Caribbean Political Economy

Royal Wedding–the biggest non-event-to-be of 2011, Norman Girvan

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A man and woman fall in love, presumably, and announce their forthcoming marriage.

The world’s media, led by those in the couple’s home country, prepare to turn the wedding into the biggest non-event of 2011.

The man’s sole and exclusive claim to fame is the accident of his birth.

The woman’s, that she is, like the deceased mother of her husband-to-be, a fashionable commoner set to add her good looks to her future family which, according to some uncharitable observers, is badly in need of it.

I have nothing against the young couple. They are probably nice people. I wish them a long and happy married life. Greater success, in this endeavour, than many other similar celebrity couples have enjoyed.

They will need it; for in the coming months; they will be subjected to, and we will be saturated with, an endless stream of related trivia from newspapers and TV, everywhere.

How they met. Their first quarrel. How they made up.

Where they went–together, and apart. Their former loves.

What they wear. Their favourite night spots.

What they eat for breakfast. For lunch. For dinner.

The engagement ring. The wedding ring. The wedding dress. The bridesmaids’ dresses.

Their friends and confidantes will be interviewed for all the intimate details of their lives. Some will make money revealing the juicy tit-bits to a salivating tabloid press.

It will all build up to the climax of a wedding, complete with pomp, ceremony and glitter, costing several millions-which of course they will not be required to pay-attended by several heads of state and other high officials from dozens of countries. And watched by over one billion people in the planet.

An adoring public will revel in the vicarious enjoyment of their fairy-tale world.

A desperate government will use it to try and restore the fading prestige of an empire long since in terminal decline; over which the groom-to-be’s ancestors once presided; secure in the knowledge that sun would not dare to set on it..

Who knows, some export sales might be generated amidst all the euphoria.

Meanwhile, the death toll from cholera in Haiti has passed 1,000-and still counting.

Dozens die every day as a result of stupid, futile imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Wars in which the couple’s home government participated with self-righteous zeal.

Tens of thousands in Pakistan grapple with the aftermath of devastating floods that afflicted them as a result of a global climate spinning out of control.

Seventeen million families in the United States of America, the world’s richest nation, are officially certified to be food insecure.

In other words, their members do not have enough to eat.

In Jamaica, the organisation Families Against State Terrorism records 270 killings by the security forces this year so far. And 2,000 in the past ten years.

There is such a thing as ‘bad news fatigue’. We all need distractions from the pain and injustices in the world, brought to us daily, courtesy of the wonders of modern technology. Especially when we feel powerless to do anything about it.

The media of course, understand this very well. Their competitive games of Trivial Pursuit are justified by the mantra, “this is what the public wants”.

Still, there are distractions and distractions. Some call us to celebrate the world as it is. Others, to imagine what it could become.

For myself, I prefer the occasional highs afforded by West Indies cricket; and other similar accomplishments.

At least Chris Gayle’s triple century was the result of talent combined with application and style.

Certainly not to an accident of lineage.

But it doesn’t make as good footage as the forthcoming, biggest non-event of 2011, does it?

Norman
17/11/2010.

‘ Political Prisoners’? Mainstream Media Distortions on Cuba, Saul Landau and Nelson Valdes

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On July 8, the Washington Post lead story ["Cuba to release 52 political prisoners, Catholic Church says"] reported Cuba had released five political prisoners with assurances of forty-seven more to come in the near future. Cuban President Raul Castro said all political prisoners would soon be released. On July 16, another group was freed. The Post story and its July 9 editorial “Cuba’s marginal gesture” omitted facts readers would need in order to understand the significance of the prisoner release. Both pieces convey the image of a “political prisoner” who is dedicated to expressing unwelcome views — perhaps a poet, or a whistle blower who has uncovered corruption. But these prisoners were in jail for committing crimes that would have placed them behind bars if they were done in the United States including working for a foreign government without registering, and committing violence…

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Lies about Cuba, Salim Lamrani

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“Reporters Without Borders” Easily Unveiled

From Salim Lamrani’s ZSpace Page.July 20, 2009

Salim Lamrani is a French 5esearcher Denis-Diderot University in Parí­s, specialising Cuba-U.S. relations.

Salim Lamrani is a French 5esearcher Denis-Diderot University in Parí­s, specialising Cuba-U.S. relations.

