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U.S. blockade overwhelmingly rejected at United Nations

Although the world is currently facing many challenges - climate change, earthquakes, hurricanes, pandemics, and the threat of nuclear war - rejection of the United States economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba was heard loud and clear in the high level segment of the UN General Assembly, which concluded September 25.

Several countries expressed their support for Cuba during the plenary session. For example, Jorge Arreaza, Foreign Minister of Venezuela - one of the nations that has been most affected by the United States' interventionist foreign policy - described as unilateral and illegal the economic measures imposed by Washington on his country and nations like Cuba, which has suffered under the blockade for over 50 years.

Mozambique's permanent representative to the UN; Gaspar Ismael Martins, Angolan Ambassador to the UN; Deputy Foreign Minister of Nicaragua and the country's permanent representative to the UN, María Rubiales; as well as Timor-Leste's permanent representative, María Helena Pires, all called for an end to the blockade.

Vietnam's Foreign Minister, Pham Binh Minh, stated that the unilateral policy against Cuba is inappropriate and called for its immediate lifting.

Likewise, Wilfred Elrington, minister of Foreign Relations of Belize, noted that for over half a century the Cuban people have been the victims of an unjust, flagrant, and illegal unilateral embargo.

Foreign Minister of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Saleumxay Kommasith, described the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States as positive, going on to express the country's hope that such efforts will intensify and soon lead to the lifting of the blockade, which will not only provide real benefits for both peoples but also the world in general.

President of the Democratic Republic of Sao Tomé and Príncipe, Evaristo do Espirito Santo Carvalho, expressed his nations desire to renew the call for the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States, as well as the lifting of the blockade, which has inhibited the island's development for decades.

Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, one of the Caribbean islands devastated by recent hurricanes, expressed his solidarity with Cuba and other countries of the region affected by this natural phenomenon.

Other leaders, including Prak Sokhonn, Cambodian Minister of Foreign Relations and Maxine Pamela Ometa McClean, Foreign Minister of Barbados, also expressed their support for Cuba at the UN.

Ibrahim Yacoubou, Niger's Foreign Minister; Augustine Phillip Mahiga, Minister of Foreign Relations of the United Republic of Tanzania; and Mark Anthony Brantley, Saint Kitts and Nevis' Foreign Minister, called for an end to the blockade during the plenary session.

Some 20 heads of state or government and foreign ministers also called for the lifting of the U.S. blockade of Cuba, prior to the high level segment.

For example, Foreign ministers of the Bahamas, Darren Henfield; Laos, Saleumxay Kommasith; the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Ri Yong Ho; Surinam, Yidiz Pollack-Beigle; Grenada, Elvin Nimrod; and Jamaica, Kamina Johnson-Smith, all called on the U.S. to put an end to its inhumane policy; as did ministers of Foreign Affairs of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Mark Anthony Brantley; Chad, Hissein Brahim Taha; Tanzania, Augustine Philip Mahiga; Niger, Ibrahim Yacoubou; Trinidad and Tobago, Dennis Moses; and Burundi, Alain Aimé Nyamitwe.

Meanwhile, Pollack-Beigle, speaking before the forum, recalled that the entire world rejects the sanctions imposed on Cuba by 11 successive U.S. administrations.

During his speech Brantley defended the Cuban people's right to live in dignity and peace, while Moses warned that the U.S. blockade constitutes a threat to the island's sustainable development.

For his part, Taha described the over 50 year-long blockade as unjust and counterproductive, especially given the reestablishment of bilateral relations between Havana and Washington.

Johnson-Smith also highlighted the unjust nature of U.S. sanctions "which have limited the capacity of a hard-working people to participate in legitimate trade, travel, and realize international financial transactions."

Last year, not a single nation voted against the resolution to put an end to the blockade which has proven unproductive from all angles, stated Suriname's representative, who went on to describe the hostile policy as a violation of international law, sovereignty and self-determination.


The United States and North Korea Are Edging Into Increasingly Dangerous Territory

US and South Korean destroyer ships travel in the western Pacific Ocean in May of 2017. (Reuters / Courtesy of the US Navy)

“There’s battle lines being drawn,” Stephen Stills sang in the 1960s about the war in Vietnam. Today those same words can be applied to the escalating confrontation between the United States and North Korea over the latter’s nuclear-weapons and missile programs.

