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Thursday, October 25, 2012

It is clear that the enactment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Cuba is an ongoing struggle... ...Uncertainty still remains, and the government and society as a whole still display a certain level of uneasiness regarding homosexuality... ...Nonetheless, in comparison with pre-revolutionary times, the situation today has greatly improved... ...Penalties towards gay men have gradually been reduced, the government has expressed its support for gay rights ...and even gay civil unions have been seriously proposed and considered

From persecution to acceptance? The history of LGBT rights in Cuba

By Justin Halatyn
Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the island nation has received low scores in many human rights indices for reported assaults on freedom of speech, expression, religion, and basic due process. Outside of these violations, historians regard the 1960s as an even more repressive decade for one Cuban community in particular: the country’s homosexual population. Indeed this group has only recently witnessed an opening of civil liberties for them. While the record of their treatment today is certainly not perfect, there are clear signs of a gradual but serious shift from Cuba’s previously anti-LGBT policies to a modern tendency of equal treatment and respect for all sexual orientations.

Even in pre-Revolutionary Cuba, the island’s society relegated the homosexual community to the few LGBT-friendly bars in Cuban cities. Moreover, strict laws criminalized homosexuality and targeted gay men in particular for harassment. In the 1930s, Cuba enacted the Public Ostentation Law, which encouraged the harassment of LGBTs who refused to hide their orientation.1 At this time, Cuba’s legislation toward the LGBT community was essentially no different from what was being done in the rest of Latin America, nor the continent’s colonial ancestors, Spain and Portugal.2

Homosexuality in Cuba Under Castro
The Cuban Revolution seemed to present hope for improved living conditions for the many afflicted members of the community, and hope for a new outlook on old social mores quickly spread across the island. Many gay men were in favor of the Revolution and even supported longtime Cuban President Fidel Castro. However, despite professed egalitarianism, Castro’s government in reality was no kinder to the LGBT community than the pre-revolutionary governments. Castro and the other leading revolutionaries considered homosexuality a devious product of capitalism, which had to be rooted out entirely from society.3

For example, Che Guevara’s definition of the socialist “New Man” in part necessitated a strong and unambiguously heterosexual male.4 This view was not unique to the Castro regime, and could be found in the ideologies of many leaders from other communist countries. For example, the USSR and China routinely persecuted the LGBT community.5 As ironic as it may seem, communist thinking at the time consistently ignored the LGBT community.

The Castro government continued to enforce the Public Ostentation Law following the Revolution. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, gay men were routinely imprisoned for soliciting sex in public locations, government workers lost their jobs because of their homosexuality, and homosexual artists were censored. From 1965 to 1968, openly homosexual men were rounded up and incarcerated in UMAP (Military Units to Aid Production) camps designed to turn them into the heterosexual ideal.

Critics have since denounced UMAP camps as nothing less than military labor camps, which were described by some internees as brutal facilities, complete with physical and verbal mistreatment, dirt floors, and a chronic shortage of food.6 Though Castro himself has denied that they were forced labor camps, he recently acknowledged that gay men were mistreated in certain camps.7 In another case of historic persecution, the infamous Mariel Boat Lift of 1980, the Castro regime expelled thousands of homosexual Cubans he considered among other “undesirables.”8

Policies Begin to Change
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Havana’s policies toward its LGBT community began to change as communist leaders around the world began to lean toward a more tolerant policy regarding homosexuality. Some observers have pointed to the rise of the feminist movement in Cuba as a key component in the liberalization of social tolerance toward Cuba’s LGBT community.9

For example, in 1977 the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) was founded by the Cuban Women’s Federation, which “encouraged a more enlightened outlook on homosexuality and started to undermine traditional sexual prejudices and taboos.”10 Around this period, the Cuban government began to pass laws that broke down the sexual division of labor in the traditional family unit. In 1979 the Cuban government finally removed homosexual acts among consenting adults from the Penal Code as a criminal offense.11 Certainly the situation regarding this practice was much improved in just the course of a decade.

However, as with most countries’ early policies regarding homosexuality, changes in practice have occurred gradually. Despite the legislative reforms, the government continued to prohibit “ostentatious displays of homosexuality” along with “homosexual acts in public places.”12 Cuba also received criticism from the international community during this period for quarantining people with HIV.

Some have argued that another explanation for Havana’s homosexual policies is that Cuba’s continued dependence on the Soviet Union for trade and assistance led to a Stalinist-style intolerance of homosexuality throughout the earlier part of the decade.13 In other words, as in many cases, the LGBT population in Cuba had to wait for continued rights to be granted before discrimination was erased.

In 1986 however, a watershed shift against homophobia occurred in Cuba.14 The annulment of many of the remaining laws in the Penal Code that had prohibited homosexual conduct allowed authorities to release those who had been previously imprisoned for homosexual activity.15 During this period, the Cuban authorities began to show greater tolerance toward homosexuality in order to enforce safe sex and to gain political support for the regime from the LGBT community and from critical international observers. Finally, in 1993, the incarceration law for HIV patients was rescinded.

The Cuban government began to produce films and documentaries condemning discrimination against homosexuality, and the medical community in Cuba began to describe homosexuality as a natural minority condition rather than a perverse choice.16 This medical outlook was particularly crucial in the reevaluation of policies toward the LGBT population.

Homosexuality in Cuba Today
Today, official legal penalties for gay men continue to be eliminated. For instance, in 1988 the penal code imposed fines on those who “hassle others with homosexual demands.” However, in 1997, this language was modified to “hassling with sexual demands,” gradually removing the distinction between heterosexual and homosexual behavior. In addition, previous public scandal laws that penalized those who “publicly flaunted their homosexual condition” were later changed to those who engaged in “sexual insult,” indicating a more modest tone against homosexuality.17

Particularly progressive reforms have been made in the last few years under current President Raúl Castro, largely from the strong backing of his daughter Mariela Castro, who is also the director of CENESEX.18 The most revolutionary change occurred in June 2008, when the Cuban government permitted doctors to perform sex change operations.19 In the last year, the Cuban parliament proposed a law permitting same-sex unions.20 If this law does pass, it would signal a huge breakthrough in LGBT rights in Cuba.

Havana’s rhetoric regarding homosexuality has grown more tolerant as well. Raúl Castro has publicly declared his support for LGBT rights.21 Fidel also has changed his tone dramatically since the 1960s. Although he once vulgarly referred to homosexuals as “agents of imperialism,” and praised the Cuban countryside for supposedly being free of homosexuality, his recent declarations express a much more tolerant sentiment.22

In the last few years, Fidel has come to support LGBT rights, claiming he was distracted by other problems in the earlier period of the Revolution. Additionally, he now claims that the persecution of homosexuals in earlier years was “a great injustice.”23 Considering that even Fidel has changed his outlook, it is unlikely the Cuban government will shift back anytime soon to a less progressive position.

Despite the recent announcements by the Castro regime to move towards an LGBT friendly community, the government remains inconsistent with all of its promises. For example, gay men have long been considered unfit to join the Communist Party. Within the last 20 years, a few prominent gay bars and organizations have been raided and shut down by the government.24

Gay rights activists, both in Cuba and abroad, have accused the Cuban authorities of applying the crime of “pre-criminal dangerousness” unfairly to homosexuals, and ignoring complaints of those who have been beaten or fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation.25 Other gay rights activists have criticized Mariela Castro for her inconsistency and hypocrisy when it comes to gay rights, arguing that gay rights activists continue to be imprisoned, beaten, or simply disappear while she provides little more than lip service to the issue.26

In addition, while Cuban society is gradually warming up toward homosexuality and LGBT rights, many homophobic elements remain. For example, in 2006, the Cuban state television released “The Dark Side of the Moon,” the first soap opera on Cuban television concerning issues of homosexuality. Although the soap opera was received favorably by many for bringing the issue into the public discourse, it also attracted enormous controversy, with many Cubans saying they were offended by the show’s release and refused to watch it. The most negative reviews conceded the belief that the show was important, but as a way to warn people of homosexuality’s consequences rather than a way to promote tolerance and acceptance toward it.27

Lastly, on October 16, the Cuban government announced it would end its exit visa requirements for its citizens to travel abroad.28 While the connection to gay rights is marginal at best, such an act does suggest yet another attempt by the Castro regime to modernize and adapt to the changing demands of its society. Whether this more lenient policy translates into greater rights for gays in the near future is unclear, but it certainly suggests a willingness to consider more progressive customs, which is another promising sign.

