Posts Tagged ‘Cuba’

Fidel: ‘Cuban Model Doesn’t Even Work For Us Anymore’

By Jeffrey Goldberg
There were many odd things about my recent Havana stopover (apart from the dolphin show, which I’ll get to shortly), but one of the most unusual was Fidel Castro’s level of self-reflection. I only have limited experience with Communist autocrats (I have more experience with non-Communist autocrats) but it seemed truly striking that Castro was willing to admit that he misplayed his hand at a crucial moment in the Cuban Missile Crisis (you can read about what he said toward the end of my previous post – but he said, in so many words, that he regrets asking Khruschev to nuke the U.S.).

Even more striking was something he said at lunch on the day of our first meeting. We were seated around a smallish table; Castro, his wife, Dalia, his son; Antonio; Randy Alonso, a major figure in the government-run media; and Julia Sweig, the friend I brought with me to make sure, among other things, that I didn’t say anything too stupid (Julia is a leading Latin American scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations). I initially was mainly interested in watching Fidel eat – it was a combination of digestive problems that conspired to nearly kill him, and so I thought I would do a bit of gastrointestinal Kremlinology and keep a careful eye on what he took in (for the record, he ingested small amounts of fish and salad, and quite a bit of bread dipped in olive oil, as well as a glass of red wine). But during the generally lighthearted conversation (we had just spent three hours talking about Iran and the Middle East), I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, “Never mind”?

I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, “He wasn’t rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under ‘the Cuban model’ the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

Julia pointed out that one effect of such a sentiment might be to create space for his brother, Raul, who is now president, to enact the necessary reforms in the face of what will surely be push-back from orthodox communists within the Party and the bureaucracy. Raul Castro is already loosening the state’s hold on the economy. He recently announced, in fact, that small businesses can now operate and that foreign investors could now buy Cuban real estate. (The joke of this new announcement, of course, is that Americans are not allowed to invest in Cuba, not because of Cuban policy, but because of American policy. In other words, Cuba is beginning to adopt the sort of economic ideas that America has long-demanded it adopt, but Americans are not allowed to participate in this free-market experiment because of our government’s hypocritical and stupidly self-defeating embargo policy. We’ll regret this, of course, when Cubans partner with Europeans and Brazilians to buy up all the best hotels).

But I digress. Toward the end of this long, relaxed lunch, Fidel proved to us that he was truly semi-retired. The next day was Monday, when maximum leaders are expected to be busy single-handedly managing their economies, throwing dissidents into prison, and the like. But Fidel’s calendar was open. He asked us, “Would you like to go the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?”

I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly. (This happened a number of times during my visit). “The dolphin show?”

“The dolphins are very intelligent animals,” Castro said.

I noted that we had a meeting scheduled for the next morning, with Adela Dworin, the president of Cuba’s Jewish community.

“Bring her,” Fidel said.

Someone at the table mentioned that the aquarium was closed on Mondays. Fidel said, “It will be open tomorrow.”

And so it was.

Late the next morning, after collecting Adela at the synagogue, we met Fidel on the steps of the dolphin house. He kissed Dworin, not incidentally in front of the cameras (another message for Ahmadinejad, perhaps). We went together into a large, blue-lit room that faces a massive, glass-enclosed dolphin tank. Fidel explained, at length, that the Havana Aquarium’s dolphin show was the best dolphin show in the world, “completely unique,” in fact, because it is an underwater show. Three human divers enter the water, without breathing equipment, and perform intricate acrobatics with the dolphins. “Do you like dolphins?” Fidel asked me.

“I like dolphins a lot,” I said.

Fidel called over Guillermo Garcia, the director of the aquarium (every employee of the aquarium, of course, showed up for work — “voluntarily,” I was told) and told him to sit with us.

“Goldberg,” Fidel said, “ask him questions about dolphins.”

“What kind of questions?” I asked.

“You’re a journalist, ask good questions,” he said, and then interrupted himself. “He doesn’t know much about dolphins anyway,” he said, pointing to Garcia. He’s actually a nuclear physicist.”

“You are?” I asked.

“Yes,” Garcia said, somewhat apologetically.

“Why are you running the aquarium?” I asked.

“We put him here to keep him from building nuclear bombs!” Fidel said, and then cracked-up laughing.

“In Cuba, we would only use nuclear power for peaceful means,” Garcia said, earnestly.

“I didn’t think I was in Iran,” I answered.

Fidel pointed to the small rug under the special swivel chair his bodyguards bring along for him.

