Monday, 22 December 2014

Counting down to zero hour

WWIII - The Calm Before The Storm

In historical terms these are the final seconds of the 11th hour, and the clock is ticking.

21 December, 2014

"World War III" is a loaded term (as are many historical references). It assumes that these tragic mass murders that humanity calls war, are isolated events with distinct beginnings and ends. This kind of over simplification obscures the multi-generational chain reactions that lead up to that moment when swords are drawn or missiles fly.

Of course, there is another reason that the public is rarely conscious of these chain reactions. The ruling classes learned long ago that the best way to take a nation to war, is to trick them into it.
Vietnam was an extension of the Cold War, which was an extension of World War II, which was a direct result of the terms imposed on Germany following World War I.
This multifaceted conflict that is unfolding right now between the declining powers of the West and geopolitical and economic upstarts from the East may not end up being labeled as "World War III" in the history books. Perhaps they'll continue to label each phase with a catchy name, like "Operation Baltic Freedom" or "Operation Siberian Storm". Whatever.
On the other hand, if someone does something stupid, history books may not make it through the aftermath at all. Of course I would never insinuate that the United States government would ever do anything stupid. It's not like the country is run by a gaggle of war mongering imbeciles. Well, actually, I suppose that depends on how you define the word "imbecile".
Congress did just pass Resolution 758, and the "The Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014" which lay the foundation for open and direct conflict between the U.S. and Russia (the law provides for lethal aid to Kiev), more sanctions are on the table, and of course if you've been paying attention you might have noticed that Washington is playing a game of high stakes chicken with oil prices,with a little help from our good friends the Saudis. All the while playing hardball with China in South East Asia, and ramping up production of nuclear weapons while their puppets in Kievcontinue to shell civilians in eastern Ukraine. What could possibly go wrong?

Heading into 2015, it may have appeared that we were having something of a calm before the storm, but that was an illusion (created by selective reporting). This war is already hot on multiple fronts. It has been for years. All it takes is one stupid move for proxy wars to cut out the middle man, and then all bets are off.
To even consider a direct military confrontation between the U.S. and Russia is insane. The consequences would be nothing short of unthinkable. Yet, humanity seems to be sleepwalking right into that very scenario.
Could we as a people stop this? Of course we could. These so called rulers don't actually have power, they just have your obedience.
Will you withdraw that obedience, on time, or will you continue to allow yourself to be distracted by bread, circuses, and pointless bickering?
If you were planning on shifting gears, now would be the time to do it. In historical terms these are the final seconds of the 11th hour, and the clock is ticking.

Song of the day

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

Compassion is universal

Watch: Monkey saves 'dying' friend

No more monkey business: this little guy refuses to give up on his mate

21 December, 2014

A monkey has seemingly saved the life of a fellow primate after it was hurt on railway lines in India.

The monkey was electrocuted as it walked on high tension wires in Kanpur's railway station, falling unconscious on to the tracks#

As commuters watched from the busy platform, the extraordinary footage shows a fellow primate apparently attempting to resuscitate the animal by repeatedly biting, hitting and dunking him in water

The electrocuted monkey, a bit soggier and groggier than normal, is eventually revived and the pair are filmed walking away

Racism in the United States

Angela Davis: ‘There is an unbroken line of police violence in the US that takes us all the way back to the days of slavery’

The activist, feminist and revolutionary explains how the ‘prison industrial complex’ profits from black people, that Barack Obama can’t be blamed for the lack of progress on race, and why Beyoncé is not a terrorist

Angela Davis, 1974.
Angela Davis, 1974. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex

14 December, 2014

There is an unbroken line of police violence in the United States that takes us all the way back to the days of slavery, the aftermath of slavery, the development of the Ku Klux Klan,” says Angela Davis. “There is so much history of this racist violence that simply to bring one person to justice is not going to disturb the whole racist edifice.”

I had asked the professor, activist, feminist and revolutionary, the woman whom Richard Nixon called a terrorist and whom Ronald Reagan tried to fire as a professor, if she was angered by the failure of a grand jury to indict a white police officer for shooting dead an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this year. “The problem with always pursuing the individual perpetrator in all of the many cases that involve police violence,” the 70-year-old replies, “is that one reinvents the wheel each time and it cannot possibly begin to reduce racist police violence. Which is not to say that individual perpetrators should not be held accountable – they should.”

We’re talking at the Friends Meeting House in London before a memorial service to her friend and colleague Stuart Hall, the black British cultural studies theorist and sociologist, who died in February. It was Hall, she tells me, as much as her mentor, the German Jewish philosopher Herbert Marcuse, who made her think about the structural issues in any given political struggle.

Not that Davis is insensitive to the outrage over specific cases of police violence against black men, be it the riots in Ferguson, the worldwide protests over the death of Eric Garner in police custody, or Trayvon Martin. Davis focuses on the latter to make an incendiary point about the racism endemic in Obama’s America. 

