Cubana pre-orders three Antonov planes
Russia's Ilyushin Finance Co. signed a letter of intent to finance Cuba's purchase of three Antonov An-158 passenger aircraft at an undisclosed price, Russian news agency Interfax reported.
The pre-contract also includes an option for the purchase of three additional An-158s, according to Spanish news agency efe. A final contract is expected to be signed before the end of the year, delivery is expected for next year.
The AN-158 regional jet, to be used by Cubana de Aviación, was developed by Ukraine's Antonov ASTC and is jointly manufactured by Ukraine's Aviant and Russia's Voronezh Aircraft Production Association. Presented in 2010, it can carry 99 passengers up to 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles).
According to the Ilyushin Finance Website, Cuba also ordered four slightly smaller An-148 regional jets, for delivery in 2013. The An-158 is a stretched version of the An-148. According to Flight Daily News, the An-148 faced "severe criticism" from Russian flag carrier Rossiya after its launch last year over unreliability and slow response from the manufacturer. Ilyushin Finance says the problems have since been resolved.
In 2005-08, Cubana renewed its aging fleet with three Russian-made IL-96 and two TU-204 long-range jets. These purchases were also financed by Ilyushin Finans."
The Bodies of the Martyrs Would Be Borne by Us / Yoani SánchezTranslator: Unstated, Yoani Sánchez
Social processes have an often unpredictable alchemy. Although there are analysts who persist in wanting to write a universal formula for uprisings, or another for civil peace, reality is wedded to the contrary. Cuba, for example, has defied the prognostications of nearly all the optimists and exceeded the expectations of even the most hallucinatory minds.
It appears that the specialty of our country is to shatter the forecasts of Santeria priests, spiritualists and fortune-tellers. For several decades we have disappointed the predictions of our collapse and, in particular, the repeated prophecy of a popular revolt. Cubanologists of all stripes have assured us, on this or that occasion, that the the island is on the verge of fracture and that the people will throw themselves into the streets at any moment.
Instead, the sidewalks are indeed full of people, but they are standing in line to buy bread or eggs, or to submit applications to consulates to emigrate. Not even the candles lit by the Santeria priests for tranquility are upended by violence. Those of us who hope for a peaceful solution are happy because, at least to date, nobody has had to serve as cannon fodder against the anti-riot squads.
The chimerical formula of explosion foretold by some relies on the element economic strangulation to inspire a people to rise up in struggle. There are those who would like to give another turn of the screw to the United States embargo against the island and cut off all remittances that come from the outside. According to their hypothesis, Cubans caught between the rock of their needs and the hard place of an authoritarian government would choose to overthrow the latter.
I must confess that the mere mention of this theory reminds me of a bad joke: An ancient leader, being interviewed by a journalist, enumerates the signs of resistance. The autocrat relates that his people have survived the economic crisis, the lack of food, the collapse of the electrical network and the absence of public transport. As he explains each hardship in this string he appends, again and again, "and yet the people stand firm." Finally, the daring reporter interrupts him with a question, "And have you tried arsenic, Commander?"
The thesis that our reality simply needs more economic hardship for the social pressure cooker to burst is heard, oddly, most often among people who do not live in the country. The Diaz-Balart amendment to the Financial Services Appropriation Bills, recently approved by the House Appropriations Committee of the U.S. Congress, would roll back measures taken earlier this year by president Barack Obama that eased restrictions on family travel to the island and liberalized person-to-person monetary assistance. Voices in support of the amendment see these bridges as oxygen that feeds the Cuban government, prolonging its stay in power.
According to the arithmetic of "deprive them to make them react," change would be just around the corner the day the spigot of foreign aid dried up once and for all. But in the middle of that proposition, untested in practice, eleven million people, and an equal number of stomachs, would be caught. People who did not hit the streets in the devastating years of the nineties when our plates were nearly empty and our clothes hung in tatters from our emaciated frames.
During that time of endless hardship, a single popular "uprising" happened on August 5, 1994, sparked by people desperate to leave the country, not change things here. As fearful as we might be that the pressure cooker could reach the bursting point, the reality is that the vast majority would rather throw themselves into to the sea than face the repressive forces.
And it is not because a people has a genetic predisposition to bravery or cowardice, it is simply that there are a vast number of methods to confront social rebellion. Those that have already touched us are, without a doubt, efficient to the point of scientific proof.
For those political scientists who veer closer to physics than to social sciences, it would be enough to shut off the flow of remittances and travel between Cuban-Americans and the the island for something to begin to move on the national stage. In their desire to prove such a conjecture, the theory would be promulgated by them and the bodies of the martyrs would be borne by us.
Over the course of the experiment and as it moved toward its conclusion, the swimming pools of the mansions of the olive-green clad rulers would not lack their supply of chlorine, the satellite Internet of the Maximum Leader's children would not diminish a single kilobyte in bandwidth, and the brand name lingerie of so many officials would not cease to flow through back channels into the country.
Not only would this turn of the screw be unnoticed on the dining tables of the official hierarchy, but with their full bellies they would continue to rule over a people with only one obsessive thought: where to find something to eat every day. The misery that reigns in so many places would continue to be a mechanism of domination, not one of disobedience.
Watching the news that filters to us through illegal satellite TV, text messages, Twitter and email, we feel like guinea pigs in a laboratory where all decisions are made by others, far from our shores. We have the sensation of being mere numbers in a calculation as simple as it is dangerous. Where the result anticipated by the architects of the "pressure cooker theory" – that it will explode – ignores the fact that its detonation could provoke a cycle of violence that no one could know how or when it might end.
18 July 2011
Travellers staying in Cuba hotels 'should practise the language'Mon, 15 Nov 2010
Jetting off on a holiday that will involve staying in Cuba hotels could be made more pleasurable by learning a few words of the local language.
This is according to Sharron Livingston, editor of thetravelmagazine.net, who suggested taking a list of key words and phrases might help tourists communicate with locals.
"Preparation is key for when you travel … Understand a little bit about the culture of a country, so that when you do go there you don't make any faux pas," she explained.
