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Barack Obama in Cuba

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Obama in Cuba

by Eric Jackson

It was all carefully choreographed symbolism, and some of it very real. However, one has to look at several long-developing contexts to make full sense of the Obama visit to Cuba.

Most of all, the context of US relations with the rest of the Western Hemisphere set the stage. Over decades, starting with countries like Mexico that never went along with the US policy of isolating Cuba and by the 70s including places like Argentina and Panama that refused to restrict their trade with Cuba according to US orders, the political opposition to US Cuba policy solidified in the Caribbean countries and by the end of the 20th century gained an overwhelming majority in Latin America. As so much of the region went left with the “Pink Tide” that washed over the region in the first decade of the 21st century, the US habit of giving right-wing Cuban exiles in South Florida a veto power over US policies toward all of Latin America was taken as a special annoyance even by countries that had not suffered the Cuban American National Foundation’s wrath. US policy was an anachronism and it was left up to Panama’s moderately conservative President Juan Carlos Varela to inform the Obama administration that Cuba was invited to the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama City and the United States could deal with that fact as it pleased.

A bad economy — a sluggish recovery from a stagnant status quo for all but the richest Americans, China in a steep downturn and Latin American countries devastated by low prices of the commodities that they sell — shaped Cuba’s motives. Whether or not the left can hang on in Venezuela, the oil wealth is gone and will probably never come back. There is a chance of an ultra-right government in Caracas that delights in baiting leftist Cuba, but that would be ephemeral. Venezuela had strong economic and cultural ties with the Caribbean, particularly its Spanish-speaking lands, well before the rise of Hugo Chávez and those will continue. But the high volume of trade on favorable terms and the aid are features of the Cuban-Venezuelan relationship that are over and won’t be back anytime soon. The alternative ALBA economic bloc never did prosper and was taken as a mortal threat by Washington, as if US trade hegemony is likely to be restored through political domination anytime soon. The days of Latin America consuming mostly US-made products are over, but on the other hand — much to the chagrin of many Americans on both the left and the right — there is a multinational integration of the world’s oligarchs, with London bankers, Saudi oil sheikhs, Latin American death squad politicians, German manufacturers, Asian absentee sweatshop lords, sports mafia thugs and the corporate-backed US political glitterati rubbing elbows at many a private gathering. The Chinese have been the partners and competitors who were never entirely part of the club. China’s economic power has displaced that of the United States across most of Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba was one of the early Chinese beachheads in the region. But now the Chinese economy is in a bad way and aid from or trade with China is not going to fill the hole that the Venezuelan oil collapse has left in Cuba. Yes, Cuba survived the “Special Period” following the Soviet Union’s fall but Cubans would rather not go through that again. Adding some US business tie cards to its weak economic hand became a political imperative for Cuba.

And what of the Cuban Counter-Revolution? There are two parts to that. Those Miami exiles — as well as a substantial Cuban community in Puerto Rico and smaller ones throughout Latin America — who dreamed of returning to the island and restoring their power and glory days of the 50s? The Castro brothers outlived them. The younger generations of Cuban-Americans aren’t like that. Maybe US elections are the best indicator. The Florida “Hispanic vote” is not nearly so Cuban as it once was. Now there are a lot of Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans in the state, and people from all over Latin America in Miami. Among the Cuban-Americans there is a generation gap. The young Great Cuban-American Hope, Marco Rubio? He got stomped in the Florida primary and after he leaves the US Senate at the end of this year we probably won’t hear much from him again. Ted Cruz? As far as most Cuban-Americans are concerned he’s a foreigner, a weird religious fanatic from another place. The one US presidential candidate who offers any hope at all to the remnants of the Miami Cuban exile leadership, Hillary Clinton, would face a resurgent left within her own party if she makes it to the White House and that would stand in the way of restoring the influence that the old exile leaders used to have. Barack Obama went to Cuba because he could, because the old opponents to such a move are gone or too feeble to resist.

