Political MoJo

What Happens When Castro Dies?

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 1:42 PM EDT

Now that's good journalistic timing. Jon Lee Anderson had a New Yorker article last week asking who would succeed Fidel Castro should the Cuban dictator die, and now, today, Castro is temporarily handing over the reins to his brother Raúl. So we should all read Anderson's article, which… sadly isn't online.

So you'll just have to trust my summary. The short answer is that Raúl would succeed Fidel. But Raúl's already 75, and he might not be long for this world, either. So after Raúl, Cuba would probably be run by a civilian triumvirate made up of Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Rocque, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón, and Carlos Lage, the "country's economics czar." All of them seem keen on continuing Cuba's socialist government, although historically triumvirates don't always go as smoothly as planned. So we'll see. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has its own plans to take advantage of an uncertain transition period in Cuba:

In December, 2003, President Bush appointed Senator Martinez as cochair of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, along with Colin Powell. Their mandate was to find ways to "hasten the end of Castro's tyranny," and to develop "a comprehensive strategy to prepare for a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba." The result of their work was a five-hundred-page report, issued in May, 2004, that included guidelines for everything from setting up a market economy to holding elections. It also recommends "undermining the regime's 'succession strategy.'"...

The report, which the Bush Administration adopted as policy, recommended the appointment of a Cuba transition coördinator. The person named to the new post was Caleb McCarry, whose previous position was staff director for the House Foreign Relations Committee's Western Hemisphere subcommittee. When I spoke with McCarry, he said, "My function is to be the senior U.S. official in charge of planning and supporting a genuine democratic transition in Cuba, and to work on it now." He is, in effect, the Paul Bremer designate of Cuba. As with Iraqi however, the United States is hampered by its inability to operate openly in Cuba, and by its reliance on information from exiles and dissidents. And it does not seem to have a candidate for Castro's replacement.

McCarry said that, while the transition would be in Cuban hands, "we will be there to offer very concrete support." The U.S. is already channelling money and aid to the opposition. Two leading dissidents, Osvaldo Paya and Elizardo Sánchez, have said that this tactic has been counterproductive, and criticized it as heavy-handed meddling. Many of the dissidents arrested in 2003 were accused of illegally receiving American funds. (In a speech, Castro called them "mercenaries.")

McCarry emphasized that the Administration would not regard the accession of Raúl Castro as a satisfactory outcome, even if it was accompanied by economic reforms. "We will continue to offer support for a real transition," he said. "You know, this is not an imposition. It's an offer, a very respectful offer, with respect for the sense of Cuban nationhood."
Not surprisingly, a number of Cuban exiles are apprehensive about the idea of the United States meddling in yet another foreign country, trying to impose democracy and the like from without. That's true not least because many Cubans fear that any American-backed government that came to power would take away their homes and give them to their old owners from the Batisto era. So it's certainly something to keep an eye on.

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Text of Castro's Letter Announcing Temporary Handover of Power

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 11:53 AM EDT


As he undergoes emergency surgery, Fidel Castro has temporarily handed over power to his brother, Raul. Here, via AP, is the text of the letter from Fidel Castro that was read on state television Monday by his secretary.

Because of the enormous effort involved in visiting the Argentine city to attend the Mercosur meeting, at the closing of the Summit of the Peoples in the historic University of Cordoba and the visit to Alta Gracia, the city where Che (Guevara) lived in his childhood and immediately afterward attending the commemoration of the 53rd anniversary of the attack on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes barracks, the 26th of July of 1953, in the provinces of Granma and Holguin, days and nights of continuous work with hardly any sleep, have caused my health, which has withstood all tests, to fall victim to extreme stress and to be ruined.

This has caused in me an acute intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding that has obliged me to undergo a complicated surgical operation. All the details of this health accident can be seen in X-rays, endoscopies and filmed material. The operation will force me to take several weeks of rest, away from my responsibilities and duties.

As our country is threatened in circumstances like this by the government of the United States, I have made the following decision:

1) I delegate in a provisional manner my functions as first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba to the second secretary, comrade Raul Castro Ruz.

2) I delegate in a provisional manner my functions as Commander in Chief of the heroic Revolutionary Armed Forces to the same comrade, Army Gen. Raul Castro Ruz.

3) I delegate in a provisional manner my functions as president of the Council of State and of the government of the Republic of Cuba to the first vice-president, comrade Raul Castro Ruz.

4) I delegate in a provisional manner my functions as the main driving force behind the National and International Program of Public Health to Politburo member and Public Health Minister, comrade Jose Ramon Balaguer Cabrera.

