All posts by Medea Benjamin

Five Years After Obama’s Cuba Opening, Cubans Are Reeling From the “Trump Effect”

CODEPINK Cuba Delegation in Havana

December 17, 2019, Havana, Cuba:  Gloria Minor had been preparing her AirBnB in Havana for years, investing every penny her sister sent her from Miami in repairing and refurbishing her apartment.  With President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro re-establishing relations five years ago, Minor was sure the expected flood of U.S. visitors would make her business flourish. It did—until Donald Trump came along. Now her business is down 50 percent. “I feel like the bride who prepared everything for the wedding, but the groom ran away and stiffed me,” she said. Our CODEPINK 50-person delegation to Cuba, staying in private homes, is hearing similar stories over and over again.

While the U.S. sanctions imposed on Cuba following the 1959 revolution can only be lifted by Congress, Obama had used his executive power to renew diplomatic relations and relax restrictions on travel and trade. The Obamas visited the island to great fanfare, and Cubans were jubilant with the anticipated economic boon. The government opened new hotels and upgraded airports and sea ports, gearing up for a “tsunami” of American visitors coming on newly authorized commercial flights and cruise ships.

The Obama opening coincided with a new Cuban policy of allowing Cubans to leave their low-paid state jobs and obtain licenses to start their own small businesses. Hundreds of thousands became entrepreneurs, many catering to tourists so that they could earn hard currency. Cuba became the fastest growing site for AirBnB. Others invested their life savings, or borrowed money from relatives abroad, to open small restaurants in their homes called paladares.

Donald Trump came in like a bull in a china shop, rolling back Obama’s openings and imposing new punitive measures. While his administration justifies the rollback by citing Cuban human rights violations and Cuba’s support for the Venezuela government, a more likely explanation is that Trump is catering to the conservative Cuban-Americans in Florida, a state that could be decisive in the 2020 election.

Individual travel is now restricted to certain permitted categories. Cruise ships are prohibited from docking in Cuban ports. Commercial flights from the U.S. to Cuban cities other than Havana are banned. The Trump administration has sanctioned nearly 200 Cuban government-run companies and hotels, as well as any company or vessel involved with shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba. Tougher U.S. sanctions against Cuba have led international banks to avoid transactions involving the island.

In April, Trump also activated Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which allows Americans to sue U.S. and international companies profiting from property that was nationalized or confiscated after Cuba’s 1959 Revolution. Previously, every administration had waived this provision, knowing the chaos it would cause. The companies now being sued range from American Airlines to the Spanish Melia Hotel chain. Between Helms-Burton lawsuits and increased U.S. enforcement of sanctions, prospective overseas investors have put plans on hold.

The Trump administration has also targeted another key source of income for Cuba—the doctors it sends to work overseas in poor rural areas that are in dire need of healthcare. The program is a voluntary one for the doctors, but the Cuban government keeps the majority of the salaries paid by the host country, investing the money in Cuba’s education and health care systems. The Trump administration has ferociously attacked this program, encouraging doctors to defect and pushing U.S.-friendly governments not to contract them. When Brazil and Bolivia switched to right wing governments, they immediately expelled the Cuban doctors, severely cutting into Cuba’s revenues.

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said the Trump administration does not conceal its intention, which is to “suffocate Cuba economically and to increase damage, scarcities and hardships on our people.”

Indeed, Trump’s policies are making life harder for Cuba’s 10 million people. “The ‘Trump effect’ has touched every aspect of our lives,” high school teacher Roberta Mejia told me. “Transportation is devastated, as we are functioning on a fraction of the oil we used to have. There is less food and medicines; the hospitals are experiencing all kinds of shortages. And psychologically, we are feeling a tremendous sense of uncertainty, since we don’t know if things will get worse. Our only hope is that the American people will vote for a new president.”

Cubans are angry, resentful and most of all, defiant. “We’ve lived with one form or another of U.S. sanctions since 1960,” a university professor Teresa Oroza told our delegation. “The current crisis is not nearly as severe as the crisis of the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving us with horrible shortages of food, gasoline—everything. It was a nightmare but we lived through it. This, too, shall pass.”

One way to show support for the Cuban people is by traveling to Cuba. While the Trump administration has restricted travel, it is still quite easy to go under the category called “support for the Cuban people.” This requires an itinerary that allows for “meaningful interaction with the Cuban people,” in the majority of cases put together by an approved travel agency, organization or university. For more information, contact gro.knipedocnull@ofni.

Trump Was Right: NATO Should Be Obsolete

The three smartest words that Donald Trump uttered during his presidential campaign are “NATO is obsolete.” His adversary, Hillary Clinton, retorted that NATO was “the strongest military alliance in the history of the world.” Now that Trump has been in power, the White House parrots the same worn line that NATO is “the most successful Alliance in history, guaranteeing the security, prosperity, and freedom of its members.” But Trump was right the first time around: Rather than being a strong alliance with a clear purpose, this 70-year-old organization that is meeting in London on December 4 is a stale military holdover from the Cold War days that should have gracefully retired many years ago.

NATO was originally founded by the United States and 11 other Western nations as an attempt to curb the rise of communism in 1949. Six years later, Communist nations founded the Warsaw Pact and through these two multilateral institutions, the entire globe became a Cold War battleground. When the USSR collapsed in 1991, the Warsaw Pact disbanded but NATO expanded, growing from its original 12 members to 29 member countries. North Macedonia, set to join next year, will bring the number to 30. NATO has also expanded well beyond the North Atlantic, adding a partnership with Colombia in 2017. Donald Trump recently suggested that Brazil could one day become a full member.

NATO’s post-Cold War expansion toward Russia’s borders, despite earlier promises not to move eastward, has led to rising tensions between Western powers and Russia, including multiple close calls between military forces. It has also contributed to a new arms race, including upgrades in nuclear arsenals, and the largest NATO “war games” since the Cold War.

While claiming to “preserve peace,” NATO has a history of bombing civilians and committing war crimes. In 1999, NATO engaged in military operations without UN approval in Yugoslavia. Its illegal airstrikes during the Kosovo War left hundreds of civilians dead. And far from the “North Atlantic,” NATO joined the United States in invading Afghanistan in 2001, where it is still bogged down two decades later. In 2011, NATO forces illegally invaded Libya, creating a failed state that caused masses of people to flee. Rather than take responsibility for these refugees, NATO countries have turned back desperate migrants on the Mediterranean Sea, letting thousands die.

