Friday, February 29, 2008

Positive Developments Regarding the Housing Struggle in New Orleans

Free the Land,

Positive development regarding the housing struggle and the right of return to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

This is a product of the work of the US Human Rights Network (USHRN) delegation to the UN Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination (CERD) last week in Geneva. The Katrina/IDP delegation including myself representing the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (and PHRF), Mayaba Liebenthal form Critical Resistance (CR) and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, Monique Harden from Advocates from Environmental Human Rights (AEHR), Brenda Stokely from NYC Katrina Solidarity Committee, and Katie Schwartzmann from the ACLU-NO.

See USHRN Director, Ajamu Baraka on the Tavis Smiley show at

In the face of the demolition of the St. Bernard Housing Development the forces fighting for the right to return are having to regroup and restrategize. But, the struggle continues and will continue to need the support of progressive forces throughout the empire and the world.

In Unity and Struggle,

Thu, 28 Feb 08 15:02:51 EST

UN News Centre: UN experts call for protection of housing rights of Hurricane Katrina victims

The article below has been sent to you by from the UN News Centre

UN experts call for protection of housing rights of Hurricane Katrina victims – (28 February 2008)

United Nations experts on housing and minority rights today called on the United States Government to halt the demolition of public housing and protect the human rights of African-Americans affected by Hurricane Katrina, which battered New Orleans in 2005.

“We are deeply concerned about information we continue to receive about the housing situation of people in New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region,” Miloon Kothari, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and Gay McDougall, the Independent Expert on minority issues, said in a joint statement.

The demolition of the St. Bernard public housing development started the week of 18 February and the destruction of three other complexes were planned for the near future without meaningful consultation with the communities involved, they said.

Citing reports that there are more than 12,000 homeless people in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area, they said that the demolition of public housing, in combination with the spiralling costs of private housing and rental units, are helping to drive people, primarily African-Americans, into destitution.

“We understand that the new housing will not be available for a significant period of time nor will there be one for one replacement for housing units destroyed,” they said. “These demolitions, therefore, could effectively deny thousands of African-American residents their right to return to housing from which they were displaced by the hurricane.”

Whether or not the demolitions were intentionally discriminatory, “the lack of consultation with those affected and the disproportionate impact on poorer and predominantly African-American residents and former residents would result in the denial of internationally recognized human rights,” they maintained.

The two experts said they sent a letter stating their concerns to the US Government in December 2007.

Special rapporteurs and experts are unpaid, independent specialists who monitor their area of expertise in association with the UN Human Rights Council.

Additional coverage Kali Akuno ( thought you would be interested in this item from

Kali Akuno has sent you a link: "U.N. Experts: Feds, City Forced Blacks Out Of Homes - New Orleans News Story - WDSU New Orleans"

The link:

Kenya News Bulletin: Peace Deal at Last; Text of Agreement

Peace deal at last

Kenya Daily Nation
Publication Date: 2/29/2008

President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga Thursday signed a historic agreement to end Kenya’s post-election political crisis.

Under the deal brokered by chief mediator Kofi Annan and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, the leaders agreed to form a coalition government which will radically alter the way Kenya will be governed.

Mr Odinga is almost certain to become independent Kenya’s second prime minister after Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who held the post at independence in 1963.

Thursday’s agreement, which came after two days of intense diplomatic activity states that the post of Prime Minister will be created to co-ordinate and supervise affairs of Government. The premier will be leader of the largest party or coalition in Parliament.

Nominate deputy PM

According to the deal, both PNU and ODM will each nominate a deputy prime minister, who together with the premier, can only be removed from office through a vote of no-confidence in Parliament.

Immediately after signing the agreement, President Kibaki and Mr Odinga said they will work together to ensure that the new deal succeeds.

President Kibaki announced that the State opening of Parliament will be on Thursday, March 6, to begin the process of converting the agreement into law.

Addressing a press conference after the two leaders signed the pact, Mr Annan announced that he will reconvene the mediation talks Friday to debate how the long-term issues will be resolved. The talks were suspended on Tuesday after the negotiators failed to agree on a power sharing formula.

Mr Annan later said he decided to move the talks to President Kibaki and Mr Odinga because there was mistrust among the PNU and ODM negotiators that were hampering the talks. “The leaders were easier to deal with and they were the only ones capable of taking bold decisions to move forward,” he said.

In an interview with the Nation and NTV, Mr Annan said the mistrust had built over time... the men and women in the two teams had at one time worked together and betrayed each other.

He was full of praise for the African Union chairman, Tanzanian President Kikwete, who travelled to Nairobi to help in the mediation effort.

And in a statement released by the British High Commission in Nairobi, British premier Gordon Brown described the deal as a “triumph for Kenya and Kenyans.”

Under the deal, the Cabinet will consist of the President, the Vice-President, the Prime Minister, the two deputy prime ministers and the other ministers. The removal of any minister will be subject to consultation and concurrence in writing by the leaders.

It also states that the composition of the coalition government will at all times take into account the principle of portfolio balance and will reflect each party’s relative parliamentary strength.

The coalition will be dissolved if the Tenth Parliament is dissolved; or if the parties agree in writing; or if one coalition partner withdraws from the coalition.

The agreement, signed on the steps of the entrance to the Office of the President in Harambee House, was witnessed by President Kikwete and Mr Annan.

The post of prime minister was briefly held by Mzee Kenyatta after independence in 1963, until the country became a republic and the post was abolished and Kenyatta became Kenya’s first President.

Disputed election

And for the first time since the disputed presidential election results were announced on December 30, 2007, Mr Odinga referred to the Head of State as “President Kibaki”.

With the agreement signed, Kenyans finally got the breakthrough they had been praying for in the two months since violence broke out after the disputed presidential elections. Over 1,010 people were killed in the violence while another 350,000 were displaced. But Special Programmes minister Naomi Shabaan has since said that the numbers had reduced to about 120,000 people.

Under the new deal, parties already in Government will now be joined by ODM in a new coalition. The announcement, broadcast live on national television, sparked celebrations in some parts of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret among other major towns.

Speaking after the signing, President Kibaki thanked the international community for their efforts and support for Kenyans to reach an agreement.

He said that the Government will help those whose houses were burnt to resettle on their farms.

Mr Odinga said that in the last two months, Kenya had received more publicity in the international media more than it had done in the last 45 years.

“It has been a story of sadness. In the last two months, Kenyans have known nothing but sadness.,” Mr Odinga said.

But he added that the crisis had taught Kenyans to forge the firm foundations for a strong, united and prosperous nation.

What President Mwai Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga agreed on

Publication Date: 2/29/2008

The following is the text of the agreement signed Thursday by President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga to end Kenya’s political crisis.

The pact was witnessed by Mr Kofi Annan, the chief mediator, and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who is also the chairman of the African Union.


The crisis triggered by the 2007 disputed presidential election has brought to the surface deep-seated and long-standing divisions within Kenyan society. If left unaddressed, these divisions threaten the very existence of Kenya as a unified country. The Kenyan people are now looking to their leaders to ensure that their country will not be lost.

Given the current situation, neither side can realistically govern the country without the other. There must be real power-sharing to move the country forward and begin the healing and reconciliation process.

With this agreement, we are stepping forward together, as political leaders, to overcome the current crisis and to set the country on a new path. As partners in a coalition government, we commit ourselves to work together in good faith as true partners, through constant consultation and willingness to compromise.

This agreement is designed to create an environment conducive to such a partnership and to build mutual trust and confidence. It is not about creating positions that reward individuals. It seeks to enable Kenya’s political leaders to look beyond partisan considerations with a view to promoting the greater interests of the nation as a whole. It provides the means to implement a coherent and far-reaching reform agenda, to address the fundamental root causes of recurrent conflict and to create a better, secure and prosperous Kenya for all.

To resolve the political crisis, and in the spirit of coalition and partnership, we have agreed to enact the National Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008, whose provisions have been agreed upon in their entirety by the parties hereto and a draft copy thereof is appended hereto.

Its key points are:

There will be a prime minister of the Government of Kenya, with authority to coordinate and supervise the execution of the functions and affairs of the Government of Kenya.

The prime minister will be an elected member of the National Assembly and the parliamentary leader of the largest party in the National Assembly, or of a coalition, if the largest party does not command a majority.

Each member of the coalition shall nominate one person from the National Assembly to be appointed a deputy prime minister.

The Cabinet will consist of the President, the Vice-President, the prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers and the other ministers.

The removal of any minister of the coalition will be subject to consultation and concurrence in writing by the leaders.

The prime minister and deputy prime ministers can only be removed if the National Assembly passes a motion of no confidence with a majority vote.

The composition of the coalition government will at all times take into account the principle of portfolio balance and will reflect their relative parliamentary strength.

The coalition will be dissolved if the Tenth Parliament is dissolved; or if the parties agree in writing; or if one coalition partner withdraws from the coalition.

The National Accord and Reconciliation Act shall be entrenched in the Constitution.

Having agreed on the critical issues above, we will now take this process to Parliament. It will be convened at the earliest moment to enact these agreements. This will be in the form of an Act of Parliament and the necessary amendment to the Constitution.

We believe by these steps, we can together, in the spirit of partnership bring peace and prosperity back to the people of Kenya who so richly deserve it.

Country celebrates peace agreement

Story by NATION Team
Publication Date: 2/29/2008

The Government and ODM Thursday returned smiles on the faces of Kenyans and a sigh of relief to the international community by signing a deal to end the two-month political crisis.

Kenyans across the country burst into celebrations after President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga signed the agreement at Harambee House.

Celebrations engulfed western Kenya following the announcement that the mediation team had reached a power sharing deal between PNU and ODM.

Crowds chanting ODM slogans poured into the streets to celebrate what they said was an end to a period of uncertainty.

On a day that would have seen the ODM supporters take to the streets in protests, it was jubilation instead.

Cars with full headlights blaring horns and draped in twigs snaked through the streets of Kisumu. While some sang and danced on the streets, others chose to ride on car bonnets in celebration.

But in the President’s Nyeri home turf, some residents welcomed the move while others accused him of betraying them.

Stick to the agreement

Kenya National Union of Teachers Nyeri branch secretary Samuel Kariuki Kanake welcomed the deal terming it the best decision the country has made in the recent past.

