Russian President Vladimir Putin has endorsed a call by his Argentinean counterpart Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to curb Western dominance in international politics.
Putin gave his support during a meeting with Kirchner in the Argentinean capital, Buenos Aires, on Saturday.
The Russian leader also said Moscow and Buenos Aires share a close view on international relations.
During the meeting, Kirchner emphasized that global institutions must be overhauled and made more multilateral, adding, “We firmly believe in multipolarity, in multilateralism, in a world where countries don’t have a double standard.”
In addition, the two leaders discussed military cooperation and oversaw their delegations signing a series of bilateral deals, including one on nuclear energy.
Putin’s visit to Argentina is part of his six-day tour of Latin America aimed at boosting trade and ties in the region, according to Russian state media.
The Russian leader’s trip will next take him to Brazil, where he is scheduled to attend the gathering of the economic alliance, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), in Brazil on July 15 and 16.
Putin’s Latin American tour began on July 11 in Cuba, where he met with President Raul Castro and his brother, Fidel Castro. During his stay in the capital, Havana, Putin signed a law writing off 90 percent of Cuba’s USD 35-billion Soviet-era debt.
Following his visit to Cuba, Putin made a surprise visit to Nicaragua, where he held talks with President Daniel Ortega.
Havana – The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) denounced the U.S.-imposed fine against the French bank BNP Paribas as an outrage against state sovereignty and the rules of free trade and international law.
A MINREX statement warns that with this new fine, the government of President Barack Obama has gone further than all his predecessors, accumulating penalties that exceed $11 billion USD against scores of entities, applied under many different sanctions regimes.
According to the statement, the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Justice and the state of New York imposed a record fine on June 30 of $8.97 billion USD against the French bank BNP Paribas, for disobeying Washington’s unilateral sanctions regimes against many countries.
In the specific case of Cuba, this bank institution is accused, according to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, of having processed thousands of transactions with the island’s entities, totaling more than $1.7 billion USD.
This fine, the largest imposed in history by the U.S. government for violations of its blockade on Cuba and current sanctions against third countries, violates the rules of International Law, and is described as an extraterritorial and illegal application of U.S. legislation against a foreign entity.
MINREX said that as a Free Trade Agreement between the United States and the European Union is being negotiated, it might be asked whether this is how the U.S. government intends to continue treating its allies.
BNP Paribas joins a long list of U.S. and foreign financial, trade, economic and other entities that have been the object of punitive measures, in the context of the worsening of the blockade and, especially, the financial persecution of Cuba.
Once again, the U.S. government has ignored the overwhelming international rejection of this criminal and failed policy against our nation, the Ministry said, qualifying the fine as an outrage against state sovereignty, and the rules of free trade and international law.
France’s biggest bank has reportedly agreed an $8-9 billion settlement with US prosecutors over hiding $30 billion in money transfers to countries on the US sanctions blacklist. The fine against BNP Paribas could be a record for this type of violation.
In the proposed settlement, BNP Paribas will plead guilty to criminal charges in early July, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing a source close to the matter. After admitting violating the International Economic Powers Act, the bank will temporarily be banned from doing deals in US dollars. France has warned this could have a negative effect on the stability of the euro zone.
The US Department of Justice is negotiating with BNP Paribas over the infractions, and the penalty could be the biggest of its kind. French President Francois Hollande said the fines are ‘unfair’ and ‘disproportionate’.
In 2012, the US fined HSBC $1.9 billion over similar US sanctions violations, and Credit Suisse pled guilty to concealing sanctions data and paid $2.6 billion in fines.
After examining over $100 billion of transactions, US authorities found that $30 billion were illegally conducted with Iran, Cuba, and Sudan as they are countries sanctioned by the US.
The infraction will force the company to reshuffle its US-based management, according to several sources. The Wall Street Journal reports 30 bank employees have already left, or will soon exit, the company.
First set at $3 billion, the penalty later was rumored to have reached $16 billion before the latest $8-9 billion figure. The largest fine on record for a bank is the $13 billion JPMorgan Chase & Co paid out for pre-crisis mortgage frauds. BNP Paribas has only set aside over $1 billion to pay out any potential fines, and a fine between $8-9 billion could nearly wipe out the company’s entire pre-tax earnings of $11.2 billion.
Once again, the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) joins hands with the people of Cuba and justice-loving people in every nook and cranny of the planet, in demanding the immediate release of the three remaining prisoners from the Cuban Five who are still languishing in US jails, after 13 years.
