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

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cuba Blogger Concerned over Iran

By Circles Robinson

Corporations like Halliburton, Bechtel, General Dynamics, ExxonMobil, CACI International and Titan Corp. have no loyalties, just markets and bottom lines. History tells us that for them wars mean unrestrained growth and growth means bigger profits.

The same state of affairs has repeated itself many times. The US State Department lays the groundwork for future conflicts, the Pentagon plans war scenarios, the well-placed corporations begin to lobby for juicy contracts and the media is prompted to manipulate public opinion.

The President uses selective intelligence reports to influence Congress. The legislators, fearful of being called “soft on national security” allot special powers to the Chief Executive. The green light is given. The general population will bear the burden. The victims will rarely be spoken of.

On the uneven playing field, the alternative press and the anti-war movement put out the warning signals. By the time their message is heeded, it is already too late.

Sound familiar?

Despite all the successful efforts to uncover the lies used by the Bush administration to justify the Iraq war; despite the internal audits by the Inspector General’s Office showing that dozens of billions of dollars have been squandered on inflated, no-bid, no-accounting contracts; and despite all the belated speeches on Capitol Hill, very little has changed since the Iraq invasion began on March 19, 2003.

On Thursday June 26, the US Senate gave final approval to a bill allocating $161.8 billion to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into the next year. The bill passed on a 92-6 vote with not one Democrat voting “nay”, including Obama and Clinton. President Bush triumphed once again, as there was no timetable or mention of withdrawal in the bill.

According to Congressional officials cited by AP, the new funding brings the official total spent on these wars to over $850 billion: $650 billion on the Iraq invasion-occupation and another $200 billion on the war against Afghanistan. The staggering amount is equal to the entire national budgets of dozens of countries during the same period. In the case of Cuba, the figure equals more than 50 annual budgets.


However, when a war drags on too long, affecting the overall economy and costing too many US casualties, the population can turn against the politicians. This has been true of the current wars, and John McCain is well aware of the President’s low popularity rating.

Billing himself as more experienced than Obama on foreign affairs and the tougher candidate on terrorism, McCain badly needs something to get voters’ minds off the declining economy and Iraq, if only for a few months.

Thus, in a recent interview with Fortune magazine made public on June 23rd, McCain’s senior advisor, Charlie Black, uttered the amazingly candid Machiavellian statement that another terrorist attack on US soil “certainly would be a big advantage to him [Mc Cain].”

McCain quickly apologized, telling the press: “I cannot imagine why he would say it. It’s not true.”

While the risk and cost of such a plan might be too high, I believe there’s another possibility being considered to aid McCain in his uphill battle: attacking Iran.


In demonizing Iran, most of the State Department legwork has already been done. Iran has been portrayed in a negative light since the Shah was overthrown in 1979. For decades the US media has presented the country as being run by religious fanatics that hate the US and Israel. As a result, few people in the US have a favorable opinion of Iran or its people.

For several years now Washington has threatened military action if Iran continues developing its capacity to harness nuclear energy for generating electricity, as in Europe, Russia, Japan and the US itself.

The situation has continued to inch towards a crescendo. Iran refuses to buckle to pressure and the US and its side-kick at 10 Downing St. have continued to up the ante. The EU has also followed suit.

On June 16, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the freezing of the assets of Iran’s largest bank. The PM stated: “Action will start today in a new phase of sanctions... We will take any necessary action so that Iran is aware of the choice to intensify sanctions.”

The European Union followed on June 23rd and imposed new sanctions against Iran, also freezing assets of its Bank Melli.

On June 27, the G-8 group of world economic powers urged Iran to heed their most recent “initiatives” to get it to forgo its nuclear energy program.

Each new sanction offers Washington new justification for a military strike if the sanctions don’t provide the desired results.

Israel, a major nuclear power, has also made it clear that it is more than willing to carry out the assault if the US prefers a proxy. To demonstrate its readiness, it conducted a large-scale aerial military exercise over the Mediterranean Sea in early June.

CNN quoted Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz telling Yediot Ahronot newspaper on June 6: “The window of opportunity has closed. The sanctions are not effective. There will be no alternative but to attack Iran in order to stop the Iranian nuclear program.”
A couple of days earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in the United States: “The Iranian threat must be stopped by all possible means.”


If President Bush can make the people believe that he’s saving the US or its allies from a potential nuclear attack, he could decide to launch strikes against Iran. Historically, few members of Congress have ever had the guts to stand up and ask tough questions when the White House announces an imminent threat to national security.

The vote on Thursday, more than five years into the now unpopular Iraq war, shows the power of persuasion that goes along with the Presidency.

