Castro Breaks His Silence

Fidel Castro, revolutionary and retired Cuban political leader, has finally weighed in on the recent resumption of diplomatic ties between his country and the United States. In a letter commemorating the 70th anniversary of his admission to the University of Havana, he tacitly endorses the breakthrough, but was sure to affirm his own personal mistrust of the U.S. government.

The full contents of the letter can be viewed here:



U.S.-Cuba Trade: a Trojan Horse?

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times this week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack discussed some of the lucrative opportunities for American business offered by the recent easing of relations between the U.S. and Cuban governments. Naturally, Vilsack is primarily interested in promoting the sale of American agricultural and food products to the Cuban population.

Vilsack argued that American agribusiness would profit greatly from the lifting of the U.S.’s longstanding trade embargo on Cuba; he specifically said of Cuba, “It’s 11 million people, a $1.7 billion market, and we really ought to be dominating that market.”

The secretary tellingly spent less time detailing the impact such a development could have on the Cuban population. Although trade with the U.S. would presumably give Cuban consumers access to relatively cheap, mass-produced American food products, it may also make it all but impossible for many rural Cubans to afford those new foodstuffs -or anything else for that matter- by undermining the Cuban agricultural sector.

Historically, after other underdeveloped and mostly rural countries ratified “free trade” agreements with the U.S., their previously thriving agricultural sectors were unable to compete with highly subsidized American agribusiness and deteriorated as a result. The implementation of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) in 1994, for example, drove some two million rural Mexicans from their farms after it introduced cheap American corn into the Mexican food market. In Haiti, 50 percent of the food supply is now imported -mostly from the U.S. and often in the form of humanitarian aid- thanks to a series of harmful trade deals signed in the late 1990s that decimated rice production there. Both Mexico and Haiti -along with a number of other underdeveloped rural countries in the global south- saw sharp spikes in their unemployment rates and steep declines in the average incomes of their populations after signing “free trade” deals with the U.S.

If past is pretext, Cuba will be similarly negatively impacted by any trade deal that subjects its relatively insulated and highly regulated food market to cheap American agricultural products. In fact, several factors make Cuba especially vulnerable in this regard. While agriculture accounts for only around four percent of Cuba’s gross domestic product (GDP), it employs roughly a fifth of the country’s population. Any large-scale shocks to the Cuban agricultural sector could seriously endanger the Cuban government’s ability to continue to guarantee the employment of those farmers. In addition, rice and poultry -two staples of Cuban farming- would be specifically endangered by trade with the U.S. as both of these products are mass-produced quite cheaply by American agribusiness. The Cuban government should consider these realities -as well as the experiences of other nations that have undertaken trade with the U.S.- when negotiating any future agreements with their northern neighbor.

For the most part, the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba would be highly beneficial to the Cuban people. In the area of agricultural trade however, this does not appear to be the case.

Source(s): 1) Jeff Harrington “Agriculture secretary says Cuba trade could grow by hundreds of millions” Tampa Bay Times (January 29, 2015): accessed January 31, 2015
2) Britannica Kids accessed January 31, 2015
3) Laura Carlsen “Under Nafta, Mexico Suffered, and the United States Felt Its Pain” The New York Times (November 23, 2013): accessed January 31, 2015
4) Julie Lévesque “Haiti, Five Years After the Earthquake: Fraudulent Reconstruction Under Military Occupation” GlobalResearch (January 12, 2015): accessed January 31, 2015


The Nightmare in Haiti

Anti-government protests are raging throughout the Haitian capital city of Port-au-Prince as President Michel Martelly continues to resist popular demands for political change. Dissidents in the thousands are calling for Martelly’s immediate resignation and for the formation of a provisional consensus government to replace his highly unpopular regime. Martelly is responding to the unrest with violence. When protestors found their way to the headquarters of the pro-Martelly political party Fusion on January 17, his partisan provocateurs instigated violence among the demonstrators by throwing rocks. Haitian police responded by training their guns on the protestors and opening fire, seriously wounding numerous leaders of the anti-government movement. Despite this brutal repression, widespread political demonstrations persist in Haiti.

