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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.

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

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