Chicago police officer threatened baby with Taser shock 

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A federal lawsuit claims that a Chicago police officer threatened to use a Taser on a man who was holding a baby boy in his arms, and warned him that the one-year-old would feel the electricity.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, claims that the entire incident was caught by a security camera, and it names the city and several police officers as defendants, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Cesar Carrizales said that during the October incident, he was approached by officers in an alleyway near his garage, who then demanded that he put his son down on a filthy alleyway. He told the officers that the mother of the son, Theresa Cmiel, would take his child.

At this point, the lawsuit claims, an officer “began to violently assault” Carrizales and tried to pry the boy from his father’s arms. The infant then “screamed in a way that Mr. Carrizales and his mother had never heard before.” Officers then slammed Carrizales onto the hood of a police cruiser while he held his infant son, pinning the child underneath him, the lawsuit says.

The filing indicates that Carrizales was confronted by police over a neighbor’s complaint about damaging a fence on the property line and threatening the neighbor. The lawsuit said that even if these allegations are true, they “amounted to minor misdemeanor charges.”

Carrizales pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of resisting arrest. He was originally charged with aggravated battery against a police officer, but the charge was later dismissed.

Chicago Police Department did not immediately respond to RT’s request for comment.

Read more:

Family seeks justice after police in Georgia taser son to death, then ‘high five’

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The myth of Canada’s benevolence to Uganda

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Self-described Africa scholar Gerald Caplan’s recent praise of Canada’s relations with Uganda is superficial and misleading. He ignores Canada’s support for imperialism in East Africa that goes back to the days of the slave trade.

A recent Globe and Mail article (reprinted on Rabble.ca) by Gerald Caplan detailing Canadian relations with Uganda made be mad. Why?

It was not so much for what’s in the article, but rather what it ignores, which is reality. Any progressive author writing about Canada’s foreign affairs betrays his readers if he ignores the bad this country has done and feeds the benevolent Canadian foreign-policy myth.

“Canadians have had ties to Uganda for many decades”, writes Caplan, a self-described “Africa scholar” citing the establishment of diplomatic relations soon after independence. He also mentions many Canadians who “found their way to the country” amidst instability and the federal government taking in Asians expelled by Idi Amin. The former NDP strategist points to some private Canadian aid initiatives in the country and details a Canadian lawyer’s contribution to a suit over the Ugandan government’s failure to provide basic maternal health services, which may violate the Constitution.

But, Caplan completely ignores the unsavory – and much more consequential – role Canada has played in the East African country.

For example, he could have at least mentioned this country’s role during the “scramble for Africa” when Canadians actively participated in subjugating various peoples and stealing their land. This is necessary to acknowledge if we are ever to build a decent foreign policy.

In the late 1800s a number of Canadian military men helped survey possible rail routes from the East African Coast to Lake Victoria Nyanza on the border between modern Uganda and Kenya. The objective was to strengthen Britain’s grip over recalcitrant indigenous groups and to better integrate the area into the Empire’s North East Africa-India corridor.

Beginning in 1913 dozens of Canadian missionaries helped the colonial authority penetrate Ugandan societies and undermine indigenous customs. The preeminent figure was John Forbes who was a bishop and coadjutor vicar apostolic, making him second in charge of over 30 mission posts in Uganda. A 1929 biography describes his “good relations” with British colonial authorities and the “important services Forbes rendered the authorities of the Protectorate.”

In 1918 Forbes participated in a major conference in the colony, organized by Governor Robert Coryndon in the hopes of spurring indigenous wage work. The Vaudreuil, Québec, native wrote home that “it’s a big question. The European planters in our area, who cultivate coffee, cotton and rubber need workers for their exploitation. But the workforce is rare. Our Negroes are happy to eat bananas and with a few bits of cotton or bark for clothes, are not excited to put themselves at the service of the planters and work all day for a meager salary.” British officials subsidized the White Fathers schools as part of a bid to expand the indigenous workforce.

Canadians were also part of the British colonial authority. Royal Military College of Canada graduate Godfrey Rhodes became chief engineer and general manager of Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours in 1928. The Victoria, BC, native was in Uganda for over a decade and was followed by Walter Bazley, a colonial administrator in Bunyoro from 1950 to 1963 (after Ugandan independence, Bazley joined the Canadian public service).

Throughout British rule Ottawa recognized London’s authority over Uganda. After fighting in the 1898 – 1902 Boer War, Henry Rivington Poussette was appointed Canada’s first trade commissioner in Africa with “jurisdiction extending from the Cape to the Zambesi, including Uganda.”

Poussette and future trade representatives helped Canadian companies profit from European rule in Africa. By independence Toronto-based Bata shoes controlled most of the footwear market in Uganda while a decade before the end of British rule Falconbridge acquired a 70% stake in the Kilembe copper-cobalt mine in western Uganda. In a joint partnership with the London controlled Colonial Development Corporation, the Toronto company’s highly profitable mine produced more than $250 million ($1 billion today) worth of copper yet paid no income tax until its capital was fully recovered in 1965. In 1968, post-independence leader Milton Obote increased the country’s copper export tax and then moved to gain majority control of the mine. Falconbridge quickly stripped out $6 million in special dividend payments and threatened to withdraw its management from the country.

‘Falconbridge: Portrait of a Canadian Mining Multinational’ explains: “Although Kilembe Copper was both profitable and socially important in the Ugandan economy, this did not prevent the Falconbridge group from withdrawing capital as rapidly as possible just before president Obote forced it to sell Uganda a controlling interest in 1970. The implication was that its management team would be withdrawn entirely if the government did not restore Falconbridge’s majority ownership. Dislocation in the lives of Ugandan people was a price the company seemed willing to pay in this tug-of-war over the profits from Uganda’s resources.”

The Kilembe mine also contaminated Elizabeth National Park and tailings seeped into Lake George, near Uganda’s western border with the Congo.

Upon taking office, General Idi Amin returned control of the Kilembe mine to Falconbridge. (This was maintained for several years, after which Amin returned the mine to his government.) He had managed to overthrow Obote’s government in January 1971 with the aid of Britain, Israel and the US. A British Foreign Office memo noted that Obote’s nationalizations, which also included Bata, had “serious implications for British business in Uganda and Africa generally… other countries will be tempted to try and get away with similar measures with more damaging consequences for British investment and trade.”

While this country’s “Africa scholars” have largely ignored Canada’s position towards Amin’s rise to power, the available documentation suggests Ottawa passively supported the putsch. On three occasions during the early days of the coup (between January 26 and February 3, 1971) the Pierre Trudeau government responded to inquiries from opposition MPs about developments in Uganda and whether Canada would grant diplomatic recognition to the new regime. Within a week of Obote’s ouster, both External Affairs Minister Mitchell Sharp and Prime Minister Trudeau passed up these opportunities to denounce Amin’s usurpation of power. They remained silent as Amin suspended various provisions of the Ugandan Constitution and declared himself President, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Army Chief of Staff and Chief of Air Staff. They failed to condemn a leader, now infamous, for plunging the nation into a torrent of violence.

