As the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Barack Obama may continue to suffer from, of all things, a likability problem. Two weeks after John McCain pounced on favorable remarks made by a Hamas spokesperson that seemed to identify Obama as the group's preferred candidate, the junior senator from Illinois received another endorsement of sorts, this time from Fidel Castro.
In one of his periodic newspaper columns published in Communist Party newspaper Granma, Castro said he had 'no personal rancor' toward Obama, but 'if I defended him I would do a huge favor for his adversaries.'
Castro went on to call Obama "a strong candidate" as well as "the most progressive candidate" from "the social and human points of view."
Although Castro was highly critical of Obama's plans to continue the 50-year-old embargo, it's a safe bet that the McCain camp was not altogether disappointed with Fidel's comments.
Portugal, once a mighty world power, has given in to its former colony, Brazil, when it comes to spelling. Its parliament voted Friday to standardize the Portuguese language and spell words the Brazilian way. It also added three letters to the alphabet -- k, w, and y. The president is expected to approve the change.
The benefits: easier Internet searches, a uniform language for legal documents and international contracts, and less headache for textbook publishers. The drawback: wounded Portuguese pride.
If you were waiting to see who Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is supporting in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, it looks like you're going to be disappointed. Chavez sat down for an informal interview last Thursday with a group of visiting American newspaper editors and refused to bite:
Of the American presidential candidates, Chávez said, "It would be a lie to say I have no preference." But "I shouldn't say anything that would be used against someone."
The 20 editors spoke with Chavez for about 90 minutes on topics ranging from baseball (He's a Yankees fan, ironically.) to his relationship with Fidel Castro. He also stressed that the bombastic anti-American rhetoric he has used in the past is directed at the U.S. government, not ordinary Americans, and certainly not his friends in Hollywood:
I beg for forgiveness if in my speech I've hurt any feelings back in the States. I ask for forgiveness. When I speak about the United States, I do not refer to the people, to the citizens. I refer to the elite that is governing the United States - and not even referring to all of the elite governing the United States. Because we have friends among the elite governing the US. The economic elite, we have friends. We have friends among the cultural elite of the United States . . . Danny Glover. Kevin Spacey came over here. Sean Penn. Those are my friends, close friends . . . And when they come over here, they say what they like and what they don't like. And we still are friends. And that's what we want. We want to be friends. And I hope that with the new government we can then open new space for exchange - and discuss.
Chavez isn't getting too cozy though. He still worries about the U.S. invading to steal his country's oil wealth and is looking into buying more weapons from Russia to guard against this threat. He was also pretty evasive when asked about whether he planned to leave power when his term runs out in 2013, saying, "I don't think the Venezuelan people, at least part of the people, would allow me to get too far away from politics."
With his arch-nemesis on the way out, Chavez may be hoping to boost his appeal to the American population. But given how integral the image of Chavez as a third-world underdog railing against North American neoliberalism is to his appeal and legitimacy in Venezuela and throughout Latin America, it seems unlikely that he would ever get to friendly with the U.S., no matter who's sitting in the White House.
Just a few ordinary days in modern Mexico...
Gunmen killed 17 people over the weekend in the southern coastal state of Guerrero in a wild hunt for the head of the state cattlemen’s association, who has gone into hiding, the authorities said Monday.
On Saturday morning, several men dressed as commandos and carrying assault rifles opened fire on a cattlemen’s meeting at a hotel in Iguala, killing seven ranchers but missing the leader of the group, Rogaciano Alba Álvarez.
The next day, eight trucks full of armed men pulled up outside a house on Mr. Alba Álvarez’s ranch in Petatlán. The men asked for the owner of the ranch. His family and ranch hands denied knowing his whereabouts.
The gunmen then lined people up against a wall and opened fire, killing 10 people, including two young sons of Mr. Alba Álvarez, Alejandro and Rusbel, a witness told The Associated Press. Then they kidnapped a teen-age girl believed to be Mr. Alba Álvarez’s niece or daughter and fled, authorities said.
TIJUANA – A confrontation between rival criminal gangs left 13 dead and nine injured early yesterday in gunbattles that started along a major thoroughfare and continued near a private clinic where police exchanged gunfire with injured suspects.