When Obama visited Cuba he met with a few carefully designated and not particularly powerful Cuban dissidents. The rowdier, more capable and more dangerous to the Castro brothers dissidents were rounded up and sent out of town to avoid any demonstrations for the TV cameras. The world media got to interview men and women on the street who were wary of the minders present. But time dictates a generational change in Cuba. Even if there are some quite capable replacements waiting in the Communist Party wings it’s hard to see how there can be a generational change without a procedural makeover and a reaching out beyond the party’s narrowed base. The communists have the Soviet, Eastern European, Chinese, Vietnamese and North Korean examples to instruct them, mostly about what not to do. But it’s Cuba, which among other things has always had cultural component in Florida, from even before there were English-speaking people in North America. The Castros gave Cuba the only period of stability that the island ever had as an independent republic and that legacy will serve future leaders well if they have to stave off the long-existing but generally minor current in Cuban thinking that favors some sort of annexation by the United State. But a measure of change, a bit of economic prosperity and more options in personal lives are likely to be the prices demanded and paid for any post-Castro political mandate in Cuba. The Communist Party may have to go into opposition. The Cuban Revolution is a fact that won’t be changed, but for most Cubans on and off the island it’s also history that is somewhat beside the point of where to go next.

The banter between Obama and Castro about human rights? Both governments have dirty laundry. From a press freedom point of view, Cuba has freed almost all of its jailed journalists and bloggers while the United States has seen a crackdown, such that there are more imprisoned journalists in the USA than in Cuba these days. The government-restricted Cuban press gets better all the time, as the corporate-dominated US press sinks to ever new lows. Cuban police round up peaceful dissidents. American cops use stinging chemical sprays on such protesters. Violate Cuban airspace on an anti-government mission and Castro’s people may well shoot you down. Show insufficient obeisance to the cops on a US street and you may well be shot dead, particularly if black. Cuban prisons are not fun places. Neither are US prisons, and the United States incarcerates a much larger percentage of its population than does Cuba. Obama and Castro complained about the human rights records of each others’ countries and they were both right. The exchange was a political requirement for both men, but neither government is going to change the other in this field. In each case, world and domestic opinion might.

 

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¿Wappin? We naah leggo

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Robbie
Robbie Shakespeare. Photo by Nils Petter Molvaer.

¿Wappin? We naah leggo

Aisha – Raise Your Voice
https://youtu.be/ZXILt0ZPf_4

The Rolling Stones – Hang Fire
https://youtu.be/3xbtlW16Gts

Cage9 – Everything You Love Will Someday Die
https://youtu.be/3MUtX9oYL9E

Café Tacvba – Aprovéchate
https://youtu.be/N9eroXvvCiI

Zoé – Sombras
https://youtu.be/K3BOW3Y0hyQ

The Supremes – My World Is Empty Without You
https://youtu.be/7SuSsvJUqKI

Adele – When We Were Young
https://youtu.be/DDWKuo3gXMQ

Berita, w/ Oliver Mtukudzi & Hugh Masekela – Mwana Wa Mai
https://youtu.be/-eIPMr-E7GQ

Across fhe Crystal Sea – Danilo Pérez
https://youtu.be/jo3BAlJ0jUI

Melissa Aldana – Pasos
https://youtu.be/4sZkrtYGTNU

Rahsaan Roland Kirk – We Free Kings
https://youtu.be/Mk0mSclnUQQ

Javiera Mena – Yo No Te Pido La Luna
https://youtu.be/9_Roq88FlGg

Enya – Only Time
https://youtu.be/7wfYIMyS_dI

Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers – Naah Leggo
https://youtu.be/ysFMVtGi8ZM

Sly & Robbie, Taxi Gang & Bunny Rugs in Shrewsbury
https://youtu.be/7U4nm0Vvcz8

 

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Bernie sweeps the Democrats Abroad Global Primary

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In Panama: Sanders 107 - Clinton 43. In the world: Sanders 23,779 - Clinton 10,689
In Panama: Sanders 107 – Clinton 43.
In the world: Sanders 23,779 – Clinton 10,689

Sanders wins Panama with more than 71%

Barring any challenges — and as in 2008 the Dominican Republic totals are large and anomalous, so that the Sanders campaign may yet challenge them — Bernie Sanders has won the Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary with 68.79 percent of the vote as against Hillary Clinton’s 30.92. According to official figures, Sanders beat Clinton everywhere except for Singapore, Nigeria and the Dominican Republic. It was a record turnout for a DA primary, both worldwide and in Panama. In Panama, turnout was about one-third of Democrats Abroad members, the uncertainty being that people die or move away without local Democrats being notified so there are always a few names on the membership list that need to be removed at any given time. In December DA Panama submitted a “cleaned up” list of jmust under 300 members, and as of the March 1-8 voting that membership roll had been increased to about 440.

