Archive for June, 2012

Guajiros for Change

June 30, 2012
Cuba and the Illinois Farm Bureau

US agricultural exports are usually the last thing the casual observer of the US-Cuba conundrum thinks about. It’s not a sexy topic like the Cuban 5. It’s not politically charged like Alan Gross’ situation. It doesn’t engender the emotional response from within the Cuban-American community that travel restrictions and remittance allowances do.  It doesn’t draw the ire of the mediocre Miami-based “think-tanks” that divide their time between denouncing the Cuban government and pushing uber-capitalist “solutions” for Cuba’s future.  In fact, most Americans have no idea that the United States actually does business with Cuba to the tune of several hundred millions of dollars a year.

Almost all of these transactions are in the form of food exports to the island nation and because of this most of the agriculture sector in the US is mostly opposed to the embargo imposed upon Cuba.  Despite a fifty-year period of economic strangulation implemented by its neighbor to the north this communist country ranks relatively high as an export market for US agriculture products.

After the passing of the TSRA (Trade and Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act) in 2000 the United States has been supplying the Cuban market with a number of food products.  This legislation in no way makes selling agricultural products to Cuba easy. The onerous regulations of this bill make it extremely difficult for the average producer of products like corn, soybeans, and wheat to export their harvests from a country that declares it self to be the greatest champion of free trade and open markets in the world.

Despite these obstructions to free trade several American organizations have been building relations with Cuban organizations in charge of procuring and growing food products for just over eleven million Cubans plus the annual onslaught of foreign tourists.  Between June 28th and July 2nd a delegation organized by the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) will be doing its part to reinforce the unique relationship between Illinois farmers and the Cuban people.

Tamara Nelsen, the Senior Director of Commodities at the IFB, articulated the goals of the market study trips that the bureau takes regularly.

Since we are a grassroots membership organization of farmers, the overall goal of all of our Market Study Tours is to train a cadre of farmer leaders on agricultural trade and marketing issues.  This enables us to have a strong voice of volunteer leaders on agricultural, marketing, and trade issues on a local, state, and national level.  Our members make their voices heard through support of legislation at those same levels, to facilitate improved agricultural trade and economic development.  For Cuba, we expect to meet with government officials and importing companies to help build relationships necessary to further trade between our nations.

The group consists of eighteen farmers and other members from the IFB, the Illinois Agriculture Department, and Prairie Farmer Magazine.  They are mostly fourth and fifth generation farmers who manage family farms that range in size between 500 and 5800 acres.  They grow corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, sorghum and manage a mix of livestock including cows, steers, hogs, goats, hens, and some freshwater shrimp.  They are members of their local 4-H clubs, county farm bureau boards, churches, and other agriculture and social organizations within their local communities.  In short, they are typical farmers, salt of the earth.  People who produce your food that are usually never thought about when you sit down at the dinner table or catch a snack on the go.  These are our ambassadors for normalization with Cuba and they are going down to La Habana to do something about it.

The IFB is a state association affiliated with the American Farm Bureau Federation that states as part of its policy:

We support immediate normalization of trade and travel relations with Cuba.

The national organization also calls for the US government to “…enhance its procedures and responsibilities to protect US interests…” in several free trade agreements and classifies “…sanctions and embargoes that affect U.S. agriculture…” as “…unfair practices.”  The IFB’s policy book goes even further:

We support resumption of normal trading relations with Cuba (including elimination of restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba and simplifications of licensing and shipping requirements for sales to Cuba).

Even without normalization of relations between US and Cuba there is still potential for increased agricultural trade between the two nations. Is it necessary to revise the TSRA or ultimately, repeal, the odious Helms-Burton Act or are there other ways of bolstering a potentially robust exchange between the two sovereign nations?  Hopefully the delegation from Illinois will be able to better determine that during their four-day stay in La Habana.

Land of Lincoln and Cuba

Illinois’ involvement with reaching out to Cuba started when then-sitting Republican governor George Ryan made his historic visit to La Habana in 1999.  He and a delegation representing Illinois’ various business sectors met with Fidel Castro and other members of the government in order to engage in negotiations that would allow for the export of certain products that this state offered on the world market.

Curiously, a Republican controlled House with speaker Dennis Hastert, another Illinois Republican, and majority deputy whip Tom DeLay hammered the TSRA (Trade and Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act) through in 2000. Bill Clinton, always looking for a sweet deal, signed it.

US exports from 1992 to 2001 averaged a little over 5 million dollars a year in a variety of agricultural, pharmacological, and other products.  After Hurricane Michelle leveled a large percentage of Cuba’s harvests and stocks in 2001 the United States began to export products totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by 2002 the US had become Cuba’s largest agricultural import supplier by providing roughly 20% of that nation’s imports.  This market share would rise to 36% in 2004.  Much of these products such as corn, soybeans and other derivatives from soybeans such as oils, meals and cakes, livestock, broiler meat, and other processed goods originated in Illinois.

The people of the land of Lincoln have remained steadfast in its argument for an end to the embargo. In September of 2011 a sizable delegation from the Illinois State House went to Cuba to try and reinvigorate the exporting of both agricultural and pharmacological and other medicinal products.  The majority of market share that Illinois once enjoyed has dwindled to a fraction of what it was just a few short years ago and the state representatives and organizations like the IFB are willing to go to Cuba and try to learn what that they can do to regain a larger portion.

The Illinois Soybean Association took a Market Study Trip in March of this year and met with several government representatives, including ALIMPORT, Cuba’s state-run department that is in charge of all procurements of imports to the country.  Illinois soybean producers use to account for roughly 75% of Cuba’s soybean imports. Now Brazil supplies Cuba with 75% of its soybeans.  This loss of market share reflects the trend of waning influence by Uncle Sam throughout Latin America.