“It’s Persian!” he said, and laughed again. Then he said, “Goldberg, ask your questions about dolphins.”

Now on the spot, I turned to Garcia and asked, “How much do the dolphins weigh?”

They weigh between 100 and 150 kilograms, he said.

“How do you train the dolphins to do what they do?” I asked.

“That’s a good question,” Fidel said.

Garcia called over one of the aquarium’s veterinarians to help answer the question. Her name was Celia. A few minutes later, Antonio Castro told me her last name: Guevara.

“You’re Che’s daughter?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“And you’re a dolphin veterinarian?”

“I take care of all the inhabitants of the aquarium,” she said.

“Che liked animals very much,” Antonio Castro said.

It was time for the show to start. The lights dimmed, and the divers entered the water. Without describing it overly much, I will say that once again, and to my surprise, I found myself agreeing with Fidel: The aquarium in Havana puts on a fantastic dolphin show, the best I’ve ever seen, and as the father of three children, I’ve seen a lot of dolphin shows. I will also say this: I’ve never seen someone enjoy a dolphin show as much as Fidel Castro enjoyed the dolphin show.

In the next installment, I will deal with such issues as the American embargo, the status of religion in Cuba, the plight of political dissidents, and economic reform. For now, I leave you with this image from our day at the aquarium (I’m in the low chair; Che’s daughter is behind me, with the short, blondish hair; Fidel is the guy who looks like Fidel if Fidel shopped at L.L. Bean):

fidel and goldberg.jpg

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Fidel: ‘Cuban Model Doesn’t Even Work For Us Anymore’ – International – The Atlantic

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Fidel to Ahmadinejad: ‘Stop Slandering the Jews’

By Jeffrey Goldberg
The Atlantic
(This is Part I of a report on my recent visit to Havana. I hope to post Part II tomorrow. And I also hope to be publishing a more comprehensive article about this subject in a forthcoming print edition of The Atlantic.)
A couple of weeks ago, while I was on vacation, my cell phone rang; it was Jorge Bolanos, the head of the Cuban Interest Section (we of course don’t have diplomatic relations with Cuba) in Washington. “I have a message for you from Fidel,” he said. This made me sit up straight. “He has read your Atlantic article about Iran and Israel. He invites you to Havana on Sunday to discuss the article.” I am always eager, of course, to interact with readers of The Atlantic, so I called a friend at the Council on Foreign Relations, Julia Sweig, who is a preeminent expert on Cuba and Latin America: “Road trip,” I said.

I quickly departed the People’s Republic of Martha’s Vineyard for Fidel’s more tropical socialist island paradise. Despite the self-defeating American ban on travel to Cuba, both Julia and I, as journalists and researchers, qualified for a State Department exemption. The charter flight from Miami was bursting with Cuban-Americans carrying flat-screen televisions and computers for their technologically-bereft families. Fifty minutes after take-off, we arrived at the mostly-empty Jose Marti International Airport. Fidel’s people met us on the tarmac (despite giving up his formal role as commandante en jefe after falling ill several years ago, Fidel still has many people). We were soon deposited at a “protocol house” in a government compound whose architecture reminded me of the gated communities of Boca Raton. The only other guest in this vast enclosure was the president of Guinea-Bissau.

I was aware that Castro had become preoccupied with the threat of a military confrontation in the Middle East between Iran and the U.S. (and Israel, the country he calls its Middle East “gendarme”). Since emerging from his medically induced, four-year purdah early this summer (various gastrointestinal maladies had combined to nearly kill him), the 84-year-old Castro has spoken mainly about the catastrophic threat of what he sees as an inevitable war.

I was curious to know why he saw conflict as unavoidable, and I wondered, of course, if personal experience – the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 that nearly caused the annihilation of most of humanity – informed his belief that a conflict between America and Iran would escalate into nuclear war.  I was even more curious, however, to get a glimpse of the great man. Few people had seen him since he fell ill in 2006, and the state of his health has been a subject of much speculation. There were questions, too, about the role he plays now in governing Cuba; he formally handed off power to his younger brother, Raul, two years ago, but it was not clear how many strings Fidel still pulled.

The morning after our arrival in Havana, Julia and I were driven to a nearby convention center, and escorted upstairs, to a large and spare office. A frail and aged Fidel stood to greet us. He was wearing a red shirt, sweatpants, and black New Balance sneakers. The room was crowded with officials and family: His wife, Dalia, and son Antonio, as well as an Interior Ministry general, a translator, a doctor and several bodyguards, all of whom appeared to have been recruited from the Cuban national wrestling team. Two of these bodyguards held Castro at the elbow.