Phrases such as how much is that?, hello and thank you are great places to start and may prove useful on a daily basis.
Being open-minded and accepting of new traditions and experiences is the best way to get used to a city or country where the customs may be quite different to those elsewhere, Ms Livingston concluded.
Her comments came in response to research from TransPerfect, which revealed eating in restaurants, navigating public transport and booking hotels online were the places travellers came up against most communication problems.
Cuba waits on CastroThe Irish Times – Saturday, October 9, 2010
Cuba is milking its tourists like never before as all await what will happen post-Fidel, writes FRANK MCDONALD
POWDERED MILK. That's what was so amazing about it. The young coffee-coloured Cuban guy who was trying to sell us cigars on our first night in Havana said he needed the money to buy milk. Not beer, rum or even Coca Cola (imported from Mexico), but 1kg leche.
On the dimly-lit Paseo del Prado, under dense evergreen trees, it seemed like a tall tale. A passing policeman saw us chatting and intervened, asking the young chap to produce his identity card, which he did. After being upbraided briefly by the policeman, he slinked off.
Not long afterwards, I met a Cuban doctor – friend of a friend in Dublin – in the Hotel Telegrafo bar and we got around to talking about what it's really like to live in Cuba. Incredibly, it was his first time to visit a tourist hotel bar; until recently, Cubans weren't allowed in.
He was wary at first, but opened up the more we talked. Speaking in a hushed voice, he eventually told me that he was shocked at something he had seen lately – an interview with one of Fidel Castro's former bodyguards, given to a Cuban emigré TV station in Miami.
Lieut Colonel Juan Reynaldo Sánchez had defected to the US in March 2009 after spending 17 years as the head of Fidel's personal security detail at the heavily-guarded Castro family compound in the relatively exclusive Marianao area of Havana; it is code-named "Point Zero".
What shocked my doctor friend (let's call him Carlos) was Sánchez's revelation that Fidel and his family have several cows on grazing land within the compound and that their milk is graded for its fat content — in a country where nobody over the age of seven gets fresh milk free.
Although not opposed to the regime and quite willing to concede that Castro's revolution half a century ago had brought benefits to ordinary Cubans, now he says he is "watching and waiting. What else can I do?" And with Fidel in failing health, it's become like Waiting for Godot.
He only got to see the interview with Sánchez because a friend had given it to him on a memory stick. Cubans are denied access to the internet for fear they would be "contaminated", although a pre-broadband version is available to tourists at most hotels, for a charge.
Carlos earns the equivalent of €20 per month and isn't permitted to travel abroad, except with Cuban medical teams working in friendly countries such as Angola and Venezuela. Like many doctors in Cuba, he has been refused permission to travel alone to the US or Europe.
Not that he could afford to, without financial help from relatives living in the US or working in Cuba as waiters, bartenders and hotel porters; they can earn more in tips in a single day than what Carlos is paid per month – despite all that's said about Cuba's wonderful health service.
Doctors are simply not valued in the way that, say, the louche barman in the Floridita bar is. He looks like he has mixed a million frozen daiquiris and is on his way to his next million; we had just four of them and, including the tip, our bill was the same as Carlos' monthly salary.
But that's the real truth about Cuba – it has a dual economy. Tourists are seen as "walking wallets" and frequently approached in Havana by people looking for money, especially plaintive mothers with babies in their arms as well as rum-sodden aul' codgers who thirst for more.
There is also a rip-off culture. It is relatively expensive to hire even a small car. But when you're asked – as we were – to pay the rental charge in advance and find that a credit card alone won't do, it's suspicious; part of the payment, amounting to $200, had to be cash.
Waiters can be shameless. At Los Nardos, a restaurant with a Spanish gothic interior opposite the US-style Capitolio, two of them stood over us after presenting the bill until we gave them a tip of six Cuban convertible pesos ("cucs") for pretty lousy service and indifferent food.
At a posh restaurant called Xanadu, in the former DuPont villa on the seafront in Varadero, the bill didn't add up. When I queried this, our waiter said the extra 10 per cent was a "tax" to support the golf club when it was actually the service charge – a little deceit to get his tip. Nearly every restaurant or bar has a house band playing Cuban music and singing songs with gusto – and all of them have their own CDs, which a band member will try to sell, usually for 10 cucs (€7.30). The traditional stuff is great, but bands using synthesisers are irritating.
Everything in the shops along Calle Obispo in Old Havana is priced in cucs, and the exchange rate is 1 cuc for 26 Cuban pesos – the currency used by local people. Unless they work in the tourist industry or receive emigrants' remittances from abroad, they can't buy anything.
If a doctor has to save for two months to buy new shoes (like Carlos has to do), he certainly can't dine out in El Templete, one of the best restaurants in Havana – though 35 cucs (€25) for croquetas de jamon, grilled mahi mahi fish and chocolate mousse was nothing for me.
Ordinary Cubans, who might eat meat once or twice a month, must feel resentful when they walk past its brightly-lit terrace at night-time, seeing tourists enjoying good food and decent Chilean, Spanish or French wine and knowing that they may never be able to afford it.
For all of Fidel's speeches about being on the side of the poor, what he presided over (as his brother Raul does now) was the creation of a two-tier society; the diners at El Templete included some well-off Cubans having a good night out – wherever they got their money.
The space-age Coppelia ice cream parlour – Fidel's first wife Celia Sanchez's realisation of a gigantesca heladeria in 1966 – operates a form of apartheid: Cubans paying in pesos must queue up, but any tourist with cucs can walk straight in and get served in separate enclosures.
At San Carlos fort overlooking the harbour, Cubans do get preferential treatment for the nightly cannon-firing ceremony by a detachment of soldiers dressed as 18th century Spanish riflemen; we had to pay eight cucs (€5.85) each, but they got in for only eight pesos (22 cent).
Cuba milks vast supplies of foreign currency from tourism. Bars and restaurants may look as if they're operated independently, but almost all are owned by the government – and so are most hotels, although some are "joint ventures" with Spanish and other operators.