If intended to bolster Republican popularity, the timing for such an attack would be very important. The reasons for it would most likely have to be fabricated, like those used in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Then there would have to be an effective cover-up, keeping the cat in the bag until the November 4 elections; afterwards it wouldn’t matter.

Attacking Iran and taking control of its oil reserves would be another godsend to the favored US oil, security and construction corporations. It would be one more case, like in Iraq and Afghanistan, of privatizing the huge profits and letting the young soldiers and US taxpayers pay the short and long term bills.

Whether the Republicans will actually try such a ploy remains to be seen. Regardless, you can be sure that Iran is not taking the situation lightly.

“We advise U.S. officials to be careful not to face another tragedy,” cautioned Mohammed Hejazi, an Iranian military official quoted in the L.A. Times on Wednesday June 25. “If you want to move toward Iran, make sure you bring walking sticks and artificial legs, because if you come, you will not have any legs to return on,” he concluded.


Living in Cuba, one is acutely aware of what it means to be on the list of perceived US enemies. The country has spent 50 years updating its defense strategy and capabilities just in case.

Cuba is the current chair of the 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement. The grouping is the largest international body that has repeatedly gone on record supporting Iran’s right to nuclear technology for peaceful ends.

Being in a small country doesn’t mean you aren’t watching the bigger picture. To the contrary, it can make you keep a watchful eye on the moves of the superpower that considers it a God-given right to intervene at will in weaker nations’ affairs.

Some readers might think I’m exaggerating the threat of another war. While I’d much prefer to be proven wrong, I don’t think the concern is unjustified.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cuba Summer and US Elections

By Circles Robinson

Summer is a time when a lot of Cubans are thinking about vacations and leisure. Parties, outdoor music, beaches and bathing suits, carnivals, movies, reading, food, beer, rum and ice cream are the order of the day.

In August, the majority of the nation will also be glued to TV sets for 15 days, watching the Beijing Olympics and rooting for their athletes.

I’ll be keeping a close watch on the weather from the window of my office, alert for any signs of lightning that could fry my computer or modem during the summer storms. Hopefully we’ll have a light hurricane season. Cuba needs a chance to get its agriculture moving forward, the current national priority.

One other issue that will be on people’s minds this summer and into the fall is the US presidential elections and what the results could mean for Cuba.

As a foreigner living in Havana, I am often approached by Cuban friends and colleagues with their opinions on the November vote.

Many are astounded that a black candidate could have a chance of becoming president of the United States. More than a few openly speculate that if he actually won, he could meet the same fate as John Kennedy, especially if he upsets the Cuban-American terrorist groups operating out of Miami with the consent of the CIA and FBI.

The Cuban media gave considerable coverage to the state primaries and the advance of the delegate count in the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nod.
Many people following the elections thought the long drawn out battle between the two candidates —compared to the clear sailing for McCain—, hurt the Democrat Party’s chances in November.

Even though Hillary promised no change in US-Cuba policy, it was commonly felt here that either of the two Democratic candidates offered at least the possibility of change in the status quo as it has existed under Bush.

Now that he’s the Democratic Party candidate, virtually every Cuban I know sees Obama with at least a small hope for slightly improved relations. His proposal to ease restrictions on family visits is very popular in Cuba even among people who dislike the country’s political-economic system. Like most Latin Americans, family is very important to Cubans.

On the other hand, they see McCain as offering nothing more than a continuation of the Bush “regime change” strategy.

Hopes for any more profound change are tempered by the fact that the US blockade has been maintained by 10 different Democratic and Republican presidents over fifty years.

One aspect of the US electoral process that boggles Cubans is the incredible campaign spending. People speculate about how much good those hundreds of millions of dollars could do if put to more noble uses.

The European Union’s decision Thursday to lift all sanctions imposed against Cuba in 2003 opens the door to a normalization of EU-Cuba relations and expanded cooperation and exchange.

This decision, a slap in the face to the Bush camp’s diplomacy, may not inspire the White House to follow suit. However, the new US president and Congress that take office in January 2009 will have abundant reason to question their maintenance of the fifty-year-old policy.

Should they decide to preserve the current stance, it will be the United States, not Cuba that will be ever more isolated.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Cuban Media Contemplates Changes

By Circles Robinson

Cuba’s journalists are gearing up for a major congress on July 3-5 that could reshape what Cubans see on TV screens, in newspapers and on the radio, as well as the way the island reaches out to the world.

For the last several years, an intense debate sponsored by the Cuban Journalists Association (UPEC) has raged among reporters, editors and the Communist Party as to what steps would improve the quality of Cuban print and broadcast journalism.

Then, at the insistence of acting President Raul Castro in July 2006, the general population jumped into the fray with its own opinions on the media as part of a national debate on the problems facing the country.

