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Location: Havana, Cuba

is a blog to give a fresh angle on a fascinating and beautiful Caribbean Island country that, despite being relatively small and with only 11 million people, has been a major player in American and world politics for a half century. I also suggest you try

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Cuba's Xmas Soured by US Injustice

By Circles Robinson*
December, 2005

As Cuba prepares to usher in the new year with celebrations for the 47th anniversary of the 1959 revolution on January 1, five men considered heroes on the island remain behind bars in the United States for daring to fight terrorism.

The misguided arrest of the Cuban Five in 1998 and the subsequent travesty of justice leading to their convictions on multiple unsubstantiated charges in 2001, once again puts an indignant damper on the island's Christmas and New Years merrymaking.

For the eighth consecutive New Years since Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and Rene Gonzalez were railroaded into US prisons both they and their families suffer from their separation, felt even more during the holiday season.

Meanwhile, an entire nation continues to demand their immediate release, backed by a 93-page August 9, 2005 appeals court ruling showing that they were sentenced after a biased trail in a politically charged and hostile Miami setting.

Instead of endangering US national security as the prosecution alleged, defense attorneys have maintained that the Cuban Five were dedicated to discovering plots by right wing Cuban-American organizations based in Miami with a long record of terrorist actions against the Cuban people and the island’s officials at home and abroad.

Cuba insists that a new trial outside Miami, as originally ordered by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals of Atlanta, would open a Pandora's Box for US law enforcement and intelligence agencies which have brazenly provided training, financed and encouraged terrorist acts against neighboring Cuba because the island refuses to give up its sovereignty.

Months prior to the Atlanta ruling, in May, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, created by the UN Commission on Human Rights, called the treatment of the Cuban Five "arbitrary" and "incompatible with the standards contained in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

While their case is an outrage for both US and international law, the Cuban Five are not alone.

The nonexistent rights of thousands of US political prisoners has reached new heights under the Bush administration with continuous revelations of torture, clandestine offshore prisons and a total absence of legal representation for individuals detained in Washington's so-called anti terror campaign.

Experts on the Cuban Five case believe public pressure, especially from within the United States, will sooner or later force Washington to come clean and release the Cubans it holds as part of a sort of Cold War inertia, which continues to sway its antiquated policy towards the island and includes a 45-year blockade.

For more information on the Cuban Five case contact:

*Circles Robinson is a US journalist living in Havana.

US Plots Cuba’s Future

By Circles Robinson
November, 2005

From the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 to dozens of failed CIA assassination attempts and a 45-year economic blockade, ten US administrations have tried nearly everything to eliminate President Fidel Castro and destroy the Cuban Revolution.

With the Cuban leader turning 79 last August and still capable of giving long speeches a few times a week there are concerns in Washington on whether plans for a so-called “post-Castro period” might be a little precipitous.

Take the last week or so for example. On Thursday November 17 Fidel stood at the podium for five hours in a live nationally televised address. On Wednesday the 24th the Cuban leader was live on the nightly Round Table program speaking for over four hours on a number of pressing energy, economic and ethical issues facing the country. Then on Friday the 26th he made an unplanned and extensive address to an economist’s congress once again touching on the present and future of the island.

The idea of an intervention to force a post-Castro Cuba to accept US tutelage and forgo its social and economic system has its detractors even in Florida, where right wing Cuban-American organizations are based.

“This is the same thinking that has led us astray before, and now in Iraq,” the Christian Science Monitor quoted Damian Fernandez, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, as saying in an article published on Nov. 27.

“A policy that is only defined based on the personality of Fidel Castro or his brother Raul is misguided,” says Fernandez. “It blinds us to real concerns that will affect US national interests and the future of Cuba,” added Fernandez in a conversation with the Monitor.

The latest chapter in the seemingly unending US hostility against the Caribbean island nation kicked off in May 2004 when the Bush administration released a 450-page plan on how to bring an end to the Cuban Revolution and swiftly take the island under Washington’s wings. In August 2005, the White House even named a Cuba “transition coordinator” with an office at the US State Department.

The all-embracing plan includes a swift confiscation of properties and putting them in the hands of US corporate interests and the Cuban exiles of the early 1960s and their heirs, who, by way of US legislation, have filed suits against the island in US courts. European, Canadian, and Latin American investors with joint investments in Cuba would join the average Cuban as the big losers.

Another controversial portion of the plan is its focus on US intervention to keep the vice-president from taking office if the president dies. An analogy given by some analysts is: What would have happened if a foreign power had intervened after the assassination of President John Kennedy to keep Vice President Lyndon Johnson from succeeding the president as provided in the US Constitution?

The Bush plan chastises “The Castro dictatorship” for maintaining a constitutional and socialist system on the island that guarantees the continuation of the revolution and its social and economic transformations.

“US policy must be targeted at undermining this succession strategy,” adds the administration’s plan for Cuba, in order to “hasten Cuba’s transition,” to US style democracy.

Some Cuba watchers write off the tough talk in the post-Castro plan as little more than a domestic political tactics, speculates the Monitor. “They say it was aimed at shoring up President Bush's flagging support among Cuban-Americans in Miami during last year's presidential election, when the plan was unveiled.”

Daniel Erikson, a Cuba expert at Inter-American Dialogue in Washington is quoted as saying, "The reality is the United States does not know that much about how to build democracy in the developing world."

The administration’s recent rebuff at the Summit of the Americas in Argentina, --where mass demonstrations greeted President Bush and his Free Trade Area of the Americas was all but buried-- are seen as the result of US imposed economic policies that have greatly increased poverty in the region.

Efforts by Cuba and Venezuela to promote an alternative development model based on mutually beneficial trade, and social and economic integration, could be at the core of the administration’s current fixation on the two countries.

Venezuela's Chavez Has US in a Tizzy

By Circles Robinson
November, 2005

On Tuesday November 22, the New York Times published an article titled: "Q&A: U.S.-Venezuelan Relations."The following piece asks the same questions but the answers are different.


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was in the limelight at the Summit of the Americas on November 4-5 after taking the lead role in burying the US-backed "Free Trade Area of the Americas." The scheme would have given US corporations a free hand at Latin American markets while farm and export subsidies and other bureaucratic regulations would continue to give US agriculture and manufacturing an advantage against imports from the South.

Speaking to the "counter summit", also held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, Chavez drew heavy applause from the tens of thousands gathered to find alternatives to fighting poverty and injustice. The Venezuelan leader put forth the "Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas" as the way to promote regional development based on social and economic investment and solidarity between sister nations. Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations told the NYT that Chavez was able to "step into a political vacuum the US has left by virtue of having such a myopic agenda for the hemisphere."


Chavez, a former army colonel, made his first attempt at reversing Venezuela's long history of corrupt rule in a failed 1992 coup against the government of Carlos Andres Perez. Released in an amnesty two years later, Chavez, already a national hero, swept to victory with 56.2 percent of the votes in the 1998 presidential elections on a platform of social and economic reforms. The following year his supporters drafted a new constitution to make possible a left turn, which was overwhelmingly approved by the voters. When the new constitution took force, Chavez had to once again stand election and in June 2000 he received 59.7 percent of the votes for a six year term.

In 2001, Chavez introduced new laws including land reform and changes in the fraud laden oil industry. Five months later a US-backed civilian-military coup removed him from office on April 11, 2002. When the new leaders graced by the White House held their first press conference they abolished the constitution, closed the legislature, and in one fell swoop reversed all the popular social and economic programs Chavez had instituted. While the Venezuelan media, virtually all private and pro-Washington, rejoiced, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans began to spontaneously assemble and converge on the city centers to demand Chavez' return. Two days later the junta fled Caracas under the thunder of massive demonstrations and, with a sizeable portion of the military supporting the democratically elected president, Chavez made his triumphant return from the island where he was held kidnapped.

Having failed to defeat him in both elections and through violence, the US and the local opposition turned to economic sabotage as the next step, paralyzing the nation's oil industry at the end of 2002.
While the nearly 2-month management strike cost the country billions, it too failed to bring down the popular government.

In 2003, the US decided to once again try the electoral route hoping the economic difficulties caused by the strike and supply shortages had softened up voters to finally oust Chavez. Millions poured into the opposition campaign via US-AID and NED. But the recall referendum in August, 2004 proved even more disastrous for Washington, with Chavez winning once again with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Under the 2000 Constitution a president can seek reelection for one additional period and Chavez is now expected by friends and foes alike to win easily in 2006.

When Chavez came to power he inherited a country wracked by corruption and poverty and excellent relations with the White House. With Washington's complacency and deals that favored US corporate interests, the two main parties AD and COPEI had squandered the country's vast oil wealth over decades and left a huge gap between rich and poor. The reforms instituted by the Chavez government have been designed to fight poverty by increasing employment and offering free educational opportunities and health care to those who never had them.

With the increase in world oil prices, Venezuela has seen its GDP grow in double digit figures and to the chagrin of the White House, the government has reinvested the money in developing other previously ignored economic sectors, including agriculture, while greatly increasing social spending. While the NYT article talks about increasing poverty with pro-Bush administration think tank statistics, anyone visiting Venezuela without an axe to grind can see support for Chavez in fact continues to increase.


Bush administration experts note that US-Venezuelan relations prior to Chavez taking office were smooth sailing. However since Chavez came to power he challenged the status quo that favored US corporate interests. When Washington balked he claimed intermission in the country's internal affairs. After the Bush administration's involvement in the coup and oil industry sabotage became clearer, Chavez upped the ante by calling the US president "Mr. Danger" and revealing efforts by the US to assassinate him as a last ditch strategy. The fact that Chavez has increased trade as well as educational and health exchanges with Cuba is another thorn in Washington's side as it tries to tighten its nearly half century blockade on the Caribbean island.