Police have recovered the remains of seven men who were killed and dumped along a road in northern Mexico.
The folks at Cuban Transition Project at the University of Miami have a handy chart on the shocking extent of Castro family involvement in the Cuban regime. Raúl is just the tip of the iceberg, my friends:
During the past few years family members of both Fidel and Raúl Castro have come to occupy important positions in Cuba's government. This Castro clan represents in addition to the military, the security apparatus and the Communist Party, a significant force in Cuba's political and economic structures.
Here's the list:
Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart
Relationship: Fidel Castro's son
Position: Advisor, Ministry of Basic Industry
Col. Alejandro Raúl Castro Espin
Position: Raúl Castro's son
Position: Chief, Intelligence Information Services, Ministry of the Interior; Coordinator, Intelligence Exchange with China
Ramón Castro Ruz
Position: Fidel and Raúl's oldest brother
Position: Advisor, Ministry of Sugar
Dr. Antonio Castro Soto
Position: Fidel Castro's son
Position: Investment Chief, Frank Pais Hospital. Doctor for Cuba's baseball team
Major Raúl Alejandro Rodríguez Castro
Position: Raúl Castro's grandson
Position: Raúl Castro's military guard in charge of his personal security
Deborah Castro Espin
Position: Raúl Castro's daughter
Position: Advisor, Ministry of Education
Mariela Castro Espin
Position: Raúl Castro's daughter
Position: Head, Center for Sexual Education
Marcos Portal León
Position: Married to Raúl Castro's niece
Position: In charge of nickel industry, member of the Central Committee of Cuba's Communist Party
No pictures available:
Col. Luís Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, Raúl Castro's son-in-law
Chief Executive Officer of Grupo GAESA (Grupo de Administración de Empresas, S.A.) which supervises military enterprises
Alfonsito Fraga, Related to Raúl Castro
Ministry of Foreign Relations
The French-Swiss-Spanish humanitarian mission to Colombia has apparently collapsed. There had been hopes the FARC rebel group would at least permit the mission's members to visit and treat ailing hostage Ingrid Betancourt. The former Colombian presidential candidate, who holds French citizenship, has been in captivity for five years. In rejecting the mission, a FARC spokesman placed the blame squarely on Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, whose military recently dealt the FARC a harsh blow.
We profoundly regret that while we were making palpable progress for a prisoner exchange, President Uribe planned and executed the cunning murder of comandante Raul Reyes, mortally wounding the hope for a humanitarian exchange and peace."
The failure of the mission is lamentable and the plight of the FARC hostages is tragic. Still, the high-level French attention to the issue is remarkable. President Sarkozy has declared himself ready to jet to the region if necessary to secure Betancourt's release. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner regularly wrestles with the details of the case. Betancourt's case has become a cause-celebre, and French politicians may simply be responding to the French street, but the sight of France's leaders hanging on the utterances of FARC guerrillas must have de Gaulle spinning in his grave.
Food riots seem to be happening around the world on a near-daily basis lately. U.N. peacekeepers fired rubber bullets and tear gas at an angry mob that tried to storm the National Palace in the Hatian capital, Port-au-Prince today. Riots began in Haiti last Wednesday and five people have already been killed in the violence. According to Reuters, the price of rice has doubled over the last six months and Haiti's poor are growing desperate:
If the government cannot lower the cost of living it simply has to leave. That's our decision," said protester Renand Alexandre. "If the police and U.N. troops want to shoot at us, that's OK, because in the end if we are not killed by bullets we'll die of hunger."
Unsurprisingly, Haiti's government is stumped about how to deal with what is, in fact, a growing global crisis.
This week’s Tuesday map comes to us from a billboard controversy south of the border.
Created by advertising agency Teran/TBWA and launched a few weeks ago in Mexico, the Absolut billboard ad depicted pre-1848
The campaign was obviously intended for a Mexican audience, as Favio Ucedo, creative director of a top Latino advertising firm, explained:
Many (Americans) aren’t going to understand it. Americans in the East and the North or in the center of the county -- I don’t know if they know much about the history… Probably Americans in Texas and California understand perfectly, and I don’t know how they’d take it.”