By federal law US citizens living abroad have a right to vote in the states where they are from, or in the case of young Americans who have not lived in the USA, generally in the state where their parents are from. Democrats Abroad holds a primary according to Democratic Party rules, and sends a delegation to the Democratic Convention whose pledged delegates are determined by the global primary results. But US voters living abroad can also opt to vote in their home states’ primaries instead of the DA primary. It should be expected that there will be some votes cast in the April 19 New York Primary out of Panama given the historic relationship between the Afro-Panamanian community and Brooklyn.

While Democrats ran the DA primary, in November the voting is by absentee ballot to the states and there is no count by country about how Americans living abroad voted. To vote absentee in the USA from abroad, US federal law requires people to re-register every year. IF one only votes for federal offices — President of the United States, US Senator and US Representative — by federal law that does not make a person a citizen of the state in which she or he votes for tax purposes. However, voting for state and local offices or ballot issues may be taken by a state as evidence of state citizenship for tax purposes.

To US citizens to get registered to vote from abroad, there are three major websites through which one might seek assistance: Vote from Abroad, the Federal Voting Assistance Program and the Overseas Vote Foundation.

 

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Otra vez, la privatización…

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SOS
Ya hay otro estudio, éste pagado por el gobierno conservador del Reino Unido, abogando por un esquema de privatización de la educación panameña.

Otra vez, la privatización

Vea la presentación de Powerpoint tocando aquí.

 

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Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s hoax

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them
Your editor never signed up to be a member of “End Citizens United.” He is an active Democrat, a member of the Democrats Abroad – Panama board of directors. The Democratic National Committee gave the list of Democrats that rank-and-file party volunteers across the USA and around the world built to this shadowy group of Clinton-aligned operatives for their fundraising. “End Citizens United” has no specific proposal to overturn that court decision, no participatory membership with democratic structures and few reporting requirements. They are just a fundraising scam that pays salaries to operatives for the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, in that faction’s patently insulting ways.

 

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The Mercado de Abastos

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sandiaA stroll through the farmers’ market

photos by Eric Jackson

Late on a Saturday morming — the most activity and best deals are early — this reporter went through a market that was slated to be shut down a few years ago. This venerable locale in Curundu was to be replaced by another market in Juan Diaz, or so the Martinelli administration announced. The new venue would have been inconvenient for farmers driving in from the Interior and for residents in and near the city center, but it seems that intra-Cambio Democratico politics — Martinelli wanted to replace the mayor of his party with a gunslinging drunk driver TV star, so didn’t want to let her get the funding for any accomplishments to show for her time in office. Part of the old market was torn down to make way for the Tribunal Electoral headquarters but the old market stayed open, now more cramped and crowded with driving and parking nightmares. But it’s still a cool place, and a necessary place for the proprietors of so many mini-supers, fondas and restaurants. The parking and congestion problems are all easily soluble if the municpal and national governments seek to restore and improve upon the market’s old glory. This is, of course, the dry season (and a very dry one at that), so that limits the market offerings that you see here.

 

some prices

 

call any vegetable

 

grapefruit

 

roots harvest

 

retail

 

beware the cat lurking outside the photo

 

light from the loading dock

 

shakes and stuff

 

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A friendly message from the local gangsters

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no sea lambon
It means “Don’t be an ass kisser” and it is written on the wall of an abandoned government building in Curundu. Photo by Eric Jakcson.

 

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Eight of 15 cases against Ayú Prado dismissed

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Zulay
PRD legislator and former judge Zulay Rodríguez, perhaps best known for her rants against foreigners, seems to have alienated her colleagues on the Credentials Committee. Photo by the Asamblea Nacional.

