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Russia denies withdrawing specialists from Venezuela, says cooperation is set to expand

RT | June 4, 2019

Reports of a mass exodus of Russian military and technical specialists from Venezuela are not true, Russian officials have said. Cooperation with Caracas is going on as usual and is set to expand, they said.

In a Sunday story, the Wall Street Journal reported that Russian military and technical personnel had left Venezuela en-masse, with the numbers diminishing from some 1,000 to several dozens. The newspaper explained the alleged exodus with a lack of contracts and the fact that Moscow supposedly realized that Caracas lacks any funds to pay for the services of the Russian hi-tech and military hardware corporation Rostec.

On Monday, the corporation itself dismissed the report.

“The figures provided in the piece by the Wall Street Journal have been exaggerated tens of times. The numbers of our staff there has remained the same for many years,” the press service of Rostec stated.

The corporation explained that aside from having a permanent representation, it sends groups of technical specialists “from time to time” to Venezuela to perform maintenance and repairs of equipment supplied by Russia. “Just recently, the maintenance of a batch of aircraft was completed,” the press service added.

Russia’s state military hardware exporter, Rosoboronexport, on its part, said that Moscow and Caracas are actually planning to increase cooperation. Russian companies “remain committed to deepening cooperation with the Ministry of Defense and other departments of the Venezuelan government,” the exporter stated.

Shortly after the dismissal, US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that Russia had “removed most of their people” from Venezuela. It was not immediately clear what he meant, since apart from the Russian companies’ denial, there has been no official word from Moscow so far.

While military and technical cooperation between Russia and Venezuela has been going on for years, it made a lot of fuss lately amid the US-backed attempt to oust country’s President Nicolas Maduro and install self-styled ‘interim-president’ Juan Guaido instead. Russia’s modest military activity in Venezuela caught the eye of American politicians and media, sparking demands to Moscow to “get out” of what Washington believes to be its own “backyard.”

June 3, 2019 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | 2 Comments

Edmund Burke Rides Again

But this time the horse is paid for by Israel

Portrait of Edmund Burke (1729-97); Anglo-Irish politician, orator and political thinker; anti-French Revolution; by Northcote, James; Royal Albert Memorial Museum
By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • June 4, 2019

A new pro-Israel group that is pretending to be a standard bearer for conservative opinion in the United States was founded in January, a fortuitous bit of timing as it will not have to reveal its sources of income until next year. The Edmund Burke Foundation describes itself as “a new public affairs institute” having “the aim of strengthening the principles of national conservatism in Western and other democratic countries. The Foundation will pursue research, educational and publishing ventures directed toward this end.”

The Foundation’s launch will be at an open-to-the-public conference that will be held at Washington’s Ritz-Carlton on July 14-16, 2019. So as not to confuse the possible audience unduly over who Edmund Burke was or what he stood for, the conference is being advertised somewhat lamely as “National Conservatism: A Conference in Washington D.C.” on its website nationalconservatism.org. Note that neither the name of the foundation nor the promotion of its stellar cast of speakers includes the word “Israel,” but the Jewish state is really what it is all about.

The conference website explains that

“Politics in America, Britain, and other Western nations have taken a sharp turn toward nationalism—a commitment to a world of independent nations. This has been disorienting to many, not least the American conservative movement, which has, since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, grown increasingly attached to a vision of a global ‘rules-based liberal order’ that would bring peace and prosperity to the entire world while attenuating the independence of nations.

“The return of nationalism has created a much-discussed ‘crisis of conservatism’ that may be unprecedented…The conference on ‘National Conservatism’ will bring together public figures, journalists, scholars, and students who understand that the past and future of conservatism are inextricably tied to the idea of the nation, to the principle of national independence, and to the revival of the unique national traditions that alone have the power to bind a people together and bring about their flourishing.”

It is obvious to most actual conservatives that nationalism has never really gone away, but what the conference organizers are really getting at is a revival of unabashed nationalism as the excuse for countries when they behave badly while promoting their own interests without regard for the interests of others. Israel and the United States are the prime examples of such behavior and the argument that they have a special entitlement to justify their actions is frequently made, most notably by other Israel-firster groups like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). FDD argues that democracy promotion by force is a legitimate foreign policy of powerful countries like the United States, while threatened democracies like Israel must be protected. That, of course, is a complete misrepresentation regarding just how democratic the two countries actually are and the idea that being democratic empowers some sort of leadership role or exempt status is in itself ridiculous.

Why do I suggest that the Edmund Burke Foundation is just another pro-Israel puppet? Look at the people running it. Its President is David Brog, who is also the executive director of the Maccabee Task Force, “an effort launched in 2015 to combat the anti-Israel BDS movement. He also sits on the Board of Directors of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), where he served as executive director for its first ten years. Before CUFI, Brog worked in the United States Senate for seven years, rising to be chief of staff to Senator Arlen Specter and staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has also worked as an executive at America Online and practiced corporate law in Tel Aviv, Israel and Philadelphia, PA. Brog is the author of Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State (2006) and In Defense of Faith: the Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity (2010). In 2007, the Forward newspaper listed Brog in its ‘Forward 50’ most influential Jews in America.”

The Edmund Burke Foundation’s Chairman is an Israeli Yoram Hazony, who describes himself as a “Jewish philosopher.” He resides in the Jewish state and is a well-known Israeli nationalist, having written that nationalism empowers “the collective right of a free people to rule themselves.” He declares that “We should not let a hairbreadth of our freedom be given over to foreign bodies under any name whatsoever, or to foreign systems of law that are not determined by our own nations.” He adds “My first concern is for Israel.”

In other words, for Hazony all external criticism of what Israel is and does is illegitimate while Brog is what might be described as someone who has made a career out of being Jewish, along the way advancing what he perceives as Israeli interests. So why are they heading an ostensibly American foundation?

Indeed, it doesn’t require a Trumpean level of genius to see what this is all about and where it is going. If there is an unfortunate development arising from the National Conservative conference it is the inclusion as speakers of some genuine conservatives among the crowd of usual Zionist hacks, with National Security Bloviator John Bolton leading the dark side of the list. The real conservatives, who are invited to give the event credibility, should know better and ought to avoid the Edmund Burke Foundation like the plague. I will not call them out by name here and now but they can be identified from the speakers’ list. One has to wonder if they are being paid for their services…

In fact, new organizations dedicated to defending and promoting Israel are not exactly unusual. They tend to pop up in the United States and Western Europe like wild mushrooms in the spring time. By one estimate, there are 600 such organizations in the U.S. alone, running the gamut from the liberal left to the conservative right. They exist because there is a certain paranoia on the part of prominent Jews and leading Jewish organizations due to fear that the American people are finally waking up to the fact that they have been getting used and abused by a vast Zionist conspiracy for the past 70-plus years.

