Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ousted ZANU-PF Officials Appeal to SADC, AU, Says Regrouping
Ousted ZANU-PF official Didymus Mutasa has appealed to the AU.
THE Zanu PF faction headed by ousted vice president Joice Mujuru has vowed to remain in the ruling party and "re-strategize" from within.

An MP belonging to the faction who asked not to be named fearing further victimisation also revealed that the group had dispatched a petition to SADC and the African Union asking them to intervene and help stop the chaos in Zanu PF.

A ruthless purge of the group over unproven charges of plotting a coup against President Robert Mugabe saw provincial party chairmen being removed, cabinet ministers being fired and Mujuru reduced to an ordinary party member.

Harare-based political analyst and seasoned Zanu PF observer, Ibbo Mandaza said the brutal cull effectively side-lined up to 100 of the ruling party's 160 or so members of parliament.

There had been speculation that the disgruntled group would either seek a coalition with the Morgan Tsavangirai-led MDC or form a separate political party. The MDC has however, said it has no appetite for an alliance with Mujuru.

The former VP also indicated in an interview that she would "die in Zanu PF" and, in line with that, a top member of the group said Wednesday that they would seek to regroup within the ruling party.

"Once you do that (leaving Zanu PF) you are finished," said the legislator, asking not to be named.

"We will stay in the party and re-strategize. After all we were not ejected from the party but from the central committee and politburo. It's only one or two of us (Rugare Gumbo and Jabulani Sibanda) who were expelled.

"People should understand that the votes of no confidence against provincial party chairmen only meant that the people were no longer interested in working with us.

"In fact, it meant that they were no longer confident with our leadership and did not mean to say that we were expelled."

The legislator also said, contrary to media reports suggesting former presidential affairs minister Didymus Mutasa appealed to ex-South African President Thabo Mbeki to help reverse his ouster, the whole faction had dispatched a petition to SADC and the African Union (AU).

The petition, according to MP, was signed by a number of the Mujuru allies and urges SADC and AU leaders to intervene and help reverse the outcome of the just ended 6th Zanu PF people's congress.

The congress saw the party's constitution being amended at the eleventh hour to allow Mugabe to choose his deputies and members of the politburo in a move designed to facilitate the elimination of Mujuru and her group.

"It's a petition which was signed by a number of the ousted cadres who are not happy with the treatment which we got," said the legislator.

"We want to the continent and the region to see that the current SADC chairperson (President Robert Mugabe) is not a proponent of democracy. He is a hypocrite."

Zimbabwe: Chombo Blasts Mutasa Over Zuma Appeal

NEWLY appointed Zanu PF secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo has blasted Didymus Mutasa saying his predecessor was trying to reverse the resolutions of the just ended Zanu PF congress.

Mutasa, the former Zimbabwe presidential affairs minister, called on South African President Jacob Zuma to alert regional governments to what he said was the undemocratic sacking of former VP Joice Mujuru and her allies.

Chombo however dismissed Mutasa saying he cannot reverse the resolutions of the congress. In an interview with Wednesday Chombo said Mutasa's views were not worth worrying about.

"That is wishful thinking and nothing to lose sleep over. The congress was duly constituted and there were more than 12 000 people; now who is Mutasa to dismiss the resolutions," Chombo said.

Mutasa is one of the victims of the purges which came soon after the ruling party's congress last week claiming a number of top party and government officials including Mujuru.

The hurt veteran nationalist responded to the sack last weekend.

Speaking from India where his wife is having medical treatment Mutasa said: "We refuse to be chucked out of Zanu PF which some of us have been in for 57 years."

"We fought for 'one man, one vote' majority rule, which is not provided for in the current Zanu PF constitution adopted at the last congress," Mutasa said. "It gives all votes to the president alone and violates the supreme law of the country. It is therefore null and void, all that transpired at the 6th congress."

He added: "We call on Zanu PF to work as it was before the 6th congress which was itself unlawful." Mutasa was referring to the fact that loyalists of President Robert Mugabe and opponents of Mujuru had unilaterally changed the procedures for electing top party officials just before the congress.

Mutasa who was also among those accused of plotting to oust or assassinate Mugabe was replaced by Chombo as secretary for administration.
Zimbabwe MPs Clash in Parliament
December 18, 2014
Farirai Machivenyika Senior Reporter
Zimbabwe Herald

Debate on the 2015 National Budget briefly came to a halt amid chaos after zanu-pf Buhera Central representative Cde Ronald Muderedzwa, labelled some opposition parties in the country “a security threat” after legislators from the MDC factions objected to the funds allocated to the Ministry of Defence. The disturbances arose when the House was in Committee stage debating funds allocated to the various ministries by Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

The Ministry of Defence was allocated US$309 105 000 in the 2015 Budget, a sum the MDC formations legislators argued was too high.

“We are not in a war. Our defence budget is too big. Some of the money should have been allocated to the ministries of education and health,” said Mr Thamsanqa Mahlangu MDC-T representative for Nkulumane.

He was immediately supported by other legislators among them Mr Innocent Gonese (MDC-T Chief Whip), Mr Settlement Chikwinya (MDC -T).

In his debate, Cde Muderedzwa, however, defended the allocation saying it was actually low considering the military needs. This raised the ire of the MDC formations with Bulawayo East legislator Ms Dorcas Sibanda (MDC-T) raising a point of order that Cde Muderedzwa had used unparliamentary language.

However, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Cde Mabel Chinomona, overruled the objection.

This resulted in chaotic scenes as the MDC formations legislators led by Mr Chikwinya attempted to leave the House.

They were encouraged to leave by the zanu-pf legislators who resorted to shouting, “Go! Go!”

The MDC legislators then broke into song for a few minutes before order was eventually restored and debate continued.

In his response Minister Chinamasa, refuted the allegations that the defence budget was too high saying he had actually left out most of the military requirements.

“I have cut to the bone on the defence budget where I have not provided for purchase of new equipment. In fact, what cost more is not paying salaries but equipment.

“There is no uniformed forces in the whole world which don’t recruit on a planned basis otherwise you will have an army of old people which can’t go to the front.

“An army which doesn’t train becomes even a danger to itself and I haven’t provided for training in the Budget because when they train, they use live ammunition and real guns,” Minister Chinamasa said.

Turning to the other issues Minister Chinamasa reiterated that the fiscal space was tight resulting in low allocations to all ministries.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly adopted the various appropriations to the various ministries as contained in the Estimates of Expenditure while the Finance Bill that will effect the various policy measures announced in the Budget was referred to the Parliamentary Legal Committee yesterday.

Debate on the Budget resumes today.
Top Zanu-PF Officials Arrested
Ignatius Chombo is the secretary for information in ZANU-PF.
Dec 18 2014 - 9:00am

HARARE – Top Zanu-PF officials were yesterday arrested for allegedly defrauding more than 15,000 farmers of their hard-earned cash through a dubious input scheme.

Police arrested Zanu-PF national youth league director Tapiwa Zengeya and Patience Chipere — one of the directors of Lasch Investments — a company engaged to supply farmers with some inputs.

Police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, yesterday confirmed the arrests saying two other people wanted in connection with the case were on the run.

“We’ve arrested two officials and police are keen to investigate Nelson and Sylvester Mahupete,” she said.

Zanu-PF secretary for administration Ignatius Chombo, condemned the corrupt conduct of the officials saying the party would take necessary disciplinary measures.

Addressing journalists at Zanu-PF headquarters yesterday, Chombo said the party would take necessary disciplinary measures against the accused officials and that police already had been briefed about the matter.

“As a party, we condemn the abuse of hard earned resources of our populace. Any empowerment initiatives must be in the interest of the majority and not for the benefit of a selected few and must be clear, transparent, fair, legal and above board,” said Chombo.

