Category Archives: Cuba

Cuba’s First Military Doctors (Part 2)

[Part 1 of this article addressed the need for Cuba’s participation in conflicts in Zaire, the Congo and Guinea-Bissau during the 1960s to remain concealed for over three decades. It covered the background to the struggles, what Cubans found in Africa, the role of race relations in Cuba’s campaigns, and the recruitment of doctors. Part 2 explores the working conditions of revolutionary military doctors, physical and emotional consequences on participating physicians, interactions with African civilians, Cuba’s first large medical scholarship program, the first mass vaccination effort in Africa, and how Cuba’s military and medical efforts affected Africa.]

Military Doctors at Work

Physicians found working conditions to be quite different from Cuban polyclinics.  It was very clear to Virgilio Camacho that “although I was a doctor, I was armed because at any moment I might have to participate in combat.”1 The Cuban doctors practiced in small groups.  In the Congo, the group of Rodrigo Álvarez included a surgeon, an orthopedic, and two pediatricians.  Later, they were joined by an anesthesiologist nurse and dentists.2 In 1966, Domingo Díaz traveled toward Guinea-Bissau as 1 of 9 physicians.  Once there, he was assigned to Saará in the northern region where there were “the only three doctors and there were no Cuban nurses.”  They worked closely with several young Guineans and trained them as nurses.3

Since the Cuban staff rotated and PAIGC policy was to understate the extent of their involvement, some writers are not aware of the more than 40 Cuban doctors who served in Guinea-Bissau between 1966 and 1974 as historian Piero Gleijeses carefully documents.4

The physicians were forced to minimize their use of modest resources.  When Amado Alfonso Delgado reached his assigned eastern front in Guinea-Bissau he found the hospital grounds consisted of “four huts: one for the wounded; one was a kitchen; one for supplies; and one, a little further away, for the doctor.”5

Juan Antonio Sánchez “was in Tanzania for a military mission from 1969 to 1970.  I was a medical internist at Pemba Island.  Cuba had permission from Tanzanian government as long as their presence was secret.  There were no Cuban troops, only three doctors.”  Their “operating room had been a garage.”6

The priority for Cuban doctors was always the health of combatants.  They were treated for bullet wounds, fractures and health issues such as hernias and tropical diseases.  There were many surgeries including the one in which Héctor Vera participated:

Four men who had been injured by a grenade arrived.  The one who was seriously injured was operated on at night and survived.  We put him on a table; Che held a lantern; Oliva gave him anesthesia; Tabito operated; Lagomasino worked as an assistant; and I observed.7

Virgilio Camacho was in the southern front of Guinea-Bissau where the Portuguese frequently ambushed civilians who helped supply the military.  Several Cubans died or were injured in these attacks.8 Amado Alfonso Delgado illustrates the difficulties of surgery during combat:

We operated whenever there were battles. Small reconnaissance planes passed overhead frequently, and when they returned multiple times we moved the camp because an attack was almost certain to follow.  The hospital was burned four times.  Every time a plane flew overhead two times they attacked us … We were between two rivers.  Planes and boats kept coming by and destroyed almost all the canoes we could use to flee … Most of the time we operated in places where we could set up a tiny hospital.  They brought us people who had stepped on a mine or were wounded in an ambush.  Almost always the wounded arrived at night and we had to operate by the light of bundles of grass.  I did about 50 operations like this including several amputations.  We cut dry grass, folded it over, and tied it with straw, and used it as a candle.  Sometimes we couldn’t see what we were operating on, even with 8 or 10 wicks like this.9

Other than Military Medicine

Cubans felt obligated to treat civilians injured in attacks which meant that there was an overlap between military and non-military medicine.  Amado Alfonso Delgado became acutely aware that a lack of specialists had its costs.  He describes an event in Guinea-Bissau:

…a bomb fell very close to a woman and injured her in the abdomen.  Since I didn’t have my assistant with me, I had to read from a booklet to find out how to apply anesthesia.  I had to open her abdomen to see if she had peritonitis.  I gave her a local anesthetic, and just as I was about to give the general, a plane dropped a bomb very close to us.  The woman jumped up with her wound half open and ran away.  I never saw her again.  Later I learned that she had been found dead four kilometers from the tiny hospital.10

Domingo Díaz had a more positive experience in the northern front:

One day in Saará they brought us a boy about four years old named Kumba who had a large wound in his left leg.  His good spirit impressed us; he didn’t have a tear or expression of pain.  A few hours before the Portuguese attacked a nearby village that had no combatants and no protection.  Luckily, they were able to bring this little boy to our small rural hospital.  We cleaned the very dirty wound and partially sutured it because we didn’t want future complications such as gangrene.   During all the treatment without anesthesia, Kumba continued as before, without a tear or expression of pain.11

Cuban officials knew that the behavior of doctors toward civilians was as important for diplomatic relationships as troop discipline was for military advances.  When Cuban physicians first went to Algeria in 1963, Raúl Castro issued a strict code of conduct that included a prohibition of alcohol and intimate relations with women, and demanded absolute respect for Algerian traditions.  Che spoke to physicians in Zaire of the moral aspect of their mission: “I don’t want any scandal.  Anyone who is undisciplined will have to be counseled or sent back to Cuba.”  A couple of years later, the Cuban command in Guinea-Bissau replaced a doctor accused of not showing respect for local customs.12

The importance of this respect grew as contact between Cubans and Africans became closer.  Unlike Catholic and Protestant missionary doctors who stayed at fixed locations and required Africans to come to them, Cubans went on long walks to isolated villages to provide care.  As Zaireans learned of the arrival of Cuban doctors, “peasants from the surrounding area flocked in.”  Before the Cubans arrived, only nine doctors had provided care for 850,000 Congolese.  Hugo Spadafora, a Panamanian who was the only foreign doctor with the PAIGC, wrote that when the Cuban physicians arrived with medicine and equipment, “the quality of the hospital’s care increase exponentially.”13

The guidelines laid out by Raúl and Che served Cuban efforts well.  While their military allies in Zaire were often accused of mistreating local people, there were “no reports of the Cubans perpetrating any crimes or acts of violence against the population.”14

Instead, the Cubans won people’s trust by doing countless simple procedures.  These included tooth extractions, operations for hernias and cataracts, and treatments for high fever, diarrhea, confusion and stomach and shoulder pain.  In Tanzania, Justo Piñero recalled that “most patients were civilian and a few were military.  The most frequent problems were malnutrition, malaria, pneumonia and parasites.”15

Amado Alfonso Delgado learned to treat parasitic diseases he had never seen in Cuba:

I saw whole villages with trachoma, an infection of the eyes and eyelids that leaves people blind.  I visited villages where almost everyone was blind.  I saw people with advanced leprosy without fingers. There was a sickness, miasis, produced by a fly bite that causes an abscess from which worms grow.  Another produces boils on the body, called oncocerciasis, that is a type of filaria.  This disease has a special treatment.  There is a worm that gets under the skin and the Guineans use a little stick to which they fasten a palm thread and put it in the boil and roll it around until they pull out an enormous worm called ‘the worm of Guinea.’  There are many parasites and harmful insects such as the jigger flea (nigua), that gets under people’s skin in dry weather and causes a boil.  You have to extract the parasite, which looks like a tick.16

Perhaps the most unexpected tragedy was a Cuban soldier dying from eating a strawberry.  They had no idea of how acidic the fruit could be and he had a perforated ulcer.  “By the time he reached me” Domingo Díaz remembers, “he was in agony.  We did all we could to stop the bleeding, and since we didn’t have surgical instruments, we tried to move him to the small hospital in Boké.  But he died on the road.”17

Though the Cubans tried to attend to civilian medical needs, operations had to be authorized by the PAIGC zone director due to shortage of materials.  This required creative searches for alternative materials, such as using coconut water (which is sterile) in intravenous fluids.  On multiple occasions, Dr. Camacho “had to suture patients with domestic sewing thread,” which led to deal-making with local thread vendors.18

Truly International Medicine

The riches of Africa were being drained out as its people lay crippled or dying from totally curable diseases which did not peak the interest of wealthy Western investors.  This was the case with polio.  When Rodrigo Álvarez arrived in the Congo, he saw that:

Many suffered from polio.  I visited an asylum attended by a single nun which was full of children with this disease.  The children were crawling across the floor in very bare surroundings.  The nun didn’t have supplies or staff to deal with them.  I operated on dozens of these children … The French had left nothing of the infrastructure; there were no lawyers or engineers; and only two native doctors.2

Rodolfo Puente was the manager and one of the principle advocates for a polio vaccination campaign.  He ran into two Soviet medical staff who were vaccinating as one of their duties.  He asked for 5000 doses, which they happily gave him, and made arrangements with the mayor to vaccinate students.   Realizing the seriousness of the situation and knowing that Cuba had recently conducted its own polio vaccination campaign, Dr. Puente called MINSAP in Havana for permission to take on a similar endeavor.  MINSAP director Machado approved and assigned Dr. Helenio Ferrer, Cuba’s Director of Epidemiology, to fly to Moscow for the vaccines.  The Soviets agreed to provide 200,000 doses to the Congo for about $4000.  Following appeals by the Cubans, they agreed to donate the vaccines, which arrived in June 1966.19

There were too few doctors and nurses to administer the vaccines; but, since they were in a caramel, it was possible to train others to distribute them.  In cooperation with the Congolese government, its militia, the Federation of Women, and Cuban troops, Dr. Ferrer coordinated the vaccination of over 61,000 children in the first such campaign in Africa.20

However, the attempted coup of June 27 blocked administration of the second dose.  Since accounts tend to be vague regarding whether this would prevent the first dose from being effective, I asked that question directly to Dr. Justo Piñero, who was in the Congo from September 1966 to November 1967.  He explained that, “as a result of not getting the second dose, there would be the same rate of polio.”  He returned to the Congo in May 1969 and witnessed the Congolese Ministry of Public Health administering both doses, which were provided by the Soviets.  He strongly believed that the earlier joint experience with the Cubans was critical in making the 1969 effort successful.21

In Guinea-Bissau, Domingo Díaz’ group found themselves with no Cuban nurses, so they trained several local youth.  They were so impressed with the work of the Guineans that they obtained permission from Cabral to bring four back to attend Cuban nursing school, from which they graduated.3

A much larger venture happened earlier in the Congo when Cuban doctors noticed dedicated young people studying at night under street lights.  They asked the Congolese government about sending some of them to Cuba to study.  It agreed, and, on January 24, 1966, 254 youth boarded a ship for Havana.  This was the first time a significant number of foreign scholarship students went to Cuba.  Nevertheless, there were problems.  Rather than choosing students strictly on the basis of academic performance, many were selected according to personal connections or bribes.  By late 1967 more than 100 had returned home, at the request of themselves or Cuba.  Despite this, by 1978, 25 had Cuban medical degrees and others graduated as lab technicians or engineers.22

Cuban authorities soon decided that its military forces would leave Africa.  Yet medical personnel would continue with replacement teams of “pediatricians, orthopedics, surgeons, and ear-nose-throat specialists who would be civilians rather than military doctors.”23

Physicians, Heal Each Other

Cuban doctors provided preventive care and treatment not only to troops and civilians but also to themselves.  The most famous example was Che.  With him in Zaire, Rafaél Zerquera remembered the day Che’s malaria was complicated by an asthma attack.  Zerquera worried “How can I tell Fidel that I let Che die here?”  Che was not an exception.  Amado Alfonso Delgado, for example, treated himself three times for malaria.24

Virgilio Camacho spoke about how, soon after his arrival, acute jaundice caused another doctor, Jesús Pérez, to return to Cuba, leaving him with only one other doctor at their medical post.  A year later he was transferred to head the military hospital in Guinea-Bissau’s southern front because a doctor there was ill.25

The long walks and physical exhaustion of battlefield medicine took their toll.  When Domingo Díaz arrived in Guinea-Bissau he weighed 180 pounds.  He left 20 months later weighing 100 pounds.  He had experienced the unusual danger of disappearing shoes.

I returned to the base after it was completely destroyed, and I could not find any of my belongings, not even my tennis shoes.  This type of footwear was the best in the circumstances, since we had to cross many rivers, and they dried out much more rapidly than boots and were a lot lighter … during the first long walks, I lost all of my toenails…my feet were constantly wet and the hiking was forever…and in Cuba I had the habit of walking five kilometers every day.26

Some of their most unpleasant surprises awaited doctors upon completion of their African assignment.  Amado Alfonso Delgado recounted

The year that we returned almost all of us tested positive for filaria in the blood.  In the subtype Loa loa, it goes from vital organs to the eyes, leaving the person blind.  This was precisely the type we had.  Reading about it scared me a bit because it was said at that time, that there was not a guaranteed cure.  We were treated in a hospital for two months.27

Virgilio Camacho was also more than a little nervous:

I had filaria, which doesn’t exist in Cuba, and I had no idea until passing through the check point.  It required a double treatment: both for the adult and larva of the parasite.  They didn’t have the medicine in Conakry and had to look elsewhere.  Finally, I had both the intravenous injections and pills…We arrived in Cuba in January 1968.28

Impact, Reflection, Unanswered

By the end of the 1960s, when the Cuban revolutionary government had been in power for only 10 years, doctors had been through four different scenarios in Africa:

  1. In Algeria, they treated only civilians.
  2. In Zaire, the rebels showed little enthusiasm for victory.
  3. In the Congo, the militancy of the government proved to be empty rhetoric.
  4. In Guinea-Bissau, there was a successful military uprising with a strong commander and dedicated troops.

Cuba knew that US could invade at any time.  As a result of African expeditions and experience gained by military doctors, a new generation of physicians would be trained by those who had been through war and could teach others how to treat combat victims.

Perhaps the most lamentable irony of Cuba’s forays into Africa was that its most capable leader, Che Guevara, led guerrillas into the least promising front, Zaire.  Since no Cuban leader had been to sub-Saharan Africa for more than one day, the strategy of going to Zaire was based on misinformation, solidarity with Cuba’s own black population, and the defense of its revolution.  When Che ventured into his last battleground of Bolivia the following year, it was because he and Fidel agreed that Latin America must again occupy the foreground of Cuba’s participation in armed struggles.29

There had been very little connection between upheavals in the approach to medicine practiced on the island and what its doctors did overseas.30 Experiences of the polio campaign in Cuba were adopted in the campaign in the Congo.  The exposure to medical problems in Africa was invaluable for developing Cuban understanding of tropical and infectious diseases.  Nevertheless, nothing like Cuban polyclinics appeared in the battle conditions of Africa, where the necessity to provide emergency care was all-encompassing.

Cuban engagements in Africa left profound impacts, both on the host countries and on the Cubans who went.  Cuba learned that if students were to travel to the island for education, they must be screened for academic potential.  The Congo became prepared to complete its own vaccination campaign.  Guinea-Bissau recognized its debt to Cubans for its successful struggle for independence. “Many of our comrades are alive today only because of the Cuban medical assistance,” noted PAIGC official Francisco Pereira. “The Cuban doctors really performed a miracle.  I am eternally grateful to them: not only did they save lives, but they put their own lives at risk.  They were truly selfless.”31

White doctors who experienced the stressful conditions and parasitic diseases of Africa witnessed even greater sacrifice by black troops.  One reason that so many volunteered to serve in Africa was a feeling of urgency to spread the revolution.  Later, Olvaldo Cárdenas told Piero Gleijeses:

… we believed that at any moment they [the US] were going to strike us … and for us it was better to wage war abroad than in our own country.  This was the strategy of ‘Two or Three Vietnams;’ that is, distracting and dividing the enemy’s forces.  I never imagined then that I would be sitting here [in a living room in Havana] talking about it now—we all assumed that we were going to die young.32

When the volunteers returned to Cuba, they did not march in parades or receive any type of public praise.  There were no medals, decorations or material rewards.  Bound to secrecy, decades passed before they could share their stories.33 Yet the insights obtained by what they endured were essential for designing Cuban strategy, which is why Fidel grilled so many upon their quiet homecomings.

Before 1959, dedication to revolutionary medicine was expressed by students and doctors demanding full treatment for Cubans in poor urban and rural areas.  This became the foundation for doctors volunteering for international missions during the 1960s.  With the dawning of the 1970s, the question remained: Would sacrifices by the first doctors going to Africa come to fruition by medical staff playing a key role in toppling a major racist government on that continent?

A version of this article first appeared in Monthly Review.  The author thanks Rebecca Fitz for interview translation and John Kirk, Linda M. Whiteford and Steve Brouwer for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of the article.