Why do some American Jews betray the interests of their own country to support another nation that is manifestly a pariah due to its own behavior? It might just be because to do so is painless and can, on the contrary, lead to personal advancement. Brog’s career demonstrates how it works, particularly if one can latch on to a Jewish Zionist Senator like Arlen Specter along the way. And the benefits for Israel are enormous, amounting to hundreds of billions of U.S. Treasury dollars as well as a de facto commitment for American soldiers to fight and die for Israel even if Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu starts a war for no reason whatsoever.

Taken together, all of the pro-Israel groups constitute a veritable political juggernaut that seeks to advantage Israel and benefit it directly without regard for the damage done to American democracy and to actual U.S. interests. They should rightly be seen as organizations that regard their loyalty to the United States as negotiable, but they try to obfuscate the issue by claiming, wrongly, that there exist compelling reasons why Israel and the U.S. should continue to be best friends due to “shared values.” And, as self-defined leading democracies, the Israel-apologists argue that both are immune to criticism because they are acting on the basis of legitimate nationalist interests. It is a compelling argument for some, but ultimately false in that it suggests that there are no restraints on the behavior of either government. The Israelis have, for example, used the argument to justify the killing by army sniper fire hundreds of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators.

Promoting “democratic nationalism” to pander to Israel without any real understanding of actual interests has led the United States into a seemingly bottomless Middle Eastern quagmire. And, the sense of invulnerability that America’s uncritical support has encouraged among some Israelis also will not benefit the Jewish state in the long term. The creation of the Edmund Burke Foundation is just one more card in a losing hand and it hopefully will run out of steam as abruptly as it was created.

Philip M. Giraldi, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest, a 501(c)3 tax deductible educational foundation (Federal ID Number #52-1739023) that seeks a more interests-based U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Website is councilforthenationalinterest.org, address is P.O. Box 2157, Purcellville VA 20134 and its email is inform@cnionline.org.

June 3, 2019 Posted by | Wars for Israel | , | 1 Comment

Saed Bannoura: A Moment that Changed my Life

By Saed Bannoura | International Middle East Media Center | April 29, 2005

On April 22, 1991, I was only 18 years old; I was out with some of my comrades planning to conduct a march and rally in the streets of our town, Beit Sahour, against the Israeli occupation of our land. This march was one of many peaceful protests held as part of what had become known as the ‘first Intifada’ (popular uprising), which had begun in 1987.

That particular day seemed somehow strange to me, and different from previous marches – usually the Israeli army filled the streets of our town during protests, occupying every corner, but on this day the army remained in their camp, and did not show any presence.

Something felt wrong. Deep inside of me I felt that there was something that did not feel right. Where was the army? What I did not realize was that the army was in fact already present, but in a different shape and form.

On that particular day, it was “the death squads” (as they were known to us), known in Israel as the Dovadim, the Israeli special forces, who were policing and patrolling our demonstration. These are forces which are specially trained for assassinations and are well known for their brutality and their ‘shoot to kill’ orders.

Apparently, after the Israeli prisons were filled with Palestinians, and after the Israeli policies of ‘bone breaking’ and long imprisonment failed to stop the uprising, the army decided on a new policy, a policy of ‘assassinating’ the youth, or at least severely injuring and disabling them.

During the first Intifada, an Israeli high official was quoted as saying that the army should not kill the Palestinian youth, because a youth killed by the army would then be honored as a martyr and thousands would follow their lead. He said that it is better to paralyze and disable the youth, knowing the way society looks down on disabled people.

This official decided that the army, especially the well trained ‘death squads’ should ‘give their utmost effort’ to paralyze the youth of the Intifada.

As for me, on that fateful April morning in 1991, I discovered at one point during the demonstration that I was surrounded by a group of masked men who pretended they were also Palestinian protesters. They tried to talk to me in Arabic and ask me about “the location of the soldiers” in an attempt to fool me, but the man who spoke to me didn’t pronounce the Arabic words correctly. It was at that moment I realized that I was actually surrounded by a death squad.

When the man noticed that I had realized their true identify he pulled a small automatic gun from under his shirt, and I ran away knowing that even if I surrendered to him then, I would have been immediately assassinated, as had happened to so many Palestinian martyrs before me.

The man ran after me, along with the other undercover death squad members, until I came to an area were he was standing above me on a hill, just five meters away from me. When he shouted at me again, I began to turn, and I could see his eyes, or at least, what was visible of them from under his mask. It was at that moment that he started to shoot.

After five or six rounds penetrated my chest and back, I fell to the ground, motionless, soaked with my own blood. I could not feel anything, I could not see clearly, and I could not hear anything.

I fell down face first, injuring my face and breaking my teeth on the ground. Then the man approached me and kicked me in my chest, breaking four ribs, in order to flip me over onto my back.

The last thing I heard before I passed out was that man who shot me saying, “After all that, and you’re still alive!?”

Those are words I can never forget, for they revealed to me at that moment the true identity of the Israeli army, the army of criminals and murderers.

In spite of the fact that the Israeli military ambulance was already present in my town when I was shot, apparently they believed that if the death squad was in town, that meant that death was there too, and they didn’t show up until 30 minutes after I was shot.

When the Israeli ambulance crew finally arrived (no Palestinian ambulance was allowed in to take me), the medics told the soldiers that they should impose curfew because “I was dead”. They thought there was no way I could survive such serious wounds – they were sure I would be dead within hours. During the first Intifada the army would impose a curfew every time they killed someone, thus punishing all the Palestinians in the area for the army’s own misdeed.

Military medics tried to give me first aid there on the ground, I was bleeding so much it was flooding the area were I fell.

After the ‘first aid’ they gave me, they drove the ambulance to a military base in Bethlehem – as my body was fighting to stay alive, they went through their procedures, handing over my identity card to the military, filling out forms and filing their report before they even brought me to the hospital. I was driven out of Bethlehem (where there are two hospitals), and all the way to an Israeli hospital in Jerusalem, where it would be difficult or even impossible for my family to come see me due to the Israeli-imposed closure and checkpoints.

Meanwhile, a military commander in Bethlehem phoned my father at home, and told him that I was mildly injured in my face, leaving out the five bullets which were lodged in my lung and spine – apparently these bullets did not count as injuries.

When they finally transferred me to the Israeli hospital I was operated on for the entire night. The surgeon who operated on me decided that it was easier to cut off one third of my lung and throw it away with the bullets than to take the care needed to extract the bullets from the lung (a move which led a Palestinian reporter to editorialize that my ‘surgeon had been a butcher in his past profession’ in an article he wrote about my injury).

