Thursday, February 14, 2019

Failure of the Media on Venezuela, Danger of Armed Conflict February 23d

Failure of the Media

An article in the New Republic is a reminder that everything that has been gained with Cuba during the Obama Administration is now at risk:

Marco Rubio, Trump’s Shadow Secretary of State
In recent months, he (Marco Rubio) has pressured the White House to put Cuba back on an international terrorism list, impose sanctions on Cuban officials, and end U.S. travel and academic exchanges to the island. Last year, at Rubio’s urging, the United States withdrew most of its diplomats from Cuba. The real feather in his cap will be if the Maduro government falls in Venezuela, which could have devastating effects on Cuba, since it relies on subsidized oil from Venezuela.
There is a distressing similarity to the run up to the Iraq war in the uncritical coverage about the Venezuela crisis by the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC .  The Wall Street Journal has done a better job on the US political context, documenting the US role and goal against both Venezuela and Cuba.  Al Jazeera has been more balanced than the US cable networks.  The journalism watchdog FAIR makes an example of MSNBC

No US media that I have seen has reported on Venezuelans who are still advocates of Chavismo, on the nationalist character of the Venezuelan military and on likely resistance to a US linked regime that is brought to power by foreign military intervention, a real and immediate danger (see below) .  Without more balanced coverage, Washington is living in an illusion that Venezuela will be another Grenada or Panama -- just as it tragically misread Iraq.

I hold no brief for Maduro.  Chavez had problems but at least they were coupled with authentic popular support.  Maduro has retained power outside of Venezuelan democratic norms.  There need to be new internationally supervised elections for both the Presidency and the National Assembly but that must happen peacefully under the auspices of both the established executive and legislative branches.   The process must include the acceptance of international aid through respected politically neutral agencies, the end of US economic sanctions and restoration of national oil resources to the functioning government.

The Contact Group and the Montivideo Mechanism (Mexico and Uruguay) deserve more attention than the media and politicians in Washington have given them as a way to resolve the situation.  Cuba and the Venezuelan government should work with them to avoid a Rubio-Bolton-Claver Carone-Abrams trap.  If Maduro is legitimately voted out of office, that is preferable to a bloody catastrophe for Venezuela and the region.

Under free and open elections, several Chavista and opposition parties are likely to contest and a new independent nationalist coalition could emerge, balancing its ties to the US, Cuba and other countries.  Cuba should be helped to obtain other resources to replace those provided by Venezuela, including legislation to end travel and agricultural restrictions and ideally the embargo.

The initial Rubio/Bolton bluff failed when the military did not abandon Maduro a couple of weeks ago despite facing an apparently overwhelming diplomatic and political assault.  Very public threats about February 23 and whatever triggered the Cuban alarm could be but another bluff, although at some risk to Guaido's credibility.   Provoking a confrontation around aid delivery has been part of the very public scenario since the beginning.

There needs to be some visible push back by the media and Democratic Party leaders or the Trump Administration will be more inclined to take military action under the illusion that it will be easy in Venezuela and without serious objection here.

--John McAuliff


Danger of military  conflict on February 23d

News accounts of potential confrontation and allegations of US troop movements.
Reuters is carrying a story by Marc Frank on Cuban charges that the US is positioning troops. 
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba charged on Thursday that the United States was secretly moving special forces closer to Venezuela as part of a plan to intervene in the South American country using the pretext of a humanitarian crisis....

“Between February 6 and 10 military transport aircraft have flown to the Rafael Miranda Airport of Puerto Rico, the San Isidro Air Base, in the Dominican Republic and to other strategically located Caribbean islands, probably without knowledge of the governments of those nations,” the declaration said.

“These flights originated in American military installations from which units of Special Operations and Marine Corps operate, which are used for covert actions,” it said....

Guaido said on Tuesday the aid would roll across the border on February 23 despite the Maduro government’s objections, setting up a possible confrontation.

Cuba said on Thursday it was clear the United States wanted to “forcibly establish a humanitarian corridor under international protection, invoking the obligation to protect civilians and applying all necessary measures.”
[Cuba's full statement is here]

The NY Times confirms February 23 as the date of confrontation on external aid.  

Mr. Guaidó heightened the stakes, telling supporters that he would open a “humanitarian corridor” to allow aid to flow into the country by Feb. 23. ...

Gaby Arellano, an opposition lawmaker in charge of the shipment in Colombia, said one of the goals was to force the military, which has remained loyal to the government, to choose between Mr. Maduro and feeding the Venezuelan people. “Popular pressure to break the military ­ this is what we’re working toward,” she said....

Omar Lares, a former opposition mayor in exile in Cúcuta, said organizers want people to surround an aid truck on the Colombian side and accompany it to the bridge. A crowd of thousands would be gathered on the other side to push through a security cordon, move the containers blocking the bridge, and accompany the aid into Venezuela.

“One group over there, one over here, and we’ll make one large human chain,” he said....

“The opposition has created immense expectations, and it’s not at all clear they have a plan for actually fulfilling them,” said David Smilde, a Venezuela analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America. “Furthermore, the opposition and the U.S. have not been clear that this aid, even if allowed in, will make a significant dent in Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.” ...