It is clear that the enactment of LGBT rights in Cuba is an ongoing struggle. Uncertainty still remains, and the government and society as a whole still display a certain level of uneasiness regarding homosexuality. Nonetheless, in comparison with pre-revolutionary times, the situation today has greatly improved. Penalties towards gay men have gradually been reduced, the government has expressed its support for gay rights, and even gay civil unions have been seriously proposed and considered.29

1 Ellis, Jo. “Homosexuality in Cuba: Revolution Within the Revolution.”, July 4, 1999.
2 Bjorklund, Eva. “Homosexuality is Not Illegal in Cuba, But Like Elsewhere, Homophobia Persists.” Angelfire.
3 Ellis, Jo. “Homosexuality in Cuba: Revolution Within the Revolution.”, July 4, 1999.
4 Miroff, Nick. “Cuba: For Macho Island, a Shift on Civil Unions.” Global Post, July 28, 2011.
5 Bjorklund, Eva. “Homosexuality is Not Illegal in Cuba, But Like Elsewhere, Homophobia Persists.” Angelfire.
6 Ellis, Jo. “Homosexuality in Cuba: Revolution Within the Revolution.”, July 4, 1999.
7 “LGBT Rights in Cuba.” Wikipedia, June 15, 2012.
8 Ibid.
9 Ellis, Jo. “Homosexuality in Cuba: Revolution Within the Revolution.”, July 4, 1999.
10 Bjorklund, Eva. “Homosexuality is Not Illegal in Cuba, But Like Elsewhere, Homophobia Persists.” Angelfire.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 Ellis, Jo. “Homosexuality in Cuba: Revolution Within the Revolution.”, July 4, 1999.
14 Ibid.
15 Bjorklund, Eva. “Homosexuality is Not Illegal in Cuba, But Like Elsewhere, Homophobia Persists.” Angelfire.
16 Tatchell, Peter. “The Defiant One.” The Guardian, June 7, 2001.
17 “LGBT Rights in Cuba.” Wikipedia, June 15, 2012.
18 Sweas, Megan. “Cuba’s Gay Rights Revolution.” Global Post, June 29, 2012.
19 “Cuba Approves Sex Change Operations.” Reuters, June 6, 2008.
20 Miroff, Nick. “Cuba: For Macho Island, a Shift on Civil Unions.” Global Post, July 28, 2011.
21 “Raul Castro’s Daughter Says Dad Supports Gay Rights.” Havana Times, May 14, 2012.
22 “LGBT Rights in Cuba.” Wikipedia, June 15, 2012.
23 “Fidel Castro Takes Blame for 1960s Gay Persecution.” Globe and Mail, August 31, 2010.
24 Tatchell, Peter. “The Defiant One.” The Guardian, June 7, 2001.
25 Tamayo, Juan O. “Gay Activists in Cuba Demand that Parliament Respect their Rights.” The Miami Herald, June 28, 2012.
26 Sweas, Megan. “Cuba’s Gay Rights Revolution.” Global Post, June 29, 2012.
27 Ravsberg, Fernando. “Controversial Gay Soap Opera Grips Cuba.” BBC News, May 3, 2006.
28 Orsi, Peter and Andrea Rodriguez. “Cuba Scraps Exit Visa Requirement, Eliminating Major Impediment for Travel Overseas.” Huffington Post, October 16, 2012.
29 Miroff, Nick. “Cuba: For Macho Island, a Shift on Civil Unions.” Global Post, July 28, 2011.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, visit or email

October 25, 2012


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The ABC newspaper in Spain reported that a Venezuelan doctor from an unknown location revealed that Castro had suffered a massive embolism in the right cerebral artery... "I can state that we are not going to see him again in public." ...The alleged doctor who, if he is, would first abandon his own compatriots, described Castro’s health as "very close to a neural-vegetative state."

Fidel Castro is dying

By Fidel Castro /Photos: Alex Castro

A message to the first graduating class from the Victoria de Girón Medical Sciences Institute was enough to prompt imperialist propaganda to go into overdrive and news agencies to voraciously launch themselves after the lie. Not only that but, in their cables, they attributed the most unheard of nonsense to the patient. 

Fidel Castro

The ABC newspaper in Spain reported that a Venezuelan doctor from an unknown location revealed that Castro had suffered a massive embolism in the right cerebral artery; "I can state that we are not going to see him again in public." The alleged doctor who, if he is, would first abandon his own compatriots, described Castro’s health as "very close to a neural-vegetative state."

While many persons in the world are deceived by information agencies which publish this nonsense - almost all in the hands of the privileged and rich - people believe less and less in them. Nobody likes to be deceived; even the most incorrigible liar expects to be told the truth. In April of 1961, everyone believed the information published in the news agencies that the mercenary invaders of Girón or Bay of Pigs, whatever one wants to call it, were approaching Havana, when in fact some of them were fruitlessly trying by boat to reach the yanki warships escorting them.

The peoples are learning and resistance is growing, faced with the crisis of capitalism which is recurring with greater frequency; no lies, repression or new weapons will be able to prevent the collapse of a production system which is increasingly unequal and unjust.

A few days ago, very close to the 50th anniversary of the October Crisis, news agencies pointed to three guilty parties: Kennedy, having recently become the leader of the empire, Khrushchev and Castro. Cuba did not have anything to do with nuclear weapons, nor with the unnecessary slaughter of Hiroshima and Nagasaki perpetrated by the president of the United States, Harry S. Truman, thus establishing the tyranny of nuclear weapons. Cuba was defending its right to independence and social justice.

When we accepted Soviet aid in weapons, oil, foodstuffs and other resources, it was to defend ourselves from yanki plans to invade our homeland, subjected to a dirty and bloody war which that capitalist country imposed on us from the very first months, which left thousands of Cubans dead and maimed.

When Khrushchev proposed the installation here of medium range missiles similar to those the United States had in Turkey – far closer to the USSR than Cuba to the United States – as a solidarity necessity, Cuba did not hesitate to agree to such a risk. Our conduct was ethically irreproachable. We will never apologize to anyone for what we did. The fact is that half a century has gone by, and here we still are with our heads held high.

I like to write and I am writing; I like to study and I am studying. There are many tasks in the area of knowledge. For example, never before have the sciences advanced at such an astounding speed.

I stopped publishing "Reflections" because it is definitely not my role to take up pages in our press, dedicated to other tasks which the country requires.

Birds of ill omen! I don’t even remember what a headache is. As evidence of what liars they are, I present them with the photos which accompany this article.

Fidel Castro Ruz
October 21, 2012
10:12 a.m.

- Elías Jaua: Fidel is very well, very lucid 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

...the latest in the ongoing debate between the US and Latin America on drug legalization

Drug legalization in Latin America: Could it be the answer?

By Gene Bolton
Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Last March, Central American nations held a drug legalization summit in Antigua, Guatemala. As the host of the summit, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina suggested that production, consumption, and sales of narcotics should be regulated and legalized.[1] In April, current strategies to fight the war on drugs received frequent criticism at the Summit of the Americas.

In fact, several other Latin American countries, namely Costa Rica, Colombia, and Uruguay suggested legalization and decriminalization approaches should be undertaken in an effort to reduce drug violence. Even US President Barack Obama acknowledged that the issue should be discussed but thought that legalization, “[was] not the answer.”[2]

The above events represent the latest in the ongoing debate between the US and Latin America on drug legalization. To one extent or another, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, and Uruguay have decriminalized various forms of consumption and possession, the current legalization rhetoric is still a substantial deviation from mainstream policy proposals. Furthermore, there is a substantial difference between legalization and decriminalization. Legalization transforms what was once an illegal black market into a legal industry. On the other hand, decriminalization only legalizes particular aspects of the industry such as consumption.