One of the bullets penetrated my spine – it went through my chest and lodged in my spine, causing paralysis. That fateful bullet has led to me being paralyzed from the waist down, for life.

In the morning, one of the doctors told my mother, “You have a new born baby for a son” – that was me, paralyzed, unconscious and half dead.

I woke up for a few minutes three days after my injury. I did not know anything, did not remember anything, I saw my mother next to me, I tried to speak but that was useless, she was tortured to see me there, I could feel it, and could easily notice her health had deteriorated fearing that I would die at any moment.

I tried to ask her what I was doing there, and she said, “Relax my son, you are alright”, so I did, and “relaxed” for an additional seven days in another coma.

After those seven days, I was transferred out of the intensive care unit to another branch of the hospital, even though I still felt lost and unconscious even when I was awake.

Then, the hospital administration, after failing to make the army pay for my expenses, decided that I should leave, and told my father he must pay for the expenses. When they realized he could not pay, that he was without money, they told my father, “send him to an Arabic hospital, we saved his life, and he must go”.

But I was in no condition to be moved at all. Out of intensive care, my condition deteriorated rapidly, and I had to go back to intensive care for another ten days. When they decided I was “ok” I had to leave, even though I was nowhere near the condition that would normally be acceptable for releasing a patient with such severe injuries – but after all, I was “just a Palestinian”, and didn’t seem to count for much in the Israeli hospital. In fact, the hospital even insisted that a Palestinian ambulance come to fetch me, for they could not bear the expense of using one of their own ambulances to transport me to a Palestinian hospital. So I was transferred (by a Palestinian ambulance) to Al-Makessed hospital in Jerusalem.

I was hospitalized for three months, during which time I kept losing a lot of blood, internally and externally, due to my injuries (and the part of my lung that had been completely cut out). I still couldn’t think straight, couldn’t figure out why I was there – I had only visions spinning in my head, and vague memories.

After that time, I was transferred to Abu Raya Rehabilitation center in Ramallah. By then I started to realize that my life had changed forever.

I received rehabilitation for several months. I can still remember the first time I could dress alone, it felt good to be able to dress or bathe alone after a lot of work and effort – something that, previously, I would never have thought difficult had become such a challenge in my new body.

Ten months after my injury I enrolled as a student at Bethlehem University, and I studied four years, receiving my B.A degree in English and translation.

Now, many years later, am still paralyzed of course, but my life is a clear proof of the failure of the Israeli vision that paralyzing, injuring and killing us will make us give up. I have learned that the bullet which does not kill us makes us stronger.

So I am in a wheelchair, facing difficulties in life, facing repeated infections and bad health, but I am still the man who stood up to the Israeli occupation day after day and said NO to the occupiers.

One day I saw a program on Israeli TV about the special forces, the so-called ‘death squads’ which shot me. They showed scrambled pictures of soldiers talking about the attacks they carried out in Palestinian areas. Most of them are receiving psychological help now, and therapy. At that moment I felt victorious, after all they failed to kill my will and my internal strength, while these men who shoot unarmed youth with impunity are suffering internal torment and anguish for the crimes they have committed. I sit with my full mind, in honor, knowing I have done no wrong, and even after all they have done to me, I am still here willing to liberate my country, even while sitting on my wheelchair.

Its true, I will live my life on this wheelchair, paralyzed, and that is difficult sometimes to accept. They may have been able to take my mobility away, they may have been able to take my life as a completely healthy young man, but what they could not take, and will never be able to take away is my internal strength, my will and my love of my country.

The spirit of revolution, the path of freedom requires sacrifices we need to be ready and willing to make, until we reach our legitimate goal of freedom and liberation.

After the thousands of sacrifices of the Palestinian people, the thousands of martyrs, and tens of thousands of injured and disabled, we know that there can be no solution without liberation. The revolution will resume, even if it pauses for a while.

Palestine is our dream, our heart and life, the spirit of revolution and the longing for freedom can never die. Their tanks, apaches, shells, and bullets of hatred can never win.

June 3, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Judaization of Al-Quds, Jerusalem - How it Works

By Rima Najjar | Palestine Chronicle | June 3, 2019

The Judaization of Jerusalem. It used to work under cover of darkness, at least in the mainstream media, but now it’s out in the open with official recognition of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem from the United States.

Israel implements its Judaization of Jerusalem by directly undermining the sanctity of both Muslim (the Haram al-Sharif) and Christian (the Via Dolorosa) holy sites in al-Quds and by continuing to establish irreversible and exclusive control over the holy city as an Israeli-Jewish city.

Israel implements strategies that ensure its physical domination of the city. Since it illegally annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war, it has devised numerous policies to create geographic integrity and demographic superiority in favor of a Jewish Jerusalem.

But this strategy did not begin in 1967. In the wake of the 1948 war, the newly-minted Israeli government quickly rejected all calls for internationalizing the city and declared that “Arab aggression” invalidated Israel’s obligation to implement the partition plan, and specifically the UN-sanctioned corpus separatum of Jerusalem — Resolution 181 recommended the creation of independent Palestinian and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem.

Today Israel’s hasbara machine falsely declares that Palestinian “terrorism” invalidated Israel’s obligation to implement final status negotiations for an independent Palestinian state in the Oslo process, when, in fact, it has been busy leaving nothing for the negotiators to decide upon.

Ironically, on 2 Feb 1949, Ben Gurion magnanimously expressed willingness to establish corpus separatum over the Old City, primarily in order to delegitimize Jordan’s hold over the Old City while removing Israel’s own territorial gains from the equation.

Today, unsurprisingly, we hear that Israel’s exclusive control of the Old City is part of the “New Palestine” Deal. At the same time, on June 01, 2019 the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor (Euro-Med) released a report that documented 130 violations by Israel against Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem during April.

It was the Labor government of Levi Eshkol which set the precedents for complete Israeli sovereignty over a “united” Jerusalem in 1967, with a flurry of Israeli legislative maneuvering that echoed the 1949 frenzy, immediately according Jerusalem a status different than that of the rest of the occupied territories.

Jewish colonization efforts were to emphasize security in the Jordan Valley and in “Greater Jerusalem” as well as the high ground along the western portion of the West Bank. In other words, preserve the Jewish demographic majority won as a result of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 in the Palestinian lands already grabbed.

Likud’s obsession, an obsession which today has the political upper hand, was/is on creating a Jewish demographic majority in the occupied Palestinian territories with the purpose of acquiring more Palestinian territory for the Jewish state.