The mission of the IFB’s trip is not only to increase market share but also try and provide assistance to the Cuban agronomy. Tamara Nelsen explains:

Illinois farmers are always interested in helping lesser developed countries improve their ag sectors because rural ag sectors in developing countries act as a major impetus of those nations’ long term growth and economic health.  Thus, those countries are more likely to become customers of our higher value ag products if they have healthy economic development and growth – which starts from improvements in the rural ag sectors.

Most people would be surprised to know that Cuba’s economy enjoyed a growth rate of about 7.5% between 2001 and 2007 and is expected to continue to grow at a healthy pace for the near future.  The reported growth in the agricultural sector was 4.2 % in 2011.  It wasn’t always this bullish of an outlook for the island. Cuba’s GDP dropped by a third and the national caloric input plummeted below 2000 calories a day per person during the special period experienced after the Soviet Union broke up and left Cuba to fend for itself in the early 1990′s.  During the nearly three decades of Soviet dependence Cuba’s agriculture was heavily geared towards selling sugar at heavily subsidized rates.  Most food was imported from the Soviet Bloc and when this came to an end Cuba had to reevaluate its methods of how to feed its population.  This led to a breakup of state-controlled farms into smaller cooperatives run by groups of citizens who would sell their harvests to the State.  The government mandated what these cooperatives grow.  Although these cooperatives do provide Cubans with an avenue to go into business there are very strict controls that are the norm for the centralized style of governance and planning that has both helped Cuba in some regards while hindering it in others.

The spreadsheets available on the ONE website, Oraganizacion Nacional de Estadistica (National Organization of Statistics), reveals both the struggles and successes that Cuban food producers have experienced in the last decade. From 2005 to 2010 the yields of most agricultural products have either dropped or remained flat even though more land has been put into production.  Yields on staples in the Cuban diet like tubers and roots such as potatoes, malanga, and boniato have all decreased. Other yields on products such as rice, tomatoes, beans, oranges, mangoes, and guavas have dropped as well.  Livestock numbers have remained flat over that same time period. Yet citrus fruits such as grapefruit and limes and some tropical fruits have seen a marked increase in yields.

A revitalized agriculture sector with more freedom for producers on the island could provide more food products for its own population and help supply the nascent mixed economy with more prima materia for the paladares and other restaurants and food services that are a vital part of the new Cuba.  This means that there will be plenty of opportunities for Cuban producers of food to supply this demand and improve the Cuban diet.  Also, Cuba is ranked as the fifth most visited tourist spot in Latin America.  When Cuba opened up tourism in the 1990′s in response to the collapse of Soviet Union almost all of the products used to stock hotels where imported.  Gradually, Cuban products have become more a part of the average vacationing Canadian or European tourist’s diet.

What really needs to happen in order for the Cuban food producers to become more productive is the lifting of the embargo.  Cuban officials don’t refer to the exchange of agriculture products from the U.S. as trade, and rightly so because Cuban products are prohibited from being sold in the U.S. Trade is a two-way street. If real trade were to transpire between the two countries than Cuba’s agronomy could burgeon into a major asset for the Cuban people and American growers would find a welcome partner more prepared for advanced trade.

Cubans often speak in the superlative when describing the fruits of the island.   Just ask my Cuban suegro.  My father-in-law worked in a grocery chain in Miami after my wife’s family immigrated to the United States in 1995.  He echoes the sentiments of many Cubans when he boasts of the quality of Cuban produce. “Cuban guavas are the most delicious on earth.” “Cuban mangoes are the juiciest in all of Latin America.” “No Mexican lime can hold a candle to a Cuban lime.”  Shouldn’t these claims be put to the test on the open market?  If these items are so good than they will be highly sought out by consumers throughout the United States.  Because of the proximity of the island these fruits and vegetables will also be fresher than items shipped from Thailand, Chile, and China.  Only through this real trade will Cuba then have the purchasing power to really be a valuable market for higher value agriculture products coming from the U.S.


US exports to Cuba are unique in that they yield tangible results that reinforce the idea that reconciliation between the two nations would be beneficial for all concerned.   Paradoxically, the process of realizing these exports to Cuba demonstrate both the potential benefits of normalizing relations as well as remind those involved in the process of the current and historic distrust shared by both countries.

The proximity of the two nations would potentially make trading fast and cheap.  However, the strict regulations of the TSRA make it a hassle to export to Cuba. Tamara Nelsen explains shipping agricultural products to the island should be cheap but “…shipping restrictions with Cuba due to the embargo and…within our own country (Jones Act)…” hinder effective shipping.  She continues by saying that shipments cannot “…be efficiently arranged at the present time unless one is shipping an entire vessel of something (e.g., of grain).  If the embargo were completely lifted, then in theory, shipping something to Cuba would be as cheap as shipping it to Haiti or the Bahamas or any of the Caribbean nations.”

All shipments from the United States must be paid in full before a ship can leave port.  This causes major delays that can result in heavy fines.  The USDA stated in 2007 that:

Smaller U.S. firms that have been selling smaller quantities to Alimport have been leaving the Cuban market.  Small quantity sales have a higher cost of packing and shipping, thereby making a small quantity sale less competitive in the negotiations. The export licensing and overhead costs incurred by these firms cannot be spread throughout large export quantities, thereby making their goods less competitive with the larger U.S. firms.  For smaller exporters, Cuba shipments are likely to be less than a full shipload.  Because each separate shipment requires a confirmed letter-of-credit before the ship can leave the U.S. exporting port, any delay for any single letter-of-credit delays all shipments on that vessel.  The recent USITC (United States International Trade Commission) study reports that this kind of delay varies from one to ten days and can raise total shipping costs by $20,000 to $40,000.

