Monday, July 31, 2006

CUBA: Castro Corpse Watch, Fidel Hands Over Reins To Raul Miami Goes Nuts

Bearded One In Surgery
Just watched CNN, they say that Fidel handed over power to Raul, temporarily, he is undergoing intestinal surgery. Craziness in Calle 8.

Maybe he has some sort of cancer, explains his absence and then his re-appearance to fly to South America.

Venezuela: The Outsider In Latin America Elections, Can A Comedian Beat Chavez?


As Venezuela faces the possibility of a Comedian-actor becoming a serious candidate against Chavez, it is just another chapter in South American political history. During the 1959 campaign for municipal elections in Sao Paolo Brazil, the top vote getter was Cacareco the popular Rhinoceros at the local zoo, who Paulistas turned to in disgust with their local politicians. In typical Brazilian fashion, the issue of the Rhino taking his seat was moot even before the election, because the animal had already moved back to his old home at Rio De Janeiro's zoo, due to an outcry from Rio residents.

Don't Cry For Me Cacareco
Cacareco is hardly unique in the short history of protest votes and popular outsiders in Latin American electoral politics. In the 19th Century (and much of the 20th) Latin America Presidents mainly came from the military and the European upper classes, mestizos like Benito Juarez were considered "outsiders," as were some populist caudillos who did not bother with elections. In the modern era, Juan Peron owed a lot of his success and popularity to his wife, Evita Peron a one-time movie and radio actress. His second wife Isabel who herself was elected president was a former dancer.

Living In The Eighties
With the return of democratically elected overnments in the 1980's and 1990's, a shift occured in Latin American politics. Many of the traditional parties who were elected into office seemed incapable of governing, be it because of corruption scandals, drastic economic measures, deadlocked legislatures, failure to deliver basic services, or just plain incompetence. Historically significant political parties in many countries, and the politicians affiliated with them, lost credibility with voters. Far leftists after the Berlin Wall fell were discredited, demoralized, and ineffective. Polls showed that this was a symptom of a crisis of confidence in the entire system.
People were open to alternatives, outsiders who attacked the system, and new political parties. At the same time democratization also opened the door to entirely new constituencies, including indigenous peoples long excluded from major political. parties - at least as a voting block. Mass media emerged from censorship and speech restrictions to become a major influence in how the public viewed the political system. A common thread of many of the "outsiders" was the ability to effectively use the mass media.

In Through The Out Door

Once that opening was created, outsiders and protest candidates stepped right in. In Bolivia, Radio and T.V. host "Compadre Palenque", popular among the indigenous and poor of La Paz, became a national force, as did Max Fernandez a succesful businessman, foreshadowing the rise of indigenous cocalero leader, Evo Morales. Violeta Chamorro was seen as above partisan politicking and was elected in Nicaragua. Failed coup leader, Hugo Chavez, became somewhat of a folk hero, and was eventually elected to office, after bitterly criticizing both main political parties. In Peru, novelist Mario Vargas Llosa had a good run at the Presidency, but was ultimately derailed by another outsider.

Before racking up a sordid record of corruption and abuse,Alberto Fujimori, the Peruvian-Japanese university professor and one-time T.V. host, was the ultimate outsider to attain elected office. He came completely out of left field to defeat the well-financed Vargas Llosa and the traditional political parties. With no attachment to the traditional parties or to the military which had long ruled, he was immune to charges of corruption and from being "in the system." Fujimori could rail against the entire system, with some credibility. As an outsider to Peruvian upper classes who supported Vargas Llosa, he was able to mobilize the indigenous voters, urban poor, and evangelicals who had long felt excluded. As a T.V. host, he knew enough about delivering a message. "El Chino" as he was known by the population, also ran one of the wildest campaigns ever seen in the area. He appeared in campaign ads, dressed as a samurai and wielding a sword. At first he got enough votes against Vargas Llosa to force a run-off, which he won handily.

Will it work in Venezuela?
Chavez, got himself elected by bashing both main political parties nad the Venezuelan elite, and thanks to oil-funded clientilism remains popular. However, there is a palpable sense of insecurity in much of Venezuela due to a crime wave. Chavez makes some Venezuelans nervous with his rhetoric, and corruption is rampant. The opposition has not capitalized due to its own incompetence and division, and Chavez hold on much of the machinery of state. And polls show the electorate has little confidence in the opposition.

Rausseo comes from outside of the mainstream, he is not tied either to the two political parties, Chavismo, the military, the SUMATE people, or the 3 existing candidates. He comes a poor family in a small town, and is literally a self-made man, which gives him the credibility with poor sections of the country that might support Chavismo. Twenty years in Venezuelan showbiz gives him a lot of name recognition, and he has created a buzz in Venezuela's media. His T.V. and club act is widely popular in Venezuela, and he has been in several movies. His stage presence and humor can be an antidote to Chavez oversize personality. And Rausseo continually mocks Chavez and Chavismo with one-liners that could be devastating in a well-run campaign, he is now mocking him for being outside the country. As an outsider, with show-biz experience he can capitalize on the people who are disillusioned with Chavez and the opposition, and conceivably cut into Chavez lead.

He does bring some credentials to the table. He is a succesful businessman who besides managing his own artistic affairs, owns a chain of motels, and a theme park resort based on his own characters, as well as video and record companies. That shows the public, worried about mis-management that he knows how to run things. He is educated, has a degree in fine arts, speaks three languages, and is close to getting his law degree. Outside of his comic persona, he can both talk like the succesfull internationally-oriented businessman he is and the kid with humble roots who remembers where he came from. All those years of show business and law school make him very adept at tossing off one liners as well as 20 second soundbites, as these TV interviews show.

Media Figures DO Get Elected
Rausseo would also fall within a long line of media stars who make it in electoral politics, not only in Latin America but worldwide. Poland's child actor twins, the Porn-star Ciccolina in Europe. The U.S. starting with the Movie Star President and Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, followed by governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and his one-time co-star Jesse "The Body" Ventura from Minnesota. Coaches, quarterbacks, and wide receivers like Jack Kemp, J.C. Watts, Tom Osborne, Steve Largent, joined half of Sonny and Cher and stars from the Love Boat and the Dukes of Hazzard in Congress. If "Gofer" could do it, maybe "Er Conde" can.

Lebanon, Israel: Israel Really F...ed Up

The Whole Thing
Yesterdays atrocity was the sort of thing that was bound to happen. When you throw so much ordinance for that long at a wide area, a bomb, rocket, or shell, will eventually hit civilians. If poor people in the United States can not leave New Orleans in a hurricane, who the hell expects everyone to leave Southern Lebanon?? Particularly, when the Israeli planes have hit people fleeing.

Its Time

As my old Foreign Policy prof said "Israeli tanks will rumble" through even a "vague" U.S. "opening." Here the U.S. gave the Israeli's just about as much leeway ever given to their country in a conflict with its neighbors. It was understood that Israel was facing a threat in Lebanon, and it was time to erradicate the Hizbullah weapons and fighters ringing Lebanon's southern border.

Israel surprised? New weapons in the middle east? In 1982, the P.L.O. backed by petro-dollars bought a whole bunch of pretty decent Soviet-block weapons. Twenty four years later, again with petro-dollars, Hizbullah has a pretty big arsenal. It is all goodies available in the former Soviet block, Iran/Syria, and the huge international black market. You need to look no further than Colombian guerillas and paramilitaries, Chechnyans, every militia in the Balkans, or the I.R.A., to see how easy it is for cash-rich factions to arm themselves in the post-Cold War era.

Trained Guerillas?
Teenagers only need about 3 months to pick up the basics and discipline of soldiering. Give them additional months of training and drilling in small and large unit tactics, weapons systems, and other specializations, and suddenly you have infantry, artillery, communications, and logistics. When led by battle-hardened NCO's and officers trained by Iranians, this is an effective fighting force. They can function in very small units as well as regular formations, and can disapear into the civilian population. With two decades of preparation, who doubts these guys have managed to create an effective army?

Is this a new type of warfare as some of the bla-bla pundits are saying? Hardly, during the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese allies, managed to create a network of regular units, regional units, and village militia, alongside a political structure, nation-wide intelligence networks, and sleeper cells in cities. This organization was controlled through top-down Marxist-Leninist discipline, in which central direction and control filtered down from the very top of the leadership all the way down to village cadres. In the field, individual units could operate in extremely small groups that could melt back into their villages. In larger formations, they could hold fortified and/or underground positions that withstood heavy bombardment, such as the network of tunnels outside of Saigon. When the right moment came, they could operate at the batallion and division level. Ironically, the I.D.F. itself is descended from a group that combined the organization of the British Army with an emphasis on flexible small units. Hizbullah is a modernized version of this type of guerilla warfare, using the best available tools.