To many observers in the US, Chavez programs of social and economic reform don't really pose a threat to US interests. But Bush administration officials continue to see him as a destabilizing force in the Americas and frown at his offering economic assistance with preferential oil agreements to several Latin American and Caribbean governments reeling from Washington's "free market" recipes. Another sore spot for the US State Department is "Telesur" a Caracas-based satellite TV channel, owned by Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Cuba, which puts a progressive Latin American focus on regional and world news that counters the CNN in Spanish and Univision coverage slanted heavily to a world centered around the United States.

As Washington shows its intolerance of a popular reformer and steps up its threats, Venezuela has begun to diversify its economic relations, traditionally very dependent on the US. After the coup showed to what lengths the US special services are willing to go to topple the Chavez government, Venezuela has also moved to shore up its country's defense readiness.

Chavez can do nothing right according to the Venezuelan opposition or the Bush administration that directs its actions. If he wins elections and then tries to govern, he's un-democratic. If he tries to implement the policies put forth in his electoral program he's a tyrant. He's even blamed for the masses not allowing the US-backed coup to succeed.

When legislative elections take place in early December it's once again a no win situation for Chavez in the eyes of the White House. If the parties that support his program win, they are undemocratic, if they lose, democracy rides again. In the last local elections held in October 2004, Chavez allies won in 20 of Venezuela's 23 states, plus the capital, Caracas.


While the verbal rift picks up steam, many US experts point to the long term business relationship between the two countries. They note that PDVSA, the Venezuelan state oil company, owns the Houston-based CITGO, one of the world's leading oil refiners, and that major US corporations like Exxon, Texaco, Chevron and Conoco Philips want to continue doing business with the South American country. Over 10 percent of US oil imports come from Venezuela, and while Chavez seeks to diversify his markets, the US remains his leading trade partner.

Other think tank analysts warn against demonizing Chavez and forcing a growing conflict. With the US bogged down in Iraq, threatening Iran and Syria, and stepping up its blockade against Cuba, many observers view the administration with its hands full. Why further alienate Venezuela at a time like this, they ask.

Reverting Cuba to 1958 to be Studied at US Law School

By Circles Robinson*
November, 2005

In another action against Cuba, the Bush administration has channeled taxpayer money to a US university to come up with a plan on how to revert the island to its 1958 status.

The US government has granted the Creighton University School of Law in Omaha, Nebraska, 750,000 dollars to draft a plan to manage Cuba’s urban and rural property if the Bush administration is successful in its die-hard attempt to topple the island’s revolution.

The moneys come from the Cuba transition program for a two-year grant to design a tribunal that would confiscate properties on the island and deliver them to the US corporations and rightwing Cuban-Americans who abandoned their properties after they left the island on the heels of the 1959 revolution.

The Miami Herald estimates that claims of 6 billion dollars have been filed since Cuban President Fidel Castro nationalized thousands of properties of corporations ranging from Texaco to United Fruit, which have attempted to sabotage the islands post-revolution economy.

The Cuban government has reached agreements with companies from other countries whose properties were nationalized, but the fierce US blockade of the island bars American enterprises from doing business and least striking deals on this issue with Havana.

The policy detailed in the US Plan for Assistance to a Free Cuba seeks to erase all social and economic gains of the Cuban Revolution in the shortest time period, while installing a market economy dependent on the US.
“These are events that took place over 40 years ago. That’s going to be a big project,” law school dean Patrick Borchers told the Miami daily.

The US-AID funding will pay for six salaries as well as computer software and travel expenses.
“One of the major issues at the time of transition will be property confiscations,” US-AID’s David Mutchler told the Herald.

The US has maintained an economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba for nearly half a century. The Cuban Foreign Ministry states the subsequent damage to the Cuban economy is over 82 billion dollars.
On November 8, the UN General Assembly voted for the 14th consecutive year to request Washington end its blockade of Cuba. This year’s record vote was 182-4 with only Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau supporting the US policy.

US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton walked out of the General Assembly session to avoid listening to the overwhelming support for Cuba on the issue.

* Mr. Robinson is an American writer and translator currently based in Havana.

Latin America Spoils Bush's Party

By Circles Robinson
November, 2005

US President George W. Bush received a snubbing both inside and outside the Summit of the Americas that ended Saturday in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

Unable to kick start the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) plan and facing the presence of tens of thousands of Argentineans protesting his presence in their country, the president clearly left the seaside resort empty handed, unable to improve his administration's worsening relations with the region.

Opposition from Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay succeeded in continuing to table the trade scheme after marathon negotiations. Under the FTAA, US corporations would get a free hand in markets throughout the hemisphere but US producers would retain the mechanisms to block imports of products from the Latin American countries.

Washington claims its plan would create jobs in Latin America but Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, the lead voice at the Summit against the FTAA, believes it would virtually re-colonize the continent and enslave its workers. There are a growing number of people who share his concerns and more governments are apparently willing to take a stand against US economic policy for the region.

“The conditions do not exist to attain a hemispheric free trade accord that is balanced and fair with access to markets that are free of subsidies and distorting practices,” said the countries that succeeded in blocking a resurrection of the trade pact.

Outside the official event, the massive march that closed the 3rd Peoples Summit on Friday was headed by Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona and Nobel Peace Prize Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Bolivian presidential candidate Evo Morales and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez the key note speaker.

The popular Venezuelan leader stressed unity amongst Latin American nations. He cited a continuation of the struggle of 19th century liberator Simon Bolivar and championed the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas –known in Spanish as the ALBA- as a regional substitute for the US project, which he called dead and buried.

Security in Mar del Plata was tight, due to the presence of a US president who draws thousands of protestors wherever he visits. Mr. Bush traveled Saturday to Brazil, the second leg of his three nation Latin American tour, before moving on to Panama on Sunday.

While not invited to the Summit of the Americas, Cuba was well represented at the parallel Peoples Summit with a 300-strong delegation headed by Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon.

Bush Clan Cashing in on Iraq War

By Circles Robinson
November, 2005

With the troops shooting at shadows and the body bags flying home on a daily basis, President Bush says the Iraq war is right on course, despite the fact he said it was over 2 ½ years ago.

I often wonder if that outlandish claim might mean more than meets the eye?

The Iraqi government and army are progressively taking charge, claimed the president and his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the weekend.

Nonetheless, the generals on the Persian Gulf battlefields and the reporters bold enough to leave their Baghdad hotels are well aware that there is nothing further from the truth.

Ground zero reality has led many observers to say President Bush is against the ropes. They cite his popularity ratings, now below 40 percent, with several scandals circling the White House. I prefer to differ.

The president already won reelection in 2004, despite the revelations that the pretext for going to war was a bold face lie and his stellar handling of the post 9/11 period. He can’t run again and Jeb can wait until 2012 if necessary.

Meanwhile, high domestic gas prices and more destruction to rebuild in Iraq are like candy to a sweet tooth. Every bomb dropped, Humvee set aflame, house gutted, helicopter lost, oil pipeline destroyed is another bomb, another Humvee, another helicopter, another home and another pipeline to replace at a premium price.

The oil bonanza has meant increased wealth for the Bush clan. Halliburton, associate and likeminded corporations are making money hand over foot with huge contracts received without bidding and little need for wartime bookkeeping. We’re talking 12-digit figures at the expense of US taxpayers and consumers.

Yes, maybe some Republicans aren’t going to ask the president to campaign for them in the 2006 mid-term elections and yes the Democrats may pick up some seats like often occurs to the party facing a lame duck.

However, that doesn’t mean things are going so poorly for George W. Bush. He has already accomplished what his father couldn’t.

Unless the president can be personally tied to the widespread Pentagon corruption occurring in Iraq and Afghanistan, or a related cover-up, we will most likely be stuck with him and his war until January 2009.

For the opposite to occur it will take more than three legislators with the guts to say enough is enough whenever given the chance.

Hats off to Georgia’s Cynthia McKinney who stated at the House of Representatives on November 18: “The best way to support the troops is by bringing them home now.” The congresswoman further noted: “The occupation is headed down a dead-end because as long as US combat forces patrol Iraq there will be an insurgency.”

When the last US marine was airlifted out of Saigon on April 30, 1975, it appeared that a lesson might have been in the works. But to the contrary, American amnesia set in and only 28 years later the US finds itself in another quagmire.

Yet there are winners and losers. The winners being those that profit from war and global insecurity and the losers the estimated 100,000 plus Iraqi civilians, the over 10,000 dead or wounded US soldiers and the families and friends of all the victims.

The World Prepares for US Without Bush

By Circles Robinson with help from the Financial Times
October, 2005

Plans for a “transition” in the United States after the demise of George W. Bush has entered a new stage, with a special office for reconstruction inside the World Peoples Forum preparing for the “day after”, when humanity will try to back a democratic government in Washington.

The multi-national effort, which also involves armed resistance and national liberation groups, recognizes that the US transition may not go peacefully and that it might prove necessary to launch a nation-building exercise.

Frank Smith, the US transition coordinator, is working on the project within the Forum’s Office for Reconstruction and Stabilization, which was established by the general assembly to prevent and prepare for post-conflict situations.

Every six months, the Forum’s Intelligence Council revises a list of countries in which instability could require emergency intervention. The reconstruction office, headed by David Doe– a US born expert on world affairs – was focused on Colombia, Haiti, Peru, Nepal, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In a consensus move after Katrina, the United States was added to the list.

The US Congress, which funds “projects” of conflict management in other countries, declined to lend its expertise to this project. “No one has the right to judge us,” said a top congressional aide.

