Latin America Archives

January 10, 2007

A Dictator Only Cindy Sheehan Could Love

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez threatened yesterday to nationalize key industries and demanded dictatorial powers, accelerating the OPEC member's move towards Castroism. Global investors reacted by beginning to bail out of corporations at risk from Chavez' attempts to seize assets: Verizon Communications had been looking to lighten its exposure to Latin America for some time when it struck a deal in April to sell investments in three properties in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Now, it probably wishes it had disconnected its Latin lines even sooner. The company could possibly lose up to several hundred million dollars, thanks to President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who threatened to nationalize the country’s main telephone and electricity companies. Investors reacted with alarm here and in markets in the United States and throughout Latin America on Tuesday as they measured the impact of the plan by Mr. Chávez to nationalize crucial areas of the...

January 16, 2007

Castro Still Dying?

Fidel Castro's medical condition continues to worsen, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported last night, and the doctors in Cuba have been unable to resolve the problem. An infection in his intestines as a complication of his earlier surgery has the long-standing dictator on death's door -- again: Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro is in "very grave" condition after three failed operations and complications from an intestinal infection, a Spanish newspaper said Tuesday. The newspaper El Pais cited two unnamed sources from the Gregorio Maranon hospital in the Spanish capital of Madrid. The facility employs surgeon Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, who flew to Cuba in December to treat the 80-year-old Castro. In a report published on its Web site, El Pais said: "A grave infection in the large intestine, at least three failed operations and various complications have left the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, laid up with a very grave...

January 20, 2007

Venezuelan Democracy, RIP

The Venezuelan national assembly has followed in the footsteps of the German Reichstag in the 1930s in voting itself into irrelevancy. It gave President Hugo Chavez dictatorial powers, which he says he will use in the short term to nationalize vast swaths of the nation's industry and eliminate any term limits for his reign: Venezuela's National Assembly has given initial approval to a bill granting the president the power to bypass congress and rule by decree for 18 months. President Hugo Chavez says he wants "revolutionary laws" to enact sweeping political, economic and social changes. He has said he wants to nationalise key sectors of the economy and scrap limits on the terms a president can serve. Mr Chavez began his third term in office last week after a landslide election victory in December. The bill allowing him to enact laws by decree is expected to win final approval easily...

January 21, 2007

Chavez Invites US To Venezuela

Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez apparently doesn't like criticism, at home or from abroad. After the US expressed concern over the assignment of dictatorial powers to Chavez, he invited us "gringos" to take a trip south -- way, way way south: President Hugo Chavez told U.S. officials to "Go to hell, gringos!" and called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "missy" on his weekly radio and TV show Sunday, lashing out at Washington for what he called unacceptable meddling in Venezuelan affairs. The tirade came after Washington raised concerns about a measure to grant the fiery leftist leader broad lawmaking powers. The National Assembly, which is controlled by the president's political allies, is expected to give final approval this week to what it calls the "enabling law," which would give Chavez the authority to pass a series of laws by decree during an 18-month period. On Friday, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman...

February 20, 2007

Cuban Doctors Defecting From Venezuela

For the last few years, Cuba has sent its doctors to Venezuela to provide free health care for impoverished citizens of its ally in the region. Hugo Chavez has welcomed the Cubans as a means of bringing closer ties between the two countries and to augment his nation's health-care system. However, the physicians defect in increasing numbers by crossing the border with Colombia, disillusioned with both Cuba and Venezuela: Ariel Perez was, like thousands of fellow Cuban doctors, a devoted soldier in Fidel Castro's most important overseas mission -- providing medical care to the poor in oil-rich Venezuela, Cuba's most vital ally. But last year, Perez and two Cuban companions, carrying rucksacks with a few belongings and holding just $1,300 among them, sneaked across the Colombian border and promptly defected. ... Chávez and other government officials have declared the program, called Inside the Barrio, a success. But a Venezuelan medical...

Did Chavez Lose His Elections?

