the coast, west of Caracas. There the lorry is driven into a big warehouse controlled jointly by Venezuelan locals and by Farc, which is in charge of security. Members of the Venezuelan navy take care of customs matters and the safe departure of the vessels. They are alive to all that is going on and they facilitate everything Farc does.'
Rafael described a similar routine with drug operations involving the port of Maracaibo which, according to police sources, is 'a kind of paradise' for drug traffickers. Among whom - until last week when he was gunned down by a rival cartel in a Venezuelan town near the Colombian border - was one of the 'capos' most wanted internationally, a Colombian called Wilber Varela, but better known as 'Jabón', which means 'soap'. 'Varela and others like him set themselves up in stunning homes and buy bankrupt businesses and large tracts of land, converting themselves almost overnight into personages of great value to the local economy,' a police source said. 'Venezuela offers a perfect life insurance scheme for these criminals.'
This 'tactical' convergence between the Venezuelan armed forces and Farc extends to the military terrain. To the point that, according to one especially high-placed intelligence source I spoke to, the National Guard has control posts placed around the guerrilla camps. What for? 'To give them protection, which tells us that knowledge of the tight links between the soldiers on the ground and Farc reaches up to the highest decision-making levels of the Venezuelan military.'
Rafael told how he had travelled once by car with Captain Pedro Mendoza of the National Guard to a military base outside Caracas called Fuerte Tiuna. He entered with the captain, who handed him eight rifles. They then returned to the border with the rifles in the boot of the car.
Rafael said that members of the National Guard also supplied Farc with hand grenades, grenade-launchers and explosive material for bombs made out of a petrol-based substance called C-4.
An intelligence source confirmed that these small movements of arms occurred on a large scale. 'What we see is the drugs going from Colombia to Venezuela and the arms from Venezuela to Colombia. The arms move in a small but constant flow: 5,000 bullets, six rifles. It's very hard to detect because there are lots of small networks, very well co-ordinated, all of them by specialists in Farc.'
Rafael worked directly with these specialists, both in the arms and the drugs business, until he decided the time had come to change his life. 'In June and July I had received courses in making bombs alongside elements of Chávez's militias, the FBL. We learnt, there in a camp in Venezuela, how to put together different types of landmines and how to make bombs. They also taught us how to detonate bombs in a controlled fashion using mobile phones.'
They were training him, he said, for a mission in Bogotá. 'They gave us photos of our targets. We were going to work alongside two Farc groups based in the capital. The plan was to set off bombs, but as the date dawned I began to reflect that I could not continue this way. First, because of the danger from the military engagements we had with the ELN [another formerly left-wing guerrilla group] on the border over control of the drug routes and, second, because it now seemed to me there was a very real risk of getting caught and I believed I had already spent enough years in jail for the Farc cause. It was also highly possible that the security forces in Bogotá would kill me. That was why at the end of August I ran away and in September I handed myself in.'
A European diplomat who is well informed on the drug-trafficking business generally, and who is familiar with Rafael's allegations, made a comparison between the activities of Farc in Venezuela and hypothetically similar activities involving Eta in Spain.
'Imagine if Eta had a bomb-making school in Portugal inside camps protected by the Portuguese police, and that they planned to set off these bombs in Madrid; imagine that the Portuguese authorities furnished Eta with weapons in exchange for money obtained from the sales of drugs, in which the Portuguese authorities were also involved up to their necks: it would be a scandal of enormous proportions. Well, that, on a very big scale, is what the Venezuelan government is allowing to happen right now.'
'The truth,' one senior police source said, 'is that if Venezuela were to make a minimal effort to collaborate with the international community the difference it would make would be huge. We could easily capture two tons of cocaine a month more if they were just to turn up their police work one notch. They don't do it because the place is so corrupt but also, and this is the core reason, because of this "anti-imperialist" stand they take. "If this screws the imperialists," they think, "then how can we possibly help them?" The key to it all is a question of political will. And they don't have any.'
A similar logic applies, according to the highest-placed intelligence source I interviewed, regarding Farc's other speciality, kidnappings. 'If Hugo Chávez wanted it, he could force Farc to free Ingrid Betancourt tomorrow morning. He tells Farc: "You hand her over or it's game over in Venezuela for you." The dependence of Farc on the Venezuelans is so enormous that they could not afford to say no.'