In 2012, she reminds me, Martin, a black high school student, was fatally shot at a gated estate in Florida by George Zimmerman, a white neighbourhood watch coordinator. Zimmerman, who was later acquitted of Martin’s killing, reminds her of “those who were part of the slave patrols during the slave era”.

"‘People like to point to Obama and hold him responsible for the madness’ … Angela Davis.
‘People like to point to Obama and hold him responsible for the madness’ … Angela Davis. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Guardian

Surely the lives of African-Americans in 2014 are better than during the days of slavery? Yet Davis isn’t the only black American intellectual to be less than sanguine. Professor Cornel West recently said that the US still has in effect a “Jim Crow criminal justice system” that “does not deliver justice for black and brown people”. Davis agrees. “You have this huge population of people who come up against the same restrictions that the Jim Crow south created,” she says. The segregation laws that existed until 1965 in the American south, where she grew up, might have gone but, as Davis points out, racist oppression remains.
One key feature of that racist oppression, Davis says, is what she and other leftist intellectuals call the “prison industrial complex”, the tawdry if tacit alliance between capitalism and a structurally racist state.

The massive over-incarceration of people of colour in general in the US leads to lack of access to democratic practices and liberties. Because prisoners are not able to vote, former prisoners in so many states are not able to vote, people are barred from jobs if they have a history of prison.”

But, lest Britons get complacent, Davis tells me, “the proportion of black people in prison in Britain is larger than the proportion of black people in prison in the United States”.

In Davis’s philosophy, this should come as no surprise; for her, the prison industrial complex is not just a racist American money-making machine, but a means to criminalise, demonise and profit from the world’s most powerless people. “I think it is important to realise that this is not just a US phenomenon, it’s a global phenomenon. The increasing shift of capital from human services, from housing, jobs, education, to profitable arenas has meant there are huge numbers of people everywhere in the world who are not able to sustain themselves. They are made surplus, and as a result they are often forced to engage in practices that are deemed criminal. And so prisons pop up all over the world, often with the assistance of private corporations who profit from these surplus populations.”

If structural racism and state violence against African-Americans, aided and abetted by global capitalism, are as rampant as Davis says, isn’t she disappointed in the failure of the US’s first African-American president to speak out when a case comes up that seems to dramatise what she is indicting? Davis smiles and recalls a conversation she had with Hall two months before his death. “We talked about the fact that people like to point to Obama as an individual and hold him responsible for the madness that has happened. Of course there are things that Obama as an individual might have done better – he might have insisted more on the closing of Guantánamo – but people who invested their hopes in him were approaching the issue of political futures in the wrong way to begin with. This was something Stuart Hall always insisted on – it’s always a collective process to change the world.”
Davis gives her first news conference after being released on bail, 1972.

Isn’t she letting Obama off the hook? “Perhaps we should always blame ourselves,” she says. “Why have we not created the kind of movement that would put more pressure on Obama and force the Obama administration to deal with these issues? We might have arrived at a much better healthcare plan if those of us who believe healthcare is a human right were out on the streets, as opposed to the Tea Party.”

This is classic Davis – offering bracing analysis that, instead of blaming someone else, puts responsibility for changing the world in our hands. For all that Davis was the late 60s/early 70s radical who stuck it to the man, for all that her indomitable spirit and iconic hairdo made her a poster girl for African-Americans, feminists and anyone with a radical consciousness, this is perhaps Davis’s key significance now – a woman who comes at the hottest political issues from unexpected and inspiring angles. For instance, the day before we meet, at a keynote lecture titled Policing the Crisis Today at a conference honouring Hall at Goldsmith’s, she spoke about racist violence, but focused on the case of Marissa Alexander, jailed for 20 years for firing a warning shot over the head of her estranged, unharmed husband, who attacked and threatened to kill her. “Let us ask ourselves what is so threatening abut a black woman in the southern United States who attempts to defend herself against so-called domestic violence,” said Davis, as she finished her speech to rapturous applause.

Why, I ask Davis, the day after, did you focus on Alexander’s case? “We rarely hear about the women,” she replies. “Just because the majority of the prison population is male doesn’t mean we need to start with their experience.”
Davis has long campaigned against prisons, regarding them as brutalising racist institutions from which, latterly, big bucks are to be made. After her speech, when she is asked why the white cops who shoot black men shouldn’t face jail, Davis stands her ground arguing that the institution of prison “only reproduces the problem it putatively solves”. Not that she has any answers about what the alternative to this prison industrial complex might be. “I don’t think there’s a predetermined answer, but I want us to think.”
Davis's wanted poster from 1970.
"Davis’s wanted poster from 1970. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

Someone else asks Davis if Beyoncé is a terrorist. The audience giggles, but the question is serious. During a panel discussion on liberating the black female body earlier this year, feminist activist bell hooks described Beyoncé as a terrorist and anti-feminist who was “colluding in the construction of herself as a slave”. In an emollient reply, Davis said that she liked the fact that Beyoncé had sampled Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech on feminism on her album.
The following day, I ask Davis more about it. “Whatever problems I have with Beyoncé, I think it is so misleading and irresponsible to use that word in connection with her. It has been used to criminalise struggles for liberation. But we don’t use the word terror and terrorism to describe US history and the racism of the pre-civil rights era.”

