Saturday, August 05, 2006

Qana update and Israeli "restraint."

As the slaughter in Lebanon continues there is a piece of, what I guess, you could call good news. Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that 28 people were killed in the Qana bombing, not 56 as originally reported. Initially there was a mix up involving counting from a list of people who were staying in the house that was bombed. Of the 28 dead, 19 were children, according to the Lebanese Red Cross. The AP reported that a civil defense official, Abdel Raouf Jradi, confirmed that 27 bodies were brought to the hospital in Tyre. The dead included 15 children under the age of 12, including a 9-month old and a 95-year old man. [Inquirer]

Israel has apologized -- sort of -- for this "accidental" bombing and blames the whole thing on Hezbollah. An Israeli military investigation concluded that Hezbollah was using civilians as human shields and, "had the information indicated that civilians were present . . . the attack would not have been carried out." What many probably wonder about is how they couldn't have seen that the house was full of civilians. The Israeli military has the most sophisticated optical technology the US can provide. They can read the number on a license plate from 50,000 feet, yet some how they can't see a building full of civilians or 33 farm workers loading boxes of plums and peaches on to a truck.

HRW isn't buying this 'Hezbollah did it' line that Israel uses every time it does something horrific like bomb Qana. The organization accuses the Israeli military of war crimes in a report issued on Thursday. The 50 page report says that Israel's killing of civilians "cannot be dismissed as mere accidents and cannot be blamed on Hezbollah practices." It says also that the IDF has "systematically failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians in their military campaign." Kenneth Roth of HRW said that naturally Hezbollah shouldn't use civilians as a shield, "that's an absolute -- but the image that Israel has promoted of such shielding as the cause of so high a civilian death toll is wrong. In many cases of civilian deaths examined by Human Rights Watch, the location of Hezbollah troops and arms . . . had nothing to do with the deaths because there was no Hezbollah around." The claim that civilians who have died were warned by leaflets and text messages to get out is debunked by HRW as well. These warnings "in no way entitles the Israeli military to treat these civilians who remain in southern Lebanon as combatants that are fair game for attack."

What HRW doesn't get, though, is that all of southern Lebanon is populated by Shias who probably support Hezbollah -- so they're all guilty. Israeli ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman told Tim Russert last Sunday that Hezbollah "has become part of Lebanese society. Hezbollah is not just in the south, Hezbollah is everywhere, including in Beirut, including in southern Beirut. It is controlling most of Lebanon." (They're everywhere, so where ever we bomb we're likely to hit some of them.)
Israeli restraint:

Ehud Olmert explained to the FT in an interview this week that "no country in Europe would have responded in such a restrained manner as Israel did." [Yes, just look at all the restraint they showed in southern Beirut for instance!] "We responded in such a manner that it will be registered in the collective memory of not just the Lebanese, but any nation that has ever had any plans of attacking Israel with missiles he says." I'm sure the Lebanese people appreciate that they have to be collectively punished so Israel can instill this "collective memory" on all countries in the Middle East (if there's anyone left alive that is.)

If this is restraint I'd hate to see what they'd do if they really let loose. There are from 600 to 900 civilian’s dead already and although there might be Hezbollah fighters in those numbers no one can find a Hezbollah fighter to ask about it. Over half a million people have been displaced or are refugees; about 200,000 have fled into Syria and about 60,000 into Jordan. The rest are moving into the north of the country or just staying put as Israeli jets attack cars on the remaining drivable roads indiscriminately. Medicine, fuel and food are running out all over the country because Israel has bombed every route into Lebanon that supplies could get in through.

Ehud Olmert announced this week that the IDF had "entirely eliminated" Hezbollah's infrastructure. That's kind of a strange thing to say, because some how Hezbollah keeps managing to launch missiles into Israel, over 300 missiles in the last three days alone. Perhaps what he really meant to say was Israel has eliminated Lebanon's entire infrastructure.