We shook hands, and he greeted Julia warmly; they have known each other for more than twenty years. Fidel lowered himself gently into his seat, and we began a conversation that would continue, in fits and starts, for three days. His body may be frail, but his mind is acute, his energy level is high, and not only that: the late-stage Fidel Castro turns out to possess something of a self-deprecating sense of humor. When I asked him, over lunch, to answer what I’ve come to think of as the Christopher Hitchens question – has your illness caused you to change your mind about the existence of God? – he answered, “Sorry, I’m still a dialectical materialist.” (This is funnier if you are, like me, an ex-self-defined socialist.) At another point, he showed us a series of recent photographs taken of him, one of which portrayed him with a fierce expression. “This was how my face looked when I was angry with Khruschev,” he said. 

Castro opened our initial meeting by telling me that he read the recent Atlantic article carefully, and that it confirmed his view that Israel and America were moving precipitously and gratuitously toward confrontation with Iran. This interpretation was not surprising, of course: Castro is the grandfather of global anti-Americanism, and he has been a severe critic of Israel. His message to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, he said, was simple: Israel will only have security if it gives up its nuclear arsenal, and the rest of the world’s nuclear powers will only have security if they, too, give up their weapons. Global and simultaneous nuclear disarmament is, of course, a worthy goal, but it is not, in the short term, realistic. 

Castro’s message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not so abstract, however. Over the course of this first, five-hour discussion, Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the “unique” history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.

He began this discussion by describing his own, first encounters with anti-Semitism, as a small boy. “I remember when I was a boy – a long time ago – when I was five or six years old and I lived in the countryside,” he said, “and I remember Good Friday. What was the atmosphere a child breathed? `Be quiet, God is dead.’ God died every year between Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, and it made a profound impression on everyone. What happened? They would say, `The Jews killed God.’ They blamed the Jews for killing God! Do you realize this?”

He went on, “Well, I didn’t know what a Jew was. I knew of a bird that was a called a ‘Jew,’ and so for me the Jews were those birds.  These birds had big noses. I don’t even know why they were called that. That’s what I remember. This is how ignorant the entire population was.”

He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. “This went on for maybe two thousand years,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything.” The Iranian government should understand that the Jews “were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here’s what happened to them: Reverse selection. What’s reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation.” He continued: “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.” I asked him if he would tell Ahmadinejad what he was telling me. “I am saying this so you can communicate it,” he answered.

Castro went on to analyze the conflict between Israel and Iran. He said he understood Iranian fears of Israeli-American aggression and he added that, in his view, American sanctions and Israeli threats will not dissuade the Iranian leadership from pursuing nuclear weapons. “This problem is not going to get resolved, because the Iranians are not going to back down in the face of threats. That’s my opinion,” he said. He then noted that, unlike Cuba, Iran is a “profoundly religious country,” and he said that religious leaders are less apt to compromise. He noted that even secular Cuba has resisted various American demands over the past 50 years.

We returned repeatedly in this first conversation to Castro’s fear that a confrontation between the West and Iran could escalate into a nuclear conflict. “The Iranian capacity to inflict damage is not appreciated,” he said. “Men think they can control themselves but Obama could overreact and a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war.” I asked him if this fear was informed by his own experiences during the 1962 missile crisis, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. nearly went to war other over the presence of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba (missiles installed at the invitation, of course, of Fidel Castro). I mentioned to Castro the letter he wrote to Khruschev, the Soviet premier, at the height of the crisis, in which he recommended that the Soviets consider launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. if the Americans attack Cuba. “That would be the time to think about liquidating such a danger forever through a legal right of self-defense,” Castro wrote at the time.

I asked him, “At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the U.S. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?” He answered: “After I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn’t worth it all.”

I was surprised to hear Castro express such doubts about his own behavior in the missile crisis – and I was, I admit, also surprised to hear him express such sympathy for Jews, and for Israel’s right to exist (which he endorsed unequivocally). 

After this first meeting, I asked Julia to explain the meaning of Castro’s invitation to me, and of his message to Ahmadinejad. “Fidel is at an early stage of reinventing himself as a senior statesman, not as head of state, on the domestic stage, but primarily on the international stage, which has always been a priority for him,” she said. “Matters of war, peace and international security are a central focus: Nuclear proliferation climate change, these are the major issues for him, and he’s really just getting started, using any potential media platform to communicate his views. He has time on his hands now that he didn’t expect to have. And he’s revisiting history, and revisiting his own history.”