Certainly the terror, if that’s the word, that was perpetrated on African-Americans when Davis was a girl in pre-civil rights Birmingham, Alabama, is burned into her consciousness. She was born in 1944 in a city that was to become notorious during the civil rights struggles for setting dogs and turning hoses on African-Americans seeking the vote – and much much worse. “I grew up at a time when, as a response to an interracial discussion group I was involved in, the church where we were having the discussions was burned. I grew up at a time where black people would move in to the white neighbourhood right across the street from where we lived, and bombs would be set in those houses. I’ve never heard the word terrorism used in that context, but on the other hand it is used to evoke this sense of danger coming from the outside without ever recognising the extent to which the history of the United States has been a history of terror against indigenous people, a history of terror against people of African descent.”

Davis looks at me and laughs: “So, to call Beyoncé a terrorist just does not work!”

The word terrorist has a deeper personal resonance. That is what president Nixon called Davis when, 44 years ago, she was one of the FBI’s top 10 most wanted, a fugitive from so-called justice. She was finally arrested and faced charges of conspiracy to kidnap and murder, charges for which she could have been executed. At her trial in 1972, she was acquitted, while other co-defendants, former Black Panthers whom she insists are political prisoners, were less fortunate: “My former co-defendant Ruchell Magee has been in prison for 51 years now.” There are many other such political prisoners from that Black Panther era still languishing unjustly in jail, she says. George Jackson, whom she once called her “lifetime” husband (even though the pair never married), is not among them: he was shot dead in 1971 during an attempted prison breakout, three days before he was due to stand trial for the murder of a white prison guard. Davis has not married since.

I ask her about another Black Panther, Albert Woodfox, jailed for armed robbery and later convicted with two other men for the murder of a prison guard at Louisiana State Penitentiary (also known as Angola prison); last month, Woodfox had his conviction overturned after enduring 42 years in solitary confinement. “Of course I’m so happy, having been involved in the campaign to free the Angola Three for many many years, but why has it taken so long?”
Demonstrators protest against the death of Michael Brown, St Louis, November 2014.

"Demonstrators protest against the death of Michael Brown, St Louis, November 2014. Photograph: Jewel Samad

If the Black Panthers were active in 2014, Davis believes “they’d be on the receiving end of the war on terror”. She cites Assata Shakur, the activist and Black Panther supporter who was convicted as an accomplice to the murder 40 years ago of a New Jersey state trooper, and was put on the FBI’s most-wanted list earlier this year. “I think that the move to designate Assata a terrorist and to post a $2m reward for her capture, which means that any of the mercenaries from the new privatised security firms might try to travel to Cuba [where Shakur has been living for 35 years], capture her and bring her back for the $2m reward, that is not so much an attack on Assata – which it is – but it sends out a message to vast numbers of young people who identify with her. Her autobiography is very popular and it seems to me that that is the message to young people today: ‘Watch out! If you get involved in progressive struggles, radical movements, this is how you will be treated – you will be treated as a terrorist.’”

Still, Davis thinks young people now are made of sterner stuff than to be browbeaten by a terrorising state. “I’m very, very hopeful. I hear people repeatedly referring to the apathy of young people but there are probably more people who are actively involved in radical political projects in the US today than there were in the 1960s.”

She takes particular succour from the Occupy movement, at whose encampments she spoke repeatedly in 2011. “They didn’t know necessarily where they were going but they did know they were standing up to capitalism.” For a veteran communist (Davis stood twice as vice-presidential candidate for the Communist party USA in the 1980s), that anti-capitalism is especially heartening. 

“I think the influence of Occupy will continue even though the encampment could only exist for a very defined period of time. One can see the influence of Occupy in the Ferguson demonstrations now, in the sense that they recognise that it’s not only about demanding that this one individual cop be convicted but it’s also about recognising the connection between racist violence and the profit machine. That’s what we’re fighting against.”

Sony Hack Re-ignites Questions about Michael Jackson's Banned Song

D.B. Anderson

18 December, 2014

As the Black Lives Matter movement grew in reaction to the lack of indictments in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Michael Jackson's 1995 song "They Don't Care About Us" was resurrected at the grass roots level in many cities including Ferguson, New York, and California.

"They Don't Care About Us" was denounced by The New York Times even before its release, and did not reach much of its intended audience because the controversy caused by the New York Times article would go on to overshadow the song itself. Radio stations were reluctant to play it and one of the short films Jackson created for the song was banned in the U.S.

