Thursday, 28 July 2011

RATB Reports: Celebrating the Cuban Revolution

by RATB North East, 23 July 2011.

On Saturday 23 July Rock Around the Blockade (RATB) North East held a lively street celebration for the anniversary of the 26 July attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, which marked the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.

Grey’s Monument in the city centre of Newcastle was adorned with Che Guevara banners and Latin American flags. A sound system played Cuban, Venezuelan and British revolutionary music in between rousing speeches documenting the outstanding achievements of the Cuban revolution over the past 50 years.

Activists spoke against the illegal US blockade that has been in place since 1961 and others showed how Cuba is a beacon of hope, an anti-imperialist struggle that is driving movements across Latin America and beyond.

'The people united will never be defeated!' was the rallying call when 2 English Defence League (EDL) members attempted to sabotage the celebration by holding an English flag on the Monument.

The speakers pointed out how the EDL were playing the game of the ruling class, defending it’s wars abroad, dividing the working class to make us fight for the scraps from the table and backing the bank bail outs by attacking anti cuts protestors.

'The people united will never be defeated!' has been put into practice in socialist Cuba where for over 50 years the working class has been in power, driving out first the Batista dictatorship, then US imperialism to build a society which meets the needs of the whole population and, with health and education brigades, provides vital support to poor and oppressed people across the globe.

Socialist Cuba provides essential lessons and inspiration for anyone active in Britain today fighting racism and fighting the cuts.

Viva Cuba!
Viva Venezuela!
Hasta La Victoria Siempre!

Healthcare in Cuba and US compared

Health Care in Cuba and America - by Stephen Lendman, 05 July 2011.


Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Cuba condemns Norway attacks

Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba.
Source: Granma, 26 July 2011.

Cuba strongly condemns the acts of violence in Norway, on July 22, against the government complex in Oslo and against the young people gathered on the Isle of Utoya that have left so far 92 deaths [revised down to 77 - RATB].

The Cuban people, who have suffered from terrorism for more than 50 years, condemn the scourge in all its forms and manifestations.

The Cuban government and people, extend their condolences to the government, the Norwegian people and particularly to the families of the victims, for the loss of life and damage caused by these criminal actions, while expressing their solidarity and support.

Havana, July 23, 2011.
"Year 53 of the Revolution."

Lowkey puts Cuban anti-imperialism in the limelight

by Anthony Bairstow for Rock Around the Blockade (RATB).

An engaging new music video against the US blockade on Cuba has been released by the UK rapper Lowkey. The song Too Much recognises Cuba’s achievements as a defiant force against anti-imperialism despite US aggression and the blockade.

The track, and its' video filmed in Cuba, focuses on capitalism and its perverse obsession with material things, most obviously money, over human values and the physical and emotional well being of people in society. The video shows life in Cuba, where although people are still affected by the crisis of capitalism, a new socialist society is being built which puts humanity at its centre.

This is the second video Lowkey has released that is filmed in Cuba. The first, My Soul, although not politically about the country, still touched on the socialist values embedded in to the revolutionary spirit.

Lowkey's new video Too Much comes at a good time in the British political scene, where so-called 'socialist' organisations, such as the Socialist Worker's Party (SWP) and Alliance for Workers' Liberty (AWL), still refuse to recognise the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution.

Instead such organisations choose to spread lies and misinformation about the country, which often stem from anti-Cuban and pro-capitalist Miami sources. They even refuse to see Cuba as an example of anti-imperialist struggle for building an anti-imperialist movement in Britain today. The oppressed peoples of the world support Cuba, its fight for socialism, its humanity, its internationalism, education and healthcare, but that is not good enough for the SWP or AWL who call for their so-called 'socialist' movement inside blatantly imperialist Britain, without injecting the kind of anti-imperialist politics which we can learn from the Cuban Revolution.

Lowkey has made various tracks in the past highlighting anti-imperialist struggles, including his hugely popular track Long Live Palestine which has become something of a pro-Palestine theme tune, often blasted out of sound-systems at pro-Palestine protests across Britain.

The new video Too Much ends with a strong political statement from independent film-maker Pablo Navarrete about Cuba and the US blockade:

'The US government’s blockade against Cuba was first imposed in October 1960. It was introduced after the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro (which came to power in January 1959 after overthrowing the brutal US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista) nationalised property belonging to US citizens and corporations.

'Since 1962 the blockade has been tightened further and today represents the longest blockade in history. The cost to the Cuban economy has been catastrophic, estimated at more than 750 billion US dollars, in current prices. The UN General Assembly has voted every year for 19 years on a resolution condemning the blockade. Every year the condemnation is virtually unanimous.

'In the most recent vote in October 2010, 187 countries voted for ending the blockade. Only the US and Israel voted to continue with it. The criminal US blockade of Cuba has for over 50 years tried to suffocate the island; to teach its people and revolution a brutal lesson for standing up to US imperialism and daring to be free. With heroic sacrifices, Cuba continues to not only resist but to shine a light on the path to a fairer, more humane world.

'Cuba resists; Cuba lives; Viva Cuba!'

Lowkey has consistently proven himself to be a refreshing and cutting edge UK rapper with his finger on the pulse when it comes to the really important issues that surround the working class struggles both in Britain and the world. Lowkey's new track is taken from the highly anticipated album "Soundtrack To The Struggle" which we expect to be released later this year.

You can follow Lowkey's progress on

Sunday, 24 July 2011

US seizes seven computers bound for Cuba

US Officials Seize Seven Computers as Caravan Crosses US-Mexico Border

Dear Friends and Supporters,

At 12:20 PM on Wednesday, the 22nd Pastors for Peace Caravan to Cuba arrived at the US/Mexico border to break the US blockade against Cuba. The US border officials have again decided to interfere with our mission of breaking the US blockade, and have seized seven computers. More information is in the press release below. Although we are continuing on the caravan and taking the remaining 100 tons of aid to Cuba, our protest against the seizure continues! Your support is vital! We are asking you, our emergency response network, to spread the word:

Call your senators and congressional representatives, the White House, call your local media, and organize in your communities to demand that the US government:

- Return the 7 computers immediately!

- End the blockade and travel ban of Cuba now!

- Find your Congressional Representative here

Find your Senator here:

Contact the Whitehouse here

Now is the time for action against this criminal blockade and in support of the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba!

You can support our work by making a donation here

Let us work together to end the blockade!

In solidarity,

IFCO-Pastors for Peace


Press Contact: Janine Solanki (360) 250-0998 Lucia Bruno (212) 926-5757

July 21, 2011

US Officials Seize Seven Computers as Pastors for Peace Cuba Caravan Crosses into Mexico

US Customs and Border Patrol officers seized seven computers intended for Cuban hospitals, schools, and a veterinary clinic at the Pharr (TX) International Bridge on Wednesday.

The computers are part of the 100 tons humanitarian aid carried by the 22nd IFCO/Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan to Cuba. Caravan participants observed officers X-raying and searching the vehicles. Customs officers then said that they were ‘detaining,’ not ‘seizing’ the computers, in order to determine whether the caravan needed to have a license to take them to Cuba. Three of the computers seized were the same ones that were taken from last year’s caravan in 2010, and were later returned to IFCO/Pastors for Peace.

While the brightly painted trucks and school buses were being searched, caravanistas chanted “Cuba is no threat to you; let our computers through!” and “Love is our license! Free the computers!” and held banners and signs reading “Cuba is not our enemy” and other slogans. Caravanistas then prayed and chanted together as they gathered around the pickup truck holding the seized computers.

Although IFCO/Pastors is protesting the computer seizure, we are continuing through the border to deliver to Cuba the 100 tons of aid that have crossed successfully through the border.

This year more than 100 North Americans and Europeans have joined the Caravan.

For updates check

Cuba graduates more doctors for the world: Class of 2011 includes 19 US physicians

Source:, 23 July 2011.

Following stirring choral offerings ranging from Ave Maria to We Are the World, 19 US medical students were among those awarded their degrees at today’s graduation of physicians, nurses and allied health professions of the Medical University of Havana’s Dr Salvador Allende Health Sciences Faculty. The new US physicians are among 1396 international medical students graduating this week throughout Cuba who were enrolled in the full-scholarship Latin American Medical School (ELAM) program. They all completed a bridging course and another two years of basic sciences study at ELAM’s main Havana campus, before fanning out to health sciences faculties across the country for their final four clinical years.

Here in Havana, Allende is one of the faculties celebrating graduations today, 22 countries represented in its Class of 2011, including Cuba and the USA. In his remarks, Allende’s Dean Dr Jorge Jimenez called them “worthy young men and women ready to do battle for health anywhere in the world.”

