Archive for March 2nd, 2009

March 2, 2009

Big brother, little brother

By David Roberts

One year after Raúl Castro officially took over as head of state from his brother Fidel, Cuba has made precious little progress in opening up to the world, either politically or economically.

Admittedly, ordinary Cubans are now allowed to have a mobile telephone and some other electronic goods that were previously restricted, and there have been some limited land reforms implemented to encourage private agriculture. Some of Cuba’s taxis are even now run as private businesses, and the island’s government has shown some, albeit very hush-hush, interest in learning about Chilean and Uruguayan public works concessions, particularly for airports, highways and ports.

But Cuba remains a political and economic backwater. While enjoying relatively high health and educational standards, and no one need die of starvation, the Cuban people are mired in poverty and repression. The Castros may blame the US embargo for the country’s economic plight, but that’s no excuse. If they gave their people the opportunity to elect their own government, the embargo would quickly disappear.

Looking at the string of foreign presidents who have visited the island recently, it’s also pretty clear that Fidel still wields considerable influence. In fact, most of his recent visitors, such as Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, appeared keener to meet the tracksuit-clad Fidel than his brother. Maybe we’ll have to wait until Fidel – who’s looked remarkably sprightly in the few photos of him released to the media recently – is off the scene altogether before Raúl dares to make a serious move to open up the country and establish genuine democracy and a regulated market economy, or maybe we’ll have to wait for Raúl to go too. But sooner or later, it must happen.

Read full article here

March 2, 2009

Chavez blames Obama for US report alleging spike in Venezuelan drug trafficking

By Associated Press 8:05 PM EST, February 28, 2009

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez on Saturday rejected a U.S. report alleging that drug trafficking is soaring in Venezuela, stepping up his criticism of President Barack Obama following the U.S. leader’s Jan. 20 inauguration. The State Department report, which covers global anti-drug efforts in 2008, was compiled while President George W.

Bush was in office but approved this month by the Obama administration. “Is there really a new government in the United States, or is Bush still in charge?” Chavez told supporters in a poor Caracas neighborhood. “Don’t mess with me, Mr. Obama.” The report asserts that drug trafficking soared fivefold in Venezuela from 50 metric tons (55 tons) of illegal drugs in 2002 to an estimated 250 metric tons (275 tons) in 2007 as cartels took advantage of the country’s “geography, corruption, a weak judicial system, incompetent and in some cases complicit security forces and lack of international counternarcotics cooperation.”

It said Chavez’s government had refused to cooperate on most joint anti-drug efforts, rejected U.S. criticism and accused the U.S. government of working with drug traffickers. Chavez suspended cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2005, accusing its agents of espionage. Two DEA agents still work in Venezuela, but embassy officials say their efforts have been severely restricted. Chavez on Friday dismissed an annual State Department assessment of human rights around the world that highlighted what it called Venezuela’s politicized judiciary, corruption and harassment of the political opposition and the news media.