Washington’s hard-lined anti-legalization position is unlikely to waiver regardless of who wins the upcoming US presidential election. A more important question lies in Washington’s loss of influence within the region over the last ten years. As a result, the potential for legalization makes the overall political ramifications unpredictable for the region. This is especially true when it comes to Uruguay, a country that will soon be voting on the world’s first legalization legislation. Montevideo, however, is hardly the only country in the hemisphere entertaining such an option: officials from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Colombia, and Mexico have all publicly indicated openness to the possibility of ratifying legalization legislation.[3]

Keeping this in mind, the following analysis compares the potential benefits and shortcomings of drug legalization as a policy initiative to reduce overall drug crime. It becomes prudent to first debunk a common misconception regarding legalization: there is no country, province, state, or region that has ever legalized any type of narcotic, including the Netherlands. While there has been previous decriminalization legislation, legalization initiatives are, as of now, unprecedented.

Legalization Economics, Police Corruption, and Overcrowded Prisons
The drug trade mirrors the global economy as it involves a number of interdependent countries. It begins with drug producing countries (in this case, Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru), and then travels through the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), until it is trafficked through Mexico and into the US for consumption.

Legalization appeals to Latin American countries for a variety of reasons. First, the countries too often frequented by violence believe that legalization can be an effective deterrent to drug-related crime. Substantial drug profits incentivize violence for drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), leading them to fight over limited lucrative drug transit routes. According to Matthew S. Jenner, J.D., the current drug trade is similar to an oligopoly -- a market dominated by only a few firms. Prices are high because the drug trade is forced to avoid governmental authorities and because the few operating firms are driving the hemisphere’s drug prices.

In the context of basic economic principles, an increase in legal narcotics would reduce current prices, as legitimate producers and traffickers would be able to enter the market.[4] For many proponents, drug legalization is an effective way to affect the current market by diminishing the monetary incentives for DTOs in order to engage in violent tactics, if that is their mission.

Second, a reduction of DTO profits would also diminish the amount of contraband as well as other resources available to corrupt police forces. Mexico, along with the countries located in the Northern Triangle, are plagued with some of the highest rates of police corruption in all of Latin America.[5] These authorities are unable to compete financially with the drug cartels operating inside their borders when it comes to maintaining the ethic of public interest within their police forces. Although legalization would not address the corrupt police officer “culture,” at least DTOs would be unable to sustain their current levels of financial persuasion.

Third, legalization would almost certainly address the issue of overcrowded prisons across Latin America. A recent study in which the Transnational Institute (TNI) participated drew an important link between this issue and counter-narcotic policies through research conducted in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay. (Bolivia, Peru and Colombia are among the world’s largest producers of cocaine). The study concluded that most drug-related arrests have been low-level distributors and street dealers -- with minimal arrests of “high-level players.”[6] Low-level dealers are easily replaced.

Within countries with decriminalization policies, users are regularly mistaken for dealers or traffickers, and, as a result, the prison systems are filled beyond operating capacity.[7] Furthermore, the study found that drug-related offenses are disproportionately high to other classifications of crimes and carry severe punishments. For example, in the same Transnational Institute study, “In Ecuador, a low-level drug transporter, or ‘mule’ may receive a longer prison sentence than a murderer.”[8] With legalization, the ambiguity of dealers versus users is nonexistent because the entire drug business becomes legal.

US Narco-appetites and Incubation

If Latin American countries pass legislation to legalize drugs while Washington retains its current policies, it is likely that the US drug demand and the resulting “incubation” effect will persist. The incubation effect is the redirection of criminal organizations into other forms of illegal activities as a result of residing inside a country for long periods of time.[9] In other words, the drug trade allows criminal organizations to expand as they nestle deep into social fabrics. By all accounts, the incubation period will continue as long as US drug demand finances profitable DTOs.

Los Zetas, a Mexican drug cartel, provides an interesting case study in illustrating this point. The Mexican DTO decided to venture into migrant smuggling in an effort to increase its profits. Today such smuggling is Los Zetas’ second most lucrative activity; its influence has spread all the way to Petén in northern Guatemala. According to the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, human smuggling was not a part of organized criminal networks before Los Zetas began targeting the industry. Instead, “coyotes,” independent human smugglers, would charge fees to smuggle groups of migrants through Mexico and into the United States.

Because of their substantial drug profits, Los Zetas completely transformed the human smuggling industry. While coyotes could only smuggle scarcely more than twenty migrants at a time, Los Zetas could smuggle hundreds of migrants in armored vehicles across the border. Ultimately, Los Zetas gained control of the Guatemalan human smuggling market, killing anyone attempting to travel beyond their control.[10] The estimated industry value of migrant smuggling in Latin America today is $6.6 billion USD according to the UN report on crime globalization, having grown in no small part from Los Zetas.[11]

Morris Panner, a former US federal crime prosecutor, suggests that the trend of DTOs exploring new “business” ventures is far more pervasive than their drug trade involvement. He goes on to imply that the entire business model for Latin American organized crime is in a transitional period, in which these organizations are diversifying ways to earn money, either as a growth or survival strategy.[12]

For example, PEMEX, the Mexican state-owned oil company, has reported that the local committee has lost approximately 40 percent of its production, or $750 million USD, to oil theft in cartel-controlled territory.[13] While other figures are difficult to estimate, kidnap ransoming is valued between $200 million and $500 million USD annually.[14] It appears that these industries are growing as a result of continuing U.S. drug demand and DTO incubation.

While Panner does not adequately address the potential impact of widespread drug legalization, he does conclude that criminal organizations are “pursuing a larger, more extensive agenda.”[15] It appears DTOs are able to expand into other illicit markets because of their substantial drug trade revenues.

Many variables, including the dissemination of accurate information, unpredictability, and other issues make the full effect of legalization on drug consumption within Latin America impossible to predict. In comparison to global consumption levels, Latin America has been historically low, most likely because a large part of the population has difficulty affording food, let alone expensive drugs. However, recent trends suggest consumption is on the rise.[16]

In the presence of a legalization drive, Latin American populations would be exposed to cheaper drugs, potentially causing demand to increase. Although this is only one possible scenario, it is doubtful that drug consumption in Latin America will decrease to any extent due to the fact it has been increasing in recent years despite current high prices.

Legalization as a Policy Recommendation?

The idealistic benefits of legalization make it an attractive policy choice for its potential to reduce cartel influence, unpack overcrowded prisons, and eradicate police corruption. However, the main problem with the Latin American legalization policies is that with all of these activities they would not alter US demand. If the US population could feed their drug habits domestically or their drug demand decreased, then it is possible that the current violent drug trade would not be able to continue as is.

Such uncomfortable data swirls around the current Washington-LAC line. On the one hand, Latin America is no longer afraid to move ahead with policies without Washington’s endorsement, as evidenced by Uruguay’s current marijuana legalization initiative. However, the volume of US drug demand makes Washington’s cooperation essential since it is the driving force behind the drug trade. It could still be argued that legalization has the potential to reduce the violence associated with the rising levels of Latin American drug consumption. Without a doubt, legalization would be more effective than decriminalization because the ambiguous definition of who is a “dealer” and who is a “user” would no longer be an issue.

Decriminalization policies that allow for various levels of consumption and possession have existed for years, most notably in Mexico, where homicide rates are among the highest in all of Latin America. Proponents still argue that legalization would at least help solve problems like overcrowded prisons throughout the region, even if Washington abstains from implementing such policies.

However, the incubation effect would continue to provide low-level street dealers with suddenly illegal employment opportunities. Therefore, it appears that only addressing the issue of Latin American consumption, without addressing US consumption, would be insufficient to stop the carnage of organized drug dealing in the region.


It is somewhat trite and simplistic to claim that drug initiatives are controversial and provocative initiatives. Certainly, many questions need to first appear on the table, much less answered, which include which drugs could be legalized. Here, cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and even methamphetamine are coupled, along with the public health implications of such a drastic response to warrant an answer. As drug consumption is on the rise in Latin America, it is difficult to predict which effects would be bequeathed upon populations suddenly introduced to a plethora of cheap legal narcotics.