But Absolut quickly learned just how some Americans would take it: not well. Although the ad never appeared in the U.S., it was picked up by American media outlets, causing a flurry of complaint from
As of Friday, Absolut’s maker Vin & Spirits had decided to withdraw the apparently offensive advertisement even though it "was based upon historical perspectives and was created with a Mexican sensibility... [and was] in no way was meant to offend or disparage, nor...advocate an altering of borders..."
"The Simpsons" is inappropriate for children, but "Baywatch Hawaii" is alright. At least that's what the government of Venezuela says. The National Telecommunications Commission opened an inquiry last week, saying that viewers had complained about "The Simpsons" and that the network airing it could be held responsible for violating the country's Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television. On Friday, channel Televen said it was yanking the yellow cartoon family from its 11 a.m. slot, and replacing it with the babes in bikinis of Baywatch.
I guess it doesn't sound totally crazy if you think about it from a cultural perspective. After all, Bart is constantly disrespecting his parents, and I suppose one might not want young kids to get that message. But beauty on the beach... is that a universal Venezuelan value, no matter the age? At any rate, don't have a cow, man! Televen still might still choose to air "The Simpsons" in a different time slot.
I must admit, I'm puzzled as to why it's supposed to be such a big deal that Hillary Clinton's chief strategist Mark Penn (right) met with Bogotá's ambassador to Washington about the controversial U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
The key point to remember about this and other FTAs in Latin America is that they're much more about politics than they are about economics. Ninety percent of U.S. imports from Colombia have already been entering the United States without any tariff, thanks to prior agreements. Peterson Institute analyst Jeffrey J. Schott estimated in 2006 that any welfare gains (GDP boost) from a U.S.-Colombia FTA would be positive, but "relatively small" -- roughly half a percentage point for the Colombians, and a negligible amount for the United States. If anything, the agreement is about lowering Colombia's tariff barriers to U.S. goods, solidifying trade relations, and lowering the risk that President Álvaro Uribe's successor will have a different economic philosophy. So, claims by U.S. labor activists that the FTA would be bad for U.S. manufacturers are little more than dishonest fearmongering.
That said, I'm not on board with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab's hyperbole, either. Can it really be that the dangling FTA, not the drug war, is the root of Latin America's problems today?
Leaders in the hemisphere and Latin America have said that the single most destabilizing factor in Latin America today may be the U.S. Congress's failure to ratify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. That is more destabilizing today than anything that Colombia's neighbor Venezuela is doing or threatening to do— and that is saying a lot.
The Reyes laptop is the gift that just keeps on giving. Within a few days of killing FARC commander Raúl Reyes and seizing a laptop allegedly belonging to him, Colombian authorities began referring repeatedly to FARC's desire to obtain up to 110 kilograms of uranium and perhaps even a past purchase of 50 kilograms for a "dirty bomb," citing information obtained from the laptop.
On Wednesday, the purchased uranium was apparently found, but it's spectacularly unclear how dangerous the material really is. Informants apparently tipped off investigators to the uranium's whereabouts, which happened to be a few feet off a road in southern Bogotá. There, investigators uncovered about 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of uranium buried in plastic bags.
But just what kind of uranium? It certainly wasn't enriched uranium, which is what they would need for a dirty bomb. Some outlets are reporting it to be "impoverished," i.e. "depleted" uranium, which is the byproduct of enrichment, and far less dangerous. Nuke analyst Charles Ferguson told Bloomberg:
You could stand next to this material for days and nothing would happen to you, unless you dropped it on your foot,'' said Ferguson.
So, what did FARC want with depleted uranium? A Colombian security analyst told Reuters it was likely a money-making scheme. Other uses, according to Ferguson:
Possible uses for the FARC might include making armor- piercing conventional weapons or an ingestible poison, Ferguson said. Less likely, the metal could be used as a shield while handling more potent radioactive materials that would be used to make a dirty bomb.
I asked Matthew Bunn, senior research associate with Harvard's Project on Managing the Atom, what the significance of the find is:
[D]epleted uranium is pretty useless for terrorists, and there aren't variants of uranium that are even more so.