Israel’s strategies re Jerusalem implemented at the municipal level (with full backing of the Israeli government) have been the most devastating for Palestinian Jerusalemites. The architect of the Israeli master plan for Jerusalem, as many know, was former mayor Teddy Kollek, who pursued plans to cut “Greater Jerusalem” from the rest of the West Bank and facilitated its annexation with the stated objective of ensuring Jewish demographic superiority as well as geographic integrity.

Here are a few of his words from 1984 regarding what he considered to be the premature establishment of the now vast Jewish colony of Ma’aleh Adumim ringing the city:

“I think it is a mistake to establish it before we have filled Jerusalem. In another five years, we will fill Jerusalem and then we will go there [Ma’aleh Adumim]. In Jerusalem, we took upon ourselves, as Jews, a very difficult urban task, in that we received distant neighborhoods, and we had to connect them …”

Note: Jerusalem was not empty and did not need to be “filled”!

The Jewish colonization of Jerusalem is in direct contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 465 Concerning the Application of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Prohibition to Establish Settlements in the Territories, including Jerusalem, 1 March 1980.

Israel has forced a Jewish majority in all parts of Jerusalem and in the process brutally suffocated the legitimate rights and aspirations of Palestinian Jerusalemites, who, nevertheless, cling to their rights and identity in the holy city as Muslims, as Christians and as Palestinians.

Since 1967, successive Israeli governments have systematically eradicated all other visions of the holy city of Jerusalem except for the vision of Jerusalem as the “eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish State.”

Without question, Israel has always viewed the final status of Jerusalem as already settled. With Trump’s “Deal of the Century”, Israel believes it will finally secure unquestionable legitimacy for its exclusive rule over the holy city.

It’s up to the international community to stop it. In its report mentioned above, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor (Euro-Med) “urged the United Nations and its concerned bodies as well as the European Union to closely monitor the situation in Jerusalem and to condemn the harsh acts to which Palestinians are subjected and to shoulder their responsibilities towards the Palestinians under occupation.”

– Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.

June 3, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

Bipartisan Support for Trump’s Aggressive Iran Policy Reveals the Hollowness of Russiagate

By Whitney Webb | MintPress News | June 3, 2019

In early May, MSNBC news host Rachel Maddow — known as one of the top promoters of the new Cold War and Russiagate in American media — emphatically endorsed regime change in Venezuela after she claimed that President Donald Trump’s hawkishness towards the South American country had changed, all because of a single phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Though Maddow’s claims were arguably the most extreme in suggesting that Trump was “taking orders” from Putin on Venezuela, she wasn’t alone in making them. For instance, Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks also made the claim that the Trump-Putin phone call on Venezuela was “direct evidence that he is literally taking orders from Putin.” In addition, several corporate media outlets supported this narrative by suggesting that Trump “echoed” Putin’s Venezuela stance after the phone call and directly contradicted his top staffers and even himself in doing so.

Yet now, strangely, those same corporate media voices remain silent on the Trump administration’s other regime-change project — in Iran — despite the fact that the Putin-led Russian government is set to be the biggest winner as tensions between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic boil over and threaten to send the Middle East into a fresh bout of destruction and chaos.

How Russia wins

As tensions between the U.S. and Iran have grown in recent months, analysts in both corporate and independent media have speculated about what country is set to benefit the most from the U.S.’ campaign of “maximum pressure” and regime change against the Islamic Republic. Of the many analyses, two countries have stood out as likely beneficiaries: Russia and China.

The cases for China and Russia’s benefit are somewhat similar given that the Trump administration’s focus on Iran results in less pressure on both Russia and China. This is despite the fact that, officially, the U.S.’ current National Defense Strategy explicitly calls for focusing attention on preparing for a “long war” against Russia and China to prevent either from superseding the U.S. as a global superpower. Yet, with the U.S. focused on regime change in Iran and Venezuela, Russia and China can avoid bearing the brunt of U.S. military adventurism, either directly or by proxy, while the U.S. wears itself thin by trying to do it all at once.

Several U.S. military analysts have been warning against war with Iran for precisely this reason. Nikolas Gvosdev, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, recently wrote in The Hill that the U.S. faces a lose-lose scenario by pursuing a militaristic, aggressive Iran policy:

To gear up for a major conflict with Iran, the U.S. would be forced to de-emphasize Europe’s eastern flank, allowing Russia more time and breathing space to consolidate its position. On the other hand, a U.S. campaign that is defined more by bellicose rhetoric and less by action will buttress Russia’s claim, already seemingly validated in Syria and in Venezuela, that the U.S. talks a good game but has no real stomach for projecting its power.”

Both countries also stand to benefit from Iran’s increasing desperation for trading partners unwilling to bow to the U.S. Currently, China represents 30 percent of Iran’s international trade and the current U.S. sanctions on Iran have pushed Tehran to rely more heavily on Russia, especially for weapons purchases, than it had while the Iran nuclear deal (officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA) was in force.

However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that China, though it benefits to some degree, is not a clear winner amid current tensions, while Russia stands to gain the most. The reason for this is the effect of current and future U.S.-Iran tensions on the oil market. While China trusts Iran to be a key oil supplier even if there is a breach in U.S.-China relations, any shock to the oil market and any jump in oil prices — both of which are likely to occur if U.S.-Iran tensions continue to escalate — will spell disaster for the Chinese economy, given that China is now the world’s largest importer of oil.

Russia, on the other hand, stands to benefit massively from the chaos that U.S.-Iran tensions are set to unleash on the oil market and, by extension, oil prices. With the U.S. seeking to starve Iran of any and all oil export revenue, all countries that had been purchasing Iranian oil must seek new suppliers. Yet, with the prospect of a U.S-Iran conflict still ever-present, it will be those oil producers outside of the Middle East that will come out on top, since oil supply routes that do not pass through the Middle East do not risk supply disruptions that would be caused by a war in the region. Thus, Russia, owing to its location, will emerge as an oil producer of extreme importance. Furthermore, given that such instability in the Middle East will lead to a surge in global oil prices, Russia will be able to export more oil at a higher price and will see its economy and geopolitical clout benefit greatly as a result.

A potential geopolitical killing

In addition to a great boost to its oil sector, Russia also stands to make unique geopolitical gains, particularly in the Middle East and beyond. For instance, in Syria, Russia is increasingly seeking to use its pull with Syria’s government as a major bargaining chip with Israel and the U.S., as made clear by the upcoming trilateral summit on the Middle East between Russia, Israel and the U.S. The main focus of that summit will likely be the fate of the presence of foreign militaries in Syria, particularly Iranian and U.S. forces.