Ayú Prado wins a round, for strange reasons

by Eric Jackson
I don’t dismiss, you don’t dismiss, we don’t dismiss. They, the deputies on the Credentials Committee, do dismiss.
law professor Miguel Antonio Bernal

 

In other legislatures’ times what they did was dismiss without processing the complaints, which is different from this legislature, which gave an opportunity for debate.
National Assembly president Rubén De León

 

On March 16 the legislature dismissed eight criminal complaints against the Supreme Court’s presiding magistrate, José Ayú Prado, along with a 40-page report on these cases by one of the committee’s members, deputy Zulay Rodríguez Lu (PRD – San Miguelito). All eight complaints were variations on the same matter, allegations that Ayú Prado acted illegally in removing a Colon juvenile court judge, Juan Domingo Ibarra. Ibarra was suspected of accepting bribes to free youths accused of serious crimes, but no such case against him has been proven or even formally alleged by prosecutors. The Ibarra affair pits the high court’s supervisory role over lower tribunals against the concept of judicial independence. Most probably the committee’s decision was also something of a legislative referendum on Rodríguez’s reputation among her colleagues.

The committee found that the complaints did not contain proofs of the elements of a crime. That’s not a remarkably wrong conclusion, but the use of that standard to dismiss the complaints is controversial. In effect the committee was voting on whether to begin an investigation. The decision was not based on whether there was probable cause to begin an investigation, but whether the complaint contained the full proofs needed to convict. It was in part a back door revival of the infamous summary proof rule, which holds that no criminal investigation may commence against a public official unless complete and competent proof that a crime has been committed and that the official accused committed it, and moreover requires that any investigation done without such summary proof attached to an accepted complaint bars any investigation of the matter. But of course, to have the required summary proof to attach to the complaint the person making the complaint or somebody on his or her behalf would generally have had to investigate the matter at least enough to get that proof.

One of the dismissed allegations against Ayú Prado was that he used a forged criminal case file against Ibarra to get other magistrates to support him in removing the judge, when actually there was no such case. If there is probable cause to allege that, it would seem easy enough to investigate and find out if such a purported set of documents was shown around. But that would get the legislature into inquiring about the conduct of the high court’s daily business, arguably in violation of the constitutional separation of powers.

Rodríguez used to be an alternate judge, and in that role also at one time functioned as a de facto clerk for the Supreme Court. She was forced off of the bench — amidst never-confirmed rumors of US Embassy pressures — for letting some Colombian drug suspects out of jail on bail. In Panama, thanks largely to US “War on Drugs” urging, there is no bail for drug offenses. Since her election to the National Assembly in 2014 Rodríguez has been known both for her emotional rows with colleagues and for her railing against foreigners, particularly Venezuelans and Colombians, the latter whom she broad-brushed characterized as “scum.” Within a fragmented PRD that seems to have lost all unifying principles, she and her xenophobic politics have become one of the forces with which to reckon. She has many fervent supporters, but within the legislature she is the subject of much fear and loathing. That may not be a huge liability, as for many years polls have consistently shown the National Assembly to be one of the most hated of public institutions. In its February 2016 poll, Dicther & Neira found only 27 percent of those surveyed with a positive view of the legislature, against 68 percent expressing a negative opinion about the institution. The vote to dismiss the complaints about Ibarra were eight in favor with Rodríguez abstaining, so it might leave her in a position to say that she stood alone against a corrupt legislature and garner some substantial public support by doing so.

Still before the committee are seven more complaints about Ayú Prado, both for his actions on the court and for acts allegedly committed from before that time, when he was attorney general under Ricardo Martinelli. The three newest complaints, all filed this month, are about alleged abuses of power in a series of firings and arrests for corruption in one of the lower courts. Those would present some of the same problems as in the Ibarra matter. Then there are a couple of rather straightforward cases, which would be easy enough to investigate and prove if the committee doesn’t invoke some supposed rule or policy against investigations. One, against Ayú Prado and two colleagues, is about abuse of the high court’s travel funds. The other, from when Ayú Prado was attorney general, is about him allegedly ordering the destruction of evidence in a wiretapping case. There is a case in which it is alleged that the presiding magistrate and eight colleagues unanimously but unconstitutionally approved the deportation of a French citizen. And the then there are the two most far-reaching and explosive cases, one alleging that Ayú Prado was a conduit for Ricardo Martinelli’s presidential interference in court cases and the other that as attorney general Ayú Prado used threats to alter testimony about Martinelli’s alleged insider trading activities that are part of the much broader Financial Pacific brokerage firm scandal.