These restrictions make it harder for regular farmers and smaller export businesses and allow countries that are farther away, like Brazil, to be more competitive.  For these reasons the embargo needs to be lifted.  The boon that it would have on local economies across the U.S. would be significant.  The IFB estimates that in Illinois alone almost 11 million dollars a year would be generated by increased exports and “…additional business activity.”

Illinois isn’t the only state that stands to gain with a lifting of the embargo.  The College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS) reported in 2009 that every dollar of U.S. exports to Cuba generated an additional $1.96 in business activity throughout the U.S. economy.  In that year Louisiana topped the list of farm exports to Cuba valued at $240 million.  Florida exported $79 million; Virginia – $53 million; Texas- $45 million; Mississippi- $22 million.  These states aren’t even considered to be “grain states”.   Such potential economic growth is exactly what the United States needs to lift itself out of the current economic malaise that it has been suffering.

Democracy (In)action

Despite the obvious rewards that could be reaped by the constituents of politicians from states where agriculture plays a major role some key proponents of normalizing relations with Cuba have backed off from their positions recently.  On June 17th Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan) declared that they were taking a “hiatus” from advocating for normalization with Cuba.  Both cite the Alan Gross debacle as the reason for their sudden change of heart.  Gross’ precarious state of health has become a problem and it is now causing the most important figures in Congress to abandon their roles in seeking a thaw in US-Cuba relations.

Alan Gross’ negligence and opportunism (after all, he was paid roughly $600,000 to “promote democracy”) has been the single most dominant factor in prolonging the impasse between Cuba and the U.S. in recent years.  Solidarity with him has become a convenient excuse for proponents such as Sens. Durbin and Moran to abdicate their responsibilities to their constituencies.  The fact of the matter is the reason why these legislators are backing off of support for a reset in US-Cuba relations is much more sinister.

The “free and fair” elections in this country have engendered an election season that is far too long to get anything productive done in Congress.  Every other year Congressional representatives are effectively “gagged” by the fear of saying or acting upon something that could be detrimental to their political party’s position or their own prospects of getting re-elected.  Absolutely nothing will get done between now and the first Tuesday in November because all of the players are too paranoid that anything they do or say will be used as a weapon for their political foes.  Is this what the founding fathers had in mind?

At the present moment there are several pressing issues that face this nation and our leaders are too scared of their own shadows to address the problems associated with the economy, social services, the environment, and foreign policy.  Once again, it looks like Cuba is just going to have to wait.  American citizens need to make it a priority to implore their elected representative that Cuba cannot wait any longer.  The people of this nation cannot afford more wasted opportunities.  Hopefully, ambassadors like the delegation sent by the IFB to Cuba will help to bring about a more sane policy that will be mutually beneficial for our two nations.

Benjamin Willis is a musician living in Queens and is a founding member of CAFE (Cuban Americans for Engagement). Source Counterpunch

René González offers to renounce his U.S. Citizenship to return to Cuba

June 29, 2012

On Friday June 22, René González Sehwerert presented a new motion before the South Florida District Court asking that they modify his conditions of supervised release and that he be allowed to return to his country of Cuba where his family resides.

González was released on October 7, 2011, after serving his entire sentence in a U.S. federal prison, but he has been obligated to remain three more years under supervised probation on U.S. soil.

In the latest motion presented last week, González included a number of reasons to be allowed to complete the rest of his probation in Cuba. On this occasion, González offered the Court that he would renounce his U.S. citizenship to make it clear that he has no intention of remaining or returning in the future to the United States.

A similar motion to this latest one was presented by González before he was released from prison. Then, the Judge found that the Defendant’s Motion was premature because a term of supervised release does not commence until an individual is “released from imprisonment”, and some amount of time on supervised release needs to pass before the Court is able to properly evaluate the characteristics of the defendant once he or she has been released from prison.

After 8 months of complying with all probation requisites, René González asks to modify the conditions of his probation to be allowed to return to Cuba to be reunited with his wife, his daughters and the rest of his family.

The United States cannot persist in keeping René González, who when asked to resign his citizenship, expressed firmly that he is neither interested in living in the United States, nor in returning to this country where he has no working, social, or family links.

What arguments will the State Department use next to continue the unjust punishment of René?