It is hardly surprising that Hizbullah with 6 years to prep the battlefield was well dug in, armed and trained to fight. Even armchair strategists, like yours truly, knew it. Airpower and firepower alone were not going to dislodge troops dug in hardened bunkers, like the Japanese in Iwo Jima or Okinawa. Israel needed to send in entire divisions and clear out those bunkers one by one, literally killing the Hizbullah troops and destroying their network of fortifications. And Hizbullah unlike many guerilla armies was holding territory. From the polls, most Israeli's supported strong measures, they are under the longest sustained attack they have ever been under since 1948. A country that has lost so many soldiers in past wars, would most likely accept the many casualties that a full ground fight would bring.

But what the hell did the leadership do? They bombed, and bombed, sent troops in, withdrew them, pulled back, went in again. Why the hell didn't they go in there and take those bunkers and towns the way it needed to get done? They were not going to destroy those bunkers from the air, unless they used bunker-busters. Whatever strategy they employed, it did not work. They just managed to trash Lebanon's infraestructure, kill civilians all over the country, and killed Lebanese troops and U.N. observers. Israel knows it operates under a deadline. As soon as the international community gets shocked, it is game over. Israel's leadership really messed up.

VENEZUELA, CHAVEZ-WATCH: Hugo and the VC, Vietnamese Blow Off Blowhard

Uncle Ho...and Hug-Ho the Media Whore

Photo B.B.C.
Publius Pundit in this post mentions Chavez visit to Vietnam, a current stop in his world tour that has already taken him to Russia, Belarus and Iran. His bombastic rhetoric has amused his fellow oil-rich strongmen in Moscow and Belarus, and was tolerated by the more cautious mullahs - who needed Venezuelan votes in the U.N. for their schemes. But, it appears to not play well in the country that Chavez had called "North Vietnam" as if it were 1967. As the B.B.C. noted the "two countries pledged to work together in oil, gas, mining and agriculture". But, the Vietnamese cancelled two stops of the trip, including a visit to museums exhibiting shot-down US Aircraft - a prime venue for Chavez trademark anti-imperialist tirades. As Robert Mayer mentioned, the present government of Vietnam does not "want to sour ties with the United States, and any deal they can make with Chavez is strictly business and small potatoes." From the B.B.C.:

Cultural cancellations
Mr Chavez's original schedule had included a visit to the military museum which contains the wreckage of shot-down American aircraft.
He was also due to visit the 'Peace Village' which looks after children suffering from health problems blamed on defoliating chemicals used in the war by the US.
However, those elements of his trip have now been cancelled.
Vietnam has worked hard to build closer relations with Washington in the past 15 years.
The US Congress will soon hold a crucial vote which will determine whether Vietnam will join the World Trade Organisation this year.

These issues press more heavily on the current Vietnamese government than talk of alliances against imperialism.

Funny how, the Vietnamese succesfully apply principles of Chavez bogeyman 'neo-liberalism', including trade pacts, with prudent social investment, while Chavez works to stop trade pacts for other countries, and makes a mess of his country. And while Hugo has been on his excellent adventure, a serious electoral opponent might have appeared, which would end this kind of junkets.
Tip Of The Hat to
Publius Pundit

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Venezuela: EL GUACHAR-MINATOR:, A Count For President ?? Chavez Vulnerable?

Can A Comedian Beat Chavez? Why Not?

A couple of weeks ago, the Venezuelan expat paper here in Florida El Venezolano, editorialized on the joke candidacy of well known comedian-actor-entrepreneur, Benjamín Rausseo a/k/a Er Conde Del Guacharo." Global Voices has the reaction in Venezuela's media and blogosphere, where it is generating a lot of noise.
Global Voices describes the Count's character:
Venezuelans will be holding the funniest elections in the country history. Entertainer Benjamin Rausseo, better known as Er’ Conde del Guacharo (Count of Guacharo), announced this week that he will run for President. Rausseo is Venezuela’s most popular comedian, and he has no political background. His character is a working-class man from the northeastern part of the country (by the Caribbean Sea), bearing stereotypical traits such as being a lazy deadbeat and womanizer; he talks in coarse language, and doesn’t care much about either public affairs or family values. Originally, the character satirized negative traits associated to Venezuelan folks, but surprisingly the audience found the character quite affable, and most people liked him.

El Venezolano's editorial, which was a front page article, asked whether or not "Nobility" would work "as a President?" It proceeds to say that in a country where people are murdered on their way to work. Where rumors about Castro's death come out...where the military leaders of the former USSR are paraded on national holidays...where the opposition goes on a crazy race to try to emulate a really bad government. Where the remaining right of each citizen is the right to stay alive. Let the Count enter the race, even if it is B.S. Someone with good humor is positive and worthy of support.

[The opposition ]is a bunch of young telegenic youngsters with good soundbites. Pretty boys with computerized designs to control the truth. A noble editor who waited too long for his candidacy. A succesful governor, but one whose own countrymen acuse him of being too much of a "nice guy."......A Count President Why Not

On-line Supporters, Favorable Press, And Credentials...
And it seems that many bloggers cited in Global Voices, seem willing to go along with the comedian candidate, and have started a whole internet campaign for him. People seem to think that Chavez has made such a joke out of Venezuelan's politics - why not? Specially considering how ineffectual the opposition is. Rausseo seems enough of an outsider, with no ties to the opposition which polls indicate has little credibility. He comes from a humble background, and is known as a self-made man. The guy is a serious businessman with an ownership interest in a theme park resort based on his characters, a motel chain, record and video production companies and pre-paid telephone card businesses. He has a college degree in fine arts, and is in his last semester of law school as his bio states. Seems about as qualified as coup-happy Colonels. As a comedian and actor he has name recognition, charisma and personality to pull off a campaign. Could he be the Venezuelan Schwarzenegger?? The Guacharominator?

Er Conde Interviewed

El Venezolano also published this interview with him, where between jokes he throws down some actual policy proposals.

Says his first measures besides increasing Ostrich meat production, would be to pay the debt,...would organize technical and artisans schools, free education all around, would lower taxes. Would give low interest credits to industry. And would also try to create a more stable monetary policy.

While less impressed with the candidacy, this entertainment writer does present another idea of the Count's:

He plans on building a "Whiskey-duct" running all the way from Scotland, cause if people are lit, they "don't strike, do protests or anything else like that." Makes about as much sense as building a big gasoduct through the Amazons.

Judge Yourself, Who's More Goofy Or More Presidential Looking?

Tip Of The Hat to
Global Voices Online

Israel, Lebanon: US Foreign Policy: WHERE HAVE YOU GONE RICHARD NIXON?

Old School Playa's - Tricky D. And Henry K Had The Skillz To Play The Game... Bush and Company Have No Game

He said If
You're gonna play the game, boy,
You gotta learn to play it right.

You've got to know
When to hold 'em,
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away,
Know when to run.
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done.

Now every gambler knows
The secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away
And knowin' what to keep.
'Cause every hand's a winner.
And every hand's a loser

The Gambler, Kenny Rogers, copyright 1978.

Instead of Bill Kristol, the relative youngsters in charge of foreign policy need to heed that great American philospher Kenny Rogers, who on a train ride learned a life lesson in playing the game from the wizened and cynical gambler. Our foreign policy could surely do better than the knee-jerk unilateralism, tough absolutist talk, us vs them pigeonholing of just about everyone, a Carteresque single-minded insistence on regime change, and a Wilsonian faith in forcing Democracy. This muddle ends up creating the kind of Bush silliness that caused the mess in Iraq, and which is hindering the whole Middle East policy.

Don't Hate The Playa Hate The Game

Kissinger and Nixon looked at the world from the perspective of power politics. They saw it all as part of a big game, where everyone -big and small- had major and minor interests. The smart ones figured out what everyone more or less wanted, and playing cards right would play others against each other. They saw bluffing as a fact of life, but knew you kept a loaded gun on the table, and shot when it was necessary. But, by acknowledging these realities, they knew that they could create situations where people killed each other less, and which advanced the U.S. national interest.

Metternich Would Have Loved This!