The summit will likely be dominated by Russia and Israel, given Israel’s influence over the U.S., and particularly over National Security Adviser John Bolton, who will represent the U.S. at the summit. Israel’s key interest in Syria at this stage of the conflict is the removal of Iranian forces from Syria. Russia is likely to oblige that request, as doing so would allow Russia to dominate a post-war Syria at Iran’s expense. This seems to be a current Russian objective in Syria, given recent reports of in-fighting among Russian and Iranian forces in Northern Syria.

However, Russia is unlikely to help reduce Iran’s Syria presence if doing so would favor the United States’ occupation of Syrian territory or threaten to upset Russia’s own interests in Syria. Thus, in this case, Russia is counting on Israel’s influence on the Trump administration to ensure that, if Iranian forces vacate Syria, it will be Russia that will dominate the country post-conflict.

Russia also stands to gain geopolitically from the isolationism being forced on Iran by the Trump administration. Indeed, U.S. pressure on Iran has already served Russian interests by pushing Iran further towards Russia, giving Moscow the status of an increasingly important economic partner of Tehran. While benefiting the Russian economy, closer economic ties between Moscow and Iran would also give Russia a leg up in discussions with the U.S., as Washington may then need to make concessions to or coordinate with Russia in future efforts to pressure Iran.

Meanwhile, Russia stands to reap major profits by selling more weapons to Iran, and to gain geopolitical clout by further cementing its role as a mediator of conflict by promoting compliance with the JCPOA and opposing regime change. Iran’s dwindling options for strategic alliances with non-U.S. aligned countries will make it difficult for Tehran to resist Russian demands on key issues, including the Syria conflict.

Another major geopolitical win for Russia that has resulted from the U.S.’ current Iran policy is the tension that that policy has engendered between the U.S. and its European allies. When the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA, it began the development of a rift between the U.S. and its key European allies who are also JCPOA signatories — particularly France, Germany and the United Kingdom. As a signatory, Russia’s stance on Iran has revolved around the JCPOA, with Russia having urged Iran to remain in the deal “no matter what,” advice that Iran does not now seem keen to follow.

Russia’s stance on JCPOA is likely aimed just as much at Europe as it is at Iran, since promoting the agreement amid the U.S. unilateral withdrawal paints Russia as more predictable and stable in terms of its political stances and diplomacy in comparison to the U.S. If nothing else, Putin is known for excelling at taking advantage of the missteps made by his geopolitical adversaries.

This is all part of a careful public image that Russia is seeking to cultivate with European countries as it hopes to attract them to do business with Russian oil and gas companies as the Middle East now seemingly approaches another era of extreme instability. By promoting the JCPOA alongside Europe, Russia makes increased Russo-European cooperation seem more attractive.

As U.S.-Iran tensions mount, particularly if armed conflict breaks out, importing goods from Russia, especially oil and gas, will appear more attractive and safer in comparison to goods that originate from or pass through the Middle East before arriving in Europe. Depending on how the situation plays out, Europe — driven by concerns about stability and reliability — may be willing to risk angering the U.S. to pursue increased economic cooperation with Russia, even though doing so would run counter to current U.S. and NATO objectives.

Putin plays Netanyahu

While it is often difficult to find accurate, honest reporting on Vladimir Putin –reporting that is neither too biased against him nor too much in his favor — it is generally acknowledged that Putin, above all else, is interested in advancing Russia’s national interest and is a cunning strategist who often thinks several steps ahead of both his allies and his adversaries.

In viewing the ratcheting up of tensions between the U.S. and Iran, Putin’s modus operandi remains unchanged and, upon closer examination, it is clear that he is giving the hotheads driving this still-escalating situation just enough rope to hang themselves. Meanwhile, Russia is waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces and further cement its already acknowledged role as the new foreign “peacemaker” in the Middle East while gaining economic and geopolitical clout in the process.

Prior to the Israeli election earlier this year, Israeli media noted on several occasions that Putin was backing the reelection of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including when Putin hosted Netanyahu at a sudden pre-election summit. Israeli newspaper Haaretz described Putin’s decision to host Netanyahu at the time as aimed at helping Netanyahu secure the “crucial Russian vote” among Russian-Israeli Jews in order to “outflank” his competitors. In another instance, Putin was alleged to have further helped Netanyahu’s reelection odds by having Russian special forces find and deliver the remains of Zachary Baumel — an Israeli soldier who had gone missing in Lebanon in 1982 — to Israel just ahead of the election.

Putin’s direct support of Netanyahu may seem odd to observers of geopolitics, given that the two have often been at odds over Syria. However, Putin and Netanyahu have developed an effective working relationship and Russia and Israel enjoy relatively strong bilateral ties and economic agreements.

Yet, beyond the ties that have been forged between the two countries in recent years, Putin likely knows that he can play Netanyahu’s weaknesses to his advantage. For instance, Putin is acutely aware of the benefits to be reaped from increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran and is also aware of the key role that Netanyahu has played and continues to play in driving the Trump administration’s Iran policy. Netanyahu’s near-obsession with regime change in Iran and the practical likelihood that a U.S.-Iran war would be “unwinnable” for the U.S. and would leave its military weakened and distracted are points that Putin is likely eager to exploit in pursuance of Russian geopolitical goals.

Russia seeks to play the role of mediator but only to a certain extent and has kept its attitude towards Iran intentionally vague when dealing with the Israeli government, so much so that Israeli officials have cited Russia’s unknown stance towards Iran as a major difficulty in negotiating the deconfliction of Russian and Israeli forces in Syria. This is likely because Russia doesn’t seek to aid either side amid escalating tensions, instead waiting for the current tensions to play out, as it stands to make gains in either case.

That Russia stands to gain from current U.S.-Iran tensions hasn’t been lost on all Israeli officials, however. Earlier this month, a former Israeli intelligence official, Yakkov Kedmi, openly stated that not only is a war against Iran “unwinnable” for the U.S. and its regional allies, but further that Russia would be the only major country to benefit from any military conflict pitting the Americans against the Iranians. Appearing on Russian television program Evening with Vladimir Solovyov, Kedmi stated that, if war does break out, the U.S. “won’t remain whole” after the conflict and that “if anyone wins, it’ll be Russia.”

“If the price of oil exceeds $100 per barrel, it hits the Chinese economy. Most of all, it hits the European and American economies,” Kedmi stated. “If you double the price,” he added, “[global] industry will be ruined. First of all, it will happen in the U.S.” To that, the program’s host, Vladimir Solovyov, asserted that “Their [American] industry will be [ruined]. It’ll be the opposite in our country. Our economy will begin to develop. We’ll feel like kings with golden diamond-studded wheels on our cars.”