Since coming to power in 2011, Martelly has successfully resisted holding elections. His unilateral appointment of Evans Paul as Prime Minister on January 16 was made without seeking the constitutionally required approval of the Haitian parliament and is thus illegal. Protestors are condemning the illegitimacy of Paul’s appointment and are calling for an investigation into his predecessor Laurent Lamothe’s alleged corruption straightaway. Martelly continues to ignore these and other popular grievances. In a move that further stoked popular contempt for his regime, he and Paul publicly celebrated the 210th anniversary of Haiti’s independence with former Haitian dictators Jean Claude Duvalier and Prosper Avril in January of 2014. Rather than addressing protestors’ concerns, Martelly’s actions appear to be confirming their worst nightmares.

At the center of Haitians’ dissatisfaction with Martelly’s presidency is his regime’s close relations with certain foreign governments, specifically the U.S., France and Canada. Historically, these governments have regularly interfered in Haitian political affairs, toppling governments that reject their neoliberal development plans -like Haiti’s first democratically elected leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991 and again in 2004- and installing regimes open to their dictates. This neocolonial arrangement -along with a devastating 2010 earthquake and its disastrous aftermath- has retarded Haiti’s development and created a situation of dysfunctional dependency and exploitation between Haiti and more advanced countries in North America and Europe.

In 1995, the foreign-backed Haitian government was compelled to sign off on the first in a series of so-called “free trade” deals which opened up Haiti’s largely agricultural economy to competition in the international marketplace. Predictably, Haitian farmers were unable to compete with highly subsidized U.S. agribusiness and more than 800,000 Haitian farmers were economically displaced. By 2003, about 80% of the rice consumed in Haiti -a country renowned for its highly effective rice cultivation methods prior to 1995- was being imported from foreign countries. In 2013, 50% of Haiti’s overall food supply was derived from foreign imports, the majority of which came from the U.S. This chain of events is similar to shocks experienced by the Mexican agricultural sector after the ratification and implementation of North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) in 1994.

After the U.S.-induced deterioration of its domestic food supply and traditional rural economy, Haiti became a dumping ground for the unwanted surplus products of various American food conglomerates. Firms like Tyson routinely sell their excess production -mostly dark meat and poultry- to the U.S. government for use as “food aid” to populations in Haiti and other countries of the global south that have been impoverished by Western neoliberal policies and “free trade” agreements. In a cruel irony, many Haitians are now forced to scrap and beg for the very same American food products that destroyed their livelihoods.

Regarding the U.S. government’s campaign to alter the Haitian economy throughout the 1990s, Leah Chavla of the Council on Hemispheric Relations said in 2010 that, “U.S. experts worked to disassemble Haiti’s rural economy, even though USAID officials recognized that such a move could increase poverty and contribute to a decline in average Haitian income and health standards.”

The horrific earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 -which impacted at least 3 million Haitians according to the Red Cross- provided new opportunities for concentrated private power in North America and Europe to pillage and exploit Haiti -especially multinational mining, garment and tourism firms. Instead of funding vitally needed social services and dilapidated or nonexistent infrastructure in Haiti, the overwhelming majority of disaster and development aid from foreign countries to Haiti in wake of the earthquake has gone directly into the coffers of businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from those same donor countries. For instance, the four private contractors that received the most funding from the U.S. government in the form of aid to Haiti in the five years after the earthquake were well-placed American consulting firms with contracts in Haiti. In that period, those four firms alone were collectively paid upwards of $200 million in American aid to Haiti. Though there are plenty of well-intentioned aid workers diligently operating in Haiti, that doesn’t discount the fact that the overall aid project looks more like a scam than a humanitarian enterprise.