“This is the best decision and we fully support it,” said Mr Kanake who called the Nation Nyeri office soon after the deal was signed.

Mr James Mwangi, a consultant in Nyeri, said he hoped the leaders would follow the agreement to the letter.

“I hope this is the end of bad things for Kenya. The leaders should make sure they stick to the agreement,” he said.

However, some Othaya businessmen were unhappy.

“This is very serious. How can he do that?” asked a businessman from Othaya Town who said that by signing the deal, “the President was accepting that he had lost the polls”.

At the Coast, residents celebrated the power-sharing deal, saying it was the only way to end the crisis.

Business came to a standstill in Malindi Town last evening as residents poured into the streets shouting “Peace!” “Peace!” in celebration.

Several vehicles with huge loudspeakers mounted on them moved around the town, loud music blaring from them. The residents chanted “ODM!” “ODM!” and praised Mr Odinga for signing the deal.

In Kilifi Town, residents broke into celebrations after witnessing the signing of the agreement.

Most of the residents who followed the proceedings on television and radios in hotels, open air-markets and the Kilifi bus park broke into cheers and praised President Kibaki and Mr Odinga for their commitment to end the crisis.

Touts at the bus park abandoned their work and headed to palm wine drinking dens to celebrate. Two days of intense shuttle diplomacy by chief mediator Kofi Annan and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete targeting President Kibaki and Mr Odinga did the trick and the political agreement was signed at 5.50pm at Harambee House, which is also the office of the president.

It was the meeting of five — President Kibaki, Mr Odinga, President Kikwete, his predecessor, Mr Benjamin Mkapa, and Mr Annan – that succeeded in navigating through the six issues that had led to the suspension of talks to give Kenyans a peace deal they have been yearning for for the past two months.

Minutes before the announcement of the breakthrough, Mr Annan had stated: “We have had constructive and fruitful discussion and we have come to an understanding on coalition agreement. We are ready to sign a document at 4pm. That is when we will brief you on what we have agreed. What I can say now is that we have an agreement.”

The meeting took five and half hours in which it is understood President Kibaki and Mr Odinga closed ranks and agreed to the creation of the position of prime minister. It was based on the Tanzanian model of PM where the office holder controls and coordinates the functions of ministries in a way that his powers will not interfere with those of the President.

The two sides will also get ministerial slots on the strength of their numbers in Parliament while it was agreed that the positions of the PM and two deputies would be created through an Act of Parliament.

Append signatures

It was a sight to behold at the entrance to Harambee House when a mahogany table was brought and two red seats bearing the emblem of power strategically positioned next to it for the two men at the centre of the conflict to append their signatures to the coalition agreement.

Watching closely were Cabinet ministers, attorney-general Amos Wako, key leaders in ODM, foreign diplomats, Mr Annan and Mr Mkapa alongside scores of journalists. Hundreds of Kenyans stood on the adjacent Harambee Avenue to witness the occasion.

Mr Odinga and his team - MPs Musalia Mudavadi, Najib Balala, William Ruto, Sally Kosgei, Anyang’ Nyong’o and Henry Kosgey - arrived at 4pm ready for the ceremony. Mr Odinga had left the venue for lunch at 3pm as Mr Annan was briefing the press on the breakthrough.

President Kibaki, who arrived at Harambee House at 9am, met with government negotiators Martha Karua, Sam Ongeri, Moses Wetang’ula and Mbooni MP Mutula Kilonzo.

Also present during the signing ceremony were Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, Cabinet ministers George Saitoti, Amos Kimunya, Uhuru Kenyatta, Samuel Phogisio and Wilfred Machage.

It marked a fruitful end to a tortuous journey of mediation started by Ghanaian President John Kufuor on January 8.

Later police lobbed tear-gas canisters on a group that was celebrating the deal.

The group which had gathered at a vantage position near Harambee Avenue to follow the speeches had earlier wildly cheered President Kibaki and Mr Odinga as they signed the agreement and spoke.

They further chanted slogans in support of Mr Odinga and other ODM leaders.

The group’s shouting attracted the eyes of guests invited to witness the signing, together with former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and his predecessor Kofi Annan.

Ceremony ended

The crowd continued with their celebrations when the ceremony ended and as the dignitaries motorcades left the venue at around 6 pm.

However, hell broke loose minutes later when police, without any provocation lobbed tear-gas at the demonstrators as they scampered for safety.

Reports by Lucas Barasa, Bernard Namunane, Walter Menya, Walker Mwandoto, Wilfred Muchire and Daniel Nyassy

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Colombia News Bulletin: FARC Frees Hostages; Conference on Afro-Colombians at Howard

Farc frees Colombia hostages

Those released include Luis Eladio Perez, a former Colombian senator

Four hostages held by the Colombian Farc rebel group for more than six years have been freed, the International Red Cross organisation says.

The four were handed over to a delegation of Red Cross and Venezuelan officials at a location in the Colombian jungle at about midday local time (1700 GMT), a spokeswoman said.

Two helicopters had earlier been sent from Venezeula to collect the captives, former Colombian lawmakers Gloria Polanco, Orlando Beltran, Luis Eladio Perez and Jorge Gechem.

Last month, the Farc also released two female hostages following a deal brokered by Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president.

Barbara Hintermann, the Red Cross director for Colombia, said the helicopters are now en route to the border town of Santo Domingo before heading to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, for the hostages to be reunited with their families.

"It's a very important day for the Colombian people and for these four freed people," she told journalists in the Colombian city of Bogota.

Chavez also spoke with the hostages by phone following their release, Jesse Chacon, a senior aide to the Venezuelan president told AP.

"We want the relatives to know they are in our hands and safe and sound," Chacon said.

Red Cross spokesman Yves Heller said the two doctors on board the helicopters determined that the hostages were in good enough medical condition to travel, although more medical tests would be performed on them once they arrived in Venezuela.

Hostages' health

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) had offered on February 2 to hand over to the Venezuelan president three of the hostages.

Gechem was later added to the list on health grounds, as he is reportedly suffering from heart, back and ulcer problems.

The former state senator was kidnapped six years ago after Farc fighters hijacked a commercial aircraft he was travelling on.

His fellow former hostage, Polanco, was kidnapped with two of her two sons, who were later released. Her husband, a prominent politician, was later killed by the Farc.

Her other son Daniel, who was 11-years-old when his mother was seized, told journalists in Caracas on Wednesday that the kidnapping "surely tears out one's insides''.

Remaining captives

The hostages are part of a group of about 40 foreign captives whom the Farc want to swap in exchange for 500 of their fighters being held in Colombian prisons.

Two Colombian legislators, Consuelo Gonzalez and Clara Rojas, were released last month after an agreement brokered by Chavez.

Those still being held include three US Pentagon contractors and Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian former politician.

Last week rallies were held in France and Colombia to protest against her continued detention.

Around 700 Colombian hostages, many of them civilians, are also reportedly being held by the group.

Chavez's role

Al Jazeera's correspondent Lucia Newman said that the Farc had freed the hostages because, firstly, they wish to be seen as a legitimate fighting force.

Secondly, they want the Colombian government to demilitarise a large area of the country so that negotiations can be held over a prisoner exchange.

Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian president, has indicated a willingness to negotiate an exchange of prisoners but has ruled out demilitarisation of such a large and populated part of the country - suggesting a smaller, less inhabited zone instead.

Chavez has been involved in the hostage negotiations since last year, however an original deal to free the two women prisoners collapsed amid acrimony between Uribe and Chavez.

The Venezuelan president angered Colombia further when he said that Farc should not be labelled as a terrorist group but as a "belligerent force", with legitimate political aims.

The right wing’s agenda in Colombia

By Jesus “Chucho” Garcia

The Afro-Colombian movement has been one of the most important vanguard organizations of Latin America. Since the uprising of Benkos Bioho (17th century), a maroon of Wolof origin (present-day Senegal), through the struggle of Afro-Colombian miners in the Chocó until the contemporary struggle, Afro-Colombians have always maintained the high ethics of African ancestry characterized by a flood of dignity.

It was in the 1990s when an extraordinary alliance among academics, students and other social actors achieved recognition for Afro-Colombians in the Colombian National Constitution and from there was granted, through a transitory article, the Law of Black Colombian Communities, also known as the Law 70, approved in Congress in 1993.

That law, among other things,guaranteed the recognition to their lands--collectively ancestral and shared for the benefit of their communities (indeed, the senators of the center-right and Bolivarian left rejected a similar proposal that we Afro-Venezuelans made for Constitutional Reform on December 2nd, see and compare the two).

Upon the current president Alvaro Uribe’s arrival to power, what would be called the “Counter-Reforms of Uribe” began, which have affected all of the Colombian community and Afro-Colombians especially. By the blessing or curse of God, Afro-Colombians are located in the bio-geographic Pacific, considered, along with the Amazon, to be the greatest diversity reserve of Latin America and one of the main ones of the planet.

The increase of armed conflicts,specifically of paramilitaries and U.S. army intervention, as well as some errors made by guerrillas, has provoked a massive displacement towards cities such as Medellin, Cali and above all Bogotá, not to mention Venezuela, where those from the Amazonas state have arrived and constituted a neighborhood called Africa.

After Sudan, Colombia is the country with more displaced persons in the world, of which 60% are Afro-Colombians, according to the organization AFRODES, which is led by activist Marino Cordoba.

Uribe’s order is to re-seize Afro-Colombian lands

In Washington D.C. during this last week of February, an Afro-Colombian conference will be taking place at Howard University, where the following afrodescendent governmental representatives will attend: the Minister of Culture, Paula Marcelo Moreno, the Vice-Minister of Work Andres Palacio, Oscar Gamboa of the Commission of Advancement for the Afro-Colombian Population, and the Representative of the Afro-Colombian Office in the present government, Pastor Murillo.

Added to those Afro-Uribean senators led by Edgar Eulises thereare Senators of the United States Congress that support the Free Trade Agreement such as Gregory Meeks, who supposedly has a business in United States andLatin American airports.

This activity has been preceded by others done in Colombia since Bush visited and met with Afro-Colombian leaders; later by the mission of Afro-North American ex-General Colin Powell accompanied by some intellectuals such as Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and even Bill Gates, among others; and recently by the visit of Condolleeza Rice to Cartagena de Indias.

