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Irrational fear of Cuba dissected

by Walter Lippmann Monday, Jan. 15, 2007 at 12:39 PM 323-667-3471 Los Angeles, California

A Miami Herald commentator, who specializes in bashing Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez travels all the way to India, only to find that Castro and Chavez are very popular there. He tries, but fails, to convince his audiences that live in Venezuela is hell. I analyze his pitiful attempt.

Oppenheimer does India, Chavez and Castro

by Walter Lippmann, Editor, CubaNews

January 14, 2007

It seems to come as quite a surprise to the Miami Herald's Castro- Basher-in-Chief to find a friendly attitude toward Chavez and Cuba in a country which has reached remarkable levels of economic and technological growth after opening itself up to substantial foreign investments. Naturally, any number of social contradictions which have existed in India have been deepened in recent years since the opening to foreign investment. Perhaps Oppenheimer was ignorant of the long and completely friendly relationship which has existed between India and Cuba, one of complete normality and and active and lively economic connection. Indian oil firms have receive rights to explore Cuban oil deposits. Unfortunately for U.S. companies, the policies of Washington deny U.S. companies the possibility of participating in this potentially quite lucrative opportunity. India is a capitalist country, but a look at the Indian Embassy website in Havana couldn't be more different than what you find at the site of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. In my imagination, we'll one day see a U.S. embassy in Havana with a similarly friendly relationship with Cuba.

The headline on Oppenheimer's headline is missing from the website of the Miami Herald this morning. I suppose they'll fix it after awhile. India is a country on the march in today's globalized economy and a country where Marxism and Communism have a long and venerable tradition. Anti-Communism doesn't make much sense in a country like India where Communists have had, and continue to hold power in provincial and municipal governments for many decades. So this is a fascinating intellectual snapshot of the moment, even if it comes from the distorted lens of Andres Oppenheimer. Let's keep in mind that Oppenheimer is the author of the 1992 book CASTRO'S FINAL HOUR, often ironically given a promptness award by some of us.

Cuba is ready, willing and able to do business with the United States, but Washington under the policies which have been enforced for these past 48 years, has been afraid of the contagious reality of a country in which education and health care are completely free, housing is nearly free, and women of all ages can hitch-hike in complete safety. That's why Washington's extra-territorial legislation like Helms-Burton has been used to break up possible expansion of existing economic ties between our two countries. Yes, such possibilities even exist in the oil sector, which most people aren't aware of, and some have even been negotiated between Washington and Cuba under Fidel Castro and the revolutionary government. Consider today's news:



Posted on Sun, Jan. 14, 2007

"Under a 1977 treaty with the United States, Cuba has an Exclusive Economic Zone

that reaches to within about 50 miles of Key West, and it has been auctioning blocks

in the Florida Straits to foreign firms interested in oil and gas exploration."



Cuban society is a complex one with contradictions and problems of innumerable kinds. But Cuba under the Revolution has become a factor in world politics a hundred times, perhaps a thousand times its size, because of the independence it has secured under the Revolution.

Sometimes I tell people that it seems one of Cuba's many contributions to historic progress will be dragging the United States, both kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century. Yes, the twentieth. When will the rulers of the United States finally come to realize that they cannot take control of the entire planet and tell every person and every country how they should live, and what they should do?

People like Oppenheimer, and, regrettably most who operate the media in the United States, either believe, or want their readers to think, that Cuba is run by a bunch of dogmatic Stalinists. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are two paragraphs from a much longer look at the problems which confront today's Marxists and socialists from a widely- reproduced discussion by Cuba's National Assembly President, Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada. We've seen much discussion, and in it a certain amount of confusion about the meaning of the "Cuban Road" among friends of the Cuban Revolution, so Alarcon's comments are ones worth pondering, as is his entire commentary. Readers here should go ahead and read Oppenheimer's comments in full, then take a look at Alarcon's analysis. I'm sure you'll find the comparison informative.

Walter Lippmann, CubaNews

Los Angeles, California


ALARCON: We should admit our own errors, especially those that served as fertile ground for the bourgeois manipulation of the destruction of the Soviet model. This is not the time for profound analysis of the failure of an experience that now belongs to historians. But it is inevitable that we underline here something that led to the defeat and to its advantageous use by the enemy. ------------------------------------------------------

The conversion of the Soviet experience into a paradigm for those who in other places fought their own anti-capitalist battles, and the imperative obligation of defending it from its inflamed and powerful enemies, led to the subordination of a great part of the revolutionary movement to the policies and interests of the USSR, which did not always correspond to those of other peoples. The Cold War and the division of the world into two blocks of antagonistic states that threatened each other with mutual nuclear annihilation, reduced to a minimum the capacity of critical thought and reinforced dogmatism.



