CUBA BRIEF: A bad day for Raul Castro: Mugabe is out and North Korea is in the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism

For sure, Raul Castro knows the old Spanish adage that says “If you see your neighbor’s beard on fire, immerse yours in water.”  Today, is not a good day for the General-President. The United States returned Pyongyang to the list of state sponsors of terrorism and Robert Mugabe, longtime friend and accomplice of the Castro dynasty is no longer in power. We are reprinting in English an article by Yoani Sanchez on the relationship between Mugabe and the Castros. It is very much worth reading.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who had recently called on the Administration to redesignate North Korea a sponsor of terrorism, congratulated the President on his decision. President Trump said that, “It should have happened years ago. In addition to threatening the world by nuclear devastation, North Korea has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, including assassinations on foreign soil.”

On another topic, on November 8th the Trump Administration issued welcome changes in U.S. – Cuba policy.  Several members of Congress said those were good first steps. The Center for a Free Cuba has asked the Administration to place back the Cuban regime on the list of supporters of international terrorism, unless Havana returns American terrorists wanted by the FBI, to face justice in the United States. 

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes in The Wall Street Journal: “Venezuela Is Starving Its People:  The Maduro regime is using its control of food to stamp out protests.” We have included her article in this Brief. The destruction of Venezuela took fewer years than the Castro dynasty to wreak havoc on Cuba and its people. 


14ymedio, November 16, 2017 

Another Ally Falls: The Siege Against Robert Mugabe

A year ago, Mugabe attended the funeral of Fidel Castro, his comrade in authoritarianism, perhaps like one who participates in his own funeral.

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 16 November 2017 – No one who has been in power for four decades is innocent and Robert Mugabe will not be the exception. This week the 93-year-old African caudillo is being called to account for his outrages as the longest serving dictator in the world. The man who has held Zimbabwe in his fist since 1980, when he became head of the government, has been confined to his home by the army and his departure from his post as head of state, which he has occupied since 1987, seems imminent.

Sick, weakened and having become a nuisance even to his own party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), Mugabe has been at the head of the country for 37 years and his record of human rights violations is as extensive as his days spent sitting in the presidential chair. 

Like most revolutionaries who come to power, Mugabe was responsible for destroying his own prestige. The first president of Zimbabwe, after the country shook off the colonial yoke, has, by his actions, negated that aura of freedom and emancipation that once clung to him.

Like a horse alone on the race track, he won one after another presidential elections, elections that he orchestrated to validate himself before international public opinion and that he won by using fraud and repression against dissent. He insisted he be venerated as a God and recently announced his obstinate candidacy for the 2018 elections.

In recent years, Mugabe has led the country into one of the greatest economic crises in its history, with an increasingly severe shortage of food, skyrocketing inflation and 80% unemployment, some of which he attributed to an international conspiracy, as is common practice in these kinds of regimes.

Mugabe has controlled every detail of the life of a nation, a nation that was once known as “Africa’s granary” for its fertile lands and high agricultural production, now burdened by plunder and the social abyss. Where each citizen resides, what they eat, who they meet with, their sexual orientation, are not options to choose from in the Zimbabwe of the old patriarch.

His regime fits the word “totalitarianism” with the exactitude of a dictionary. A political system that he tried to cloak in the garb of social justice and opportunities for all, but that in practice only provided opportunities to the circle closest to the president, to his ideological allies.

His policy of privileging locals by offering them the action of foreign companies, did not result in a better life for the common man but ended up fattening the pockets of his fellow politicians, family members and loyal officials. The Mugabe clan put down deep and devastating roots in the national economy, just like colonialism once did.

An outstanding disciple of the school of dictators, as a ruler he has also been vengeful and intolerant of discordant voices. The political leader, born in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, initially presented himself as a “savior” of peoples but became a source of hatred and polarization for the society he promised to represent.

Last year the thousands of people who protested peacefully for human rights violations and the deterioration of the economic situation faced his repression and were met with blows, arrests and threats. The one-time revolutionary covered his ears at the complaints of international organizations, after all Zimbabwe was his kingdom.

However, from that moment his days were numbered though he did not yet know it, or chose the arrogance of not wanting to see it. The straw that broke the camel’s back was last week’s dismissal of his vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, and the evidence – ever stronger – that the satrap was planning to transfer power to his wife, Grace Mugabe, age 53.

As the president’s health has plummeted, power struggles have broken out and each party, those who support Grace and those who bet on Mnangagwa, seek only an end: to take control of Zimbabwe, an appetizing piece of the African cake.

Fear of the other makes these caudillos take refuge in their nuclear families, placing their confidence in their narrowest circle to pass the baton. Successors that guarantee continuity, protection and impunity forever.

Like the end of all authoritarian regimes, Mugabe’s is full of contradictions. While some media reports that the president was preparing his resignation and negotiating the departure of his wife, others say that the situation is controlled in order to save national sovereignty and the nation itself.

“We want to make it very clear that this is not a military takeover of the government, what Zimbabwe’s defense forces are doing is intended to pacify a degenerative political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed could result in a violent conflict,” said a statement from the military.