ELAM Rector Dr Juan Carrizo noted that, since the first ELAM students received their degrees in 2005, the program has graduated over 9900 MDs from the Americas, Africa and Asia. He praised those who made their medical studies possible, including the students themselves, their parents and professors, and former President Fidel Castro whose idea founded the ELAM program. “We owe ourselves to our vocation,” he reminded the graduates in closing, “to see people as patients, never clients, and to apply our knowledge, skills and commitment to help them.” Dr Carrizo was among various speakers who paid tribute to the late Rev. Lucius Walker, director of the Inter-Religious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)/Pastors for Peace, whose work was vital to the US contingent of students, calling him a “courageous man of principles.”

MEDICC International Director Gail Reed was a guest at the graduation. She explained that MEDICC provides the ELAM program with latest-edition textbooks and carries out cooperation projects with students from Haiti, Honduras and the USA. MEDICC supports US graduates’ transition into medical practice through the MD Pipeline to Community Service, which awards fellowships to defray the costs of US board exams and preparatory courses, provides students and graduates with US physician mentors, coordinates clinical opportunities for students in US public hospitals and community health centers, and conducts outreach about ELAM to US residency programs. “Our heartiest congratulations go to these wonderful young people from across the United States,” she said. “And we want to let them know how much they are needed back home, where health disparities continue to plague our communities along lines of race, gender and income.”

Portraits of US Graduates, Class of 2011

Kereese Gayle, Atlanta, Georgia

  • I’ve finally realized my dream; it’s the end of one journey. Now, I’m anxious to get back home and contribute to making change.
  • In Cuba, I’ve learned perseverance; and my Cuban professors taught me by their example of heartfelt connection with their patients.
  • I plan to apply for a residency in pediatrics.

Mena Ramos, Chicago, Illinois and the Philippines

  • The first thing I want to do is see family in Chicago, and then go to the Philippines to work with a community organization there.
  • In Cuba, I learned how to create, to make opportunities in every situation, to find my own space.
  • On the heels of my clerkship in Contra Costa County, California—which was an amazing learning experience—I plan to apply for a residency in family medicine.

Michael Woods, Atlanta, Georgia

  • I’m going home to see family first—I have a sister and a nephew I don’t even know yet! Then I’ll finish the steps of the USMLE exams.
  • In Cuba, I became a better person, and especially I learned to accept challenges that make you stronger. I learned not to run away, but to step up.
  • I want to be a primary care physician, either in family medicine or pediatrics. The basic principle I’ll take with me is that we need to go back to those in need: medicine should be free, and I want to contribute ideas that can make that happen.

Akira Jackson, Los Angeles (Compton), California

  • My 9-month plan starts today: first, finish my exams and then apply for a residency.
  • In Cuba, I learned that it is your community that makes you who you are. You find that in Cuba, where so many things are lacking, yet people are strong together and love life. It may sound corny, but that’s how I see it.
  • My plan is to keep the memory of this health system in my mind to help me set up a mobile clinic in Los Angeles, to provide services such as HIV testing, immunization, and scanning for diabetes, with a new spin: accessible to everybody.

Keasha Guerrier, Long Island, New York

  • I’ve passed all my USMLE steps; I want to become a family practitioner in the Deep South, in the Mississippi Delta region.
  • In Cuba, I learned perseverance and dedication. It was a long, hard road sometimes but the end result is our degree that allows us to serve almost anywhere in the world, and have an impact on communities that need help.
  • Before I do anything else, I’m going to Haiti for a few months to work with the Cuban doctors there—my father is Haitian. I had wanted to go as a student, but they asked me to wait until I’d graduated—and so now I’ve graduated, I have my degree, and that’s where I’m headed.

Photos: Eduado Añé

Pastors for Peace bring humanitarian aid to Cuba

Pastors for Peace in Havana
Source: Granma, 23 July 2011.

The 22nd US-Cuba Friendship Caravan arrived in Cuba Friday afternoon from Mexico, after touring 130 U.S. cities to multiply solidarity with Cuba. With over one hundred members, the peace activists came to challenge the economic, commercial and financial blockade in place for more than half a century in Washington, inspired by the ideals of their eternal leader, the Rev. Lucius Walker.

Helen Bernstein, interim coordinator of the organization, confirmed that the brigade is aware of the responsibility of continuing the legacy of Lucius, who for the first time did not physically accompany the caravan.

"Our commitment to solidarity with Cuba is forever," she said.

Leira Sanchez, head of International Relations of the UJC, welcomed the visitors, and thanked them for their show of perseverance and belief in the ideals they uphold.

The activists were met by Caridad Diego Bello, head of the Office of Attention to Religious Affairs of the Central Committee, Kenia Serrano, president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, and the Rev. Raul Suarez, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Centre.

Pastors for Peace Bringing Humanitarian Aid to Cuba
Source: Granma, 22 July 2011

The twenty-second Caravan of Pastors for Peace has reached the port city of Tampico, Tamaulipas, from where it will sail to Cuba with more than 100 tons of humanitarian aid collected in 130 U.S. cities, announced Prensa Latina.

Upon arrival in Mexico, the group with more than 100 activists, upheld its challenge to the U.S. blockade against Cuba, and emphasized that love is our license in memory of the Reverend Lucius Walker Jr. The humanitarian aid includes medicines, computers, school supplies, portable solar panels and 14 vehicles.

After completing customs formalities, the peace activists held several meetings with Mexican organizations in solidarity with Cuba, as well as being received by students and employees of the University of North Tamaulipas.

According to Helen Bernstein, interim coordinator of the organization, the U.S. authorities only seized seven computers. For Bernstein, the seizure was not new, as last year also U.S. customs confiscated computers crossing to Mexico.

During the visit to Cuba, from July 22 to 30, the solidarity group will hold various exchanges with students, artists, scientists and farmers, besides participating in the graduation of 20 young Americans in the Latin American School of Medicine.

Venezuela has largest oil reserves

OPEC: Venezuela Has Largest Oil Reserves, Surpassing Saudi Arabia
Source: Axis of Logic
By Les Blough and Arturo Rosales, 19 July 2011.

Venezuela's crude oil proven reserves exceeded those of Saudi Arabia last year according to OPEC's annual statistical report. In 2009, OPEC listed Saudi as having the highest reserves at 264.59 billion barrels or 25.9% of OPEC's overall reserves and Venezuela at 211.17 billion barrels or 19.8% of OPEC reserves.

According to OPEC's latest annual report, Venezuela's proven crude oil reserves reached 296.5 billion barrels in 2010, up 40.4% on the year and higher than Saudi Arabia's 264.5 billion barrels.

The data confirms statements by Venezuela's national oil company (PDVSA) which reported it had this level of reserves as early as January of this year. Venezuela began certifying its oil reserves in the Orinoco belt in 2007 and since then the corporate media accused PDVSA of exaggerating their estimates for political reasons and raising questions about how much of Venezuela's reserves are economically viable. At that time President Chávez predicted that Venezuela's commercial reserves would reach 310 billion barrels. Well that looks to be the case and the fact that Venezuela is pumping just over 3 million barrels a day is enough to keep the economy running nicely and replenish the international reserves.

The fact that PDVSA receives a good bill of health from Fortune, WSJ and Dow Jones suggests that the negative press in Venezuela and the western media is part of a campaign to discredit the company as it is being run with socialist ideals sending 82% of the generated profit directly to the Venezuelan people and not offshore or US banks, gaining interest for the Venezuelan ruling class as was before President Chavez took control of PDVSA after the oil strike and sabotage of December 2002 - February 2003.

PDVSA has the distinction of investing more in social programs ($21 billion) than any other single company in the world.


Protests and repression in Chile

Twenty Chilean Students in Hunger Strike
Source: Prensa Latina, 21 July 2011.

Another 12 high school students joined on Thursday the eight students on hunger strike protesting the lack of response by the government to the Chilean students´ demands. The pressure measure is in line with protests staged by students and professors for the last few months, with the support of families and different social sectors demanding a high quality public education.

The students also demand that education be not-for-profit, a constitutional reform that guarantees education as a right, and a return to the State of the high schools given to the municipalities in 1986 during the Augusto Pinochet military dictatorship. According to Biobio radio station, the protest is part of the intensification of the movement that the students threatened if their demands were not met.

Chilean Mapuche Community Resume Demonstrations for Ancient Lands
Source: Prensa Latina, 20 July 2011.