In London, NATO wants to show it is ready to fight new wars. It will showcase its readiness initiative – the ability to deploy 30 battalions by land, 30 air squadrons and 30 naval vessels in just 30 days, and to confront future threats from China and Russia, including with hypersonic missiles and cyberwarfare. But far from being a lean, mean war machine, NATO is actually riddled with divisions and contradictions. Here are some of them:

  • French President Emmanuel Macron questions the U.S. commitment to fight for Europe, has called NATO “brain dead” and has proposed a European Army under the nuclear umbrella of France.

  • Turkey has enraged NATO members with its incursion into Syria to attack the Kurds, who have been Western allies in the fight against ISIS. And Turkey has threatened to veto a Baltic defense plan until allies support its controversial incursion into Syria. Turkey has also infuriated NATO members, especially Trump, by purchasing Russia’s S-400 missile system.

  • Trump wants NATO to push back against China’s growing influence, including the use of Chinese companies for the construction of 5G mobile networks–something many NATO countries are unwilling to do.

  • Is Russia really NATO’s adversary? France’s Macron has reached out to Russia, inviting Putin to discuss ways in which the European Union can put the Crimean invasion behind it. Donald Trump has publicly attacked Germany over its Nord Stream 2 project to pipe in Russian gas, but a recent German poll saw 66 percent wanting closer ties with Russia.

  • The UK has bigger problems. Britain has been convulsed over the Brexit conflict and is holding contentious national election on December 12. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, knowing that Trump is wildly unpopular, is reluctant to be seen as close to him. Also, Johnson’s major contender, Jeremy Corbyn, is a reluctant supporter of NATO. While his Labour Party is committed to NATO, over his career as an anti-war champion, Corbyn has called NATO “a danger to world peace and a danger to world security.” The last time Britain hosted NATO leaders in 2014, Corbyn told an anti-NATO rally that the end of the Cold War “should have been the time for NATO to shut up shop, give up, go home and go away.”

  • A further complication is Scotland, which is home to a very unpopular Trident nuclear submarine base as part of NATO’s nuclear deterrent. A new Labour government would need the support of the Scottish National Party. But its leader, Nicola Sturgeon, insists that a precondition for her party’s support is a commitment to close the base.

  • Europeans can’t stand Trump (a recent poll found he is trusted by only 4 percent of Europeans!) and their leaders can’t rely on him. Allied leaders learn of presidential decisions that affect their interests via Twitter. The lack of coordination was clear in October, when Trump ignored NATO allies when he ordered U.S. special forces out of northern Syria, where they had been operating alongside French and British commandos against Islamic State militants.

  • The US unreliability has led the European Commission to draw up plans for a European “defense union” that will coordinate military spending and procurement. The next step may be to coordinate military actions separate from NATO. The Pentagon has complained about EU countries purchasing military equipment from each other instead of from the United States, and has called this defense union “a dramatic reversal of the last three decades of increased integration of the transatlantic defence sector.”

  • Do Americans really want to go to war for Estonia? Article 5 of the Treaty states that an attack against one member “shall be considered an attack against them all,” meaning that the treaty obligates the US to go to war on behalf of 28 nations–something most likely opposed by war-weary Americans who want a less aggressive foreign policy that focuses on peace, diplomacy, and economic engagement instead of military force.

An additional major bone of contention is who will pay for NATO. The last time NATO leaders met, President Trump derailed the agenda by berating NATO countries for not paying their fair share and at the London meeting, Trump is expected to announce symbolic US cuts to NATO’s operations budget.

Trump’s main concern is that member states step up to the NATO target of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense by 2024, a goal that is unpopular among Europeans, who prefer that their taxdollars to go for nonmilitary items. Nevertheless, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will brag that Europe and Canada have added $100 billion to their military budgets since 2016–something Donald Trump will take credit for–and that more NATO officials are meeting the 2 percent goal, even though a 2019 NATO report shows only seven members have done so: the U.S., Greece, Estonia, the UK, Romania, Poland and Latvia.

In an age where people around the world want to avoid war and to focus instead on the climate chaos that threatens future life on earth, NATO is an anachronism. It now accounts for about three-quarters of military spending and weapons dealing around the globe. Instead of preventing war, it promotes militarism, exacerbates global tensions and makes war more likely. This Cold War relic shouldn’t be reconfigured to maintain U.S. domination in Europe, or to mobilize against Russia or China, or to launch new wars in space. It should not be expanded, but disbanded. Seventy years of militarism is more than enough.

“They’re killing us like dogs”: A Massacre in Bolivia and a Plea for Help

Photo by Medea Benjamin

I am writing from Bolivia just days after witnessing the November 19 military massacre at the Senkata gas plant in the indigenous city of El Alto, and the tear-gassing of a peaceful funeral procession on November 21 to commemorate the dead. These are examples, unfortunately, of the modus operandi of the de facto government that seized control in a coup that forced Evo Morales out of power.

The coup has spawned massive protests, with blockades set up around the country as part of a national strike calling for the resignation of this new government. One well-organized blockade is in El Alto, where residents set up barriers surrounding the Senkata gas plant, stopping tankers from leaving the plant and cutting off La Paz’s main source of gasoline.

Determined to break the blockade, the government sent in helicopters, tanks and heavily armed soldiers in the evening of November 18. The next day, mayhem broke out when the soldiers began teargassing residents, then shooting into the crowd. I arrived just after the shooting. The furious residents took me to local clinics where the wounded were taken. I saw the doctors and nurses desperately trying to save lives, carrying out emergency surgeries in difficult conditions with a shortage of medical equipment. I saw five dead bodies and dozens of people with bullet wounds. Some had just been walking to work when they were struck by bullets. A grieving mother whose son was shot cried out between sobs: “They’re killing us like dogs.” In the end, there were 8 confirmed dead.

The next day, a local church became an improvised morgue, with the dead bodies–some still dripping blood–lined up in pews and doctors performing autopsies. Hundreds gathered outside to console the families and contribute money for coffins and funerals. They mourned the dead, and cursed the government for the attack and the local press for refusing to tell the truth about what happened.