The FT reports that, besides Israel's bombardment of roads and highways, power plants, whole city blocks of southern Beirut and the flattening of villages in the south of the country, Israel has destroyed the fabric of Lebanon's economy. Some 45 large factories have been destroyed according to a list compiled by Lebanese businessmen. These include: "factories for furniture, medical products, textiles, paper and a milk plant."

The FT: "Proctor & Gamble's warehouse in Beirut was bombed, with damage to $20 million in stock. In total, 95 percent of industry has ground to a halt, according to the Association of Lebanese Industrialists. Those companies not directly targeted have been halted by the Israeli blockade."

The FT reports that Lebanon was on the way to having the best economy it's had in more than a decade, now growth is expected to be zero. In the first 12 days of the war damage to business and infrastructure has cost Lebanon $12 billion. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the Israeli strike on the Jiyyeh power plant in Beirut has caused a 15,000 gallon oil spill that has damaged much of the Lebanese coast line and is now moving toward Syria and could threaten Cyprus, Turkey and Greece if it isn't cleaned up -- which is can't be because Israel would bomb anyone on the beach or in the water trying to do so.

So, let's definatly wait on that cease-fire until the US and the international community can come up with a comprehensive peace settlement that will be to Israel's liking; but which, naturally, won't include the issue driving this endless cycle of violence: the Palestinian occupation.

After Fidel: not until W. leaves the White House, please!

Today, the world is anxiously awaiting the appearance of Raul Castro, who hasn't been seen in public since the news broke that Fidel had turned power over to him while he recuperates from his stomach surgery. The shock of the news and the silence from the Cuban government has spawned all kinds of speculation as to what is coming next if Fidel doesn't wind up coming back. It is a pretty good bet that even if Raul were to inherit Fidel's position as maximum leader he wouldn't last very long. Besides being nothing like his brother in the charisma department, he's 75-year old and is known to be a serious lush.

Apparently, Fidel has been giving some thought to a Cuba run by Raul and has decided he'd rather hedge his bets. The AP reports that in his statement announcing his illness also spelled out how he wants things to be run in his absence. He has spread power out among six of his closest comrades to rule along with Raul and he says the Communist Party is to be his real successor. Clearly he wants his revolution to continue and has according to the AP story given his vice-president, Carlos Lage, 51, "the heaviest responsibilities . . . charging his with overseeing his ongoing 'energy revolution' -- a huge renovation of Cuba's antiquated electrical grid." Lage was the one who led the reform of the economy after the Soviet Union fell. And despite the decades long US embargo, he seems to have done a pretty decent job. The Cuban economy is humming right along with a rate of growth of 8%, according to the CIA. (So let's tighten the screws on that embargo!)

For those in the media and in Miami's "exile" community puzzled as to why Cubans haven't already overthrown the government, the reason might be that Cuba really isn't really doing that badly economically. Not surprisingly, they're probably not so keen on the idea of the Americans marching in to give them a market economy. Of course, Cuba is no socialist paradise and there is real poverty there. But then again, Cubans have always been dirt poor and they've never really had any experience with democracy to begin with. Yes, Castro is a despot and no one should have to stand out in the sun for 4 hours and listen to his boring speeches, but he's no better or worse than the colonial rule of the Spanish or any of the US sponsored dictators that that ruled Cuba prior to the revolution.

Surely, they must be weighing the relative gains they've achieved under Castro's regime: free healthcare, free education, woman's rights and the dignity that comes with being a sovereign nation for the first time in their history, with the prospect of giving all that up for W.'s brand of democracy. If I was a Cuban and I heard W. say, "we will support you in your effort to build a transitional government in Cuba committed to democracy," I'd take one look at Iraq and say 'thanks, but no thanks.' To paraphrase Vlad Putin, ' we don't want that type of democracy.' (It's bad enough when W. is saying it, but when Condi goes out of her way to tape a message of support -- on TV Marti which no one sees at a cost of $10 million a year-- you know you're in the cross-hairs!)