In ‘African Pearls and Poisons: Idi Amin’s Uganda; Kenya; Zaire’s Pygmies’, Alberta bureaucrat Leo Louis Jacques describes a conversation he had with the CIDA liaison officer in Uganda who facilitated his 1971-73 appointment to the Uganda College of Commerce. Asked whether the change in government would affect his CIDA-funded position, the aid agency’s liaison officer in Uganda, Catrina Porter, answered Jacques thusly: “‘Yes, there was a coup on January 25th, 1971 and it was a move that promises to be an improvement. The new administration favours Democracy and Western Civilization’s Democracy, while the former one favoured the Communists.’ I [Jacques”> said, ‘I understand the present government is being run by the Ugandan army under the control of a General named Idi Amin Dada. What is he like?’ Porter said ‘General Amin’s gone on record as saying he loves Canada and the Commonwealth. He also vowed that his country of Uganda would have democratic elections soon. The British and Americans have recognized him as the Ugandan government and so do we.’”

Two years after the coup the Canadian High Commissioner in Nairobi visited to ask Amin to reverse his plan to nationalize Bata shoes. After the meeting, the High Commissioner cabled Ottawa that he was largely successful with Bata and also mentioned that “KILEMBE MINES (70 PERCENT FALCONBRIDGE OWNED) IS DOING WELL.”

But, just in case you think it’s just our unsavoury history that Caplan ignores, there’s more. He also ignores more recent developments such as SNC Lavalin’s alleged bribery in the country, Montréal-based Canarail’s contribution to a disastrous World Bank sponsored privatization of the Kenya and Uganda railway systems or Ottawa’s “logistical support and some funding for the Uganda led [military”> force” dispatched to Somalia to do Washington’s dirty work.

Why did this article make me so mad? Because it’s part of a pattern of the social democratic Left ignoring how Canadian corporations and governments impoverish the Global South. Too often social democrat intellectuals dim, rather than enlighten, progressives’ understanding of Canada’s role in the world.

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Getting away with murder: Canadian firms continue abuses in Africa

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Despite a long list of abuses by Canadian mining companies in Africa – and elsewhere – it’s very difficult to hold them accountable at home. Will the new government of Justin Trudeau defy the powerful mining industry and adopt legislation to constrain their abuses abroad?

Two weeks ago police shot and killed an individual at Pacific Wildcat Resources tantalum mine in central Mozambique. The incident received some attention in Canada because community members responded by seizing the Vancouver-based company’s mine site and setting some equipment ablaze.

One protester told O Pais newspaper this wasn’t the first time someone was shot dead at the mine and another said: “We don’t want to see the managers of this company operating in the mine anymore. Otherwise we will take the law into our own hands. The director of the company does not respect us, and we cannot allow someone to come and enslave us in our own country.”

In recent years Canadian mining companies have engendered a great deal of violence across Africa. In 2008 Guinea’s military killed three in a bid to drive away small-scale miners from SEMAFO’s Kiniero mine in the southeast of the country. BBC Monitoring Africa reported that “the soldiers shot a woman at close range, burned a baby and in the panic another woman and her baby fell into a gold mining pit and a man fell fatally from his motor while running away from the rangers.” Blaming the Montréal-based company for the killings, locals damaged its equipment.

To the south east the Ghanaian military opened fire on a 5,000-person demonstration against a Canadian-owned mine in June 2005. Seven of those protesting Golden Star’s pollution and refusal to compensate those impacted by its operations were hit by bullets. Backing a hardline approach to the local community, a company official called for “some radical way” to change the “mindset” of small-scale unlicensed miners in the region.

Fifteen hundred kilometers north, Mauritania’s national guard raided a peaceful protest, killing one employee and wounding several others during a July 2012 strike at First Quantum’s Guelb Moghrein mine. A release from the Vancouver company afterwards called the strike illegal, but failed to mention the death or injuries.

On the other side of the continent security guards paid by Barrick Gold (now Acacia) have killed a couple dozen villagers at, or in close proximity, to the Toronto company’s North Mara mine since 2005. Hundreds more have been severely injured by the security and police Barrick pays to patrol the perimeter of its Tanzanian mine and regularly calls on site. Most of the victims were impoverished villagers who scratch rocks for tiny bits of gold and who mined these territories prior to Acacia’s arrival.

Two thousand kilometers southeast Anvil Mining transported Congolese government troops who killed 100 people near its Dikulushi mine in the port town of Kilwa, Katanga. Most of the victims were unarmed civilians.

After a half-dozen members of the little-known Mouvement revolutionnaire pour la liberation du Katanga occupied the Canada-Australian company’s Kilwa concession in October 2004, Anvil provided the trucks used to transport Congolese soldiers to the area and to dump the corpses of their victims into mass graves. A Congolese military commander told UN investigators that the military operation in Kilwa was “made possible thanks to the logistical efforts provided by Anvil mining.” Immediately after the massacre, an Anvil press release celebrated the return of law and order to its mining territory without reporting the use of Anvil planes and trucks to support the military intervention or the deaths near Kilwa.

Despite a long list of abuses by Canadian mining companies in Africa (and elsewhere) it’s incredibly difficult to hold them accountable domestically. The previous Stephen Harper government opposed legislation modeled on the U.S. Alien Torts Claims Act that would have allowed lawsuits against Canadian companies responsible for major human rights violations or ecological destruction abroad. Similarly, the Conservatives and some opposition MPs defeated Liberal MP John McKay’s private members bill (C – 300), which would have withheld diplomatic and financial support from companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad.

Is Justin Trudeau prepared to defy Canada’s powerful mining industry and adopt legislation to constrain their abuses abroad or will he continue to place the full power of Canadian foreign-policy behind this controversial industry?

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Canada’s military footprint in Africa

Unlike the US or France, Canada is not a leading military force in Africa. But Ottawa exerts influence through a variety of means including training initiatives.

Canadian Forces have trained hundreds of African soldiers at the Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre in Kingston Ontario and Lester B. Pearson Centre in Nova Scotia. Canadian forces have also directed or participated in a slew of officer training initiatives, running courses in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Mali among other places. In recent years Ottawa has funded and staffed various military training centres across the continent such as the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center in Ghana, African Centre for Strategic Research and Studies in Nigeria and Ecole de Maintien de la Paix Alioune Blondin in Mali.

Canadian Special Forces also train a number of African militaries. Along with the US, Canadian troops trained counterterrorism units in Niger, Kenya and Mali and in 2014 Canadian Special Operations Forces Command spokesman Major Steve Hawken told ‘Embassy’ that his force had recently trained 800 African military personnel.

Canada is increasingly involved in “counterterrorist” training exercises in the Sahel region, which covers parts of Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, South Sudan, Sudan and Eritrea. The Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) has participated in Exercise Flintlock since 2011. Fifty members of CSOR and the Special Operations Aviation Squadron traveled to Senegal and Mauritania for Exercise Flintlock in 2014.

The New York Times Magazine reported: “For the past three weeks, Green Berets, along with British, French and Canadian special operators, had been training 139 elite troops from Niger, Nigeria and Chad” as part of Flintlock 2014. Sponsored by the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Flintlock takes place in a different Sahel region nation each year.

Canadian officials generally tell the media the aim of training other militaries is to help fight terror or the illicit drug trade but a closer look at military doctrine suggests broader strategic and geopolitical motivations. An important objective is to strengthen foreign militaries’ capacity to operate in tandem with Canadian and/or NATO forces. According to Canada’s Military Training Assistance Program, its “language training improves communication between NATO and other armed forces” and its “professional development and staff training enhances other countries compatibility with the CFs [Canadian Forces”>.”

At a broader level MTAP states its training “serves to achieve influence in areas of strategic interest to Canada. … Canadian diplomatic and military representatives find it considerably easier to gain access and exert influence in countries with a core group of Canadian-trained professional military leaders.”