As Washington’s political influence wanes in Latin America, leaders may use their position on the global stage as leverage against any US policy of pressuring Latin Americans to engage in any ongoing supply-side strategies. For example, some suggest that Guatemalan President Molina’s legalization rhetoric served as a front to serve as a means to provide for the resumption of military aid to Guatemala.[17] If true, it must be emphasized that any politicizing of legalization could serve as a means to incentivize other Latin American leaders to engage in similar tactics.

Regardless, legislative measures appear to be futile without US cooperation. While there are a wide variety of security issues that need to be addressed in Latin America, most appear to be tied to the drug trade along with the US profits that are associated with the demand for such drugs in the US. Although three states in the US are currently voting on marijuana legalization laws, and Washington has initiated demand-side strategies, it is clear that many more measures need to be taken to reduce the rampant drug-related violence that abounds throughout the Americas.

[1] CNN U.S., “Guatemala’s President Makes Drug Legalization Pitch,” March 25, 2012.
[2] Jackie Calmes, “Obama Says Legalization Is Not the Answer on Drugs” The New York Times, April 14, 2012
[3] Mke McDonald, “Drug Legalization Gains Support in Central America” The Tuscon Sentinel, March 3, 2012
[4] Matthew S. Jenner, “International Drug Trafficking: A Global Problem with a Domestic Solution,” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 18, no. 2 (2011).
[5] NORIA, “Central America: The Downword Spiral of the Northern Triangle, July 12, 2012.
[6] BBC, “Latin American Drug Laws ‘Worsen Prison Overcrowding,’” December 9, 2010.
[7] IBID.
[8] IBID.
[9] Alejandro Madrazo, “Leglize Marjiuana? New Domestic and International Initiatives Challenge the Status Quo,” The Brookings Institution, October 3, 2012.
[10] Guatemala Human Rights Commission, “Los Zetas in Guatemala
[11] IBID.
[12] Morris Panner, “Latin American Oraganized Crime’s New Business Model,” ReVista: Harvard Reiew of Latin America, 2012
[13] IBID.
[14] IBID.
[15] IBID.
[16] John Lyons, “Drug Use Climbs in Poorer Nations,” The Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2012, .
[17] CNN U.S., “Guatemala’s President Makes Drug Legalization Pitch,” March 25, 2012.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, visit or email

October 17, 2012


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Venezuela: ... ...Since Chavez has won the election, we now need to reflect on the main tasks of the Bolivarian Revolution... ...As Chavez says, we will never win as long as the economy of Venezuela maintains the characteristics of a capitalist rentier state... ...Socialism has barely started in our country ...we are starting to learn ...we are dependent on our people and the people of the world, to answer the question we can start to construct this new model of production; the new productive model of socialism?

Socialist Transformation in an Oil-Dependent Economy: a Venezuelan Perspective

By Pablo Gimenez and Revolutionary Communist Group

[RCG 10.10.12] Since the beginning of the 20th century, Venezuela has been one of the world’s largest exporters of oil and a favoured destination for international investment. Oil exportation first began in 1917 and has defined – some would say distorted – the Venezuelan economy ever since.

Pablo Gimenez is a Professor of political economy at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela (UBV) in Caracas. He spoke to us both about the challenges posed by Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy and about the difficulties involved in trying to forge a new way of teaching political economy in the context of the Bolivarian Revolution.

"I am an economist at the central university of Venezuela and national co-ordinator of its programme of political economy for the Bolivarian University of Venezuela, which is a very specific programme. Our school of political economy is somewhat unique, in that it came about as the result of a big debate amongst professors at the university over the necessity of considering economic issues within the context of a revolution.

Our programme of political economy was born out of this great debate, with a view to shifting the paradigm and perspective of the school of traditional economics. In contrast to classic economics, we offer a programme that is very critical of it, and in fact sets out to deconstruct it. So we are not a school of political economy in the traditional sense. We are a school of political economy that is quite explicitly in open confrontation with economic orthodoxy.

Many people confuse the teaching of political economics with an adherence to the teaching of the economics of the Soviet Union. They think that political economics can only refer to the experience of the Soviet Union. But what we are doing is offering a critique of classical economics, in particular of liberal economic thought, and specifically, with a particular emphasis on a critique of political economy as set out by Karl Marx – the theoretical basis on which he explained capitalist society and which lays bare the reality of much of what is actually happening in the world.

The other major paradigms that make up our programme of study is the resurrection of what we can call a specific understanding of the economic critique of Venezuela in particular – economic thinking in Latin America overall, and specifically about Venezuela. That is to say, when we speak of understanding the economic situation of Venezuela, we need to study the writings of Venezuelans.

During the period of neoliberalism, these Venezuelan economic thinkers were ignored.

In the university where I was, the Central University of Venezuela, these writers were not studied. Political economy was not studied, the issues of an oil economy were not studied, the specific questions of the Venezuelan economy were not studied. We studied instead from textbooks published by international publishing houses which were founded on the neo-classical principles of political economy, that is to say neoliberalism, with the case studies being almost all based on the economy of the United States.

'Drowning in the Devil's Excrement' Pablo highlights some of the books that clarify his point
'Drowning in the Devil's Excrement' Pablo highlights some of the books that clarify his point

The economic model of the US was put forward as the model that Venezuela should aspire to, despite the fact that the Venezuelan economy was and remained in a state of macro-economic disequilibrium. So our school of economics sets out to critique that model and to re-establish critical thinkers from Latin America, critical thinkers from Venezuela, and to study classical economic thought in the context of the political critique of Karl Marx.

The point of this enormous effort to create a school of thought that is pluralistic and open to critical thinking is the context of the Bolivarian Revolution. From that perspective, we have engaged in an open debate about the content of this programme, but our specific concern has been over the economic content. And from that point of view we have wanted to consider in the first instance a theme put forward by a number of Venezuelan writers, which is a fundamental tenet of classical economics, that of a 'renta la tierra' economy (land rentierism). La renta de la tierra in Venezuela is mineral rentierism, a specific form of development which we can call renta petroleo, or an oil-rentier economy.

Between 1936 and 1979, or even up to 1983 according to some writers, the Venezuelan economy was characterised by the development of what has been described as a rentier capitalism. That is to say, what developed was a very particular form of capitalism in Venezuela inextricably linked to the influx of oil money. When we talk of oil rentierism, we are talking about an interest and flow of international investment that is the result not of productive labour by the Venezuelans but rather comes about as a product of exporting oil, seen as a rich resource by some.

There are liberal currents within the process who believe in state capitalism, who want a stable capitalism with less international exploitation, who follow the state capitalist model for example of Brazil, of Lula. In Venezuela we have witnessed the phenomenon whereby investment in social production has risen alongside salaries, yet we have not been able to raise the levels of production. It has led to more imports.

This is the phenomenon of the oil rentier state. We need to develop secondary industry and food production. We have been able to develop as fast as we have done due to the profits from petroleum, but this undermines the need and impulse to develop the forces of production.

It is one of the greatest problems faced by the Bolivarian Revolution, or at least one of its greatest challenges. How do we confront this challenge? Well, on the left, and especially in this programme we are developing, we have to ask, what is the real problem here – capitalism, or rentierism? Is the problem rentier capitalism, or rentierism, or capitalism itself? That is the big question we have to answer.

Neoliberalists propose the construction of a normal, stable capitalism, for example, the proposals of Capriles, who proposes 'popular capitalism' where the companies make profits, and the workers receive salaries, without having the distortion of petroleum deposits. They have resuscitated a theory of liberal thought - to take this oil-rentier state and turn it into industrialisation. This programme is not sufficient, as analysed by Chavez in his 'programa patria' who acknowledged that the character of the Venezuelan state is one of rentier capitalism.

The UBV and Chavez alike, argue the need to transcend the oil rentier economy, and also capitalism itself because socialism must be constructed fearlessly. This requires the development of the material bases of production, which guarantee the necessities of the majority of humanity. Socialism must be a system where everyone can satisfy their basic needs, and a system where the conditions to satisfy the necessities of one person involves satisfying the needs of everyone.

In the particular case of Venezuela, we have to take these oil deposits, take this rentier economy and transform it into social investments, but not only social investments, but investments into social production. What does this mean? This means converting petroleum rent into a form of socialist accumulation. And so, this leads to the alliances, that Chavez speaks about, strategic alliances with productive sectors of the economy, such as the business sectors, the bourgeois who adapt a progressive manner, for example the communal companies, the worker-controlled companies, the social property companies, the cooperatives.