Mr. Smith acknowledges wearing two hats: to help a post-Bush US establish a democratic government and socially responsible economy, and to hasten that transition.

The World Peoples Forum appointed Mr. Smith in July. His post was recommended by the Commission for Assistance to a Free United States, created by the executive office of the General Assembly “to accelerate the demise of the Bush tyranny.”

The commission declared in its 450-page May 2004 report that it “sought a more proactive, integrated and disciplined approach to undermine the survival strategies of the Bush regime and contribute to conditions that will help the American people hasten the dynasty’s end”.

Wholesale engagement is envisaged post-Bush, including immediate assistance so that “schools are kept open and provided with new instructional material and staff”, food and medical aid is distributed, and pensions are paid.

Mr. Smith told the Financial Times that last year’s tightening of the worldwide boycott and restrictions on US corporations market share in the so-called developing world, had cost the Bush regime an estimated $500 billion in lost income.

Human Rights Now last month condemned the unilateral travel restrictions imposed by the Bush Administration on its citizens saying, “Sacrificing people’s freedom of movement to promote dead-end policies must end.” Mr. Smith said his Office for Reconstruction and Stabilization is open to all, saying it would be “thoughtful and respectful of the American people and their wish to be free.”

“The transition genie is out of the bottle,” he said, referring to opposition activities inside the US, and a “broad consensus” reached with the exile community. “They are the ones to define a democratic future for the United States.”

Officials say the world will not “accept” a handover of power from Mr. Bush to his brother Jeb be it now or in 2008 or 2012. While it is not clear what the world position means, Mr. Smith stressed the Peoples Forum would not “impose” its help.

Addressing the association of global military authorities last month, Mr. Doe indicated his cooperation with the military was at an early stage. He said his strategic planning was aimed at understanding “how we would manage that transition process between Bush’s demise and a democratic US, because we know that at some point, that is going to happen.”

Analysts said people around the world are worried about a mass exodus of US refugees and are keen to understand the Peoples Forum’s plans for what is being called “the day after”.

They also expressed certainty that diverting a mere portion of US military spending to social and economic programs would easily finance the transition.

Republicans and their conservative Democratic allies claim the Forum drew attention to the issue with an eye on securing votes in the United Nations against the unilateral US blockade against Cuba,” but that was flatly denied by Daniel Kenny, analyst with the Global Dialogue think-tank.

The official said: “The truth is that nobody, including anyone in the US, knows what will happen during a transition. It’s a little like trying to figure out how many flies there are on the back of a dead cow.”

US Blockade on Cuba Returns to UN Agenda

By Circles Robinson
October, 2005

The nearly half century US blockade of Cuba is a broken record that ten presidents have continued to play; last year only three countries sided with Washington and 179 condemned its Cuba policy.

Yes, the wealthiest country on Earth has managed to keep a small island nation from reaching its full potential by causing over 82 billion dollars in damage to its economy. The bully on the global block appears to have no limit despite its failure to make David succumb to Goliath’s might. Is that something to brag about?

Even countries like the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom and Mexico -that tend to buckle under Washington’s pressure and side with the superpower in its annual attack on Cuba at the UN Commission on Human Rights-, join the ranks of the civilized world when it comes to asking the US government to cease its economic, commercial and financial hostility towards Cuba.

The vote has nothing to do with judging Cuba’s political, social and economic system. Nations with rightwing, moderate and progressive elected governments as well as monarchies and military juntas have increasingly responded to an injustice that no people deserve or would like to face.

Using cold war politics to keep Cuban-American families apart, prohibiting other US citizens from visiting the island without special permission, and even blocking cultural, scientific, and academic and sports exchanges makes about as much sense as rebuilding the Berlin Wall in 2005.

Successive US governments and the corporate media have relentlessly criticized Cuba for the material and economic limitations faced by its population. At the same time Washington has done everything in its power to stifle the Cuban economy by depriving the island from importing US products or even purchasing from companies in third countries that do business in the US. Cuba also faces marketing limitations for its export products due to US pressure on potential buyers.

Every year around this time the United Nations General Assembly takes up the blockade issue when Cuba presents its annual resolution asking the international community to condemn such a blatant injustice. Each year the US ignores the overwhelming criticism of its Cuba policy with the arrogance of a might-makes-right empire instead of the model democracy it claims to be.

In 1992, the first time the issue was brought to a vote, 59 UN member countries voted for the Cuban resolution and 3 opposed, with 71 abstentions. That margin has increased yearly reaching 179 to 4 (Palau, Marshal Islands, Israel and the US) with 1 abstention (Micronesia) in 2004.

The test of a real leader is humility in the face of grave errors. When in early November the world once again requests Washington desist from its broken record blockade policy the White House should listen, pay heed, and then reap the applause of a wise decision.

Can Bush Replay Nixon?

By Circles Robinson
October, 2004

Twice in the post World War II era has a US president come up for reelection in the midst of a war with a considerable number of US troops overseas as invading or occupying forces.

The first such occasion was the McGovern-Nixon race of 1972, and now Bush Jr. takes John Kerry into the ring on November 2. The president hopes to follow in the footsteps of his fellow Republican who in 1972 won by a 62-38 percent knockout.

Back then, amid massive anti-war protests and the slow filtering in the media of what was really happening in Vietnam, the South Dakota senator ran on a pledge to end the war in Southeast Asia. However, Tricky Dick, running on false patriotism, pulled out all the stops and McGovern was sideswiped.

Nixon’s conspiracies caught up with him after the elections and nearly two years later he was forced to resign in disgrace.

Bush may not be thinking landslide but another questionable victory in Florida in a neck and neck race could be enough to give the world 12 years of the Bush family, with Jeb waiting in the wings to prolong the dynasty.

The presidential race is unquestionably shaping up more as a plebiscite on George Jr. and Halliburton than a contest between Republican and Democratic Party candidates and their platforms. A race between Bush and the growing anti-Bush movement that hopes to tip the balance in favor of the Democrat.

Bush paints himself as a “compassionate conservative” and a “wartime president” who will get the job done in Iraq and beyond. The Kerry camp emphasizes that George W. betrayed the nation with his false pretexts for going to war and that the price tag has jeopardized the economic future of the country.

The Democratic Party challenger receives an important boost from the anti-Bush efforts that sees the incumbent as being possibly the most dangerous president in history.

Bush’s 2000 opponent Al Gore threw in the towel in the name of protecting the system after the Supreme Court and the Senate legitimatized the Florida orchestrated theft of the 2000 elections.

Now, in order to succeed, Sen. Kerry and the anti-Bush campaign have their work cut out to increase public awareness on policies that have created more enemies than friends abroad and more poverty at home.

To its advantage, the Bush team and a complacent mainstream media has so far steered the campaign away from economic issues where his tax policies have lined the pockets of the already rich and neglected minorities, the poor and much of the middle class, many of whom are still unaware of what’s hit them.

In less than four years the large US budget surplus created in the 1990s under the Democrats has turned into a squalling $422 billion annual deficit under the Republican White House and Congress.

The president’s allegiance to the “moral” crusade of the Christian right, including those who would have mother’s die to defend the fetus, violently oppose same-sex marriages, and rejoice over the renewed easy over-the-counter access to high-power assault weapons, is a large solid and committed base that turns out at the polls.

In order to win the Democrats must motivate that large segment of the population that is not moved by fanaticism and is worried about increased violence in American society. This puts pressure on the Kerry camp and the anti-Bush activists to convince the undecided, students and other first time voters.

Five weeks before the elections Bush holds a lot of cards because he has the home court advantage enjoyed by nearly all incumbents.

Meanwhile, to Kerry’s benefit, the growing anti-Bush movement has an all-out effort planned for the coming weeks including a 60-venue swing-state speaking tour by award winning filmmaker Michael Moore that began Sunday in Michigan.

Here are some of the president’s not-so-secret options in the coming weeks before the election:

- Fabricating or using threats and acts of terrorism to incite fear, provoke flag-waving and a rallying around the skipper.

- Evoking media self-censorship because national security is supposedly at stake. (The New York Times and Washington Post cried mea culpa for their coverage of the Iraq invasion, but when push comes to shove where will they really stand on Bush?).

- Noting the continued bi-partisan support for funding the war in Iraq, this cuts the credibility of any criticism of Bush policy.

- Using incumbent’s power to manipulate short-term economic decisions and indicators to project better times just around the corner.

- Controlling the Florida voting apparatus in case of a repeat of 2000.

These factors notwithstanding, a growing number of public figures and ordinary citizens are literally sticking their necks out to dethrone the president in this anti-terror rerun of the anti-communist McCarthy era.

From small home gatherings to Internet forums and large public activities they stress the importance of the November 2 elections in order to put an end to a senseless war and get politicians to begin addressing the serious economic, social and environmental problems affecting the US and the world.

The vast majority of the electorate has already made up their mind. Now, the question is whether the citizen groundswell can motivate a significant portion of the previously uniformed or new electors to vote for Kerry and prevent Bush from getting, like Nixon, a chance at Four More Years.

Katrina and Mitch, Siblings of Negligence

By Circles Robinson
September, 2005

On any given day there is not much in common between the United States and Nicaragua. However, when faced with the wrath of hurricane flooding, the situation in the richest and the poorest nations of the continental Americas seems one and the same.

When Hurricane Mitch was inundating Nicaragua in October 1998, leaving over 3,000 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless, the former president of the impoverished Central American nation, Arnoldo Aleman, didn’t even bother to declare an emergency and left people to fend for themselves without information or resources. When two entire rural communities were swept away in a landslide he claimed the cries of help from survivors was leftwing propaganda against his government.

