27 November 2016

Cuba, The Castro Clan's Fiefdom

Fidel Castro is dead. The 90-year old communist dictator ruled Cuba like a personal fiefdom between 1959 and 2008 when ill-health forced him to hand over power to his brother, Raul Castro.

In 1959, Castro threw out the cruel and absolute despotism of the then ruling dispensation and took over Cuba. He turned the country into a socialist state and nationalised all industry and brought
almost all economic activities under state control.

On 3 May 2008, I wrote the following on an old blog site. Amidst all the hagiography of how great Fidel Castro was, here's a lowdown on his pursuit of a society free from nepotism and cronyism.

Politics is a cesspool in which opportunists wallow in a slime of corruption and nepotism. While this is old news in our part of the world, I found that this was pretty much the way of life even in the Communist Utopia of Cuba.

“During the past few years family members of both Fidel and Raul Castro have come to occupy important positions in Cuba's government. This Castro clan represents in addition to the military, the security apparatus and the Communist Party, a significant force in Cuba's political and economic structures.”

The list below is in the order of Name, Relationship, and Position held.

Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart
Fidel Castro's son
Advisor, Ministry of Basic Industry

Col. Alejandro Raul Castro Espin
Raul Castro's son
Chief, Intelligence Information Services, Ministry of the Interior; Coordinator, Intelligence Exchange with China

Ramon Castro Ruz
Fidel's and Raul's oldest brother
Advisor, Ministry of Sugar

Dr. Antonio Castro Soto
Fidel Castro's son
Investment Chief, Frank Pais Hospital. Doctor for Cuba's baseball team

Col. Luís Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja
Raul Castro's son-in-law
Chief Executive Officer of Grupo GAESA (Grupo de Administración de Empresas, S.A.) which supervises military enterprises

Major Raul Alejandro Rodríguez Castro
Raul Castro's grandson
Raul Castro's military guard in charge of his personal security

Deborah Castro Espin
Raul Castro's daughter
Advisor, Ministry of Education

Mariela Castro Espin
Raul Castro's daughter
Head, Center for Sexual Education

Marcos Portal Leon
Married to Raul Castro's niece
In charge of nickel industry, member of the Central Committee of Cuba's Communist Party

Alfonsito Fraga
Related to Raul Castro
Ministry of Foreign Relations

I would not worry about this kind of naked nepotism but for the fact that the Commies always accuse their ideological opponents of succumbing to the follies of power politics.

The Commies with a capital ‘C’ are the same everywhere: opportunists, frauds, and blood-suckers. A life of sweat and toil is for the masses while perks and luxuries are for the Red Hued.

In the light of the above list, I can say that Fidel Castro was certainly NOT the Last Man Standing (with apologies to David Baldacci).

Long Live the Revolution! The Revolution to Deprive People of their Freedom and Happiness!

So much for equality.

11 November 2016

My Thoughts on Barack Obama's Foreign Policy

I am not a fan of Barack Obama's foreign policy. 

When the announcement of awarding the Nobel Prize for Peace to Obama was made even before he took office of the President of the United States, I squirmed at the stupidity (I know it is a strong word) of the prize committee -- how can they give away the most prestigious prize just based on Obama’s poll promises of ushering a more peaceful world? Obama promised to close down the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison (Camp Delta; where America locks away dangerous terrorists/folks suspected of terrorism), bring back American soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq, and focus on the Asia Pivot, including a constructive relationship with China (something like G2).

Now, let us look at his ‘achievements’.

The Guantanamo Bay prison is still operating; there are still thousands of American soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan and the country is in a bad shape with militant groups, like the Afghan Taliban, controlling large swathes of the country. The withdrawal of American soldiers from Iraq (though there is still a substantial presence in Baghdad) without putting in place a robust non-sectarian military and administrative system, has left the country singed by multiple fires (The emergence of the Islamic State is a case in point.)

China continues to be a belligerent on all fronts economic, military and political. Gathered by stealth or espionage or indigenous development, its technological advancement, in business, space, and military, is there for all to see. It has cocked a snook at the U.S. and its allies in the Far East (Japan) and South East Asia (Indonesia). Even in the face of intense American pressure, China is building airstrips and military installations in the South China Sea; in fact, Beijing has threatened the U.S. and its allies of serious consequences if the latter meddled in its sovereign issues. (I will keep China’s tough and lop-sided economic relationship with the U.S. out of this note.)

Russia is cold and distant; Washington continues to treat Moscow as if it were still a Cold War threat. Of course, Moscow has not done anything extraordinary to earn the friendship of the world’s lone superpower. On the contrary, Moscow’s dubious role in Ukraine (including the annexation of Crimea) and Syria (siding with Bashar al-Assad) has riled the West (including the European Union). The U.S.-Russia game of one-upmanship is also playing out in Syria, mostly with disastrous results.

The Israel-Palestine relationship is fractious as ever. Obama’s perceived/real hostility toward Israel’s unilateral actions (like building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank) has earned him the wrath of the Israeli Establishment (cutting across the political spectrum). The Israelis have treated Obama with greater contempt than they have ever treated any American president.

The Arab Spring, a name synonymous with the popular movements against dictatorships in Muslim countries like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, lies in a shambles. Almost all of these popular movements were backed by the U.S. President Barack Obama. Let me give you a bird’s eye view of what’s the current status in these countries:

  • Yemen major sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims; Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Wahabi nation, has, for the last several months, carried out air attacks against Houthi rebels (who practice Shia Islam and are supported by Iran, the biggest and powerful Shia Muslim nation).
  • Libya  various radical Islamist groups are vying for control of the country’s polity and abundant oil wealth.
  • Bahrain Sunni monarchy (Sunnis are in minority), backed by the Wahabi Ibn Saud ruling house of Saudi Arabia, is taking it out on the Shia majority (allegedly backed by Iran) who rebelled against the administration.
  • Egypt a popular movement dethroned the dictatorship of the pro-U.S. Hosni Mubarak; elections were held which brought a political wing of the ultra-radical Muslim Brotherhood to power; few months later the military grabbed power in a coup (of course, it legitimised power grab through a farcical election), ousted a popularly elected (radical) president, tried him in a military court and sentenced him to death.
  • Syria the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a Shia and backed by Iran and Iraq (along with Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based Shia militant group), is battling for its survival (with major help from Russia) against the ultra-extremist Islamic State and moderate rebel forces.

The hypocrisy of the U.S. and by extension its chief proponent of democracy, President Obama, is there for all to see: they have done precious little to restore democracy in Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and Egypt. Well, because it suits the American interests, they ran into Syria to fight against Bashar (who is hated by the wider Arab World for being a Shia). Under pressure from its allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the U.S. has spearheaded its oust-Bashar campaign even though it knows there is no leader/group to fill in the power vacuum in Syria. The last time the Americans did this -- in Iraq where they removed Saddam Hussein from power -- they left the country in tatters and bloodied.

As you can see, Barack Obama might preach the virtues of democracy and peace to the world but when it comes to practice, he falls way short.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Barack Obama knows that it is not enough to have good intentions; it is equally important to have the courage to make them true. Obama’s lack of gumption is myopic and he leaves a world which is more violent today than it was when he moved into the White House eight years back.

Please share your views in the comments space.

(I have deliberately left his relationships with the EU, India and personal equations with Prime Ministers Dr Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi out of this short piece; will write later, maybe.)