Congratulations to the People of Thailand


December 3, 2016

Congratulations to the People of Thailand

by AFP

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn becomes Rama X of Thailand’s Chakri Dynasty, but will not formally be crowned until after his father’s cremation, which is expected next year.

King-Rama

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn became the King of Thailand late Thursday, opening a new chapter for the powerful monarchy in a country still mourning the death of his father.

The 64-year-old Prince inherits one of the world’s richest monarchies as well as a politically febrile nation, 50 days after King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death.

After weeks of complex palace protocols the Prince was invited by the head of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to ascend the throne in an event broadcast on all Thai television channels.

“I agree to accept the wishes of the late King… for the benefit of the entire Thai people,” said Vajiralongkorn, wearing an official white tunic decorated with medals and a pink sash.

The sombre, ritual-heavy ceremony at his Bangkok palace was attended by the Chief of the NLA, junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha, and the powerful 96-year-old head of the privy council, Prem Tinsulanonda.

Red-jacketed courtiers looked on as a palace staff member, shuffling on his knees, presented the new King with a microphone through which he delivered his few words of acceptance.

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His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn then prostrated himself, hands pressed together in respect, to a small shrine topped by a picture of his father and mother —Her Majesty Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara.

He becomes Rama X of Thailand’s Chakri dynasty, but will not formally be crowned until after his father’s cremation, which is expected next year.

Bhumibol’s reign, which ended on October 13, spanned a tumultuous period of Thai history pockmarked by a communist insurgency, coups and street protests.

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It also saw breakneck development which has resulted in a huge wealth disparity between a Bangkok-centric elite and the rural poor.To many Thais, Bhumibol was the only consistent force in a politically combustible country, his image burnished by ritual and shielded by a harsh royal defamation law.

The United States offered its congratulations to the new King, saying it looked forward to strengthening ties with Thailand. “We offer our best wishes to his majesty and all of the Thai people,” the State Department said.

“His father, King Bhumibol, ruled the Kingdom of Thailand with vision and compassion for 70 years and was a great friend of the United States. The United States and Thailand enjoy a longstanding, strong, and multifaceted bilateral relationship, and we look forward to deepening that relationship and strengthening the bonds between our two countries and peoples going forward.”

Into the limelight

Monks chanted blessings at Buddhist temples to mark the new monarch’s ascension — an era-defining moment for most Thais who for seven decades knew only Bhumibol as their King.

His Majesty Vajiralongkorn does not yet enjoy the same level of popularity.He spends much of his time outside of the public eye, particularly in southern Germany where he owns property.

He has had three high-profile divorces, while a recent police corruption scandal linked to the family of his previous wife allowed the public a rare glimpse of palace affairs.

Thursday’s ascension ends a period of uncertainty since Bhumibol’s death prompted by the Prince’s request to delay his official proclamation so he could mourn with the Thai people.

Thailand’s constitutional monarchy has limited formal powers but it draws the loyalty of much of the kingdom’s business elite as well as a military that dominates politics through its regular coups.

Analysts say  His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn, untested until now, will have to manage competing military cliques.

In a brief televised address after the ceremony, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who as army chief led the 2014 coup, praised the new King “as the head of the Thai state and heart of the Thai people.”

The Thai monarchy is protected from criticism by one of the world’s strictest lese majeste laws, carrying up to 15 years in jail for every charge of defaming the King, Queen, heir or regent.

That law makes open discussion about the Royal Family’s role all but impossible inside the Kingdom and means all media based inside the country routinely self-censor. Convictions for so-called “112” offences — named after its criminal code — have skyrocketed since the Generals seized power in 2014.

Experts say most have targeted the junta’s political opponents, many of whom support the toppled civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

The emergence of Yingluck’s brother Thaksin in 2001, a vote-winning billionaire seen by many of the rural poor as their champion, prompted the recent round of political conflict. The army and royalist establishment have toppled two governments led by the siblings, accusing them of nepotism and corruption.

 

The Trump Effect and the UMNO-Red Shirt Buffoonery


November 27, 2016

The Trump Effect and the UMNO-Red Shirt Buffoonery on the Malaysian Economy

by Koon Yew Yin

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

 

I can see clearly that there are various push and pull forces at work in our economy. Some of these forces are linked to political ones which economists attached to banks or universities do not want to talk about publicly. But they are happy to do so privately or in coffee shops with their good friends.

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Other forces are more obvious but it is still useful to emphasise them in case they are easily forgotten.

Let me flag some of these which will be of special concern to investors in the market.Firstly, there is of course the “Trump effect”.

Readers will recall that I had predicted – contrary to many analysts – that the US stock market would head higher post-Trump. Well, for now, my prediction has proven to be correct.

One of the world’s foremost business newspapers, The Financial Times, in a lead article on November 26 noted that when Wall Street traders departed for Thanksgiving, they could celebrate a rare achievement. On Monday and Tuesday, the four most widely cited indices of US stocks — the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Nasdaq Composite and the Russell 2000 —hit all-time highs simultaneously. The last time a “grand slam” took place was on New Year’s Eve 1999, at the height of the tech bubble.