Bernard Weinraub, husband of Sony Pictures Chief Amy Pascal, was the writer of the Times article.

"They Don't Care About Us" was Jackson's statement against abuse of power and the political corruption that enabled it. Two key events inspired the song:
  • In 1992, five white police officers who stood trial in Los Angeles for the videotaped beating of Rodney King were found not guilty by a jury with no African American members. Then, as now, there were riots and protests about longstanding policies of racial profiling and systemic police brutality.
  • The following year, Jackson, who had not been charged with any crime, was forced to undergo a humiliating 25 minute strip search by the same LAPD. The Santa Barbara District Attorney and police detectives arrived at Jackson's home in Los Olivos, California with a photographer who documented his private parts on film.
Black man, blackmail
Throw your brother in jail
All I wanna say is that
They don't really care about us

Bernard Weinraub's pre-release story accused Jackson of having "bigoted lyrics" in the song. He described the entire HIStory album as "profane, obscure, angry and filled with rage."

His piece touched off a firestorm of other negative media coverage. The criticism was disingenuous, as the lyrics were taken out of context and Jackson was very clear about his true intention. The critics were overwhelmingly white.

Many of Weinraub's email messages to Pascal were exposed in the Sony hack; one advised her to fire an executive which she promptly did; another stated outright that he had special access and influence with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

Pascal was previously Vice President of Columbia Pictures, where Jackson, who wanted to star in films, had a motion picture contract that was never fulfilled. Later she became head of Sony Columbia Pictures. Jackson's recording contract was with Epic, a division of Sony.

Weinraub, who is now a playwright, was a respected New York Times reporter on the Hollywood beat until his relationship with Pascal created a conflict of interest that began to anger the subjects of his articles. Weinraub admitted to as much in his farewell column at the New York Times.

Weinraub's cozy relationships in Hollywood included David Geffen. Geffen had worked closely with Jackson, convincing him to replace his key advisors with ones hand-picked by Geffen, according to Zack O. Greenburg's Michael Jackson, Inc.

When the controversy over "They Don't Care About Us" arose, Jackson asked Geffen for public support, but he would not go on record. Jackson's manager, Geffen's pick Sandy Gallin, refused to speak on television. He fired Gallin and never spoke to either of the men again.

Geffen refused to be interviewed about Jackson for Greenburg's book.

Jackson and Spike Lee made two separate short films for "They Don't Care About Us." "He was not having good relations [with Sony/Epic]...there was friction there," said Spike Lee in a recent interview with Iconic magazine.

The first version, recorded in Brazil, features the Afro-Brazilian drumming group Olodum. If you're familiar with the song, this is the version you've probably seen. Already in production at the time of the controversy, it uses sound effects to obscure the objectionable words.

But the "Prison" version is a tour de force; Jackson had even more to be angry about. Jackson and Lee chose to film in a Long Island jail, said Lee, because "a lot of people in prison shouldn't be there. A lot of people are there for a much longer time too. In American prisons, there are more brown and black people than white."

All Jackson's frustrations seem to be on display in this raw and angry performance. Behold:

Jackson would not win though - at least not then: the Prison version was banned from American television.

Jackson would later go on to have a public feud with executives at Sony Music, accusing them of racism. His protests were eyed skeptically by many at the time.

One particularly vicious 1995 Newsday review of this song read in part: "When Michael Jackson sings 'They Don't Care About Us' you've got to wonder who he thinks 'us' is."

The Black Lives Matter protestors don't wonder.

America has Cuban oil in its sights

When asked by Thom Hartmann about the connection between events in Cuba and attempts to collapse the Russian economy by manipulating oil prices Prof. Stephen Cohen said, as a professor, “I don’t know”, but proceeded to talk about how Ronald Reagan had done the exact same to bring down the Soviet economy.

No doubt whatsoever about what is going on now. 

The American corporations have Cuban resourses in their sights and aim to cut Russia out of the equation while taking revenge on Venezuela.

Cuban Oil May Prove A Boon For U.S. Companies
Ari Philips

21 December, 2014

With diplomatic relations warming between the U.S. and Cuba, oil and gas companies may train their sights on what’s off Cuba’s coast — large oil reserves. Right now Cuba produces just over 50,000 barrels per day of oil and relies on Venezuela for around another 100,000 bpd. However with Venezuela’s economy reeling from the staggering drop in oil prices this year, Cuban officials want to avoid the impacts of a sudden drop in Venezuelan support. The commitment by Cuba and the U.S. to normalize relations may allow Cuba to buy more oil on the open market, and for U.S. companies to bring expertise and experience to tap into the country’s offshore reserves.

This outcome is far from certain. With Saudi Arabia refusing to cut oil output, which would stabilize prices, and previous offshore efforts yielding unsuccessful results, many experts believe that most of Cuba’s 124 million barrels will remain inaccessible. Brazilian, Malaysian and Spanish companies have failed to produce any major wells during exploration efforts in the last few years. Pavel Molchanov, an energy company analyst with Raymond James, told Politico that there is “not going to be a Cuban oil rush.”