30 kg of either natural or depleted uranium is not of much interest, either from the point of the security threat it poses (almost none -- uranium is only very weakly radioactive, and unenriched material is useless for making a nuclear bomb) or from the point of view of its value (something like $6000 for natural uranium, at current commercial market prices in the range of $200 per kilogram of uranium, much less for depleted uranium). Depleted uranium is the waste from a uranium enrichment plant, but is also used for things that require very dense material, such as armor-penetrating shells and ships ballast. How it ended up in Bogota is a bit unclear, but it's not controlled especially carefully, since it's not a material of much interest to anyone.
(The fact that in the original seized memo the quoted price was $2.5 million per kilogram suggests that the seller either was running a scam or was totally clueless about the value of what he had, and that the memo author was fairly clueless either about the nature of the material on offer or the value of it, or both.)
The only thing that IS potentially of interest in this whole story (in my view) is that a very professional terrorist organization like FARC, with a good deal of experience in smuggling, apparently was interested in getting involved in buying and selling nuclear material for money. That suggests that some one who had serious nuclear material (unlike this material) and needed to move it from one country to another might have been able to make use of the FARC's capabilities.
Watch this space.
Evo Morales, Bolivia's populist president, has signed up with a minor league soccer team in La Paz.
The 47-year-old will be a reserve player for the team Litoral, which hopes to earn a spot in Bolivia's top professional league next year. Morales was once a standout player for a local cocoa grower's team and as president, has been an outspoken critic of the worldwide ban against high-altitude soccer games.
It's like the microwaves fell from the sky," said Marisa Gutierrez, a 49-year-old housewife who uses her backyard to grow beans and bananas and is even raising a family of pigs she inherited.
"We hope there will be more in the future," she said. "Computers, telephones in every home."
Surely, Betamax cannot be far behind. Viva la revolucion!
FP Editor-in-Chief Moisès Naím explains:
At first sight, the scandals that brought down Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, and Klaus Zumwinkel, the former president of Deutsche Post (the German corporate behemoth), didn't seem to have much in common. Spitzer fell two weeks ago for hiring prostitutes; Zumwinkel, two weeks before that, for tax evasion. Yet there's a thread that binds them together: money laundering. Both men were brought down by a new system for tracking money that was created in reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks—but that has since spread its net far beyond jihadists.
See also Naím's commentary on how Ugly Betty explains the Latin American economy.
Cuba's under-23 soccer team was left with only 10 players on the field this week (for American readers: that's one less than normal) after seven defected during an Olympic qualifying tournament in Tampa, Florida. Five players initially made a run for it during a team meal on Tuesday night, telling a Spanish-language TV station that they hoped to play professional soccer in the United States. Then two more players defected before a game against Honduras yesterday, leaving Cuba with a team of 10 and no substitutes. While I'm certainly happy for the defectors and wish them luck, you've got to give the remaining team some credit for soldiering on shorthanded and holding Honduras scoreless for the first half before going down 2-0 in the second. They play again against Panama on Saturday. If Kevin Costner wanted to start a second career in communist propaganda films, he could find worse material.
(Hat tip: On Deadline)
Jackson Diehl explains why the U.S. government, for all its criticism of Hugo Chávez and his increasingly damning ties to Colombia's FARC rebels, might not take the next logical step and brand the Venezuelan leader a terrorist sponsor:
[T]he Colombian evidence would be more than enough to justify a State Department decision to cite Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism. Once cited, Venezuela would be subject to a number of automatic sanctions, some of which could complicate its continuing export of oil to the United States. A cutoff would temporarily inconvenience Americans -- and cripple Venezuela, which could have trouble selling its heavy oil in other markets.
There are many interpretations of the so-called Bush Doctrine, but as Diehl alludes, confronting state sponsors of terrorism is surely on of its key tenets. When one alleged terrormaster happens to be your third-largest oil supplier, though, such doctrinal edicts tend to get a little fuzzy.
Here's an interesting tidbit from the laptop Colombian forces seized when they raided the camp of FARC commander Raúl Reyes:
Writing two days before his death, Reyes tells his secretariat comrades that "the gringos," working through Ecuador's government, are interested "in talking to us on various issues."
