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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The European Union (EU) relations with Cuba

U.S.-Cuban rapprochement and the European Union – part 1


The European Union (EU), which has been working to normalize its ties with Cuba since 2010, defined the announcement of the reestablishment of the United States-Cuban relations as a “historical turning point.” The EU foreign affairs head, Frederica Mogherini said that “another wall has started to fall,” and that the European Union is willing to “expand relations with all parts of Cuban society.”

Representatives from Cuba and the EU will meet this month for a third round of negotiations aimed at normalizing relations after a decade tainted by the already recognized hypocritical European Union Common Position which pressed Cuba to discuss human rights and the role of civil society in the Cuban politics.

These new negotiations cannot help but bring on a high level of uncertainty because the turn in US-Cuban relations will impact EU-Cuba relations. Among other concerns, the economic standing of the European Union in Cuba as its second largest trading partner remains at risk.

EU common position and the progressive improvement of EU-Cuba relationship

In 1996, the then-15 EU member states adopted a common position (CP) related to Cuba. Under conservative Spanish leadership this position supported the latest US round of sanctions against Cuba, the Helms-Burton Act, which had the clear objective of tightening restrictions against the Castro regime. The US and EU intended to force the Cuban government to reform different sectors of its economy and society, and its political system, including the human rights situation.

Unsurprisingly, the CP was strongly criticized by Cuban authorities and led to a political stalemate between the EU and Cuba. Despite such a tense political situation, European companies were among the first to invest in Cuba when the government loosened economic restrictions in 1995, known as the “special period in times of peace” following the Soviet Union’s collapse which resulted in Cuba’s GDP falling 30 percent in four years.

However, European companies had to comply with the extremely strict and restrictive application of rules on foreign investments imposed by the Cuban government such as the obligation to submit to a 50/50 joint-venture with the state, the difficulties of repatriating dividends, and the impossibility of managing human resources directly.

Even with the CP, the EU had always been significantly less strict than the United States toward Cuba. The EU gradually improved ties with Cuba during the last two decades. In fact, 18 member states of the European Union have signed cooperation agreements with Cuba.

Also, as one observer put it, “[the EU has] never excluded Cuba from participating in their summits with Latin America and the Caribbean, such as the Iberoamerican conferences of heads of states and government since 1992, and the Latin America and Caribbean-European Union summit gatherings since 1994.”

However, in July 2003, several independent journalists, trade union activists and dissidents were arrested across Cuba, and accused of conspiracy for cooperating with the director of the US Interest Section in Cuba, James Cason. The accusations were based on diplomatic invitations of dissidents to attend official receptions, in order to symbolically further their struggle against political repression.

Seventy-five persons were sentenced to six to 30 years in jail. Consequently, the EU Council froze its diplomatic ties with Cuba, halting all cooperation and development aid that existed before. In addition to clamping down on the US-financed dissent, Fidel Castro apparently felt that the previous economic opening was too much, too fast. Thus, he reversed the decision regarding the still small Cuban private sector (“cuentaspropistas”), and placed additional restrictions on Cuban economic liberties and foreign investments.

Yet, it is fair to recognize that some foreign investors might have tried to escape the Kafkaesque Cuban system by illegal means, leading to corruption cases. As a result, the number of joint-venture companies was halved between 2001 and 2007 and the government used the occasion to seize some valuable assets.

In 2004 Cuba released a number of dissidents and the EU revised its strategy to maintain more discrete contacts with local dissidents. After nearly two years of tensions passed, the EU chose not to invite opponents of the regime to official celebrations. Consequently, Cuba normalized its ties with a number of European countries, including France, Spain, and Germany.

It was not until 2006, when Fidel Castro handed his leadership of Cuba to his younger brother, Raul Castro, that this diplomatic conflict ended. However, it would take two more years for the EU to restart cooperation with Cuba after the release of the majority of the dissidents.

In 2008, Cuba was hit by three successive hurricanes, which caused significant damage in parts of the country, crippling its economy, and leading to a partial default vis-à-vis its main trading partners. Since then, the European Commission has committed nearly €60 million for post-hurricane reconstruction, food security, climate change policies, renewable energy, culture, and education in Cuba. The EU also allowed Cuba to take part in EU-funded regional programs.

This pursuit of a more comprehensive approach toward Cuba was strengthened by the position of Spain, which has advocated since 2010 for a revised CP. At the time, Trinidad Jimenez, Spain’s Secretary of State, declared the CP to be a “discriminatory, inefficient and illegitimate” policy.

Still, for a policy change to occur, the unanimous support of the 27 EU member states was necessary. While several countries were supportive of the Common Position, mostly because of their past suffering of Soviet authoritarianism, other EU countries had a more flexible idea of what should be the nature of EU-Cuba relationship.

On May 12, 2010, the first Country Strategy Paper was adopted on Cuba, including an additional fund of €20 million during the period 2011-2013 in order to pursue the EU’s ongoing cooperation, as well as an additional aid of €4 million in order to help the Cuban population affected by the Hurricane Sandy in November 2012.

After the sixth Cuban Communist Party (CCP) Congress in 2011 revealed its lineamientos (“guidelines”) to “actualize [the] Cuban economic model,” as well as introduced the first reforms started to be implemented sin prisas pero sin pausas (“slowly but surely”) by Raul Castro, the EU-Cuba relationship continued to improve.

Finally, during the first months of 2014, all the EU member states agreed to give a negotiation mandate to the EU’s foreign policy chief to discuss and renew EU-Cuba partnership. The CP and its flexibility led to a significant improvement of the EU-Cuba relationship by encouraging Cuban government policies to move towards more liberal economic and political practices.

The EU as Cuba’s second largest economic partner

The EU is an important economic partner of Cuba, filling the void US trade sanctions produced. Trade between the EU and Cuba is now dynamic, representing a positive balance for the European Union. Among the top 10 trading partners of Cuba, four countries are member states of the EU: Spain is third, Holland seventh, Italy ninth and France tenth.

In 2013, the European Union imported €837 million worth of goods from Cuba and exported €1,834 million to Cuba, representing a nearly €1 billion surplus That year, transactions with the European Union and the rest of the continent accounted for 28.3 percent of Cuba’s foreign trade. This statistic shows that 36.7 percent of Cuban exports go to the EU market and 25.9 percent of national imports come from that region.

The trade relationship between the EU and Cuba is concentrated in two kinds of goods: agricultural and industrial products. Agriculture represents 42.5 percent of EU imports from Cuba while Cuban imports from the EU are 84.7 percent industrial products. On one hand, the EU imports foodstuffs, beverages, and tobacco, including rum, cigars and sugar derivatives (40.8 percent) and mineral products such as nickel and scrap metal (33.6 percent). On the other hand, the EU exports to Cuba machinery and appliances (34.5 percent), and products of the chemical, plastics and allied industries (13.4 percent).

It is easy to see that the trade relationship between Cuba and the EU is unbalanced: Cuba exports mostly primary products (85 percent of their trade total), while the EU exports manufactured ones (around 81 percent of their total exports).

EU-Cuba trade recently suffered a setback with the exemption of Cuba on January 1, 2014 from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). The Cuban exclusion is due to the way Cuba changed its method to calculate its nominal GDP in the early 2000s in order to give it a statistical boost of 15 percent. Automatically, the country jumped to higher level in EU’s GSP ranking, making it a middle income nation.

