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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.

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Ahmadinejad contemplates Latin America caliphate

(Photo: EPA)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera.

In September 2007, The Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer wrote:

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must love the tropics. He has spent more time in Latin America than President Bush over the past 12 months.

Given that the name of the former US president was never associated with a tradition of international travel, this was not an overwhelmingly surprising calculation.

It was reiterated, however, in a 2009 investigation by Ely Karmon of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel, who additionally warned that Farsi was being taught at Venezuelan universities; that a number of Iranian engineers had acquired basic Spanish; and that the Latin American poor might respond favourably to “radical Shiite ideological teachings”.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s declaration during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Caracas later that year that “I am certain that the God in Iran is the same as the God in Venezuela” presumably did not assuage concerns.

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Democracy lessons for Fidel Castro

(Image from the Wolfsonian-FIU)

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

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Guernica: The Latest Installment of the Iranian Terror Plot

”]The following is an excerpt from my short piece for Guernica on the continued fabrication of Islamo-Bolivarian threats to U.S. national security. The piece begins:

I have been kept up at night by the Iranian presence in Latin America ever since Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned in 2009: “We know that there are flights from Caracas via Damascus to Tehran.”

The warning, which was intended as evidence of Iranian infiltration of the American continent, occurred in the context of Ayalon’s excursion to Honduras to attend the General Assembly of the Organization of American States. Of no concern, apparently, was the fact that it is also possible to travel by air with minimal difficulty from Caracas to places like New York and Tel Aviv (and that Israel does not technically qualify as an American State).

The Caracas-Tehran one-stop has since been adopted as a pet issue by neoconservative pundits like the American Enterprise Institute’s Roger Noriega—author of such gems as “Chávez’s Secret Nuclear Program”—who categorized the flight as a component of “Chávez’s Scary Anti-American Campaign.” Noriega reiterated the malevolent travel itinerary as part of his July 2011 testimony before a U.S.Congressional Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence hearing entitled “Hezbollah in Latin America— Implications for U.S. Homeland Security.”

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The Islamo-Bolivarian threat

(EPA)

The following is my latest piece for Al Jazeera:

In early July, the US Congressional Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing entitled “Hezbollah in Latin America – Implications for US Homeland Security“.

The line-up of witnesses consisted of Roger Noriega, visiting fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute; Douglas Farah, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center; Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council and journal editor for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; and Brown University professor Dr. Melani Cammett, the only testifier who bothered to provide an accurate history of Hezbollah and to refrain from referring to the Lebanese political party and resistance movement as a terrorist organisation directed by Iran.

Cammett’s co-witnesses more than made up for her dearth of creativity. Given the quality of what is consistently allowed to pass as evidence of the threat posed to the US by the supposed love affair between Iran and leftist Latin American regimes, it is perhaps only surprising that the first three expert-propagandists did not invoke Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s joke in the Oliver Stone documentary “South of the Border” – in reference to a corn-processing facility – that, “This is where we build the Iranian atomic bomb.”

Stripped of its facetious intent, the comment would have proved an able companion to the clique’s existing arsenal of justifications for increased US militarisation of Latin America as well as potential military manoeuvrings against Iran.

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Roger Noriega’s secret pact with Hugo Chávez

Roger Noriega (Photo: Reuters)

For those who may not be aware, Roger Noriega is the head of an Al Qaeda cell in Washington, D.C., and moonlights as the subcommander of the 17th front of the FARC. A member of Evo Morales’ network of secret boyfriends, Noriega orchestrated the 2004 school siege in Beslan and was once sighted at the helm of a Somali pirate ship. Obviously, he is also simultaneously the cousin and brother of former Panamanian dictator and drug trafficker extraordinaire Manuel Noriega.

Okay, none of the above is true. Roger Noriega is merely a former USAID satrap, former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, and former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs who has participated in diplomatic endeavors ranging from Iran-Contra to the 2004 coup against Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Currently a visiting fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and managing director of the Visión Américas lobbying firm, he regularly churns out fear-mongering Cold War-worthy dispatches on Latin America that contain approximately as much truth—and intrigue—as the previous paragraph.

Noriega’s latest alert regarding terroristic narco-communism, entitled “Honduran Leader’s Secret Pact with Hugo Chávez”, appears on FoxNews.com and a number of compatible venues. Amusingly, the Americas Forum has misidentified the secretive Honduran leader in its website reproduction of the article under the title “Honduras: Mel Zelaya’s Secret Pact with Hugo Chavez”.

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Chávez is more fanatically Islamic than Al Qaeda

Carlos Alberto Montaner (Image from the Machetera blog)

Gracing the pages of various Spanish-language newspapers yesterday and today is an article entitled “Bin Laden in Latin America”. Written by exiled Cuban columnist and author Carlos Alberto Montaner, whose claims to fame include referring to Eduardo Galeano’s acclaimed Open Veins of Latin America as “the idiot’s bible”, it might be more appropriately titled “The idiot’s attempt to turn Hugo Chávez into bin Laden by way of an irrelevant Ethiopian”.

The article begins with the announcement that an Ethiopian terrorist engaged in the trafficking of illegal immigrants was captured in Ecuador and deported to the United States in March. Montaner himself states in the first paragraph that the man’s ties to Al Qaeda have not been confirmed, but declares in the second that the purpose of said trafficking was presumably to raise funds for the organization and to construct networks of potential collaborators.

Via this introduction, we somehow arrive at the revelation that the president of Venezuela is “an accomplice of all extremist and fanatically Islamic causes, including Al Qaeda”, though Montaner refrains from explaining whether the expulsion from Caracas of Israeli diplomatic personnel in response to massacres in Gaza qualifies as fanatical complicity. Montaner asserts that the reason for Chávez’ pro-extremist behavior is “not at all clear” but promptly goes on to state, quite clearly, that the Venezuelan leader—plus his counterparts in Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia—perceive Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah “as allies because they believe they have a common enemy: north American imperialism”.

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