The trend in the US and Latin America is toward ever greater corporate domination of the media. Consolidation has put power in the hands of an elite group that today includes AOL/Time Warner, General Electric, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Viacom, Walt Disney Co., Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, Univision Communications, the O’Globo Communications Group and Televisa. With globalization, the profit-oriented interests of these conglomerates take precedence over the needs and interests of peoples, communities and nations.

Cuba has no intention of going that route. Its entire media is publicly-owned and non-profit, and the directives come from the Communist Party, the center of the island’s political life. However, there are some significant winds of change in the air.

Defending the Revolution, but with Better Reporting

Most Cuban journalists are united by a passionate commitment to the Cuban revolution. Such a commitment was overwhelmingly apparent at meetings held in the different provinces throughout May as a lead up to the UPEC Congress.

Nonetheless, the best way for the media to defend the revolution has been a matter of hot contention.

The Cuban press has always prided itself on avoiding sensationalism, focusing on serious issues and telling the truth. The Cuban population, however, have made it clear that they would like some changes.

The media was one of the many concerns discussed nationwide at meetings held in workplaces, urban neighborhoods and rural communities. Opinions aired, though often scathing, were accepted as valuable feedback by the Communist Party and UPEC.

The public urged the press to reflect more accurately the grassroots realities of Cuban society, with less reticence about discussing and reporting the real problems that exist. News programs on radio and TV and the print media were sharply criticized as presenting a much too rosy picture.

Another popular request was for a greater diversity of topics and opinions and a move away from the similarity between one media and another. The population also said it wants investigative reporting that gets to the bottom of a given issue.

A large segment criticized the media for omissions, a lack of details, and poor timeliness. At present, stories often circulate in the foreign press and hit the streets of Cuba on the “Radio Bemba” rumor mill long before they appear in the local media.

An effort in that direction has already begun, notes Tom Gjelten of US National Public Radio in his recent report titled “Cuban Newspaper Pushes Beyond the Party Line.”

Gjelten opens his article by stating “In an unprecedented move, reporters at Cuba’s Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) [newspaper] are being encouraged to investigate what’s not working in their country.”

What the report doesn’t mention is that this shift in media policy represents an initiative of the Communist Party in response to the popular demand for change.

The NPR article then goes on to make it seem that the editors are in contradiction with the Communist Party leadership, while setting the measuring stick of good journalism as that of a “democratic society” like the United States.

In an article published on the Cuban Journalists Association website in the lead up to their Congress, Ernesto Vera sums up Cuban journalists’ general opinion of the privately owned media championed by the US: “Journalism is too important to reduce it to a business… exempt from any social responsibility.”

The upcoming journalists’ congress promises to be a time of serious evaluation. The last Congress in 1999, attended by Fidel Castro, brought a major push towards greater availability of computers, the internet and other resources to the media. Like that gathering, it’s expected that this Congress will yield important direction for the years to come.

Two Different Media Approaches

A siege mentality has permeated much of Cuban life during 50 years of hostility from the United States under ten different administrations. Understanding this is vital in comprehending the cautious approach of the Communist Party in policies involving the island’s media.

On the other hand I also recall what it’s like living under corporate, profit-first, media in the US, Spain and other Latin American countries.

I remember a dear friend William Eastlake (1917-1997), novelist and short story writer, journalist and war correspondent, and the stories he told me over a couple glasses of wine at his southeastern Arizona home about his stint in Vietnam working for The Nation magazine in the late 1960s.

He recounted how reporters often saw no reason to leave their Saigon hotels, instead waiting for some Pentagon general to give the day’s success story at the afternoon press conference.

According to Eastlake, the reporters there faced the choice of writing what the Army wanted them to or going out on their own and not being trusted by anyone. In addition, after taking the risks involved, it was very difficult to get articles published if their point of view ran counter to what the media owners wanted.

The author recalled that many chose the safer and easier route of the martinis and press conference, providing just what their publications or broadcast media wanted to play Washington’s game.

Many moons after Eastlake’s reflections on reporting from Vietnam, we face a far worse situation with the coverage in today’s Iraq. Five years into the war, the US media remains tightly controlled. Many publications don’t even bother to station reporters, finding it more cost-effective and less conflictive to merely replicate the wire service reports.

Back to Cuba, I am one of those who believe the island’s media has a lot of room for improvement. However, that doesn’t mean it should mimic the western media model where the pens dance to the dollars.

Maintaining its public service focus and being totally advertising free sets the Cuban media apart from today’s trends. The challenge posed is how to meet the population’s needs on domestic news and debate and more effectively communicate Cuban views abroad on national and international issues.

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