Supporters of Venezuelan president and ardent socialist Hugo Chavez point to his past two elections, one of which was a recall effort, as measures of his popularity. However, a group of analysts in Caracas contend that Chavez rigged both elections by making wholesale changes to the voter rolls: Hugo Chavez may have lost both the recall referendum in 2004 and the December 2006 presidential election, according to studies conducted by a distinguished multidisciplinary team in Caracas, Venezuela. The team includes the rector of Universidad Simon Bolivar, Frederick Malpica, and a former rector of the National Electoral Council, Alfredo Weil. Astonishing as it may seem to Americans who believe the contention by Mr. Chavez that he won both elections by a landslide — 58% to 42% in the recall and 61% to 39% in the presidential election — the studies show that since 2003, Mr. Chavez has added 4.4 million favorable...

February 27, 2007

Venezuela Seizes Oil Projects From Foreign Firms

Venezuelan president-cum-dictator Hugo Chavez continued his confiscation of private property and foreign investment yesterday by seizing oil projects and assimilating them into the state-owned petroleum organization. Delivering on his pledge to create a socialist state along the same lines as Fidel Castro's Cuba, Chavez told foreign-owned firms that they now had to accept a minority stake in their own properties: President Hugo Chavez ordered by decree on Monday the takeover of oil projects run by foreign oil companies in Venezuela's Orinoco River region. Chavez had previously announced the government's intention to take a majority stake by May 1 in four heavy oil-upgrading projects run by British Petroleum PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Total SA and Statoil ASA. He said Monday that has decreed a law to proceed with the nationalizations that will see state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, taking at least a 60...

April 7, 2007

Alternative Energy Hurts The Poor?

Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro have joined in criticizing the United States for its efforts to find alternative fuel sources. They claim that ethanol and other biofuel technologies take food out of the mouths of the poor: Cuba and Venezuela have launched an offensive against biofuels, warning that the US-backed rush towards ethanol will worsen global hunger and poverty. Fidel Castro has written two newspaper articles in a week voicing alarm at the prospect of countries boosting sugar and corn crops to make ethanol, a fuel that can be used an additive or a substitute for petrol. By diverting crops to feed cars rather than people, the price of food would rise and the world's poor would go hungry, Mr Castro wrote in the Communist party's official newspaper, Granma. ... Mr Castro's ally, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, also attacked biofuels in a sharp U-turn that put the two leaders...

May 1, 2007

Chavez Bails Out Of The World Banking System

Hugo Chavez announced last night that Venezuela would withdraw from both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Claiming that Western financial assistance prolongs poverty rather than relieve it, he demanded that the two organizations return Venezuelan assets. At the same time, Chavez has proceeded to seize oil-production facilities from Western corporations, primarily those based in the US: President Hugo Chavez announced Monday he would formally pull Venezuela out of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, a largely symbolic move because the nation has already paid off its debts to the lending institutions. "We will no longer have to go to Washington nor to the IMF nor to the World Bank, not to anyone," said the leftist leader, who has long railed against the Washington-based lending institutions. Chavez said he wanted to formalize Venezuela's exit from the two bodies "tonight and ask them to return what they...

May 4, 2007

Chavez To Gobble Up More Industries

Hugo Chavez, apparently not content to nationalize the oil industry alone, has now threatened to take over the banking and steel industries in Venezuela as well. Unhappy with the investment policies and outsourcing, the dictator sent envoys to the leaders in both industries to demand lower prices and total cooperation with his economic plans: President Hugo Chavez on Thursday threatened to nationalize the country's banks and largest steel producer, accusing them of unscrupulous practices. "Private banks have to give priority to financing the industrial sectors of Venezuela at low cost," Chavez said. "If banks don't agree with this, it's better that they go, that they turn over the banks to me, that we nationalize them and get all the banks to work for the development of the country and not to speculate and produce huge profits." ... Chavez also warned that the government could take over steel producer Sidor, which...

May 10, 2007

Democrats Snub Latin American Ally

Robert Novak reports that the Democrats, who have squealed loudly over the supposedly unilateral foreign policy of George Bush, snubbed one of the few allies we have left in Latin America. Colombian president Alvaro Uribe returned to Bogota in shock as Democrats blocked trade agreements over old human-rights issues, while Hugo Chavez rallies the other nations to opposition against the US: Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe, returned to Bogota this week in a state of shock. His three-day visit to Capitol Hill to win over Democrats in Congress was described by one American supporter as "catastrophic." Colombian sources said Uribe was stunned by the ferocity of his Democratic opponents, and Vice President Francisco Santos publicly talked about cutting U.S.-Colombian ties. Uribe got nothing from his meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders. Military aid remains stalled, overall assistance is reduced, and the vital U.S.-Colombian trade bill looks dead....