 

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730 scholars on impunity in Honduras

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JOH
Juan Orlando Hernandez, who presides over the US-backed death squad regime in Honduras. Photo by the Honduran Presidencia.

Scholars complain of abuses with impunity in Honduras

March 16th, 2016
US Secretary of State John Kerry
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary of State Kerry:

We, the undersigned Latin American experts, are writing to protest the political assassination of Berta Cáceres on March 3, 2016. Cáceres led the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH), and she won the prestigious Goldman Prize Award in 2015 for her work in the protection of the rights and environment of Indigenous people. Cáceres was an effective and well-loved environmental justice leader, Indigenous rights organizer and racial justice pioneer in Honduras. Due to her work against corporate interests, she received numerous death threats for years. Though she was under precautionary protective measures she was not under police protection at the time of her murder. The murder of Berta Cáceres, therefore, represents an assassination of great magnitude in a beleaguered country. Her loss to the Indigenous movement in Honduras is akin to the loss of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the civil rights movement in the United States.

We are deeply concerned that the US government condones and supports the current Honduran government by sending financial and technical support to strengthen the Honduran military and police, institutions that have been responsible for human rights violations since the coup d’état of 2009. By all accounts, the 2009 coup collapsed the judicial system and the rule of law. The country has one of the highest rates of homicides, feminicides, and LGBTI murders in the world. In spite of this egregious situation, the US government continues to fund a government that has unapologetically disregarded the right to life of its citizens. Berta Cáceres has become the 101st environmental justice organizer to be killed in Honduras since 2010, demonstrating the blatant disregard and danger facing environmental justice organizers.

According Human Rights observers on the ground and the Mexican organization Otros Mundos, the life of the sole witness of Berta’s murder, Gustavo Castro Soto, a Mexican citizen and human rights worker, is in danger. Human rights workers in Honduras believe that he was also the target of assassination. The Honduran police are interrogating him for long periods of time refusing him breaks, food and water. The Honduran government is refusing to allow him to return to his country and will hold him for 30 days. We fear for his life and join the international community in calling for the protection and immediate release of Gustavo Castro Soto.

We urge the US government to immediately suspend support to the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez. We ask the US government to introduce sanctions against the Honduran government, until it allows the entry of an independent international team of investigators to solve the crime against Berta Cáceres.

We join the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Americas in calling for the following actions:

1. WE DEMAND that the government of Honduras:
• Conduct a timely, transparent and diligent investigation of the assassination of Berta Cáceres.
• Ensure the speedy identification of the intellectual and material actors of the crime.
• Allow the participation of international human rights experts in support of the investigations, particularly in examination of the threats against Berta Cáceres as a human rights defender.
• Protect the life of Mexican Human Rights worker, Gustavo Castro Soto, the only witness of the attack on Berta Cáceres, and permit his safe exit from the country.
• Implement the Law of Protection for Human Rights workers, Journalists, Social Communicators and Justice workers.
• Adopt strategies and effective prevention plans to end persecution of Human Rights workers, including providing a budget and administrative support to the creation of an agency responsible for their protection.

2. WE REQUEST the Inter-American Court of Human Rights:
• Supervise the investigation of Berta Cáceres’ murder and to make sure that it is conducted impartially and independently with the participation of international human rights experts.
• Pursue the punctual investigation on behalf of the Honduran government and provide investigation recommendations in hopes that they will guarantee the life and integrity of investigators and defenders of Human Rights in their territory.

3. WE DEMAND that the Mission of Support Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH):
• Ensure the investigation of the murder of Berta Cáceres includes international experts and is realized with diligence independently and impartially.

4. WE DEMAND that US Congress and the US State Department:
• Cease aid to Honduras via the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle until the Honduran government addresses its poor Human Rights records, demonstrates capacity to prosecute perpetrators, and guarantees the rights of all people, especially Indigenous, Afrodescendant and LGBTI people, women and children.

Thank you.

Respectfully Submitted,

Scholars and Signatories listed on pages 3-29 here

 

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¿Wappin? Music to go with sausage, soda bread and green beer

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Irish

 

 

 

 

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