Still, using a food shipment to challenge Mr. Maduro has concerned the same nongovernmental groups that would normally assist in such an effort. Caritas, the charitable arm of the Catholic Church, and the International Committee of the Red Cross have declined to participate, saying they must remain politically neutral.

Meanwhile, to illustrate the total hypocrisy of the situationl, by coincidence:

Egypt’s Parliament Clears Way for El-Sisi to Rule Until 2034

By Declan Walsh
Feb. 14, 2019

CAIRO ­ The Egyptian Parliament approved sweeping measures on Thursday that would allow President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to extend his rule until 2034, further entrenching his authoritarian rule and enshrining in law the military’s dominance over the country.

The vote by Parliament, whose workings are quietly managed by Mr. el-Sisi’s intelligence agencies, sets in motion a fast-moving process of constitutional change that could 
culminate in a referendum within three months. The referendum’s approval is seen as a foregone conclusion.

The changes formally confirm what has become evident to many Egyptians for years: that the sweeping euphoria of 2011, when protests led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, has given way to an even harsher brand of strongman rule under a leader who also intends to rule for decades, and perhaps for life.

Washington’s unquestioning embrace of Mr. el-Sisi, whom President Trump has called a “great guy,” emboldened the Egyptian leader to act with little fear of American pushback.


Earlier material here

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Cuba Is Target in US Conflict with Venezuela

'Trump Sees Maduro Move As First Shot in Wider Battle.'