A nation at war
· Colombia, the centre of the world's cocaine trade, has endured civil war for decades between left-wing rebels with roots in the peasant majority and right-wing paramilitaries with links to Spanish colonial landowners.
· Manuel 'Sureshot' Marulanda named his guerrilla band the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 1966.
· Farc is thought to have about 800 hostages. The most high-profile is Ingrid Betancourt, 45, held since 2002.
· Every Farc member takes a vow to fight for 'social justice' in Colombia.
· About a third of Farc guerrillas are thought to be women.
· Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez is pushing for 'Bolivarian socialism', while Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is a free-market conservative.

Cuba Cutting Everything But Security

Published on November 22, 2010  
by NewsDesk - iWireNews ™

(iWireNews ™ and OfficialWire)

Cuba is making drastic cuts in public employment and spending but not in its security apparatus, Communist Party documents show.
A party directive issued in September spelling out layoffs in 26 ministries and state-owned enterprises made no mention of the Interior Ministry or armed forces, El Nuevo Herald of Miami reported.
Vladimiro Roca, a dissident and former air force pilot, told the Herald by phone from Havana, "They are set on maintaining the repression at a very high level."
Police are recruiting officers, the military and security budgets are increasing and the government has bought riot-control and light military equipment abroad, the report said.
The new gear could be designed to "put down ... rioting in the event the Raul Castro government's experiment in economic liberalization goes awry," said Armando Mastrapa, a Cuban-American academic expert on the Cuban military.
Ukraine reportedly sold military equipment to Cuba in 2004, China sold it vehicles and Spain exported riot equipment to Havana in 2008.
A well-equipped riot squad made its public debut in September, quelling Pakistani medical students who were complaining about the quality of their training and limited Internet access, the Herald report said.

EFT Archive (Research Alert Group)...

Castro’s Change of Heart: The Implications for Cuba, Venezuela, and The United States

Fidel Castro. (Photo: "Carolonline")