Chombo deplored Lasch Investments for failing to meet their obligations, leaving farmers stranded with no recourse against a background of the commencement of a promising rainy season.

He said Lasch Investments Company had approached the party’s Youth League to enter into a joint venture support with farmers so as to increase production and productivity through an input support scheme.

It was envisaged that farmers would make contributions and in turn get agricultural inputs.

But Chombo talking about dealing with corruption will make many people laugh at the hypocrisy. There have been long running calls for the Minister himself to be investigated for alleged corruption.

As reported by Nehanda Radio previously, Chombo’s wealth was exposed in 2010 during a messy divorce involving his wife of 25 years, Marian. Court documents exposed the fact that Chombo, a former teacher, had tentacles in virtually all sectors of the economy.

The minister has interests in several farms, mines, hunting safari lodges in Chiredzi, Hwange, Magunje and Chirundu, as well as properties in South Africa. Local properties included 75 residential and commercial stands plus 14 houses and 5 flats, all dotted around the country. Not to mention 15 vehicles.

When a probe team of Harare City Councillors produced a report implicating Chombo and businessman Philip Chiyangwa in the illegal acquisition of council land on the cheap, the police refused to investigate the matter. Instead the councillors and journalists who covered the saga were arrested.

Nehanda Radio/The Herald
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Chinamasa Risks Zanu PF Backlash
Zimbabwe Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa.
by Staff Reporter

FINANCE minister Patrick Chinamasa has said government will carry out “a productivity audit in the civil service to see if the right people are in the right places” as he battles to control the administration’s runaway wage bill.

Political analysts however warned that the minister was assigning himself a mission impossible since most of the so-called “ghost workers” were Zanu PF activists put on the government payroll since the ruling party is broke and, recently, admitted owing creditors about US$11 million.

When presenting his 2015 national budget, Chinamasa said over 80 percent of government revenues would go to the administration’s wage bill, adding that most of the workers were being paid for doing nothing.

"What this means … basically is we are paying people to sit in their offices and not to undertake the operations," he said then.

And addressing visiting World Bank officials in Harare Wednesday, Chinamasa said the planned staff audit will seek to ensure that government employs the right people for the right posts.

“The last audit carried out by former finance minister Tendai Biti was done in a poisoned political environment,” he said.

“The new audit will be carried out in a manner that is not threatening, people should justify why they are where they are.”

Commentators however, warned that the minister was likely to stir a hornet’s nest since most of those occupying government offices were political appointees.

“It will be good to see how Chinamasa will strike a balance between political interests and government’s need to cut the wage bill,” said political analysts Godwin Phiri.

“Almost everyone in government was employed based on political connections, so it will be difficult for him to flush out unwanted people. This is the reason why we have ghost workers everywhere.”

Chinamasa plans to cut the civil service next year as it emerged the cash-strapped government employs half a million workers, contrary to earlier estimates of about half that figure.

The audit will also come at a time when government has been urged by the International Monetary Fund to weed out "ghost workers" from their public sector in order free up money for capital expenditure.

Chinamasa could also run afoul of Zanu PF policies after the ruling party declared at its recent congress that more of its cadres would be deployed into government.

“To revive and strengthen its cadreship development policy, including structured and compulsory ideological programmes, for nurturing a broad human resources-base for deployment by the party into critical, strategic positions in both the party and Government,” the party said in resolutions at the end of the congress.

This is not the first time Zanu PF has pushed deployments on patronage basis.

Since the introduction of the national youth service, the ruling party has been deploying its members in all strategic positions like ZRP and the Zimbabwe national army as well as other institutions such as Zesa, Ziscosteel and Zupco.

And during the inclusive government era, Zanu PF deployed its supporters with military background in all state parastatals which however led to the rundown of these state institutions as a result of incompetent people managing them.

Former senior security personnel have also been deployed to parastatals and key state institutions in a move largely seen as an attempt by President Robert Mugabe to entrench patronage and loyalty, given the military’s often crucial interventions in propping him and his party up during elections.

Published On: Wednesday, December 17, 2014 8:08 PM GMT
© New Zimbabwe News
Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa Camp Fights Over Spoils
Posted on Dec 17 2014 - 8:51pm
By Lloyd Mbiba

HARARE – With former Vice President Joice Mujuru and her allies now brutally shunted out of the way, supporters of new VP Emmerson Mnangagwa are now turning on each other viciously as the mindless bloodletting within Zanu PF refuses to go away.

The Daily News is reliably informed that the faction aligned to Mnangagwa  is now locked in a nasty and escalating fight for the spoils of their thuggish victory over Mujuru, with many hardliners in the camp apparently feeling that they have not been rewarded sufficiently for their role in annihilating the former VP’s camp.

So bad have relations become in the Mnangagwa camp that some of its members are even begrudging the fact that Mugabe rewarded Ngwena (Mnangagwa’s nickname) with the VP post despite the fact that he allegedly “played a lesser role in the ousting of Mai Mujuru”.

Well-placed sources alleged yesterday that the so-called “Gang of Four” — comprising senior party bigwigs Oppah Muchinguri, Jonathan Moyo, Patrick Zhuwao and Saviour Kasukuwere — were allegedly deeply mired in the intra-faction brawls, amid suggestions that they were looking to grab more power in the party.

This group, the sources alleged, was working closely with controversial First Lady Grace Mugabe, and at times operated as the brains trust of the Gushungo (Mugabe’s totem) clan — that looked after the interests of the nonagenarian and his family.

It is further alleged that this group has worked very hard to try and get Senate President Edna Madzongwe, or even Grace herself, to become vice president, and not Mnangagwa — whom they allegedly believed had not done enough in the lead-up to Zanu PF’s damp squib “elective” congress earlier this month to deserve the post.

One of the senior party officials who spoke to the Daily News yesterday likened the fight for power in the divided party as that of “baboons fighting to the death for a single cob of maize”.

Another official in the Mnangagwa camp pointed to the vicious assault yesterday in lapdog State media on one of Mnangagwa’s allies as yet another clear indication that temperatures were heating up within the faction.

“Things are very bad within the camp my friend and my own worry is that we may be reaching another point of no return soon,” the official said.

In a surprising turn of events, The Herald panned politburo member and Psychomotor minister Josaya Hungwe, bluntly criticising the fact that he had likened Mnangagwa to Jesus Christ.

The normally pliant daily quoted “analysts” saying “such slavish hero-worshipping (of Mnangagwa) had the danger of creating an alternative centre of power in Zanu-PF which the party’s just-ended 6th National People’s Congress rectified by killing factionalism”.

Hungwe had uttered the offending words at the weekend while praising Mnangagwa at the new VP’s celebration party at his rural home in Zvishavane.

Another party official said it had not escaped many in the camp that lickspittle State media had been used to decimate Mujuru and relentlessly erode both her legitimacy and standing in the party and within the broader Zimbabwean society.

“The fact of the matter is that our (State) media only attacks people when you are no longer wanted by those who wield power. You can say the most outrageous things and do the most despicable things but you won’t be attacked if all is well.

“What many people are not sure about now is whether the attack on Hungwe is on him per se or it is directed at Ngwena. But whatever it is, everyone is advised to hold on tightly to their chairs because it is getting rough again,” he said.

A senior Zanu PF official suggested that Moyo did not “entirely trust Mnangagwa” since the 2004 Tsholotsho Declaration fallout in which the new VP seemingly dumped his followers who were savagely dealt with by Mugabe for allegedly plotting a coup against the 90-year-old leader.

Moyo, Kusukuwere, Muchinguri and Zhuwawo reportedly wanted to be rewarded with more senior posts in the politburo but were disappointed by Mugabe’s choices.

“Moyo at the very least thought that after orchestrating the downfall of Rugare Gumbo, he would land the post of secretary for information but he was given the portfolio of science and technology.