Uribe is trying to apply the Bush model ofplacing the new Uncle Toms, or what they call here in the United States “Oreo cookies” (black on the outside and white on the inside) to say that there is “racial democracy” in Colombia.

The truth is that this group that is now parading about Washington is the group to remind of the funeral marches of the coffins of thousands of Afro-Colombians murdered by paramilitaries with the complicity of Uribe’s army and North American intervention.

They will cry out for the signing of the signing of the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the United States in order to openly and bold-facedly exploit the region of the bio-geographic Pacific.

We as Afro-descendent intellectuals and activists express our active support to displaced Afro-Colombians in Washington and we condemn this right-wing “oreoization” by the plot of the first-ever paramilitary in power: Alvaro Uribe Velez.

Kenya News Bulletin: ODM Calls Off Thursday's Mass Protests; Leaders Urged to Find Quick Solution; Economy Cannot Survive Turmoil Any Longer

ODM calls off Thursday's mass protests

Kenya Daily Nation
Publication Date: 2/27/2008

The Orange Democratic Movement has called off rallies slated for Thursday which aimed at pressurising the government for a speedy resolution of the political impasse.

The ODM postponed the countrywide rallies, which called for the re-opening of Parliament, so that it can pass laws in support of the resolutions of the Kofi Annan led mediation talks.

ODM leader Raila Odinga announced the rescheduling of the rallies following a request by former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan so that not to jeopardise the talks.

"I would like to announce now on behalf of the movement the postponement until further notice any kind of action intended for tomorrow," Mr Odinga said at Pentagon House in Nairobi.

Speaking after a meeting with Mr Annan and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, Mr Odinga who was flanked by Pentagon members Musalia Mudavadi, Najib Balala and Charity Ngilu said ODM was committed to the negotiations and will ensure it succeeds.

Mr Annan appealed to Mr Odinga and ODM not to proceed with the mass action.

The chief mediator said the National Dialogue and Reconciliation was at a critical stage of negotiations and that solutions to the crisis must be reached at the negotiation table.

The rallies had raised fears countrywide that they could result in fresh violence and lead to deaths and destruction of property.

The party which enjoys a majority in Parliament and whose pollsters have rated as most popular in the country had given President Kibaki seven days from last Wednesday to convene Parliament to discuss and pass laws to back recommendations of the Annan talks for smooth implementation.

The rallies were also meant to protest what party secretary general Anyang Nyong’o termed as slow pace of the month old talks and the party added it had notified police as required that it will be holding them.

The party has accused rival PNU of undermining the talks, often changing goal posts, lack of seriousness and buying time as it consolidated its leadership.

PNU which has since denied being a stumbling block in the negotiations condemned the planned demonstrations.

Previous mass protests by ODM supporters over the disputed last year’s presidential election results were outlawed by police, who lobbed tear-gas canisters at the defiant demonstrators, shot at, injured and killed some of them.

Mr Mkapa called for patience as PNU and ODM negotiators looked for a solution to the crisis that has left more than 1000 people killed and 300, 000 displaced.

Mr Annan had set a deadline of 15 days since January 29 for ODM and PNU negotiators to agree on short term solutions to crisis.

Disagreements between the negotiators and hardline positions have however hampered the talks success as at a time when the teams were discussing how to resolve the disputed last year’s presidential election results.

The teams are divided on the creation of a Prime Minister position, the holder’s functions and powers.

Leaders urged to find a quick solution to crisis

Kenya Daily Nation
Publication Date: 2/27/2008

President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga have been urged to speedily agree on a solution to the current political crisis in the country.

Chief mediator Kofi Annan made the call as Mr Odinga announced that power-sharing to facilitate constitutional changes was the only solution to the crisis.

Addressing journalists at Pentagon House in Nairobi after a meeting with Mr Odinga, Mr Annan said the talks between PNU and ODM that he chaired required the parties’ leaders support and political will to succeed.

Mr Annan explained that he had also separately met Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete and President Kibaki in the morning and discussed the talks and how to move the negotiations forward.

Mr Annan suspended the National Dialogue and Reconciliation talks on Tuesday after PNU and ODM negotiators failed to agree and talks seemed to be going round in circles. The Ghanaian said he was to meet the principals-President Kibaki and Mr Odinga to break the stalemate.

Mr Annan said he was pleased with his discussions with Mr Odinga and that they were to have further discussions on some issues raised from their meeting with him and other leaders. The mediator did not however specify the issues and did not field questions from journalists after the press conference.

He said Kenyans were suffering; living in fear, traumatised, displaced, lost jobs and that a quick solution was needed for their return to normal lives.

"I appeal to those concerned to think of the people and seek speedy solution," Mr Annan who was accompanied by former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, said.

Mr Mkapa said during their Team of Eminent African Personalities meeting with President Kibaki, they sought his assistance for finding a quick solution to the crisis.

The former President said the issues that sparked disagreements at the talks could still be addressed and that reaching a lasting solution or agreement was possible.

Meanwhile, President Kibaki said he was ready and willing to share "responsibilities of government" with the ODM and to push for a speedy resolution of the issues under discussion.

The president also said that he would do all within his powers to see that the process of national dialogue and reconciliation succeeded and reflected the will of the Kenyan people.

In a statement sent from the Presidential Press Service, the president said the office of the Prime Minister and two deputies would be created under the current constitution, before a comprehensive constitutional review to be done within a year.

On Tuesday, PNU and ODM negotiators sharply differed over the creation of a prime minister post, the holder’s powers and functions. They also differed on appointments to the Cabinet and constitutional changes to accommodate the talks recommendations among other things.

A PNU representative is said to have used harsh words on mediation team before storming out of the meeting at Serena Hotel as the talks hit a dead end.

Mr Odinga said he had been briefed by Mr Annan and Mr Mkapa on progress made and difficulties encountered at the negotiations.

"We as ODM are committed and will ensure the talks do succeed. We will do anything in our power to facilitate progress," he said.

He pushed for a power-sharing arrangement that would enable the country carry out necessary reforms to avoid a repeat of violence witnessed since the disputed presidential elections results were announced.

Any agreement entered between ODM and PNU, he said, must be for continuation of reforms Kenyans have been yearning for.

He said ODM did not just want to enter government for sake of it, but to provide lasting solution to problems facing the country and conduct constitutional changes.


This economy cannot survive political turmoil any longer

Kenya Daily Nation
Publication Date: 2/27/2008

THIS ECONOMY BADLY Requires a new dose of optimism. Right now, the biggest barrier to a return to economic stability is the atmosphere of uncertainty hanging over the mediation process presided over by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

Already, the effect of the climate of uncertainty that has engulfed the country can be seen on the sluggish stock market, a volatile exchange rate, and inflation that stubbornly remains at double-digit levels.

If Dr Annan fails, this country could plunge into a round of macro-economic instability, the magnitude of which was only witnessed in the early 1990s.

Optimism, although intangible, is a very powerful economic factor. No investor can risk putting his money into a new project in an environment of high political risk, and where he is unable to predict the future movement of prices and interests rates.

This economy will not regain the growth momentum it has been enjoying in the last three years if the climate of uncertainty lingers too long.

If you look at the Economic Survey, you will realise that the main sources of economic recovery in the last four years have been the following:

Top of the list is the agriculture sector, dominated by horticulture and cereals, the transport and communications sector, and the wholesale and retail sectors. Tourism and the Manufacturing sectors have also consistently recorded impressive growth rates.

In terms of expenditures, much of the growth is attributed to domestic consumption. Investment on roads, free primary education, and the revival of trouble-ridden parastatals also increased.

Trade, reflected in the volumes of exports of goods and services, has also performed well, growing at an average 15 per cent.

Still, the intangible factor behind all this growth has been optimism within the private sector. The business community believed that the growth pick-up was real and sustainable.

This is why firms were ploughing back profits rather than depositing the money in bank accounts abroad, while businesses were positioning themselves to produce for an integrated East Africa and for expanded markets with the Comesa trading bloc.

Instead of optimism, what we have now is an atmosphere of doom and gloom. Tourism is in the doldrums, while regional trade, the transport sector and agriculture have been adversely affected by the post-election violence.

Sooner or later, we will have a glimpse of the toll these negative conditions in the economy have had on the Government’s finances — revenues, external assistance and borrowing — when the Finance minister presents the supplementary budget in Parliament next month.

WE ARE LIKELY TO SEE MAJOR deviations between the original budget and the supplementary one. The predictions right now are that the recurrent budget will overshoot the printed estimates significantly, reflecting expenditures which were not budgeted for in the June budget — including the “free’’ secondary school education programme, and additional expenditure in providing security to quell the post-election violence.

And if Dr Annan leaves town without a deal and “donors” — especially the influential ones like the European Union — follow by freezing grants and loans, Mr Amos Kimunya will have even more problems trying to juggle with the allocations in the development budget.

Compared to Tanzania and Uganda, Kenya does not absorb that much budget support, namely quick-disbursing cash not tied to any project. But in terms of project loans and grants, we still depend a great deal on donors.

In the current circumstances, a freeze will badly affect the infrastructure investment programme, especially the roads, health and energy sectors where the European Union and a number of “bilaterals” have committed billions of shillings in the current financial year.

Opinion is unanimous today that physical infrastructure (especially roads) is the biggest impediment to private investment and expansion.

Indeed, poorly maintained roads, and expensive and unreliable electricity supply have combined to hamper productivity and stifle the competitiveness of our exports within the Comesa region.

A recent study found that while it costs Sh5,400 to ferry cargo from Shanghai to Mombasa — a distance of 5,000 kilometres — transporting the same cargo between Mombasa and Nairobi, 500 kilometres distant, would cost Sh3,000.

Can we, really, afford any delays in the infrastructure investment programme? Yet this will be the inevitable consequence of donors freezing aid.

The donor factor aside, this year’s budget is also set to experience pressure from shortfalls from privatisation proceeds.

The budget which Mr Kimunya presented to Parliament in June had assumed that the Government would, within the financial year, receive Sh36 billion in the second quarter of the financial year, especially from the planned initial public offer of Safaricom shares.