When Ottawa initiated post-independence training missions in Africa a memo to cabinet ministers described the political value of training foreign military officers. It stated: “Military leaders in many developing countries, if they do not actually form the government, frequently wield much more power and influence domestically than is the case in the majority of western domestic nations… [it”> would seem in Canada’s general interest on broad foreign policy grounds to keep open the possibility of exercising a constructive influence on the men who often will form the political elite in developing countries, by continuing to provide training places for officers in our military institutions where they receive not only technical military training but are also exposed to Canadian values and attitudes.”

As part of Canada’s initial aid efforts in the early 1960s, Canadian troops trained armed forces in various African countries. In Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia and Tanzania, Canada endeavoured “to fill in the vacuum left by the withdrawal of British officers and training facilities,” notes Professor Robert Matthews.

Military historian Sean Maloney further explains: “These teams consisted of regular army officers who, at the ‘operational level’, trained military personnel of these new Commonwealth countries to increase their professionalism. The strategic function, particularly of the 83-man team in Tanzania, was to maintain a Western presence to counter Soviet and Chinese bloc political and military influence.” By the end of the 1960s Canada had spent over $23 million (around $170 million today) training the military forces of seven African and Asian countries.

In 1966 Ghana’s Canadian-trained army overthrew President Kwame Nkrumah, a leading pan-Africanist who was dubbed “Man of the Millennium” in a 2000 poll by BBC listeners in Africa. After independence Ghana’s army remained British-dominated. The colonial era British generals were still in place and the majority of Ghana’s officers continued to be trained in Britain. In response to a number of embarrassing incidents, Nkrumah released the British commanders in September 1961. It was at this point that Canada began training Ghana’s military.

Canadians organized and oversaw the Junior Staff Officers course and a number of Canadians took up top positions in the Ghanaian Ministry of Defence. In the words of Canada’s military attaché to Ghana, Colonel Desmond Deane-Freeman, the Canadians in these positions imparted “our way of thinking”. Celebrating the influence of “our way of thinking”, in 1965 Canadian high commissioner in Accra, C.E. McGaughey wrote the under secretary of external affairs: “Since independence, it [Ghana’s military”> has changed in outlook, perhaps less than any other institution. It is still equipped with Western arms and although essentially non-political, is Western oriented.”

After Nkrumah’s removal the Canadian high commissioner boasted about the effectiveness of Canada’s Junior Staff Officers training program at the Ghanaian Defence College. Writing to the Canadian under secretary of external affairs, McGaughey noted, “All the chief participants of the coup were graduates of this course.”

When today’s internal documents are made available they will likely show that Canadian military training initiatives continue to influence the continent’s politics in ways that run counter to most Africans’ interests.

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The case of Benoit La Salle: How Western do-gooders exploit Africa

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The Canadian mining magnate is just one in a long line of Westerners who ask the world to believe what they say but ignore the actual results of what they do — a “spin-sploiter” publicly professing humanitarian ideals all the while exploiting Africa.

What do you call people who try to make other people believe what they say but ignore the results of what they do? How about spin-sploiters?

After a few years of research I have come to realize that there is a long and ignoble history of Westerners exploiting Africans while touting humanitarian objectives. Unfortunately, this practice is not confined to the distant past.

A leading Canadian NGO official, who then founded Québec’s largest mining company, provides a recent example.

In a 2012 Gold Report interview titled “First, Do Good When Mining for Gold: Benoit La Salle”, the President of the Société d’Exploitation Minière d’Afrique de l’Ouest (SEMAFO) boasted about the company’s social responsibility. La Salle said: “SEMAFO is not a company that mines gold, ships it out and, once that is done, breaks down camp and leaves. People see SEMAFO as being a very good corporate citizen. Today, many people believe that the CSR report is more important than our annual report.”

This is a startling claim for an individual obligated to maximize investors’ returns, but a cursory look at the company’s record suggests it has little basis in reality.

Those living near SEMAFO’s Kiniero mine, reported Guinée News in 2014, felt “the Canadian company brought more misfortune than benefits.” In 2008 the military killed three people in a bid to drive away small-scale miners from its mine in southeast Guinea. BBC Monitoring Africa reported that “the soldiers shot a woman at close range, burned a baby and in the panic another woman and her baby fell into a gold mining pit and a man fell fatally from his motor while running away from the rangers. Blaming the Montréal-based company for the killings, locals damaged its equipment.”

In September 2011 protests flared again over the company’s failure to hire local young people and the dissolution of a committee that spent community development monies. Demonstrators attacked SEMAFO’s facilities, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.  Some also targeted a bus carrying company employees, prompting the authorities to evacuate all expatriate staff to Bamako in neighbouring Mali.

In 2014 the Guinean government’s Comité Technique de Revue des Titres et Conventions Miniers concluded that the Montréal firm evaded $9.6 million in tax.  The Comité Technique also found that the company failed “to produce detailed feasibility studies” and was not “in compliance with new measures in the 2011 mining code.”  The Comité Technique recommended that SEMAFO be fined and stripped of its mining rights in the country.

To the east, SEMAFO opened the first industrial scale gold mine in Niger. A 2007 Montreal Gazette business article headlined “Local Miner a Major Force in Niger: It’s not every day we receive a press release from a gold mining company that includes a warm personal message from the prime minister”, reported on the close ties between SEMAFO and Hama Amadou, then Prime Minister of Niger. “We work very closely with him,” said La Salle. “We’re part of his budget every year.”

La Salle described how the prime minister helped his company break a strike at its Samira Hill mine in the west of the country. “He gave us all the right direction to solve this legally,” La Salle said. ‘We went to court, we had the strike declared illegal and that allowed us to let go of some of the employees and rehire some of them based upon a new work contract. It allowed us to let go of some undesirable employees because they had been on strike a few times.” (In mid-2008 SEMAFO’s preferred prime minister was arrested on corruption charges stemming from two unrelated incidents.)

The bitter strike led to a parliamentary inquiry regarding environmental damage caused by the mine, lack of benefits for local communities and treatment of miners. Opposition politicians accused SEMAFO of paying “slave wages”.  “The wages are very low,” explained Mohammed Bazoum, deputy chairman of Niger’s main opposition party in 2009.

SEMAFO was also accused of failing to pay both taxes and dividends to the government. Despite owning a 20% share in the Samira Hill mine, the government received no direct payments from the Montréal-based majority owner between 2004 and 2010. “Since this company started its activities, Niger has not seen a single franc despite its being a shareholder,” noted Abdoulkarim Mossi, head of a government committee set up to tackle economic and financial irregularities in the country.

Next-door, the company was close to President Blaise Compaoré who seized power in 1987 by killing Thomas Sankara, “Africa’s Che Guevara”, who oversaw important social and political gains during four years in office. La Salle worked closely with Compaoré for nearly two decades, traveling the globe singing the Burkina Faso government’s praise. After leaving office the Prime Minister between 2007–2011, Tertius Zongo, was appointed to SEMAFO’s Board of Directors and at a September 2014 Gold Forum in Australia SEMAFO officials lauded the government as “democratic and stable”.  The next month Compaoré was ousted by popular protests after he attempted to amend the constitution to extend term limits.

After ending Compaoré’s 27-year rule community groups and mine workers launched a wave of protests against foreign, mostly Canadian, owned mining companies. In a Bloomberg article titled “Revolt Rocks Burkina Faso’s Mines After President Flees”, SEMAFO’s director of corporate affairs, Laurent Michel Dabire, said the company was looking to fund a new police unit that would focus on protecting mining interests in the country.