Aware that this new methodology could present such a risk, Cuban authorities preferred to keep their obscure statistics and reduce its market in Europe, in order to appear among the “developed economies”. Thus, under the new rules, taxes on Cuban cigars jumped from 7.8 percent to 26.9 percent in 2014. Despite being considered a part of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) since 2010, Cuba does not benefit from the ACP-EU Sugar Protocol, and therefore loses an advantageous tariff for its sugar.

Other EU economic presence in Cuba

The EU presence in Cuba is not only a trade relationship. European companies are present in many areas of Cuba’s economy. For the last 20 years, the EU has been the second largest source of tourists to Cuba. Tourism brings the cash-starved Cuban economy $1 to 2 billion USD every year, and is its 3rd source of cash after medical services and remittances.

Therefore, it is no coincidence that the Cuban tourism industry is dominated by European operators from Spain, France, and Germany. But, since Obama’s easing measures in 2008, Cuban-Americans and authorized (or not) American visitors have also significantly increased.

Also, one would be surprised to see how many French Peugeots and Renaults are driven along with 1950s American Chevys and 1970s Soviet Ladas in Havana’s streets. Spanish Seats and Italian Fiats are not unknown either.

European exporters of food, machinery, industry, and chemicals also represent an alternative to cheap but unreliable Asian materials, antique Russian products and, of course, banned American goods.

To finance this trade, European banks are also vital to the Cuban economy. Indeed, it is clear that European companies benefit partly from the absence of American competitors in Cuba that were forced out by US sanctions.

• Clément Doleac is a research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. This column was published with permission from Caribbean News Now. The second part will appear in Saturday’s Nassau Guardian.

March 06, 2015


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dr. Hubert Minnis - The Bahamas Official Opposition Leader is grossly and irredeemably incompetent as party leader as he continues to implode

Dr. Hubert Minnis: From very bad to much worse to disastrous

Within the first two months of 2015, Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis has caused as much or perhaps even more damage to the FNM as he has over the previous two years-plus. His performance has not improved. He has gotten dramatically worse. We are witnessing a political wreck of titanic proportions as he continues to implode.

Even some who supported his recent election as party leader are exasperated, having second thoughts: “Too many mistakes too soon”.

From the Bank of The Bahamas (BOB) episode to abandoning a party conclave to an extremely damaging senatorial firing and appointment fiasco – all within a matter of mere weeks – Minnis has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is grossly and irredeemably incompetent as party leader.

The party is hemorrhaging support from core supporters. Many die-hard FNMs have decided that they will either not vote at the next general election or will vote DNA because they cannot bring themselves to vote PLP and they cannot support the FNM under Minnis. The party is in a crisis of grave proportions.

Minnis has drafted a fatal political calculus. Not only has he failed to rally the party’s base but he has also alienated much of that base. He continues to divide the party because he seems incapable of sincerely reaching out to opposing voices beyond platitudes of unity. A demoralized base and wider disaffection multiplied by disunity equals electoral disaster.

Since January, the party’s fortunes have been sinking weekly, fortunes which cannot be recovered under Minnis, whom arguably the bulk of the electorate has now written off as hopelessly and irretrievably out of his depth.

Having organized and begged for a second chance to prove himself and granted a reprieve, Minnis inexplicably imploded in breathtaking speed. His actions bespeak a noxious concoction of unwarranted arrogance and inexhaustible political stupidity.

He and some avid supporters typically blame the news media, critics and others for his problems. Their criticisms are misplaced. His unending and mega-blunders are all self-inflected wounds, the result of arguably the worst political and policy judgment of any opposition leader since the advent of party politics. His political judgment is hopelessly flawed.


It was not just the dull, vision-deprived, droning and dreadfully-delivered New Year’s address. On top of this was the failed BOB march and Prime Minister Perry Christie’s subsequent withering assault on the opposition in the House of Assembly as Minnis sat dumbstruck, clueless and speechless.

It is unthinkable that Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, Sir Kendal Isaacs, Henry Bostwick, Hubert Ingraham and other opposition leaders would have sat so passively, dazed, out of their depth, unable to defend their party and themselves as they were getting licked with verbal two-by-fours – and over an issue where the governing party is acutely vulnerable. Absent his cue-cards and those who cue his actions, the leader of the opposition was clueless.

This was a singular test of Minnis’ leadership. He failed – spectacularly. It is his failure alone. He cannot play the victim. His colleagues and rank-and-file FNMs were left leaderless on the field of battle as PLPs made sport of the FNM.

Minnis has demonstrated that he never possessed, does not now possess, nor will he likely ever possess the critical skills necessary to be an effective opposition leader, much less prime minister.

Those still nurturing the fantasy that he can be groomed for either office are living in a dream world that is resulting in nightmarish prospects for the FNM. Six months more will make no difference.

How much more support does the FNM have to hemorrhage before it becomes so anaemic and weakened that it will have no time to recover its electoral prospects? The good doctor is clearly not good for the recovery and health of the FNM.

Question for those who reluctantly or self-servingly organized and authorized his reprieve: How did you blindly imagine that things would be different?

In January, Minnis invited the party’s top brass as well as representatives from every constituency, a total of approximately 200, to a conclave convened to unify the party and to chart a strategy going forward.


Then in one of the more inexplicable, supremely arrogant and politically stupid acts in modern Bahamian politics, he blew off the second day of the conclave to attend Junior Junkanoo in Eleuthera.

Wearing a pharaonic crown, he rushed his way into the political almanac, becoming, it appears, the only head of the FNM or PLP to abandon a conclave of his own party. Sir Lynden Pindling, Ingraham nor Christie would have pulled such a dismissive stunt. Then again he is not remotely in this league.

What made Minnis’ Eleuthera escapade even more bizarre is that the flight to the island is short and the event was held at night as seen in the photo inexplicably publicized by his team.

Party Chairman Michael Pintard unhelpfully advised that Minnis agreed the Junkanoo date earlier, suggesting that the latter is so gravely incompetent as to be unable to do basic scheduling.

Minnis likely abandoned the conclave for the very reason that he could not respond to Christie when challenged on the BOB march: he was hopelessly out of his depth and had no idea what to say.

Instead of embarrassing himself by speaking unscripted he went mute in the House and fled the conclave. He is petrified of speaking unscripted. When he does, it is usually an unmitigated disaster. He seems to like instead to use subterfuge and politically subterranean tactics to advance his ends.

Despite the abysmal record of the PLP, the FNM is now in worse shape precisely because of Minnis’ re-election. Having witnessed his previous disastrous two plus years, and horrified at his mega-blunders so far this year, voters and FNMs at large have surmised that the party cannot be taken seriously.

The albatross strangling the political fortunes of the FNM was and remains Minnis, replete with his jumble of grave insecurities, autocratic and non-collegial leadership style, vindictive actions and incomprehensible incompetence which often makes even a bumbling Perry Christie seem like a model of political leadership.

All of which may be seen in his senatorial firing and appointment fiasco, a case study in Minnis’ flawed leadership. Every step along the way was a blunder. To begin with, senators should not have been appointed with a de facto time limit. This makes a mockery of the Senate which is the Upper House of Parliament signified by the fact that its members carry the title of honorable.


