Inter Press Service » North America http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 31 Jan 2015 14:16:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 U.S.-India Partnership a Step Forward for Low-Carbon Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:44:06 +0000 David Waskow and Manish Bapna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138861 President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By David Waskow and Manish Bapna
WASHINGTON, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

India garnered international attention this week for its climate action.

As President Barack Obama visited the country at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation, the two leaders announced a new U.S.-India agreement on clean energy and climate change.With the U.S.-India partnership, the world’s three-largest emitters—China, the United States and India—have all made strong commitments to curbing climate change and scaling up clean energy.

The agreement will help turn India’s bold renewable energy targets into reality.

Rather than relying on one major plank, the collaboration is a comprehensive set of actions that, taken together, represent a substantial step in advancing low-carbon development in India while also promoting economic growth and expanding energy access.

This agreement comes just two months after the U.S-China climate agreement.

While expectations for the two agreements were quite different — India’s per capita emissions are a fraction of those from China and the United States, and India is in a very different phase of economic development— Modi’s commitments are significant steps that will help build even further momentum for a new international climate agreement.

Prime Minister Modi’s new government has made a significant commitment to sustainable growth in the past several months, setting a goal of 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity by 2022 and considering a new target of 60 GW in wind energy capacity.

The Indian government has also created a new initiative to develop 100 “smart cities” across the country, aimed at building more sustainable, livable urban areas.

The U.S.-India collaboration takes a multi-pronged approach to turn these promising pledges into concrete results. For example:

Setting a renewable energy goal

Building on India’s 100 GW solar capacity goal, Modi announced India’s intention to increase the overall share of renewable energy in the nation’s electricity supply.

Setting a percentage of overall energy consumption that will come from renewables can not only help India reduce emissions, it can also play a key role in expanding energy access.

Roughly 300 million Indians—nearly 25 percent of the country’s population—lack access to electricity.

Solar power—which is already cheaper than diesel in some parts of the country and may soon be as cheap as conventional energy—can put affordable, clean power within reach.

Accelerating clean energy finance

Given that the entire world’s installed solar capacity in 2013 was 140 GW, India’s plan to reach 100 GW by 2022 is nothing short of ambitious.

The Modi government estimates that scaling up its 2022 solar target from 20 GW to 100 GW will save 165 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent emissions of about 23 million American households’ annual electricity use.

The U.S.-India announcement reveals a clear commitment from both countries to stimulate the public and private investment needed to achieve this bold target.

Improving air quality

Of the 20 cities with the worst air pollution, India houses 13 of them.

The cost of premature deaths from air pollution in the country is already 6 percent of GDP, and it’s poised to worsen as the urban population increases from 380 million to 600 million over the next 15 years.

The U.S.-India plan to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AIR Now-International Program can help cut back on harmful urban air pollution, improve human health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Modi’s plan to establish 100 “smart cities” can support this initiative by designing compact and connected rather than sprawled urban areas, which are associated with a heavy transportation-related emissions footprint.

Boosting climate resilience

India is already one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change: rising sea level threatens 8,000 kilometers of coastline and nearly half of its 28 states.

The U.S.-India deal builds on both countries’ previous commitment to climate adaptation, outlining a plan to better assess risks, build capacity and engage local communities.

With the U.S.-India partnership, the world’s three-largest emitters—China, the United States and India—have all made strong commitments to curbing climate change and scaling up clean energy.

This action is not only important for reducing emissions in the three nations, but also for building momentum internationally. Obama and Modi have created a direct line of communication, a relationship that will be important for securing a strong international climate agreement in Paris later this year.

Prime Minister Modi made it clear that he sees it as incumbent on all countries to take action on climate change.

Rather than being motivated by international pressure, he said what counts is “the pressure of what kind of legacy we want to leave for our future generations. Global warming is a pressure… We understand this pressure and we are responding to it.”

Modi is tasked with confronting not just global warming, but a number of immediate threats—alleviating poverty, improving air quality, expanding electricity access and enhancing agricultural productivity, just to name a few.

Many of the actions under the U.S.-India agreement will not only reduce emissions, but will also help address these development challenges.

With the new agreement, India is positioning itself as a global leader on pairing climate action with economic development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Cuba and U.S. Skirt Obstacles to Normalisation of Tieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:15:35 +0000 Patricia Grogg and Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138835 The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg and Ivet González
HAVANA, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

The biggest discrepancies in the first meeting to normalise relations between Cuba and the United States, after more than half a century, were over the issue of human rights. But what stood out in the talks was a keen interest in forging ahead, in a process led by two women.

After a meeting with representatives of Cuba’s dissident groups, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson reiterated on Jan. 23 that the questions of democracy and human rights are crucial for her country in the bilateral talks, while stressing that there are “deep” differences with Havana on these points.

But the head of the Washington delegation said these discrepancies would not be an obstacle in the negotiations for restoring diplomatic ties – a goal that was announced simultaneously by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on Dec. 17.

In her statement to the media after her two-day official visit to Havana, Jacobson added that her country’s new policy towards Cuba is aimed at greater openness with more rights and freedoms.

Nor does independent journalist Miriam Leiva, founder of the opposition group Ladies in White, believe the U.S. focus on defending human rights and supporting dissidents will be a hurdle. “The Cuban government knew that, and they sat down to talk regardless,” she remarked to IPS.

In her view, the important thing is for the normalisation of ties to open up a direct channel of communication between the two governments. “This is a new phase marked by challenges, but also full of hope and opportunities for the people. Of course it’s not going to be easy, and the road ahead is long,” she added.

The Cuban authorities have consistently referred to opposition groups as “mercenaries” in the pay of the aggressive U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Nor are they happy when U.S. visitors to Cuba meet with opponents of the government. And they are intolerant of the relationship between dissidents and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which is to be turned into the new embassy as part of the process that got underway with the first round of talks in the convention centre in the Cuban capital.

Jacobson and her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, addressed the issue of human rights during the talks on Thursday Jan. 22.

The high-level U.S. diplomat described the process of reestablishing bilateral ties as “long” and “complex.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In a written statement distributed to reporters in a no-questions-allowed media briefing, Jacobson said: “As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression.”

Vidal, meanwhile, said “in our exchange, each party laid out their positions, visions and conceptions on the issue of the exercise of human rights.”

She said the word “pressure” – “pressed” was translated into Spanish as “pressured” – did not come up in the discussion, and that “Cuba has shown throughout its history that it does not and will not respond to pressure.”

In the 1990s and early this century, the question of human rights triggered harsh verbal confrontations between Havana and Washington in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and since 2006 in the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Havana complained that the U.S. used the issue as part of its “anti-Cuba” policy.

Vidal said she suggested to Jacobson that they hold a specific expert-level dialogue at a date to be agreed, to discuss their views of democracy and human rights.

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry's chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Jurist Roberto Veiga, who leads the civil society project Cuba Posible, told IPS that “the circumstances that have influenced the issue of human rights should be considered in any bilateral talks on the issue, to avoid mistaken judgments that could stand in the way of possible solutions.”

In his view, during the process that led to the 1959 triumph of the revolution, which was later declared “socialist,” there was a “struggle between a vision that put a priority on so-called individual rights to the unnecessary detriment of social rights and inequality,” and one that put the priority on social and collective rights.

As a result, in this Caribbean island nation what has prevailed up to now is “a conception [of human rights] that favours equality and social rights at the expense of certain freedoms, and of this country’s relations with important countries,” he said.

Veiga said Cubans must complete the effort to find a balance between individual rights and social equality. It is important to discuss this issue “for the development of Cuba’s political system and the consolidation of our civil society,” he argued.

The two delegations also addressed possibilities of cooperation in the areas of telecommunications, national security, international relations, people smuggling, care for the environment, responding to oil spills, the fight against drugs and terrorism, water resources, global health, and a joint response to the ebola epidemic in West Africa, among others.

In the first part of the meeting, the two sides analysed the practical steps to be taken for the opening up of embassies, which will basically follow the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in effect since 1964.

Reporting the results of the first meeting, aimed above all at laying the foundations for the process, Vidal stressed that following the Convention “implies reciprocal respect for the political, economic and social system of both states and avoiding any form of meddling in internal affairs.”

The date for the next round of talks was not announced.

The meeting was preceded, on Wednesday Jan. 21, by a round of follow-up talks on the migration accords reached by the two countries in 1994 and 1995.

Most Cubans are sceptical and even incredulous about the surprising decision to “make friends” with the United States.

“I think both sides are demanding a lot of each other,” 37-year-old Ángel Calvo, a self-employed driver, told IPS. “Both countries have completely different politics, which it is best to respect in order to start reaching agreements.”

Manuel Sánchez, 33, who described himself as a worker in the informal economy, said both countries “will make more progress towards improving relations than in the past, but they’ll never have the excellent ties that many people are hoping for.”

What is clear is that the talks led by the two high-level officials in Havana have raised expectations.

As renowned Cuban writer Leonardo Padura wrote in a column for IPS earlier this month, after the historic Dec. 17 announcement, “with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Obama-Congress Iran Sanctions Battle Goes Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:25:57 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138790 President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

While it’s anyone’s guess whether a final deal will be reached over Iran’s nuclear programme this year, a number of key international actors have forcefully weighed in on calls from within the U.S. congress to impose more sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

President Barack Obama reiterated his threat to veto new Iran-related sanctions bills while talks are in progress during his State of the Union (SOTU) address this week.There’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said Jan. 20 in his second to last SOTU. “New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails—alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear programme again.”

The administration’s call to “give diplomacy with Iran a chance” was echoed a day later by key members of the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China plus Germany), which is negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme, through an op-ed in the Washington Post.

“…[I]ntroducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture,” wrote Laurent Fabius (France), Philip Hammond (U.K.), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Germany) and Federica Mogherini (EU) on Jan. 21.

“New sanctions at this moment might also fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions so effective so far,” they continued. “Rather than strengthening our negotiating position, new sanctions legislation at this point would set us back.”

Last week, during a joint press conference with Obama at the White House, the U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he had contacted members of the U.S. Senate to urge against more sanctions on Iran at this time.

“[Y]es, I have contacted a couple of senators this morning and I may speak to one or two more this afternoon,” he told reporters on Jan. 16.

“[I]t’s the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions or further threat of sanctions at this point won’t actually help to bring the talks to a successful conclusion and they could fracture the international unity that there’s been, which has been so valuable in presenting a united front to Iran,” said Cameron.

In what has been widely perceived by analysts as a rebuff to Obama’s Iran policy, reports surfaced the day after Obama’s SOTU that the House of Representatives Speaker John A. Boehner had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who has made no secret of his opposition to Obama’s approach to Iran—to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 11.

Netanyahu accepted the invitation, but changed the date to Mar. 3, when he would be visiting Washington for a conference hosted by the prominent Israel lobby group, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The invite, which was not coordinated with the White House, clearly surprised the Obama administration, which said it would not be receiving the Israeli prime minister while he is in town, citing a policy against receiving foreign leaders close to election dates (the Israeli election will be in March).

While Netanyahu has long recommended hard-line positions on what a final deal over nuclear program should entail—including “non-starters” such as zero-percent uranium enrichment on Iranian soil—he cannot be faulted for accepting the speaker’s invitation, according to the U.S.’s former ambassador to NATO, Robert E. Hunter, who told IPS: “If there is fault, it lies with the Speaker of the House.”

“If the Netanyahu visit, with its underscoring of the political potency of the Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill, is successful in ensuring veto-proof support in the Senate for overriding the threatened Obama veto of sanctions legislation, that would saddle Boehner and company with shared responsibility not only for the possible collapse of the nuclear talks…but also for the increased chances of war with Iran,” he said.

But there’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle—authored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, and another by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker—will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

With the support of the Democratic leadership in Congress, the administration has so far successfully prevented the Kirk-Menendez bill from coming to the floor since it was introduced in 2013.

A growing number of current and former high-level officials have also voiced opposition to more sanctions at this time.

“Israeli intelligence has told the U.S. that rolling out new sanctions against Iran would amount to ‘throwing a grenade’ into the negotiations process,” Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News on Jan. 21.

“Why would we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations before we really know whether there is something we can get out of them?” asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week after opposing new sanctions during a forum in Winnipeg, Canada.

“We believe that new sanctions are not needed at this time,” the Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen told the Wall Street Journal this week.

“To the contrary, new sanctions at this time, even with a delayed trigger, are more likely to undermine, rather than enhance, the chances of achieving a comprehensive agreement,” he said.

While the battle isn’t over yet, in the wake of Obama’s veto threat and Boehner’s invitation to Bibi, even some of the Democratic co-sponsors of the original Kirk-Menendez bill appear to be moving in the White House’s direction.

“I’m considering very seriously the very cogent points that [Obama’s] made in favour of delaying any congressional action,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told Politico.

“I’m talking to colleagues on both sides of the aisle. And I think they are thinking, and rethinking, their positions in light of the points that the president and his team are making to us,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. May Soon Stand Alone Opposing Children’s Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 00:48:08 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138787 Children walk during a sandstorm in Gao, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Children walk during a sandstorm in Gao, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

When the East African nation of Somalia, once described as a “lawless state”, ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) early this week, it left two countries in splendid isolation from the rest of the world: South Sudan and the United States.

South Sudan?"The U.S. cannot credibly encourage other nations to embrace human rights for children if it fails to embrace these norms." -- Meg Gardinier

Understandable, say human rights experts, because it was created and joined the United Nations only in July 2011 – and has since taken steps to start the domestic process in ratifying the treaty, probably later this year.

But the United States?

Kul Gautam of Nepal, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS the United States did sign the CRC back in February 1995 when Ambassador Madeline Albright was the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

But the U.S. government has never submitted the treaty for ratification by the U.S. Senate, he added (where it needs a two-thirds vote for approval).

Asked if there is ever a chance the United States will ratify the treaty, bearing in mind that a conservative, right-wing Republican Party now wields power on Capitol Hill, Gautam said: “With the current composition of the U.S. Congress, there is no chance for its ratification.”

But still held out hope, adding, “Future ratification is not to be ruled out.”

Somalia became the 195th State Party to the CRC, described as “the most ratified international human rights treaty in history.”