The local news coverage about Senkata was almost as startling as the lack of medical supplies. The de facto government has threatened journalists with sedition should they spread “disinformation” by covering protests, so many don’t even show up. Those who do often spread disinformation. The main TV station reported three deaths and blamed the violence on the protesters, giving airtime to the new Defense Minister Fernando Lopez who made the absurd claim that soldiers did not fire “a single bullet” and that “terrorist groups” had tried to use dynamite to break into the gasoline plant.

It’s little wonder that many Bolivians have no idea what is happening. I have interviewed and spoken to dozens of people on both sides of the political divide. Many of those who support the de facto government justify the repression as a way to restore stability. They refuse to call President Evo Morales’ ouster a coup and claim there was fraud in the October 20 election that sparked the conflict. These claims of fraud, which were prompted by a report by the Organization of American States, have been debunked by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

Morales, the first indigenous president in a country with an indigenous majority, was forced to flee to Mexico after he, his family and party leaders received death threats and attacks — including the burning of his sister’s house. Regardless of the criticisms people may have of Evo Morales, especially his decision to seek a fourth term, it is undeniable that he oversaw a growing economy that decreased poverty and inequality. He also brought relative stability to a country with a history of coups and upheavals. Perhaps most importantly, Morales was a symbol that the country’s indigenous majority could no longer be ignored. The de facto government has defaced indigenous symbols and insisted on the supremacy of Christianity and the Bible over indigenous traditions that the self-declared president, Jeanine Añez, has characterized as “satanic“. This surge in racism has not been lost on the indigenous protesters, who demand respect for their culture and traditions.

Jeanine Añez, who was the third highest ranking member of the Bolivian Senate, swore herself in as president after Morales’ resignation, despite not having a necessary quorum in the legislature to approve her as president. The people in front of her in the line of succession – all of whom belong to Morales’ MAS party – resigned under duress. One of those is Victor Borda, president of the lower house of congress, who stepped down after his home was set on fire and his brother was taken hostage.

Upon taking power, Áñez’s government threatened to arrest MAS legislators, accusing them of “subversion and sedition”, despite the fact that this party holds a majority in both chambers of congress. The de facto government then received international condemnation after issuing a decree granting immunity to the military in its efforts to reestablish order and stability. This decree has been described as a “license to kill” and “carte blanche” to repress, and it has been strongly criticized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The result of this decree has been death, repression and massive violations of human rights. In the week-and-a-half since the coup, 32 people have died in protests, with more than 700 wounded. This conflict is spiraling out of control and I fear it will only get worse. Rumors abound on social media of military and police units refusing the de facto government’s orders to repress. It is not hyperbole to suggest that this could result in a civil war. That’s why so many Bolivians are desperately calling for international help. “The military has guns and a license to kill; we have nothing,” cried a mother whose son had just been shot in Senkata. “Please, tell the international community to come here and stop this.”

I have been calling for Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Chile, to join me on the ground in Bolivia. Her office is sending a technical mission to Bolivia, but the situation requires a prominent figure. Restorative justice is needed for the victims of violence and dialogue is needed to defuse tensions so Bolivians can restore their democracy. Ms. Bachelet is highly respected in the region; her presence could help save lives and bring peace to Bolivia.

• The author has been reporting from Boliva since November 14 2919.

One Year After Khashoggi’s Brutal Murder: Business as Usual?

Heinous. Savage. Ghastly. It’s hard to find the words to describe the act of luring journalist Jamal Khashoggi into a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, suffocating him, chopping him up and dissolving his bones. Yet a year later, governments and business people around the world are eager to forgive and forget — or already have.

So far, not a single Saudi official has been found guilty or punished for this crime. The Saudi government has put 11 officials on trial but these trials, which began in January and drag on behind closed doors, are a mockery of justice. The government is prosecuting lower-level officials but not the top guns who are truly responsible. The defendants have not been named, but it is known that Saud al-Qahtani, a former top aide to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) and the alleged mastermind of the murder, is not a defendant and the government refuses to say where he is.

And what about the crown prince himself? In a September 29 PBS interview, MbS accepted responsibility for the killing because it happened “under his watch” — but he denied having prior knowledge. The CIA, however, concluded in November that the prince, who maintains tight control in the kingdom, likely ordered the killing. A report by United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard said there was “credible evidence” linking him to the murder and cover up of what she said was undoubtedly a “state killing.” Still, the trials continue even though they do nothing to indict the person who gave the orders.

When Khashoggi was murdered, the outrage had a major effect on US congressional support for the Saudis, manifested by growing opposition to the US support for the catastrophic Saudi war in Yemen. Several key Republicans turned against MbS, not in response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen but in response to the public outcry against Khashoggi’s horrific murder. A broad-based coalition of peace, human rights and humanitarian groups was able to convince a majority in both the House and the Senate to cut off support for the Saudi war in Yemen, a necessary step to hold MbS accountable for his complete disregard for human life. Even some of the most hawkish Republicans stepped up in response. Lindsey Graham, for example, called MbS a “wrecking ball” and voted to end support for the war, explaining in a statement, “I changed my mind because I’m pissed. The way the administration had handled [Khashoggi’s murder] is just not acceptable.” The bills were vetoed by President Trump but Congress is still trying to force the President’s hand by including an amendment in the must-pass military funding bill (NDAA).

On the heels of Khashoggi’s death, businesses, embarrassed by their Saudi connections, started pulling out of deals. Dozens of companies and notables, from the New York Times to Uber CEO to the head of the World Bank, decided to skip the major annual Saudi Future Investment Initiative, also known as Davos in the Desert. Talent agent Endeavor returned a $400 million investment from Saudi Arabia. Several think tanks, including the Brookings Institution and the Middle East Institute, announced that they would no longer accept Saudi funding. In the past year, five PR firms — Glover Park Group, BGR Group, Harbour Group, CGCN Group and Gibson, Dunn & Crutche — have severed ties with the kingdom. At the behest of groups including the Human Rights Foundation, singer Nicki Minaj canceled her performance in Saudi Arabia, citing concerns about the treatment of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression. Freedom Forward was successful in getting the New York Public Library to cancel its “Youth Forum” with MbS’s charity, the Misk Foundation.