Two were released after completing their prison terms — Rene Gonzales on the 7th of October 2011, and Fernando Gonzales on the 27th of February 2014. It is important to emphasize that they walked to freedom with their dignity intact. The three who are still in jail — Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labanino — deserve our fullest support and solidarity. We should continue to campaign for them with all our heart and soul.
To reiterate, the imprisonment of all five is a travesty of justice. The Cuban Five were monitoring Cuban exile groups in the US in the nineties who had a proven record of committing terrorist acts against the Cuban people. They were gathering information about the terrorist missions that these groups were planning and had informed the US authorities about what they (the Cuban Five) were doing. And yet they were arrested and jailed after an unfair and unjust trial.
If the Cuban Five working under the direction of the Cuban government was determined to expose terrorist activities being carried out against their motherland from US soil, it was mainly because Cuba and its leadership had been victims of US sponsored terror and violence for decades. In 1976, a Cuban commercial plane with 73 passengers on board, a number of them school children, was bombed, killing everyone. The alleged mastermind of this terrorist act, Luis Posada Carriles, is still alive, protected by the US government. There was also an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba by groups in the US in 1961, the infamous ‘Bay of Pigs’ fiasco. A series of terrorist attacks targeting hotels and tourists in the nineties sought to cripple the Cuban economy. And there have been innumerable attempts to assassinate the Leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, right through the 47 years that he was in power. Add to all this the crippling economic sanctions imposed upon Cuba by every US Administration since 1961 and we will get a complete picture of how a small nation of 11 million people has had to endure the terror unleashed against it by its superpower neighbor.
Why has Cuba been the target of terrorism in all its manifestations for so long? The reason is simple. The US elite will not accept in its neighborhood, a nation which is determined to choose its own path to the future without being dictated to, or dominated by, the US. It will not tolerate a people who are committed to defending their independence and sovereignty. To put it in another way, the US drive for hegemony does not permit another nation— especially a nation with a different worldview — to preserve and enhance its dignity.
This hegemonic attitude is borne out by the US’s treatment of other countries in Latin America. Whenever a nation steps out of line, the US line, it is clobbered. Sometimes through terror and violence. Look at Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Uruguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, at different times and in different circumstances. Even in West Asia, terror has been employed to both undermine governments which want to maintain a degree of independence from the US and the West and to create instability and chaos in society. This is the story of Somalia and Sudan, of Libya and Lebanon, of Iraq and Syria. In Southeast Asia too, the Vietnamese, the Cambodians and Laotians have all experienced US terror, just as the people of the Philippines had in the past. Weren’t the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki also exposed to a US “rain of terror” in 1945?
Let’s be clear about this. Terrorism is a tool for dominance and control. Terrorism is a weapon of hegemony. The US — like some other states too—uses this weapon in both ways. It employs terror when it suits its interests. It also fights against terrorism when it serves its agenda. This is why for the US there are “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists.” It is quite happy to collude with the former and crush the latter.
This was obvious in Iraq following the Anglo-American occupation of the land in 2003. In the initial phase the occupier encouraged the Shia militias to fight the Sunni remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime. Once the Shias got into power through the democratic process and moved closer to Iran, the US became worried and backed Sunni militias fighting the Shia dominated government. Now of course, Sunni-Shia clashes, compounded by various other forces, have assumed a life of their own.
In Syria, it is an open secret that the US and other Western and regional actors have been actively involved in supporting the armed rebels against the Bashar al-Assad government in Damascus. Some of the rebels are favored more than others by the US just as other rebels are linked to some of the other external players. The good terrorists from the US perspective receive a lot of assistance including weapons and funds through channels connected to US allies in the region. Are there bad terrorists in the Syrian conflict? While the US may not approve of the tactics used by some of the rebels, it has refrained from strong denunciation of them since it shares their overriding objective of eliminating Assad. So it is Assad who is the bad terrorist in the eyes of the US. Assad is bad because he has been consistent in his opposition to US-Israeli hegemony over West Asia.
There is parallel of sorts to the Cuban situation. All those individuals and groups opposed to the Cuban government, however violent they may be, are good terrorists and have been bestowed with all kinds of aid by US agencies through various conduits. Fidel Castro, and his successor, Raul Castro, are the bad ones. Fidel in particular was demonized in the mainstream Western media as few other leaders had been. Needless to say, it was because of his principled position against US helmed hegemony, articulated with such depth and clarity, that a grossly negative image of the man was disseminated through the media.