• Read Part 1 here

  1. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, Historias Secretas, 158.
  2. López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 78.
  3. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 123.
  4. Gleijeses, (2002), 202.
  5. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 142.
  6. Author’s interview with Dr. Juan Antonio Sánchez, Havana, Cuba, February 9, 2016.
  7. López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 52.
  8. López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, 161.
  9. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 142-148.
  10. Ibid, 148.
  11. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 127.
  12. Gleijeses, (2002), 44, 201; López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 29.
  13. López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 48; Gleijeses, (2002), 44, 168, 201.
  14. Gleijeses, (2002), 151.
  15. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 123; López’ interview with Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco, 90; Author’s interview with Dr. Justo Piñero Fernández,
  16. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 149-150.
  17. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 131-132.
  18. López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, 160.
  19. López’ interview with Dr. Rodolfo Puente Ferro, 99. 102-103. 105; Gleijeses, (2002), 168.
  20. Gleijeses, (2002), 169; López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 84.
  21. López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 84; Author’s interview with Dr. Justo Piñero Fernández.
  22. Gleijeses, (2002), 168, López’ interview with Dr. Rodolfo Puente Ferro, 104-105.
  23. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco, Historias Secretas, 93.
  24. López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 33-34; Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 150.
  25. López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, 158.
  26. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 130-133.
  27. López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, 150.
  28. López’ interview with Dr. Virgilio Camacho Duverger, 162.
  29. Gleijeses, (2002), 216.
  30. Don Fitz, “The Birth of Cuban Polyclinics,” Monthly Review, in press.
  31. Gleijeses, (2002), 203.
  32. Gleijeses, (2002), 203.
  33. Ibid.

Cuba’s First Military Doctors (Part 1)

[Part 1 of this two-part series addresses the need for Cuba’s participation in conflicts in Zaire, the Congo and Guinea-Bissau during the 1960s to remain concealed for over three decades. It covers the background to the struggles, what Cubans found in Africa, the role of race relations in Cuba’s campaigns, and the recruitment of doctors. Part 2 will explore the working conditions of revolutionary military doctors, physical and emotional consequences for participating physicians, interactions with African civilians, Cuba’s first large medical scholarship program, the first mass vaccination effort in Africa, and how Cuba’s military and medical efforts affected Africa.]

*****

Cuba’s deployment of military doctors to Africa in the 1960s was secret, known only at the highest level of government.  Accounts of these hidden efforts were not published until the beginning of the 21st century.

Multiple forces during that decade pulled Cuba toward struggles in sub-Saharan Africa.  First was the mushrooming of popular movements across the globe.  The US civil rights movement was joined by millions opposing the war on Viet Nam.  Zaire won independence from Belgium in June 1960 and the popular Patrice Lumumba became its first prime minister.  After leading the National Liberation Front to victory over French domination in 1962, Ahmed Ben Bella was elected as the first president of Algeria.  In August, 1966 Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to thwart the growth of capitalism in China.  May 1968 saw a huge left upsurge in France going beyond the Communist Party.

A second force pushing Cuba’s foreign policy came from the US.  Its continuous violence gave a clear message that the best defense for the island would be an international offense.  Two decades earlier, the US had experimented with nuclear extermination in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  During the previous decade, the US had slaughtered roughly 20% of the population of North Korea and the CIA engineered the overthrow of the progressive Jacobo Arbenz government in Guatemala.  Fresh on the mind of Cubans was the connivance of John and Bobby Kennedy in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1962 missile crisis.  The US began its series of efforts to kill Fidel Castro about the same time the CIA contemplated how to poison Lumumba.1 Asserting dominion over Latin America, Lyndon Johnson invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965.

In the meantime, the Soviet Union was not acting like a reliable ally.  The USSR had not sent troops to fight in Korea and did not do so in Viet Nam, even after the massive US build-up following the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident.  Nikita Khrushchev had settled the missile crisis without bothering to consult Fidel.  His successor, Leonid Brezhnev, was clear that Cuba should accept the subordinate status of sugar producer for the Soviet bloc.

Furthermore, Latin American Communist Parties (CPs) did not take kindly to Cuba’s “foco theory” of revolution.  Those CPs centered on urban working class movements while the Cuban leadership looked to a dedicated vanguard in the countryside, garnering support through armed struggle.  As Che Guevara wrote:

A small group of men who are determined, supported by the people, and not afraid of death…can overcome a regular army.  This was the lesson of the Cuban revolution.2

Unlike countries in Latin America, those in Africa did not have established Communist Parties hostile to guerrilla efforts.3   With at least a third of Cubans being of African heritage, Cuban leaders felt beckoned from across the Atlantic.

Hope Meets Reality in Africa

Despite efforts by the US to isolate Cuba, by 1964 it had embassies in the African countries of Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Morocco and Tanzania.  Lumumba had been murdered in January 1961 by allies of Moise Tshombe.  The Simbas (lions), admirers of Lumumba, began a guerrilla struggle, routed government forces in 1964, and seemed to have strong revolutionary potential.4

In December 1964 Che began a three month trek to Algeria, Ghana, the Congo, Guinea, Mali, Benin, Tanzania, and Egypt.  Planning to lead an African initiative himself, Che went to develop strategies and agreements with liberation movements.  During his January 1965 meeting with leaders in Tanzania, Che emphasized the Simba upsurge and proposed Zaire as the location for centralized training.  They disagreed with him, each wanting training camps in their own country.5

The more Che came to know the heads of several organizations, the more skeptical he became.  He observed that they “live comfortably in hotels and have turned rebellion into a profession, at time lucrative…”6 Once on the battlefield, his doubts were confirmed:

Che had been told that he would find several thousand well-armed Simbas, eager to fight.  There were, in fact, some 1000 to 1500 widely dispersed rebels, who had no idea of how to maintain their modern weapons … they lacked a unified command.

The scouting teams … brought back grim reports from the fronts: idle rebels who … did not know how to use their firearms and showed no inclination to attack or to prepare to defend themselves. Everywhere chaos, disorganization, and lack of discipline.7

Cuban leaders, soldiers and doctors wrote of their frustration in Zaire.  In November 1965, after a governmental coup, a Simba leader notified Che that they wanted to end the war.  Che returned to Cuba with part of the unit he commanded, while others went to different African locations.8

The neighboring Congo was headed by Alphonse Massamba-Débat, whose socialist views were similar to those of the Chinese Communist Party.9 In August 1965, Fidel dispatched a unit to the Congo which joined the 50 or so Cubans already there.  The group was headed by Jorge Risquet, who was “the descendant of an African slave, her white master, a Chinese indentured servant, and a Spanish immigrant.”10

In the Congo the Cubans discovered that the rhetoric of the country’s leaders did not match their politics, which were based on opportunism and personal feuds.  Since Fidel had charged Risquet with defending the Congo, when an attempted coup broke out on June 27, 1966, the Cubans came to the defense of the government.  Wanting to resolve the dispute diplomatically rather than with force, Risquet appointed a doctor to lead the maneuvers. The rebels backed down when confronted by the determination of the smaller number of Cubans.  On July 6, the revolt ended with only one Congolese death.11

It soon appeared to the Cubans that their major task in the Congo was protecting one faction from another.  Risquet persuaded Havana that the best thing for them to do was to leave, which they soon did.  Two years later, a successful coup overthrew Massamba-Débat’s government.12

The uprising against the Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau stood in sharp contrast.  Even US intelligence reports described it as having “Africa’s most successful liberation movement.”13 During his 1965 journey through Africa, Che spoke with Amílcar Cabral, who was head of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC, for its acronym in Portuguese).14

Fidel recognized the importance of the Non-Aligned Movement, which coalesced third world countries breaking from the yoke of imperialism.  He persuaded those organizing the Tricontinental Congress to meet in Havana on January 3, 1966 and invited Latin American groups dedicated to armed struggle.  It was there that Fidel and Amílcar Cabral first met and spoke extensively.  Fidel promised Cabral doctors, military instructors, and mechanics.15 Both made impressive speeches to the delegates and Fidel emerged as a champion of revolutionary movements.

For a critical year, Victor Dreke headed Cuba’s military undertaking in Guinea-Bissau.  Dreke was a black Commander who received extremely high praise from Che for his efforts in Zaire.  Dreke was impressed by the discipline of the PAIGC.  When he returned to Cuba in late 1968, Cabral’s forces had strengthened their position.  The Portuguese lost ground even while increasing their troops from 20,000 to 25,000.16

Cuba never had more than 60 soldiers in Guinea-Bissau.  This was one way Cabral kept the PAIGC in command, the other being the restriction of foreign military aid only to Cubans.  Yet, the Cubans’ roles as military advisers and teachers proved invaluable.  When Castro went to Africa in 1972, the PAIGC was the only force on the continent successfully fighting against a white regime.17

Cuba also played minor roles in Angola, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and possibly other countries.18 However, this article concentrates on Zaire, the Congo, and Guinea-Bissau, which were, by far, its major arenas.19 Much of the information regarding experiences of Cuban physicians in Africa is from extensive interviews with military doctors deployed in the three countries, as well as Tanzania.

White Doctors, Black Soldiers

Cuban doctors going to Africa were almost all white while its troops were almost all black.  It was very rare for black people to become doctors before the revolution.  But they rose quickly to high positions in the revolutionary military.  Race was critical in every aspect of the African conflicts.

The US had strong advantages over Cuba in its influence of Africa: it could offer vastly more economic aid and wield the political power of its European allies, accrued by their history of conquest and ongoing domination.  But throughout the 1960s, the US was increasingly tied up in Viet Nam and its ongoing racism repulsed people around the globe.

Racism in the white regimes of Africa was blatant and horrific.  The London Observer reported that mercenaries paid to put down the Simba rebellion “not only shoot and hang prisoners after torturing them, but use them for target practice and gamble over the number of shots to kill them.”  One mercenary wrote in his memoirs of the “the White Giants—‘tall, vigorous Boers from South Africa; long-legged, slim and muscular Englishmen from Rhodesia’—who would restore, in Zaire, the white man to his proper place.”20

African resistance leaders realized that they could use the inability of racists to tell one group of black people from another to their advantage.  The revolutionaries in Zaire requested that the Cubans sent to their aid be black so they could pass undetected by US and Europe spies.  Cabral asked Cuban officials to send technicians who were “black or dark mulattoes so that they would blend in with his people.”  This fell into place with the PAIGC’s policy of denying that they involved any foreigners.21

When Fidel asked Dreke to select troops who would serve with Che in Zaire, he specified that he had to “choose a platoon of men who have shown their mettle, who are all volunteers and who are dark-skinned blacks.”  Both Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras and Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco did not know that Africa was their destination until they saw that almost all the combatants in training camps were black.22

This meant very different experiences for those traveling by ship to Africa.  Dr. Álvarez remembers Pavlovian conditioning when traveling aboard the Soviet ship Félix Dzerzhinsky:

Since the doctors were all white, there were no problems with anyone seeing us.  But the troops were all black, and, in order to make sure that none of the passengers or US spy planes would guess the purpose of the mission, they had to stay in the lower deck of the ship, which was hot and had poor ventilation.  Occasionally, they could come out for brief times at night.

Since the Russian food was very strong with disagreeable odors, the comrades who had to stay below without fresh air would get nauseated and vomit when they smelled it.  The captain had a gong that he hit in front of a microphone in order to announce that it was time to eat.  Some of the comrades started vomiting when they heard the gong.

At that point, I told Risquet that he had to tell the ship’s captain to stop banging the gong.  He replied that it was me, as a doctor, who had to have the conversation with the captain.  When I did so, that robust Russian failed to understand the situation and argued that it was a tradition that he could not violate.23

Though the white doctors could lean over the side of the ship to vomit, it must have been profoundly unpleasant for black troops confined to the lower deck.  In response, and to the outrage of the Russian captain, the Cubans stole the gong and heaved it into the Atlantic.24

How successful was the strategy of recruiting black troops?  It significantly slowed the ability of Western powers to detect Cuban involvement.  A British adviser in Zaire observed US agents looked “for whites and their eyes … passed over Cuban blacks or mulattoes.”  The same was true for the Congo, where bewildered officials from the US, France, West Germany and England “…were unable to ascertain how many Cubans were in the Congo.”  A Belgian ambassador could not tell if there were 100 or 800 Cubans since “they are difficult to pick out because they are all colored.”25 It was likely a serious affront to the dignity of white supremacists to see black Cubans so successfully bamboozling them.

Recruiting Doctors

Western observers could only be successfully confused about Cuban involvement if Cuba’s own recruits were in the dark concerning their destination.  Rodolfo Puente was the only one of nine physicians interviewed by Hedelberto López who was openly told where he was going (the Congo).26 Others were led to believe that they were going to Algeria, Viet Nam, or “other lands,” or that they should tell their families that they would be studying in the Soviet Union.27

The physicians were accustomed to disruption in their careers.  Of the 9 interviewed by López Blanch, 2 had to delay when they began medical school because Batista had closed it at the end of 1956.  The other seven started school before the 1956 closing but had to halt their studies and resume them after the 1959 revolution.

Waiting to discover exactly where they would be serving was only one indication of the vital importance of their mission.  Every one of the nine physicians interviewed in Historias Secretas met some combination of Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, Che Guevara, MINSAP (the Cuban Health Department) head José Ramón Machado, Commander Jorge Risquet, Commander Victor Dreke, and Amílcar Cabral either before, during, and/or after their trip to Africa.

Preparing to leave for Zaire, Rafaél Zerquera recalled that “April 10, 1965 was the happiest day of my life when I was interviewed by Fidel Castro.”28 Shortly after arriving in Zaire, Diego Lagomasino “gave Che a suitcase with asthma medicine and bullets for a M-1 gun. Meeting someone like Che had a big impact on [him].”29 Héctor Vera spoke with Fidel upon returning from Zaire: “Fidel asked about sicknesses, malaria, how we were able to diagnose, and what treatments we used.  After chatting, he told us that we could not divulge anything about the mission.”30

Before departing for the Congo, Rodrigo Álvarez described having breakfast with Fidel.

[He] spoke to us of Africa in general without specifying the country.  He asked if we had pistols, and I said, yes, a P-38.  He told his assistant to find a better weapon and he brought a Stich of 20 shots.  Fidel saw that I wasn’t wearing a watch and told me that it was important for a doctor going to war to have one.  He took off one of the two watches he was wearing, a Longines, and gave it to me.”31

When Diego Lagomasino did his post graduate Rural Medical Service (RMS) in Santo Tomás, he worked alone and “had to be the doctor, nurse, distribute medications, and look for supplies.”32  This multi-tasking helped prepare him for Africa.  Rafaél Zerquera’s RMS was used as a screening to see if he was suitable for Zaire.  He explained that …

When I graduated, a document circulated asking where we would like to do our RMS and I wrote ‘wherever the revolution needs me.’  José Ramón Machado of MINSAP, called me to his office and said that there was a conflict zone in the Sierra Maestra, where a group had burned the medical post and killed the doctor.  He asked me if I was still disposed to going.33

Zerquera replied that he would go where Machado assigned him.  After a short stint in the Sierra Maestra, Machado called him back to let him know that an important but highly risky international mission awaited him and Zerquera was soon on his way to Zaire.

Once they learned of their destinations, the doctors still had little idea of what was in store for them. Luís Peraza recalled that all he “knew about Africa was the Tarzan movies.”  Impressions of their experiences differed sharply according to country, with Zaire being the gloomiest.  As the curtain was drawing to a close in Zaire, Che called a meeting of Communist Party members and asked who still thought that they could win.  Only 2 military leaders and 2 doctors raised their hands and Che concluded that they might have been showing him personal support.  Che then asked who would be willing to fight until death and all the hands went up.34

Rafaél Zerquera recollected that the Simbas did not seem interested in preparing for a guerrilla struggle.  “It was an experience but it wasn’t pleasant.  If it had been a sacrifice with a reward, I would have felt satisfied.  But it was not rewarding.”35

Justo Piñero had different feelings about the Congo.