Still, the Saudis have been investing huge sums of money in companies and notables to “rebrand” the Kingdom, prompting CODEPINK to launch a full-blown Boycott Saudi campaign in January. The campaign includes urging entertainers not to perform, asking Vice Media to stop producing promotional/propaganda videos for the Saudis, encouraging Lush Cosmetics to close their Saudi stores, and pushing the G20 nations to reconsider their decision to hold their 2020 meeting in Saudi Arabia. The campaign’s long list of targets shows just how much money Saudi invests in whitewashing its crimes and how overreaching its influence is.

While human rights groups work to hold the private sector accountable, the biggest obstacle to holding Saudi accountable is the Trump administration continued support. Trump has focused on Saudi Arabia’s key role as a purchaser of US weapons and an ally against Iran. In the wake of the September 14 attacks on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure, Trump announced the deployment of 200 troops and Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia to bolster its defences against Iran. It is also Trump who vetoed legislation to end military assistance for the Saudi war on Yemen on three different occasions and went so far as to declare a state of emergency to sell $8 billion in weapons to the Saudis while bypassing Congressional disapproval.

Trump has not only stood by MbS but pushed for his rehabilitation on the world stage. With the “Davos in the Desert” Future Investment Initiative taking place this year, on October 29-31, Jared Kushner is expected to lead a robust US delegation. Big banks and investment firms, including Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, CitiGroup, are once again lining up to attend. It seems the money to be made in the anticipated initial public offering of the world’s wealthiest company, the Saudi oil company Aramco — valued at between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion — is just too enticing.

Khashoggi, himself, was critical of the international community’s unwillingness to take substantive steps to hold the Saudi regime accountable. In a column about the need for freedom of speech in the Arab world, he remarked that the repression by Arab governments “no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.” The sad irony is that in response to his own murder, governments and private interests are proving his point.

One year later, their silence has allowed MbS to tighten his grip on power and increase repression against political rivals and women activists. It has given the green light for governments around the world to sell weapons to the Saudis to destroy Yemen. It allows businesses to rake in billions in petrodollar investments and foreign entertainers to provide a veneer of normalcy and modernity to the kingdom. Far from being held accountable for Khashoggi’s murder, MbS is thriving — thanks to his rehabilitation by an international community that cares more about money than it does human rights.

In times like this, it’s difficult not to ask oneself: Who is more evil — the maniacal Saudi crown prince responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and the murder of tens of thousands of  Yemenis, or the mendacious world leaders and business people who continue to embrace what should be a pariah state?

10 Ways that the Climate Crisis and Militarism are Intertwined

The environmental justice movement that is surging globally is intentionally intersectional, showing how global warming is connected to issues such as race, poverty, migration and public health. One area intimately linked to the climate crisis that gets little attention, however, is militarism. Here are some of the ways these issues–and their solutions–are intertwined.

(1) The US military protects Big Oil and other extractive industries. The US military has often been used to ensure that US companies have access to extractive industry materials, particularly oil, around the world. The 1991 Gulf War against Iraq was a blatant example of war for oil; today the US military support for Saudi Arabia is connected to the US fossil fuel industry’s determination to control access to the world’s oil. Hundreds of the US military bases spread around the world are in resource-rich regions and near strategic shipping lanes. We can’t get off the fossil fuel treadmill until we stop our military from acting as the world’s protector of Big Oil.

(2) The Pentagon is the single largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels in the world. If the Pentagon were a country, its fuel use alone would make it the 47th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, greater than entire nations such as Sweden, Norway or Finland. US military emissions come mainly from fueling weapons and equipment, as well as lighting, heating and cooling more than 560,000 buildings around the world.

(3) The Pentagon monopolizes the funding we need to seriously address the climate crisis. We are now spending over half of the federal government’s annual discretionary budget on the military when the biggest threat to US national security is not Iran or China, but the climate crisis. We could cut the Pentagon’s current budget in half and still be left with a bigger military budget than China, Russia, Iran and North Korea combined. The $350 billion savings could then be funnelled into the Green New Deal. Just one percent of the 2019 military budget of $716 billion would be enough to fund 128,879 green infrastructure jobs instead.

(4) Military operations leave a toxic legacy in their wake. US military bases despoil the landscape, pollute the soil, and contaminate the drinking water. At the Kadena Base in Okinawa, the US Air Force has polluted local land and water with hazardous chemicals, including arsenic, lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos and dioxin. Here at home, the EPA has identified over 149 current or former military bases as SuperFund sites because Pentagon pollution has left local soil and groundwater highly dangerous to human, animal, and plant life. According to a 2017 government report, the Pentagon has already spent $11.5 billion on environmental cleanup of closed bases and estimates $3.4 billion more will be needed.

(5) Wars ravage fragile ecosystems that are crucial to sustaining human health and climate resiliency. Direct warfare inherently involves the destruction of the environment, through bombings and boots-on-the-ground invasions that destroy the land and infrastructure. In the Gaza Strip, an area that suffered three major Israeli military assaults between 2008 and 2014, Israel’s bombing campaigns targeted sewage treatment and power facilities, leaving 97% of Gaza’s freshwater contaminated by saline and sewage, and therefore unfit for human consumption. In Yemen, the Saudi-led bombing campaign has created a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe, with more than 2,000 cases of cholera now being reported each day. In Iraq, environmental toxins left behind by the Pentagon’s devastating 2003 invasion include depleted uranium, which has left children living near US bases with an increased risk of congenital heart disease, spinal deformities, cancer, leukemia, cleft lip and missing or malformed and paralyzed limbs.

(6) Climate change is a “threat multiplier” that makes already dangerous social and political situations even worse. In Syria, the worst drought in 500 years led to crop failures that pushed farmers into cities, exacerbating the unemployment and political unrest that contributed to the uprising in 2011. Similar climate crises have triggered conflicts in other countries across the Middle East, from Yemen to Libya. As global temperatures continue to rise, there will be more ecological disasters, more mass migrations and more wars. There will also be more domestic armed clashes—including civil wars—that can spill beyond borders and destabilize entire regions. The areas most at risk are sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South, Central and Southeast Asia.