It would be great if the Cubans could once and for all be a free nation and make their own decisions about how they want to run their country. Sadly, however, they may not get the chance; the vultures are already planning to descend on Cuba from Miami. The World had a story about Miami car dealer Lombardo Perez talking about the business model he's already got set up to sell new cars to the Cubans. On Friday morning Market Place reported that, "Already the US government's certified nearly 6,000 claims of confiscated property in Cuba. Including interest, they're worth an estimated $6 billion."

You can already read the writing on the wall. I agree totally with a fellow letter writer, Presley R. Brown, who writes in the letters section of the Inquirer yesterday: "displaced Cuban-Americans will flood Havana under the cloak of freeing Cuba from communism and installing American-style democracy. It will be done in the name of righteous property repatriation. These events will bring a smile to U.S. businesses. These events could also bring a smile to the Pentagon because it might be able to start yet another military conflict."

Hopefully, it won't come to that. As fond as we Americans are for a trumped up Caribbean military adventure, the pictures of US fighter planes flattening Havana might not go over well in the Cuban-American community. The FT had an interesting article today on this subject. They interviewed Luis Martinez Fernandez, professor of Latin American Studies at the University of Central Florida, who pointed out that younger Cuban-Americans were in favor of loosening the embargo and engaging diplomatically with the Cuban regime. Fernandez says, "Cuban-Americans can not longer be taken for granted by the Republicans." Brian Latell, a former Cuba specialist for the CIA and author of the book After Fidel says: "There is a widespread misconception that the Cuban-American community is homogeneous. There are still some vocal harliners but the majority is increasingly moderate." (Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Michael Caputo!)

Unfortunety, the big mouth hardliners are the ones who get all the attention in the media. All they have to do is ban a book from the public schools and BAM! the media flocks like lemmings. I was probably a little too harsh on the younger Cuban-Americans in my last post, it's not just the Cuban-Americans in Miami who are politically disengaged; everyone down there is. It would be nice, though, if they were a little more interested in public affairs and would work towards putting their numbers behind shutting up the whackos who have been dominating the debate on Cuba for the past 47 years. Getting rid of Illeana Ros-Lehtinen -- the dumbest member of Congress -- would be a good start.

Let's all hope the Cuban people are able to navigate this "transition" in a peaceful way and everything turns out alright. It may sound heartless (because I know they're suffering) but if Fidel could hang on until W. & Co. is out of office everyone would be a lot better off. One important point Luis Martinez Fernandez makes is that regardless of the anti-Castro rhetoric from the past nine American administrations, Fidel has provided stability in our backyard. Fernandez says, "before Castro the island had been a source of instability in the region and it could become so again after he goes." Sending the marines in to "liberate" the Cuban people could engender another insurgency that could go on for years.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Se Acabó! Now who will you hate?

Last night, the Cuban "Exile" community in Miami partied in the streets of Little Havana after the news broke that Fidel had temporarily turned power over to his brother Raul. These exilios drove all the way down from their gated communities in west Broward to order a medianoche and a cafe Cubano at the Cafataria Latin America and maybe get their faces on CNN or Telemundo. This all makes for good footage on FOX Seven, but though they may talk a good game about hating Castro; what the mainly younger people in the crowd know about Cuba they get from their parents and grandparents, which is all bull. Basically, the American kids of Cuban decent in Miami know nothing about their history or politics (thanks to their Miami-Dade school education), but they always know how to perform in front of the international media when the next "crisis in Cuba” comes up. (And besides that: what a great excuse to party on a school night!)

