An Ailing e-Empire: Microsoft Blitzes Cuba and Latin America to Preserve Diminishing Financial Dominance

6 August, 2009 — Council on Hemispheric Affairs

  • Microsoft terminates Cuban access to its instant messaging service, which, at first glance, suggests an act of compliance at the behest of the U.S. government
  • The software behemoth chides Latin American leaders for undemocratic principles in an online smear campaign which might be better aimed at itself

Cutting Off an Isolated Island
During the last week of May 2009, Microsoft abruptly and inexplicably banned access to its Windows Live Messenger instant messaging service in Cuba. In response to several inquiries, the company defended its action by asserting that ‘Microsoft has discontinued providing Instant Messenger services in certain countries subject to United States sanctions. Details of these sanctions are available from the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).’ In other words, the company claimed to be complying with the provisions of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR), the federal statute first issued on July 6, 1963 which had the responsibility for regulating the now-anachronistic trade embargo with the Caribbean island. Specifically, Microsoft was referring to the section of the CACR delineating that ‘no foreign subsidiary or branch of a U.S. organization may export products, technology, or services to Cuba or to any Cuban national, wherever they may be located, or broker the sale of goods or commodities to or from Cuba or any Cuban national.’ The status of Windows Live as a downloadable software program categorizes it as transferable technology, thereby making it subject to the regulation.

Carrying Out Orders?
The lack of transparency shrouding this incident makes it difficult to ascertain the true motives behind Microsoft’s actions. At first glance, however, the abruptness of the termination by Microsoft raises suspicions of whether the company was pressured into doing so by OFAC, an agency within the U.S. Treasury Department that traditionally has overseen the enforcement of the embargo. Such an assertion is bolstered by the fact that both Google and AOL quite quickly followed suit by ceasing their own instant messaging services in Cuba later in the week. Furthermore, the fact that Windows Live had been utilized as a means of communication on the island for the past decade – in spite of the existence of the embargo – strongly suggests that some form of government intervention caused the surprising ban to all of a sudden kick in.

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Bolivia: Morales: Economic liberation is necessary in order to have political power

3 August, 2009 — Bolivia Rising

Santa Cruz, Bolivia, 03 Ago. ABN.- ‘We have to liberate ourselves economically in order to have political power’ Bolivian president Evo Morales Ayma told representatives of the indigenous originary campesino peoples and social movements that had congregated at a mass event in Camiri last Sunday to receive the Law of Indigenous Autonomies.

‘We are still not free and independent in economic terms, in some regions, in some departments, there is a total dependency on private business, on private agro industry or in the area of services’, recalled the head of state, according to the Bolivian Information Agency (ABI).

‘When we finally liberate ourselves economically, that is when the people will have the power’ he added, comparing the fact that other groups have power due to their control over territory, land, and the economy.

Morales asked the members of the Unity Pact, the leaders of ‘Conamaq (National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu), of CIDOB (Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the Bolivian East), of the CSUTCB (Single Union Confederation of Campesino Workers of Bolivia), the denominated intercultural comrades, and the other departmental leaders, to raise the consciousness of the social movements so that the social movements, indigenous campesinos and all sectors have economic power’.

‘Only when we have economic power as peoples will we have real political power, for that we need a higher level of consciousness, of reflection and orientation so that this process of change cannot be stopped’ he demanded.

He said that it was not enough to just recuperate natural resources and that the other goal, although difficult to achieve, is the self-organisation of the social movements.

Morales asked himself where has the state been during the 180 years of republican life, recalling that it had not been present in the indigenous communities, that is why he highlighted the importance of the implementation of indigenous autonomies.

Translated from ABN
Posted by Bolivia Rising on Thursday, August 06, 2009

Anti-Venezuela Spokespeople Misrepresent Reality of Press Freedom in Venezuela By Mark Weisbrot

5 August, 2009 — MRZine – Monthly Review

Denis MacShane attacks the British left for defending Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez against an onslaught from the media, “New Cold Warriors,” and right-wing demagogues throughout the world.  His rhetorical trick is to tar the left with a new media law currently being debated in the Venezuelan Congress, which he says “would impose prison sentences of up to four years for journalists whose writings might divulge information against ‘the stability of the institutions of the state.'”

Of course this is a bad law.  There are a number of bad laws on the books in Venezuela, and in fact numerous countries in the region have “desacato” laws which make it a crime to insult the President.  Do MacShane’s targets — he mentions Ken Livingstone and Richard Gott — support such laws?  I would bet serious money that they do not.  So his main line of attack is misleading if not downright dishonest.

Contra el Terrorismo Mediático

MacShane also misrepresents the reality of press freedom in Venezuela.  In fact, there is a much more oppositional media in Venezuela than in the United States, and a much greater range of debate in the major media.  This can be seen simply by looking at the most important media in both countries.  In the U.S., for example, not even the most aggressive right-wing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity would present the idea that the President should be lynched.  But Globovision, one of the largest-audience TV networks in Venezuela, had a show where a guest did just that.