(7) US sabotages international agreements addressing climate change and war. The US has deliberately and consistently undermined the world’s collective efforts to address the climate crisis by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and speeding the  transition to renewable energy. The US refused to join the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord was the latest example of this flagrant disregard for nature, science, and the future. Similarly, the US refuses to join the International Criminal Court that investigates war crimes, violates international law with unilateral invasions and sanctions, and is withdrawing from nuclear agreements with Russia. By choosing to prioritize our military over diplomacy, the US sends the message that “might makes right” and makes it harder to find solutions to the climate crisis and military conflicts.

(8) Mass migration is fueled by both climate change and conflict, with migrants often facing militarized repression. A 2018 World Bank Group report estimates that the impacts of climate change in three of the world’s most densely populated developing regions—sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America—could result in the displacement and internal migration of more than 140 million people before 2050. Already, millions of migrants from Central America to Africa to the Middle East are fleeing environmental disasters and conflict. At the US border, migrants are locked in cages and stranded in camps. In the Mediterranean, thousands of refugees have died while attempting dangerous sea voyages. Meanwhile, the arms dealers fuelling the conflicts in these regions are profiting handsomely from selling arms and building detention facilities to secure the borders against the refugees.

(9) Militarized state violence is leveled against communities resisting corporate-led environmental destruction. Communities that fight to protect their lands and villages from oil drills, mining companies, ranchers, agribusiness, etc. are often met with state and paramilitary violence. We see this in the Amazon today, where indigenous people are murdered for trying to stop clear-cutting and incineration of their forests. We see it in Honduras, where activists like Berta Caceres have been gunned down for trying to preserve their rivers. In 2018, there were 164 documented cases of environmentalists murdered around the world. In the US, the indigenous communities protesting plans to build the Keystone oil pipeline in South Dakota were met by police who targeted the unarmed demonstrators with tear gas, bean-bag rounds, and water cannons—intentionally deployed in below-freezing temperatures. Governments around the world are expanding their state-of-emergency laws to encompass climate-related upheavals, perversely facilitating the repression of environmental activists who have been branded as “eco-terrorists” and who are subjected to counterinsurgency operations.

(10) Climate change and nuclear war are both existential threats to the planet. Catastrophic climate change and nuclear war are unique in the existential threat they pose to the very survival of human civilization. The creation of nuclear weapons—and their proliferation–was spurred by global militarism, yet nuclear weapons are rarely recognized as a threat to the future of life on this planet. Even a very “limited” nuclear war, involving less than 0.5% of the world’s nuclear weapons, would be enough to cause catastrophic global climate disruption and a worldwide famine, putting up to 2 billion people at risk. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has set its iconic Doomsday Clock to 2 minutes to midnight, showing the grave need for the ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The environmental movement and the anti-nuke movement need to work hand-in-hand to stop these threats to planetary survival.

To free up billions of Pentagon dollars for investing in critical environmental projects and to eliminate the environmental havoc of war, movements for a livable, peaceful planet need to put “ending war” at the top of the “must do” list.

•  Author’s Note:  For a full understanding of the intersection between war and the climate, read Gar Smith’s The War and Environmental Reader.

Guardianship System Eased, but Saudi Arabia Still Oppresses Women

The Saudi government announced it will be eliminating part of the male guardianship system, finally granting women the right to obtain passports and travel (if 21 years of age or over), and obtain family identification cards without the need for male authorization.

The change comes in the context of the bad publicity that Saudi Arabia has been receiving about “runaway girls,” a growing number of Saudi women who have been fleeing the country to seek asylum abroad. Several of these high-profile cases of women claiming intense gender-based repression and receiving asylum in countries like Canada have placed global scrutiny on the male guardianship system.

The latest decrees also come in the context of intense criticism of the government’s appalling treatment of women’s rights activists. In 2018, when the government announced it was lifting the ban on women drivers, it then went on to arrest the very women who had campaigned for that right. Some of these women are released pending trial; others are still languishing in prison, enduring terribly abusive conditions. When making the announcement about the easing of the guardianship system, the government made no mention of the plight of these women activists.

While the easing of the guardianship system is indeed welcome news, Saudi Arabia remains one of the world’s most repressive societies for women.

  • Key aspects of the guardianship system are still in place. One particularly onerous restriction is that women need the permission of a male guardian to marry or divorce.
  • Saudi Arabia is one of the only Muslim-majority countries that legally imposes a dress code. By law, in public places women must cover their everyday clothing with an abaya– a long cloak – and a head scarf.
  •  When it comes to family issues such as child custody, child support and divorce laws, they all favor men over women. Women can easily lose access to their own children when they separate from their husbands.
  • In certain types of court cases, female testimony is worth half as much as male testimony.
  • While Saudi women have made great gains in education, they still make up only 23% of the labor force, and they are mainly employed “women’s jobs” such as education and public health. Women are discriminated against in the hiring process, and then must endure gender segregation in the workplace.
  • Saudi Arabia is the most gender-segregated society in the world. The majority of public buildings have separate entrances for men and women; some even ban women from entering. Most workplaces are segregated, so are schools. The separation in restaurants has been somewhat easing, but most eating areas are still separated to keep unrelated men and women apart–with one section for “singles,” meaning men, and one for “families,” meaning women, children, and close male relatives like husbands.
  • Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries that do not have laws setting a minimum age for marriage. Child brides are still acceptable, especially among poor, rural families where girls may be married off to richer, older men.
  • Regarding representation, there are no women elected at the national and provincial level, because there are no national or provincial elections. It was only in 2015 that women were granted the right to vote and to run in municipal councils, but in 2019 women still represent just 1 percent of those local seats (19 women elected and 15 appointed).
  • As of 2013, women were granted 20% of the seats on the Shura Council–an appointed 150-member body that advises the king. In July 2019, women on the Shura Council introduced a proposal to have 30% women on the municipal councils, but the proposal was rejected. By law, the proposal cannot be brought up again for two years.

Saudi women have a long way to go to achieve equality. Onerous laws remain in place and conservative traditions that give men control over women will be hard to transform. The best way to do this, however, is to grant Saudi women the freedom to openly advocate for their rights. Now, these rights are “bestowed upon them” by male rulers while women who fight for their rights are jailed, tortured, fired from their jobs, and in other ways silenced. The Saudi rulers must free the women activists languishing in prison and open the system so that women can freely advocate for the society they want to live in.