The population identified with us.  We bought things from them.  We went to the same places and knew the local people from seeing them on the street.36

By far, the most positive memories were of Guinea-Bissau.  Domingo Díaz knew “many brave Guinean officers and soldiers who would have given their lives to prevent a Cuban from falling into the hands of the enemy.”37 Dr. Milton Hechevarría emphasized that when he got back to Cuba, he “couldn’t forget Guinea-Bissau.”38

Whatever country they went to, Cuban doctors faced a combination of stressful conditions that they were unlikely to have experienced at home: incredibly rough terrain, enemy fire, and unpleasant and dangerous animals.  Diego Lagomasino described arriving in Zaire: “We had to go to the base camp that was on the top of a high ridge.  We left at 6 in the morning and at 7 in the evening we were still climbing.  Never in my life had I seen a ridge that tall.  I thought I was going to die.”39

Looking back on the same walk, Héctor Vera felt like he could not bear the weight of his pistol, ammunition, medical supplies and personal belongings in his knapsack.  He was saved by a Zairean boy who motioned that he would carry it for him.40

In Guinea-Bissau, Domingo Díaz went on strenuous walks for 7 or 8 days, walks with deep holes that could not be seen after it rained. “In this region, we didn’t measure time with a watch,” Díaz recounted.  Instead, time was measured “with distance, which is to say one day’s walk, half a day walk.”  He concluded that the terrain was so rough that “in Cuba there was no possibility of training for this type of event.”41

The land intensified military dangers.  To avoid detection by the enemy, Héctor Vera’s group crossed Lake Tanganika with several Simbas who began lighting matches to see where they were going.  The Cubans in the boat told them not to because there was a gasoline motor that could catch on fire.  However, they replied that there was no other way to see and continued with the matches.  Upon arriving in Zaire, they had not gone 50 meters before they had to fall to the ground as enemy planes flew overhead.42

In Guinea-Bissau, the Portuguese attacked Amado Alfonso Delgado’s group with napalm while 15 helicopters landed to hunt them.  They survived by running from 7 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon.43

The doctors encountered insects, reptiles and other creatures they had never seen before.  In an emergency military undertaking in the Congo, Rodrigo Álvarez saw anthills so tall that they prevented their plane from landing.44 Fleeing from the Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau, Amado Alfonso Delgado bumped into an enormous beehive.

I had over 300 stings.  Only 10 are dangerous and can send a person into shock.  But I was under so much tension that my body was producing steroids, which is exactly the treatment used.  None of the stings became inflamed and the other six with me had the same luck.”45

While none of Cuba’s snakes are poisonous, many are in the Congo, where Julián Álvarez thought he ran across them everywhere.46

Waters in Guinea-Bissau were often inhospitable.  Domingo Díaz described walking through a lake for hours with water up to their chests.  “It was full of leeches and they advised me to tie my pants tight and walk with my arms up so they could not get in.  When we got out we were attacked by mosquitoes that bit through my coat.”  Another day, they found that:

The Corubal and Gaba Rivers met where they emptied into the sea.  It was like an arm of the sea where there were sharks, hippopotamuses, and crocodiles.  As we crossed in canoes made from tree trunks they told me to be careful because a man had recently fallen in and never reappeared.47

• A version of this article first appeared in Monthly Review. The author thanks Rebecca Fitz for interview translation and John Kirk, Linda M. Whiteford and Steve Brouwer for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of the article.

  1. Piero Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 61.
  2. Ibid, 22.
  3. Peter G. Bourne, Fidel: A Biography of Fidel Castro (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1986), 255.
  4. Gleijeses, pp. 30, 60, 61.
  5. Bourne, 260; Gleijeses, 80, 85.
  6. Gleijeses, 87.
  7. Gleijeses, 111,114.
  8. Bourne, 261.
  9. Bourne, 260.
  10. Piero Gleijeses, (2006), Risquet, Jorge. Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Cited in Helen Yaffe,
  11. Gleijeses, (2002) 161, 163, 170,171.
  12. Ibid, 183.
  13. Ibid, 185.
  14. Hedelberto López Blanch, Historias Secretas de Médicos Cubanos (Centro Cultural de la Torriente Brau: La Habana, Cuba, 2005), 113,114.
  15. Gleijeses, (2002), 187.
  16. Ibid, 190-191.
  17. Ibid, 191, 208.
  18. Ibid, 183-184, Author’s interview with Dr. Juan Antonio Sánchez, Havana, Cuba, February 9, 2016.
  19. Two Congos had revolutionary movements.  The “Belgian Congo” was sometimes referred to as Congo Leopoldville from the name of its capital city.  Upon independence in 1960, it took the name Kinshasa, became Zaire in 1971 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997.  The current article refers to it as Zaire.  The “French Congo” was sometimes referred to as Congo Brazzaville from the name of its capital, or the Congo. After independence in 1960 it became the Republic of the Congo, the People’s Republic of the Congo in 1969 and, after 1991 the Republic of the Congo again.  The current article refers to it as the Congo.
  20. Gleijeses, (2002), 71, 73.
  21. Ibid, 89, 188, 208.
  22. López, Historias Secretas, 67, 89.
  23. Ibid, 76-77.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Gleijeses, (2002), 136, 166.
  26. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Rodolfo Puente Ferro, Historias Secretas, 101.
  27. Gleijeses, (2002); 199, Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, Historias Secretas, 115.
  28. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, Historias Secretas, 25.
  29. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Diego Lagomasino Comesaña, Historias Secretas, 60.
  30. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, Historias Secretas, 53.
  31. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, Historias Secretas, 75.
  32. López’ interview with Dr. Diego Lagomasino Comesaña, 56-57.
  33. López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 22-23.
  34. Gleijeses, (2002), 154, 200.
  35. López’ interview with Dr. Rafaél Zerquera Palacios, 36-37.
  36. Author’s interview with Dr. Justo Piñero Fernández, Havana, Cuba, February 9, 2016.
  37. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 132.
  38. Gleijeses, (2002), 213.
  39. López’ interview with Dr. Diego Lagomasino Comesaña, 59-60.
  40. López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 43.
  41. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 120.
  42. López’ interview with Dr. Héctor Vera Acosta, 42.
  43. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 144-6.
  44. López’ interview with Dr. Rodrigo Álvarez Cambras, 80.
  45. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Amado Alfonso Delgado, Historias Secretas, 144.
  46. Hedelberto López’ interview with Dr. Julián Álvarez Blanco, Historias Secretas, 90.
  47. López’ interview with Dr. Domingo Díaz Delgado, 140.

L’Antidiplomatico Interview with Andre Vltchek

Alessandro Bianchi: Let’s start from today’s crisis in the Sea of Azov. The European Union and NATO have given full support to Ukraine after the violation of Russian sovereignty by two Ukrainian vessels. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gave his full support to Poroshenko, who declared martial law. What does a country like Italy risk in continuing its accession to NATO?
Interview

Andre Vltchek: Russia intercepted three Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait. The ships had, even according to Ukrainian authorities, several intelligence officers on board, as well as a number of light arms and machine guns. It was clear provocation, as the ships refused to inform Russian authorities about their intentions, and behaved in an aggressive manner. They were passing through Russian territorial waters. Ukrainian intelligence officers were obviously in charge of the entire operation. So, what is really so ‘alarming’ for the West? The ships were stopped, some crew members detained, and there is a serious investigation underway.

The ‘incident’ took place just days before the G20 meeting in Argentina, where Presidents Trump and Putin were supposed to meet. Also, it is only 4 months before the Ukrainian Presidential elections (March 2019), and Poroshenko is trailing behind the two leading candidates with only 8% of support. Ukraine under his leadership is so messed up that many flats in the capital city of Kiev will not be heated during this winter. Logically, Poroshenko provoked the crises, so he could pose as a strongman, hoping to at least gain some popularity. He has imposed martial law for 30 days although originally, he wanted it to last for 2 months. What does it mean? The press will be censored and criticism of the government, limited. Good for the grotesquely unpopular president? Definitely.

Also, it is obvious that the West, particularly the EU and NATO, are behind this new wave of dangerous madness.

Italy is part of both EU and NATO. As I am writing in my new essay, it is a nonsense to believe that “Europeans are brainwashed; that they do not know what the West is doing all over the world”. They know, or they at least suspect – most of them. But they pretend that they don’t know. In Europe, there is a shadowy deal between the government, corporations and the people. People want more benefits, and they do not care that the benefits come from plundering the world. If they get their benefits, they shut up. If they think they are getting too little, they protest, like recently in Paris. But do they care if tens of millions of ‘un-people’ die for those benefits? Of course not!

The same when it comes to Russia, China or Iran. Europeans in general and Italians in particular, know that there is some sort of vicious propaganda against those countries that refuse to yield to the Western diktat. But they will do nothing to stop it. It is sweet, isn’t it, to feel superior, ‘democratic’, and ‘free’. And it is horrible to admit that one lives in a place that is spreading terror to all corners of the world, robbing even the poor of all they have. These six weeks vacations could turn sour, if Italians were to decide to see who is really paying for them. So, they shut up, and will shut up, until it is ‘too late’.

Remember, countries like Russia and China have their own ‘democracies’ (rule of the people). It is not the Western system. Rulers and the masses communicate and interact in a direct way, in a very distinctive manner. And in both Russia and China, the people have ‘had enough’ of being bullied and brutalized by the West, for decades and centuries. Just a little bit more, and things will explode. If pushed further, Russia and China will respond. If provoked militarily, they will defend themselves. The same goes for Iran. Being part of the grouping that is terrorizing the world, Italy will have to pay the price, too.

AB: Russian Minister Sergei Lavrov asked the Western allies in Kiev to “intervene” and “calm down” the Ukrainian authorities, warning about the potential crossing of a “point of no return” between Russia and the West. Is the risk of war real even in light of the great gathering of NATO troops at the border?

AV: Yes, of course, it is real. Just turn the tables around: if Iran or China or Russia or Venezuela or Syria or Cuba did to the West what West is doing to them, would there be real risk of war?

This impunity and racist belief in total superiority, which is so prevalent in the West, has to stop. And soon it will stop. As they say in Chile: ‘By reason or by force’.

AB: You were recently in Syria, a country that thanks to the Russian intervention and the resistance of the Syrian people supported by the regional allies – Iran and Hezbollah above all – is slowly trying to return to normal. What country did you find?

AV: I found a beautiful, confident and proud country. I am also writing a long report about my visit there.

I met many victims, common people, but also a General, and a Minister of Education, who is also an accomplished novelist. His motto is: “Ministry of Education is like Ministry of Defense”. Correct: education without ideology and passion is just a waste of time.

Syria won. And there, the entire Arab world won together with it. Arabs were, for decades, thoroughly humiliated – by the West, by Israel, by their own leaders who were put on the throne by London, Paris and Washington.

As I have written many times, Aleppo is the Stalingrad of the Middle East. The losses were terrible, all over Syria. But the victory is tremendous, too. Pan-Arabism will blossom again. People in all countries of the region are watching and now they know: it is possible to defeat Western imperialism and its spooks, its terrorist implants.

Russia stood by its Arab sister with determination, but also very wisely. It used diplomacy whenever it could, and it used force only when there was no other way. In Syria, the Russians won people’s hearts. ‘Thank you, Russia!’, is everywhere, even engraved on traditional wooden boxes. The Russian language being my native tongue, opened so many doors, as it opened thousands of doors to me in Afghanistan (I never expected it there).

Syria has to finalize its victory, soon. And I will be back to cover events there. At the front if needed.

It is tremendously optimistic and beautiful to be in a country which did not prostitute itself; a country that stood tall, fought hard, for its own people and for the entire region. There is great confidence and kindness on the faces of people. Celebration is not loud, because, after all, so many people died. But people are out, till the morning, men and women, boys and girls. Cafes are packed; the streets of Damascus are bustling. But even in Homs and the destroyed suburbs of Damascus, life is defiantly returning to normal.

What a nation! Yes, they say ‘Thank you Russia!”. As an internationalist, I say: “Thank you Syria!”

AB: The chemical attack by the “rebels” in Aleppo yesterday unmasks the lies in the mainstream of these years. What role did the media play in allowing the terrorist gangs supported and funded by the West and Gulf allies to destroy Syria?

AV: A tremendous role. In Syria, the Western mass media finally ceased to exist. It became a prostitution force for the Empire, nothing else. But we all know that both the media and education are basically used for indoctrinating people, at least in the West and in its ‘client’ states.

There was so much provocation. The Gulf and the Western broadcasting companies were literally igniting the conflict, spreading lies, pushing people into rebellion against the government. They have blood on their hands, the same as Pashtun Service of the BBC has blood on their hands, as the VOA, Radio Free Europe and ‘free whatever’ have blood up to their armpits.

AB: Before Syria you did two important reports in Argentina and Mexico telling about the mutations under way in Latin America. Bolsonaro has won in Brazil, while in the next few days Lopez Obrador is preparing to settle in a Mexico that has turned left. At what stage is the dispute in Latin America, and what are the prospects for the left in the continent?

AV: Well, I worked for three weeks all over Mexico, before going to Syria. My big work in both Argentina and Brazil, had been done earlier.

Look, Ale, you and I know; are very well familiar with Latin America. I used to live in Mexico, Chile, Peru (during the so-called Dirty War) and Costa Rica. I have worked all over the continent.

What happened in Mexico is great, although one could say ‘overdue’. Now let us hope that President-Elect Obrador will be able to turn his magnificent country around, towards socialism. It will not be easy. There is plenty of terrible inertia. There are horrible ‘elites’ of European stock. And there is the United States, right next door, always ready to ‘intervene’. But I think he can do it. I trust him. I travelled all over this huge country, I spoke to people. It was all summarized by a gangster in Tijuana, a man who became a criminal out of desperation. He said, and I paraphrase: “I think it is close to impossible for Obrador to change things, but if he will do what he is promising, I will drop everything, and support him. This is the last chance for Mexico to change things peacefully. If he fails, we will take up the arms.”

Brazil, this is so difficult to explain. But essentially, there, in Latin America, more than anywhere else, the mass media which is in the hands of the right-wing, played an extremely significant and thoroughly destructive role. When I visited Amazonia, around Manaus and Belem, or Salvador Bahia, people would tell me: “Our life improved significantly. Now we have this and this and that. But Dilma has to go!” My God, I thought, am I dreaming? No, I was not. Basically, somehow, the elites hammered into people’s brains that if they are better off now, then it is because of their own personal success. But if some things are not going too well, it is the fault of the government.

“Corruption” is always used in the combat against left-wing governments in Latin America. Microscopes are used, to encounter any wrongdoing. It was used against Kristina Kirschner, against Lula, even against poor Dilma who was not corrupt at all, but suffered from the right-wing and West-backed ‘constitutional’ coup. But just imagine that stupidity, that absurdity: right-wing dictatorships in the Southern Cone but also in Brazil used dogs to rape women; they tortured prisoners, killed, ‘disappeared’ people, robbing everything they could put their hands on. And that is not ‘corruption’, right? Then some company offers to renovate an apartment of Lula’s, and he is in prison! Suddenly those fascists are playing the moral card. Do you know what Bolsonaro will do now? He will screw the entire Amazonia; do it almost ‘Indonesia-style’. He will allow that horrid deal with the Western corporations, the privatization of the aquifer shared with Paraguay, to go through. The third biggest passenger airplane manufacturer on earth – Embraer – will be sold to Boeing, for petty cash. Brazil will lose its rainforest, its industry, and its poor will lose their lifeline – government support. And this is not called corruption! Argentina under Macri is allowing the US to operate in Tierra de Fuego. The entire country is screaming from pain: electricity prices have gone up, the famous film industry is losing support, and the middle class is again going down the drain.

But I am optimistic. Latin American people have a great desire for socialist, in some places, communist societies. Whenever they are left alone, they fight for it, or vote for it. Then they get smashed. The West has overthrown, basically, all the truly left-wing governments of the continent, from the Dominican Republic, to Chile. But the process never stops. It begins all over again.

I only hope that one thing changes: you know, the West was very successful in implanting the idea in the heads of Latin Americans, that after all that has happened, Europe and even the US are somehow superior nations. And so, people look down on the truly great nations like China and Russia, in places like Brazil. It appalls me. I speak the language, and I clearly see what is happening. In Argentina, there is not much of a real left: the intellectuals there are connected to those defunct theories in Europe and North America, like ‘anarcho-syndicalism’. And there is nothing really revolutionary about those ideas. There are too many Westerners influencing Latin American revolutionary movements. They lost at home, became irrelevant, but still they insist on judging the world from a Western perspective. Still, somehow, many of them are admired in Latin America. And it always backfires: Westerners dilute revolutionary spirit. They also kidnap the South-South narrative. I would love to see Russian, Chinese, Venezuelan, Cuban, Syrian, Iranian or South African comrades running the state media in countries where the true left is winning. It would make a great difference!

AB: Argentina continues to sink under the weight of Mauricio Macri’s neoliberal austerity but the mainstream media are silent. Meanwhile, Evo Morales’ Bolivia continues, to the contrary, to record the highest growth rates in the region in a climate of stability. So, socialism works contrary to what they try to make us believe?

AV: Yes, of course, socialism works, Ale. If left alone, if it is not bathed in pus and blood, it prospers. Unfortunately, so far, whenever any country decides to go socialist, the West unleashes its campaign of terror, lies and economic banditry. Socialism is not some extreme utopia, but the most logical goal. The majority of people want to live in an egalitarian society, where they feel secure and safe, and where when sick they get treated, when they are thirsty for knowledge, they get educated for free. They want the state to work for them, not against them. They want their government to control companies, instead of companies controlling their governments.

AB: Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the economic, psychological and media war goes on. Will the Bolivarian government succeed in resisting this unprecedented attack?

AV: Yes, it will. But again, look how fragmented Latin America has become. People in Chile or Argentina watch CNN and FOX and they know much more about Miami or Paris, than about Caracas. The Brazilian President-Elect said that he would murder Maduro – still, people voted for him.