In the middle of the Cold War, Kissinger was negotiating with the North Vietnamese to find a war out of the Vietnam quagmire, at the same time the Nixon administration was working on detente with the Soviets, as well as a strategic opening to China. Each communist power was kept on edge whenever Kissinger was talking to the other one. The Vietnamese in the middle of a fight with the U.S. were totally nervous about losing the support of their two main superpower backers. When Nixon went to China in early 1972, it so unnerved the North Vietnamese that they launched a large conventional attack on South Vietnam, which was smashed by a major U.S. bombing campaign. But the Soviets worried about a possible US-China alliance and SALT talks, did not cancel Nixon's visit to the Soviet Union right after. In December, when the North Vietnamese were being stubborn in negotiations, the U.S. bombed Hanoi into cutting a deal almost immediately. Had congress not unilaterally abandoned U.S. military commitments to South Vietnam as set out in the deal, the US-supported Southern regime might have avoided defeat at Communist hands. But all-in-all, Kissinger/Nixon kept the Soviets in line for several years, while opening a line to China, which counter-balanced Soviet aims for the next two decades.

Lesson 1, Crisis As Opportunity
Taking advantage of the Cold War and the Vietnam War, Kissinger/Nixon used creative diplomacy, which included the threat of force to force new realities on the larger stage which favored U.S. interests The current Middle-Eastern crisis has the opportunity to push through this kind of re-alignment. You need to resolve immediate problems, at the same time you set long-term goals, dealing with the overall picture. Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy between Israel, Cairo, Damascus, and Moscow, stopped the 73 war, leaving the Israeli's thinking they had won, the Egyptians that they had restored their honor, and de-escalated a US-USSR confrontation. Long term it ended up pushing Egypt into the U.S. camp, secured Israel's gains, lessened Moscow's influence in the region, and contributed enormously to what became the Camp David Accords. In this crisis we need to secure a cease in the hostilities, while advancing long term goals including securing Israel's borders, securing Lebanon's future as a democracy, moving towards a Palestinian State, reducing Iran's role, neutralyzing Syria, and enhancing chances for peace in Iraq.

Lesson 2, The Mad Bomber, Carry a Big Stick and Speak Loudly...and Softly
If you have a reputation for using force unilaterally when your bottom line interests are threatened, that is not a bad reputation to have. When everyone in the region, thinks you back Israel's use of force, then damn well use that threat with everyone. Tell the Syrians, that Israel wants to bomb Damascus if Hizbullah keeps on getting supplied. Inform the Iranians that the Israeli's have free reign to bomb their nuclear weapons facilities, scare them into thinking you will do it yourself if need be. There is enough U.S. firepower in the region to make life miserable for the Mullahs.
Hamas and Fatah, already think that Israel has carte blanche in dealing with them, don't disabuse them of that notion. To Lebanon and Hizbullah, tell them that after a cease-fire, you can not and will not restrain Israel next time there is a kidnapping or even one Katyusha falls in Israeli soil. Play the whole "regime change" thing as a weapon. Tell Assad you will try to subvert his regime by supporting anti-Baath political and military forces. Ditto to the Iranians. Play up the boycott/sanctions talk. Make the Israeli's understand that this whole situation in the territories and Lebanon requires concessions on their part. Scare them a bit, tell them that all this negative press on their actions, harms U.S. interests in the region, and indicate that a re-thinking of U.S. policy might be in the cards.

Lesson 3: Talk To Everyone
You talk not only to Israel and Lebanon, you deal with the Syrians you talk to Iranians you talk to Hizbullah, you talk to the Palestinians. If you don't do it overtly, you do it behind the scenes, but always carry the credibility that you can make changes stick. Israel wants secure borders and no rockets pointed at it. The entire Arab and Islamic World wants a Palestinian state.
You get the Syrians to stop backing Hizbullah and/or rein them in. Offer them the carrot of making them players in the solution, and opening up their economy to aid. Get them to help with Hizbullah and the nasty insurgents in Iraq. Get them away from the Iranians, make the Iranians nervous.
Talk to the Iranians, do it openly if you have to. Just talking can make Syria and Hizbullah nervous as hell. Try to get a working modus-vivendi where they give up their nuclear ambitions in exchange for a greater opening to the West. Stay engaged, say you will tolerate a certain Iranian influence in Iraq, provided they reign in the Syrians. The greater issue is you want both Iran and Syria to lay off Israel, offer them incentives to do so. Go to Lebanon and tell the Hizbullahs, that you will recognize both the authority of the Lebanese government and Hizbullah as a legitimate political force in Lebanon, if Hizbullah disarms -- or at the very least destroys their missle umbrella pointed at Israel and built-up fortifications in South Lebanon. Try to play Nasrallah against the Iranian's, he might even be usefull to solve things with Iraq's Shiites. Tell the Israeli's that they have to withdraw from the West Bank, with the understanding that this will not happen while the Syria and Iran continue to help Hizbullah or Hamas in their quests to destroy Israel.

In the end.............
regimes like Syria and Iran, terrorists like Hamas and Hizbullah are nasty. But, unless the U.S. and its few allies, really have the will and strength to confront them directly, you have to use the cards you have right now. Refusing to deal face-to-face with the nasties, because of some Neo-con principle is silly at this point. A realistic and creative carrot and stick approach, with all the bluffing and poker faces involved, that divides and confuse these nasty players, can put the U.S. in the best long-term position. As Kenny Rogers said you have to know when to "hold", "fold" and "walk away", Nixon and Kissinger would surely approve.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Venezuela, Iran: Hugo Mete Mano A Mahmoud

Yahoo/Reuters Pic
Courtesy of Publius Pundit - Linked below.

Colombia: Uribe Increases Social Spending

As El Herald reports President Alvaro Uribe is proposing to Congress as part of his 2007 budget, 8.5 Billion dollars - a 40 percent increase from 2006 - allocated to investment in education, health, housing subsideies, social services, and help for those displaced by conflict.

Lebanon: TNR On Why Nasrallah is Popular

Great Article The In New Republic
This is something that I had not heard before:
Friday evening, at about 8:30, Nasrallah called in to Al Manar, Hezbollah's TV station. He sounded tired and sleep-deprived, like a man living underground. But his voice was firm, and the photograph that accompanied his speech showed, somewhat surreally, his trademark sunny, open smile. He began by offering condolences to the families of the martyrs, who had given their lives "in the noblest confrontation and battle that the modern age has known, or rather that all history has known." He taunted the Arab regimes that had abandoned him and reminded the Lebanese of the victory they had won on May 25, 2000, when Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon.

Then he did something no one from Hezbollah had ever done before. Reminding his audience that he had promised them "surprises," he announced that they would begin momentarily. "Now, in the middle of the sea, facing Beirut, the Israeli warship that has attacked the infrastructure, people's homes, and civilians--look at it burning," he said calmly, almost matter-of-factly. As he spoke, out at sea, an Iranian-made C802 missile crashed into the warship. We could see an orange glow, like flares, shooting up from the sea to the sky.

Everyone tuned in to Nasrallah that night. I live in a mixed Beirut neighborhood, not heavily Shia or even exclusively Muslim. But, when he spoke these words, from the buildings around me, I heard a surround-sound rustle of cheers and applause. Outside, caravans of cars rolled through the abandoned streets, and the drivers honked their horns.


Friday, July 28, 2006


Exhibit 1
So I am watching Greta Van Susteren on Fox News, and one of the correspondents cited the results of a poll that said that an overwhelming majority of the Israeli public supported Israel's prosecution of the war in Lebanon against Hizbullah. CNN put the numbers at 82% in support, 71% wanting Israel to get tougher. The Christian Science Monitor in this article, looked at the editorial pages of Israeli papers, great majority of Israeli pundits are pro-war - and actually want Israel to get tougher.

Exhibit 2 From the CSN
The stakes are high for Hizbullah, but it seems it can count on an unprecedented swell of public support that cuts across sectarian lines.According to a poll released by the Beirut Center for Research and Information, 87 percent of Lebanese support Hizbullah's fight with Israel, a rise of 29 percent on a similar poll conducted in February. More striking, however, is the level of support for Hizbullah's resistance from non-Shiite communities. Eighty percent of Christians polled supported Hizbullah along with 80 percent of Druze and 89 percent of Sunnis.

Why are people in the media, and government so damn surprised?
Israel is a small country, a good part of their population is under rocket attack by Hizbullah every day. They are a nation of citizen soldiers, many have fought in past wars and understand they are threatened by their neighbors. Now most Israeli's feel their country is under direct attack from an enemy, backed by powers that want them dead. And they want their military to strike back really, really, hard to kill the guys trying to kill them.