This is why currently Chavez is proposing to develop strategic alliances, where the state owns 40% of private companies or cooperatives, in order to develop the forces of production necessary to progress to socialism.

Of course international development is necessary, with MERCOSUR, with ALBA with UNASUR, so the Venezuelan state is not only developing strategic alliances with private companies in Venezuela, but across Latin America. This is the first step towards transforming the rentier oil state in a way which is necessary for the construction of socialism.

First is the theme of strategic alliances to develop the forces of production, the second is developing an analysis of Venezuelan critical thought, on the theme of the connection between the basic industries and the light industries, between the cooperatives and the small self-employed business people, or the worker-controlled businesses, and the self-employed.

What does this mean? Well, the Venezuelan economy, which is still capitalist, needs to develop within specific conditions; The petroleum industry is the most developed and connected with the world market, compared to any other industry in Venezuela. The heavy industries of Guyana, aluminium, iron etc., are more developed for exportation of these resources, than for domestic production.

In order to develop socialism, we need to develop the interconnection between these basic industries, and petroleum production, such as plastic production from petrol. National production and national industry are needed for national development to transform the relations of social production. And so our school of thought, this programme we are developing has these concerns.

We are trying to develop both technical and political perspectives. Technical because we have to work concretely within the Bolivarian Revolution, where our needs involve technical knowledge that can be used for administration, innovation and development in the process of socialist industrialisation. Political, to ensure that this process remains firmly within a model of the socialist transformation of the bases of production. So these are the main themes of political education in the UBV.

When we look at Chavez's Progama Patria, we can see the important theme is about saving humanity, these are not lightweight proposals, such as the proposals of Capriles. Rather, concretely, Chavez develops the theme of national independence and sovereignty, how to construct Latin America as a power, developing the theme of ecology, important for humanity and the country. He sets out concrete tasks of the revolution.

Since Chavez has won the election, we now need to reflect on the main tasks of the Bolivarian Revolution. As Chavez says, we will never win as long as the economy of Venezuela maintains the characteristics of a capitalist rentier state. Socialism has barely started in our country, we are starting to learn, we are dependent on our people and the people of the world, to answer the question, how we can start to construct this new model of production; the new productive model of socialism?"

Translated by Cat Allison and Sam McGill

October 16, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Anyone who claims there is no Caribbean identity ...and worse - that there is no value in the Caribbean identity is on the wrong side of evolution and progress... ...Caribbean integration is not a failed experiment ...and it should not be abandoned by our leadership in The Bahamas and Wider Caribbean Region

Forging A 'Caribbean Connection'


Tribune Features Editor

Nassau, The Bahamas

LAST month the Bahamas National Youth Council, a non-profit organization representing youth voices in the country, commemorated Caribbean Youth Day with a youth march and forum. President of the council Tye McKenzie publicly associated himself with rational and bold albeit unpopular positions on Caribbean integration and I salute him for doing so. It made me think, regionalism is not dead in the Bahamas after all: It was a thought that gave me hope. In fact, it inspired me, as a fellow advocate of regional integration.

But it also made me think: How unfortunate that supporting a simple idea such as proudly affirming a Caribbean identity, and the “beckoning reality of integration and corporate development as a region” would be a bold action in this age of collapsing borders and social networking.

Caribbean people today are probably more integrated than in any other time in our history. And yet, today, anti-integration sentiments still hold major political currency, and it still seems rationale to assert that regional integration is irrelevant.

In the case of the Bahamas, we continue to resist the idea that the Haitian presence is not in fact anti-Bahamian, but is quintessentially Bahamian. Illegal immigration clouds the consciousness, but in reality, the two nations have always shared a close economic and cultural relationship, not to mention that familial ties are deeply entrenched in the Bahamian identity.

Illegal immigration also creates the false perception that people in the wider Caribbean hate their countries and see the Bahamas or their chosen destination as the Promised Land, which could be nothing further from the truth; and the false perception that immigrants are somehow inferior, low-grade, even depraved human specimens, which of course, is not only untrue, but highly ignorant.

We have yet to come to terms with the simple idea that our relationship with the United States of America, particularly our historical connections to the Carolinas and South Florida, does not negate our connection to the Caribbean region. Our geography has always placed us in a unique cross-border position: American and Caribbean; Western and Colonial; influential and inconsequential, sprawling and diminutive. For these and many other reasons we “exude the essence of a liminal existence”, as cultural scholar Dr Jahlani Niaah has observed in the past.

A large population of our political and business class were educated in regional institutions and in their private lives many of them manifest the essence of regionalism. Their contemporary politics would not suggest so because it has called for them to virtually rebel against their own upbringing. And in doing so, they have led a subliminal disintegration movement with a pervasive effect on public consciousness.

In almost every sphere of Bahamian society – politics, education, the public service, civil society, and business – Bahamians with Caribbean heritage are and have been leading figures. The Bahamas’ fledging police and defence forces were riddled with Caribbean nationals; so too was the teaching and nursing professions. This was not a mark of Bahamian inferiority. It reflected population dynamics and a Caribbean reality, which was later made problematic for political expediency due to evolving socio-economic and geopolitical realties.

Politics aside, the Bahamas has always been integrated. The current governor general Sir Arthur Foulkes is of Haitian heritage. Junkanoo Queen and cultural pioneer Maureen “Bahama Mama” Duvalier was also of Haitian ancestry. The Maynard political dynasty is of Bajan heritage. Beloved Canon Neil Roach was himself born in Trinidad and Tobago. Paul Thompson, a well-respected former assistant commissioner of police was also born in Trinidad. The first black man to sit in the Bahamas House of Assembly was Stephen Dillette of Haitian ancestry. And the first black man to lead the nation, Sir Lynden Pindling, was of Jamaican heritage.

Given the level of integration present at all levels of our society, historically and contemporarily, I question the notion of a pure Bahamian identity, and the political motivations of those who promote such a concept.

In the mid-1900s, the United Bahamian Party (UBP) distributed pamphlets, considered promotional tourism paraphernalia, which asserted that the Bahamas was not in the Caribbean, but in the Atlantic Ocean. The government actively waged a propaganda war against any notion of a Caribbean identity.

Their tactics, motivated by economic and political realities, are not to be confused with an enlightened awareness as to whom we were as a people. In fact, the UBP’s capacity to envision an identity for the Bahamian people is to be seriously questioned, considering it excluded true consideration for the vast majority of the Bahamian people.

The Caribbean connection, while existing partly because of the similar colonial structures that were established across the islands, derives its true source of origin and power from the anthropological connections that exist amongst formerly enslaved Africans and their descendants scattered across the islands. The latter is at the heart of the Caribbean connection, and they manifest in tangible ways through our food, language, dance, music, art, literature, philosophy, rituals, ancestry, spirituality and other traditions. So in one way, it is to be understood, why such a connection could not have been or would not have been appreciated in an era of UBP politics.

What I cannot understand is why such a connection is not fully appreciated today. What I cannot understand is why our leaders do not cut the crap and affirm our Caribbean identity. What I cannot understand is why we continue to deny our Caribbean identity with farcical arguments usually linked to some notion of the Caribbean Sea and our exclusion from that body of water.

Arguably, the Caribbean Sea, although a convenient signifier, is one of the most insignificant measures to mark the Caribbean identity. Its name is derived from the French articulation “Mer des Antilles” or Sea of the Antilles. Before European nations happened upon the New World, their medieval navigational charts demarked a mysterious set of lands between the Canary Islands and India as Antilia. The name was appropriated by the French, Spanish, Dutch and German colonizers to identify specific sets of islands colonized in the West Indies. Antilles in English became synonymous with Caribbean or West Indies. And the body of water internally bordered by Antilles islands became known as the Caribbean Sea.

The Bahamas, although part of the West Indies, was never generally included in the Antillean islands. And, of course, the Bahamas does not border the Caribbean Sea. None of these facts support the denial of the Bahamas’ Caribbean identity. The Caribbean Sea, while geographically significant, has never been a core galvanizing concept for the Caribbean.