June 1, 2007

Why Aren't We Arguing For Liberty?

Fred Thompson continues his virtual campaign today by asking an important question about our efforts to spread democracy and liberty. Why have we neglected the most powerful weapon in our arsenal -- the truth? Thompson argues that our Radio Free broadcasts helped bring down the Soviet empire, and their neglect has allowed socialism to surge again in Latin America: Well, he's done it. Hugo Chavez was already systematically silencing criticism of his autocratic rule through threats and intimidation. Journalists have been threatened, beaten and even killed. Now he's shut down the last opposition television networks in Venezuela and arrested nearly 200 protesters – mostly students. It’s a monumental tragedy and the Venezuelan people will pay the price for decades to come. Americans are also at risk as he funds anti-American candidates and radicals all over Latin America. It’s equally tragic that the U.S. is in no position to provide the...

June 2, 2007

Slowly The World Turns

The move by Hugo Chavez to shutter a television broadcaster that has criticized him and his dictatorial rule over Venezuela has apparently alerted more than just the Venezuelans to his megalomania. Nations that didn't get the clues from his bizarre behavior at the UN or when he demanded and received dictatorial powers have suddenly awoken to the fact that Chavez is an imbalanced dictator who means to quash all opposition to his aspirations of Castro-like rule: While condemnation from the Bush administration, an ideological foe of Venezuela, was expected, criticism has come from many quarters around the world, some of them surprising. Spain's Socialist government, in a joint declaration with the United States, called Friday for Chávez to renew RCTV's license. The European Parliament voiced concern, and Brazil's Senate passed a resolution calling on Chávez to reconsider, drawing a sharp rebuke from the Venezuelan leader. "A head of state who...

June 5, 2007

The Consistency Of Cuba

With NBC broadcasting the Today show live from Havana this week, we can expect to see plenty of media hyperbole on the Cuban health-care system and general ignorance of all the circumstances surrounding the relationship between Cuba and the US. However, the UK's Prospect Magazine gives a much more intimate look at the Cuba beyond the camera lenses in Castro's controlled access to the island. Bella Thomas actually lived there, and knows the Cuba that Western romanticists refuse to see: What observers at this time most underestimated was the power of the regime's nationalist rhetoric and Castro's strategic skill. Unlike in eastern Europe, where nationalism helped to erode communism, Cuban nationalism has shored up the regime. Castro was always a nationalist in communist clothing, and, throughout the 1990s, the communist references in his speeches were gradually replaced by nationalist ones. The continuing hostilities with the US have played into Castro's...

June 20, 2007

Dissent Without Borders

Hugo Chavez may have chased his critics off the air in Venezuela, but he has not chased them out of Venezuelan homes. Radio Caracas Television could soon start transmitting its programming -- and its criticism of the Chavez government -- from Mexico, confounding the dictator's efforts to silence RCTV: The head of an opposition-aligned Venezuelan television station that was forced off the air by that nation's government said he has received offers to co-produce and transmit programming from Mexico. Marcel Granier, whose Radio Caracas Television went off the air May 27 after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez decided not to renew its broadcast license, vowed Tuesday to keep trying to reach Venezuelan audiences by any means possible. He said he had "good friends" in Mexico's two major TV networks. "Our commitment ... is to re-establish that contact [with Venezuelans], either from Venezuela or from abroad, by any means possible, by cable,...

June 25, 2007

Chavez Wants A Guerilla War Against The US

Under normal circumstances, Hugo Chavez would get diagnosed as a run-of-the-mill paranoid and treated with proper medication. Unfortunately, as dictator of Venezuela, the paranoia gets combined with oil revenues to produce real problems for the US, neighboring countries, and the Venezuelans themselves. Chavez has begun a spending spree on arms and now threatens to conduct a guerilla war against the US: President Hugo Chavez urged soldiers on Sunday to prepare for a guerrilla-style war against the United States, saying that Washington is using psychological and economic warfare as part of an unconventional campaign aimed at derailing his government. Dressed in olive green fatigues and a red beret, Chavez spoke inside Tiuna Fort — Venezuela's military nerve-center — before hundreds of uniformed soldiers standing alongside armored vehicles and tanks decorated with banners reading: "Fatherland, Socialism, or Death! We will triumph!" "We must continue developing the resistance war, that's the anti-imperialist weapon....