Jessica Donati
Vivian Salama and 
Ian Talley
Jan. 30, 2019 5:44 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration’s attempt to force out the president of Venezuela marked the opening of a new strategy to exert greater U.S. influence over Latin America, according to administration officials.
In sight isn’t just Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, but also Cuba, an antagonist that has dominated American attention in the region for more than 50 years, as well as recent inroads made by Russia, China and Iran.
While Mr. Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, have long drawn Washington’s condemnation, the Trump administration is stocked with officials who have long believed Cuba to be the more serious national-security threat. They cite Cuba’s intelligence operations in the U.S., and its efforts to spread anti-American views in other Latin American countries.
The goal, the administration’s thinking goes, is to sever ties that bind Venezuela to Cuba and sink regimes in both countries.
The emerging U.S. assertiveness stems from the desire of the White House to reverse a partial rapprochement with Havana by the Obama administration through the easing of sanctions and the island’s opening to U.S. investment.
The Trump administration’s policy, developed over the past two years, has been driven in part by the ascent of Cuba critics including Mauricio Claver-Carone, a National Security Council official who had devoted much of his life to deposing Fidel Castro. The policy was shaped by the lobbying of elected officials such as Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who have a large number of constituents with connections to Venezuela.
Cuban intelligence is deeply integrated in the Venezuelan military and the security apparatus of the Maduro government. Venezuela, in turn, provides Havana with crude oil at virtually no cost, a volume that had once reached 100,000 barrels of oil a day. As each country has become more isolated, they have strengthened ties with Moscow, Tehran and Beijing.
Continuity or Change
After Venezuela and Cuba, U.S. officials are eyeing Nicaragua. The State Department repeatedly warned of the country’s shift toward autocratic rule, government repression and violence. Nicaraguans are joining the flow of migrants toward the U.S. border with Mexico.
“The United States looks forward to watching each corner of the triangle fall: in Havana, in Caracas, in Managua,” the capital of Nicaragua, said John Bolton, national security adviser, in a November speech that unveiled the emerging strategy. He described the three countries as the “Troika of tyranny,” a phrase he coined, adding that the “Troika will crumble.”
On the same day, the administration unveiled new sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela, including on more than two dozen entities owned or controlled by the Cuban military and intelligence services and Venezuela’s gold sector.
The U.S. strategy carries major risks. If the administration’s support for opposition leader Juan Guaido in Venezuela fails to unseat Mr. Maduro, or if it fails to weaken ties between Caracas and Havana, the desperate conditions in Venezuela could worsen and tether the U.S. more closely with the crisis. An estimated three million Venezuelans have fled their country.
Failure also would hand both countries a David-and-Goliath diplomatic victory and potentially strengthen the hand of China, Moscow and Iran in the region. The chief reason President Obama pursued an entente with Cuba was his administration’s conclusion that decades of tough measures had failed to topple the Castro regime to make way for a democratic alternative.
It seems unlikely the U.S. will be able to bring along other countries in any anti-Cuba measures. Venezuela has been a pariah for many American allies, but some including Canada and France now have extensive business interests in Cuba.
First target
One of the Trump administration’s first actions after the election was to dust off an unused plan from the Obama administration to sanction Tareck El Aissami, Mr. Maduro’s vice president.
U.S. law-enforcement officials say they have evidence Mr. Maduro directed state resources to create what they allege has become one of the most powerful international narco-trafficking operations in the world, and with links to Hezbollah, the Lebanese group designated by the U.S. as a terror organization.
Part of why U.S. officials express concern about Iran’s influence in the region is that Iran is a major backer of Hezbollah, and its South American operations are a significant source of cash.
Mr. El Aissami, who ran Venezuela’s passport operations during the Chavez regime, issued thousands of new names and passports to Lebanese and Iranians, including operatives, the U.S. officials said. He allegedly made a deal with a top Hezbollah agent that its operatives would run money-laundering operations for the narco-trafficking empire, two former senior U.S. law-enforcement officials said.
On the day Steven Mnuchin was sworn in as Treasury Secretary in February 2017, he imposed sanctions on Mr. El Aissami, citing the allegations involving narco-trafficking.
Among the first officials to lay out options for the Trump administration was Fernando Cutz, a career USAID foreign-service officer, who had previously worked on the rapprochement with Cuba for the Obama administration.
Mr. Cutz, now at the Cohen Group, said in an interview that President Trump asked for a Venezuela briefing on his second day in office to explore how to reverse Obama-era policies toward Cuba. Mr. Cutz laid out options to escalate pressure on the Maduro regime, including a financial strike at Venezuela’s oil exports. At first, the administration held back, fearing such an action would allow Mr. Maduro to blame the country’s woes on Washington.
Mr. Bolton, named national security adviser last year, has long taken a tough line on Cuba and Venezuela. He was later joined by Mr. Claver-Carone, who took over western hemispheric affairs at the National Security Council and shared Mr. Bolton’s view.
Mr. Claver-Carone, an adviser to the Trump campaign, rose to prominence in foreign-policy circles for running a blog called the Capitol Hill Cubans.
An archived edition of Capitol Hill Cubans described Mr. Claver-Carone as the co-founder and director of U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, a donation vehicle for House and Senate members. It was founded in 2003 “to promote an unconditional transition in Cuba to democracy, the rule of law and the free market.”
The PAC has raised and spent about $4.7 million since its inception. It contributed $20,000 to Mr. Rubio’s Senate campaign since June 2016 and gave Diaz-Balart’s campaign $5,000 in February 2018, records show.
Mr. Claver-Carone also led the nonprofit group Cuba Democracy Advocates from 2004 to 2017. And he ran a small lobbying firm called the Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy Corp for about 10 years, ending in 2016.
Months after Mr. Claver-Carone joined the Trump administration last summer, Mr. Bolton delivered his “troika of tyranny” speech.
Stage set
The decision by two of Venezuela’s major opposition parties and past rivals—First Justice and Popular Will—to join forces a year ago provided for the first time a potential alternative to the Maduro regime. Mr. Guaido is a member of Popular Will. U.S. officials kept in close contact.
“This gave them credibility with the international community,” said Francisco Monaldi, a Venezuela expert and oil industry analyst at Rice University. “There was a great disdain for the opposition, but it lessened at least to the degree that the White House believed this bet is possible.”
The stage for action was set in an election last spring that more than 60 countries, including the U.S., dismissed as a sham, Mr. Maduro claimed victory. He extended his rule for six years in a swearing in a Jan. 10 ceremony.
The election last year of Colombian President Iván Duqueand Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new leader, also shifted the political landscape: Both are on Venezuela’s doorstep and struggling to cope with the country’s mass exodus.
In a trip over the New Year’s holidays, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Brazilian and Colombian counterparts, and he discussed a plan of action with Mr. Duque.
Mr. Maduro’s inauguration on January 10 set the wheels in motion in the Venezuelan National Assembly and at the White House, as officials seized on the momentum of street protests.
On Jan. 22, top administration officials, including Mr. Pompeo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Mr. Bolton and Mr. Mnuchin discussed options. Mr. Trump decided he was ready to support a regime change.
That night, Vice President Mike Pence called Mr. Guaido to express Washington’s willingness to back him. The next day, Mr. Guaido declared himself president and the U.S., along with Canada and most South American countries, officially recognized Mr. Guaido as the new leader of Venezuela.
“We’ve seen a real unity of purpose in the region in the last couple of weeks,” a senior Treasury official said. “It’s difficult to talk about Venezuela without also talking about Cuba.
The imposition of sanctions on Venezuela’s oil company, PdVSA, announced by the U.S. on Jan. 28, could be worth as much $11 billion in U.S. crude oil sales.
Among the next steps, U.S. officials said, are proposed new measures against Havana, such as restoring Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. That could hit financing and investments from countries outside the U.S. that now do business there, as well as the funds the country gets from international tourists.
Also on the list: new sanctions on Cuban officials and their networks and ending a waiver, known as Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, signed by every U.S. administration since its inception in 1996.
Ending the waiver would allow U.S. citizens to sue individuals and companies in U.S. courts for property seized by the Cuban government. Its impact would likely be to freeze billions of dollars worth of foreign investment in Cuba including hotels, golf courts and other projects.
The Trump administration is expected to announce new measures against Cuba in coming weeks, with the goal of crippling Havana’s ability to bolster the Maduro regime.
—José de Córdoba and Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.
Write to Jessica Donati at, Vivian Salama at and Ian Talley at
Appeared in the January 31, 2019, print edition as 'Trump Sees Maduro Move As First Shot in Wider Battle.'

Saturday, February 2, 2019

My Perspective: Venezuela Crisis and Cuba

My Perspective on the Venezuela Crisis

"The goal, the administration’s thinking goes, is to sever ties that bind Venezuela to Cuba and sink regimes in both countries.