Moyo also thought that after savaging Transport Minister Obert Mpofu, the filthy rich minister would be dropped but President Mugabe had other ideas.In terms of hierarchy, Moyo is effectively third from bottom in the politburo.

Mugabe trusts Mpofu to an extent of giving him the powerful post of finance in the politburo and this has infuriated the Gang of Four.

“Muchinguri is also livid that she was given the portfolio of secretary for transport after donating the women’s league portfolio to Grace and again this did not go down well with the gang which wanted her to be at least the party chairperson or even VP to replace Mujuru. The fight will be more brutal and dirtier than the war against Mujuru,” said another top politburo source.

He also claimed that Kasukuwere “has never liked Mnangagwa” to lead Zanu PF.

“All these people had one common enemy and that was Mujuru, who made it appear as if they were working together. But the truth of the matter is that Moyo and Kasukuwere are pushing their own agenda and it’s no surprise that the State media has now openly attacked Mnangagwa indirectly through one of his loyalists (Hungwe).

“To even suggest that Hungwe was trying to push for the creation of another centre of power in Mnangagwa is not only a clear fabrication, it is also testimony that all is not well in the party,” he added.

Eldred Masunungure, a University of Zimbabwe political scientist, said there were now two main factions in Zanu PF — namely the Gushungo and Mnangagwa factions.

He said the two factions had operated as one to destroy the Mujuru camp and it now remained to be seen if they could work together.

“The other two factions coalesced against Mujuru and now that they have decimated that faction, the question is, which one remains the most dominant?” Masunungure asked.

“To me the Gushungo faction is now in control of the party because Mugabe knows that real power lies in the party not in the government, so Mnangagwa may not be the winner after all.”

But Pedzisai Ruhanya, a media and democracy scholar, said the Mnangagwa camp had to rein in Hungwe because his statements were way off the mark.

“The thinking behind the powers that control State media and Mnangagwa himself is that Hungwe erred in likening Mnangagwa to Jesus,” Ruhanya said.

“This would have implied that Mnangagwa is greater than any person in the whole of Zimbabwe and this includes Mugabe. As you know Mugabe would not take this lightly, so the Mnangagwa camp felt that Hungwe had to be reined in,” he added.

Maxwell Saungweme, another Harare-based political analyst, said the savage attack on Hungwe was a clear testimony that Mnangagwa’s camp was made up of power-hungry individuals.

“It could be a sign of simmering divisions within the Mnangagwa faction which is expected as their marriage as a faction was one of people who are power hungry and whose immediate objective was to get rid of Mujuru, before coming back to their old selves,” he said.

“But the fact also remains that you cannot liken a mere mortal like Mnangagwa to Jesus. That is the worst form of blasphemy,” he added. Daily News

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How Martin Luther King Film Selma is Joining Protests Against Racial Inequality
Selma march on March 7, 1965.
Selma, the big-screen story of Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights marches, resonates so loudly in the US that the team behind the film are harnessing its release to the ongoing protests over policing and racial inequality, says Edward Helmore

Published: 17 December 2014

Hollywood is rarely shy when it comes to a cause, but it has never made a film about Civil Rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. The oversight is about to be corrected by Selma, a $20 million feature film from a black female director and launched into a festive season already convulsing with racial tension.

The film follows the historic marches led by King from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery in 1965, a demonstration against black-voter intimidation that pushed President Johnson to introduce the Voting Rights Act that year. But unusually for Hollywood, the film’s director Ava DuVernay and cast — including British star David Oyelowo (The Butler, Spooks) — are harnessing the American release of the film to ongoing public protests over policing and racial inequality in the US.

Along with Oprah Winfrey (who has a role in the film made by Brad Pitt’s B Plan company that she also co-produced), they have become increasingly vociferous in the past week’s round of US publicity interviews, culminating in Sunday’s New York premiere and the “I can’t breathe” photograph they posed for. The T-shirts bearing the legend were first seen worn by professional basketball players in protest at the grand jury decision earlier this month not to prosecute NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Eric Garner, who shouted the phrase repeatedly as he was held on the ground. On Saturday, the T-shirts were also seen worn by some of the 25,000 who joined the march in the city over fairer police treatment of suspects. There were more demonstrations in San Francisco and Washington DC, and a campaign song called I Can’t Breathe launched by Samuel L Jackson went viral. Outspoken stand-up Chris Rock has tweeted support for the campaign and the film, adding that he’s come to accept the racial character of the film industry (“It’s a white industry. Just as the NBA is a black industry. I’m not even saying it’s a bad thing. It just is”).

Oyelowo, who plays Dr King, has called the release of the film an act of “divine timing”. He said: “We couldn’t have predicted what would happen in terms of what’s going on, race relations-wise. We finished shooting in early July and by early August Michael Brown [the 18-year-old black man shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri] had been murdered and now we’re in the middle of the Eric Garner situation. I just think it shows ... we do not live in a post-racial America.”

One of his co-stars, Lorraine Toussaint, said she took her 10-year-old daughter on the New York march the day before the film’s premiere because she “wanted to make sure that she knows that she can make a difference; that it is important to stand up and speak out when there is wrong, when there is injustice. Evil only propagates when we are silent and so you know it’s a difficult time but our voices matter and I wanted my daughter to know that her voice matters.”

In a third racially explosive incident, in Cleveland, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by police officers in circumstances that could be said to echo the death of a young black boy, Jimmie Lee Jackson, in Selma. DuVernay, 42, who in 2012 became the first black woman to win the Sundance Film Festival’s director award (for her prison-based relationship film, Middle of Nowhere, which also starred Oyelowo), is under no misapprehension about the similarities. She was still editing Selma when news broke of the Brown shooting. “You’re cutting a sequence where state troopers are lining up citizens and drawing guns on housewives, and you go home and watch Ferguson and see the same thing on television,” she told the Washington Post.

DuVernay made further movie history last week when she became the first black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe director’s award, one of four nods for the film, which include one for Oyelowo and have ignited Oscar speculation. But with the film’s award season direction established, the film’s creators are becoming enmeshed in the real-life political drama that is unfolding.

After viewing Selma, former President George HW Bush, who opposed the original 1964 Civil Rights Act, says it should remind Americans “how far we have come as a society”. John Lewis, the Democrat congressman who served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was beaten by police in the King marches and described Ferguson as “the modern-day Selma”.

That drew a swift response from President Obama, who said the problems between police and racial minorities can be solved if law enforcement agencies are open to retraining. “We’re not talking about systematic segregation or discrimination,” he corrected.

Polls, all the same, show that black and white Americans believe race relations are strained. Last week, CBS News found just 45 per cent think race relations are generally good, a 10 per cent drop since the spring and the lowest figure polled by the broadcaster since 1997.

Selma has certainly arrived as a timely reminder of the principles of the Civil Rights movement. In places an arduous watch, it has not received endorsements from King’s three surviving children. In DuVernay’s telling, the Civil Rights leader was a complex character. She calls him a “badass” and the film does not overlook his philandering. “I feel like there should be a dozen movies about Dr King,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “But why not start with the one that feels vitally representative of what he stood for?”

She says that she directs specifically with the gaze of a black woman, a perspective in keeping with Winfrey, who plays Annie Lee Cooper, one of the few women in an organisational role in the effort to overturn voting restrictions in a county where just 130 of 15,000 black residents were registered. US reviewers have noted the preponderance of British actors playing Southerners, among them Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon Johnson and Tim Roth as racist Alabama governor George Wallace.

DuVernay grew up in South Central Los Angeles and worked as a journalist before turning first to documentaries and then film publicity, and made her first feature just four years ago. Over eight years, the Selma project was linked to directors Michael Mann, Stephen Frears, Spike Lee and Lee Daniels, who made The Butler, which featured Oyelowo, now 38. The actor says he long dreamed of playing King. “I can genuinely say there was an overriding feeling of service ...”