July 23, 2007

If You Can't Say Anything Nice, I'll Deport You

To say that Hugo Chavez has a thin skin qualifies as an understatement. The Venezuelan dictator has announced that any foreigner who criticizes him insults the "national dignity" and will be forcibly removed from the country: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has vowed to expel foreigners who publicly criticise him or his government. "No foreigner can come here to attack us. Anyone who does must be removed from this country," he said during his weekly TV and radio programme. Mr Chavez also ordered officials to monitor statements made by international figures in Venezuela. This outburst came after Mexican politician Manuel Espino, head of the National Action Party that controls the government, spoke at a pro-democracy conference in Caracas. Did he call Chavez a tyrant? Implore Venezuelans to conduct a coup d'etat? Espino didn't do either; he pointed out that Chavez' plan to end term limits on the presidency would turn him...

August 15, 2007

The Happiness Dictator!

Hugo Chavez will push through an end to term limits on an elected office in Venezuela, not coincidentally his own. The change will allow Venezuelans the pleasure of electing him indefinitely, which he sees as critical to his nation's "happiness", if not his own: President Hugo Chávez will unveil a project to change the Constitution on Wednesday that is expected to allow him to be re-elected indefinitely, a move that would enhance his authority to accelerate a socialist-inspired transformation of Venezuelan society. The removal of term limits for Mr. Chávez, which is at the heart of the proposal, is expected to be accompanied by measures circumscribing the authority of elected governors and mayors, who would be prevented from staying in power indefinitely, according to versions of the project leaked in recent weeks. Willian Lara, the communications minister, said Mr. Chávez would announce the project before the National Assembly, where all...

August 17, 2007

A Liberal Reconsiders Chavez

Jeb Koogler, a staunch liberal at The Moderate Voice, has defended Hugo Chavez for a long time. He thought that Chavez intended to help the poor and downtrodden and made excuses for his tough tactics as a necessary interlude towards a better society. He disregarded Chavez' authoritarian impulses as unimportant in the long run. Now Koogler says he can remain silent no more -- and wonders why his colleagues on the Left haven't made the same decision: The sum of these recent developments, combined with previous measures to stack the courts and the legislature, have solidified Chavez’s rule to the point where there should no longer be any doubt about the direction in which the country is headed. Chavez is pushing for dictatorial-like powers and there seems to be little hope, at least in the near future, of re-establishing any semblance of democratic governance. Unfortunately, many of us on the...

September 18, 2007

Next They Came For The Schools

Hugo Chavez has progressed onto the next agenda item in his bid to create a new Cuba out of Venezuela. He has threatened private schools with closure if they do not teach their students to adopt his socialist vision, ending the independence of educators and taking another step towards indoctrinating children: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has threatened the country's private schools with closure unless they adopt the government's socialist ideology. Mr Chavez warned all schools they must introduce a new curriculum this year that he said would help develop values of cooperation and solidarity. Education had been ignored by past governments, said the president. But many parents are concerned that the new curriculum will spell indoctrination for their children. One has to wonder when the people of Venezuela will say, "Enough!" Will it be when Hugo sends the state after their children? Or will the parents of these children simply...

Hugo Plays Hide The Salami

Michael Stickings provides an interesting comparison between the Soviet efforts to co-opt Europe and the tactics of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Using a model described in a British television series, Stickings calls Chavez’ slow push towards tyranny “salami tactics”. By going one slice at a time rather than in a rush, Chavez hopes to hold off any strong reaction to his power grab, and it seems to be working. Stickings, who blogs at The Reaction as well as at TMV, can hardly be dismissed as a conservative with a chip on his shoulder regarding socialism. He is one of the few on the Left who sees Chavez for the threat to personal liberty that he is. At Heading Right, I take a look at Venezuelan salami and wonder how long it will take before Venezuelans -- and Chavez apologists -- start to choke on it....

September 22, 2007

It ... Is ... Alive!