Latin America is mostly run by European elites. They robbed the continent, turned it into the part of the world with the greatest disparities. For any revolution to succeed here, it has to be radical and decisive. Democracy should be direct, not that multi-party idiotism implanted from the West – that is so easy to pervert and divert from outside, or with the use of social and mass media. Latin America cannot try to ape Europe and hope that it will prosper. Europe is based on the plunder of other parts of the world. Latin American countries do not have colonies, and the plunder is internal – the rich of European stock are plundering both the land and the native people.

AB: In one of his last articles Fidel wrote how “The alliance between Russia and China is a powerful peace shield able to guarantee the survival of the human race”. What is the legacy of Fidel Castro today two years after his death?

AV: Just tremendous! Even when the entire Latin America betrayed Cuba, Fidel and his people never surrendered. This is the spirit I admire. Cuba has a big heart – it fought for the independence of several African nations, it helps so many places on earth with their doctors, teachers, and rescue teams during natural disasters. Cuban art is some of the greatest on the planet. That is why Cuba has had a tremendous impact on me personally, and on my work as well. I proudly call myself a ‘Cuban-style internationalist’. I am endlessly grateful to Fidel, to the Cuban revolution and to Cuban people. In many ways, it is perhaps the greatest country in the world. A country I would never hesitate to fight for, or even to die for.

*****

• Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism, a revolutionary novel “Aurora” and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter.

International Conference Against US/NATO Bases Addresses Militarism

For the first time in the history of humanity, the technical means are at hand to eliminate poverty if resources were not diverted to making war. World hunger could be abolished with only a small diversion from military budgets. The only luxuries that so-called middle-class Americans would have to forego would be the Blue Angels air show and drone-bombing wedding parties in the Middle East. Yet, military spending is expanding, and with it global poverty.

On November 16-18, some 300 peace activists representing over 35 countries gathered in Dublin, Ireland for the first International Conference Against US/NATO Military Bases to address this tragic paradox of the technical ability to serve humanity and the political proclivity by the ruling circles in the West to do the opposite. Roger Cole of the Irish peace organization PANA identified the twin threats to humankind of global warming and global war, both driven by accelerating militarization.

Ajamu Baraka of the US-based Black Alliance for Peace highlighted the reactionary role of the US and its allies, which have by far the largest military expenditures in the world. The material basis for the absence of peace and the accelerating proliferation of military bases, in his words, is US imperialism.

Guantánamo was the first of the world network of US foreign military bases, according to keynote speaker Dr. Aleida Guevara from Cuba, daughter of Che. Cuba opposes this violation of national sovereignty. Today the US possesses some 1000 foreign military bases with troops stationed in over 170 countries.

Australian Annette Brownlie of IPAN warned of a new Cold War. The recent US National Security Strategy document, focusing on “great power confrontation,” signals open preparations for direct military confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia and China.

David Webb of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK explained that the US is the only nation with nuclear weapons based outside its soil. US policy is to develop “usable” nuclear weapons in an enhanced first-strike capacity. Missile defense, he reproved, is the shield for the sword of nuclear weapons. The purpose of missile defense is to protect the aggressor against the inevitable retaliation after a first nuclear strike.

Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance reported that the recent US midterm elections brought in more Congressional representatives with military or security state backgrounds. The duopoly of the two US “war parties” is united in supporting an accelerated arms race. Well over half of the US government’s discretionary budget now goes to the military.

Unlike so much liberal and progressive political discourse in the US, which is obsessed with the personality of President Trump, the international perspective of this conference penetrated that distracting fog and concentrated on the continuity of US militarism regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.

The session on the environmental and health impacts featured testimony on the toxic effects of military bases in Okinawa, Czech Republic, and Turkey. The US Department of Defense is the world’s largest polluter.

National Coordinator of the Irish Trade Union Federation and Secretary of the People’s Movement, Frank Keoghan, described the transformation of the European Union (EU) into a war project with the recent rush to create a single EU army. Ilda Figueiredo from the Portuguese Council for Peace and Cooperation and another activist from France warned that the drive for an EU army would transform all national military bases into NATO bases and would in effect allow “nuclear bomb sharing.”

Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report chaired the Africa session. South African Chris Matlhako and Kenyan Ann Atambo discussed the dependency of African states on foreign aid, which is used as a tool to facilitate the occupation of Africa by foreign militaries.

Paul Pumphrey of Friends of the Congo described the development of US strategy in Africa, which has used African proxies to allow domination and extraction of valuable resources such as coltan from the Congo. Now the strategy also includes direct occupation by the US military. George W. Bush established AFRICOM in 2008 with just a single acknowledged US military base on the continent, followed by an explosion to some 50 bases and a military presence in practically every African nation under Obama.

The session on Latin America and the Caribbean outlined the immediate threat of military intervention in Venezuela, caught in the crosshairs of US imperialism. Veteran Cuban peace activist Silvio Platero of MOVPAZ condemned the continuing US blockade of Cuba and the colonial status of Puerto Rico. Speakers from Colombia (now a NATO partner), Argentina, and Brazil reported that their right-wing governments are cooperating militarily with the US.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire from Ireland made an impassioned plea for all-out support of WikiLeaks whistleblower Julian Assange, “our hero of truth,” lest he die in a US prison.

The conference concluded on a high note of unity among the international peace forces. Conference coordinator Bahman Azad of the World Peace Council closed with a call to first educate and then mobilize.

Actions are being planned in Washington, D.C., around the 70th anniversary of NATO on April 4th. Coincidentally that is the date of the assassination of Martin Luther King and of his famous speech a year before when he presciently admonished, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government.”

Cornered: Trump Gets Thumped on Cuba at the UN

On November 1, 2018, for the twenty-seventh straight year, the full United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted by a near-unanimous 189-2 for “the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” The Israeli government, as usual, voted automatically with the US without saying a word on the floor. There were no abstentions, but Moldova and the Ukraine chose not to vote at all.1

“Clever” Tactic Fizzles Fast

The final vote had been delayed a day as the Donald Trump White House wheeled out what they apparently thought was a very clever tactic aimed at diverting attention away from Washington’s annual political isolation and defeat. The tactic was to propose a series of no less than eight “amendments” to the anti-blockade Resolution with bogus attacks against Cuba over “human rights” and political freedoms inside Cuba.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, in her last hurrah before resigning the post by year’s end, presented the “amendments” as being formulated by directly using the past words from Washington’s NATO allies in the European Union and Canada. This year, as usual, the EU and Canadian representatives made perfunctory statements after the vote with implicit criticisms of Cuba along the lines of restrictions on democratic rights, freedom of speech and assembly, and so on, which are sometimes put in the context of the US blockade.2

Both EU and Canadian diplomatic spokespeople quickly disabused Haley of any hope that Washington’s maneuvers would gain traction this year and bottle up the works. An Austrian diplomat speaking for the EU and the Canadian representative both made forceful statements rejecting all the “amendments.” They reiterated that the “amendments” had “no place in the current Resolution” and that the question of the “extraterritorial” US economic, commercial, and financial embargo against Cuba should not be “mixed up” with the issues raised through the “amendments.”

The General Assembly was required to vote on each Amendment separately. Haley and her boss Trump were isolated and cornered with no political way out. Each “amendment” went down in flames with 3 votes in favor (the US, Israel, and the Ukraine, which managed this time to press a button, 114 against, with 66 abstentions.

The common denominator in the near-unanimous votes, year after year in the UNGA, is the question of “extraterritoriality,” whereby the United States government gives itself the right to impose its economic, political, and travel blockading of Cuba on other countries and commercial entities who have normal or friendly relations with the Cuban workers’ state. It is this US posture, long before Trump’s regime came into power, that determined the votes of the European Union – a major capitalist trading and economic bloc with its own great political pretensions – with Cuba against US policy. Trump and Haley’s amendments ploy fizzled fast and was labeled correctly by EU and Canadian representatives as a “diversion” from the real issue, for them, of “extraterritoriality.”

The General Secretary’s Report

Most speakers from the floor referred positively to the report issued by UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres, the former Portuguese President and former President of the Socialist International, on the UNGA Resolution against the US blockade. It is a 168-page long comprehensive document.  Virtually every member-state plainly gives their opposition to the US blockade in their own words, as well as statements from 36 “organs and agencies of the United Nations system” from the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization to the United Nations Children’s Fund to the World Trade Organization, all attacking from their own angle and perspective the US blockade and solidarizing to some degree, mostly strongly, with Cuba.

From Obama to Trump

The Trump Administration has re-tightened aspects of the US economic and travel sanctions that had been marginally loosened during the last two years of the second Barack Obama White House. Full diplomatic relations were restored between Washington and Havana in July 2015 and Trump has stopped short of moving to abrogate them. He has, however, virtually frozen US embassy functions in Havana, making it very difficult for Cuban citizens to travel to the United States. This includes family members, trade unionists, doctors and scientists, and artists and musicians. “People-to-people” licensed travel to Cuba by US citizens is still possible and Cuban-American citizens remain able to travel back and forth to the island with no special requirements.

Trump has consciously ratcheted up bellicose and provocative anti-Cuba rhetoric. This plays badly with the “public opinion” of the peoples and governments of the world, including inside the United States and among Cuban-Americans. The fusillades of hostile demagogy against the Cuban government by Trump, Nikki Haley, and National Security Advisor John Bolton only produces disdain and contempt across the political and ideological fissures in world politics. This is because the Cuban state and government practice of international solidarity – including Cuba’s vanguard role in medical internationalism and worldwide emergency disaster relief efforts – and its political principles is universally admired. It is universally recognized that Cuba’s quick action and dispatch of medical personnel was the decisive factor in containing and conquering the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa on the ground. Also very clear factually are the example of Cuba’s great human indices for the health and education of the Cuban population as a whole despite the terrible impact of decades of US economic and political aggression, and recurrent military and terrorist threats. These are all settled questions around the world. And all the huffing and puffing of Trump and his lackeys cannot change that.

For many years before Trump, the UNGA annual vote around Cuba has registered an accumulating political problem for Washington in the world, particularly across the Americas. This was the case under both Republican and Democratic White Houses and Congresses. Considerable political damage was absorbed by the US government. Well into his second term, President Barack Obama, backed by his former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the bulk of the Democratic Party, and some Republicans, decided that a political retreat was necessary.3

Months and years of serious diplomatic talks preceded the December 2014 “breakthrough” announcements by Presidents Obama and Raul Castro. The political retreat and shift by Obama required him to order the release of the Cuban Five and for the US State Department to formally remove Cuba – an historic recipient of US-sponsored terrorism in the actual world – from its “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list. But the US economic, financial, and commercial embargo – which openly aims to use US power to universally blockade Cuba – remained in place and was barely tinkered with by Obama even in areas he could have. 4

John Bolton Whips it Up

John Bolton, who replaced the harried Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor in April 2018, has a history of ranting and railing hard against Cuba. In 2002 he ran up the propaganda flagpole the idea that Cuba was involved in production of chemical and biological weapons. Inside the George W. Bush Administration, Bolton pushed for international inspectors to monitor Cuba’s biological facilities. This clear attempt to frame Cuba was not, and could not, gain any political traction, insofar as it was: 1) made up out of whole cloth; and 2) then-President Fidel Castro responded quickly, forcefully, and with full political impact. Bolton crawled back in his hole.5

On November 1, 2018 in Miami, at a campaign rally in support of Florida Republican candidates in Miami, Bolton conjured up a “troika of tyranny” with Venezuela and Nicaragua as US-anointed members and Cuba the communist mastermind. The crowd of hundreds was populated with veteran Cuban counterrevolutionaries and mercenaries from Washington’s wars and terrorism against the Cuban Revolution since the 1960s.

The Last Ordeal of Nikki Haley at the UN

If I were a talented cartoonist, I would portray Nikki Haley up there at the UNGA podium, and John Bolton among the defeated, aging counterrevolutionaries, as caricatures with steam coming out of their ears. The cornered Haley could only strike the pose of relishing in her government’s isolation and pathetically trying to make a virtue out of political humiliation. Haley pouted: We. Are. Alone. We are proud of it! We are defiant!! (And we are screwed.)

The most revealing statement of all from Haley was her labeling of the proceedings as a “a total waste of time.” To begin with, the annual vote and previous votes represents a particularly powerful marker that acts as a restraint on US aggression. It is part of the world political atmosphere that creates space for the international political defiance of US policy and solidarity with Cuba. It is this solidarity that has eroded the blockade politically and economically, objectively helping revolutionary, socialist Cuba survive the economic cataclysm of the 1990s following the near-overnight collapse of its then-extensive economy ties with the former Soviet Union and the so-called “socialist camp in Eastern Europe.”

The reality is that the accumulation of political defeat for Washington year-after-year, in forum after forum, has become a material factor in world politics. Haley’s arrogance barely veils the accumulated political damage that Washington continues to endure on the “Cuba Question” in Latin American and world politics.

Haley engaged, on the stage of world politics, in what in psychology is called “minimization,” that is “a type of deception coupled with rationalization in situations where complete denial is implausible,” as defined in Wikipedia. Practitioners such as Haley are engaged in “downplaying their misdemeanors when confronted with irrefutable facts.” Haley’s bleating went so far as to portray the world body gathering as ganging up and bullying poor old Uncle Sam. Here we have Goliath turned into David. Here the schoolyard bully finds the entire school united against him and the bully cries foul. But with no allies and collaborators, the bully’s aura and the fear he counts on evaporates.

Haley and Bolton’s Bombast is Not Politically Sustainable

All the bluster in the world cannot hide the political weakness in the Trump Administration’s policy. After the latest thumping for US policy at the UN can Trump move to implement new anti-Cuba actions beyond what he has already done? Will legal travel between the US and Cuba, including for Cuban-Americans, be closed even more, or altogether? Will diplomatic relations be unilaterally abrogated by Trump? Are subversive US “regime change” programs being reactivated and stepped up? 

US embarrassment and political isolation at the UN would likely become a political disaster and crisis for Washington at home as well as worldwide if US anti-Cuba moves sharply to escalate with interventionist threats and deeds. Such moves would be far more likely to increase demands to defy Washington and back up the UNGA Resolutions with concrete deeds, despite the US veto in the UN Security Council (UNSC). Bullying in full view is rarely a winning tactic in the long run, especially when the bully is up against a politically savvy opponent full of principle and dignity such as the Cuban revolutionaries.

In any case, Trump and his team are nowhere near creating the political conditions for a US-backed military coup in Venezuela, let alone direct US military aggression.

The interventions from the General Assembly floor began with the “geopolitical” and other groupings that claim to speak as one, from time to time, on issue by issue. On the Cuba-sponsored Resolution, top diplomats from one country lined up to denounce US policy for the bloc or group: Ethiopia for the African Group, Egypt for the Group of 77 Plus China; Venezuela for the Non-Aligned Movement; El Salvador for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC); Singapore for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN); the Bahamas for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); and Bangladesh for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Solidarity with Cuba was most pronounced by the representatives of countries that have benefited directly from Cuba’s socialist internationalism. The representative from the Bahamas, who spoke for the Caribbean Community gave a heartfelt tribute to Cuban medical assistance, including the free medical training of Bahamian and Caribbean doctors. These were echoed by strong language from the representatives of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Jamaica. Jamaica’s representative called the US blockade “an affront to the world.” He was echoed by many speakers when he expressed “profound disappointment that we are still meeting on this question, that this is still happening” following the steps taken under Obama’s last years which raised hopes (and illusions) worldwide and in the United States.

Part of the campus of the Latin America School of Medicine (ELAM).

(Since 2005 ELAM. has graduated tens of thousands of physicians from oppressed and exploited populations in Africa, Asia and the Americas, including working-class and impoverished communities in the US, with full scholarships offered by Cuba. These new young doctors make a commitment to work in underserved areas upon graduation.)

South African and Namibian representatives spoke with sharp emotion of Cuba’s decisive part in the defeat of the apartheid South African state and the “democratic dispensation” in South Africa, and the winning of the independence of Namibia.

The Bolivian representative gave a militant defense of the Cuban Revolution – “the enormous island of dignity.” He called US aggression against Cuba “one of the most important issues facing the UN system…One of the most powerful countries – the host country – refuses to comply with General Assembly resolutions year after year…Cuba is an example for all humankind [with its] selfless assistance to the rest of the world. Cuba was there in Africa! Cuba was there!” He ended his rousing remarks by quoting the legendary Ernesto Che Guevara, who said “the people of Cuba are stirred when any injustice occurs in the world.”

Cuba Speaks for Itself

Before the final vote on November 1, 2019, after Haley’s amendments were defeated, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez took the floor in a powerful presentation.

