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Sunday, May 14, 2006


Remnants of Socialism: PRC and Latin America

It is current policy for the Peoples Republic of China to establish and develop friendly ties and cooperative relationship with all countries on the basis of the sometimes abused Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (mutual respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefits, and peaceful coexistence). These relations, it is said, "are never based on social systems or ideologies".

But some countries are more equal than others.

The PRC maintains special relationships with four other remnants of the former 'Socialist Camp': the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and the Republic of Cuba - whose sole ruling parties maintain 'fraternal' links with the Communist Party of China.

While these relationships are sometimes strained, as experienced during the PRC's 1979 foiled
invasion of Vietnam and the later clashes in the potentially oil-rich South China Sea, they continue to offer the 'Fraternal Four' the opportunity for intimate deals with the PRC outside of the constraints of international arrangements and alliances such as the Korea 6-party-talks and ASEAN.

Down Latin America way, Fraternal Fidel is networking the Socialist Camp into new oil deals.

Back to the Future: Andy Garcia's movie, The Lost City, is drawing attention to the condition of Cuba prior to the advent of Fidel Castro's communist regime. In his review, Humberto Fontova described 1958 Cuba as undergoing a rebellion not a revolution. "Cubans expected political change not a socio-economic cataclysm and catastrophe," he said. And now we rediscover that the Caribbean socialist paradise, a little larger that Taiwan but with an average income lower than China, was once the most prosperous country in Latin America. Here's a UNESCO report on Cuba circa 1957: "One feature of the Cuban social structure is a large middle class ... Cuban workers are more unionized (proportional to the population) than US workers. The average wage for an 8 hour day in Cuba in 1957 is higher than for workers in Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany. Cuban labor receives 66.6 percent of gross national income. In the US the figure is 70 percent, in Switzerland 64 percent. 44 percent of Cubans are covered by social legislation, a higher percentage then in the US." In 1958 Cuba had a higher per-capita income than Austria and Japan. Cuban industrial workers had the 8th highest wages in the world. In the 1950s Cuban stevedores earned more per hour than their counterparts in New Orleans and San Francisco. Cuba had established an 8 hour work-day in 1933 - five years before FDR's New Dealers got around to it in the USA. Add to this: one months paid vacation. Cuba, a country 71% white in 1957, was completely desegregated 30 years before Rosa Parks was dragged off that Birmingham bus and handcuffed. In 1958 Cuba had more female college graduates per capita than the USA. This period was marked by considerable construction of private highrises, and public tunnels and roads. Havana became the third most expensive and dynamic city in the world with more TV sets, telephones, and late model Cadillacs per household than any city in the USA. The Civic Plaza and all surrounding buildings, now renamed as Plaza de la Revolucin (Revolutionary Square), where Fidel Castro often speaks, was completed in these times.

General Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar was the target of political dissatisfaction. The de facto military leader of Cuba from 1933 to 1940 and the de jure President of Cuba from 1940 to 1944, he then became the country's unchallenged leader, after staging a coup from 1952 to 1959. He was the son of Belisario Batista and Carmela Zaldívar, Cubans who fought for independence from Spain and considered socially a mulatto (mixed African and Spanish blood). Of very humble origins, Batista was forced to work from an early age. A self-educated man, he attended school at night and is said to have been a voracious reader. In his last period of power, Batista's Wikipedia entry reads, "he achieved the full support of the labor movement including the communist party. During these years Batista created the program to bring education to peasants, building schools (although modestly), and implementing the minimum wage for farm workers, a measure deeply resented by the landowners. Despite the unprecedented economic prosperity of the 1950s, opposition parties like the Orthodox and the Autenticos managed to promote social unrest instigating university students to plant bombs and kill civilians and military personnel alike. Batista's responded with repression of the subversives. Ultimately, the existing government corruption, tinted with claims of close relationship with the mafia, saw a rise in general opposition to his regime from the rich and middle class Cubans." Fontova further revealed that the Castro-lead, anti-Batista rebellion "was staffed and led overwhelmingly by college students and professionals. Here's the makeup of the 'peasant' revolution's first cabinet, drawn from the leaders in the anti-Batista fight: 7 lawyers, 2 University professors, 3 University students, 1 doctor, 1 engineer, 1 architect, 1 former city mayor and Colonel who defected from the Batista Army ... "