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake applauded Somalia’s ratification of the CRC and said he looks forward to supporting the nationwide effort to translate the rights of the Convention into practical action for every child in that country.

He said by ratifying the Convention, the government of Somalia is making an investment in the wellbeing of its children, and thus in the future of its society.

“The central message of the Convention is that every child deserves a fair start in life,” said Lake. “What can be more important than that?”

The CRC, which was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1989 and came into force in 1990, commemorated its 25th anniversary last year.

Asked about U.S. objections, Meg Gardinier, chair of the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the CRC, told IPS U.S. opposition to ratifying the Convention is largely centered on two arguments.

First, the CRC will undermine the role of parents in raising their children and, second, the U.S. ratification of international human rights treaties will weaken U.S. sovereignty.

Asked about the chances of future ratification, she said, “We are hopeful that the U.S. will eventually ratify the CRC, but it is a question of when?”

When U.S. President Barack Obama was campaigning in 2008, he said, “It is embarrassing that the U.S. is in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. If I become president, I will review this and other human rights treaties.”

But to date, there has been no “review” of the CRC, an important first step before submitting this to the Senate.

Gardinier said the Campaign for U.S. Ratification led an important effort urging the president to send the CRC to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As a result, executives of some 125 national and global organisations signed onto a letter to President Obama pressing this request.

This includes a diverse group of U.S. organisations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, Child Welfare League of America, Covenant House, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and United Methodist Church – all of them supporting U.S. ratification of the CRC.

Ironically, the United States was a leading contributor to the drafting of the treaty and in fact shaped a significant number of provisions.

In total, the United States initiated seven articles, including Article 10 (family reunification), Articles 14 (freedom of religion), 16 (right to privacy), 19 (protection from abuse) 13 (freedom of expression), 15 (freedom of association and assembly) and 25 (review of placement.)

The provisions contained in the CRC are largely consistent with U.S. law, while additional provisions would be implemented through federal and state legislation in a manner and timeframe determined by the U.S. legislative process.

“The U.S. cannot credibly encourage other nations to embrace human rights for children if it fails to embrace these norms,” Gardinier told IPS.

“It is the Campaign’s conviction that the CRC protects children, preserves and strengthens families and is unquestionably improving the lives of children,” she declared.

Contrary to U.S. misgivings, the Convention strongly defends the need for families and the importance of parents, say human rights experts.

The treaty underscores that a strong family is crucial for children and for societies and there is ample language throughout the CRC to support the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents.

In fact, 19 articles of the CRC explicitly recognise the importance of parents and family in the lives of children.

The rights for children in the CRC mirror both the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, at the insistence of the two former administrations – under President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations – that worked on this treaty.

“They are not meant to set children against parents,” said Gardinier.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Banks, Inequality and Citizenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:27:17 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138778

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that alarming figures on what has gone wrong in global society are being met with inaction. Citing data from Oxfam’s recent report on global wealth, he says that the rich are becoming richer – and the poor poorer – in a society where finance is no longer at the service of the economy or citizens.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Every day we receive striking data on major issues which should create tumult and action, but life goes on as if those data had nothing to do with people’s lives.

A good example concerns climate change. We know well that we are running out of time. It is nothing less than our planet that is at stake … but a few large energy companies are able to get away with their practices surrounded by the deafening silence of humankind.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Another example comes from the world of finance. Since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2009, banks have paid the staggering amount of 178 billion dollars in fines – U.S. banks have paid 115 billion, while European banks 63 billion. But, as analyst Sital Patel of Market Watch writes, these fines are now seen as a cost of doing business. In fact, no banker has yet been incriminated in a personal capacity.

Now we have other astonishing data from Oxfam – if nothing is done, in two years’ time the richest one percent of the world´s population will have a greater share of its wealth than the remaining 99 percent.

The richest are becoming richer at an unprecedented rate, and the poorest poorer. In just one year, the one percent went from possessing 44 percent of the world´s wealth to 48 percent last year. In 2016, therefore, it is estimated that this one percent will possess more than all the other 99 percent combined.

The top 89 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by 600 billion dollars in the last four years – a rise of five percent and equal to the combined budgets of 11 countries of the world with a population of 2.3 billion people.

In 2010, that figure was owned by 388 billionaires, and this striking and rapid concentration of wealth has, of course, a global impact. The so-called middle class is shrinking fast and in a number of countries youth unemployment stands at 40 percent, meaning that the destiny of today’s young people is clearly much worse than that of their parents.“In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production”

It will probably take some time before those figures become part of general awareness but it is a safe bet that they will not lead to any action, as with climate change. U.S. President Barack Obama is the only leader who has announced a tax increase on the rich, although he stands little chance of succeeding with his Republican-dominated Congress.

In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production. But up to a point: 34 percent of today’s billionaires inherited all or part of their wealth, and – interestingly – “inheritance tax is the most avoidable of levies”, as James Moore noted Jan. 20 in The Independent.

The “father of modern times”, late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, saw it clearly when he said that the rich produce richness, the poor produce poverty. So let the rich pay less taxes.

Well, in a just-released report, the U.S. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy notes that in 2015 the poorest one-fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in taxes, the middle one-fifth 9.4 percent, and the top one percent just 5.4 percent.

Now, 20 percent of the richest billionaires are linked to the financial sector and it is worth recalling that this sector has grown more than the real economy, and has regulations only at national level. At global level, finance is the only activity which has international body of some kind of governance, as do labour, trade and communications, to name just a few.

Finance is no longer at the service of the economy and citizens. It has its own life. Financial transactions are now worth 40 trillion dollars a day, compared with the world’s economic output of one trillion.

At national level, there are now attempts half-hearted attempts to regulate finance. But let us look what is happening in United States. The new bland regulation is the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly known as the Dodd-Frank, and it does not go as far as restoring the division between deposit banks, which was where citizens put their money and which could not be used for speculation, and investments banks, which speculate … and how!

This separation was abolished during the U.S. presidency of Bill Clinton, and is considered the end of banks at the service of the real economy. In any case, the lobbyists on Wall Street are intent on having the Dodd-Frank chipped away at, little by little.

There is some schizophrenia when we look at the relations between capital and politics. The U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated any limit to contributions from companies to political elections, declaring that the companies have the same rights as individuals. Of course, there are not many individuals who can shell out the same figures as a company, unless you’re one of the 89 billionaires!

Meanwhile, banks are not only responsible for the corruption of the political system, and for the illegal activities which have earned them billions of dollars, they are also responsible for funding only big investors, and leaving everybody else out from easy credit. The efforts of the Chairman of the European Central Bank,  Mario Draghi, to have banks give credit to small companies and individuals has gone largely nowhere.

But a new and imaginative initiative comes from the very stern Dutch bankers. All 90,000 bankers in the Netherlands are now required to take an oath: “I swear that I will endeavour to maintain and promote confidence in the financial sector. So help me God”.

This is not so much oriented towards the customer, and it is very self-serving; and it brings God in as the regulator of the Dutch banking system. Perhaps the Dutch bankers have been paying heed to the words of Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein who said at the time of the financial crisis in 2009 that bankers were “doing God’s work”.

Well God will have to be actively involved. All the three biggest Dutch banks – Rabobank, ABN Amro and ING Groep – have been involved in scandals that have hurt consumers, or were nationalised during the financial crisis, costing taxpayers more than 140 billion dollars. In one case, Rabobank was fined one billion dollars.

New York’s Wall Street and London’s City are said to be open to the idea of introducing a similar oath.

It is probably only that kind of Higher Power which could turn the tide in this world of growing inequality and lack of ethics. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

The author can be contacted at utopie@ips.org

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OPINION-CUBA/US: Catching a Glimpse of the Possible Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 12:14:18 +0000 Leonardo Padura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138755 Leonardo Padura

Leonardo Padura

By Leonardo Padura
HAVANA, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

All Cubans, on either side of the Florida Straits, but in places like Spain, France or Greenland – where there must be a couple of Cubans – as well felt it was a historic moment that included each and every one of us, when U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 the normalisation of relations after half a century of hostility.

Those of us who are in Cuba felt that way precisely because we live here; and those who live abroad felt it because of the various motives that prompted them, at different times and for a range of reasons, to move away and rewrite their lives.

The great majority met the news with joy and hope; a smaller percentage felt a sensation of defeat and even betrayal; and another small group perhaps felt little about what the decision might mean for their futures.

But what is indisputable is that each one of us was shocked by the announcement, which some media outlets even dubbed “the news of the year” – extraordinary, really (even if you consider it an exaggeration), given that we’re just talking about the normalisation of ties between the United States and a small Caribbean island nation that is not even decisive in the economy of the region and supposedly does not influence the world’s big political developments.

But for years Cuba’s small size, in terms of both its geography and economy, has been far out of proportion to its international stature and influence, and the “news of the year” really was (or may have been) such due to several reasons, besides the emotional ones that affected us Cubans.We Cubans who live on the island have already felt a noticeable initial benefit from the announced accords: we have felt how a political tension that we have lived in for too many years has begun to ease, and we can already feel it is possible to rebuild our relationship with a neighbour that is too powerful and too close, and relate to each other if not in a friendly way, then at least in a cordial, civilised manner.

This was because of its symbolic nature as a major step towards détente and as a final stop to the long-drawn-out epilogue to the Cold War, as acknowledgement of a political error sustained by the United States for far too long, because of its weight in inter-American relations, and because of its humanistic character thanks to the fact that the first concrete measure was a prisoners swap, which is always a moving, humanitarian move.

And it also was so because in a world where bad news abounds, the fact that two countries that were at a political standoff for over half a century decided to overcome their differences and opt for dialogue is somewhat comforting.

Three weeks later, the machinery that will put that new relationship in motion has begun to move. On the eve of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson’s visit to Havana to start high-level “face-to-face” talks with the Cuban government, President Obama announced the introduction of his government’s first measures towards change.

The policies will make it easier for people from the U.S. to travel to Cuba, expand the remittances people can send to Cuba, open up banking relations, increase bilateral trade in different areas, and help strengthen civil society by different means, including improved information and communications and economic support for entrepreneurs.

Cuba, meanwhile, released prisoners with regard to whom Washington had expressed concern.

The measures recently implemented by Obama could be extremely significant for Cuba. Above all because they have punched holes in the straitjacket of the half-century embargo and have practically made its removal a question of time, and since they eliminate many of the fears that investors from other countries had with regard to possibly investing here.

Cuba, in the meantime, is waiting to be removed from the U.S. government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism, which it has been on for years.

And on both sides of the Straits, Cubans have an understandable sense of uncertainty about the future of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which guaranteed U.S. residency to any Cuban who set foot on U.S. soil – an issue that will surely be discussed during Jacobson’s visit.

But while the political agreements are moving along at a surprising pace, we Cubans insist on asking ourselves how this new situation created since Dec. 17 will play out on the island.

Because while Obama’s intention is to bring about a change in policy that will lead to a transformation of the system in Cuba, at the same time there are decisions that the Cuban government will be adopting internally to take advantage of the useful aspects of the new relationship and eliminate potential dangers.

The possible massive arrival of U.S. citizens to Cuba could be the first visible effect.

Today the island receives three million visitors a year. That number could double with the new regulations announced by Obama. Everyone is asking themselves whether the country is prepared for this – and the answers are not overly encouraging in general.

After a lengthy crisis triggered by the disappearance of the Soviet Union and its generous subsidies, and the stiffening of the U.S. embargo with the Torricelli Act [of 1992] and the Helms-Burton Act [of 1996, which included extra-territorial effects], Cuba today is a country with serious problems of infrastructure in communications, roads, transportation, buildings and other areas.

The lack of resources to make the necessary investments also affects the purchase of products that the presumed visitors would demand and will create difficulties for domestic consumption, where there are already problems of high prices and occasional shortages.

Perhaps the first to benefit from the massive arrival of U.S. citizens to Cuban shores will be the small businesses that offer accommodation (and the thousands of other people connected to them).

Currently in a city like Havana there aren’t enough rooms in the hotels (which belong to the state or are joint ventures with foreign companies), let alone quality service in the state-owned restaurants that would make them competitive.

That means a significant part of the money that will circulate will pass through the hands of those involved in private enterprise (the so-called “cuentapropistas” or self-employed) – a sector that even though they must pay high taxes to the state and extremely high prices for inputs purchased in the retail market (because the wholesale market that they are demanding does not yet exist), will make major profits in the scenario that will take shape in the near future.

And this phenomenon will contribute to further stretching the less and less homogeneous social fabric of this Caribbean island nation.

Another of the major expectations in Cuba is for the chance to travel to the United States because, even though this has become much more of a possibility in recent years, obtaining a visa is still a major hurdle.

And there are new questions among those who hoped to settle down in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act, and who now have the added possibility of not losing their citizenship rights on the island under the protection of the migration laws approved two years ago by the government of Raúl Castro, which eliminated the rule that if a Cuban stayed overseas for a certain amount of time, their departure was automatically seen as permanent, and they lost their rights and assets on the island.

And then there is the less tangible but no less real aspect of discourse and rhetoric. Half a century of hostility on many planes, including verbal, should begin to wane in the light of the new circumstances.

The “imperialist enemy” and “communist menace” are sitting down at the same table to seek negotiated solutions, and the language will have to adapt to that new reality to achieve the necessary comprehension and the hoped-for political accords.

In the meantime, we Cubans who live on the island have already felt a noticeable initial benefit from the announced accords: we have felt how a political tension that we have lived in for too many years has begun to ease, and we can already feel it is possible to rebuild our relationship with a neighbour that is too powerful and too close, and relate to each other if not in a friendly way, then at least in a cordial, civilised manner.

For that reason many of us – I include myself – have felt since Dec. 17 something similar to waking up from a nightmare from which almost none of us believed we could escape. And with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.

Edited and translated by Stephanie Wildes

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Cuban Diplomacy Looks Towards Both Brussels and Washingtonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 20:24:42 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138723 Several Cuban dissidents released at the start of the year, standing in front of other opponents of the Cuban government, including Bertha Soler (second to the right, in the second row), the leader of the organisation Ladies in White. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Several Cuban dissidents released at the start of the year, standing in front of other opponents of the Cuban government, including Bertha Soler (second to the right, in the second row), the leader of the organisation Ladies in White. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

Cuba has decided to move ahead in its talks with the European Union towards an agreement on cooperation parallel to the negotiations aimed at normalising relations with the United States after more than half a century of hostility.

