Circles Robinson Online

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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

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cuba Waiting Game after Legislative Elections

By Circles Robinson

Cubans turned out en masse Sunday to vote for members of their nation’s parliament despite steady rainfall over the western part of the country. Preliminary returns released Monday afternoon showed a remarkable 96 percent of the 8.4 million registered voters having cast their ballots.

By law, the new 614-member legislature must convene within 45 days, but officials already announced that the date to seat the parliament will take place on February 24, well ahead of the deadline.

The key task for the lawmakers will be to elect a new 31-member Council of State and the nation’s president from within their ranks.

Speculation abounds on the island and abroad as to whether Fidel Castro will seek another term as president, and how his decision might affect the winds of change blowing through the country. He retained his seat in the legislature, a requirement to belong to the Council of State or hold the presidency.

Ricardo Alarcon, the current leader of the Cuban parliament and reelected as a member on Sunday, noted Fidel’s steady recovery and said he expects him to be nominated for president on February 24.

Alarcon said he wouldn’t hesitate to vote for the man who has led the Cuban revolution from its onset, but acknowledged that it is Fidel’s decision whether to accept the nomination.

After 49 years, the revolution that sparks so much controversy in Washington and inspires so many Latin Americans appears at another crossroads.

From his polling place in Havana, First Vice President Raul Castro said the next legislature will have to make major decisions, albeit in a gradual manner. It wasn’t the first time the acting president had hinted at measures to come.

In a speech to the outgoing legislature on December 28, 2007, Raul said the country’s promising economic growth figures must translate into improved economies in Cuban homes. He called for greater efficiency in investments; more savings in the use of energy; accelerating land reform with the hope of decreasing food imports, and ending needless prohibitions that he said are causing more harm than good.

Raul Castro also said the “triumphalist” attitude of political leaders and government officials should be exchanged for more systematic information to the public stated with realism, clarity and a critical framework.

Meanwhile, the old guard Miami Cuban-American community, which continues to wield considerable influence in Washington, is not at all pleased with the changes on the horizon, designed to make the island’s socialist system work better, not destroy it.

For that crowd, the only solution to Cuba’s problems is to reverse the clock to the pre-revolution years, returning confiscated properties, and allowing the US to administer the island’s affairs.

Bush’s Lies on Iraq Exaggerated by Foes

By Circles Robinson

A new study quoted by CNN on Wednesday confirms what some conservative supporters of President Bush have maintained all along; that the administration did not lie a thousand times in the run-up to the Iraq war.

The investigation carried out by the Center for Public Integrity and its affiliated group the Fund for Independence in Journalism says the president and his top cabinet officials only lied 935 times in the two years after 9/11.

While the study did not say how many times the administration spoke honestly with the nation, estimates are that they may have told at least part of the truth on more than a dozen occasions. The left-wingers in the anti-war movement had failed to admit that the president peppered in a few fairly honest statements along with the pack of lies.

“In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003,” said the study that was somehow seen as good news for Republicans who expected worse.

The study surprisingly named Vice President Dick Cheney as one of the officials with the lowest tally of lies: 48, bettered only by press secretary Scott McLellan with 15.

Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz lied on 85 occasions, ahead of Condoleezza Rice with 56. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and White House Press Secretary Ari Fleicher tied for third in the lying contest with 109 according to CNN.

The satellite TV station said Colin Powell “had the second-highest number of false statements with 244 about weapons and 10 about Iraq and al Qaeda,” for a total of 254.

Powell finished only six behind the winner, George W. Bush, who had 260 lies, “232 about Iraq and former leader Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, and 28 false statements about Iraq’s links to al Qaeda.”

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cuba Opens Election Year 2008

By Circles Robinson

The United States presidential election campaign will be top news until voting day in November, as the question of who will govern the world’s superpower concerns people around the globe. However, 2008 also brings the culmination of a less publicized but no less valid general election process in Cuba.

Neither the US nor Cuba cares much for the other’s electoral system. For many years Washington has discredited Cuban’s elections because there is no two-party system, which according to them, rules out opposition participation. They also criticize the multiple reelection of the Cuban president.

Havana counters that the US model excludes most of its population because of the massive influence of big money, corporate connections and private fundraising in the electoral process. The Cubans have also criticized the Electoral College mechanism that allowed George Bush to become president in 2000 despite receiving a half million votes less than his opponent.


Cubans go to the polls on Sunday, January 20, to elect the members of their provincial legislatures and the national parliament to five-year terms. People can vote for individual candidates or the entire slate up for election in their voting district. To get elected a candidate must receive over 50 percent of the valid votes cast.

The new 614-member parliament then elects a 31-member Council of State and the nation’s president from within its ranks. The Council of State approves the members of the Council of Ministers (cabinet) from proposals made by the president.

Around half the candidates to the new parliament were first elected by voters in municipal elections in October. The other half were selected by labor and other mass organizations to guarantee representation from virtually all sectors of society, from farmers to scientists, to artists and community organizers, factory workers, educators and health workers.

Currently interest in Cuba and around the world centers less on the parliamentary election than on whether or not Fidel Castro will seek reelection as president, and if not, who will replace him.

Castro will almost certainly win a seat in parliament representing a constituency in eastern Santiago de Cuba. However, by the time the new parliament meets in February or March, he must make his decision on whether to seek reelection to the presidency or take on a senior statesman role.