The most obvious eventualities, as well as the most enlightened possibilities, are sometimes the most daunting, so instead of boldly stepping into the future and proactively charting a course, we too often play it small, absorbing ourselves in parochial concerns and narrow visions.

This is a fundamental challenge of leadership: balancing the often competing interests of immediate concerns and future possibilities; of safe ideas and big visions. As a Bahamian I exist inside a world of 300,000 plus people. As a Caribbean national I exist inside a world of 39 million people. As a global citizen I exist inside a world of seven billion.

Some are daunted by this perspective, while some are exhilarated. There will be those who feel safe and secure within the confines of the Bahamian bubble. Because, truth be told, many people profit greatly inside the bubble, as well as, many people feel completely inadequate outside.

Regardless, however, should not the possibility of a bigger existence be available to Bahamians: A world where those who choose to play it small are free to do so and those who choose to play it large are equally free to do so?

In the age of technology the Caribbean, indeed the world, is closer than ever before, and still our leaders continue with such parochial ways of thinking. Yes, there are nationalistic endeavours to be pursued, but not to the exclusion of a way of thinking that embraces our integrated identities and cross border relationships. Our leaders are supposed to help us to dream bigger and “dream better”, but it often seems they are intent on making us smaller and smaller, no doubt to affirm their own sense of superiority and to affirm their own relevance.

I am reminded of the famous quote by Marianne Williamson, made popular by Nelson Mandela, which I believe is worth quoting in its entirety: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

The Jamaican saying “we likkle but we tallawah” is an expression of the power and the capacity for greatness that Ms Williamson alludes to. To their credit, the achievements of Jamaicans continue to be proof positive of the claim: from Marcus Garvey to Bob Marley to Usain Bolt. Jamaicans for nationalistic reasons claim this power as exclusive to themselves, but in truth, it describes a classic Caribbean spirit. Not the element of exceptionalism, which we see countries around the world embracing, the United States most notoriously. It is the element of being so small yet having the capacity for such greatness; of being so inconsequential and yet so influential. And all Caribbean countries can boast of this existence.

Ask Haiti, which started the trend with the Haitian Revolution. Ask Cuba, which will continue to affirm this reality every day the Americans maintain its unconscionable blockade. Ask Grenada, which felt its global significance at the hands of American military might. Ask the Eastern Caribbean nations whose agricultural production spurred a fierce global trade war between European nations and the United States.

In the past two years, two Caribbean countries leaped far ahead of the global curve in electing female heads of states: Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in Jamaica and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in Trinidad and Tobago.

And the Bahamas after all, for all of its global insignificance, has had five million tourists visit its shores in one year. And despite Jamaica’s athletic prowess, in the past three decades, the Bahamas has been in the top three of top medal earners in the per capita medal count for the Olympics. For five non-consecutive Olympic Games, the Bahamas was number one in the world in this ranking.

So what more could the Caribbean make of all this greatness, of all this significant insignificance? What more could we make by harnessing our collective power and imagination? And what more could we do if we toned down the exceptionalism and embraced the collectivism?

No doubt the light we could shine on the world would be intimidating for some, audacious even. And so what.

I proudly affirm my Caribbean identity and that of the Bahamas. I am encouraged that there are other young voices out there that are courageous enough to do the same. Too often I am disappointed by youth organizations or youth leaders who merely mimic the rhetoric and behaviour of the established leadership. Such was my great disappointment in the last general election, which was billed as the election to mark the great transition from the old guard to the new generation. Well through my eyes the new crop sounded just as antiquated as the old.

I truly wish a new wave of thinking could just sweep over our politics and bring bold visions to our people. The West Indies Cricket team won the Cricket World Cup last week. Imagine the scale of world dominance if we competed in the Olympics as a regional block, if only in a symbolic way with CARICOM uniforms creatively designating our nation states. What a statement to the world.

But such an achievement would sadly require us to do something that our political leaders have for the most part been incapable of doing. Sacrificing the ego-driven urge to want to be in control and to feel exceptional; sacrificing for a greater good, which is the harnessing our collective power.

That task is not impossible and some of us are up to the challenge. And the reality is we have evolution on our side. The Caribbean is integrated and is further integrating day by day. Technological advances have accelerated the process. It is mainly our politics holding us back. A kind of politics that insists on being reactive and not proactive.

At a recent regional meeting held in the Bahamas, the 21st annual conference of the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association, one participant reported great success amongst delegates from the perspective of finding common ground in the discussed concerns and solutions. However, as it concerned the last-day meeting of ten regional ministerial heads, he predicted, “you will have to cut through the testosterone to get to your seat”.

Caribbean people are making headway where Caribbean governments have shown incompetence, inertia, a lack of will or an impoverished capacity to lead.

Anyone who claims there is no Caribbean identity and worse that there is no value in the Caribbean identity is on the wrong side of evolution and progress. Caribbean integration is not a failed experiment and it should not be abandoned by our leadership. It must assume a higher degree of importance, as it is a vital source of cultural and economic empowerment, and global significance. It is up to us to determine what we make of the infinite possibilities. And it begins with the simple embrace and affirmation of who we are.

October 15, 2012

Tribune 242

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The frightening issue of illegal immigration in The Bahamas: ... ...There must be a “Zero Tolerance” approach to our illegal immigrant problem here in The Bahamas we may well have the enemy living among us the Bahamian society

Your Say: Tackling Illegal Immigration

By Paul Thompson, Sr
Nassau, The Bahamas

In March, 1951 I joined the Royal Bahamas Police Force where I served 30 years and continued my service as a police reserve. I am still connected to the force and will be eternally grateful for the education and other benefits derived.

I was taught by experts from the Bahamas and from Overseas where I had the opportunity to attend training courses. In this document I wish to bring to the attention of this nation a very serious security concern, that is not being given the priority it deserves.

I write on the subject of illegal immigration, which is a very sensitive issue in our Bahamas. It has been a major problem for government for decades. Public concern has always been over the loss of jobs, the abuse of our public schools and hospitals by persons, who make no contribution to government revenue, the vast increase in population, the increase in crime, cost to government for increased sea patrols, detention facilities and repatriation. There is another concern, that ought to be uppermost in our minds – crime and terrorism.

About two years ago law-enforcement officers, security directors, public servants and others attended a week long-seminar on terrorism, that was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and the Royal Bahamas Police Force. The lecturers were experts on the topics discussed. At the end of the seminar many of us were of the view that all of our Members of Parliament should have attended the seminar so that they could be exposed to the lectures on the dangers of terrorism. We were taught that a terrorist is an individual or group, who are ideologically inspired to unlawfully use force or violence against persons or property to further their own political or social objectives. They are trained to blend in and assimilate to their surroundings. Their acts are well organised and well planned. They conduct training, surveillance and dry runs prior to commission of a terrorist act. They like to strike at governmental and civilian targets in an effort to instil fear. They move into your country unknown to you, rent apartments in transient areas and in new developments where persons are unconcerned about their identities.

It is important that they arrive in your country unidentified and undocumented. In our country we have an illegal population of thousands. Most of these persons arrived here illegally. They are unidentified and undocumented residents of our country. These person reside and work in most of our islands. Yet, we do not know who they are. There is no register, no photograph or fingerprint records. A terrorist attack is committed when three conditions are met:

a) The individual/group possesses the desire to commit the terrorist attack.

b)The individual/group possesses the ability to commit the terrorist attack.

c) The individual/group is afforded the opportunity to commit the terrorist attack.

We cannot control either the terrorist’s desire or ability to commit the terrorist attack. We can, however, limit his or her opportunity to commit a terrorist act by remaining diligent and vigilant at our borders and in identifying criminal behaviour, which must be reported to our law enforcement agencies immediately. There must be a “Zero Tolerance” approach to our illegal immigrant problem here as we may well have the enemy living among us. In the past and in recent years I had the opportunity to talk to cabinet ministers of both governments (Pindling-Ingraham-Christie-Ingraham) on the subject of illegal immigrants. In the following paragraphs are ideas and suggestions on how to deal with this frightening issue.