SEMAFO is an outgrowth La Salle’s work for Plan Canada, part of a $1 billion-a-year global NGO. La Salle said that SEMAFO “was created in 1995 during my first visit to Burkina Faso as part of a mission with the NGO-Plan. I am the president of the administration council of Plan Canada and a director of Plan International. So, after the Plan organized visit to Burkina Faso provided me an opportunity to get close with national authorities, I decided to create SEMAFO to participate in the development of Burkina Faso’s mining industry.” As Plan Canada’s designated Francophone spokesperson La Salle got to know Compaoré. “The president turned to me,” La Salle told another reporter, “and said that I should come back to his country with Canadian expertise to help his country develop its mining sector.”

La Salle procured mining expertise while Compaoré granted the Canadian a massive stretch of land to prospect. “The land package we have is way beyond what you’d see anywhere else in the world,” La Salle boasted.

Compaoré was good to La Salle. The Canadian ‘humanitarian” made millions of dollars from Burkina Faso’s (and Niger and Guinea’s) minerals. When he resigned after 17 years as president of SEMAFO in 2012, La Salle received a $3 million departure bonus, which was on top of his $1 million salary.

La Salle is just one in a long line of Westerners who’ve asked the world to believe what they say but ignore the actual results of what they do — a “spin-sploiter” — publicly professing humanitarian ideals all the while exploiting Africa.

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Secret deals between US Treasury and Saudis aired

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Why is the relationship between the highest levels of US Gov (Treasury Department) and Saudi Arabia hidden from us?

A recent Bloomberg News story suggest: “Saudi Arabia’s Secret Holdings of U.S. Debt Are Suddenly a Big Deal”  Bloomberg tells us: Saudi burns through $100 billion of reserves as strains emerge”… “It’s a secret of the vast U.S. Treasury market, a holdover from an age of oil shortages and mighty petrodollars: Just how much of America’s debt does Saudi Arabia own? But now that question — unanswered since the 1970s, under an unusual blackout by the U.S. Treasury Department — has come to the fore as Saudi Arabia is pressured by plunging oil prices and costly wars in the Middle East.” … “In the past year alone, Saudi Arabia burned through about $100 billion of foreign-exchange reserves to plug its biggest budget shortfall in a quarter-century. For the first time, The signs of strain are prompting concern over Saudi Arabia’s outsize position in the world’s largest and most important bond market.”

Editor CEC Asks:  Why does out country owe money to these hand and head choppers, who many think are behind ISIS?  And why is our debts to them not openly published like other debts?  It is no secret that the Saudis are a big ally in weakening the governments of Syria, Iraq, and Iran, to name a few.  Maybe Bloomberg should ask Donald Trump and Hillary, if either of them would ditch this disgusting crony if elected?

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2016 Open Letter to President Barack Hussein Obama

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President Obama in 2009 signed a proclamation establishing the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission. The commission was supposed to organize activities to mark the 100th anniversary, in 2011, of President Reagan’s birth. What about we people who are darker than blue? If a Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission is in order, what about a Black Music Month Commission?

Black Music Month is going unnoticed by President Barack Obama. President Barack Hussein Obama, the first African president of the United States, will be remembered for bombing Libya and murdering its leader Muammar Gaddafi. Libya is not in the Middle East. The last time I checked it is on the African Continent.

He has also dropped a bomb on the cultural front; he is attempting to crush the unity of Africans at home and abroad. Even the former mayors of Toronto, David Miller and the late Rob Ford, proclaimed June Black Music Month during their tenures in office, but not so with President Obama. By not recognizing Black Music Month and changing the name in 2009 you have taken a step backward, Mr. President. Back on 2 June 2009, President Obama did issue a statement in support of what he then and now refers to as African American Appreciation Month. In one fell swoop he took an international music and nationalized it. The music of Africans in American music is international music.

Recall, it was The Black Music Association created by Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright and others that brought together Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley and the Wailers, in concert, to demonstrate this fact. Kwame Brathwaite captured Wonder and Marley in action in a historic photo. Sir Duke Ellington pointed out nearly a century ago that we as a people must call our music ‘Negro’ (Black) music so others could not dishonestly claim it as theirs. Black music is one of the many gifts that Africa and Africans have presented to the world.

President Obama gave a brilliant speech at El–Azhar University in Cairo in 2009. The 44th president has proven that he is one of the most intelligent (if not the most intelligent) heads of state in the history of the USA. The president’s speech was like a vintage Earth, Wind & Fire performance. However, it was just that – a performance.

Mumia Abu-Jamal pointed out, ‘But in truth Obama had them at Salaam-Alaikum, the universal Muslim greeting meaning “Peace be unto you.” Peace, it’s sad to say, is hardly a reality when one’s own government is at war with its own people.’ The recent events in Egypt and the Middle East proved Mumia to be on point.

While the president was touring the Middle East in 2009, he failed to recognize the 30th anniversary of Black Music Month. More than one person has raised the question that perhaps he didn’t know. I find this unbelievable.
In 2009 he hosted Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire and Sweet Honey in the Rock at the White House. He had even invited Odetta to sing at his inauguration; however, she joined the ancestors before that historical event.

How can a man who spent most of his adult life in Chicago claim to be totally unaware of Black Music Month? Chicago is the home of Mahalia Jackson, Martin Luther King’s musical lieutenant; Sam Cooke; Curtis Mayfield; Jerry Butler; Mavis and Pop Staples; Ernest Dawkins; R.Kelly; Common; Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco.

The June 2009 issue of Ebony Magazine, which I bought in the middle of May, was dedicated to Black Music Month. This issue has Jada Pinkett Smith on the cover, and features a photo of President Obama and the First Lady, Michelle Obama, with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

After being called out by The Caribbean World News Network, President Obama did rightly proclaim the month of June, National Caribbean American Heritage Month. President Obama issued this statement on 2 June 2009.

According to the 6 June 2009 issue of the New York Times, he signed a proclamation establishing the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission. The commission was supposed to organize activities to mark the 100th anniversary, in 2011, of President Reagan’s birth. What about we people who are darker than blue, President Obama?

If a Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission is in order what about a Black Music Month Commission with people like Randy Weston, Deborah Cox, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Sonia Sanchez, Wes Williams aka Maestro Fresh Wes, Cassandra Smith, and Queen Latifah? Raynard Jackson of Philadelphia has opined, ‘It’s a no-brainer to do a town hall meeting with singers, producers, and songwriters during Black Music Month.’

The music of African people has been an international force since the Fisk Jubilee Singers, experts in choral-arranged Spirituals from Nashville, Tennessee, conquered Europe in 1873. Since that period Jazz, Calypso, Reggae, R&B, Hip-Hop and African beats have come to be the most popular and influential art forms in the world. Bob Marley, Louis Armstrong and Miriam Makeba are known all over this small planet we call Earth.

The great saxophonist Archie Shepp once said, ‘What Malcolm X said John Coltrane played.’ This was the expression of Africans in North America; the same thing occurred in the Caribbean and in Africa.
In the Caribbean, Walter Rodney (Guyana) and Bob Marley (Jamaica) were the concrete expressions of this phenomenon in the 1970s and early 1980s. On the mother continent, Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso) and Fela Anikulapo Kuti (Nigeria) are examples of music and politics complimenting one another in the 1990s.

Despite this influence on the planet, it was only 37 years ago that the Black Music Association (BMA) persuaded the US government to recognize Black Music Month. In June 1979, around the time the Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was being released; Kenny Gamble led a delegation to the White House to discuss with President Jimmy Carter the state of Black music.

