Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hurricanes and more hurricanes: what is the answer?

We all breathed a sigh of relief when Hurricane Gustav diminished in strength and breadth before it hit the Louisiana coast on Monday. More than 2 million people evacuated from the region, justifiably fearful of the consequences of remaining.

The expected massive flooding that could have rivaled that of Katrina didn’t occur. Still, nearly the entire power grid in the state went down. Many won’t have power back on until the end of the month, if then.

While the reported death toll in Louisiana is 18, there were undoubtedly more deaths caused by the prolonged loss of power, especially among those with chronic medical conditions. Officials of Entergy, the main power provider which has reaped huge profits by charging exorbitantl rates, should be held responsible for the complete collapse of the power system in the face of a Category 1 storm.

But if it is not one country or state that lies in the path of an oncoming cyclone, it is another. Just this season alone, more hurricanes are churning their way toward our continent. Hanna has just hit the eastern U.S. seaboard. Ike could reach Category 4 strength; this time the Turk and Caicos Islands, southern Florida, Cuba and perhaps the Gulf Coast are in its path.

With Gustav fortunately, the predictions of massive flooding and destruction for New Orleans and the Gulf coast region didn't come to fruition

In Haiti, the people of that already devastated country are suffering immensely. Upwards of 200 people died in the floods and mudslides caused by Gustav and Hanna, the consequence of a land completely denuded of vegetation. Tens of thousands of people are desperately hungry in the area of Gonaïves.

Cuba’s western province of Pinar del Río and its southern Isle of Youth were devastated, with at least 75% of the isle’s housing destroyed or seriously damaged. As Cuban leader Fidel Castro related in his reflections titled, “Nuclear bomb,” only two of 16 bakeries could continue to produce the essential bread products that the people depend so much on. Electricity is out. Resources are very limited that would allow for the rebuilding of thousands of homes and public buildings.

The question is: What can be done to minimize or avoid the effects of a hurricane, and the destruction that they bring? What can be done about the environment and global warming?

Our campaign was in New Orleans, Baton Rouge other parts of the state before Hurricane Gustav arrived. We were there, carrying out campaign work for the Party for Socialism and Liberation's election campaign and to join in solidarity with activities marking the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It became evident that we would have to stay during the hurricane, which gave us an opportunity to witness firsthand what the people have to go through when a hurricane comes.

We also spent two days helping with the efforts of Common Ground Relief’s founder Malik Rahim and other activists to load up their equipment and materials in the Algiers section of New Orleans, before evacuating on Sunday, August 31, a few hours before the dusk-to-dawn curfew went into effect. We rode out the storm in Baton Rouge. Like most other people in the region in the days and hours before the storm hit, we listened to the continual radio and TV reports on the approach of Gustav. -

When the predictions of a Category 4 strength for Gustav were still in effect, everyone around us in the Westbank of New Orleans was lamenting the impending loss of their homes and possessions. And just as with Katrina, the potential losses were not related solely to the hurricane's force.

Levees of the main Harvey Canal on the Westbank have still not been repaired, three years after Katrina. Verilin Purmeer, a New Orleans resident, showed us gaping breaks in that canal's levees and along the Mississippi River. Exasperated, she asked, "How are these levees supposed to sustain an 18-foot surge? What is taking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers so long to fix them?"

Long before the development of cities along the coasts of the United States, islands of the Caribbean, and parts of Latin America, natural barriers existed that helped to absorb the effects of oncoming storms. In the Mississippi River's mouth and delta, for example, extensive wetlands used to extend far out beyond the firmer land. Now they are almost eliminated in the quest for profit. Those wetlands must be restored.

There are measures that can be undertaken immediately, better evacuation plans, environmental restoration, stronger construction, etc.

Even though natural phenomena like hurricanes and cyclones are unavoidable, it is capitalism which is the greatest obstacle to viable solutions for the people. In fact, capitalist production and the system of private property are the main cause of global warming and unnecessary suffering.

Cuba had to endure the strongest winds ever recorded during Hurricane Gustav, up to 212 miles an hour. It blew away thousands and thousands of homes and agriculture. But there was not one death in that fearsome storm. Everyone was evacuated in a massive, organized manner by the civil defense and government.