The emerging U.S. assertiveness stems from the desire of the White House to reverse a partial rapprochement with Havana by the Obama administration through the easing of sanctions and the island’s opening to U.S. investment."

    Wall Street Journal, 'Trump Sees Maduro Move As First Shot in Wider Battle.', 1/30/19

One of the more disturbing aspects of what is going on with Venezuela is how easily some Democrats let themselves be steam rolled by the Pompeo-Bolton-Claver Carone-Abrams neocon assault that has Cuba as its ultimate target. Maduro and his government have serious problems that are both internally and externally caused but that does not legitimate foreign sponsored regime change. 

Adam Schiff may have ended any prospect to be the Democratic candidate for President based on his support of the Trump Administration on Venezuela.  Other prominent liberal Democrats such as Senator Dick Durbin will be held responsible for years if they do not challenge Pompeo, et. al. before the US launches or assists military action in Venezuela, just as were supporters of the Bush-Cheney invasion of Iraq.

Regardless of the undeniable failings of the Maduro government, including its maneuvers to sideline the elected National Assembly, the world, and certainly Latin Americans, cannot but notice that the US has played a behind the scenes role in creating a fictional new regime. The logic that the powerless assembly had the authority to void national elections and therefore to declare Mr. Guaidó as acting President is opportunistic and specious.  It may work politically with governments that do not like Maduro ideologically, but will not stand the test of legal scrutiny over time.

It also does not change the reality that Guaidó only recently received his symbolic status as leader of the Assembly and has minimal qualifications to be a national leader.   As Fulton Armstrong of American University has written,

[Guaidó’s] party’s splits with opposition moderates remain deep, however. Henrique Capriles (Primero Justicia) issued a scathing critique of Guaidó’s strategy.  He accused VP [Voluntad Popular] of sponsoring violence that will use ‘the people of Venezuela as cannon fodder’”.

External instigation of an alternative partisan government to conduct elections is objectively an attempted coup.   President Trump is returning the US to a Monroe Doctrine role in the Hemisphere that will haunt us for decades.

If corruption, repression, and compromised elections are a legitimate basis for intervention in domestic affairs, some close US allies and other countries are as bad or worse than Venezuela.  Will we apply the same standard to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China and Honduras? 

Perhaps most cynically, the delivery of humanitarian aid has been proposed as a way of escalating the conflict, as described by long time opponent of Cuba Jorge G. Castañeda in the New York Times

Military officers and members of the army troops who are in exile would move these supplies to Venezuela, where, if all goes well, the army personnel who are still loyal to Maduro will not stop their journey or shoot them. If they do, the governments of Brazil and Colombia may be willing to back the anti-Maduro soldiers. The threat of a confrontation with its neighbors could be the incentive that the Venezuelan military needs to abandon Maduro, which would make the combat unnecessary.

The US is wishfully thinking that the Venezuelan military will change sides or break apart and if it does that there will not be armed resistance to a regime we engineered to power.   Economic sanctions and violent civil conflict leading to foreign military intervention will increase the suffering of the Venezuelan people.  It will produce decades of damage to US interests in Latin America from which only China and Russia will benefit.

An alternative to deadly internal confrontation and foreign intervention may be offered by President Maduro's suggestion to move elections for the National Assembly forward to 2019.  They should include the President and governors and be guaranteed with UN supervision  to include free participation of all parties and candidates.

Part of the deal must include not only suspension of US efforts to transfer control of Venezuelan national resources to Guaido's putative regime but also the Maduro government's acceptance of international humanitarian assistance.

A more drastic way out of disaster is for the mainstream of the Venezuelan military to reject the legitimacy of both Maduro and Guaidó.  It could create a non-partisan transitional administration to conduct UN assisted elections and to receive international humanitarian aid and investment.  It will need to provide political space for both the Chavistas and the opposition while preserving reasonable relations with Cuba, Russia, China and the US.

Cuba's support is important for any compromise and might be attainable if accompanied by renewed engagement with Havana, a total anathema to the neocons dominating the National Security Council.

A well connected but independent friend in Cuba wrote me:

"The future can be very tragic for that country and a blood bath will most likely take place. If the victims are mostly the revolutionaries, news will be brief and very soon ignored.  If it is general, then we can even have a foreign military intervention and the fighting spilling to other countries. At the same time, be ready for new and more severe steps against Cuba. The goal is to look for an excuse to end traveling and remittances from Miami."

John McAuliff

Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Unpublished letter on February 5 to the New York Times

To the Editor,

The New York Times played a vital role in encouraging and enabling President Obama to take the historic step of normalizing relations with Cuba.

It is puzzling why its news stories uncritically support a narrative about Venezuela created by key figures in the Trump Administration who were and are strongly opposed to the opening with Cuba (John Bolton, Mauricio Claver-Carone, Elliot Abrams).

In fact their diplomatic and potential military assault on Venezuela was credibly reported by the Wall Street Journal as part of a strategy against Cuba.

"The goal, the administration’s thinking goes, is to sever ties that bind Venezuela to Cuba and sink regimes in both countries.  The emerging U.S. assertiveness stems from the desire of the White House to reverse a partial rapprochement with Havana by the Obama administration through the easing of sanctions and the island’s opening to U.S. investment."   (1/30/19)

The Maduro government deserves substantial criticism of its competence, repression of opponents and electoral legitimacy, but US orchestrated regime change is not legal or wise.