But Fidel Castro and the Cuban Five have demonstrated that in the ultimate analysis truth will triumph. Today, Fidel commands a lot of respect and affection among ordinary men and women everywhere for what he has accomplished for his people and indeed for the people of Latin America and the Global South. Similarly, the cause of the Cuban Five has become one of the major rallying-points in the worldwide struggle for human freedom and human dignity because it symbolizes the struggle of the powerless against the powerful.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The United States State Department, in its infinite wisdom, has once again designated Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. The newest Country Report on Terrorism, issued on April 30, 2014, includes Cuba in a list of nations that “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism”. The island country in the Caribbean has been so designated since 1982.One reads about the U.S. calling any other nation a ‘sponsor of terrorism’ in shocked disbelief. That the U.S., the greatest purveyor of terrorism on the planet, has the audacity to accuse any other nation of sponsoring terrorism is beyond all credibility.
Just since the beginning of the new millennium, the U.S. has unleashed horrific terrorism on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths of at least hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, and the displacement of millions, and is currently sending drones to Yemen and other nations, ostensibly to kill ‘terrorists’, but resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Is this not terrorism?
And what of the U.S.’s continued and unwavering financial support of Israeli terrorism against the Palestinians? Not only does the U.S. finance that apartheid regime, it blocks any attempt by the international community to put a halt to it.
So 1982 is the year that the U.S. first decided that Cuba was a state sponsor of terrorism. This, despite U.S. antagonism toward that country since 1959, when the repressive and widely hated, U.S.-supported regime of Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by a popular resistance movement, led by the young leftist, Fidel Castro. At that time, the U.S. controlled 80% of Cuban utilities, 90% of its mines and cattle ranches, and nearly all of its oil refineries. No wonder Mr. Castro has incurred the wrath of the U.S. since then: when the American bottom line is threatened, no efforts are too great to protect it.
And what has the U.S., that shining beacon of peace, freedom and democracy, been doing on the world stage since 1982, when it first singled out Cuba as a terrorist state? It has either invaded, or covertly or overtly worked for the overthrow of the governments of the following countries, sometimes on multiple occasions, and sometimes constantly:
If one were to go back just to the middle of the twentieth century, these countries could be added to the list:
Democratic Republic of the Congo
And what of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, including waterboarding, which the United Nations and every civilized country in the world, except for the U.S., condemns? By any but U.S. standards, these are acts of terrorism.
And while we’re talking about Cuba, let’s not forget Guantanamo, the U.S.’s, Cuban-based torture chamber. And the U.S. policy of ‘extraordinary rendition’, the practice of kidnapping suspected terrorists and sending them to foreign countries where prohibitions against torture don’t exist, can only be seen as terrorism.
So while the U.S. wages war, tortures political prisoners, holds prisoners for years without any concept of due process, destabilizes democratically-elected governments which displease it, and finances governments with long records of the most shocking human rights abuses, it actually has the nerve to accuse another country of supporting terrorism.
The Cuban response to this designation is milder than one might expect. A statement from that country’s foreign ministry said that Cuba “… energetically rejects the manipulation of a matter as sensitive as international terrorism by turning it into an instrument of policy against Cuba and it demands that our country be definitively excluded from this spurious, unilateral and arbitrary list.”
So what are the specific reasons the U.S. has for continuing to designate Cuba a sponsor of terrorism? It hardly matters, considering the U.S.’s own ongoing, horrific terrorist activities around the globe, but let’s note them anyway.
* Past support for the Basque separatist group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna ( Basque Homeland and Freedom), and
* Support for Colombia’s FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels.
Yet the report concedes that Cuban ties to ETA ‘have become more distant’, and it points out that Cuba is hosting talks between the Colombian government and the FARC in Havana.
There are, of course, opposing views for why the U.S. actually has so designated Cuba:
Said Mauricio Claver-Carone, of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, an influential lobby group in Washington: Cuba “fails to meet the statutory criteria for being removed” (whatever that is).
Alana Tummino, director of policy at the Americas Society/Council for the Americas in New York, had a different view: “Sadly, unless the State Department has more evidence than it’s providing, it appears that political motivations have once again driven this determination.”
