How to Kill Cuba

1st January 2018

Fidel

The start of the year always marks the anniversary of the Cuban revolution, which took place on 1st January 1959, so we are now marking its 59th year.  In that time the Cuban people have thwarted attempted invasions by the United States, numerous attempts to assassinate former president Fidel Castro and, for over 50 years, sustained a remarkable level of development in defiance of the illegal blockade imposed by the United States.

The achievements of the Cuban people speak for themselves.  However, this poem by British poet Adrian Mitchell (1932 – 2008) seems like a fitting tribute and an appropriate way to begin 2018.

 

How to Kill Cuba

You must burn the people first,

Then the grass and trees, then the stones.

You must cut the island out of all the maps,

The history books, out of the old newspapers,

Even the newspapers which hated Cuba,

And burn all these, and burn

The paintings, poems and photographs and films

And when you have burnt all these

You must bury the ashes

You must guard the grave

And even then

Cuba will only be dead like Che Guevara

Technically dead, that’s all,

Technically dead.

Adrian Mitchell

Another budget shambles looms

19th November 2017

Hammond

Chancellor Philip Hammond – skating on thin ice

This Wednesday (22nd November) brings another Tory budget.  No doubt it will be as devoid of ideas or purpose as the many that have preceded it over the past decade.  The only real purpose behind the George Osborne budgets in the ‘coalition’ years was to ensure that the austerity policies cushioned the rich, while making the poor the scapegoats for the gambling debts of the bankers, which led to the financial crash.  No amount of sugar coating can lead to any other conclusion.

George Osborne did at least have a constituency within his own party supporting him.  He also had the backing of his Prime Minister, David Cameron.  It appears that current UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has neither of these things.  He is barracked by the Brexiteers who regard him as too lightweight to deliver on their aims to get tough with the EU.  On the other hand, the Tory Remainers do not regard him as having enough clout to fight their corner in Cabinet and back him only in so far as any replacement may be worse.

It is widely believed that, had she not called an election which reduced her majority and therefore her room to manoeuvre, Theresa May would have sacked Hammond in a post-election re-shuffle.  To suggest that the Chancellor is skating on thin ice is to put it mildly.

Then again, the Tories are collectively skating on ideological thin ice.  The Eurosceptic faction having succeeded in getting Brexit through, the major impact upon the Tories appears to be to have split them in two.  If the referendum outcome itself was evenly balanced, the impact of the outcome has put internal relations in the Tory party on a knife edge.

Boris Johnson is the most obvious indicator of internal dissatisfaction, with regular missives in the Tory press outlining his position on Brexit, part of a naked power play for the leadership.  Jeremy Hunt has been openly critical of investment levels in the NHS while Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, has committed something close to heresy in Tory circles by calling for more investment in public sector housing.

The antics of former International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, on a so-called holiday in Israel hardly meet the convention of collective Cabinet responsibility.  Michael Gove, it is said, has been stepping well beyond his brief as Environment Secretary at recent Cabinet meetings and making economic pronouncements, in a thinly veiled pitch for Hammond’s job.  Former Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has recently seen a career characterised by selling arms to dictators and supporting NATO intervention in the Middle East, collapse in even greater ignominy.

Nothing Hammond says on Wednesday will put this particular iteration of Humpty Dumpty back together again.

The Labour Party may not be a paragon of unity.  Factionalising against Jeremy Corbyn has gone on ever since he was elected leader and will no doubt continue once he gets the keys to 10, Downing St.  However, the momentum following the election is clearly with Corbyn.  Even the dullest of Labour MPs can see that and will toe the line if only to keep their own jobs.

For the budget on Wednesday Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, is calling for an emergency budget for public services, a budget which will put the needs of the many before those of the few, the poor before the needs of the rich.

There are five core demands at the heart of Labour’s alternative budget:

  • Pause and fix universal credit
  • Lift the public sector pay cap
  • Infrastructure spending to boost the economy
  • Support for public services in health, education and local government
  • A large scale housebuilding programme

It is hardly a programme for revolution but it is the basis from which an alternative  economic strategy can be delivered.  Even within the constraints of 21st century capitalism, it is a programme which could at least begin to change the emphasis of economic thinking.  It is certainly the basis upon which Labour could credibly build an election victory.  With the Tories in complete disarray, that opportunity cannot come too soon.

 

 

 

 

Boris Johnson should go

12th November 2017

Today Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in an opinion piece for The Observer, called for the sacking of the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.   His argument is reproduced in full below.

 Boris

Beyond a joke – UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson

Theresa May should never have appointed someone as Britain’s top diplomat who had accused Barack Obama of being anti-British because he’s “part-Kenyan”, and notoriously wrote about “flag-waving piccaninnies”.

Now, after 16 months of the foreign secretary damaging Britain’s standing in the world, she should sack him.

With shocking callousness, Boris Johnson caused outrage last month by declaring that the Libyan city of Sirte could become “the next Dubai” once they “clear the dead bodies away”.

Making jokes about people killed in a civil war, (in which the Conservative-led government intervened militarily and which has made us less safe), is breathtakingly crass and was rightly condemned by Tory MPs as well as Libyan leaders.

His colonial throwback take on the world is completely out of step with the reality of our diverse and modern country and the views of our people. We should embrace the 21st century, not hanker after the 19th.

In his first conference speech as foreign secretary, Johnson referred to Africa, a continent of more than 50 states as “that country”. He claimed that life expectancy in Africa “has risen astonishingly” as it “has entered the global economic system”. Sadly, life expectancy has not risen astonishingly across the continent in the last 30 years and has fallen in several countries.

Britain’s top diplomat needs to be a leader in cultural sensitivity, but he repeatedly lets our country down.

He thought a Sikh gurdwara the appropriate place to discuss Indian whisky tariffs. Johnson was forced to apologise when it was pointed out that alcohol is prohibited in Sikhism.

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On an official trip to Myanmar, Johnson was captured on film embarrassing his hosts by reciting a colonial era poem in a sacred Buddhist site. Britain’s ambassador Andrew Patrick was forced to intervene to tell him it was inappropriate. Once again, Johnson showed his nostalgia for a brutal imperial past.

Johnson has not learned how to be diplomatic or represent our country.

And now we have the heartbreaking case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, whose future liberty is under threat because of Johnson’s serial bungling. The foreign secretary should have the decency to say clearly and unequivocally that he was wrong and do everything possible to make sure she isn’t punished for his cavalier mistake.

With growing tensions on the Korean peninsula, we need serious diplomacy and nuclear armed states to re-engage with the process of meaningful multilateral disarmament. Johnson has failed to provide it, ducking our international obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

We’ve put up with him embarrassing and undermining our country through his incompetence and putting our citizens at risk for long enough. It’s time for Boris Johnson to go.

 

UN votes 191-2 to end US blockade

5th November 2017

IMG_20171020_142654

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.”

 
Continue reading “UN votes 191-2 to end US blockade”

Venezuela votes for progress

30th October 2017

Maduro

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

Puigdemont

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.