The Lebanese also feel their small country is under direct attack, as they watch their infraestructure being pounded, their countrymen dying and fleeing for their lives. Their national territory is again being invaded by their neighbor who had also trashed their country in the past and humilliated them by occupying a big chunk of their territory for years. No surprise they are backing the Lebanese guys pounding back at the Israeli's inside their country. That's their boys, no matter how much they have hated them in the past.

At this stage of the game you can't just assume that the Lebanese government representing its people's opinions are going to have the will and mandate to disarm Hizbullah. And on the other side you can not assume that the Israeli's will just agree to any ceasefire, and that any intransigence is due to their leaders. It is the public that forces the leaders hand. This is all one big scrap between neighbors who want to kill each other, either side could give a shit if enemy civilians get killed or what level of force is used. No one cares - at least now - who really started this immediate mess.
Its that simple, resolving it is complicated.

Bolivia: Drug War Policies Paralyzed? Cocaine Production Up?

Bolivian Drug Policy

President Evo recently made headlines by calling U.S. Drug War Certification "Blackmail". He was also reacting to press accounts, such as this one which talk of inaction in several of the governments anti-drug programs. On the one hand he has supposedly wanted to decriminalize certain commercial uses of the coca plant, but has not even advanced legislation to do so. Even worse is his failure to order a comprehensive review of the coca crop in Bolivia.

As the AP article states, this study would determine the size of Bolivia's coca crop needed to sustain the legal industry and traditional consumption. Since 1987 the law mandates that the "legal" coca grown is fixed at 12,000 hectaeres, with 14,500 remaining to be erradicated. MAS position has long been that the demand for legal coca is higher than that allowed. Evo fought tooth and nail for years against efforts to bring in certain institutions he thought too close to Washington, including U.S. Universities to conduct the study. He long said he wanted truly independent agencies to do it, and made a campaign issue out of it. But now, no one has been hired to even do it. What happens in the meantime, is that no one has any fixed numbers of what or how much to eliminate.

No Erradication = Increase?
Sources within the U.S. and Bolivian Drug Enforcement community cited in a Washington Times article, point out worrying trends in Bolivia's cocaine production. Some relate directly to Evo Morales policies. To begin with "the CIA's counternarcotics center" estimates "that Bolivian coca plantations have grown 8 percent in the past year. However if erradication efforts are currently going as Garcia Linera stated, it probably will off-set any growth.

Specific Evo Policies - Decentralizing Sales
Critics say new programs allowing farmers to cultivate small plots of coca are contributing to the rise in cocaine production.

Legal analysts say the government has violated international agreements with decrees that allow the free sale of coca and the auction of confiscated leaf shipments.

This might be overstating it a bit. Proper regulation of the open coca markets, which mainly lie in certain areas of the country, is not impossible. The growers federations arguably have the power and enforcement capabilities to do it now.

More Cocaine?
Counternarcotics officials say the number of cocaine laboratories in Bolivia has almost doubled in the seven months since Evo Morales, a former coca grower and organizer of coca-farming syndicates, was elected president.

The Special Force to Fight Crime and Narcotraffic (FELCN) said more than 2,000 cocaine laboratories making paste or refined powder were uncovered during the first half of this year. A total of 2,575 laboratories were discovered during all of last year.

The government also argues that the FELCN figures reflect stepped-up interdiction efforts. But agency officers point to a spread of makeshift labs, which generally are set up near coca plantations, into areas of the country where drug production had largely disappeared.

One problem, I have is that the author refers to laboratories "making paste or refined powder" which is very misleading. Very, very few laboratories producing refined powder have operated on Bolivian soil, normally one or two are busted a year. The overwhelming majority of the labs caught are primitive operations that process the leaf to a liquid form then to a paste, which is then shipped out to more advanced labs - many in Brazil- where the drug is refined.

Regardless, the number of labs busted is a cause for concern. As a point of comparison, in years when Bolivia's coca crop was more than twice the size of todays, that was roughly the same number of laboratories caught. And that was when there was a larger and more agressive anti-drug effort.

Growing And Expanding?
"Cocaine production is moving to six new areas between the central Chapare Valley and eastern lowlands in Santa Cruz and Beni, where it had been largely eliminated during the 1990s," said a counternarcotics analyst who spoke on the condition he not be identified.

My Take
First of all, this Washington Times article, has leaks written all over it, possibly from from the D.E.A. and/or State Department's anti-narcotics office. South American policy seems to be have shifted to Foggy Bottom, specifically to Undersecretary Shannon's desk. The leaks were obviously timed to coincide with Garcia Linera's visits, and might be an effort to undermine Shannon.
As far as the statements made. There is serious indications that MAS and Morales are not doing much in terms of erradication. Part of that is no doubt attributable to the headaches the Evo-government got itself into by its nationalization of hydrocarbons, elections for the constituent assembly, and the current land crisis. The other is Morales fear of confronting his own core base, some of whom might turn on him if he tries to do much.

But the coca issue has to be dealt with, Bolivia needs good relations with the US there are hundreds of millions of dollars and more than 50,000 jobs involved. At the very least starting the study process, goes a long way in showing commitment to end illegal trafficking, and can provide rational justifications for legal cultivation. That can calm Evo's base, or at least see where resources need to be allocated to, in order to placate farmers who might be out of income. It also will set realistic goals for erradication, and the difficult negotation that will involve. The issues are complicated, but not insurmountable.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Bolivia: Did Evo Really Blow It With The US???

Mr. Garcia Linera Goes To Washington
Bolivia's Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera went to Washington with quite a big mission, to improve relations with the United States. Just a week before President Evo Morales, as Guillermo Martinez in Diario De Las America's, pointed out, appealed to the European Union asking for help in negotiations and dialogue with the United State. Garcia Linera, reputedly close to Morales and with the credibility of an ex-guerilla leader and top MAS strategist, was understood in D.C. to come with the authority of Bolivia's top leadership to get things done.

Joined by some opposition members, government officials, and business leaders, and with an increasing reputation as a pragmatist he tried to get his message across, writing in the Miami Herald, Pablo Bachelet summarized the message:
García Linera brought a soothing message to Washington: that the Bolivian government is fully committed to democratic principals and to fighting drug trafficking, and that foreign investors had little to fear, despite a recent nationalization of the Andean country's oil and gas.

The timing seemed right. As stated before , the Bush Administration has much bigger fish to fry, and Bolivia is at the very end of its priorities. A landlocked and impoverished South American country poses little threat in comparison to the usual suspects in the Middle East getting headlines these days. Basically, the government of Bolivia could get one of the best shots in Washington it has had in decades, and if it presented its case adequately might sway some skeptics.

We Are Not Chavez!
This all has to viewed in the context of Evo's relationship with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez anti-US rhetoric, and polarizing role in South America. Garcia Linera tried to deliver a message that Evo was not a "Chavez clone", and is pretty much his own man. Evo's anti-American rhetoric could be spun away as a public posture, his more pragmatic side was on display in Washington D.C. Whether this attempt was helped or not by the simultaneous spectacle of Chavez cavorting with Castro in Argentina, and then going on a weapon-buying spree to Russia is debatable. But at least the idea could be transmitted from the guerilla-turned-statesman that the Bolivian government was pragmatic and possibly could be weaned away from the Venezuelan leaders side.

We Like Capitalism!
Garcia Linera delivered the standard line that the recent decrees on nationalization of oil and gas, was not nationalization, but in fact mostly a re-negotiation of established contracts. He further stated that the Morales administration was "not interested in a majority presence of the state in other areas of the economy." Meaning the economy will for the most part be a market economy, and hinting at future measures like judicial protection for foreign investment. At a time of rising oil prices, re-negotiation of production contracts does not sound too unreasonable, particularly when the aggrieved parties are mostly companies from Brazil and Europe.