Although the Government realised the same amount from the sale of Telkom Kenya alone, it still calculated on receiving proceeds from Safaricom before the end of last year. It hasn’t happened yet.

Dr Annan must save this country.

Sudan Bans Imports of Danish Goods in Response to Cartoon Reprint

KHARTOUM, Sudan 26 February 2008 Sapa-AP


Sudan has banned imports of Danish goods in retaliation for the reprint in Denmark of a cartoon that satirized Islam's Prophet Muhammad, the state-run news agency said Tuesday.

The move came as Sudan braced for large anti-Danish protest in the Sudanese capital on Wednesday that appear to have the tacit approval of the central government in Khartoum.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced earlier this week a plan to ban Danish imports, snub the country's officials and expel its organizations from Sudan in response to the cartoon reprinted this month by 17 Danish newspapers showing Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban.

"The Customs and Duty Authorities have promptly executed the ban on the import of Danish commodities," police customs chief, Gen. Salah Ahmed al-Sheikh, was quoted as saying by the official SUNA news agency. Al-Sheikh said the ban was effective immediately and warned Sudanese importers "to avoid trying to circumvent it."

Loudspeakers from Khartoum's main mosques blared after Tuesday midday prayers with calls saying "all people should come to the one-million march tomorrow in defense of the Prophet."

Sudanese officials did not specify whether the other measures
threatened by al-Bashir would be enforced.

"The decision of the President of the Republic has come after Danish authorities as well as Danish news media permitted the publication of cartoons and drawings that defame the Holy Prophet, peace and blessing of Allah be upon Him," said al-Simaih al-Sidiq, Sudan's state minister for Foreign Trade.

In Denmark, officials said they were not notified of a trade

"I don't have any formal confirmation of this," Denmark's Charge d'Affaires in Khartoum, Karin Soerensen, said.

She said she "can't confirm" al-Bashir's threats to expel Danish organizations because Sudanese authorities have not contacted Copenhagen about that either.

Several aid groups from Denmark operate in Sudan, including the Danish Refugee Council and the Danish Red Cross, which runs large projects to alleviate human suffering in the western Darfur region.

"We have decided to keep low profile for the time being," Anders Ladekarl, head of the Danish Red Cross' international department, told The Associated Press in Copenhagen. He said the organization hadn't received any threats or any formal note from Sudan instructing it to leave the country.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen also declined to comment on the imports boycott. "The picture is a bit blurry right now," Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Denmark.

Sudan's al-Bashir, who came to power in an Islamist and military coup in 1989, has imposed the Muslim Sharia law on northern Sudan.

Sudan was one of the countries where large protests were held
against Denmark in 2006 when 12 cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad and Islam were first published.

In riots that followed around the Muslim world, dozens of people were killed and several Danish embassies were attacked, while Danish goods -including dairy products - were boycotted.

Danish newspapers said they reprinted one of the cartoons earlier this month in support of free speech after three men were arrested in an alleged plot to kill the cartoonist.

Since then, the Danish government has closely monitored the
situation in Muslim countries in view of renewed protests, which for now at least have remained low-scale.

"The situation is very unclear and there is a very volatile
picture," Fogh Rasmussen said.

Outside Interference The Only 'Dictator' in Zimbabwe, Says SA Ambassador Moyo

PRETORIA 26 February 2008 Sapa


There was no dictator in Zimbabwe, just a lot of outside, unwelcome interference in the country's affairs, the country's ambassador to South Africa Simon Khaya Moyo said in Pretoria on Tuesday.

"Only the people of Zimbabwe can, through the ballot, tell the world who they think has their interests at heart," he said in at Institute of Security Studies briefing on the country's March 29 presidential elections.

In past elections Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party have been accused of voter intimidation and violence, and of stealing elections, amid claims that the seizure of white-owner farms violated property rights.

"From the West's point of view, ably supported by a massive media empire and economic might by way of the comprehensive economic sanctions on the country, the electoral process in Zimbabwe can only be free and fair if and as when President Mugabe and his Zanu-PF have been removed from office for his 'sins' on land reform," Moyo said.

The accusation Mugabe faced in this election was that he was
presiding over an ailing economy and trampling on the human rights of his people.

"From the outside, the picture being portrayed is one of a bad situation which should not be allowed to continue.

"The idea is to wage a massive media campaign against Zimbabwe and with the economic hardships, the people would be expected to vote out the president and Zanu-PF."

Moyo said Zimbabwe had a voter population of 5,612,464 at December 4 last year. The voter's roll was still open and was being inspected by the Zimbabwe Election Commission.

Four candidates, including Mugabe, are contesting the elections.

Ahead of the election, security in the country had been tightened and the carrying of dangerous weapons, including machetes, knives and guns, being banned, Moyo said.

He described the atmosphere as "peaceful' except for a few minor skirmishes "usually involving youth from either side of the political divide who engage in acts of provocation".

Sometimes this was to attract publicity.

The perpetrators had been arrested.

Moyo praised President Thabo Mbeki's role in mediating between Zanu-PF and its opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change to bring about free and fair elections.

He dismissed as "some mischief intended to derail the elections" an MDC charge that Mbeki had not been an honest broker.

"... We go along with the words of advice of the South African government that the Zimbabwean side need to talk more now than before.

"The question remaining on many people's minds would be the extent to which an external hand is influencing some unexplained wayward behaviour by the opposition.

"That is primarily the reason why the Zimbabwean people have for long been decrying the death of patriotic opposition with the capacity to come up with a national agenda and home-grown solutions to our problems," Moyo said.

Blaming the country's economic difficulties in the past seven years on drought, a severe shortage of foreign currency and a hyper-inflationary environment, he said this had created a hostile environment to business operations with a resultant reduced export capacity.

Sanctions had cost the country access to "much needed lines of credit".

"It is given that the powers that be with the muscle to do so, would have wanted economics to be a factor in the elections, influencing people to vote against the ruling party (and Mugabe)," he said.

However he was confident that "the people will not be hoodwinked to turn against each other in a lethal manner".

Outside interference had to be "reduced and resisted" at all costs.

Moyo gave the assurance that the ruling party would accept the outcome of the elections even if it lost.

DPRK News Bulletin: New York Philharmonic Performs in Pyongyang; Congratulatory Message Sent to President Raul Castro in Cuba

New York Philharmonic Performs in Pyongyang

Pyongyang, February 26 (KCNA) -- The New York Philharmonic on a visit to the DPRK performed at the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre Tuesday.

Appreciating the performance were Yang Hyong Sop, vice-president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, Kang Nung Su, minister of Culture, Mun Jae Chol, acting chairman of the Korean Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, Pak Kwan O, chairman of the Pyongyang City People's Committee, Song Sok Hwan, vice-minister of Culture and chairman of the Korean Association for Art Exchange, Kim Yon Gyu, chief of the State Symphony Orchestra, and working people in the city.

Among the audience were diplomatic envoys of different countries and representatives of international organizations here and foreign guests and overseas Koreans.

Put on the stage were the DPRK's Patriotic Song, the U.S. national anthem The Star-Spangled Banner, WAGNER's Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin, DVORAK's Symphony No. 9, From the New World, GERSHWIN's An American in Paris, BIZET's Farandole from L'Arlesienne, BERNSTEIN's Candide Overture and orchestra Arirang.

The world-renowned Philharmonic with a long history showed exquisite and refined execution and high representation under Chief Conductor Lorin Maazel.

February 27, 2008

North Koreans Welcome Symphonic Diplomacy

New York Times

PYONGYANG, North Korea — As the New York Philharmonic played the opening notes of “Arirang,” a beloved Korean folk song, a murmur rippled through the audience. Many in the audience perched forward in their seats.

The piccolo played a long, plaintive melody. Cymbals crashed, harp runs flew up, the violins soared. And tears began forming in the eyes of the staid audience, row upon row of men in dark suits, women in colorful high-waisted dresses called hanbok and all of them wearing pins with the likeness of Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founder.

And right there, the Philharmonic had them. The full-throated performance of a piece deeply resonant for both North and South Koreans ended the historic concert in this isolated nation on Tuesday in triumph.

On Wednesday, North Korea’s main state-controlled daily newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, gave a brief account of the concert, with a picture of the orchestra, on an inside page. Of Lorin Maazel, the Philharmonic’s music director, it said, “His performance was very sophisticated and sensitive.”

The audience applauded for more than five minutes, and orchestra members, some of them crying, waved. People in the seats cheered and waved back, reluctant to let the visitors leave.

“Was that an emotional experience!” said Jon Deak, a bass player, backstage moments after the concert had ended. “It’s an incredible joy and sadness and connection like I’ve never seen. They really opened their hearts to us.”

The “Arirang” rendition also proved moving for the orchestra’s eight members of Korean origin. “It brought tears to my eyes,” said Michelle Kim, a violinist whose parents moved from the North to Seoul, South Korea, during the Korean War.

The piece was part of a program carefully constructed to showcase the orchestra and its tradition. A State Department official who accompanied Zarin Mehta, the orchestra’s president, on a planning trip to Pyongyang, the North’s capital, last year suggested that “Arirang” be played, Mr. Mehta said.

The emotional setting took a turn away from the political theme that had dominated the visit, which began on Monday and ends on Wednesday, when the orchestra flies to Seoul.

It was the first time an American cultural organization had appeared here, and the largest contingent of United States citizens to appear since the Korean War. The trip has been suffused with political importance since North Korea’s invitation came to light last year. It was seen by some as an opening for warmer relations with the United States, which North Korea has long reviled.

The concert brought a “whole new dimension from what we expected,” Mr. Maazel told reporters afterward. “We just went out and did our thing, and we began to feel this warmth coming back.”

He suggested that there would be a bigger impact. “I think it’s going to do a great deal,” he said. “I was told 200 million people were watching. That’s important for the people who want relations to improve.” The concert was broadcast live in many nations, including in North Korea.

“If it does come to be seen in retrospect as a historical moment,” he added, “we will all be very proud.”

Still, there was little indication that the good will generated by the visit would affect a critical issue: North Korea’s nuclear program, and efforts to determine the extent of it. At a banquet following the concert, Song Sok-hwan, the vice-minister of culture, said: “All the members of the New York Philharmonic opened the hearts of the Korean people.” He called the concert “an important occasion to open a chapter of mutual understanding between the two countries.”