MIAMI HERALD Posted on Sun, Jan. 14, 2007

The Oppenheimer Report


Online hed goes in here

[yes, this is how it appears on the Miami Herald website as of 10 AM Sunday]

Andres Oppenheimer

aoppenheimer at

NEW DELHI -- I happened to be giving a talk at the Jawaharlal Nehru University here the day that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced the nationalization of key industries. I thought the news would help me make the case that Chávez is destroying Venezuela's economy. How wrong I was!

Far from applauding, the professors and students at the School of International Studies -- a major recruiting ground for foreign service officials -- were looking at me with a mixture of anthropological curiosity and disbelief. It was obvious that, for most of them, Chávez was a hero.

Granted, JNU, as this university is known, is the most politicized of all major Indian public universities. My volunteer guide, Ravi Kumar, a doctoral student doing his thesis on Cuba, told me that about 60 percent of all students at the school are ''Marxist.'' But this is not the case in most other Indian universities, especially in the technical colleges where students are busy studying to get well-paid jobs in the booming information technology industry, he said.

''How many of you think Chávez is doing a lot of good for Venezuela?'' I asked my audience. Most of the students raised their hands.

''Why do you think that?'' I asked. A doctoral student named Jagpal, who is doing his thesis on Venezuela, said that Chávez had put an end to a corrupt economic and political elite, and had focused the government's attention on the poor.

I said that I agreed with him if he phrased it that way. But the problem is that -- rhetoric aside -- Chávez is condemning the poor to long-term poverty. In a world where even communist countries like China and Vietnam are competing to attract investments, create new industries and increase exports, Chávez is scaring away investments, driving industries to close down and lay off workers, and making a growing number of people dependent on government handouts.


Instead of using Venezuela's unprecedented oil windfall to diversify the economy and build new industries, Chávez is simply giving away monthly cash bonuses to the poor, I continued. As the saying goes, that's bread for today, hunger for tomorrow.

Not true, the doctoral student specializing on Venezuela interrupted. Poverty is declining dramatically under Chávez, he argued. I asked where was he getting his information, and he told me he happened to have two books on Venezuela with him. Both turned out to be virtual odes to Chávez, one of them written by Aleida Guevara, ''Che'' Guevara's Cuban daughter.

Well, Chávez's record on poverty is very debatable, I responded. According to Venezuela's government-run National Statistics Institute, poverty in Venezuela actually rose during Chávez's first four years in office, from 43 percent to 54 percent of the population. Since 2004, poverty has decreased to 34 percent -- a dubious achievement if one considers that Venezuela gets most of its income from oil, and oil prices have soared from a barrel when Chávez took office to a barrel last year.

''This decrease [in poverty] is neither unprecedented nor surprising, given that the Venezuelan economy is in the midst of an economic expansion fueled by a five-fold increase in global oil prices since his first term began,'' writes Francisco Rodríguez, a professor at Wesleyan University and former chief economist of the Venezuelan National Assembly, in this week's online edition of Foreign Policy magazine (

''Historically, drastic declines in poverty in Venezuela are associated with periods of substantial real exchange appreciation similar to the current one,'' Rodríguez says. ``The last such episode, which lasted from 1996 to 1998, coincided with an even larger decline in the poverty rate, from 64.3 percent to 43.9 percent.''


Why does he keep winning elections? It's partly because of his cash handouts to the poor, and partly because of political intimidation, I told my incredulous Indian audience.

The Chávez government has compiled a list of 12.4 million opponents -- the so-called Maisanta list -- which is routinely used to reject people when they apply for government jobs, a business license or a passport. The Organization of American States' human rights commission is reportedly investigating 780 cases of political discrimination in Venezuela.

Professor Abdul Nafei, head of NJU's Latin American program, said only half-jokingly that many of his students are pro-Chávez out of self interest: students' first priority is to defend free education, a cause that finds its most ardent champions in Chávez and Castro. ''As soon as they graduate, they leave Marxism behind,'' Nafei added with a smile.


My conclusion: Maybe so. But, as I told my JNU student friends, I find their pro-Chávez stand somewhat ironic: Few of them would support anti-investment policies in India.

They know that India -- much like China -- has reduced poverty dramatically since it started pursuing market-friendly policies. That's exactly the opposite of what Chávez is doing at home, and the reason why his narcissist-Leninist model will end up hurting the poor.

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