Human Rights: Last year a number of journalists, writers and showbiz figures, including Harold Pinter, Nadine Gordimer, Harry Belafonte and Tariq Ali, signed a letter claiming that in Cuba "there has not been a single case of disappearance, torture or extra-judicial execution since 1959 ..." And now Cuba and the Peoples Republic of China have won seats on the new UN Human Rights Council. Prior to the election, Cuba's Ambassador to the PRC, Alberto Rodriguez Arufe, gave his regime's view of what was wrong with the outgoing UN Commission on Human Rights, which the HRC is replacing. The UNCHR had fallen into disrepute, he said as quoted by Patrick Goodenough of CNS News, because of the political manipulation, hypocrisy and double standards imposed by the United States and European Union. There was no point in replacing the UNCHR with the HRC if the new body did not confront those problems, Arufe added, citing as an example the fact that the commission had not taken up the issue of Guantanamo Bay.

Oil on Troubled Waters: China's interest in exploring oil and gas on Cuba's northwestern coast close to the Florida Keys has reportedly raised concerns in the United States about the threat that China may pose to US energy security. Last year, the Fidel Castro announced that Chinese drilling rigs would be used to further explore areas that had been identified by a Spanish company as promising. The Cuban government also signed a contract with Sinopec, China's second largest oil developer, to join the Cuba Oil Corporation (Cubapetroleo) to prospect for oil in a 1,700 sq km block to the north of the province of Pinar del Rio. The Shengli Oilfield Company, Sinopec's largest oil producing unit, will be responsible for the prospecting and the two partners will share production after commercial operations begin. Fu Mengzi, the director of the US Research Department of China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, disagrees with US concerns: "The competition between China and the US in energy is not really a matter that 'you get more and I lose more', even though China's impact on the world energy market is growing due to the rapid economic development," he said. As the top two energy consumers in the world, China and US do have more common interests than conflicts, and "we should enhance mutual trust." she told the Interfax newsagency.

Meantime, China has been hoping to strengthen its position in Latin America, cultivating its links with the region's biggest oil producer, Venezuela, and also signing pacts with the newly-elected government of Evo Morales in Bolivia. Recently, PDVSA, Venezuela's state oil company, signed two cooperation agreements with the China State Shipbuilding Corporation and the China National United Oil Corporation, a branch of CNPC, the country's largest oil company, to buy 18 ships to optimize the marine transportation of crude and its derivatives to the expanding Asian market during the recent visit of its officials to the Beijing company. According to the deals, the Chinese oil monopoly will receive 100,000 barrels of heavy crude and 60,000 barrels of fuel oil per day from the Venezuelan company over the next two years. Venezuela has promised to supply 300,000 barrels of oil to China on a daily basis or 15 mln tons per annum within the next few years.

Pumping Tourism: China has listed Cuba as a priority destination for Chinese tourists since 2003, Vice General Director of the Chinese Tourism Administration Cu Shaoxi said, adding that the tourism ties between the two countries have been increasing. Cuba has so far this year received one million foreign travellers and the number is expected to reach 2.5 million in 2006, up 7.7 percent over the previous year. Cuba will open additional tourism promotion offices in China and Venezuela, bringing the total number of overseas offices to 30.

Chavez's The Man: The Socialist Camp's new best friend in Latin America is Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Who is he? "Is Chavez another Fidel Castro?" asked Alberto Garrido, a Caracas political scientist. "Is he a 19th-century caudillo? Or is he a Peron with oil?" His former lover, Herma Marksman, said he once shared a dream of "a prosperous Venezuela where justice would reign" but she now believes that he "is imposing a fascist dictatorship. A totalitarian regime is coming because he doesn't believe in democratic institutions. Hugo controls all the powers."

Venezuela's opposition leaders claim that behind the facade of a flourishing welfare program, Chavez has done nothing to improve a civic infrastructure riddled with fraud and ineptitude. "In Venezuela they say we have no good presidents or bad presidents," said Julio Borges, an opposition candidate in December's poll. "We have presidents who either benefit from high oil prices or suffer from low oil prices. Chavez had the luck to be a president with high oil revenues, but he's like a man who wins the lottery and at the end he spends it all and turns out more broke than before."

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