Ok, What Do You Really Want?
The prime motive of García Linera's trip was to lay the groundwork to extend the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act that expires in December. The act gives Bolivia preferential access to the U.S. market and aims to promote a non-drug-trafficking economy

The Act allows Bolivia's soy exports and textiles, to enter the U.S. duty free, as well as contributing 10's of millions of dollars for fighting drug trafficking. It is estimated that Bolivia gains something like 300 million dollars a year and provides 50,000 to 100,000 jobs. According to Bachelet the Bolivian government's aim was to "extend the trade pact for at least another year as the constituent assembly finishes its work." Current U.S. policy is to replace these provisions with free trade pacts. Garcia Linera could argue with somewhat of a straight face that with the project of re-writing the Constitution expected to last a year, entering into a major a free trade treaty without a firm constitutional regime in place was impossible. Reality is that Evo Morales has pretty much sworn not to enter into a free trade pact with the U.S. Is it possible that Garcia Linera hinted at a subsequent rethinking down the road? A year is a long time after all, politicians do change their stripes as Garcia Lineras own example shows.


But no sooner did Garcia Linera leave D.C., that a storm broke out. Morales speaking at the 19th anniversary of Bolivia's Special Drug Fighting Forces, blasted American drug policies as "blackmail". Specifically he was speaking of the U.S. governments policy of certifying countries that fight against narcotics trafficking and to recent international press accounts that faulted Bolivia's efforts in that regard. Martinez describes the reaction Evo's comments had among the Washington policymakers that Vice President Garcia Linera had spoken to:

If in any moment congressional leaders or Bush administration officials thought that it was possible to improve relations with Bolivia, these expectations were dashed rudeluy by Morales words. Instead of improving the relations between La Paz and Washington, Garcia Linera's trip left a sour taste among the people with whom I speak to in Wahsington. It is hard to improve relations with a government that sends an envoy to build bridges, to immediately blow them up by statements of its own president.

That is the bottom line, the aid package depends on erradication of Coca. Evo's statements were about coca erradication. The worst moments in U.S.-Bolivian relations since 1978 have all been about Bolivia's role as a supplier of the coca leaf and at one point producer and exporter of cocaine. Early U.S. opposition to Evo Morales is not based on his being a leftist, rather it was as a leader of the coca growers federation.
García Linera did put a good face on current Bolivian anti-coca efforts. Published accounts in the Herald and the Washington Times quote him a saying that the government plans to erradicate coca were going ahead, with 62 acres erradicated daily, a reduction of about 15 percent in the next months. But as both stories point out, part of Bolivia's anti-drug policies are paralyzed through government inaction, and there are serious indications that there is an increase in cocaine production.

Ultimately the issues are complicated, but not insurmountable. They require regulating the coca market, planning and enacting a realistic erradication policy. They require a concerted effort and committment by Evo Morales and MAS. Merely railing at the U.S. gets you nowhere, particularly when more than 50,000 jobs might be on the line. At the very least the government could have opened a dialogue, that like everything else ends up in negotiation. But Morales seems to have wrecked even that beginning.

Nicaragua: 800,000 Nicaraguans Don't Have Voter I.D.

As Reported in Diario Las Americas civic groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and Women's groups, said that 800,000 Nicaraguans do not have the Voter I.D. needed to vote. The CSE (Electoral Counsel is in possession of 300,000 which have not been picked up, and 500,000 residents have not requested it. And the deadline for registration is on August 6. President Bolaños publically implored Students to register, "no matter who they vote for," a call repeated by the Bishop of Managua, Monsignor Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano.

Lebanon: Updates, Were Hizbullah Using UN Observers For Cover?,

Canadian Observer Had Sent Email Saying So
Retired Canadian General Lew MacKenzie — who is speaking in Toronto tonight at a Stand with Israel rally — was interviewed on CBC Toronto radio this a.m.
He told the show’s anchor that he had received an e-mail only days before from the dead Canadian observor who was a member of his former battalion. MacKenzie says that the message indicated in effect that the UN position was being used as cover by Hezbollah, who, MacKenzie explained, can do so quite freely as they are not members of the UN and not subject, therefore, to official condemnation

Bottom Line: That is a Canadian General, interviewed on Canadian radio, and those are the words of one of the men who unfortunately died. That is some pretty strong stuff there, and needs to get out there every time the UNIFIL story comes out.

Miami: New Controversy, Vamos A Miami!

Vamos a Miami Contest
Sex and the Beach has the following contest:

In the spirit of democracy and freedom of speech, Sex and the Beach is proud to announce its first writing contest ever! Let's tell our children what life is really like in Greater Miami and the Beaches! Help us get this book banned before it even hits the shelves!
Hit the Link Below For Rules

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Miami: Vamos A Cuba - Judge Smacks Down Board, Frank Bolanos Campaign Steams Along

As anyone with half a brain predicted, the Judge ruled against the Miami Dade School District in this 89 page decision, which is a preliminary injunction against the School Board, and in favor of the ACLU , ordering that the books be replaced and barring their removal, pending a full trial. You pretty much have to almost prove your entire case to get an injunction, that makes it very likely that the Court will rule the same at a full trial.

What The Court Considered
Basically the Court said the removal of the books was based on disagreement with the content of the book, and violated free speech. In making its ruling, the Court, looked at the record, including minutes of meetings, and each sides memo's of law, and made some interesting findings of fact:
The board changed its position – from the available record of its meetings – from trying to remove the book based on its “distortions” of Cuban reality, being “hurtful” to the Cuban-American community to later claim it wanted to remove it based on “errors” and/or “omissions” which justified removal on "pedagogical reasons."
That any claim that the book was part of the school curriculum and subject to review by a schoolboard was wrong, since the book was not part of the curriculum, or even used in assignments.
The board refused to even consider the findings of the process mounted by the administrators to mediate, and rejected the specific “less-intrusive” compromises by the administration, which is important when dealing with free speech restrictions.
Evidence showed school board acting in an “ad-hoc” manner, instead of strictly and consistently sticking to educational procedures, which lends weight to the board wanting to remove it because it disagreed with the content of the book.
In plain English, the board really messed up by doing and saying all sorts of things which pretty much proves that people didn’t like what was said in the book, and did everything it could to try to remove it.

Its All About Frankie B's Campaign
As I have said repeatedly, what may have started as a genuine complaint by a parent who had been in Castro’s dungeons and had all the right in the world to feel offended, was turned into a farce, by Bolanos who seized and ran with the issue to inflame passions in the community, and get as much press time as he could to build up his campaign.

In this on-point article, unsurprisingly from outside of Dade County, the Saint Petersburgs Times pretty much lays down how much politics is involved:
Was politics behind the vote?
Frank Bolanos is the School Board’s most outspoken critic of the book. He also is running for a seat in Tallahassee against Alex Villalobos, the former Miami Cuban darling of the Republican-controlled state Senate.
Three other board members who voted against the book are running for re-election to the board.

Frankie B.Politicking? Noooooooooooooo!....
“This book should never have been allowed to be inserted in our public school libraries,” Bolanos said. Barely hiding a political agenda, he warned board members that they faced a choice of voting “with the Cuban community (or) ... against the Cuban community.”

Local blogger Stuck on The Palmetto has an interesting video where Frankie and his posse set up a press conference, no doubt to keep the controversy alive, and get a little bewildered by a local reporters question about what everyone in the community thought about the controversy. Ever the statesman, Bolanos has a nice response, bound to please:

the feedback that I get back from taxpayers from all segments from our community is that public dollars and taxpayer dollars should not be used to buy Communist propaganda. Thank you

Frankie B. Rolls On To Tallahasee!
Whatever press he gets, Frank sees the prize at hand, and gets it done! Stuck On The Palmetto links to the Herald story where "Alejandro Rizzo, a Miami-Dade school assistant principal and staunch supporter of Frank Bolaños", has just registered as a Democrat candidate for election. Had no Democrat registered in what is a essentially a Republican district, the Republican primary would have been open to all voters. OTP shows convincingly how tied in Rizzo is to Frankie B.'s electoral machine.

Humberto Fontova - Shrill Shill For Franky B.
The sometimes amusing, and often wacko, Humberto Fontova, is obviously impressed by the sage of South Miami, and goes to heap all sorts of praise on Frankie B. in not one, but two columns. And he quotes from the great man's column as well:

Typically, Frank Bolanos, the Cuban-American school board member who urges the "book banning," understands and appreciates the U.S. Constitution better than most of his native-born journalistic and legal opponents, with all their multifarious and glittering LLD degrees.
"This is not a First Amendment issue," Bolanos wrote. "Censorship occurs when government refuses to allow people to purchase material, not when it refuses to provide that material at no charge."
Mr. Bolanos – again, unlike his illustrious and mega-credentialed native-born foes – understands and reveres America's founding fathers. Thus he quotes Thomas Jefferson: "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."
Alas, by bringing up Thomas Jefferson in attempting to influence the ACLU and the teachers unions, Mr. Bolanos erred grievously. The ACLU's founder and guiding light seemed to prefer Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin. And the teachers unions probably think Thomas Jefferson was the latest runner-up on "American Idol."