It did not appear that the country’s leader, Kim Jong-il, was present at the concert. High-ranking officials did attend, including the vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the vice culture minister and the chairman of the Pyongyang People’s Committee, akin to mayor.

In Washington, on Tuesday, the White House played down the significance of the concert, while criticizing the North for failing to meet its commitments to disarm. Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, said the performance neither hurt nor helped American diplomatic efforts.

“At the end of the day, we consider this concert to be a concert,” Ms. Perino said, “and it’s not a diplomatic coup.”

At the outset, the sound of the American national anthem at the East Pyongyang Grand Theater was striking. The North Korean anthem came first, and the audience stood for both. The flags of both countries flanked the stage, which was separated from the audience by a bank of flowers. The players moved on to the prelude to Act III of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony.

Then Mr. Maazel introduced the next work, “American in Paris” by Gershwin. “Someday a composer may write a work titled ‘Americans in Pyongyang,’ ” he said. In Korean, he added, “Enjoy!” The audience, mostly stone-faced until then, grew slightly more animated.

For an encore, Mr. Maazel introduced the overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein, which the orchestra played conductorless, in homage to Bernstein, a former Philharmonic music director.

The concert evoked other orchestra missions to repressive states, like the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s visit to the Soviet Union in 1956, followed soon after by a Philharmonic visit, and the Philadelphia Orchestra’s trip to China in 1973.

At a news conference earlier in the day, Mr. Maazel drew a distinction between Tuesday night’s concert and the Philharmonic’s visit to the Soviet Union.

“It showed Soviet citizens that they could have relations with foreign organizations and these organizations could come in the country freely,” he said. “But what the Soviets didn’t realize was this was a two-edged sword, because by doing so they allowed people from outside the country to interact with their own people, and to have an influence. It was so long lasting that eventually the people in power found themselves out of power” in a country that was a “global threat.”

“The Korean Peninsula is a very small area geographically,” Mr. Maazel said, “and has an entirely different role to play in the course of human events.” Drawing a parallel, he added, “would do a disservice to the people who live here and are trying to do their art and make a better world for themselves and all of us.”

Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting from Washington.

Kim Jong Il Sends Congratulatory Message to Raul Castro Ruz

Pyongyang, February 26 (KCNA) -- General Secretary Kim Jong Il Monday sent a congratulatory message to Raul Castro Ruz, second secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, president of the Council of State and president of the Council of Ministers of Cuba.

The message said:
We extend warm congratulations to you in the name of the Workers' Party of Korea, the government and people of the DPRK on your election as president of the Council of State and president of the Council of Ministers of Cuba at the first session of the 7th National Assembly of People's Power.

The above-said heavy responsibilities entrusted to you are an expression of the deep trust and high expectation of respected Fidel Castro and the Cuban party and people for you.

Believing that the comradely and militant friendly and cooperative relations between the peoples of the two countries provided by President Kim Il Sung and Fidel Castro would steadily grow stronger in the course of carrying out the common cause of socialism, the message sincerely wished him success in his responsible work.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Supermodel Naomi Campbell Has Been Hospitalized in Brazil

Naomi Campbell in Brazil hospital

British supermodel Naomi Campbell has been admitted to hospital in Sao Paulo after flying to Brazil for treatment.

Ms Campbell, 37, is in Sirio-Libanes Hospital, where staff told reporters she was being seen by an infectious diseases specialist.

Her publicist told AP news agency the London-born model had had a small cyst removed and was now resting.

Her doctor, David Uip, said she was in hospital but did not elaborate, Sao Paulo's Folha newspaper said.

"She came to Brazil for a treatment. She's been here since Sunday," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Ms Campbell is a frequent visitor to Brazil and earlier this month celebrated the carnival in the north-eastern city of Salvador.

Her publicist said: "Following the successful [cyst] procedure, she is now resting and is looking forward to getting back to work.

"She would like to thank the doctors who have kindly looked after her."

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/02/26 18:58:50 GMT

US Interference in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, DRC Have Created 'Failed States', Says Report

Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq top index of weak states

Tue Feb 26, 2008 2:30pm GMT
By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Somalia, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq are the four weakest states in the world, according to an index of fragile nations released by two U.S. think tanks on Tuesday.

Washington-based Brookings Institution and the Center for Global Development ranked 141 developing countries according to their performance in four core areas -- economic, political, security and social welfare.

Using those indicators, the 10 weakest states were listed as Somalia, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo -- all classified as "failed states" and found to be the most insecure -- Iraq, Burundi, Sudan, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Liberia and Ivory Coast.

"Given the role that weak states can play as incubators and breeding grounds for transnational security threats, building state capacity ... should be a higher priority for U.S. policy," said the report.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States, studies indicated weak states posed a big threat to world security and the Bush administration said dealing with those fragile nations was a national priority.

But the Brookings Institution's Susan Rice, who co-authored the index, said there had not been a big enough focus, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where the bulk of the critically weak states were located.

"The overarching point is that for all of our newfound rhetoric after 9/11, the U.S. government has yet to generate any kind of coherent approach to strengthening the capacity of weak states," Rice, who is also an adviser to Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, told Reuters.

A weak state is defined as one lacking the capacity to establish and maintain political institutions, to secure their populations from violent conflict and control their territories or to meet the basic needs of the population.

The report also included a "watch list" of countries that should be monitored by policymakers because of their significant weakness.

Those included Syria, Algeria, the Philippines, Cuba and Paraguay, but also G8 member Russia, which ranked 65 on the overall list of weak states as well as China at 74th and India at 67th.

"We have to get out of the habit of assuming that states we have come to believe are rising powers -- China, Russia and India -- are all strong states," said Rice.

"We need to understand that there are states to watch that we are accustomed to saying are out of the woods," she added.

The study said the index reflected a direct link between low income and the weakness of a state, pointing to a need for poverty alleviation to become a greater priority.

"Poverty fuels and perpetuates civil conflict which swiftly and dramatically reduces state capacity. Yet still lacking from the George W. Bush administration are any comprehensive strategies to address poverty in the world's most challenging institutional environments," said the report.

It also urged that aid should be better targeted in failed and weak states with an emphasis on improving security.

For example, in Iraq and Afghanistan where the United States is most deeply involved since Sept. 11, the report said U.S. troop levels were inadequate to stabilize both nations.

There had also not been a great enough effort to improve economic recovery and governance in those nations and too little was devoted to job creation and social services.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

CIA Agent Behind the Assassination of Patrice Lumumba Speaks Out

CIA Agent Behind Lumumba Assassination Speaks Out

PANW Editor's Note: Devlin was featured in the BBC documentary film "Cuba, Africa, Revolution" that was screened for the first time in Detroit at the Feb. 23 "US Imperialism & Africa Conference sponsored by the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI). The first part of the film highlights the role of Cuba in response to the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the post-independence Prime Minister of the former Belgian Congo.
Mr. Devlin had no problems with bribery, blackmail or other varieties of skulduggery — “all part of the game” for the C.I.A. under Allen Dulles at the height of the cold war, he said. But he thought the order to kill Patrice Lumumba, the charismatic Congolese politician the Eisenhower administration feared would become an African Fidel Castro, was both wrong and stupid, a desperate plan that could easily go awry and devastate American influence in Africa.

“Worldwide it would have been disastrous,” he said.

So he stalled. And Lumumba’s political rivals eventually killed him without the C.I.A.’s help.
(Such episodes aside, he defends the C.I.A’ s achievements in Congo, including support for the rise of Mobutu Sese Seko, who would become a symbol of corruption in his 32-year rule. “We prevented the Soviets from taking over a very large part of Africa,” he said.)

COMMENT: Now we know the "official story" about Lumumba's assassination.

February 24, 2008

Memories of a C.I.A. Officer Resonate in a New Era


LOCUST GROVE, Va. — Larry Devlin is 85 now, suffering from emphysema and tethered to an oxygen tank, his Central Intelligence Agency career long behind him. But he recalls with sunlit clarity the day in Congo nearly half a century ago when he was handed a packet of poisons, including toxic toothpaste, and ordered to carry out a political assassination.

“I was totally taken aback,” said Mr. Devlin, sitting in his den, looking out on a small lake in the Virginia countryside. He uttered a mild profanity, he recalled, and asked, “Isn’t this unusual?’ ”

It was 1960, and Mr. Devlin, the C.I.A.’s young station chief, was in the middle of a political maelstrom as Congolese factions fought for control of the newly independent nation and the United States jostled with the Soviet Union for influence and control over deposits of critical metals.

Mr. Devlin had no problems with bribery, blackmail or other varieties of skulduggery — “all part of the game” for the C.I.A. under Allen Dulles at the height of the cold war, he said. But he thought the order to kill Patrice Lumumba, the charismatic Congolese politician the Eisenhower administration feared would become an African Fidel Castro, was both wrong and stupid, a desperate plan that could easily go awry and devastate American influence in Africa.

“Worldwide it would have been disastrous,” he said.

So he stalled. And Lumumba’s political rivals eventually killed him without the C.I.A.’s help.

Today, Mr. Devlin’s story has new resonance amid a renewed debate about the proper limits of C.I.A. actions to counter a different global threat and their cost to the United States’ standing. The C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes of harsh interrogations is under criminal investigation.

Congress has been reviewing the C.I.A.’s secret detention program and the transfer of terrorist suspects to countries that practice torture, though so far no inquiry has approached the sweep of the Church Committee in the Senate in the 1970s, whose reports quote Mr. Devlin under a pseudonym, Victor S. Hedgeman.

“I think there’s an eerie and disturbing correlation between that era and this one,” said John Prados, an intelligence historian and the author of “Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the C.I.A.”

He said the threat of terrorism now, like the threat of communism then, was used to justify extreme measures that “later become controversial legally, morally and politically.”

Mr. Prados said the historical record supported Mr. Devlin’s account of his actions, which he described last year in an autobiography, “Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone.”

“I believe there’s no reason to doubt that Mr. Devlin conspired to defuse the orders to kill Lumumba,” he said.

Mr. Devlin, who was station chief in Congo and in Laos during the Vietnam war and retired from the agency in 1974, said he never used force during interrogations and worried that endorsing such methods might put Americans at greater risk of mistreatment.