Can there be any doubt that political motivations are, in fact, behind the U.S.’s continuation of a policy that makes no logical sense? For nearly sixty years, the U.S. has embargoed, boycotted, sanctioned, blockaded and invaded Cuba, all because of ongoing resentment against the takeover by the government by Cubans from the Americans. The electoral vote in Florida is usually vital in presidential elections, and the importance of the Cuban-American voting bloc, although diminishing, is still worth courting. So such considerations as human rights, justice and statesmanship have no role in policy-making, when the goal is always re-election.
One looks in vain for any substantive change to U.S. policy towards Cuba.
Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Dill Press).
Cuban musician Juan Formell, leader and founder of the internationally recognized Los Van Van musical group, passed away on Thursday in Havana.
Formell, 71, was awarded with a Latin Grammy for Excellence in 2013.
A new investigation by the Associated Press into a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) project to create a Twitter-style social media network in Cuba has received a lot of attention this week, with the news trending on the actual Twitter for much of the day yesterday when the story broke, and eliciting comment from various members of Congress and other policy makers. The “ZunZuneo” project, which AP reports was “aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government,” was overseen by USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). AP describes OTI as “a division that was created after the fall of the Soviet Union to promote U.S. interests in quickly changing political environments — without the usual red tape.” Its efforts to undermine the Cuban government are not unusual, however, considering the organization’s track record in other countries in the region.
As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot described in an interview with radio station KPFA’s “Letters and Politics” yesterday, USAID and OTI in particular have engaged in various efforts to undermine the democratically-elected governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Haiti, among others, and such “open societies” could be more likely to be impacted by such activities than Cuba. Declassified U.S. government documents show that USAID’s OTI in Venezuela played a central role in funding and working with groups and individuals following the short-lived 2002 coup d’etat against Hugo Chávez. A key contractor for USAID/OTI in that effort has been Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI).
More recent State Department cables made public by Wikileaks reveal that USAID/OTI subversion in Venezuela extended into the Obama administration era (until 2010, when funded for OTI in Venezuela appears to have ended), and DAI continued to play an important role. A State Department cable from November 2006 explains the U.S. embassy’s strategy in Venezuela and how USAID/OTI “activities support [the] strategy”:
(S) In August of 2004, Ambassador outlined the country team’s 5 point strategy to guide embassy activities in Venezuela for the period 2004) 2006 (specifically, from the referendum to the 2006 presidential elections). The strategy’s focus is: 1) Strengthening Democratic Institutions, 2) Penetrating Chavez’ Political Base, 3) Dividing Chavismo, 4) Protecting Vital US business, and 5) Isolating Chavez internationally.
Among the ways in which USAID/OTI have supported the strategy is through the funding and training of protest groups. This August 2009 cable cites the head of USAID/OTI contractor DAI’s Venezuela office Eduardo Fernandez as saying, during 2009 protests, that all the protest organizers are DAI grantees:
¶5. (S) Fernandez told DCM Caulfield that he believed the [the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations Corps'] dual objective is to obtain information regarding DAI’s grantees and to cut off their funding. Fernandez said that “the streets are hot,” referring to growing protests against Chavez’s efforts to consolidate power, and “all these people (organizing the protests) are our grantees.” Fernandez has been leading non-partisan training and grant programs since 2004 for DAI in Venezuela.”
The November 2006 cable describes an example of USAID/OTI partners in Venezuela “shut[ting] down [a] city”:
11. (S) CECAVID: This project supported an NGO working with women in the informal sectors of Barquisimeto, the 5th largest city in Venezuela. The training helped them negotiate with city government to provide better working conditions. After initially agreeing to the women’s conditions, the city government reneged and the women shut down the city for 2 days forcing the mayor to return to the bargaining table. This project is now being replicated in another area of Venezuela.
The implications for the current situation in Venezuela are obvious, unless we are to assume that such activities have ended despite the tens of millions of dollars in USAID funds designated for Venezuela, some of it going through organizations such as Freedom House, and the International Republican Institute, some of which also funded groups involved in the 2002 coup (which prominent IRI staff publicly applauded at the time).
The same November 2006 cable notes that one OTI program goal is to bolster international support for the opposition:
…DAI has brought dozens of international leaders to Venezuela, university professors, NGO members, and political leaders to participate in workshops and seminars, who then return to their countries with a better understanding of the Venezuelan reality and as stronger advocates for the Venezuelan opposition.