Even if there is no rush, the arrival of U.S. oil and gas firms could help boost production through better drilling services. Jorge Piñon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program at the University of Texas, told FuelFix that if companies like Halliburton and Schlumberger gave technological assistance to Cuba, the country could significantly increase the amount of oil it recovers from its current wells. He also said that Cuba wants to avoid the type of economic pain it experienced after foreign aid dried up along with the fall of the Soviet Union — something that could foreseeably happen with Venezuela if oil prices don’t rebound.

With a major leap into Cuban oil looking doubtful for economic and geologic reasons, one actual benefit that may be more likely is an increase in safety measures and precautions for the drilling and refining that does take place — including responses to any spills. Cuba borders the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast, and is susceptible to offshore disasters like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion near the U.S. coast. Spill containment equipment developed to deal with Deepwater Horizon-type events will likely be held up by the current embargo because the products are produced by U.S. firms. The U.S. embargo of Cuba remains in place as Obama needs the Republican-controlled Congress to help him in normalizing these economic relations. As it stands, anything made from more than 10 percent U.S. parts cannot be sold to Cuba or a Cuban contractor.

As these economic barriers and incentives play out, the U.S., Cuba, and Mexico will have to determine how to divide up the Gulf of Mexico.

Previous agreements between the United States and Cuba delimit the maritime space between the two countries within 200 nautical miles from shore,” the White House said in a release. “The United States, Cuba and Mexico have extended continental shelf in an area within the Gulf of Mexico where the three countries have not yet delimited any boundaries.”

The Cuban government is also looking to diversify its energy sources, and increase renewable energy capacity in an effort to improve energy security. Based primarily on solar, wind, and small hydropower, Cuba aims to get 24 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Cuba opened its first solar farm in 2013 and has plans for at least six more.

Quite a number of people now are saying that the United States (and its proxy) manipulated oil prices to attack its enemies - Russia and Venezuela

It may also, of course, be that the Saudis,as well as attacking other producers (notably, Russia) also had sale oil producers in their sights as well.

US provoked Oil Prices fall to attack Venezuela, Russia: Evo Morales

19 December, 2014

Nowadays it is impossible to remove presidents with military coups, so economic means and sanctions are considered, Bolivian President Evo Morales said, adding that the US has provoked the reduction in oil prices to 'attack' Russia's and Venezuela's economies.

The US has provoked the decrease in oil prices, to attack Venezuela and Russia, the President of Bolivia Evo Morales said to RT in an interview.

"The reduction in oil prices was provoked by the US as an attack on the economies of Venezuela, and Russia… In the face of such an economic and political attack, the countries have to be united," Morales said.

Nowadays it is impossible to remove presidents with military coups, so economic means and sanctions are considered, the president explained. Such aggressive US policies, he said, are aimed at dividing countries, dominate them politically and rob them economically.

"Whatever economic aggression with oil prices that comes from the US is not going to last. I am convinced of it," the president reassured. He explained that the US was not interested in oil prices, but in conducting economic attacks to topple certain presidents. However, "this escapade would not work. Our people are conscious. We are anti-imperialists," he said.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a rally to reject the sanctions that the U.S. government seeks to impose on officials accused of human rights violations, in Caracas December 15, 2014.

The US and the EU introduced several round of sanctions against Russia over its alleged role in the Ukrainian crisis. The sanctions targeted the banking, energy and defense sectors, as well as certain individuals. However, Russia repeatedly denied its involvement in Ukraine's internal affairs.

US President Barack Obama signed a sanctions bill against Venezuela Thursday. The sanctions target individuals who are allegedly responsible for human rights violations during February protests against President Nicolas Maduro's government.

I think, from the Cuban side, that there had to be something to bring it to the negotiating table with the United States.

Plummeting Oil Prices 

Possible Causes of US-Cuba 

Deal: Experts

21 December, 2014

Experts say that the impact on the Venezuelan and Russian economies due to a drop in oil prices could have forced Cuba to re-establish its diplomatic relations with the United States, as both will not be able to help economically as before.

WASHINGTON, December 20 (Sputnik), Anastasia Sheveleva — The weakening of the Venezuelan and Russian economies due to a drop in oil prices could have forced Cuba to re-establish its diplomatic relations with the United States, experts on Cuba have told Sputnik.

"With the decline in the price of oil, Cuba's benefactors, Venezuela and Russia, both are going to be not as able to help economically, so Cuba is seeing a decline in economic assistance from Venezuela and Russia, so that was the incentive on the Cuban part," Jose Azel, Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, told Sputnik Friday.
Eduardo Gamarra, Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University (FIU) agrees with the possibility of plummeted oil prices, pushing Cuba to restore its relations with the United States.
"That timing might have been a part of the reason why the Cubans decided, right now we would better look at his situation in a different way, because we have to face the future and certainly the future is not with Venezuela, because their oil in the first place is expensive," Gamarra told Sputnik Friday.