Cuba Is Feeling John Bolton’s Wrath

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John Bolton hates the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua—calling them the “troika of tyranny” and the “three stooges of socialism”—and is determined to use his time as National Security Advisor to eliminate the vestiges of socialism in our hemisphere. He has openly stated that the 1823 Monroe Doctrine is “alive and well,” conveying that the United States will dictate the terms of governance in the Western Hemisphere, by military force if necessary. Furious that he has been unable to successfully orchestrate a coup in Venezuela, Bolton is now lashing out at Cuba, explicitly punishing the nation for its support of Venezuelan President Maduro. The travel restrictions announced on June 4 represent another page from Bolton’s “regime change” playbook.

The new travel restrictions will severely limit the ability of Americans to travel to Cuba. The restrictions prohibit group educational trips to Cuba, known as “people-to-people” travel, as well as passenger vessels, recreational vessels, and private aircraft. These bans go to the heart of the Cuban economy, which has become increasingly dependent on tourism.

Despite the island’s devastation from Hurricane Irma and increased restrictions from the Trump administration in 2017, Cuba had a record number of visitors in 2018—4.75 million, with the US and Canada being the largest contributors. In just the first four months of 2019, over 250,000 US visitors traveled to Cuba, an increase of 93% from the same months in 2018. Most visitors came from cruise ships, which are included under the new restrictions. Trump’s move will impact an estimated 800,000 cruise passenger bookings, cutting the island out of millions of dollars a year in docking fees and payments for on-shore excursions. It comes at a time of severe economic weakness for Cuba, which is struggling to find enough cash to import basic food and other supplies following a drop in aid from Venezuela.

The Trump administration wants to punish the Cuban government, but the restrictions on “people-to-people travel” will be particularly harmful to Cuba’s private entrepreneurs who have poured their lives’ savings into restaurants and home-based lodgings catering to American travelers, and greatly benefited from Obama-era policies.

While John Bolton insists he wants to spread democracy abroad, his Cuba restrictions violate the freedom of the American people. The United States is the only country that restricts travel to Cuba. Canadians have always traveled freely to the island, as have people from Latin America, Europe and all over the globe. The U.S. also allows Americans to travel to the world’s most repressive countries—from North Korea to Myanmar to Saudi Arabia—but unfairly singles out Cuba.

Fair use excerpt. Read the rest here.

Don’t Believe the Media Hype About Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman

Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, heir to the Saudi throne after eliminating his rivals, is on a two-week whirlwind visit to the United States starting March 19. He plans to cement his ties to the Trump administration, shore up support for his war in Yemen while whipping up more opposition to Iran, and make lucrative business deals. From political meetings with Donald Trump and Congress to cultural events at DC’s Kennedy Center, a talk at MIT, gatherings with tech leaders in Silicon Valley and oil executives in Houston, the prince will be selling dolled-up versions of both his repressive kingdom and his favorite product from the House of Saud: himself. But don’t get sucked into the media hype, seeded by well-paid PR firms, that the prince is a reformer who is bringing substantive change to the kingdom.

MbS, as he is known from his initials, is really a brutal bully responsible for bombing and starving Yemenis. He’s also gunning for a war with Iran, blaming Iran for the Middle East turmoil. Meanwhile, he recklessly imposed a blockade of Qatar that has divided the Gulf States and tried to force a bizarre showdown with Hezbollah in Lebanon by holding Prime Minister Hariri hostage Recent reports reveal that he has even been holding his own mother under house arrest, hidden from her husband King Salman, for fear she would stand in the way of her son’s ruthless power grab.

Yes, it is true that MbS is making some positive reforms. Women will soon be able to drive and the morality police are not as repressive. Movie theatres are opening, and more cultural events are allowed (although they must all pass government muster and most are gender-segregated). But these reforms are minor in the larger picture of a kingdom that brooks no dissent internally and is committing war crimes abroad. According to Human Rights Watch:

Mohammed bin Salman’s well-funded image as a reformist falls flat in the face of Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe and scores of activists and political dissidents languishing in Saudi prisons on spurious charges. Baby steps on women’s rights reforms don’t paper over Saudi Arabia’s systemic abuses.

The prince’s most destructive policy is his war on Yemen (bin Salman is head of both the military and the economy). Started in March 2015 in what the prince thought would be a quick and dirty campaign to defeat the Houthi rebels, the relentless Saudi bombing campaign and restrictions on humanitarian aid have turned Yemen into the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster. The US participation in this Yemen war includes selling the Saudis billions of dollars in weapons (Saudi Arabia is the number one purchaser of US weapons) and providing in-air refueling of their bomber planes. Bin Salman’s visit is coming at precisely the time when the Senate is embroiled in a debate over Resolution 54, a bipartisan resolution that would end the unauthorized US military participation in the Yemen conflict. The prince will certainly use his visit to shore up support for the war, painting it as a fight against the Iran-backed Houthis rather than Saudi interference in Yemen’s internal affairs.

To consolidate his power at home before the death of his father, King Salman, MbS has just pulled off a heist that would make bank robber Butch Cassidy green with envy. He rounded up hundreds of his rival elites and held them hostage in the gilded Ritz-Carlton Hotel until they turned over billions of dollars, real estate and shares of their companies to his control. According to a New York Times exposé, some detainees were subjected to such physical abuse that 17 were hospitalized and one died in custody, with a neck that appeared twisted, a badly swollen body and other signs of abuse.

The whole affair was framed as a fight against corruption, but all transactions were conducted in secret and outside the law. Those who  have been released are banned from travel and are afraid to denounce bin Salman for fear of further reprisals. Meanwhile, the prince who is portrayed as a Saudi Robin Hood taking from the elite to spread to the poor bought a $500 million yacht from a Russian vodka financier, a $300 million French chateau described as “the world’s most expensive home,” and a $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting purchased at a Christie’s auction — the most expensive painting ever sold.

So don’t be fooled. Beneath the veneer of reform is a young man who believes that his bloodline gives him the right to become the next absolute monarch in a family that has ruled the nation with an iron fist since its founding in 1932. The Saudi kingdom is still governed by an intolerant version of Islam, Wahhabism, and spreads that ideology around the world. The government still represses the Shia minority and non-Muslims, and remains a country where atheism is a capital offense and all churches are banned. Free speech and free association are forbidden. There are no national elections and political parties are banned, as are unions and most civic organizations. Criticizing the Saudi regime can lead to flogging, harsh jail sentences or beheading.