After four years of silence induced by grave physical illness, punctuated only by occasional newspaper commentaries, Fidel Castro has regained his voice. To the surprise of many, he is using it to make some startling comments on the escalating conflict between Iran and the western world. In one of his most recent statements on the subject, expressed in an exclusive interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic magazine, Castro surprised friends and foes alike by excoriating Iran’s Ahmadinejad for intensifying conflict in the Middle East by encouraging anti-Semitism in Iran. Specifically, Castro criticized Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust, declaring to Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”
Castro has come out since publication of Goldberg’s piece to explain that the reporter missed the crucial irony in his statement that was originally heralded as a shocking admission that the Cuban economic model was failing. Instead, Castro explained that he had meant “exactly the opposite,” that the US capitalist model could no longer be seen as a model for the U.S., much less for Cuba. Fidel has made no such clarification or retraction regarding his words for Ahmadinejad, however. In this case, at least, it seems that Goldberg got Castro’s message right the first time.
Fidel’s choice of messenger—American-Israeli reporter Goldberg, who has historically shown affinity for neo-conservative viewpoints, —seems, at first, an odd one, given Castro’s well-documented history as an outspoken critic of both Israel and, of course, the United States. Castro’s decision to entrust Goldberg with this stern warning to Ahmadinejad is merely the first of many enigmas that emerge from this far-reaching interview. Indeed, the shockwaves sent out from Fidel’s statement will be felt not only in Ahmadinejad’s Iran, but also closer to home in Venezuela, where it threatens to strain Castro’s long-standing relationship with President Hugo Chávez. Most important, however, are the potential ramifications of Castro’s statement here in the United States.
Fidel’s message represents a golden opportunity for the Obama administration to recognize Cuba’s increasing trend toward liberalization and normalize relations with Havana. Cuba’s apparent willingness to abandon old dogmas and to strive for areas of common interest and shared valued with the U.S. could be a first step to remedying the estrangement and polarization between the two countries. Whether or not the United States chooses to catch this most recent wave and ride it, however, is up to the Obama administration, which has heretofore remained regretfully timid with respect to Cuba, despite repeated encouraging signs that Cuban leadership has begun to reconsider the island nation’s long-standing state of political and economic isolation.
Castro’s condemnation of anti-Semitism in Iran and his related affirmation of Israel’s right to exist is only the most recent example of Cuba’s attempts to reengage the Western world both politically and economically. As early as the Pope’s 1998 tour of the island—followed by Jimmy Carter’s highly publicized visit in 2002—Cuba began to show signs that, systemic differences aside, it was in fact interested in engaging in dialogue with the West when it came to issues such as ethnic and religious tolerance. On the economic front, since 2008, President Raúl Castro has taken steps toward market expansion, announcing his commitment to open Cuba to increased foreign investment and making previously restricted products such as computers and cellular phones more accessible to the general population. Raúl’s liberalizing reforms in Cuba’s agricultural sector include the limited privatization of land, as well the decentralization of key decision-making structures within the industry. This focus on economic decentralization within the agricultural sector may herald more widespread reforms designed to streamline the Cuban bureaucracy, which Raúl Castro himself has criticized for its staggering inefficiency.
Though many experts suggested that Raúl Castro’s commitment to reducing government bureaucracy would not be followed by concrete action, a groundbreaking August 13 statement issued from Havana announced an accelerated timeline for the one million state job cuts initially promised. Over the course of the next six months, Cuban officials will be laying off at least half a million state employees, much earlier than originally expected. In addition to unprecedented job cuts, according to CNN’s Shasta Darlington, Raúl Castro also announced that the state has “agreed to broaden the exercise of self employment and its use as another alternative for the employment of those excess workers,” in a move that sounds suspiciously like privatization. This announcement from Havana represents a monumental shift away traditional Cuban economic philosophy, and its importance cannot be overstated.
In this context of substantive reform and exciting, near-daily developments from Havana, Fidel Castro’s criticism of Ahmadinejad can be considered further evidence that Cuba is indeed taking steps to emerge from isolation, as it moves in the direction of increased political and economic dialogue with longtime adversaries. Rather than find common cause with every rogue state spouting anti-U.S. rhetoric no matter what its ideological source, Fidel’s statement reaches out towards areas of ideological agreement with the Western world. As a leader of that world, the United States can no longer afford to ignore these positive developments in Cuba, especially now that Fidel Castro himself appears willing to risk alienating allies Iran and Venezuela to call for peace in the Middle East.
Cuba’s Tangled Web: Tehran, Tel-Aviv, and the Havana Synagogue
Without doubt, Castro’s remark will have implications for Havana’s relationship with Tehran. Cuba and Iran are both members of the Non-Aligned Movement and, in 2005, Iran opened a €20 million credit line to Cuba. Unlike many other Latin American leftist regimes, however, Cuba has never enjoyed a particularly profound relationship with Iran. Compared to, for example, Bolivia, Ecuador, or Venezuela, Havana-Tehran ties are minimal.
As with all of the Latin American left since 1967, Cuba has always been fiercely critical of Israel. Cuba, indeed, has not had diplomatic relations with Israel since Castro cut ties in response to the 1973 Yom Kippur war, in which Cuba also sent 1,500 troops to aid Syrian forces in the Golan Heights. Cuba has also substantially supported numerous Palestinian independence movements, though not religiously inspired ones such as Hamas.