All of those Fidel Castro death pools will go unpaid, at least for now. The Cuban dictator appeared in a taped interview on state-run television, looking frail but clearly alert: Fidel Castro appeared on Cuban television for the first time in three months since he underwent intestinal surgery in July. In a taped interview, Mr Castro, 81, looked frail but alert and laughed off speculation that he was on his death bed after a long absence from public view. "They say 'I was dying' and 'if I die' and 'I will die the day after tomorrow' or something," he said in the interview. The news will disappoint some who had hoped that Cuba could liberate itself after Fidel's death. The Cuban ex-patriate community had heard rumors of Castro's room-temperature status for weeks, but they turned out to be false. Instead, the dictator laughed at the speculation, having beaten the odds,...

October 9, 2007

Ernesto Is Not A New Man

Hugo Chavez has decided to direct his socialist crusade at some politically correct targets. He wants Venezuelans to emulate his New Man ideal, a socialist revolutionary ascetic, and he's using tax policy to force them to do so. Taxes on art, cars, tobacco, and liquor aim to price sin out of reach for most of his countrymen: President Hugo Chavez is on a moral crusade in Venezuela, preaching against vices from alcohol to cholesterol, vowing to curb whisky imports and ordering beer trucks off the street. His government announced increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco on Monday, and Chavez also plans steep new taxes on luxury items such as fancy cars and artwork. It's all part of Chavez's efforts to encourage Venezuelans to adopt the psyche of the "New Man," a socialist revolutionary with a monk-like purity of purpose. Chavez often cites the life of Cuba's iconic hero Ernesto "Che"...

November 19, 2007

Why Do People Not Speak Up?

Jackson Diehl takes note of the undiplomatic smackdown delivered by King Juan Carlos of Spain to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez last week, but turns the question around. Rather than just applaud the king's public chastisement in asking Chavez, "Why don't you just shut up?", Diehl wants to know why more of the world's leaders haven't spoken up against Chavez' scheme to transform Venezuela into a Cuba with oil. Chavez will accomplish that in less than a fortnight: Crude and clownish, si, but also disturbingly effective. Borrowing the tried-and-true tactics of his mentor Fidel Castro, Chávez has found another way to energize his political base: by portraying himself as at war with foreign colonialists and imperialists. Even better, he has distracted the attention of the international press -- or at least the fraction of it that bothers to cover Venezuela -- from the real story in his country at a critical...

November 28, 2007

It Might Boost Their Cred

After picking rhetorical fights with the monarchs of Spain and Saudi Arabia, Hugo Chavez apparently has more sparring energy to expend. He called out CNN for "instigating his murder," seizing on an error on a recent broadcast as a signal to Venezuelan assassins: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Wednesday CNN may have been instigating his murder when the U.S. TV network showed a photograph of him with a label underneath that read "Who killed him?" The caption appeared to be a production mistake -- confusing a Chavez news item with one on the death of a football star. The anchor said "take the image down" when he realized. But Chavez called for a probe in an interview on state television, where he repeatedly reviewed a tape of the broadcast, questioning why the unconnected photograph and wording were left on screen for several seconds. "I want the state prosecutor to...

December 1, 2007

Chavez Threatens US Oil Supply (Update: He'll Boycott Himself?)

Hugo Chavez, facing a potentially embarrassing defeat on his dictatorship referendum this weekend, has declared the opposition a CIA operation. He now says those voting against a potential lifetime presidency for himself will have cast a vote for George Bush, and threatened to cut off oil sales to the US if the CIA continues its operations against him: A threat by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to stop oil exports to the United States has raised the stakes over a Sunday referendum he has called in a bid to expand his powers. Chavez told tens of thousands of supporters late Friday he was putting Venezuela's oil field and refineries under military "protection" and would halt the exports "if this (referendum) is used as a pretext to start violence in Venezuela." He accused the US Central Intelligence Agency of preparing to spread unrest during the plebiscite in an effort to topple him,...

December 3, 2007

Chavez Loses -- But Does That Vindicate Him?