Many of the thousands of cables originating from the U.S. embassy in Caracas that have been made available by Wikileaks describe regular communication and coordination with prominent opposition leaders and groups. One particular favorite has been the NGO Súmate and its leader Maria Corina Machado, who has made headlines over the past two months for her role in the protest movement. The cables show that Machado historically has taken more extreme positions than some other opposition leaders, and the embassy has at least privately questioned Súmate’s strategy of discrediting Venezuela’s electoral system which in turn has contributed to opposition defeats at the polls (most notably in 2005 when an opposition boycott led to complete Chavista domination of the National Assembly). The current protests are no different; Machado and Leopoldo López launched “La Salida” campaign at the end of January with its stated goal of forcing president Nicolás Maduro from office, and vowing to “create chaos in the streets.”
USAID support for destabilization is no secret to the targeted governments. In September 2008, in the midst of a violent, racist and pro-secessionist campaign against the democratically-elected government of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Morales expelled the U.S. Ambassador, and Venezuela followed suit “in solidarity.” Bolivia would later end all USAID involvement in Bolivia after the agency refused to disclose whom it was funding in the country (Freedom of Information Act requests had been independently filed but were not answered). The U.S. embassy in Bolivia had previously been caught asking Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars in the country to engage in espionage.
Commenting on the failed USAID/OTI ZunZuneo program in Cuba, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) commented that, “That is not what USAID should be doing[.] USAID is flying the American flag and should be recognized around the globe as an honest broker of doing good. If they start participating in covert, subversive activities, the credibility of the United States is diminished.”
But USAID’s track record of engaging in subversive activities is a long one, and U.S. credibility as an “honest broker” was lost many years ago.
For two years, starting in 2010, the United States Agency for International Development ran a social networking service — similar to Twitter — for the Cuban people. Its long-term objective was to foment popular revolt against the government and destabilize the country.
They called it “ZunZuneo” (Cuban slang for a hummingbird’s “tweet”) and launched it under absolute secrecy about who was really running it. “There will be absolutely no mention of United States government involvement,” according to a 2010 memo from one of the companies supposedly running the service. “This is absolutely crucial for the long-term success of the service and to ensure the success of the mission.”
The “mission” was to reach a critical mass of Cuban users by offering tweets on sports, entertainment and light news over the service and signing recipients up through word of mouth — you call a phone number and your phone is hooked up. With that critical mass in place, the tweets would start getting more political: inspiring Cuban citizens to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice to spark a kind of a “Cuban Spring” or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”
At one point there were 40,000 Cubans getting ZunZuneo tweets but the project was abandoned in 2012 when the initial funding ran out and the people who own the real Twitter refused to take it on.
The story, an investigative report by the Associated Press, is probably not surprising to most people in this country. After the NSA revelations, what could possibly surprise us? And besides, it would not be the first time that USAID was found doing the nefarious work of the CIA at undermining governments. But it is an embarrassing revelation about how our government is using the Internet and about how “hot” the Cold War remains.
There are also some serious legal issues.
One of the main organizers of the project — Joe McSpedon of the USAID — met with officials from a variety of fronting “sponsor companies” to launch the project in 2009-2010.
From the start, the program’s objective was clear: to de-stablize the government of Cuba, and destabilizing governments is something the United States is proficient at. There are few areas of the world whose history doesn’t include an attempt, often successful, by United States to overthrow a government. In fact, in Venezuela, Ukraine and various parts of Africa, South America and the “Middle East”, such efforts are currently ongoing. In most of these cases, the propaganda-preparing and deceit-dispensing USAID plays a central role.
But some U.S. Congressional officials seemed to think this went further. Vermont Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Appropriations Committee’s State Department and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, called the program “dumb, dumb, dumb” today on MSNBC. He denied knowing anything of the program but said that, if he had, “I would have said, ‘What in heaven’s name are you thinking?’”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted that the government was only thinking of improving Cuban’s lives and had done everything “by the law”.
But that’s questionable. The program’s initial recruitment drive was based on a list of a half million Cuban cellphone users apparently stolen from Cuba’s most prominent cellphone company. An employee of that company apparently gave up the information to USAID. Those are stolen phone numbers and also involved an invasion of privacy, which is illegal under any law.
The USAID staffers also set up a series of “front” companies in Spain, Mexico and possibly other countries, to act as the new service’s sponsors. The service, with those companies displaying phony ads and messages on its website, then texted the half million stolen numbers with an offer to join up. That goes way beyond “false advertising” and is absolutely illegal in most countries, including the United States.
