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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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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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Honduras' very own war on terror

”]The following is my first article for Al Jazeera.

A few months after the 2009 coup d’etat against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, I was approached on the street in Tegucigalpa by a man who threatened to kill me unless I produced an economic incentive sufficient to halt my demise. I suggested that we walk to an ATM and postponed the issue of my lack of an ATM card to an indefinite future point.

Fortunately, by the time we reached the nearest gas station, my companion had finished a bottle of aguardiente and our conversation had taken an unexpected course. Thanking me for the stroll, he requested that I adopt his 18-month-old son in order to spare the child his girlfriend’s crack cocaine habit.

The brief but tragic death of Popeye’s

From the gas station I procured a ride back in the direction of my pension with a female university student in an SUV and designer sunglasses, whose analysis of what had just transpired was that 80 percent of Hondurans were thugs. By coincidence, her calculations also revealed that 80 percent of Hondurans were poor and that this was why the recently-expatriated Zelaya was so popular, which did not alter her view that Honduran democracy had in fact been upheld by his forcible expulsion from the country.

The expulsion was orchestrated once Zelaya had shown himself to be incompatible with everything from the regional neoliberal project  to the elite Opus Dei sect’s obsession with banning the morning-after pill. The president’s transgressions had included raising the minimum wage in certain sectors and paying slightly more attention than previous leaders to the complaints of poor communities tired of the effects of international mining endeavors on their skin and reproductive abilities. The last straw was Zelaya’s attempt to poll the citizenry as to whether the national constitution – which hails from the era in which the country was affectionately referred to as the “USS Honduras” and is skewed in the interest of approximately ten families who dominate the economy – should be revised.

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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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Ortega’s Second Revolutionary Betrayal

During a visit to Nicaragua not so long ago, I spent a good deal of time speaking with a former Sandinista fighter, now a bank security guard in the town of San Juan del Sur, who was disillusioned with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and what he referred to as Ortega’s abandonment of Sandinista revolutionary ideals.

It was as if, the security guard said, the dead no longer mattered when one was in power.

The death toll of over one thousand in Libya has provided the Nicaraguan leader with a second opportunity for revolutionary abandonment, and Nicaragua’s opposition daily La Prensa reports Ortega’s affirmation of total solidarity with Muammar Gaddafi at the United Nations yesterday.

According to the paper, Ortega condemned “speculation by western media, which through exaggerated and contradictory news reports incite violence and [set the stage for] foreign intervention” (see Fidel Castro’s warning of an impending NATO invasion of Libya). (more…)

A successor for Mussolini?

Image of "Chavuzconi" concocted by a certain Diario El Peso of Argentina

Back in February I attended a rally in Caracas of the Venezuelan anti-government opposition, where various protesters took it upon themselves to educate me as to President Hugo Chávez’ latest transgressions. These included consulting Cuban assassins on the issue of the electricity shortage in Venezuela and emulating Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Given that other world leaders have likened themselves to Mussolini, I thought it might be interesting to briefly compare Chávez and current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, only one of whom is considered a “great friend” of Barack Obama despite repeated references to the U.S. president’s suntan.

A few basic areas for comparison:

Media control: Chávez is accused of dominating the media despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of outlets are in control of the opposition and, as Mark Weisbrot and Tara Ruttenberg of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. point out, “as of September 2010, Venezuelan state TV channels had just a 5.4 percent audience share.” Berlusconi meanwhile owns Italy’s three largest television channels and a publishing house, and has a history of violating broadcasting laws.

The War on Terror: Chávez opposed the War on Terror and famously announced that “you can’t fight terror with terror” in response to photographs of Afghan children slaughtered by the U.S.-led coalition. Berlusconi opposed the War on Terror-inspired tactic of domestic wiretapping only because wiretap transcripts implicated him and his colleagues in criminal and other dubious behavior.

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