The article noted the breakthrough for stocks in the US which had moved sideways for two years since the Federal Reserve stopped its quantitative easing programme, seemed to confirm a regime change. Prompted by Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, the narrative has changed to preparing for an era of tax cuts, deregulation and fiscal stimulus, after eight years of markets being guided by the Fed’s historically low interest rates.

I also predicted in my article “Trump is better for business than Hillary, that the Malaysian stock market and other Asian markets will also strengthen as a result of the US economic recovery.”

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The UMNO Redshirt Buffoons

Specifically I had written: “History has shown that when the Dow goes up, almost all the stock markets in the world, including KLCI, go up.”

 Well, the second part of my prediction has still to happen.On November 10 when my article was published, the KLCI stood at 1652.74. At the close of November 25, it stood at 1627.26 – a drop of 25 points.

Of course it is much too early to say what will happen next but my prediction that our market will move in tandem with the US market – that is upwards during the next 12-18 months still stands.

There are two big dark clouds hanging over the market. One is the big black hole left by 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) which most analysts are aware of but are too afraid to talk or write about openly for fear of being branded as anti-national or taken under Sosma and put into solitary confinement.

I will not go into the size of the 1MDB financial hole but will leave it to our accounting experts to do the mathematics. My main concern is not so much the actual financial loss incurred by the government.

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CIC of the Red Shirt Buffoons

Although this will go down in history as one of the biggest scandals carried out on a nation’s financial guardians and gatekeepers, frankly the actual financial loss is really not that big and it is one which the nation’s treasury can well afford.

What we cannot afford is the loss of confidence among foreign and local investors which cannot be easily quantified. Should this lack of confidence continue, then my predicted Malaysian market upturn will be undermined.

There is a second dark cloud – and this is the Red Shirts phenomenon. We have now seen the Red Shirts political ‘mat rempits’ come to centre stage in our political life. I am not only referring to Jamal Yunos but also his supporters and leaders who are now engaging in the use of force, threats of violence and other provocative actions in Parliament, Komtar and elsewhere and aimed at whoever they see as opposed to their vision of party, racial and religious dominance.

Everyone who has access to a smartphone will have seen the behaviour of these street and parliamentary hooligans and how they are destroying the peace and harmony of the country. Well, perhaps not everyone. It seems like the country’s leaders including the Prime Minister, the entire Barisan Nasional cabinet, the Inspector-General of Police, the Attorney-General and others responsible for law and order in this country have not seen these videos.

Or if they have viewed them, they do not care.

Let me be very blunt. The business community and investors in the country – foreign and local – do not read Utusan Malaysia or any of the Malay papers. They do not listen to Radio Malaysia or view TV3.

They care about how their money and the market is affected by these thugs and hooligans. They can make up their own mind on which way our national politics is going.

And if the Red Shirts phenomenon gets worse, we can expect some of them to take out their businesses and money.

Koon Yew Yin is a retired chartered civil engineer and one of the founders of IJM Corporation Bhd and Gamuda Bhd.

 

More on Freedom Fighter Fidel Castro


November 27, 2016

More on Freedom Fighter Fidel Castro

Why black Americans love Fidel Castro

When it came to matching words with deeds on the topic of racial equality, the most stalwart leader of the Western hemisphere, over the course of the 20th century, was Fidel Castro.

I say this as a black American who came to bond closely with Latin America as an adult, living in Mexico for almost two years, traveling and staying with families in the Dominican Republic, and making more than half a dozen visits to Cuba, where I strolled through its enchanting cities and drove into the far reaches of the countryside, forging relationships with its people, especially those of darker hue. The author with Fidel Castro (Photo courtesy of Ronald Howard)

Now we are again feeling the heat of the burning topic, the man, who bonded black Americans to his Caribbean island. Yes, it was Fidel Castro who—even though out of power now for years—is angering so many Americans, especially police officers, over his signature action three decades ago.

It was Fidel who gave amnesty to Joanne Chesimard, known now as Assata Shakur, still wanted in the 1973 killing of a New Jersey state trooper, Werner Foerster, in a highway shootout. Shakur was convicted but was busted out of prison in 1979 by comrades. As a leading figure in the Black Liberation Army, which took bolder actions than even the Black Panther Party did, not only getting into gun fights with cops but holding up banks, Shakur became a legend in her time, a Robin Hood of the black masses.

On December 17, in an historical moment, President Barack Obama announced he would seek to normalize relations with Cuba. On the same day, federal and New Jersey police officials repeated their offer of $2 million for information leading to the capture of Shakur. Last year the feds made Shakur the only woman on the FBI Most Wanted Persons list.

You can be sure on black websites and newspapers there will be attention given to the increasing calls for Shakur’s capture or negotiated return. That attention will come with a history.

Castro did not just provide a haven for fugitive revolutionaries, who made the argument, accepted by perhaps a majority of Cubans under Fidel Castro, that blacks were an oppressed people fighting for fair treatment and an end to police abuses in their communities.