Read the Motion :,

Cuba Should Not be on the Terrorist List

June 29, 2012

by Center for International Policy

To the surprise and disappointment of many, this week the Supreme Court did not review a Florida law passed in 2006 which barred public schools and universities from using state money for travel to Cuba – Cuba being deemed by the federal government to be a “state sponsor of terrorism.” The law had been controversial from the beginning, having been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. district judge in 2008, but then reinstated by Governor Charlie Crist, who overturned the ruling of the district judge. In March of 2011, however, the ACLU and various university professors in Florida asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. Its decision was expected to go against the law, putting an end to it. Not so, however. The justices chose not to call for a hearing, thus ending the appeal and leaving the controversial law on the books.
This cannot but cause serious disruptions. A number of colleges and universities in Florida have highly regarded academic programs involving Cuba. These will not necessarily have to be closed down. They cannot use state funds, but can use those of foundations and various other entities. And, of course, academic programs and exchanges between Cuba and universities and colleges in other states will continue, which simply points up the fact that the 2006 law is injurious to Florida and its interests and harms Cuba not at all.
To add insult to injury, the fact is that there is no evidence that would place Cuba on the list of terrorist states. The Center for International Policy has been following this issue and reviewing the annual State Department reports for over ten years now. Our conclusion is that the reasons put forward by the State Department for keeping Cuba on the list do not withstand the most elementary scrutiny. Cuba does not, for example, endorse terrorism as a policy. On the contrary, it has condemned it in all its manifestations, has signed all twelve UN anti-terrorist resolutions and offered to sign agreements with the U.S. to cooperate in combating terrorism, an offer the Bush administration ignored, and which the Obama administration continues to ignore. Nor, just as an example, is it harboring Basque or Colombian terrorists, as the State Department had earlier claimed. Members of ETA are in Cuba with the full knowledge of the Spanish government. And as for the Colombian government, far from accusing Cuba of harboring Colombian guerrillas, it stresses that the Cuban government is playing a helpful role in efforts to bring peace to Colombia and that “there is no information…that Cuba is in any way linked to terrorist activities in Colombia today.” (1)
Keeping Cuba on the terrorist list causes serious damage to the U.S. in a number of ways. For one thing, to keep Cuba on the list without any evidence seriously undercuts our own credibility. And there is no evidence. One need only look at the State Department reports over the past few years to see that that is the case. Its authors have not come up with a single example of a terrorist act, or support for terrorist acts, on Cuba’s part. Nothing.
And for another, keeping Cuba on the list opens the way for exile court claims against Cuba. In one recent case, the award to the claimant was for almost three billion dollars! And under existing laws, these awards would have to be paid before relations could be normalized between the U.S. and Cuba. We may soon reach a sum which could virtually rule out normalization. The U.S. may not be interested in normalization now, but at some point it will be – only to find perhaps that it has impaired the way.
Indeed, it can be said that keeping Cuba on the terrorist list harms the U.S. far more than it harms Cuba. How does that make any sense whatever?
(1) See the International Policy Report: Cuba on the terrorist list. The Center for International Policy, November of 2002. Page 8.

Free the six

June 28, 2012


By Saul Landau

What did Cuba do to the United States to merit 53 years of castigation?

In 1960, those dirty Caribbean Commies joined the “evil” side in the Cold War – the Soviets, one recalls, offered substantial aid, not threats. But in 1991 the USSR disappeared.

So what? Even without the Soviet façade the obsession remained: overthrow the Cuban government with tactics short of war, and some far worse than lies.

In the 1990s, under the FBI’s nose, in south Florida, Cuban exiles organized and financed terrorist acts in Cuba. They paid Salvadoran hirelings to plant bombs in Havana tourist spots.

In the 1990s, Cuba sent agents to infiltrate south Florida terrorist groups. The infiltrators’ information got recycled to the FBI. But in 1998, the FBI busted the Cuban agents, and an intimidated Miami jury convicted them. A judge sentenced the Cuban Five to draconian terms.

By 2001, as Florida Republicans began erasing likely Democratic voters from the registration polls, “democracy” emerged as the official line to replace the Cold War against Cuba. Mandated by Congress (Helms-Burton), USAID – not the CIA – set out on its Cuba ”regime change” plan.

One AID clandestine operation to subvert Cuba led to the 2009 arrest of Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen contracted by a company that had won a USAID job to help overthrow the Cuban government. This plan called for setting up safe Internet technology for small dissident Jewish groups so they could communicate without Cuban State Security tracking or penetration. God forbid Cuba should learn the secret Matzo ball recipe!

A Cuban State Security agent, however, had located Gross early in his endeavor and other agents followed him as he distributed sophisticated equipment. They noted the people he met, the equipment he delivered and, on his fifth trip, arrested him. Gross got tried and convicted of actions subversive to the Cuban state. In 2010, he received 15 years.

Cries of “innocent” arose from the State Department and mainstream Jewish groups. “He was only helping Cuban Jews get better Internet access.” For this “humanitarian gesture” he would receive a fee from a government contract of almost $600,000?

In December 2011, Fulton Armstrong, a former Senate staffer and National Security official, published an op-ed that revealed both the stupidity and illegality of Gross’ mission.

“When a covert action run by the CIA goes bad and a clandestine officer gets arrested, the U.S. government works up a strategy for negotiating his release. When a covert operator working for USAID gets arrested, Washington turns up the rhetoric, throws more money at the compromised program, and refuses to talk…to divulge even basic information about the programs.”

The programs, concluded Armstrong, “did not involve our Intelligence Community, but the secrecy surrounding them, the clandestine tradecraft (including the use of advanced encryption technologies) and the deliberate concealment of the U.S. hand, had all the markings of an intelligence covert operation.”

The Gross case has dramatized, Armstrong concluded, USAID’s role “as a covert warrior to undermine anti-U.S. regimes worldwide.” And, he added, “The regime-change focus of the programs is explicit.” (Miami Herald December 25, 2011)

Surprise! Armstrong’s revelations could have been published only in Sanskrit because afterward neither State officials nor mainstream Jewish community leaders changed a note in their “Alan is innocent” arias.

In February, AP reporter Desmond Butler offered more details of the Gross case based on leaked “trip reports” Gross had filed. “Piece by piece, in backpacks and carry-on bags, American aid contractor Alan Gross made sure laptops, smartphones, hard drives and networking equipment were secreted into Cuba. The most sensitive item, according to official trip reports, was the last one: a specialized mobile phone chip that experts say is often used by the Pentagon and the CIA to make satellite signals virtually impossible to track.”

Butler continued. “Gross said at his trial in Cuba that he was a “trusting fool” who was duped. But his trip reports indicate that he knew his activities were illegal in Cuba and that he worried about the danger, including possible expulsion.

One report quoted a community leader. Gross “made it abundantly clear that we are all ‘playing with fire’.” On another occasion Gross said: “This is very risky business in no uncertain terms.”

Over the past weeks, State Department officials and Gross’ lawyer, ignoring Armstrong’s and Butler’s published pieces, have re-sung the “innocence aria” and complained that Cuba mistreats the ailing Alan.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland claimed she was “extremely concerned” over the state of the “innocent” Gross’ health. “He has degenerative arthritis that has worsened because he is not allowed to walk in his cell.” (Paul Haven, AP, Havana, June 15)

Gross’ attorney, Peter J. Kahn, claimed his client was “having difficulty walking and has developed a mass behind his right shoulder blade.”