As everyone’s attention is focused on the start of talks this week to restore diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, Brussels and Havana scheduled for Mar. 4-5 the third round of negotiations launched in late April 2014 in the Cuban capital.

“We first thought we had slipped down a bit on the list of priorities; now the message is that no, the Cuban state wants to keep a balance between the two processes, which is good news for us,” the EU ambassador in Havana, Herman Portocarero, told IPS.

Delegations from Cuba and the United States will meet Jan. 21-22 in Havana, in the first meeting since the two governments announced Dec. 17 that diplomatic relations would be reestablished, and since sweeping new measures to ease trade and travel between the two countries were presented by Washington on Jan. 15.

In a process that got underway in 2008, Cuba and the EU finally held their first round of talks Apr. 29-30 for a future bilateral accord on political dialogue and cooperation which, according to Portocarero, should define aspects like the role of civil society and the main issues involving long-term cooperation.

Cuba is the only Latin American country that lacks a cooperation agreement with the EU.

A second meeting was held in August in Brussels, and on Jan. 8-9 the Cuban and EU delegations were to sit down together for the third time. But in early December the meeting was postponed by the Cuban authorities, with no new date scheduled, apparently solely due to a busy agenda.

After a year during which Cuba strengthened its relations with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean and with traditional allies like China and Russia, and which ended with the historic announcement of a thaw with Washington, Havana will now be in a different position in its negotiations with Brussels.

The main aim of Cuban diplomacy in this case is to push for more trade, but above all for an increase in capital inflows under the new law on foreign investment.

The European bloc is currently Cuba’s second trading partner after Venezuela, whose economic difficulties raise doubts about what will happen to its wide-ranging trade ties with this Caribbean island nation. In 2013, according to the latest available figures, Cuba’s imports from Europe totalled 2.12 billion dollars and exports amounted to 971 million dollars.

According to analysts, the government of Raúl Castro hopes that a stable relationship under a framework accord like the one sought with the 28-member European bloc will lead to increased trade, but also to the diversification of economic and trade ties given the possibility that the normalisation of relations with the United States will lead to the lifting of the half-century U.S. embargo.

Portocarero believes Cuba’s new relationship with its northern neighbour will accelerate all of the processes. “If the Cuban authorities want to maintain a balance so that not everything is monopolised through the United States, then they have to give us the attention we deserve,” he said.

Brussels is observing with concern that some of the measures announced by the United States favour its financial sector, while Europe’s remains subject to enormous fines because of the extra-territorial reach of the Helms Burton Act, which in 2006 codified Washington’s sanctions against Cuba, and can only be repealed by the U.S. Congress.

“It is an imbalance that we have to put on the table with our friends in the United States,” Portocarero said in an interview with IPS. “It is not acceptable for us to continue to be subject to sanctions and huge fines against Europe’s financial sector, while restrictions are removed in the case of the U.S.”

The EU, for its part, hopes for faster changes in Cuba. “My message has always been: move faster while you are in control, so as to better defend the good things that should be preserved,” the ambassador said. In his view, moves should also be made to make Cuba’s foreign investment law more attractive.

The EU delegation building in Havana. The Cuban government will restart talks towards a bilateral agreement on cooperation in March. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

The EU delegation building in Havana. The Cuban government will restart talks towards a bilateral agreement on cooperation in March. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

“Foreign investment is competitive and special zones [like Cuba’s Mariel special economic development zone] are everywhere. At this point, 30 percent of the foreign capital invested in Cuba comes from the European Union,” he said.

Cuba has indicated that to ensure the normal growth of its economy, it needs some 2.5 billion dollars a year in investment.

The Mariel special economic development zone, which covers 465 square km 45 km west of Havana, has a modern port terminal built with investment from Brazil, and areas for a broad range of productive activities open to foreign investment.

The questions of foreign trade and cooperation made up the working agenda in the first and second round of talks, although no final documents have yet been produced. Human rights, civil society and good governance are to be discussed in the third round in March, although they are also crosscutting issues that arise in other areas.

These are touchy subjects for the Cuban government, which does not accept being internationally judged regarding them, while they are concerns raised by both Brussels and Washington.

Castro has stated that he is willing to engage in respectful, reciprocal dialogue on the discrepancies, including “any issue” regarding Cuba, but also the United States.

Over 50 inmates considered political prisoners by the U.S. government were released in Cuba in the first few days of January. Spokespersons for the Obama administration clarified that human rights would continue to be a focus of discussion in the talks on migration and the normalisation of ties with Havana.

The Cuban delegation in the talks will be headed by the director general of the foreign ministry’s United States division, Josefina Vidal. On Wednesday Jan. 21 a meeting is to be held to assess the progress of the migration accords and the measures taken by both sides to tackle undocumented migration and smuggling of migrants, among other issues.

In the two-day meeting, the U.S. delegation will be led by U.S acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Edward Alex Lee. The 1994 and 1995 migration accords are reviewed every six months, in meetings that rotate between Cuba and the United States.

Steps towards opening embassies in the two countries will be discussed at the first meeting on reestablishing diplomatic ties between the two countries, on Jan. 22.

Bilateral issues will be addressed later that day, including cooperation in areas of mutual interest. The U.S. representatives in these two meetings will be led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Cuba and the United States – A New Era?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 20:46:05 +0000 Ricardo Alarcon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138683 Ricardo Alarcón, former Cuban foreign minister and president of parliament. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Ricardo Alarcón, former Cuban foreign minister and president of parliament. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ricardo Alarcon
HAVANA, Jan 16 2015 (IPS)

On Dec. 17, by freeing the five Cuban anti-terrorists who spent over 16 years in U.S. prisons, President Barack Obama repaired a longstanding injustice while changing the course of history.

Admitting that the U.S. government’s anti-Cuba policy had failed, reestablishing diplomatic ties, lifting all of the restrictions within his reach, proposing the complete elimination of the embargo and launching a new era in relations with Cuba, all in one single speech, went beyond anyone’s predictions and took everyone by surprise, even the most seasoned analysts.

The hostile policy first adopted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), before the current president was even born, was followed with only slight variations by Republican and Democratic administrations, and codified by the Helms-Burton Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

In the first few years the policy was practiced with a high degree of success. In 1959, when the Cuban revolution triumphed, the United States was at the height of its power, exercising indisputable hegemony over a large part of the world, especially the Western Hemisphere, which enabled it to get Cuba kicked out of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and to achieve the near total isolation of this Caribbean island nation, which was left with only the support and aid of the Soviet Union and its partners in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), which grouped the countries of the Warsaw Pact.But normalising relations would suppose, above all, learning to live with differences and abandoning old dreams of domination.

The collapse of real socialism gave rise to hopes among many people that the end of the Cuban revolution was also at hand.

They imagined the advent of a long period of unipolar dominance. Drunk on the victory, they failed to appreciate the deeper meaning of what had happened: the end of the Cold War opened up new possibilities for social struggles and faced capitalism with challenges that were increasingly difficult to tackle.

The fall of the Berlin Wall blinded them from seeing that a social uprising known as the “Caracazo”, which shook Venezuela at the same time, in February 1989, was a sign of the start of a new age in Latin America.

Cuba managed to survive the disappearance of its long-time allies, and its ability to do so was a key factor in the profound transformation of the region. For years it had been clear that the U.S. policy aimed at isolating Cuba had been a failure, and had ended up isolating the United States, as acknowledged by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

A new relationship with Cuba was indispensable for Washington, which needed to rebuild its ties with a region that is no longer its backyard. Achieving that is fundamental now because, despite its power, the United States cannot exercise the comfortable leadership of times that will not return.

But there is still a long way to go before that new relationship can be established. First of all, it is necessary to completely eliminate the economic, trade and financial embargo, as demanded with renewed vigor by major segments of the U.S. business community.

But normalising relations would suppose, above all, learning to live with differences and abandoning old dreams of domination. It would mean respecting the sovereign equality of states, a fundamental principle of the United Nations Charter, which, as history has shown, does not always please the powerful.

With regard to the release of the five Cuban prisoners, all U.S. presidents, without exception, have broadly used the authority granted to them by article 2, section 2, clause 1 of the U.S. constitution. For over two centuries, presidents have had the unlimited power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States.

In the case of “the Cuban Five,” there were ample reasons for executive clemency. In 2005, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the trial as “a perfect storm of prejudice and hostility” and ordered a new trial.

In 2009 the same court threw out the sentences against three of the Cuban Five because they had neither sought nor passed on any military secrets, nor had they endangered U.S. national security.

Both verdicts were unanimous.

With respect to another major charge, “conspiracy to commit murder,” against Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, his accusers admitted that it was impossible to prove such an allegation, and even attempted to drop the charge in May 2001 in a move without precedent, made no less by public prosecutors under then-President George W. Bush (2001-2009).

Hernández had been waiting for five years for a response to one of his many petitions to the Miami court for release, a review of his case, an order for the government to produce the “proof” used to convict him, or for the government to reveal the magnitude and scope of official funding for the colossal media campaign that fed the “perfect storm.”

The court never responded. Nor did the mainstream media say anything about the judicial system’s unusual paralysis. It was obvious that it was a politically motivated case that could only be resolved by a political decision, which only the president could take.

Obama demonstrated wisdom and determination when, instead of simply using his authority to release the prisoners, he bravely confronted the underlying problem. The saga of the “Cuban Five” was the consequence of an aggressive strategy, and the wisest thing was to put an end to both at the same time.

No one can deny the importance of what was announced on Dec. 17. It would be a mistake, however, to ignore that there is still a ways to go, and that it will be necessary to follow that possibly long and tortuous path with resolution and insight.

Edited by Pablo Piacentini/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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OPINION: Islamic Reformation, the Antidote to Terrorismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-islamic-reformation-the-antidote-to-terrorism/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 15:02:55 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138639

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

The horrific terrorist attack on the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo has once again raised the question about violence and Islam. Why is it, some ask, that so much terrorism has been committed in the name of Islam, and why do violent jihadists seek justification of their actions in their religion?

Regardless of whether or not Said and Cherif Kouachi, the two brothers who attacked Charlie Hebdo, were pious or engaged in un-Islamic behavior in their personal lives, the fact remains they used Islamic idioms, such as “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great,” to celebrate their bloody violence. Other Islamic terrorists have invoked similar idioms during previous terrorist operations.“Modern Pharaohs” and dynastic potentates continue to practice their repressive policies across the Middle East, totally oblivious to the pain and suffering of their people and the hopelessness of their youth.

Although many Muslim leaders and theologians worldwide have denounced the assault on the Paris-based magazine, many Muslim autocrats continue to exploit Islam for selfish reasons. For example, during the same week of the attacks in France, Saudi Arabia convicted one of its citizen bloggers and sentenced him to a lengthy jail term, a huge fine, and one thousand floggings. His “crime:” calling for liberal reforms of the Saudi regime.

Since Sep. 11, 2001, scholars of Islam have explored the factors that drive Islamic radicalism and the reasons why radical activists have “hijacked” or “stolen” mainstream Islam. Based on public opinion polls and expert analysis, most observers assess that two key factors have contributed to radicalisation and terrorism: a regime’s domestic and foreign policy, and the conservative, intolerant Salafi-Wahhabi Islamic ideology coming mostly out of Saudi Arabia.

For the past decade and half, reasoned analysis has suggested that Arab Islamic states, Muslim scholars, and Western countries could take specific steps in order to neutralise these factors. This analysis concedes, however, that the desired results would require time, resources, courage, and above all, vision and commitment.

What drives domestic terrorism?

In the domestic policy arena, economic, political, and social issues have framed the radical narrative and empowered extremist activists. These include: dictatorship, repression, corruption, unemployment, inadequate education, poverty, scarcity of clean water, food, and electricity, and poor sanitary conditions.

High unemployment, which ranges from 25-50 percent among the 15-29 cohort in most Arab and Muslim countries, has created a poor, alienated, angry, and inadequately educated youthful generation that does not identify with the state.  Many turn to violence and terrorism and end up serving as foot soldier “jihadists” in terrorist organisations, including the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and others.

Autocratic regimes in several Arab and Islamic countries have ignored these conditions and the ensuing grievances for years while maintaining their hold on power. “Modern Pharaohs” and dynastic potentates continue to practice their repressive policies across the Middle East, totally oblivious to the pain and suffering of their people and the hopelessness of their youth.

In the foreign policy arena, public opinion polls in Arab and Muslim countries have shown that specific American policies toward Arabs and Muslims have created a serious rift between the United States and the Islamic world.

These include a perceived U.S. war on Islam, the continued detention of Muslims at Guantanamo Bay, unwavering support for the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, on-going violations of Muslims’ human rights in the name of the war on terrorism, and the coddling of Arab Muslim dictators.

Islamic radicals have propagated the claim, which has resonated with many Muslims, that their rulers, or the “near enemy,” are propped up, financed, and armed by the United States and other Western powers or the “far enemy.” Therefore, “jihad” becomes a “duty” against both of these “enemies.”

Although many mainstream Muslims saw some validity in the radicals’ argument that domestic and foreign policy often underpin and justify jihad, they attribute much of the violence and terrorism to radical, intolerant ideological interpretations of Sunni Islam, mostly found in the teachings of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence adhered to by Saudi state and religious establishment.

Some contemporary Islamic thinkers have accordingly argued that Islam must undergo a process of reformation. The basic premise of such reformation is to transport Islam from 7th Century Arabia, where the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, to a globalised 21st century world that transcends Arabia and the traditional “abode of Islam.”

Calls for Islamic Reformation

Reformist Islamic thinkers—including Syrian Muhammad Shahrur, Iranians Abdul Karim Soroush and Mohsen Kadivar, Swiss-Egyptian Tariq Ramadan, Egyptian-American Khaled Abu El Fadl, Sudanese-American Abdullahi Ahmad An-Naim, Egyptian Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, and Malaysians Anwar Ibrahim and Farish Noor—have advocated taking a new look at Islam.

Although their work is based on different religious and cultural narratives, these thinkers generally agree on four key fundamental points:

1. Islam was revealed at a specific time in a specific place and in a response to specific conditions and situations. For example, certain chapters or suras were revealed to Muhammad in Medina while he was fighting several battles and struggling to create his umma-based “Islamic State.”