While Saudi Arabia will soon lose the distinction of being the only country in the world where women can’t drive, the regime continues to be the world’s most misogynist, gender-segregated country. The guardianship system gives men authority over the most important decisions in women’s lives, and women are forced to be covered in black from head to toe when they are out in public.

A repressive kingdom ruled, de facto, by a cunning, 32-year-old strongman who has made hundreds of internal enemies among the elite and conducts foreign policy in a more impetuous manner than Donald Trump is a recipe for disaster. The United States should not be arming and abetting this regime and investors dazzled by the prince’s charm offensive and gobs of money should take a second look. If Saudi Arabia is indeed to move into the 21st century, it must stop being governed by royalty.

10 Good Things About a TERRIBLE Year

Every year I do a list of ten good things about the year. This year, I was about to skip it. Let’s face it: It has been a particularly horrible year for anyone with a progressive agenda. When I recently asked a prominent activist how she was doing, she took my hands, looked me in the eyes and said, “Everything I’ve been working on for 50 years has gone down the toilet.”

With so many good people feeling depressed, let’s point to the positive things that happened, even in this really, really bad year.

1. #MeToo movement has empowered victims of sexual harassment and assault, and encouraged accountability. Those two small words defined a social media-based movement in which women, and some men, have come forward to publicly share their stories of sexual assault and harassment, and expose their abusers. The movement–and fallout–spread globally, with the hashtag trending in at least 85 countries. The bravery and solidarity of these victims of sexual abuse will help build a future in which impunity for sexual predators is no longer the norm.

2. The year has seen an explosion of grassroots organizing, protest, and activism. An active and uncompromising spirit of revolt has blossomed in the face of a frightening political climate during Donald Trump’s presidency. On January 21, two million people took to the streets in Women’s Marches across the world as a show of solidarity against Trump’s vile and misogynistic rhetoric. On January 29, thousands gathered in airports around the country to protest Trump’s xenophobic and unconstitutional Muslim ban. In April, 200,000 people joined the People’s Climate March to stand up to the administration’s reckless stance on climate. In July, disability rights activists staged countless actions on Capitol Hill in response to the GOP’s cruel and life-threatening healthcare bill. In November and December, “Dreamers” protected by Obama’s provision called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) stormed the Hill to demand a replacement for that program, which Trump ended in September. New groups like Indivisible have helped millions of Americans confront their members of Congress, roughly 24,000 people joined the Democratic Socialists of America, and organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have seen massive surges in donations.

3. We’re already seeing rebukes of Trump at the ballot box. A wave of Democratic electoral victories swept some unlikely regions of the country, showing popular rejection of Donald Trump and his party. Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, who ran a shameless race-baiting campaign, lost by a wide margin to Democrat Ralph Northam in Virginia. In New Jersey, Phil Murphy handily defeated Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, making that state the seventh in the nation with Democratic control over legislative and executive branches. In Alabama’s special election to fill Jeff Sessions’ vacant Senate seat, Democrat Doug Jones took the lead over alleged sexual predator Roy Moore–an astonishing win in a deep red state, propelled largely by Black voters. Danica Roem in Virginia, who ran against a virulently anti-LGBTQ opponent, became the first openly transgender person elected as a US legislator. Her win ended 26 years of Republican rule in that district. And in Virginia’s 50th district, self-described democratic socialist Lee Carter defeated powerful Republican delegate Jackson Miller.

4. The first group of J20 protesters, people arrested in Washington DC on the day of Trump’s inauguration, were found not guilty. It was a scary year for the 194 protesters, journalists and medics facing multiple felony charges, including rioting and property destruction, that could have resulted in prison terms of up to 60 years. The state’s attempt to collectively punish almost 200 people for property destruction committed by a handful is an outrageous example of judicial overreach in an era in which First Amendment rights are under siege. On December 21, however, the jury returned 42 separate not-guilty verdicts for the first six defendants to stand trial. Their acquittal on all charges hopefully portendss more non-guilty verdicts for the remaining 188 defendants and gives a boost to our basic rights of free speech and assembly.

5. Chelsea Manning was released from prison after 7 years. Army Pvt. Manning was first detained in 2010 and ultimately convicted of violating the Espionage Act after she leaked troves of documents exposing abuses by the US military, including a video of American helicopters firing on unarmed civilians in Baghdad, Iraq. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison. She developed post-traumatic stress disorder in prison and was repeatedly denied medical treatment for her gender dysphoria. The Army finally granted her the treatment after she went on a hunger strike. On January 17, 2017, President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, and she was released in May. We owe Chelsea Manning a debt of gratitude for her tenacious commitment to exposing the crimes of U.S. empire.

6. Cities and states have committed to positive climate initiatives, despite federal regression. Twenty states and 110 cities signed “America’s Pledge,” a commitment to stick to Obama-era climate goals even after Trump’s disastrous decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords. In December, a group of 36 cities signed the “Chicago Charter,” an agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions and monitor each others progress. These pacts demonstrate popular sentiment and political will, at the local, city and state level, to fight the corporate oligarchs who perpetuate climate chaos.

7. Trump’s presidency has deepened the critical national conversation about racism and white supremacy. The Black Lives Matter movement, which started under Obama’s administration, exposed this nation’s systemic racism. The victory of Donald Trump emboldened white supremacists, as evidenced in the violent Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally in August. But the year has also seen a wave of opposition to racism, Islamophobia and anti-semitism that includes the toppling of confederate flags and statues, confronting hate speech, demanding the removal of white supremacists Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller from the White House (two of the three are gone), and building strong interfaith alliances locally and nationally.

8. This was the year the world said no to nuclear weapons. While Donald Trump taunted North Korea’s Kim Jung Un (“Little Rocket Man”) and threatened to tear up the Iran nuclear deal, on July 7, 122 of the world’s nations showed their rejection of nuclear weapons by adopting an historic Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty. The treaty, opposed by all nine nuclear states, is now open for signatures and the ban will come into effect 90 days after being ratified by 50 states. The organization that promoted this ban is The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an alliance of 450 nongovernmental organizations in about 100 countries. It was thrilling to learn that ICAN was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. The treaty and the Peace Prize are indications that despite the intransigence of the nuclear-armed states, the global community is determined to ban nuclear weapons.