But he has watched the tribulations of a younger generation at the agency with sympathy. He can attest not only to the quandary of a field officer directed to take extreme measures, but also to the personal cost that can follow.

Because his name got associated with the plot against Lumumba, Mr. Devlin was later told, he himself was made a target for death by both a Black Panther faction and Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the Venezuelan terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal.

“I can put myself in the shoes of the people who did the waterboarding and who thought they’d get information to save lives,” Mr. Devlin said. “I’ve often wondered: How would I react if I thought I had the man who knows about a bomb?”

The son of an Army colonel and a schoolteacher in San Diego, Mr. Devlin recalls being shaken when he read “Mein Kampf” at the age of 16 and paying 25 cents to hear lectures on foreign affairs at the local Unitarian church.

After serving in combat in North Africa and Europe during World War II, he went to Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. One Sunday afternoon, he was summoned by a professor, William Y. Elliott, a historian and longtime adviser to presidents.

Waiting for him was McGeorge Bundy, who went on to be the national security adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Mr. Bundy urged him to join the recently formed C.I.A. to keep the cold war from turning hot.

His first job was as what C.I.A. calls a “noc,” for nonofficial cover, traveling in the guise of a writer of travel guides. At the age of 38, he landed in the tumult of Congo, where he would be jailed, beaten and narrowly escape death on several occasions.

In September 1960, Mr. Devlin received a cable advising him that he would get an important message from “Joe from Paris.” The envoy turned out to be Sidney Gottlieb, the agency’s club-footed poisons expert, whom Mr. Devlin had met during operations to install listening devices overseas, and who would later become notorious for mind-control experiments using L.S.D.

Mr. Gottlieb said that the assassination had been approved by President Eisenhower but admitted that he had not seen the presidential orders. He explained that the poisons, including the spiked toothpaste, had been chosen to make the death appear to result from natural causes.

“Morally I thought it was the wrong thing to do,” Mr. Devlin said. “And I thought it was a very dangerous thing to do. If I screwed up and brought in the wrong person and it got out that the United States had done this, I had visions of even Africans who didn’t like Lumumba wiping out every white man they could find. It might have cost hundreds of lives.”

Mr. Devlin said he figured that if he refused his orders outright, his C.I.A. bosses would simply call him home and send a more willing replacement. So he listened sagely and hid the poisons in his office safe, scribbling a warning on the box — “just in case someone got in and tried the toothpaste.”

After Mr. Lumumba was executed by opponents in January 1961, Mr. Devlin decided he needed to get rid of the poisons in his safe. He took the box to a rocky stretch of the Congo River where no one was likely to stumble upon it, and tossed it in.

Such episodes aside, he defends the C.I.A’ s achievements in Congo, including support for the rise of Mobutu Sese Seko, who would become a symbol of corruption in his 32-year rule. “We prevented the Soviets from taking over a very large part of Africa,” he said.

Though he retired from the C.I.A., Mr. Devlin stayed in Africa and worked in the diamond business for 12 years, until 1988. His boss was Maurice Tempelsman, a Belgian-American diamond importer best known as the companion of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the last 15 years of her life.

“Diamonds are a political thing,” Mr. Devlin said. “I knew all the ministers of mines. In short, I was in a better position to negotiate than people who knew a lot about diamonds.” When he came across interesting information, he added, he passed it to his old friends in the C.I.A.

Last year, Mr. Devlin was called back to C.I.A. headquarters to receive an award honoring his career and exchanged a few words with Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the chief of the C.I.A.’s clandestine service. He has closely followed the news since Mr. Rodriguez came under investigation for giving the order to destroy the videotapes.

“I feel sorry for the guy,” Mr. Devlin said. “I think I know what he’s going through.”

Los Angeles, California
"Cuba - Un Paraiso bajo el bloqueo"

Monday, February 25, 2008

MOVE 9 Parole Hearings Set For April

February 23, 2008

MOVE 9 Parole Hearings set for April

Diary Entry by Hans Bennett

Almost 30 years after the Aug. 8, 1978 police siege on MOVE's West Philadelphia home, the remaining eight prisoners are eligible for parole. Phil Africa is asking for people to write letters of support to The Parole Board.

I received the message below from my friend Dave, who is in touch with Phil Africa, one of the eight remaining MOVE prisoners. As Dave explains, this really is an important time, so please help spread the word, and also please write a letter to the Parole Board as Phil is asking. Their imprisonment has been such an injustice, and now after 30 years, they can be released if we apply enough pressure.

Recently I have written an article on The MOVE 9 and interviewed journalist Linn Washington Jr. about covering MOVE since the 1970s. Also, Ramona Africa recently was interviewed by Uprising Radio. And of course, there is the documentary about MOVE, narrated by Howard Zinn, viewable online at Brightcove or You Tube. MOVE's website is

Stay tuned for more information and coverage in the coming months!

Parole for the MOVE 9!

Hans Bennett


Phil Africa says that the MOVE 9 can really use letters and calls to the PA Parole Board this month and next [February & March]. Letters supporting their release can make a big difference. The Board will be having a hearing in April.

After THIRTY years, our brothers and sisters are finally up for parole. If not given probation this year, they may all be forced to serve another SEVENTY. They have almost completed their minimum sentence [of the 30-100 year sentence]. Let's bring them home where they belong in August 2008!

This April parole hearing is SO important. Letters and calls to the Parole Board now can really help. Phil is asking that folks send copies of their letters to him. He wants to take a pile of copies of our letters to the hearing as a show of public support.

It is probably a good idea for folks to send letters to each of the nine Board members. The chairperson was appointed by Ed "1985 Bomber" Rendell so don't count on her getting your message to the whole Board. Their individual names are on this web page:|

Letters can all be sent to this address:

[name of Board member], Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, 1101 South Front Street, Suite #5100, Harrisburg, PA 17104-2517, tel: (717) 787-5699

Please send copies of the letters to Phil at:

William Phillips Africa #AM-4984, SCI-Dallas, 1000 Follies Rd., Dallas, PA 18612

For supporters to brush up on the history of MOVE and the "MOVE 9," this recent 45-minute talk by Ramona is great:

Letters and phone calls to the Board are needed NOW. Let's bring 'em HOME. 30 years is too much already, 70 more is unthinkable.

Peace All! Ona MOVE!!!


Hans Bennett is a Philadelphia photojournalist mostly focusing on the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners. An archive of his work is available at and he is also co-founder of "Journalists for Mumia," created to challenge the long history of corporate media bias, whose website is:

Denver: Drop the Racist Frame-up Charges Against Larry Hales NOW!

Drop the Racist Frame-up Charges Against Larry Hales NOW!

On Nov. 30, 2007 African-American police brutality and anti-war activist Larry Hales was arrested after 10 cops illegally busted into his home without a warrant and without permission, physically attacked him and handcuffed his partner to a chair. He is facing frame-up charges of "interfering with the police" and faces extended jail time for being the victim of a police attack.

Hales has been a primary organizer of a number of anti-imperialist and anti-racist events in Denver. He is a leader of the youth group FIST--Fight Imperialism, Stand Together; a founder of Colorado United Communities Against Police Brutality; and an organizer with the International Action Center and the Troops Out Now Coalition.

Hales is also a principal organizer in the Recreate 68 Committee, which is planning protests to counter the Democratic National Convention to be held in Denver in August.

At the time of the police attack, Hales and his partner Melissa Kleinman were housing a survivor of police brutality who was on parole. The man had been shot in the back by police and had filed a civil case against the Aurora police department. Hales had previously agreed to house visits by the man's parole officer, but only when the man was home.

However, when Hales told the police officers at his door on Nov. 30 that the parolee wasn't home, and asked to see the business cards that because of a city ordinance Denver police must carry and surrender upon request, he had badges stuck in his face and told that they didn't have to give him their cards.

Hales told them that they didn't have permission to come in, that the parolee was not home and that he wanted their cards. One of them scoffed and pushed the door open and him out of the way.

The cops charged into his apartment and ransacked his house. When Hales expressed concern that his cats would escape, he was shoved. When he asserted his rights, the police told him to shut up and violently attacked him, twisting his arm, grabbing him by the back of the neck, ripping out several of his dreadlocks, throwing him against the wall, and tearing off his shirt.

He was pushed down the stairs of his apartment building, against the wall and railings and out into the cold night with a half-ripped shirt, socks and thin sweat pants.

One officer squeezed his cuffs and the two had an exchange, where the officer remarked that more could be done and that Hales could end up face down on the ground, then he was hit in the stomach and thrown into the car.

The officers rolled the front windows down, left Hales in the car, told him he looked like he might hurt himself and that he would be booked as a "John Doe" and have to spend 72 hours in jail before anyone could find him. He spent the night in a freezing jail cell.

Police brutality is rampant in Denver, and this attack is part of the ongoing attacks on Black youth, from the Jena 6 to Sean Bell and countless cases of police brutality and repression throughout the country.

In addition, the police violence against such a well-known activist can only be seen as part of a continuing attempt to stifle political dissent. At a press conference in the days following the attack, Denver police brutality activist and survivor Shareef Aleem noted that police were attempting to neutralize activists related to the DNC protests.

He stated: "In the last couple of years many of us involved in police accountability work have been attacked by the police and we know that when it happens we all have to stand up."

Hales now faces a pretrial hearing on February 29 and trial on March 12 on police "interference" charges. During the arraignment, the states' attorney suggested that more charges from the incident may be pending.

For the City Attorney to continue to prosecute these charges would constitute a serious miscarriage of justice and state harassment, standing jutice on its head by blaming the victim of police misconduct and brutality. It could be seen as an illegal, politically motivated abuse of process to chill political protest both against police brutality and at the upcoming DNC.

We demand that ALL charges be dropped immediately against Larry Hales, and that there be an immediate investigation into the police misconduct and violation of Larry Hales’ and Melissa Kleinman’s rights.

What you can do:
Add your name to the petition to drop the charges, available at

Contact City Attormey David R. Fine, Judge Larry Bohning and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and tell them you want the charges against Larry Hales to be dropped.