For DuVernay, whose family on her father’s side live between Selma and Montgomery, the subject of King took her by surprise. “When this story, set in the past, came into my life, it really took over my imagination in a very unexpected way. And I’m happy it did. It honours the people of Selma, but it also represents the struggle of people everywhere to vote.”

How far her film can go in the award season is still too early to call but she clearly agrees with Oyelowo when he says: “This struggle continues and we all have to participate.”

Selma is released in the UK on February 6, 2015.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Speech by President Raul Castro on Re-establishing U.S.-Cuba Relations
President Raul Castro announces the normalization of relations
with the United States on Dec. 17, 2014 in Havana.
By Foreign Staff
December 17 at 1:03 PM

PANW Editor's Note: Watch the statement by Republic of Cuba President Raul Castro on the normalization of relations between Havana and Washington by click on the website below:

The following is the translation of the statement made by Cuban President Raul Castro on Dec. 17, 2014. The text of the original speech in Spanish follows below:

Fellow countrymen,

Since my election as President of the State Council and Council of Ministers I have reiterated on many occasions our willingness to hold a respectful dialogue with the United States on the basis of sovereign equality, in order to deal reciprocally with a wide variety of topics without detriment to the national Independence and self-determination of our people.

This stance was conveyed to the U.S. Government both publicly and privately by Comrade Fidel on several occasions during our long-standing struggle, stating the willingness to discuss and solve our differences without renouncing any of our principles.

The heroic Cuban people, in the wake of serious dangers, aggressions, adversities and sacrifices, has proven to be faithful and will continue to be faithful to our ideals of independence and social justice. Strongly united throughout these 56 years of Revolution, we have kept our unswerving loyalty to those who died in defense of our principles since the beginning of our independence wars in 1868.

Today, despite the difficulties, we have embarked on the task of updating our economic model in order to build a prosperous and sustainable Socialism.

As a result of a dialogue at the highest level, which included a phone conversation I had yesterday with President Obama, we have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual interest for both nations.

As Fidel promised on June 2001, when he said: “They shall return!” Gerardo, Ramon, and Antonio have arrived today to our homeland.

The enormous joy of their families and of all our people, who have relentlessly fought for this goal, is shared by hundreds of solidarity committees and groups, governments, parliaments, organizations, institutions, and personalities, who for the last sixteen years have made tireless efforts demanding their release. We convey our deepest gratitude and commitment to all of them.

President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people.

I wish to thank and acknowledge the support of the Vatican, most particularly the support of Pope Francisco in the efforts for improving relations between Cuba and the United States. I also want to thank the Government of Canada for facilitating the high-level dialogue between the two countries.

In turn, we have decided to release and send back to the United States a spy of Cuban origin who was working for that nation.

On the other hand, and for humanitarian reasons, today we have also sent the American citizen Alan Gross back to his country.

Unilaterally, as has always been our practice, and in strict compliance with the provisions of our legal system, the concerned prisoners have received legal benefits, including the release of those persons that the Government of the United States had conveyed their interest in.

We have also agreed to renew diplomatic relations.

This in no way means that the heart of the matter has been solved. The economic, commercial, and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damages to our country, must cease.

Though the blockade has been codified into law, the President of the United States has the executive authority to modify its implementation.

We propose to the Government of the United States the adoption of mutual steps to improve the bilateral atmosphere and advance towards normalization of relations between our two countries, based on the principles of International Law and the United Nations Charter.

Cuba reiterates its willingness to cooperate in multilateral bodies, such as the United Nations.

While acknowledging our profound differences, particularly on issues related to national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and foreign policy, I reaffirm our willingness to dialogue on all these issues.

I call upon the Government of the United States to remove the obstacles hindering or restricting ties between peoples, families, and citizens of both countries, particularly restrictions on travelling, direct post services, and telecommunications.

The progress made in our exchanges proves that it is possible to find solutions to many problems.

As we have reiterated, we must learn the art of coexisting with our differences in a civilized manner.

We will continue talking about these important issues at a later date

Thank you.
Remaining Cuban Political Prisoners Released in the United States
Detroit demonstration to free the Cuban Five on June 8, 2008.
(Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe)

Gerardo, Ramón and Antonio were released today and messages of joy and congratulations are streaming in from all over the world.  They are finally back in their homeland with their families and the people of Cuba. Today they received the much waited embrace from Rene and Fernando after so many years of unjust imprisonment.

Today we are reminded more than ever what Fidel said in June 2001..."The Five are a quintet of giants... I only say one thing, they will return!"

This day is a triumph of truth and the fruit of the heroic resistance of each of them, of the Government of Cuba, of the Cuban people and the international solidarity movement.

Not only has 16 years of imprisonment ended but their release opens the real possibility of initiating a new era in U.S. Cuba relations. The solution today was arrived at with the mediation of Pope Francisco and the political will of both governments.

As today's release was happening a letter put together by the European Coordination of the Free the Five Campaign, the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 in the Arab World and the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 was in its final preparations calling for Obama to allow the remaining 3 to return to Cuba to be with their families for the holidays.

The letter is signed by well-known men and women from all over the world including 9 Nobel laureates, the President of El Salvador Salvador Sánchez Cerén together with parliamentarians, religious and labor leaders, lawyers, intellectuals and actors and more. (See the letter).

Fortunately this is the first time, in this long battle that has spanned 16 years, that it is not necessary to send a letter of this kind but we are sending it along to you as part of the testimony and beauty that the international solidarity movement has with the Cuban 5.

We embrace all the committees and friends of the Five who in unity fought tirelessly through all these years.

Our work is not over and we urge everyone to channel all that energy that was used to push for the release of the Cuban 5 into the effort to end the genocidal blockade against Cuba in its entirety. We must remain united to continue in our quest for a better world filled with dignity and justice.

We embrace you all with joy and love on this historic day,

International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5
U.S. and Cuba, in Breakthrough, Will Resume Diplomatic Relations

New York Times
DEC. 17, 2014

WASHINGTON — The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, American officials said Wednesday.

In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 miles off the American coast.

The contractor, Alan P. Gross, traveled on an American government plane to the United States late Wednesday morning, and the United States sent back three Cuban spies who had been in an American prison since 2001. American officials said the Cuban spies were swapped for a United States intelligence agent who had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years, and said Mr. Gross was not technically part of the swap, but was released separately on “humanitarian grounds.”

He has two children and worked as a social worker in the Washington suburbs.

Mr. Gross was in Cuba as a government contractor for the United States Agency for International Development delivering communications equipment to religious groups.

Cuba sentenced Mr. Gross to 15 years for participating in a plot to "destroy the revolution."

His wife, Judy, appealed to the Cuban government to release her husband, who is in poor health.

In addition, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking relations, and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States government. Although the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place for now, the administration signaled that it would welcome a move by Congress to ease or lift it should lawmakers choose to.

“Today, the United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people,” the White House said in a written statement.

President Obama plans to make a televised statement from the White House at noon to discuss the breakthrough, which could shape his legacy after he leaves office in two years.

Mr. Gross’s sister, Bonnie Rubinstein, was “beyond ecstatic” at the news of his release, according to her husband, Harold. “We are extremely grateful that he’s on his way home,” Mr. Rubinstein said by telephone from Dallas. “It’s been a long ordeal.”

Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Castro by telephone on Tuesday to finalize the agreement in a call that lasted more than 45 minutes, the first direct contact between the leaders of the two countries in more than 50 years, American officials said.

Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba were severed in January 1961 after the rise of Fidel Castro and his Communist government. Mr. Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba about re-establishing diplomatic relations and to begin the process of removing Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism, which it has been on since 1982, the White House said.

Officials said they would re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between the two governments within months. Mr. Obama will send an assistant secretary of state to Havana next month to lead an American delegation to the next round of talks on Cuban-American migration. The United States will also begin working with Cuba on issues like counternarcotics, environmental protection and human trafficking.