Much of the funding for restoration work in Old Havana comes from Habaguanex, the state holding company for hotels; 45 per cent of its profits go to this effort, according to the Cuban guide who took us around the area – designated as a World Heritage site in 1982.
What makes La Habana Vieja so important is that it's probably the only Latin American city that wasn't hacked to bits by property developers and road engineers. Whether it will survive the Cuban emigrés' return from Miami to take power is a disturbing question.
Anyone arriving in Havana on a cruise liner (and there are not half as many as there should be, due to the US embargo) is bound to be impressed by showpieces like Plaza de Armas, Plaza de la Catedral or Plaza Vieja, where the most impressive building is a primary school.
Or the beautiful shady courtyards of Spanish stone-fronted mansions such as the Hotel Florida or Palacio O'Farrill, with exotic birds twittering in their cages, and the elaborate interior of an old pharmacy on Calle Brésil, with all of its 19th century apothcary jars still in place.
Restored streets such as Mercaderes are also part of the "tourism offer". But walk inland just a few blocks and you're confronted by crumbling buildings on pot-holed streets stinking of bad sewers, and scrawny dogs scouring the rubbish from overflowing wheelie-bins. People are living in squalor in decaying properties owned by the state, all rent-free, according to our guide. The only thing that makes it possible is the climate, because it never gets cold; "socialism in the sunshine" made it possible for Castro to survive as long as he has.
"Some Americans come expecting people to be starving and soldiers armed with submachine guns on every street corner," said the guide, who speaks English with a southern drawl, learned from an American teacher. "They're a bit surprised to find it is not like they thought."
Public transport is segregated, however. Cubans are conveyed from Havana to other places on Astro buses (one feels the "C" is missing), while tourists travel on more luxurious Viazul coaches; judging by the large number of hitch-hikers, Astro services couldn't be very good.
Varadero, Cuba's principal tourist resort, is surreal. It could be Cancun , the Canaries or anywhere. You leave the real Cuba behind when you cross the bridge to the 35km-long peninsula, with one hotel compound (zona turistica) after another and yet more under construction.
Much better to go to Trinidad, on the south coast. It has a warm Caribbean air, laden with humidity. When this turns into a tropical rainstorm, royal palms in the main square get buffeted by high winds, and you can imagine what it would be like to be here in a hurricane.
Up in the mountains not far from Trinidad, we were running out of petrol and stopped to ask a campesino, sitting on the verandah of his simple home, if it was downhill all the way. He confirmed that it was – and then seized the chance to sell us 2kg of his coffee beans.
Stranger things happen. While we were in Trinidad, the police had a ceremony in the square at which speeches were made. Nobody paid a blind bit of attention to them; men continued arguing passionately about baseball while teenagers strolled past in fake designer jeans.
Pinar del Rio, west of Havana, is the most beautiful part of Cuba. Its mountains are like limestone haystacks erupting from the flat red earth still ploughed by men with oxen. Views of this extraordinary geological landscape from the terrace of Las Jazmines are breathtaking.
The mountains are covered by spindly trees, growing out of the rock, and the flora include bonita de la sierra, which only flowers once in a lifetime and then dies. Underground, as in the Burren, there are hundreds of caves, including one said to be 46km long.
This is Cuba's tobacco country, now known also for its wine (Soroa), thanks to help from Italian viniculturists. All of the tobacco farms in the area are small and privately owned, but the farmers have no option but to sell their tediously-grown crop to the state tobacco monopoly.
One of the farmers brought us into his bohio (barn) where thousands of the precious brown leaves were hanging to dry, like bats in a cave. He rolled a cigar for himself in front of us and confessed to smoking 20 a day. Maybe not Churchill's Monte Cristo, but as near as dammit.
In Viñales, where there's so little traffic at night that kids play on the main street, the Viazul bus from Havana is greeted by a crowd of women holding up hand-written signs offering (unapproved) bed-and-breakfast accommodation; most of them are disapppointed.
There are very few cars on the autopista (a motorway that runs down the spine of Cuba, linking Havana with Santiago) – not even the old American gas-guzzlers, no markings or crash barriers and not many road signs, so it's quite easy to get lost. Maps are also hard to find.
The vintage American cars will be star attractions whenever the US lifts its 50-year-old embargo, opening up Cuba to an invasion by American tourists and carpetbaggers seeking a slice of the action. But that will only happen after Fidel's special cows are no longer needed.
Cuba cigar industry running out of puffRORY CARROLLJune 25, 2010
SMOKING bans and the recession are hitting Cuba's cigar industry, signalling a hostile era for a product whose mystique once captivated the likes of Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro.
The latest harvest of 22.4 million leaves was 14 per cent down on last year, according to figures published this week, continuing a decline. The number of cigars produced for export plunged from 217 million in 2006 to just 73 million last year.
''There was a reduction in planting due to limitations in resources caused by the economic crisis,'' reported Guerrillero, a Communist Party newspaper in the tobacco-growing western province of Pinar del Rio. The amount of land devoted to tobacco fell 30 per cent last year.Advertisement: Story continues below
A drop in the number of airline passengers has hit duty free sales, which comprises a quarter of the market. Anti-smoking laws have also cut sales. Spain, the top export market, banned smoking in offices, shops, schools, hospitals and on public transport in January. Smoking-related illnesses kill about 50,000 Spaniards each year.
Habanos SA, a joint venture between Cuba and the British company Imperial Tobacco Group, registered an 8 per cent fall in overseas sales last year, said Simon Evans, an Imperial Tobacco spokesman.
''This was largely due to the impact of the global recession on consumers,'' he said.
''There has been an impact following the introduction of smoking bans, but this tends to be an initial dip in consumption which ameliorates over time.''
Cuban premium bands such as Montecristo, Cohiba and Partagas dominate world market share with 70 per cent of sales. In the US, which has banned nearly all trade with Cuba since 1962, Cuban cigars find a way in.