After the recent convention, the brooding Minnis seemed to have drawn up an enemies list of those not personally loyal to him. In what appears a highly vindictive move, Heather Hunt, a well-regarded political talent, was unceremoniously dismissed because she reportedly backed Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner. Her firing was bungled. Will Minnis now seek to push aside, punish and deny nominations to those MPs and aspiring candidates who did not support his election?

His excuse for the dismissal of Hunt unwittingly put at risk the Senate tenure of a purported supporter in the person of Senator Kwasi Thompson, a fine person and a competent parliamentarian, who people now expect to be replaced based on Minnis’ proffered rationale for dismissing Hunt.

Minnis is incapable of dealing with internal opposition and unifying the FNM because of such paralyzing insecurities. He is making the same mistakes as before. He knows no other way. This pattern is so entrenched that he seems incapable of genuinely changing it, incapable of bringing the FNM “all together”.

Minnis allowed the appointment of a new senator to spin out of control and to become a public spectacle. Instead of effectively mounting an opposition to the government’s mass of mistakes, the FNM has remained on the defensive.

He appears to have courted the hotel union president as the new senator. This was another mind-boggling mistake, with obvious potential conflicts of interest.

There are reports that he offered the appointment to former candidate Monique Gomez and then reneged on the offer. In the event, his appointment has alienated scores in the party including senior figures, some of his supporters and many in the Women’s Association.

The appointment to the Senate of a novice with a meteoric rise, thanks to Minnis, and with little stature and bona fides in the party, has distressed many. It may prove Minnis’ worst blunder yet. Her initial comments, even before her swearing-in, have been inauspicious and problematic, including her dismissal of members of the Women’s Association as “emotional”.

Those who thought that Minnis’ paralyzing weaknesses were malleable and could be mitigated will be proved wrong time and again. He will often continue to coo the right things to certain individuals and then do the wrong thing. It is now up to key members of the party and the rank and file to change direction before it is too late.

Collectively, Minnis’ string of disasters constitutes an overwhelming case for change as soon as possible.,


Thursday, February 19, 2015

US-Cuba: Is the great thaw on ice?

 David Roberts Business News Americas

By David Roberts

Cuban President Raúl Castro's recent comments at a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that before full diplomatic relations can be established with Washington, first the US must lift the trade embargo on the island, pay compensation for the damage it has caused the country and return Guantánamo military base need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The US quickly ruled out discussing the Guantánamo base, which is a legacy of the Spanish-American war of the late 19th century, while the embargo cannot be lifted without congressional approval, which given the fact that both houses of the US congress are now controlled by the Republicans will be no mean feat.

So does that mean the end of the US-Cuba rapprochement? That's unlikely, not least because Cuba has a great deal to benefit from the historic agreement announced in December to restore full diplomatic ties, along with President Barack Obama's pledge to work to lift the 54-year embargo and a prisoner swap.

The embargo was, after all, designed to punish the Fidel Castro regime and encourage its downfall, and Obama had said previously he would not support ending the 'blockade', as it is known in Cuba, unless there was political change on the island. While Cuba has partially opened up its economy in the last few years since Raúl took over from Fidel, there has been zero political change.

The thaw in relations involves what Obama's critics have described as a series of concessions to Cuba with nothing in return, such as increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cubans and allowing exports of telecommunications equipment and building materials, among others. The US also agreed to ease travel restrictions on its citizens wishing to visit Cuba, and allow US credit and debit cards to be used in the Caribbean country.

Obama also promised to review Cuba's listing on the US government's list of state sponsors of terrorism, where it was placed in 1982 and is currently accompanied by Iran, Syria and Sudan. That decision could pave the way for other economic or political sanctions to be lifted.

Despite these 'concessions,' does the agreement amount to a real change in US strategy towards Cuba? Or is it merely an acknowledgement that isolating Havana is not going to bring political change, whereas encouraging economic ties may lead to the communist-ruled country opening up – widespread use of the internet could be key – and eventually regime change? It seems unlikely that Obama has come to accept the existence of the totalitarian regime and, although he may not say it in public, he presumably believes the fresh approach will indeed result in change.

The risk on the part of Obama, therefore, is limited, given the clear failure of past policies and the fact that much now depends on congress, while the risk on the part of Raúl Castro is much greater. The Cuban regime has long used the embargo and the US policy towards Havana as a scapegoat for the country's ills, and an excuse to rule with an iron fist. If that goes, the future of communist rule will be threatened. That is a risk that Raúl Castro (maybe even both Castros) must be well aware of, just as he surely must have expected Washington's predictable response to the Guantanamo demand. So while it's easy to be cynical and cast doubt on his sincerity and willingness to follow through on the agreement, the Cuban leader's courage to enter this period of entente with Washington is something worthy of recognition.

February 10, 2015

BN Americas

Friday, February 6, 2015

African values and male empowerment

Mr. Michael Burke

By Michael Burke:

SO, we are once again in Black History Month. Much discussion has been generated about the marginalised male in the African diaspora, in general, and Jamaica in particular. All sorts of solutions have been bandied about, but I do not often read or hear about solutions that come from Africa. In most African ethnic groups the men are respected as the fathers and the chiefs. In most African ethnic groups the men have their separate meetings where they deliberate as men and they are told and held to account for what is expected of men.

While urbanisation and negative European neo-colonial ideas have permeated much of Africa, many of these traditional values remain. In Black History Month, shouldn't we be looking at such things for solutions to the marginalisation of the men in the African diaspora? After all, black women look to Europe and the United States for solutions to bring about advancement.

Women's rights groups were important 100 years ago, and even 50 years ago, as there were centuries of oppression to women. But much of that has now changed and women are not as oppressed as before, but the liberation groups remain and many of them are both obsolete and repressive to men. Indeed, the so-called women's liberation today seems to be going in the direction of tyranny to men.

Politically, the only way for the US Democrats to win a majority is to create a coalition of minority groups. While that might be excellent politics for the US Democrats, it is not all right for the empowerment of black men, especially when the women's liberation groups are added. Further, these anti-man positions breezed into Jamaica many years ago by the usual channels of media, travel and, perhaps, conditions for loans, grants and charity as well. So we in Jamaica have the dilemma also. And, of course, this marginalises black men even further.

Some of our national heroes placed a great emphasis on education. That said, there were many other people in black history that placed great value on education both here in Jamaica and elsewhere. While education is the starting point to achieve this liberation, it cannot be education by itself, especially if there is no emphasis on values such as family life, for instance.

But even if the education system does emphasise it, what happens if the availability of jobs is better for women than for men? Unfortunately, it is the person with the money who has the power, and if the wife and mother earns more then she has the power. And in such a scenario, the black marginalised male is marginalised even further.

The ideal situation regarding families is one where children are born within their parents' marriage. But if the marriage laws, or at least the dispensation of justice from the family courts, is of such that it gives an unfair advantage to women, then marriage will not be an attractive option to men. If our men feel that they cannot possibly receive any justice in a custody battle, or in a divorce settlement, then marriage will not be considered to be a viable option for the male onlookers.

By way of explanation, the Roman Catholic Church allows marriage annulments in situations where in the view of the church a marriage did not exist in the first place, although the requirements of civil law were met. But even if our church grants annulments, for it to be legally binding it has to go through the civil courts in the country of the dissolution. Many countries classify this as divorce and at that point one has no choice but to work with that. Having explained this, I continue.