On May 20, 2009, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) published a statement on Cuba declaring that “anyone can browse the internet…unless they are Cuban.” To support its,  ,  ,   claim, RWB offered a videotaped scene filmed in a hotel with a hidden camera in which a Cuban is denied internet access. The organization goes on to assert that “in Cuba an internet user can be sentenced to 20 years in jail if s/he publishes a counterrevolutionary article on a website (article 91), and 5 years if s/he connects to the web illegally.” Lastly, RWB points out that “Cuba is the second largest prison in the world for journalists, after China,” reminding readers that there are “19 detained … under the false pretext that they are ‘mercenaries paid by the United States.’” 1

Confronting RWB with its own contradictions is easy. In reality, at the same time the organization asserts that no Cuban can connect to the web, it provides a link to the blog of Yoani Sanchez, who lives in Cuba and who openly uses the internet to oppose the government in Havana. How is it that Sanchez manages to express herself if not via access to the internet? Her last blog post is dated May 27, 2009. In addition, she posted on May 25, 23, 22, 19, 18, 16, 15, 13, 10, 9, 7, 6, 4, and 2 as well as on April 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, 23, and 21. Thus, during the month preceding the publication of RWB’s statement about internet access in Cuba, Yoani Sanchez was able to connect to the web – from Cuba – at least 18 times. 2

In publication after publication, RWB continually contradicts itself. Thus, in a March 2008 report about independent journalists in Cuba, the Paris-based organization emphasized that “Yoani Sanchez’s blog is on the website DesdeCuba.com, which includes five bloggers and has a six-person editorial committee. Its objective is simply to comment on the country’s political situation. In February 2009 after its first anniversary, the site claims to have exceeded 1.5 million hits, 800,000 of which were on the Generation Y blog. Even more impressive, 26% of the site’s visitors live in Cuba, in third position behind the United States and Spain.” 3 How can the “26% of readers who are Cuban” visit Sanchez’s blog if their access to the internet is prohibited? 4

At the same time, RWB used the isolated case of a hidden camera in a Cuban hotel to generalize about a prohibition on internet access on the entire island as well as to denigrate the Cuban authorities. Ironically, in her post on May 23, 2009, Yoani Sanchez wrote that with “a dozen bloggers we did a study of more than 40 hotels in Havana. With the exception of the Miramar West, all said that they were unaware of a regulation prohibiting Cubans from accessing the internet”. Thus, the western media’s preferred Cuban blogger dramatically contradicted RWB’s allegations. 5

RWB claims that any person who publishes an article critical of the Cuban government risks 20 years of imprisonment, citing as evidence article 91, without further elaboration on the matter. So what does article 91 of the Cuban Penal Code say? Here it is in its entirety: “Anyone who, in the interest of a foreign State, carries out an act with the intention of damaging the independence of the Cuban State or its territorial integrity will incur a penalty of imprisonment for ten to twenty years or by death.” As is evident, RWB does not hesitate in the least to blatantly lie. The section of Cuban law in question does not prohibit in any way internet publication of heterodox analysis. Nor does it limit in any way freedom of expression. It does penalize acts of treason against the state. 6

This would be equivalent to accusing the government of Nicholas Sarkosy of repression of web surfers in France by applying article 411-2 of the French Penal Code (“handing over troops belonging to the French armed forces, or all or part of the national territory, to a foreign power, to a foreign organization or to an organization under foreign control, or to their agents is punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of 750,000 euros.”) or article 411-4 (“The act of sharing intelligence with a foreign power, an enterprise or organization that is foreign or under foreign control or with its agents, with the aim of provoking hostilities or acts of aggression against France, shall be punished with thirty years of criminal detention and a fine of 450,000 euros. The same penalties shall apply to the act of providing to a foreign power, an enterprise or organization that is foreign or under foreign control or its agents, the means to undertake hostilities or realize acts of aggression against France.”) 7

That said, it is evident upon viewing Yoani Sanchez’s blog, which is extremely critical of the Cuban authorities, or reading the writings of other government opponents, that the Paris-based organization’s accusation is unsupported. RWB also states that Cubans risk up to “five years if they illegally connect to the web.” Here the French organization limits itself to making a flat statement without even bothering to refer to a section of the law which, as it turns out, does not exist. Once again, RWB resorts to a lie.