No, he was a kind of Martin Luther King with power. For example, before the Cuban revolutionaries led by Castro took over Cuba in 1959, there was fairly rigid racial segregation through the country, including, for example, Santa Clara in the interior of Cuba.

When I was in Santa Clara in early 2001, a woman there told me how black and white Cubans in the 1950s and earlier had walked along different paths around the beautiful downtown Vidal Park. (All it took in Cuba to be white was to have straight hair, be fair-complexioned and not want to be called “negro.”)

This racial division largely ended under the government of Fidel Castro. Moreover, Castro made an effort to reach out to blacks in the US.

When he came to New York in 1960 for a United Nations meeting, Castro got upset at the management of the hotel where he was staying, the Shelburne, and he packed his bags and took his entourage up to the Theresa Hotel in Harlem, where he famously leaned out of the window and waved to the black residents of the community. Thousands of Harlemites called out his name in a bonding-with-power they were totally unaccustomed to.

In the 1980s, before the end of the Cold War, Fidel sent some 25,000 troops to fight in Angola, on the side of those opposing the then-apartheid government of South Africa. This aspect of Castro’s time in power was little reported in the US media. Fidel militantly opposed racist South Africa at a time when the US was diplomatically supporting it.

It was I who in 1987 first reported that Shakur had actually escaped to Cuba and was residing there, protected by Castro. I spent several days with Shakur at her apartment and walking along the Malecón; my Newsday colleague, photographer Ozier Muhammad, photographed her as she posed provocatively outside the US Interests Section, hands up in victory.

As you know, things have changed since then.The Soviets stopped supporting Cuba; and then the Soviet Union collapsed to the ground. For two decades there has been speculation that one day a liberal American president might move to end the now-half-century embargo against trade with Cuba and allow Americans to travel there freely.

Republicans and many Democrats were outraged at what they called a concession by Obama to the communism they said Cuba—through the retired Fidel’s brother Raul—still represents.

Muffled in the discussion on cable channels are the feelings of kinship and appreciation that black Americans hold for Fidel Castro.

Many of those who harbor such tenderness toward the bearded one do not shout it into microphones because they don’t wish to be accused of being anti-American. But sympathy with Fidel can be seen in decades of blacks voting in Congress. Harlem’s Congressman Charles Rangel, for instance, has been among the most progressive of all representatives when it has come to policies toward Cuba, over the year having proposed an easing of the embargo. And few on the national scene have been more militant in opposing the embargo than black California Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

In the coming days, Assata Shakur will be mentioned more frequently in news stories about Cuba, especially in the northeast. There are growing demands that the United States find a way to bring her back and to put her in jail. And in their stories, New Jersey newspapers are noting how Assata Shakur is being treated as a heroine by many in the black communities of America.

Federal officials and others are aware of how Shakur has become a kind of folk hero among black Americans and even blacks in the Caribbean, with a number of parents over the past 25 years naming their daughters Assata.

Adding to the appeal for blacks is Assata Shakur’s connection to the late rapper Tupac Shakur, who is related to Assata through his male ancestors (though not by blood) and is considered a nephew.

When I wrote about Tupac Shakur for a now defunct black weekly newspaper (the City Sun) I spoke with a top New York federal official, Ken Walton, who said Assata Shakur damn well better be careful of her every move—then, in 1996, and for the rest of her beating-heart life.

“He told me in measured, angry words that he ‘or somebody like me’ will one day capture Assata and bring her back to the States.”

This I know to be true: Every time a fist was raised for Assata Shakur, sympathy was expressed also for the now old Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

By the way, Assata is not the only revolutionary received by Fidel with open arms. He also gave asylum to Nehanda Obiodun (formerly Cheri Laverne Dalton), the only person still wanted in the early 1981 $1.5 million Brinks armored vehicle holdup in Nanuet, New York, in which two police officers were killed.

These days it is not easy to find out where Assata Shakur and Nehanda Obiodun are or even what they are thinking. I hung out with Obiodun and wrote about her in Cuba in the 1990s, but I was blocked at every turn when I tried to get her and Shakur to meet with me and a group of Stony Brook University students I took to Cuba in January of 2012.

Obiodun has been almost completely off the radar in recent years, out of mind. But Assata Shakur has not been. “New Jersey hopes Cuba-US relations thaw will help extradite former Black Panther,” screamed a headline of Atlantic City News on December 18.

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And so, given all this as background, black Americans are not only reflecting nostalgically on Fidel Castro. Some, perhaps many, black police officials publicly declare their desire that Shakur be captured and returned to jail in the US. But other blacks have respect for the courage she showed as she lived in exile for some 30 years, bearing in her torso the remnants of a bullet she took during that shootout in 1973.

Most of all, you can bet, there is a broad agreement with Barack Obama—that the time for hostility with the Cuban government—no longer headed by Fidel Castro but largely by his brother Raul—should be over.