Finally, there is the intent of the program (the real reason that USAID wanted to hide its role). You can insult other leaders and even threaten them under international law, but you can not, ever, intervene to overthrow another country’s government. That the United States does this all the time only means that it’s breaking the law all the time.
The exposure of the Zunzuneo story is likely to lead to a new look at the role of USAID in other parts of the world where there are seemingly “popular” risings against elected governments, such as Ukraine and Venezuela.
The truth is that this Zunzuneo program actually addressed a real need, or at least took advantage of one. Cuban communications officials have been reluctant to open Internet access to the country. Then there are the problems of a still developing infrastructure (electricity and phone wires are still in scarce supply). Plus there is the lack of home computers, which only exacerbates the problem. With cell phones now available to many Cubans, the thirst for an information source over the Internet is increasingly being felt.
Which is one good reason many other Latin American leaders, some of them friends of Cuba, are advising the Cuban government to make connectivity a priority in their country. Without an on-line connection to the rest of the world, exploitative criminals like those at the USAID can make their moves.
- ‘Cease illegal activity against Cuba': Havana slams Washington for ‘Twitter’ program (rt.com)
- US Secretly Created ‘Cuban Twitter’ To Stir Unrest (mintpressnews.com)
A new investigation reveals that the US government has secretly funded a social media network program to instigate political unrest in Cuba.
The administration of US President Barack Obama has been secretly financing the project, dubbed “Cuban Twitter,” for more than two years to undermine the Caribbean country’s government, according to an investigation by the Associated Press.
The program has reportedly been able to evade Cuba’s Internet restrictions by creating a text-messaging service that could be used to organize political rallies.
The service drew in tens of thousands of subscribers who were unaware of Washington’s scheme. The investigation showed that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has gone to extensive lengths to conceal its involvement in the program.
It also added that USAID set up front-companies overseas and routed money through a Cayman Islands bank to hide the funding it supplied to support the Cuban Twitter project.
Havana and Washington have been at odds since the Cuban revolution, led by Fidel Castro, toppled Fulgencio Batista’s regime in 1959. The US started imposing measures on the same year and placed an official embargo against Cuba in 1962.
Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla said that after the 2008 US presidential election, Obama had promised a new beginning with Cuba but “the reality of the last four years has been characterized by a persistent tightening of the economic, commercial, and financial blockade.”
“Cuba is already ours. I feel it in my finger’s ends.”
– James Buchanan, 1849
Historian Walter Johnson’s highly recommended book, “River of Dark Dreams,” centers on cotton production and slave ownership in the Mississippi River Valley prior to the U.S. Civil War. Planters, it seems, believed their fate was linked to imperatives imposed through an internationalized system of sales, manufacture, and re-supply. Johnson’s spirited, enthralling narrative casts slave ownership and cotton growing as precarious undertakings. Planters on the edge of disaster strategized and improvised in order to retain both land and slaves.
Their intransigence vis-à-vis northern compatriots derived, Johnson suggests, from immersion in a labyrinth-like alternative universe that set conditions for their economic survival. Planters were alienated enough from pretensions of their own government to seek deliverance through privatized military interventions in countries seen as hospitable to plantations and slavery.
Johnson focuses on actualities and people’s lives rather than on well-trodden slavery-era themes like abolitionism, or northern industrialization, or states rights . Social and economic history in his hands tells of ledger books; cotton “pickability;” slaves starving, stolen, rebelling, and running away; search dogs; slave babies dying, slave prices, soil fertility, droughts, sandbars, and Haiti. Steamboats feature prominently, along with their explosions, gamblers, races, high-pressure engines, and dining room etiquette. They were technological marvels of their era and absolutely crucial for marketing cotton.
During the period under study, Valley cotton production increased fortyfold, the slave population, 17 times. “The greatest economic boom in the history of the United States” was in progress. Cotton was “the largest single sector of the global economy.” Planters were part of “a network of material connections that stretched from Mississippi and Louisiana to Manhattan and Lowell to Manchester and Liverpool.” Indeed, the “rate of exploitation of slaves in a field in Mississippi … was keyed to the exchange in Liverpool (port of entry for 85 percent of U.S. planters’ cotton) and the labor of mill hands in Manchester.”