2. If Islam desires to be accepted as a global religion with universal principles, Muslim theologians should adapt Islam to the modern world where millions of Muslims live as minorities in non-Muslim countries—from India and China to the Americas and Europe. The communal theological concept of the umma that was central to Muhammad’s Islamic State in Medina is no longer valid in a complex, multicultural and multi-religious world.

3. If the millions of Muslims living outside the “heartland” of Islam aspire to become productive citizens in their adopted countries, they would need to view their religion as a personal connection between them and their God, not a communal body of belief that dictates their social interaction with non-Muslims or with their status as a minority. If they want to live in peace with fellow citizens in secular Western countries, they must abide by the principles of tolerance of the “other,” compromise, and peaceful co-existence with other religions.

4. Radical and intolerant Islamic ideology does not represent the mainstream body of Muslim theology. Whereas radicals and terrorists, from Osama Bin Ladin to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have often quoted the war-like Medina Koranic suras, Islamic reformation should focus on the suras revealed to Muhammad in Mecca, which advocate universalist principles akin to those of Christianity and Judaism. These suras also recognise Moses and Jesus as prophets and messengers of God.

Reformist thinkers also agree that Muslim theologians and scholars all over the world should preach to radicals in particular that Islam does not condone terrorism and should not be invoked to justify violence. Although in recent years would-be terrorists invariably sought a religious justification or a fatwa from a religious cleric to justify their terrorist operation, a “reformed” Islam would ban the issuance of such fatwas.

Failed reformation attempts

Regimes have yet to address the domestic policies that have fueled radicalism and terrorism.

In terms of the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology, Saudi Arabia continues to teach the Hanbali driven doctrine in its schools and export it to other countries. It’s not therefore surprising that the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) bases its government and social “philosophy” on the Saudi religious ideology. According to media reports, some Saudi textbooks are currently being taught in schools in Iraqi and Syrian territory controlled by IS.

Semi Ghesmi, a Salafist student and elected head of the National Students Union in Tunisia, supports what he calls the "jihad" in Syria. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

Semi Ghesmi, a Salafist student and elected head of the National Students Union in Tunisia, supports what he calls the “jihad” in Syria. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

Calls for reformation have not taken root in the Sunni Muslim world because once the four schools jurisprudence—Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanafi—were accepted in the 10th century as representing the complete doctrine of Sunni Islam, the door of reasoning or ijtihad was closed shut. Muslim theologians and leaders would not allow any new doctrinal thinking and would readily brand any such thought or thinkers as seditious.

An important reason why the calls for reformation have fallen on deaf ears is because in the past two decades, many of the reformist thinkers have lived outside the Muslim heartland, taught in Western universities, and wrote in foreign languages. Their academic arguments were rarely translated into Arabic and other “Islamic” languages.

Even if some of the articles advocating reformation were translated, the average Muslim in Muslim countries with a high school or college education barely understood or comprehended the reformists’ theological arguments renouncing violence and terrorism.

How to defeat Islamic terrorism

If Arab Islamic rulers are sincere in their fight against terrorism, they need to implement drastically different economic, political, and social policies. They must reform their educational systems, fund massive entrepreneurial projects that aim at job creation, institute transitions to democracy, and empower their people to become creative citizens.

Dictatorship, autocracy, and family rule without popular support or legitimacy will not survive for long in the 21st century. Arab and Muslim youth are connected to the outside world and wired into massive global networks of social media. Many of them believe that their regimes are anachronistic and ossified. To gain their rights and freedoms, these youth, men and women have come to believe their political systems must be replaced and their 7th century religion must be reformed.

Until this happens, terrorism in the name of Islam, whether in Paris or Baghdad, will remain a menace for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Day CIA Failed to Un-beard Castro in His Own Denhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-day-cia-failed-to-un-beard-castro-in-his-own-den/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-day-cia-failed-to-un-beard-castro-in-his-own-den http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-day-cia-failed-to-un-beard-castro-in-his-own-den/#comments Wed, 07 Jan 2015 22:39:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138554 Fidel Castro arrives at MATS Terminal, Washington, D.C., Apr. 15, 1959. Scores of attempts were later made by U.S. intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including by hired Sicilian Mafia hitmen. Credit: public domain

Fidel Castro arrives at MATS Terminal, Washington, D.C., Apr. 15, 1959. Scores of attempts were later made by U.S. intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including by hired Sicilian Mafia hitmen. Credit: public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 7 2015 (IPS)

The controversial low-brow Hollywood comedy, ‘The Interview’, portrays the story of two U.S. talk-show journalists on assignment to interview Kim Jong-un – and midway down the road are recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to poison the North Korean leader.

The plot, which has enraged North Korea, accused of retaliating by hacking into the computers of Sony Pictures distributing the movie, is patently fictitious and involves a ricin-laced strip meant to poison Kim while shaking hands with the journalists."It's fine to make comedies about assassinations of the leaders of small countries the U.S. has demonised. But imagine if Russia or China made a film about assassinating the U.S. president." -- Michael Ratner

But, as art imitates life from a bygone era, the plan to kill the North Korean leader harkens back to the days in the late 1960s and 1970s when scores of attempts were made by U.S. intelligence services to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, including by hired Sicilian Mafia hitmen.

The hilarious plots included an attempt to smuggle poisoned cigars into Castro’s household and also plant soluble thallium sulphate inside Castro’s shoes so that his beard will fall off and make him “the laughing stock of the socialist world.”

Some of the unsuccessful attempts were detailed in a scathing 1975 report by an 11-member investigative body appointed by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, a Democrat from the state of Idaho.

The failed assassination plots are likely to be the subject of renewed discussion, particularly in the context of last month’s announcement of the resumption of full diplomatic relations between the two longstanding sworn enemies: the United States and Cuba.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS, “Sadly, and especially to the North Koreans and Kim Jong-un, the movie was not a comedy they could ignore.”

The CIA has a long history of often successful plots to assassinate leaders of countries who choose to act independently of U.S. wishes, he pointed out.

Numerous such plots were exposed in the 1975 U.S. Senate Church Committee report, including attempts against Fidel Castro of Cuba, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of South Vietnam, and others, said Ratner, president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

The supposed ban on such assassination since those revelations is meaningless; the U.S. now calls it targeted killing, he added.

“Think about Colonel Qaddafi [of Libya] and others killed by drones or Joint Special Operations Command.”

Seen in this context, said Ratner, a North Korean reaction would be expected – even though there has not been substantiated evidence that it was behind the Sony hack.

“Think about this another way: it’s fine to make comedies about assassinations of the leaders of small countries the U.S. has demonised. But imagine if Russia or China made a film about assassinating the U.S. president,” he said.

The United States would not simply laugh it off as a comedy.

“There is no problem as long as the target is small country that can be kicked around; let another country make such a comedy about our president, and I assure you, it will pay dearly,” Ratner added.

Dr. James E. Jennings, president, Conscience International and executive director at U.S. Academics for Peace, told IPS new information from cyber security firms calls into question the doctrinaire assertion by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was behind the Sony hack attack.

“The FBI’s rush to judgment – from which the agency may be forced to retreat – has raised protests from internet security experts and suspicions by conspiracy theorists of possible U.S. involvement in a bizarre plot to further isolate the Korean regime.”

They point out, said Dr. Jennings, that stranger things have happened before.

It would not be the first time that the CIA has used dirty tricks to cripple a foreign regime or try to assassinate a foreign leader.

He said folks are therefore entitled to be sceptical about FBI claims and to raise questions about possible CIA involvement in the fuss over the film “The Interview.”

“We only have to remember Iran in 1953, when the elected leader [Mohamed] Mosaddegh was overthrown; Chile in 1973 when President Salvador Allende was assassinated, and the Keystone Cops hi-jinks that the CIA pulled in trying to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro between 1960-75.”

The CIA’s own Inspector General as well as the 1975-76 Church Committee reported that a large number of crazy tricks were attempted in trying to get rid of Castro, including poisoned cigars and exploding seashells.

“One wonders what the top CIA officers were drinking when they came up with such silly notions–more like Kabuki theater than responsible policies of a great nation,” said Jennings. “And we all know by now about Abu Ghraib, torture, rendition, and the black sites.

“If it does turn out that the CIA is implicated in any way in this newest Sony vs. North Korea farce, as some are alleging, it’s high time for a new congressional investigation like that of the Church Committee to whack the agency hard and send some of its current leaders back to the basement of horrors where they belong,” said Dr. Jennings.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Political Islam and U.S. Policy in 2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-political-islam-and-u-s-policy-in-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-political-islam-and-u-s-policy-in-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-political-islam-and-u-s-policy-in-2015/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 18:16:46 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138538 President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jun. 4, 2009. In his speech, President Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims', declaring that 'this cycle of suspicion and discord must end'. Credit: White House photo

President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jun. 4, 2009. In his speech, President Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims', declaring that 'this cycle of suspicion and discord must end'. Credit: White House photo

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

This year, Arab political Islam will be greatly influenced by U.S. regional policy, as it has been since the Obama administration came into office six years ago. Indeed, as the U.S. standing in the region rose with Obama’s presidency beginning in January 2009, so did the fortunes of Arab political Islam.

But when Arab autocrats perceived U.S. regional policy to have floundered and Washington’s leverage to have diminished, they proceeded to repress domestic Islamic political parties with impunity, American protestations notwithstanding.Coddling autocrats is a short-term strategy that will not succeed in the long run. The longer the cozy relationship lasts, the more Muslims will revert to the earlier belief that America’s war on terrorism is a war on Islam.

This policy linkage, expected to prevail in the coming year, will not bode well for political Islam. Like last year, the U.S. will in 2015 pay more attention to securing Arab autocrats’ support in the fight against Islamic State forces than to the mistreatment of mainstream Islamic political parties and movements, which will have severe consequences in the long run.

Since the middle of 2013, the Obama administration’s focus on the tactical need to woo dictators in the fight against terrorist groups has trumped its commitment to the engagement objective. America’s growing support for Arab dictators meant that Arab political Islam would be sacrificed.

For example, Washington seems oblivious to the thousands of mainstream Islamists and other opposition activists languishing in Egyptian jails.

What is political Islam?

Several assumptions underpin this judgment. First, “political Islam” applies to mainstream Islamic political parties and movements, which have rejected violence and made a strategic shift toward participatory and coalition politics through free elections.

Arab political Islam generally includes the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, al-Nahda in Tunisia, and al-Wefaq in Bahrain.

The term “political Islam” does not include radical and terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or IS), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Iraq, and Syria, or armed opposition groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Nor does it apply to terrorist groups in Africa such as Boko Haram, al-Shabab, and others.

Unfortunately, in the past three years, many policy makers in the West, and curiously in several Arab countries, have equated mainstream political Islam with radical and terrorist groups. This erroneous and self-serving linkage has provided Washington with a fig leaf to justify its cozy relations with Arab autocrats and tolerance of their bloody repression of their citizens.

Repression breeds radicalism

It has also given these autocrats an excuse to suppress their Islamic parties and exclude them from the political process. In a press interview late last month, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi forcefully denounced the Muslim Brotherhood and pledged the movement would not enter the Egyptian parliament.

Egypt’s recent terrorism laws, which Sisi and other Arab autocrats have approved, provide them with a pseudo-legal cover to silence the opposition, including mainstream political Islam.

They have used the expansive and vague definitions of terrorism included in these decrees to incarcerate any person or group that is “harmful to national unity.” Any criticism of the regime or the ruler is now viewed as a “terrorist” act, punishable by lengthy imprisonment.

The Dec. 28 arrest of the Bahraini Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of al-Wefaq, is yet another example of draconian measures against peaceful mainstream opposition leaders and parties in the region. Regime repression of these groups is expected to prevail in 2015.

Second, whereas terrorist organisations are a threat to the region and to Western countries, including mainstream political Islam in the governance of their countries in the long run is good for domestic stability and regional security. It also serves the interests of Western powers in the region.

Recent history tells U.S. that exclusion and repression often lead to radicalisation.  Some youth in these parties have given up on participatory politics in favour of confrontational politics and violence. This phenomenon is expected to increase in 2015, as suppression of political Islam becomes more pervasive and institutionalised.

Third, the serious mistakes the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nahda made in their first time ever as governing parties should not be surprising since they lacked the experience of governance. Such poor performance, however, is not unique to them.  Nor should it be used as an excuse to depose them illegally and to void the democratic process, as the Sisi-led military coup did in Egypt in 2013.

Although Islamic political parties tend to win the first election after the toppling of dictators, the litmus test of their popular support lies in succeeding elections. The recent post-Arab Spring election in Tunisia is a case in point.

When Arab citizens are provided with the opportunity to participate in fair and free elections, they are capable of electing the party that best serves their interests, regardless of whether the party is Islamic or secular.

Had Field Marshall Sisi in 2013 allowed the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohammed Morsi to stay in power until the following election, they would have been voted out, according to public opinion polls at the time.

But Sisi and his military junta were not truly committed to a genuine democratic transition in Egypt. Now, according to Human Rights Watch reports, the current state of human rights in Egypt is much worse than it was under former President Hosni Mubarak.

The U.S. and Political Islam

Upon taking office, President Obama understood that disagreements between the United States and the Muslim world, especially political Islam, were driven by specific policies, not values of good governance. A key factor driving these disagreements was the widely held Muslim perception that America’s war on terror was a war on Islam.

The Obama administration also realised that while a very small percentage of Muslims engaged in violence and terrorism, the United States must find ways to engage the other 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. That drove President Obama early on in his administration to grant media interviews to Arab broadcasters and give his historic Cairo speech in June 2009.

However, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on, and as drone strikes caused more civilian casualties in Yemen, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, many Muslims became more sceptical of Washington’s commitment to sincere engagement with the Muslim world.

The Arab uprisings beginning in 2011 known as the Arab Spring and the toppling of dictators prompted the United States to support calls for freedom, political reform, dignity, and democracy.

Washington announced it would work with Islamic political parties, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Nahda, as long as these parties were committed to peaceful change and to the principles of pluralism, elections, and democracy.

