Monday, June 7, 2010

Memorial Day, Flooding in Central America, Honduras not Welcome in OAS, Local Honduran Family, Cuban Perestroika?

My brother Bob and his significant other, Jean, were in town for Memorial Day, as Jean’s father had been killed in the Battle of the Bulge and she’d never seen the World War II memorial, to which my late mother donated in memory of my dad, who had also served in Europe, but came home to live on until age 82. On a computer search system, Jean found her father’s name and the date of his death, but little else. Apparently, the family has to post additional information. We looked up our own father, who was said to have been wounded, though, if so, it must have been minor as he didn’t get to come home and never mentioned it. We also visited the Viet Nam wall and other sites, including Ben’s Chili Bowl, on U St., located at quite a distance from downtown but doing a brisk business. Barak Obama, among others, has eaten there. On Sunday, evening, we met Jean’s cousin and several others on the west lawn of the Capitol, where we heard the touching Memorial Day concert, broadcast nationally. Colin Powell was one of the speakers, as he usually is on this occasion. Once, when I was attending the Memorial Day concert, my mother watching at home on television claimed to have seen me in the crowd. We did have a huge crowd this year and lots of security. I remember the days when we used to walk just onto the lawn with our picnic basket and bottle of wine, but now all alcohol is forbidden and concert-goers must pass through a metal detector and have their purses and backpacks searched.

On Sat. June 5, a friend hosted a Honduras party that featured my book and the Flores family, referred to previously on these pages. We attracted only a small crowd, mostly of people who already had the book, but it was a nice, intimate gathering featuring Latin American food.

While other news may have eclipsed it, there was massive flooding in Central America due to Tropical Storm Agatha, with Guatemala being hit hardest, though Honduras was not exempt.
Honduras is still not welcome in the OAS, though Secretary Clinton urged its reinstatement (see below).

Then, finally, speculations on the prospects for a Cuban perestroika.
From AP, May 31, 2010
Thousands more have fled their homes in neighboring Honduras, where the death toll rose to 15 even as meteorologists predicted three more days of rain. Two dams near the capital of Tegucigalpa overflowed into a nearby river, and officials warned people to stay away from swollen waterways. ''The risk is enormous,'' Mayor Ricardo Alvarez said.
Clinton urges OAS to let Honduras rejoin
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Monday, June 7, 2010
Last year's coup in Honduras, which took place shortly after the Organization of American States held a general assembly meeting in that country, continues to divide Latin America from the United States.

At Monday's meeting of the OAS, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged allowing Honduras to rejoin, saying new president Porfirio Lobo has shown "strong and consistent commitment to democratic governance and constitutional order." But a majority of ministers opposed even adding the question of Honduras to the agenda.

The Obama administration had joined with the OAS last year in ousting Honduras after then-President Manuel Zelaya was forced out of the country but shifted course after new elections were held, arguing it was time to move on. Washington's stance has split it from big players in the region, such as Mexico and Brazil, indicating how difficult it is to bridge regional divisions, even after Clinton talked with officials from Mexico and Brazil in Lima about Honduras.

Clinton has invested heavily in building ties with Latin America, making her second trip to the region this year. But the spat over Honduras -- as well as anger at Arizona's new immigration law and U.S. policy toward Cuba -- has made progress difficult. From Peru, Clinton later this week will travel to Ecuador, Colombia and Barbados.
Regarding the following detailed Cuba observations of an anonymous correspondent, I said:
I agree with you, doing nothing is a risk to the Cuban government and trying to make controlled and contained reforms is a risk as well, as the USSR found out. And when Fidel is no longer around, with his iron will and labyrinthian mind, the risks to the regime increase. When he dies, I wouldn't be surprised if some now within the higher echelons of government, actually seek to surreptiously guide it toward a more market-oriented, democratic system. Sooner or later (I hope in our lifetime), we will see what the Miami exiles call "a free Cuba."

His observations below) refer to the following article, which is not reproduced here:

Cuba’s largest newspaper publishes critical letters on economy
By JUAN O. TAMAYO,, 31 May 2010
[Accessed June 1, 2010 at]

Below are excerpts from my correspondent’s mailing, which was even longer in its entirety, responding to the previously mentioned article in the Miami Herald.