5) I delegate in a provisional manner my functions as the main driving force behind the National and International Education Program to comrades Jose Ramon Machado Ventura and Esteban Lazo Hernandez, members of the Politburo.

6) I delegate in a provisional manner my functions as the main driving force behind the National Program of the Energy Revolution in Cuba and cooperation with other countries in this field to comrade Carlos Lage Davila, member of the Politburo and secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers.

The relevant funds for these programs — health, education and energy — should continue to be assigned and prioritized, as I have been doing personally, by comrades Carlos Lage Davila, Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers; Francisco Soberon Valdes, Minister President of the Central Bank of Cuba; and Felipe Perez Roque, Foreign Relations Minister, who have accompanied me in these duties and should constitute a committee for this purpose.

Our glorious Communist Party, supported by mass organizations and the entire public, has the mission of carrying out the duties outlined in this proclamation.

The summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, to be held Sept. 11-16, should receive the greatest attention of the state and the Cuban nation so it is held with the most brilliance possible on the scheduled date.

The 80th anniversary of my birthday, which thousands of people so generously agreed to celebrate next Aug. 13, I ask that it be postponed for Dec. 2 of this year, the 50th anniversary of the landing of the Granma.

I ask the Central Committee of the party and the National Assembly of Popular Power to give their firmest support to this proclamation.

I do not have the slightest doubt that our people and our revolution will fight to the last drop of blood to defend these and other ideas and measures that are necessary to safeguard this historic process.

Imperialism will never be able to crush Cuba.

The Battle of Ideas will continue.

Long live the fatherland!

Long live the revolution!

Long live socialism!

Always toward victory!

Fidel Castro Ruz

Commander in Chief

First Secretary of the party and President of the Councils of State and of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba.

July 31, 2006

6:22 p.m.

Further Carnage in Iraq

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 11:49 AM EDT

Lest we forget there's a war going on there...

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Bombings and shootings across Iraq killed at least 52 people Tuesday, including 24 people in a bus destroyed by a roadside bomb. The attacks further damage the U.S.-backed government's efforts to establish control over the country. (AP)

Roundup: The War in the Middle East

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 11:43 AM EDT

August 1, 2006

Ynet News, a big Israeli news net, reports: "The Yesha Rabbinical Council announced in response to an IDF attack in Kfar Qanna that 'according to Jewish law, during a time of battle and war, there is no such term as 'innocents' of the enemy."

"All of the discussions on Christian morality are weakening the spirit of the army and the nation and are costing us in the blood of our soldiers and civilians,'' the statement said.

Military commanders in northern Israel knew nothing about Olmert's deal with Rice for a short ceasefire. And it appears they paid Olmert little heed. The Israeli press is up in arms at what they take to be Olmert's weak-kneed leadership. Yedioth Ahronoth, a mass market paper wrote, "If Israel fails in this war, it will be impossible to continue to live in the Middle East."

The paper wrote a speech for the prime minister to make to world leaders: "Gentlemen, it is time for you to understand: The Jewish state will no longer be trampled underfoot ... I serve as a mouth today for six million bombed Israeli citizens, who serve as a mouth for six million annihilated Jews, who were burnt to dust by savages in Europe ... And you, just as you did not take the matter seriously at the time, you are ignoring it now."

Economists estimate between 10 and 20 percent of the people who fled the country will never return. Many Lebanese companies will go offshore rather than risk another Israeli attack.

"And look, it's a terrible situation when innocent people lose their lives," Mr. Bush said. "And yesterday's situation was awful. We, I understand that. But it's also awful that a million Israelis are worried about rockets being fired from their, from their neighbor to the north."

Props to Blair and Schwarzenegger

| Mon Jul. 31, 2006 8:16 PM EDT

He may have gotten things disastrously wrong on Iraq, but Tony Blair is showing he's quite capable of doing the right thing on other issues -- even if it means crossing George W. Bush. The Guardian reports:

Tony Blair yesterday sidestepped the Bush administration's refusal to act on climate change by signing what was hailed as a ground-breaking agreement with California, the world's 12th largest carbon emitter, to fight global warming.

Downing Street made no attempt to disguise the fact that the deal is designed to get round Republican objections to states imposing mechanisms to cut carbon emissions. With other US states also interested or involved in carbon trading markets, the path is being opened to bring US business into international efforts to fight climate change, even though international progress has been stymied by the Bush administration's refusal to sign up to binding targets in the Kyoto protocol.

In another good move, Blair is working to create a closer link between British and American scientists working on stem cell research.

Skelton says 2/3 of brigade combat teams are unprepared

| Mon Jul. 31, 2006 8:09 PM EDT

Despite George W. Bush's declaration today that the U.S. has a strong military that can deal with anything, Rep. Ike Skelton, ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, recently reported.