The United States will also ease travel restrictions across all 12 categories currently envisioned under limited circumstances in American law, including family visits, official visits and journalistic, professional, educational and religious activities, public performances, officials said. Ordinary tourism, however, will remain prohibited.

Mr. Obama will also allow greater banking ties and raise the level of remittances allowed to be sent to Cuban nationals to $2,000 every three months from the current limit of $500. Intermediaries forwarding remittances will no longer require a specific license from the government. American travelers will also be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol products.

“This is being done because we believe the policy of the past has not worked and we believe the best way to bring democracy and prosperity to Cuba is through a different kind of policy,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call under White House ground rules that did not permit the official to be identified.

But the official said the shift would not diminish the American focus on human rights in Cuba. “Our emphasis on human rights will be just as strong and we believe more effective under this policy,” the official said. “We will engage directly with the Cuban government on human rights.”

Mr. Gross’s health has been failing. He has reportedly lost more than 100 pounds in prison and is losing vision in his right eye. He went on a nine-day hunger strike in April. After turning 65 in May, he told relatives that he might try to kill himself if not released soon.

Three members of Congress were on the plane that picked up Mr. Gross in Cuba on Wednesday and accompanied him back to the United States, officials said: Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.

Other Democratic and Republican lawmakers were sharply critical of the deal. “Let’s be clear, this was not a ‘humanitarian’ act by the Castro regime. It was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American,” said Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, considered a prospect for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, told The Associated Press: “This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba. But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come.”

Mr. Gross was in Cuba to deliver satellite telephone equipment that was capable of cloaking connections to the Internet when he was arrested in 2009. The Cuban authorities, who tightly control access to the Internet in their country, initially said he was a spy, and a court there convicted him of bringing in the devices without a permit as part of a subversive plot to “destroy the revolution.”

Mr. Gross’s case drew increasing attention as his health deteriorated. He grew despondent and talked of suicide, and his wife, Judy Gross, and other supporters made urgent pleas for his release, but off-and-on diplomatic talks seemed to go nowhere.

Cuba has often raised the case of three of its spies serving federal prison time in Florida, saying they had been prosecuted unjustly and urging that they be released on humanitarian grounds. State Department officials insisted that the cases were not comparable and that Mr. Gross was not an intelligence agent.

Mr. Gross worked for Development Alternatives, of Bethesda, Md., and had traveled to more than 50 countries as an international development worker. The company had a $6 million contract with the United States Agency for International Development to distribute equipment that could get around Cuba’s Internet blockade, and Mr. Gross had made four previous trips to Cuba in 2009.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the former New Mexico governor and cabinet secretary Bill Richardson and several members of Congress appealed for Mr. Gross’s release, along with Jewish advocacy groups in the United States.

After visiting Mr. Gross in November, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona and a longtime advocate of loosening the 50-year-old American trade embargo with Cuba, said he was optimistic that the case would be resolved.

American lawmakers who have drawn attention to Mr. Gross’s case celebrated his departure from Cuba. “Today, news of Alan’s release brings great relief to his loved ones and to every American who has called for his freedom,” said Senator Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas. “I admire Alan’s strength and that of his wife Judy, who has worked tirelessly for years to free Alan and reunite her family.”

The American government has spent $264 million over the last 18 years, much of it through the development agency, in an effort to spur democratic change in Cuba. The agency said in November that it would cease the kinds of operations that Mr. Gross was involved in when he was arrested, as well as those, disclosed by The Associated Press, that allowed a contractor to set up a Twitter-like social network that hid its ties to the United States government.

Randal C. Archibold contributed reporting from Mexico City, and Michael R. Gordon from Washington.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rev. Edward Pinkney Sentenced to Two-and-a-Half to Ten Years by Berrien County Court
Rev. Edward Pinkney with Abayomi Azikiwe in June 2014.
(Photo: Marcina Cole)
Civil Rights leader maintains his innocence while supporters see convictions as politically motivated

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
St. Joseph, Michigan

Berrien County Judge Sterling Schrock sentenced the leader of the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO), Rev. Edward Pinkney, to 30-120 months in prison based on five felony counts of forgery by an all-white jury. The charges stemmed from a successful recall petition drive against Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower who is perceived as a tool of the Whirlpool Corp. and the political power structure in the area.

Pinkney has been a longtime activist in Berrien County where Benton Harbor is located and his work in the state of Michigan has drawn national attention. This is the second time in seven years that the BANCO leader has been convicted on charges related to efforts to hold local officials accountable to the people.

Prosecutor Michael Sepic requested a 42-month sentence based on the previous convictions in years prior extending back to the 1980s. Atty. Tat Parish, who defended Pinkney during the highly politicized trial and sentencing, requested that the judge exercise discretion by sentencing the activist to probation.

Over 130 people sent letters to the Judge Schrock requesting that he set aside the verdict and release Pinkney. Although the jurist acknowledged the letters he also sought to minimize their significance.

Atty. Parish stressed that the letters came from notable figures from around the country. “Although these people may hold ideas that we may not agree with they are good people who say that the community needs Pinkney,” the defense lawyer told the court.

Outside the courtroom Parish told supporters of Pinkney that he appreciated the role they had played during the difficult trial.  “A criminal appeal lawyer, one of the best in the state, will take over the case for the next phase.”

Activists present from various cities were outraged at what they perceived as a total travesty of justice carried out by the local courts. They pointed out that police who have been videotaped killing African Americans were allowed to go free while Pinkney had been convicted and sentenced to prison without any material evidence.

During the prosecution’s presentation of its case against Pinkney during Oct. and Nov., there was no eyewitness testimony that would implicate the Berrien County activist in the alleged crimes committed. Even though the prosecutor and judge said the evidence was circumstantial, there were no clear cut motivations articulated which would place Pinkney in a position to change the dates on the recall petitions.

No handwriting experts testified who could determine that it was Pinkney who changed the dates. A series of witnesses called by the prosecution stated unequivocally that they circulated the recall petitions based upon their desire to replace Hightower who opposed a tax measure that would provide corporate resources for the rehabilitation of Benton Harbor in the interests of its poorest residents.

The courtroom was full for the sentencing hearing while people lined the hallway during the proceedings which lasted for over two hours. Armed white Berrien County sheriff deputies stood up during the entire proceeding guarding the doors and during later portions of the hearing, one of the officers moved to stand behind the prosecutor.

Two other unidentified white men sat next to the prosecutor during the proceedings. After the conclusion of the hearing Pinkney was placed in handcuffs and taken into detention.

People had traveled to St. Joseph from around the United States. Ralph Poynter of the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee based in New York City was on hand for the sentencing. Delegations were also at the courthouse from Berrien County, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Nebraska, East Lansing, among other cities.

Rev. Pinkney Addressed the Court

Prior to the sentencing Rev. Pinkney spoke to the court saying that he was not guilty and “would not admit to something I did not do. I am hurt that this jury convicted me without any evidence.”

He later turned to prosecutor Sepic pointing at him saying “you know I did not do anything illegal.” Prior to sentencing Judge Schrock lectured Rev. Pinkney saying that his sentencing is designed to send a message.

Although the judge said that people have a right to seek the recall of a public official, he then turned to sentence the community leader to a lengthy prison term. Later the judge accused Rev. Pinkney of misrepresenting the political situation in Berrien County.

The area has an extensive history of racism and police repression. Benton Harbor’s African American community faces conditions of poverty, unemployment and police brutality.

BANCO through its organizing efforts has exposed the corporate entities in the county in their mad drive to maximize profits at the expense of the most oppressed and exploited within this region of southwestern Michigan. The ominous atmosphere of racism and criminal justice bias permeated the preliminary hearings, the trial and the sentencing phase.