When Hurricane Katrina approached the richest country on Earth, the president of that country was on a horse checking the fences of his hacienda to make sure the anti-war protestors nearby wouldn’t get close enough to be heard. “I’ve got to have a life too,” the oilman told the press, when asked if he was going to meet with the mother of one of the 1,875 US soldiers killed so far in Iraq. When criticism over the handling of the hurricane aftermath rained on Washington, the president said, “We’re doing all we can.”

Mitch unveiled what many had said before; that many less fortunate people in Nicaragua were forced by the free market to live alongside rivers, creeks and on hillsides, especially vulnerable to flooding.

Katrina unveiled what many had also said before; that the levees protecting the bowl-shaped, below-sea-level New Orleans could only withstand a Category 3 hurricane and that global warming was preparing a Category 4 or 5 strike. It was no secret that a lot of poor people, mostly African-Americans and other immigrants would suffer the consequences.

In Nicaragua there was little warning and there were no government evacuations, transportation or shelters in the days prior and during the flooding. The capital and the political class were safe and the only people in trouble were the rural poor and marginalized residents of the country’s provincial cities; people barely consumers in dollar and cent terms.

In New Orleans there was a warning, but for the First World poor it was as if there hadn’t been. Officials told residents to pack their cars and get out of the city. Somehow they forgot that many of the poor, who live off low salaries, food stamps, unemployment benefits, welfare or social security payments, don’t have cars and live from day to day, unable to amass the funds needed to take the family on a little trip, much less rent a hotel room.

In Nicaragua most of the elderly and people with disabilities lived (and live) with their families in the same precarious situations that poverty (and some would say destiny) has provided them. When the flooding was imminent, the marketplace and the government decided that nothing needed to be done for this even less consuming sector of society.

In New Orleans some of the elderly poor and people with disabilities lived in nursing homes and others with their families. When Katrina struck, in the nursing homes many were left to pray for a rescue that never came. In their homes, many of the handicapped perished before they could get to the rooftops where they would have spent nearly a week without food or water waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to decide whether the situation merited a special effort.

In Nicaragua, by the time it was too late, the government realized that many civic groups had spontaneously set up refugee centers that were well organized but teeming with needs, lacking many of the basics.

However, the inflated salaries of the government officials allowed them to close the smoked windows of their $60,000 cars, pull out the Jack Daniels and ease the pain. “Let the international community worry about it,” they said to themselves, as they demonstrated their unwavering patriotism and claimed a lack of funds.

In New Orleans the able poor were allowed to swim to the Superdome or Convention Center, two places usually off bounds to them. However, the hot dogs and popcorn or conference buffets were nowhere in sight. Instead, the basics were just as lacking as in Nicaragua and even worse; there was no organization or even safety for the First World refugees. Then hunger, thirst and illness set in, topped off by the horror of rape and murder, astonishing a world watching the events unfolding on the TV news.

The international community, friends and “dark corners” alike, rushed to offer the assistance that the richest country on Earth couldn’t muster for its own people. “We’ll take any help we can get,” White House officials belatedly replied, “except the 1,586 Cuban doctors.”

Seven years after Mitch, the effects of the hurricane continue to be felt in Nicaragua. Many of the surviving victims are still at square one as the unrelenting marketplace continues to leave them out. In fact, amazingly, there are still people living in the ruins of the 1972 earthquake in the capital, Managua, which is another long and painful story of government negligence and corruption.

In New Orleans the gruesome work has began to tally the body count. Hopefully, it will be less than initial estimates, but there will surely be morgues full of deaths that could have been avoided.

Hundreds of thousands of the city’s residents have been scattered to the winds, increasing the ranks of the unemployed in other urban centers. Many of the poor who survived the deluge in Jazz City are still without identification or proper medical attention and are at the mercy of charity and scant government handouts. If they weren’t on their feet before the hurricane what can be expected in seven years time, even in the USA?

The message is don’t be fooled by Gross Domestic Products, the number of patriots on the Forbes 100 most wealthy list or who has more corporate subsidiaries around the globe. When it comes to natural disasters like Katrina and Mitch, and “leaders” of the calibre of George W. Bush and Arnoldo Aleman, the distance between countries like the US and Nicaragua, or at least their rulers, may be a lot less than meets the eye.

-Arnoldo Aleman is currently under house arrest for stealing everything he could get his hands on during his 5 years in office. He expects to be set free in the near future. For his part, George W. Bush is still riding high in the saddle, although history may not be on his side.

Cuba: Halliburton’s Hallucinations

By Circles Robinson
August, 2005

The US State Department is happy to announce that its stellar corporation, Halliburton, has been awarded a 300 billion dollar contract to rebuild Cuba just as it was before the 1959 revolution that took it out of the fold of the Monroe doctrine.

Cuba Transition Coordinator Caleb McCarry made the announcement after the Pentagon verified that the last pocket of Cuban patriots was annihilated in a repeat of the Spanish conquest of the indigenous natives. Approximately 11 million insurgents were killed in the prolonged battle for democracy.

McCarry said he is bullish about the island and has authorized the “community” in Miami to draw up plans for a new Havana and Varadero vacationland. A delegation of 80-year-old exiles and their children are expected to visit their old homeland as soon as the chemicals used in the mop up effort have dissipated. Environmental critics say this could take 500 years but Gen. Paul Bremmer says by the time hurricane season is over the toxic dust will have settled or blown elsewhere.

Since sugar is no longer a big profit commodity and in order to boost the local economy, the White House is planning to open the gates of its Guantanamo Naval Base and extend its offshore prison to the central and eastern provinces of the island. It is estimated that several hundred thousand prisoners could be held captive under Abu Ghraib conditions, without charges or lawyers.

Freedom House experts believe contracts worth 100 billion dollars could be awarded in the first 3 years for prison construction and that some 20,000 jail keepers and administrative personnel could be brought in.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba will begin to implement the social programs it proposed to create a prosperous democracy for the island’s residents. At first, the commission notes, the only people around to be vaccinated would be the prisoners at Guantanamo, but officials believe that service personnel could be imported from other Latin American democracies to serve the island’s new owners. These, would get the schools, hospitals and jobs promised to the now deceased Cubans who foolishly refused to accept the generous US aid.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters at a Washington press conference that the world is now a safer place without the troublesome Cubans and that the demise of the island’s leaders (although they were never found) marks the beginning of a new era for the Western Hemisphere. The top US diplomat said once Cuba is repopulated a new president would be selected in free and fair elections.

For his part, Halliburton’s man in the White House, Vice-president Dick Cheney, said the emblematic corporation he represents plans to contract out a portion of the reconstruction work to companies from nations that supported the war. He recalled President Bush’s statement that in the war against terrorism “all the spoils go to the winners.”

PS: In our next instalment, Voice of the Americas will bring its readers the story of ants that eat whales and turtles that run in marathons.

Cuba’s Secret Elections

By Circles Robinson
April, 2005

One of the best-kept media secrets about Cuba is that the country holds regularly scheduled elections and that the Communist Party has nothing to do with the candidate selection.

In fact, the Caribbean island is about to hold nationwide nonpartisan municipal elections on Sunday, April 17. Voter registration is automatic for all citizens reaching sixteen years of age, unlike many countries where getting on the voter lists can be a difficult process for some sectors of the population.

Another surprise to those unfamiliar with the Cuban electoral system is that money is not the driving force, a refreshing difference from the dance of dollars and unethical practices that characterize campaigns throughout a continent where winning public office can be highly profitable.

Cuba does not claim to have a perfect electoral system but defends it as being more voter-friendly than others. As in most countries, the electoral law is subject to constitutional amendments, like occurred in 1992, when it was decided that provincial delegates and national parliament members should be elected by voters just like local representatives.

Those standing for election on the island are neither nominated because of their personal wealth nor for being the best fundraisers. Neither do they end up on corporate boards after leaving office as a payback for bending to special interest groups. The concept of a paid politician is absent in Cuba and even the national parliament representatives derive no financial compensation for their civic work.

Back in the 19th century, Cuban national hero Jose Marti was quoted as saying: "La Patria es ara, no pedestal" --the homeland is an altar, not a pedestal. His statement symbolizes the model for public service on the island since the 1959 revolution.

Anyone Can Nominate, Anyone Can be Nominated

Candidates in each of the 15,097 electoral districts located in the 169 municipalities were chosen at open neighborhood assemblies. All members of the electorate have the right to nominate a candidate or be picked to run for office, a unique feature of the Cuban system.

The electoral law stipulates that in each voting district there must be a minimum of two and a maximum of eight candidates. City council members serve two and a half year terms while provincial delegates and national parliament representatives are elected every five years.

As in the nonpartisan city council elections held in the vast majority of US municipalities and cities – like Los Angeles, Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Seattle, Las Vegas, Chicago and Atlanta – Cuban candidates do not have to have a party affiliation to seek public office. Instead, they run on their personal merits and include people with professional, political, community, religious and labor involvements.

The Communist Party sees its role in the electoral process as a promoter of citizen participation and community awareness. The political organization, which is considered the ideological backbone of the revolution, considers grassroots support crucial to the survival of the system.

Similar to Republican and Democratic Party members running in municipal elections in the US, the nonpartisan nature of the elections in Cuba does not exclude members of the Communist Party, but they must run as individuals.

High Voter Turnout

Since the current Cuban electoral system took effect in 1976, voter turnout has averaged 95% and above, one of the world’s highest for non-obligatory voting. This contrasts to municipal elections in the United States, which often draw less than a third of the registered voters.

An excellent example is the city council elections recently held in Los Angeles, California. With several candidates vying for mayor, only 28 percent of the registered voters bothered to show up at the polls. The two leading candidates, incumbent James Hahn and challenger Antonio Villaraigosa -who will compete in a runoff election-, received the nod from only 8 and 6 percent of the registered voters. Despite the spending of millions of dollars on the campaign, the vast majority of the electorate didn’t think any candidate was worth voting for.