Army readiness is in crisis. The administration has brought us here because of a lack of planning and a lack of funding. Today two-thirds of the brigade combat teams in our operating force are unready.

The Army is cutting resources for nondeployed in order to maintain front-line troops at optimum combat readiness. The Washington Times reported today that many armored vehicles and some aircraft cannot be used because of damage from both homemade explosive devices and harsh environmental elements in Iraq. The Army is prepared to repair and refurbish these vehicles, but there is no cash available to do so.

Retired Gen. John Keane says that troop morale is high, and once emergency funding is granted to make necessary repairs and replacements, everything will be fine.

Nonetheless, it is worth going back to 2000 and remembering this election quotation from George W. Bush: "When you don't keep faith with the men and women of our military, it's hard to keep them at all."

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GOP to Katherine Harris in May: "Your campaign faces irreparable damage."

| Mon Jul. 31, 2006 7:51 PM EDT


"Katherine, though it causes us much anguish, we have determined that your campaign faces irreparable damage. We feel that we have no other choice but to revoke our support. The polls tell us that no matter how you run this race, you will not be successful in beating Bill Nelson."
--Confidential May 7 letter to Harris from Florida Republican Party Chairman Carole Jean Jordan, obtained today by AP.

She went ahead anyway, of course. A recent poll has Harris comfortably ahead in the GOP primary race trailing Nelson by 37 percentage points in a general election head-to-head.

Libby Defense Wants a Memory Expert at Trial

| Mon Jul. 31, 2006 7:04 PM EDT



Former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby wants a memory expert to explain how he — and prosecution witnesses — may have different recollections of their conversations about a CIA officer's identity.

In a court filing Monday, defense lawyers said Libby has a right to present testimony from Robert A. Bjork, chairman of the psychology department at the University of California at Los Angeles, to correct misperceptions that jurors may have about the reliability of memory.

More on Libby here, here, and here.

The Weapons Trade as Entertainment

| Mon Jul. 31, 2006 5:54 PM EDT


Over at Tomdispatch, Frida Berrigan has a good essay on the U.S. arms trade.

Like American entertainment, American arms are a multibillion-dollar industry that leans heavily on foreign sales. In fact, the United States exported $18.55 billion in fighter planes, attack helicopters, tanks, battleships, and other weaponry in 2005. All signs point to 2006 being another banner export year. Just as in the movie, TV, and music businesses, we dwarf the competition. Russia is the next largest arms exporter with a measly $4 billion in yearly sales. In fact, U.S. arms exports accounted for more than half of total global arms deliveries -- $34.8 billion -- in 2004, and we export more of them ourselves than the next six largest exporters combined.

Given the huge payoffs and even larger payloads delivered, isn't it strange how little attention the American arms industry gets? Maybe, in some small part, that's because the industry's magazines all have the word "Defense," or some equivalent, prominently displayed on the cover -- Defense Week, Defense News -- instead of Glamour or Allure. Maybe it's because of the Pentagon's predilection for less than magnetic PowerPoint presentations, unbearably unexpressive acronyms, and slightly paunchy, very pasty, older white men in business suits. Maybe the arms trade just doesn't seek the plush of the red carpet or the jittery pulse of flashing paparazzi cameras. Or maybe, it's a business that just loves to revel in profitable anonymity.

But don't be fooled. Like Hollywood, the arms industry has sex to spare. After all, the weapons themselves are all gleaming golden curves and massive thrusting spikes; they move at breath-robbing speed, make ear-splitting noise, and are capable of performing with awesome lethality. Just ask the Bush administration if you can't fall in love with weapons this sexy and the military that wields them. And then there are the glittery galas and trade shows like the Paris Air Show -- at Le Bourget airport north of the French capital -- where generals and corporate bigwigs with power, prestige, and incomparable sums of money rub against each other amid the scandalous whispers of corporate breakups and new mergers.

Read the rest here.

(For another gauge of the arms industry's formidable power, see this classic piece, "The Military-Industrial Man," in which Chalmers Johnson shows how, in one congressional district after another, the weapons industry has bought the incumbent, leaving voters powerless to dislodge him or her.)

John Dean on Conservatives Without Conscience

| Mon Jul. 31, 2006 5:37 PM EDT


John Dean gained fame as the former Nixon legal counsel who became the star witness in the Watergate prosecution. Now he's back in the spotlight with a new book that claims the Republican party is being run by extremist "conservatives without conscience." On Sunday Dean told Mother Jones Radio why he's optimistic that the party can move back to the center. Check it out here.