Lastly, RWB continues in the same vein, assuring us that the “19 detained” journalists are jailed “under the false pretext of being ‘mercenaries paid by the United States.’” The organization is incapable of coherence and rigor in its own publications. In reality, the French language version of the same article refers to “24 media professionals.”8 But the numbers matter little. Once again, there is a double deception. On the one hand, only one of the “19 detainees” that RWB referred to, actually has a journalistic background: Oscar Elí­as Biscet. The 18 others had never practiced the profession before joining the world of the dissidents. On the other hand, these individuals were never penalized for distributing subversive intellectual material, but rather for accepting the financial inducements offered by Washington, and, as a result, went from being opponents of the government to being paid agents of a foreign power, thereby committing a serious crime punished not only by Cuban law but also by the Penal Code of every country in the world. The evidence is abundant. The United States admits that it finances Cuba’s internal opposition and its own official documents prove it. The dissidents admit to receiving monetary aid from Washington and even Amnesty International admits that the jailed individuals were sentenced “for having received funds or materials from the U.S. government to carry out activities that the authorities consider subversive and detrimental to Cuba.” 9
RWB lacks credibility given that its agenda is first and foremost political and ideological. The contradictions and manipulations of the Paris-based organization are readily uncovered and proven. Moreover, RWB can make no claim to legitimacy given that it acknowledges receiving funds from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which, according to a 1997 New York Times report, is a CIA front “created 15 years ago to carry out publicly what the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did clandestinely for decades.” 10

Translated by David Brookbank

Notes

1 Reporteros Sin Fronteras, , «’Cualquiera puede navegar por Internet…salvo los cubanos’, », 20 de mayo de 2009. http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=31383 (sitio consultado el 20 de mayo de 2009).

2 Yoani Sánchez, Generación Y. http://www.desdecuba.com/generaciony/ (sitio consultado el 24 de mayo de 2009).

3 Claire VÅ“ux, Cuba. Cuba. Cinco años después de la “Primavera negra”, los periodistas independientes resisten, Reporteros Sin Fronteras, marzo de 2008. http://www.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/Informe_Cuba.pdf (sitio consultado el 20 de mayo de 2009).

4 Reporteros Sin Fronteras, , «Cuba: informe 2008, », http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26080 (sitio consultado el 20 de mayo de 2009).

5 Yoani Sánchez, , «’Sentada’ blogger, », Generación Y, 23 de mayo de 2009. http://www.desdecuba.com/generaciony/ (sitio consultado el 27 de mayo de 2009).

6 Ley n, ° 62, Código Penal de Cuba, Libro II, Artí­culo 91, 29 de diciembre de 1987. http://www.acnur.org/biblioteca/pdf/4417.pdf (sitio consultado el 24 mayo de 2009).

7 Code Pénal Franí§ais, Partie législative, Livre IV, Titre 1er, Chapitre 1er, Sections 1 & 2.

8 Reporteros Sin Fronteras, , «’N'importe qui peut naviguer sur Internet… sauf s’il est cubain’, », 20 mai 2009. http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=31379 (sitio consultado el 26 de mayo de 2009).

9 Amnesty International, , «Cuba. Cinq années de trop, le nouveau gouvernement doit libérer les dissidents emprisonnés, », 18 de marzo de 2008. http://www.amnesty.org/fr/for-media/press-releases/cuba-cinq-ann%C3%A9es-de-trop-le-nouveau-gouvernement-doit-lib%C3%A9rer-les-dissid(sitio consultado el 23 de abril de 2008).

10 Salim Lamrani, Cuba. Ce que les médias ne vous diront jamais (Paris: Editions Estrella, 2009), próxima publicación.

Salim Lamrani is a professor at Universidad Parí­s Descartes and at Universidad Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, as well as a French journalist, specializing in relations between Cuba and the United States. He has published, among other works, Double Standard: Cuba, the European Union, and Human Rights (Hondarriaba: Editorial Hiru, 2008). His new book is entitled Cuba: Ce que les médias ne vous diront jamais (Parí­s: Editions Estrella, 2009) with a prologue by Nelson Mandela. Contact: lamranisalim@yahoo.fr ; salim.lamrani@parisdescartes.fr

The Honduras coup is the Caribbean’s business; Norman Girvan, Andaiye and Alissa Trotz

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Andaiye

Andaiye

A slightly shorter version of this commentary was published in the Stabroek News of July 13, 2009

On April 11, 2002, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez was briefly removed from office by an abortive coup d-etat. A documentary on this episode, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, shows how an alliance of big business, wealthy landowners, and elements of the military conspired to remove him, with the active support of the Bush Administration and the local and international media. State-owned TV stations were closed,coverage of pro-Chavez demostrations was blanked, and false stories circulated. Fortuitously, on the day of the coup, an Irish television crew happened to be inside the Presidential Palace making a documentary; and the end -result was a film that offers an alternate and compelling viewpoint to the pro-coup stories. It documented the pro-poor policies of of the government, the fact that it had been democratically elected and enjoyed extensive support among the working poor; it refuted the

Alissa Trotz

Alissa Trotz

lie that Chávez had resigned and revealed that he was being held prisoner, and showed the massive street demonstrations in his support.