When marriage becomes unattractive to men then it is a hard sell for Christians to preach it. The fact that officialdom says one thing but encourages free sexual liaisons makes it even harder to convince men to get married. Most will simply have sex with a consenting partner, and if there is a pregnancy, then so be it. And, of course, this is the entire reason for the problem in the first place, so the first verse becomes the last verse: "There is a hole in the bucket."

So, how do we empower the black man in the African diaspora? In the first place we have to do an overall improvement of his income. This is best done in co-operatives, but first the black man in the diaspora has to learn to co-operate. The best way to do this would be to show them the co-operatives in the motherland Africa. The traditional African way of life in the various ethnic groups was basically co-operative. The late Julius Nyerere made this point when he combined the traditional African way of life into an ideology called Ujaama, a Swahili word for 'familyhood'.

In the second place, we have to make marriage an attractive option for men; in terms of making sure that men are not at a disadvantage in matters of custody, alimony, and the distribution of marriage possessions. But changing laws is a long process, so we can only warn men to be careful when choosing a partner. And once marriage becomes attractive, then we can speak about raising children in a situation where they are taught proper values.

Equally important is the need to teach our black children to love themselves as they are, instead of aping the Europeans. A few weeks ago I wrote that it was sad that the first thing that ever had the 'Made in Jamaica' label on it was so-called haircare products that made black women's hair look European. This was during the war when there was a scarcity of all imported items and Madam Rose Leon made her own beauty products.

Some people believe it is easier for girls when going to school; others say that people of other races alter their ethnic features and so on. But it is still a sad commentary. We are talking about Jamaicans who, from the days of slavery, were told that they were inferior, unlike other races who made that choice from the solid background of knowing exactly who they are. Those who made such comments work at cross purposes with African values.

February 05, 2015

Jamaica Observer

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Archbishop Patrick Pinder on The Bahamas' migration issues

Archbishop Urges Bahamians To Consider Positives Of Immigration

Tribune Staff Reporter

ARCHBISHOP Patrick Pinder has urged Bahamians to consider the positive socio-economic impact of migration as the government continues to battle immigration challenges.

He said too often, the debate is focused on the perceived negative effect illegal migrants had on employment and social services along with cultural differences.

Speaking during the Red Mass at St Francis Xavier Cathedral, Archbishop Pinder said it was important for Bahamians to treat illegal migrants as they would wish to be treated were they in the same position.

“Changing the narrative requires that Bahamians learn more of our history, about migrants who came here and made a positive contribution to the development of our land,” the Catholic archbishop said. “About how Bahamians too in the past had to go abroad seeking economic opportunities.”

“Changing the narrative means bringing to justice those who exploit migrants, taking advantage of their vulnerable state. In fleeing their homeland, migrants do not lose their humanity. They continue to need nourishment both material and spiritual. Their need for justice and protection tends to increase rather than diminish in a new land.

“Clearly it must be acknowledged that no country can support increasing influxes of dependent migrants. We certainly cannot. Ours is not a new problem or a simple one. It is a problem in aggregate.”

He said if the government manages the Bahamas’ migration issues properly, the country stands to benefit from relationships that are beneficial.

Many migrants, he told those gathered at the church, have skills and abilities that can boost the country’s development.

“They can and do fill gaps in the workforce that are created because Bahamians turn their backs on certain jobs. The process cannot be engaged haphazardly, however. The work must be approached and carried out with strict adherence to best and most productive international standards.

“It must protect the human right and dignity of all migrants. It must be defined by and infused with all the love of neighbour, which the Christianity we claim requires of us.”

Recently, the Bahamas has been the subject of fierce criticism over its position on illegal immigration.

Last September, Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell announced new immigration restrictions in a bid to clamp down on illegal migration, particularly from Haiti. The restrictions took effect on November 1. On that day, immigration officials carried out operations in different pockets of New Providence in which scores of immigrants, mainly Haitians, were taken into custody.

The new immigration measures stipulate, among other things, that every person living in the Bahamas is required by law to have a passport of the country of their nationality.

Persons born in the Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents will be granted a special residence permit that will allow them to work until the status of their citizenship application has been determined.

The new policy also states employers who are applying for first-time work permit holders who are residents of Haiti must come to the Department of Immigration and pay the $100 processing fee, provide a labour certificate, cover letter, stamp tax of $30 and the employee information sheet in Nassau. The Haitian applicants must provide their supporting documents at the embassy in Haiti.

These new stipulations were seen as discriminatory against Haitian nationals.

It led human rights group Amnesty International; Florida lawmaker Daphne Campbell; Haitian Bahamian activist Jetta Baptiste; lawyer Fred Smith, president of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association; and Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza to publicly express concern about the new policy.

The archbishop spoke at the annual service, which was held on Sunday, January 11.

January 21, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

...progress towards a more just US-Cuba relationship...

Obama administration breaks with historic Cuba policy; implements dramatic changes

By Ryan O’Regan
Research Associate for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs:

Just hours ago, the Obama Administration began instituting new policies regarding travel, trade, and commerce between Cuba and the United States. Following over 50 years of staunchly regressive policies regarding the Cuban Republic, these changes are now being widely welcomed on both sides of the Florida Strait.

A Host of New Policies

As posted on the White House website, highlights of the new policies include:

• An expansion of general licenses available to US citizens wishing to travel to Cuba, including: “(1) family visits; (2) official business of the US government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.”

• A raise in allowed quarterly remittance levels from $500 to $2,000 for cash sent from Cuban-Americans to relatives across the Strait. Importantly, remittances headed to independent startups will no longer require a specific license, thus easing the way for US residents to aid Cuba’s budding entrepreneurial class.

• Legalization of certain exports to the island, such as building materials, agricultural equipment, and business-related goods.

• Allowance of imports by licensed travelers up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba, “of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.”

• Financial relaxations allowing the creation of correspondent accounts in Cuba by US institutions, and the use of debit and credit cards on the island.[1]

Moreover, the Obama Administration has also announced a review of Cuba’s often-criticized status as an alleged State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST).[2]

Progress: Present and Future

While these reforms are hardly revolutionary, they represent a step in the right direction, and should the administration overcome steep opposition in the newly elected Republican Congress, continued progress could catalyze genuine transformation for Cuba and its citizenry.

By cutting some of the red tape surrounding US commercial activity with the island, the new policies will grant private enterprise a notable, much-needed boost. Remittances have long served as start-up capital for new businesses on the island. By simplifying the process of sending cash for entrepreneurial purposes, and raising limits on how much cash can be sent every quarter, these new policies could spur continued growth in private-sector enterprise in Cuba, already strong in the wake of reforms on the part of Raúl Castro’s government.[3] New rules on equipment exports should also help to alleviate some of the shortages caused by the ongoing US embargo.

These reforms’ positive impact on Cuba will almost certainly extend beyond the private sphere. US remittances already serve as a vital source of foreign currency for the Castro government, and by raising potential influxes by 300 percent. the new rules should help to secure imports for an island that, as of 2014 imported 80 percent of its food.[4] At a time when Cuba is seeking to increase its reserves (currently at $10 billion) over possible political and economic turmoil in Venezuela, remittances will only become more vital as a source of hard currency for the island.[5]

Of all the new policies announced, however, the review of Cuba’s status on the US list of SSTs provides the greatest portent of change. Since 1982, Cuba has stood accused by the United States of sponsoring left-wing terrorism in Africa and Latin America. Cuba’s place on the list, long criticized as illegitimate and unfair, has been put forward as the motivation for a large portion of US sanctions against it. A review could very likely result in Havana’s removal from the list. This would automatically remove a host of sanctions, grant it access to international institutions such as the IMF, and help open the way for greater rapprochement between the United States and Cuba.