Cuba sent Gross’ medical records, claimed he was in good health and regretted “the distortions that are being spread” about his health.

Washington insists that until Cuba frees Gross no bilateral progress is possible. Stalemate! (Haven, June 15)

The U.S. government has thrown Alan Gross under the proverbial bus. Because, as Armstrong points out, Gross was not a CIA official, the U.S. government uses his imprisonment as propaganda against “inhumane” Cuba.

To counter this we could push to “Free The Six,” Alan and the Cuban Five. Cuba has indicated its willingness to negotiate such reciprocal humanitarian gestures.

To convince Obama, Gross’ family could demonstrate for his freedom at the White House. After all, Alan was carrying out U.S. policy.

Saul Landau, an Institute for Policy Studies fellow, produced WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP. (

Somebody Else’s Atrocities, “Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Gov’t Co-Opted Human Rights”

June 27, 2012

 Noam Chomsky 

In his penetrating study “Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-Opted Human Rights,” international affairs scholar James Peck observes, “In the history of human rights, the worst atrocities are always committed by somebody else, never us” – whoever “us” is.

Almost any moment in history yields innumerable illustrations. Let’s keep to the past few weeks.

On May 10, the Summer Olympics were inaugurated at the Greek birthplace of the ancient games. A few days before, virtually unnoticed, the government of Vietnam addressed a letter to the International Olympic Committee expressing the “profound concerns of the Government and people of Viet Nam about the decision of IOC to accept the Dow Chemical Company as a global partner sponsoring the Olympic Movement.”

Dow provided the chemicals that Washington used from 1961 onward to destroy crops and forests in South Vietnam, drenching the country with Agent Orange.

These poisons contain dioxin, one of the most lethal carcinogens known, affecting millions of Vietnamese and many U.S. soldiers. To this day in Vietnam, aborted fetuses and deformed infants are very likely the effects of these crimes – though, in light of Washington’s refusal to investigate, we have only the studies of Vietnamese scientists and independent analysts.

Joining the Vietnamese appeal against Dow are the government of India, the Indian Olympic Association, and the survivors of the horrendous 1984 Bhopal gas leak, one of history’s worst industrial disasters, which killed thousands and injured more than half a million.

Union Carbide, the corporation responsible for the disaster, was taken over by Dow, for whom the matter is of no slight concern. In February, Wikileaks revealed that Dow hired the U.S. private investigative agency Stratfor to monitor activists seeking compensation for the victims and prosecution of those responsible.

Another major crime with very serious persisting effects is the Marine assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah in November 2004.

Women and children were permitted to escape if they could. After several weeks of bombing, the attack opened with a carefully planned war crime: invasion of the Fallujah General Hospital, where patients and staff were ordered to the floor, their hands tied. Soon the bonds were loosened; the compound was secure.

The official justification was that the hospital was reporting civilian casualties, and therefore was considered a propaganda weapon.

Much of the city was left in “smoking ruins,” the press reported while the Marines sought out insurgents in their “warrens.” The invaders barred entry to the Red Crescent relief organization. Absent an official inquiry, the scale of the crimes is unknown.

If the Fallujah events are reminiscent of the events that took place in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica, now again in the news with the genocide trial of Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, there’s a good reason. An honest comparison would be instructive, but there’s no fear of that: One is an atrocity, the other not, by definition.

As in Vietnam, independent investigators are reporting long-term effects of the Fallujah assault.

Medical researchers have found dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukemia, even higher than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Uranium levels in hair and soil samples are far beyond comparable cases.

One of the rare investigators from the invading countries is Dr. Kypros Nicolaides, director of the fetal-medicine research center at London’s King’s College Hospital. “I’m sure the Americans used weapons that caused these deformities,” Nicolaides says.

The lingering effects of a vastly greater nonatrocity were reported last month by U.S. law professor James Anaya, the U.N. rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Anaya dared to tread on forbidden territory by investigating the shocking conditions among the remnants of the Native American population in the U.S. – “poverty, poor health conditions, lack of attainment of formal education (and) social ills at rates that far exceed those of other segments of the American population,” Anaya reported. No member of Congress was willing to meet him. Press coverage was minimal.

Dissidents have been much in the news after the dramatic rescue of the blind Chinese civil-rights activist Chen Guangcheng.

“The international commotion,” Samuel Moyn wrote in The New York Times last month, “aroused memories of earlier dissidents like Andrei D. Sakharov and Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the Eastern bloc heroes of another age who first made ‘international human rights’ a rallying cry for activists across the globe and a high-profile item on Western governments’ agendas.”

Moyn is the author of “The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History,” released in 2010. In The New York Times Book Review, Belinda Cooper questioned Moyn’s tracing the contemporary prominence of these ideals to “(President Jimmy) Carter’s abortive steps to inject human rights into foreign policy and the 1975 Helsinki accords with the Soviet Union,” focusing on abuses in the Soviet sphere. She finds Moyn’s thesis unpersuasive because “an alternative history to his own is far too easy to construct.”

True enough: The obvious alternative is the one that James Peck provides, which the mainstream can hardly consider, though the relevant facts are strikingly clear and known at least to scholarship.

Thus in the “Cambridge History of the Cold War,” John Coatsworth recalls that from 1960 to “the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European satellites.” But being nonatrocities, these crimes, substantially traceable to U.S. intervention, didn’t inspire a human-rights crusade.

Also inspired by the Chen rescue, New York Times columnist Bill Keller writes that “Dissidents are heroic,” but they can be “irritants to American diplomats who have important business to transact with countries that don’t share our values.” Keller criticizes Washington for sometimes failing to live up to our values with prompt action when others commit crimes.