 We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

Farewell to Freedom Fighter Fidel Castro


November 26, 2016

Farewell to Freedom Fighter Fidel Castro

http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21710922-cubas-communist-leader-who-outlasted-ten-american-presidents-has-died-age-90

TO MEET Fidel Castro was to notice, first of all, his sheer physical presence. He was tall, erect and had a high, domed forehead that made him look naturally imperious. He was strong: as a youth he was awarded a prize as the best all-round sportsman in Cuba. He was brave to the point of recklessness; as a boy, he once rode a bicycle straight into a wall to prove his mettle. And he was determined, absolutely convinced of his own rightness, intolerant of contradiction and immune to compromise. These characteristics he had inherited from his father, a Spanish migrant who brought with him to Cuba the innate stubbornness of the gallego and who became a prosperous landowner.

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The son, who was born illegitimate in Birán, in rural eastern Cuba, in 1926, added a prodigious ambition for power. Even the Jesuits who taught him saw danger coming in the big, headstrong boy, whose country slang from the cane fields of Oriente marked him out among his urban classmates. The Cuban revolution as it turned out—though not as many of its supporters had originally hoped—was above all an expression of Mr Castro’s will and the unbridled exercise of his massive ego. In his cold-war heyday, he turned his small island into a pocket superpower, fomenting revolution across Latin America, dispatching armies to Africa and brazenly sheltering fugitives, political and criminal, from the United States.

Fidel—he was one of the few world leaders widely referred to by his Christian name—was lucky, too. He might have been killed many times: as an aspiring leader in the gangsterish ambience of Havana student politics; in his quixotic assault on the Moncada barracks in 1953, where some of his followers died; or in the desperate early weeks after the botched landing of the Granma, the overloaded pleasure boat that transported his tiny force of 82 rebels from Mexico three years later. Then there were the hundreds of attempts by the CIA to assassinate him, ranging from the farcical—an exploding cigar—to the near-misses: a dose of botulism that burst before it could be added to a milkshake by a barman at the Habana Libre (ex-Hilton) hotel.

Had it not been for a fortuitous amnesty for political prisoners decreed by Fulgencio Batista, the dictator he went on to overthrow, he might have rotted for decades in prison. Then there was Cuba’s island condition, protected from continental armies of liberation (except, as it turned out, Mr Castro’s own). This had allowed Spain to hang on to its “iever-faithful isle” for seven decades after it lost its mainland American empire. It would allow Mr Castro’s regime to survive the fall of the Berlin Wall despite the bankruptcy of his revolution. As it was, the most serious attempt to unseat him, the ill-fated Bay of Pigs expedition organised by the CIA in 1961, became his crowning triumph: submachine-gun in hand, he directed the operation that saw his revolutionary armed forces kill or imprison the invaders, deprived of air support by the hesitation of President John F. Kennedy, before they could leave the beach.

A Marxist of convenience

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That was not the Americans’ only mistake. In 1952 Batista, a former army sergeant, staged a coup which ended Cuba’s sole experiment with democracy after just a dozen years. The Eisenhower administration, obsessed with an all but non-existent communist threat in the Caribbean, backed what would be a deeply corrupt and brutal regime. Batista’s coup thwarted Mr Castro’s certain election to Congress and a promising career in democratic politics. Instead, by skilled propaganda and force of will, he turned himself into the undisputed leader not just of a ragtag band of armed guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra but of a broad and politically variegated movement for the restoration of democracy and the 1940 constitution.

The guerrillas in the mountains, together with sabotage and strikes across the island, broke the spirit of Batista’s army and government. Batista himself fled, on New Year’s Eve 1958, taking most of the Central Bank’s reserves of dollars and gold. On arriving in Havana with his band of bearded revolutionaries in January 1959, Mr Castro installed a provisional government headed by a liberal judge. Its initial programme was populist: big wage increases, rent reductions and a radical land reform. But this was merely to buy time, while he built up the armed forces and security services—including the powerful political police, the G2—and cemented an alliance, begun in secret in the sierra, with the Communist Party. Before the revolution was even a year old, the “bourgeois elements” in the government were ousted, or resigned; over the next few months, critical media outlets were silenced one by one. Within six years, all private property, down to corner shops, was expropriated. By then, most of the middle class had been definitively alienated and many of its members had fled to Miami.

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Mr Castro did not always hate the United States. He had gone on honeymoon there, buying a white Lincoln Continental and feasting on T-bone steaks. A few weeks after coming to power he visited America again, this time in combat fatigues, but eating hot-dogs like a native and offering to be friends. Eisenhower preferred to play golf, leaving his vice-president, Richard Nixon, to meet Mr Castro and to identify in him “those indefinable qualities that make him a leader of men”.

By then, however, neither side had illusions about the other. In 1958 in the sierra, having watched Batista’s air force drop American-supplied rockets and bombs, he wrote to Celia Sánchez, his closest companion, “I swore that the Americans are going to pay dearly for what they are doing. When this war is over, I’ll start a much longer and bigger war of my own: the war I’m going to fight against them.” For its part, the Eisenhower government was quick to set in train measures aimed at overthrowing him. Nixon thought Mr Castro “either incredibly naive” or “under communist discipline”.