Rodriguez spoke in the tradition of Cuban revolutionary diplomacy around the world and at the UN going back to the work of the legendary Cuban UN Ambassador Raul Roa and the speeches of Fidel Castro and Ernesto Che Guevara before the General Assembly. In those early decades of the Revolution, when the US blockade was at its tightest, and when the military threats and interventions of Washington and the militarized counterrevolutionary exiles was at its height, Cuba boldly made its case and defended itself politically from the platform of the UN.6

 Fidel Castro and Raul Roa at the United Nations General Assembly, September 22, 1960 (UN Photo)

Rodriguez spoke not only as Cuba’s top diplomat in making a comprehensive presentation of the human impact of the US blockade, including in Cuba’s exclusion from US-based life-saving or life-enhancing medical products, medications, technologies, and devices. Much of Rodriguez’s presentation took this up in moving detail. But he also spoke as a representative of the Cuban socialist revolution, which holds up the banner of international solidarity with the oppressed and exploited overwhelming majority of humanity in opposition to the world of capitalist exploitation and imperialist war.

Rodriguez began his speech with an expression of solidarity with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where a Jew-hater inspired by Nazi ideology and anti-immigrant hatred gunned down eleven Jewish people in their Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27.  The Temple congregation was prominent in aiding war and other refugees migrating to the US. This evidently sparked the carnage. Rodriguez also expressed solidarity with the victims of floods and landslides in Indonesia which killed dozens.

Most powerfully the Cuban Foreign Minister was not about to listen to any lectures from Donald Trump, Nikki Haley or the United States government on Human Rights:

The US government does not have the least moral authority for criticizing Cuba or anyone else with regards to human rights.  We reject the repeated manipulation of human rights with political purposes as well as the double standards that characterize it… The US government is the author of human rights violations against its own citizens, particularly Afro-Americans and Hispanics, minorities, refugees and migrants. In the midst of the opulence of that country, 40 million of its citizens live in conditions of poverty and 52 million live in impoverished communities.  More than half a million sleep in the streets. Twelve per cent lack medical insurance and millions of low-income persons will be left without it. Quality education is not accessible to the majority. Equal opportunities are a pipedream. It is a government of millionaires imposing savage policies…There is a different racial pattern with regards to the inmate population, the length of imprisonment terms, the application of the death penalty -which is also applicable to minors and the mentally disabled; and the number of persons being shot dead by the police. The US government builds walls and separate children -even young children- from their migrant parents and put them in cages. The United States is party to only 30 per cent of human rights instruments and does not recognize the right to life, peace, development, security, food or the human rights of boys and girls.

Rodriguez’s speech included a strong socialist critique of the “democratic” pretensions and highfalutin words of Washington’s mouthpieces vs. the realities of capitalist politics in the United States:

The ‘special interests,’ that is, the corporate interests, have kidnapped the US political system, which is corrupt by definition…Words and political statements do matter. While demonizing and turning political opponents, institutions, social groups and nations into enemies through the use of propaganda, division, violence, hatred, [then] crimes and wars thrive and take root…Dirty politics, indecency, amorality, lies, the redesigning of electoral districts out of political convenience and the manipulation of voters are all exacerbated. Six million low-income US voters are prevented from voting.  In Florida, 21 per cent of Afro-American voters are not entitled to cast their vote. [There is] [f]ake information [and] the monopoly over communication…The US government unscrupulously interferes in the electoral processes and internal affairs of most States in this planet.7

A Post-World War II, Post-Cold War World is Emerging

This year the UN vote highlighting the US economic war against Cuba converges with Washington’s – which is now Trump’s Washington – tendentiousness and political isolation on other burning issues and existing and looming crises worldwide:  Trump’s unilateral pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was reached between Iran and the United States, the UK, Russia, France, China, Germany and the EU in July 2015 and confrontations he is pushing with the EU and other powers over US “extraterritorial” pressures to tow the US line; unfolding political developments on the Korean Peninsula; Saudi Arabia’s US and UK-backed murderous war on Yemen and the mounting political crisis in the Saudi bastion of reaction in the entire Middle East region; the political aftershocks of the brutal Syrian war; prospects for a two-state settlement in Israel-Palestine; and Trump’s pulling out of the (already weak) UN “Framework Convention on Climate Change” after 2020, an issue where Washington is even more isolated than on Cuba.

Trump, in his crude branded way, blurts out US imperial arrogance in a world today that is marked by an emerging post-World War II, post-Cold War era where the full-spectrum economic, financial, and political dominance of the American Colossus is receding more and more from sight in history’s rear-view mirror. Recently, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in floated the idea of lifting some of his country’s sanctions against the North, Trump said, “They won’t do it without our approval. They do nothing without our approval.” (Both “South” and “North” Korea voted with Cuba at the UN.)

The relative decline of US capitalist power in the world of today means that the still-overwhelming military dominance Washington holds – in terms of nuclear arsenal and other unmatched firepower capability; the worldwide reach and projection of US naval and air power, with hundreds of military bases in operation worldwide – still finds great pressures and limits on the political ability to use it, particularly since the unintended consequences of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. I think this is particularly true across the Americas, even with the recent electoral advances of conservative and reactionary forces on the South American continent.

Brazil’s Election and Potential New Alignments

With the election on October 28, 2018 of Jair Bolsonaro, a rightist demagogue, Trump and Bolton quickly saw a potential weighty ally in Latin America for the perspective of putting together a political bloc against Cuba and to breach the wall of continental solidarity with it against the US blockade. Bolton welcomed Bolsonaro’s election saying:

The recent elections of like-minded leaders in key countries, including Ivan Duque in Colombia, and last weekend Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, are positive signs for the future of the region, and demonstrate a growing regional commitment to free-market principles, and open, transparent, and accountable governance… today, in this hemisphere, we are also confronted once again with the destructive forces of oppression, socialism and totalitarianism…Under this administration, we will no longer appease dictators and despots near our shores in this hemisphere. We will not reward firing squads, torturers, and murderers … The troika of tyranny in this hemisphere – Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua – has finally met its match.

Bolton shameless demagogy, as with Haley, correlates to another classic scientific category called “psychological projection.” This is, in Wikipedia’s definition, “a theory in psychology in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting.” Insofar as the United States government has a crystal-clear history and legacy of supporting, sustaining, or directly installing virtually every blood-soaked military or rightist family or oligarchical dictatorship in Central America, Latin America, and the Caribbean in modern times, this is “projection” of the highest order.8

And let us underline that Bolton is praising a political and military figure, Bolsonaro, who came out of and defends wholeheartedly the right-wing military regime in Brazil from 1964-1986, with its documented history of death-squads, murder, and torture on a mass-scale. Bolsonaro has publicly said that the military dictatorship did not murder and torture those who resisted and fought it enough.9

Bolsonaro was elected with a ten-point margin, culminating, for now, a deepening political crisis in Brazil that was set in motion by the sharpest economic retraction and recession in modern Brazilian history that kicked in starting in 2014. This drawn-out political earthquake saw the 2016 impeachment and removal from office of Workers Party (PT) President Dilma Rousseff on dubious charges of manipulating budget statistics followed by the 2018 imprisonment and barring from running for President of PT leader and former president Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva on the relatively petty charges of receiving access to an apartment on the beach. Denied strongly by da Silva, the charges rose to the level of the absurd given the massive corruption that marks capitalist politicking in Brazil with its rampant wheeler-dealerism, kickbacks, and bribe-taking. This was the case before, during, and after Lula da Silva and the PT won the Presidency in January 2003, starting with the political forces that moved against Rousseff and Lula da Silva.

Among the aftershocks over time from the 2007-08 world economic crisis and depression was the collapse in raw materials, energy, and other commodity prices in world capitalist markets. This expedited the economic crisis in Brazil, the eighth largest capitalist economy in the world. Brazil has built up giant export platforms for oil and other raw materials to markets in advanced capitalist countries such as the US and the EU, as well as to China, over many decades. Huge capitalist farms in Brazil export products such as soy beans, sugar, and meat that brought in large sums in foreign exchange. It is an example of how even the most developed (semi-industrialized) capitalist economies in “Third World” nation-states like Brazil are dependent on the advanced capitalist economies of the United States, western Europe, and Japan and the international institutions they control like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) for markets and credits (that is, debt).

In that cyclical period of expansion driven by high commodity-raw material prices, the successive PT governments funded social-welfare programs that created real – but tenuous and ephemeral as it turned out – alleviation of extreme poverty, of which there is a tremendous amount in Brazil. These policies marginally advanced working-class access to education and health care and fueled Lula’s high levels of political support and popularity. This popularity was apparently the decisive factor in banning him from being on the ballot in the Presidential election, where most surveys had placed him in the lead.

Politically, the PT policies delivered relative class and political stability, without any disruption of the financial, economic, and social dominance of the Brazilian bourgeoisie and landowning ruling classes. The Workers Party in the October 2018 elections paid the political price for the sharp economic recession that unfolded from 2014-16, with a stagnant “recovery” today. Bolsonaro was able to exploit other issues such as the miserable living conditions in the favelas, controlled by criminal gangs running organized drug rackets that are tangled up with corrupt and murderous police forces. The Brazilian ruling classes and media oligopolies swung behind Bolsonaro decisively in the elections, burying previous derisions of him when he was “on the fringe” of bourgeois politics in Brazil.

It remains to be seen if Bolsonaro is prepared to – or is politically able to – unite with Trump in an anti-Cuba, anti-Venezuela crusade. In a November 7, 2018 Financial Times article titled “Brazil version of Trump to play hardball with Bolivian autocrat,” writer Gideon Long relishes a coming confrontation between Bolsanaro and Bolivian President Evo Morales (“one of the last survivors of the leftist ‘pink tide’”) over a natural gas deal that is up for renewal. Long further asserts the ascendancy of “a new regional order” in a Latin America that he says has “shifted rightward.”

Bolsonaro Forces Out Cuban Doctors

On November 14, 2018, the press office of the Cuban UN Mission in New York issued a Declaration from the Ministry of Public Health announcing the withdrawal of Cuban doctors from Brazil following Bolsonaro’s attacks and threats on them and the Program More Doctors organization the Cuban volunteers work through. The Declaration states:

Jair Bolsonaro, president-elect of Brazil, who has made direct, contemptuous, and threatening comments against the presence of our doctors, has declared and reiterated that he will modify the terms and conditions of the Program More Doctors…he has questioned the qualification of our doctors and has conditioned their permanence in the program to a process of validation of their titles and established that contracts will only be signed on an individual basis…These unacceptable conditions make it impossible to maintain the presence of Cuban professionals in the Program…The decision to bring into question the dignity, professionalism and altruism of Cuban cooperation workers who, with the support of their families, are currently offering their services in 67 countries is unacceptable. During the last 55 years, a total of 600,000 internationalist missions have been accomplished in 164 nations, with the participation of 400,000 health workers who, in quite a few cases, have fulfilled this honorable task more than once. Their feats in the struggle against the Ebola virus in Africa, blindness in Latin America and the Caribbean and cholera in Haiti as well as the participation of 26 brigades of the International Contingent of Doctors Specialized in Disaster Situations and Great Epidemics “Henry Reeve” in Pakistan, Indonesia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Venezuela, among other countries, are worthy of praise…Likewise, 35,613 health professionals from 138 countries have been trained in Cuba at absolutely no cost as an expression of our solidarity and internationalist vocation. The peoples from Our America and from all over the world know that they will always be able to count on the solidarity and humanistic vocation of our professionals.

Cuban Doctors in Brazil

“Pinochetism” Without Pinochet?

Bolsonaro is gearing up to carry out a “neoliberal” austerity program of attacks on industrial workers, agricultural workers, landless peasants, and small and medium farmers. He looks to the “model” of the policies carried out with extreme violence by the US-backed military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, which overthrew the elected, constitutional President Salvador Allende in a 1973 US-backed military coup.

At each step of the consolidation of his brutal dictatorship Pinochet consulted with and was advised by various US government and academic figures. These included, famously, a group of University of Chicago (UC) conservative and reactionary economists, spawns of Milton Friedman and Frederick von Hayek. These “Chicago Boys” found themselves dominating the Economics Department at UC and were available for the cause of crushing the workers and peasants of Chile into the dirt.

Survivors and would-be revivers of that “Chicago School” are very enthusiastic backers of Bolsonaro, starting with incoming Finance Minister Paulo Guedes. In an interview with the November 2, 2018 Financial Times Guedes said Bolsonaro’s election presents a “Pinochet” moment for Brazil. “The Chicago boys saved Chile, fixed Chile. Fixed the mess.”

Of course, when class and political polarization reaches the intensity of the last years of the Allende government, the room for “parliamentary democratic” resolution diminishes. Washington and the Chilean bourgeoisie and oligarchy, including in the officer corps of the Chilean armed forces, were baying for blood and carried out economic sabotage, covert subversion, and terrorism against Allende’s Popular Unity (UP) coalition, whose mass and electoral support was increasing at the time of the coup. Nevertheless, the UP government and Chilean revolutionists were unable to counterattack effectively and derail the more-and-more open coup plotting, US covert action, and right-wing mobilizations.10

It would have been impossible to carry out “the fix” Guedes crows about for Chile without the destruction of democratic rights and political space and murdering thousands of trade unionists and revolutionary-minded working-class and student youth, and anyone who stood in their way. Gruesome torture was institutionalized by the “fixers” on a mass, industrial scale after the initial bloodbath. This was a pre-condition for smashing trade union legality and driving the workers movement underground. Suppressing wages and worker’s rights laid the basis for renewed “confidence” and profitability for Chilean and foreign capital. Cyclical economic expansion primarily benefited a super-affluent minority.

The workers and mass struggles that pried open political space and trade-union legality in the 1980s, leading to Pinochet’s demise, used that space to fight to raise their living standards.

Can there be an updated Pinochetism against Brazil’s highly organized working-class movement, including mass trade unions and landless peasant organizations that Bolsonaro has made a career of making harsh attacks on? Bolsonaro spoke openly during and after the election of going after “delinquent Reds,” and organizations of landless peasants and homeless people, in addition to going after pension systems for organized workers, a centerpiece of Pinochet’s “reforms” in Chile.

While many on the Brazilian “left,” including PT activists, are no doubt shaken by the election of Bolsonaro, who obviously won the votes of many disillusioned and desperate working people, it should be said that the Brazilian workers and peasant class organizations and the mass, social movements, including for Afro-Brazilian rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights, have not been defeated in struggle and combat, as was the case in Chile. Bolsonaro’s “electoral mandate” will be tested in the actual class and political struggles ahead.

Operation Condor II?

With Pinochet’s triumph in 1973 there was increased collaboration and coordination of the Latin American military regimes (joined by Argentina in 1976) under Chilean leadership (and that of the US CIA in the shadows) in the so-called “Operation Condor,” which operated death squads and organized terrorist acts on a continental scale.

The Condor Years: How Pinochet And His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents by John Dinges

Trump’s team, to the degree that they have a coherent political focus on Latin America, certainly see opportunities to advance US policies through alignments with the series of more conservative and reactionary governments that won elections in Argentina, Chile, Columbia, and Peru in recent years. Economic conditions in all these states compel them, and they all are preparing, to take on the working-class and popular movements and to use the economic crisis to reverse the advances made in the period of the “pink tide” ascent. The Mauricio Macri government in Argentina, in particular, is in a real-time crisis after a disastrous decline in the value of the Argentine peso and consequent huge rise in the country’s dollar-denominated debt, topped off with a humiliating $57 billion “bailout” loan from the hated International Monetary Fund.

It should be noted that the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico will replace a conservative “neoliberal” regime with an Administration and legislature that campaigned as progressive, anti-establishment, anti-corruption, and opposed to US interventionist policies in the Hemisphere.

Venezuela

Trump and the Latin American forces he looks to bloc with certainly would like to pounce on Venezuela, which they portray as descending into ungovernability and endless economic cataclysm, and therefore is viewed as politically vulnerable. They dream and devise plans to sweep in a pro-imperialist government in an orchestrated “regime change.” There has leaked for public consumption US discussions and collaboration with pro-coup forces inside Venezuela’s military and other state institutions. These discussions were over the viability of a US-backed coup or a direct US military intervention to overthrow the Nicolas Maduro government. Nikki Haley has spoken openly to street actions calling for Maduro’s overthrow.

The Trump White House has spent over $20 million in “humanitarian refugee assistance” under the pretext of dealing with the some 2-3 million Venezuelan refugees who have been generated from the still-deepening economic crisis, crash in production, and runaway inflation in the country. These refugees have poured mainly into Colombia, with many transiting from there to Ecuador and other Latin American countries.

It is certain that the class struggle across the Americas will intensify and deepen in period at hand and coming. And that the political alignments of today may not be the realignments of tomorrow. The “Cuba Question” is bound to be at the center of all of this. The 2018 UN vote against the US blockade strengthens Cuba’s position in this volatile and explosive period in world and Western Hemispheric politics, and in the international class and national liberation struggles, that are now unfolding.