And as for the older Cubans, the real exiles, the Cuba they remember from 47 years ago doesn't exist anymore. The truth is it isn't going to make a bit of difference who takes over next because they're not getting their sugar cane factories or their Casinos back. The fact is, there is an entire generation of Cubans who have actually lived in Cuban their whole lives who've known nothing else but Fidel and they're not going to allow themselves to be returned into indentured servitude and the illiteracy of the pre-Fidel years under US tutelage. While our Cuban-American secretary of Commerce writes up plans for the post-Castro "democratic transition," anti-Fidel dissidents in Cuba like Oscar Espinosa are telling the US to butt out of their business. This is going to be the way of it; the exiles here in the 80's didn't want "Castro's animals" coming here during Mariel and Castro's animals don't want these yankee carpetbaggers calling themselves Cubans coming down to exploit their resources and labor.

The most important thing Castro ever did for Cuba, which many Americans of Cuban decent don't understand, is that he liberated the country from centuries of occupation. The streets of Miami are named after Cuban patriots like Jose Marti, Jose Antonio Saco, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, General Maximo Gomez and General Antonio Maecdo, but they didn't fight so hard and give their lives to become a colony of the United States. They fought for a free Cuban republic, free from Spain and free from the United States. The day before he died, Jose Marti wrote in a letter that he was fighting the Spanish to impede "the extension of the United States through the Antilles." He wrote that in the United States he had lived "inside the entrails of the monster," and he was concerned with American "economic imperialism," remarking that "the distain of the formidable neighbor who does not really know us is the worst danger to our America." [Counterpunch]

After fighting side by side with the Cuban independence fighters against the Spaniards and liberating Cuba, the Americans turned right around occupied the country. After four years of occupation the US offered to end it if the Cubans would add the Platt Amendment to their constitution, which spelled out that the US could move in at any time it wanted to, if it felt its interests were at stake. That was 1902; the US sent the Marines in again in 1906-09, 1910, 1917-1923, and from then on they controlled the politics of Cuba until Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

There is this myth in the media I keep seeing and hearing that the Cuban-Americans in south Florida are going back to Cuba the minute the Castro regime is overthrown. Naturally, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, everyone will be happy when Fidel finally succumbs to the "biological fact," but I doubt there are more than a handful of Cuban-Americans willing to give up their jobs and homes to go move back to a third world country. The WaPo reported that, "Miami pollster Sergio Bendixen has surveyed the Cuban population regularly over the past decade and found that 20 percent or fewer would return. . .Bendixen said he suspects the real number is even lower because it is "politically correct" for a Cuban immigrant to say he or she will return once Castro falls."

What worries me most is what happens if this administration decides, probably before the election, to help Castro along a little and orchestrates an "incident," that calls for the landing of the Marines. Carlos Gutierrez said in an NPR interview today that the US would prevent "third parties" from interfering in the "democratic transition" of Cuba, so who is to say Hugo Chavez didn't cause that bomb to go off on the Maine? The Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba said in 2004 that "sought a more proactive, integrated and disciplined approach to undermine the survival strategies of the Castro regime and contribute to conditions that will help the Cuban people hasten the dictatorship's end." You know, what that means. . . helping Cuba become the next Iraq.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Oops, they did it again:

In the early morning hours of July 30 Israel bombed a house in the Lebanese town of Qana and killed at least 56 innocent civilians, 37 of whom were small children. Once again it seems Israel's US supplied smart bombs made another one of those "regrettable" mistakes that oddly keep happening over and over again. When they're not "accidentally" shelling or killing UN observers in their clearly marked outposts, they're bombing ambulances and fleeing civilians on the roads they haven't got around to destroying yet. What is really amazing about this particular outrage is that it took place in the very same town where Israeli shelling massacred 106 Lebanese refugees 10 years ago. (It looks like they're only half way in their efforts to turn back the clock in Lebanon 20 years.) So, what on earth were they thinking? Who made the call to allow that Israeli pilot to drop his payload and what does this say about the people making the political decisions in the Israeli government? As I've noted previously: Christopher Dickey quoted an Israeli official in a Newsweek article last week saying the US was giving Israel a surprising amount of slack and "absent a Qana, it might go on."