The Times should consider whether its heavily tilted coverage against Maduro is creating an atmosphere for war, similar to its role during the run up to the US invasion of Iraq.

John McAuliff

Unpublished letter on February 6 to the New York Times in response to editorial

To the Editor,

The failures of Nicolas Maduro are manifest, due both to internal and external factors, not least years of hostile pressure from the US. 

The  2017 election was internationally discredited in large part because serious opposition parties were barred.  It attracted a record low of 47% of voters.  Nevertheless Maduro was supported by 68%, i.e. 6,245,862  people.  It is a mistake to minimize and dismiss them as "die-hard leftists".

Juan Guaidó does not offer a reasonable alternative based on his experience, political history or legal argument.  Foreign countries and US publications have no authority to decide Venezuela's constitutional law. 

Does a legally marginalized National Assembly have the power to void an election and then substitute its leader as President? No international authority, including the Organization of American States and the United Nations, has made that judgement.

Nationalism in the Venezuelan military makes it unlikely to accept as legitimate a government fostered and imposed by hard-liners in the Trump Administration. 

The only peaceful scenario is either a direct military takeover or a negotiated compromise between the competing claimants to power.  Internationally supported and supervised elections could be conducted by the existing government and a National Assembly that regains its powers. 

All levels of office should be freely contested, including the President, Governors and the National Assembly.  Economic resources such as the oil company must be restored to the existing state and international humanitarian aid should be distributed through non-partisan channels.

The only way a Guaidó government can conduct elections is through armed conflict, external military intervention and bloody Chilean style repression of Chauvistas.  That would be tragic for the Venezuelan people and destructive of US standing in the Hemisphere to the benefit of Russia and China.

John McAuliff

Additional resources:

Interview with Guillaume Long, former foreign minister and United Nations representative of Ecuador

Fulton Armstrong

Eric Hershberg

William Boardman

Peter Kornbluh " For Trump’s Regime Changers, Venezuela Is Just the First Step"

Alejandro Velasco  "A Geopolitical Showdown in Venezuela Will Only Make Things Worse"

Chris Murphy and Ben Rhodes  "Democrats should stand for democracy in Venezuela — and democratic values in America"

Alternatives to war from Uruguay and Mexico
Pepe Mujica former President of Uruguay, friend of Cuba, calls for elections
The Montevideo Mechanism  suggests a process for negotiations
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador supports dialogue, non-intervention
Discussed on Al Jazeera  by Guillaume Long, Phil Gunson, Charles Shapiro

Adam Johnson FAIR analysis of phony bridge picture, misleading media

Fareed Zakaria urges left support for regime change

Steve Ellner warns of damage to the opposition from regime change made in the USA

Klobuchar-Enzi-Leahy bill to end the embargo.  Would this balance  loss or downgrading of Cuba's special relationship with Venezuela?  Would Trump support it to peacefully solve the Maduro problem?

David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey "International Contact Group Represents Best Opportunity for all Sides in the Venezuela Crisis"

Greg Grandin on sovereignty and Latin America What’s at Stake in Venezuela?

Friday, February 1, 2019

Independent Travel Summary for NY Times Travel Show 2019

Yes, you can still go to Cuba!

1) President Trump makes hard line speeches but has not changed much (and had sent his own team before he became a candidate to discuss golf courses and hotels).

2) A few hotels are semi off-limits because their owner is a corporation linked to the Cuban military.

3) All types of purposeful travel authorized by the Obama Administration remain legal.

4) Group tours and cruises are completely unchanged.  Cruises cannot require using their excursions.

5) Independent travel by individuals, families and friends is largely unchanged but now falls under the rewritten license category of “Support for the Cuban People” instead of “People to People”.

6) The withdrawal of 60% of US diplomats in 2017 was connected to unexplained medical maladies that affected only them, Canadian counterparts and US staff in China.  If there were deliberate attacks, by cutting and running the US rewarded the perpetrator. 

7) The State Department designates Cuba as a Level 2 Travel Advisory “Exercise Increased Caution”, the same status as 57 other countries, including 12 in the Americas and 7 in western Europe.

8) Cuba is judged by experts as one of the safest destinations in the region with less crime and disease.

9) Senator Rubio tries to exploit the maladies to advocate closing both countries’ embassies.

How do I go on my own?

1) Book non-stop to Havana on Jet Blue from JFK or on United from Newark.  American, Delta and Southwest have connecting flights.  American or Jet Blue flies from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale to Santa Clara, Holguin, Varadero, Camagüey and Santiago (from May 3d).

2) Select “Support for the Cuban People” as the appropriate license category from the airline menu.

3) Use AirBnB or Trip Advisor to reserve a room or an apartment (casa particular) from a private owner

4) Eat in a private restaurant (paladar)

5) Buy handicrafts, art and clothing from self-employed craftspeople and creators (cuenta propistas)

6) If you need a guide, hire her or him privately (preferably in advance)

7) As much as possible, use private taxis (also available between cities)

8) Whatever you do, wherever you go, be intentional and responsible that your goal is “a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people … and that result in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba.”  (The judgement of what qualifies is your own.)