  1. The Benjamin Netanyahu Israeli government generally jerks its knee behind the US position on the Cuba anti-US blockade votes, abstaining in the last vote in 2016 when Barack Obama was in the White House. Netanyahu’s UN representatives reverted to a No vote this time under Trump. While diplomatic relations between Israel and Cuba have not been restored since being broken in the aftermath of the 1973 Middle Eastern War, which saw major combat between Israeli forces and the armies of Egypt and Syria, Israel and Cuba carry out significant two-way economic trade and commercial relations. There is important Israeli-based capital investment in several Cuban projects and industries including irrigation technology, office towers, and agricultural production. There is also fully legal travel from each country to the other. The many thousands of Israeli travelers to Cuba, and the travel agencies that work with them, have found no anti-Semitism in Cuba and no personal hostility towards Israelis even though the Cuban government is a strong supporter of Palestinian self-determination and has normal or friendly diplomatic relations with all the Arab countries as well as Iran. Cuba promotes a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine based on UN Resolution 242, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
  2. See my Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Geneva, Switzerland, The Case of Cuba: “Human Rights” as a Club.”
  3. Ike Nahem. “Obama and Cuba: End of an Illusion“, Dissident Voice, March 16, 2010.
  4. In the 1990s, Cuba’s economy contracted sharply, and virtually overnight, following the evaporation of the island’s exchange and commercial ties with the former Soviet Union and allied Eastern European governments during the “Cold War.” Long-defeated counter-revolutionary Cuban-American organizations, with histories of violence and terrorism against Cuba, felt wind in their political sails. They illegally organized from US territory, stepping up subversive provocations against Cuba. These groups particularly targeted the rapidly expanding Cuban tourism industry which was generating much-needed foreign exchange. A terrorist bomb killed an Italian tourist. After repeated attempts to get the US government to act against all of this, a team of trained Cuban revolutionaries were dispatched to South Florida to infiltrate and monitor these groups clandestinely. Until they were arrested and convicted in a rigged Miami Courthouse in 1998, the Cuban Five – Fernando Gonzalez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez, and Ramon Labanino – preempted a number of planned attacks. A major international campaign organized over many years demanded freedom for the Cuban Five. The last three incarcerated Cuban heroes were released in December 2014, as part of the agreement between Cuban President Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama to restore US-Cuban diplomatic relations.
  5. At the time Bolton thundered, “The United States believes that Cuba has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort. Cuba has provided dual-use biotechnology to other rogue states. We are concerned that such technology could support [biological weapons] programs in those states. We call on Cuba to cease all [biological weapons]-applicable cooperation with rogue states and to fully comply with all of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.”
  6. It was a time when a Cuban diplomat was assassinated in the streets of Queens, New York. It was a time when terrorist bombs were set off at the offices of the 1199 Health Care Workers Union, which courageously opposed the US blockade of Cuba, in the heart of Manhattan, the offices of Casa de las Americas, Cuban-Americans who defended the Revolution, and elsewhere. The Cuban Mission to the United Nations made networks of friends and supporters of revolutionary and socialist Cuba in the 25-mile-radius New York City-area where Washington, as the host country of the UN, could not prevent a Cuban presence or Cuban revolutionary freedom of speech at the UN. These friendships and solidarity have become deeply rooted over many decades. This was recently exemplified when newly elected President of the Cuban Council of State, Miguel Diaz-Canel, came to the United Nations for the Fall 2018 opening of the General Assembly and spoke to some 2300 people from New York, New Jersey and many other cities, who packed into the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan, for a rousing evening of solidarity.
  7. See Isaac Saney’s Submission to the UN Human Rights Council.Cuba, Human Rights and Self-Determination for a clear look at Cuba’s highly participatory electoral procedures.
  8. Check out this US interventionist history here.
  9. It should be noted that the democratically elected government of João Goulart, which attempted to carry out progressive measures in education, voting rights, taxes, and land reform infuriated the Brazilian capitalists and large landowners. It also enraged bipartisan Washington, in this case under the liberal Democratic White Houses of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. This was mainly because Goulart opposed the US blockade of Cuba and refused to break diplomatic relations as demanded by Kennedy and Johnson. Between 1961 and 1964, the CIA performed so-called psyops, or “psychological operations” against Goulart, poured money into opposition groups, and was essentially the architect of the coup.
  10. See Fidel Castro on Chile, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1982 with an introduction by Elizabeth Stone, a comprehensive compilation of speeches, interviews, press conferences, and interactions with Chilean workers and trade unionists, peasants, and students from November 10 to December 4, 1971 when the Cuban revolutionary and President visited the country. In speech after speech, Castro foresees – in a cumulative master class in the Marxist method – the gathering, impossible-to-be-avoided political, social, and class showdown. Castro did everything in his power to prevent a historic defeat and slaughter of working people in Chile similar to what Ernesto Che Guevara had witnessed in 1954 Guatemala. The classic documentary The Battle of Chile, shot during the Allende years and during the coup, smuggled out of Chile, and finished in Cuba, shows how workers and peasants, ready to defend their gains, arms in hand, waited, Godot-style, to be mobilized, armed, trained, and organized as the defense of democratic space and constitutional legality was being abandoned by the Chilean ruling classes and was, in fact, collapsing.

The Troika of Tyranny: The Imperialist Project in Latin America and Its Epigones

Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are today threatened by US imperialism. The first salvo of the modern Age of Imperialism started back in 1898 when the US seized Cuba along with Puerto Rico and the Philippines in the Spanish-American War.

The Age of Imperialism, as Lenin observed, is characterized by the competition of the various imperial powers for dominance. That inter-imperialist rivalry led to World War I. Lenin called those putative socialists who supported their own national imperialist projects “social imperialists.” Social imperialism is a tendency that is socialist in name and imperialist in deed. Imperialism and its social imperialist minions are still with us today.

US Emerges as the World’s Hegemon

The United States emerged after World War II as the leading imperialist power. With the implosion of the Socialist Bloc around 1991, US hegemony became even more consolidated. Today the US is the undisputed world’s hegemon.

Hegemony means to rule but even more so to dominate. As the world’s hegemon, the US will not tolerate neutral parties, let alone hostile ones. As articulated in the Bush Doctrine, the US will try to asphyxiate any nascent counter-hegemonic project, no matter how insignificant.

In the Caribbean, for instance, the US snuffed out the leftist government of Grenada in 1983 in what was code named Operation Urgent Fury. Grenada has a population smaller than Vacaville, California.

The only powers that the world’s hegemon will tolerate are junior partners such as Colombia in Latin America. The junior partner must accept a neoliberal economic regime designed to serve the interests of capital. Structural adjustment of the economy is demanded such that the neoliberal “reforms” become irreversible; so that you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Colombia recently joined NATO, putting that junior partner’s military under direct interaction with the Pentagon bypassing its civilian government. The US has seven military bases in Colombia in order to project – in the words of the US government – “full spectrum” military dominance in the Latin American theatre.

Needless-to-say, no Colombian military bases are in the US. Nor does any other country have military bases on US soil. The world’s hegemon has some 1000 foreign military bases. Even the most sycophantic of the US’s junior partners, Great Britain, is militarily occupied by 10,000 US troops.

The US is clear on its enemies list. On November 1, US National Security Advisor John Bolton, speaking in Miami, labelled Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba the “troika of tyranny.” He described a “triangle of terror stretching from Havana to Caracas to Managua.”

Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are targeted by US imperialism because they pose what might be called the “threat of a good example;” that is, an alternative to the neoliberal world order.

These countries are suffering attacks from the imperialists because of the things they have done right, not for their flaws. They are attempting to make a more inclusive society for women, people of color, and the poor; to have a state that, instead of serving the rich and powerful, has a special option for working people, because these are the people most in need of social assistance.

Sanctions: The Economic War against Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba

The US imperialist rhetoric is backed with action. In 2015, US President Obama declared Venezuela an “extraordinary threat to US security” and imposed sanctions. These sanctions have been extended and deepened by the Trump administration. The US has likewise subjected Cuba to sanctions in a seamless bipartisan policy of both Republicans and Democrats for over half a century. Now the US is the process of imposing sanctions on Nicaragua.

Unilateral sanctions, such as those imposed by the US, are illegal under the charters of both the UN and the Organization of American States, because they are a form of collective punishment targeting the people.

The US sanctions are designed to make life so miserable for the masses of people that they will reject their democratically elected government. Yet in Venezuela, those most adversely affected by the sanctions are the most militantly in support of their President Nicolás Maduro.

Consequently, the Trump administration is also floating the option of military intervention against Venezuela. The recently elected right wing leaders Bolsonaro in Brazil and Duque in Colombia, representing the two powerful states on the western and southern borders of Venezuela, are colluding with the hegemon of the north.

The inside-the-beltway human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, fail to condemn these illegal and immoral sanctions. They lament the human suffering caused by the sanctions, all the while supporting the imposition of the sanctions. Nor do they raise their voices against military intervention, perhaps the gravest of all crimes against humanity.

Liberal establishments such as the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) try to distinguish themselves from hardline imperialists by opposing a military invasion in Venezuela while calling for yet more effective and punishing sanctions. In effect, they play the role of the good cop, providing a liberal cover for interference in the internal affairs of Latin American nations.

These billionaire-funded NGOs have a revolving-door staffing arrangement with the US government. So it is not surprising that they will reflect Washington’s foreign policies initiatives.

But why do some organizations claiming to be leftist so unerringly echo the imperialists, taking such umbrage over Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua while ignoring far greater problems in, say, Mexico, Colombia, and Honduras, which are US client states?

Most Progressive Country in Central America Targeted

Let’s take Nicaragua. A year ago, the polling organization Latinobarómetro, found the approval rating of Nicaraguans for their democracy to be the highest in Central America and second highest in Latin America.

Daniel Ortega had won the Nicaraguan presidency in 2006 with a 38% plurality, in 2011 with 63%, and 72.5% in 2016. The Organization of American States officially observed and certified the vote. Polls indicated Ortega was perhaps the most popular head of state in the entire western hemisphere. As longtime Nicaraguan solidarity activist Chuck Kaufman noted, “Dictators don’t win fair elections by growing margins.”

Nicaragua is a member of the anti-imperialist Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America with Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and some Caribbean states. Speaking at the UN, the Nicaraguan foreign minister had the temerity to catalogue the many transgressions of what Martin Luther King called “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” and express Nicaragua’s opposition.

These are reasons enough for a progressive alternative such as Nicaragua to curry the enmity of the US. The enigma is why those claiming to be leftists would target a country that had:

  • Second highest economic growth rates and the most stable economy in Central America.
  • Only country in the region producing 90% of the food it consumes.
  • Poverty and extreme poverty halved; country with the greatest reduction of extreme poverty.
  • Reached the UN Millennium Development Goal of cutting malnutrition by half.
  • Nicaraguans enjoyed free basic healthcare and education.
  • Illiteracy had been virtually eliminated, down from 36% in 2006 when Ortega took office.
  • Average economic growth of 5.2% for the past 5 years (IMF and the World Bank).
  • Safest country in Central America (UN Development Program) with one of the lowest crime rates in Latin America.
  • Highest level of gender equality in the Americas (World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2017).
  • Did not contribute to the migrant exodus to the US, unlike neighboring Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
  • Unlike its neighbors, kept out the drug cartels and pioneered community policing.

In April of this year, all of this was threatened. The US had poured millions of dollars into “democracy promotion” programs, a euphemism for regime change operations. Suddenly and unexpectedly, a cabal of the reactionary Catholic Church hierarchy, conservative business associations, remnants of the US-sponsored Contras, and students from private universities attempted a coup.

Former members of Ortega’s Sandinista Party, who had long ago splintered off into political oblivion and drifted to the right, became effective propogandists for the opposition. Through inciting violence and the skillful use of disinformation in a concerted social media barrage, they attempted to achieve by extra-legal means what they could not achieve democratically.

Imperialism with a Happy Face

We who live in the “belly of the beast” are constantly bombarded by the corporate media, framing the issues (e.g., “humanitarian bombing).  Some leftish groups and individuals pick up these signals, amplify, and rebroadcast them. While they may genuinely believe what they are promulgating, there are also rewards such as funding, media coverage, hobnobbing with prominent US politicians, and winning awards for abhorring the excesses of imperialism while accepting its premises.

Today’s organizations that are socialist in name and imperialist in deed echo the imperial demand that the state leaders of the progressive movements in Latin America “must go” and legitimize the rationale that such leaders must be “dictators.”

They try to differentiate their position from the imperialists by proffering a mythic movement, which will create a triumphant socialist alternative that fits their particular sect’s line: chavismo without Maduro in Venezuela, sandinismo without Ortega in Nicaragua, and the Cuban Revolution without the Cuban Communist Party in Cuba.

The political reality in Latin America is that a right wing offensive is attacking standing left-leaning governments. President George W. Bush was right: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” There is no utopian third way. Each of us has to determine who are the real terrorists, as the juggernaut of US imperialism rolls out a neoliberal world order.

Chaos: The New Imperialist Game Plan

For now, the coup in Nicaragua has been averted. Had it succeeded, chaos would have reigned. As even the most ardent apologists for the opposition admit, the only organized force in the opposition was the US-sponsored right wing which would have instigated a reign of terror against the Sandinista base.

The US would prefer to install stable right wing client states or even military dictatorships. But if neither can be achieved, chaos is the preferred alternative. Libya, where rival warlords contest for power and slaves are openly bartered on the street, is the model coming to Latin America.

Chaos is the new imperialist game plan, especially for Bolton’s so-called troika of tyranny. The imperialists understand that the progressive social movements in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are too popular and entrenched to be eradicated by a mere change of personnel in the presidential palace. Much more drastic means are envisioned; means that would make the bloody aftermath of the US-backed Pinochet coup in 1973 in Chile pale by comparison.

In Venezuela, for example, the opposition might well have won the May 2018 presidential election given the dire economic situation caused in large part by the US sanctions. The opposition split between a moderate wing that was willing to engage in electoral struggle and a hard-right wing that advocated a violent takeover and jailing the chavistas.

When Venezuelan President Maduro rejected the US demand to call off the elections and resign, he was labelled a dictator by Washington. And when moderate Henri Falcon ran in the Venezuelan presidential race on a platform of a complete neoliberal transition, Washington, instead of rejoicing, threatened sanctions against him for running. The US belligerently floated a military option for Venezuela, stiffened the suffocating sanctions, and tipped the balance within the Venezuelan opposition to the radical right.

The US is not about to allow Venezuela a soft landing. Their intent is to exterminate the contagion of progressive social programs and international policy that has been the legacy of nearly two decades chavismo. Likewise, for Cuba and Nicaragua. We should also add Bolivia in the crosshairs of the empire.

We’ve seen what Pax Americana has meant for the Middle East. The same imperial playbook is being implemented in Latin America. Solidarity with the progressive social movements and their governments in Latin America is needed, especially when their defeat would mean chaos.

Remarks by Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez to the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, by Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez

Madam President: Mister Secretary-General: It is impossible to be here, speak from this rostrum on behalf of Cuba, and not recall historic moments of the General Assembly which are also part of our dearest memories : Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raul Castro and the "Chancellor of Dignity", Raul Roa, just to mention the most significant, have brought here not only the voice of our people but also the voice of other Latin American and Caribbean, African, Asian, non-aligned peoples, with (...)

Canada: An International Banking Powerhouse

Strange how some people think Canada is a colony, a victim of U.S. power, when so much evidence points to the Great White North being an imperial power.

For example, Canada is an international banking powerhouse.

The Globe and Mail report on TD’s third-quarter results noted that its “international operations  – mostly in the United States and Latin America – produced outsized returns” while another recent story in that paper’s business pages pointed out that the Bank of Nova Scotia and Bank of Montreal “are doing brisk business lending in international markets, helping drive third-quarter profits higher.” For Canada’s biggest bank, reported the Financial Post, “U.S. wealth management unit helps propel RBC to $3.1 billion profit.”

Canada’s international banking prowess is not new. Dating to the 1830s, Canadian banks had become major players in the English Caribbean colonies and US-dominated Cuba by the early 1900s.

The Royal Bank of Canada began operating in Britain’s Caribbean colonies in the late 1800s and had branches there before Western Canada. During the 1898-1902 occupation of Cuba RBC was the preferred banker of US officials. (National US banks were forbidden from establishing foreign branches until 1914.) By the mid-1920s the “Banco de Canada”, as it was popularly known, had 65 branches in Cuba. In 1919 RBC established an association with the Westminster Bank, which had operations in British Africa. In 1925 RBC published an ad in Canadian magazines with a map of the Western Hemisphere with dots denoting the Royal’s presence throughout the Caribbean and South America. The headline read, “A bank with 900 branches: at home and abroad.”