That unprecedented opening boosted the fortunes of Arab political Islam and inclusive politics in the Arab world. American rapprochement with political Islam, however, did not last beyond two years.

The way forward

Much as one might disagree with Islamic political ideology, it’s the height of folly to think that long-term domestic stability and economic security in Egypt, Bahrain, Palestine, or Lebanon could be achieved without including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Wefaq, Hamas, and Hezbollah in governance.

Coddling autocrats is a short-term strategy that will not succeed in the long run. The longer the cozy relationship lasts, the more Muslims will revert to the earlier belief that America’s war on terrorism is a war on Islam.

The Arab countries that witnessed the fall of dictators, especially Egypt, will with Washington’s acquiescence revert back to repression and autocracy, as if the Arab Spring never happened.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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From the American Dream to the Nightmare of Deportationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 17:41:50 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138536 People deported from the United States arriving at the Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in the capital of El Salvador. Their country receives them with very few initiatives for labour and social reinsertion. Credit: Courtesy DGME

People deported from the United States arriving at the Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in the capital of El Salvador. Their country receives them with very few initiatives for labour and social reinsertion. Credit: Courtesy DGME

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

Julio César Cordero’s American dream didn’t last long. He was trying to reach Houston, Texas as an undocumented immigrant but was detained in Acayucán in southeastern Mexico. And like thousands of other deported Salvadorans, he doesn’t know what the future will hold.

Cordero’s head hangs low as he climbs off the bus that brought him back to the capital of El Salvador. He carries only a plastic bag with a few items of clothing – and broken dreams.

“I want to offer my son a better future, so I’ll probably try again next year,” Cordero tells IPS as he reaches the immigration office, on the east side of San Salvador, the dropping-off point for migrants detained in Mexico on their way to the United States.

An estimated 2.5 million Salvadorans live in the United States, the great majority of them without papers. Initially many went there fleeing the 1980-1992 civil war that left 80,000 dead and disappeared in their country.“The mistaken reasoning of bankers is that if they lend a deportee 10,000, tomorrow morning he’ll be in New York because he’ll use the money to pay for a new trip.” -- César Ríos

“On the other hand, it’s a relief to be back in my country again,” Cordero adds.

At least two flights from the United States and three buses from Mexico bring back around 150 deportees every day. The authorities are alarmed by the sheer numbers. In the first 11 months of 2014, a total of 47,943 deportees reached the immigration office – 43 percent more than in the same period in 2013.

The migration authorities project a total of 50,000 deportees for 2014 – a heavy burden for this impoverished Central American country of 6.2 million people, where unemployment stands at six percent and 65 percent of those who work do so in the informal sector of the economy.

The army of returning migrants does not have government support programmes to help with their reinsertion in the labour market, deportees and representatives of civil society organisations told IPS.

Many of them have put down roots in the United States, and they return to this country with no support network and with the stigma of having been deported, because the impression here is that most of those sent home are gang members or criminals.

“We just want a hand to help us find jobs, open a business or get a loan,” says Antonio, who preferred not to give his last name.

Antonio lived in San Francisco, California from 2005 to 2010, where he worked caring for the elderly, and as a cook in restaurants. But he came back because his mother fell ill. He tried to return in 2012, but was caught after crossing the Mexico-U.S. border.

“The return is hard,” he says. “I came back without a cent, and with a huge pile of debt.”

Antonio wants the government to help returning migrants gain access to bank loans. He says that when they try to start over again in El Salvador, setting up a microenterprise, they run up against the impossibility of getting credit.

“The mistaken reasoning of bankers is that if they lend a deportee 10,000, tomorrow morning he’ll be in New York because he’ll use the money to pay for a new trip,” César Ríos, the director of the Salvadoran Institute for Migrants (INSAMI), tells IPS.

INSAMI is promoting a project to provide support for deportees in their reinsertion into the productive life of the country, in terms of job opportunities as well as access to credit.

One of the biggest problems faced by the deported migrants is that they have no documents to prove the work experience they gained in the United States.

One of the measures included in the project is for the Salvadoran government to issue certificates recognising the work experience they obtained in the United States, to help them find jobs in El Salvador.

“We’re not criminals; we deserve a chance,” Antonio repeats several times.

In El Salvador there is a widespread but erroneous idea that the majority of those who are deported from the United States belonged to gangs or were involved in other kinds of criminal activities.

Because of the stigma surrounding deportation, some of them covered their faces when they got off the buses that brought them home, the day IPS visited the migration office.

The ones who are flown back from the United States actually wear handcuffs on the plane, and when they land in the Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport, they are met by a heavily armed police cordon.

“The reception they are given is not a welcome; they are treated as criminals,” Karla Salas, a researcher at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University’s (IDHUCA) Human Rights Institute, told IPS.

This procedure reinforces the stigma and the impression that they are criminals, added Salas, who in 2013 participated in an IDHUCA study carried out between January and March 2013, which is about to be published under the title “Deported Dreams”, on the social impacts of deportation on returned migrants and their families.

Preliminary data from the study show that 70 percent of those deported have never been accused of a crime.

And of the remaining 30 percent, the crimes they were accused of in the United States included assault, drunk driving and drug possession, according to the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (DGME), the migration office.

The migration authorities recognise that the reception given the returnees is not appropriate, and say they are working to improve it.

“The idea is to make the reception given our fellow countrymen more humane,” DGME spokesman Mauricio Silva told IPS.

Silva said the government is working to bring together public and private institutions and agencies to create programmes to help deported migrants rejoin the labour market.

For example, financing is needed to restart a pilot project that benefited 20 people with financial support for setting up microenterprises in late 2012. It was implemented with funds from the Canadian government and coordinated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Antonio was one of the beneficiaries of that programme. He was given 1,400 dollars and opened a pizza parlor. Things were going well until his business was robbed and went under. Now he is trying to get a loan to start over again.

For now, the only thing offered by the government is training in trades for mechanics or electricians, for example, as well as legal aid for migrants. It also provides letters of recommendation, to help deportees find work.

INSAMI’s Ríos said the deportations will move ahead at the same pace, despite the Nov. 20 announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama that a priority would be put on deporting felons rather than families.

The president issued an executive action that will provide temporary residency permits and jobs to some five million undocumented immigrants, including parents of young people who are legal residents or U.S. citizens, as long as the parents entered the country before January 2010.

It also covers young people who went to the United States before January 2010, as children.

But Obama clarified that deportations were not about to stop.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Sabotaging U.S.-Cuba Détente in the Kennedy Erahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-sabotaging-u-s-cuba-detente-in-the-kennedy-era/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sabotaging-u-s-cuba-detente-in-the-kennedy-era http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-sabotaging-u-s-cuba-detente-in-the-kennedy-era/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 08:58:51 +0000 Robert F. Kennedy Jr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138507

This is the third of three articles written by Robert F. Kennedy – son of late U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy – which address relations between the United States and Cuba during the 60-year period of the U.S. embargo against the island nation. The first article – “We Have So Much to Learn From Cuba” – was run on December 30, 2014, and the second – “JFK’s Secret Negotiations with Fidel” – was run on January 5.

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr
WHITE PLAINS, New York, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

I grew up in Hickory Hill, my family’s home in Virginia which was often filled with veterans of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. 

My father Robert F. Kennedy, who admired the courage of these veterans and felt overwhelming guilt for having put the Cubans in harm’s way during the ill-planned invasion,  took personal responsibility for finding each of them jobs and homes, organising integration of many of them into the U.S. Armed Forces.

Robert F Kennedy Jr

Robert F Kennedy Jr

But as the process of détente unfolded, suspicion and anger were so widespread that even those Cubans who loved my father and were always present at my home when I was a boy, stopped visiting Hickory Hill.

To the CIA, détente was perfidious sedition.  Adlai Stevenson [at the time U.S. ambassador to the United Nations] had warned President John F. Kennedy that “unfortunately the CIA is still in charge of Cuba.”  The agency, he said, would never allow normalisation of relations.

JFK was involved in secret negotiations with Fidel Castro designed to outflank Foggy Bottom [Washington] and the agents at Langley [CIA], but the CIA knew of JFK’s back-channel contacts with Castro and endeavoured to sabotage the peace efforts with cloak and dagger mischief.

In April 1963, CIA officials secretly sprinkled deadly poison in a wetsuit intended as a gift for Castro from JFK’s emissaries James Donovan and John Nolan, hoping to murder Castro, blame JFK for the murder, and thoroughly discredit him and his peace efforts.

The agency also delivered a poison pen to hit man Rolendo Cubelo in Paris, with instructions that he use it to murder Fidel. William Attwood [a former journalist and U.S. diplomat attached to the United Nations asked by JFK to open up secret negotiations with Castro] later said that the CIA’s attitude was: “To hell with the President it was pledged to serve.”“There is no doubt in my mind. If there had been no assassination, we probably would have moved into negotiations leading to a normalisation of relations with Cuba” – William Attwood, U.S. diplomat asked by John F. Kennedy to open secret negotiations with Castro, speaking of JFK’s assassination

Many exile leaders openly expressed their disgust with the White House “treachery”, accusing JFK of engaging in “co-existence” with Fidel Castro.  Some Cubans remained loyal to my father, but a small number of hard, bitter homicidal Castro haters now directed their fury toward JFK and there is credible evidence that these men and their CIA handlers may have been involved in plots to assassinate him.

On April 18, 1963, Don Jose Miro Cardona, Chair of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, resigned in a fusillade of furious denouncements aimed at JFK and my father, saying that “the struggle for Cuba is in the process of being sabotaged by the U.S. government.”

Cardona promised: “There is only one route left to follow and we will follow it:  violence.”

Hundreds of Cuban exiles in Miami neighbourhoods expressed their discontent with the White House by hanging black crepe from their homes.  In November 1963, Cuban exiles passed around a pamphlet extolling JFK’s assassination. “Only one development,” the broadside declared, would lead to Castro’s demise and the return to their beloved country – “If an inspired act of God should place in the White House within weeks in the hands of a Texan known to be a friend of all Latin America.”

Santo Trafficante, the Mafia boss and Havana casino czar who had worked closely with the CIA in various anti-Castro assassination plots, told his Cuban associates that JFK was to be hit.

On the day JFK was shot, Castro was meeting with French journalist Jean Daniel, editor of the socialist newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur and one of JFK’s secret channels to Castro, at his summer presidential palace in Varadero Beach.  At 1.00 p.m. they received a phone call with news that Jack had been shot.  “Voila, there is the end to your mission of peace,” Castro told Daniel.

After JFK’s death, Castro persistently pushed Lisa Howard [ABC newswoman who served as an informal emissary between JFK and Fidel], Adlai Stevenson and William Attwood and others to ask Kennedy’s successor Lyndon Johnson to resume the dialogue.  Johnson ignored the requests and Castro eventually gave up.

Immediately following JFK’s assassination, many clues appeared – later discredited – suggesting that Castro may have orchestrated President Kennedy’s assassination.

Johnson and others in his administration were aware of these whispers and apparently accepted their implication. Johnson decided not to pursue rapprochement with Castro after being told by his intelligence apparatus, including Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) boss J. Edgar Hoover, that Lee Harvey Oswald may have been an agent of the Cuban government.  This despite Oswald’s well-established anti-Castro bona fides.

After JFK’s death, my father continued to press Lyndon Johnson’s State Department to analyse “whether it is possible for the United States to live with Castro.”

“The present travel restrictions are inconsistent with traditional American liberties,” my father, then-U.S. Attorney General, argued in a behind-the-scenes debate over the ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba.

In December 1963, the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute four members of the Student Committee for Travel to Cuba who had led a group of 59 college-age Americans on a trip to Havana. My father opposed those prosecutions, as well as the travel ban itself.

In a December 12, 1963 confidential memorandum to then Secretary of State Dean Rusk, he wrote that he favoured “withdraw[ing] the existing regulation prohibiting trips by U.S. citizens to Cuba.”

My father argued that restricting Americans’ right to travel went against the freedoms that he had sworn to protect as Attorney General. Lifting the ban, he argued, would be “more consistent with our views as a free society and would contrast with such things as the Berlin Wall and Communist controls on such travel.”

Secretary of State Dean Rusk thereafter excluded my father from foreign affairs discussions.  He was still Johnston’s Attorney General but the roaming portfolio that had previously empowered him to steer U.S. foreign policy during the Kennedy administration years was now revoked.

The CIA would continue its efforts to try to assassinate Castro during the first two years of the LBJ administration.  Johnson never knew it.  Castro provided Senator George McGovern with evidence of at least ten assassination plots during this period.

In 1978, Castro told visiting Congressmen, “I can tell you that in the period in which Kennedy’s assassination took place, Kennedy was changing his policy toward Cuba.  To a certain extent we were honoured in having such a rival.  He was an outstanding man.”

William Attwood later said: “There is no doubt in my mind. If there had been no assassination, we probably would have moved into negotiations leading to a normalisation of relations with Cuba.”

When I first met Castro in 1999, he acknowledged the recklessness of his brash gambit of inviting Soviet nuclear arms into Cuba.  “It was a mistake to risk such grave dangers for the world.”  At the time, I was lobbying the Cuban leader against Havana’s plans to open a Chernobyl-style nuclear plant in Juragua.

During another meeting with the Cuban leader in August 2014, Fidel expressed his admiration for John Kennedy’s leadership and observed that a nuclear exchange at the time of the Cuban missile crisis could have obliterated all of civilisation.

Today, five decades later and two decades after the Soviets left Cuba, we are finally ending a misguided policy that at times has done little to further America’s international leadership or its foreign policy interests. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

*             Robert F. Kennedy Jr serves as Senior Attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and President of Waterkeeper Alliance. He is also a Clinical Professor and Supervising Attorney at Pace University School of Law’s Environmental Litigation Clinic and co-host of Ring of Fire on Air America Radio. Earlier in his career, he served as Assistant Attorney General in New York City.

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OPINION: Doubling Down on Dictatorship in the Middle Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-doubling-down-on-dictatorship-in-the-middle-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-doubling-down-on-dictatorship-in-the-middle-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-doubling-down-on-dictatorship-in-the-middle-east/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 21:14:31 +0000 Amanda Ufheil-Somers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138510 At Tahrir Square. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

At Tahrir Square. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Amanda Ufheil-Somers
WASHINGTON, Jan 5 2015 (IPS)

For a moment, four years ago, it seemed that dictators in the Middle East would soon be a thing of the past.