Why the Russiagaters are silent on Iran

Given Russia — and Putin’s — clear benefit from the continuing U.S. escalation with Iran and a potential military conflict, it is striking that Putin’s fiercest critics in the American media have remained silent about this clear pay-off as the Trump administration continues to pursue an aggressive, hawkish Iran policy that hardly benefits the U.S. and instead benefits its supposed adversary. This is especially notable in light of the fact that these same American critics of Russia and Putin’s leadership were recently accusing Trump of “taking orders” from Putin by altering his Venezuela policy in a way that was perceived to benefit Russian over American interests.

This dichotomy is most easily deconstructed by noting that top promoters of Russiagate and news personalities known for their hyperfocus on Putin rarely call for any policy that would involve a reduction in tensions or less militarism abroad. Indeed, all too often, the “solutions” offered by these journalists involve sending weapons to U.S. proxy forces, shooting missiles at Russian allies, sanctioning Russia and its allies, and other “useful reminders of the military strength of the Western alliance” between the U.S. and NATO.

Without fail, the suggested solutions of how to counter Putin from the U.S. media and political establishment almost always involve “pushing back” with force equal to or greater than the perceived aggression. Rarely do they involve backing down or unwinding tensions, even in the cases where doing so would clearly challenge key geopolitical objectives of the Russian government.

In the case of Russia’s benefit from Trump’s Iran policy, the benefit is so clear that it has been voiced in several mainstream media outlets — including CNN, The Hill, Forbes and Bloomberg —  with most of those reports focusing exclusively on the oil angle. However, while Russia’s advantage has been noted, it is also clear that Trump’s current Iran policy has avoided inflaming the Russiagate hysteria that has marked media coverage of other Trump policies and statements that were perceived as being “pro-Putin” for the past few years.

One reason that the media has skipped a prime opportunity for another Russiagate frenzy is the fact that many of the driving forces behind Russiagate are also supportive of regime change in Iran. Indeed, while Russiagate has recently been cast by Trump and prominent Republicans as a “hoax” narrative exclusive to Democrats, prominent neoconservatives have long been pivotal in creating and fomenting Russigate for over five years.

For instance, the origins of the infamous Steele dossier — which was used to assert that Russia’s government had a litany of salacious blackmail on Trump that it would use to manipulate him as president — trace back to top neoconservative Republican donor Paul Singer. That dossier was subsequently circulated within the Obama administration during the 2016 campaign by neoconservatives Victoria Nuland and the late Senator John McCain.

Many of the same neoconservative figures who have helped stoke Russiagate and pounced on the resulting climate of hysteria to promote increased militarism as the solution, also support regime change in Iran. Michael McFaul — U.S. Ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration — is both a strong advocate for aggressive U.S. measures to counter Putin and also a vocal proponent of U.S.-led regime change in Iran. Similarly, on the supposed other side of the political spectrum, Bill Kristol — well-known neoconservative writer, an icon of the establishment “resistance” to Trump, and a promoter of Russiagate — also strongly supports hawkish measures to contain Russia and is a long-time, vocal supporter of regime change in Iran.

While the tense situation between the U.S. and Iran is undeniably troubling, the relative silence among figures in U.S. media and politics who claim to be Putin’s fiercest critics with regard to Trump’s aggressive Iran policy reveals a stark truth about Russiagate. The goal of Russiagate is not actually about “countering” Putin or Russian geopolitical influence; it is about promoting the expansion and widespread adoption of hyper-militarism by both the establishment left and establishment right in the United States.

While Russia often serves as a useful “boogeyman” in service to this agenda of promoting militaristic policies, the odd moments when those same policies actually benefit Russia and do not run into hysterical opposition from the political and media establishment provide a rare glimpse into the real motivations behind Cold War 2.0 and the dubious validity of the media-driven narratives upon which current anti-Russian hysteria is based.

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

June 3, 2019 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, Russophobia, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Instead of a US Peace Plan for the Middle East, How about a US Peace Plan for the US?

A Map of US Military Bases

US military bases globally (by PatriotMyke, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License)
By Thomas L. Knapp | Garrison Center | June 3, 2019

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo describes the Trump administration’s plan for peace between Israel and Palestinian Arabs as “unexecutable.” President Trump says Pompeo “may be right.”

Good! As addiction counselors say, the first step is admitting you have a problem. With addiction, the way out is not “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” It’s admitting that the thing you’re addicted to will never solve your problems and giving up that thing.

The United States suffers from a long-term addiction, since at least the end of World War 2, to trying to run the world.

That addiction has cost American taxpayers trillions of dollars.

It’s cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of citizens of other countries.

It’s empowered evil regimes to suppress human rights both at home and abroad.

And it has never, ever “worked” in the sense of bringing about lasting peace, any more than booze saves marriages or methamphetamine repairs mental anguish.

In fact, just like booze or methamphetamine, the US addiction to world “leadership” wrecks the lives of everyone around the addict too. Which means that if the US gets its act together, everyone else, not just Americans, will be better off.

Here’s a four-step peace plan that addresses the roots of the problem instead of just unsuccessfully trying to treat the symptoms:

First, the US should shut down its military bases on foreign soil and withdraw its troops from the foreign countries they’re currently operating in.

Second, the US should end economic sanctions on, and extend full diplomatic recognition and trade privileges to, all the countries it’s currently bullying.

Third, the US should end all foreign aid, especially military aid.

Fourth and finally, the US should dramatically decrease its so-called “defense” budget to levels consistent with actual defense.

Cold turkey withdrawal may be out of the question, but the US can and should wean itself off the damaging drug of foreign interventionism.

Let the Arabs and Israelis settle their own hash. Quit taking sides between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Stop pretending North Korea is or ever has been a threat to the United States. Step back and let Venezuelans, Syrians, and Libyans decide who’s going to run Venezuela, Syria, and Libya.

It won’t be easy, but it’s not complicated either. The US can continue drinking itself to death on the poison of foreign meddling, or not. Not is better.

June 3, 2019 Posted by | Militarism | | 1 Comment

Palestinian Photojournalist at Risk of Deportation

IMEMC News & Agencies | June 2, 2019

For the past five months, Mustafa al-Kharouf has been languishing inside Israel’s Givon prison, away from his wife Tamam and their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Asia. But, now, he faces deportation to Jordan.

The 32-year-old photojournalist, son to an Algerian mother and a Palestinian father, has been living in Jerusalem since 1999, when his family returned.

Despite repeated attempts, over the past decade, he has been denied permanent residency status, which he is entitled to, thus rendering him stateless.