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Mr. Mousavi's Gas Embargo on Iran? By Robert Naiman

5 August, 2009 — MRZine – Monthly Review

In serious contention for Dumbest Washington Consensus for September is the idea of cutting off Iran’s gas imports to pressure Iran to stop enriching uranium.  A majority of Representatives and Senators have signed on to legislation that seeks to block Iran’s gas imports, a top legislative priority for the so-called “Israel Lobby.” But it’s a stupid idea.  Let us count the ways.

One: there is no indication that Russia and China will go along with it.  Even Europe is split, Reuters reports.  Turkey is also likely to be unenthusiastic — a country that has good relations with Iran, has a long border with Iran, and is currently on the UN Security Council.  A U.S.-sponsored gas embargo on Iran isn’t likely to have much impact if Russia, China, Turkey, and half of Europe aren’t cooperating — after all, it’s not the U.S. that’s exporting gas to Iran — unless it is imposed by force.

Two: Iran has threatened to retaliate against a U.S.-sponsored gas embargo by stopping its oil exports to the West.  There is a historical precedent that ought to give Americans and Britons some pause: when Britain wanted to punish the democratically elected Mossadegh government for nationalizing Iran’s oil, Britain imposed an embargo on Iranian oil exports, enforced by the British Navy.  Fine, Mossadegh said, we don’t care.  Let it stay in the ground.  When the embargo failed, the British tried to overthrow Mossadegh in a coup.  When that failed, the British asked the U.S. to intervene, and the CIA and British intelligence overthrew Mossadegh.  How does returning to the British colonialism script for Iran fit in with the whole outreach to the Muslim world thing?

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Ten Years of ‘Plan Colombia’: Bogotá Leases Military Real Estate to the Obama Administration

5 August, 2009 — Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Plan Colombia Phase III? Colombia’s neighbors condemn new military agreement
Colombia is likely to become the regional hub for the Pentagon’s Latin American activities and its Fort Apache as U.S. and Colombia near a cooperation agreement that would expand U.S. military presence in the country. The U.S. seeks to increase its influence in Colombia as it counts down the days until its lease expires on the Manta, Ecuador base that Quito terminated on mainly political grounds. The new Colombia agreement is meant to extend the use of seven of the country’s military bases in what is estimated to be a ten year lease arrangement. The agreement is said to also include terms for preferential arms and aircraft sales to the Colombian military. Currently, U.S. military presence in Colombia cannot exceed 800 Department of Defense Employees and 600 civilian military contractors, all of which have immunity for criminal prosecution in the country.

Leaders of a number of Colombia’s neighboring countries have expressed their concerns, as U.S’ expanded military role in the country appears to further besmirch Bogotá’s good name. As a result of the pending accord, Venezuela’s Chávez has removed his Ambassador in Bogotá, stating that the base agreement represents an act of aggression on the part of the neighboring country. Presidents Lula of Brasil and Bachelet of Chile also have strongly condemned expanded U.S. military presence in Colombia and the lack of prior discussion with the affected nations. While South American leaders requested a meeting of UNASUR’s Defense Council in order to obtain a clear explanation of the agreement from Colombia, it appears that neither President Uribe nor his Foreign Affairs minister Jaime Bermudez will be attending such event, although Colombia is sure to be attacked for its role.

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Arab Communism: Some Reasons for Its Fall By As ‘ad AbuKhalil

26 May, 2009 — The Angry Arab News Service – Laura and Fadwa kindly translated this article of mine from Al-Akhbar.

The Arab Left didn’t just collapse of its own accord, and the method of its collapse was not fast or sudden. A generation of Arabs today forget that the Arab communist parties in Iraq and in Sudan, for example, were the biggest Arab parties, and without artificial support from the military establishment in those countries. The communists were deeply embedded throughout Iraq, and the religious schools in Najaf suffered the loss of the youth to the Iraqi Communist Party. All that has changed. Some of the elements of the phenomenon of the fall of the Left were local, and some of them were regional, and some of the others were global. The French Communist Party is about as powerful as the Wa’d Party in Lebanon, and the Italian Communist Party lost its luster some time ago. What has changed?

One can go back to the beginnings. There are those who talk about a delegation from the Comintern, but studies of the beginning of Communism in the Arab world lie in Hanna Batatu’s book (this great man who died unknown in the Arab world) about the class history of Iraq and in the book of Mohammad Dakrub about the deep roots of the Communist Party. American propaganda and even Western academic studies on the spread of Communism in the Arab world exaggerate in the glorification of the role of the Comintern in spreading Communism: this is a conspiracy theory which is not subjected to derision because it came signed from the American State Department and its propaganda systems. It is true that the Soviet Union worked to spread communism, as the United States worked to spread … reaction around the world – and still does, but the seeds and conditions were local. There were prevalent revolutionary and leftist stirrings, and especially in the political and literary spread at the dawn of a bygone century. The Communist movement was promising in the beginning, but its fall was hard before – not after – the demise of the Soviet Union.

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