9) Apportion recreational activities like concerts, dancing and the beach as in a normal work week

10) Keep a journal or list of your “meaningful interactions” for five years.

11) If you are on a cruise, exercise your right to explore independently or with a local guide.

Current US government regulations

Essential information for independent travelers 

Join 81% of Americans to call for the end of all travel restrictions

Explore Santiago and Guantanamo with FFRD on a FAM trip May 3-10 or for Carnaval July 20-28                                        

Fund for Reconciliation and Development   917-859-9027

Thursday, January 31, 2019

St. Patrick's Day in Pinar del Rio

St. Patrick’s Day
in Pinar del Rio

              Alexander Suarez Mendez, Rosalia Acosta Corrales, Angelica Maria Gongora, Yadira Hernandez Barrera

Cuba has a strong Celtic tradition through immigrants from Asturia and Galacia.  Young people have moved from the gaita to Uilleann pipes, learned to sing sean nos and taught themselves from videos of Riverdance.  They joined Mick Moloney and the Green Fields of America during three tours of Cuba, shown above in Santiago de Cuba.  The two pipers have been invited twice to study and perform in Ireland. 

We will fly to Havana on March 16 or 17*, join their celebration in Pinar del Rio on St. Patrick's Day, visit Vinales and explore the Irish and Irish American history in Havana, Artemesia, Mayabeque and Matanzas.   Return to the US March 23 or 24.   Approximate self-paid costs:   air fare + $1200 for bed and breakfasts, meals, transportation, guide + $150 contribution  (* depending on whether people are obligated to the NY parade)

Irish Links to Cuba
IrishCuba URLs

Irish Walking Tour of Old Havana

Fund for Reconciliation and Development      917-859-9025

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The San Patricios: An Irish Mexican Connection

Review of Mark Day's documentary film 
The San Patricios
The Tragic Story of the St. Patrick's Battalion 

By William H. Mulligan, Jr. *
Produced and directed by Mark R. Day, narrated by James Lancaster,
edited by Joanne Hershfield. Original music by Steven A. Yeaman 
49 minutes
Day Productions

When this documentary was first released, the San Patricios were a much-neglected aspect of Irish American history and the history of the Americas generally. During the ensuing decade, they have received a great deal of attention both with the publication of books and with other documentaries, one of which was shown at the national meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies in St. Louis, Missouri, in April 2006. At least some of the credit for rescuing the San Patricios from neglect must go to Mark Day.
The story of the San Patricios is deceptively straightforward. A group of Irish immigrants who were serving in the United States army deserted and formed a unit in the Mexican army that fought against the United States during the war with Mexico. Some had deserted before the war began, - as it turned out, a salient point - and others after the war began. The generally harsh treatment of enlisted men in the US army at the time and discrimination against Irish Catholics were factors in their desertion - all accounts agree on this point. When United States forces captured them, those who had deserted after the war began were hung in an especially cold and calculated way. The leader of the San Patricios, John Riley, was from Galway and had worked on Mackinac Island, Michigan before enlisting in the army. There is not much disagreement on any of these issues.
Where things begin to diverge is in how the San Patricios are viewed. The documentary makes the point that they are honoured in Mexico as heroes who fought and died for Mexico. A memorial was unveiled in Ireland honouring them while the documentary was being made. In the United States, they are often seen as traitors - when their existence is acknowledged at all. For many years, the US army apparently denied that the incident had ever happened. Clearly, the incident happened. We can debate why the US army would deny it. The motivations of the individuals in the unit for their decision, especially those of their leader John Riley; the motivation behind their harsh punishment; and what, if anything, the incident tells us about the position of the Irish in the United States, together with a range of other historical questions, are less straight forward and are subject to speculation and debate. Like many immigrants, the individual San Patricios left little behind with which to study their motivations and thoughts.
However, the real question in this review is: how effectively does The San Patricios: The Tragic Story of the St. Patrick's Battalion tell its story? The answer is neither simple nor straightforward. The production values generally are first-rate. This is a well-executed, professional piece of work without question or quibble. It is sharp, clear, in focus at all times, unlike another documentary on the same topic that I had seen. There are still too many historical documentaries that do not have these basic qualities. There is a nice mix of period graphics, scholars offering facts and interpretations, and footage of battle and other reenactments that are quite well done. Visually this is a successful production. The documentary also has a clear argument that organises the information presented and structures the presentation.
With the exception of Kerby Miller, the 'expert scholars' are not especially impressive. One, Rodolfo Acuña, seems to have a political agenda to champion rather than a historical interpretation to present and journalist Peter Stevens does not appear to know much about scholarship on Irish migration to the US, even allowing for the fact that the programme is ten years old, or much beyond the handed-down, popular history of the Irish in America. This raises questions about the point of the presentation - is it intended to explore a little-known episode in US history or is there a political agenda of accentuating the racism of United States society and past discrimination against Irish Americans, and even of supporting Mexican groups seeking to regain the territory lost in the war between the two countries? Neither Acuña nor Stevens provides much of historical substance nor shows any evidence of a deep knowledge of the incident itself, US military history, or the history of Irish migration to the US. Having an opinion is one thing, having an opinion based on familiarity with the relevant primary source materials and scholarship is another.
There are other problems. Riley is an elusive figure and little can be said about him with certainty. The examination of his character is probably handled as well as it might be, although the uncertainties undermine a solid acceptance of the thesis advanced. More troubling is the confused way in which the history of Irish migration to the United States is presented. Many of the graphics used to illustrate life in Ireland date from after the period when Riley and the other San Patricios left. They do not show their Ireland, but a later, post-famine Ireland that was markedly different. The entire discussion of Irish emigration to the United States is confused at best, especially as it relates to the war between Mexico and the United States. Kerby Miller tries to sort it out, but the other experts do not seem to have the chronology clear in their own minds. The discussion of the idea of Manifest Destiny in the United States is weak, especially in relation to the issue of slavery. Since it was a critical factor in the war, it should be more fully and clearly developed. There are other issues, mostly small ones that could be raised.
Despite these problems, the programme succeeds, to a considerable extent, in achieving its goals. The San Patricios are portrayed in a sympathetic light and the brutality of their treatment is clear. It sustains interest throughout because of its technical excellence. In raising questions and making the viewer engage with the topic and seriously weigh the material presented, even if in disagreement, it has accomplished a great deal. As a testament to the significance of the documentary, I will be using it in my military history course because its perspective needs to be considered seriously and the issues it raises discussed.