On the whole, the newly-implemented policies, combined with the recent prisoner exchange and Cuba’s subsequent release of 53 political activists, establish the bedrock for progress towards a more just US-Cuba relationship, but fall far short of what is necessary if the United States truly intends to normalize relations with the island.[6] If relations are to move forward, the administration must follow through with its removal of Cuba’s status as an SST, but President Obama can only do so much. The true challenge to normalization lies in the embargo itself, and Republicans in Congress must be cajoled into finally repealing the cluster of laws that make up its core.

[1] “
FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course on Cuba.” The White House. December 17, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Feinberg, Richard. “
Middle Classes in Socialist Cuba.” The Brookings Institution. November 8, 2013. Accessed January 16, 2015.
[4] Blue, Sarah A. 2013. Internationalism’s Remittances: The Impact of Temporary Migration on Cuban Society. International Journal of Cuban Studies.
[5] Frank, Marc. “
Cuba Inches toward Transparency, Seeking Investment and Credit.” Reuters. December 24, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.
[6] Calamur, Krishnadev. ”
Prisoner Exchange With Cuba Led To Freedom For Top US Intelligence Agent.” The Two-Way Breaking News from NPR. December 17, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015.

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January 20, 2015


Sunday, January 18, 2015

CARICOM and intellectual property law: what next?

By Abiola Inniss:

The year 2015 has dawned with the usual fanfare of greater things to come. Caribbean projects are in the pipeline, along with activities to enhance competitiveness and many gallant efforts by well-meaning non-governmental and international organisations. The research has shown, however, that without the impetus of effort that originates from among the local innovators, there is no real change and no great advancement.

The efforts of some regional establishments, such as Compete Caribbean, in instituting projects that should help in promoting and developing trade and investments,as well as in providing some solid knowledge-based platforms from which policy initiatives can be launched, are laudable, but what next?

There is still little response from CARICOM on intellectual property laws and policy that will allow for the development of innovation and trade, both intraregionally and internationally, and one wonders whether this is the result of lack of informed policymakers or simply a collective phobia of international intellectual property law and policy. Either way, there must be an applicable cure and fast.

The history of international intellectual property regimen in developing countries reveals that they have faced a barrage of international pressures concerning their implementation of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement (TRIPS), which is an integral part of World Trade Organization (WTO) trade accords made by them.

Among the stresses exerted on the countries have been WTO accession agreements, trade sanctions and threats of sanctions, withdrawal of aid, diplomatic intimidation, economic threats from large industrial groupings, and bilateral trade negotiations.

Developing countries have had mixed responses to these threats. In some instances, they have tried to resist many of these pressures, and this has resulted in low levels of implementation of TRIPS. In others, there has been hasty implementation of laws as a peace offering to the developed-country bloc, which has not balanced the interests of local economic and social policy needs, resulting in chaos. Kenya's IP system is an example of this.

The top-down system of intellectual property regimen cannot work within developing countries without serious reworking and consideration, and although there is considerable argument for the so-called TRIPS flexibilities, which are intended to give developing countries some leeway in the implementation of the laws relating to TRIPS, the point is that implemented they must be. Commentators who argue strenuously for TRIPS flexibilities seem to miss the point that it is the rules that are themselves problematic, not how or when they are implemented.

And what of CARICOM? The aspirations to a single market and economy carry with them the recognition that there must be adequate responses to the requirements of the world economic order and conditions, whatever those may be.

It is a fact of our current existence that the world economy is now heavily based on cybertechnologies, which eliminate older, slower processes, shift transnational transactions to the Internet, and create new and ever-evolving industries that are propelling developing countries into technological and economic dominance.

Singapore, China, India, Malaysia, Brazil and some others are a competitive presence on the world stage to the point where they can no longer be ignored. To this end, the United States has been actively working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement with 11 other countries, namely Peru, Singapore, Mexico, Malaysia, Chile, Japan, Canada, Australia, Brunei Darussalem, and Vietnam.

Market access

The aim of this agreement is to provide market access for goods made in America, implement new rules for state-owned enterprises, have strong environmental commitments and labour standards, and, most notably, to have a strong intellectual property rights framework. This indicates, above all else, that there is great urgency in the need to regulate the international intellectual property rights space in a way that has not been possible through TRIPS, and also opens the space for CARICOM to evolve its own framework that will take advantage of this new era.

One cannot but take notice that the United States has completely ignored CARICOM in these discussions, indicating that the region is not to be taken seriously in these kinds of international arrangements, with the result that CARICOM and its single market and economy will be on the receiving end of whatever trade deals and intellectual property rights agreements result from this new arrangement with no way out.

Perhaps it is the intention of the CARICOM policymakers that the region become the sun, sand and sea playground of the rest of the world, but even here it is doomed to failure because there are substantial resources in this regard in many other parts of the world.

CARICOM needs to rework its policies and get to work on becoming a respected voice in the international sphere. It is time to get busy in the world of international intellectual property.

Abiola Inniss, LLM, ACIArb, is a PhD researcher at Walden University, USA, in law and public policy and a graduate of DeMontfort University School of Law, UK. She is a leading analyst and author on Caribbean intellectual property and the founder of the Caribbean Law Digest Online. Email feedback to and

January 18, 2015

Jamaica Gleaner

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The View from Europe: Cuba and the Caribbean tourism sector

By David Jessop:

The announcement in mid-December by President Obama and President Castro that Cuba and the US are moving to normalise relations has resulted in speculation about what this may mean for the Caribbean’s tourism sector.

David Jessop
For the most part what has been said and written has failed to understand the nature or complexity of what the US president has proposed, the process involved, or the fact that Cuba has revealed very little about what its detailed response will be.

That said, the news of a changed US-Cuba relationship is of course welcome, long overdue and begins to end the US imposed isolation of a Caribbean nation. It involves the full restoration of diplomatic relations by both sides and includes a range of measures for which the US president does not need the approval of Congress.

Although the US president made clear that, when it comes to US travellers, more US citizens will be able to visit Cuba under what is expected to be looser licensing arrangements, he was not freeing all individual US travel to Cuba.

Instead, the implication is that the granting of licences to travel in 12 identified US Treasury permitted areas* will be made easier. He also said that US credit and debit cards will be permitted for use by travellers to Cuba, US companies will be able to improve infrastructure linking the US and Cuba for commercial telecommunications and internet services, and according to a fact sheet accompanying his statement, foreign vessels will be able to enter the United States “after engaging in certain humanitarian trade with Cuba”.

Sometime in the coming weeks the new US Treasury regulations on Cuba will be published, which will spell out how these and other aspects of the new US travel regime will work. However, the present consensus in the US travel industry is that in future a general licensing system will enable tour operators to develop programmes within identified categories such as educational activities and US citizens will then be able to freely buy and travel within such packages on the basis they are giving the US government their word they are not simply engaging in tourism.