Mapuches of the Temucuicui traditional community, in Ercilla village, in the Araucania region, announced on Wednesday that they will resume mobilizations to claim 1,800 hectares they consider part of their ancient lands.

Members of the community already set up camp at the private La Romana country estate, marking the start of their struggle, reported Biobio Radio. The "werken" or messenger of the Temucuicui traditional community, Mijael Carbone, confirmed the resumption of mobilizations, a decision taken in agreement with the Mapuche Territorial Alliance.

State authorities' failure to comply their commitment to solve the Mapuche's land claims prompted these indigenous people to resume their protests, he said. He said the mobilizations will continue until what they consider their ancestral lands are restored. These lands include areas in the hands of private owners and forestry enterprises

Chilean Quake Victims Protest Delayed Reconstruction
Source: Prensa Latina, 21 July 2011.

Occupants of one of the largest camps created in the Biobio region after the 2010 quake left thousands homeless continue to protest the slow pace of reconstruction.

Refugees in Molino, Dichato, a coastal town of Tome municipality, affirm that authorities are not keeping their promises. Camp dwellers blocked the route linking Dichato with Tome yesterday to attract the government's attention, Radio Biobio reported.

Very early today, after launching teargas, about 100 police using water cannons charged at demonstrators near El Molino. Demonstrators defended themselves with stones, thus leading to a new clash.

The quake and tsunami of February 2010 destroyed 80 percent of Dichato. A poll by the Corbiobio Studies Center revealed that 69.7 percent of residents from the Eighth Region believe reconstruction has taken longer than expected.

Venezuelan forces respond to prison violence

Venezuelan Forces respond to gang violence, disarm prison
Source: Correo del Orinoco International, no 69, 24 June 2011.

State response to the current prison crisis in Venezuela has been based on a premise of respecting human rights and not engaging lethal violence, despite deadly force employed by some prisoners

In response to a confrontation last week between rival gangs in Venezuelan prison El Rodeo I, the Venezuelan government has sent state security forces to disarm gang members and “preserve the lives of other prisoners” in both El Rodeo I and El Rodeo II penitentiaries. The altercation – which left 22 prisoners dead and over 50 injured – has prompted the government to initiate a series of measures in order to take the Revolution into the nation’s jails and regain control of the country’s prison system. Vice-President Elias Jaua described the intervention by state forces as a ‘necessary’ measure and emphasized the government’s commitment to safeguardingthe prisoner’s human rights. “This undertaking isn’t to massacre prisoners, it is to protect their lives from a small group that have wrested control of the internal management of the prison and have committed a massacre in the past few days - resulting in 21 deaths (now confirmed at 22)”, said Jaua. Combining both direct and ‘humanizing’ measures in order to address the problem, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez last week also approved 413 million bolivars ($96 million) in order to completely reform the penitentiary system.

The Vice-President also highlighted that the government isaddressing the problem from a systematic point of view - “we are working so that our people have the best material conditions so that their children can move forwards and don’t end up in prison. In that exclusionary system, only the poor are sentenced”, he explained.

Thousands of inmates were evacuated to other detention centers throughout the country when gangs put up violent resistance to the operation and a fire broke out in El Rodeo I. So far the total number of inmate casualties is unknown - two officers have lost their lives as a result of the violence. Vice-Minister of Prevention and Citizen Security for the Ministry of Interior Relations and Justice, Nestor Reverol, confirmed that the fire broke out in an ‘empty area’ of the prison and that no inmates were burned – as some sectors of the Venezuelan opposition have claimed.

There are currently around 1000 prisoners remaining in each of the two prisons – with gang leaders in El Rodeo II refusing to cooperate with the Venezuelan authorities despite days of sustained dialogue. Friday los “Pranes” and el “Carro” – the two principal gangs in the prison - have attacked officers and held other inmates hostage as they fight to keep control of the penitentiary. Venezuelan Human Rights Official Gabriela Ramirez confirmed that 90% of the prisoners that remain in El Rodeo II are under intense pressure from gang leaders and reported that rescued inmates stated they “wanted peace”. Calling on the leaders to abandon their violent attitudes and to turn themselves over to authorities, Ramirez reassured them that their human rights would be respected. “Please boys, we are waiting for you here, with hand on heart, for the lives of each one of you. We don’t even want you to scratch yourselves! We want you to come out in a decent condition and without any trauma”, she said to the prisoners.

Following 6 hours of dialogue with inmates, Commander General of the Bolivarian National Guard, Motta Dominguez, confirmed that his forces had confiscated a total of; 7 semi-automatic guns, 5 shotguns, 20 pistols, 8 hand grenades, 45 kilos of cocaine, 5000 ammunition cartridges, 100 mobile phones and 12 kilos of marijuana the operation began on Friday. Venezuelan Defense Minister General Carlos Mata specified that Venezuelan forces had acted within the “framework of the law” to “guarantee the human rights of the inmates” and uphold the fundamental right to life. Reports suggest that the situation is calm in both detention centers, but that a hostile atmosphere prevails in El Rodeo II. The Bolivarian National Guard now has complete control over El Rodeo I.

The National Assembly has confirmed this Monday that it will launch an investigation in response to allegations made by prisoners in El Rodeo against human rights organizations. Following their evacuation, some prisoners have asserted that certain NGOs - in collaboration with private media outlets - deliberately and strategically fomented the violence within the prison. In a televised interview with state channel VTV, one of the prisoners – who wished to remain anonymous – stated that many opposition NGOs are communicating with ‘El Carro’ and informing them what steps to take in order to create a “crisis”. “The directions that they receive in the prisons come from a lot of opposition human rights groups, what they want is to create chaos in order to provoke a penitentiary emergency at a national level”, revealed the prisoner. Maria Mercedes Berthe, Director of Fundamental Rights for the Public Ministry, communicated that at this stage the government couldn’t categorically state whether these allegations held truth or not. “They are making these declarations in their capacity as witnesses. On the basis of this, we will keep investigating in order to find out the truth of these events”, announced Berthe.

The Venezuelan opposition and their private media channels have received strong criticism for exploiting the situation for political gain and releasing inaccurate information surrounding the operation in an attempt to destabilize and discredit the government. Vice-President Elias Jaua condemned the inappropriate behaviour of some members of the opposition outside the penitentiary as an insult to the Venezuelan people. “There they are, taking photos and giving false hugs to the poor women agonizing over their sons inside El Rodeo...Wretches! Don’t play with the Venezuelan people’s pain”, implored Jaua. Venezuelans gathered at 10 am last Saturday morning in Plaza Madariaga, Caracas, in order to manifest their support for the Bolivarian National Guard and their actions in El Rodeo.

As of today, the tense situation persists in El Rodeo.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Behind the Venezuelan prison riots: the state of Venezuela’s prisons today

by Juan Reardon, 21 June 2011

One week into a deadly prison riot at one of Venezuela’s most notorious urban prisons, government officials are continuing their efforts to bring the riot and kidnapping to a close through dialogue. Having already transferred the majority (2,500) of El Rodeo Prison’s inmates to nearby prisons, authorities said they are negotiating directly with the Pranes prison gang in an attempt to secure the release of the remaining 1,000 prisoners. Since clashes began late last Thursday night, the official death count includes one prisoner and two members of the National Guard. In addition, 38 people have been wounded- 18 prisoners and 22 members of the security forces. According to a National Guard spokesman, 36 inmates were “rescued” from “violent prisoners” on Monday afternoon, though gunshots were reported late Monday night. Another 39 were rescued on Tuesday. At midday Tuesday, the names of the 2,500 transferred prisoners were made public so as to calm uncertainty among prisoner’s families.

According to the International Center for Prison Studies (ICPS), the 43,461 people currently held in Venezuelan prisons place the country’s prison population rate at 149 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants. Countries in the region with higher prison population rates (based on the same per 100,000 figure) include the United States (743), Chile (305), Guyana (284), Brazil (253), Mexico (200), and Colombia (181). While Venezuela’s per capital prison rate is lower than some in the region, violent clashes are commonplace; with figures from an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing that refer to 476 dead and 967 wounded in 2010 alone. A year earlier, the Venezuelan Prison Observatory (OVP), which receives funding from the US government, published their 2009 report placing the total number of prisoners killed and wounded that year at 366 and 635, respectively. While these figures are troubling, they can be considered an improvement if compared to prison violence in 2008 (422 dead, 854 wounded) and 2007 (498 dead, 1,023 wounded). Overcrowding appears to be a major factor triggering Venezuela’s levels of prison violence. According to, Venezuela has the capacity to house 14,500 inmates in a total of 34 prisons nationwide, but with almost 44,000 prisoners the country is nearing three times as many prisoners as capacity to house them.

El Rodeo I and II, for example, were originally designed to house 750 prisoners, one fifth of the actual 3,500 they were holding at the time riots began on Thursday. In late April of this year, prisoners at El Rodeo also took 22 officials hostage in what they claimed was a protest against a tuberculosis outbreak in the prison. Earlier this month, clashes between gangs at El Rodeo left 22 prisoners dead, and the recent spat of violence is said to have begun after government forces began a search and seizure operation to unarm El Rodeo’s prison population.

The high prison populations reflect government attempts to satisfy the general population’s frustrations with elevated crime rates across the country, especially in urban centers. The current government is making more of an effort than previous governments to combat corruption in the security forces and state institutions, as well as violence against women, and street violence. Meanwhile, it is also implementing a “prison humanization” program which includes a prison orchestra, cultural classes, job training, and allowing non-risk prisoners to leave prisons during the day.

It is also encouraging community policing, with an emphasis on crime prevention. Unfortunately though, changes have been slow in coming.

In April this year, Venezuela’s National Assembly unanimously passed a new Penitentiary Code bill aimed at reducing violent crime in the country’s prisons. According to Correo del Orinoco, the newly enacted legislation has four core principles: respect for human rights, the classification of inmates, the establishment of sanctions for those who violate accepted norms in the treatment of those serving time, and the development of alternative sentences related to conditional freedom, study and work. Blanca Eekhout, vice president of the National Assembly, called for an end to gang-related prison violence, affirming that the current Venezuelan government’s efforts to “humanize prisons” are only possible if authorities are able to dismantle the “prison gangs that have become an institution within prison walls, a drama throughout the continent and throughout our history”.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Venezuelan National Assembly president Fernando Soto Rojas put the current prison violence into context. Referring specifically to El Rodeo, Rojas said, “What is happening in our prisons is not separate from a concrete, historical reality, above and beyond the responsibilities the revolution has” in bringing the current prison violence to a halt. “We want to know how these weapons, including weapons of war, entered the prisons, and this question must be investigated in depth, no matter who might fall (politically) as a result”, he said.

Eekhout also accused the Venezuelan opposition of “opportunism” surrounding the El Rodeo prison violence, saying that opposition statements to the press have served only to heighten tension among prisoners’ families and are part of an “irresponsible, permanent attempt to destabilize” the country. Members of the Venezuelan opposition have jumped at the opportunity to highlight the suffering of poor and working families – the Chavez government’s base of support – people who have relatives confined in overcrowded prisons.

These “opportunists,” she said, “are the vultures of Venezuelan politics. They have never respected the country, never believed in the capabilities of our people, and would love nothing more than to see another massacre against prisoners…like what we all saw in Catia (1992)”. On 27 November 1992, under the government of then president Carlos Andres Perez, Venezuelan authorities stormed El Reten de Catia – a Caracas prison built to temporarily house 700 prisoners but held 4,000 at the time – killing somewhere between 63 and 200 prisoners.

According to Amnesty International, “the National Guard is alleged to have entered the prison [El Reten de Catia] firing indiscriminately”. Venezuelan Vice-President Elias Jaua went even further, calling opposition spokespeople who have in recent days visited the perimeters of El Rodeo “a miserable lot”. “There they are…taking their photos, giving fake embraces to the impoverished women who are living a great deal of anxiety, waiting to get information about their sons locked up in El Rodeo Prison”, he said. Jaua speculated that if a prison riot of this nature had occurred during “the 4th Republic” (1958-1998), “hundreds of prisoners would have already been killed, since the security forces would have been sent in at once to massacre prisoners”.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Commentaries from Cuba on Sixth Congress of the PCC

The Congress' political balance
by Jesús Arboleya Cervera, 20 April 2011

With the enthusiastic support of Fidel Castro, the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba has just ended.

Not by happenstance, the date chosen for the meeting coincided with the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the victory of Playa Girón, an event that had enormous repercussions for the Cuban revolutionary process, not only for its military significance but also because it defined the Revolution's socialist character and instilled in the masses an awareness of their own strength that translates into the political capital necessary for the preservation of the Revolution.

On a symbolic level and also explicitly, this adherence to the continuity of the Cuban socialist project set the tone for a Congress that at the same time was characterized by the promotion of substantive changes in the country's economic model.

Aside from the fact that the content of the Economic and Social Guidelines can be later analyzed to determine the extent of the changes and their consequences, the strategic sense of their proposals is obvious.

The decentralization of the administrative apparatus, including greater authority and autonomy for the enterprises and regional economies, the emphasis on production efficiency and its control through funding mechanisms, the empowerment of the contracts as a rule for the relationship between the producers and the traders, the expansion of work in cooperatives and self-employment and its adequate relationship with the state's economy, the strengthening of the tax system as the regulator of social income distribution, the improvement of the legal system and the economic rationalization of social benefits are measures, among others, that seek to give value to labor and to establish its correspondence with the standard of living of people, abandoning excessive egalitarian criteria, which, as the country's leaders argued and Congress ratified, limit the development of productive forces.

In many cases, they are not even new initiatives but are part of established policies that were violated in the practical management of the economy. Therefore, more than reforms, they are, in the words of Raul Castro, ways to perfect an institutional system that works with “order, discipline and exigency” at a pace that matches the domestic objective situation and the international reality.

Such a statement does not exclude the fact that important changes are coming in the life of the country. So much so that, from my point of view, this call to improve the nation's economic and political organization is the basis of the social consensus around these proposals, irrespective of specific disagreements with the Guidelines and the real fears of many people regarding their implications for specific sectors of the population.

On the other hand, helping to articulate that consensus was the democratic will demonstrated in the assembly process prior to the Congress, where virtually the entire population participated, s well as the purposes and standards established for the functioning of the leading organizations at all levels. Outstanding in this regard are the policies for better racial and gender representation, the progressive access of young people to leadership positions and the term limits on the performance of these positions.

Raúl's call to eliminate discriminatory political practices that impede the access of non-Party-members to administrative positions or religious people to the ranks of the party demonstrates the existence of a will far more inclusive in the articulation of a national front where everyone feels equally represented.

To rectify the proper functioning of the party has been set as the objective of the conference to be held on Jan. 28, 2012. To strengthen internal democracy, eliminate bureaucratic methods and dogmatic views, change the policy of promotion of the leaders, and strengthen the role of the press by eliminating “secrecy,” “triumphalism” and lack of objectivity are some of the expressed purposes with a view to change a “mentality” that obstructs journalism's influence in society.

Clearly, these are not new purposes. Such principles have been part of the revolutionary political discourse since its inception. The question is: what guarantees that these negative trends will not be repeated? and the obvious answer is that only practice will show otherwise, although it is also true that there is nothing more practical than a good theory.

Once, a friend told me that Cubans are sublime only in extreme situations. If that is true, we are bound to be sublime, because we have no alternative.

Perhaps the Congress' most important political balance has been to understand this reality and prepare to break the inertia to face the reality, as Raúl said, “without haste and improvisation and with our feet and ears glued to the ground.” Amen.

Twenty years are really something
by Luis Sexto, 20 April 2011

Between the Fourth and the Sixth congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, which have so many similarities, there was an interval of exactly 20 years.

Also a logical numerical break, because you cannot leap between them without skimming the back of the Fifth. But in political terms, the 1997 Congress, between the 1991 and 2011 Congresses, which logically should have been a step forward following the rules of order and the dialectics of development, was a step backward to earlier views and concepts.

I keep noticing that judging what happened is less complicated than predicting what will happen. But I retain the experience of both the Fourth and the Fifth congresses. I witnessed them as a journalist.

If the Congress held at the Heredia Theater in 1991 was basically an attempt to readjust, to transform the socialist model that had just passed away without violence in the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of Eastern Europe, it did not require very keen eyes to realize that 1997 saw the legitimization of a trend that asked for the removal of the reforms sought six years earlier, expressed in its allegations that the Fourth Congress had paved the way to lead Cuba to a mixed-economy society.

From the 1991 debate emerged the direct election of provincial and national deputies, the right of religious believers to be active in the Communist Party, and the designation of the Constitution as secular.

In the economic field, the debate brought us the acceptance and expansion of foreign investment, the decentralization of foreign trade, the legalization of individual work and small businesses, such as the paladares [home restaurants], and the leasing of state-owned farms to labor collectives for cooperative usufruct. It was not so much what that Congress approved as the space that its theories foreshadowed.

In the early years, our optimism was based on the certainty that real socialism – that is, everything Cuba had built from the failed Soviet socialism – would disappear through the search for a Cuban path. The new era, which began with the implosion of the Soviet Union, began in Cuba with two blockades: the U.S. blockade, which worsened opportunistically, and the blockade that developed upon the disappearance of the so-called socialist camp, the basic source of Cuban trade.

The Fifth Congress tightened the third blockade: the internal one. And things began to travel back in time. The government over-centralized economic management, strengthened the bureaucracy and with it corruption. Above all, the Congress adopted a line that dispensed with thought because it dispensed with intellectuals. One paragraph of the Fifth Congress' economic resolution was emphatic in stating that “the changes will be aimed at maintaining the preeminence of socialist state property [...] as an element inherent to socialism.”

But it is still too early to write history. The “fog of yesterday” is not yet dense enough to judge the immediate past with nuances and from multiple angles. The present and its problems and difficulties, acknowledged by President Raul Castro, as “teetering on the brink,” suggest, however, that today's mud is the result of yesterday's dust.

The Sixth Congress made the inevitable and overdue correction. Why nine years after schedule, according to the statutes of the Cuban Communist Party? This commentator believes that the celebration of a political congress requires an examination of what was done and a decision to overcome old and new errors, and to move ahead by taking advantage of the dialectical force of change.

It appears that, in the past decade, there was no internal consensus to adopt strategies for improvement, not even when Fidel Castro, in November 2005, warned us about the possible collapse of the revolution, a victim of the mistakes of the revolutionaries. History tells of revolutions that devoured their children, and children who devoured their revolutions, because some revolutionaries were skilled at gaining power but less able to defend it and make it grow.

The Sixth Congress arrived with a handicap. When making policy, arriving too early may be a mistake; so is arriving too late. Reality tells us that the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba has had to start from zero, i.e., from an accumulation of problems and economic distortions, cracks and breaks, so the strategy adopted needs to go farther in less time than the Fourth Congress, precisely for the reason already indicated: more than a decade of immobility.

Therefore, it will be necessary, despite official caution, to diversify ownership almost at one blow, to use market resources, to issue tax rules, to cut social security and articulate a process of decentralization.

The guidelines approved involve some radicalness, whose understanding by the people is not unanimous after so many years of fearing the specter of the market without distinguishing between the constructive and the demonic, so many years of authoritarian and paternalistic relations and restrictions on the individual citizen, although the guidelines came to the Congress tempered to a great degree by the opinions of the citizenry.

Notwithstanding any defects or excesses, this strategy is superior to the alternatives coming from the right and left. The former, entrenched in Miami thanks to the federal funding of subversion, only uses the 19th-Century rhetoric of freedom, democracy, private property and free assembly. It never refers to equality, without which freedom is not possible, or to brotherhood, social justice, or political independence.

The leftist strategies, some extreme or naive, propose an untested socialist organization that would make Cuba, in the midst of internal swirling and world chaos, a kind of laboratory of theories that so far exist only in dreams.

The Sixth Congress, in short, will need to gestate enough consensus to protect national unity, enough consensus to move ahead, never to persevere in a Numantine effort whose strategy involves stopping. Instead, the nation's ability to generate general welfare, justice and participatory democracy on the basis of an emergency-proof institutionality will be the main defense of the ideals of the revolution, so maligned and so fought with so many weapons – almost never with the truth.

The Sixth Congress will be remembered not only because of the economic changes it approves, but also because of those that will be approved in the future, and above all because of the political decisions that will create a wider democratic space and restrict the role of a bureaucracy accustomed to using distortion with impunity.

Cuba and the Number of "Political Prisoners"

Source: HuffingtonPost
by Salim Lamrani, August 24, 2010.
Translated by David Brookbank.

The question of the number of "political prisoners" in Cuba is subject to controversy. According to the Cuban government, there are no political prisoners in Cuba, rather they are people convicted of crimes listed in the penal code, particularly the act of receiving funding from a foreign power. In its 2010 report, Amnesty International (AI) describes "55 prisoners of conscience,"(1) of whom 20 were released in July 2010, followed by another six on August 15, 2010 after mediation by the Catholic Church and Spain, and later another two.(2) Thus, according to AI, there are currently 27 "political prisoners" in Cuba. Finally, the Cuban opposition and, more precisely, Elizardo Sánchez of the Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CDHRN) put the number at 147 political prisoners, minus the 6 recently freed, in other words, 141.(3) The Western media favor this latter list.

First, before raising the question of the exact number of "political prisoners" in Cuba, it is worth clarifying one aspect of this issue, i.e., the existence or non-existence of financing of the Cuban opposition by the United States.

This policy, carried out clandestinely from 1959 to 1991, is now public and confirmed by many sources. Indeed, Washington has acknowledged this fact in various documents and official statements. The 1992 Torricelli law, in particular section 1705, states that "the United States Government may provide assistance, through appropriate nongovernmental organizations, for the support of individuals and organizations to promote nonviolent democratic change in Cuba."(4) The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 provides in Section 109 that "the President [of the United States] is authorized to furnish assistance and provide other support for individuals and independent nongovernmental organizations to support democracy-building efforts for Cuba."(5) The first report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba proposed the development of a "solid support program that promotes Cuban civil society."(6) Among the measures envisaged was funding, totaling $36 million dollars, destined to "supporting the democratic opposition and strengthening an emerging civil society." The second report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba proposed a budget of $31 million to further finance the internal opposition.(7) The plan also provided for "the training and equipping of independent print, radio, and TV journalists in Cuba." (8)

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana -- the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) -- has confirmed this in a statement: "The U.S. policy has long been to provide humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people, specifically to families of political prisoners. We also allow private organizations to do the same." (9)

Laura Pollán, of the dissident group "Ladies in White", admits receiving money from the U.S.(10): "We accept help, support, from the extreme right to the left, without conditions."(11) The opposition leader Vladimiro Roca admits that Cuban dissidents are subsidized by Washington, claiming that the financial assistance received is "totally and completely legal." For the dissident René Gómez, financial support from the United States "is not something that has to be hidden nor that we have to be ashamed of."(12) Similarly, government opponent Elizardo Sánchez confirmed the existence of U.S. financing: "The key point is not who sent the aid, but what is done with the aid." (13)

The Western press admits this reality. Agence France-Presse reported that "the dissidents, for their part, appeal for and accept such financial assistance.(14) The Spanish news agency EFE refers to "opponents paid by the United States."(15) According to the British press agency Reuters, "the US government openly provides federally-funded support for dissident activities, which Cuba considers an illegal act."(16) The U.S. newsgathering agency Associated Press says that the policy of manufacturing and financing internal opposition is not new: "Over the years, the U.S. government has spent many millions of dollars to support Cuba's opposition".(17) It states, "Part of the funding comes directly from the U.S. government, whose laws promote the overthrow of the Cuban government." (18)

Wayne S. Smith is a former diplomat who was head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 1979 to 1982. According to him, it is completely "illegal and unwise to send money to the Cuban dissidents".(19) He added that, "No one should give money to the dissidents, much less for the purpose of overthrowing the Cuban government" since "when the US declares its objective is to overthrow the government of Cuba and later admits that one of the means of achieving that goal is to provide funds to the Cuban dissidents, these dissidents finds themselves de facto in the position of agents paid by a foreign power to overthrow their own government." (20)

Let's recall now the position of Amnesty International. The organization speaks of 27 "political prisoners" in Cuba as of August 15, 2010. Nevertheless, at the same time AI recognizes that these individuals were charged for having "received funds and/or materials from the United States government in order to engage in activities the authorities perceived as subversive and damaging to Cuba".(21) Thus, the organization found itself in a contradiction, in that international law considers the financing of the internal opposition in another sovereign nation to be illegal. Every country in the world has a judicial arsenal establishing the illegality of such conduct. U.S. and European laws, among others, strongly sanction the act of receiving funds from a foreign power.

The list put together by Elizardo Sánchez is longer and includes all sorts of individuals. Among the 141 names, ten were freed due to health, leaving a total of 131 people. With regard to these 10 individuals, Sánchez explained that he keeps them on the list because they could be jailed again in the future. Another four individuals served their sentences and left prison. Thus 127 people remain. Another 27 people are to be released prior to October, according to the agreement signed between Havana, Spain, and the Catholic Church.

Of the 100 remaining individuals, about half were imprisoned for violent crimes. Some carried out armed incursions into Cuba and at least two of them, Humberto Eladio Real Suárez and Ernesto Cruz León, are responsible for the deaths of various civilians in 1994 and 1997 respectively.(22)

Ricardo Alarcón, the president of the Cuban Parliament, emphasized these contradictions, "Curiously, our critics talk about a list... Why don't they explain that they are asking for freedom for the person who murdered Fabio di Celmo?" (23)

The Associated Press (AP) also emphasized the dubious nature of Sánchez's list and indicates that "some of those would not normally be seen as political prisoners." "But a closer look will find bombers, hijackers and intelligence agents." The AP points out that among the 100 people, "about half were convicted of terrorism, hijacking or other violent crimes, and four are former military or intelligence agents convicted of espionage or revealing state secrets." (24)

For its part, Amnesty International confirms that it can not consider the people on Sanchez's list to be "prisoners of conscience" because it includes "people brought to trial for terrorism, espionage and those who tried, or actually succeeded, in blowing up hotels", according to the organization. "We certainly would not call for their release or describe them as prisoners of conscience." (25)

Miguel Moratinos, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, who played a pivotal role in the agreement for the liberation of the 52 prisoners, also has called into question the validity of Sánchez's list and has underscored its imprecise character: "They don't say that 300 must be freed, because there are not 300. The Cuban Human Rights Commission's own list, a week before I arrived there, spoke of there being 202. The day before I arrived in Cuba, the Commission said there were 167." (26)

After the freeing of the other 27 persons included in the June 2010 agreement, there remained only one "political prisoner" in Cuba, Rolando Jiménez Pozada, according to Amnesty International. The Associated Press for its part points out that in fact this individual is "jailed on charges of disobedience and revealing state secrets." (27)

Curiously, the list developed by Sánchez, which is the least reliable of the lists and which has been criticized from all sides due to the inclusion of individuals convicted of grave acts of terrorism, is favored by the western press.

The Cuban government has made a notable gesture by proceeding to free prisoners considered to be "political prisoners" by the U.S. and some organizations, such as Amnesty International. The primary obstacle to the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana -- from the point of view of the Obama government -- no longer exists. That being the case, it is up to the White House to make a reciprocal gesture and put an end to the anachronistic and ineffective economic sanctions against the Cuban people.

1 Amnesty International, «Rapport 2010. La situation des droits humains dans le monde», May 2010. (website consulted June 7, 2010), pp. 87-88.

2 EFE, «Damas piden a España acoger a más presos políticos», 25 de julio de 2010; Carlos Batista, «Disidencia deplora 'destierro' de ex presos», El Nuevo Herald, August 15, 2010.

3 EFE, «Damas piden a España acoger a más presos políticos», July 25, 2010.

4 Cuban Democracy Act, Title XVII, Section 1705, 1992.

5 Helms-Burton Act, Title I, Section 109, 1996.

6 Colin L. Powell, Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, (Washington: United States Department of State, May 2004). (website consulted May 7, 2004), pp. 16, 22.

7 Condolezza Rice & Carlos Gutierrez, Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, (Washington: United States Department of State, July 2006). (website consulted July 12, 2006), p. 20.

8 Ibid., p. 22.

9 Associated Press/El Nuevo Herald, «Cuba: EEUU debe tomar 'medidas' contra diplomáticos», May 19, 2008.

10 Associated Press, "Cuban Dissident Confirms She Received Cash from Private US Anti-Castro Group", May 20, 2008.

11 El Nuevo Herald, «Disidente cubana teme que pueda ser encarcelada», May 21, 2008.

12 Patrick Bèle, «Cuba accuse Washington de payer les dissidents», Le Figaro, May 21, 2008.

13 Agence France-Presse, «Prensa estatal cubana hace inusual entrevista callejera a disidentes», May 22, 2008.

14 Agence France-Presse, «Financement de la dissidence: Cuba 'somme' Washington de s'expliquer», May 22, 2008.

15 EFE, «Un diputado cubano propone nuevos castigos a opositores pagados por EE UU», May 28, 2008.

16 Jeff Franks, "Top U.S. Diplomat Ferried Cash to Dissident: Cuba", Reuters, May 19, 2008.

17 Ben Feller, "Bush Touts Cuban Life after Castro", Associated Press, October 24, 2007.

18 Will Weissert, «Activistas cubanos dependen del financiamiento extranjero», Associated Press, August 15, 2008.

19 Radio Habana Cuba, "Former Chief of US Interests Section in Havana Wayne Smith Says Sending Money to Mercenaries in Cuba is Illegal", May 21, 2008.

20 Wayne S. Smith, "New Cuba Commission Report: Formula for Continued Failure", Center for International Policy, July 10, 2006.

21 Amnesty International, Cuba: Five years too many, new government must release jailed dissidents, March 18, 2008. (website consulted April 23, 2008).

22 Juan O. Tamayo, «¿Cuántos presos políticos hay en la isla?», El Nuevo Herald, July 22, 2010.

23 José Luis Fraga, «Alarcón: presos liberados pueden quedarse en Cuba y podrían ser más de 52», Agence France-Presse, July 20, 2010.

24 Paul Haven, "Number of Political Prisoners in Cuba Still Murky", Associated Press, July 23, 2010.

25 Ibid.

26 EFE, "España pide a UE renovar relación con Cuba", July 27, 2010.

27 Paul Haven, "Number of Political Prisoners in Cuba Still Murky", op. cit.

Salim Lamrani is a university lecturer at the University Paris-Sorbonne-Paris IV and the University Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée and a French journalist, specialist on the relationship between Cuba and the United States. Lamrani has just published Cuba. Ce que les médias ne vous diront jamais (Paris: éditions Estrella, 2009). It is available in bookstores and on Amazon: For specific requests, contact him directly at: ,

Friday, 15 July 2011

Ricardo Alarcón Launches New Book on the Cuban Five

Source: Cuba News Agency (ACN), 14 July 2011.

The president of the Cuban National Assembly (Parliament), Ricardo Alarcón, participated on Wednesday in Havana in the launch of a new book on the five Cuban antiterrorists who remain unjustly imprisoned in the United States since 1998.

Forbidden Heroes: The Untold Story of the Cuban Five’ is a compilation of 16 articles written by Alarcon, which were previously published by CounterPunch magazine.

The book was launched at the venue of the Association of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) in Havana with the presence of intellectuals and relatives of Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez —internationally known as the Cuban Five—, who were arrested and given harsh sentences for monitoring anti-Cuba extreme right-wing groups in South Florida that were planning and carrying out terrorist actions against the Caribbean nation.

In these texts, Alarcón exposes solid arguments and evidence of the responsibility of the U.S. Government not only in trying to silence this unjust case, but also in trying to promote terrorism against Cuba and to protect those who plan and carry out such actions.

“One after another, we have run out of options to release them through court action. A writ of habeas corpus is all that is left,” said the president of the Cuban legislative body.

“In order to free them, we need to mobilize many people, a ‘jury of millions’ as Gerardo has called it,” Alarcón noted. “The full innocence of our comrades is explicit in the official records of the U.S. Government and courts,” he pointed out.

Argentina: ex-military pay for their crimes

Ex-military chiefs punished by Argentinean court.
Source: South Journal, 15 July 2011.

Two ex-military officers were given life terms on Thursday for their crimes at an illegal prison known as “El Vesubio” where some 156 people were victimized during the last dictatorship that ruled Argentina.

The Buenos Aires Federal Court Four punished Hector Gamen (84) with life term; he is a retired brigadier general who was second commander of the Infantry Brigade during the dictatorship (1976-1983). Gamen was charged with 76 illegal imprisonments, torture and 16 homicides.

A similar sentence was given to Hugo Pascarelli (81), retired colonel and chief of the military wing of the “El Vesubio”. Pascarelli was processed under charges that included 15 illegal imprisonments of people, torture and two homicides.

These sentences coincided with the punishment demanded by the prosecution, the Argentinean Human Rights Secretariat, the Center of Legal and Social Studies, and two plaintiffs.

No punishment was imposed on Pedro Duran Saenz, ex-chief of the illegal prison, who was accused of 14 murders and 63 illegal imprisonments, because he died this year.

The court also sentenced Roberto Carlos Zeolitti to 18 prison years; Ricardo Martinez and Ramon Erlan to 20 and a half years; Diego Salvador 21 years and six months, and Jose Maidana to 22 years and sixth months. All these men were ex-penitentiary agents.

The “El Vesubio” illegal prison operated since august 1975, before the last dictatorship that began to rule the country in March 1976, and up to 1978. The jail was located in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, within the jurisdiction of the 1st Army Corps.

Some 2 500 people were taken to that prison, most of whom disappeared. The trial also addressed the disappearance of writer Haroldo Conti, writer Hector Oesterheld and movie maker Raymundo Gleyser.

The court heard the testimonies of 280 witnesses, 75 of whom are survivors of the El Vesubio. Some 30 000 people disappeared in Argentina during the last military dictatorship.

Cuba and China sign oil agreements

Chinese oil company signs offshore agreement
Source:, 09 June 2011.

After at least two years of ‘false alarms’ from U.S. politicians about Chinese oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, Chinese state oil company CNPC on June 5 agreed to contract five blocks in Cuban waters. Chinese involvement in offshore drilling in Cuba near U.S. waters is a politically sensitive issue in Washington.

CNPC will expand cooperation with CubaPetróleo (Cupet) in “exploring and developing new onshore and offshore oil blocks in Cuba,” CNPC said in a terse press release, without providing any details.

According to observers close to the negotiations, a framework agreement between CNPC and Cuban state oil company CubaPetróleo (Cupet) signed by the CEOs of both oil companies June 5 in Havana, in the presence of Vice President Xi Jinping and Raúl Castro, includes the contracting of blocks N19, N20, N21, N22 and N30 at the western edge of Cuba’s economic exclusive zone, adjacent to the maritime border with Mexico. China’s blocks are next to four blocks leased by Petrovietnam, and four blocks Angolan state company Sonangol is negotiating.

In addition to new exploration CNPC, under the “expanded cooperative framework agreement,” will provide help in reducing operating costs and raising output and recovery rates at existing on-shore oil fields.

The agreements also include a memorandum of understanding on “cooperation in engineering construction,” according to the press release. CNPC subsidiary China Huanqiu Contracting & Engineering Corp. agreed to be the contractor for the $6 billion expansion of a refinery in Cienfuegos, Reuters reported on Sunday. CNPC’s engineering construction may “help facilitate Cuba’s economic development and social progress,” the CNPC press release said, without providing any details.

The CNPC agreement is part of billions of dollars worth of economic support China agreed to provide during a visit of Vice President Xi Jinping to Havana. Xi is expected to be the next president of China.

China to play major role in Cuban oil development
Source: Reuters, 08 June 2011.

by Jeff Franks (Havana)

China looks ready to play a major role in the development of Cuban oil, including the island's soon-to-be explored fields in the Gulf of Mexico, after the signing of energy-related accords during a visit this week by Vice President Xi Jinping. The text of the agreements has not been disclosed, but they appear aimed at making China a significant oil partner with its fellow communist-run country, which is likely to raise eyebrows in the nearby United States.

State-owned China National Petroleum Corp said on Wednesday the accords committed the company to make "full use" of its oil expertise to help Cuba raise its oil output and "to expand cooperation with (state-owned) Cubapetroleo in exploring and developing new onshore and offshore oil blocks in Cuba."

Whether the agreement means CNPC has leased Gulf of Mexico blocks for exploration was not immediately clear.

But Jorge Pinon, a visiting fellow at Florida International University and expert on Cuban oil, said the Cubans have previously said they were discussing the leasing of five of their 59 offshore blocks to the Chinese. "All the pieces of the puzzle are finally falling into place," he told Reuters.

Those pieces include two other accords that commit the two countries to negotiate contracts for a major expansion of a Cuban oil refinery in the city of Cienfuegos, and the construction of a liquefied natural gas project, including a regasification plant, at the refinery.

Sources have said the projects would cost $6 billion, most of which would be provided by China and backed by oil from Venezuela. Socialist ally Venezuela and China are, respectively, Cuba's number one and two top trading partners.

Signatories to the three accords included Jiang Jiemen, the president of CNPC, indicating they were not idle promises. Xi and Cuban President Raul Castro attended the ceremony on Sunday in Havana. Xi is widely expected to succeed Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2013.

The agreements with China, which also is a major creditor to Cuba, come as Cuba awaits the arrival of a Chinese-built rig contracted by Spanish oil giant Repsol YPF to conduct the first full-scale exploration in Cuba's part of the Gulf of Mexico.

The high-tech Scarabeo 9 rig is expected to arrive in Cuban waters in late September or early October and start drilling the first of a series of wells planned by companies including Repsol, Malaysia's Petronas PETR.UL and a unit of India's ONGC.

Repsol's first well will be about 60 miles (100 km) from Florida, which is twice as close as drillers can get to the state's west coast in U.S. waters, due to a federal ban. Cuba says it may have 20 billion barrels of reserves, but the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated only 5 billion.

The prospect of Cuban drilling has touched off opposition from Florida lawmakers who say it threatens the state's environment and helps the Cuban government so hated by many in Miami, the center of the Cuban exile community.

They have filed bills in Washington attempting to thwart the drilling by punishing foreign companies and individuals who take part in Cuba's exploration. U.S. oil companies cannot work in Cuba due to the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against the island.

Repsol representatives met with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week to assure him they have solid safety plans in place should there be a blowout like that at the BP well last year off the Louisiana coast.

"It sounds as if the (U.S.) administration is trying to figure out how to work cooperatively with Repsol, and that is definitely in the U.S. national interest," said Cuba expert Phil Peters at the Lexington Institute think tank in Arlington, Virginia.

"Florida wants high standards of environmental protection in the gulf and Florida also doesn't want the U.S. to talk to Cuba. You can't have it both ways," he said.

Chinese involvement in Cuban waters would add a new element to the U.S. debate over relations with Cuba. Former Vice President Dick Cheney mistakenly said in 2008 that China was drilling in Cuban waters 60 miles (96 km) from Florida, and used it to argue the U.S. should step up its own drilling.

But China's presence also might be used by lawmakers who want to justify a hard line against Cuba's exploration plans. In 2005, the Chinese National Offshore Corp. tried to buy California-based oil company Unocal, but there was strong opposition in the U.S. Congress on grounds of national security. CNOOC withdrew its bid and China learned a lesson, Pinon said. "China learned how sensitive this country is to China's activities," he said. "China is a good political whipping boy."

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Chavez returns: The battle continues

by Sam McGill, 12 July 2011.

“ I swear to you that we will win this battle...we'll win it together. The battle for life, the homeland and the revolution!”

With these words, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, addressed 100,000 Venezuelans from Miraflores presidential palace, Caracas as part of a civic-military parade to mark 200 years of Independence from Spanish rule. His return to Venezuela muffled frenzied media speculation surrounding his health and ability to lead the Bolivarian Revolution, for now.

Chavez had been visiting Latin American and Caribbean countries in advance of the founding meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations (CELAC). Whilst in Cuba, Chavez was unwell and underwent emergency treatment in early June to remove a pelvic abscess. Thanks to the high standard of Cuban healthcare and medical attention, repeated checks on Chavez's health by Cuban doctors uncovered a small cancerous tumour which was then removed. Adding to Cuba's reputation as a leading healthcare provider, Chavez was able to return to Caracas just in time for the bicentennial independence celebrations on 5 July.

Media speculation:
True to form, Venezuela's opposition media and its international lackeys in the New York Times, CNN and the BBC, seized on the opportunity to attack Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution. Their aim was to create a climate of uncertainty about Venezuela's future, claiming that Chavez's absence was unconstitutional, and even spreading rumours that Chavez was in a coma or dead!

On Saturday 25 June, the Miami-based Spanish-language newspaper, El Nuevo Herald, published an article stating that Chavez was in a ‘critical’ and ‘serious’ state, according to comments supposedly made on Friday to the newspaper by ‘United States intelligence sources’. The paper quoted no other sources, nor did it explain how the US sources got this information.

Furthermore, on 26 June, a group called Wikileaks Argentina, not associated with the document-leaking organisation Wikileaks, put out a tweet saying that an Argentinian embassy cable had confirmed that Chavez had died of a heart attack in Cuba. The tweet prompted a range of articles, blog entries, and speculation, but was later revealed as a hoax and the twitter account was deleted.

This led the New Statesmen paper to headline with ‘Hugo Chavez: not dead’ and the BBC with ‘Absence of Ill Hugo Chavez sparks speculation’. During his time in Cuba, Chavez addressed Venezuela regularly by telephone, most notably on 10 June, then again on 30 June. Chavez participated in several working meetings with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s Vice-president Elias Jaua and the Head of Venezuela’s National assembly, Fernando Soto Rojas. Despite this the opposition and international media attempted to create confusion and panic.

Adding to international media attacks, on 3 July in the Observer, Rory Carroll paraded quotes from an interview with Noam Chomsky, claiming that Chomsky had turned on his ‘old friend’ Chavez. As usual Carroll selected his quotes carefully to portray Chomsky as accusing the socialist leader of ‘amassing too much power’ and of making an 'assault' on Venezuela's democracy. The tactic backfired as Chomsky publicly complained about the article, stating Carroll had been ‘quite deceptive’ and ‘dishonest’ in his portrayal of the interview. Chomsky demanded the news outlet print the interview in full and the Guardian was forced to highlight his complaints and publish the whole transcript. Although on this occasion Rory Carroll was exposed for his manipulative and biased journalism, the media affair adds to the barrage of attacks on Venezuela and Chavez.

To read the full story see ‘Chomsky Says UK Guardian article ‘Quite deceptive’ about his Chavez Criticism’.

Moreover, when Chavez signed accords and enacted a law from Cuba, the opposition crowed that this was unconstitutional and Chavez's absence and health required he step down from the presidency. One opposition legislator, Julio Borges, went so far as to say the President is prohibited from governing outside of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. This would imply that a Venezuelan president lost his powers once stepping outside the boundaries of the capital district, a ridiculous concept.

Article 234 of Venezuela's constitution stipulates that the country’s President can be temporarily absent for a total 180 days without having to delegate presidential powers to the Executive Vice-President. After an initial absence of 90 days, a second period of 90 days can be granted if approved by the majority of the National Assembly. Chavez has rarely had time off in the 12 years he has been President of Venezuela. This is in stark contrast to US president George Bush who in 2005 took a five week holiday. Bush is also known for having taken a month holiday just before the 11 September 2001 attacks, in the first year of his administration. By August 2006, he’d spent over a year of his presidency at his ranch, for an average of 9 weeks per year. In the US, the President frequently makes executive decisions while travelling abroad or away from the White House. President Obama even authorized the military attacks against Libya while on a visit to Brazil in March 2011 and just last month signed the extension of the controversial Patriot Act from France using a method called the “auto-pen”. The “auto-pen” is an automated signature issued without the presence of the President.

The media uproar is symptomatic of the opposition's obsession with demonizing Chavez and any progressive changes in Venezuela. As Eva Golinger, Venezuelan lawyer and author of ‘Postcards from the Revolution’ blog, rightly points out:

‘When he’s here, the opposition wants him gone, and has attempted everything from coup d’etats, economic sabotages, assassination attempts and even calling for foreign intervention, to get him out. When he’s temporarily absent, they want him back. When photographs and video images were shown of him from his recovery location in Havana, opposition spokespeople and media demanded he make a speech. When he’s in Venezuela making speeches and talking on television, they want him silenced.’

Venezuela: with or without Chavez:
During the bicentennial independence celebrations, Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution showed itself to be evermore determined to continue its path towards socialism and independence, with or without Chavez.

Elias Sanchez, communal council spokesperson in Merida affirmed, ‘Right now we're called on to reflect deeply and to double all our efforts for the transformation of society, that's how I feel right now. Rather than this fight for a just and sovereign country being over, now is when there is a people that is conscious of its responsibilities. We mustn't lose sight of our final objective, nothing should distract us. I want to say to Chavez, thank you for kindling the revolutionary flame, thank you for giving us the tools to make a revolution, thank you for broadening our collective memory and making us aware of our rebellious past…’

Elba de Alastra, of the San Antonio communal council in Coro, Falcon, added, ‘Although one day, there will have to be someone else, because he’s not immortal...No, no sir, this won’t stop our will drive it forward. Look at me, I’m retired, but am I at home? No. I’m out working for my community, the community that Chávez gave to us – we didn’t have this before - now the communities have the power, the communities make decisions. Last night it made us stronger, to see him there [following Chavez’s TV appearance from Havana on 30 June] and know that he is going to come out of this. We are more united than ever.’

Although it is clear that Chavez is key in driving the Bolivarian revolution forward, 12 years of struggle and progression has awakened a Venezuelan people who are determined to preserve the gains they have made. The millions of people who have benefited from free healthcare and education for the first time, the communal councils able to organise to meet the needs of their communities for the first time, Venezuela's indigenous populations whose rights, land and languages are enshrined in the constitution for the first time - this is a population who will fight to the bitter end against any return to the misery and poverty inflicted by decades of US domination.

Viva Venezuela! Viva Chavez!
Socialismo o Muerte!

Honduras: political statement of FARP

Political Statement of the Broad Front of People’s Resistance (FARP)
Source:, 11 July 2011.

Frente Amplio de Resistencia Popular - FARP

We want reconciliation but do not find any will; we demand freedom for political prisoners and an end to persecution.
We want JUSTICE; we are going to sue the material and intellectual authors of crimes against humanity.

The violent rupture of constitutional order produced on June 28, 2009 by undemocratic and oligarchic sectors with external support, that opposed the legitimate request from the former Constitutional President of the Republic, José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, known as the "the fourth ballot," interrupted a healthy process of evolution and transformation of electoral democratic culture to a participatory and sovereign democracy.

The immediate creation of a National Front of Resistance Against the Military Coup and its pacific struggle over two years across the country, produced a new political identity involving grassroots, democratic, progressive and revolutionary movements who fought throughout this period for the establishment of true democracy.

That instrument of the people which began as a response to the outburst of the sectors that led the coup, became the National Front of People's Resistance (FNRP), that in addition to sustaining the political demands for the return of exiles, Justice for those who were abused by the coup plotters, constituted the main trench of complaints against the constant violations of human rights and the rapid retreat of the workers victories during the last 50 years, mainly affecting the nation’s teachers, peasant farmers and the workers.

With the return of the 2006-2010 Constitutional President of the Republic and National Coordinator of the People's National Resistance Front, José Manuel Zelaya Rosales ,which occurred thanks to the Agreement for National Reconciliation subscribed by President Porfirio Lobo Sosa as Head of State of Honduras, and the Presidents Manuel Santos of Colombia and Hugo Rafael Chaves Frias of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. These new developments in the country oblige us to reaffirm our demand for due compliance of the people’s demands; the establishment of a National Constituent Assembly and the punishing violators of Human Rights.

During its recent National Assembly the Front decided to create the Broad Front of People’s Resistance for political participation in all electoral processes in the country, precisely with the intention to continue to show signs of the will for national reconciliation in the framework of peaceful rule and democracy for which the people of Honduras have been struggling during the last two years, demanding justice in the polls.

However, this reconciliation process has had serious obstacles to be immediately overcome in order to enable us to continue along that path of reconciliation. The case of political persecution of Lawyer Enrique Flores Lanza, former Minister of the Presidency in the government of “Citizen’s Power” and member of the Political Commission of the National Front, Rebecca Santos, prisoner in her own home country, as well as death threats to Father Fausto Milla of Copan and his assistant Denia Mejia, members of the coordination of the National Front, as well as the sustained denial of Honduran nationality to Father Andres Tamayo member of the Political Commission, are illustrations of actions that the Front is facing in this process of dialogue . Political will should be expressed precisely in the realm of actions and not only in statements convenient in the face of the international community.

On Thursday July 7, “Truth and Reconciliation Commission ”, created by the government of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, acknowledged that the events of June 28 constituted a coup.

In an extensive document, the Commission recommends to the State of Honduras:

"1. In Honduras the constitutional reform faces the problem that, paradoxically, because of the wording of Articles 373 and 374 of current Constitution, it seems impossible to reform the constitution so that it supports a comprehensive review of the text through a national constituent assembly, as this could be understood as a modification of the "unchangeable articles."

To find a solution to this dilemma, the Commission proposes to follow the parameters set by modern constitutional doctrine that defends the meta-juridical and meta-constitutional of the original power of a constituent assembly. "

Therefore, as it is established by the Constitution, all acts of “de facto” government that replaced the legitimate government are null. Beyond that, the demand is made of the State's obligation to compensate the victims and to punish the murderers, and the obligation to convene a National Constituent Assembly that leads to the creation of a New Constitution to guarantee the constitutional order of the Republic . As well as it has been said by the “True Commission”, which for over a year has fought against impunity and indifference, and whose views deserve to be incorporated in the opinion of the Commission.

We are in complete disposition to contribute to the processes of national reconciliation in the republic and the convening of a Constituent National Assembly provided that is recognized and undertaken upon the need to fully implement the reconciliation agreement signed by the President Lobo as head of the state.

Tegucigalpa July 9, 2011, Tegucigalpa MDC.

Translated by Political Organization Los Necios and FNRP's translators group from here.