A document made public this Thursday and signed by 115 civil society organizations in Zimbabwe asks Mugabe to resign and the military to restore the constitutional order to finally achieve the long-awaited democratic transition. It is part of the desperate cry of a nation exhausted by the excessive prominence of one man.

A year ago, Mugabe attended the funeral of Fidel Castro, his comrade in authoritarianism, perhaps like one who participates in his own funeral. A dinosaur saying goodbye to another fossil of the twentieth century.

Every time Mugabe was condemned by international organizations for tainting elections and eliminating critical voices, Havana was always on his side. For decades, the African satrap has maintained an exchange of favors with the Island that now begins to falter.

The Plaza of the Revolution is cautious today in statements about what is happening in Zimbabwe. The island’s news programs have not yet condemned the perpetrators of Robert Mugabe’s house arrest. They are on the lookout for a new caudillo to emerge, someone to whom they can extend a willing and complicit hand.


The Wall Street Journal, November 19, 2017

The Maduro regime is using its control of food to stamp out protests. 

By  Mary Anastasia O’Grady

There’s something vaguely uplifting about the house arrest of Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe last week. But it’s depressing to think that he hung onto power for 37 years, despite hyperinflation and famine in an African nation that was once a major food producer for the continent.

Ronald Reagan believed that “what is right will always eventually triumph,” but Zimbabwe is proof that it can take a long time. So too is Venezuela, which is experiencing its own Zimbabwean meltdown with no electoral way out.

Venezuelan shortages of everything are widely acknowledged. But there is less recognition that strongman Nicolás Maduro is using control of food to stamp out opposition. Hyperinflation has shriveled household budgets and the government has taken over food production and distribution. Most damning is evidence that access to government rations has become conditional on Maduro’s good favor.

The hardship is killing and deforming children. But Cuba, which runs the Maduro intelligence apparatus, also endorses it. Holding power trumps all.

Maduro took the helm in Venezuela after the March 2013 death of Hugo Chávez. Over 14 years Chávez had destroyed property rights and civil liberties and greased the monetary printing press. But $100 per barrel oil covered his multitude of sins.

Now the global crude price has been cut in half and the Chávez mess is exposed. The central bank’s net hard-currency reserves have fallen below $1 billion. Last week Miraflores Palace missed deadlines for interest payments on two sovereign debt issues and one bond issued by the national oil company PdVSA. Triple-digit inflation is spiraling.

Outside the country many are asking why the popular rebellion, which was significant in July, has gone quiet. The answer may be in the government’s skillful use of hunger as much as imprisonment to quash dissent.

Last week the newspaper El Nacional reported on a “food emergency forum” held by Amnesty International in Caracas. One participant was Maritza Landaeta, coordinator of the Caracas-based nonprofit Bengoa, which has worked to aid Venezuelans in food and nutritional needs since 2000. In describing the crisis, Ms. Landaeta shared the grim reality facing many mothers: “They say their children cry all day and they can only give them water. They are dying.”

Ms. Landaeta said some communities are experiencing undeniable “famine” and that in some parts of the country 50% of the children have left school because of hunger. According to the website El Estímulo Ms. Landaeta also reported that household surveys in the Baruta neighborhood of Caracas found that since the beginning of 2016 residents have lost, on average, more than 30 pounds. In September El Nacional reported that a study in 32 parishes in the states of Vargas, Miranda and Zulia by the Catholic aid organization Caritas Venezuela found that 14.5% of children under five are suffering either from moderate or severe malnutrition. This is no accident.

Inflation has stripped Venezuelans of purchasing power. The minimum monthly salary is now 456,507 bolivars, which on Nov. 15 was equal to about $8. A year ago the monthly minimum was 90,812 bolivars or about $21. Obviously imported food is unaffordable for most Venezuelan families.

The breakdown of domestic production is not new. But it has worsened in the past two years. Without hard currency, farm equipment cannot be serviced and seeds cannot be imported. Price controls make it hard for local producers to earn a profit.

The dictatorship increasingly controls what food there is. Dollars from oil exports go only to the state, which uses them to import. It also confiscates, at will, farm production and the output of agricultural processors. It plans to use the capital freed up by a restructuring of $3 billion in debt held by Moscow to buy Russian wheat. The government is forcing the use of debit and credit cards by withholding cash. This allows it to monitor all commerce and it saves on the costly importation of plane loads of new bills.

Venezuelans face risks if they complain. Last week the government announced that anyone who “incites hatred, discrimination or violence” against another, for their politics, faces 10-20 years in jail. The threat of jail, or worse, has already caused a retreat from the streets. This new law, which includes social media, will further chill speech.

Hunger has much the same effect because government rations are crucial for survival. Food supplied by the military-run Local Committee for Supply and Production—known by its Spanish initials CLAP—is not enough to live on. But it’s a subsidy that makes a big difference to families.

To receive the rations, Venezuelans must carry the Carnet de la Patria, a government-issued license only available to those approved by the regime. As Ms. Landaeta bravely explained, “Food is controlled and votes are bought, food is used as a political weapon and is at the center of the hurricane.”

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