Hugo Chavez suffered a humiliating defeat at the polls for his referendum on dictatorship. He unexpectedly lost a narrow plebiscite that would have made numerous changes to Venezuela's constitution, including those that would have allowed him unfettered ability for re-election and personal control over most of Venezuelan public life. But did he become the ultimate winner in this loss? President Hugo Chavez suffered a stunning defeat Monday in a referendum that would have let him run for re-election indefinitely and impose a socialist system in this major U.S. oil provider. Voters rejected the sweeping measures Sunday by a vote of 51 percent to 49 percent, said Tibisay Lucena, chief of the National Electoral Council. She said that with 88 percent of the votes counted, the trend was irreversible. ... Chavez said his respect for the outcome should vindicate his standing as a democrat. “From this moment on, let’s be calm,”...

December 10, 2007

Chavez Tried Rigging Referendum Vote

Hugo Chavez suffered a narrow but humiliating loss at the polls last week for his referendum on changing the Venezuelan constitution into a roadmap for dictatorship. His acknowledgment of the defeat gained him praise from world leaders for his commitment to democracy. However, Newsweek now reports that Chavez tried to manipulate an overwhelming loss into a victory -- only to be stopped at the threat of a military coup (via QandO): Most of Latin America's leaders breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week, after Venezuelan voters rejected President Hugo Chávez's constitutional amendment referendum. In private they were undoubtedly relieved that Chávez lost, and in public they expressed delight that he accepted defeat and did not steal the election. But by midweek enough information had emerged to conclude that Chávez did, in fact, try to overturn the results. As reported in El Nacional, and confirmed to me by an intelligence...

December 16, 2007

Bolivia Moves Towards Civil War

Just a year after the election of the leftist government in Bolivia, the nation's most resource-rich regions have moved towards secession from the central government. The move sets up a conflict on several levels between Evo Morales and the wealthy producers he has attempted to nationalize, and that conflict appears headed for violence: Tensions were rising in Bolivia on Saturday as members of the country's four highest natural gas-producing regions declared autonomy from the central government. Thousands waved the Santa Cruz region's green-and-white flags in the streets as council members of the Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando districts made the public announcement. The officials displayed a green-bound document containing a set of statutes paving the way to a permanent separation from the Bolivian government. Council representatives vowed to legitimize the so-called autonomy statutes through a referendum that would legally separate the natural-gas rich districts from President Evo Morales' government....

January 21, 2008

Chavez Will Take Farms By Force

Hugo Chavez leveled a threat against Venezuelan farmers over the weekend, another step in creating his socialist paradise. He called farmers who sell abroad to gain a better price for their goods "traitors", and told his ministers to identify them so that he could send the Army to confiscate their property: President Hugo Chavez threatened on Sunday to take over farms or milk plants if owners refuse to sell their milk for domestic consumption and instead seek higher profits abroad or from cheese-makers. With the country recently facing milk shortages, Chavez said "it's treason" if farmers deny milk to Venezuelans while selling it across the border in Colombia or for gourmet cheeses. "In that case the farm must be expropriated," Chavez said, adding that the government could also take over milk plants and properties of beef producers. "I'm putting you on alert," Chavez said. "If there's a producer that refuses...

January 24, 2008

That's One Way To Start A Distributorship!

Hugo Chavez recently started a state-owned food distributorship. In the past three days, Venezuelan troops started stocking their warehouses with product. Unfortunately for Venezuela's private-sector distributor, the troops simply confiscated Alimentos Polar trucks and their shipments to do so: Venezuela's top food company has accused troops of illegally seizing more than 500 tonnes of food from its trucks as part of President Hugo Chavez's campaign to stem shortages. The leftist Chavez this week created a state food distributor and loosened some price controls, seeking to end months of shortages for staples like milk and eggs that have caused long lines and upset his supporters in the OPEC nation. ... "Anyone who is distributing food ... and is speculating, we must intervene and we must expropriate (the business) and put it in the hands of the state and the communities," Chavez said during the inauguration of a new state-run market in...

February 14, 2008

Five Years As Hostages

Five years ago yesterday, three American contractors found themselves captives of FARC, the Marxist guerrillas in Colombia. They still remain captive to the South American terrorist gang, and most of their countrymen have long forgotten about them. Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes languish in captivity while their nation has basically slept. FARC is no less a terrorist gang than al-Qaeda, if somewhat less lethal. They have numbered in the tens of thousands, but now roughly comprise about 8,000 armed guerrillas controlling about 15% of Colombian territory. Like their Islamist cousins, FARC has used the drug trade to fund its operations, and in Colombia, that can be highly lucrative. They also use protection rackets and kidnapping for both profit and political purposes. They are despicable, less so than al-Qaeda and Hezbollah and certainly less of a threat to the US -- but obviously not to the three men who...

