Obama Absurdly Declares Venezuela a Security Threat

Channeling Reagan, Obama continues US pressure on Latin American leftist governments

by Mark Weisbrot

March 10, 2015 – Yesterday the White House took a new step toward the theater of the absurd by “declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela,” as President Barack Obama put it in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner.

It remains to be seen whether anyone in the White House press corps will have the courage to ask what in the world the nation’s chief executive could mean by that. Is Venezuela financing a coming terrorist attack on U.S. territory? Planning an invasion? Building a nuclear weapon?

Who do they think they are kidding? Some may say that the language is just there because it is necessary under U.S. law in order to impose the latest round of sanctions on Venezuela. That is not much of a defense, telling the whole world the rule of law in the United States is something the president can use lies to get around whenever he finds it inconvenient.

That was the approach of President Ronald Reagan in 1985 when he made a similar declaration in order to impose sanctions — including an economic embargo — on Nicaragua. Like the White House today, he was trying to topple an elected government that Washington didn’t like. He was able to use paramilitary and terrorist violence as well as an embargo in a successful effort to destroy the Nicaraguan economy and ultimately overturn its government. (The Sandinistas eventually returned to power in 2007 and are the governing party today.)

The world has moved forward, even though Washington has not. Venezuela today has very strong backing from its neighbors against what almost every government in the region sees as an attempt to destabilize the country.

“The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) reiterates its strong repudiation of the application of unilateral coercive measures that are contrary to international law,” read a statement from every country in the hemisphere except for the U.S. and Canada on Feb. 11. They were responding to the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela that Obama signed into law in December.

Didn’t read any of this in the English-language media? Well, you probably also didn’t see the immediate reaction to yesterday’s White House blunder from the head of the Union of South American Nations, which read, “UNASUR rejects any external or internal attempt at interference that seeks to disrupt the democratic process in Venezuela.” (Continued)

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End the Embargo of Cuba Now – A Forum and Discussion

Ariel Hernandez, first secretary to Cuba’s UN Mission, with Bob Guild and Luis Matos

By Pat Fry

The Metro NY CCDS organized and co-sponsored a panel presentation February 19th at Local1199 SEIU in mid-town Manhattan on the breakthrough in U.S. policy toward Cuba and what it will take to end the five and a half decades-long embargo of Cuba. Co-sponsors were the Local 1199 SEIU Latin American and Caribbean Democracy Committee and the World Organization for the Right of the People
to Health Care (WORPHC).

Long time Cuba solidarity activist, Bob Guild, Vice President of the NJ-based travel agency Marazul that has organized educational trips to Cuba for many years, spoke of the new travel regulations announced by the Obama Administration.

“The changes are significant for the right of the U.S. people to travel to Cuba,” said Guild. He explained that any group can now sponsor a trip to Cuba – unions, neighborhood organizations, the PTA and not have to apply for a license to do so. From the point of view of U.S. State Department, said Guild,they are encouraging travel because they believe it will undermine the Cuban government and its political system. “We are not emissaries of the U.S. State Department,” Guild said.

He spoke of the attacks on many who have advocated against the U.S. ban on travel over many years, including bombings of Marazul Tours and Local 1199’s union hall that injured a maintenance worker, and the 1979assassination of Cuban American Carlos Muniz, a leading solidarity activist with the Antonio Maceo Brigade. The policy change is a victory for the Cuban people because the U.S. was forced to recognize the legitimacy of the Cuban state, he said.

Ariel Hernandez, First Secretary of the Republic of Cuba to the UN Mission, said “The blockade of Cuba continues and the U.S. policy of ‘regime change’ in Cuba has not abated.” One way in which this is playing out is the attempt by the U.S. to ease import/export restrictions for the private sector in Cuba and not for publicly-owned restaurants and hotels. Hernandez said that the private sector in Cuba has some of the strongest pro-government people in the country. “Cuba will never accept any U.S. interference in our internal affairs,” he said.

Negotiations on many issues including telecommunications and internet, will continue the week of February 23, he said. “We are optimistic in the process. We are very strong in our position of sovereignty.”

Luis Matos of the Local 1199 SEIU Latin American and Caribbean Democracy Committee and the World Organization for the Right of the People to Health Care (WORPHC) spoke of the importance of educational trips to Cuba. The WORPHC has been organizing trips to Cuba for 30 years mainly among health care workers and rank and file union members. Matos stressed the importance of educational trips to Cuba in order for people to learn of the Cuban system of health care, Cuban life and society.