How this will work in practice and the extent to which current draconian US rules on the use of currency, or whether Cuba has the facilities or is geared up to receive many more visitors on this basis, remains to be seen.

Of more fundamental importance, although not directly related to tourism, was the announcement that President Obama was authorising his Secretary of State, John Kerry, to review, based on the facts, Cuba’s US designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. A change in this area would not only enable companies in the tourism sector, but in every other sector as well to be able to freely move funds in US dollars, invest, trade, book hotels or flights on airline websites on US servers, and much more.

The increasingly tough interpretation by the US Treasury in the last few years of regulations that flow from this designation has severely constrained all third country trade and services including from the Caribbean, as many companies and international banks have withdrawn from the Cuban market in order not to face huge fines in relation to the transfer of funds.

What happens next in practical terms may be slow and uncertain. However, it is clear that President Obama has initiated a process that he thinks will be sustainable beyond any Democrat administration. Although not spelt out, it would seem that he calculates that, in the case of Cuba, freer US travel and the weight of US corporate interest may force an unstoppable economic opening that a Republican dominated House and Senate or any future Republican president will not wish to turn back.

For his part, President Castro has made clear that Cuba will work with the US to improve relations but that that his country’s principal focus will be on an improved economic relationship and functional co-operation.

What this means is that, while US tourism (or more precisely the number of non Cuban-American US visitors travelling to Cuba) will remain constrained for the time being, there could be a quite sudden opening in between two to four years time, but only if that is what Cuba wants.

In this context, the most likely changes in the short term related to tourism are increasing pressure on the number of hotel rooms in Havana and popular destinations, and an upward trend in Cuba’s presently low room rates; increased investment in the hotel sector by foreign companies particularly in conjunction with military controlled tourism companies; pressure from US legacy carriers to fly scheduled services to Cuba out of the US; the increased attraction of sailboats into the newly completed marinas that Cuba has been constructing; an increasing number of calls by non-US cruise ships and perhaps, in time, US cruise ships if they home port in Cuba; and the rapid diversification and decentralisation of Cuba’s already significant tourism product.

Speaking recently in Barbados about the opportunity, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s secretary general, Hugh Riley, said that, contrary to the fears in some parts of the region, the strengthening of Cuba as a Caribbean tourism destination was good news, as it would attract more visitors into the region and could prove a gold mine for those willing to capitalise on it. The region, he said, needed to view normalised relations from an entrepreneurial point-of-view to determine how it could strike partnerships that would allow it to benefit.

The figures amplify Mr Riley’s point. While overall visitor arrivals totalled 2.8 million in 2013 – the spend was US$2.3 billion – Cuban official statistics record that only 92,000 US citizens visited Cuba that year; a figure that does not include another 350,000 to 400,000 Cuban Americans who visit annually, as Cuba does not consider them as visitors.

President Castro and President Obama both noted that the agreement to normalise relations would be challenging and take time. The announcement of an improved US-Cuba relationship is therefore best regarded in tourism terms as the starting gun for all Caribbean tourism interests to consider how, over time, they will respond to increasing competition for the US market.

*These are family visits; official business of the US government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain export transactions guidelines.

January 10, 2015


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Rapprochement Between the United States and Cuba and Sanctions Against Venezuela


In a historic address on December 17, 2014 on “Cuba policy changes” President Barack Obama declared, “our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas.” This “renewed leadership,” in our view, seeks to gradually undermine socialism in Cuba, check waning U.S. influence in the region, and inhibit a growing continental Bolivarian movement towards Latin American liberation, integration, and sovereignty. To be sure, normalization of relations with Cuba and the release of Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero were long overdue, and the reunification of Alan Gross with his family was an important and welcome gesture. The rapprochement between the United States and Cuba and the simultaneous imposition of a new round of sanctions by the U.S. against Venezuela, however, do not signal a change in overall U.S. strategy but only a change in tactics. As President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro remarked in a letter to President Raul Castro “there is still a long road to travel in order to arrive at the point that Washington recognizes we are no longer its back yard…” (December 20, 2014).

From Embargo to Deployment of U.S. Soft Power in Cuba

The Obama gambit arguably seeks to move Cuba as far as possible towards market oriented economic reforms, help build the political community of dissidents on the island, and improve U.S. standing in the region, and indeed in the world. In a Miami Herald op-ed piece (December 22, 2014), John Kerry (Secretary of State), Penny Pritzker (Secretary of Commerce) and Jacob J. Lew (Treasury Secretary) wrote that normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba will “increase the ability of Americans to provide business training and other support for Cuba’s nascent private sector” and that this will “put American businesses on a more equal footing.” Presumably the op-ed is referring to “equal footing” with other nations that have been doing business for years with Cuba despite the embargo. The essay also indicates that the U.S. will continue its “strong support for improved human-rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba” by “empowering civil society and supporting the freedom of individuals to exercise their freedoms of speech and assembly.” Such a version of “empowering civil society” is probably consistent with decades of U.S. clandestine attempts to subvert the Cuban government, documented by Jon Elliston in Psy War on Cuba: The declassified history of U.S. anti-Castro propaganda (Ocean Press: 1999). It is also in line with more recent efforts, through USAID funded social media (phony Cuban Twitter) and a four year project to promote “Cuban rap music” both of which ended in 2012, designed to build dissident movements inside Cuba. In December 2014, Matt Herrick, spokesman for USAID, defended the latter unsuccessful covert program saying, “It seemed like a good idea to support civil society” and that “it’s not something we are embarrassed about in any way.” Moreover, a fact sheet on normalization published by the U.S. Department of State mentions that funding for “democracy programming” will continue and that “our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state” (December 17, 2014). The Cuban government, though, has a different take on the meaning of “independence of the Cuban people.” They emphasize “sovereign equality,” “national independence,” and “self determination.” In an address on normalization, Raul Castro insisted on maintaining Cuban sovereignty and stated “we have embarked on the task of updating our economic model in order to build a prosperous and sustainable Socialism” (December 17, 2014). Obviously the ideological differences between Washington and Havana will shape the course of economic and political engagement between these two nations in the months and years ahead.

Rapprochement Between the U.S. and U.S. Isolation in Latin America

Through normalization of relations with Cuba, the U.S. also seeks to end its increasing isolation in the region. Secretary of State John Kerry, in his Announcement of Cuba Policy Changes, remarked that “not only has this policy [embargo] failed to advance America’s goals, it has actually isolated the United States instead of isolating Cuba” (December 17, 2014). In October 2014, the United Nations General Assembly voted against the U.S. Cuba embargo for the 23rd year in a row, with only the U.S. and Israel voting in favor. The inclusion of Cuba in the political and, to a certain degree, economic life of Latin America, has also been part of a larger expression of Latin American solidarity that clearly repudiates regional subordination to Washington. Since the sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena (April 2012), the U.S. has been on very clear notice by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that there will be no seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama in April without Cuba, a condition to which Washington has ceded.