Was this a blunder of monumental proportions or does Israel just think the US government will simply sit around and take the heat for them indefinably while they conduct their collective punishment of the Lebanese people? Because, as might have been expected, the response to what King Abdullah II of Jordan called this "ugly crime," was almost universal and immediate. Protests erupted around the region and in Beirut Lebanese of mixed sectarian persuasions ransacked the UN headquarters. Kofi Annan told an emergency meeting of the UN SecurityCouncil, "Excellencies, we must condemn this action in the strongest possible terms, and I appeal to you to do likewise. No one disputes Israel's right to defend itself. But by its manner of doing so, it has caused, and is causing, death and suffering on a wholly unacceptable scale." [WaPo] Even the Pope weighed in!

In a cynical attempt to mollify the outrage of the world, Israel announced they were calling a 48-hour "humanitarian" cessation of aerial bombing while they "investigated" what happened. Not long after, though, Israel qualified this moratorium on bombing by saying they would still use air power to support their ground troops, stop imminent attacks by Hezbollah and attack vehicles they suspect of re-supplying militants. In other words, pretty much the same justifications they've been using all along for their vicious bombardment. As I write, only a few hours later, Israel is back to bombing southern Lebanon.

Something tells me the only reason they decided to dial down the bombing for a few hours in the first place was because even Condi was shocked by the brutality of the attack. Rice, incidentally, wasn't told about what happened in Qana for some 8 hours afterwards. While she was mugging for the press with Israel's defense minister (bad form there!) one of her aides had to bring her the bad news. Apparently, our good friends the Israelis -- who she's been doing her best to run interference for -- forgot to mention it to her. (Who's the protégé and who's the patron in this relationship, anyway?) By the time she found out that her whole effort to give birth to the "New Middle East" was lying under the rubble of Qana, Lebanese PM Fuad Siniora was telling the media she had been uninvited to Beirut. "We scream out to the world community to stand united in the face of Israel's war criminals. There is no place on this sad morning for any discussion other than an immediate and unconditional ceasefire [and] an investigation into the Israeli massacres," he said. [WaPo] And even worse: he thanked Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, for defending Lebanon!

The longer this goes on the more chance there is for even more serious miscalculations and mistakes. The tension is ratcheting up exponentially everyday and Israel's calling up of 15,000 reserves hasn't helped convince Syria that Israel has no intention of attacking as they keep insisting. Syria is on high alert and the potential for an errant bomb or another Qana could send this war to into a regional conflagration without even trying very hard. Things would be bad enough if Syria was drawn into the fighting but the real fear is what might happen if Hezbollah launched one of its Iranian made Zelzal-2 rockets at Tel Aviv in retaliation for something like Qana. All bets would then be off. And even though the FT reports that at present, "military analysts assume that Iran's explicit permission would be required to launch them," there's no telling what Iran might do if Syria was attacked.

At that point, we have to assume Iran's Shiite militia clients in Iraq would turn on us. It might even happen without another provocation in Lebanon. The US and our reluctant ally Nuri al-Maliki are under fire from Sciri, Muqtada al-Sadr and even Ayatollah Ali-Sistani, who said attacks on the Lebanese people would not "be forgiven." In fact, al-Maliki had to leave Washington early last week because there were rumors of a coup! [WaPo]

The threat of something like this happening has likely not been overlooked by pentagon planners, as over the past few months or so troop levels in Iraq have risen from 127,000 to 135,000. 3,700 troops in units scheduled to rotate out have been held up and the pentagon has announced the deployment of five more Army and Marine brigades going to Iraq soon. [Inquirer] And we could soon see troops levels at over 150,000 or more if we get into another tussle with Muqtada al-Sadr's Madhi army. We could even see a battle for possession of the Green Zone!

So, let's keep supporting Israel as they drag our reputation through the pools of blood of their vicitms!
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