At the meeting, Carter asked trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Max Roach if they would perform ‘Salt Peanuts’, to which Gillespie replied that he’d only do so if the president (who made a fortune as a peanut farmer) provided the vocals.

Since that great and dreadful day when Carter butchered the song, June has officially been designated Black Music Month.
It must be mentioned that in 1979, the world was witnessing a revolutionary breeze as Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement seized state power in Grenada; Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas swept the counter revolutionary forces out of power in Nicaragua like a broom; and the Shah of Iran was dethroned after being installed in power by the CIA in 1953.

The soundtrack to all of this was Gene McFadden and John Whitehead’s, ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’ which was released in 1979. Recall, ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now’ was played at the 2008 Democratic National Convention on the night Illinois Senator Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States.

Since 1984, thanks to the efforts of the Black Music Association/Toronto Chapter, Toronto mayors June Rowlands, Barbara Hall and Mel Lastman, successively, have recognized June as Black Music Month. On the 25th anniversary of Black Music Month, Mayor David Miller presented the proclamation at City Hall. The late Milton Blake, Jay Douglas, Michie Mee, Norman (Otis) Richmond (Jalali) and others participated in this event.

When broadcaster and community activist the late Milton Blake and Norman (Otis) Richmond created the Black Music Association’s Toronto Chapter in 1984, the intention was to plug African-Canadian music makers into the international music market.

At that time, 1984, the only African Canadian that was internationally known was Oscar Peterson. Since that time Eric Mercury, Harrison Kennedy (as a member of the Chairmen of the Board), Deborah Cox, Devine Brown, Glenn Lewis, Kardinal Offishall, Drake and others have conquered the world – musically.

By not recognizing Black Music Month from 2009 until today, you have taken a step backward, Mr. President. Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop told us 30 years ago, ‘Forward Ever. Backwards Never’. One of the greatest Africans to ever grace the planet, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, said the same thing 20 years before that.

Posted in Africa, USA0 Comments

US foreign policy in Africa and the 2016 elections

Wars of regime-change and the domination of international finance capital will continue to strangle the continent.
Redstate

Whatever the outcome of the U.S. elections this year, Washington’s militarized imperialist policy towards Africa looks certain to remain unchanged. Matters are not helped by the fact that, unlike in the 1970s and 1980s, the Black leadership in America is not pushing for any policy change towards Africa.

There has been no substantial discussion within the context of primary debates and capitalist party platforms related to Washington’s foreign policy towards Africa.

Although people of African descent in the United States constitute the largest voting bloc among national minorities, issues related to them in both domestic and foreign policy are given almost no consideration.

There are references to the draconian legislation which accelerated the incarceration rates of African Americans under the former administration of President Bill Clinton; nevertheless these factors constitute only a fraction of social elements within a broader political framework which clearly illustrates a concerted system of national oppression.

Not only is it outrageous that the Clinton administration endorsed new laws that intensified disparate treatment in the criminal justice system along racial lines; moreover both Bill and Hillary have been involved in foreign policy operations on behalf of the U.S. government and private capital, such as in Haiti and Libya, which proved disastrous for the people of these states.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the public face of the Pentagon and NATO-led bombing campaign against Libya during 2011 resulting in tens of thousands of deaths, the dislocation of millions, impoverishing this North African state once the most prosperous on the continent, therefore fostering instability and terrorism throughout the region.

Today Libya is in ruins while the United Nations attempts to install and prop-up a so-called “Government of National Accord” (GNA) which has no legitimacy even among the two rival factions installed by imperialism in the aftermath of the war of regime-change that brutally assassinated former leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi, the former chairperson of the African Union (AU). Oil revenues, which under Gaddafi were essential in providing Libya with resources to develop this former colony of Italy, are a source of conflict in the competition for control over the country.

The situation in Libya is a product of both Washington and Wall Street in their ongoing drive to dominate Africa and its resources. The all-out attacks leveled against various independent and anti-imperialist governments and movements throughout Africa and the Middle East is part and parcel of western objectives to extend their economic and political stranglehold over former subject nations and emerging states.

Imperialist militarism escalates in Africa

Over the last decade militarism has increased in Africa with the interventions in Somalia, Libya and other states. The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established under the George W. Bush, Jr. administration and enhanced by the current President Barack Obama.

AFRICOM’s role has fostered greater instability and dislocation within AU member-states. In Mali during 2012, a military coup was carried out by an official of the armed forces who was trained at various defense schools in the U.S.

The Horn of Africa nations of Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia serve as staging grounds for imperialist military operations on the continent and in the Middle East. Djibouti houses the largest known Pentagon base at Camp Lemonier where thousands of U.S. and French troops are stationed.

Drone stations and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) field offices exist throughout the East Africa region where the Pentagon often carries out bombing raids against the al-Shabaab Islamist group in Somalia. There are flotillas of warships from NATO countries patrolling the waters in the Gulf of Aden one of the most lucrative trading routes in the world.

Across the continent in West Africa, the Pentagon often engages in naval maneuvers with regional states under the guise of fighting terrorism and piracy. Nonetheless, the country most affected by terrorism, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Africa’s largest populated nation and leading economy, has had difficulties in securing modern weapons and intelligence data from the Pentagon and the CIA in their fight against Boko Haram, an armed group which has killed thousands in the northeast of the country and displaced millions.

Congressional Black Caucus remains silent on African affairs

This apparent listless attitude within the political arena has not always been there. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) took stands in support of national liberation movement struggles against colonialism and apartheid.

In 1987, the first Anti-Apartheid Act was passed by the U.S. Congress over the veto of Republican President Ronald Reagan. This bill was shepherded through the House by former Congressman Ron Dellums from the Bay Area in California.

However, in 2015 when Republican members of the House held a hearing to question Hillary Clinton on the deaths of four U.S. diplomatic personnel and CIA operatives in Benghazi, no defense of the people of Libya was made by the CBC. In fact Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who is a leading Democrat, defended Clinton from any criticism over her role in the deaths of these four intelligence officials operating under state department cover.

Consequently there is no political incentive for either Clinton or Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to address the African situation. This is taking place despite the crisis of migration across the Mediterranean from Libya into Southern, Central and Eastern Europe impacting millions of Africans every year.

Africans who migrate to various regions of Europe are often subjected to national discrimination and racial violence. Many live in segregated housing complexes and are limited to menial work without adequate resources for education and economic opportunities.

On the continent itself there are various struggles being waged by working class organizations, women’s associations, and youth groups around jobs, the non-payment of salaries, environmental degradation and gender equality. States such as Zimbabwe and South Africa have been targets for regime-change strategies by the Obama administration and other imperialist governments.

Economic relations between the U.S. and Africa

Objectively the actual volume of trade between the U.S. and Africa has declined significantly during the Obama administration.

A report published earlier this year by the International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development says that: “Total trade between the United States and countries supported under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) showed another decrease in 2015, according to data published by the AGOA.info website. Combined trade, which came to US$ 50b in 2015, only reached US$ 36b last year. Trade between the United States and AGOA countries has now been declining for four years in a row.” (February 22)

In addition, the international debt crisis is reemerging in Africa due to the fall in oil, natural gas, strategic minerals and other commodity prices. The U.S. under Obama has increased its extraction of oil and natural gas domestically therefore creating a crisis of overproduction impacting not only Africa but several energy-producing states such as Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, South Africa and Nigeria, among others.

Consequently, there is a role for anti-imperialists to play by raising these issues on a national level. The destruction of Libya and Somalia along with the military occupation of Djibouti and the Gulf of Aden has not translated into genuine economic growth and development.