Pinar del Rio's humidity and slightly sandy soil proves an ideal environment for the kinds of tobacco used in Cuban cigars. Leaves are fermented at least twice and aged for months, even years. Two types of leaves used in Cohibas, a flagship brand founded in 1966 at Dr Castro's behest, are fermented a third time.
Connoisseurs say Nicaraguan and Honduran cigars, which emulate Cuban hand-rolling techniques, can be equally smooth, but lack the romanticism of those from Cuba.
Churchill, a fan of Romeo y Julieta, had a long, fat variety named after him in 1947. Kennedy was so partial to Petit H Upmanns that he sent his press secretary to get 1200 of them before imposing an embargo.
Dr Castro, who famously survived a CIA assassination plot involving an exploding cigar, liked to be photographed with a cigar clamped between his teeth, but he quit in 1985 for his health.
Posted on Sunday, 04.11.10CUBA'S FUTURESigns of frustration sprout, spreadAfter discussions of reform following the ascension of Raúl Castro failed to end economic turmoil, Cubans are reacting to their government like never before.By ALFONSO CHARDY and JUAN O. [email protected]
The Cuban revolution's iconic singer blasts the government. The usually cautious Catholic Church warns of economic collapse. Raúl Castro mysteriously disappears from public view for 23 days.
A well-known Havana author calls for “democratic socialism.'' A growing number of Cubans are reportedly resigning from the Communist Party. A major corruption scandal hits Havana.
These are turbulent times in Cuba, where Raúl Castro's rise to the presidency unleashed — and so far has dashed — hopes for far-reaching reforms to yank the island out of its worst economic crisis in decades.
Cuba's communist system has survived many and worse crises and virtually all Cuba-watchers believe Castro, who officially replaced his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, is highly likely to survive this one, too.
Yet signs of the mounting frustration with the current communist system and demands for change are everywhere.
“Never before has the government been so criticized on the street for the disastrous economic situation and for the total lack of official will to promote changes that society is shouting for,'' the longtime Havana correspondent for Spain's El País newspaper wrote March 7.
“If I had to pick just one word to describe the current situation, it would be fragile,'' popular blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote in one recent Tweet. In another, she wrote, “While nonconformity is still curbed by fear, it is threatening to spill out onto the streets.''
Perhaps the most powerful sign of the times came when Silvio Rodriguez, founder and icon of the socially conscious music known as Nueva Trova, unveiled his latest album in Havana March 26.
It's time to “review loads of things, loads of concepts, even institutions,'' he declared, time for more freedom of expression and to remove the “r'' of revolution because Cubans are crying out for “evolution.''
Rodriguez later claimed his comments had been “distorted'' and said he would participate in a “Concert for the Motherland'' Saturday organized by the Cuban government.
Pablo Milanés, another Nueva Trova singer who has criticized the government in the past, said Cuba needs change because “that enormous sun born in 1959 . . is filling up with blotches as it turns older.''
Pedro Campos, a well-known Communist, historian and former diplomat, went even further, writing recently that Cuba must “advance toward a new socialist society that overcomes the memories of a dogmatic and failed scheme of neo-Stalinist style.''
Castro's supporters insist that such criticism is part of an officially sanctioned debate among government officials, academics, intellectuals and others on the changes needed to make the island more productive — without major disruptions or turning to capitalism.
Yet the official Granma newspaper did not report Rodriguez's harshest comments, and its cartoon Tuesday showed him saying, “I sang for the poor,'' plus the comment, “That was before he earned a lot of money.''
The Cuban media meanwhile made no mention of any public appearances by Raúl Castro Jan. 8-31, according to U.S. intelligence reports. The 78-year-old Castro has a history of retreating into isolation when he fights with older brother Fidel.
A growing number of Cubans are leaving or refusing to join the Communist Party and the Communist Youth, Spain's La Vanguardia newspaper reported last week, without citing sources or exact figures.
Havana also has been shaken by a mayor corruption scandal allegedly involving Max Marambio, a Chilean leftist, and former Civil Aviation chief Rogelio Acevedo — both longtime confidants of Fidel Castro.
“If Marambio is not safe, then no one is safe. He was truly untouchable'' because of his friendship with Fidel, said a Miami resident who has contacts with top government officials and asked for anonymity to speak freely on the issue.
The Miamian added that many Cuban officials now seem paralyzed, caught between those at the leadership level who want to move fast on reforms, to get the stagnant economy moving again, and those who want to go slow, to avert a possible loss of political controls.
“Everybody seems to be in a fog, because their hands are tied,'' the Miamian added. “There's a sadness on their faces, like things are beginning to crumble.''
Former CIA analyst Brian Latell, now a senior research assistant with the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, said he was not surprised by the growing frustrations.
`PLAYING WITH FIRE'
Raúl Castro “was playing with fire'' when he encouraged Cubans to debate the island's problems in 2007, Latell said. “He was stoking a degree of popular involvement that was alien to the Cuban people.''
Cubans are still waiting for a string of Castro's promised and rumored changes, among them:increased agricultural production, higher salaries, a more efficient economy and perhaps even an end to the requirement of exit permits for travel abroad.
Interviews with five newly-arrived Cuban migrants in Miami indicated that people on the island have grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress they hoped Raúl Castro would bring about.
“We expected positive change and on the contrary everything was halted and the only thing he has said is that we have to tighten our belts more,'' said Roberto Carlos, a 26-year-old carpenter from Sancti Spiritus. “Everyone thought Cuba would open up to the world but that hasn't happened.''
Four of the Cubans interviewed also agreed that people on the island have grown more willing to voice their frustrations in public.
“Even [communist] party members and ministry officials very daringly comment,'' said Fernando Rodriguez, a lawyer who left Havana this year. “And people you don't even know complain so clearly and loudly in public that you say, `Uff!' ''
“The Cuban people are tired of waiting for change, and in getting tired of waiting they have also lost the fear they once had of speaking out against bad things,'' added Lester Peñalver, 26, a Havana graduate of journalism studies who arrived last week.