Such a common situation in today’s USA would send up smoke signals in Cuba. National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said in a recent interview, “…the primary emphasis [in the Cuban electoral system] is on the participation of the people. I would be very concerned if the level of involvement declined, if the public were to grow indifferent toward their government.”

In the Bohemia magazine article about Cuba and the history of democracy quoted by a Canadian friends of Cuba group , Alarcon said, “…to resolve the basic problems of equality and build a system which allows participation to be channeled is easier said then done.”

An article published March 14 in Granma newspaper, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, takes a look at the long road ahead for men and women to have a truly equal opportunity to hold public office. The author, Maria Julia Mayoral, notes that while women now represent 23.37 percent of the local representatives, up from 8 percent in 1976, there are still major roadblocks to overcome.

Females now represent nearly two thirds of the island’s university graduates and also stand out in scientific research and community work. Nonetheless, Mayoral states, independent of their academic level and professional success, women continue to be tied to domestic obligations and family responsibilities that men conveniently believe are not theirs.

Foreign Media Blackout

Something that usually catches the eye of visitors at election time is how cities and towns in Cuba are not plastered with campaign propaganda and that local TV and radio programs are not bombarded with ads. Instead, candidate photos and biographies are publicly posted in the voting districts, where, do to their reduced size, the contenders are personally known by most voters. This year, meet the candidate evenings are also slated for the first two weeks of April.

Cuban elections may never be headline grabbers in the foreign media. The absence of fantastic promises and viscous negative media campaigns makes them rather dull by comparison. The large number of polling stations and always holding elections on a Sunday also mean virtually nobody ends up saying they didn’t vote because they didn’t have time, a common complaint lodged by a growing number of US citizens.

To the contrary, Iraq’s elections in January inundated world headline news because it was essential for the United States to show the world that its brand of democracy had arrived to the war torn Persian Gulf nation. After all, the alleged reason for being there in the first place—weapons of mass destruction—had long since proven to be a fabrication. The millions that boycotted the elections in protest of the foreign occupation of their country did so, according to Washington, because of their terrorist and undemocratic sympathies. On the other hand, the White House conveniently writes off Cuba’s elections and the high voter turnouts as “one-party” or “communist.”

Local Government in Cuba

Municipal governments, called People’s Power Assemblies, have a president and vice president similar to a mayor and vice-mayor. The number of electoral districts in the municipality determines the amount of city council members, known as delegates or representatives. The minimum number is 30 and some assemblies in the more densely populated areas have as many as 80, 100 or more members. A rural voting district may have as few as 300 constituents while that figure can reach 4,000 in densely populated urban areas. These are much smaller than most wards or districts in the United States.
Cuban city council members are empowered to elect the mayor and vice-mayor from within their ranks and must do so by secret ballot within 21 days after the elections.

The Cuban system puts great importance on citizen accessibility to their council people, thus explaining the smaller electoral districts and greater number of representatives than in local governments in the United States. In Cleveland, Ohio, for instance, the ratio is 24,000 residents to one city council representative and the rate is considerably higher in other urban populations.

Among the city council member’s responsibilities is to receive complaints and suggestions about public services and social problems, and vote on a proposed municipal budget which then goes on to the Provincial and National Assemblies for review and final approval. Then, it’s one of their jobs to see that the corresponding institutions implement budgeted projects.

In a country subjugated to nearly a half-century of economic, financial and commercial blockade from the world’s greatest military and economic power, the limitations faced by Cuba make the work of the city council member far from easy. Many of the economic problems facing the country originate in the White House, or the country’s colonial and dependent past, and some will continue as long as Washington insists.

However, creative efforts to resolve local problems with the limited resources at hand and making sure the municipality gets its fair share of support from the country’s many social programs, are the key to being a successful representative. Election officials note that on an average 46.5 percent of the delegates are re-elected, some for multiple terms.

Open to All

For visitors to Cuba interested in seeing the island’s electoral process in action, voter registration lists and candidate profiles are currently posted in convenient locations. In addition, the polling places on Election Day and the vote count are all open public activities.

A novel feature of Cuban elections is the presence of 5th to 9th grade students at the polling places. Besides getting acquainted with this important civic responsibility and symbolically guarding the ballot boxes, their function is to help voters with disabilities that request assistance.

On Election Day the polls will be open from 7am until 6pm, however anyone still in line at the scheduled time of closure is allowed to cast their ballot. The manual vote count is done in public immediately following the closing of the polls. To win, a candidate must obtain more than a 50% majority of the valid votes. In districts where no candidate obtains that amount, a runoff election will be held on April 24 between the top two contenders.

Education President vs. War President

By Circles Robinson
February, 2005

During the last two weeks, Cuban President Fidel Castro, the real “Education President” has dedicated long hours at public events to back up his stated belief that only a well-educated and cultured population can save a world marked by greed, injustice and plain indifference.

His personal interest and direct participation, as well as that of other top Cuban government officials, is evident in the widespread promotion and coverage given three important events in Havana that emphasize knowledge as a pillar in the search for a better world.

First came Pedagogy 2005 and the World Literacy Congress (Jan 27-31). Participants from some 50 nations discussed ways to move forward on the slacking UN goal of eradicating illiteracy by 2015, a product of little but lip service from the wealthy nations whose leaders have always seen educated poor people as a threat to their political and economic power. The event echoed many of the conclusions of the recently concluded World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

President Fidel Castro attended and twice addressed the congress, commenting on the debates. He made a detailed presentation of the situation of illiteracy and functional illiteracy plaguing a world that every four days spends more on military hardware than is needed to eradicate, on a global level, this worsening problem.

Besides stating the importance in Cuba of raising the general educational and cultural level of the entire population, the Cuban leader emphasized the unselfish efforts his country has made in far off lands to address these fundamental problems. He cited as exemplary a recent agreement with Venezuela to jointly offer the proven Cuban audio-visual teaching methods to help bring millions of the continent’s forgotten citizens out of the dark.

Havana International Book Fair

As the curtain fell on Pedagogy 2005, the 14th Havana International Book Fair (Feb. 3-13) opened to the delight of avid local readers and the many foreign visitors to the island, which last year attracted over 2 million tourists.

With an emphasis on Brazil ─this year’s special guest─, book presentations, conferences by renowned authors, nightly concerts by topnotch artists, and an array of coinciding plays and movies are just a sampling of the activities.

Brazilian education minister, Tarzo Genro, who will be joined during the 11-day fest by culture minister and singer Gilberto Gil and several other dignitaries, writers and artists from the South American giant, opened the book fair. Brazil and Cuba have maintained a special relationship for decades but the ties were strengthened since the coming to power of Luis Inacio Lula da Silva at the beginning of 2003.

Publishing houses from Asia, Europe, North and South America are exhibiting their literature, poetry, technical books, etc., alongside the production of dozens of Cuban publishers from across the island.

The annual literature event is a favorite of entire Cuban families who can take special buses to the San Carlos de la Cabana Fortress, converted by the Cuban Revolution into a romantic center for art and culture that overlooks the city with a breathtaking view.

Globalization and the Problems of Development

A picture can tell a thousand words and the back cover of one of the new books offered at the fair from New International Press of Canada leads well into the title of the third event of consequence in this short period in the Cuban capital. The graphic shows a map of the world by night, illustrating how energy consumption portrays the disadvantages faced by the so-called “developing” nations.

The 7th International Conference on Globalization and the Problems of Development (Feb 7-11) brings together some of the cream of the world’s economists from a wide spectrum of views to debate the pros and cons of today’s global interaction.

Cuban TV, radio and print media, and once again President Fidel Castro and his government, are dedicating considerable time to the different analysis of participating experts from 36 countries and to the debate on how to resolve the pressing crisis affecting both Third World and wealthy nations economies, their people’s living standards and the planet’s deteriorated natural resources.

Besides the presence of a Nobel prizewinning economist and representatives of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other multi-lateral financial organizations, experts in the field with a people and environment first philosophy, that Cuba advocates, are also widely represented.

Meanwhile, back on his Texas ranch, the self-proclaimed “War President”, George W. Bush –who calls the real “Education President” a tyrant- spent the same period threatening countries that don’t accept his dictates such as Iran, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela. He also campaigned around the country to drum up support in Congress for putting the pensions of US citizens in private hands and cutting social spending in order to foot a portion of his over half trillion-dollar military budget and soaring 12-figure annual deficit.

It is obvious to all that education has long since ceased to be a concern of the White House, except, of course, during election campaigns. The philosophy seems to be that “free” markets, charity and the heavy artillery will take care of one of the world’s most glaring problems.

Bush administration officials, led by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, VP Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, arrogantly imply that the US style military democracy must be shoved down everybody’s throat, even if the results have already proven disastrous for the vast majority of the takers.

A Challenge to the Rich

At the opening of Pedagogy 2005, Fidel Castro highlighted the markedly different Cuban approach to serious world problems. He noted how his small, blockaded and under-developed nation of 11 million people has been able to offer tens of thousands of doctors and teachers to nations in need.

Fidel, in his confident style and backed by Cuban achievements, challenged Bush and the European Union to come up with the volunteer human resources needed to fight illiteracy and provide health care and medical training in the world’s many outposts of sickness and ignorance.

While assuring that they can’t and won’t, he said that in the meantime Cuba and the countries willing to join her would continue preaching social and economic justice and practicing real solidarity.