Back then, it looked like the United States would have to make good on its declared support for democracy, as millions of Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Yemenis, and others rose up to reject their repressive leaders. Many of these autocrats enjoyed support from Washington in return for providing “stability.”

Amanda_Ufheil_Somers-113x140Yet even the collapse of multiple governments failed to upend the decades-long U.S. policy of backing friendly dictators. Washington has doubled down on maintaining a steady supply of weapons and funding to governments willing to support U.S. strategic interests, regardless of how they treat their citizens.

Four years after Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, for example, the country once again has a president with a military pedigree and an even lower tolerance for political opposition than his predecessor.With a new year upon us, it’s our turn to face down fear and insist that another path is possible.

Mass arrests and hasty convictions of political activists — over 1,000 of whom have been sentenced to death — have reawakened the fear that Egyptians thought had vanished for good after Mubarak was ousted and democratic elections were held.

When the Egyptian military — led by now-president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi — deposed the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the Obama administration wavered about whether it would suspend military aid to Egypt, which U.S. law requires in the case of a coup. Yet despite some partial and temporary suspensions, the U.S. government continued to send military hardware.

Now that Sisi heads a nominally civilian government — installed in a sham election by a small minority of voters — all restrictions on U.S. aid have been lifted, including for military helicopters that are used to intimidate and attack protesters. As Secretary of State John Kerry promised a month after Sisi’s election, “The Apaches will come, and they will come very, very soon.”

In the tiny kingdom of Bahrain, meanwhile, the demonstrations for constitutional reform that began in February 2011 continue, despite the government’s attempts to silence the opposition with everything at its disposal — from bird shot to life imprisonment.

Throughout it all, Washington has treated Bahrain like a respectable ally.

Back in 2011, for instance, just days after Bahraini security forces fired live ammunition at protesters in Manama — an attack that killed four and wounded many others — President Barack Obama praised King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s “commitment to reform.” Neither did the White House object when it was notified in advance that 1,200 troops from Saudi Arabia would enter Bahrain to clear the protests in March 2011.

Since then, there’s been a steady drip of troubling news. A State Department report from 2013 acknowledged that Bahrain revokes the citizenship of prominent activists, arrests people on vague charges, tortures prisoners, and engages in “arbitrary deprivation of life.” (That’s bureaucratese for killing people.)

And what have the consequences been?

Back in 2012, international pressure forced the United States to ban the sale of American-made tear gas to Bahraini security forces. And last August, some U.S. military aid was cut off after the regime expelled an American diplomat for meeting with members of an opposition party.

But that’s it.

Delaying shipments of tanks, jets, and tear gas amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist when the Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Navy remains headquartered outside Bahrain’s capital. And Bahrain’s participation in air raids against the Islamic State has only strengthened the bond between the regime and the White House.

Indeed, the crisis in Iraq and Syria has breathed new life into the military-first approach that has long dominated Washington’s thinking about the Middle East. Any government willing to join this new front in the “War on Terror” is primed to benefit both from American largesse and a free pass on repression.

People power in the Middle East must be matched by popular demand here in the United States to shake the foundations of our foreign policy. With a new year upon us, it’s our turn to face down fear and insist that another path is possible.

This story originally appeared on Otherwords.orgThe views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: JFK’s Secret Negotiations with Fidelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-jfks-secret-negotiations-with-fidel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-jfks-secret-negotiations-with-fidel http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-jfks-secret-negotiations-with-fidel/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 07:49:29 +0000 Robert F. Kennedy Jr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138505

This is the second of three articles written by Robert F. Kennedy – son of late U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy – which address relations between the United States and Cuba during the 60-year period of the U.S. embargo against the island nation. The first article – “We Have So Much to Learn From Cuba” – was run on December 30, 2014, and the third – “Sabotaging U.S.-Cuba Détente in the Kennedy Era” – will run on January 6.

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr
WHITE PLAINS, New York, Jan 5 2015 (IPS)

On the day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, one of his emissaries was secretly meeting with Fidel Castro at Varadero Beach in Cuba to discuss terms for ending the U.S. embargo against the island and beginning the process of détente between the two countries.

That was more than 50 years ago and now, finally, President Barack Obama is resuming the process of turning JFK’s dream into reality by re-establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Robert F Kennedy Jr

Robert F Kennedy Jr

Those clandestine discussions at Castro’s summer presidential palace in Varadero Beach had been proceeding for several months, having evolved along with the improved relations with the Soviet Union following the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

During that crisis, JFK and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, both at odds with their own military hardliners, had developed a mutual respect, even warmth, towards each other.  A secret bargain between them had paved the way for removing the Soviet missiles from Cuba – and U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey – with each side saving face.

Fidel, on the other hand, was furious at the Russians for ordering the withdrawal of the missiles without consulting him.  After the missile crisis, Khrushchev invited an embittered Fidel to Russia to smooth over the Cuban leader’s anger at the unilateral withdrawal of Soviet missiles.

Castro and Khrushchev spent six weeks together, with the Russian leader badgering Fidel to seek détente and pursue peace with President Kennedy.  Khrushchev’s son Sergei would later write that “my father and Fidel developed a teacher-student relationship.”  Khrushchev wanted to convince Castro that JFK was trustworthy.

Castro himself recalled how “for hours [Khrushchev] read many messages to me, messages from President Kennedy, messages sometimes delivered through Robert Kennedy [JFK’s brother]…”.  Castro returned to Cuba determined to seek a path toward rapprochement.“I cannot help hoping that a leader will come to the fore in North America (why not Kennedy, there are things in his favour!), who will be willing to brave unpopularity, fight the corporations, tell the truth and, most important, let the various nations act as they see fit. Kennedy could still be this man” – Fidel Castro in an interview with French journalist Jean Daniel, one of JFK’s secret channels to Castro

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was spying on all parties.  In a top secret January 5, 1963 memo to his fellow agents, Richard Helms (later to become Director of the CIA in 1966) warned that “at the request of Khrushchev, Castro was returning to Cuba with the intention of adopting with Fidel a conciliatory policy toward the Kennedy administration for the time being.”

JFK was open to such advances.  In the autumn of 1962, he and his brother Robert had dispatched James Donovan, a New York attorney, and John Dolan, a friend and advisor to my father Robert Kennedy, to negotiate the release of Castro’s 1500 Cuban prisoners from the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Donovan and Nolan developed an amiable friendship with Castro.  They travelled the country together.  Fidel gave them a tour of the Bay of Pigs battlefield and then took them as his guests to so many baseball games that, Nolan told me, he vowed to never watch the sport again.

After he released the last 1200 prisoners on Christmas Day 1962, Castro asked Donovan how to go about normalising relations with the United States.  Donovan replied: “The way porcupines make love, very carefully.”

My father Robert and JFK were intensely curious about Castro and demanded detailed, highly personal, descriptions of the Cuban leader from both Donovan and Nolan.

The U.S. press had variously caricatured Fidel as drunken, filthy, mercurial, violent and undisciplined. However, Nolan told them: “Our impression would not square with the commonly accepted image. Castro was never irritable, never drunk, never dirty.”  He and Donovan described the Cuban leader as worldly, witty, curious, well informed, impeccably groomed, and an engaging conversationalist.

From their extensive travel with Castro and having witnessed the spontaneous ovations when he entered baseball stadiums with his small but professional security team, they confirmed the CIA’s internal reports of Castro’s overwhelming popularity with the Cuban people.

JFK was intuitively sympathetic towards the Cuban revolution.  His special assistant and biographer Arthur Schlesinger wrote that “President Kennedy had a natural sympathy for Latin American underdogs and understood the source of the widespread resentment against the United States.”

He said that “the long history of abuse and exploitation had turned Fidel against the United States and toward the Soviets at a time when he might have turned toward the West.  JFK’s objection was to Cuba’s role as a Soviet patsy and platform for expanding the Soviet sphere of influence and fomenting revolution and Soviet expansion throughout Latin America.”

Castro had his own nationalistic reasons to bridle at Soviet dependency, particularly after the missile crisis.  He made his desire for rapprochement clear during private talks with ABC newswoman Lisa Howard, who served as another informal emissary between JFK and Fidel.

Howard reported back to the White House that, “in our conversations [Fidel] made it quite clear that he was ready to discuss the Soviet personnel and military hardware on Cuban soil, compensation for expropriated American lands and investments, the question of Cuba as a base for communist subversion throughout the hemisphere.

Once the Cuban prisoners were free, JFK began seriously looking at rebooting relations with Castro.  That impulse took him sailing into perilous waters.  The very mention of détente with Fidel was political dynamite as the 1964 U.S. presidential elections approached.

Barry Goldwater [the Republican Party’s nominee for president in the 1964 election], Richard Nixon [Vice-President under Eisenhower and JFK’s rival for the presidency in 1960] and Nelson Rockefeller [Goldwater’s competitor for nomination as Republican presidential candidate] all regarded Cuba as the Republican Party’s greatest asset.

Certain murderous and violent Cuban exiles and their CIA handlers saw talk of co-existence as hell bound treachery.

In September 1963, JFK secretly asked William Attwood, a former journalist and U.S. diplomat attached to the United Nations, to open secret negotiations with Castro.

Atwood had known Castro since 1959 when he covered the Cuban Revolution for Look magazine before Castro turned against the United States.

Later that month, my father told Attwood to find a secure location to conduct a secret parlay with Fidel.

In October, Castro began arranging for Atwood to fly surreptitiously to a remote airstrip in Cuba to begin negotiations on détente.  On November 18, 1963, four days before JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Castro listened to his aide, Rene Vallejo, talk by phone with Attwood and agreed to an agenda for the meeting.

That same day, JFK prepared the path for rapprochement with a clear public message.  Speaking to the Inter American Press Association in the heart of Cuba’s exile community in Miami, he declared that U.S. policy was not to “dictate to any nation how to organise its economic life.  Every nation is free to shape its own economic institution in accordance with its own national needs and will.”

A month earlier, JFK had opened another secret channel to Castro through French journalist Jean Daniel, editor of the socialist newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur.  On his way to interview Fidel in Cuba on October 24, 1963, Daniel visited the White House where JFK talked to him about U.S.-Cuba relations.

In a message meant for Castro’s ears, JFK criticised Castro sharply for precipitating the missile crisis.  He then changed tone, expressing the same empathy toward Cuba that he had evinced for the Russian people in his June 10, 1963 American University speech announcing the nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviets.

Kennedy launched into a recitation of the long history of U.S. relations with the corrupt and tyrannical regime of Fulgencio Batista. JFK told Daniel that he had supported that Castro’s Sierra Maestra Manifesto at the outset of the Cuban revolution.

Between November 19 and 22, 1963, Castro conducted his own series of interviews with Daniel.  Castro carefully and meticulously debriefed the Frenchman about every nuance of his meeting with JFK, particularly JFK’s strong endorsement of the Cuban Revolution.

Then Castro sat in thoughtful silence, composing a careful reply that he knew JFK was awaiting.  Finally he spoke carefully, measuring every word.  “I believe Kennedy is sincere,” he began.  “I also believe that today the expression of this sincerity could have political significance.”

He followed with a detailed critique of the Kennedy and Eisenhower administrations which had attacked his Cuban Revolution “long before there was the pretext and alibi of Communism.”

But, he continued, “I feel that [Kennedy] inherited a difficult situation; I don’t think a President of the United States is every really free, and I believe Kennedy is at present feeling the impact of this lack of freedom.  I also believe he now understands the extent to which he has been misled, especially, for example, on Cuban reaction at the time of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion.”

He told Daniel: “I cannot help hoping that a leader will come to the fore in North America (why not Kennedy, there are things in his favour!), who will be willing to brave unpopularity, fight the corporations, tell the truth and, most important, let the various nations act as they see fit.  Kennedy could still be this man.”

Castro continued: “He still has the possibility of becoming, in the eyes of history, the greatest President of the United States, the leader who may at last understand that there can be coexistence between capitalists and socialists, even in the Americas.  He would then be an even greater President than Lincoln.” (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

*             Robert F. Kennedy Jr serves as Senior Attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and President of Waterkeeper Alliance. He is also a Clinical Professor and Supervising Attorney at Pace University School of Law’s Environmental Litigation Clinic and co-host of Ring of Fire on Air America Radio. Earlier in his career, he served as Assistant Attorney General in New York City.

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OPINION: Quo Vadis? Post-Benghazi Libyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya/#comments Sun, 04 Jan 2015 17:38:16 +0000 Christopher Occhicone http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138501

Christopher Occhicone is a New York-based U.S. photojournalist who recently returned from Libya.

By Christopher Occhicone
NEW YORK, Jan 4 2015 (IPS)

A concerted disinformation campaign is being conducted to manufacture consent for military action against the government in Tripoli and the town of Misrata, which has been at the forefront of toppling the despotic Gaddafi dictatorship.

It is ironic that the very same people who called in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) led airstrikes on satellite phones in 2011 are now being labeled as dangerous ‘Islamist militants’.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

chris o 300It looks like Western policymakers and legislators in the U.S. and Europe, and the United Nations may all be misinformed, which in turn could unleash catastrophic consequences for the people of Libya.  Undoubtedly a protracted civil war in Libya will swell the numbers of refugees fleeing to Europe manifold.

Impact of Benghazi

To understand the difference between fact and fiction, I spent several days interviewing senior members of the government of Libya and Fajr Libya known in English as Libya Dawn (LD).  My main subject on the side of the government was Mustafa Noah, director of the Intelligence Service of Libya.

What was very clear throughout the interview is that both Noah and his supporters in the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn are very much pro-U.S. and pro-NATO who they say are “the saviors of Libya”.The Libya story in 2015 is about disinformation, lies and a power-grab in motion clandestinely supported by the Egyptians and their Saudi and Emirati counterparts.

They are genuinely upset at the murder of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and his three colleagues in Benghazi.  Ambassador Stevens is considered “an honourary Libyan who loved the country and its peoples” and who was “above all, a guest whose murder is sacrilege”.

Noah said that the “perpetrators have been paying a heavy price for their crime that is being slowly but surely being exacted upon them”.  He stated categorically for the record that “extremist Takfiri Islamists are clearly rejected by Libya Dawn and the government in Tripoli”.