Pentagon, State Department and CIA interventions in Africa have done more to destabilize the continent rather than create the condition for full independence and sovereignty. Continuing dependence upon the capitalist mode of production and social relations in an atmosphere of global dominance by imperialism can only be addressed through the re-emergence of movements for radical transformation and socialist construction.

Posted in Africa, USA0 Comments

Some thoughts on Cuban resistance to US ideological/political war

AFP/GETTY

Since the visit by President Obama, two scenarios are playing out in Cuba. One is the barely veiled naive perspective regarding Obama. The second is the staunch resistance to the US ideological/political war being waged against Cuba’s socialist culture. The balance of forces is in favour of the outlook that is combating the infiltration of US prejudices within Cuban society.

Before leaving Montreal for Havana in March 2016 to cover the Obama trip, I wrote an article on Cuba–US relations. Referring to the cultural war to include, in the broad sense of the term, ideological and political aggression, I asked:

“The question is, will Obama’s visit to Cuba provide Cubans the opportunity to make headway against the cultural war, or will it allow the US to make inroads? Or are both these scenarios on the horizon?”

My intention at that time was to deal with this question immediately upon my return from Cuba. However, one feature became clear during my stay in Havana and immediately following it. Both in and outside of Cuba, the repercussions of the visit not only continued but were being ramped up. In fact, at the time of writing, a month after the trip, the ideological and political controversies are carrying on.

This situation is at present further being fostered by Raúl Castro’s April 16, 2016 Central Report to the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (CPC). He devoted important sections of the Report to the issue of Cuba–US relations.

Disinformation from within Cuba

The Obama visit and its accompanying international media entourage targeted the US, Canada and much of the West. It was characterized to a large extent by pointing, explicitly or implicitly, to what the US President calls the lack of democracy in Cuba. Consequently, the argument follows, there is a lack of respect for human rights, of which civil/political rights take centre-stage. This is nothing new, except for one game-changing feature. For the first time since the 1959 Revolution, the US has had the opportunity to carry out this disinformation not from outside Cuba, but rather from within the island.

From anti-US Cuba policy to apologist

For people outside of Cuba, especially in the US and Canada, there is no need to detail this misinformation, as it was everywhere (except for a few exceptions) on TV, on the internet and in printed media. However, there is another feature of this ideological/political aggression that is perhaps not noticeable to many, even though it plays a significant role in encouraging the US Cuba policy. In the above-mentioned article that I wrote just before my departure to Havana, I stated:

“Before December 17, 2014, many commentators [outside of Cuba] had been strongly opposed to the US policy on Cuba. There was a gap between them and Washington. Now the situation has changed. Some of them have become the vanguard of Obama–Cuba policy, forgetting that the US has only changed tactics. They have morphed into apologists of the new policy, which serves to finally achieve its strategic goal of undermining – now from within – the Cuban Revolution.”

During the visit to Havana, I was hoping that this position would be weakened as a result of the overtly (to me, anyways, and to many of my Cuban colleagues and people on the street) arrogant attitude of Obama preaching to the Cubans about democracy and human rights. Much to my surprise, the opposite took place. The US-centric view on democracy and human rights became emboldened among some commentators outside of Cuba and thus even further morphed into US-centrism.

The problem of US-centrism and democracy

This narrow-minded thinking appears to be firmly entrenched in the mind-set to such an extent that the internationally respected outstanding thinker Samir Amin in his classic book Eurocentrism perceptively highlighted a major problem. The ideological/political barrier erected over many centuries by Eurocentrism and its offspring, US-centrism, is very complex and ingrained. It operates, as Samir Amin warns,

“‘without anyone noticing it. This is why many specialists, historians and intellectuals can reject particular expressions of the Eurocentric construct without being embarrassed by the incoherence of the overall vision that results.’” [1]

For example, while some intellectuals outside of Cuba may distance themselves from some of the most grotesque features of Eurocentrism and US-centrism – such as its shallow claims to be the defenders of a superior political and economic model for the world – they may still fall prey to the main ideological/political underpinnings of the US-centric model.

It is not a question of individuals, but rather the ideological/political position that objectively exists in societies. The only manner to advance a serious resistance to a parochial view on the Cuban political/economic/social system is to take into account two factors. One is that Cuba has its own such system, whose tradition dates back to the mid-19th century to date. It is up to the Cubans to improve it, just as they are now striving to do. Second, irrespective of one’s opinion and analysis of the US political/economic/social system, it is theirs. The system has developed out of its own historical conditions and thus has nothing to do with the Cuban path. The dangers on the horizon result from US aggression based on its centuries-old desire for world domination. It is up to the American people to take up the road of fundamental change, not only for their own good but for the very future of the world. This is bound to take place, as the American people – especially African Americans, youth and intellectuals, in whom I have full confidence – are further waking up.

The progressive alternative press outside of Cuba

Outside of Cuba, the highly charged political atmosphere surrounding the Obama trip sparked widespread and heightened political consciousness. Many progressive people and those on the left are sharpening their anti-imperialist consciousness. They are creatively dissecting the Obama incursion into Cuba with sharp political knives while fully supporting the visit and the Cuban Revolution. This is extremely encouraging.

Cubans on the counteroffensive

What is also very inspiring is the number of Cubans who are confronting the US ideological/political war during and since Obama’s visit. This was expected, as this courageous resistance was initiated following the statements by Obama and Raúl Castro on December 17, 2014 on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of embassies.

On that occasion, Obama confirmed once again that the US is dispensing with openly antagonistic tactics, which did not work, in favour of diplomatic tactics that he hopes will function to finally attain the five-decades long goal of snuffing out the Cuban Revolution and undermining the island’s sovereignty. As a by-product of this rapprochement, the White House, through this new incursion, hopes to elevate itself to a better position to influence events in Latin America – read “regimen change” – by conventional or “soft power” warfare.

The Cuban “word warriors”

The counteroffensive to this in Cuba is not that well known to many foreigners, who may be interested but do not read Spanish. This consistent and long-lasting ideological/political struggle is found especially in blogs and some websites. Among the dozens of examples are the blogs of many well-known revolutionary Cuban writers and academics such as Iroel Sánchez, Elier Ramírez and Estéban Morales, which currently consist of a full compendium of critical articles on Cuba–US relations that have accumulated since December 17, 2014.

Another of these “word warriors” is Luis Toledo Sande. His blog, while not fully devoted to Cuba–US relations since December 17, 2014, has the merit of dealing with controversial issues in the realm of culture. One example is the appearance of American flags in public places in Havana over the last few years and as clothing apparel in a carnival-type fashion. In one of my articles, his analysis of this manifestation of cultural incursion allowed me to expose the complexities of the current situation on the island in the face of the new US policy. Jesús Arboleya is another such writer and academic. His articles on the Cuba–US theme are reproduced in the above-mentioned blogs as well as on the popular website CubaDebate.

CubaDebate, for its part, has been carrying critical articles on the new chapter on Cuba–US relations and – in keeping with its name – provoking debate among its readers. Hundreds of comments from the public are often published in reaction to just a single article. Since December 17, 2014, CubaDebate had featured a section fully devoted to the new Cuba–US relations and has been updated virtually daily, while dealing with other national and international themes. The same applies to Iroel Sánchez’s La pupila insomne, a hotbed for controversial articles.