There is a great deal more to report from this conversation, and from subsequent conversations, which I will do in posts to follow. But I will begin the next post on this subject by describing one of the stranger days I have experienced, a day which began with a simple question from Fidel: “Would you like to go to the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?”

This article available online at:

Copyright © 2010 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved
Fidel to Ahmadinejad: ‘Stop Slandering the Jews’ – International – The Atlantic

venezuela in the news this week… we’ll see what comes of it…

this is the latest one from the Financial Times.
(Note: Highlights in bold and italics, MasterBlog)

Venezuela: Bolivarian bravado

By John Paul Rathbone and Benedict Mander

Published: August 5 2010 23:20 | Last updated: August 5 2010 23:20

Hugo Chávez

The giant Pepsi globe that once loomed above Plaza Venezuela in the traffic-clogged heart of Caracas had long been a landmark of the South American capital’s skyline. Now it is gone, dismantled piece by piece in June.

Much like the demolition of a statue of Christopher Columbus in the same square six years earlier, its removal was a crude symbol of President Hugo Chávez’s self-appointed role as the region’s anti-US, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist standard-bearer.

It was also a reminder of faded hopes that relations would improve either with the US under President Barack Obama, following the mutual antagonism of the George W. Bush era; or with America’s closest ally in the region, neighbouring Colombia. If anything, Mr Chávez has raised the volume of his nationalist-Marxist rhetoric as his problems have grown both at home and abroad.

In July, when Colombian leaders again accused Venezuela of sheltering Marxist guerrillas intent on destabilising their country, and were confident enough of their case to present it to the Organization of American States, Mr Chávez promptly called it an act of US-inspired “aggression” and broke off relations with Bogotá. Havana, which receives subsidised Venezuelan oil in return for medical services, lent Caracas rhetorical support: “We strive for peace and harmony,” said President Raúl Castro. “But … let no one have the least doubt on which side Cuba will stand.’’

Meanwhile, with the country in recession, red-hued government propaganda in multiple media hails Mr Chávez’s “Bolivarian revolution”. The president has taken to expounding how it is “bad to be rich” – though one graffito snipes back from a grimy Caracas wall: “If it’s bad to be rich, it’s worse to be poor.”

All this might otherwise be ignored as the bitter internal politics of a volatile tropical republic were it not for Venezuela’s strategic importance and fears that Mr Chávez might consolidate his grip on power at legislative elections next month.

“Elections are of great importance for Chávez. They give him legitimacy both at home and abroad – they give him an air of respectability,” says Teodoro Petkoff, a garrulous former leftist guerrilla who now edits the Caracas-based newspaper Tal Cual.

A clear victory for Mr Chávez’s United Socialist party of Venezuela at the September 26 polls would be likely to herald further radicalisation of his socialist project, ease the way for his election to a third six-year term in 2012 and thus boost worries elsewhere about regional tensions.

Watching the results most closely will be neighbours in the Andes – a regional tinderbox, given the prevalence of clashing ideologies, well-equipped troops and armed guerrilla and paramilitary groups – and Cuba, as Venezuela’s closest ideological ally.

A further geopolitical consideration stems from Venezuela’s role as transshipment point for what is said to be more than half the cocaine shipped across the Atlantic to Europe every year. The country’s trafficking situation is deteriorating, the UN warns in its latest World Drugs Report.

Also watching the election closely will be those energy importers who ogle the country’s vast crude oil reserves, the largest outside the Middle East. As those reserves are easily accessible and use proved technologies, BP’s deep-water oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has heightened their strategic value still further. That is as true for the US, which remains Venezuela’s biggest single oil market, as for rising energy users such as China, which recently curried favour as well as securing future oil supplies with a $20bn soft loan to Caracas.

With term limits abolished following a referendum last year, Mr Chávez has frequently expressed a wish to remain in office until 2021 – the 200th anniversary of independence from Spain – to see through his revolution. Yet, after 11 years in power, the extent to which he has succeeded in instilling in voters a mindset compatible with what he calls “21st century socialism” is debatable. (For example, he has condemned a widespread fondness for whiskey and Hummers.)

The government has therefore been working to boost its chances of maintaining in September the two-thirds majority necessary to push legislation through the National Assembly.

Changes to the electoral system this year mean rural areas will return more deputies than before, hindering the metropolitan-based opposition. State-owned media can meanwhile drench the country in pro-government propaganda. (While newspapers such as Mr Petkoff’s are highly critical, private sector broadcasters have been largely cowed into submission.)