As to the United States' incentive to reach the deal at this particular moment, both experts came to the conclusion that it was US president Barack Obama's political move.
"On the part of the Obama administration, I think it is a political move, there is a new Congress taking over at the beginning of the year, he [Obama] may be thinking of his legacy, he wants this to be part of it," Azel said.
Meanwhile Gamarra stressed that Obama "is already a lame duck" and "has no possibility after January to have any influence over Congress", so "it was fairly good timing [to ease trade and travel restrictions imposed on Cuba] before the end of the year".
Gamarra went on, by saying that "you have the anti-imperialist guru [Castro] is all of the sudden talking to Obama, so I think we should expect some interesting sets of discussions, whether that will lead to a very significant change in Russian presence in the region or Russian relations with Venezuela, or even Russian relations with Cuba".
However, the professor from FIU stressed that nothing in the agreement between Obama and Castro indicates that Russians will begin to dismantle their interests in the region.

Azel from the University of Miami said that the Obama administration did not pay enough attention to the Russian influence in Cuba.
"The Russian influence in Cuba should have been a great concern to the United States, apparently, it was not to this president," Azel said.
Both experts agreed that US Congress will not lift Cuba's embargo in the nearest future partly because Obama did not gain from the most recent negotiations with Cuba.
"He [Obama] cannot eliminate the sanctions of Helms-Burton law…he is not going to get that congressional action. I don't think Congress is going to eliminate sanctions without concessions from Cuba, remember that the president [Obama] really got nothing out of Cuba, this is very bad negotiations," Azel told Sputnik Friday.
Gamarra agreed that the embargo is not going to be lifted, explaining, however, that in might not be as exclusive as it seems.
"Part of the mythology of the embargo is very interesting, because the reality is the United States is the only country that put a quasi-embargo on Cuba. For the better part of the last decade American farmers and others have, in fact, been selling stuff to Cuba," Gamarra said, adding that there are Brazilian and European investments in the region.
Nevertheless, the experts doubted that new American investment is going to flow into Cuba, even in case the US sanctions are eliminated, because Washington would not agree to partner with the Cuban government.
On Wednesday, President Obama announced that the United States was relaxing trade and travel restrictions on Cuba. An embargo has been in place since 1961 due to Cold War antagonism between Washington and the Communist government in Havana. 
Back in summer, Vladimir Putin visited Cuba and an agreement was signed to help Cuba develop its own offshore oil reserves.
There was even talk (denied by Putin) of Russia re-opening its listening post in Cuba.
In his Q & A Putin, accused of cold war aggression by the BBC pointed out that not only does Russia spend ten times less on defence than the United States, but its has only TWO military bases (both in its 'near abroad') and had completely closed bases in both Cuba and Vietnam.

Russia’s Rosneft to help Cuba explore offshore oil reserves

13 July, 2014

Russian oil company Rosneft will help Cuban State oil company Cupet explore the country's offshore oil reserves, according to one of the cooperation documents signed between Russia and Cuba during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Havana.

Putin concluded his first stop on his six-day tour to Latin America in Havana, Cuba, where he met the nation’s President Raul Castro.

Speaking at a press conference, Putin confirmed that many major cooperation deals have been signed between the two nations.

One of the most significant agreements allows the Russian oil company Rosneft to help explore and drill on an offshore oil platform on Cuba’s northeast coast. The area potentially has up to 20 billion barrels of oil, according to Cupet.

"Developing new blocks on Cuba's offshore shelf is (expected) in the very near future," Putin said.

During the discussions, Putin was joined by Rosneft head Igor Sechin in order to finalize the deal.

Cuba has limited onshore production and relies heavily on imports from Venezuela for its oil consumption needs.

Putin also confirmed that Russia is writing off 90 percent of Cuba’s debt, which amounts to $32 billion. The remaining 10 percent will be reinvested into the Cuban economy, the president added.

"We will provide support to our Cuban friends to overcome the illegal blockade of Cuba," Putin said.

Read more: Russia writes off 90% of Cuba's debt ahead of Putin's 'big tour' to L. America

Meanwhile, Russian company Inter RAO Export and Cuba's Union Electrica signed a contract for the construction of four 200 megawatt units for the Maximo Gomez power plant.

Other documents signed on Friday include a bilateral statement on the non-placement of weapons in outer space and an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the area of international information security.

During the visit to Cuba, Putin also met with former President Fidel Castro, who stepped down due to health concerns in 2008, after 49 years in power.

Putin and Fidel Castro discussed international affairs, the global economy, and Russia-Cuba relations, the Kremlin stated.

Later on Friday, Putin made a surprise stop in Nicaragua on his way to Argentina. He will then go to Brazil.