There is no shortage of heroic dissidents within the domains of U.S. influence and power, but they are as invisible as the Latin American victims. Looking almost at random around the world, we find Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, co-founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, now facing death in prison from a long hunger strike.

And Father Mun Jeong-hyeon, the elderly Korean priest who was severely injured while holding mass as part of the protest against the construction of a U.S. naval base on Jeju Island, named an Island of Peace, now occupied by security forces for the first time since the 1948 massacres by the U.S.-imposed South Korean government.

And Turkish scholar Ismail Besikci, facing trial again for defending the rights of Kurds. He already has spent much of his life in prison on the same charge, including the 1990s, when the Clinton administration was providing Turkey with huge quantities of military aid – at a time when the Turkish military perpetrated some of the period’s worst atrocities.

But these instances are all nonexistent, on standard principles, along with others too numerous to mention.,
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

US Lawyer Disappointed with Law Supporting Blockade against Cuba

June 27, 2012

US lawyer Randall C. Marshall has described as disappointing the
rejection by his country’s Supreme Court of the demand against a Florida legislation that
prohibits the use of public and private funds for academic trips to Cuba.
This is a wrong law with a distorted message for academic freedom in Florida, which now lives
a sad moment in its activity, asserted the legal representative of the American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU), the Prensa Latina news agency reported.
The jurist considers that these regulations will restrict the use of public capital and of the
contributions traditionally made by foundations and private organizations for the work of
universities in that state, the home of the main groups planning and carrying out acts of
terrorism against Cuba.
Promoted by Republican congressman David Rivera, this instrument also prevented state
universities to carry out student trips to Sudan, Syria and Iran, countries that the State
Department has included on its list of nations sponsoring terrorism.
After considering it an unconstitutional law interfering in the foreign policy established by
the federal government, professors of several higher education centers from the southern
territory presented the demand in June, with the support of the ACLU.
In spite of the world condemnation against the blockade imposed by the US on Cuba, its effects
continue to become evident in the academic sector, which was affected in May with the denial
of visas to a dozen of Cuban intellectuals to participate in the 30th Congress of the Latin
American Studies Association (LASA) in San Francisco, California.
Such actions violate the UN Charter and the norms of International Law and have
extraterritorial nature. That’s the reason why the international community has condemned the
blockade and has demanded at the UN General Assembly, for 20 years in a row, the immediate
lifting of that siege


How Cuba Became a ‘Happy’ Country

June 27, 2012

BY MATTHEW SINCLAIR Wallstreetjournal

Citizens flee on rafts. But environmentalists know better ?

In what league does Iraq beat Britain, Haiti beat the United States, and Afghanistan beat Denmark? Political corruption? Violent crime? Temperature? No, welcome to the weird and wonderful world of the Happy Planet Index. It is a little window into the way many environmentalists think.

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) purports to “measure what matters: the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them.” It beautifully illustrates the two great vices of environmentalist thought: fetishizing resource efficiency above everything else and treating happiness economics with far too much respect.

On top : Costa Rica, Vietnam,…on 12 Cuba,…on 105 USA…!,

The new HPI results show the extent to which 151 countries across the globe produce long, happy and sustainable lives for the people that live in them. The overall index scores rank countries based on their efficiency, how many long and happy lives each produces per unit of environmental output.

Each of the three component measures – life expectancy, experienced well-being and Ecological Footprint – is given a traffic-light score based on thresholds for good (green), middling (amber) and bad (red) performance. These scores are combined to an expanded six-colour traffic light for the overall HPI score, where, to achieve bright green – the best of the six colours, a country would have to perform well on all three individual components.

The scores for the HPI and the component measures can be viewed in map or table-form. By clicking on any individual country in the map or table you can explore its results in more detail.

Rene Gonzalez: Grateful for Messages of Encouragement Received on the Occasion of his Brother’s Death

June 27, 2012

Cuban antiterrorist fighter Rene Gonzalez, held against his will
in the United States under supervised release, expressed his appreciation on Tuesday for the
demonstrations of solidarity received on the occasion of the death of his brother Roberto.
To his message, Rene attached images of him next to Roberto during his recent stay in Havana,
when US authorities facilitated a two-week humanitarian visit. In the text, he expresses his
gratitude to all those who sent him messages of encouragement in such special circumstances.
“For me, who became aware of my own existence next to him and shared with him so many things,
it will always be a source of pride to be able to say I was his brother,” concludes Rene’s

Cubans Seek Change, Not End to Revolution

June 26, 2012

New America Media, Commentary, Roger Burbach, Posted: Jun 26, 2012

In Cuba change is in the air. But such change should not be read as an end to the revolution.

“The United States and the exile community are dead wrong if they think that regime change will take place at any time in the near future,” said Julio Diaz Vazquez, a professor at the Center for Investigations of the International Economy at the University of Havana.

Whether one talks to government and Communist party officials, university professors, or simply to people on the street, it is clear that in Cuba, socialism is very much alive and well.

Consulting Cubans

The sixth Communist Party Congress of April, 2011 proclaimed that Cuba is undertaking an “updating of the economic model,” a simple phrase that belies the 313 lineamientos (guidelines) issued to move the country forward.

“The call to update the economic model opens up a new scenario for… the Cuban economy,” said Vazquez. “Its concrete implementation will dramatically alter the national economic reality, fomenting strategic changes in the social order… and in the sociopolitical renewal of the country.”

This opening in Cuba began with the ascent of Raúl Castro, well before the 2011 party congress. Raúl became acting president in mid-2006 when his brother Fidel Castro fell ill. In February 2008 he was elected president by the National Assembly, Cuba’s legislative body. While Fidel is charismatic and perhaps the greatest revolutionary strategist of the late 20th century, Raúl has paid closer attention to organization, administration, and the rejuvenation of an economy that is largely moribund.