Most unsettling of all is the possibility that Mr Chávez’s party might lose the vote yet still maintain effective control. In 2008, for example, the president res­ponded to the election of an opposition candidate as Caracas mayor by inventing a more senior post and ap­pointing a candidate of his choosing.

Another possibility, much discussed in the capital, is that he could rule by decree during the 100 days between the elections and the new deputies taking up their seats, changing irrevocably the legal landscape to his liking. A recent 40 per cent pay rise ensures the army’s loyalty.

“Chávez will not leave power voluntarily,” says Diego Arria, a leading opposition figure and former governor of Caracas. “This is a president whose motto is: ‘fatherland, socialism or death’. When they say death they mean us, not themselves.”

Such drastic outcomes may never come to pass. Despite the recession, crumbling public services, a series of damaging scandals and rampant violent crime, Mr Chávez still commands the support of about two in every five Venezuelans – roughly the same ap­proval rating as Mr Obama in the US.

In large part, this is due to his emotional bond with the poor, who in 2008 made up 28 per cent of the population, according to the UN. “Even with hunger and unemployment, I’m sticking with Chávez,” runs one refrain popular in the capital’s slums.

Gregory Wilpert, editor of pro-Chávez website, emphasises that many have benefited from the government-run social programmes. “The process of devolving local governance to communities via the communal councils and other forms of participation also gives many people a real feeling of being a part of the political process,” he adds. Critics say such councils usurp the power of elected municipal governments.

. . .

Either way, to gain a decisive victory, Mr Chávez will need to win over undecided voters – the ni-nis, or neither-nors – who account for about one in three of the electorate, according to polls.

In 2006, when he was re-elected at the peak of both his popularity and the oil price boom, that problem was partly solved by throwing money around. The trouble for “chavistas” today is that there is less to spend. This year, for example, while the rest of the region is expected to grow by 5.2 per cent, Venezuela’s economy is forecast to shrink by 3 per cent, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America estimates. Inflation, meanwhile, is running at about 30 per cent.

Paradoxically, because oil prices are hovering around $80 a barrel, a healthy level historically, government finances are not in perilous shape. Rather, the main cause of the continuing recession is mismanagement – the biggest rock on which Mr Chávez’s revolution has floundered.

PDVSA, the state-owned oil company that is the dynamo of the economy, has been leached to fund social projects with cash that otherwise would have been used for much-needed investment. The non-oil economy has been hobbled too.

Capital flight has been propelled by the nationalisation drive Mr Chávez has launched in a range of sectors, including energy, finance and telecommunications. Attempts to prevent such flight have made matters worse. The rationing of foreign exchange has made importing harder, fuelling scarcity, inflation and a flourishing black market – dollars sell for about four times the cheapest official rate.

The multinationals that once made the country their regional base, attracted by its relative stability and large internal market, have upped sticks. A web of regulations has tightened around those private companies that have remained – most publicly at Polar, the food and beverage company that is an emblem of Venezuelan popular culture, which Mr Chávez has threatened to nationalise against union wishes. Private investment has slumped amid the deteriorating business climate. As for nationalised companies, the state has been unable to pick up the slack.

Since nationalisation in 2008, production in the cement sector has fallen 20 per cent, and in the steel sector by as much as 80 per cent, according to Caracas-based consultancy Ecoanalítica. Most embarrassing of all were the 100,000 tonnes of food found recently rotting in the warehouses of state-run food distribution network PDVAL. Mr Chávez blamed “US-backed fascist oligarchs”.

The opposition has failed to capitalise on such problems. One reason is that much of the electorate remains distrustful following early at­tempts to unseat the president including a botched coup in 2002 and a national strike that paralysed the economy.

. A final factor is that many of its candidates are drawn from two discredited parties, Democratic Action and the Social Christians, which once dominated the country’s politics.

Dissidents from Mr Chávez’s party and former personal allies pose a potential threat. But some of the most prominent opponents have been hounded out of the country or imprisoned. General Raúl Baduel, a former close friend who called the president a “traitor” has been controversially jailed for corruption.

. . .

All this has devalued Mr Chávez’s reputation abroad. He still enjoys occasional celebrity support, from Argentine footballer Diego Maradona and Hollywood film producer Oliver Stone, for example. Oil also ensures Caracas secures the odd multibillion-dollar deal – most notably an arms agreement with Moscow, after the US stopped selling weapons to Venezuela in 2006. Caracas and Havana remain locked in a symbiotic embrace. But the president’s vision retains little credence with the region’s leftwing, and many of the area’s leaders and diplomats are embarrassed by his virulent rhetoric and off-colour jokes.