Even his parents, members of the Communist Party and their neighborhood watch group, the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, have grown frustrated, Peñalver added.
Most of the recent arrivals interviewed agreed that the frustrations are unlikely to lead to increased support for dissident groups like the Ladies in White, largely because they are not well-known inside Cuba.
“When I was in Cuba, I never heard of this group,'' said Miriam Quevedo, a 25-year-old nurse from western Pinar del Rio.
Latell said the kinds of reforms needed to ease those frustrations don't appear to be close at hand. Cuban officials, he said, “are a long way from being able to make those forms of economic transitions. They are just subsisting now.''
Yet there's growing pressure in Cuba to move more quickly.
For now, Cubans who make it to the United States find renewed hope in their new country and warn that more people are likely to follow.
“Everyone in Cuba would like to leave,'' said Angel Ojeda, 38, who arrived in Miami last month.
Understanding Dictatorships From Iran to Cuba, the question of legitimacy is paramountJon Basil Utley | September 1, 2009
Recent anti-government demonstrations in Iran have raised our consciousness about the dangers of misunderstanding Third World dictatorships. To most Americans, the word dictator means a Stalin or Hitler—which is the reason our presidents usually accuse new enemies of being new "Hitlers." Contraposing this, the traditional view of most Americans is that citizens support their government and, if a people really opposed their rulers, the citizenry would overthrow them, like we did the British in 1776. From this viewpoint, the bombing and killing of enemy civilians is "morally" justifiable because "they" generally approved of their (evil) government, or otherwise would have rebelled and overthrown it.
Hitler and Stalin are best understood as totalitarian dictators, a 20th century European creation, enabled by modern science and political mobilization. Third World dictatorships are different. Most of them are very weak and don't exercise total control, as evidenced by Iran.
The most common misunderstanding centers on the fact that all governments, even dictatorships, need some form of legitimacy to justify their rule to their own people. Otherwise they must revert to brute force, which is both expensive and corrupting to the police and army, who then abuse their respective powers and cause growing public resentment and anger. But while force and fear are temporarily effective, they are not enough for the longer term. A foreign threat thus helps dictators, as it is used to justify their despotic rule. Economic blockades can also reinforce dictatorial power and indeed even make governments richer as they profit from the consequent smuggling and black markets. In the eyes and minds of the conquered, American soldiers certainly do not have "legitimacy," as we have repeatedly learned.
Understanding how such dictatorships actually function would help Washington to avoid more foreign policy disasters. If Americans better understood the weaknesses of most foreign tyrannies, we'd be less inclined to see them as great threats. Also, we would have to face the reality that administering them effectively would mean establishing a permanent corps of occupation forces on the British or Roman model. Even then modern communications and weaponry might make our rule fail. Tribal societies cannot be easily converted into democracies.
In the old days legitimacy came from the divine right of kings or priests who gained their authority from God. In tribal societies, custom and inherited status have played much the same role. Tribes are ruled by a council of elders on the theory that they have the experience, knowledge, and wisdom to make intelligent decisions.
The Roman emperors claimed religious and Senatorial authority. Later they provided a "rule of law" with safety and free trade for their subjects who previously had only known wars, piracy, and civil strife. Remember that Saint Paul could not be tortured by the police because he was a Roman citizen. Yet even the Romans needed to provide bread and circuses (welfare) to the masses in order to maintain support for their legitimacy.
In modern times democracy provides that legitimacy, hence the extreme measures—including fake elections—dictatorships will go to in order to claim the semblance of lawful control. Wartime, however, was always recognized as needing centralized, unrestrained rule. In ancient Greece even democracies, when at war, would elect a dictator for a year at a time on the theory that only a single ruler could act forcefully without delays and second guessing by committees, elders, or legislators.
In Iraq we learned belatedly that Saddam Hussein ruled through tribal leaders, in particular by bribing and accommodating them. Intimidation was certainly part of his rule, but not the base of it. Washington's usual war propaganda went all out with stories of his (in particular his sons') torturing the innocent and killing at will. However, in tribal societies, rape and wanton killings bring about vengeance and are not done lightly. Hussein ruled mainly through his own tribe, relying upon them in key positions of power, a method in accordance with tribal traditions.
Nor was it considered "corrupt" to use government power to profit one's family, clan, or tribe. Everybody did it! Look at Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Afghanistan today. Profiting oneself, one's clan, and one's tribe is a tradition stretching back thousands of years. What America calls "corruption" has been the world's way of life until relatively recently. Saddam Hussein''s original theory of government was Baathist Arab socialism, a form of national socialism or fascism first supported in the Arab world as a way to modernize their nations. But after the First Gulf War in 1991 Hussein reverted to tribal control.
The British, on the other hand, ruled their empire by playing different tribes against each other. They well understood that after generations of war, rape, and pillage most tribes hated their neighbors far more than they hated any foreign enemy. Only in modern times, with the rise of nationalism, did Third World nations finally overthrow European imperialism.
Washington's plans to create democracy and legitimate government for Iraq and Afghanistan in a few years crashes against these traditions. For thousands of years tribal systems have provided for personal and economic security. Such traditions do not change quickly. Clans and tribes provided for widows and orphans (insurance), shared economic scarcity, provided for common defense, and offered vengeance for harm done to their members. (For details see my earlier article "Tribes, Veils and Democracy.") However, tribal societies are also inherently unjust for smaller tribes and thus are usually unstable and unable to bring much economic development.
Rotten to the Core
The weakness of most Third World dictatorships is evidenced by their dysfunction and poverty. In the case of Iran, for example, gasoline costs only 20 cents per gallon, although much is imported and the government is too incompetent to build more refineries. A strong government would not be subsidizing it. The mullahs used to have legitimacy on the basis of religion, traditional values, and nationalism. Now, however, they've lost most of it and depend upon the force of their militia and "Revolutionary Guards." The reward for these enforcers has been the control of many businesses and even the black market. Yet that easy money corrupts them and makes them more abusive. Yet Iran is demonized in America as if it was a competent state—it isn't. And its government won't last.