That conflict will be front and center when President Donald Trump pays his first state visits to Japan and South Korea in November. In Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe—Trump’s closest friend in the region—just won a smashing reelection victory, Trump will be honored with an audience with the country’s aging emperor and his usual golf game with the hawkish Abe.

But in Korea, where there is far more ambivalence about Trump’s policies, antiwar groups and unions—many of which backed President Moon Jae-in’s election campaign last spring—are planning major rallies to greet him. As a precursor to what’s to come, South Korean activists this week in the southern port of Pusan handed out leaflets reading “US Troops Go Home!” to US soldiers arriving for another round of military exercises with the South Korean military.

They have good reason to be concerned. Listening carefully to the Trump administration and the government of Kim Jong-un over the last week, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the two sides are trying to signal the limits of their policies—and their patience. Nobody is sure whether these statements are a prelude to the diplomacy long promised by Trump’s national-security team, or the opening salvos of what will be a bloody and destructive war if the situation explodes.

Trump, who appears to have stopped tweeting about Kim, is leaving the policy pronouncements to H.R. McMaster, his national-security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, his CIA director.

Both men have been warning for weeks about the possibility of a risky “preventive” war that would theoretically destroy North Korea’s nuclear and missile capability and—in a strategy known as “decapitation”—take out Kim and his military leadership team in Pyongyang. (As if to underscore that threat, a team from the Navy’s SEAL Team Six, which assassinated Osama bin Laden, was aboard the nuclear submarine USS Michigan as it participated in recent bilateral maritime drills with South Korea.)

Last week, in separate appearances before the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, McMaster and Pompeo made clear that Trump’s endgame is the termination of the North’s nuclear program, by any means necessary. Trump “is not going to accept this regime threatening the United States with a nuclear weapon,” McMaster told the organization, which has supplanted the American Enterprise Institute as the spiritual home of the neocons.

McMaster also ruled out the suggestion, made by some former US officials, that Trump should accept the North as a nuclear power, like Pakistan and Israel, and build a system of deterrence similar to the containment policies of the Cold War.

“Well, accept and deter is unacceptable,” said McMaster, who first gained his fame as a counterinsurgency innovator in Iraq during the Bush “surge” of 2008. “And so, this puts us in a situation where we are in a race to resolve this short of military action.” He repeated his bottom line twice: “The only acceptable objective is denuclearization.”

Pompeo signaled that US intelligence has concluded that the North is closer than ever to building a capability to place a nuclear weapon on an ICBM and lob it great distances. “I expect they will be closer in five months than they are today, absent a global effort to push back against them,” he said, adding that “from a US policy perspective, we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving that objective.”

He also argued that the United States viewed North Korea as a dangerous threat even if its rockets can’t reach the continental United States. “There are enormous US interests in South Korea and Japan and in Asia, as well,” he said, speaking of the vast string of US Navy, Air Force, and Marine bases that ring North Korea.

But, in an odd aside for a man threatening war, he added that “Intelligence isn’t perfect, especially in a place like North Korea,” making it possible that the United States could be “off by months or a couple of years in our understanding.” (“Hell of a thing for anyone in this [administration] to be considering a first strike on North Korea while the CIA director notes intel ‘isn’t perfect,’” Ankit Panda, a senior editor at The Diplomat, tweeted in response.)

The intense focus by McMaster and Pompeo on military action has led many observers to wonder whether Trump has decided to abandon the negotiations promised since the beginning of the crisis by his top officials at the Pentagon and the State Department, James Mattis and Rex Tillerson.

In August, they co-authored a highly unusual op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in which they essentially offered to open negotiations with Kim without preconditions, including the North’s immediate abandonment of nuclear weapons. Talks were possible, they said, if Kim would “signal his desire to negotiate in good faith” by ceasing North Korea’s tests and missile launches for a period of time. However, it’s unclear that such an offer is on the table any longer, even as both Mattis and Tillerson continue to insist that diplomacy is their chosen route.

For its part, the North, which has recently taken to calling Trump “mentally deranged,” has rejected the idea of total denuclearization and instead argued that the United States should make the “right choice” by recognizing it as a nuclear state. That would lead to a “way out” of the current standoff, Choe Son-hui, the director-general of the North American department of North Korea’s foreign ministry, told a recent conference in Moscow attended by several Americans.

South Korean officials who were there told the Yonhap wire service that Choe stated that the North “will never give up its nuclear weapons as long as the US’ hostile policy, including military activities, sanctions and pressure, continue.” Further details of her speech were broadcast on the Russian-state media outlet RT.