Already in mid-2007, as acting president, Raúl announced “the need to make structural and conceptual transformations” in Cuban socialism. Stymied by three devastating hurricanes that struck Cuba in the latter half of 2008, he assured the National Assembly at the end of that year that “none of the issues I have referred to recently have been shelved… Partial measures have been implemented as permitted by the circumstances, and progress will be made, without any hurry or excessive idealism.”

Perhaps the most important early initiative of Raúl Castro was the call for a consulta (consultation) with the Cuban people. Barrio committees, factory workers, local party organizations, and others were encouraged to meet and register their thoughts and complaints. By August 2009, 5.1 million people out of a total Cuban population of 11.2 million had participated in the consultation. There were 3.3 million registered comments of which almost half were critical.

The most recurring criticism was of limited food production and the daily problems people faced in securing three meals a day for their families. Comments on corruption in government enterprises were also prevalent.

Patricia Groog, a long-time resident of Havana of Chilean descent who works for the Inter Press Service, a news agency based in Havana, noted that in her barrio “the spontaneity and wide ranging comments were striking.” Some criticized deteriorating medical and educational facilities. One woman asserted that Cubans abroad should be able to invest in community projects. “People felt free to speak their minds without any fear of retribution,” said Groog.

Raúl Castro himself embraced the results of the consulta, saying it was an important “rehearsal” for shaping the proceedings of the 6th Party Congress.

An ‘Agrarian Revolution’

A number of important changes have already been introduced.

People are being given title to the homes they reside in, which can be exchanged and sold on the market. Apartheid tourism has been ended, meaning that Cubans can go to hotels, restaurants, clubs, and beaches once designated only for foreign tourists. One hundred and eighty one occupations such as food vendors, hair stylists, taxi drivers, tour guides, and shoe repairmen can now be licensed as trabajo por cuenta propria — self-employment or independent work.

In addition, anyone can solicit the government for 10 hectares of idle land that can be held and farmed for personal profit for 10 years with the opportunity for renewal. Agricultural produce of just about every kind is now sold in open markets in urban and rural areas alike.

Almost from the start of his government, Raúl Castro has recognized that a transformation of the agricultural economy is the key to the survival and future of the Cuban revolution. In recent years, Cuba, a country rich in agricultural resources, has imported up to 70 percent of its food needs.

Accordingly Castro has issued an urgent call for increased agricultural production and announced the distribution of idle fields and forests so that “the lands and resources are in the hands of those who are capable of efficient production.”

Under a law passed in July, 2008 over 1.2 million hectares were distributed to more than 132,000 beneficiaries by mid-2011. There has even been a notable movement of people leaving the cities to take up farming. But the gains in production have been limited. Agricultural produce for the domestic market remained largely the same in 2010 and 2011.

Armando Nova, an agricultural economist at the Center for the Study of the of Cuban Economy, said in April in Havana, “the agricultural system remains in crisis.”

He added, “We need an agrarian revolution to drive the country forward and it is still blocked. The middle level bureaucracy and even sectors of the party, particularly at the provincial level, are determined to prevent market innovations for fear of losing their status and privileges.”

Within the Revolution

Still, major shifts are occurring within the political and state apparatus. One is that the “historic leadership” of the revolution is drawing to a close with the demise of Fidel and the limits of Raul, now an octogenarian.

“A new generation is coming to the fore and it will need to act more collectively than Fidel and Raul, who synthesized the debates and controversies, acting as the final arbitrators,” says Juan Valdes Paz, a sociologist who has written on the Cuban transition. “There will never again be such an entrenched leadership.”

Legislation is now being advanced in the National Assembly that will limit all upper level government positions to two five-year terms. The National Assembly itself will also become more important as a center of debate and discussion over policies while the election of delegates to the assembly will be more competitive than in the past.

But adherence to the one party state is still justified, in part, as a defensive strategy against US intervention. “The Cuban leadership believes that if opposition political parties were permitted the US government along with the Cuban exile community would rush in to back the opposition,” says Valdes Paz.

Nevertheless, as Harlan Abrahams and Arturo Lopez-Levy note in their recent book, Raul Castro and the New Cuba, “there is an emerging convergence of people who live within the system — workers, artists, intellectuals, and students — advocating for reform.”

Such calls, according to a recent commentary by Aurelio Alonso, have led to “more discussion and polemics than ever before.”

The sub-director of the literary magazine, Casa de las Americas, Alonso added the conversation now taking place is “broader than even during the period of revolutionary fervor in the 1960s, when the slogan was everything within the revolution, nothing outside of it.”

Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, California. Along with Michael Fox and Federico Fuentes he is the co-author of the forthcoming book, Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twentieth Century Socialism. It will be released in January, 2013 by Zed Books


The Craziness of the Cuban Economic Blockade

June 26, 2012
The Right to Develop Vs. the Right to Strangle
The Craziness of the Cuban Economic Blockade

A Cuban official recently brought up a point that is seldom remarked in the foreign media, to wit, that the economic blockade — the centerpiece of US Cuba policy — is bad for the Cuban economy.  Who could have known?

During a session in Geneva of the Working Group on the Right to Development, Cuban representative Juan Antonio Quintanilla said that by a conservative estimate losses caused by the blockade as of 2010 were $104 billion. [1]

He didn’t say whether the figure included damages from other sources, but Cuban courts in 1999 and 2000 assessed the United States $302.1 billion for losses both from the economic blockade and from US-sponsored raids, sabotage and invasion, as well as civil liabilities for 3,478 lives lost and 2,099 persons disabled by US attacks of all kinds. [2] The United States is delinquent in payment.