On the other hand, Cuba’s relationship with its 1,500-strong Jewish population has been relatively positive. In her 2007 article for The New York Times, “In Cuba, Finding a Tiny Corner of Jewish Life,” author Caren Osten Gerszberg noted that there are three synagogues in Havana (which has a Jewish population of approximately 1,100), one for each of the three major sects. Havana is also home to a Jewish community center (called El patronato) and a branch of Hadassah, the international Jewish women’s organization. The Cuban city of Santa Clara has a Jewish cemetery as well as a Holocaust memorial. Castro himself, Gerzberg writes, has attended Hanukah ceremonies in the city. In their book An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba, Ruth Behar and Humberto Mayol write about how Cuba’s Jewish population is frequently better off than the rest of the population, “a constant stream of individuals stop by to inquire if by any chance they might happen to be Jewish. Word has gotten around that being Jewish in Cuba brings benefits – besides the chicken dinners on Friday night and Saturday midday there is access to alternative information, a well-stocked pharmacy, a lively set of social events, and the possibility of leaving Cuba via Israel.” She notes that the Cuban Jews are also unique in receiving rations of kosher beef, which is considered a rare delicacy for most Cubans, who generally eat far less expensive pork.
It is important to remember that, while Iran and Cuba share an overlapping ideology insomuch as they are both “anti-imperialist” in posture and thus critical of the United States, they disagree on far more than they agree. Cuba was, until recently, a state in which formal expression of religion was banned, while Iran remains a theocratic state whose rationale is entirely Islamic. They are by no means, natural allies. Crucially, Cuba under Castro has been a communist state. Historically developed in conformity with the Soviet line, many of the most important figures in the formation of communism were Jewish and saw even Soviet orthodoxy as an alternative to the rampant anti-Semitism of Europe at the time. Thus, it is a hearkening back to the historic ideological roots of Marxism, that, forced to choose between Iran and the Jewish population, Cuba would condemn Iranian anti-Semitism.
Chávez, Castro, and Ahmadinejad: Bizarre Love Triangle?
But there are other parties with interests in the Cuba-Iran-US relationship, most notably Venezuela. Venezuela, which since Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998 has been Cuba’s close supporter and bankroller, has deliberately sought out connections with Iran and has abetted Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s anti-US and anti-Semitic rhetoric despite obviously not sharing the religious motivation of the Iranian leader. It is thus likely that the most dramatic implications of Castro’s statement will be its possible effect on Cuban-Venezuelan relations. Ever since his election in 1998, Chávez has shared a close personal and diplomatic relationship with Castro and Cuba. Although the subject of Castro’s attack was obviously Iran, his statements have nonetheless put Chávez on the defensive, not only because of his close diplomatic ties to Iran, but also because of the numerous allegations of anti-Semitism that have been raised against Chávez by Venezuela’s Jewish community.
Chávez holds Castro and his Cuban Revolution as a guiding influence and inspiration for Chávez’s own Bolivarian Revolution, which seeks to create a socialist, united Latin America. Cuba and Venezuela formed the Bolivarian Alternative for the People of Our America (ALBA), a socialist-inspired Latin American regional integration organization, together in 2004. Venezuela also sells Cuba petroleum well below the average market price as a form of aid to the embargoed island. The two leaders have frequently cooperated on numerous political, social, and economic projects. More generally, they, in general, share a mutual socialist ideology and almost always back each other diplomatically. On a more personal level, Chávez has visited Cuba multiple times and greets Fidel on almost every episode of his weekly television program “Aló, Presidente.”
Castro’s statement, however, may precipitate the first serious diplomatic rift between the two traditional allies. While aimed at Ahmadinejad, Castro’s remark could have been equally applicable to Chávez. In the days leading up to Castro’s remark, Chávez faced escalating criticism by Venezuelan Jewish leaders for his perceived anti-Semitism, culminating in a September 5th call by Jewish leaders to meet with Chávez. For years, Venezuelan Jewish leaders have complained about verbal attacks against Venezuelan Jews by Chávez and members of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). The administration has also been accused of either ignoring or tacitly encouraging various crimes committed against Venezuela’s Jewish community, including the vandalism of a synagogue and a minor attack on a Jewish community center in Caracas in 2009. The most recent tensions between Chávez and the Venezuelan Jewish community have arisen as a result of perceived attacks by the PSUV and media traditionally associated with it. Comments that seemed to suggest that Venezuelan Jews were hurting the state’s economy ultimately led Venezuelan Jewish leaders to request a meeting with Chávez, which was realized September 17th.
Domestic issues have not been the only impetus for charges of anti-Semitism against Chávez. His harsh criticism of Israel and strong support for Iran has also greatly concerned Venezuela’s Jewish community, as well as the greater Jewish diaspora. While, like many critics of Israel, Chávez has always tried to distinguish between political Zionism and Judaism, his anti-Israel rhetoric has often blurred the lines between hostility to the Israeli state and a more general anti-Semitism. These incendiary moments have included multiple comparisons between Nazi Germany and Israel, and frequent accusations that Israel is committing genocide in Palestine. Chávez also has shown a tendency to voice many of the conspiracy theories surrounding Jewish power in the world. For example, in 2005 Chávez said that “it so happens that a minority, the descendants of the same ones that crucified Christ, the desc not necessarily or consistently anti-Semitic. Nonetheless, although Fidel’s statement did not directly target Chávez, it is hard not to make a connection between the complaints raised by Jewish leaders in Venezuela and Castro’s remarks mere days later. It is also clear that Chávez was put on the defensive by the statement. The day after Castro’s comments, Chávez released his own statement, saying that “we respect and love the Jewish people” and immediately agreed to meet with Venezuelan Jewish leaders.