William H. Mulligan, Jr.
* Ph.D., Professor of History, Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky, USA

Author's Reply
I would like to thank Dr. Mulligan for his kind remarks about the San Patricios documentary, especially his reference to the film's production values as first rate.
I would also like to thank him for his scholarly analysis of the documentary's treatment of Irish immigrants, the unjust US intervention in Mexico of 1847 and the doctrine of Manifest Destiny that to this day influences US foreign policy. This is exactly the kind of discussion that I hoped this documentary would spark. The purpose of all historical texts should be reflection on times past and how they speak to us in the present. In that spirit, I would like to share some of my thoughts regarding the ideas expressed in his review.
Mulligan asks: 'Is it intended [my documentary] to explore a little known episode in US history, or is there a political agenda of accentuating the racism of US society and past discrimination against Irish Americans, and even of supporting Mexican groups seeking to regain the territory lost in the war between the two countries?' In other words, does Mark Day have a political agenda, a specific point of view, a bias? Yes, of course. Everyone operates from his/her particular bias. To deny bias becomes an agenda in itself. There is no such thing as 'pure' history. Historical facts are interpreted. And those interpretations are themselves historically contingent.
The most commonly recounted history of the US, from the genocidal treatment of Native Americans through slavery and on to the military conquest of Mexico, has been the grand narrative written by the victors, not the losers. One of the chief spoils of conquest and colonisation is the power to tell the stories of history. Traditionally, these storytellers are, for the most part, white, conservative and middle-aged men who believe the lens through which they interpret the world is pure and unbiased. In other words, the normalising gaze of power hides the reality that history is always told through an ideological lens. The question that I believe to be most important is: Who benefits from this interpretation of historical facts? Not to do so belies a cultural blind spot, a blind spot born of the privilege of power.
So instead of stories about resistance from Native Americans and the rebellions of slaves, we learn about the exploits of presidents and generals. Instead of life and death struggles of workers and trade unions, we are told about wealthy bankers and the golden ages of industry and commerce. And instead of learning about the humiliation of Mexico with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, we are regaled with stories about the rugged individuals who tamed the West. We learn about History with a capital 'H,' but very little about the histories of the people who shaped and were affected by the onward rush of events. We seldom learn about history told from the bottom up.
Historian Howard Zinn points out some examples of this historical amnesia. He writes about the glorification of Christopher Columbus as a man of skill and courage, but the omission of criticisms from contemporaries such as Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. The latter writes of Columbus: 'The admiral was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians' (Zinn 1990: 57).
Zinn also mentions historians' omission of the Ludlow massacre of miners' wives and children by the Colorado National Guard in 1913. He suggests that it might be considered 'bold, radical, or even communist' to talk about these class struggles in a nation that prides itself on the oneness of its people. And where, he wonders, are the stories about the abolitionists, labour leaders, radicals and feminists? Zinn writes that the 'pollution of history' happens not by design, but when scholars are afraid to stick their necks out, and instead play it safe (Zinn 1990: 62; Zinn 2003). This provides strong evidence that the project of history itself is inherently political.
This is why the story of the San Patricios always intrigued me. I first learned about this motley band of mostly Irish renegades from César Chávez when I worked as an organiser with the United Farm Workers Union in the late sixties. But it was due to the scholarly work of Robert Ryal Miller and his book, Shamrock and Sword (University of Oklahoma Press, 1989), that I discovered the story behind the battalion, formed by Irish immigrants in the Mexican army. Later, working on the film put me in contact with several Mexican scholars and ordinary citizens who saw the story from a totally different angle, from the viewpoint of the conquered, the vanquished. I also spoke with experts on nativism in mid-nineteenth century America.
This leads to another question. Are there parallels in the nativist attacks against the Irish in US history and the resurgence of nativism against Mexican and Latin American immigrants today? I would suggest that parallels are to be found in the tendency to exploit and scapegoat newcomers, the shared colonial experience and Catholic faith, the crude stereotypes applied to both groups, and the perceived threats of immigrants to the job market and American culture, to name a few. The similarities in nativist rhetoric from that period are so closely related to the current situation that you can simply remove the word 'Irish' and replace it with 'Mexican'. Few people today would recognise the difference. But I did not make this documentary to accentuate nativism and racism. These realities come forth because they were endemic to that period, much to the dismay of those who would like to downplay them for ideological reasons.
Lastly, was the intent of the San Patricios documentary to support those who wish to regain the territory that Mexico lost with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo? Hardly. Aside from commentator Lou Dobbs of CNN and his nightly nativism, the only people talking about the so called reconquista or re-conquest of the Southwest are fringe groups like the Minutemen vigilantes and Pat Buchanan, who attract a miniscule following among ordinary US Americans. Most Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants, like their nineteenth-century Irish counterparts, simply want what most US Americans seek - to live in peace, to work hard and to be accepted, like everyone else. In short, they are seeking the US American dream. It has been gratifying to witness the lively discussions at the screenings of the San Patricios, to watch the interchanges between disparate groups of people, and to get feedback from students and professors who have benefited from the film. If it advances understanding about Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century and the situation in Mexico, then and today, I am more than satisfied.