In answer to Raul Castro's request for ideas about how to fix the problems of Cuban socialism, a strong internal debate is going on which is being carried out not only in specialized magazines and web sites but also in the pages of Granma, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party. When the debate spills out into the ruling party's newspaper, it means that it is raging throughout the country and that the totalitarian rulers want to stimulate it and guide it instead of suppressing it...Limits set by government censure could be sufficient to protect from immediate regime change but the resulting debate is counterproductive in the long run since it prepares the ideological conditions for reforms that go far beyond the original intentions of those who promote it.

The predominant point of view in the debate seem to be let us find a way to fix and reform our socialism making a few changes to it that will allow some elements of capitalism like:1- Allowing individual and cooperative ownership and control over land and small businesses.2- Extending the role of free markets...The contributors to the debate apparently want to combine these measures with central macroeconomic planning and with government ownership of the principal industries and label the new concoction as "Socialism of the XXI Century" and hope to solve all of Cuba's existing problems and to be able to carry on as usual with the ruling elite hanging on to all their positions of power and preserving their existing privileges.

There is something deja vu about all this because the existing debate seems to follow many of the same ideas both in favor and against reforms that were put up in the first stage of the debate held in the Soviet Union in the late eighties when Gorbachev was in power.The danger certainly exists that something similar could eventually occur in Cuba. In fact, if we stop and think about it, it is certain that this will someday take place. The question that we should ask ourselves should not be whether it will occur but rather when and how should we expect it to happen?In the midst of the limited debate taking place, an increasing proportion of the Cuban intelligentsia and the apparatchicks are slowly and privately coming to the conclusion that the basic tenets of socialism are flawed and that debating its internal reform is a fig leaf, a euphemism to cover up the reality that these reforms represent.

Scenario one is that all these debates will generate sufficient public backing to overcome the nomenklatura's opposition and end in serious reform or even in a return to capitalism as it happened during Gorbachov and Yeltsin's time in the Soviet Union.The second scenario is exactly the opposite. This is that after a short period of debate in which "a hundred flowers are allowed to bloom" and all the gardener's come out of the closet and are identified, the public debate is shut down completely and violently, no internal reform measures are taken, strong internal repression is renewed and the hundred flowers and the gardeners are simply mowed down to guarantee internal stability. This scenario follows closely what happened in China in the period prior to and during the Cultural Revolution.The third scenario is that the ruling circles procrastinate and fail to take any measures either in favor or against the reforms. The can is simply kicked down the road. This would mean that the public debate is formally closed down some half hearted watered down internal reform measures that do not solve any of the internal contradictions of the existing economic socialist system are taken. But at the same time there is no return to previous strong internal (Stalinist or post civil war) repression. At the same time a lighter version of internal repression is carried out to maintain the opposition in line and the ruling circle in power...In the period from 1985 to 1989, Castro conducted his own "counter reformation" in Cuba to avoid internal reformers from allying with pro-perestroika Soviet politicians to depose him and carry out reforms the country sorely needed. In this period the pro-perestroika Cuban sympathizers were members of the Cuban elite: high economic officials, middle ranking party functionaries, army and Cuban security officials.He purged the Army and the Ministry of Interior by executing all those high officials he thought capable of plotting against him and decommissioning most of the officers who had assumed high leadership positions between 1959 and 1989 and had received an education and training in the former Soviet Union where they had caught the perestroika virus.

This does not mean that Castro did not kill when it was necessary to preserve his power. He did it in 1989 when he shot General Ochoa and several Army or Ministry of Interior officials who were in a position to depose him and knew about his involvement in international drug trafficking. Only that Fidel Castro did his killing on a smaller scale and with more skill than his Georgian predecessor. The difference between them was like the one between a surgeon and a butcher.But even an evil political genius like Fidel Castro cannot stop the economic and political laws of society from eventually taking effect. Perhaps he can forestall them while he lives and holds on to power. But after he leaves to reunite with Friedrich, Karl, Vladimir, Joseph, Mao, Uncle Ho and Il Sung in the communist paradise, his own successors, without the respect and fear he commands and without his exceptional Machiavellian talent will be forced to deal with reality instead of sidestepping or evading it. . .In the final analysis anything that will result in the shortening of the existence of this regime will have been worthwhile because it will eliminate unnecessary human suffering and facilitate progress.

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