[Marxism] Portia Siegelbaum: "Fidel's New Best Friend"

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Mar 4 05:31:02 MST 2005

Fidel's New Best Friend
By Portia Siegelbaum
©MMV, CBS Broadcasting Inc.

HAVANA, March 2, 2005

The re-establishment of full diplomatic relations
between Montevideo and Havana has generated almost as many
international headlines as the swearing in of Uruguay's new
leftist "and proud of it" president, Tabaré Vázquez.

Not even President Fidel Castro's failure to attend the
festivities dampened the interest in ties with Cuba. 
And the reopening of the Cuban Embassy in Montevideo on
Wednesday highlighted what Larry Birns, director of the
Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, described
as a shift in alliances.

"In more than 40 years of monitoring, I have never seen the
U.S. so isolated in Latin America and Cuba so not
isolated," Birns said.

Another example of this, he said, is Cuba's participation
in negotiations to end the dispute between Colombia and
Venezuela. Birns also believes that efforts by countries
like Brazil to attract foreign investment and multinational
corporations does not mean they've given up their leftist

"They need to tax the multinationals to finance their
social programs," he said. "Only Chavez, because of
Venezuelan oil, can afford to go it alone. The rest can't,
and so they need to reaffirm their leftist credentials in
another way."

Cozying up to Cuba is one way to do that.

"That is why in a sense Castro has become a sort of a
blarney stone for them to kiss to show that they have
authentic leftist credentials," Birns concludes.

In addition, Castro's long-term analysis of the
international financial agencies "is coming to the fore as
almost a vindication that privatization is not superior to
a mixed economy and that has given Castro a kind of cache
as an economic pundit, capable of seeing developments down
the line."

In this context, it's easy to understand Cuba's appeal to
Uruguay's new president, a 65-year-old cancer specialist
and former Montevideo mayor, who won the election by urging
greater efforts to fight poverty and who takes a cautious
view of the free-market economic policies promoted by the
Bush Administration.

Under former President Jorge Batlle, who favored closer
economic and political ties with Washington, Uruguay's
economy shriveled more than 10 percent and, according to
United Nations statistics, one out of every three
Uruguayans fell below the poverty line.

Various left-of-center South American leaders who share
Vázquez' views attended his inauguration, including Luiz
Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela
and Nestor Kirchner of Argentina. Also present were the
presidents of Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru. The U.S.
sent Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

Holding up the flag for the island was Foreign Minister
Felipe Perez Roque, who said health reasons prevented the
Cuban president from being there. Presumably, the nine-hour
flight and subsequent activities were seen as too grueling
for the 78-year old Castro who tripped, breaking a kneecap
and fracturing an arm last October.

A Cuban diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity,
suggested a different reason for Castro's absence.
"Security reasons probably weighed in also."

In 2000, Cuban security agents detected the arrival of
known anti-Castro exiles in Panama prior to Castro's
arrival for an Ibero-American Summit. When arrested by
local police, the four men were found in possession of a
large quantity of explosives, which the Cubans charged were
intended to assassinate Castro.

However, they were only convicted of endangering public
safety and in August 2004 they were pardoned by Panamanian
President Mireya Moscoso, setting off a diplomatic tiff
with Havana.

Contacts between Uruguay and Cuba have simmered at consular
level for nearly three years, ever since outgoing President
Batlle sponsored a resolution at the United Nations
condemning Cuba's alleged human rights violations. The
Cubans fired back, labeling Batlle a "Yankee bootlicker."
Batlle retaliated by breaking relations.

Vázquez clearly intends to turn things around. His remarks
made immediately after the formal signing of notes
re-establishing relations were highlighted in the Cuban
media Wednesday.

"I am enormously pleased ... to fraternally welcome the
Cuban people once more in this House and to tighten these
ties and friendship that should never be broken," declared
the new president.

The top headline on Radio Reloj, Cuba's 24-hour all-news
station, was a message of congratulations and good will
from Castro to Vázquez. The local press also expressed Cuba
pleasure at the new government's emphasis on regional
integration via MERCOSUR, the South American Common Market.

It has similarly given wide coverage to Chavez' efforts to
integrate Venezuela's economy with those of Brazil and
Colombia, rather that with "the United States and Europe"
and to the region's turn away from the international
monetary institutions and Castro's favorite whipping boy,

By Portia Siegelbaum

©MMV, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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