The Haitian people, whose heroic struggles and potential for revolutionary societal change have been repressed time and again by U.S. military coups and occupations, needlessly lost hundreds of their people in Gustav.

Capitalist super-exploitation of Haiti is what stripped the country of its forests and vegetation. Capitalism is what deprived the people of the possibility of an evacuation. Capitalism killed those hundreds of Haitians, not Gustav.

A revolution is what Haiti desperately needs. Socialism, where the wealth of society is owned in common and where the economic and social decisions are made to benefit all the people, is what Haiti needs.

Here, too, in the United States, we need socialism and a planned, environmentally-sustainable system.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What I saw from a hospital bed in Bolivia

Cuban doctors and nurses are legendary for the solidarity they exercise in many countries, giving free healthcare to people who otherwise would suffer needlessly or die.

Soon after I arrived in La Paz, Bolivia, last week, I unexpectedly ended up as a patient of those famous Cuban doctors and nurses. It was an unforgettable experience and one that I will always appreciate.

I arrived on July 27 for an important international conference called 'Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Peace and Sovereignty for Bolivia.' It was held to show support for the government of Evo Morales as the recall referendum of Aug. 10 was nearing. At the end of a two-day conference, our conference issued an important Peace Declaration for Bolivia, which also protested U.S. interference in the internal affairs of the country.

La Paz is about 12,000 feet high, an altitude that initially proved too much for me. The morning after our arrival I became seriously ill.

Our wonderful hosts from the Bolivian Vice-Ministry of Culture took me right away to a Cuban-run clinic across town, where I spent 24 hours. The doctor, Roberto Colombie and the nurse, Lizette, who attended to me were kind and solicitous. They immediately gave me intravenous feeding, anti-nausea medicine and pills for high blood pressure—a consequence of the altitude.

In my short stay there, I saw my fellow patients. They were mostly Indigenous and people who otherwise would never have had access to care. I shared a room with a 17-year-old boy from Cochabamba, who had broken his elbow in three places. He had been in the hospital almost a week and was being readied for surgery. His father, Josefino, stayed by his bedside the whole time, to feed him and help dress him. They could not afford medical care so the boy had suffered several days before he was flown to Cochabamba, thanks to the Cubans.

The Bolivian people, 65 percent Indigenous, have long suffered from the imperialist sacking of their country's natural resources, which has left little to nothing for the poorest of the population. With the presidency of Evo Morales and the masses in motion, there is hope for the first time. Bolivia's huge natural gas reserves have been nationalized, and many social and economic projects are underway.

As soon as Morales took office in January 2006, Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela joined in cooperative agreements. Cuba began to send medical workers and resources, teachers and literacy workers. In the short time since 2006, the Cuban doctors have—as of May 2008—carried out 13 million medical consultations in Bolivia, and saved the lives of 12,967 Bolivians.

The United States government—with its menacing Fourth Fleet—is working overtime to try to destroy the Bolivian process now underway, as well as to reverse the growing alliance of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

For the sake of the millions who stand to benefit from this progressive alliance—such as the Indigenous teenager with whom I shared a hospital room—our solidarity with the people of Latin America is more important than ever.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Ten years of unjust imprisonment

On June 4, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld the convictions of the Cuban Five, the five men who were working to stop Miami-based terrorists from attacking Cuba and Cuba-related targets.

In reaction to the decision, organizations around the world and across the country mobilized to hold emergency actions on June 5 and 6. More protests are forthcoming.

The FBI arrested the Five—Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González—almost 10 years ago, on Sept. 12, 1998. They were unjustly charged with espionage crimes, although they were never engaged in espionage conspiracy nor intended to. Their target was not the U.S. government, but rather the terrorist organizations in Miami.

After a trial in Miami—the one city guaranteed to return a conviction—regardless of the evidence or charges—against any defendant who is in support of Cuba, the Five were convicted on all 26 federal counts and given four life sentences and 77 years collectively.

Although the recent Atlanta court decision remanded Antonio's and Ramón's life sentences and Fernando's 19-year term back for re-sentencing to the trial judge, Gerardo's double life sentences remain, and the convictions are still in place. The defense team, which includes civil rights attorney Leonard Weinglass, will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if needed.