Putin denies reopening of US-targeting listening post in Cuba

17 July, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin denied media reports that Russia was planning to reopen the Soviet-age SIGINT facility in Lourdes, Cuba, once was largest foreign listening post of its kind, but shut down under US pressure.

Russia can meet its defense needs without this component” and has no plans to renew its operation, the president assured journalists on Wednesday.

Earlier Kommersant business daily reported that Moscow and Havana had reached a deal on reopening the spy facility during Putin’s visit to Cuba last week. 
When operational, the facility was manned by thousands of military and intelligence personnel, whose task was to intercept signals coming from and to the US territory and to provide communication for Russian vessels in the western hemisphere.
I can say one thing: at last!” one of the sources commented on the news to the paper, adding that the significance of the move is hard to overestimate.

The facility in Lourdes, a suburb of Havana located just 250km from continental USA, was opened in 1967. At the peak of the cold war it was the largest signal intelligence center Moscow operated in a foreign nation, with 3,000 personnel manning it.
From the base Russia could intercept communications in most part of the US including the classified exchanges between space facilities in Florida and American spacecraft. Raoul Castro, then-Defense Minister of Cuba, bragged in 1993 that Russia received 75 percent of signal intelligence on America through Lourdes, with was probably an overstatement, but not by a large amount.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the base was downscaled, but continued operation. After Russia was hit the 1998 economic crisis, it found it difficult to maintain many of its old assets, including the Lourdes facility. In Soviet times Cuba hosted it rent-free, but starting 1992 Moscow had to pay Havana hundreds of millions dollars each year in addition to operational costs to keep the facility open.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and President of the Council of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba Raul Castro Ruz during a press statement at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. (RIA Novosti/Aleksey Nikolsky)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and President of the Council of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba Raul Castro Ruz during a press statement at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. (RIA Novosti/Aleksey Nikolsky)

An additional blow came in July 2000, when the US House passed the Russian-American Trust and Cooperation Act, a bill that would ban Washington from rescheduling or forgiving any Russian debt to the US, unless the facility in Lourdes is shut down.

Moscow did so in 2001 and also closed its military base in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh, with both moves reported as major steps to address Americans’ concerns. But, in the words of a military source cited by Kommersant, the US did not appreciate our gesture of goodwill.”

No detail of schedule for the reopening the facility, which currently hosts a branch of Cuba’s University of Information Science, was immediately available. One of the principle news during Putin’s visit to Havana was Moscow’s writing off of the majority of the old Cuban debt to Russia. The facility is expected to require fewer personnel than it used to, because modern surveillance equipment can do many functions now automatically.

With the Lourdes facility operational again, Russia would have a much better signal intelligence capability in the western hemisphere.
Returning to Lourdes now is more than justified," military expert Viktor Murakhovsky, a retired colonel, told Kommersant. The capability of the Russian military signal intelligence satellite constellation has significantly downgraded. 

With an outpost this close to the US will allow the military to do their job with little consideration for the space-based SIGINT echelon.”

Whether by American corporations or by Rosneft it is a tragedy that Cuba's oil reserves should ever be developed.

In any case, it looks that the Americans are trying to push the Russians out of the equation and grab the reяources for themselves.

The achievement of the Cuban revolution are not only in terms of social equity and its historic role in the National Liberation struggle in southern Africa, but also in the area of conservation.

Now all of this is likely to be lost, including Cuba's hitherto pristine environment.

Castro the Conservationist? By Default or Design, Cuba Largely Pristine
Will Cuban President Fidel Castro be remembered primarily as a man of the people, an authoritarian tyrant—or a conservationist?

28 October, 2010

Some experts say his environmental policies may be among his greatest achievement.

Though Cuba is economically destitute, it has the richest biodiversity in the Caribbean. Resorts blanket many of its neighbors, but Cuba remains largely undeveloped, with large tracts of untouched rain forest and unspoiled reefs (map of Cuba).

The country has signed numerous international conservation treaties and set aside vast areas of land for government protection.
But others say Cuba's economic underdevelopment has played just as large a role.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union—its main financial benefactor—Cuba has had to rely mostly on its own limited resources. It has embraced organic farming and low-energy agriculture because it can't afford to do anything else.

And once Castro is gone, the experts say, a boom in tourism and foreign investment could destroy Cuba's pristine landscapes.


"I think the Cuban government can take a substantial amount of credit for landscape, flora, and fauna preservation," said Jennifer Gebelein, a professor at Florida International University in Miami who studies environmental issues in Cuba.

More than 20 percent of Cuba's land is under some form of government protection. The island's wetlands have been largely shielded from pesticide runoff that has destroyed similar areas in other countries.

Castro handed power to his brother last week to undergo emergency intestinal surgery. His health remains uncertain, fueling rampant speculation about his legacy.

And since Castro seized power in 1959, logging has slowed significantly. Forest cover has increased from 14 percent in 1956 to about 21 percent today.