Fidel was a Marxist of convenience, a Cuban nationalist by conviction and a Latin American caudillo by vocation. His hero was José Martí, the Cuban patriot who fought against Spain but was correctly wary of American covetousness towards Cuba. In the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States hijacked the independence rebellion Martí had started and turned Cuba into a neo-colony. Under the notorious Platt Amendment, it reserved the right to intervene in the island at any time. That was revoked in the 1930s, but American domination of the economy and the vital sugar industry continued until the revolution. It brought development—a large middle class lived well—but also deep inequality.

Fidel embraced Martí’s nationalism and anti-imperialism, but not his belief in social democracy. He turned to communism because it was useful as a tool of absolute power of a kind enjoyed by no run-of-the-mill strongman, coming, as it did, with the shield of Soviet protection (plus Soviet weapons and Soviet oil) for the duration of the cold war. The American trade embargo was even more useful: it allowed him to blame the imperialist enemy for the woeful economic failures of his own central planning.

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It was his brother, Raúl (younger by five years), who was the orthodox communist, as well as the quiet organiser who turned the tiny rebel army into a disciplined armed force of 300,000 in the two years after the revolution. It was Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Mr Castro’s Argentine companion in arms, who was the Marxist theoretician.

In the early days, at least 550 (and perhaps 2,000 or more) opponents of the revolution were executed. Many of them were Batista henchmen whose demise was popular. Once the revolution was secure, Mr Castro’s rule was repressive though not especially bloody. Nothing and nobody was allowed to diminish his power. “There are no neutrals,” he declared. “There are only partisans of the revolution or enemies of it.” And the revolution, of course, was Fidel.

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Many believe that he allowed Guevara to perish in Bolivia, or could have done more to try to save him, turning an awkward and unbiddable subordinate into a useful myth. Mr Castro was a troublesome ally for the Soviets. He took their money but not always their advice. He first embraced crash industrialisation, then dropped it in favour of the drive for a 10m-tonne sugar harvest. Both involved serious economic reverses. Though sometimes persuaded to decentralise economic decision-making (which usually boosted output) he always ended up concentrating all power in his own hands again.

He gave Cubans first-world education and health services, and did not care about the cost of these to the economy. But he offered neither opportunity nor prosperity, least of all freedom. Dissenters faced a grim choice: the risky crossing to Florida, or the grim jails of Cuba’s gulag. Most chose silence. Eventually Mr Castro would open a safety valve, letting those who might stir up trouble go abroad.

Fidel was the inspirational leader, the man of action, the master strategist, the obsessive control-freak who micromanaged everything from hurricane preparedness to the potato crop. He was, above all, tireless. In marathon sessions, often beginning after midnight and lasting until after dawn, he would interrogate visitors about every facet of the political situation in their country. He loved details—the statistics of food production in every Cuban province or the properties of Chinese electric rice-cookers. He kept them in his head, and would recite them in those interminable speeches.

He was careful to discourage an overt personality cult. He kept his private life, most of his nine children and Dalia del Soto Valle, whom he married in 1980, largely hidden from public view. He promoted younger men only to discard them if they aspired openly to succeed him. His was the overwhelming presence, brooding like a weather system over Cuba’s dilapidated streets; and his was the voice, droning on in televised speeches for hour after hour, alternately rising to a peak of righteous indignation and falling to a whisper of injured innocence. He never listened, said his sister, Juanita, who left for Miami.

The revolution abroad

Mr Castro operated on the world stage as no other Latin American leader ever had since the days of Francisco Miranda and Simón Bolívar, the South American independence heroes of two centuries ago. He turned himself into an important player in the global conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, between capitalist democracy and communist dictatorship. In seeking the protection of Soviet missiles he came closer than anyone else to turning that ideological confrontation into nuclear war.

Under his leadership, Cuba, an island of just 10m people, became a “Latin American Sparta” (in the words of Jorge Castañeda, a Mexican critic of the revolution). In the 1960s he aided a generation of idealistic young Latin Americans who perished in doomed guerrilla ventures whose main achievement was to help trigger takeovers by bloodstained anti-communist military dictatorships. A decade later Mr Castro dispatched his armies to Africa, to combat apartheid but also to prop up corrupt or repressive (but anti-American) regimes in places like Ethiopia and Angola. In the 1980s he armed and aided leftist revolutionaries in Central America. With the end of the cold war, in the past two decades, it has been Cuban doctors rather than soldiers that have been sent abroad, first as missionaries for Fidel’s revolution and then as earners of scarce foreign currency.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union brought great privation to Cuba. The economy contracted by a third. Many forecast the imminent demise of Mr Castro and his revolution. He responded by declaring a “Special Period in Peacetime”, cover for some limited and pragmatic reforms. He reluctantly allowed Cubans to set up small businesses, such as restaurants, home repairs and farmers’ markets. He also legalised the use of the dollar and sought foreign investment, especially in developing a mass tourism industry. Once again, as it had under Batista, Havana’s hotels became a venue for sex tourism, as young black women sold their bodies to escape the revolution’s privations. Remittances from Cuban-Americans, tourism and nickel mines, run by a Canadian firm, replaced sugar as the mainstay of the economy. The health-care and education systems were tapped for hard-currency earnings, too, with the development of biotechnology and of medical tourism. State companies were given more autonomy to manage their budgets and to trade. All these measures helped Cubans to get by, but they introduced new inequalities and resentments, and loosened the regime’s control over daily life.