There are disturbing parallels with Honduras, where on the morning of June 28th the incumbent President Manuel Zelaya, democratically elected in 2006 , was taken prisoner by soldiers and put on a plane to neighbouring Costa Rica, a forged letter of resignation was produced, and the President of the National Assembly, Robert Micheletti, proclaimed President. Honduras, a Central American nation of seven million people that recently overtook Guyana as the third poorest country in the hemisphere, still exhibits the deep racial and class inequalties that are a legacy of Spanish conquest and colonisation of the indigenous majority. 75 percent of the people live in poverty, while the top 10 percent of the population gets 45 percent of the national product (Background to the Honduran coup: Poverty, exploitation and imperialist domination, By Rafael Azul). The unemployment rate is 30 percent and the average working day for adult men and women is 14 hours. 30,000 employees in the maquiladora (export assembly) plants have reportedly lost their jobs since the onset of the global economic crisis. Manuel Zelaya, himself a wealthy landowner, had angered the Honduran business elite and military by moving increasingly ‘to the left’ during his presidency, raising the mimimum wage by 60 percent, reducing fuel prices in response to popular demands, and, most controversially, taking Honduras into the Venezuelan-led ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas). His plan to hold a non-binding referendumwas the trigger of a series of events which led to his ouster.

Contrary to widespread media reports, the June 28 Referendum was not about extending Zelaya’s term of office. The actual question on the aborted June 28 ballot read: “Do you think that the November 2009 general elections should include a fourth ballot box in order to make a decision about the creation of a National Constitutional Assembly that would approve a new Constitution?” “Yes” or “No.”? To quote Mark Weisbrot, Director of the Washington-based Centre for Ecocomic Policy and Research writing on July 8th for the London Guardian,

“There was no way for Zelaya to “extend his rule” even if the referendum had been held and passed, and even if he had then gone on to win a binding referendum on the November ballot. The 28 June referendum was nothing more than a non-binding poll of the electorate, asking whether the voters wanted to place a binding referendum on the November ballot to approve a redrafting of the country’s constitution. If it had passed, and if the November referendum had been held (which was not very likely) and also passed, the same ballot would have elected a new president and Zelaya would have stepped down in January”.

What was launched, therefore, appears to have been a pre-emptive strike by the Honduran elite in an attempt to thwart Zelaya’s plans to deepen the democratic process in a country that has historically excluded the poor and indigenous majority from effective participation in social and economic life; a process similar to that underway in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

An inadvertent revelation of inbred racism and classism of this class was the statement by Enrique Ortez Colindres, named as interim foreign minister, dismissing U.S. President Obama as a “little black man [who] doesn’t know where Tegucigalpa is.” A lukewarm apology was proffered, but a further remark by Colindres surfaced which translated reads “I have negotiated with queers, prostitutes, leftists, blacks, whites. This is my job, I studied for it. I am not racially prejudiced. I like the little black sugar plantation worker who is president of the United States.” (There are reports that Colindres has been replaced, but other news stories contradict this).

Whatever one may think of Mr Zelaya’s politics, there can be little doubt that what is at stake here is the integrity of institutional democracy and constitutional order. Quite simply, if soldiers can take it on themselves to remove and eject a demcratically elected President, then no such President or government is safe–not in Latin America, not in the Caribbean, not anywhere in the world. The Cuban leader, Fidel Castro has rightly warned that failure to restore President Zelaya could result in a wave of additional coups in Latin America, or place existing governments “at the mercy of the ultra right-wing military, educated in the security doctrine of the School of the Americas, an expert in torture, psychological warfare and terror”. Hence the coup has been unanimously condemned internationally–the United Nations General Assembly, the OAS General Assembly, the Rio Group, the ALBA nations, the Central American Integration System, the Caribbean Community, the European Union, and now the Non-Aligned Movement—have all called for the President’s restoration. Evidently the geopolitical climate has shifted somewhat since 2002. Last week US President Obama reassuringly declared “America supports now the restoration of the democratically-elected President of Honduras, even though he has strongly opposed American policies” .