The flip side of Washington’s growing “isolation” has been the critically important regional diversification of diplomatic and commercial relations between Latin America and the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the construction of alternative development banks and currency reserves to gradually replace the historically onerous terms of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The financial powerhouse of the BRICS nations is China. Over the past year, China has sent high level delegations to visit CELAC nations and in some cases these meetings have resulted in significant commercial agreements. As a follow up, there will be a CELAC–China forum in Beijing in January 2015 whose main objective, reports Prensa Latina, “is exchange and dialogue in politics, trade, economy and culture.” These ties with BRICS and other nations are consistent with the Chavista goal that the Patria Grande ought to contribute to building a multi-polar world and resist subordination to any power block on the planet. By bringing a halt to its growing isolation, Washington would be in a better position to increase its participation in regional commerce. The terms of economic engagement with most of Latin America, however, will no longer be determined by a Washington consensus, but by a North—South consensus. The Obama gambit, though, appears to be trading one source of alienation (embargo against Cuba) for another (sanctions against Venezuela).

Obama’s Gambit: Pushing Back the Bolivarian Cause at its Front Line–Venezuela

The Obama administration’s move to normalize relations with Cuba, while a welcome change of course, can be seen as a modification in tactics to advance the neoliberal agenda as far as possible in Havana while ending a policy that only serves to further erode U.S. influence in the region. Such diplomacy is in line with what appears to be a major U.S. policy objective of ultimately rolling back the ‘pink tide’, that is, the establishment, by democratic procedures, of left and center left regimes in two thirds of Latin American nations. It is this tide that has achieved some measure of progress in liberating much of Latin America from the structural inequality, social antagonism, and subordination to transnational corporate interests intrinsic to neoliberal politics and economics. And it is the continental Bolivarian emphasis on independence, integration, and sovereignty that has fortified the social movements behind this tide.

The Obama gambit, from a hemispheric point of view, constitutes a tactical shift away from the failed U.S. attempt to isolate and bring the Cuban revolution to its knees through coercion, to an intensification of its fifteen year effort to isolate and promote regime change in Venezuela. The reason for this tactical shift is that Venezuela, as the front line in the struggle for the Bolivarian cause of an increasingly integrated and sovereign Latin America, has become the biggest obstacle to the restoration of U.S. hegemony and the rehabilitation of the neoliberal regime in the Americas.

If this interpretation of U.S. hemispheric policy is near the mark, Obama’s grand executive gesture towards Cuba is immediately related to the context of Washington’s unrelenting antagonism towards Chavismo and, in particular, to the latest imposition of sanctions against Caracas. The reason for this is quite transparent. It has been Venezuela, more than Cuba, during the past fifteen years, that has played the leading role in the change of the balance of forces in the region on the side of sovereignty for the peoples of the Americas, especially through its leadership role in ALBA, CELAC, UNASUR and MERCOSUR, associations that do not include the U.S. and Canada. Argentine sociologist Atilio Boron, in an interview with Katu Arkonada of Rebelión (June 24, 2014), points out, “It is no accident…that Venezuela in particular is in the cross hairs of the empire, and for this reason we must be clear that the battle of Venezuela is our Stalingrad. If Venezuela succumbs before the brutal counter offensive of the United States…the rest of the processes of change underway on the continent, whether very radical or very moderate, will end with the same fate.” The latest U.S. sanctions against Venezuela can be viewed as one component of this counter offensive. It is to a closer look at the sanctions bill, signed into law by the president on December 18, 2014, that we now turn.

The “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014” (S 2142) not only targets Venezuelan officials whom U.S. authorities accuse of being linked to human rights abuses by freezing their assets and revoking their travel visas (Sec. 5 (b) (1) (A) (B)), it also promises to step up U.S. political intervention in Venezuela by continuing “to support the development of democratic political processes and independent civil society in Venezuela” (section 4 (4)) and by reviewing the effectiveness of “broadcasting, information distribution, and circumvention technology distribution in Venezuela” (section 6). One of the instruments of this support for “democratic political processes” has been the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Sociologist Kim Scipes argues that, “the NED and its institutes are not active in Venezuela to help promote democracy, as they claim, but in fact, to act against popular democracy in an effort to restore the rule of the elite, top-down democracy” (February 28 – March 2, 2014). Independent journalist Garry Leech, in his article entitled “Agents of Destabilization: Washington Seeks Regime Change in Venezuela,” (March 4, 2014) examines Wikileaks cables that indicate similar efforts have been carried out in Venezuela by USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) during the past decade. Hannah Dreier (July 18, 2014), reported that “the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, a government-funded nonprofit organization, together budgeted about $7.6 million to support Venezuelan groups last year alone, according to public documents reviewed by AP.” The sanctions bill (S 2142), then, in light of these precedents, contains provisions that suggest an imminent escalation in the use of soft power to support the political opposition to Chavismo in Venezuela, though such funding has been banned by Caracas.

The current U.S. sanctions against Caracas are consistent with fifteen years of U.S. antagonism against the Bolivarian revolution. The measures send a clear signal of increased support for a Venezuelan political opposition that has suffered division and discord in the aftermath of their failed “salida ya” (exit now) strategy of the first quarter of 2014. The sanctions also undermine any near term movement towards normalization of relations between the U.S. and Venezuela. It is no surprise that provisions of the law that targets Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations have gotten some limited traction inside this South American nation, with the executive secretary of the Venezuelan opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), Jesús Torrealba, openly supporting this measure. This is probably not going to get the MUD a lot of votes. According to a Hinterlaces poll taken in May, a majority of Venezuelans are opposed to U.S. sanctions. There has also been a swift repudiation of sanctions by the Maduro administration and the popular sectors. On December 15, 2014, in one of the largest and most enthusiastic gatherings of Chavistas in the streets of Caracas since the death of Hugo Chavez, marchers celebrated the fifteenth year anniversary of the passage by referendum of a new constitution (December 15, 1999) and vigorously protested against U.S. intervention in their country. Even dissident Chavistas appear to be toning down their rhetoric and circling the wagons in the face of Washington’s bid to assert “renewed leadership” in the region.

There is no doubt that the Maduro administration is under tremendous pressure, from left Chavistas as well as from the right wing opposition, to reform and improve public security and deal effectively with an economic crisis that is being exacerbated by falling petroleum prices. What the government of Venezuela calls an “economic war” against the country has domestic and well as international dimensions. Although there is no smoking gun at this time that exposes a conspiracy, some analysts interpret the recent fall in oil prices as part of a campaign to put severe economic pressure on Iran, Russia and Venezuela, countries whose fiscal soundness relies a great deal on petroleum revenues. For example, Venezuelan independent journalist, Jesus Silva R., in his essay entitled “The Government of Saudi Arabia is the Worst Commercial Enemy of Venezuela,” argues that the Saudis and Washington are complicit in the “economic strangulation, planned from the outside, against Venezuela” (December 22, 2014). Whatever the cause of falling petroleum prices and despite the domestic challenges facing Caracas, it will most probably be the Venezuelan electorate that decides, through upcoming legislative elections, whether to give Chavismo a vote of confidence, not outside intervention or a fresh round of guarimbas and terrorist attacks perpetrated by the ultra right. For the large majority of Venezuelans reject violence and favor constitutional means of resolving political contests.