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Then, unexpectedly, new benefactors appeared, in the form of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and, to a lesser extent, a booming China. Venezuelan subsidies grew to match the old Soviet largesse. With the economy growing again, Mr Castro reversed or reined in many of the economic reforms and became far more selective about foreign investment. As he had several times since 1959, he veered back towards Jacobinism, recruiting lumpen youth as “social workers” to wage war against corruption. In 2003, with the world distracted by the American invasion of Iraq, he launched a new political crackdown, arresting and imposing long jail sentences on 78 democracy activists, and executing three would-be migrants who hijacked a ferry in a desperate attempt to get to Florida. Two years later he declared the Special Period over.

Half-life in Havana

One evening in July 2006 Cuban state television broadcast a terse statement from Mr Castro saying that he had to undergo emergency abdominal surgery and was temporarily handing over his powers to a collective leadership headed by Raúl, his deputy. In 2008 Raúl formally replaced Fidel as Cuba’s president, and three years later as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party. He pushed out Fidel’s protégés and would-be successors, including Carlos Lage, the de facto prime minister. And he proceeded, quietly but methodically, to prepare Cuba for the time when a Castro would no longer be in charge.

Raúl is temperamentally Fidel’s opposite, a tidy, practical man, lacking his brother’s messianic streak. He is Sancho Panza to Fidel’s Don Quixote. They even looked the parts (Raúl is said to keep statues of Cervantes’s heroes at his house). There were no more late-night meetings. Raúl announced economic reforms (officially called “updating”) that abolished many of the petty restrictions suffered by Cubans, who could once again buy and sell houses and cars, stay in tourist hotels and have access to mobile phones and the internet. He cautiously began to dismantle Fidel’s centrally planned economy: more than 500,000 Cubans are now self-employed, working in small businesses or as private farmers. The island began to move inexorably towards a mixed economy. Some of Raúl’s advisers talked enthusiastically of the Chinese and Vietnamese models.

Fidel didn’t think much of that. China was a decadent consumerist society that had lost its values and its commitment to preserving equality, he thought. But he admitted to a foreign visitor, in an unguarded moment, “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us any more”. Fidel kept his criticisms largely private. He wrote a newspaper column in Granma, the official organ, for a while, but its main subject matter was his increasingly incoherent ramblings about what he saw as the apocalyptic problems facing the world. He became a spectral presence in his compound in Siboney, a leafy enclave in the west of Havana of mansions built by the sugar barons he had expropriated. He was occasionally photographed with visiting leaders looking increasing frail and doddery. But he had outlasted ten American presidents and all his enemies.

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True, he lived long enough to watch his revolution start to be dismantled. He even saw Cuba restore diplomatic relations with the United States in 2015 and an American president, Barack Obama, visit Havana and broadcast a call for the Cuban people “to choose their government in free elections”. Of course he did not approve. “Cuba’s president has taken steps in accordance with his prerogatives and powers,” he wrote stiffly in a letter published in 2015. But, he added, “I don’t trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged any words with them,” he growled.

No other man in the 20th century had ruled as long or, through a mixture of charisma and tyranny, dominated his country so completely. On one hot summer night during the days of penury that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, a crowd of disgruntled youngsters on Havana’s malecón, the seafront drive, threatened to overwhelm the police and start a riot. Fidel appeared out of the night, and talked them out of it. Even many of those Cubans who abhorred him were in awe of him. That will not apply to any of his successors, not even Raúl.

A piece of advice after BERSIH 5.0


November 24, 2016

A piece of advice after BERSIH 5.0

by Azly Rahman

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Malaysians, we need to come back to our senses. Our strength will still come from diversity and the respect and cultivation of talent. We should rejoice and celebrate the achievements of this nation for that beautiful concept of unity in diversity; not to organise any rally that spews hatred and invoke the horrors of the May 13, 1969 tragedy.

 

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The recent yellow-shirt 60,000 strong-mass rally in Malaysia, urging cleaner elections and the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak ended in both warring parties winning – the protesters got their message across for the fifth time and the government got to test-drive the 2012 Special Offences Act (Sosma), its new anti-terrorist law, for the first time.