The Bank of Montreal has operated in the Caribbean since the late 1800s. It was tied to British rule there and in Africa. According to James L. Darroch in Canadian Banks and Global Competitiveness:

In 1920, a substantial interest in the Colonial Bank was purchased [by the Bank of Montreal] to fill out the branch network and to provide representation in the West Indies and West Africa.

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) entered the Caribbean just after World War One and Mexico a bit earlier. According to Darroch, “the CIBC acted for the U.S. government after the U.S. came into possession of the Philippines following the Spanish-American war” of 1898.

Scotiabank has “full-service  banking operations in 37 countries”. It set up shop in British controlled Jamaica in 1889, US-dominated Philippines a few years later and the Dominican Republic during the US occupation of 1916-1924.

With operations spanning the globe, Canadian banks are major international players. The five major Canadian banks are among the world’s 59 biggest banks. At 0.5% of the world’s population, Canada should have 1 of the world’s top 200 banks. To put it differently, this country’s proportion of the world’s 59 biggest banks is more than 15 times the share of Canada’s global population.

Canada’s outsized banking power is not new. In 1960 three of the world’s twelve biggest banks were Canadian and Canadian banks oversaw 15% of the international foreign currency market.

Similarly, Canada’s big five banks have long generated a significant share of their sizable profits from their international operations. In 1981 a Bank of Nova Scotia executive said, according to Walter Stewart in Towers of Gold, Feet of Clay: The Canadian Banks, “I don’t know why Canadians are upset about bank profits. We’ve stopped screwing Canadians. Now we’re screwing foreigners.”

Foreigners have protested Canadian banks for at least a century. CIBC and the Bank of Montreal were targeted during the 1910–17 Mexican Revolution and there’s been publicly recorded criticism of Canadian banking practices in the Caribbean since at least 1925. In the early 1970s Canadian banks were fire bombed in nationalist protests in Trinidad and Tobago and Scotiabank was targeted by demonstrators and the courts in Argentina at the start of the 2000s.

Amazingly, the Canadian left has generally ignored Canada’s international banking prowess (even as their foreign operations receive direct government assistance). The dominant left nationalist political economy perspective frames Canada as a victim of international capitalism. Looking at the world through a left nationalist lens generally leads individuals to ignore, or downplay, the destruction wrought by Canadian corporations abroad and “Canada’s hugely privileged place in the world economy”, as Paul Kellogg puts it in Escape from the Staple Trap: Canadian Political Economy after Left Nationalism.

Canadian banks have amassed significant wealth through their domestic operations and relationship to the profits generated from Tim Hortons’ workers, Inuit resources, oil extraction, etc. But, they’ve also made huge sums internationally and by skimming some of the wealth produced in US oil fields, Peruvian mines and Port-au-Prince sweatshops.

People on the left should tell it like it is: Canada is an imperial power, our ruling class profits greatly from the exploitation of poorer countries.

Ernesto Che Guevara Medical-Cultural Brigade: In Santos Lugares… looking for Haiti

V Ernesto Che Guevara Brigade Signs Off from Santos Lugares

The fifth Ernesto Che Guevara Medical-Cultural Brigade took place on August 18 and 19, in the village of Santos Lugares, in the province of Santiago del Estero, Argentina. Having been present in the brigade, in this article we report on the activities that took place, both in terms of healthcare and education. During two very intense days, Che’s footprint was present in Northern Argentina.

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Santos Lugares is a remote village, with a population of 300 according to the last official census, and the current estimate is of around 7000 people in a 100 km radius. With no telephone lines, the radio is the main source for communication and information, and that was how people were informed about the arrival of this brigade.

The climate is dry and the land is not fertile for agriculture. Locals mostly dedicate themselves to raising cattle (cows, sheep, pigs, chickens) which, in the absence of grazing land, roams around freely looking for food. Another sustenance activity is the production of vegetable charcoal, which has caused a severe deforestation of the area. Nevertheless, the main struggle in this corner is the defense of the land against the expanding agro-business interests. This struggle, which is decades old, has seen the emergence of movements such as the MOCASE (Campesino Movement of Santiago del Estero), with whom the coordination was made to organize this brigade.

The 128-strong brigade arrived on two buses, which made the journey of more than 11 hours from the city of Córdoba. These were joined by other people coming from other places in the province of Santiago del Estero, or from neighboring provinces such as Tucumán. With a large contingent of doctors who studied at Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine, the ELAM, the brigade also brought other healthcare professionals such as dentists, opticians, ophthalmologists, as well as educators from the literacy program Yo Sí Puedo (“Yes I can”), students, culture, recreation and sports professionals, communicators and journalists, and others.

The accommodation was offered by Colegio San Benito, a religious school for boys and girls, in a place where, to no surprise, the church is the main cultural influence. For an outside observer it was an extraordinary sight to see religious images hanging on the walls and then an army of green scarves walk past them.1 But for now the goals were different: to bring medical attention, and more, to these people. It is fair to point out as well that the local pastor has always been very committed to the peasant struggle.

Dry landscape of Santos Lugares (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

The two main axes of the brigade were the literacy program Yo Sí Puedo and healthcare, especially ophthalmology. Most of these operations were set up in Santos Lugares, but 8 small groups, 4 on Saturday and 4 on Sunday, also went to isolated places around Santos Lugares.

Around these two activities there was also room for organizing children’s activities, with sports, educational games and a mobile library. On Sunday everyone participated in the local children’s day activities, and there was also a discussion group concerning gender and women’s rights. It is worth mentioning that Brazilian comrades from the Movement of the Landless Rural Workers, the MST, participated in all of these activities, which allowed for an interesting exchange of experiences.

Rooting out illiteracy from the remotest corners

The members of the Yo Sí Puedo literacy program2, including Cuban advisors and volunteers that coordinate the program in different parts of Argentina, split up in small groups to go door to door in Santos Lugares and in nearby places. In total 148 visits were made, in which 60 potential students for the program were found. On Sunday there were training sessions for 32 facilitators, which will remain in touch with the program coordinators as they move forward.

We had the chance to go along with one of these groups that went door to door. In one case we were warmly welcomed, with mate [note: traditional Argentinian drink] and cookies, by the Juárez Faría family. The mother, Margarita, told us that she has two teenage kids with disabilities, who never learned how to read and write in school. She currently lives with them during the week in Santiago (capital of the province), so that they can attend a special school, and brings them back to Santos Lugares on the weekends. Learning how to read and write will make them much more independent, and Margarita herself will play the role of facilitator.

Beyond the pedagogical method, which is truly revolutionary, the main trump of this program is perhaps its flexibility. Oel Hernández, program coordinator in Argentina, reiterated that the program will only work if it adapts to the needs of the people. The possibility of holding the classes in a nearby place, or in someone’s home, the closeness of the facilitator which comes from the community, is what allows everyone to learn and advance at their own pace. In the end, the feeling of being able to finally write a letter to a grandson is something that no words can describe. No words except those in the letter, of course.

Small team from Yo Sí Puedo going door to door (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

Filling a hospital with doctors

The doctors in the brigade mostly set up in the recently built hospital of Santos Lugares. However, while the infrastructure is new, there are no doctors. Currently only a nun, who is a doctor and is stationed in Santos Lugares, comes to the hospital once a week. With the arrival of the brigade the hospital was suddenly full of doctors and, especially, patients. In total more than 450 consultations took place, between general clinic, pediatrics, neurology, cardiology, gynecology, and others. The brigade also brought a large amount of donated medicines, which were prescribed to some patients and also stocked the hospital’s pharmacy.

Norma Vega, one of the people in the hospital we spoke to, was bringing her granddaughter for a check-up. Besides that, she wanted to talk to a neurologist about her disabled daughter, to get a second a opinion, since the doctors in the capital city of Santiago del Estero want her to have surgery. This is common issue to most medical specialties, like cardiology or neurology, namely, the need for patients to travel 4 or 5 hours to Santiago (capital) to find specialized medical attention. This without mentioning, like Norma explained, the ordeal and costs required to access the necessary drugs.

Hospital of Santos Lugares (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

A second unit, mainly dedicated to ophthalmology, set up in the Casa del Santo Padre. There they did 330 ophthalmological consultations, which included prescribing eyeglasses for 83 patients. There were also 30 patients identified with cataracts or pterygium, and with those the task now is to coordinate so they can come and have surgery at the Ophthalmological Center in Córdoba, where Operación Milagro is based.3 The first patients are due to travel as soon as September.

One of the most noteworthy events took place in the early hours of Sunday, when people came from the town asking for help, as a pregnant woman had gone into labor. Even though the previous night had been, let us put it mildly, of intense conviviality, two ELAM-trained doctors quickly responded and helped with the successful delivery of little Inés.

We could ask ourselves: what is it that drives a doctor to go out of some place in Argentina, get all the way to Córdoba to then embark on an endless bus journey, stay in less than comfortable accommodation, in order to see hundreds of patients in a forsaken village, for free, on a weekend? There will not be any explanations in any Ted Talk, nor in Andrés Oppenheimer’s latest book. Some will point towards an (irrational) sense of duty, which is surely there, but behind all of this are the great feelings of love and commitment that guide true revolutionaries, like Che used to say.

Finally, we need to say a word about Aleida Guevara. If her arrival was announced everywhere, the truth is that Aleida truly came at the head of the brigade. Beyond everything that is demanded of her, in terms of speeches and interviews, she was in the hospital both days, from beginning to end, seeing patients like all the other pediatricians. And while among the people one could hear rumors that “Che’s daughter” was in town, the truth is that most mothers and kids will have left her office simply thinking that a very kind Cuban doctor had just seen them.

Ophthalmological exam (Photo: Ricardo Vaz)

Looking for our Haiti

Claudia Camba, president of the UMMEP foundation, which coordinates the Cuban missions and organizes these brigades, told us that, after an outbreak of cholera that followed the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Fidel Castro insisted that the ELAM graduates should be brought to Haiti. Not just because they were sorely needed at the time, but also because contact with these “wretched of the Earth” was also a school, so that doctors never forgot what their mission was. But in the specific case of the Argentinian ELAM graduates, it was not possible to find the funds to send them to Haiti. Nevertheless, a few months later, an idea emerged – “let us look for Haiti in Argentina”.

That is how these brigades were born, and Aleida joined them. On five occasions they have gone to the most remote locations in Argentina4 to bring not only healthcare but also education, culture and sports. It is important to stress, as we said before, that this is not just about bringing an oasis that leaves as quickly as it came. By bringing medical attention to a place where there is none, besides solving any immediate issues people might have, the goal is to orient patients so they can seek the medical care they need. The same holds true for the literacy mission, which, through the door to door research and the training of local facilitators, plants the seeds that will allow the program to develop in the future.

But looking for Haiti can be more than this. Haiti was the stage for the first and only successful slave rebellion. During a few truly revolutionary years, the army of slaves, hell-bent on breaking free of their chains once and for all, managed to militarily defeat the armies of the French, Spanish and British empires. All this took place under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, a former slave that proved too cunning, militarily and diplomatically, for his European enemies.

Therefore looking for Haiti also has this connotation, of fighting for liberation. Fighting for the liberation of peoples who, while no longer under slavery5, are still yearning for their dignity under this system that is not only responsible for their misery and exclusion, but actually feeds off of them. While only for two days, the brigade brought small revolutionary seeds of healthcare and education that will help these people break free of their chains. And their liberation will also be ours, and that of all those who struggle.

• First published in Investig’Action

The Che Guevara brigades, as well as the internationalist education and healthcare missions (Yo Sí Puedo and Operación Milagro), are coordinated in Argentina by the Un Mundo Mejor Es Posible Foundation (UMMEP, “A Better World is Possible”). The missions are sustained by the generosity of the Cuban government and the solidarity of people around the world. Donations can be made following this link.

• Special thanks to Luciana Daffra for her corrections and suggestions.

  1. The green scarf has become the symbol of the struggle for the legalization of abortion in Argentina.
  2. The Yo Sí Puedo (“Yes I Can”) program, designed by Cuban pedagogue Leonela Relys, has allowed over 10 million people, in 130 countries, to learn how to read and write. It is based on 65 lessons, in audiovisual format, and on the presence of a facilitator, who ensures that the students are learning, and works as a liaison with the Cuban advisors of the program.
  3. Operación Milagro is an eye healthcare program to fight preventable blindness, mostly due to cataracts. The mission has gone through several stages before finally opening, in 2015, the Dr. Ernesto Che Guevara Ophthalmological Center in the city of Córdoba.
  4. The four previous brigades went to the provinces of Chubut (in Patagonia), Jujuy, Córdoba and Misiones.
  5. There is a clarification to be made here, which is that, unlike what bourgeois historiography would have us believe, the abolition of slavery, wherever it took place, was not a magnanimous act by whoever was in charge at the time. Simply put, due to the evolution of capitalism and the growing resistance from slaves, from an economic standpoint it made more sense to have serfs/laborers than to have slaves.

The Anti-President

Raids by U.S. commandos in Afghanistan. (I could be talking about 2001 or 2018.)

A U.S. drone strike in Yemen. (I could be talking about 2002 or 2018.)

Missions by Green Berets in Iraq. (I could be talking about 2003 or 2018.)
— Nick Turse, Chronicles Magazine, July 2018

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.
— Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 1967

The U.S. is now a endless machine for war profiteering and endless war itself. Simultaneously a hyper Imperialist machine directed toward global hegemony. Domestically it is a McCarthyesque empire of propaganda and censorship and mass incarceration. On both fronts it is a machine for channelling money directly to the ruling class.

The U.S. has 900 military bases around the world. Everything is contracted out. Where once soldiers and marines built their own barracks and peeled their own potatoes, the new military is one in which construction, maintenance, and operations are handed over to private companies, many of whom have as their sole reason for existence, to service the US war machine.

…U.S. bases overseas have become a major mechanism of U.S. global power in the post-Second World War era. Alongside postwar economic and political tools like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the United Nations, the collection of extraterritorial bases—like colonies for the European empires before it—became a major mechanism for “maintaining [U.S.] political and economic hegemony,” advancing corporate economic and political interests, protecting trade routes, and allowing control and influence over territory vastly disproportionate to the land bases actually occupy. Without a collection of colonies, the United States has used its bases, as well as periodic displays of military might, to keep wayward nations within the rules of an economic and political system favorable to itself.
— David Vine, Monthly Review, 2014

Many of these bases are as large as small cities. Camp Liberty in Iraq has concrete sidewalks, traffic signals, spas and cinemas as well as coffee shops and Burger Kings. Generals and Admirals employ private jets, and siphon off taxpayer money for vacations at luxury resorts and shopping trips for their wives and family. The bookeeping has been described as functionally fictive. The vast amounts of monies misplaced or unaccounted for is in the trillion of dollars. Everything….from shower heads to gym equipment, to electrical cable is from private firms that usually have spent small fortunes lobbying Pentagon officials or even state department higher ups to *win* these contracts. So ponder that a moment: TRILLIONS of dollars. When anyone asks why *we* are still in Afghanistan after 17 years, this is but one of the answers.

As the FOB2012 conference neared its end, I asked another conference attendee (who asked that I not use his name) if during his wartime deployments in Iraq he had seen the problem Major Elliott had described of a base with private security guards protecting privately contracted cooks, who were cooking for the same private security guards, who were protecting the privately contracted cooks. “A lot,” he replied. It’s the “self-licking ice cream cone”—by which he meant a self-perpetuating system with no purpose or function except to keep itself going.
— David Vine, Monthly Review, 2014

The U.S. has accepted that they are now fighting generational wars. There are children born in just the special-op fronts, the hot spots that Special Operations forces fight in, who are now of fighting age. Teenagers who have never not known American occupation. From Iraq to Afghanistan, to Somalia, to Libya, to Yemen, to Philippines and Niger and Syria there are conflicts that the U.S. seems intent on keeping active. The idea of solution is now forgotten.

And watching Donald Trump and his traveling insult party it struck me that only such clearly intentional behavior and statements could make a ghoulish war criminal like John Brennan attractive to the American public. And then something began to nag at me.

While Trump is seeking to develop a framework for authoritarian rule—including the cultivation of far-right and fascistic forces based on anti-immigrant chauvinism—there is not an ounce of democratic content in the campaign of his critics within the state and political establishment. In the name of opposing Trump—and the supposed Russian plot that sustains him—they are developing their own arguments for dictatorship.
— Joseph Kishore, WSWS, August 18, 2018

Brennan has, besides suggesting intensifying foreign theatres of operation, now openly outlined a plan for Orwellian thought control at home, and wholesale censorship of dissent.