Washington Hallucinates as Cuba Prepares for the Future

By Circles Robinson
December, 2004

While George W. Bush and the warmongering ideologues that surround him hallucinate about getting their hands on Cuba, the dream of Fidel Castro to have an army of intelligent, committed young people to take the baton of revolution has progressively developed into a reality.

At a time when the White House is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to derail the achievements of nearly 46 years of Cuban history, 1,200 representatives of a generation born in the 1970s and 80s met in early December in Havana to set the course of a revolution they will lead in the future and within which they are already playing a key role.

In its quest to continue transforming Cuban society to reach its full potential despite its hostile neighbor to the north, the 8th Congress of the Young Communist League (UJC) recently reviewed 5-years of what many believe to be the results of one of the most innovative and bold efforts of the Revolution, known as the “Battle of Ideas.”

It all began with a successful national and international campaign to obtain the return of a little boy, Elian Gonzalez, whose tragic story captured the hearts of virtually all Cubans and constantly made the headlines worldwide.

The Battle of Ideas is essentially a struggle between the model of US military democracy, guided by the marketplace, consumerism, brute force and the survival of the fittest, and a system that promotes comprehensive human development for its entire population and a Latin America united around social and economic cooperation.

This ambitious undertaking is carried out through a large array of innovative educational, health and cultural programs and also puts a high value on solidarity with other Third World nations. Cuban young people are at the forefront of this monumental struggle.

Several important topics were on the table at the UJC Congress directly related to the ideological and social justice aspects of the Battle of Ideas.

These included how to protect the island and the Cuban identity from the cultural onslaught of the United States and motivate all of the nation’s young people to take advantage of the island’s vast educational opportunities and work for the good of their country even if material benefits might be limited.

Also high on the agenda is contributing to the on-going fight against any form of corruption and illicit drugs, evils that have surfaced in Cuba but to a far lesser degree than in most other countries.

How to deal with an aging population and providing people with disabilities or living in remote areas with equal opportunities for study, recreation and employment, as well as effectively addressing health problems like HIV/AIDS are concerns of Cuban young people.

On the international arena, chief concerns include making known the case of five Cuban anti-terrorist fighters railroaded into US prisons for crimes they never committed and continuing the worldwide campaign to end the US economic, commercial and financial blockade on the island.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration and its hand-picked Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba have other plans, which border on fantasy, for its island neighbor to the south. Besides updating ten US government’s 45-year project to destroy the Revolution, the 450-page document issued in May by the commission details how the newly colonized island would function when freed from the supposed shackles of communism.

Washington’s plan translates into flooding the country with consumer goods, commercial advertising and pop culture while literally dismantling the country’s “unsustainable” free health care and education systems, and total employment policy, in order to pull Cuba in line with the rest of the continent under the aegis of the IMF.

In the most recent battle between Washington’s hostility and the Cuban sovereignty, the US Interests Section in Havana put up a Christmas lights display with a sign alluding to a group of agents on the White House payroll who were caught in the act and were sanctioned for violating Cuban laws.

After an official protest from the Cuban Foreign Ministry failed to get the US State Department to reconsider its undiplomatic provocation, the future leaders of the Cuban Revolution adorned the area surrounding the US mission with placards that graphically illustrate the horrendous abuses of human rights committed by the Pentagon’s troops in Iraq.

On a cool breezy December 20th evening in Havana, thousands of Cuban students gathered outside the US Interests Section building for a political and cultural event protesting the escalating provocations and the emboldened message of blockade and aggression emanating from the Bush White House.

Preparing for the worst scenario and working for peace, Cuba also just concluded a week of the “Bastion 2004” Strategic Defense Exercises that involved virtually the entire population. The goal: Making it crystal clear to Washington that the cost of a military assault on the island would be enormous.

Boxers and Ballerinas

By Circles Robinson
December, 2004

It´s not the first movie dealing with the subject of Cuban emigration. “To stay or not to stay” and “return or not to return” are the central questions of Memorias del Subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment), Miel para Ochun (Honey for Ochun), Nada (Nothing) and several others produced by the prestigious Cuban Institute of Cinematography (ICAIC).

This same subject has been a major topic in films by directors from the United States, Spain, etc.

In fact, a prize winning documentary in the 2002 edition of Havana’s International New Latin American Film Festival in the category of foreign films about Latin America in 2002 went to “Balseros,” a history of the high sea drama, triumphs and frustrations of a group of seven Cubans who finally arrive to Miami in search for the American dream

However, what is special about Boxers and Ballerinas is that its young US co-directors and four main characters, Cubans, are all of a generation born at least 20 years after the Cuban Revolution of January 1, 1959 and who for the most part, have lived since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the socialist camp. The film premiered on December 8 at the 26th New Latin American Film Festival taking place through December 17.

Boxers and Ballerinas, 94 minutes long and produced on a budget of only $100,000, was presented in the category of news documentaries and shown at Havana’s 23rd & 12th St. Cinema to a packed crowd of some 300 viewers. Before the showing, directors Brit Mailing, 21, and Mike Cahill, 24, thanked the Cuban people for their cooperation in the making of the movie and commented that their experiences in Cuba in 2003 and 2004 changed their lives forever.

The movie is about the life of two boxers and two ballerinas separated from their counterparts by the sea, a trade blockade and different aspirations and concepts of homeland. At play in their life decisions are aspects of what is known in Cuba as the “Battle of Ideas,” emphasizing humanistic values, the development of well-rounded culture and cooperation between people – as opposed to excessive individualism, hyper-consumerism and aggressive efforts by the US government to manipulate Cuban society, especially its youth.

The decisions of talented Latin American athletes, artists and professionals who opt to seek fame and fortune in the United States are not a new phenomenon, nor peculiar to Cuba.

In the documentary, Sergio —a 21 year-old Havana-born boxer living in Miami- enjoys the migratory privilege of all Cubans who make it to the Florida coast. As opposed to other illegal immigrants from the Third World, under the Cuban Adjustment Act, they can obtain residency and right to work as soon as they touch US soil.

Also in Miami is Paula, 21, who took advantage of a trip abroad with her mother, a famous ballerina. The two dancers end up staying in the US.

Both Sergio and Paula attempt to excel in their respective fields in Miami, as they struggle to maintain their dreams of greatness. They soon discover the hard realities of the two professions where careers are short and any accident or mishap can mean the end.
Not being a US citizen disqualifies Sergio from hoping to represent his new country in the Olympic Games. He opts to enter the rough and tumble world of professional boxing. Paula, on her part, chooses to help her mother form a ballet company, no easy task.

Ninety miles away, Yordenis, a 17 year-old boxer from Santiago de Cuba who lives in Havana, dreams of being an Olympic champion. On his return to his hometown for a national youth championship, it is clear that his family, friends and neighbors are solidly behind him. He lives and breathes boxing and, for the time being, has no ambition of abandoning his country.

Another Cuban character, 19 year-old Annia, wants to be one of the best ballerinas in Cuba. Like Paula, Sergio and Yordenis, she is very disciplined, following years of rigorous training. She wants to travel the world, like most youths around the globe, and she hopes to achieve that dream through dance. After a long wait she leaves with their company for an extended tour in Mexico, where she reflects on her life and longings.

Boxers and Ballerinas has all the essentials to be a success, despite its low budget. The two directors did practically everything including the shooting and excellent editing. The photography and photomontage are also very good, just as the sound and the selection of sites for filming. Another strength of the film is its capacity to constantly maintain a tension and desire to see the next scene.

In the use of historical material, the directors chose to spotlight the terrorist attack on a Cuban passenger airplane in 1976 in which 73 people died. Those killed included the entire fencing team that had just won the gold medal in the Pan-American Games. The intense pain of the massacre felt by all Cuba is as sharp today as if the tragedy had occurred yesterday, as was expressed in the tears which welled up throughout the cinema.

Sequences showing the defiant attitude of the act’s ringleader, Orlando Bosch, and the complicity of the US government, that allows Bosch to continue conspiring against Cuba from Miami demonstrate the cruelty and terror that accompany the blockade. These are challenges that the island has had to confront ever since it declared itself free and independent.

The directors said they were very happy with having the initial public presentation of their movie at the Havana Film Festival. It is only a shame that Boxers and Ballerinas was only shown once. Although the movie was not part of the formal film competition its young directors and producer deserve special recognition for their effort to tackle a highly complicated and politicized issue from a new angle.

Follow the Money

By Circles Robinson
December, 2004

In the two years preceding the 2004 US elections several of my friends and colleagues let their hopes -that a discredited, warmongering Bush would be dumped by the electorate- cloud the reality that it would be very hard for middle-America to vote against the president at a time of war.

The experience of the 1972 elections, when Richard Nixon was easily reelected despite massive opposition to the Vietnam War, told me that Bush had a lot going for him despite the growing unpopularity of the Iraq War and his fabricated reasons for invading in the first place.

Nonetheless, there may be another valid analogy between Bush and Nixon that bodes poorly for the president.

In the case of "Tricky Dick" the botched Watergate burglary and other campaign scams spiraled into a life threatening crisis for the administration due to the all encompassing cover-up that virtually took over the White House and all the president's men.

Thirty years after Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace, the George W. Bush of early 2005, resembles the Nixon of early 1973, when the last thing on his mind was having to leave office before his term ended.

Bush comes off an election victory that, while not like Nixon's landslide, was about as good as could be expected by his camp and looked a little more legitimate than 2000, when the Democrats threw in the towel despite having won the fraud ridden elections.

What sunk Nixon was the mysterious "Deep Throat", a man close to the president nicknamed after a porno movie. As journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein strived to weave a picture of seemingly isolated illegal activities and unscrupulous officials together, Deep Throat, their key source and guiding light, told them to "Follow the Money."