“The NGOs carry out U.S. imperial policies in Haiti in exchange for ‘charity funding’ – which means, they money launder U.S. tax payer and donor dollars and put it in their pockets. US imperial policy is about destroying Haiti manufacturing and local economy, expropriating Haiti natural resources and making a larger Haiti market for their subsidized Wall Street monopolies,” explained Ezili Dantò -a human rights lawyer and activist.

One of the purported “success” stories of the international aid effort in Haiti was the opening of the Caracol Industrial Park in 2013 thanks to funding from foreign aid groups like the Clinton Foundation. Though the construction of the Caracol facility displaced numerous Haitian farmers -most of which remain landless-, the project was lauded internationally as a sure-fire way to promote social mobility and employment in Haiti. In reality, the park amounted to little more than a massive sweat shop. The primary employer there is a Korean apparel company called Sae-A, which supplies mega-retailers like Wall Mart with cheap clothing products and maintains lucrative contracts with popular brand names like Ralph Lauren, Gap, H&M and Old Navy. After accounting for food and transportation needs, workers at the industrial park earn a pitiful $1.36 a day. It’s no wonder Haitians today earn less than they did during the Duvalier dictatorship thirty years ago.

In 2012, it was reported that the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund had invested $2 million in a project to construct a deluxe Royal Oasis Hotel in an area heavily populated by Haitians displaced by the 2010 earthquake; this just after the International Financial Corporation (IFC) -a member of the World Bank Group- invested $26.5 million in the building of a similar hotel for Marriott in Haiti. These new hotels -even if successful- would have a very limited impact on Haitian employment levels -especially among the 80,000 mostly poor and uneducated Haitians who remain displaced by the earthquake. Those aid initiatives that were tasked with constructing permanent housing for occupants of Haiti’s huge tent city and various shanty towns are frequently criminally mismanaged and often yield homes that are comically overpriced by Haitian standards.

After the Haitian Healthy Ministry, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is the top recipient of federal Haiti-Aid funding from the U.S. government: having been allocated $117,111,216 by the U.S. State Department in 2013 alone. Though ostensibly a “peace-keeping” mission, this multinational force is essentially the in-house enforcer of the U.S.’s -and other foreign powers’- neoliberal project in Haiti. MINUSTAH forces have been operating in Haiti since the U.S./French/Canadian orchestrated coup that drove popularly elected Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office in 2004. Aristide and his hugely popular political party Fanmi Lavalas had repudiated the disastrous neoliberal policies of the 1990s, which was unacceptable to Washington. A wave of violence against supporters of Fanmi Lavalas by MINUSTAH forces followed Aristide’s ouster. The extrajudicial killing, political repression and widespread sexual assault that has characterized MINUSTAH forces’ subsequent ten year occupation of Haiti has made them likely the most hated presence in the country. The accidental introduction of cholera into the Haitian population by sick MINUSTAH solders -which killed about 9,000 Haitians and infected scores more- didn’t help either.

The unrest currently gripping Haiti has serious momentum. If protestors are able to topple Martelly’s pro-American regime, it will be the first step in achieving de-facto Haitian independence -something that country has never truly experienced. That’s a big “if,” however, as they will also need to overcome the terror of the MINUSTAH forces that still occupy Haiti and prop up Martelly’s unpopular government. Still, the situation in Haiti is unsustainable. The neoliberal development program that was forced on Haiti under the barrel of a gun is failing spectacularly for the majority of the Haitian population. Their additional exploitation -conscious or not- at the hands of international “aid” groups is even more glaring.

It’s doubtful that the American population would remain silent were they aware of the extent to which they themselves enable the exploitation of poor populations throughout the global south for the sake of concentrated international private power. It’s vital that compassionate individuals everywhere continue to disseminate information regarding the plight of such peoples. Only then can a meaningful and global movement of solidarity take shape. In the meantime, Haitians -and others suffering under the heel of neocolonial domination- will struggle on.