Supporters Protest Convictions as National Struggle Escalates

After the hearing concluded supporters of Pinkney stood and comforted Mrs. Dorothy Pinkney, his wife. When asked outside the courthouse about where her husband would be detained, she said that “I have been told nothing.”

In the parking area supporters held a prayer vigil, an impromptu press conference and demonstration. People began to chant “Free Rev. Pinkney.”

Soon enough police cars began to arrive on the scene. Security personnel from inside the courthouse came out and told protesters that they would have to clear the area where cars drove into the county complex to park.

Law-enforcement vehicles from the city police force and state police were deployed.

Activists and defenders of Pinkney placed the sentencing within the broader context of the racist attacks against African Americans from Ferguson, Missouri and New York City all the way to California.  Since the killing of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, the U.S. has been hit by a continuous wave of anti-racist demonstrations and rebellions.

Since late Nov. and early Dec., these manifestations have taken an even more mass character where protesters have drawn the links between police repression, judicial misconduct, the grand jury system and the corporate rule over U.S. cities and suburbs. These demonstrations have closed down streets, shopping malls, highways and low-wage employment centers.

The blatant acts of the capitalist corporations and their agents in government are causing greater political consciousness and intolerance among African Americans and many people of goodwill. In Berrien County and throughout the state of Michigan, majority African American municipalities, including the largest city of Detroit, have been taken over by politicians operating on behalf of the banks and multi-national firms--where fundamental voting rights and due process guarantees have been terminated.

These efforts by the racist power structures in cities, states and at the federal level are taking place without a response from the oppressed and working people. The demonstrations which have drawn hundreds of thousands into the streets across the U.S. will increase in their numbers and militancy.

New alliances and organizations will emerge to provide a consistent and ideologically directed focus to the burgeoning struggle. The racist capitalist system can no longer hide from the penetrating analysis of the growing mass movement against racism and capitalist exploitation.

Developments in Berrien County, Michigan serve to illustrate the character of the current crisis and the willingness of people to resist this renewed onslaught by the ruling class. 
Beyond the Police Bullets and Chokeholds
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire in 2009.
United States has growing incarceration rates for African Americans

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

A report published in 2011 from the Aspen Institute based in Washington, D.C. further confirms that the United States imprisonment rate for African Americans is a manifestation of a deeply racist society.

Since the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 9, and the failure of a grand jury to indict white police officer Darren Wilson, mass demonstrations and rebellions have erupted across the country. This ongoing unrest has brought national and international attention to the plight of African Americans at the hands of law-enforcement, the grand jury system and prosecutors.

Missouri is a southern border-state with a long history of racial segregation. Nonetheless, in the northern city borough of Staten Island, New York, African Americans have also been unable to win justice as illustrated in the refusal of a grand jury to indict another white police officer in the videotaped killing of 43-year-old Eric Garner.

Assumptions surrounding the criminality of African Americans are deeply rooted in the period of slavery. After the Civil War and the legal abolition of involuntary servitude outside of imprisonment, mechanisms were put in place to continue the containment, oppression and exploitation of the descendants of enslaved Africans.

Despite the heroic and pioneering role of African Americans in making social gains during the period of reconstruction during the latter decades of the 19th century, the system of racialized subjugation was reinstituted through a series of structural barriers placed upon African Americans including criminalization utilizing unjust laws, police terrorism, lynching and  penal labor camps.

Even though the Civil Rights and Black Power movements created the conditions for the formal Congressional elimination of segregation laws, the actual structural barriers and methods of repression have continued and in many ways become more sophisticated and insidious. Assumptions related to the inherent criminality of African Americans serve to provide a rationalization for police violence against the community as well as discriminatory treatment within the overall criminal justice system.

Recent Study Substantiates Continuing Trend

A report released by the Aspen Institute three years ago entitled “Race, Crime and Punishment: Breaking the Connection in America,” edited by Keith O. Lawrence, illustrates that the disproportionate impact of the racist assumptions still prevalent in the criminal justice system from the police, prosecutors and prisons serves to perpetuate a racially-stratified society. Civil Rights laws may imply that all are equal before the system, however, the actual operational culture of law-enforcement and the grand jury works to imprison African Americans and exonerate the police.

This reality is manifested in the rates of incarceration for African Americans. The introduction to this study says that “More than 2.3 million people in America are in jail or prison. Sixty percent are African American and Latinos.”  (p. 6)

Moreover, nearly seven million people are under some form of correctional supervision through probation, parole or community service. Therefore, the U.S. has the largest per capita prison population of any other country in the world.

Official census figures indicate that African Americans constitute approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population although they are 40 percent of the prisoners. Those designated as Latinos represent 15 percent of the overall number of people in the country and at the same time they are 20 percent of those in the prisons.

The Aspen Institute reports says “Black-white differences in incarceration rates are most dramatic: an estimated 4,777 black males were locked up for every 100,000 black males in the free population, compared to about 727 per 100,000 white males. A stunning 11.7 percent of black men in their late twenties were incarcerated.” (p. 19)

This same report goes on to reveal that “Black men of all ages are five to seven times more likely to be incarcerated than white males of the same age. These racial patterns hold up across
gender, criminal offense, and regional categories.”

Consequently, the rates of imprisonment for this oppressed nation within the confines of the U.S. reflect a systematic targeting of the community which can only be explained as being racially discriminatory in origin. These rates of incarceration have accelerated over 500 percent since 1970, just two years after the conclusion of the passage of a series of Civil Rights bills and executive orders between 1957-1968, which ostensibly outlawed discrimination in areas of voting rights, access to public accommodations, employment and housing.

The broader social implications of this disparate rate of incarceration are acknowledged by the Aspen Institute report noting “Of all the statistics portraying racial inequity in our country, this is the most alarming: it indicates the failure of so many of our society’s institutions; it predicts dire consequences for millions of children and families of color who are already at socioeconomic disadvantage; and it challenges the very definition of our democracy.” (p. 6)

Worse Than Apartheid

In fact some suggest that the rates of incarceration for African Americans are far higher than what existed in South Africa at the height of the struggle against apartheid. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof published a series of articles entitled “When Whites Just Don’t Get It” making such an argument, among others, utilizing the statistics put forward in the Aspen Institute report.

William Worger, a professor in the history department at the University of California-Los Angeles, has researched the social legacy of the South African apartheid system. Worger noted that it was the racist pass laws that fueled the prisons during this era.  (, Dec. 11)

"Most of the arrests and imprisonment in South Africa were for pass laws offenses," Worger told PunditFact. "The incarceration rate in South Africa in 1984 – in the midst of apartheid -- was 440 persons imprisoned per 100,000 of the population. Blacks comprised around 94 percent of those incarcerated."

According to an article published by “Kristof said that America puts African-Americans behind bars at a higher rate than South Africa did under apartheid. Based on the known evidence, that appears to be correct. In 2010, the black male incarceration rate in the United States was 4,347 people per 100,000 in the United States. That comes nowhere close to reported incarceration rates of blacks in South Africa during and immediately after the apartheid era.” (Dec. 11)

Despite the existence of Civil Rights laws and the intervention of the Justice Department through consent judgments designed to improve police practices in the overall relations with the oppressed communities, there has been a sharp rise in the use of lethal force against African Americans.  The growing awareness and sensitivity to such levels of police and criminal justice system misconduct and brutality, will inevitably necessitate ongoing anti-racist demonstrations.

These mass protests and rebellions will result in further actions of repression by law-enforcement agencies which are heavily equipped with military hardware supplied by the Pentagon. No matter how many “retraining” exercises the police are subjected to unless there is a fundamental transformation in the system of national oppression and economic exploitation, the conditions of African Americans cannot change for the better.