While it is unlikely that this incident will do serious damage to the Havana-Caracas relationship, Castro’s comments to Goldberg demonstrate just how much he is willing to risk in the pursuit of greater liberalization and an end to Cuba’s half a century of isolation. By condemning Iran, a move that demonstrates Castro’s moral fiber and provides a rare area of agreement between Cuba and the West, Castro has bravely risked straining his relationship with Chávez. If Chávez fails to address the concerns of Venezuela’s Jewish community in an adequate manner, Havana may be perceived as hypocritical for condemning Iranian anti-Semitism while nonetheless maintaining such friendly relations with Venezuela. This, in turn, could put considerable pressure on Venezuelan-Cuban relations. At the very least, Chávez must show discipline and strive for conciliation with the Venezuelan-Jewish community in the short term. In the longer term, Chávez may ultimately have to choose between Cuba and Iran. On one hand, Iran has far more, in terms of tangible goods and services, to offer Venezuela than Cuba. However, Cuba is undoubtedly the ideological forefather of the Latin American left. In fact, strained relations with Cuba could greatly undermine Chávez’s domestic and regional legitimacy. If Cuba continues to denounce Iran, it seems unlikely that Chávez will be able to have his cake and eat it too.
Cuba Continues to Take Risks, Time for the Obama Administration to Take One of its Own
For the above reasons, Fidel Castro’s seemingly self-contained criticism of Iranian anti-Semitism in fact has the potential to impact much more than the bilateral relationship between Cuba and Ahmadinejad’s Iran. Indeed, this statement constitutes a tangible political risk for Castro, as it necessarily brings into play Cuba’s relationship with Venezuela, an important ally. It is true that Castro’s unequivocal message affirming Israel’s right to exist and exhorting Ahmadinejad to, in the words of Goldberg, “stop slandering the Jews,” was most likely not directly intended to win the United States’ favor. However, there is no doubt that Castro’s position on the issue brings him much closer in line with the United States and its Western allies—and away from not only Iran, but possibly Venezuela as well. Indeed, if Castro is, as it appears, willing to risk his relationships with fellow international pariahs Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chávez by issuing a statement so congruent with mainstream Western values, the Obama administration needs to sit up and take notice.
Castro’s remarks regarding Iran—merely the most recent indication that Cuba has indeed initiated a slow crawl in the direction of increased economic and political moderation—have provided the Obama administration with yet another opportunity to embrace such positive change in Cuba as sufficient cause for a long-overdue rapprochement. Certainly, despite initial expectations for President Obama, the United States has made painfully little progress toward such a rapprochement, missing opportunity after opportunity to take concrete steps to normalize relations with Cuba since Raúl Castro began substantive economic reforms in 2008.
The United States’ inaction with respect to Cuba is merely symptomatic of the Obama administration’s uninspiring record in Latin America on the whole, as illustrated by its lackluster response to the 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. By taking a backseat role to the Organization of American States (OAS), the United States did attempt, in part, to enact the lessons learned from the 2002 coup attempt against Chávez (during which the United States initially appeared to unilaterally welcome the coup, well before the OAS came out with an official resolution unequivocally condemning its obvious unconstitutionality). However, in the case of Honduras, the Obama administration missed the opportunity to be proactive within the OAS forum; when the OAS began to flounder, the United States failed to muster an adequate, sustained multilateral effort to restore the ousted Zelaya to power.
With respect to Cuba, President Obama has yet another chance to be truly proactive and begin to set things right in Latin America. Indeed, the United States currently finds itself in a unique position to do away with an embarrassing vestige of Cold War policy and provide Cuba with a tangible incentive to emerge from isolation and engage with the Western world. In fact, the Obama administration could do this without fully abandoning the United States’ historical objection to Cuba’s ideological position, by instead hailing Castro’s remarks denouncing Iranian anti-Semitism as evidence of Cuba’s willingness to distance itself from rogue states and to relate to the U.S. on an issue-by-issue basis, not just as an a priori adversary. As such, it is imperative that the Obama administration seizes the opportunity presented by Castro’s most recent remarks on Iran and Ahmadinejad to move beyond token measures with concrete steps toward normalization of relations with Cuba. Above all else, the President must increase pressure on Congress to reconsider the embargo. As evidenced by the incongruence between the most recent announcement of a massive economic overhaul and Fidel’s hasty backpedaling from his unexpected and purportedly misinterpreted admission that the Cuban economic model had grown obsolete, Castro is treading a dangerous line between liberalization and the alienation of long-time supporters.
Should Obama fail yet again to reach out to Cuba at this critical juncture as it continues to take increasingly bold strides toward political and economic liberalization, the United States could be unwittingly responsible for making future reforms in Cuba even less likely. After 50 years of mutual antagonism, Cuba and its leaders are tentatively opening doors that have long been sealed shut to the United States, allowing for the possibility of change and increased dialogue. Indifference from the United States at this point is tantamount to slamming these doors in Cuba’s face, and the Obama administration should have better manners than that. 
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