Having come here to oppose terrorism, having never possessed or used weapons, having never committed any act of violence, having risked their lives to save others' lives, the Five do not belong in prison.

But this case has never been about legalities or crime. It is about the 50 years of aggression against Cuba, which includes the use of terrorism against the people of Cuba. The bombings, assassinations, biological warfare and other tactics employed by Cuban-American terrorist organizations centered in Miami have killed 3,478 Cubans collectively.

On the very same day as the Atlanta court's decision against the Five, an entirely different process was taking place in New Orleans. The notorious terrorist Luis Posada Carriles was on the docket, and the justice system treated him with "kid gloves."

Although Posada has yet to be tried for the 1976 murder of 73 people who died in a Cuban airliner bombing that he masterminded, although Posada boasted of being responsible for a wave of deadly bombings in Cuban hotels in 1997, although he sneaked into the United States illegally in 2005, Posada now walks the streets of Miami as a free man. He understands so well that he is being given special treatment by the U.S. government that he has the audacity to exhibit his paintings in a Miami gallery.

He obviously has no worries that he might be extradited to Venezuela, where he planned the  1976 plane bombing. In early May, he appeared at a Miami fundraising dinner in his honor, and made a call to "sharpen our  machetes for the difficult days ahead."

But the men who monitored the actions of terrorists like Posada, in order to stop their reign of terror, are in U.S. prisons.

As the Cuban Five's 10th anniversary of imprisonment approaches, please learn about their case at and help organize support for them in the months of September and October, to demand their immediate release.

Extradite Posada, Free the Five!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Breaking down Obama's speech to AIPAC

The following are some excerpts from the speech of Barack Obama to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention in Washington DC, June 4, 2008, with comments . If anything Hillary Clinton's speech that followed was even more aggressive and over-the-top in its pandering, but it is Obama of course who is the Democratic nominee.

"It was just a few years after the liberation of the [Nazi concentration] camps that David Ben-Gurion declared the founding of the Jewish State of Israel. We know that the establishment of Israel was just and necessary, rooted in centuries of struggle and decades of patient work. But 60 years later, we know that we cannot relent, we cannot yield, and as president I will never compromise when it comes to Israel's security."
Ben-Gurion simply "declared" the state of Israel, and it appeared!! No mention here – or anywhere in the entire speech –of the dispossession of the Palestinians. Nor any mention of the role of imperialism and colonialism in the creation of the state of Israel.

"Flying in an [Israeli Defense Forces] helicopter, I saw a narrow and beautiful strip of land nestled against the Mediterranean. On the ground, I met a family who saw their house destroyed by a Katyusha rocket. I spoke to Israeli troops who faced daily threats as they maintained security near the blue line [sic].
No mention of Palestinian casualties in number of deaths have been something like 100 times those on the Israeli side, not counting the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have been jailed, tortured, had their villages, homes,, olive groves demolished, etc.
"I have been proud to be a part of a strong, bipartisan consensus that has stood by Israel in the face of all threats. That is a commitment that both John McCain and I share, because support for Israel in this country goes beyond party."
Absolutely right; until Bush, the Democrats were considered the bigger supporters of Israel. But now they're about the same. This "support" is based neither on sympathy for Jewish people nor the supposed control of U.S. foreign policy by a pro-Israel lobby, but is instead due to the vital role Israel plays in the U.S. empire.
"Hamas now controls Gaza. Hezbollah has tightened its grip on southern Lebanon, and is flexing its muscles in Beirut. Because of the war in Iraq, Iran — which always posed a greater threat to Israel than Iraq — is emboldened and poses the greatest strategic challenge to the United States and Israel in the Middle East in a generation."
Apparently Obama thinks the U.S. went to war against the wrong member of Bush's so-called "Axis of Evil.'
"Iraq is unstable, and al-Qaida has stepped up its recruitment. Israel's quest for peace (sic) with its neighbors has stalled, despite the heavy burdens borne by the Israeli people."
Again, only the Israelis have borne the "heavy burdens."
"And America is more isolated in the region, reducing our strength and jeopardizing Israel's safety. The question is how to move forward. There are those who would continue and intensify this failed status quo, ignoring eight years of accumulated evidence that our foreign policy is dangerously flawed."
This section could have been called "Making the Empire Stronger."