City Attorney David R. Fine Judge Larry Bohning Mayor John Hickenlooper
phone: (720) 865-8600 (720) 865-8610 (720) 865-9000
fax: (720) 865-8796 (720) 865-8250 (720) 865-8787
address: Office of the City Attorney
1437 Bannock, St., Room 353
Denver, CO 80202 Judge Larry Bohning
1437 Bannock Street
Denver, CO 80202 Mayor John W. Hickenlooper
City and County Building
1437 Bannock Street, Suite 350
Denver, CO 80202

Fax letters on your organization or union's stationery or on your official letterhead, and send a copy to the National Justice for Larry Hales Committee at the address below. If possible, scan the letter and email it to

We will post as many letters as possible on this site.
Solicit organizations and leaders in your community to do the same.

Send posts to contacts and listservs with links to urging action
If you are in the Denver area, pack the courthouse on February 29 and March 12. Come to courtroom 151P in the Denver County Court, 1437 Bannock St, Denver, CO 80202
Donate to the Justice for Larry Hales campaign, to help with legal defense and support campaign costs. . Checks should be written to Justice for Larry Hales/IAC, and sent to the address below.

Sign the Online Petition
Send email to the Judge, the City Attorney and elected officials -
to help the Justice for Larry Hales campaign

Sign up for updates
from the Troops Out Now Coalition

National Justice for Larry Hales Committee
c/o Solidarity Center
55 W. 17th St. #5C
NY NY 10011

Cuba News Bulletin: Raul Castro Ruz Elected President of the Councils of State and Ministers; Alarcon Reelected as Head of National Assembly

Raúl Castro elected president of the councils of State and Ministers

RAÚL Castro Ruz was elected on Sunday as president of Cuba’s councils of State and Ministers during the constituent session of the National Assembly of People’s Power (Parliament), held in Havana’s International Convention Center.

After the Assembly went back into session in the afternoon, Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, reelected as president of the National Assembly, also announced that José Ramón Machado Ventura was elected first vice president of the councils of State and Ministers, and Juan Almeida Bosque, Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, Carlos Lage Dávila, Esteban Lazo Hernández and Julio Casas Regueiro were elected as vice presidents.

José Millar Barruecos was elected secretary of the Council of State.

The other 23 members of the Council of State were also announced.

Alarcón reelected as president of Cuban parliament

RICARDO Alarcón de Quesada and Jaime Crombet Hernández-Vaquero were ratified as president and vice-president, respectively, of the National Assembly, while Miriam Brito was elected as secretary of the legislative body during the constituent session that took place this morning in Havana.

With the swearing-in of the 614 deputies to the National Assembly of People’s Power of the Republic of Cuba, the 7th Legislature of this legislative body was established in Havana.

As has already been mentioned, the deputies who were elected during the general elections in Cuba last January 20 have the responsibility of selecting the president, vice president and secretary of the National Assembly, once their election has been validated, they have signed their oaths and established the supreme body.

The inaugural session was chaired by María Esther Reus, president of the National Electoral Commission, accompanied by Alina Barreiro and Tomás Amarán, vice president and secretary, respectively, of the body.

María Esther Reus reported that the composition of the deputies includes 175 members linked to production and services, workers, campesinos and cooperative workers, educationalists and healthcare personnel.

Of the total, 348 are men and 266, women. The average age of the representatives is 49 years old, but among the Assembly’s members there are 131 aged between 18-40 years old and 56% were born after the triumph of the Revolution.

Some 35.67% of the representatives are Black or mixed race, while 64.33% are white.

Deputy Fidel Castro Ruz sent his vote, duly sealed, with Deputies José Miyar Barrueco and Carlos Valenciaga. (Lisanka Gonzàlez Suárez)

Translated by Granma International

Key Address From Comrade President Raul Castro Ruz to the Cuban National Assembly, Havana, February 24, 2008

Key address by Comrade Raul Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers, at the closing session of the First Session of the Seventh Legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

International Convention Center, Havana, February 24, 2008, “Year 50 of the Revolution.”

(Translated by ESTI)


As comrade Fidel alerted us in his fundamental Reflection of last January 14th, the people’s mandate to this legislature is very clear: to continue strengthening the Revolution at a historical juncture which demands from us to be dialectic and creative.

The composition of the State Council, which has just been elected by this Assembly, raised much expectation both in Cuba and abroad. The most significant was clarified by comrade Fidel in his Message of February 18th. There is very little that I can add to what he said except to express to our people, on behalf of the Revolution’s Leadership, our appreciation for the innumerable expressions of serenity, maturity, self-assurance, and the combination of genuine sadness and revolutionary determination.

I take on the responsibility entrusted to me deeply convinced that, as I have often said, there is only one Commander in Chief of the Cuban Revolution.

Fidel is Fidel; we all know it very well. Fidel is irreplaceable and the people shall continue his work when he is no longer physically with us; although his ideas will always be with us, the same ideas that have made it possible to build the beacon of dignity and justice our country represents.

The Communist Party, a sure guarantee of the unity of the Cuban nation, is the sole worthy heir to our people’s confidence in its leader. It is the top leading force of our State and society as provided in Article 5 of our Constitution approved by referendum by exactly 97.7% of the voters.

This conviction shall become especially significant when as a fact of life the generation that founded and forged the Revolution is no longer present.

Fortunately, it is not that moment we are living today. Fidel is here, as always, with a very clear mind and his capacity to analyze and foresee perfectly intact and strengthened now that he can dedicate to studying and analyzing the countless hours he previously used to tackle the daily problems.

Despite his steady recovery, his physical condition will not allow him those endless working sessions --often separated by hardly a few hours of rest—that characterized his work practically from the moment he started the revolutionary struggle, the same that grew in intensity through the long years of the Special Period when he did not take one single day off.

Comrade Fidel’s decision, a new contribution enhancing his example, ensures as from now the continuity of the Revolution and is perfectly consistent with a life guided by Martí’s precept that: “All the glory of the world fits in a kernel of corn.”

Likewise, his determination is unchangeable with regards to his decision to continue making his contribution to the revolutionary cause and to the most noble ideas and objectives of mankind, while he has the strength to do so.

Therefore, with the certainty that I am expressing the will of our people, I appeal to this Assembly, as the supreme body of the State power, to allow me to continue consulting with the maximum leader of the Revolution, comrade Fidel Castro Ruz, the decisions of special transcendence for the future of our nation, basically those associated to defense, foreign policy and the socioeconomic development of the country.

For this and for many other reasons, I shall rather often today quote some of the fundamental ideas and concepts expressed by him in his Reflections. I avail myself of this occasion to say that we should study them for they are educational and they show his capacity to look into the future. We should always bear in mind something that Raul Roa liked to say to those close to him: “Fidel hears the grass growing and sees what is happening around the corner.”

Comrade Deputies:

I am aware of my responsibility to the people as I take on the task entrusted to me. But I am also convinced that as it has been the case until today, I can count on the support of those holding positions of responsibility at various levels, and even more importantly, I can count on the support of my compatriots without which a society like ours could not succeed.

The Assembly, in full compliance with the view of the Party’s Political Bureau, elected comrade José Ramón Machado Ventura as First Vice President of the State Council and later approved his appointment as First Vice President of the Council of Ministers.

As I explained in my proposal to fill that position, it is convenient that under the present circumstances the same comrade takes on these two responsibilities in the State and Government, as it has been the case until now.

Considering his revolutionary life and convictions, his experience and knowledge, his qualification as a leader and a human being, there is no doubt that he meets the requirements to carry out these high duties.

Likewise, the assembly has agreed, in accordance with Article 75 of the Constitution, to analyze the composition of the Government in a future session later this same year. This is a timely decision, since we are not dealing only with appointments, but rather with decisions about which changes might be required in the system of institutions pertaining to the central administration of the State, and this needs more time.

During the first 15 years of the Revolution, the State structures inherited from capitalism were adjusted as we went along to undertake the tasks imposed by the radical economic, political and social changes.

The 1960’s institutionalization process, however imperfect, enabled us to structure an articulate system corresponding to those circumstances. We were then able to put ourselves on a level with the socialist countries, in terms of both good and bad experiences.

Finally, in 1994, the most critical moment of the Special Period, considerable adjustments were made leading to the reduction and merging of institutions as well as to the redistribution of the tasks previously entrusted to some of them. However, these changes were undertaken with the rush imposed by the necessity to quickly adapt to a radically different, very hostile and extremely dangerous scenario.

In the fourteen years that have passed since then, the national and international scene has noticeably changed. Today, a more compact and operational structure is required, with a lower number of institutions under the central administration of the State and a better distribution of their functions. This will enable us to reduce the enormous amount of meetings, coordination, permissions, conciliations, provisions, rules and regulations, etc., etc. It will also allow us to bring together some decisive economic activities which are presently disseminated through various entities, and to make a better use of our cadres.

In summary, our Government’s work must be more efficient.

The Assembly has been renovated in a higher proportion than the previous legislature. The number of women deputies has grown over seven percent; they now make up almost half of the legislature, over 43%. There is also an increase from 23 to 36 in the number of those between 18 and 30 years of age, that is, the youngest, although we also have a higher number of deputies who are over sixty.

It is very significant that a higher number of deputies are directly linked to production and services, that is, workers, farmers and other laborers. The same applies to members of the armed institutions, sportsmen, artists, writers, journalists and other professionals who, together with the student leaders and the comrades working in the people’s councils make up over fifty percent of the Assembly.

These data and the simple enumeration of the tasks discharged by every one of you –from national cadres to retirees and religious leaders-- allow us to say that those meeting here are a small-scale sample of the Cuban society.

This is a basic premise albeit it cannot by itself guarantee the fulfillment of the Parliament’s mission. First and foremost an intelligent, organized, creative and strong performance is required from all members, particularly while working in the commissions where there is more time to focus on certain issues and to study them listening to a greater number of comrades.

In my visit last December to the Santiago de Cuba district that elected comrade Fidel a deputy, I said that the massive support enjoyed by the revolution demands from us that we question everything we do in order to improve on it.

I also said that if the people are firmly united behind a single party, this must be more democratic than any other, and so must be the entire society. This society, of course, can be improved, as any other human work, but it is undoubtedly full of justice and everybody in it has the opportunity to express their views and, better still, to work for the materialization of whatever we all agree.