Confronting the US-centric barrier

Aside from a few exceptions, what they all have in common is to publish articles with a clear opposition to US-centric views on democracy and human rights, even though not all of the pieces deal with this directly. What’s important, in my opinion, is the ideological outlook as the base from which views on specific political issues flow. I would venture to say that the above-mentioned intellectuals and many others are immune to any US influence on their thinking, action or outlook. There is no way that this cancer can infect these writers and the revolutionaries at the grass-roots and thus eat away at the Cuban political culture from within, as would be the case if it were allowed to flourish.

These intellectuals and many others who are lesser known, even in Cuba, are at the base of this resistance, and they are far from being alone. As the commentators on the blogs themselves often divulge, the comments from the public that are published in response to posts or articles reflect what is being discussed, as they say, “on the street.”

Furthermore, Fidel Castro’s article “Brother Obama”, released on March 29, 2016, provides sustenance and encouragement to all those fighting in the same trench against US unilateral views on democracy, human rights and its own selective and opportunist view of history. The same effect is now resulting from Raúl Castro’s April 16, 2016 Main Report to the 7th CPC Congress. Raúl cautioned that Cuba is not naive about the goal to subvert the Cuban Revolution.

To top it off, on April 19, Fidel Castro attended and addressed the closing session of the Congress. His presence further galvanized the militants and the people who later watched it on TV.

This opposition to being gullible is not only present among the leaders. On April 18, it was inspiring to watch some of the proceedings of the CPC Congress on Cuban television. One of the features that characterized the many interventions by the delegates and invited guests was a clear rejection of the Obama administration’s subversive policy toward Cuba. In fact, self-employed workers who were elected delegates also joined this opposition. If Obama had seen these proceedings, his perennial smile would have turned to a severe frown, as it was this very “private sector” that he had hoped to win over as a Trojan horse within Cuba.

It is clear that the CPC, from top down and bottom up, is a bulwark against the US ideological/political offensive. However, the Cubans’ defiance against the US assault in the realm of ideas is not over. For example, not all self-employed workers have the same outlook as expressed by the delegates in the Party congress. The situation among sections of the youth also represents a challenge.

Cuban opposition is gaining ground against the US war on Cuban socialist culture

Thus, what is the evaluation of the query in my article written before the visit, that is: “The question is, will Obama’s visit to Cuba provide Cubans the opportunity to make headway against the cultural war, or will it allow the US to make inroads? Or are both these scenarios on the horizon?”

My tentative conclusion is that both these frameworks are presently being played out, with Cuban indigenous thinking making the most headway against the US conceptual encroachment.

It would be naive perhaps to deny that Obamamania made some inroads. This is very noticeable in some of the comments left on various posts and articles and from reactions from the street. On the other hand, Obama’s narrative had a boomerang effect. The unexpected result is a very vigorous political debate at the grass roots and among many intellectuals against US preconceived notions that Obama tried to force onto the Cuban socialist political culture.

The depth and breadth of this movement is stronger than anything I have witnessed since I began investigating the Cuban political system in the 1990s. Thus, in Cuba, both these scenarios are being played out. One is the barely veiled naive perspective regarding Obama. The second is the staunch resistance to the US ideological/political war being waged against Cuba. I firmly believe that the balance of forces is in favour of the outlook that is combating the infiltration of US prejudices within Cuban society. They are, however, both evolving within the Revolution, which requires unity based on a dynamic exchange of different opinions. The unwavering resistance to the US war on Cuban thinking is already winning or has even come out victorious.

Cuba’s national hero José Martí wrote in 1895: “War is being waged on us to dominate our thinking, let us fight it by the power of thinking.”

Notes

[1] Arnold August, Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion, 2013, Fernwood Publishing and Zed Books, Halifax, London and New York, pages 7–8.

Posted in South America, USA0 Comments

US Downplays a New Syrian Massacre

NOVANEWS

Exclusive: The Obama administration claims Syrian rebels in Ahrar al-Sham deserve protection from government attack although they have close ties to Al Qaeda and joined its official Syrian affiliate in a slaughter of Alawites, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

On May 12, at dawn, members of Al Nusra and an allied Syrian rebel group known as Ahrar al-Sham stormed the Alawite village of Al-Zahraa, reportedly killing 19 people and abducting 120 others. In typical Salafist fashion, Ahrar al-Sham then posted a grisly YouTube video showing jihadis chanting Allahu akbar – “God is great” – and pointing in triumph to a bloody female body sprawled across the floor.

The incident, which occurred about 10 miles north of Aleppo, couldn’t have been more embarrassing for the United States since, just a day earlier, it had blocked a Russian proposal to formally designate Ahrar al-Sham as a terrorist group.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his entourage arrive to greet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his entourage arrive to greet President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Under intense questioning, State Department spokesman John Kirby grew visibly flustered as he struggled to defend US policy.

“I’m not going to get into internal deliberations one way or the other,” he said of the discussions among the 17 members of the International Syria Support Group, the United Nations body in charge of Syrian peace talks in Vienna. When a reporter from the “Russia Today” TV network demanded to know why, he sputtered:

“I’m telling you – look, you’re putting – I love how you do this, try to put everything on the United States.  The International Syria Support Group is an international – it represents the international community. Iran is a member. Russia is a member. Saudi Arabia – I could go on and on and on. All of them collectively made this decision.”

This was nonsense since it was the U.S. that led the charge against the resolution to classify Ahrar al-Sham as terrorist and Russia that was forced to back down. Kirby was simply dodging the issue. But if his inability to take responsibility shows anything, it is how uncomfortable at least some Washington officials have become with the Obama administration’s Syrian policy.

Obama’s Quagmire

And it’s no wonder. Syria is Obama’s Vietnam, a quagmire that grows messier and messier the harder he tries to escape – and Ahrar al-Sham shows why. One of the largest rebel factions in Syria, the so-called “Free Men of Syria,” began in 2011 as more or less an Al Qaeda spin-off with Mohamed Baheya, a long-time aide to Osama bin Laden and his successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, occupying one of the group’s top spots. But for tactical reasons, it chose to adopt a more moderate tone.

Last July, for instance, it published op-eds in the Washington Post and the London Telegraph declaring that Syria should not be controlled “by a single party or group” and that any future government should aim at “striking balance that respects the legitimate aspirations of the majority as well as protects minority communities and enables them to play a real and positive role in Syria’s future.”

It sounded reasonable enough, especially once Robert S. Ford, Obama’s former ambassador to Syria, followed up a few days later with an article for Washington’s Middle East Institute arguing that Ahrar is worth dealing with because it believes that religious minorities should be allowed to hold low-level political positions provided “they possess the right qualifications.”

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (left) in a scene from an al-Qaeda video, released by the U.S. Defense Department.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (left) in a scene from an Al Qaeda video, released by the U.S. Defense Department.

Did the White House take its ex-ambassador’s advice? The answer, all too typically, was yes and no. Aware that the group opposes democratic self-rule and believes in imposing shari‘a at gunpoint, Obama kept it at an arm’s length. But at the same time he resisted pressure to classify it as terrorist and made no objection when it joined forces with Al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, to form a new coalition calling itself Jaish al-Fatah, or Army of Conquest.

When Turkey and Saudi Arabia supplied the new alliance with U.S.-made TOW missiles so it could launch a major offensive in Syria’s northern Idlib province in March 2015, the administration held its tongue as well. [See Consortiumnews.com’s Climbing into Bed with Al-Qaeda.”]

It was a policy of neither-nor that allowed the administration to maintain “plausible deniability” while doing nothing to ruffle the feathers of Ankara or Riyadh as they cheered Ahrar al-Sham and Al Nusra on.