The leader of BERSIH (‘Clean’ in Malay), Maria Chin Abdullah, a long-time human rights activist, is now in solitary confinement, detained like a suspected Islamic State (IS) terrorist while investigations on her alleged links with the American intelligence-gathering-legit-government agency, the CIA, are being carried out. Exactly how she is linked will be a puzzle and a mystery, like those of the world-famous money-laundering and high-profile case of the Malaysian 1MDB.

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But the government, as always, is winning. I attribute this perpetual victory to one concept – hegemony. Rousseau and Gramsci have written a lot about this idea of ‘common sense’. The control over Man, machinery, media, and money.

The former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled Malaysia with an iron glove for 22 years mastered this concept. Today he marches with the BERSIH protesters, outside of the real of hegemony he created, and trying to figure out how to play the game of counter-hegemony and feels what it is like to play with authority.

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Najib learned politics from Mahahtir Mohamed

Ironically, the authority he is trying to bring down was a child of his own creation – his Frankenstein. Or rather, culturally speaking, his Badang. It is a tough and complicating act and one which seemingly has no poetic justice in sight.

Recently, in a US-based publication, I wrote about the representation of the Malays on the eve of the red-shirt-yellow-shirt confrontation:

“ … Aren’t Malaysians tired of seeing the Malays being represented as buffoons, stupid, amok-prone, close-minded, rempits, kris-kissing fools, Ali Baba forty-thieves, rejects, religious fanatics, red-shirts, whatever shirts… it is a clever production and reproduction of the Malay ruling class, both feudal and wannabe-feudal… so that the Jebat aspect of the Malay – the amuck, the wannabe-sultan, the misogynic, the sex-maniac-royal groper and rapist of ancient Malacca, the royal-jet-setting-good-for-nothing-ancient-kings, the hedonistic, the grotesque epicure, the gangster, the absurd – is pushed forward and propagated to strengthen the Tuah aspect – the fool that followed the foolish orders of the foolish and idiotic Malacca sultan, the womaniser-cum-religious leader – the bad hombre of Malay culture – these are the twin representation of the Malays. A laughing stock – the Malays are made to become…” Source here.

So – how now brown cow? What are Malaysians to do after yet another rally? After yet another governmental pounding on the protesters with arrests a la Machiavelli?

The way forward

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Dr. Azly Rahman–An Educator for Peace

As an educator for peace and an advocate of long-haul bloodless revolutions focusing on changing consciousness through education and self-reflection, through living an ethical, morally-compassed, and intelligible life for the collective-good of society, I would suggest the following as a long-term plan for a radical change:

It is better to focus on raising your children well in adjusting to a changing, globalising, and very diversifying Malaysian and global society. We must work harder to improve race relations, be stronger to fight corruption and power abuse, and be more intelligent in designing policies that will benefit the poor, the marginalised and the powerless.

We must teach our children to focus on ways to understand others, improving their English language skills, perfecting their moral compass, encouraging them to think well and good about children of other races and religion, to encourage them to make friends with people of other races, to be grateful that schools offer the great opportunity to love and respect teachers of different races.

Teach them to learn about the dangers of generalising, stereotyping, and projecting hate that would lead to mass deception, to encourage each child to learn about other cultures and religion, and to teach them that all of us in Malaysia are now Malaysians and not this or that group of immigrants.

We all are migrants in time and space and in history and that all of us are human beings with emotions, struggles, challenges, history of joy and despair, memory of pain and pleasure of living, and that all of us are merely of differing skin colour tone and born to speak different languages and to believe in different things about salvation and that we are all travelers in this life.

We cannot allow Malaysia to come to a point in which riots such as those race-based against the police to take root. We cannot allow the Malaysian version of #BlackLivesMatter to be the impetus for urban violence.

We are all these and will not need moments of history where we cultivate hate for the bigger picture of oppression we do not understand. We may all be pawns in this great political game of big-time plunderers and multi-ethnic robber-barons skilled at mass deception and distractions. Today, the level of corruption and the growing cases of mass corruption and power abuse that are going unpunished have made Malaysia a critically ill nation.

We should be grateful that we are still alive and breathe daily and that we must think happily and joyfully like Malaysians in order for each and every one of us to prosper in peace. We cannot travel the path of America in which racism is on the rise and of late especially in places such as Texas, Islamophobia is brewing.

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Malaysians, we need to come back to our senses. Our strength will still come from diversity and the respect and cultivation of talent. We should rejoice and celebrate the achievements of this nation for that beautiful concept of unity in diversity; not to organise any rally that spews hatred and invoke the horrors of the May 13, 1969 tragedy.

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Let us design a safer journey towards a progressive and harmonious Malaysia, beyond for example, the red T-shirt red-river of blood march of some mangled manufactured propaganda of Malay dignity.

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My Thanksgiving wish is to see a saner and more peaceful America as well as Malaysia – two countries I have loved and will continue to love. On that note: Have a blessed Thanksgiving, my fellow Americans!