Mr Chávez has thus failed to bring closer to reality the Latin American union he espouses in evocations of his 19th century independence hero, Simón Bolívar. Sometimes, as when he closed the frontier with Colombia, he has worked against it.

Yet his command of Venezuela – its economy, army and institutions, including the judiciary – has never been stronger. There is therefore every chance that Mr Chávez, whose political style tends towards confrontation rather than negotiation, will endure. ¡Venceremos! – “we will conquer” – as the former tank commander is fond of saying.


see related post from the same FT piece: / Comment / Analysis – Venezuela: Bolivarian bravado

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Venezuela’s ‘Animal Farm’

Thor Halvorssen
Founder, Oslo Freedom Forum
Posted: July 6, 2010 01:05 PM

Last May, a private farm amidst Venezuela’s rolling green countryside was expropriated by the country’s president, Hugo Chavez. As Chavez later described, the farm’s owner “is out there crying and saying he is going to get his land back. Well, he’ll have to topple Chavez to get this back, because that farm belongs to the revolution now.”

The farm’s owner is Diego Arria. While Chavez has labeled Arria an “unburied corpse” of Venezuela’s past, Arria has hardly been a lifeless corpse.

Seventy-year-old Arria has served as Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, and as a personal advisor to former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Arria captured the world’s attention when, as president of the U.N. Security Council, he condemned the failure of the international community to act against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic for his brutal treatment of Bosnian Muslims. He was a star witness during the prosecution of Milosevic for the genocide at Srebrenica. Prior to his UN tenure, Arria had been a leading political figure in Venezuela, serving as governor of the capital Caracas in the 1970s.

In 1988, Arria purchased the farm – named “La Carolina” in memory of his deceased daughter – for $300,000. The property was then in ruins. Arria renovated and restored the property, developing it into a farm complete with an organic coffee plantation and grass-fed cows producing 600 gallons of milk daily.

Under the pretext of confiscating “unused land,” Venezuela’s National Land Institute stormed onto the property on May 1 with a platoon of soldiers. The uniformed men raided the farmhouse at gunpoint. They took Arria’s clothing and even his horse-riding boots as trophies.

Thirty-eight families depended on La Carolina for their livelihoods. They were told to find employment elsewhere. The cows, which Chávez claimed on television were “starving,” were given away as gifts. One of them ended up on a barbeque spit, cooked for President Chavez himself. I contacted a former employee at La Carolina who told me that the farm’s horses were slaughtered and sold as “beef.” The seizure of Arria’s farm and the plundering of his property has nothing to do with Venezuelan law or “reclaiming unused land.” In fact, the Venezuelan government is the largest landowner in the country and most of its holdings lie unused.

I feel partially responsible for Arria’s current predicament. I extended an invitation to him in April to speak at the Oslo Freedom Forum, a human rights conference in Norway that this year included Lech Walesa, Rebiya Kadeer, Anwar Ibrahim, and Garry Kasparov.

It was Arria’s participation in this conference that compelled him to speak out against Chavez’s human rights violations. Arria had told media covering the event that Chavez would one day face international justice for his crimes against the Venezuelan people. The reaction of the Chavez government to Arria’s statements was swift and implacable.

This expropriation was punishment for Arria’s criticism of Chávez. Chavez even presented photos of the farm on Venezuelan state television. He gloated that “It looked like Falcon Crest” comparing Arria’s farm to the winery estate featured on the American television show from the 1980s and underlined the presence of a swimming pool was a sign of its “bourgeois” nature. This sort of comment seeks only to sow resentment in the minds of those who believe inequalities of wealth represent an injustice that requires correction through theft.

The epic irony is that Chávez’s own family started with little wealth when he became president in 1999. His father and brothers now own extensive landholdings in the Venezuelan state of Barinas. They have acquired so much ill-gotten wealth – and display it with so much ostentation and vulgarity – that various European media outlets have called the Chavez’s “Venezuela’s Royal Family.” A rarely reported story was the internal fallout among Chavez’s cronies, when Stanford Bank collapsed amidst fraud so did several billion dollars worth of funds ransacked from the Venezuelan treasury.