Besides, Turkey and Saudi Arabia had a point. However bigoted and reactionary, Ahrar al-Sham was a large and effective force at a time when secular rebels were increasingly rare. As long as the White House continued to back “regime change,” it couldn’t help collaborating with distasteful groups that were nonetheless effective on the battlefield.

The result, as Kirby’s dismal performance shows, has been to play down atrocities, plead ignorance, and then, when that doesn’t work, change the subject to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad alleged misdeeds instead.

When asked about reports that Ahrar al-Sham militants were “comingling” with Al Nusra – which is to say fighting side by side with Al Qaeda – State Department spokesman Elizabeth Trudeau replied on May 11 that “it’s very difficult to tease that out” because information is incomplete.

When asked who was to blame for the atrocities in Al-Zahraa, her colleague Kirby refused to say two days later because “we don’t have a whole lot of specific information about these attacks right now.”  Three days after that, he was still reluctant to assign blame because, he said, the facts remained up in the air: “The only other thing I would say is regardless of who was responsible for this attack, there’s no excuse for killing innocent civilians, none whatsoever.”

Knowing Nothing

If the State Department was in no hurry to find out, it was because it didn’t want to know. “We are working with all members of the ISSG,” Kirby went on, “to use the appropriate amount of influence that they have … over groups in Syria to get everybody to abide by the cessation.”

If Ahrar al-Sham was guilty of mass murder and abduction, then the U.S. would use its influence to see to it that its behavior was less … extreme. What’s going on here? Is Ahrar al-Sham playing the U.S. for a fool? Or is the Obama administration using such groups to advance its strategic goals?

The answer is a bit of both. The best way to understand bizarre behavior like this is to see it in the context of a vast imperial breakdown that is now unrolling across much of the Middle East.

America’s two main partners in the great Syrian misadventure are both in a state of deepening crisis. Not only is Turkey lurching toward dictatorship under an increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but its economy is crashing as well. The Istanbul stock market fell eight percent after Erdogan forced Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu out of office on May 5 while the Turkish lire fell nearly six percent in a single day. Corporate bankruptcies are up, growth is down, and tourist income is falling amid bombings and civil war in the Kurdish southeast.

President Obama and King Salman Arabia stand at attention during the U.S. national anthem as the First Lady stands in the background with other officials on Jan. 27, 2015, at the start of Obama’s State Visit to Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza). (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama and King Salman Arabia stand at attention during the U.S. national anthem as the First Lady stands in the background with other officials on Jan. 27, 2015, at the start of Obama’s State Visit to Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza). (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

But America’s other partner – Saudi Arabia – is even worse as it lurches from one disaster to the next. The war in Yemen is costing the kingdom and its Sunni Arab allies an estimated $200 million day, with the lion’s share borne by Riyadh. This is money that the Saudis can ill afford given a budget deficit projected to reach 13.5 percent of GDP this year due to an 18-month slump in oil prices.

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s “Vision 2030,” his grandiose economic plan for weaning the kingdom off oil, is meeting with widespread skepticism while the kingdom is so short of cash that it is considering paying contractors with IOU’s. When the Binladin Group, the kingdom’s largest construction company, laid off 50,000 foreign employees late last month, workers responded by rioting and setting fire to seven company buses. (Yes, Osama bin Laden was a member of the family that owns Binladin Group.)

Politically, the news is nothing short of ghastly. Under the late King Abdullah, the kingdom rapidly descended into fear and paranoia as it sent troops into neighboring Bahrain to crush democratic protests by the country’s 70-percent Shi‘ite majority and funneled billions of dollars to anti-Assad rebels in hopes of toppling Syria’s pro-Shi‘ite government.

Saudi Extremism

But where Abdullah was actually a mild reformer, believe it or not, his brother, Salman, who took over in January 2015, is a hardliner whose answer to criticism by Western human rights groups was to step up the number of public executions immediately after taking office and then doubling them again in 2016 Salman’s March 2015 agreement with Erdogan to supply Al Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other jihadist groups with TOW missiles was in keeping with this increasingly xenophobic mindset.

It was the response of a beleaguered monarch convinced that Shi‘ite militants are pressing in on the kingdom from all sides and that the only way to hold them off is by stepping up aid to Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists.

But such efforts have only added to the kingdom’s woes. While Al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham were able to eke out a short-term victory in Syria’s northern Idlib province, the only effect was to bring Russia into the war and tip the scales back in favor of Assad.

As a result, the Saudi kingdom now finds itself back on the defensive in Syria as well as in Yemen where the war against Shi‘ite Houthi rebels is hopelessly stalled. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran is rebuilding its ties to the world community after the April 2015 nuclear accord with the U.S. The more the kingdom struggles to assert itself, the more vulnerable its position grows.

“Were the Saudi monarchy to fall, it might be replaced not by a group of liberals and democrats but rather by Islamists and reactionaries,” warned Fareed Zakaria last month in the Washington Post. This is the nightmare that causes policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic to wake up in a cold sweat.

With oil prices off more than 50 percent from their peak in mid-2014, Saudi Arabia’s vast oil fields are worth less and less. But the prospect of a quarter of the world’s proven fossil-fuel reserves coming under the control of Al Qaeda or ISIS (as Islamic State is also known) is still too much to bear. So something – anything – must be done to maintain the status quo.

Buying Time

Thus, the administration dithers and stalls in the hope that a magic solution will somehow appear. Obviously, Obama made a big mistake in August 2011 in calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. With Arab Spring demonstrations erupting across the country and the Baathist regime seemingly nearing a breaking point, it seemed like an easy call. But it wasn’t.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Five years later, Assad is still in power while Obama finds himself on the hook to the Saudis, who want to see their bête noire toppled at all costs and are therefore determined to hold the U.S. to its word. Obama can’t afford another war in the Middle East or a military showdown with Russia.

He also knows that the Free Syrian Army, America’s favorite rebel faction, is a hollow shell no matter how much money and materiel the CIA sends its way. So he finds himself cooperating in one way or another with dangerous Sunni jihadists who, ideologically speaking, are no different from the terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11.

The upshot is a policy that makes no sense other than as a delaying tactic. Obama bombs Al Nusra to show he’s still serious about beating back Al Qaeda but includes its inseparable ally, Ahrar al-Sham, among the “non-terrorist” groups exempt from Syrian government attack under the terms of the May 5 Aleppo ceasefire agreement. [See Consortiumnews.com’s The Secret Behind the Yemen War.”]

Obama condemns terrorism but maintains back-channel communications with Ahrar al-Sham even though it’s nothing more than Al Qaeda-lite. He bombs Islamic State to show that he’s serious about combating ISIS but gives it a free pass whenever it goes up against Assad. [See Consortiumnews.com’s How US-Backed War on Syria Helped ISIS.”]

Obama calls for peace but refuses to condemn those responsible for atrocities like those in Al-Zahraa. Finally, Obama calls for a negotiated settlement but threatens to impose something called “Plan B”  if Assad doesn’t step down. That mysterious escalation could mean dividing the country along ethnic or religious lines, arming the rebels with portable anti-aircraft weapons known as Manpads, or something else entirely.

In truth, Obama is just trying to keep the lid on until Jan. 20 when the Syria mess becomes somebody else’s problem. At that point, he may well wind up on the Saudi payroll like Bill and Hillary Clinton or Tony Blair – assuming, that is, that the entity known as Saudi Arabia still exists.

Posted in Syria, USA0 Comments

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