Muata Greene, a retired EMT medic in NYC, works with the WORPHC in organizing trips. He said “Cuba is a great example of the right of the people to health care. The people that go to Cuba are taking the message back to the U.S. – single payer health care for the U.S.,” said Greene.

Among the 60 people attending were many activists in Cuba solidarity work, including Leslie Cagan who headed the Cuba Information Project in the 1990s, Gail Walker of Pastors for Peace/IFCO, Ike Naheem and Jaime Mendieta of the July 26th Coalition. Anne Mitchell of CCDS chaired the panel and welcomed everyone on behalf of the three sponsoring organizations.

In discussion of next steps to end the embargo, Pat Fry reported on the lobby efforts in Congress, spearheaded by the Latin American Working Group. The LAWG has an online petition in support of legislation to lift the travel ban (S. 299 and H.R. 664). The identical bills are bi-partisan but the lobby focus is aimed at Republicans before more Democrats sign on. A bill to lift trade restrictions was
also introduced in Congress but with less support at this time.

At the conclusion of the forum, there was consensus on a proposal to build a network to:

1) Share information and build support for “End the Travel Ban” legislation, including circulating the LAWG online petition at http://www.lawg.org/action-center/78-end-the-travel-ban-on-cuba/1407-tell-congress-its-time-to-end-the-embargo

2) Initiate a petition to completely bring an end to the embargo of Cuba and repeal the Helms-Burton law that enforces all aspects of the U.S. embargo.

3) Share information about educational trips to Cuba and build participation to encourage as many as possible to go to Cuba and learn first-hand the Cuban socialist project.

The US is Heading Into a Heavily Militarized Future

By Tom Englehardt
Beaver County Peace Links via TomDispatch

Feb 17, 2015 – I never fail to be amazed — and that’s undoubtedly my failing.  I mean, if you retain a capacity for wonder you can still be awed by a sunset, but should you really be shocked that the sun is once again sinking in the west? Maybe not.

The occasion for such reflections: machine guns in my hometown. To be specific, several weeks ago, New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced the formation of a new 350-officer Special Response Group (SRG). Keep in mind that New York City already has a police force of more than 34,000 — bigger, that is, than the active militaries of Austria, Bulgaria, Chad, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kenya, Laos, Switzerland, or Zimbabwe — as well as its own “navy,” including six submersible drones. 

Just another drop in an ocean of blue, the SRG will nonetheless be a squad for our times, trained in what Bratton referred to as “advanced disorder control and counterterror.”  It will also, he announced, be equipped with “extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns — unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.” And here’s where he created a little controversy in my hometown.  The squad would, Bratton added, be “designed for dealing with events like our recent protests or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”

Now, that was an embarrassment in liberal New York.  By mixing the recent demonstrations over the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others into the same sentence with the assault on Mumbai and the Charlie Hebdo affair in France, he seemed to be equating civil protest in the Big Apple with acts of terrorism.  Perhaps you won’t be surprised then that the very next day the police department started walking back the idea that the unit would be toting its machine guns not just to possible terror incidents but to local protests.  A day later, Bratton himself walked his comments back even further. (“I may have in my remarks or in your interpretation of my remarks confused you or confused the issue.”)  Now, it seems there will be two separate units, the SRG for counterterror patrols and a different, assumedly machine-gun-less crew for protests.

Here was what, like the sun going down in the west, shouldn’t have shocked me but did: no one thought there was any need to walk back the arming of the New York Police Department with machine guns for whatever reasons.  The retention of such weaponry should, of course, have been the last thing to shock any American in 2015.  After all, the up-armoring and militarization of the police has been an ongoing phenomenon since 9/11, even if it only received real media attention after the police, looking like an army of occupation, rolled onto the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in response to protests over the killing of Michael Brown.

In fact, the Pentagon (and the Department of Homeland Security) had already shunted $5.1 billion worth of military equipment, much of it directly from the country’s distant battlefields — assault rifles, land-mine detectors, grenade launchers, and 94,000 of those machine guns — to local police departments around the country.  Take, for example, the various tank-like, heavily armored vehicles that have now become commonplace for police departments to possess.  (Ferguson, for instance, had a “Bearcat,” widely featured in coverage of protests there.)

Since 2013, the Pentagon has transferred for free more than 600 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, worth at least half a million dollars each and previously used in U.S. war zones, to various “qualified law enforcement agencies.” Police departments in rural areas like Walsh County, North Dakota (pop. 11,000) now have their own MRAPs, as does the campus police department at Ohio State University.  It hardly matters that these monster vehicles have few uses in a country where neither ambushes nor roadside bombs are a part of everyday life. (Continued)

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