In addition, the more than 4,000 smaller islands surrounding the main island are important refuges for endangered species. The coastline and mangrove archipelagos are breeding grounds for some 750 species of fish and 3,000 other marine organisms

"Because Cuba's tourist industry has not developed quickly in regard to reef exploitation, the reefs have been spared the fate of Florida's reefs, for example," Gebelein said.

At about 1.5 million acres (600,000 hectares), the Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve is Cuba's largest protected area and has been designated a "Wetland of International Importance" by the Ramsas Convention on Wetlands in 1971.

"The Zapata Swamp is the Caribbean's largest and most important wetland," said Jim Barborak, who is based in San Pedro, Costa Rica, and heads the protected areas and conservation corridors program for Conservation International.

Jewel of the Caribbean

Originally, Cuba was in the Pacific Ocean, not the Caribbean Sea. Continental drift slowly brought the island into the Caribbean some 100 million years ago, and an astonishing variety of life emerged.

"Cuba has tremendous biological diversity," Barborak said. "The levels of plant endemism—unique species limited to Cuba—is particularly high, especially in highland ecosystems in eastern Cuba."

More than half of Cuba's plants and animals, and more than 80 percent of its reptiles and amphibians, are unique to the island.

Endemic birds include the Cuban trogon, the Cuban tody, and the Cuban pygmy owl. The world's smallest bird, the bee hummingbird—which weighs less than a U.S. penny—is found there.

"Important populations of many North American migratory birds, whose declining populations require international action to conserve both breeding and wintering grounds, spend much of the year in Cuba," Barborak said.

Cuba is only one of two nations with a primitive mammal known as a solenodon, a foot-long (0.3-meter-long) shrewlike creature.

The island also has a great diversity of giant lizards, crocodiles, and tortoises.

Intellectual Infrastructure

A key player in Cuba's green movement has been Guillermo García Frías, one of five original "comandantes" of the 1959 Cuban revolution.

A nature lover with strong ties to Castro, García has pushed for a strong environmental ethic for a generation of scientists and government officials.

"Comandante García's enthusiasm for nature conservation has been critical to the successful development of a conservation infrastructure in Cuba," said Mary Pearl, president of the Wildlife Trust in New York City.

Cubans are leaders in biological research, with thousands of graduates from the country's ten universities and institutes devoted to work in ecology.

"The country has the best intellectual infrastructure for wildlife conservation in the Caribbean," Pearl said.

Students in every department at the University of Havana, for example, have had the opportunity to share a bonding experience by living in an impoverished fishing village while working to protect marine turtles.

"As a result, many of Cuba's leaders in all spheres have had a common experience reconciling poverty alleviation and nature conservation," Pearl said. "It is not surprising that this has left a legacy of concern for nature, despite the country's economic challenges."

Embargo Woes

But Cuba has earned its green credentials partly by default.

Isolated in part because of the U.S. trade embargo against the island, Cuba has been excluded from much of the economic globalization that has taken its toll on the environment in many other parts of the world.

"The healthy status of much of the wetlands and forests of Cuba is due not to political influence as much as the lack of foreign exchange with which to make the investments to convert lands and introduce petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers," Pearl said.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Cuban factories and agricultural fields have sat dormant. The island has had to become self-sufficient, turning to low-energy organic farming.

It has had to scrap most of its fishing fleet because it can't afford to maintain the ships.

Population pressure has also been a nonissue, with many Cubans fleeing the country for economic and political reasons.

However, Conservation International's Barborak says it would be wrong to think Cuba's environmental success is simply due to its economic underdevelopment.

"If this were true, then Haiti could be expected to be a verdant ecological paradise, instead of being the most environmentally devastated country in the region, with just a tiny fraction of its forest cover intact," he said.

"Cuba's stable population, high literacy rate, clear land-tenure system, large cadre of well-trained conservationists, and relatively strong enforcement of laws and regulations are certainly all associated with its conservation achievement."

So what will happen if Castro's regime falls and a new, democratic government takes root?

Conservationists and others say they are worried that the pressure to develop the island will increase and Cuba's rich biodiversity will suffer.

Barborak said he is concerned that "environmental carpetbaggers and scalawags will come out of the woodwork in Cuba if there is turbulent regime change.

"One could foresee a flood of extractive industries jockeying for access to mineral and oil leases," he said.

"A huge wave of extraction of unique and endemic plants and animals could occur to feed the international wildlife market. And a speculative tourism and real estate boom could turn much of the coastline into a tacky wasteland in short order."

"If foreign investments take a much firmer hold, more hotels will be built and more people will descend on the reefs," added Gebelein, the Florida International University professor.

"If the Cuban government does not have a swift policy framework to deal with the huge influx of tourists, investors, and foreign government interests, a new exploitative paradigm will be the beginning of the end for some of the last pristine territories in the Caribbean."