WOW, that is such a load of crap! LMAO, that is either the most shameless shill job for Frankie, or Fontova ingested too much swamp gas in the bayou to miss the obvious. And that is not even going into the "substance" of his arguments in both columns - if there was any substance.
Actually, I was going to quote the second article's shout out to Frankie B. but Bert here doesn't bother changing the ending paragraph, as his Lew Rockewell and Newsmax Article end with the same paragraph. Damn, Frankie gets the hookup-twice!

BOLIVIA: EVO WATCH Evo Says Catholic Church Acts Like Inquisition

No One Expects The Evo Inquisition!
Evo compared the Church to the "Inquisition". In Spanish here, and from the Miami Herald Wire Services


LA PAZ - President Evo Morales said some members of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy are behaving as if they were in ''the times of the Inquisition'' Tuesday as he defended his government's plan to remove Catholicism as the sole religion taught in schools.
Morales' comments came a day after Education Minister Félix Patzi referred to Catholic ''monsignors'' as ''liars'' and said they have been serving the oligarchy for the 514 years since Spain colonized the country.
''I want to ask the [church] hierarchies that they understand freedom of religion and beliefs in our country,'' Morales told reporters. ``It's not possible to impose their views.''

My Take: Evo is walking a tightrope, to some part of his making. On the one hand, the Church does have a Costitutionally-favored status, which seems rather illiberal and antiquated. But, Evo appointed a radical like Patzi to run education, and the guy is trashing the Church hierarchy, insulting many traditional Catholics in the process. And, the growing Evangelical churches are also worried, because they fear that the curriculum will now be expanded to teach Aymara and Quechua religious practices as semi-official religions. Unlike Catholics who have long winked at the populations "dual" belief systems, many protestants strictly discourage the practice of indigenous religious as being pagan abominations. They would rather have Catholicism as an official doctrine, than any endorsement of Pachamama.

Lebanon: Hizbullah As Charity Or Political Party

Or A Whole Bunch Of Things

Last night I heard Anderson Cooper, go on and on about how Hizbullah provides social services and charity for people in Lebanon, something repeated quite a bit. That is a shallow observation that misses a major point. Hizbullah, besides being an international terrorist group and paramilitary force in Lebanon, is a Lebanese political party.
Samuel Huntington, before his latino-phobia and civilization clash rhetoric, had some very interesting things to say about political parties, in his classic study Political Order In Changing Societies. He stresses the importance of modern political parties, which reflect popular participation, in developing societies and/or countries in transition. The relevant passage concerns countries where there is little political stability:
Where traditional political institutions collapse or are nonexistent, the role of the party is entirely different from what it is in those polities with institutional continuity. In such situations strong party organization is the only long-run alternative to the instability of a corrupt or praetorian or mass society. The party is not just a supplementary organization; it is instead the source of legitimacy and authority. In the absence of traditional sources of legitimacy, legitimacy is sought in ideology, charisma, popular soveirgnity. To be lasting, each of these principles of legitimacy must be embodied in a party. Instead of the party reflecting the state, the state becomes the creation of the party and the instrument of the party. The actions of government are legitimate to the extent that they reflect the will of the party. The party is the source of legitimacy because it is the institutional embodiment of national sovereignty, the popular will, or the dictatorship of the proletariat.

While Huntington was criticized for what appears to be at least a soft-endorsemenet of totatitarian parties, this part of his analysis seems to fit Hizbullah like a glove. Lebanon was a cluster of different factions, its politics was based on tribal affiliation and it was pretty corrupt. The Shia for a long time were excluded.
Hizbullah stepped into the void with its roots in the Shia population of Southern Lebanon, appealed to disenfrachised voters, based on its version of the Shiite religion, the personality of its leader, as well as its no holds barred fight against Israel. The fact that many Shiite's have voted for it in previous Lebanese elections shows that it is viewed as the legitimate representatives for many people.

More than a charity arm in many parts of Lebanon they are the state. And if the state was not in an area they created it. In a village they are the mayors, city council, school board, parish mullah, public health board, hospital administration, police department, and garbage collectors. They provide patronage and charity like a Chicago ward boss of old, except they do it with the efficiency of a United Way, backed with the resources of modern corporations, and the control of a strict religious sect. And much like a big city boss, they know they can count on people in their localities to vote for them, as well as help them when the time comes.

This ultimately is the problem with fighting what by any means looks to be an extremely well-organized political party, with a solid base, backed around a common religion. Maybe they can be expelled from their southern base, and their military wing can be defeated, but they will not go away. To some extent they are also an extra-territorial organization with supporters around the world.

While many religious leaders are also party officials, there is a significant secular leadership at the local and national level. So an individual who is a doctor or teacher, might also be the equivalent of a precint captain in a local village. That kind of secular, civilian leadership is almost impossible to eliminate. And even in situations where large parts of the population are forcibly resettled or flee, those networks are fairly easy to recreate. In an extreme case, they can go underground even under occupation, and rebuild their networks in total silence.

Further Reading
Helena Cobban from The Christian Science Monitor has this great article, in the Boston Review Hizbullah’s New Face, In search of a Muslim democracy

Lebanon: Comments And Observations From A Real And Virtual War

Need some clear-headed thinking!
You are already hearing criticism of the Israeli military for failing to kick out Hizbullah from the border area. Maybe there is an issue with the timing. While the planning might have been there, wonder if the timing was dictated by the leaderships need to strike quick in response to Hizbullah provocation. That would not afford the time to mobilize the amount of troops needed, or to clarify the battle order. It is in these situation where issues with command and control happen, including friendly fire deaths and possibly the U.N. troops killed.
Overall, what we are hearing from accounts from some front-line soldiers is how tough Hizbullah are. That should be no surprise. What is interesting is that these accounts come from a relatively small area of what really is a broad front, where the international press has access. Israel's government is managing the information from the front much like the U.S. did in Iraq, offering up sound-bite friendly battles. The I.D.F. has some seriously battle-hardened, and extremely tough troops who we hear nothing of, unlike the green troopers who are interviewed in the U.S. media. You can bet the elite forces are fighting all over the South of Lebanon - and beyond - and we are not hearing anything about it.
US Congress
How ridiculous it is for some Democrats to call for the Iraqi P.M. to condemn Hizbullah. That is another version of U.S. arrogance, that we see displayed in the Bush administration and its acolytes in the media and blogosphere. No one likes a sell-out. He is a Shia - no way in hell is he going to condemn people fighting Israel. We put up with much worse from the Saudis and just about every other "friendly" Middle Eastern regime. That is just being realistic, you do that kind of work behind the scenes. Attitudes change over a long period of time, and forcing people to make public statements that will earn them hatred at home is stupid.
Lebanese Army
Speaking of unrealistic, this whole crazy idea in Israel and the U.S. that the Lebanese military should somehow fight Hizbullah is plain nuts. Besides the obvious fact that many Shia troops would probably go over to the militias, there is the issue of Hizbullah's military strength and vast civilian network, which the I.D.F. could not smash with overwhelming firepower. As it stands right now, Israel hitting the Lebanese army (as well as the infraestructure) has angered many non-Shiite Lebanese to the point where some might be willing to fight Israeli's.
Many of these same voices were happy when the Syrians left. Lets get real, the Syrian military presence in Lebanon kept Hizbullah in line, that balance of power is gone. The Lebanese in the north lived with an imperfect situation, having to deal with an organized and strong Hizbullah. But overall there seemed to be a modus vivendi where each side did its own thing, and everyone intermingled in Beirut. It is very hard to blame many Lebanese, Shiite, Sunni, Christian, or Druze for dealing with this accomodation, 20 years of war is pretty darn long to not want to just live in peace.

Meanwhile...In A Cave In The Afghanistan Pakistan Border

Osama Bin Laden And Mini Bin

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Lebanon: Alvaro Vargas Llosa On Lebanon

As the punishment of South Lebanon continues, and the Lebanese roads continue being bombed, Alvaro Vargas Llosa who just visited Lebanon, has some pointed words:

As I traveled in Lebanon two weeks ago, four things struck me: the almost miraculous reconstruction of Beirut; the free-thinking cosmopolitanism of its middle class; the spirit of peaceful coexistence among the various religious groups, thanks in part to the open-mindedness of much of the Sunni population.