"And then there are those who would lay all of the problems of the Middle East at the doorstep of Israel and its supporters, as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of all trouble in the region."
Here Obama is being truly disingenuous. Knowing full well, as he does, that the dispossession of the Palestinians is a major "root" cause of the conflict in the region, he dodges by inserting the word "all." The vast petroleum reserves and the region's strategic location are of course other root causes.

"These voices blame the Middle East's only democracy for the region's extremism. They offer the false promise that abandoning a stalwart ally is somehow the path to strength. It is not, it never has been, and it never will be . . . "Our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values. Those who threaten Israel threaten us."
This is true only if the word "us" it taken to mean U.S. imperialism. Israel is an extension of U.S. power and instrument of U.S. domination in the region.

"That starts with ensuring Israel's qualitative military advantage."
No other state in the region comes close to Israel's military power, thanks to the hundreds of billions in military assistance and advanced weaponry given over the past four decades.
"I will ensure that Israel can defend itself from any threat — from Gaza to Tehran. Defense cooperation between the United States and Israel is a model of success, and must be deepened . . . "As president, I will implement a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade — investments to Israel's security that will not be tied to any other nation."
Has Obama put dollar figures on any other programs he says he will implement, like job training, healthcare, affordable housing, etc., etc?

"First, we must approve the foreign aid request for 2009. Going forward, we can enhance our cooperation on missile defense. We should export military equipment to our ally Israel under the same guidelines as NATO. And I will always stand up for Israel's right to defend itself in the United Nations and around the world . . . .As president, I will work to help Israel achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security."
Note: "to help Israel achieve the goal of two states"—an interesting way of framing a supposed "negotiating process."

"The long road to peace requires Palestinian partners committed to making the journey. We must isolate Hamas unless and until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements. There is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations. That is why I opposed holding elections in 2006 with Hamas on the ballot."
Very democratic outlook – no elections should be held if the "wrong" party might win.
"The Palestinian people must understand that progress will not come through the false prophets of extremism or the corrupt use of foreign aid."
Reflecting the sharp rise in extreme anti-Arab racism among the Israeli public, the leader of one of the more influential Israeli parties, Avigdor Lieberman –until recently a deputy prime minister – openly calls for the expulsion of the entire Palestinian population. But that apparently doesn't qualify as "extremism" for candidate Obama, who once upon a time expressed sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

"Let me be clear. Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper — but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided."
This line caused an angry response from even most U.S.-dependent figures in the Palestinian Authority and throughout the Arab world.. Today, Obama has gone even further in this position in an interview with CNN.

"The threats to Israel start close to home, but they don't end there. Syria continues its support for terror and meddling in Lebanon. And Syria has taken dangerous steps in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, which is why Israeli action was justified to end that threat."
This is a reference to Israel's unprovoked and illegal bombing of a facility in Syria several months ago.

"There is no greater threat to Israel — or to the peace and stability of the region — than Iran. Now this audience is made up of both Republicans and Democrats, and the enemies of Israel should have no doubt that, regardless of party, Americans stand shoulder to shoulder in our commitment to Israel's security. So while I don't want to strike too partisan a note here today, I do want to address some willful mischaracterizations of my positions.

"The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.

"But just as we are cleareyed about the threat, we must be clear about the failure of today's policy. We knew, in 2002, that Iran supported terrorism. We knew Iran had an illicit nuclear program. We knew Iran posed a grave threat to Israel. But instead of pursuing a strategy to address this threat, we ignored it and instead invaded and occupied Iraq . . . Iran has strengthened its position. Iran is now enriching uranium and has reportedly stockpiled 150 kilos of low enriched uranium. Its support for terrorism and threats toward Israel have increased. Those are the facts, they cannot be denied, and I refuse to continue a policy that has made the United States and Israel less secure."

The last three paragraphs emphasize the theme that Iraq was the wrong war in the Middle East.