More from Joseph Kishore…

This is the significance of Brennan’s column, “President Trump’s claims of no collusion are hogwash,” published in the print edition of the New York Times on Friday. The pages of the Times were turned over to Brennan by James Bennet, the newspaper’s highly-connected editorial page editor, brother of right-wing Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and son of Douglas Bennet, a former top State Department official with CIA connections. { } More than Russia, the targets of Brennan’s attack are domestic organizations and individuals. He writes: “Electoral politics in Western democracies present an especially inviting target, as a variety of politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers are readily manipulated, wittingly and unwittingly, or even bought outright by Russian intelligence operatives.” Who are these “politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers?” The answer is: Anyone who does not accept uncritically the narrative of the intelligence agencies and the military, including the lies used to justify war in Syria and aggression against Russia.

The liberal class in the U.S. is now embracing with laudatory accolades the most malign sadistic authoritarians possible. Men like Brennan, James Comey, Robert Mueller, and nary a peep from them about the confirmation of serial torturer and all around liar Gina Haspel. With Vietnam there were massive protests against the war. Today there are none. Nobody cares in the U.S. They do not care it is year 17 in the occupation of Afghanistan, or that in Yemen there is such human suffering that statistics are an insult to even mention. Shoot a school bus in Yemen? Unfortunate but hardly headline news. Google and Facebook are now in the process of widespread censoring of dissenting voices. How dare anyone criticize the ogre John McCain. That is *hate speech*. Hollywood continues to avoid ANY criticism EVER of the U.S. military or domestic police forces. In fact, they continue to produce one jingoistic narrative after another in which service in the armed forces is uniformly expressed as a noble choice, a honorable patriotic sacrifice. Hollywood is, in fact, creating (and has done for two decades at least) a indelible mythology of fascistic martial love.

But that is really the core of what is nagging at me.

The curious exaggerated response in the U.S. to the Trump presidency is understood, partly, by the failure of previous conflicts and even by 9/11, to produce a sense of national regeneration in the usually willing masses. No amount of revisionist history about Vietnam or Korea produced a real national sense of military purpose. Grenada and Somalia just didn’t, frankly, kill enough people. This is a Puritan nation that has never left its roots in blood atonement. Organized corporate owned sports provides only a limited refuge from the crushing economic reality. Not many are fortunate enough to feel pride in what they do. And deep down nobody really believes the lies. They may work overtime and very hard to do so, but I don’t believe they do. But hating Trump has now become, at least in part, a new mythology for America. For the educated classes anyway, Trump is now the anti-president.

…one of the syndromes that people working with Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD was something called John Wayne Syndrome where the young men had internalized the John Wayne model of heroism and one of their problems was they felt they had failed somehow to live up to that model.

And that’s the psychology we’re talking about here. You internalize a model of heroic behavior from the media that purvey the myths that shape your society. And there’s a whole spectrum of responses you might have in relation to that internalized model.

You might not do anything yourself. You might simply consent that the government or somebody act on your behalf, you don’t make the war yourself, but you consent that somebody make the war for you, kill the bad guy for you.
— Richard Slotkin, Interview, Truthout 2013

I remember Slotkin (whose trilogy on the American West is essential reading) pointing out that the first significant shift in consciousness for America was …“1890, the moment when the landed frontier of the United States was officially declared ‘closed’, the moment when ‘frontier’ became primarily a term of ideological rather than geographical location.” And that is when Americans began to codify this idea of violence and conquest as acts of purification and nobility. One must cross into *Indian territory*, or for many, just into Mexico — for these symbols and tropes of white supremacism represent a metaphoric shadow world that must be overcome in order to be reborn as a proud white American. The U.S. has fought no wars that could be sold as heroic without inordinate amounts of propaganda and indoctrination in a sort of kitsch patriotism. I think of the Chris Kyle memorial event at the Cowboys Stadium where fifty thousand people showed up. But it is likely that 99% of the wars in human history also needed propaganda. Just, perhaps, not quite at the level we see today.

But such observations must be understood against a backdrop of an eroded education system, a society of screen and anti-depressive addictions. There is no way to grasp the mental illness in play today. For the anti Trump hysteria, and that is what it is, comes out of a kind of backhanded schadenfreude. The disfigured mental state of America has arrived at some kind of critical mass. (As an aside vis a vis Lacan, in his one actual public speaking appearance -Catholic University of Louvain, mid 70s- he opened his lecture by asking the audience “can you bear the life that you have”?

Today, the sense of misery in the U.S. is acute and operative in about three different registers. There is the exponential spike in homelessness and poverty, and that is obvious. But there is another register of psychic torment and depression that blankets life on a day to day basis. And it is a sense of this absolute counterfeit existence — coupled to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and inadequacy that is causing widespread depression and driving more and more desperate narratives of American privilege. And no wonder, I mean look at the most powerful men in the country; Trump, the Koch Brothers, Mike “Domionist” Pompeo, John fucking Bolton…I mean JOHN BOLTON for christ sake, and Brennan, the Clintons and their posse, and Jeff Bezos and Zuck, not to mention Pierre Omidyar, and these are just off the top of my head. Not a single person in that list is not reprehensible. Then the DC think tanks. And there is no way to overestimate the influence of these institutions; The Brookings Institute, CATO, Council on Foreign Relations, RAND Corporation, Heritage Foundation, Center for American Progress, Center for Strategic and International Studies – the list goes on. These places advice the State Department and Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, Unified Commands of the Marines and Navy, not to mention congress and the Attorney General, and the Executive Branch. As I glanced at the bios of the leadership at CSIS I came across this in a bio…..”…held the Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy”. These people live in an alternate universe. They are Martians. But they are very powerful. That is the reality we live in.

So no wonder misery is endemic. And I guess the question begged here is how did the most powerful nation on earth (though defining powerful is perhaps useful) arrive in the hands of people who think the Brzezinski chair in Global Suffering is something to aspire to?

But this sense of the counterfeit is in no small measure the result of the lost counter culture, and alternative press. Again during Vietnam there were important writers protesting and speaking everywhere. Papers like the East Village Other, the L.A. Free Press. Berkeley Barb, et al had importance. People were rejecting the idea of ruling class privilege. They also understood the ruling class were the real criminals. Today Google would just erase them. Now we get Rachel Maddow, Fox News and Jordan Peterson. Where once Robert Bly and Alan Ginsburg gave readings to protest the war, in trips they paid for themselves across the entire country. Today were have celebrity war pimps like Angelina Jolie and George Clooney.

We have a 1950s throwback cracker as AG. If a movie is made of these years it’s too bad Strother Martin has passed on because he was born to play Jeff Sessions. But I digress. (And George Kennedy as Mike Pompeo?). I gotta stop.

I was reading Paul Goodman recently. Whatever place in the annals of American letters that Goodman may finally rest, there is a serious shortage of that kind of wisdom out there today. And Goodman was remarkably prescient as well as wise.

I keep resorting to the metaphor school-monks, the administrators, professors, academic sociologists and licensees with diplomas who have proliferated into an invested intellectual class worse than anything since the time of Henry VIII. Yet I am convinced – as they got their grants and buildings and State laws that give them sole competence — that the monks are sincere in their bland faith in the school. The schools provide the best preparation for everybody for a complicated world, are the logical haven for unemployed youth, can equalize opportunity for the underprivileged, administer research in all fields, and be the indispensable mentor for creativity, business-practice, social work, mental hygiene, genuine literacy — name it, and there are credits for it leading to a degree. The schools offer very little evidence of their unique ability to perform any of these things — there is plenty of evidence to the contrary — but they do not need to offer evidence, since nobody opposes them or proposes alternatives.
— Paul Goodman, Compulsory Miseducation

Over fifty years ago William Burroughs, a contemporary of Goodman, was asked what he thought of contemporary America:

At the official level a nightmare. Difficult to believe that people in positions of power who form the foreign and domestic policies of America could be so stupid and so basically ill-intentioned.

So what we are seeing today is not new. What is new is this phenomenon of the anti-president. All the things that were not really believed in by themselves become valuable, even sacrosanct symbols of an imaginary Good America.

I was told by a teacher recently that her high school students are hugely reluctant to volunteer answers in class. Later she asked one why. The student said everyone was afraid of being made fun of on social media later that night. Best to keep quiet and invisible. This does not portend well for the future of the West. Burroughs added a bit later (in the under-read The Job) about the term nightmare. He said it’s less a nightmare than a non dream. For the ruling class, dreams must be eradicated. The masses cannot be allowed dreams.

Only today, I think, there is — either by accident or design — a manufactured dream. The dream of stopping the anti-president. The obvious contradictions are brushed aside. After all, this is mythology. I remember Robert Bly noting that when a society confuses the mythic with the real, it is a sign of terminal sickness in that society. Witch burning is an example. Of course, there were historical and economic determinants involved in both the wave of European witch hunts in the 16th century (see Sylvia Federici) and those in Salem. But nonetheless the populace believed in witches. They believed the Church propaganda. Today, the hatred of Trump is so exaggerated that only a deep conviction in something bigger than just politics has to be involved. Hating Trump has become a secret handshake among liberals. A part of spiritual self improvement, right alongside Yoga classes and TM.

Of course, Trump is horrid. And somewhere in him, or somewhere in the story of how he got elected, he knows this or at least suspected it. I was put here to be who I am and ergo, I was put here to be hated. He plays to it. He insults the queen for cryin’ out loud. What a cad!

There is another aspect to this, though. One that has to do with how the U.S. government and the ruling elite are expressing their own hysteria. A quick survey here, then.

Mike Pompeo is another example of the foulness that holds power in the U.S. Pompeo has helped form something called the Iran Action Group. What this is, and Pompeo and Mattis openly state this, is an organization devoted to orchestrating a coup d’etat in Iran. They want to overthrow a sovereign government by any means necessary. If this seems a contradiction given the hand wringing and howls of indignation about Russian collusion in OUR elections; well, it is. It’s a breathtaking contradiction. But such is the hubris and arrogance of the U.S. government. What, you might well ask, has Iran done to us? The answer is nothing. Oh rather, it has offended those who stride the corridors of power in the U.S. by not doing what it was told.

Look at the official list of American enemies. Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, and the DPRK. What do they have in common? They are independent. They have refused all those World Bank and IMF overtures to drain profit from the country. They don’t accept U.S. bases in their country. And they refuse to allow western Capital to buy up their resources. The horror!!!

So, the US government, and in particular Pompeo’s CIA, will form committees and pay for studies (from the aforementioned think tanks) to figure out how to kill the leaders (like Gaddafi, and Lumumba) of these recalcitrant nations, or exile them or TRY to kill them. But most of all, to get rid of them and replace them with compliant client governments. For the only acceptable form of foreign government is a vassal state. All those leaders who have defied US diktats, have suffered endless persecution. Why were Chavez and Milosevic demonized? What did they do? Why was the former Yugoslavia bombed, broken up, and its president illegally kidnapped and stuck in a prison? And then handed over to an ad hoc tribunal for a show trial meant to demonstrate how good and gracious is the U.S. (and its European clients) but they couldn’t even get that right. So they dropped the trial from their TV line up. And Milosevic died in jail. Chavez and Milosevic and Castro and Gaddafi et al — were not threats to world peace. They were not tyrants.

I have said before, if the US targets you, then you deserve to be defended. Full stop. Only the most privileged of leftists make distinctions about whatever they don’t like and get mealy mouthed and start using racist terms like “thug”. Or call independent states “regimes” just like Mad Dog Mattis does.

You know that cognitive dissonance must be rampant when the two biggest U.S. allies are Saudi Arabia and Israel. I mean, the Saudis are set, as I write this, to publicly behead a woman’s right activist (and her husband). For….*protesting*. This is our ally. We sell them billions in weapons. We train them. We visit them and they visit us. Or Israel. I mean Israel is an official apartheid state now where politicians openly call Arabs “dogs” and “vermin”.

The Iran Action Group is illegal by all and any international legal conventions. No matter.

I want to add, again, Pompeo is another Christian extremist in this administration and one with a deep hatred of Islam. Back in 2015

…Pompeo, then a Congressman, attacked Barack Obama, who, according to him, took the side of the “Islamic East” in its conflict with the “Christian West”. “Every time there has been a conflict between the Christian West and the Islamic East, the data points all point to a single direction.
— Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, 2017

Pompeo’s Islamaphobia is shared by Pence and, really, the entire Trump cabinet. But this is the standard sensibility of the contemporary evangelical community. And why that is so hard for people to recognize is beyond me. But I want to get back to the state of consciousness in the U.S.today. To the new mythology…or pseudo mythology anyway.

A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that at one point last year, 74% of adults in the UK were so stressed that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. One-third were suicidal and 16% had self-injured at some point in their lives. These figures were much higher among young people.

In the United States, death rates are rising steadily, especially for middle-aged white men and women, due to “desperation,” which includes deaths from drug and alcohol addiction as well as suicides and many car accidents. An pidemic of distress seems to be affecting some of the richest nations in the world.
— Manuel E. Yepe, Counterpunch, August 2018

When Richard Nixon switched his Vietnam policy from winning the war to “rescuing” US POWs, he was consciously reclaiming another American myth which was the basis of the Puritans’ earliest literature: the captivity narrative. This pointed the way for the revisionist Rambo histories of Vietnam, whose betrayal scenarios blamed loss on dissenters at home. What was Ronald Reagan, asks Slotkin, if not America’s last attempt to reclaim the beliefs American myths told Americans should bind society together, even when they were known to be untrue.
— Michael Carlson, Irresistible Targets, 2008

These two things, then. Epidemic levels of extreme anxiety and depression, and the system’s doubling down on the mythology of individualism and the frontier; but a doubling down that has meant an ever more distilled nativist zealotry. Those who went to Chris Kyle’s memorial are the NASCAR flyover state true believers, but now liberal America is, as I say, buying in. For them, there seems no alternative. For the liberal, the educated classes in America, the status quo is sacred. And they would rather have any version of Brave New World, than to contemplate actual radical change. You know where the most rabid bulging eye, popping veins, hatred of communism can be found? In white liberal America. And it was Malcolm X. who said “The white liberal is the worst enemy to America, and the worst enemy to the black man.” It is the new fall collection for American Exceptionalism.

The liberal educated white American is now shoehorning some contradictory ideological threads into this new belief system. Trump is a fascist they say (true, but he isn’t the first) and stopping Trump eclipses all other concerns (like Obama’s bloody policies, or Bill Clinton’s, or Bush’s etc, etc). And this sense of purposeful hating of Trump is a bit like the new frontier. One must cross into the land (or underworld…or maybe high rise…I don’t know) of Trump evilness to come out the other side, reborn, redeemed. Trump is a kind of prismatic reincarnation of Reagan, I think. Those who hated Reagan and those who loved Reagan are on the same side regards Trump. And again, it is clear there are elements in the system, the so called deep state if you like, that want Trump gone. Right? That is the common wisdom out there. And there is truth in that perspective I think. I think. But it’s not the whole truth. For Trump serves the interests of even those who seem to want him gone. Why are we to believe this CIA and NSA and Pentagon cabal hate Trump and want him impeached? Why? What is he doing to hurt them? It seems to me he is carrying out policy that serves their interests. The ruling class is always united in the end. His statements are only that. I mean the guy *tweets* for Christ sake. A compulsive tweeter, in fact. He is probably not much in charge of anything, I suspect. He doesn’t know the names of countries, or their histories. He is a typically ignorant American.

But domestically, that is where the real story is unfolding. That’s all Americans care about anyway. They have no idea where Yemen is, or Syria. They have no idea where Vietnam is, for that matter. They DO-NOT-CARE. But Trump’s pandering to white racists and all the Christian evangelicals, and, of course, Jeff Sessions; those things do have a Trump imprint. And it’s ugly. And that ugliness was always there. I mean, literally always there. Since Salem, in fact. Since the first slave ship landed in Virginia. Remember the civil rights fight? Remember there were race riots early in the 20th century in at least a dozen cities. It’s not new. Trump didn’t invent it. But he has allowed it to surface again. And it is in this Manichaean melodrama of the NEW Exceptionalism meets the old racism that the surreal and hallucinatory story of American madness is playing out. The United States is sinking under the weight of its contradictions, ideologically, and it’s also materially crumbling. And it is economically propped up in part by those trillions of dollars associated with the defense industry. With those 900 bases. And with an expanding NATO. I mean if NATO gets much bigger there wont be many places for NATO to attack. And that’s a sobering thought. The homeless encampments around every city in America are the legacy of so called American Century. That is the end of the line for Western capital and rugged individualism. The postscript to Manifest Destiny is a nation of absolute misery, over medicated, and trying hard to NOT see the misery around them. To not see their neighbors have moved….to the nearest homeless encampment. Not see that yet more record days of heat have arrived. Not see that everything is poisoned and wrapped in plastic anyway. Of polluted lakes and scorched earth. A nation of narcissism and despair in equal measures. But at least they can hate Trump together. In that sense the Anti-President is a gift.