US Base at Soto Cano, 50 miles from Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras

US Base at Soto Cano, 50 miles from Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras

But is the U.S. speaking with one voice? Some argue that the Pentagon, which operates one of the largest U.S. air bases in the region just 50 miles from Tegucigalpa, and has close ties to the Honduran military, must have had forewarning of the coup; and not only failed to stop it but may even have given ‘a wink and a nod’. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s initial statements on the coup were ambiguous, to say the least, and she sponsored the clumsy attempt to broker an agreement between President Zelaya and the usurper Micheletti, using President Arias of Costa Rica as mediator; an attempt which spectacularly-and predictably-failed. As Weisbrot notes, the US still does not call for an immediate and unconditional return as do the United Nations, the Organisation of American States and Caricom. Some in the U.S. may well support the coupists’ strategem of dragging out the process until the Honduran presidential election, due in November.

But just who is in charge in Washington? And when President Obama spoke of the ‘dangerous precedent’ that Zelaya’s ouster would create if it succeeded, was he subliminally, perhaps, thinking of the possibility of it coming closer to home? Was Fidel sending an oblique warning to Obama when he wrote “The Pentagon formally obeys the civilian power. The legions have not yet taken over control of the empire as they did in Rome”?

Meanwhile popular resistance to the coup in Honduras grows daily, and with it the likelihood of a violent polarisation of the country; dragging other Central American,   nations into

Alfred Lopez National Fraternal Black Organization

Alfred Lopez National Fraternal Black Organization

the conflict. Daily demonstrations are being held by the national resistance movement, a coalition of popular organizations, at least one of which has been violently supressed. The National Fraternal Black Organization, representing Honduras’ Garifuna population (‘Black Caribs’, of African-Caribbean origin), is an active part of the resistance movement; considering it their ‘historic responsibility, as a culturally distinct people (whose) culture is threatened by these same powerful groups responsible for the coup’.

Mike James in July 10th Catholic Standard, has reported on several Honduran religious communities publicly condemning the coup. One protestor, a youth killed by military snipers when he attempted to go onto the airfield to welcome the plane that was attempting to land returning Zelaya–aborted by the military–was the son of Pentecostal ministers, one of whom led the Human Rights committee in his community and has since been arrested. He describes popular religious organizations offering alternative radio coverage and carrying video footage of the resistance and repression in the Honduran capital; and a website, Honduras Resists, has been set up with regularly updated coverage. And across the region grassroots organizations are also categorically condemning the coup, like the network of indigenous women of South America and Mexico who issued a statement from Lima last week.

Honduras also brings to mind the ongoing crisis in Haiti, where, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was himself put on a plane by soldiers (American, in this instance) and banished in 2004, on the eve of the 200th anniversary of Haitian independence; a disgraceful episode in which US, Canadian and French governments played no small part. Honduras is not only our business in the Caribbean, we need to put to these events in a wider hemispheric context. We must insist on a conversation that recognizes that today two popularly elected presidents from our part of the world, Aristide and Zelaya, are in exile, and that the democratic aspirations of both the Honduran and Haitian people continue to be in limbo and require our solidarity.

Norman Girvan is Professor at the UWI Instititute of International Relations in St. Augustine, Trinidad
Andaiye is international coordinator of Red Thread, a collective of mainly grassroots women in Guyana which crosses race/ethnic divides
Alissa Trotz is a member of Red Thread and teaches women/gender studies and Caribbean Studies at the University of Toronto

Documentation

The Right Strikes Back Immamuel Wallerstein

Honduran Crisis: Role of U.S. Military Training School Lawrwence Gist, L.A. County Examiner

Ex-Clinton Aides Advising Honduran Coup Regime Bill Van Auken

The Coup Dies or Constitutions Die Fidel Castro

Honduras resists

Hondurans Resist the Coup; They Need International Support Mark Weisbrot

U.S. Press falsely claims Honduran plurality for the coup

Honduras’s First Lady Leads Demonstration in Tegucigalpa

Zelaya’s wife leads protest

Interview with Vice-President of National Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras

Central America’s New Transnational Right and the Regional Military Threat Simon Granovsky-Larsen

Bigotry, hatred mark Honduras’s de facto regime

Ortez Colindres,   fired

he Honduras Coup: Is Obama Innocent? Michael Parenti

In Honduras, two political lines of the USA at work Jose Vicente Rangel

BBC Video,   shows soldiers shooting,   unarmed protestors

Caricom Condemns Miliatry Action; Calls for Reinstatement of President Zelaya

FITUN Statement Calling for Restoration of President Zelaya and of Solidarity with Honduran People