There is no reason to fear discrepancies in a society such as ours, where its very nature precludes the existence of antagonistic contradictions, since the social classes that make it up are not antagonistic themselves. The best solutions can come from a profound exchange of differing opinions, if such an exchange is guided by sensible purposes and the views are uttered with responsibility.

That’s how the majority of Cubans have acted, from our best scientists, intellectuals, workers, farmers and students to the most humble housewife.

At different stages of the Revolution, including the present, when objectively assessing both the strategic issues and the difficulties of their everyday lives, they have all set an example of political maturity and awareness of realities. Meanwhile, they are increasingly convinced that the only source of wealth for the society rests with the productive work, above all when man and resources are efficiently employed.

The international doomsayers forecasting the death of the Revolution tried to capitalize on the criticisms made during the study and discussion of the speech made on July 26th in Camagüey. They overlooked the fact that it was debate and criticism within socialism. This was confirmed way over, a few months later, by the results of our electoral process which concluded last January 20th.

It is also true that some people are inclined to talk before being properly informed. These make demands without thinking whether they are talking rationally or irrationally. As a rule, they agree with those who claim rights without ever mentioning duties. As Fidel put it in his Reflections of January 16th: “…they expect miracles from our determined and dignified Revolution.”

We do not deny their right to expression, provided they do it with respect for the law. In the face of such an expression we can neither be extremists nor naives. When the motivation is despair due a personal problem or the lack of information, we should be patient and offer the necessary arguments.

But if anyone intends to put pressure motivated by their wishes to be in the limelight or by ambition, demagoguery, opportunism, simulation, arrogance or any other human weakness of a similar nature, we must face them resolutely, avoiding offense but calling a spade a spade.

We should never forget that the enemy never sleeps, that it is always willing to use our carelessness to do us harm, even if some are bent on ignoring it.

We shall not avoid listening to everyone’s honest opinion, which is very useful and necessary simply because of the sometimes ridiculous noise made every time a citizen of our country says something that the very noise makers would pay no attention to if they heard it anywhere else on the planet.

We are aware that such messages are intended to mislead or at least to create confusion; but in case anyone has had the outlandish notion to scare us off with them, I shall say that the reason we are still here --and we will continue to be here-- is that our people and its Revolution have always faced up, without fear or hesitation and with the truth, all sorts of aggressions by the greatest military and economic power in the world.

Many examples could be offered; suffice it to mention the incontrovertible dignity of our Five Heroes in their stance before every attempt at breaking their will during a decade of unjust incarceration.

I avail myself of the occasion to express my gratitude, on behalf of our people, for the countless expressions of solidarity, respect, affection, encouragement and legitimate concern over the leader of the Revolution conveyed by Heads of State and Government, political parties, non governmental organizations, outstanding intellectuals and ordinary people from every corner of the world after the publication of his Message last Tuesday. We shall never fail their confidence in us.

At the same time, we take due notice of the offensive and overtly interfering statements of the imperialists and some of their closest allies.

As could be expected, the State Department hastily announced the continuation of the blockade in accordance with the policy of the present Administration.

Others, with certain nuances, are bent on conditioning relations with Cuba to a “transition” process aimed at destroying the work of so many years of struggle.

Little do they know our people, so proud of its full sovereignty and independence!

The Revolution is the work of free men and women and it has been permanently opened to debate; but it has never given an inch to pressures nor has it ever been influenced by them, whether big or small.

I shall only add that Fidel’s Reflections, published on Friday, are a masterly response to all of them.

As for the difficulties the country faces domestically, the decision on their priorities and the pace of their solution will invariably be linked to the available resources and the deep, rational and collective analysis made by the corresponding Party, State or Government institutions. In those cases where it is deemed necessary, there will be a previous consultation with the people in the corresponding sector of society, or even with the entire people, if it were a very transcendental issue.

Some things need time for they should be thoroughly studied since a mistake brought about by improvisation, superficiality or haste could have substantial negative consequences. Good planning is most important for we cannot spend more than we have. Then we should organize things well, and work in an orderly and disciplined fashion; this is fundamental.

When discussing these issues we should always bear in mind Fidel’s deep conviction, reiterated in his Message of February 18th, that “…the present problems of the Cuban society require more variables for each concrete problem than those contained in a chess game. We cannot ignore one single detail; this is not an easy path to take, if the intelligence of a human being in a revolutionary society is to prevail over instinct.”

I insist on the importance of discipline. We must all be demanding and back up those who are. If it were necessary, we should help them improve their methods and support them resolutely before the collective.

You should understand that I am not talking of acting with extremism or of accepting abuse of authority or injustices; what I mean is that we should all do what corresponds in the strengthening of discipline and social order. If we don’t do it our people stand to suffer the consequences.

It is true that there are objective limitations; we know them well and we suffer daily trying to solve them as soon as possible. We are aware of the enormous efforts required by the strengthening of the economy, which is an unavoidable premise to advance in any other area of society, given the real war waged by the United States administration against our country.

Their intention has not changed from the triumph of the Revolution, i.e. to make our people suffer as much as possible in order to force it to abandon its decision to be free.

This is a reality that far from intimidating us should continue making us stronger. Instead of using it as an excuse for our mistakes, it should serve as encouragement to produce more and to offer better services, to make efforts to find the ways and means to remove any deterrent to the productive forces and to the exploitation of the significant potential offered by savings and by the correct organization of labor.

From the days of the independence wars until the present, our history teaches us that the greater the difficulties the greater the need for order, discipline and unity. The lacks of cohesion as well as disorder and impunity have always been among the worst enemies of a fighting people.

I repeat that the country’s priority will be to meet the basic needs of the population, both material and spiritual, based on the sustained strengthening of the national economy and its productive basis without which, I’ll say it again, development would be impossible.

An example of this is the measures proposed to increase the agricultural and livestock production and to better their marketing, which have been analyzed in every province by a large representation of those in charge of implementing them, including the producers themselves.

Thus, we shall continue to act with regards to every issue of cardinal importance for the country.

We are examining, for instance, everything related to the timely implementation of comrade Fidel’s ideas on “the progressive, gradual and prudent revaluation of the Cuban peso,” exactly as he said it on March 2005. At the same time, we keep delving into the phenomenon of the double currency in the economy.

These are all very sensitive and complex issues when, as in our case, there is a firm willingness to protect and to steadily increase the incomes and savings of the population, particularly of those least favored.

To avoid traumatic effects or inconsistencies, any changes related to the currency shall be made with a comprehensive approach, mindful, among other things, of the wage system, the retail prices, the entitlements and the subsidies running in the millions presently required by numerous services and products distributed on an egalitarian basis, such as those provided by the ration card which under the present conditions of our economy become irrational and unsustainable.

It is our strategic objective today to advance in an articulate, sound and well-thought out manner until the wages recover their role and everyone’s living standard corresponds directly with their legally earned incomes, that is, with the significance and quantity of their contribution to society.

As Fidel pointed out in his Reflection of January 16th: “…nor should we give away anything to those who could be producing and who don’t produce, or who produce very little. Reward the merits of those who work with their hands or their minds.”

We are simultaneously studying other issues following a priority, and the pace of progress will depend on their complexity and the resources available.

We have the basics to find the best possible solutions within our material possibilities and organizational capabilities, which shall continue to grow: an educated people, with a high political culture and firmly united under the principles summed up by comrade Fidel in his Reflections of January 24th, when he said:

“For me, unity means sharing in the struggle, the risks, the sacrifices, the aims, ideas, concepts and strategies assumed after discussion and analysis. Unity means a common struggle against annexationists, quislings and corrupt individuals who have nothing in common with a militant revolutionary,” end of quote.

I insist on what I said here during the previous session of this Assembly: “For the enormous possibilities of this unity to turn into tangible results, it is indispensable that all the institutions and organizations work with the necessary integration.”

Institutionalization, --I repeat-- institutionalization is an important support of this decisive purpose and one of the pillars of the Revolution’s invulnerability in the political field; therefore, we must work for its continued improvement. We should never believe that what we have done is perfect.

Our democracy is as participatory as few others are, but we should be aware that the functioning of the State and Government institutions is not yet as effective as our people rightfully demand. This is something we should all think about.

On December, I referred to the excess of prohibitions and regulations, and in the next few weeks we shall start removing the most simple of them. Many had had the purpose of preventing the emergence of new inequalities at a time of general shortages, even when that meant relinquishing certain incomes.

The suppression of other procedures, even if they might sound simple to some, will take more time for they require a more comprehensive study and changes of certain legal regulations, in addition to the fact that some of these are influenced by measures taken against our country by successive U.S administrations.

Changing subject, there is also the tendency to apply the same recipe everywhere. As a result of this --and this is perhaps its worst consequence-- many believe that the solution of every problem demands a national measure.

In many respects, local initiative can be effective and viable; this much has been proven with the direct distribution of milk, as I said last July 26th. This experience has already been extended to 64 municipalities from 13 provinces in the country; 40 of them are completely applying this system. We are also advancing in the remaining municipalities and in the dairy industry.

In addition to ensuring prompt and proper distribution of this essential product, which is the main objective, in the last few months of this past year said program allowed us to save more than 6 thousand tons of powder milk whose purchase would have cost in excess of 30 million USD, at the average price in the period of 5 thousand USD a ton.

Additionally, the hard currency expenses were reduced in 2.6 millions, including in this figure the cost of 600 thousand litters of fuel.

Other examples could be taken from the most diverse sectors; therefore, we must continue to think of similar solutions at all levels of the administration.


On a day like this, in 1895, responding to a call from Martí, the Old and the New Generations resumed the struggle for the independence thwarted by the United States military intervention. Half a century later, we again managed to be united and to fight against the same enemy.

It was not by chance that this date was chosen, 50 years ago, for the first broadcasting by Radio Rebelde on the Sierra Maestra, nor that this was the date in 1976 when we proclaimed our Socialist Constitution.

On this 113th anniversary of the Necessary War, we are faced with many really difficult challenges. In order to face them, let’s bear in mind what Fidel wrote in his Reflections published last December 10th, when he alerted us:

“For every Cuban, Martí’s frowning countenance and Maceo’s withering look point to the arduous path of duty, not to a more comfortable life.”

Thank you, very much.