Despite the new wealth for the Chavez family and Venezuela’s governing clique, the country suffers from elevated amounts of “critical” poverty and is currently one of the most violent countries in the world. Venezuela’s economy is in ruins, but Chavez continues to fund various international controversial projects. He provides support for the FARC terrorist army in Colombia (which recently includes the public revelation that he has kept them well-stocked with Swedish missiles purchased by Venezuela). He was also recently exposed in Spain as having facilitated training for Basque ETA terrorists in FARC camps. His penchant for villains and rogues extends to alliances with Belarus, Iran, Libya, Syria, Zimbabwe, and especially Cuba. Chavez also continues to send billions of petrodollars in aid to prop up the governments of Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua – all despite the desperate needs of many of Venezuela’s own citizens.

Since 2006, Venezuela has carried out more than 800 expropriations across industries and involving all sorts of property: farms, radio stations, television studios, factories, private residences, banks, butcher shops, sandwich shops, steel mills and, most probably in the near future, the main Venezuelan beer company. There is a clear intention to terrorize a population with the fear of being expropriated in case of dissent or criticism of the government. From a legal perspective, there is an intention to replace jurisprudence surrounding the concept of private property with the term “social property” meaning: it belongs to everyone but will be controlled by the state.

Despite facing the wrath of Chavez, Diego Arria will not give up. He spent the month of May visiting government officials and organizations across Europe, discussing the seizure of his farm and denouncing the Chavez government. Upon realizing the lethargy and ignorance in the international arena about the abuses committed by the Chavez government, Arria has become the most eloquent and tenacious spokesman for those affected by the expropriation abuse. In June he met with the Council of Europe, the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva, the Spanish parliament, and even the International Criminal Court at the Hague. As a result of Arria’s efforts, Chavez ordered another one of Arria’s properties seized in mid-June: a 90 acre orange orchard. Once again the employees were kicked off the land. Undaunted, Arria’s one-man effort continues and this month he will be visiting Canada, México, Colombia, Chile and Brazil.

In order for world opinion to mobilize against Chavez, he must be revealed as the petty authoritarian and enemy of individual rights that he is. This is a far more accurate view than the heroic champion of the poor and enemy of capitalism and Yankee imperialism as his apologists (most recently Oliver Stone) have tried to disguise him. Venezuela has lived under 11 years of Chavez. He has declared that he will rule until 2030. What will become of Venezuela in the next twenty years?

Despite an attachment to his farm La Carolina, Arria told me that he is willing under one condition to give up his farm to Chavez. That is, “so he can retire there now – provided that he gives us Venezuelans our country and our peace back.”

Thor Halvorssen is President if the New York-based Human Rights Foundation and founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum.

Thor Halvorssen: Venezuela’s ‘Animal Farm’

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La pesadilla no para… 

Elides J. Rojas L. // Como en Cuba

Ya viene la estatua de Fidel, verdadero amo del petróleo, de las cárceles, de la soberanía

Si algo tiene esta revolución digno de reconocimiento es su inmensa capacidad para crear e inventar nombres, estampar eslogan, rebautizar instituciones y hacer ver como nuevo algo que tiene muchos años de construido y funcionando.

Lo malo es que el engendro socialista naciente será irremediablemente un fracaso, como lo demuestra la historia reciente. A la cubana.

La estrategia chavista de dinamitar las formas prerevolucionarias y penetrar las instituciones para aprovecharlas en beneficio propio y de todo los que rodean al jefe, el cogollo del golpe de 1992 y los civiles asimilados.

TSJ, CNE, AN, CICPC, SIAME, República Bolivariana de Venezuela, Saime o Sebin son apenas algunos ejemplos. Pero ¿qué diferencia puede haber entre la vieja Onidex y esta tal Saime o la antigua DIM y esta Sebin? nada. Logo nuevo, apenas. Y esa retahíla de ministerios MinPopo… ¿acaso han significado algo en términos de resultados? Diosdado Cabello, que se ha paseado por varios popos de esos, ha sido vicepresidente y gobernador, es un ejemplo ambulante de cómo la incapacidad no es disimulable con un cambio de nombre ministerial. ¿Cuántas casas de más ha construido Chávez o Diosdado Cabello a cuenta de MinPoPo? ¿Cuánto ha disminuido la criminalidad y el delito a cuenta de Policía Nacional o CICPC? ¿Cuántas más vacas andan en plan lechero a cuenta de MinPopo agrario? Nada. Lo de los nombres es otra cubanada y la estrategia también. Ya es imposible ocultar la mano de Cuba en el manejo del país. Y, además de la ridícula e inútil cambiadera de nombres, con Cuba viene pegada la línea antiestadounidense y toda la pavosería del discurso castrista, ahora chavista, de los años 50 y 60. Incluido el tonito. ¡Eeeehhhh!