The former appeal of communism to many Third World leaders was because its ideology gave it a form of legitimacy, justifying the most brutal repression to break down tribal loyalties in the name of throwing off imperialist rule and promising fast economic development. Communist revolutionaries were very cognizant of the political strength of tribal custom and religious fundamentalism. They saw both as being inimical to both their rule and to economic development and tried always to suppress them.
Although effective when allied with nationalism, communism was so inefficient and unresponsive a system in throwing off European (and American) colonialism that most regimes collapsed or adopted free-market measures once Soviet subsidies ceased coming.
I saw the problem of legitimacy firsthand when I lived in Cuba in 1958 during the last year of President Fulgencio Batista's rule. He depended upon the police and army and on those businessmen who profited from his government. But Cuba was developing a middle class that wanted legitimate, responsive government like they saw in America. Batista never used the type of brutality Fidel Castro later imposed, but his government was corrupt, and was dependent on cronyism and upon its police, who were in turn corrupted by power. I saw how they would shake down businesses and common citizens, but still Batista depended upon them. He could not control their corruption which then contributed to his overthrow.
Similarly, when I first visited Russia with a group of journalists in 1987 the black market was widespread. One dealer even traveled with us in our Inturist government tour bus. The government was beginning to collapse. Widespread corruption, incompetence, a failed war in Afghanistan, and the widespread knowledge of how much better life was in the prosperous West fatally weakened the legitimacy of the regime. I remember arriving in Finland on the return trip. Taking a bus in Helsinki cost me a dollar compared to Moscow's subway which cost only a few cents. I thought then how Finland had a strong democratic government, not afraid to charge riders for the real costs of public transport.
In the 1960s I lived in Peru after a coup by leftist generals who promised a reform agenda. The generals tried to base their legitimacy on opposing American business domination of their country, by claiming to represent a "Third Way," neither capitalist nor communist, and by promising economic fairness and fast development. I saw the ineptness of their rule as they tried to avoid brutal methods of control. When they failed to deliver on their promises, they lost their "legitimacy" and soon returned the nation to civilian rule. Interestingly, state control of the media allowed corruption to flourish. Intellectuals think the purpose of a free media is to allow criticism of government policy. But its main effect is to expose the corruption of government officials. We see today in Russia the same situation as media control begets growing corruption.
Understanding Third World governments and tribal societies would save America from the disastrous interventions, unending wars, and growing domestic bankruptcy. We can't simply "win" wars with such regimes, as jingoists demand, and then come home to celebrate. War is not a football game.
Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative. He is a former insurance executive with AIG and a former South American correspondent for Knight Ridder.
Understanding Dictatorships: From Iran to Cuba, the question of legitimacy is paramount – Reason Magazine (1 September 2009)http://www.reason.com/news/show/135775.html
Cuba's penurious revolutionWhen two plus two equals threeAug 6th 2009 | HAVANAThe promise of reform and renewal stalls under Raúl CastroAP
WHEN Cuba celebrated the anniversary of its revolution at the end of last month with a mass rally in the central city of Holguín, a nearby building was draped with a gigantic picture of Fidel and Raúl Castro thrusting their arms skyward under the words, "The Vigorous and Victorious Revolution Keeps Marching Forward." But this habitual triumphalism was in sharp contrast to the messages that Raúl, installed as president last year in place of his ailing elder brother, put across in his speech to the crowd and in another this week to the National Assembly. He announced the unexpected and indefinite postponement of a long-overdue Communist Party congress, which he had scheduled for the end of this year. And he was blunt about Cuba's economic problems.
Lower world prices for nickel and a fall in tourism revenue have led the government to cut its forecast for economic growth this year from 6% to 1.7%. The island is still recovering from three devastating hurricanes last year, which the government says caused damage worth $10 billion. The American economic embargo is still there, too.
But Raúl Castro blamed "our own shortcomings" for the fact that "often two plus two results in three." Even as he fixes some problems, others open up. He has answered longstanding grumbles about public transport by repairing Cuba's pot-holed roads and buying new Chinese buses. Last month he ordered a wage increase for 543,000 teachers and education workers.
But he has also ordered cuts in "non-essential" education and health spending, as well as in the meagre free-food rations that Cubans receive from the state. Some of these measures are a response to a trade deficit that soared by 65% in 2008. Partly because of the higher cost of food and fuel, imports rose by 41%, to $14.2 billion, whereas exports were just $3.7 billion.
Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's president, supplies Cuba with cheap oil in return for the services of Cuban doctors and security and intelligence specialists. But Cuban oil consumption appears to have risen sharply, because the government dealt with chronic power-cuts by buying thousands of thirsty diesel generators. To save energy, in June the government ordered all factories, shops and offices to switch on their air conditioning for just five hours a day, in the afternoons. So shops are mostly empty in the mornings and idle employees sit around by open doors and windows.
Food is also in short supply. Despite its abundant farmland, Cuba imports 80% of its food (much of it from the United States since a loophole was opened in the embargo in 2001). Inefficient state farms occupy three-quarters of the best land but leave much of it idle. Raúl Castro has tried to raise production by offering land to private farmers. But this scheme has been slow to get off the ground: agricultural production actually fell by 7.3% in the first quarter, and meat production fell by 14.7%. "The land is there, here are the Cubans, let's see if we get to work," he said in Holguín.
On taking over as president, Raúl Castro called for "changes of structure and concept" in the economy, raising hopes in some quarters that Cuba would imitate Vietnam in moving to a capitalist economy under communist political control. Those hopes have yet to be met. He has instead concentrated on better administration, quietly promoting his own aides to key positions in the state bureaucracy. He has stressed discipline and control. The assembly approved a law to set up a new auditor-general's office, to stamp out corruption. The education minister and the rector of the University of Havana were fired after a poll found revolutionary spirit was lacking among both students and professors.
