The Take (2004)

Famed Canadian activist and author Naomi Klein and her husband Avi Lewis investigate Argentina’s young worker cooperative movement in this revelatory 2004 documentary film. The Take offers a look into what can happen when working class folks band together in the face of economic disaster and seize their own destinies. Margret Thatcher’s infamous claim that “there is no alternative” to neoliberal capitalism is critically undermined by this groundbreaking film. 

View the film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sug7bWxTuSo 

(Be sure to switch on English subtitles by clicking the video’s closed captions [cc] option if you aren’t a Spanish speaker.)

  

Cuba Grapples With Debt

The Cuban government has negotiated an agreement with the Paris Club, an informal body representing a collection of relatively rich creditor nations, regarding a significant portion of Cuba’s foreign debt. Specifically, Havana consented to pay Paris Club lenders $15 billion to cover longstanding obligations originating from a largely unaddressed Cuban financial default in 1986. The figure encompasses the principle amount due as well as subsequently accumulated service charges, interest and penalties.

“The final amount of $15 billion has been approved by both parties, so that is a big first step and now the creditors will meet to set policy for formal talks,” an anonymous diplomat involved with the negotiations told the press.

With the $15 billion bill established, Cuba and the Paris Club can now move on to the next phase of negotiations -restructuring the country’s payment plan. Sources with intimate knowledge of talks were confident that the lender nations, eager to settle Cuba’s external debt situation and clear the way for foreign investment in the Caribbean nation, would be open-minded and agree to accommodating payment terms with Havana.

“Everyone wants to put this behind them now and move forward, and frankly, after 30 years I think the banks will be happy just to get something back,” another diplomatic insider explained.

While the Cuban government remains unwilling to publicly comment on its debt negotiations, it nonetheless appears genuinely considered with covering Cuba’s foreign obligations. Current Cuban President Raul Castro, a veteran of the 1959 Revolution and the brother of Cuba’s former leader Fidel Castro, has repeatedly voiced his intention to get Cuba’s fiscal house in order and pay down Cuba’s debt since assuming power in 2008.

In an effort to reform Cuba’s finances, and thus please the country’s international creditors and attract new foreign investment, Castro has reduced his government’s expenditures by cutting state payrolls and subsides. His related effort to limit the amount of imports arriving in Cuba has substantially improving the island’s previously imbalanced trade situation.

Thanks in large measure to Raul Castro’s policies, Havana has been able to reach amenable debt payment terms with several of its foreign creditors -including Japan, Russia, Mexico and China- in the past four years. In many instances, creditors forgave anywhere between 70 to 90 percent of what Cuba owed to them. There’s reason to believe that Cuba will be able to secure a similarly favorable payment plan with the Paris Club in the near future.

Positive developments aside, the Economist Intelligence Unit, a private financial analysis organization, estimates that Cuba’s foreign debt currently stands at around $26 billion -a considerable sum for a small underdeveloped nation. As Cuba gains access to much-needed new sources of financing and investment abroad in the coming years, owing to its rapidly improving relations with its formerly hostile neighbor the United States, it’s government will come under increasing pressure to substantively address these obligations. Recent actions by the Castro regime display a definite willingness to do so.

The nation’s that make up the Paris Club include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. The unofficial consortium maintains a special working group on Cuba.    

                                          

The Brutal Reality of the Israeli Occupation of Gaza

A disturbing new report from the organization “Breaking the Silence” sheds light on the horrific events of the 2014 Israeli invasion of occupied Gaza. Relying on testimony from Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers who served during Operation Protective Edge, as the conflict was called, this comprehensive firsthand account of the war reveals how Israeli military commanders actively encouraged their troops to fire on innocent civilians, destroy property and commit other atrocities that served to terrorize the population of Gaza during the campaign. It appears that war crimes were a regular and intentional feature of the invasion, rather than occasional accidents. 

Please take the time to educate yourself about the Israeli government’s ongoing brutalization of Gaza and the West Bank. Understand that Israel’s ongstanding, nearly half-century old, military occupation of these regions isn’t just related to strategic security concerns, but is to a significant extent motivated by cynical political calculations on the part of Israeli politicians as well as a seemingly unquenchable drive to expand illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Most of all, realize that Israel, a semi-pariah state that looks more and more like apartheid-era South Africa everyday, likely couldn’t carry on abusing the Palestinian population without the continued diplomatic cover and military aid of the United States. Though the relationship between American President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has become strained, owing to the latter’s brazen arrogance, the basic U.S.-Israel alliance remains intact. That’s were you come in.

Please support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and learn how you can help the long-suffering Palestinian populations of the occupied territories. Put pressure on your representatives in government to reevaluate the U.S.’s seemingly blind support for Israel policies, support which has historically brought America much more grief than good. 

Read the full “Breaking the Silence” report, which is titled This is How We Fought in Gaza, here:  http://ep00.epimg.net/descargables/2015/05/04/739d4d6eeeac81d22ea8549e7b624cf7.pdf

  

Another GOP Attempt to Abort U.S.-Cuban Reengagement 

Less than a week after removing Cuba from the U.S. State Department’s infamous list of state sponsors of terror, President Obama is now facing a legislative attack on his Cuban reengagement effort from the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. A new House appropriations bill, unveiled on Tuesday, prohibits federal spending on a potential U.S. embassy in Cuba and freezes funding for U.S.-Cuban diplomatic initiatives at pre-December 2014 levels -where they stood prior to the start of the president’s normalization campaign. If passed, the legislation would also restrict the ability of the Cuban government to acquire American financing for its own eventual embassy in the U.S.

“I think we have been very clear with our challenges with what’s gone on in Cuba, from human rights, from what’s happened there, and we have a difference of opinion with the administration and we have a right to express it,” Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority Leader and a supporter of Tuesday’s legislation, told reporters.

The largely GOP-backed appropriations bill increases federal spending on U.S.-backed democratization initiatives in Cuba, including efforts to expand media access and reform elections on the island; it also directs the State Department to deny visas to Cuban government officials and members of the Cuban Communist Party. Proponents of the restrictive legislation argue that substantive political reform on the island should precede further diplomatic negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba. Furthermore, they’ve repeatedly threatened to block any and all efforts by the White House or the State Department to improve relations with Cuba until the long-ruling authoritarian Castro regime is removed from power. Tuesday’s House appropriations bill appears to finally back up these threats.

Congressional opposition to President Obama’s Cuba policy is led primarily by Florida-based Cuban American legislators like Representative Mario Diaz-Balart and presidential-hopeful Marco Rubio in the Senate. Most of these politicians are electorally dependent on strongly anti-Castro Cuban American voters in Miami and other Cuban immigrant enclaves in the sunshine state.

An official statement from the White House in reaction to another recent piece of legislation, this one a House transportation bill, designed to undermine the president’s Cuba policy was unequivocal: “His [Obama’s] senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.” The administration went on to warn that the bill in question “place[s] unnecessary restrictions on options for educational, religious, or other permitted travel” to the Caribbean island by prohibiting federal funding to commercial vessels and airplanes traveling between the U.S. and Cuba. That aspect of the legislation would effectively nullify the popular regulatory changes to U.S.-Cuba travel and trade restrictions that the administration has made in recent months. 

President Obama’s Cuban pivot has been largely well received by the public; American travel to the island nation has ballooned since the administration first announced the policy change last December. With U.S.-Cuban reengagement and diplomatic normalization now being viewed by many as a cornerstone of the president’s foreign policy legacy, it is highly unlikely that the administration will take the House’s most recent challenge sitting down. The White House’s veto threats should thus be taken seriously.