"Sen. McCain offers a false choice: stay the course in Iraq, or cede the region to Iran. I reject this logic because there is a better way. Keeping all of our troops tied down indefinitely in Iraq is not the way to weaken Iran — it is precisely what has strengthened it. It is a policy for staying, not a plan for victory. I have proposed a responsible, phased redeployment of our troops from Iraq. We will get out as carefully as we were careless getting in. We will finally pressure Iraq's leaders to take meaningful responsibility for their own future."
A "responsible, phased redeployment," "we will get out as carefully as we careless getting in," – are clear statements that an Obama administration has no intention of really leaving Iraq. In hiss CNN interview today, June 6, with Candy Crowley, Obama affirms that he intends U.S. troops to stay in Iraq for a long time to come. Here, too, the colonialist language common to leading Democrats and Republicans about pressuring Iraqi "leaders to take "meaningful responsibility for their own future."

"We will also use all elements of American power to pressure Iran. I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
What the transcript leaves out here is that Obama repeated the last sentence twice, followed by a one word sentence, "Everything," after which he paused and looked around for emphasis and as if to say, "get it?" Obama also called for tightening economic sanctions, which had such deadly effects on Iraq from 1990-2003, on Iran.

Final note: Obama's speech should not be seen as simply pandering to the pro-Israeli faction in the U.S. It was a major foreign policy speech, affirming that while he has serious tactical differences with Bush and the Neocons in regard to the Middle East (due primarily to their failures), he fully and unreservedly shares the strategic objective of long-term U.S. domination in the vitally important region.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bolivian right-wing holds vote on regional autonomy

A grave political crisis is looming as a secessionist referendum takes place in Bolivia.

The separatist movement is headed by ultra-right forces, which organized the illegal and unconstitutional vote in the eastern department (state) of Santa Cruz, to declare its autonomy. Beni, Pando and Tarija—also departments in the eastern region known as the "Media Luna" (half moon)—will hold similar referenda in coming weeks.

The goal of the referendum is two-fold. First, it seeks to put political and economic control of the country’s considerable oil and natural gas wealth in the hands of the separatist elements within the Bolivian bourgeoisie. Secondly, it seeks the overthrow of the government of Evo Morales, which has emphasized the empowerment of the historically oppressed, majority Indigenous population and has pursued the nationalization of the country’s resources.

In a May 1 statement, Fidel Castro warned that right-wing elements in the Bolivian military might be planning an outright overthrow of Morales.

The Organization of American States held two emergency meetings, at which Bolivia’s foreign minister David Choquehuanca denounced the Media Luna governors for illegally dividing the country. Since Bolivia achieved independence from Spain in 1825, it has seen more than 200 coup d’états—half of all the coups in Latin American history.

At an urgent meeting of "In Defense of Humanity" network held on April 12 and 13 in Venezuela, prominent anti-imperialist intellectuals and artists from Latin America and the United States discussed a plan of action to defend the Bolivian government against the impending referendum.

The meeting produced a statement of solidarity denouncing the right-wing secessionist efforts. Its text follows below:

"The Conspiracy to Divide Bolivia Must Be Denounced

"The process of changes in favor of the Bolivian majority is at risk of being brutally restrained. The rise to power of an Indigenous president with unprecedented support in that country and his programs of popular benefits and recovery of the natural resources have had to face the conspiracies of the oligarchy and United States interference from the very beginning.

"In recent days, the increase in conspiracy has reached its climax. The subversive and unconstitutional actions of the oligarchic groups to try to divide the Bolivian nation reflect the racist and elitist minds of these sectors and constitute a very dangerous precedent not only for the country’s integrity, but for other countries in our region.

"History shows with ample eloquence the terrible consequences that the divisionary and separatist processes supported and induced by foreign interests have had for humanity.

"Faced with this situation, the signers below would like to express their support for the government of Evo Morales Ayma, for his policies for change and for the sovereign constituent process of the Bolivian people. At the same time we reject the so-called Santa Cruz Autonomy Statute due to its unconstitutionality and the attempt against the unity of a nation of our America."

Hundreds of prominent individuals signed, including: former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark; Nobel Prize recipients Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Rigoberta Menchú; Professor Noam Chomsky; authors Eduardo Galeano, Ignacio Ramonet and Howard Zinn; liberation theologian Frei Betto; Cuban singer Silvio Rodríguez; ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) national coordinator Brian Becker; and Puerto Rican independence fighter Rafael Cancel Miranda.