Lebanon was obviously making progress. Its legendary entrepreneurial drive was back. Even with an economy not fully recovered from a civil war that reduced the country's GDP by half, one sensed a spirit of optimism. People were planning all sorts of personal projects—an unmistakable sign of civil society, whether it be opening new bars on Beirut's Monot Street or, as Nada, an assistant working at a cultural institute, had just done, persuading a publisher to start an imprint devoted to translations of Spain's modern literature

The Kind Of Damage That Destroys The Spirit
All of this progress has now been reduced to rubble. The infrastructure that took billions of dollars to rebuild is being pulverized. The institutions that managed to hold the internal peace are being blown away. The confident embrace of the outside world is dissipating.

Israel's response places collective guilt on an entire society for the atrocities of a minority of which that society is itself the victim.

My Take
It almost takes a Latin American to fully appreciate the value of basic infraestructure. I lived in Managua, Nicaragua which was hit with an earthquake which destroyed downtown, followed by one (actually 2) civil wars, and economic disasters. We lived without much of a proper city, and watched the downtown area crumble away as a fact of life for 2 decades, even called it las ruinas (the ruins) as if it were an archeological dig.
Bad roads, lousy airports, too few bridges were also a fact of life in the poorer countries of Latin America. You first of all want basic maintenance, then improvements - which can even mean paved roads. But, when you go through civil wars and stuff like road blockades, on top of economic crisis, it just kills hope that anything will ever get repaired, much less improvements built.
For the Lebanese to have rebuilt their cities, and all those roads is just a monumental triumph, and I think that is part of Vargas Llosa frustration. I can not for the life of me begin to even think of the rage that many Lebanese feel now that these facilities and buildings just recently rebuilt, have just been pulverized by the Israeli's. To come out of decades of disaster to finally feel some sense of hope, and to have it dashed like this is simply cruel. And for the people of Beirut - particularly those in the South - to see their city being reduced to rubble every day , it must be unimaginable.
Tip Of The Hat to
Publius Pundit

Cuba: After Castro What Kind Of Transition To Democracy?

Interesting article appeared in the Diario De Las Americas by noted Cuban exile scholar Jorge Sanguinetty who was once a central planner in Castro's Havana and as a consultant has advised third world countries and Eastern block nations in their transitions to market-based systems.
Dr. Sanguinetty makes the comment that Cubans talk and write little about the future of Cuba. What that means is that everybody talks and writes, but nobody is making any serious and realistic plans in planning for a transition to democracy, for when the regime falls, from public policy, legal and economic standpoints.
La realidad es que son pocos los cubanos que están pensando seriamente, y debo subrayar seriamente, en el futuro del país y pocos los que están haciendo algo verdaderamente eficaz por ese futuro.

He claims that any plans seem to assume that the power structure of the regime has fallen, never considering the fact that when Castro dies, the power structure in place will be that of the Communist party.

Por otra parte, los planes nunca incluyen una estrategia de cómo llegar a gobernar después que el tirano pierda las riendas del poder. Los “planes” existentes incluyen elementos sobre lo que se debe hacer una vez se llegue al poder, siempre bajo la hipótesis de trabajo, explícitamente planteada o no, de que en el primer día de una nueva era, de una transición, habrá un gobierno dispuesto a cambiar la organización actual del estado basada en un gobierno tiránico.

He sees it broken down into 2 different problems. 1. How to get to power, 2. How to use that power to create a real democracy and avoid the problems that faced countries like Russia.

El hecho es que nos enfrentamos a dos grandes desafíos para los cuales no sólo no estamos preparados sino que no nos estamos preparando. Uno es cómo llegar al poder. El otro desafío es cómo usar el poder para montar una verdadera democracia y evitar las trayectorias que han seguido países como Rusia y otras repúblicas ex soviéticas. Me parece que es ocioso ahora tratar de explicar las causas de esta situación. Voy a tratar de ir directamente a cómo corregirlas.

1. Needs to be communication between the exiles with dissidents on the island. If not Cuba will simply have a government of succession.
La manera de enfrentar el primer desafío es que los cubanos del exilio comiencen a comunicarse con los cubanos de la isla que desean una democracia

Si los cubanos disidentes y/u oposicionistas no pueden llegar a un plan de acciones coordinadas con los cubanos exilados, ambos están condenando a Cuba a tener un gobierno de sucesión.

2. There has to be an open dialogue, between all pro-democracy forces to set the parameters of what kind of country they want, what measures to take the first day, the first week of a transition.

El segundo desafío hay que enfrentarlo de una manera similar, aunque separadamente. Para hacerlo hay que comenzar un diálogo amplio, entre los que creemos en la democracia y las libertades civiles, sobre qué clase de país queremos, qué problemas enfrentará un gobierno de transición, qué medidas hay que tomar el primer día, la primera semana y las sucesivas. Aunque existe mucho material en este aspecto del futuro de Cuba, la inmensa mayoría de los cubanos lo ignora.

My Take
Certainly seems to be on target here. Outside of some scholarship, have not seen much writing on the regimes internal workings. Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a whole bunch of material writtten by people who pored over Pravda, looking for those little clues put out by the Politburo. Back in the 80's the Cuban American National Foundation had some really good publications, including debriefings of recent defectors who commented on the politicial-military situation . Now there seems to be much less of that, and most of what is disseminated comes from the press. That makes it hard to get a good read on what is going on in the circles of power, namely the Communist Party. Any signals sent out, get lost.

Then there seems to be a big disconnect between pro-democracy movements in the island and many exiles. There is no back and forth conversation. From the time of Perestroika to the final fall of the Soviet Empire, many exiles from Russia, Baltic Republics, Poles, Armenians, Czech's, Hungarians, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Slovenia rushed back to their home countries, and networked extensively with those fighting the regime. This exchange helped both sides, and certainly eased the transitions a bit - with varying degrees of success. But the lesson seems to be that engagement is a good option.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Latin America: What Is It With Pseudo-Revolutionaries And Birds??? Chavez, Sub-Comandante Marcos

Whats Up With That???

What is it with these dressed up birds??? Its one thing to have a falcoln, but dressing up parrots is kind of like playing with dolls IMO. Pancho Villa and Zapata at least had horses. Then you have Sub-comandante Marcos and his rooster-turned-Penguin, Pinguino, which I chronicled extensively
some time ago. He even took him on tour. That is kind of cool, but the parrot is just disturbing.

Globalization: Israelis and Lebanese are still talking - on the Net

Interesting article in the Jersualem Post about how Lebanese and Israeli bloggers find themselves talking in real time about what is going on in each-other's backyards.
Diplomatic talks between Israel and Lebanon may appear distant, but virtual talks between Lebanese and Israeli nationals are gathering steam daily on the Internet. Hundreds are signing on daily to blog, chat and post about the ongoing violence, with many finding new ways to relate to one another.

Obviously, there is the usual smackdown/hate magnified with the real life emotions of people at war, but somewhere there seems to be a real exchange of information between younger people, which at least serves as another source of direct information, that might challenge official or ideological positions by the combatants.
Middle Eastern bloggers sprang into action within hours of the initial violence, exchanging photos via Web sites such as, and long message strings on sites such as There have also been chat rooms set up by Jewish and Lebanese bloggers to allow for real-time communication between the two communities.

For many, the attraction of going on-line has to do with connecting with one another without the third party filter that a media outlet generally provides. "I wanted to know what they were thinking, especially people my age," Shira. "I don't know any politicians or important military guys. The only people for me to appeal to are my peers

Click For Yourself:
There is even a site, On The Face started by a young Israeli blogger, Lisa Goldman, which links posts from both countries including those on Lebanese Bloggers. Really, really, interesting first-hand stuff there.
"It's important to note that this community existed for some time before the war broke out," said Lisa Goldman, who has used her blog,, to publicize Israeli-Lebanese blogging since the current crisis broke out. "We have tons of things in common. We come from two of the most liberal, educated countries in the Middle East. Many of us received a western education. We have talked, wrote, and dreamed about open borders between our countries."

Venezuela: Chavez-Watch: Hugo Goes To Russia And Iran

Hugo's Excellent Adventure

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is currently on a world tour that is likely to widen the rift with the United States - but may win him further support for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
He arrived in Belarus on Sunday, from where he will continue to Russia, Qatar, Iran, Vietnam and Mali.
Mr Chavez is due to return to Venezuela on 2 August after nearly two weeks on the road.
What will interest diplomats at the US state department most is President Chavez's visits to Moscow and Tehran.