Ignominious ‘Victory’ for Najib and Zahid


November 22, 2016

Ignominious ‘Victory’ for Najib and Zahid

 by Lim Teck Ghee

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As to be expected, the combined forces of UMNO and some BN leaders adept at political spinning are crowing that they have won a famous victory by their ‘success’ at containing the BERSIH protest rally on 19 November. And some ‘independent’ officially linked media commentators and analysts are playing ball to this fiction by claiming that the peaceful nature of the assembly was because of “the steps taken by the authorities” to ensure that there would be no untoward happening.  

On which planet are these people living? Every possible provocation and trick was tried by UMNO and the authorities beholden to their political master to prevent Bersih protestors from converging and exercising their right of peaceful assembly and lawful dissent. The preferred weapon of de-legitimization and demonization of BERSIH was the Malay media and JAKIM-controlled mosques. This propaganda artillery was principally targeted at the Malay community.

 Closely following the blatant attempt at compelling the Malay community to view the rally through racial lenses was the high level strategy aimed at undermining the larger public’s confidence and participation. This strategy included the initial demands, which rapidly escalated to harsh warnings, by the Inspector General of Police; admonitions and ultimatums from UMNO’s leaders; threats of punishment directed against civil servants and university students who may have contemplated participating; instigation of UMNO-friendly traders to use the court of law to stop the BERSIH rally; and a myriad of other dirty tricks, including the resort to over the top scare mongering implying the possibility of violence and bloodshed should the rally proceed.   

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Jamal Yunos and his Red Shirts were supposed to be UMNO’s trump card in ensuring that the BERSIH rally would not take place. Hence the turning of the official blind eye and refusal to act against him and his supporters, despite his numerous hate speeches, calls for the shedding of innocent blood, and various intimidatory actions directed at the BERSIH convoy during its seven-week roadshow to promote the BERSIH 5 rally.

When it became clear with each passing day closer to the rally that BERSIH organizers and supporters would not be cowed into surrendering their right to dissent, a change in the UMNO game plan was needed. UMNO members were given the go-ahead to join Jamal’s band of political rempits. Surely a force of 300,000 troopers – promised by Jamal on the eve of the rally – confronting BERSIH’s supporters and the promise of violence and ‘flying parang’ would impress on BERSIH’s supporters to stay at home.  And wouldn’t a crowd of 300,000 in their red shirts marching in counter protest also be the most potent image of UMNO’s hold over the Malay masses?

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 So when the rally finally took place was it such a clear victory for Najib, Zahid and the status quo; and a defeat for BERSIH and others seeking reform and change?  Unofficial media accounts estimate the number of BERSIH participants at more than 50,000 with thousands more unable to reach the main convergence areas due to Police road closures and barricades put up.

The thinly-veiled plot to label it as a Chinese-orchestrated and Chinese-dominated rally also fell flat. Malays made their way to the rally in large numbers from different parts of the country and some of the most fiercely anti-Government rhetoric and arguments for a change of government were by Malay participants.

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 The contrast between Malay participation in the Redshirt and BERSIH rallies could not have been more striking. Redshirt participants – even with UMNO’s blessing and strong support – probably did not exceed 8,000. It was certainly a smaller number compared with their yellow shirted counterparts.

 It is not from size alone that one can draw deductions. Many among what appears to have been a participant-for-rent grouping lacked the stamina and fortitude to press their demands on the BERSIH participants and made their way home quickly when they were not allowed to bully or pick up fights. BERSIH participants on the other hand were a much more determined and clearly not-for-sale group, committed to their cause and staying on until the end.

The presence of so many young Malays concerned for their own future as well as that of their community’s and challenging UMNO will be the main reason for the nightmares and sleepless nights that UMNO’s leadership must now be experiencing after BERSIH 5.

 What this group of young Malays has experienced will be widely shared in social media and the Malay heartland. No amount of counter propaganda from UMNO can take away their sense of accomplishment at passing this test of moral courage or detract from the brave way in which they stood up for clean government and clean elections while rejecting the crude racist and religiously-bigoted accusations hurled at Bersih’s leaders.

What Do Foreigners Really Think of Government And BERSIH?

 Besides the national constituency, there was one other audience that Najib and Zahid wanted to impress – that of foreign governments and businesses whose continued support the BN Government is increasingly reliant for survival.

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 Some years from now when the foreign despatches sent from Kuala Lumpur are revealed over Wikileaks or some other whistle-blowing outfits, I wonder what the Ambassadors and envoys to this country will have written to their governments about the state of democratic freedom in Malaysia under these two leaders and this particular episode.

Among other questions, I am sure that they must be puzzled – as with many Malaysians – why it was not possible for our Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to direct the Police to ensure that the Red Shirts movement hold their counter rally at a different time or a different location to prevent them from clashing with Bersih supporters. Would this no-brainer instruction be seen as interfering with the freedom of assembly of Jamal and his men?  Or perhaps the Home Ministry could not issue this directive since the Police are an ‘independent force’ acting without any interference whatsoever from their political master? 

 Or could it be that the two top leaders did not have the national interest, or even BN’s, at heart – only UMNO’s – when they engineered this ignominious victory for Najib’s survival and UMNO’s right wing.