In his film Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore began the job of maping the money trail of the Bush family and their close associates. Moore builds on the work done by dozens of authors that have published books on or about the president.

The documentary deals mostly with high-level influence trafficking and raises many ethical questions about both the handling of the post 9/11 period, the Saudi connection, and the administration's obsession with attacking Iraq.

Nevertheless, last November, Bush was able to convince a 51 percent majority of the voters that ethics should not be on the table at a time of war. He won that battle, at least for the time being.

Then, during the first week of February, what most of the world already suspected came to light in news reports that got relatively little coverage. Underneath the death and destruction that has been Iraq for almost two years, there's a banquet going on in a select group of US corporate boardrooms.

For starters, a report from the Inspector General of the US Coalition Provisional Authority shows 8.8 billion dollars in Iraq reconstruction contracts unaccounted for, an amount that exceeds the GDP of over a 100 countries.

Instead of even trying to come up with some receipts, Paul Bremer, the man in charge of the US occupation during the period audited, admitted to the press that accounting doesn't exist because the war chaos made it impossible to keep track of the funds dispersed.

Forget about snapshots of restored public services or reconstructed buildings -which still don't exist-, US troops were too busy having fun using their digital cameras to document their own sick atrocities committed against Iraqi prisoners.

In what promises to be just the beginning in a chain of incriminating evidence, recent testimony at the Senate Democratic Party Committee further illustrated the money madness occurring in Iraq.

Frank Willis, a former senior aviation officer for Iraq's (read US) Ministry of Transportation and Communication, said Baghdad was like the Wild West where millions of dollars in cash packed in gunnysacks were dispersed by US officials from a vault.

Willis said the money was counted upon its delivery to contractors, but that nobody kept track of the money's use after that. "This isn't penny ante," said panel chairman Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. The senator added, "Millions, perhaps billions of dollars have been wasted and pilfered."

While these revelations may be only the tip of the iceberg, the president banks on the major US networks to fill their TV news programs with reporting on whether Michael Jackson molested children at his Never-Never Land Ranch, the gruesome details of teenagers killing their grandparents, an occasional beheaded American, and little veiled threats against Iran, Syria and North Korea.

Like the stonewalling Nixon, who swore up and down he would never tell a lie, the President addressed the union at the onset of February and totally sidestepped the multi-billion dollar bookkeeping issue. He can get away with that for now, as he banks on a legislature that has so far funded his budget requests to finance the corporate party.

Instead of asking what happened to the fortune already invested, enough to put a big dent in the illiteracy and hunger around the globe, Bush is now asking Congress for an additional 82 billion dollars for the coming months in Iraq and Afghanistan?

For now, fiscal accountability is still far from the presidential table. Putting together the puzzle that would link well-placed government officials and the corporate fiesta depends on whether gutsy journalists -like Woodward and Bernstein back in the early seventies- can get the backing to "Follow the Money." If they do, we may yet see a non-electoral end of the Bush family dynasty.

Cuban Five: Another New Year’s Eve Behind Bars

By Circles Robinson
December, 2004

Who the heck are the Cuban Five and why are they spending their seventh straight New Year’s Eve in US maximum security prisons? The answer can be found in the new documentary “Mission Against Terror.”

The powerful movie co-directed by Irish journalist Bernie Dwyer and Cuban educational TV program maker Roberto Ruiz Rebo tells the story of five Cuban men who infiltrated the Miami underworld to uncover plots of terrorist attacks on their country, carried out by thugs and convicted assassins operating with the consent and protection of Washington.

Mission Against Terror makes its case in the words of former CIA agent Phillip Agee, defense attorney Leonard Weinglass, Catholic Priest Geoffrey Bottoms, close relatives of the political prisoners and Cuban-Americans willing to take the risk to speak out.

It denounces how Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and Rene Gonzalez were railroaded into US prisons for crimes they never committed and the cruelty both they and their families suffer from their separation.

Countless irregularities in the legal proceedings held in a hostile Dade County Florida atmosphere and the prosecution’s failure to present evidence backing their accusations that the Cubans had endangered US national security exemplifies the politicized nature of the trial.

When asked why people outside Cuba should be particularly concerned about the issue, Mission Against Terror co-director Bernie Dwyer said the Cuban Five case is important “because it is symbolic of the non-stop US aggression against Cuban sovereignty.”

“People outside Cuba should be especially concerned because it is a perfect example of the struggle between David and Goliath. These five men were not violating any legal agreements between the United States and Cuba, but the US consistently violates international conventions, UN regulations and the Universal Charter of Human Rights in its dealings with Cuba. The case of the Five is, unfortunately, a perfect example of this.”

At the Havana premiere of the film presented in the recently concluded 26th New Latin American Film Festival, Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon said it comes at an opportune time and will no doubt bring increased solidarity with the Cuban Five. He further emphasized the directors’ contribution to a cause totally ignored by the US corporate media.

Besides detailing the legal ramifications of the case, the 50-minute film documents the gross abuses of human rights committed against the Cuban Five, forced into solitary confinement for prolonged periods of up to 17 months for no reason. It also illustrates how their close family members are routinely denied the right to visit their innocent loved ones.

Mission Against Terror outlines the many reasons Cuba has to defend itself against terrorist attacks, after having survived 45 years of an economic, commercial and financial blockade and countless CIA plots to assassinate President Fidel Castro.

Dwyer said she became interested in the case for both political and personal reasons. “Looking into this case, the miscarriage of justice reminded me of my involvement in several cases of political prisoners unjustly incarcerated in Britain.”

“I also related to the problems experienced by the families of the Cuban Five because the same problems were met by the Irish prisoner’s families when they went to England to visit their loved ones: prisoners being moved without notice, subjected to humiliating searches before being allowed to see their family members, no privacy, etc.”

Meanwhile, on March 10, 2004 defense attorneys made their appeal for a retrial to a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Atlanta. Over nine months later a ruling is still pending.

Dwyer said she remains optimistic. “A few months ago the judges requested more material, which can only be seen as a good sign. The problem is that this case could easily be treated as a political case, which means a directive could come from the Bush administration overruling the independence of the judges.”

“The very least that should be expected from the appeal is a retrial outside of Miami. The evidence of a mistrial and violations throughout the proceedings is overwhelming. If the Cuban Five don’t get a new trial, it will be a sad day for American justice.”

When asked what the release of the Cuban Five would mean to the island, the Mission Against Terror co-director said it would bring “a huge amount of hope to Cuba: hope that maybe there is a form of US justice that overrides political blackmail: that the US judicial system recognizes Cuba’s right to defend itself against aggression emanating from Miami. Personally, their release would give me hope that there is some form of justice in the world.”

A Tale of Two Foreign Policies

By Circles Robinson
November, 2004

No two countries have more divergent foreign policies than the United States and Cuba; while the former uses its gun barrel diplomacy and double standard on terrorism, the latter provides medical assistance and educational opportunities to the Third World.

Venezuela, and last Thursday’s political assassination in that country, is a case in point to illustrate the “friendly” hand of Washington and the solidarity of Cuba.

The Caribbean island provides the South American country with several thousand doctors and other health professionals to extend its health care system to include the large previously excluded sector of the population.

The “Barrio Adentro” neighborhood clinics and a nationwide literacy campaign, both with Cuban assistance, are widely popular among a growing majority of Venezuelans. The 60-percent vote obtained by President Hugo Chavez in the August 15 recall referendum and subsequent regional and municipal election victories exemplifies this.

Upon returning home to the island for a one month vacation, Cuban physician Alina Cardenas Diaz described her experiences to Juventud Rebelde newspaper: “We visited houses high up on hills where people were astounded to see the first doctors to ever visit their neighborhoods. I wasn’t alive during the early years of the Cuban revolution, but now I’ve had the opportunity to live the intensity of the Venezuelan one.”

Bilateral cooperation has also made possible for thousands of Venezuelans to have urgently needed operations in Cuba and hundreds of Venezuelan young people are studying medicine in Havana to serve their country upon graduation.

The US, on the other hand, has done everything to undermine the peaceful revolution led by President Hugo Chavez short of an invasion or a blockade like the one it has maintained for 45 years against Cuba. American “aid” included support for the April 11, 2002 coup and hasty recognition of the “highly democratic” ringleaders who declared null the country’s Constitution, Courts and Parliament.

Not surprisingly, one of the junta’s first acts in power was sending a mob to besiege the Cuban embassy, cutting water and electricity, burning vehicles and threatening to kill the diplomats.

When the coup failed 47-hours after it began, the US offered sanctuary to its perpetrators, like it has to countless other fugitive international criminals. On the streets of Dade County or the white sands of southern Florida it allows them to organize efforts to sabotage the Venezuelan economy and train cells that will enter the country to carry out terrorist actions.

One such act occurred Thursday evening when Danilo Anderson, a courageous 38-year-old prosecutor, was assassinated as explosives placed in his car were detonated in Caracas. Not by coincidence, he had been in charge of the case against corrupt politicians and businesspeople that signed on to the April 2002 coup.

Shortly after the politically motivated killing, Venezuelan Communications and Information Minister, Andres Izarra stated: “The government of the United States should explain how it is that these terrorist groups operate with total freedom from US territory. Why haven’t the US authorities investigated the training camps where the “students” prepare to carry out terrorist attacks against Cuba and Venezuela? How is it that they can use the Miami media to call for violence in our countries under the complacent eye of the US government?”

These are powerful questions and the world deserves some answers.

Fantasy Island: Old Illusions for a New War

By Circles Robinson
November, 2004

Once again the troops are bogged down on foreign soil but the US Defense Department and its generals are on Fantasy Island.