In my four-hour interview, Noah made it clear that he was happy to talk about any issue, but did not want to be the focus or want it to appear as though he may be vying for power. This was something he came back to later on in the recorded conversation.

In fact, he spoke little about himself and his role despite several attempts to steer the conversation in that direction.

The major point Mustafa Noah made is that the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn (as it stands now) is/are in the process of trying to set up an inclusive government for all Libyans.  His opinion is that opponents – specifically retired Libyan General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar – were “concerned about consolidating their own personal power base”.

There is mounting evidence that Hafter’s power-grab is being carried out with support of Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al Sisi and his Saudi and Emirati backers. For example: the MiG-21 bombing runs from across the border, which are tantamount to a war crime for unprovoked and undeclared bombing of a neighbouring country.

And the recent purchase of six Sukhoi Su-30 warplanes delivered to Tobruk by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military (i.e. paid for allegedly by Egypt with funds that most probably originated from the Arab Gulf).

Mustafa Noah seemed genuine insofar as he always had a humble, well-composed, and thoughtful approach to any subject discussed.

He never framed anything in terms of his own accomplishments or involvement but in terms of the people and the revolution for change, stability and prosperity for all Libyans.

Noah was genuinely upset at the thought that someone-like Haftar, who is “working for his narrow personal interests and self-aggrandizement”, could be successful in building a personal power base without regard for the people.

He said Haftar was “using the divisive methods he learned from his time as a crony in the Gaddafi dictatorship”.  Noah found the “thought of a ‘strong man’ coming to power particularly offensive and abhorrent in light of recent history in Libya”.

Mustafa Noah clearly has put a lot of trust in the ability of Libya Dawn, however he is not blindly committed to them.  When I read a list of different militias, brigades, groups that composed Libya Dawn and asked about the character of specific militias, he painted them as all equally for the revolution and composed of good people.

Noah said any group that was not focused on the spirit of the revolution (i.e. anti-corruption, against arbitrary political violence, etc.) would not be a part of the future of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Libya.

His main focus is the Libyan people, creating better institutions, employment opportunities, social services, education, health services, etc.

Mustafa Noah talked about an “inclusive future” for Libya.  He described the “old system of tribalism and manipulation by Gaddafi” and how the “mentality has to change in order for the country to progress”.  Regarding inclusivity in the future, Noah said that they are “open to people from the Gaddafi regime returning to public life once stability is created”.

In fact, Mustafa Noah’s senior advisor on Anti-Terrorism Operations, who joined the conversation halfway through, was in the Gaddafi regime for 37 years.  For Mustafa Noah, the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn, “there is a place for people from the Gaddafi regime who could prove they were not stealing from the Libyan people or … involved in atrocities against the people”.

Quo vadis Libya 2015?

What I discerned from my recent visit to Tripoli and Misrata is that the power-grab spearheaded by Haftar has more to do with Libya’s oil and gas resources, which are coveted by their neighbours, rather than the red herring of ‘Islamist militants in Tripoli and Misrata’ that is being trumpeted in the news media.

The Libya story in 2015 is about disinformation, lies and a power-grab in motion clandestinely supported by the Egyptians and their Saudi and Emirati counterparts.  What will the U.S. and the Europeans do?

Will they play along in the new ‘Great Game’ or stop another Syria-like imbroglio unfolding where extremist Takfiri militant organisations like the Islamist State (ISIS or ISIL) can feed off and emerge to threaten peace and stability in the Mediterranean and beyond?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Twists Arms to Help Defeat Resolution on Palestinehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine/#comments Wed, 31 Dec 2014 21:02:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138462 Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., addresses the Security Council after the vote. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., addresses the Security Council after the vote. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 31 2014 (IPS)

The United States re-asserted its political and economic clout – and its ability to twist arms and perhaps metaphorically break kneecaps – when it successfully lobbied to help defeat a crucial Security Council resolution on the future of Palestine this week.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS, “Did [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry manage to pull the rug out from under Palestine by convincing supportive Nigeria to abstain during the 13 calls he made to world leaders to torpedo the resolution?"Despite U.S. threats and blandishments, the PLO/Palestine does have room for maneuver in the legal and diplomatic arena - it just has not yet been effective at using it." -- Nadia Hijab

“Or did the U.S. pressure Palestine to go to a vote now, [in order] to ensure failure, since the Jan. 1 change in Security Council composition favours the Palestinians?”

If so, what promises of future support did it make? asked Hijab.

The resolution failed because it did not receive the required nine votes for adoption by the Security Council. Even if it had, it likely would have still failed, because the United States had threatened to cast its veto.

But this time around, Washington did not have to wield its veto power – and avoid political embarrassment.

The eight countries voting for the resolution, which called for the full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories by the end of 2017, were France, China, Russia, Luxembourg, Argentina, Chad, Chile and Jordan.

The two negative votes came from the United States and Australia, while the five countries that abstained were the UK, South Korea, Rwanda, Nigeria and Lithuania.

A single positive vote, perhaps from Nigeria, would have made a difference in the adoption of the resolution.

Days before the vote, Kerry was working the phones, calling on dozens of officials, who were members of the Security Council, pressing them for a vote against the resolution or an abstention.

According to State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke, one such call was to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, which ensured an abstention from Nigeria, a country which was earlier expected to vote for the resolution.

After the vote, there were three lingering questions unanswered: Did the United States put pressure on Palestine to force the vote on the draft resolution on Tuesday since the re-composition of the Security Council would have been more favourable to the Palestinians, come Jan. 1?

And why didn’t Palestine wait for another week to garner those votes and ensure success?

Or did they misjudge the vote count?

Beginning Jan. 1, the composition of the Security Council would have changed with three new non-permanent members favourable to Palestine: Malaysia, Venezuela and Spain.

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general who keeps track of Middle East politics, told IPS it is beyond a misjudgment of the vote count or miscalculation of the timing when in only a few days there would have been more likely positive votes by Malaysia, Spain and Venezuela.

“The actual intent of the Palestinian Administrative Authority from that failed move – and with whom it coordinated discreetly – remains to be politically observed,” he said.

“It is a tactical and strategic retreat at the expense of the universally supported inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, as stipulated in a succession of clearly assertive resolutions (including on statehood; right of return/or compensation; Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories; inalienable people’s rights).”

These rights, he said, have been endorsed by an overwhelming majority when the Palestinian cause was predominant in U.N. deliberations, and when Palestinian leadership was united in its quest and all Arab states, let alone most of the international community, were solidly behind it.

Sanbar said political logic would suggest maintaining what was gained during a positive period because any new resolution in the current weak status within a tragically fragmented Arab world will obviously entail a substantive retreat.

“It may be more helpful if efforts were mobilised to sharpen the focus on implementation of already existing resolutions and gain wider alliances to accomplish practical steps based on an enlightened knowledge of working through the United Nations rather than merely resorting to it on occasions when other options fail,” Sanbar declared.

Still, Hijab told IPS, whatever the case, many Palestinians breathed a sigh of relief that the resolution did not pass because it would have given a U.N. imprimatur to a lower bar on Palestinian rights.

The resolution implicitly accepted settlements with talk of land swaps and watered down refugee rights with reference to an agreed solution, effectively handing Israel a veto over Palestinian rights.

She said the Palestine Liberation Organization/Palestine will now be forced to take some meaningful action to maintain what little credibility it has with the Palestinian people.

“Despite U.S. threats and blandishments, the PLO/Palestine does have room for maneuver in the legal and diplomatic arena – it just has not yet been effective at using it,” she said. “It must urgently do so in 2015 – the 2335th Palestinian was killed by Israel this week as it colonises the West Bank and besieges Gaza – while Palestinian refugees suffer in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.”

Hijab said the Palestinian people need respite from this cruel reality, and they need their rights.

After the vote, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, told the Council: “We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo. We voted against it because … peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table.”

But she warned Israel, a close U.S. ally, that continued “settlement activity” will undermine the chances of peace.

Riyad Mansour, U.N. ambassador to Palestine, told the Council, “Our effort was a serious effort, genuine effort, to open the door for peace. Unfortunately, the Security Council is not ready to listen to that message.”

On the heels of the failed resolution, Palestine took steps Wednesday to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague – specifically to bring charges of war crimes against Israel – even though the U.S. Congress, which is virulently pro-Israel, has warned that any such move would result in severe economic sanctions.

“There is aggression practiced against our land and our country, and the Security Council has let us down — where shall we go?” Abbas said Wednesday, as reported by the New York Times, as he signed onto the court’s charter, along with 17 other international treaties and conventions.

“We want to complain to this organisation,” he said, referring to the ICC. “As long as there is no peace, and the world doesn’t prioritise peace in this region, this region will live in constant conflict. The Palestinian cause is the key issue to be settled.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: We Have So Much to Learn From Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-we-have-so-much-to-learn-from-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-we-have-so-much-to-learn-from-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-we-have-so-much-to-learn-from-cuba/#comments Tue, 30 Dec 2014 08:10:05 +0000 Robert F. Kennedy Jr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138433

This is the first of three articles written by Robert F. Kennedy – son of late U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy – which address relations between the United States and Cuba during the 60-year period of the U.S. embargo against the island nation. The second article – “JFK’s Secret Negotiations with Fidel” – will run on January 5, 2015 and the third – “Sabotaging U.S.-Cuba Détente in the Kennedy Era” – on January 6, 2015.

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr
WHITE PLAINS, New York, Dec 30 2014 (IPS)

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than five decades of a misguided policy which my uncle, John F. Kennedy, and my father, Robert F. Kennedy, had been responsible for enforcing after the U.S. embargo against the country was first implemented in October 1960 by the Eisenhower administration.

The move has raised hopes in many quarters – not only in the United States but around the world – that the embargo itself is now destined to disappear.

Robert F Kennedy Jr

Robert F Kennedy Jr

This does not detract from the fact that Cuba is still a dictatorship. The Cuban government restricts basic freedoms like the freedoms of speech and assembly, and it owns the media.

Elections, as in most old-school Communist countries, offer limited options and, during periodic crackdowns, the Cuban government fills Cuban jails with political prisoners.

However, there are real tyrants in the world with whom the United States has become a close ally and many governments with much worse human rights records than Cuba – Azerbaijan, for example, whose president Ilham Aliyev boils his opponents in oil, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, China, Bahrain, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and many others where torture, enforced disappearances, religious intolerance, suppression of speech and assembly, mediaeval oppression of women, sham elections and non-judicial executions are all government practices.

Despite its poverty, Cuba has managed some impressive accomplishments. Cuba’s government boasts the highest literacy rates for its population of any nation in the hemisphere. Cuba claims its citizens enjoy universal access to health care and more doctors per capita than any other nation in the Americas. Cuba’s doctors, reportedly, have high quality medical training.“It seems stupid to pursue a U.S. foreign policy by repeating a strategy that has proved a monumental failure for six decades. The definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over, and expecting different results. In this sense, the [Cuba] embargo is insane”

Unlike other Caribbean islands where poverty means starvation, all Cubans receive a monthly food ration book that provides for their basic necessities.

Even Cuban government officials admit that the economy is smothered by the inefficiencies of Marxism, although they also argue that the principal cause of the island’s economic woes is the strangling impact of the 60-year-old trade embargo – and it is clear to everyone that the embargo first implemented during the Eisenhower administration in October 1960 unfairly punishes ordinary Cubans.

The embargo impedes economic development by making virtually every commodity and every species of equipment both astronomically expensive and difficult to obtain.

Worst of all, instead of punishing the regime for its human rights restrictions, the embargo has fortified the dictatorship by justifying oppression. It provides every Cuban with visible evidence of the bogeyman that every dictator requires – an outside enemy to justify an authoritarian national security state.

The embargo has also given Cuban leaders a plausible monster on which to blame Cuba’s poverty by lending credence to their argument that the United States, not Marxism, has caused the island’s economic distress.

The embargo has almost certainly helped keep the Castro brothers [Fidel and Raul] in power for the last five decades.

It has justified the Cuban government’s oppressive measures against political dissent in the same way that U.S. national security concerns have been used by some U.S. politicians to justify incursions against our bill of rights, including the constitutional rights to jury trial, habeas corpus, effective counsel and freedom from unwarranted search and seizure, eavesdropping, cruel and unusual punishment, torturing of prisoners, extraordinary renditions and the freedom to travel, to name just a few.

It is almost beyond irony that the very same politicians who argued that we should punish Castro for curtailing human rights and mistreating prisoners in Cuban jails elsewhere contend that the United States is justified in mistreating our own prisoners in Cuban jails.

Imagine a U.S. president faced, as Castro was, with over 400 assassination attempts, thousands of episodes of foreign-sponsored sabotage directed at our nation’s people, factories and bridges, a foreign-sponsored invasion and fifty years of economic warfare that has effectively deprived our citizens of basic necessities and strangled our economy.

The Cuban leadership has pointed to the embargo with abundant justification as the reason for economic deprivation in Cuba.

The embargo allows the regime to portray the United States as a bully and itself as the personification of courage, standing up to threats, intimidation and economic warfare by history’s greatest military superpower.

It perpetually reminds the proud Cuban people that our powerful nation, which has staged invasions of their island and plotted for decades to assassinate their leaders and sabotaged their industry, continues an aggressive campaign to ruin their economy.

Perhaps the best argument for lifting the embargo is that it does not work. Our 60-plus year embargo against Cuba is the longest in history and yet the Castro regime has remained in power during its entire duration.

Instead of lifting the embargo, different U.S. administrations, including the Kennedy administration, have strengthened it without result. It seems silly to pursue a U.S. foreign policy by repeating a strategy that has proved a monumental failure for six decades. The definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over expecting different results. In this sense, the embargo is insane.

The embargo clearly discredits U.S. foreign policy, not only across Latin America, but also with Europe and other regions.

For more than 20 years, the U.N. General Assembly has called for lifting the embargo. Last year the vote was 188 in favour and two against (the United States and Israel). The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (the main human rights bodies of the Americas) has also called for lifting the embargo and the African Union likewise.

One reason that it diminishes our global prestige and moral authority is that the entire embargo enterprise only emphasises our distorted relationship with Cuba. That relationship is historically freighted with powerful ironies that make the United States look hypocritical to the rest of the world.