February 19, 2008

Fidel Retires

Forty-nine years after grabbing power in a revolution, Fidel Castro has decided to retire. The 81-year-old dictator is widely believed to be dying and has not been seen at official functions for most of the last year, after he needed European surgeons to save his life. He leaves the Cuban government in the control of his cronies, and most expect his brother Raul to replace him: Fidel Castro announced early Tuesday morning that he is stepping down as Cuba's president, ending his half-century rule of the island nation. "I am saying that I will neither aspire to nor accept, I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief," Castro, 81, said in a letter posted on the Web site of the state-run newspaper, Granma. The announcement ends the formal reign of a man who, after seizing power in...

February 20, 2008

An Opportunity For Change, If Not Hope

No, this isn't a post about Barack Obama, but about Cuba and the coming post-Castro era. Despite Fidel Castro's "retirement" announcement, we have yet to enter that period, but it now appears within reach. Raul Castro will not make any significant changes to Cuba's policies while his brother lives, and even after that will only make incremental changes. After Raul passes from the scene, Cuba faces tremendous choices -- and will the US be in position to influence them? Not if we continue our failed 49-year policy, as Anya Landau French argues: Fidel Castro's leaving office on his own terms is not the kind of change that successive American presidents have envisioned for Cuba. In fact, it's a sign that U.S. efforts to isolate that country and bring down its socialist government have failed. Today Venezuela, China, Canada, Spain and Brazil all have a robust presence on the island. Venezuela...

February 21, 2008

Raul Disses Hugo

Are we seeing the first indications that a Raul Castro-led Cuba will want warmer relations with the US? Yesterday, Brazil's Folha de Sao Paulo reported that Raul thanked Hugo Chavez for assisting Cuba, but thinks that US-friendly Brazil makes a better dance partner for the future (via Brian Faughnan): The newspaper reports that during the January Brazilian presidential visit to Havana, Raul Castro praised Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez for having helped Cuba “in a particularly tough moment of the ongoing confrontation with the United States George W Bush administration”. Nevertheless Fidel Castro brother is quoted saying that Brazil “is a far more convenient associate than Venezuela’s Chavez”, for the transition period. .... “In the words of one of the ministers, Brazil is one of few countries in the world capable of having a dialogue with the Cuban regime, with Chavez and with the US government”. Besides “he’s far more useful...

February 23, 2008

A Look Into Fidel Castro's Cuba

Cuba freed four dissidents jailed in 2003 as a way to mollify human-rights critics. After their arrival in Spain following their release, the four explained how bad it got for them in Cuban prisons, and held out little hope that Fidel Castro's retirement would improve conditions for Cubans: Four dissidents freed this week after five years in inhumane conditions in a Cuban prison have revealed the dark side of Fidel Castro’s regime. The four - José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, Omar Pernet Hernández, Alejandro González and Pedro Pablo Álvarez - described regular beatings, humiliation and arbitrary punishment with long periods of solitary confinement in cramped cells with cement beds. Mr Castillo, 50, a journalist who wrote articles critical of the regime, told The Sunday Telegraph: "It was terrible. It was like being in a desert in which sometimes there is no water, there is no food, you are tortured and you...

February 24, 2008

The Next Revolution Will Come Sooner Than They Think

As expected, the Cuban national assembly rubber-stamped Raul Castro as his brother Fidel's replacement as dictator of the island nation. However, instead of keeping Carlos Lage in the ceremonial post of vice-president, or perhaps grooming a successor to the septuagenarian Raul, they picked a man older than Raul as his backup: Cuba's parliament named Raul Castro president on Sunday, ending nearly 50 years of rule by his brother Fidel but leaving the island's communist system unshaken. In a surprise move, officials bypassed younger candidates to name a 77-year-old revolutionary leader, Jose Ramon Machado, to Cuba's No. 2 spot — apparently assuring the old guard that no significant political changes will be made soon. The retirement of the ailing 81-year-old president caps a career in which he frustrated efforts by 10 U.S. presidents to oust him. Raul Castro, 76, stressed that his brother remains "commander in chief" even if he is...