Correction: This post originally referenced the Fusion of Haitian Social Democrats as the political party of Haitian President Michel Martelly. In fact, President Martelly personally belongs to the Farmers’ Response Party, and Fusion is simply a pro-Martelly political ally of the president. The error has since been corrected.

Source(s): 1) Julie Lévesque “Haiti, Five Years After the Earthquake: Fraudulent Reconstruction Under Military Occupation” GlobalResearch (January 12, 2015): accessed January 24, 2015
2) Thomas Péralte “Haiti: Thousands Demonstrate as President Martelly Installs De Facto Prime Minister Evans Paul” GlobalResearch (January 21, 2015): accessed January 24, 2015
3) “Red Cross: 3M Haitians Affected by Quake” CBSNews (January 13, 2010): accessed January 24, 2013


Cuban Exodus

The recent resumption of formal diplomatic relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba after more than 50 years of hostility has given rise to fears in both Cuba and southern Florida that the current rules regarding Cuban immigration to the U.S. will soon be reformed. Specifically, many Cubans worry that the U.S.’s so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy -a 20 year old amendment to the U.S.’s 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act- will be discontinued. This controversial policy allows illegal Cuban migrants who reach U.S. shores to stay in that country as refugees and apply for green cards and permanent residence after one year; on the other hand, “wet foot, dry foot” sends back to Cuba any migrants that are apprehended while still at sea.

While the Castro regime has long held that the U.S. government’s policy with regard to Cuban immigration -specifically the “wet foot, dry foot” protocol- encourages Cubans to attempt unlawful and hazardous rafting trips to reach the U.S., the policy does enable relatively speedy immigration for refugees from Cuba to the U.S. When compared to the long and arduous immigration process which most other migrants to the U.S. are compelled to weather -thanks in no small measure to widespread anti-immigrant sentiment in parts of the U.S.-, the pathway to permanent American residence for refugees that is provided by the risky “wet foot, dry foot” practice is alluring for many Cubans.

U.S. officials firmly deny that any policy changes regarding Cuban immigration to America are on the horizon. Immigration experts are similarly skeptical; they are quick to point out that even if President Obama wanted to undertake such reforms, any fundamental alterations in that area would need to be green-lit by the U.S. congress -something that seems unlikely given America’s longstanding partisan paralysis. For all intents and purposes, the rumors regarding potential policy changes in the area of Cuba-U.S. immigration seem unfounded.

Even so, domestic opponents of President Obama’s Cuba pivot continue to stoke fears among Florida’s Cuban population that the president’s recent actions will in some way jeopardize both their own ability to remain in the U.S. and the ability of their relatives to one day reach them there. Foremost among these voices is the Cuban-American Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has been a consistent and highly publicized critic of President Obama’s Cuban policy for years.

“I don’t know of any organized efforts to repeal it [the Cuban Adjustment Act], but I would venture to guess that there will be efforts to repeal it by some,” Rubio recently asserted to the press.

The senator’s claim paralleled a significant spike in attempts by Cubans to raft to America in the wake of last month’s groundbreaking diplomatic developments. Capt. Pat DeQuattro of the U.S. Coast Guard recently reported the apprehension 481 illegal Cuban migrants to the U.S. last month alone -that’s a 117 percent increase in Cuban migration attempts from December 2013. With 96 similar apprehensions so far this month, the exodus shows no signs of subsiding.

Many Cubans are heeding the seemingly disingenuous and politically motivated rhetoric of Rubio and others like him and are hurriedly undertaking the potentially deadly 90 mile raft journey to the U.S. Hopefully, no one loses their life in the process.