How Nuts Is He?
Even Chavistas are asking what the hell is going on in his head? Putin will sell him weapons and try to do some big dollar deals. Chavez might get some deals done, and find a kindred soul in the crackpot President of Iran, and exchange conspiracy theories. But the mullahs who really rule Iran, are not going to take this clown with his crazy schemes seriously. Iranian, and other Islamic Middle Easterners tend to be wary of loud-mouth Latin Americans - despite any kinship they might feel (or maybe because of it!).
Some think that Hugo might go visit Syria, which with this media-whore is a possibility. Algunos malpensados are already saying that maybe he might want to take a detour to Lebanon, and stand in the middle of South Beirut dressed up as a rocket launcher.

Chile: Pinochet Opponents Murdered At Nazi Camp

Testimony confirms that the very creepy Pinochet regime murdered dissidents at the commune-farm set up by ex-Nazi Guru and convicted child molester, Paul Schaefer.

Associated Press

SANTIAGO, Chile - At least 22 dissidents who disappeared more than three decades ago under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet were killed at a secretive German colony and their bodies later burned with chemicals, the government-owned La Nacion newspaper reported Sunday.
The killings occurred during the two months after the Sept. 11, 1973, military coup in which Pinochet toppled elected Marxist President Salvador Allende, the paper said. Pinochet ruled until 1990.

This place was sick, there are some extremely horrible accounts of torture chambers inside the colony.

The commune-like Dignity Colony was founded by German immigrants in southern Chile. Its leaders were accused of allowing Pinochet's security service to use it for the detention, torture and execution of dissidents. Leader Paul Schaefer, who founded the colony in the early 1960s, is serving a 20-year-old prison term on a conviction for sexually abusing 26 children at the enclave.

Lebanon: Hizbullah Nasrallah Speaks

Nassrallah interviewed in Al Jazeera had this to say on July 20th, in a fairly long discussion. Threw in some randoms comments and highlighted what I found interesting:
Effects of Israeli Bombardment Repeated what everyone knows, if Katyusha's are still firing, it means there is no way that 50 percent of rocket capabilities are destroyed.
The Israeli talk that they hit 50 per cent of our rocket capability and warehouses--all of this is untrue and nonsense. Until this moment, they have not been able to hit anything in this context. I confirm this to you. The evidence is that the resistance has continued to fire rockets--not the regular Katyusha rockets that are fired on the frontline settlements--the resistance is still striking Haifa, Tiberias, Safad [Zefat] and deep [into Israel] as well. We control even the number of rockets that are fired. Today, the resistance can fire hundreds of rockets in a single day. There is no obstacle in the field despite the intensive air activity of the Zionists.

Battle Area
. [The battle] is taking place in the frontlines, the mountains, the valleys, and between the trees in a wide area.

On Hizbullah's Military Situation on The Ground
I think that if we take the picture of the military situation in general, I can confirm that Hezbollah has so far remained steadfast; secondly, it has managed to absorb the strike; thirdly, to move to the stage of taking the initiative; and fourthly, to offer some surprises, which it has promised. There is still a number of surprises, which we reserve to ourselves in the next stage. In the field, Hezbollah is still managing the battle calmly, slowly, quietly, and without any emotional reaction. You can see this. There are no unnecessary threats and no random rhetoric. We are following things closely and calmly and we calculate the time, place, number, capability, combat, point, front, and all details on the military level. This concerns the military aspect.

Might Have Admitted Some Launchers hit Also can be read to mean they have lost central command and control, as another line about not being able to get photographs of knocked out Israeli tanks.
You might wonder and says is it possible that no rocket launcher was hit. Neither me, nor anybody can claim that. There might be, for example, one or two were hit. After nine days, the strongest air force in the Middle East region and one of the strongest air forces in the world that have access to the airspace while we do not have the capabilities to face them at that level - an air force effectively and strongly present in various ways with the reconnaissance aircraft controlling the airspace of Lebanon - could not until this very minute even stop firing rockets or target the missile force. It is very evident.

Forward Bunkers Abandoned?. Interesting that he admits that their forward bunkers were abandoned upon kidnapping the Israeli solidiers. Implies that they have this whole thing set up.

The border posts are actually surveillance posts consisting of a column on which an antenna is attached and another on which a camera is placed. Beside these columns there is a room where one of our youth stays. This is simply what these posts are consisting of. These posts were evacuated right from the first day. If they come today to say that they destroyed frontline positions. They mean these places. If they say that occupied frontline posts, these posts exist along the barbed wires and we evacuated them since the first day when we captured the soldiers.

Expected Ground War pretty much admits they can't stop Israel from coming in. As much as people say that Israel has this all pre-planned, so did Hizbullah by setting up an offensive capability vs. Israeli territory and a defensive capability to resist a counter-force strike by Israel:

As for the ground attack option, it is possible that they might resort to it. We have been ready for it since the first day. I do not want to raise the ceiling of expectations and I do not u se speeches. We are fighting a serious battle. I did not say one day that the Israelis will be unable to enter any post in southern Lebanon. We are not a classic army extending from the sea to Mount Hermon. We are a popular and serious resistance movement that is present in many areas and axes. They might be able to enter a certain point or a village or conduct a large-scale ground operation. They might enter a mountain or a frontline village and claim a historical victory.

What They Think They Can Accomplish
seems like bloodying Israeli forces.

As for us, our equation and principles are the following: When the Israelis enter, they must pay dearly in terms of their tanks, officers, soldiers. This is what we pledge to do and we will honour our pledge, God willing.

Length of The Fight
Nassralah is banking on a short fight, citing the results of polls conducted by Western Embassies among Shia refugees from South Lebanon, he thinks this will convince the U.S. to rein in Israel after a short fight. Seems to think that public support within Israel will lessen if conflict drags on.
Why? If the opinion-poll teams see a sign of weakness and fragility, they will tell the Israelis to continue [their operations], that they can achieve their objectives, and that the war will not take a long time. It is not of their interest to fight for a long time. The US Administration, and other administrations, will build on that, and there will be no intervention.

We, on the other hand, are wagering on our steadfastness and that of our people, and on seeing a decline in the Israeli internal support for the military operation and on the pressures on the enemy's government, the beginning of which we began to see today.

Seems to think that Israel's position is that it can not defeat Hizbullah conventionally, and must negotiate some sort of solution.

Now, the Israelis began to talk about negotiations.
In the first day, they said that they want to destroy Hezbollah. A short while ago, I counted them to you and [words indistinct] politics. Now, even the Israeli officials do not use the language of destroying Hezbollah. There is not even the language of dismantling Hezbollah. Today, some sides talk about disarming Hezbollah, and other sides talk about weakening Hezbollah's missile force. Even the destruction of Hezbollah's military force is no longer a military target. The Israelis today know that through military force they cannot dismantle Hezbollah's military power or missile force. They have to deal with this through politics. This is an Israeli failure. Every Israeli failure is success to us. It is victory for us.

Ultimate Victory Measured By?
[Nasrallah] To succeed in defence is victory. How was victory achieved in 1996? The Israeli military operation did not achieve its objectives. This is it. Hezbollah remained and the resistance of Hezbollah remained. We were not the ones who began the war or the ones who launched a large-scale war. It is not from the first moment after we captured two soldiers that we began to shell Nahariya, Haifa, Tiberias, and Zefat and launched war. No. Even in advancing, the Israelis were much faster than us. We were patient in the hope that things would stop at this point because we do not want to take our country to war. However, they launched war and we went to war. Victory here does not mean that I will enter and capture northern Palestine and liberate Nahariya, Haifa, and Tiberias. This is not one of our rhetoric or slogans. This is a process that concerns the Palestinians and the nation. This is another issue. The victory we are talking about is that when the resistance survives. When its will is not broken then this is victory. When Lebanon is not humiliated and its dignity and honour are maintained, and when Lebanon stands fast alone in front of the fiercest military power and does not accept any humiliating conditions regarding a settlement of the issue, then this is victory. When we are not defeated militarily then this is victory

We know that we are fighting an army that defeated a group of Arab armies at one time. But we fought it and defeated it with God's help, and we are fighting it now. Consequently, our survival and steadfastness until now means victory. Our absorbance of the strike is victory, and our continuation with the confrontation is victory. In addition to this, when the Israelis begin to make concessions [then this means victory]. In the first day, there were no negotiations.

tip of the hat to Global Voices