The Cuban leader met Tuesday with visiting Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, his first photographed appearance since October. Shortly after their two and half hour encounter, Lula told the press that the Cuban leader seemed healthy and “incredibly lucid.”

Nonetheless, Fidel himself stated in a newspaper commentary published on Wednesday, “I am not physically fit to speak directly to the citizens of the municipality where I was nominated for our elections on Sunday.”


The lead up to the two votes is like night and day.

The US field is crowded at this point with over a dozen candidates, to be culled after the “Super Tuesday” primaries in more than twenty states on February 5. Candidates woo their audiences with campaign promises tailored to please specific segments of the population. Advertising builds the candidate’s image as a carefully packaged product and often plays on voter fears about terrorism, the economy, immigration, etc.

In Cuba, campaigning is a synonym for unethical politicking and does not take place. With no advertising on TV, radio and the newspapers, no opinion polls, no billboards or front yard signs, and no candidate debates, the Cuban elections are quite dull by comparison.

While there is a wealth of ideas on how to deal with the island’s pressing problems, they are not discussed by the candidates. Such a debate takes place behind closed doors at the parliament, city councils and at workplaces.

The candidates run on their individual merits, commitment to the revolution and experience. After the rigorous and participative selection process, the entire slate is presented by political leaders and the media as ideal to represent the population.

The current candidacies are a diverse representation of Cuban society. A little over a third or 224 candidates (36.78 percent) are incumbents seeking reelection with the other 390 first timers, 42.16 percent are women, 78.34 percent have college degrees and 20.68 percent have a high school and/or technical degrees. Over a third (219) are black or mixed race.

The concept of a paid politician is absent in Cuba. The legislators continue at their regular jobs with time off for attending their constituency and the parliament committee and plenary sessions.

Likewise, no Cuban lawmaker ends up on corporate boards after leaving office in return for having bent to special interest groups.

Encouraging people to vote for the entire slate of candidates is the closest thing to campaigning that occurs in Cuba. People are urged to combat the stepped-up US hostility with a show of unity in support of the revolution.

While not everyone agrees with the vote by slate proposal, a large majority are expected to cast their ballots in that fashion. Official returns in 2003, the last general elections, showed 91.35 percent of the valid votes cast for the full slate of candidates. Blank and spoiled ballots accounted for fewer than 4 percent.

With precincts being small to make voting easy, and elections held on Sunday, voter turnout is expected to be over 90 percent, the usual occurrence in all Cuban elections since 1976.


For visitors to Cuba interested in seeing the island’s elections first hand, voter registration lists and candidate profiles are currently posted in convenient locations in each voting district. In addition, vote tabulation after the polls close is open to the public.

A novel feature of Cuban elections is the presence of 5th to 9th graders at polling stations. Besides getting acquainted with this important civic responsibility and guarding the ballot boxes, they also assist voters with disabilities.

On Election Day the polls will open on Sunday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., 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.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Deadly Enticement OK When It’s Cuba

By Circles Robinson

Hundreds of thousands of people attempt to reach the US illegally each year. A shot at the American dream, a reunited family, a better paying job or merely escaping from turmoil are some of the reasons that impel people to place their lives in the hands of human smugglers and risk everything to cross the border.

Traveling overland to the US is often treacherous, involving unscrupulous traffickers, bribes of police and border officials, robbers, and climatic extremes of heat and cold. Those who are caught anywhere along the way are immediately deported.

Those who succeed will join the ranks of other illegal immigrants, facing a clandestine life, exploitation without basic rights, and the constant threat of deportation. Those who have children with them run the risk of being separated after raids of factories, farms and other workplaces.

Some go well counseled of the risks involved, while others will learn when or if they arrive. In an election year like 2008, they become a political football with amnesty at one goal post, deportation at the other and the candidates taking up their positions at the extremes or somewhere in the middle.

In the case of Mexicans, Haitians, Colombians, Filipinos or Salvadorans it would be difficult to accuse the US government of enticing them to come. While it is clear that Washington’s foreign and economic policies have greatly increased poverty and inspired a new, massive emigration, the official US policy has been one of discouragement for all illegal immigration.


In the case of Cuba the rules change, but not the dangers. The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act grants any Cuban making it to US soil immediate temporary residency, a work permit, social security assistance, and virtually automatic permanent residency within a year.

Trying to reach the US by sea is even more dangerous than the land journey. But the US Congress encourages Cubans to gamble with their lives and those of their children, offering a big reward if they hit land. Over the decades, there have been thousands who didn’t make it and were never found.

The special law to lure Cubans has led to a flourishing smuggling business involving traffickers based in Florida with associates also working out of Mexico and Central America. These smugglers charge $8,000 to $12,000 per passenger on overcrowded speedboats.

During the last few days of 2007 and beginning of 2008, several news reports captured the human tragedy of this legal enticement.

The headlines couldn’t be more descriptive: Cubans Fear Families Lost at Sea; Two Cuba Migrants Die in Boat Capsize; Migrant Smuggling Spiked in Past Month; U.S. Plays Game With Cuban Immigrants; 40 Cubans Vanish during Crossing to Florida; Boat Capsizes near Miami, 8 Cubans Die.

Havana has repeatedly denounced the Cuban Adjustment Act as a killer law and demanded its repeal. However, the petition has fallen on deaf ears as the powerful Miami based Cuban-American lobby, with good connections in both the Republican and Democratic Parties, prefers the status quo.

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