This spirit of caution was reflected in the decision to postpone the party congress, an event that would define "the economic model that will guide the life of the nation," he said. It was also expected to see the handing over of political leadership, from the elderly revolutionary nomenklatura to a younger generation. But Raúl Castro said the party was not yet ready. The real reason appears to be the continuing influence of Fidel. Obliged to surrender the presidency when he underwent abdominal surgery three years ago, he still exerts influence and an apparent veto power behind the scenes. Instead of a congress, Raúl Castro convoked a "national conference" to elect new party leaders.
The regime and the Cuban people face an unusually hot summer. But there are no signs of political control weakening. Unlike Fidel Castro, Raúl is sparing in his use of strident ideological rhetoric. In his speeches he made few references to the United States and its embargo. He welcomed the resumption last month of talks about migration, suspended under George Bush. But he reminded the assembly, and the world, that "I was elected to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not to destroy it."
Cuba's penurious revolution: When two plus two equals three | The Economist (6 August 2009)http://www.economist.com/world/americas/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14183005
Castro hints at more belt-tightening for CubaSun Jul 26, 2009 1:09pm EDTBy Jeff Franks
HOLGUIN, Cuba (Reuters) – More belt-tightening may lie head for Cuba as President Raul Castro said on Sunday the government will look at making its second "adjustment to expenditures" this year due to the effects of the global financial crisis.
He said Cuba needs to press ahead with his program for getting more land into the hands of private farmers, calling the lone major reform of his administration a top national priority.
Castro spoke to thousands of red-clad Cubans in the eastern city of Holguin to mark the anniversary of the July 26, 1953 rebel attack on the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba that is considered the start of the Cuban revolution.
Raul Castro said Cuban ministers will meet on Tuesday to consider revising spending plans for the rest of the year because "of the effects of the world economic crisis on our economy."
In particular, he said there has been a "significant reduction in export income and additional restrictions to access external financing sources."
A recent government report said imports are expected to plummet 22.2 percent, or some $3.4 billion in 2009, while exports will decline by $500 million.
Three hurricanes that caused $10 billion in damage when they struck the communist-led island last year have added to woes caused by the global crisis.
In response, the cash-short government has taken belt-tightening measures such as scheduled blackouts to save energy, selected factory shutdowns, public transport reductions, spending cuts and the freezing of foreign business bank accounts.
The latter has been partially rescinded after the account holders threatened to stop trading with Cuba, which depends heavily on imports of food and many other items.
The worsening situation has frustrated many Cubans who hoped Castro would reform Cuba's economy after taking over from Fidel Castro last year and quickly decreeing that Cubans could buy cell phones and computers and use previously off-limit tourist hotels.
But his only major reform so far has been in agriculture, where he launched a program to let private farmers cultivate unused state land.
He said that of 110,000 applications for land, 82,000 have been granted. More needs to be done to advance the land plan so Cuba can increase food production and cut import costs, he said.
The island, 90 miles from the United States, imports about 60 percent of its food.
"It is an issue of national security to produce the products in this country," Castro said. "We spend hundreds of billions of dollars, and I don't exaggerate, bringing them from other countries."
"The land is here, the Cubans are here, let's see if we work or not, if we produce or not," he said, pounding the podium.
Castro did not mention U.S. President Barack Obama or the United States by name, but referred to damage done by "imperialism" and the "blockade," which is what Cuba calls the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the island.
Cubans had hoped U.S.-Cuba relations would improve under Obama, who has said he wants to end hostilities between the countries that began after the revolution.
But Obama has moved cautiously, easing the embargo while saying it should be maintained until Cuba improves it human rights record. Cuba has said it does not have to make any concessions to the United States.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)
Castro hints at more belt-tightening for Cuba | International | Reuters (26 July 2009)http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE56P1QG20090726?sp=true
Castro calls for tight finances in Cuba From Shasta DarlingtonCNN
HOLGUIN, Cuba (CNN) — Sunday was a day of commemoration in Cuba — the 56th anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution — but the message from President Raul Castro was not all celebratory.President Raul Castro tells the Revolution Day crowd, "The land is there, waiting for our sweat."
President Raul Castro tells the Revolution Day crowd, "The land is there, waiting for our sweat."
The island nation will face a second round of belt-tightening as a result of the global financial crunch, Castro said in a speech marking Revolution Day.
He said that on Tuesday he would hold a meeting of the Council of Ministries "dedicated to the analysis of the second cost adjustment in this year's plan, due to the effects of the global economic crisis, especially on the reduction of revenues from exports and the additional restrictions on accessing external financing."
The global economic downturn has hit Cuba hard. Revenues from key exports like nickel are down. The price of imports, like food, is up.
Castro said he would also meet with the central committee of the Communist Party this week to discuss the situation.
Any proposed cuts will affect a Cuban population already feeling the squeeze.
Public transport has been reduced as part of austerity measures. The government has ordered factories and businesses to cut energy consumption or face sanctions.Don't Miss
"The land is there. We Cubans are here. We'll see if we get to work or not, if we produce or not, if we keep our words or not," he said, pounding his fist on the podium.advertisement
"It's not just a question of shouting 'fatherland or death, down with imperialism, the blockade knocks us out' when the land is there, waiting for our sweat."
Cuba has seen hard times before and has always worked to pull through, Castro said in front of the 200,000 people packed into the parade grounds of Holguin, about 500 miles southeast of Havana.
Castro calls for tight finances in Cuba – CNN.com (26 July 2009)http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/07/26/cubal.tough.times/
Castro speech likely to reflect tough times in CubaFri Jul 24, 2009 10:24am EDTBy Jeff Franks
HAVANA (Reuters) – Cubans are not likely to hear much encouraging news about their economy or the state of U.S.-Cuba relations when President Raul Castro gives his main speech of the year on Sunday amid difficult times on the communist-led island.
Last year, many Cubans thought Castro might use the annual July 26 address, which marks the anniversary of the start of the Cuban revolution, to announce economic reforms.
But he warned them instead to get used to "not receiving only good news."
Since then, the economic news has gotten steadily worse and thoughts of reform have diminished as Castro has eschewed big changes in favor of trying to make more productive the state-run economy put in place by older brother Fidel Castro.