By the time Kharouf’s family met the conditions set by the policy, to get residency, Mustafa was 18 years old and his family was not able to submit an application for either reunification or child registration, on his behalf.

In January, Mustafa, who worked with Anadolu Agency, was detained after his lawyer challenged the Israeli interior ministry’s decision to reject his request for legal status.

His fate is now in the hands of an Israeli high court, which will decide if he will be deported to Jordan, a country he has no ties to.

In order to attain their “legal” status as Palestinians in the city, Kharouf’s family applied for family reunification, Al Jazeera/Al Ray further reports.

But, at the core of Israel’s complicated laws for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem – who are granted residency rights but not Israeli citizenship – is the “center of life” policy, which has been described as a legalized ethnic cleansing.

The policy, which requires Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem to prove they keep a center of life in the city, to uphold their legal status, has been criticized by rights groups as discriminatory, and as a precursor to forcible transfers – a serious violation of international law.

Legal status rejected by Israeli interior ministry

Adi Lustigman, Kharouf’s lawyer from the Israeli rights organization HaMoked, told Al Jazeera that Kharouf tried to regulate his status in Jerusalem for years, but to no avail.

“He had an interim order during some periods, but, the rest of the times, he has just managed, like many other stateless and status-less Jerusalemites do,” Lustigman said.

“It is, of course, enormously difficult to be a person with no rights, no work permit, and nowhere to go, in order to be legal.”

From October 2014 to 2015, Kharouf was granted an Israeli B/1 work visa, on a “humanitarian basis”. Yet, requests for a visa extension were eventually rejected by the ministry of interior for “security reasons”.

Lustigman believes that the ministry’s rejections are related to his work as a photojournalist documenting human rights abuses committed by the Israeli authorities, in occupied East Jerusalem.

After Kharouf was married, in 2016, to his wife Tamam, a Palestinian Jerusalemite, he filled out another family reunification application, but it was again rejected in December of 2018, by the interior ministry.

According to Lustigman, the decision was based on unfounded accusations that Kharouf was a member of Hamas, which is banned by Israel.

The lawyer appealed the decision on January 21, 2019, but, the next day, Israeli forces raided Kharouf’s home and abducted him, and he has since been placed under administrative detention – indefinite imprisonment without trial or charge.

“My husband is the most optimistic person I know. But, now, he is beyond miserable,” Kharouf’s wife Tamam told Al Jazeera.

Tamam is permitted to visit her husband once a week, for a maximum of 20 minutes, behind a glass window.

“His spirits have deteriorated so much since his arrest,” the 27-year-old school counselor said. “He has lost 10 kilograms, and is very depressed.”

A few months later, in April, the Israeli District Court rejected Kharouf’s appeal and gave an interim order not to deport him, so he is able to take his case to Israel’s High Court, with May 5 given as the deadline. The appeal has already been filed, but the High Court has yet to make a decision. Kharouf remains at imminent risk of being forcibly deported to Jordan.

Deportation order ‘illegal’

Saleh Hijazi, the head of Amnesty International’s Jerusalem office, described the Israeli decision to refuse Kharouf’s residency application and deport him as “cruel and unlawful”.

“[Kharouf] must be released immediately and granted permanent residency in East Jerusalem, so he can resume his normal life with his wife and child,” Hijazi said.

“The arbitrary detention and planned deportation of Mustafa al-Kharouf reflect Israel’s long-term policy to reduce the number of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, while denying them their human rights,” he continued.

Following Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, at least 14,600 Palestinians have had their residency permits revoked.

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, the deportation of protected people from an occupied territory is illegal. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court stipulates that “the deportation or transfer [by the occupying power] of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory” constitutes a war crime.

“A person cannot be left stateless”, Jessica Montell, Executive Director of HaMoked, said in an April press release.” On the practical level, there is no sense holding Mustafa ‘pending deportation’ when there is no country to which Israel can deport him.

“The High Court of Justice has recognized East Jerusalemites as an indigenous population with a unique status. Israel must therefore release Mustafa without delay and give him the legal status to which he is entitled, as a Jerusalemite.”

Tamam has been busy consulting with lawyers, to see what can be done. But, she said that most of them say her husband’s case is too complicated, and refuse to take it on.

“I haven’t thought about an alternative plan for us,” Tamam said. “If Mustafa gets deported to Jordan, he will not receive residency, let alone citizenship.

“In fact he’ll get detained by Jordanian authorities as soon as he crosses the border, for as long as it will take them to review his files and come to a decision on what to do with him,” she continued.

“If he gets deported, it won’t be just one family that will be fragmented. He’ll be ripped away from me and my daughter, from his parents, and from his in-laws.”

Lustigman says that the importance of highlighting Kharouf’s case can make the difference in not uprooting the photojournalist’s life.

“We hope that public opinion, press interests, and NGO actions would have a certain weight and be of help,” the lawyer said.

June 3, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | 2 Comments

The Apparently Irresistible Cry of Anti Semitism

By Eve Mykytyn | June 3, 2019

What does it take to force a university to act contrary to the principles of free expression that are at the core of academic freedom? If the story of Dr. Maaruf Ali is representative, then the answer is: not much. In the 25-30 news stories I read in preparing this summary, each article repeated the characterization of Dr. Ali’s posts as anti Semitic and none offered any counter interpretation. It seems no institution offered support to Dr. Ali. Not a union, nor a political party nor the university itself.

Dr. Ali’s problems at The  University of Essex began with a vote the student union held in February over whether to authorize a proposed new Jewish student society, a branch of the Union of Jewish Students. The UJS is frankly Zionist and political, offering on its website as its ‘core values:’ 1.) cross communalism defined as “open to all Jewish students regardless of political or religious affiliation or denomination. 2.) Peer-leadership 3.) Representation: “… Jewish students should have their voices heard both locally and nationally.” And, 4.) Engagement with Israel. “… to strengthen, celebrate and explore a personal relationship with Israel as part of an evolving expression of Jewish identity.”

The few students who bothered to vote on the issue voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new society. 200 students out of the 600 who voted (the University of Essex boasts over 15,000 students) voted against the society. None of the news outlets that covered this story mentioned that very few students cared to participate, exaggerating the importance of the issue at the University. Apparently panicked by this lopsided vote in its favor, the student union cancelled the vote and authorized the society’s immediate creation.

Histrionics prevailed in the Jewish press and among the UK’s Jewish advocates.  Following the vote, the national Union of Jewish Students said the fact that so many people were against the ratification of the society was “simply shocking.”  Apparently not constrained by facts, Amanda Bowman, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews said: “This is racism, pure and simple. Those students who voted to exclude Jewish students should hang their heads in shame.” Of course, 200 students voted against a society, there was no vote to exclude Jewish students.