Bahamas Immigration Department:

The department must be enlarged to have its personnel working around the clock, in and out of office. Communication equipment, e.g., telephones, hand radios, etc, must be upgraded. Other law enforcement agencies must be on call to them for prompt assistance. The Department must have an Administrative Unit and an Enforcement Unit. Transportation by land, sea and air must be readily available. Make funds available to the department to pay for information and to develop a list of informants here and overseas. Ensure that immigration officers are aware that they have the same powers of arrests as police officers, in particular when investigating matters pertaining to illegal immigration. Give them the power to seize vehicles and boats transporting illegal immigrants. Make the Detention Centre more secure by heightening the fence to ten feet; a strong steel cable at the bottom and razor wire at the top; construct the fences about four feet apart; use trained guard dogs to run between the fences; instal two-way floodlights on “posts to improve lighting in the outer perimeter; instal two-way cameras on poles that would record any activity outside the fences and alert officials. These cameras would also record any such activity. Cameras to be monitored by personnel indoors; areas outside the fence must be cleared of all shrubbery to improve visibility and signs placed outside to prohibit trespassing.

The Government of The Bahamas

Legislation or government approval may be required to enforce the following:

a) Develop an identification card, with photograph, thumb or forefinger print full name and proper address, etc, for immigrants, who are born here. Give them some form of residential status, if they qualify. The ID card must be carried with them at all times for inspection by immigration officers. Card to be obtained after a full investigation to qualify the person to whom it is issued and a fee paid. National Insurance must be paid by all cardholders. Renewal of the card would be annual similar to the present work permit. Such cardholders will no longer have to apply for work permits. The card could be similar in size to the driver’s licence.

b) Develop a similar card in a different colour to replace the work permit. It is to be carried at all times by the worker and must have the same identifying features.

c) Government to set criteria for the issue of cards, e.g. no criminal convictions, etc. There must be a moratorium for the remaining illegal immigrants to present themselves to be registered in the country. Employers of such persons, who are desirous of retaining their services must come forward to make their cases to immigration authorities. Those immigrants who are accepted will be issued with the cards, that replaces the work permits. Others here illegally will face deportation. Legislation or approval will be required from The Bahamas Government to enforce the following procedures:

• All foreign persons seeking driver’s licences or the renewal of their driver’s licences must present evidence of their status in our country. (The ID card).

• All foreign persons seeking licensing of vehicles or renewals must present their ID cards. (In the case of persons residing, but not working here they must present evidence of their status, e.g. passport, immigration entry permit, etc),

• Children of foreigners attending schools here must have their parents register them at schools at which time the parents are to present evidence of their immigration status. In cases where the status of the person is unclear to the school administration the immigration department must be contact to deal with the matter.

• Foreign persons attending our medical institutions for treatment must produce evidence of their status. (The card). The medical treatment will not be denied, but medical authorities must inform the immigration department of the presence of such persons at the institution.

• All employers, who engage illegal immigrants must present themselves to the immigration department with the names and all information about their employees and make the necessary applications for approvals and the ID cards.

• Landlords must, by law be held responsible for renting premises to illegal immigrants. The landlords must demand ID cards from their tenants (the household). Premises must not be rented to illegal immigrants. Landlords must report any such persons to the immigration department.

• Banks and money transfer firms will only transfer money or do business with foreign customers, who present evidence of their status. Report any others to the immigration department.

• Immigration authorities must maintain accurate records of visitors from countries, whose nationals are known to ignore immigration laws and remain longer than was permitted. Such persons must be sought and prosecuted.

• Captains and crews of boats involved in human trafficking must be prosecuted expeditiously. Prison sentence and fine to be imposed and seizure of the boat mandatory. Captains and crew of these boats must not be taken to the detention centre. They must go to the jail.

• Eliminate squatting in the so-called “shanty towns” wherever they exist. Serve written notices on squatters giving them a date to leave the premises taking their property with them. Immediately after the expiry date have the police and bulldozers move in.

• Offer cash rewards for information leading to the apprehension of illegal immigrants.

• Prosecute all illegal immigrants, who had been previously deported and have returned to the country illegally. These procedures, if implemented and enforced would assist immensely in the registration and identification of unknown persons here.

The police and other law enforcement agencies would be able to acquire vital information in their fight against crime and to protect our country from terrorist attack. The large number of illegal immigrants come here from Haiti. Our government must hold top level talks with the Haitian government and the United States government. Both The Bahamas and the USA are involved. The agenda should include:

• The implementation of new measures to deal with illegal immigrants, eg; rewards to Haitian nationals, who would give information on human trafficking.

• Providing adequate cash rewards to such persons.

• Solicit support from the Haitian government to use its law enforcement agencies to apprehend persons involved in human trafficking.

• Discuss with the governments of the USA and Haiti the possibility of establishing joint patrols of the sea lanes outside of Haiti. The stopping and searching of boats leaving Haiti and the turn around of those boats carrying human cargo or illegal contraband. It is well known that many of the Haitian nationals leaving Haiti for The Bahamas are just in transit to the United States of America.

I pray that the government of The Bahamas and all concerned citizens consider the matters addressed in this article and use their influence to get something done about this ancient and frightening problem.

October 10, 2012

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Paramilitarism and the assault on democracy in Haiti

Belen Fernandez
By Belen Fernandez

Haiti's brutal paramilitary campaigns received scant media coverage, while "political violence" was decried at length.

The Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti was instrumental in the 2004 coup d'état that deposed Aristide [EPA]

In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, certain media outlets painted a picture of a country overrun by looters and at the mercy of gang members and other criminals, including thousands of prisoners jolted free by the quake.

Relevant details were ignored, such as the contention by prominent Haitian human rights attorney Mario Joseph that 80 per cent of said prisoners had never been charged. The media effort perhaps aided in rendering less incongruous in the eyes of the international public the deployment of a sizeable US military force to deal with quake-affected people who did not seemingly require military attention. 

A Reuters dispatch from one week after the disaster - which reported "marauding looters", "scavengers and looters swarm[ing] over damaged stores", "increasingly lawless streets" and "[h]eavily armed gang members" - offered the following plea from policeman Dorsainvil Robenson: 
"Haiti needs help ... the Americans are welcome here. But where are they? We need them here on the street with us." 
The whereabouts of the ever-elusive Americans are of course hinted at two paragraphs later, when we learn that "the White House said more than 11,000 US military personnel are on the ground, on ships offshore or en route". Elsewhere, French Co-operation Minister Alain Joyandet was quoted as commenting in reference to seemingly skewed US priorities: "This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti". As foreign military monopolised the Port-au-Prince airport, teams of paramedics and first responders were delayed in the critical hours immediately following the earthquake.  

Subscribers to the fantasy that the US is somehow qualified to counteract violence and install order in the Caribbean nation would do well to peruse a new book entitled Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, in which author Jeb Sprague masterfully documents - among other topics - the detrimental role of US and fellow international actors in Haitian history. 

Offering new evidence obtained through interviews and a massive amount of formerly classified US government documents, the book clarifies how Haiti's post-quake reconstruction rests on a foundation of total impunity achieved by the country's most brutal paramilitaries and their financiers. 

Legacy of violence 

As Sprague notes, the US occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934 under "the pretext of possible German encroachment during the First World War… caused the deaths of an estimated 15,000 Haitians and saw the imposition of slave labour". It also imposed "a modern army, one that would continue the US occupation long after US troops were gone", functioning on behalf of the Haitian elite and their American counterparts. Observes Sprague: "The US occupation wedded the country’s future to North American business interests."
Later, during the reign of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier in the 1960s, US Marines trained the dictator’s Tonton Macoutes paramilitary force, known for "leaving bodies of their victims hanging in public, a clear warning to anyone stepping out of line, most especially leftists, socialists and pro-democracy activists". Linked to the business elite and the military itself, the Macoutes were "vital for upholding a system based on severe inequality and class privilege". 

Following the transfer of power to Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, a brutal counter-insurgency force known as the Leopards was trained and equipped "by former US marine instructors who were working through a company (Aerotrade, Inc and Aerotrade International, Inc) under contract with the CIA and signed off by the US Department of State". 