Most recently, while we fault Cuba for jailing and mistreating political prisoners, we have simultaneously been subjecting prisoners, many of them innocent by the Pentagon’s own admission, to torture – including waterboarding and illegal detention and imprisonment without trial in Cuban prison cells in Guantanamo Bay.

While we blame Cuba for not allowing its citizens to travel freely to the United States, we restrict our own citizens from traveling freely to Cuba. In that sense, the embargo seems particularly anti-American. Why does my passport say that I can’t visit Cuba? Why can’t I go where I want to go?

I have been a fortunate American. I have been able to visit Cuba and that was a wonderful education because it gave me the opportunity to see Communism with all its warts and faults up close. Why doesn’t our government trust Americans to see for themselves the ravages of dictatorship?

Had President Kennedy survived to a second administration, the embargo would have been lifted half a century ago.

President Kennedy told Castro, through intermediaries, that the United States would end the embargo when Cuba stopped exporting violent revolutionists to Latin America’s Alliance for Progress nations – a policy that mainly ended with Che Guevara’s death in 1967 and when Castro stopped allowing the Soviets to use the island as a base for the expansion of Soviet power in the hemisphere.

Well, the Soviets have been gone since 1991 – more than 20 years ago – but the U.S.-led embargo continues to choke Cuba’s economy. If the objective of our foreign policy in Cuba is to promote freedom for its subdued citizens, we should be opening ourselves up to them, not shutting them out.

We have so much to learn from Cuba – from its successes in some areas and failures in others.

As I walked through the streets of Havana, Model-Ts chugged by, Che’s soaring effigy hung in wrought iron above the street, and a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln stood in a garden on a tree-lined avenue.

I could feel the weight of sixty years of Cuban history, a history so deeply intertwined with that of my own country. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Q&A: “The Economy Needs to Serve Us and Not the Other Way Around”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/qa-the-economy-needs-to-serve-us-and-not-the-other-way-around/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-the-economy-needs-to-serve-us-and-not-the-other-way-around http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/qa-the-economy-needs-to-serve-us-and-not-the-other-way-around/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 12:49:44 +0000 Peter Costantini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138385

Peter Costantini interviews economist JOHN SCHMITT

By Peter Costantini
SEATTLE, Dec 23 2014 (IPS)

Since his college days, John Schmitt says, he’s been “very interested in questions of economic justice, economic inequality.”

john-schmitt-web-photo-credit-dean-manis resized

Photo courtesy of John Schmitt

He served a nuts-and-bolts apprenticeship in the engine room of the labour movement, doing research for several unions’ organising campaigns. Today, he’s an influential proponent of new approaches to low-wage work that have reoriented how many economists and policy-makers understand the issue.

Schmitt is a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He also serves as visiting professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, and was a Fulbright scholar at the Universidad Centroamericana “Jose Simeon Cañas” in San Salvador, El Salvador. He holds degrees are from Princeton and the London School of Economics.

IPS correspondent Peter Costantini interviewed him by telephone and e-mail between August and December 2014.

Q: Among policy prescriptions for reducing income inequality and lifting the floor of the labour market, where do you see minimum wages fitting in?

A: I think the minimum wage is very important. It concretely raises wages for a lot of low and middle-income workers, and it also establishes the principle that we as a society can demand that the economy be responsive to social needs.

It’s a legal, almost palpable statement that we have the right to demand of the economy that it serve us and not that we serve the economy. It’s not the solution, in and of itself, to economic inequality. But it’s an important first step.Two of the last three increases in the minimum wage were signed by Republican presidents, with substantial support from Republicans in Congress. So it’s a very American institution that has had a long history of bipartisan support.

And it’s an easy first step. It’s something that we’ve had in this country since the 1930s, and it has broad political support. It regularly polls way above 50 percent, even among Republicans. And in the population as a whole, 65 to 75 percent of voters support it.

Two of the last three increases in the minimum wage were signed by Republican presidents, with substantial support from Republicans in Congress. So it’s a very American institution that has had a long history of bipartisan support.

And it’s effective in doing what it’s supposed to do, which is raise wages of workers at the bottom. It does exactly what a lot of people think our social policy should do: reward people who work. Almost everybody agrees that if you’re working hard, you should get paid a decent amount of money for that.

Also, it doesn’t involve any government bureaucracy other than a relatively minor enforcement mechanism. Because everybody knows what the minimum wage is. There’s a social norm and expectation that people who work should get at least the minimum wage. [More]

Q: Beginning in the early 1990s, a new approach surfaced that challenged the old contention that minimum wage increases reduce employment among low-wage workers.

A: It was called the New Minimum Wage research. A lot of economists at the time were looking at the experience of states that had increased the minimum wage, and were finding that state increases seemed to have little or no effect on employment.

It caused a lot of controversy, which is still raging. I think the profession has moved a lot towards the belief that moderate increases in the minimum wage, like the ones that we historically have done, have little or no impact on employment.

I think what most economists are persuaded by is that the empirical evidence is not that supportive of large job losses. There’s just a lot of good research out there that consistently finds little or no negative employment effects.

The textbook model for how the labour market works is just a vast oversimplification. It can be useful in some contexts, but it’s not useful to understand a pretty complicated thing, which is what happens when the minimum wage goes up.

One of the key insights is that employers aren’t operating in a competitive labour market nor are employees. There’s the possibility that employers make adjustments in other dimensions besides laying workers off: they raise their prices somewhat, or they cut back on hours [without layoffs].

And from a worker’s point of view, if they raise your salary by 20 percent and they cut your hours by five or 10 percent you’re still better off, right? Because you’re getting paid more money and you’re working fewer hours. So there are a lot of ways that firms can adjust to minimum wage increases other than laying people off. [More]

Q: So from a worker’s point of view, I still come out ahead. Low-income work is already very unstable.

A: An important ingredient here is labour turnover. There’s a new paper that looks very carefully at what happens to labour turnover rates before and after minimum wage increases, and finds substantial declines in turnover for different kinds of workers.

A different analysis looks at a living wage law that was passed at the San Francisco airport a few years back. They found something like an 80 percent decline in turnover of baggage handlers after the minimum wage went up, the living wage.

People who don’t work in business don’t fully appreciate that turnover is extremely expensive, even for low-wage workers. Filling a vacancy can be 15, up to 20 percent, of the annual cost of that job. The people who have to fill it are managers, using their more expensive time. And meanwhile, you’re losing customers.

So if the minimum wage reduces turnover, which evidence is increasing for, then it can go a long way towards explaining why we see so little employment impact of minimum wage increases. [More]

Q: What happens when cities increase the minimum wage?

A: I have a lot of faith in the democratic process. So when a city focuses on where to set the wage, a lot of people weigh in: business people, workers, unions, community organisations, low-wage workers, local academics.

There’s a city-wide conversation. And I think this is one reason why we consistently don’t see big employment effects: that process usually arrives at some wage that’s a vast improvement over what we currently have and within the realm of what the local economy can afford.

I think we probably consistently err on the side of caution rather than on the side of going too far. [More]

Q: How do you see the 15Now movement, the fast-food workers movement, changing the labour movement?

A: There’s a lot of dynamism behind the fast food and 15 folks and what’s happening in Seattle, a lot of city and state campaigns to increase the minimum wage. They’re putting a focus on wages and wage inequality, and the need to reward people for working hard.

They’re also focusing attention on other issues that are going to be really important in the future: for example, scheduling questions. One of the recurring problems for fast-food and retail workers is not just that their wages are so low, but also that they have little or no control over their schedules.

I think any time you have people agitating for economic and social justice and getting national attention, it’s encouraging for the possibility of turning around three going on four decades of rising economic inequality.

The single most important thing is to keep some oxygen flowing here so that this conversation can continue: the media cover it, people talk about it when they’re having a beer with friends, or when they’re downtown and they see a bunch of McDonald’s workers out making noise. That’s not something we’ve seen a lot of in the last 35 years. [More]

Edited for length and clarity. For full interview, see version on IPS blog. Edited by Kitty Stapp.

 

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Cuba and United States Now Foment Moderation in the Americashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cuba-and-united-states-now-foment-moderation-in-the-americas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-and-united-states-now-foment-moderation-in-the-americas http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cuba-and-united-states-now-foment-moderation-in-the-americas/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 12:26:21 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138383 U.S. and Cuban Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro greet each other at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff looks on. A lengthier, more formal greeting is expected at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. Credit: Government of Brazil

U.S. and Cuban Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro greet each other at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff looks on. A lengthier, more formal greeting is expected at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. Credit: Government of Brazil

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO , Dec 23 2014 (IPS)

With the decision to reestablish diplomatic ties, Cuba and the United States, polar opposites that have long inspired or fomented extremism of different kinds in the Americas, have now become factors of moderation and pragmatism.

The continued isolation of Cuba 25 years after the end of the Cold War was so widely rejected that the U.S. embargo, which dates to October 1960, has completely lost relevance. But it can only be abolished by the U.S. Congress. It is politics that reigns in this case.

Moreover, the measures announced by U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 17 undermine the embargo. Raising the quarterly limit of cash remittances to Cuba from 500 to 2,000 dollars and freeing up transactions between banks in the two countries are just two examples.

Another initiative, the removal of Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, opens doors to external financing that were closed up to now.Obama’s gesture, although late in coming, and Cuba’s acceptance will reduce tensions at a regional level that continue to exist largely due to the confrontation between the two countries. The new situation will save the Organisation of American States (OAS) from the corrosion caused by the exclusion of Cuba, which is rejected by Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Obama’s gesture, although late in coming, and Cuba’s acceptance will reduce tensions at a regional level that continue to exist largely due to the confrontation between the two countries. The new situation will save the Organisation of American States (OAS) from the corrosion caused by the exclusion of Cuba, which is rejected by Latin American and Caribbean nations.

The impatience with Cuba’s isolation was manifested by the invitation extended by the host government of the seventh Summit of the Americas, scheduled for April 2015 in Panama, to Cuban President Raúl Castro. Significantly, Castro and Obama were the first to confirm their attendance.

At the last summit, in 2012, Canada and the United States vetoed Cuba’s participation, blocking the consensus needed for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to invite the Cuban leader to the summit in Cartagena de Indias. But the controversy contaminated the debates, standing in the way of meaningful in-depth discussions.

The dialogue launched by Obama and Castro is aimed at strengthening the OAS, which in 2009 repealed its 47-year suspension of Cuba. The Cuban government refused to return to an organisation where, it said, “the United States continues to exercise oppressive control.” But it is likely to change its stance given the new situation.

The OAS, however, will have to step up its role as a continental forum for debate on differences and conflicts, even human rights – another issue that has stood in the way of Cuba’s reinsertion, because of complaints of abuses.

The regional organisation will also provide an important space for Washington to rebuild its ties to Latin America, a region that has lost priority for the United States in recent decades.

That could reduce the weight of regional associations like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), created to bring together countries in the region with cultural affinity and similar levels of development, but also as a counterpoint to the Inter-American system where the U.S. plays a hegemonic role.

With the easing of the confrontation between Havana and Washington, one of the reference points for radicalism of all stripes will disappear in the Americas.

The world could even be surprised by a congressional vote on lifting the embargo, where Obama’s position is expected to suffer a defeat at the hands of the Republican majority.

The anti-Castro lobbying groups have won elections in the state of Florida, but they are ageing and the opening up to Cuba stimulates economic interests against trade barriers.

The easing of tension between Cuba and the United States should also boost the effort to put an end to Colombia’s armed conflict, which has dragged on for over five decades. For the last two years, the government and the guerrillas have been involved in peace talks in Havana, which is hosting the negotiations.

Not so long ago it would have been unthinkable to consider Cuba sufficiently neutral ground for talks between the Colombian government and the insurgents.

Along with the embargo against Cuba, Colombia represents the persistence of conflicts that have outlived the context that gave rise to them, confirming that history is anything but linear.

Colombia’s internal conflict has claimed at least 220,000 lives since 1958 – 81.5 percent of them civilians. In addition 4.7 million people have been displaced, at least 27,000 have been “disappeared” and a similar number have been kidnapped, according to the report “Basta Ya” by the National Centre for the Historical Memory, a public institution created in 2011.

It also gave rise to the phenomenon of the far-right paramilitaries who are responsible for most of the estimated 150,000 people killed between 1981 and 2012 – far more than the victims of the government forces or the left-wing guerrillas.

U.S. support for the government had a lot do with the death toll. The repression against the insurgents was intensified by Plan Colombia, a strategy of U.S. financial and military aid put into effect in 1999, to combat leftist armed groups as well as drug trafficking.

But it was in the 1960s and 1970s that Cuba and the United States were protagonists in the most violent clashes, often by means of indirect involvement.

While the socialist island nation fomented armed revolutionary movements in Latin America and backed anti-colonialist struggles in Africa, even sending its own soldiers, Washington helped spread military dictatorships throughout the world and intervened directly where it believed its interests were threatened, such as in the Dominican Republic in 1965.

Direct battles, such as the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion by anti-Castro forces trained by the United States, espionage operations and attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro fueled the longstanding enmity that is to now be overcome by pragmatism in the face of new challenges.

Cuba’s economic decline, aggravated by the crisis in Venezuela, its primary source of oil on generous terms, has encouraged new understandings with “imperialism.”

Also needed in Cuba is self-criticism, the recognition of mistakes that have been made.

Cuban history is plagued with half-baked measures only explained by centralised decisions reached without prior consultation or advice, such as the planting of coffee, basically a high-altitude crop, on land close to sea level on the outskirts of Havana. Very little was grown and the important vegetable-producing belt around the capital was lost in the 1960s.

If the revolution that inspired left-wing movements around the region – and the world – adopts a pragmatic stance and engages in dialogue with the “enemy”, it could have a moderating effect on anti-imperialist governments and parties in Latin America.

Brazil could benefit from the new thaw, because of the dialogue with all political currents, and its presence in strategic projects in Cuba, such as the Mariel special economic development zone, whose port was expanded by a Brazilian construction company, with financing from Brazil.

And the sugar industry, once the pillar of the Cuban economy, could recover thanks to technology from Brazil, which replaced Cuba as the world’s biggest sugarcane producer.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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