"They say the new president of their country will be (Barack) Obama," noting that Obama rejects both the Bush administration's free trade agreement with Colombia and the current military aid program.
Reyes said the response he relayed is that the United States would have to publicly express that desire.
This may be wishful thinking on FARC's part. Obama did join a handful of senators last May in signing a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that questioned the Colombian government's ties to paramilitary forces. But I'm not aware that he rejects U.S. military aid to Colombia per se. Here's what Obama said about Colombia back in March 2007:
The United States has invested a great deal—nearly $5 billion during the past 7 years—to help stabilize Colombia. A more peaceful, just, and stable Colombia is undoubtedly in our national interest. It is imperative, however, that greater peace and stability contribute to a reduction in the flow of drugs from Colombia to the United States. Thus far, we have not seen the kind of drop off that the effective pursuit of our interests demands.
President Bush's closest ally in the region—Colombian President Alvaro Uribe—is embroiled in a controversy that has led to the arrest of eight of his supporters in the Colombian Congress and his former confidant and former chief of Colombia’s secret police for ties to the country’s narco-terrorist paramilitaries. President Bush must be careful to keep the pursuit of U.S. interests in Colombia distinct from specific personalities, or personal relationships. The further consolidation of legitimate governing institutions in Colombia – and the extension of their reach throughout Colombia – are clearly in the national interest of the United States, and the interest of Colombia.
That sounds like unobjectionably good advice to me.
Hugo Chávez's former defense minister, Raúl Baduel, had harsh words this week for his old boss, who sent Venezuelan troops to the Colombian border over the weekend in response to Colombia's military incursion in Ecuador:
This is a desperate attempt by President Chávez to use the military for political and personal ends, making them participants in an action whose consequences could be disastrous."
In other words, Baduel is accusing Chávez of fomenting an international crisis in order to distract from his domestic political problems. It's a significant move, coming from someone whose personal and professional relationship with the Venezuelan president spans 35 years, culminating with Baduel's resignation from the defense ministry in 2007. Baduel is a legendary revolutionary figure in Venezuela, best known for defending Hugo Chávez during the April 2002 coup attempt, and for his fierce loyalty to the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement that Chávez founded in the 1980s. But as Chávez tried to push through constitutional reforms late last year, Baduel began distancing himself from the president, citing his moral and ethical obligation to point out the harm Chávez would do to Venezuela if he succeeded in centralizing executive power and socializing the economy.
It's good that somebody is calling Chávez to account, because most in the region seem distracted by the accusations being hurled back and forth between Colombia and Ecuador. Colombia claims to have found evidence linking Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), whose leader Raul Reyes was killed in this weekend's raid. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe says that Venezuela has been funding FARC and has pledged to take Chávez to international court for funding genocide. And although Peru's president, Alan García, suggested that Chavez should butt out of the diplomatic row between Ecuador and Colombia, he is also urging Uribe to apologize and avoid setting a bad precedent for sovereignty. As Passport reader joeljournal noted on Monday, though, some would say that propping up a terrorist group in your neighbor's country isn't such a great precedent to set either.
Over the weekend, both Ecuador and Venezuela sent troops to their borders with Colombia after Colombian President Álvaro Uribe ordered raids on suspected terrorist targets across the Ecudorian border, killing a rebel leader. The standoff between the three nations also featured some pretty harsh rhetoric from Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, who dubbed U.S.-backed Colombia, "the Israel of Latin America" and said Uribe is "a criminal, not only a liar, he is a mafioso, a paramilitary leading a terrorist state." Chávez has long been a supporter of Ecudorian President Rafael Correa and his government's left-leaning approach.
Over the past few months, Chávez has increasingly inserted himself into Colombia's ongoing problem with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the leftist guerilla group that has been trying to overthrow the Colombian government for decades. In February, hundreds of thousands if not millions marched against FARC in protests worldwide. Yet Chávez insists there is international pressure on the Colombian government to negotiate with FARC, and that he is just the man to broker the peace. He has had some success in recent months in negotiating the release of a handful of FARC hostages, but the number released pales in comparison to the estimated thousands held by the rebel group.