Prior to becoming Haiti's first democratically elected president in early 1991, the young liberation theologian, Jean-Bertrand Aristide "denounced the historic role of the United States in founding, arming and training Haiti's military, which had been responsible for so much of the violence in Haitian history".

Sprague quotes Aristide: "They [the United States] set up the Haitian Army, they trained it to work against the people". Indeed, it would be difficult to argue that the army was working for the people by massacring citizens attempting to vote in 1987, or by overthrowing the newly elected Aristide in September 1991 and slaughtering his supporters. 

Aristide's coup-inducing crimes included inviting street children and homeless persons to breakfast at the National Palace and endeavouring to raise the daily minimum wage from $1.76 to $2.94. As Joanne Landy wrote in the New York Times in 1994, the latter effort was "vigorously opposed by the US Agency for International Development because of the threat such an increase would pose to the 'business climate', particularly to American companies paying rock-bottom wages to workers in Haiti". 

Aside from USAID, another relevant euphemism from the coup period was the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), a paramilitary organisation intimately linked to the Haitian military that assumed the task of terrorising the non-elite masses under the military junta. "Internal US government documents reveal that FRAPH was founded in part at the behest of the US Defence Intelligence Agency," Sprague notes. 

Recycling brutality 

After years of brutality and corruption, the military dictatorship faced growing resistance at home and abroad. Aristide was thus reinserted in his lawful post in 1994 in exchange for, inter alia, committing to be more attentive to the needs of the US agriculture industry and drastically slashing tariffs on imported rice. 

Upon reinstatement, he logically moved - with overwhelming public support - to disband the armed forces and the section chiefs (the hated rural constabulary). His government, and the elected governments that followed him, also gathered testimonials from thousands of victims of paramilitary violence and undertook judicial proceedings to prosecute military and paramilitary criminals. 

However, as researcher Eirin Mobekk has critically pointed out and Sprague has underscored, "only the army as an institution was dissolved… In a country where the army had run political life for decades it was an illusion to think that its networks would disappear with the removal of uniforms and the use of its buildings for other purposes".

US contributions to the dissolution of the army included maneouvering to insert allied Haitian ex-military officials into what was supposed to be a civilian police force and eliminating officers seen as overly loyal to Aristide or less than enthusiastic about the coup. Some Haitian police officers were trained in the United States, where they were susceptible to overtures by the CIA, which also funded various FRAPH leaders and other paramilitaries. 

Given the high level of impunity enjoyed by military and paramilitary members who had committed atrocities - not to mention US insistence on a full amnesty for the coup perpetrators - it is somewhat less than astonishing that Aristide's re-election in 2000 also culminated in a coup d'état. Instrumental in the overthrow was the Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti (FLRN), which as Sprague explains was "led by renegade police officials who were from among the same ex-FAd'H [Haitian Armed Forces] pushed into the country’s new security force by the United States in the late 1990s". 

Backed by some wealthy Haitians, neo-Duvalierists, sweatshop owners, and government and army officials from the neighbouring Dominican Republic (who didn't want Aristide's anti-military, pro-human rights rhetoric rubbing off on their own citizenry), the FLRN staged incursions into Haiti from Dominican territory with the ultimate goal of forcing the re-establishment of the Haitian army.

Of course, the sign of any good army is its ability to safeguard the domestic population, and these incursions provided the FLRN with an opportunity to showcase its skills - which it did by massacring and assaulting supporters of Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party, often with sickening tactics. Citing formerly classified US embassy cables, Sprague uncovers how a small but powerful fifth column within the government was also working to undermine Aristide. 

According to Sprague, it is likely that French and US intelligence facilitated the paramilitary insurgency in some way, while "the International Republican Institute (an organisation funded by the US government that promotes 'democratisation programmes' around the world) provided a forum through which the [Haitian] political opposition strengthened its ties with the paramilitaries".

As journalist Max Blumenthal has documented, the IRI benefitted in its underhanded dealings from the diplomacy of Roger Noriega, an Iran-Contra-era figure recycled into the Bush II administration along with his Cold War Manichean fantasies according to which Aristide and anyone else with less than extreme right-wing political convictions is a communist demon.  

Sprague aptly comments that US' "knowledge that [sectors of] Haiti's 'business community' [were] strongly backing paramilitary terror underscores the cynicism of Washington’s constant demands that Aristide seek 'compromise' with his 'peaceful opponents'". In the end, the compromise consisted of Aristide's removal on a US military plane to the Central African Republic in 2004 and the installation of Gerard Latortue as head of state. The ensuing peace is recalled by historian Greg Grandin: 
"During Latortue's brief stint in office, 2004 - 2006, Haiti experienced some 4,000 political murders, according to The Lancet - while hundreds of Fanmi Lavalas members, Aristide supporters, and social movement leaders were locked up - usually on bogus charges. Latortue's friends in Washington looked the other way." 
Sprague, meanwhile, observes that "Bill Clinton's [former] policy of inserting a handful of ex-FAd’H criminals into Haiti's police force… was now put on steroids" and that "in 2004 -5 the United States and the UN oversaw the recycling of 400 ex-army paramilitaries into a revamped police force" - paving the way for yet more repetitions of history. 

Media coups 

Why is it that Haiti's brutal paramilitary campaigns received scant international press attention while quantitatively and qualitatively inferior political violence by a small number of Fanmi Lavalas supporters (which occurred in the context of clashes with the opposition) was decried at length? 

Obviously, media coverage is shaped by geopolitical and financial interests, with the terms of events defined by the powerful. This is how, for example, terrorism conducted by the US and Israel becomes "counter-terrorism", "self-defence" and "democracy promotion" in the Western mainstream media. 

Sprague documents how, in the case of Haiti, the press in the US, France, Canada and other locales undertook to demonise Aristide and rebrand the violent and unpopular uprising against him as non-violent and popular. As US-trained FLRN commander Guy Philippe remarked to journalist Isabel McDonald following the coup: "[The] international media, the media leaders helped us a lot. And thanks to them we were able to overthrow the dictator. And without them I don't think that we could have".  
"Obviously, media coverage is shaped by geopolitical and financial interests, with the terms of events defined by the powerful."

In an essay for the London Review of Books, Paul Farmer describes how Aristide was made the scapegoat for crimes committed by the very people who overthrew him. Summarising Philippe's pre-coup history, which involved reincarnation as a police chief following the demobilisation of the military, Farmer writes: 
"During his tenure, the UN International Civilian Mission learned, dozens of suspected gang members were summarily executed, most of them by police under the command of Philippe's deputy. The US embassy has also implicated Philippe in drug smuggling during his police career. Crimes committed in large part by ex-military policemen are often pinned on Aristide, even though he sought to prevent coup-happy human rights abusers from ending up in these posts." 
Farmer also noted that "Philippe has been quoted as saying that the man he most admires is Pinochet". The bloody legacy of the Chilean dictator offers a reminder of how helpful US-backed coups and violence can be when it comes to introducing neoliberal reforms. 

After the second overthrow of Aristide, Sprague writes, the temporary regime set about "securing [Haiti] as a platform through which global capital could flow freely", in accordance with instructions from the IMF and other interested parties: 
"The interim government laid off between eight and ten thousand civil sector workers, many from the poorest slums of Port-au-Prince. Other programmes under the Aristide government, such as subsidised rice for the poor, literacy centres and water supply projects, came to a halt following the coup d'état." 
The long-fantasised-about mass privatisation of Haitian state assets, however, appeared more difficult to pull off - until, that is, the country was shattered by the 2010 earthquake and control over Haiti's energy, water and other sectors was divvied up between international players like the World Bank and USAID. The 2011 debut of singer-turned-head of state Michel Martelly, elected with the support of a mere 16.7 per cent of the electorate and described by former Financial Times journalist Matt Kennard as a "shock president" prepared to enforce economic shock therapy, seems to have set the stage for the conversion of Haiti into a neoliberal fairytale kingdom. 

It is fitting that Martelly, whose presidential objectives include a resurrection of the Haitian armed forces rather than the pursuit of projects benefitting the majority of the nation's citizens, is himself a longtime close associate of Duvalier's paramilitary Tonton Macoutes.  

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobian Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the  London Review of Books blog, AlterNet and many other publications.

04 October, 2012