Back in Vietnam, when 50 to 60 locals were killed for every GI, the Pentagon was claiming victory until the last US soldier was airlifted out of Saigon. Now, with their new smart technology, the slaughter of some 80 to 100 Iraqis for every American has the top brass playing Rambo with the “happy” ending.

After officially losing only 138 of his troops during the carpet bombing of what was once ancient Babylonia and massacring umpteen-thousands of the civilian population, on May, 1, 2003, the commander-in-chief stepped on board the USS Abraham Lincoln and decreed victory and an end to offensive actions in Iraq.

Yes, the treasured Persian Gulf oil was now US corporate property and the lucrative billions in reconstruction projects for the newly forged democracy under contract with Halliburton and other friendly companies.

It was a rout. The good army had terminated the bad guys Arnold S-style and sent in its dogs to search for the weapons of mass destruction used as a pretext for the preventive attack. They were never found, but that’s another story.

But surprise, the game wasn’t over. In Iraq, like in the US Major Leagues, there are no knockouts and however lopsided the score, the game isn’t over until the last out of the ninth inning. In amateur baseball, a team losing by 10 runs at the end of the 7th inning is finished, but this is the real thing.

This lesson should have been learned in Vietnam, but no, the US history books “forgot” to cover that war. They did the same with Watergate and then with Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and countless other pearls of corruption and terror on the receiving end of US “humanitarian aid” during the 1970s.

Humans have been called the only animal that trips twice on the same stone. What’s happening in Iraq today is a stellar example.

When the war was supposedly over, it had just begun. Despite the candy for the kids and TV dinners flown in for the surviving adults, the Iraqis, like the Vietnamese before them, didn’t bring out the red carpet for the GIs. It didn’t take long for Sylvester and his likes to see they weren’t welcome, leaving them only brute force to make things look like Fantasy Island.

A year and a half after the triumphant Bush speech the death toll of US soldiers is now officially at 1,194 and growing by the day. Many of the thousands of wounded have also since passed on to heaven or most likely hell—if killing innocent people is still a violation of the commandments—or lost parts of their bodies, but that’s another story.

Fallujah is in the news of late. Once again the US command decided to try and eliminate the armed opposition to their “friendly” presence and blast their way into the people’s hearts and minds. And blast they have.

The city is in a shambles and littered with corpses and besides the reconstruction dollar signs lighting up in the eyes of the lucky US corporations, nothing has been accomplished short of continuing to alienate an entire population. A people the Pentagon claimed it was trying to save from local and foreign extremists and give the privilege to vote in January for its designated puppets.

In South Vietnam they held lots of elections too.

Meanwhile, the “insurgents” who in any other land would be called “resistance,” are regrouping and carrying out daring actions throughout the country. While the US commanders in Kuwait, Qatar or back in Washington might have sweet dreams, the Iraqis are making it clear that nothing short of the total annihilation of their people will give a visiting GI a peaceful night’s sleep.

Fantasy Island is now being shown to the unwitting population that just elected George W. Bush to another four years in the White House. Will history ever stop repeating itself? Not if corporate America and its front men have anything to do with it.

Smart Bombs for Fallujah and Children in the USA

By Circles Robinson
November, 2004

One fine early November day when the hawks flying around the president reelect warned of a coming blitzkrieg on Fallujah, Iraq, an F-16 fighter plane unloaded 25 rounds of 25mm projectiles on a junior high school in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey.

While the pending “final offensive” against the populations of Fallujah and Ramadi is premeditated by the Pentagon, the attack on the New Jersey school was the result of an intelligent pilot using smart weapons, the same that shower death and destruction over Iraq.

In both cases the war toys are the most modern technology developed by the US military industrial complex, capable of filling cemeteries with “collateral” victims as a gift from an administration gone mad with power and new “mandate” to use it.

CNN news network, one of the most “objective” voices of the US government, informed that hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilians could add to the list of some 100,000 dead, in a new offensive against these bastions of Iraqi resistance.

The locals are accused by the puppet government of the crime of opposing the occupation by a foreign army that for more than a decade has bombed, sacked and impoverished their country.

The stated strategy of the commander-in-chief from Texas and his lackey in Iraq is to soften up the population to get it to accept the illegitimate elections planned for next January.

Every “insurgent” eliminated is after all one less abstention. Each child killed is one future insurgent liquidated and one less mouth to receive the crumbs offered as “humanitarian assistance” and “development” made in the USA for the Third World.

Returning to the north, another CNN headline informed on November 4 that the US people are content with the reelection of Bush Jr. The following day, citing AP, CNN treated an air strike on a school in Little Egg Harbor New Jersey, using M61-A1 cannons, as a simple mistake.

Fortunately classes were not in session when the attack occurred. This saved innocent young Americans from suffering the same fate as their peers in Iraq or Palestine, where bombing takes place day and night and each dead body is justified by the divine right to carry out a crusade against terrorism and impose a strange type of democracy that is increasingly rejected outside the well kept White House lawns.

According to the latest US election returns, a whopping 27.3 percent of the voting age population elected Bush for four more years. However, the rest of the world and especially the so-called South did not give him their vote and will instead continue to develop alternatives to a model that has only brought misery and mourning to the large majorities.

The way things are going these days in the minds of those that rule the US, little by little all those “other” countries will become “dark corners.” But despite the arrogance of the Bush administration, the last word has not been said.

Popular Vote Thwarted in Close US Elections

By Circles Robinson
October, 2004

If Tuesday’s presidential elections are neck-and-neck as predicted, what really counts are the 538 votes of the archaic Electoral College. In some cases, like the 2000 elections, this can put the loser in the White House.

Despite all the shenanigans that occurred in Florida before, during and after Election Day 2000, Al Gore received 543,895 more votes than George W. Bush. But look who is in the White House! This was not the first time a candidate won the presidency with fewer votes than his rival.

On three occasions in US election history a Republican candidate lost the popular vote but ended up in the White House. In 1876, Samuel Tilden (D) defeated Rutherford Hayes by a 51.6% - 48.4% margin but never made it to Pennsylvania Avenue because the all-powerful Electoral College gave the vote to Hayes 185-184.

Only eight years later the same thing happened. Incumbent Democrat Grover Cleveland won the popular vote 49.3% to 48.4% over challenger Benjamin Harrison. Nonetheless the Electoral College gave the election to Harrison 233-160.

Then, a century later, George W. Bush stormed the White House with 271 Electoral College votes to 266 of Al Gore, despite the fact that Bill Clinton’s vice president won the popular vote by a 48.38% to 47.87% margin.

These results come from a country that would be the first to cry foul play and consider launching an invasion if the losing candidate was proclaimed the winner in any of George Bush’s “dark corners” of the planet.

Besides being able to decide elections regardless of the popular vote, the winner take all allocation system of the Electoral College also distorts the real outcome of the vote.

For example in 1980, Ronald Reagan won 50.7 percent of the popular vote to incumbent Jimmy Carter’s 41.0 (an independent, John Anderson, obtained 6.6%). After the Electoral College votes were tallied, Reagan had 90.9% to Carter’s 9.1%.

In 1996, Bill Clinton won 49.24 of the popular vote to 40.71 of his challenger Bob Dole. In the electoral vote tally Clinton garnered 70.4% to Dole’s 29.6%.

While these figures poorly reflect the actual popular vote, the cases of most notoriety showing the un-democratic nature of the system were the election results from 1876, 1888 and 2000.

How it works

Most US citizens believe that when they cast their ballot, they are voting for the candidate of their choice. In fact, they are selecting a number of electors allotted their state on the Electoral College.

Every state has a number of electors equal to its congresspersons plus two senators. In addition, there are three electors for the District of Columbia. In the last presidential elections there were 538 electors, the same as this time around.

Except in Maine and Nebraska where proportional representation is allowed, all the electoral votes theoretically go to the candidate who leads the popular vote in a given state, independent of whether they win by one or one million votes. This “winner takes all” system can produce seemingly uneven results and clearly gives more value to an individual vote in sparsely populated states. For example, Wyoming has one electoral vote for every 165,000 residents while in California it’s one for ever 616,000.

Another troubling issue is that while Electoral College electors usually cast their votes for the candidate who received the most votes, there have been times when “faithless electors” have bolted and voted contrary to the people's decision, which was entirely legal. To date this has occurred in lopsided races and thus received little notice.

However, in a very close election one elector of the Electoral College could tip the balance in favor of a candidate. The danger of this occurring is one of several murky issues hovering over the 2004 elections.

Meanwhile, with E-Day approaching George W. Bush has already received a little registered boost from demographics and the Electoral College.

With population shifts recorded in the 2000 census the electoral votes per state changed. For example, Michigan now has 17 instead of 18, Pennsylvania 21 instead of 23, while Florida now has 27 instead of 25 and Arizona’s allotment increased from 8 to 10. In the 2000 elections, the former two went for Al Gore while the latter couple went to Bush. When taking into account all the changes the same 271-266 vote that gave Bush his victory would now be 278-260.

With by far the largest population, California receives 55 Electoral College votes and these appear headed for Kerry. The state with the second highest population is now Bush’s home state, Texas, with 34 electors predicted to vote Republican and now surpassing New York with 31, where Kerry is likely to score a big victory.

Several states that were close in the 2000 race continue to be the focus of the 2004 campaign. These include Pennsylvania (21 electoral votes), Ohio (17), Michigan (17), Florida (27), Minnesota (10) Wisconsin (10) Iowa (7), Colorado (9), Hawaii (4), West Virginia (5), New Hampshire (4).

Election eve polls show the presidency a toss up and both candidates’ legal teams are already preparing for challenges to be filed over who is and isn’t allowed to vote and any irregular behavior in the vote tallying. Civic groups will also be on the watch for fraud in this all too familiar scenario that has the world on edge.

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