The Obama administration and its Wall Street and Pentagon backers have no intentions of addressing these issues. Only a mass revolutionary movement can wage an effective struggle against racism in all of its manifestations.
Violence Against Egyptian Women and Exclusion From Public Life
Egyptian women protesting against sexual harassment.
Douaa Hussein
Thursday 11 Dec 2014

Campaigns to end violence against women in Egypt often focus on sexual harassment, though violence also extends to exclusion and stereotyping in political life

Every year, the world joins in a worldwide and national campaign between 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) and 10 December (Human Rights Day) to send a message that violence against women is a violation of human rights and that it must be ended.

In Egypt, for a decade or more, we have witnessed increased violence against women and girls with rising numbers of incidents of sexual harassment and gang rapes during social and political events. This propelled physical and sexual violence against women to the surface for the media and civil action groups, especially since the national uprising and revolutions of January 2011 and June 2013.

Some non-experts believe violence against women is limited to physical violence, but this undermines the issue of violence and ways of confronting it and ignores many other forms of violence that have long-term effects on the status of women in Egypt. Thus, there is emphasis on effective participation of women as voters in the political process but not as candidates, as a result of a cultural, political and economic tradition and violence that has negatively influenced the role of women in elected councils, or even political parties. The 16-day campaign to end violence against women — from 25 November to 10 December — still raises the banner of "No to sexual harassment," although violence also extends to exclusion and stereotyping in political life because of violence.

If political participation by women enjoyed the same level of political determination and persistent effort by civil society groups as does the issue of sexual harassment, Egypt’s political map would change as would the status of women. Media attention and focus of women’s groups on physical violence played a key role in the decision by the state to address the issue of violence against women, especially regarding penalties for sexual harassment and rape, and recognising domestic violence that had been ignored. Today, it has national and social recognition that was not possible in the past because there was no political will and because of ignorance of the scope of the problem.

The creation of a unit in the Egyptian Ministry of Interior for crimes of violence against women in May 2013, and training 10 female officers and social workers in the US, and signing a cooperation protocol between this unit and the National Council for Women in September 2013, were positive institutional measures undertaken by the state. However, the absence of a clear vision of the role and mission of this unit, and whether it will expand to other governorates in Egypt, makes it obscure. Is it a unit for law enforcement or a unit for reaching settlements? Also, the creation of this unit has not yet been announced to the public, the target beneficiaries.

Without a definition of what constitutes violence against women little real progress can be made. This is the definition as stated in the 1993 Declaration for Eliminating Violence against Women, articles 1-3: the articles define violence against women as any form of violence, based on gender, that results in or may result in physical, psychological or sexual harm to women. It also includes denial of any human rights, most importantly the right to not be discriminated against. Thus, we see the importance of women exercising their inalienable right of participating in the public and political process. However, there are growing manifestations of violence against women participating as candidates that take forms other than physical violence, such as moral defamation and other societal pressures that exclude and stereotype women.

Violence against women in the political domain is part of the general context of political violence on the one hand, and violence against women on the other. Political violence is determined by the desire and struggle over power, and methods to impede contenders and activists from participating or reaching power. Meanwhile, violence against women is used in politics to impede the participation of women in all political events and goals. This creates a discrepancy between constitutional rights and social reality, and non-participation. Also, there are 500 reported cases of mob sexual assaults according to the report “Keeping Women Out – Sexual violence in the public sphere” issued by the International Federation for Human Rights and the New Women Foundation. This figure, when added to actions by political forces in the 2005 and 2010 elections before the revolution, and during protests following the January and June revolutions, shows that violence against women in public politics has become systematic to prevent women from political participation and stereotype them to a limited number of roles where they don’t compete with men.

Unfortunately, at a time when we thought we are beyond talking about the importance of female political participation, the new players in Egyptian society after the January 25 Revolution demonstrate our need to discuss this vital issue and its links to violence. By new players, we mean currents of political Islam on the one hand and female and male political activists on the other, including political parties, and not excluding liberal parties, that shocked the public by marginalising women after the January 25 Revolution and insulting them by using a picture of a rose instead of the face of female candidates during campaigns by Salafist parties. While the election of a woman to head the Dostour Party is a landmark in the political progress of women, female participation as voters will remain the dilemma, challenge and issue for a democratic conscientious society.

Article 11 of the 2014 Constitution stresses “equality between women and men in all civil, political, social and cultural rights based on the Constitution. The state will take measures to guarantee women are appropriately represented in representative councils as dictated by law. It also guarantees women their right to ascend to public office, senior administrative positions in the state, and appointment to judicial bodies without discrimination. The state is committed to protecting women against all forms of violence, and enabling women to combine family duties and work requirements.”

Article 5 of the latest electoral law of 2014 assigns a percentage of women on party lists, but the figure is inadequate and unfair at a minimum of 10 per cent. This is an inadequate legislative, political and societal formula to politically empower women in light of the political violence practiced by society and political heavyweights against women to keep them out and restrict their role in public life. The only chance for women to win a seat in the next parliament is through party lists, while individual female candidates have little hope in this polarised and violently competitive environment, with limited economic resources for women in general.

The constitutional question based on Article 11 remains: How can the state protect women from all forms of violence during the next elections, especially female candidates? Also, what is the role of the state in promoting independent female candidates, and the role of civil society in boosting the role of women in political and representative life beyond training candidates, but also preparing society in general and activating the role of women within political parties?

The writer is chairperson of Hatshepsut Foundation for Development and Human Rights.
Egypt Labor Remain Thorn in the Side of Autocrats, Despite Lethargy
Egyptian labor analyst Mostafa Bassiouny.
Marwa Hussein,
Thursday 11 Dec 2014

Since Morsi's ouster, the labour movement has been regressing, but since this past May it's been on the rise. What is the Egyptian labour movement's position with regard to Egypt's current politics?

The role played by the labour movement in the ouster of Islamist President Morsi, ascension of former army chiefAbdel-Fattah El-Sisi to power, or other major political developments in Egypt over the past year, continues to be a subject of debate.

Labour remains a force to be reckoned with, argues Mostafa Bassiouny, aCambridge-published journalist and researcher. Bassiouni believes that government policies, including the cutting subsidies, the rise in inflation and the deteriorationof basic services will force working classes to react. He looks back to 2006, when major industrial action in Mahalla City, west of Cairo, empowered the opposition against Hosni Mubarak, and continued to be a thorn in his side till his ouster in 2011.

Mostafa Bassiouny, worked as industrial correspondent for Egyptian and regional press for almost two decades. He reported on mass strikes by textile workers in Mahalla El-Kubra between 2006 and 2008 among others. Bassiouny also wrote the book "Bread, Freedom and Social Justice" in collabouration with Anne Alexander, a research fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge.

Ahram Online conducted an interview with Bassiouny to gain a sense for the labour movement’s position on recent and future developments in Egyptian politics.

Ahram Online: The labour movement has been going at a slower pace during the last year. Is that a consequence of the relative calm on the political sphere in general?

Mostafa Bassiouny: The labour movement is part of the political situation. It affects it and of course gets affected by it. Since November, the Egyptian workers movement has been rising with 12,000 workers at the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company (public) who were just on strike. Last month, another 6,000 workers at El Nasr Co for Coke and Chemicals were striking among other industrial action. Compared to 2008, 2012 and 2013, the movement is in regression but, with respect to the recent period between May and October, it is rising and I believe it will continue to do so.

Besides, the movement does not really follow a descending or ascending curve. Industrial action is seasonal nature. In February 2014 there was a wave of strikes following the implementation of minimum wage in the public administration. At the time more, than 250,000 workers were striking and demanding to receive the same treatment as public employees. Pressure was so strong that the regime removed El-Beblawi’s government. The recent wave coincides with profit share distribution. There is also season of primes that coincide with state budget implementation, etc.

AO: What makes you believe; the movement will rise and not decline?

MB: We have two important factors; first, the protesting movements among Egypt's workers have not stopped during the last few years; it goes up and down but it does not disappear. The second factor for a possible rise is the social and economic policies of the state itself.