En breve los estados pasarán a ser provincias, como en Cuba. Muy poco para que sector privado termine de morir, como en Cuba. Los consejos comunales muestran su nariz, como en Cuba. Los presos políticos no ven una con la justicia, como en Cuba. El Banco Central es del líder, como en Cuba. Todo lo decide una persona, líder eterno e insustituible, como en Cuba. Todo es verde oliva y militar, como en Cuba. Los medios de comunicación privado sobran, como en Cuba. La palabra expropiación o nacionalización está a tiro de micrófono, como en Cuba. El insulto y la amenaza es parte del guión oficial, como en Cuba. El narcisismo y el personalísimo son la esencia del régimen, como en Cuba. La adulación pierde la pena, como en Cuba. Afiches, vallas y mucha propaganda exaltan el caudillo, como en Cuba. En poco tiempo vendrán las estatuas y los bustos, como en Cuba. Y nuevos ricos revolucionarios.

Sí. Como en Cuba.



Para conocer en detalle la noticia siga este link

The Castro-Chávez link: What are 30,000 Cuban advisers doing in Venezuela?

The Obama administration has dismissed Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez as a pesky loudmouth. But he imperils regional security and freedom.

By John Hughes
posted March 16, 2010 at 2:19 pm EDT
Provo, Utah —

While two wars in Southwest Asia and a dangerous confrontation with Iran dominate President Obama’s foreign- policy worry list, oil-rich Venezuela, much closer to home, is becoming more than a minor irritant.
To date, the Obama administration has dismissed Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez as a pesky, leftist loudmouth, whose verbal eruptions against the United States pose no threat. But a new era of “Cubanization” in Venezuela should warn of a crackdown against Mr. Chávez’s domestic opponents and a stepped-up drive for socialist revolution across Latin America.
Chávez has been importing “advisers” from Cuba. There are now some 30,000 of them, many of them intelligence, security, and political affairs officers, as well as medical personnel.
Chávez’s recent installation of Cuban Vice President Ramiro Valdes in a key advisory role in Venezuela is seen by Chávez opponents as a sinister move toward greater “Cubanization” and Castro-style communism. Mr. Valdes is also Cuba’s communications minister and ranks third in the Cuban hierarchy. His job in Venezuela is supposedly to handle an electricity crisis – though his qualifications are suspect.
In recent years, Chávez has established alliances with nations that could be counted on to tweak Washington. Russia has engaged in military exercises with Venezuela and signed an agreement to supply up to $2 billion worth of weaponry. China is buying more than 330,000 barrels of oil daily from Venezuela and has signed an investment agreement to develop more. China also has just completed a $400 million communications satellite for Venezuela.
Iran has been Venezuela’s most ingratiating suitor. The two nations have signed dozens of agreements in recent years to boost infrastructure, energy, and manufacturing in the South American country. Chávez has visited Tehran often, pledging cooperation with Iran in opposing “US imperialism,” liberating countries from the “imperialist yoke,” and furthering “Bolivarian socialist principles” in Latin America. Chávez has consistently endorsed Iran’s nuclear program.
At home, Chávez lauds Fidel Castro as a political blood brother, and communist Cuba as an example for all of Latin America.
His governance has become increasingly authoritarian, detailed in a blistering report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. It highlights how Chávez has undermined judicial independence, intimidated or silenced opposition media, hobbled elected opposition figures, and criminalized dissidents and human rights groups.
Last week, a Spanish judge accused Venezuela of colluding with terrorist groups including the Basque ETA rebels and the Colombian FARC.
Once lauded by his people as a reformer, Chávez is now the target of angry street rallies, especially as he has rather blatantly plotted to stay president for life.
Cuba depends on Venezuela’s cheap oil (the US is also a major buyer) and would be disadvantaged if the Chávez regime fell. Havana may be alarmed by the fissures in Chávez’s support and probably welcomed the opportunity to position Valdes in Caracas to bolster Chávez.
Cuba’s leaders may also have some concerns about their own country’s political stability. Cuban dissidents say word has been passed up the military command that the ailing Fidel Castro may not outlast this year. His succession is by no means certain. Fidel’s brother Raúl, currently managing the country while his brother is incapacitated, is credited with being a better administrator than Fidel, but lacks Fidel’s charisma.
The Obama administration, beset by major problems at home and challenges abroad, may have thought it could delay confronting lesser problems in Latin America. This may prove to have been an unwise calculation.
Mr. Obama: Don’t be surprised by that 3 a.m. call.
John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column.

The Castro-Chávez link: What are 30,000 Cuban advisers doing in Venezuela? / The Christian Science Monitor –

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