Such incursions are becoming increasingly common in a post-9/11 era of asymmetric warfare, wherein a guerilla enemy can take advantage of its small size and knowledge of terrain to slip across sovereign boundaries. Turkey recently ventured into northern Iraq in pursuit of the militant group Kurdistan Workers' Party, and the United States has carried out missile strikes in Pakistan and today in Somalia for similar reasons. And although Chávez may have been understandably unnerved by this practice occurring in his backyard, he may want to think twice about bringing his region to the brink of war over a quick and limited military incursion.
Today, emerging-market countries account for 85 percent of the world's population but generate just 20 percent of global gross national product. By 2035, however, the combined economies of emerging markets will be larger than (and by the middle of this century, nearly double) the economies of the United States, Western Europe, or Japan. The reality of globalization—which is only slowly and reluctantly sinking in—is that outsourcing means more than having "cheap labor" toil away in mines, factories, and call centers on behalf of Western corporations. Yet in the West, business leaders and government officials cling to the notion that their companies lead the world in technology, design, and marketing prowess.
Increasingly, that just isn't so.
When we think of these emerging markets, we tend to think of places like India and China. But the world's biggest emerging market is actually Brazil, according to a new index from Morgan Stanley. So, when will Lou Dobbs start railing against "the great Brazilian menace"?
It seems that "Fidel the blogger" is in no hurry to leave Cuba's political limelight In his first column for Granma since stepping down as Cuba's president, Fidel Castro explained his role in putting together his brother Raúl's new military-heavy governing team. (He also took a gratuitous shot at presumptive U.S. Republican nominee John McCain.)
I was consulted during the process of putting together a list of candidates for the position of first vice president that he held, and of which no one was stripped. I did not demand to be consulted. It was Raúl and the country’s top leaders who decided to consult me. Similarly, it was my decision to ask the Candidacy Commission to include Leopoldo Cintra Frías and Alvaro López Miera, who joined the Rebel Army combatants when they were only 15, on the list of candidates for the Council of State. The two are much younger than McCain and have more experience as military leaders, as demonstrated by their victorious internationalist feats...These were the moves the chess board itself decided. They were not the fruit of Raúl’s alleged militaristic tendencies, nor was it a question of different generations or factions rabidly fighting over a mundane slice of power.
Naturally, Compañero Fidel also had a few choice words for all the haters:
You can now hear the howls of wolves trapped by their tails," he wrote. "They are so rabid over the election of Machadito [José Ramon Macado Ventura] as first vice president."
Raúl has taken some flack for promoting these aging, military idealogues to his governing council and this Reuters story suggests that Fidel may be trying to take some of the heat off the new president. Still, I can't see that he does little brother any favors by reinforcing the preception that he's pulling strings behind the scenes.
If you were were looking for a hard number to sum up the state of Cuba's political leadership, try 70. That's the average age of Raúl Castro and the six vice presidents appointed this past weekend. The acension of these longtime Raúlistas to the top spots in Cuba's government is as good an indication of any that Raúl has no immediate plans for major reform. In a conference call organized by the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American studies, Senior Research Associate Brian Latell characterized Cuba's new government as a "gerontocracy... old men dealing with the possibility of an upheaval and instability among the younger generation of Cubans."
His colleague, University of Miami Assistant Provost Andy Gomez, said his interviews with young Cubans in recent days indicated a disturbing trend of authorities arresting youths on trumped up charges, possibly to prevent major demonstrations. Gomez worries that unless major reforms are undertaken soon, we might soon see a major outward migration of young Cubans to the United States and elsewhere:
I do think that we might see a movement of this young generation trying to leave the island in any possible direction. My concerns here are multiple. First, the
It's also unlikely to help alleviate the already toxic state of the U.S. immigration debate.
FP Editor in Chief Moisés Naím weighs in on Fidel Castro's retirement:
About a year ago Fidel Castro started blogging. Every week or so he posted his “Reflections of the Commander in Chief”. While not strictly a blog, in his internet musings “El Comandante” does what bloggers do: he comments on the news, chastises enemies (Bush, Aznar), extols friends (Hugo!) or rambles on subjects he cares about (sport and politics).