These estimates come to mind upon reading that a Washington, DC law firm is calling for Congress to impose a 10% tax (“user fee”) on family remittances to Cuba and on business transactions between the United States and Cuba to pay some $7 billion in claims for property expropriated by the Cuban revolutionary government in 1959 and 1960.

Mauricio Tamargo, one of the lawyers, views the proposed fees as fair compensation for “stolen property.” He thinks it would yield up to $200 million per year.[3]

Unlike all the other countries with claims, the United States refused Cuba’s offer to settle its claims through a bond issue secured by sugar sales to the United States, which had been a market guaranteed by the sugar quota system in effect since 1934. Eisenhower reduced and Kennedy banned all sugar imports from Cuba effectively eliminating its ability to pay the full and immediate compensation the United States demanded.

In 1972 the Justice Department’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission settled on a final list of nearly 6,000 certified claims; they have remained unpaid for 40 years.

The tax idea is unlikely to prosper in Congress if for no other reason than the outrage it would likely cause among two important political constituencies: the thousands of Cuban-Americans concentrated in the Florida electoral jackpot who send the bulk of family remittances to Cuba; and the big agribusinesses that export to Cuba.

Imagine that you were Alice Steinhart de la Llama (or her heirs), who has a certified claim of $130,000 for land in pre-revolutionary Cuba. [4] And suppose you now find that you must help pay for your own claim with a 10% “fee” whenever you wire money to a relative in Cuba! [4] And by the way, exactly what are the senders of family remittances “using” for which they must pay a fee?

Besides, the user fee gimmick rather misses the point. The United States never really wanted the claims to be paid but to be kept as an irritant. Expropriation claims are a government-to government matter usually settled through negotiation.  Tamargo and his firm would have the claims privatized and paid off by tapping into cash transactions unrelated to any direct use of the expropriated property or from any internationally recognized protocol for reaching a negotiated settlement.

Frozen Fund Piñata

The US government has access to Cuban funds frozen in US financial institutions and elsewhere but has not made them available for claims settlement. The amount has never been accurately calculated and varies over time according to how much in newly discovered or sequestered funds there are. However, in 2011 the Treasury Department reported that the amount was $245 million. This sum included Cuban government funds as well as funds belonging to Cuban nationals but did not include real property. (The US has blocked six Cuban properties in New York City and Washington, DC.)  [5]

Tamargo’s law firm apparently turned to the user fee as a way to pay compensation because little if any of the frozen funds still exist. Much of it has been periodically raided to pay court ordered judgments to settle civil lawsuits. These include payments to families of American mercenaries killed in raids against Cuba and during the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. These were politically motivated decisions, some by Bill Clinton and some by George W. Bush that put Miami court judgments ahead of the Justice Department’s list of certified claimants.

Take It Out of What You Owe Us 

Even though Cuban funds that might have gone to claimants are mostly exhausted, Cuba and the United States could negotiate a settlement. What would such an unlikely negotiation look like?  Simple math suggests the Cubans could agree to subtract the $7 billion in US private claims from the $302.1 billion in Cuban claims against the United States. If we leave out accrued interest and the decline in the dollar, the United States would only have to pay Cuba $224.1 billion.  Sounds fair enough.

But do not expect the United States to pay reparations in any scenario. The former slaves did not get their forty acres and a mule after the Civil War and Vietnam got none of the $3.3 billion in reconstruction aid Richard Nixon promised on his way out of that war.

But for Cuba there is a new universe of unmolested national advancement theoretically attainable through the UN’s Right to Development.  Of course, simply to mention it invites the ridicule reserved for fools and innocents who believed in the Truce of God or the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Nevertheless, to note even the existence of such a concept is to underscore how blockades and other imperial mechanisms are at base the denial of the right to national development and not, as commonly said, a matter of nation building or  democracy promotion.

Weaker and poorer countries have tried to turn the Right to Development into international law since the UN General Assembly adopted it (with US opposition) in 1986 and reaffirmed it in the 1993 Vienna Declaration. The General Assembly declaration said in part,   “The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.” [6]

Essentially, the Right to Development is asserted as the prerequisite for the realization of individual economic, social and political rights. What the United States wants for Cuba is first strangulation then development.

The United States and other rich nations have blocked efforts to recognize the validity of the concept. US diplomats often recognize the right as a rhetorical flourish in speeches or as the restricted right of individuals to seek personal wealth or advancement. But to recognize it as a sovereign right, it is feared, could lead to demands from poor countries that rich ones pay to help them achieve vague or unlimited measures of advancement in healthcare, education or even material wealth.

The UN Millennium Development Goals for 2015 incorporate the Right to Development concept and offer a role for developed nations in a “global partnership for development.” [7]

If the United States were to take Millennium development goals as a guide it would support fair trade with Cuba, debt relief, development aid, access to pharmaceuticals at fair prices and meaningful technical transfers to Cuba. [8]

So your see, no one has to pay anyone’s claims. Cuba need only express its willingness to stop being strangled and the United States need only get over its fear of a communist state in the throes of development.

Robert Sandels writes for CounterPunch and Cuba-L Direct.


[1] Prensa Latina, 05/08/12, &Itemid=1.

[2] Inter Press Service (IPS), 06/02/99,;  Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores (MINREX) Website, ml.

[3] Miami New Times, 03/16/12, r.php. Tamargo was a George W. Bush appointee to the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission and before that had worked on the staff of anti-Castro Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).)

[4]The list of claimants is at Foreign Claims Settlement Commission,

[5] Terrorist Assets Report, 2011, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), .pdf.

[6] Dialogue on Globalization, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 07/23/06,

[7] UN Development Program, Millennium Development Goals,

[8] These are part of goal #8, see Millennium Project,


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