Cubans had hoped long-bitter U.S.-Cuba relations might improve quickly under U.S. President Barack Obama, but so far progress has been mostly limited to a partial rollback by Obama of some of the Bush administration's most hardline policies.
The U.S. president is maintaining demands that Cuba must improve its human and political rights before the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo on the island can be relaxed further.
When Castro takes the stage in the eastern city of Holguin on Sunday, his address marking the July 26, 1953, rebel attack on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba will probably sound familiar, Cuba expert Paolo Spadoni said.
"I think his speech will be in line with the one given last year, stressing again the need to tighten the belt because of the precarious economic conditions," said Spadoni, a post-doctoral fellow at Tulane University's Center for Inter-American Policy and Research.
Many inside and outside Cuba thought Raul Castro would open up the island's economy after he replaced his aging, ailing brother as president in February 2008 and quickly decreed that Cubans could buy cell phones and computers and use previously off-limits tourist hotels.
But his only major reform has been in agriculture, where he has decentralized decision-making and put more land in private hands.
"It is clear by now that heightened expectations were largely unmet," Spadoni said. "Right now we are not talking of moving toward the Chinese (economic) model or making major changes toward liberalization," he said.
BLACKOUTS AND CUTBACKS
Cuba's fragile economy has been battered by the global economic crisis and three hurricanes last year, the effects of which have left the government with little operating cash.
It has resorted to belt-tightening measures such as scheduled power blackouts to conserve energy, reductions in public transport, selected factory shutdowns, cuts in spending and the freezing of foreign business bank accounts.
The latter proved so counterproductive that the policy was partially reversed.
After 50 years of austerity, the latest economic hardships have left many Cubans frustrated with Raul Castro.
"So far he has not made one change that raises us up, just the reverse. He has made changes but I still don't see any benefit," said maintenance worker Daria Marquez. "I would like for him to be more liberal."
While many Cubans still express faith in their leaders, others say their hopes for better lives lie with Obama and his stated desire to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations.
Obama has eased the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Cuba by removing limits on family travel and remittances to the island imposed by President George W. Bush, and has restarted talks on items of common interest like immigration.
But Cuba's leaders have made clear in public statements they are disappointed that Obama is not willing to dismantle more of the embargo without political concessions by Havana, which both Castros have said are not in the cards.
"There seems to be a genuine anger that the Obama administration has not attempted something more in reversing Cuba policy. I seemed to note an almost escalating irritation," said Washington attorney Robert Muse, who specializes in Cuba issues.
Despite "promises of change by the new U.S. government, the reality today is that the illegal blockade imposed almost five decades ago against Cuba is still being implemented," Raul Castro said last week on a visit to Egypt.
Marquez said she would like Castro to tell Cubans in no uncertain terms that he wants peace with the United States and is ready to talk with Obama with "an open mind and without conditions or obstacles."
"But that's dreaming, no?" she added.
(Editing by Pascal Fletcher)
Castro speech likely to reflect tough times in Cuba | Reuters (25 July 2009)http://www.reuters.com/article/GCA-Cuba/idUSTRE56N3HH20090724?sp=true
Havana wields carrot and stick as it rethinks ideology Workers gain as Havana rethinks its ideological focus
Havana wields carrot and stick as it rethinks ideology Workers gain as Havana rethinks its ideological focus
By Marc Frank in Havana
Published: January 9 2009 02:00 | Last updated: January 9 2009 02:00
Fifty years ago, Fidel Castro swept into Cuba's capital on January 8, promising to establish a socialist state that would promote collectivism over individualism.
But the anniversary celebrations, which culminated in an evening rally in Havana yesterday, have put less emphasis on social spending and more on rewarding individual labour, as Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro's younger brother Raúl moves away from its decades-old commitment to communism.
In a series of speeches and interviews dedicated to the anniversary, President Raúl Castro hammered away at the theme that workers did not appreciate many government benefits – with the exception of free health, education and subsidised culture – and should be given higher wages instead.
"It is well known that the vast majority of people do not appreciate a gratuity or generally high subsidies of goods and services as part of the return for their labour, for which they look only at wages," he told parliament on December 27.
Many Cubans applaud the new policy but worry that wages will not rise as quickly as gratuities disappear.
Cuba has had a second world war-style food ration system since the revolution. Public transport and utilities are heavily subsidised, as are many workplace rewards, even though an economic crisis following the Soviet collapse, combined with remittances sent by relatives from abroad, have long since undermined income equality.
"Why, after working 24 years, is my ration the same as people who have never worked?" asked Nancy Artigas, a Havana resident. "What's more, their rights and benefits are the same as mine. That doesn't seem fair – nor is it a way to get people to work."
Although 85 per cent of workers receive no hard currency from their jobs, an estimated 40 per cent of the population receives some money from abroad.
Cuba reports annual per capita income, including gratuities and subsidies, as being $6,000 (€4,380, £3,960), although the average yearly wage is the peso equivalent of only $240 at the official exchange rate.
After taking over from his ailing brother Fidel last February, Raúl Castro has freed up sales of computers, mobile phones and other consumer goods and lifted caps on wages and on what farmers may earn. Cuba is struggling with mounting deficits, low productivity and the need to import
70 per cent of its food.
In an interview carried by the official media to mark the anniversary of the revolution, Mr Castro said wages should reflect the real value of one's work, and that those who did not work should feel economic pressure to do so.
"If we do not take measures to ensure people feel the necessity of working to satisfy their needs, we will not get out of the hole we are in, and we are going to get out of it," he said. Cuba's trade and budget deficits soared and its current account balance deteriorated in 2008, despite a 4.3 per cent increase in gross domestic product – casting a pall over the anniversary celebrations that wound up in Havana yesterday.
In recent years, the country has helped to pay for its trade deficit through revenue from tourism and from services exports – mainly for health and education to its oil-rich ally Venezuela, which now faces a big drop in oil revenues. Tourism and services revenues did increase last year, but not by enough to compensate.