On Tuesday his most recent post, which as usual was also published in Granma, Cuba's leading newspaper, was a bit different: “I will neither aspire to nor will I accept, I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor will I accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief”, Castro wrote. Not many bloggers make history with their early morning postings. Moreover, in this history-making post El Comandante did reassure his readers that while he was relinquishing power they should not worry: he was keeping his blog. He would just change its name to “Reflections of El Compañero Fidel”.
The latest news on the Kosovo recognition front is that Bolivia has decided not to recognize the country's independence. President Evo Morales compared Kosovo to the four eastern Bolivian states that are pushing for greater autonomy, a situation we wrote about in December. Morales's ally Hugo Chávez will not recognize Kosovo, either.
I'd been wondering if there were anyone willing to mount a semi-coherent defense of the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Enter Gordon Chang on Commentary's blog:
An embargo helped kill communism in Europe, and it can also end it in the Caribbean. One day we will establish normal trading relations with Cuba, but that should not be before the people there govern themselves. “The post-Fidel era is clearly at hand, and the Bush administration has done almost nothing to prepare for it,” the New York Times said. Prepare for what? The embargo has been working all along, and it is up to the Cuban dictators to relax their grip, not us.
Fifty more years!
UPDATE: A commenter chez Yglesias fires off this gem:
Maybe the embargo's goal was to force Castro to grow old and ultimately retire after almost five decades in power. In which case: success! Just think how much younger he'd still be if we'd traded with him.
We don't yet know how Raúl Castro plans to govern Cuba. Will he cling to the old ways? Or now that his brother Fidel is formally stepping down, will he be more bold in pursuing economic and political reform? And what role will the United States play in this process, especially in an election year with Florida and its Cuban population in play?
Chances are high that U.S. politicians will choose the easy route and continue a policy of isolation that has failed for five decades. But hope springs eternal! Perhaps the United States will choose to engage rather than punish. If that happens, U.S. policymakers will need a strategy. FP Editor in Chief Moises Naim had a perceptive column a few years back on the lessons would-be Cuba reformers need to remember in thinking about how to help that country transition from communist dictatorship to a free society. It still rings true today:
Lesson one: Failure is more common than success in the transition to a democratic market economy. Lesson two: The less internationally integrated, more centralized, and more personalized a former communist regime was, the more traumatic and unsuccessful its transition will be. Lesson three: Dismantling a communist state is far easier and faster than building a functional replacement for it. Lesson four: The brutal, criminal ways of a powerful Communist party with a tight grip on public institutions are usually supplanted by the brutal, criminal ways of powerful private business conglomerates with a tight grip on public institutions. Lesson five: Introducing a market economy without a strong and effective state capable of regulating it gives resourceful entrepreneurs more incentive to emulate Al Capone than Bill Gates.
It is therefore safe to assume that if the Castro regime suddenly implodes, Cuba will end up looking more like Albania than the Bahamas.
I'm not thinking to cut my beard, because I'm accustomed to my beard and my beard means many things to my country. When we have fulfilled our promise of good government I will cut my beard."
— Castro in 1959, interviewed by CBS's Edward Murrow
Raul Castro has run Cuba ever since his brother Fidel fell ill in the summer of 2006, so Fidel's announcement today that he is stepping down after nearly 50 years in power is largely symbolic. That said, Fidel continued to pull political strings from his sickbed, and his statement today suggests that he still intends to voice his opinions on matters of state.
FP has long been host to debates on Castro's legacy and what a post-Fidel Cuba might look like. With Raul at the helm, today will look much like yesterday. But Raul is also 76 years old. The machine is surely in motion to find ideological heirs to the Castro brothers.
Was Fidel Good for Cuba? Ignacio Ramonet of Le Monde Diplomatique squares off against columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner over Castro's true legacy.
Seven Questions for Brian Latell The former CIA analyst and author on what life in Cuba is like under the younger Castro brother.
Seven Questions for Carlos Saladrigas The businessman and outspoken Castro critic discusses Fidel's decline and his homeland's future.
What America Must Do: End the Embargo Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer's advice to the next American president.
Ever wonder what happened to all those preprinted Super Bowl T-shirts proclaiming the New England Patriots as the champs? Turns out, poor kids in Nicaragua are wearing them:
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