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The power of Cuba's free healthcare

(Photo: Reuters)

The following is an excerpt from my latest for Al Jazeera.

In 1995, Nelson Mandela declared with regard to Cuban international solidarity missions to Africa over past decades:

Cubans came to our region as doctors, teachers, soldiers, agricultural experts, but never as colonisers. They have shared the same trenches with us in the struggle against colonialism, underdevelopment and apartheid.”

The US, of course, had offered a less favourable characterisation of Cuban activities on the African continent, and accused the island nation of exporting revolution. Evidence of diabolical Cuban meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign nations included its substantial assistance in defending newly independent Angola against a US-backed South African invasion that – according to Noam Chomsky – ultimately killed a million and a half people in Angola and Mozambique.



Honduras’ Illegitimate President and His Cheering Squad

Image from Flickr via Fellowship of the Rich

The following is an excerpt from my latest piece for Guernica Magazine.

Last week, in Washington, D.C., Honduran President Pepe Lobo was honored with an International Leadership Award from the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI, endearingly pronounced “chili”).

This is the latest in a sequence of preposterous euphemisms emitted by the U.S. political establishment with regard to the Honduran regime, described by Hillary Clinton in 2010 as being committed to democracy. All this despite Lobo’s ascension to power via illegitimate elections conducted in the aftermath of the coup d’état against democratically elected President Mel Zelaya.

One possible explanation for CHLI’s enthusiasm is that the organization’s Board of Directors includes Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart, former Congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen—who paid a joint visit to Tegucigalpa in 2009 to reaffirm the democratic nature of the military coup. The Board also includes corporate representatives from AT&T, Coca-Cola, and Wal-Mart.


Democracy lessons for Fidel Castro

(Image from the Wolfsonian-FIU)

The following is an excerpt from my latest article for Al Jazeera:
In the 1950s, my father’s uncle Benito was summoned to Havana by Santo Trafficante Jr, Mafia boss for the southeastern United States and Cuba and a childhood friend of Benito’s from the Ybor City neighbourhood in Tampa, Florida.

In Havana, Benito was tasked with surveillance duties at the Sans Souci night club and casino run by Trafficante, a close friend of pro-US Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Trafficante had inherited the position from his father, the Sicilian-born Santo Trafficante Sr, who had been appointed by organised crime icons, Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, to oversee gambling and drug operations in the Cuban capital, which served as a storage facility for heroin en route from Europe to the US.

Benito’s responsibilities at the Sans Souci included sounding an alert if the wife of a casino patron or other relevant figure arrived at an inopportune moment. Prospects for job security were slashed with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, however, and Benito returned to Florida to sell furniture while Trafficante enhanced his CV by becoming an accomplice of the CIA in the mission to assassinate Fidel Castro.

As journalists Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair note in their book Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press, anti-Castro plots concocted by the Agency ranged from “tr[ying] to devise a way to saturate the radio studio where Castro broadcast his speeches with an aerosol form of LSD and other ‘psychic energisers'” to sabotaging his appearance before the United Nations in New York in 1960 by “plac[ing] thallium salts in Castro’s shoes and on his night table in the hope that the poisons would make the leader’s beard fall off”.


Obama, Bush, and R/rice


During his recent four-hour visit to Puerto Rico—the first by a U.S. president since 1961—Barack Obama mentioned several Puerto Ricans by name aside from Marc Anthony. These included Juan Castillo, currently on the verge of 101 years of age, who participated in World War II and the Korean War on behalf of the U.S. military, and Ramón Colón-López, who in more recent times acquired the U.S. Air Force Combat Action Medal when he and his team “killed or captured 12 enemy fighters” in Afghanistan.

Explained Obama:

…I tell this story because for decades, Puerto Ricans like Juan and Ramon have put themselves in harm’s way for a simple reason:  They want to protect the country that they love.  Their willingness to serve, their willingness to sacrifice, is as American as apple pie –- or as Arroz con Gandules.  (Applause.)  The aspirations and the struggles on this island mirror those across America.”

The American-ness of arroz con gandules—Puerto Rico’s traditional dish of rice and peas—is called into question by the number of times Obama referred to his notes prior to and during pronunciation. It is meanwhile not clear where the mirror idea came from, given Puerto Rico’s colonial status and the resulting improbability that its aspirations and struggles are identical to those of its colonial master.


Ode to Cuban doctors

Cuban medic in Venezuela (Photo: Amelia Opalinska)

A December article in the British daily The Independent, entitled “Cuban medics in Haiti put the world to shame”, begins by noting that, despite Barack Obama’s pledge for a monumental humanitarian mission to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, U.S. efforts have paled in comparison to those of Cuba, which has had a sizable medical contingent stationed on the Caribbean island since 1998. Cuban doctors and nurses have been instrumental in responding to the Haitian cholera outbreak, though their efforts have gone largely unrecognized internationally.

The article, by Nina Lakhani, contains a wealth of details that might be of interest to persons concerned that socialized medicine produces inferior results. After noting that “[a] third of Cuba’s 75,000 doctors, along with 10,000 other health workers, are currently working in 77 poor countries” but that “this still leaves one doctor for every 220 people at home, one of the highest ratios in the world, compared with one for every 370 in England”, Lakhani writes:

Medical training in Cuba lasts six years – a year longer than in the UK – after which every graduate works as a family doctor for three years minimum. Working alongside a nurse, the family doctor looks after 150 to 200 families in the community in which they live. (more…)

U.S. immigration laws apply only to non-terrorist Latin Americans

Luis Posada Carriles

On June 15, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez dispatched the following complaint from his Twitter account, which spanned two tweets and was couched between expressions in Venezuelan slang:

The gringo government accuses us of anything and everything, but today marks 5 years since the extradition request of the granterrorista Posada Carriles, to which they haven’t even responded. The world is full of hypocrisy. Long live the revolution!”

Current gringo accusations against Venezuela range from Chávez’ purported effort to stamp out free speech—despite the fact that the majority of national media outlets belong to the Venezuelan opposition—and the existence of commercial flights between Caracas and Tehran. As for accusations against Luis Posada Carriles, an 82-year-old Cuban exile and Venezuelan national who was formerly on the CIA payroll, these include masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cubana de Aviación flight which killed all 73 passengers on board, trying to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and contributing to the 1997 Havana hotel bombings.


Nuclear weapons permissible on Iranian soil as long as they belong to Russia or China

Lula and Erdoğan conspire to increase political executions in Iran.

FETHIYE, TURKEY—Arriving to a Turkish friend’s house in the middle of last evening’s public television newscast, I was given a recap of national accomplishments reported thus far. According to Mehmet these included:

  1. Turkish qualification to the final round of the Eurovision Song Contest.
  2. Turkish emancipation of the Gaza Strip.
  3. Turkish defiance of U.S. attempts to monopolize the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The premature claim of Gazan emancipation was, it turned out, a result of Mehmet’s misinterpretation of news footage of a port scene comprising the Mavi Marmara, a critical Turkish component of the Freedom Flotilla currently attempting to break the siege of Gaza. The timeline was rectified when Mehmet accepted that Gaza would presumably not be in such dire need of help if it resembled the Turkish port of Antalya, and that the Turkish flag was perhaps not the predominant feature of the contemporary Gazan landscape.