Over the last year, several pieces of legislation supporting businesspeople versus workers have been issued. In fact, court sentences of renationalisation of private companies were not only enforced but the state added a clause to the investment law, which prevents a third party from challenging any contract concluded between the state and investors.

AO: Why would such politics result in a rise in the movement? Isn't it possible that the negligence of their demands would give the workers a feeling of despair and worthiness of their movement?

MB: The economic policies adopted by the state represent a real burden on the working class and lower classes in general. The fuel subsidies cut and the inflation that resulted from it were tough on these classes which makes them more prone to react to those pressures. Even if such policies lead to despair, this despair will take some time but will not last. In the end, there are facts of life and needs that are not being addressed. The people want to feed their families, send kids to school, get health care and decent housing. Those facts will always be cause for pressure. People might feel despair or assess that their movement does not pay back but after a while, they will react on those politics.

AO: To what extent does the political movement affect the labour movement?

MB: This relation has always been sophisticated and is marked by expediency and pragmatism. For example, in December 2006, the political reformist movement was in a very difficult position as the Mubarak regime managed to amend the constitution and set the plan to pass rule on to his son. The regime managed to organise the situation as he aspired and defeated the political reform movement that could not even increase the democratic margin, despite all its efforts. Then 24,000 textile workers in Mahallah went on strike for three days and the state ended it by submitting to them and accepting their demands. That action gave an impulse to the ambitions of the political elite, which saw another force rejecting Mubarak's regime. That strike in particular was followed by a rise in the labour movement nationwide, especially in Mahallah. The climax was the April 2008 strike that gave its name to the 6 of April movement. The youth movement saw a chance in the movement of such a big number of workers and called for a general strike on April 2008, even though the Mahallah strike had its own labour demands.

After the revolution, a real crisis appeared. The workers played an important role during and before January 2011 revolution, however, the labour movement and demands faced intensive hostility and negligence from the state, the military council and political movements tool. Workers' demands were referred to as sector demands and the political movement was hostile to the workers' movement. The gap between the political movement and the labour and social movement increased while the political movement was pressing on the labour movement to adopt its demands.

AO: How should the political movement deal with the labour movement?

MB: The political movement should take more seriously the labour movement and build on it instead of imposing its slogans on the workers, even if those slogans are politically correct. Workers demands are, in fact, political. Asking for the removal of the emergency law is a political demand and 24,000 workers striking under the emergency law is a defeat for the law and a de facto removal of it.

AO:Do you think the Islamic movement has had any effect on the workers' movement?

MB:I believe it has no direct effect. The labour movement was active between 2006 and 2011 under Mubarak. Then, it continued rising under military rule, right after the revolution. At the time, it has been said that the Muslim Brotherhood was influencing workers to pressure on the military. However, the highest rate of strike was during the Muslim Brotherhood regime who assumed that the National Salvation Front influenced the workers. Currently, once more, some repeat that the Muslim Brotherhood is behind the workers but all of this is not true. In fact, over that period of time, labour leaders remained the same.

AO:Industrial action in the private sector has increased over the last year, will the workers of this sector play a bigger role in the labour movement?

There has always been a movement in the private sector but 10 strikes in the sector are hardly equivalent to Mahallah strikes. The private sector, by nature, does not have big labour pools. So, if we look at the numbers, public sector movements are considerably larger than private. The confrontation with the state and its policy is also clearer in public sector action. However, the economic impact of the private sector is larger as it is the sector leading development and economic activity. In the public sector, workers ask for the benefits that they used to get regardless of the company's profitability whereas employers in the private sector make their decisions on an economic basis. The private sector measures the economic cost and benefit of responding to workers’ demands verses enduring work suspension for a period of time. The comparison between the two sectors is not obvious as many factors should be taken into consideration, including the difference in the laws ruling the public and private sector.

AO: At one point, we saw a high level of coordination between workers in different work places and even actions in solidarity with other companies, is the absence of such movements a sign of regression?

That is an experience that will not disappear; it is lesson learned. This was obvious in the movement of property tax employees in 2009. The practice was later adopted by Egypt post workers and teachers. Then we saw workers of different companies synchronising their actions, the biggest example was in the textile sector. In the coming wave of the labour movement that practice will be recalled.

AO: Would the implementation of a new labour code, judged by labour activists, to be more restrictive of workers' rights, influence the movement?

I do not think there will be a direct reaction to a new labour code from workers. It does not mean a great deal considering that the existing law is often not respected by the employers. The law is not the real regulator of the working relations. The bill in discussion might be a regression compared to the actual one but it does not introduce a fundamental change. The big change was the law of 2003 that liberalised work relations.
17 'Terrorists' Killed and 11 Arrested in North Sinai Within Two Days
Egyptian troops in the Sinai region near the border with Gaza.
Ahram Online, Tuesday 16 Dec 2014

Egyptian army spokesperson says that 17 terrorists were killed in 2 days in the North Sinai governorate

Seventeen "terrorists" were killed in crossfire with security personnel between 13 and 15 December in North Sinai, which has been witnessing continuous operations by the armed forces, said the Egyptian army spokesman.

In a statement posted to his official Facebook page, Brigadier General Mohamed Samir, spokesman of the armed forces, also confirmed that security forces had apprehended 11 persons who allegedly participated in militant attacks against the army and police, during the two-day span.

As part of its campaign, the armed forces also said it has destroyed nine vehicles and six motorcycles, all without registration plates, allegedly owned and used by terrorists. In addition, 64 jihadist headquarters and 22 farms, including one that comprised a field hospital, were also destroyed.

The Egyptian armed forces launched a campaign to "purge" the North Sinai governorate that has served as ground for several militant attacks against army and police personnel in the last years.

The border city, however, witnessed increased activity by extremists during the past year and a half, since the ouster of the former president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

The army campaign followed a massive militant attack in the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid in October, where more than 30 army personnel were killed and a few dozens injured. The attack was later claimed by Ansar Beit El-Maqdis group, which later pledged loyalty to the Islamic State in early November.

A 1,500 meter buffer zone was created, as part of the army campaign, along the border line with Gaza Strip. It has been undertaken in two phases, the first of which (along 1,000 metres) was announced finished early this month.
Juba Reiterates Commitment to Cooperate With Khartoum
Sudans presidents sign peace agreement in 2012.
December 15, 2014 (JUBA) – South Sudan has remained its full committed to implement the 2012 cooperation agreement it signed with neigbouring Sudan.

South Sudan’s foreign affairs minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin said it was unfortunate the Sudanese government opted for the media to channel its complains instead of following proper channels and mechanisms to address matters.

“In the non-aggression and cooperation we have signed with Sudan in 2012, we agreed that complaints and allegations from either side should be raised through joint political mechanism. In that agreement, we have also agreed not to support hostile groups operating against the other,” Marial told Sudan Tribune on Monday.

“We agreed to not support any cross border operations and no supporting proxy forces operating with an objective to destabilize the existence of the other,” he added.

The agreement, Marial said, obliges the two sides to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and from launching any attack, including aerial bombardments.

“What is said in the Sudanese press receives different interpretations and generates different feelings from members of our public but we have always found a way to handle it because we know war is not in the best interest of the two countries,” he said.

“It is also important the media play a role in both countries to educate our citizens of the significance of supporting peaceful relations between the two countries,” he added.

The minister’s reactions came a day after several Sudanese government officials were quoted accusing neighbouring South Sudan of allegedly support to Sudanese rebels.

“These are unfortunate statements and we would not wish to use the media. But I can give the government of the republic of South Sudan that we remain committed to the full implementation of the cooperation,” Marial said.

Political analysts and observers, however, say the renewed accusations by the Sudanese government stems from its frustration with the presence of the Ugandan forces in its southern neighbour. Khartoum also accuses Uganda of backing its armed rebels.