Mark R. Day
Vista, California

- Zinn, Howard. Declarations of Independence (New York: Harper Collins, 1990), 57.
Ibid., 62. See also Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States (New York: Harper Collins, 2003).

Day’s documentary on youtube


"One Man's Hero"

Verbal volleys fly over San Patricio movie
 February 16, 2011
By Ray O’Hanlon
A row has erupted over a movie depicting the exploits of Irish immigrants who fought for Mexico in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.
The MGM-distributed "One Man’s Hero" has all but vanished from screens only a short time after it was released in selected markets in California and the southwestern U.S.
The film had its world premiere in Belfast a couple of months ago. Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams was one well-known figure who attended what was a highly publicized opening night.
The movie stars Tom Berenger as a leader of the Irish San Patricio (St. Patrick) Battalion of the Mexican army. Irish actor Patrick Bergin stars as a U.S. general.
But despite the presence of two well-known Hollywood actors and favorable reviews in publications, including the Los Angeles Times and L.A. Weekly, the movie is in apparent full retreat.
"It bombed. It did horribly in theaters," MGM spokeswoman Amanda Marashinski told the Echo Tuesday.
However, another account of the movie’s demise has been circulating on the internet. It suggests that the film came a cropper as a result of national sensitivities.
The internet tale alleges that MGM pulled the plug on the production because a top official in the company believed the film to be "anti-American."
"California became part of the United States as the result of the Mexican American War. Even hard-bitten old soldiers like Ulysses S. Grant thought the war a blatant land grab and a national disgrace," the web account, put out by a group of San Francisco-based Irish American activists, suggests.
The internet account continued: "An MGM executive, when asked why the company was giving the film the silent treatment, replied he considered it ‘anti-American.’"
"I find that offensive," said MGM’s Marashinski. "We advertised "One Man’s Hero" in newspapers and we had a campaign aimed at Hispanics that cost a lot of money. The audience dropped by 87 percent last weekend because the word of mouth is bad," she said.
Marashinki said that the favorable reviews had not mattered for the film which was actually made by Orion pictures. While she believed that it was still "holding on" in one or two theaters she reiterated her initial assessment. "It bombed," she said.
One veteran Hollywood observer who has seen "One Man’s Hero" told the Echo that, overall, the reviews of the picture were accurate.
While he found some scenes, one of them depicting Irish dancing, a bit wide of the mark, the filmgoer, who preferred not to be named, described "One Man’s Hero" as "a very serious effort, faithfully true, a wonderful account."
"The film started off quite slowly but the drama increased to the point that battle scenes were reminiscent of what Kenneth Branagh achieved with limited resources in Henry V," the observer said.
The film climaxes with a gut-wrenching scene in which captured San Patricio soldiers are branded and hanged as the American flag is raised before their eyes.
The film closely reflects the story of the San Patricios as documented in a recent book, "The Irish Soldiers of Mexico," written by Michael Hogan of the American School of the University of Guadalajara.
The book debunks a popular image of the San Patricios as being little more than a bunch of drunken deserters from the U.S. Army. It points out that known deserters represented only about a third of the total membership, while the majority were in fact European or Mexican citizens, and not citizens of the United States. Many of them were reacting to anti-Catholicism in the U.S. military.
One reviewer of the book, James Fogarty, wrote that Hogan’s book revealed that labeling the group as American deserters was a tactic that had been manipulated by biased historians who "ignore the fact that at least 46 known members were not deserters and that many were Irish residents of Mexico prior to the invasion of Mexico by U.S. forces."
The review added: "Hogan also indicates that declaring oneself to be Irish and Catholic in the U.S. army at that time was akin to declaring oneself Jewish in Nazi Germany, a point graphically made by the Mexican-Jewish artist, Luis Camnitzer."

Film can be seen on youtube at