Source(s): 1) Roque Planas “Migration From Cuba Surges Amid Rumors Of End To ‘Wet Foot, Dry Foot’ Policy” HuffingtonPost (January 19, 2015): accessed January 20, 2015
2) Alfonso Chardy and Nora Gamez Torres “Some fear that US-Cuba diplomacy will jeopardize green cards” The Bellingham Herald (January 14, 2015): accessed January 20, 2015


U.S.-Cuba Developments

According to U.S. officials, American tourists in Cuba will be able to take advantage of several changes to U.S.-Cuban travel and trade regulations starting tomorrow. These specific changes come in the wake of recent announcements by both the U.S. and Cuban governments favoring diplomatic and economic re-engagement after more than 50 years of hostility.

Henceforth, visitors to Cuba from the U.S. will finally be able to utilize credit and debit cards in the Caribbean nation, and they’ll no longer face limits on the amount they’re able to spend there. In a move that many argue will effective end the U.S.’s ban on Cuban cigars, American tourists will now be free to bring up to $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco home after trips to Cuba.

U.S. firms and investors will find it easier to invest in Cuban small businesses and agricultural operations thanks to several regulatory changes. Additionally, in a move that should help to boost Cuba’s low internet connectivity rate, American telecommunications conglomerates will have easier access to the Cuban marketplace; this in addition to other changes making it easier for U.S. firms to sell smartphones and certain computer software in Cuba.

Though a formal ban on ordinary American tourism to Cuba will remain despite Friday’s changes, the new regulatory alterations do seriously undermine restrictions on U.S. travel there. As long as American citizens cite one or more of the U.S.’s government’s dozen new pre-approved reasons for travel to Cuba, they can now make trips to the island nation without official permission. This change is sure to fuel Cuba’s growing tourism industry by increasing the annual number of American visitors to Cuba, which last year stood at around 170,000 -each of which had to be specifically approved for travel to Cuba by the U.S. government.

The new pre-approved reasons for American travel to Cuba are the following:
1. Family visits
2. Official government business
3. Journalistic activity
4. Professional research or meetings
5. Educational activities
6. Religious activities
7. Public performances, athletic competitions, exhibitions
8. Support for the Cuban people
9. Humanitarian projects
10. Activities for private foundations or research institutes
11. Exportation, importation or transmission of information
12. Certain authorized export transactions

Importantly, the U.S.’s overall trade embargo on Cuba will remain despite these marginal changes. Only the U.S. congress can fully end that policy through a vote. With right-wing legislators like Senator Marco Rubio publicly and vehemently condemning President Obama’s recent moves toward limited Cuban re-engagement, such a development seems unlikely. Even so, tomorrows changes will make it easier for several powerful American special interests -most notably finance and telecommunications- to do business in Cuba. Hopefully, this -in addition to changes making U.S. Cuban travel easier- will enhance the lives of average Cubans and make further regulatory alterations more palatable to hardliners in both countries.

Source(s): 1) “US-Cuba travel and trade: New rules start on Friday” BBC (January 15, 2015): accessed January 15, 2015


Internet Access in Cuba

In 2011, a United Nations report argued that by curtailing their respective populations’ access to the Internet, some governments were committing serious human rights violations and breaking international law. The report went on to condemn state suppression of online political dissension in particular, and urged governments everywhere to do everything in their power to facilitate free, secure and ubiquitous access to the Internet within their own individual boarders.

With the International Telecommunication Union reporting only 3.4 percent of Cuban homes maintaining online connectivity in 2014, the Castro regime is failing miserably at promoting what is increasingly being viewed around the world as a vital domestic utility.

This failure is, to a significant extent, intentional; outside of government facilities, universities, public institutions, public Internet cafes (called Nauta), hotels and some restaurants, wireless internet access is strictly prohibited in Cuba by the Castro regime. In those instances when access is permitted, the information that regular Cubans are able to obtain is highly censored and most emails are monitored. Only those prominent citizens with special permission from the Cuban Ministry of Communications are able to purchase private WiFi routers for their homes and enjoy unfettered access to online materials. Even so, illegal connections to WiFi networks in Cuba are common, with savvy hackers regularly utilizing signals from hotels and public facilities to access the net and all of its contents. The perceived need to suppress political opposition is a major factor in the Castro regime’s policy of limiting domestic internet access according to a 2011 Human Rights Watch report.