Luckily for those seeking to extract revenge for the elusive sin of anti Semitism, they had an object for their wrath in University lecturer, Dr. Maaruf Ali. Ali opposed the society and shared a number of posts alleging that “the Zionists next want to create a society here at our University.” This quote was widely circulated as evidence of his anti Semitism although UJS is an openly Zionist organization.

In support of his opinion Ali posted that: “50,000 Jews protest[ed] Israel” in New York, but that there was a “total mainstream media blackout by the Zionist mafia.” There indeed was such a protest in New York,  and it was only lightly covered in the media.

Ali wrote that Israel planned to expel 36,000 Palestinians from the Negev. In fact, Israel was expelling 36,000 Palestinian Bedouins from the Negev, and his point was correct.

Then Ali shared a claim from smoloko.com that a French police officer allegedly killed in terror attacks in Paris was actually a Mossad agent. I couldn’t verify this claim, but there are many such theories about the 2015 attacks See.

Dr. Ali also shared the following post from Edgar Steele, an Idaho lawyer who defended members of the Aryan nation.

Hello, World!

June 3, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , | 2 Comments

Trudeau government squeezes Cuba

By Yves Engler | June 3, 2019

Ottawa faces a dilemma. How far are Trudeau’s Liberals prepared to go in squeezing Cuba? Can Canadian corporations with interests on the island restrain the most pro-US, anti-socialist, elements of the ruling class?

Recently, the Canadian Embassy in Havana closed its Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship section. Now most Cubans wanting to visit Canada or get work/study permits will have to travel to a Canadian embassy in another country to submit their documents. In some cases Cubans will have to travel to another country at least twice to submit information to enter Canada. The draconian measure has already undercut cultural exchange and family visits, as described in a Toronto Star op-ed titled “Canada closes a door on Cuban culture”.

It’s rare for an embassy to simply eliminate visa processing, but what’s prompted this measure is the stuff of science fiction. Canada’s embassy staff was cut in half in January after diplomats became ill following a mysterious ailment that felled US diplomats sent to Cuba after Donald Trump’s election. Four months after the first US diplomats (apparently) became ill US ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis met his Canadian, British and French counterparts to ask if any of their staff were sick. According to a recent New York Times Magazine story, “none knew of any similar experiences afflicting their officials in Cuba. But after the Canadian ambassador notified his staff, 27 officials and family members there asked to be tested. Twelve were found to be suffering from a variety of symptoms, similar to those experienced by the Americans.”

With theories ranging from “mass hysteria” to the sounds of “Indies short-tailed crickets” to an “outbreak of functional disorders”, the medical questions remain largely unresolved. The politics of the affair are far clearer. In response, the Trump Administration withdrew most of its embassy staff in Havana and expelled Cuban diplomats from Washington. They’ve rolled back measures the Obama Administration instituted to re-engage with Cuba and recently implemented an extreme measure even the George W. Bush administration shied away from.

Ottawa has followed along partly because it’s committed to overthrowing Venezuela’s government and an important talking point of the anti-Nicolás Maduro coalition is that Havana is propping him up. On May 3 Justin Trudeau called Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel to pressure him to join Ottawa’s effort to oust President Maduro. The release noted, “the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Lima Group [of countries hostile to Maduro], underscored the desire to see free and fair elections and the constitution upheld in Venezuela.” Four days later Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland added to the diplomatic pressure on Havana. She told reporters, “Cuba needs to not be part of the problem in Venezuela, but become part of the solution.” A week later Freeland visited Cuba to discuss Venezuela.

On Tuesday Freeland talked with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Venezuela and Cuba. Afterwards the State Department tweeted, “Secretary Pompeo spoke with Canada’s Foreign Minister Freeland to discuss ongoing efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela. The Secretary and Foreign Minister agreed to continue working together to press the Cuban regime to provide for a democratic and prosperous future for the people of Cuba.”

Ottawa supports putting pressure on Cuba in the hopes of further isolating/demonizing the Maduro government. But, the Trudeau government is simultaneously uncomfortable with how the US campaign against Cuba threatens the interests of some Canadian-owned businesses.

The other subject atop the agenda when Freeland traveled to Havana was Washington’s decision to allow lawsuits for property confiscated after the 1959 Cuban revolution. The Trump Administration recently activated a section of the Helms-Burton Act that permits Cubans and US citizens to sue foreign companies doing business in Cuba over property nationalized decades ago. The move could trigger billions of dollars in legal claims in US courts against Canadian and European businesses operating on the island.

Obviously, Canadian firms that extract Cuban minerals and deliver over a million vacationers to the Caribbean country each year don’t want to be sued in US courts. They want Ottawa’s backing, but the Trudeau government’s response to Washington’s move has been relatively muted. This speaks to Trudeau/Freeland’s commitment to overthrowing Venezuela’s government.

But, it also reflects the broader history of Canada-Cuba ties. Despite the hullabaloo around Ottawa’s seemingly cordial relations with Havana, the reality is more complicated than often presented. Similar to Venezuela today, Ottawa has previously aligned with US fear-mongering about the “Cuban menace” in Latin America and elsewhere. Even Prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who famously declared “viva Castro” during a trip to that country in 1976, denounced (highly altruistic) Cuban efforts to defend newly independent Angola from apartheid South Africa’s invasion. In response, Trudeau stated, “Canada disapproves with horror [of] participation of Cuban troops in Africa” and later terminated the Canadian International Development Agency’s small aid program in Cuba as a result.

After the 1959 Cuban revolution Ottawa never broke off diplomatic relations, even though most other countries in the hemisphere did. Three Nights in Havana explains part of why Ottawa maintained diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba: “Recently declassified State Department documents have revealed that, far from encouraging Canada to support the embargo, the United States secretly urged Diefenbaker to maintain normal relations because it was thought that Canada would be well positioned to gather intelligence on the island.” Washington was okay with Canada’s continued relations with the island. It simply wanted assurances, which were promptly given, that Canada wouldn’t take over the trade the US lost. For their part, Canadian business interests in the country, which were sizable, were generally less hostile to the revolution since they were mostly compensated when their operations were nationalized. Still, the more ideological elements of corporate Canada have always preferred the Cuban model didn’t exist.

If a Canadian company is sued in the US for operating in Cuba, Ottawa will face greater pressure to push back on Washington. If simultaneously the Venezuelan government remains, Ottawa’s ability to sustain its position against Cuba and Venezuela is likely to become even more difficult.

June 3, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Economics | , , , | 10 Comments