In New York southern cotton was re-sold, re-graded, and re-loaded onto other ships for the Atlantic crossing. That city consumed 40 percent of all income generated through cotton sales. Cotton made up two thirds of all U.S. exports. Yet only 10 percent of U.S. imports ended up in cotton-producing states. Southern manufacturers lacked essential equipment manufactured abroad. Cotton producers endured shortages of imported plantations supplies.
Johnson characterizes “the conceptual reach of the global economy in the first half of the nineteenth century” as “lashes into labor into bales into dollars into pounds sterling.” Cotton moved from plantations, to factors in New Orleans, to bankers and shippers in New York, to bankers, buyers, and manufacturers in England, all on a flood of promissory notes, loans, credit, and deductions.
Planters’ wealth took the form of slaves and land. Although land served as collateral for loans, “without slaves, land itself was worthless.” In effect, planters “buy Negroes to plant cotton and raise cotton to buy Negroes.” Facing hard times, slaveholders as a class could not simply transfer their investment from one form of capital to another… Their capital would not simply rust or lie fallow. It would starve. It would steal. It would revolt.”
Influential trade representatives and publicists determined upon a “spatial fix.” They envisioned the Mississippi River as conduit to southern venues favorable to cotton production and other investment possibilities. “In order to survive, slaveholders had to expand,” the author points out: “Proslavery globalism increasingly took the form of imperialist military action.”
“[F]or many in the Mississippi Valley … the most important issue in the early 1850s was Cuba.” Pursing annexation, former Spanish soldier Narciso López in 1851 invaded the island with troops drawn from “the margins of the cotton economy.” Slaveholders had donated supplies. The expedition failed, and López’ execution in Havana attracted 20,000 spectators. Former Mississippi governor and co-conspirator John Quitman raised 1000 men in 1855 for another invasion, which never materialized.
Johnson reviews the career also of slaveholder proxy William Walker whose small army in 1855 subdued Nicaraguan defenders and set him up as the country’s president. Mississippi Valley supporters provided supplies, arms, troops, and ample publicity.
Were slave-owners capitalist? Johnson rejects the notion of slavery as an “archaic” pre-capitalist mode of exploitation. He settles on “a materialist and historical analysis [that] begins from the premise that there was no nineteenth century capitalism without slavery.” [...]
Johnson documents early stirrings of U.S. imperialism. The take among many leftists is that capitalism by its very nature entails recurring crises in accumulation. They assume too that for solutions capitalists look to overseas extension of their operations, even to war making. Thus slave owner longings for exploitative possibilities in the Caribbean and in Central America fueled military adventurism. “River of Dark Dreams” serves in this regard to have documented the beginnings of a U.S. turn toward a global fix for close-to-home economic incongruities. – Full review
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.
The New York-based nonprofit Inter-religious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) announced on Jan. 6 that the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has recommended ending the group’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Founded in 1967 by the late Rev. Lucius Walker [see Update #1048], IFCO is the first national foundation in the US controlled by people of color. It is probably best known as the sponsor of Pastors for Peace, which for the past 22 years has organized the US-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan, an annual shipment of humanitarian aid to Cuba; Pastors for Peace has also provided humanitarian aid for Nicaragua, Haiti and other countries.
The IRS’s two-year investigation started with a letter to the service from two members of Congress—Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC)—suggesting that IFCO was tied to terrorist organizations because of some $1.2 million in aid it sent to the people of Gaza through the Viva Palestina group in 2009. In its report, the IRS cites a “comprehensive report” by Steve Emerson’s notoriously inaccurate Investigative Project on Terrorism to suggest that some of the aid may have gone to the Hamas organization, which the US lists as a terrorist group. The IRS also charges that the Friendshipments and some aid for US medical students in Cuba may violate the 50-year US embargo against Cuba. In an appeal by New York attorney Martin Stolar, IFCO denies sending aid to Hamas; notes that the relevant US agency, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), has never penalized it for the Friendshipments; and states that OFAC has licensed the medical students to spend money in Cuba.
IFCO has asked supporters to contact US Congress members “and let them know that we need their support. Ask them to contact the Treasury Department to ask them to stop this political persecution and harassment against IFCO.” Treasure can also be contacted directly by fax at 202-622-6415 or via internet at http://www.treasury.gov/connect/Pages/contact-us.aspx. (IFCO letter 1/6/14; Vice (Montreal) 1/8/14; Ahora (Cuba) 1/10/14 from Radio Havana)