American USAID contractor Alan Gross -who was recently released by the Cuban government in a prisoner swap after several years of imprisonment- was initially arrested in Cuba in 2009 for circulating illegal satellite phones and computer equipment designed to circumvent Cuban Internet restrictions among Cuba’s Jewish population. His efforts -for which he was being paid around half a million dollars by the American government- were part of a protracted campaign by the U.S. government to undermine Cuban Internet restrictions and thus weaken the Castro regime. From 1996 through 2011, the U.S. congress appropriated $205 million to fund USAID and State Department efforts to “promote democracy” in Cuba according to a 2013 U.S. Government Accountability Office report -though this figure doesn’t take into account the classified activities and budgets of certain U.S. intelligence agencies like the CIA. A significant portion of these efforts were devoted to expanding Internet access in Cuba.

Clandestine attempts by the U.S. government to promote illegal online connectivity among the Cuban population have yielded questionable results. What has proven fruitful with regard to advancing this and several other goals is the U.S. government’s recent diplomatic rapprochement with the Castro regime. In the wake of moves by both governments to normalize relations in December -and the aforementioned prisoner swap that freed Alan Gross-, the Cuban government announced that it will begin offering public WiFi access via smartphones, tablets and laptops to all Cuban citizens this month through its state-run ETECSA telecommunications company.

Unfortunately, these services will only be offered in the Cuban city of Santiago (de Cuba) initially and will be priced at a whooping $5.00 per hour. In a country were most workers earn an average of $20 a month, this steep price tag ensures that Internet access will remain a luxury rather than a human right, for the foreseeable future at least. Still, the move is a step in the right direction.

Increasingly, online connectivity is being viewed as a necessary component to the development of dynamic economies and vibrant civil societies throughout the world. Few technological advances -with the possible exception of the invention of the printing press- have been more revolutionary than the Internet in terms of enhancing the lives and power of common people. For a purportedly revolutionary popular government like the one in Havana to actively limit its population’s access to this groundbreaking medium is shameful. Hopefully, the Castro government’s recent move -limited as it is- to expand Internet access is an indicator of greater reforms to come.

Source(s): 1) “Cuba to test public WiFi for the first time” RT (January 11, 2015): accessed January 13, 2015
2) Circles Robinson “WiFi in Santiago de Cuba at Killer Prices” Havana Times (January 11, 2015): accessed January 13, 2015
3) David Kravets “U.N. Report Declares Internet Access a Human Right” WIRED (June 3, 2015): accessed January 13, 2015
4) Robert Farley “Here’s The Part Of Alan Gross’ Story That Obama Hasn’t Been Talking About” HuffingtonPost (December 24, 2015): accessed January 13, 2015
5) Human Rights Watch “World Report 2011: Cuba” (2011): accessed January 13, 2015
6) Claire Voeux and Julien Pain “GOING ONLINE IN CUBA : Internet under surveillance” Reporters Without Borders (October 2006): accessed January 13, 2015


Black Lives Matter – the Kerner Report

In the aftermath of the 1967 race riots, President Johnson tasked a special commission with investigating the root causes of racial strife in the U.S. The commission’s subsequent findings, the strikingly prophetic Kerner Report, were ultimately ignored. Many of the problems that the report argues were afflicting the black American population in the late 1960s continue to plague urban poor blacks today; some of those problems have worsened. Just as the report forsaw, the U.S. government’s continued failure to meaningfully and effectively address these issues has helped permanently stifle the social mobility of many black Americans. For these reasons, coupled with the recent explosion in racial unrest over several racially tinged instances of police brutality, a serious reexamination of the report at this time seems warranted. With any luck, President Obama may soon order the drafting of an updated version of the Kerner Report. In such a case, one would hope that he’d be more committed to pursuing racial justice than Johnson proved to be.

You can see the full Kerner Report here: