UN votes 191-2 to end US blockade

5th November 2017

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At the United Nations General Assembly on 1st November 2017, the world voted with Cuba in support of a resolution calling for an end to the 55 year old US blockade of the island.

The final vote, 191 to 2, saw the United States isolated, as only it and Israel voted against all 191 other member states. Although the vote is non-binding it sends a clear message to the United States government that it stands alone when it comes to its policy of blockade

In 2016, the US historically abstained for the first time after 24 years of voting against the resolution. In her speech to the UN, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador told the organisation said that they were reversing this decision since the US people had spoken by electing a new president (Trump) who supported the blockade.

She described the debate on the blockade at the United Nations as “political theatre” and said the US delegation was voting to continue the blockade out of solidarity with the Cuban people. Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s chief negotiator in talks with the US, branded these comments as disrespectful to the United Nations and an insult to Cuba.

Nikki Haley’s comments also contradict US public opinion which is in favour of normalising relations with Cuba and ending the blockade. On Tuesday 31 October a group of democratic senators urged Trump by letter to abstain from the vote again. “Our failed embargo against Cuba has been repeatedly and publicly condemned by the international community as ineffective and harmful to the people of Cuba,” the senators wrote. “The longer we maintain this outdated Cold War policy the more our international regional credibility suffers.”

Opening his speech to the UN, Bruno Rodriguez, Cuban Foreign Secretary, condemned the “offensive and interfering” statement made by Nikki Haley.

He described the blockade as “a flagrant, systematic and massive violation of the human rights of all Cubans.” “It can be described as an act of genocide”, and “an obstacle to the humanitarian support that Cuba offers to 81 countries of the global South,” he said.

Country representatives from across the globe spoke in support of the Cuban resolution, praising the country for the international solidarity that it provided to many poor nations in the form of medical brigades and training, despite the effects of the blockade on its own economy. They also lamented the deteriorating relations between the US and Cuba following the election of Donald Trump and called on the US to return to the path of respectful relations with the island.

In response to the vote, CSC director, Rob Miller said:

“This is a cynical move by the US government. The Trump administration, in its desperation to appease right-wing politicians, is systematically destroying the last two years of progress in diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“At a time when the island needs materials and equipment to aid its recovery from Hurricane Irma, the US policy appears more vicious than ever. It is vitally important to maintain the international campaign against the US blockade so that the US government receives a clear message that the rest of the world supports the Cuban people in their call to end this cruel and archaic policy.”

 
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Venezuela votes for progress

30th October 2017

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Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

Little media coverage over the past week has been devoted to the outcome of the recent regional elections in Venezuela.  Given how much energy was devoted to the build up to the elections this should be something of a surprise.  It is not though, is it?  Why not?  Because the Venezuelan people did not vote the way in which the United States, the UK and the European Union wanted.

Every effort was made to persuade them.  Right wings groups organised anti-government violence in the weeks leading up to the poll, resulting in 100 deaths.  International media in the West gave the impression of lawlessness and chaos throughout the country.  From the coverage afforded the elections in the West it was evident that President Maduro had little or no chance and was on the brink of being swept from office.

In fact, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 18 of the 23 governorships up for election.  The opposition lost all three governorships won in 2012.  Overall participation rates were at 61%, up from 54% five years ago, although a disbelieving New York Times asserted that “turnout appeared to be lower” while the international Reuters agency claimed that voters had been forced to turnout at gunpoint!

Opposition to the newly formed Constituent Assembly did not stop 8 million turning out to vote on the 30th July, giving the government a further significant boost.  For the regional elections held in October the opposition combined their street violence with an exhortation to “vote against the dictatorship”.  Inevitably, given the outcome the only course left for the opposition was to claim that the results were “fraudulent”.

The claims of fraud have no substance and are not upheld by international observers.  Even some defeated opposition candidates have had to concede that the claims have no substance.

In typical fashion, supporting a US leaning opposition, the Trump administration backed the overthrow of the Maduro government, by whatever means.  Having failed to do so by a democratic route the fear is now that the US will resort to increased sanctions against Venezuela or even follow up on Trump’s threat of military intervention.

With clear support from the poor and working class sections of the population, it is crucial that the PSUV maintain momentum in advance of the presidential elections next year.  It would be remarkable if the economic war waged by the US and its allies was not stepped up in the coming months and more remarkable still if there is any let up in the anti-government media campaign.

Like Cuba, with whom the Venezuelan government have close relations, the emphasis of the PSUV has been on investing in the needs of the people through education and healthcare.  With the assistance and solidarity of Cuban medicals teams Venezuela achieved nationwide health coverage for its people in April this year, a major success for a developing nation.

Following the recent elections Cuban President Raúl Castro sent a message of solidarity to the government of Venezuela, stating,

“I congratulate you for the results of the state elections. Venezuela has given another great lesson in peace, democratic vocation, courage, and dignity.

The legacy of Chávez is alive. He and Fidel would be very proud of this victory.

You can always count on the support and solidarity of Cuba.”

Sentiments we should all echo and endorse.

 

Dialogue of the deaf

22nd October 2017

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Carles Puigdemont – a leader for the people?

The current situation in Spain has been described as a “dialogue of the deaf” by the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) as Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, look set to go head to head over the question of the legitimacy of the current claim for independence for Catalonia.

Following an emergency Cabinet, Rajoy has invoked article 155 of the Spanish constitution in order to “restore the rule of law, coexistence and the economic recovery and to ensure that elections could be held in normal circumstances.”  This clears the way, pending endorsement by the Spanish senate, to direct rule from Madrid, with the powers of the existing Catalan government being assumed by the relevant ministries in Madrid.

Rajoy has claimed that the intervention will not be a permanent one but is based upon relieving from their duties those who have acted outside of the constitution.  On this basis the prime minister claims that fresh elections in Catalonia will be called within six months.

The mobilisation in Catalonia, which focussed upon the referendum of 1st October this year was a clear expression of frustration that the Spanish state has refused to negotiate seriously to address the concerns of a strand of nationalism in Catalonia.  However, while the pro-independence vote was overwhelmingly in favour, it was only on the basis of a 43%turnout.  It is not clear that independence has majority support across Catalonia.

The reaction of the Popular Party government to the referendum, attempting to stop people voting, arresting nationalist leaders and invoking the Spanish monarchy to condemn the referendum, while failing to oppose state violence from the Guardia Civil, has been widely condemned.  However, as the PCE point out “that cannot legitimise a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) as if it had been a Referendum held in normal conditions.”

There are question marks over the motivations behind the current nationalist push.  The Morning Star (10th October 2017) noted that,

“Puigdemont has dedicated his political life to Catalan nationalism, always showing far more enthusiasm for keeping wealth in the hands of Catalonia’s landowners and business classes than for sharing any of it with the workers and families of either Catalonia or the rest of Spain.”

There is also the apparent decline in support for Catalan independence from a high of 50% in recent years to around 41% a couple of weeks ago.  The confrontational approach taken by the Spanish government may yet buoy those figures.  The almost half a million strong pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona at the weekend suggests that there remains a substantial body of opinion in favour.

The PCE have made it clear that they do not support the actions of the Spanish state and have called upon Rajoy to, “abandon the repression, stop using the Prosecutor’s Office as the armed wing of the Government to promote the imprisonment of social leaders and admit that it is necessary to change the constitutional framework to respond to the need to guarantee by law social, democratic rights and allow the different peoples of the Spanish State to decide freely and democratically their future.”

The inflexibility of both Puigdemont and Rajoy is in danger of pushing Spain to the brink of major civil unrest with neither side offering anything which would improve the lot of the ordinary Spanish people.  While nationalism is often seen as the standard bearer of progress, with the plucky little David standing up against the bureaucratic Goliath, it can more often be the standard bearer of a new ruling class looking to carve out their own niche.

In the UK the example of Scotland is salutary.  While the Scottish Nationalist Party struck a radical pose in opposition to weak Labour Party leadership, they are exposed as little more than diluted liberals at best when set alongside the more radical option of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.  It will be interesting to see how far their vote dwindles at the next General Election.

In Spain the PCE continue to call for a federal Spain based on social rights for all and solidarity between the peoples, with the right of national self-determination guaranteed in the constitution.  That also means ditching the reactionary monarchy and returning Spain to being a republic.  How much of such a programme either Puigdemont or Rajoy support would be a measure of how much their posturing is in support of their people or their own class interests.

Trump calls time on Iran deal

15th October 2017

TrumpIran DealPresident Donald Trump begins the undoing of the Iran deal

The decision of US President, Donald Trump, to de-certify the international deal with Iran has brought condemnation across the world.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly found that the Islamic Republic of Iran has not contravened the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal agreed with Western powers.  There is no indication from the United States State Department that Iran has not been in compliance with the deal.

Formally, the 2015 deal is an international agreement, which cannot be undone by the actions of one signatory.  The UK, Russia, France, China and Germany, have all indicated that they remain committed to the deal.  Only the reactionary government of Israel and the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia have endorsed the action of the United States.  However, there is no doubt that Trump’s action sends a clear statement of intent.

Trump’s action passes the question of whether to re-impose sanctions back to the US Congress where, it is widely reported, there is unlikely to be an appetite to unpick the agreement and risk fall out with partners in Europe.  However, the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in the past week has made clear its intention to ‘tighten up’ the workings of the 2015 agreement.  This would include a unilateral expansion of the remit of the deal, to cover new areas such as Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its support for allies and proxies elsewhere in the region.

The unravelling of the deal then is already on the radar of lawmakers in the US.  This could mean that the opposition of European powers could soon be undermined and the deal quickly fragmented, in spite of their defence of it in the first 24 hours after Trump’s remarks.

Inside Iran, President Hassan Rouhani does support the deal as a means to free the Iranian economy from the constraints of sanctions and give his government some economic breathing space.  While Rouhani is characterised as a moderate in the West he has done nothing to change the appalling human rights record of the Iranian regime.  However, Rouhani has no interest in direct conflict with the United States and will work to avoid it, in spite of his poor record on domestic issues.

The Rouhani government though is only one player in the Iranian political scene.  The Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Ali Khamenei, wields ultimate power in the theocratic system, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as the means of enforcement.  There can be no doubt that more conservative elements within the Iranian regime would not be against adopting a more adversarial position with the United States, which could ultimately lead to an escalation of tensions in Iran and the wider region.

For Trump and his backers in the US, undermining the deal is just one element of the wider strategy to tackle Iranian support for Hamas and Hezbollah and to shore up US regional hegemony.  It is also about US pique at the fact that Iranian support for President Assad has helped roll back US and Saudi led intervention to stoke civil war and conflict in Syria.

In the Middle East regional power balance the US continues to back its long standing allies in Israel and Saudi Arabia.  While these two regimes are not comfortable bedfellows in other respects, they are united by their support from the United States and their mutual condemnation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Anything that the US can do to undermine the Iranian regime will be supported in Riyadh and Tel Aviv.  Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was first out of the blocks to applaud Trump’s statement.

Hardline conservatives already control the White House in the United States.  Tightening the terms of the deal and stepping up economic sanctions can only increase the likelihood of hardline conservatives gaining more overt support in Iran.  For the people of Iran and the people of the Middle East these are not good outcomes.  For all its flaws and limitations the existing deal is at least a step in the direction of détente.  For the people of Iran any threat to peace is a threat to the ongoing struggle for democracy inside Iran.  Any threat to the struggle for democracy in Iran is a threat to the stability of the entire Middle East.

Another nail in the coughing

8th October 2017

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Theresa May with ironic Conservative Party slogan

That the Tories were going to have a bad week at their annual conference in Manchester was widely predicted.  That it could have degenerated into something akin to farce, with the speech by leader Theresa May being the coup de grace, can only be regarded as a bonus.  As May coughed and spluttered her way to a conclusion, being handed a mock P45 en route, her Cabinet colleagues looked on aghast before the stage lettering behind her began to fall apart.

Whatever the headline writers and political cartoonists make of the farrago into which May’s leadership has now slipped, the reality has always been that there has been nothing on offer from the Tories to address the needs of the people of the UK and that fact is becoming increasingly obvious.

The desire to leave the EU is not even a mainstream Tory position but one foisted upon the vacillating leadership of David Cameron by a combination of his own right wing and the BBC backed UKIP.  Theresa May took a position that can best be described as ambivalent during the referendum campaign and, following the defeat of the Remain camp to which she was notionally aligned, became Tory leader largely due to the lack of anyone else appearing to be a remotely credible candidate.

May now retains her position because mainstream Tories are increasingly seeing Brexit as toxic and do not want to get their hands dirty with the nitty gritty of negotiation.  The Boris Johnson’s and Rees-Mogg’s, in spite of the noise they make about Brexit, are incapable of taking the reins because they know that they will not be able to carry the Tory mainstream much beyond the position May is taking.  If they cannot even do that, then they calculate that their chances of winning a general election are even more remote.

It is little wonder that May looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights every time she is interviewed.  She is damned if she stays, while the rest of her party will be damned if she goes.

The only political beacon that has emerged in the last year in the UK is the Labour Party General Election manifesto, For the Many Not the Few, which continues to offer the only credible steps away from the austerity imposed upon ordinary people, to meet the bankers gambling debts, and towards a future that offers young people hope and opportunity.

With the political party conference season over, the coming months will see increased pressure from public sector trade unions to break the cycle of austerity and push for pay rises that at least keep pace with inflation for their long suffering members.    Low pay and low investment in manufacturing and infrastructure continue to be a drain on the economy.  For years the banks have used the excuse of austerity not to lend or invest, now they cower at the uncertainty of Brexit.  These risk takers, these engines of the economy, are a tame lot!

Meanwhile, local councils, straining under the burden of almost ten years of austerity will once again be forced into making unpalatable choices in the coming budget round, which will lead to further service reductions for those at the sharp end.

The national roll out of Universal Credit, widely decried as a debacle in areas where it has been piloted, is scheduled for the New Year.  The prospect of the unemployed, single parents and the disabled having to struggle without access to benefit for up to six weeks has been widely reported but no solution proposed.

Without properly funded options for local authorities to build new council houses the crisis in affordable housing will continue, as Tory dogma dictates that the ‘right’ to buy must continue to be an option for Council tenants, while the private sector know there are no super profits in building houses for the poor.

All of this is on the doorstep of the UK, even before the government take a position on the possible US led conflicts with North Korea and Iran.  Given recent history there is more than an evens chance they will take the line of backing US belligerence.  Given the massive drain upon the UK economy which spending on weapons of mass destruction represents, kowtowing to the foreign adventures of the US gives the UK ruling class the slimmest of justifications for the syphoning of resources away from the NHS, housing and public services which the defence budget represents.

It is ironic that, at its annual meeting later this week, the IMF is likely to call for greater investment to boost education, training and productivity.  Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, has spoken recently about the need for economies awash with cash to “use this moment to invest more in their own economies”, although she is widely expected to be ignored.

Capitalists are not even prepared to listen to each other.  Perhaps deep down it is because they know they have no solutions.

 

Opportunity spread thin

1st October 2017

 

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Theresa May – not spreading much opportunity

The depth of divisions within the Conservative Party are clear, even before a word is spoken at their annual conference in Manchester this week.  Boris Johnson, once again slightly overstepping his brief as Foreign Secretary, has intervened to make clear his position on the Brexit negotiations.  Nothing unusual there, Johnson’s leadership ambitions are as naked as they are well documented.  However, for Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, to be equivocal in his support for Theresa May suggests a far deeper malaise at the heart of the Tory leadership.

Asked by The Observer (1/10/17) whether Javid believed May was the right person to lead the Tories into the next election the interview concludes,

“He waits several seconds, smiles, then stands and offers his hand.  “I think we are out of time,” he says, leaving us to draw the obvious conclusion.”

The trick for May this week is to attempt to paper over the cracks and convince enough of the delegates and Parliamentary Party that she is the person to lead them in Brexit negotiations and into the next election.  Strong and stable anyone?

One influential Tory, Matthew Parris, has already described May as being “in a hostage situation”.  He may have added that she would not get many takers to pay the ransom.  Only Damian Green appears to be prepared to make any effort to bail out the waters from the sinking ship.  Most others look more or less prepared to simply bail out themselves, when the time looks right.

In a desperate attempt to shore things up with younger voters, the conference is set to announce a series of policy initiatives, including freezing tuition fees; upping the earnings level at which students need to begin paying back student loans; and a £10bn expansion of the Help to Buy scheme, presumably from the same money tree used to buy off the Democratic Unionists votes in Parliament.

For May these are “key parts of my plan to spread opportunity and build a better future for our country.”  For most of us they will be seen as a desperate set of too little, too late initiatives, which simply underline how far out of touch the Tories have been with the concerns of many ordinary people and for how long.

The appeal to the young, at least those under the age of 45, is in part a response to a recent poll by the Social Market Foundation, which confirms the outcome of the June General Election that the youth vote is overwhelmingly with Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.  Tellingly, amongst voters in this age group, 76% regard the Tories as the party for “richer people” rather than the less wealthy.

Experience is, as ever, a great teacher.  Whatever rhetorical flourish May gives to her desire to “spread opportunity” the reality on the ground is that opportunity is not being spread.  Many younger people find themselves with crippling student debt.  They find themselves unable to get on the housing ladder.  They find themselves increasingly unable to afford rent or must opt for poor quality accommodation as the social housing market contracts.  Whatever it is that May means by spreading opportunity, it simply does not accord with the lives many young people are forced to live.

The resonance of the Labour message, For the Many, Not the Few could hardly be more relevant.  A positive conference for Labour has seen the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and his keys policies endorsed.  As things stand in the UK at present this is the only flag around which the working class, young people, women, ethnic minorities, those with disabilities and those hoping to change the basis of society for the better, can unite.

The Tories will struggle to keep it together in Manchester this week.  The reality is that the sooner it falls apart, the better for all of us.

The Brexit Roundabout

23rd September 2017

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She’s behind you…Boris Johnson and Theresa May

Pundits, politicians and pollsters love to refer to the summer as the ‘silly season’.  This is the time when Parliament is not sitting, party leaders go on holiday and, short of a national catastrophe, the business of government just ticks over.  This year the silly season featured nothing quite as silly as the talk of Jacob Rees-Mogg MP being a prospective Tory leader.

Rees-Mogg, the self styled representative for the eighteenth century, is the man who regards abortion as morally indefensible, whatever the circumstances.  This includes rape victims.  This is the man whose pretentions to upper class respectability lead him to name his sixth child Sixtus.  As if having Rees-Mogg as a father would not be burden enough in life.

Rees-Mogg, being a dyed in the wool Brexiteer of the right wing Little Englander variety, is a darling of the hucksters running the Leave EU campaign, a thinly veiled excuse for a diatribe against foreigners and a desire to restore the ‘glory days’ of Empire.  Every utterance of JRM, as Leave EU trendily refer to Rees-Mogg, infects the Twittersphere and feeds the myth that the desire to leave the EU is the prerogative of xenophobic fools.

Rees-Mogg’s candle flickered briefly but has been comprehensively snuffed by the return of the big beast in the Leave EU jungle in the form of Boris Johnson.  With his boss Theresa May priming the BBC, and anyone else who cared to listen, that she would make a definitive position speech on Brexit in Florence yesterday, Johnson sharpened his quill and penned a note of his own.  More than a note in fact, over 4,000 words, published by that faithful hound the Daily Telegraph just a week before May’s Florence curtain raiser.

The proverbial Zebedee  to May’s Florence, Johnson suddenly bounced back from his summer perambulations in hurricane hit tax havens, calling ‘time for bed’ on the fragile Tory truce around Brexit.  Not only did Johnson beat loud and hard on the Little Englander drum, he even resurrected the widely discredited claim that £350m a week was being spent on the EU and, upon leaving, this could be diverted to support the NHS, amongst other things.

Clearly a lot of UK taxpayers money is being diverted into the EU and it could be more usefully employed.  Harking back to the £350m per week claim however was a clear provocation on Johnson’s part, purely a piece of internal politics rather than an appeal to the people.  It is no secret that Theresa May’s tenure as Tory party leader is only sustained due to the fact that no one else is currently prepared to take on the dirty work of Brexit.

However, as Johnson knows, the merest slip could change the balance and being in position to step in could give him an advantage.  For many the Johnson brand is toxic, even in some parts of the Tory party, but others may conclude that his high profile may be enough to help the Tories cling to office.

May’s address in Florence attempted to placate the ‘leave at all cost’ lobby on the one hand, while balancing out the demands of British business and capital, to be given more time to prepare for the changes Brexit will bring.  The two year transition period proposed by May sees her please no one, with the hardline leave camp seeing it as too long and many businesses seeing it as being too short.  On this timetable the UK would not fully leave the EU until 2021, five years after the referendum vote of June 2016.

For British capital the EU departure process is one of working out ways in which the City of London and UK corporations can have their cake and eat it.  They want to enjoy the benefits to exploit a captive market, which the EU provides, including the free movement of cheap labour, but not be constrained by the limited social and human rights legislation, which are part of EU law.  The irony is that the fabled social protections of the EU, much beloved of the Remain camp, are built on shifting sands and are uneven across the EU.  The unemployed of the second rank EU states in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland are testament to the EU’s failings.

Outside of the EU, able to determine its own public spending priorities; able to determine an open and fair immigration process; able to set its own trade union and human rights agenda; able to disassociate itself from the aggressive NATO alliance; it is possible to see a different future for the UK based upon socialist values.  Not surprisingly, Theresa May’s speech made no reference to this.  There is no room for such values in the script being prepared by Boris Johnson.  Labour has its own internal struggles in uniting around such a vision but getting the Tories out and seeing Jeremy Corbyn in 10, Downing Street would be a start.