U.S. Sanctions Against Venezuela Evoke Latin American Solidarity with Caracas

The good will generated by rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba has already been tempered by the almost simultaneous new round of sanctions imposed by Washington against Venezuela. It is important to recall, perhaps with some irony, that it was precisely the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s establishment of fraternal ties with a formerly isolated Cuba that drew, in particular, the ire of Washington and the virulent antagonism of the right wing Venezuelan opposition. Now it is Latin American and to a significant extent, international solidarity with Venezuela that may prove to be a thorn in Washington’s side. On December 12, 2014, ALBA issued a strong statement against the Senate passage of the sanctions bill, expressing its “most energetic rejection of these interventionist actions [sanctions] against the people and government of the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela.” The statement also warned “that the legislation constitutes an incitement towards the destabilization of…Venezuela and opens the doors to anticonstitutional actions against the legal government and legitimately elected President Nicolas Maduro Moros.” The communiqué also expressed solidarity with Venezuela adding that the countries of ALBA “desire to emphasize that they will not permit the use of old practices already applied to countries in the region, directed at bringing about political regime change, as has occurred in other regions of the world.” MERCOSUR issued a statement on December 17, 2014 that “the application of unilateral sanctions…violate the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of States and does not contribute to the stability, social peace and democracy in Venezuela.” On December 22, the G77 plus China countries expressed solidarity and support for the government of Venezuela in the face of “violations of international law that in no way contributes to the spirit of political and economic dialogue between the two countries.” On December 23, the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations stated that it “categorically rejects the decision of the United States Government to impose unilateral coercive measures against the Republic of Venezuela…with the purpose of weakening its sovereignty, political independence and its right to the self determination, in clear violation of International Law.” It is also important to recall that n October 16, 2014 the UN General Assembly elected Venezuela (by a vote of 181 out of 193 members) to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council with unanimous regional support, even crossing ideological lines. This UN vote came as a grave disappointment to opponents of the Bolivarian revolution and reinforced Venezuelan standing in CELAC. In yet another diplomatic victory, as of September 2015, Venezuela will assume the presidency of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations for a three year term. Clearly, it is Washington, not Venezuela that has already become an outlier as the Obama administration launches its “renewed leadership in the Americas.” If these immediate expressions of solidarity with the first post-Chavez Bolivarian government in Venezuela are an indicator of a persistent and growing trend, then by the time of the upcoming seventh Summit of the Americas, April 10 – 11, 2015 in Panama, President Obama can expect approbation for Washington’s opening to Havana, but he will also face a united front against U.S. intervention in Venezuela and anywhere else in the region.

Note: Translations by the authors from Spanish to English of government documents are unofficial. Where citations are not present in the text, hyperlinks provide the source.

William Camacaro MFA. is a Senior Analyst at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs and a member of the Bolivarian Circle of New York “Alberto Lovera.”

Frederick B. Mills, Ph.D. is Professor of Philosophy at Bowie State University and Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
Source: CounterPunch
January 06, 2015

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Victory for the Cuban Revolution!

Michael BURKE

TODAY is the 56th anniversary of the overthrow of the Fulgencio Batista regime in Cuba by Fidel Castro and his militant supporters on January 1, 1959. It signalled the end of the tyrannical Batista dictatorship. It also signalled the end of the days of exploitation that Cuba was subjected to from the United States for several decades.

Fidel Castro made it abundantly clear that he was implementing a socialist order in Cuba. He did not start out as a communist, but was forced to go that route following the fallout with the USA when they refused to trade with Cuba. Fidel Castro then turned to the Soviet Union for help, which they gave, but with several conditions. The main condition was that Cuba should go communist.

However, American journalists who interviewed Castro in the 1960s reported that what obtained in Cuba was not communism in the classical sense, but Castro-type socialism, later known as the Cuban model. And many who travelled to Cuba and the Soviet Union also said that there were distinct differences between the two countries. Even before that, in the early 1960s, local journalist Evon Blake had a story in his monthly Newday magazine entitled 'Castro: dictator but not communist'.

By the 1970s, the United Nations statistics revealed that Cuba had progressed way above the average Third-World country in terms of agricultural output, health care and education. The anti-communists countered that it was only possible because the equivalent of a million US dollars was being pumped into Cuba on a daily basis from the Soviet Union. It never occurred to any of these anti-communists that, by even saying that, they were revealing the progress of communism in the Soviet Union as they showed that the communist superpower was able to do that.

There was much local opposition to Jamaica's then prime minister, Michael Manley, expanding diplomatic relations with Cuba. But the anti-socialist rhetoric only helped the Manley cause and the Manley rhetoric. It could have helped the return of the People's National Party to government in 1976.

The Cuban Government gave Jamaica four schools, the first of which was the Jose Marti School at Twickenham Park in St Catherine. Then there were the Cuban doctors -- who left when the Jamaica Labour Party Government led by Edward Seaga broke diplomatic relations with Cuba on October 29 1981. All sorts of allegations had been made against Paul Burke being in league with wanted men who had reportedly fled to Cuba, none of which were ever proven. Yet that was the basis on which ties were cut with Cuba.

I represented St Michael's Roman Catholic Seminary (now renamed theological college) at an ecumenical consultation on evangelism in Trinidad in 1975, which was held on the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies. At that conference, at least one Cuban Protestant minister complained that only Roman Catholics counted in the eyes of Fidel Castro.

Socialism and Catholicism

But some will ask how do I reconcile my socialist position with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. In the writings of the popes going back to the earliest days of communism, the church taught that no one could be a good Catholic and a good socialist at the same time. This was when the words communism and socialism were used interchangeably. There was not yet a distinction made between Scientific Socialism or communism and the several other forms of socialism. In any event, the other forms of socialism had not yet fully developed to have a separate classification.

Four decades ago, the Roman Catholic Church explained that the meaning of the word socialism had evolved to include even the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. But in fairness to Norman Washington Manley -- who was never Roman Catholic -- he understood the distinction between the two words long before many others.

When Norman Manley was criticised in Catholic Opinion for expounding socialism, he countered by saying that he could not understand the criticism since everything he ever said was in line with the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. This at least showed that Norman Manley was reading the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Jamaican-born Mon-signor Gladstone Wilson, a Roman Catholic priest who was arguably the seventh most learned man in the world, was part of the so-called Drumblair circle of intellectuals that met regularly at Norman Manley's home. Monsignor Wilson, who knew 14 languages and had four doctorates, might have been the one to introduce Norman Manley to Roman Catholic social teaching.

The anti-communism rhetoric cost the PNP three elections, that of 1944, 1962 and 1980. In 1944, the rhetoric spoke to what obtained in Russia. In 1962, it was the Russian ship in the harbour. In 1980, it was all about Michael Manley and Castro.

Indeed, it was a strange irony when Bruce Golding, as prime minister, visited Cuba. It was a further irony that when Barack Obama announced that the embargo against Cuba would be lifted the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party welcomed the decision. I invite readers to do their research on the position of the JLP on Cuba as late as the 1980s.

Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in the 1990s. One of the statements made by Fidel Castro was that he and the pope were ideological twins. Pope John Paul II called for a lifting of the embargo against Cuba. In recent times, Pope Francis has also called for this and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring this about.

Classical communism in the Soviet Union came to a final end on December 25, 1992. There was no longer a Soviet Union but Russia and 14 other states with their own independent governments. Cuba was left isolated but did not surrender to anyone -- least of all the powerful and mighty USA, whether under Fidel Castro or his brother Raul. Yet the USA has lifted the embargo. The former Soviet Union lost the cold war against the USA but Cuba has won theirs.

Happy New Year to everyone!

January 01, 2015

Jamaica Observer