9. ISIS no longer has a caliphate. For peace activists, it’s hard to put forth military actions as victories, especially when these actions incur a large civilian toll. This is indeed the case with ISIS, where at least 9,000 civilians were killed in the battle to retake the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. But we do have to acknowledge that taking away ISIS’ territorial base has put a stop to some of the group’s horrific human rights abuses. It will also hopefully make it easier to find a settlement to the dreadful wars that have been raging in Syria and Iraq, and give our government one less excuse for dumping so much of our resources into the military.

10. The global community stood up to Trump’s stance on Jerusalem. In a stinging rebuke of President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel, 128 countries, including some of the US’s most trusted and reliable allies, voted in favor of a United Nations resolution calling for a reversal of his position. Despite the threat from US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley that the US would be “taking names” of those who voted against it, only nine countries voted with the US and 25 abstained. The resolution isn’t binding, but it’s a stark illustration of just how isolated the United States is in its stance toward Israel.

As we head into the new year, let’s keep ourselves inspired by the hard work of folks at home and abroad who gave us something to cheer about for 2017. May we have a much longer list in 2018.

While Clinching Deals With Communist China, Trump Cracks Down on Trade and Travel to Cuba

On Wednesday, November 8, just as President Trump was clinching new business deals with the repressive Communist government of China, the Trump administration announced its new rules rolling back President Obama’s opening with Cuba. The new regulations restricting travel and trade with the Caribbean island will make it once again illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba without a special license from the Treasury Department and will dramatically reduce the number of Americans traveling there.

The regulations, which include a list of 180 banned entities, are supposed to punish hotels, stores and other businesses tied to the Cuban military and instead direct economic activity toward businesses controlled by regular Cuban citizens. But during our visit to the island on a 40-person delegation organized by the peace group CODEPINK, we found that Cuba’s small private businesses, the very sector that the Trump administration wants to encourage, are already feeling the blow.

In 2014 President Obama announced a new opening with Cuba. While the U.S. sanctions imposed on the island following the 1959 revolution can only be lifted by Congress, Obama used his executive power to renew diplomatic relations and relax restrictions on travel and trade. Cuba, which already has a large tourist sector with guests from Europe and Canada, geared up for a “tsunami” of American visitors coming on newly authorized commercial flights and cruise ships.

The Obama policy of engagement coincided with a new Cuban policy of allowing Cubans to leave their miserably paid state jobs to try their hand at starting up their own small businesses. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans jumped at the opportunity, many flocking to businesses catering to tourists. Cuba became the fastest growing site for AirBnB, as thousands of Cuban families spruced up extra bedrooms in their homes to accommodate foreign guests. Others took their life savings, or borrowed money from relatives abroad, to open small restaurants in their homes called paladares.

All over downtown Havana, we saw signs of this small business renaissance, with refurbished rooms for rent and boutique eateries boasting live salsa music and high-quality meals for about $10. State-run hotels and restaurants, notorious for bad food and bad service, now face competition from well-run, family businesses.

While Trump’s roll back of Obama’s opening just went into effect, he announced his plans back in June before a crowd of hardline anti-Communist Cuban-Americans. Then in September came another setback for U.S.-Cuba relations, when the United States said that US personnel in Cuba had been subjected to mysterious sonic attacks that affected the health of 24 diplomats. The U. S. government withdrew non-essential personnel and diplomat family members from the US Embassy in Havana. On September 29, the State Department put out a “Cuba Travel Warning.” It said that because the U.S. Embassy employees’ safety was at risk and the U.S. had been unable to identify the source of the attacks, “we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk and warm them not to travel to Cuba.”

All the Cubans we talked to thought the sonic attack was a bunch of baloney. From taxi drivers to government officials to dissidents, Cubans told our group that the whole episode was concocted to justify turning back the clock on Obama’s détente with Cuba. “Maybe they had hearing losses because the reggaeton music here is so loud,” joked one taxi driver. “But to say Cuba is unsafe is a lie. Cuba is the safest country in the world. You can walk around here alone at 2a.m. in the morning and no one will bother you.”

Between the new restrictions and the travel warning, Cuba’s burgeoning private sector has already felt what Cubans call “the Trump effect.” Jose Colome, owner of Starbien private restaurant in Havana that employs 35 people, shook his head in disgust. “We had 48 reservations from US tourist groups booked in the past three months; 30 of them cancelled. “

Proximity Cuba, a travel agency catering to U.S. university groups, lost half its business in one fell swoop. “We had developed wonderful programs for U.S. students in Cuba. Suddenly, the administrators read the travel warning, and got cold feet and cancelled,” said Proximity Cuba’s Director Rodrigo Gonzalez.

Even the non-tourist sector is feeling the effects. The agricultural cooperative we visited in Artemisa province was anxious to purchase US tractors to replace their ancient Russian models, but now worry that the deal will fall through. “It is only natural for us to buy agricultural inputs from the US market 90 miles away,” said Maria del Carmen of the National Association of Small Farmers. “Trump’s policies and the continuing blockade of Cuba are hurting our farmers.”

On November I, for the 26th year in a row, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the US embargo against Cuba. The vote this year was 191 nations against the embargo vs two in favor: the United States and Israel. The embargo, which was first imposed in the 1960s, is seen by the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations as an outdated and failed foreign policy that has only served to punish the Cuban people and isolate the United States internationally.

Just before the UN vote, ten U.S. Senators, led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), sent a letter to President Trump saying: “Our failed embargo against Cuba has been repeatedly and publicly condemned by the international community as ineffective and harmful to the people of Cuba.  The longer we maintain this outdated Cold War policy the more our international and regional credibility suffers. The overwhelming majority of Americans, including Cuban-Americans, and Cubans, including Cuban entrepreneurs and many dissidents, oppose the embargo and favor engagement of the United States with Cuba.”

“The United States is punishing Cuba because it says our government is undemocratic,” Dr, Aduabez Tabiada Zamora, a member of Cuba’s National Assembly, told our group. “Yet year after year, the entire world community condemns this mean-spirited policy. Is that democratic?”

The reversal of the Cuba opening is a victory for a small handful of southern Florida officials like Senator Marco Rubio and a small group of Cuban-Americans, but it is a major blow for diplomacy, people-to-people ties, and most of all, Cuba’s new private businesses.