“Our weapons are designed for the protection of our homeland from the constant nuclear threat from the US,” Choe said, adding that her government “won’t supply nuclear weapons to third parties, notwithstanding its withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).” Moreover, “despite quitting NPT, we are committed to the idea of non-proliferation of our nuclear weapons.”

Choe’s emphasis on the United States’ “hostile policy” offers a ray of hope, says Suzanne DiMaggio, a former United Nations official and a senior fellow at New America who spoke on the same Moscow panel as Choe. In a long string of tweets on October 23, DiMaggio wrote that “there is a ‘way out.’ The US needs to abandon its hostile policies” and “[s]top provocative military exercises & nuclear threats.”

The United States’ priority, DiMaggio added, should be to get talks underway by first engaging in bilateral “talks about talks,” without preconditions, so both sides can “clarify positions” and “explore what’s possible.” And “while not abandoning denuclearization as [an] end goal,” the United States “should set it aside” because “it’s currently outside realm of possibility.”

Instead, she urged that the Trump administration focus on “achievable” goals, such as deterrence and non-proliferation, and then “pursue talks to address” the policies the North considers hostile. While “this would be a longer, arduous discussion,” involving a peace agreement and security guarantees, it’s better than the alternative, she offered.

“We are in dangerous territory,” warned DiMaggio, one of a group of former US officials and intelligence officers who met informally with North Korean officials from time to time, in her Twitter analysis. “In Washington policy making circles, talk of kinetic options is increasingly heard,” she continued (kinetic is a term for lethal military operations). “The longer this course persists [or] intensifies, the greater the chances for spiraling into military conflict by design or miscalculation.”

Tim ShorrockTWITTERTim Shorrock is a Washington, DC–based journalist and the author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing.


The Invention of Christopher Columbus, American Hero

How the founding fathers turned Christopher Columbus, a mediocre Italian sailor and mass murderer, into a historical icon.


By Edward Burmila


A statue of Christopher Columbus is shown at New York's Columbus Circle, August, 2017. (AP Photo / Bebeto Matthews)


In 1892 The Youth’s Companion—a national magazine for kids edited by Francis Bellamy (the socialist minister better known for writing the Pledge of Allegiance)—offered its readers a program to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. Every school in the nation, the magazine solemnly intoned, was to follow it to the letter.

Students and war veterans were to gather around the school flagpole at 9:30 am and begin by reading President Benjamin Harrison’s ode to Columbus, followed by the flag raising, the singing of “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” a Bible reading chosen by local religious dignitaries, and finally performing an original Columbus Day song commissioned for the occasion.

Columbus’s quadricentennial was 100 years in the making, and it would take nearly another century for a more critical and historically accurate picture of Columbus to creep into the American consciousness.

The American Revolution created the Columbus most of us over the age of 30 learned in grade school. Prior to the late 18th century, he was a historical footnote with no connection to the 13 colonies. An Italian, he sailed under a Spanish flag and landed in no part of the modern-day United States. Yet when the need to develop a national history with no discernible connection to Britain arose during the Revolution, early Americans seized upon him. He was a blank slate on whom post-Revolution Americans could project the virtues they wanted to see in their new nation. Then, as now, the process of writing Columbus was one of defining what it means to be American.

In 1775 Phillis Wheatley, a 14-year-old free African-American girl, wrote a poem to George Washington that so moved the general that he distributed it widely. In it “Columbia” was used as an allegorical representation of the American nation, no doubt a riff on the female figure of Britannia. Though written examples of “Columbia” as old as 1761 exist, young Wheatley’s correspondence with the most popular man in the colonies made it, in today’s parlance, go viral.

Soon Columbia and Columbus were appearing in songs, poems, and essays in newspapers around the colonies. Historian Claudia Bushman cataloged nearly 100 of the surviving odes, most of which are awful. Columbus went from a minor figure in the history of European exploration to an American hero almost overnight.

Why? Even then, people knew that Europeans, including Vikings and Portuguese fishing fleets, had visited or sighted North America before Columbus. And other explorers of Columbus’s era have better claims to “discovery” of the land that we now call the United States. But the politics of the Revolution disqualified the other contenders. Henry Hudson was British. Giovanni Caboto (anglicized as “John Cabot”) sailed for Britain. Juan Ponce de Leon was already in use as a hero in Spain. Giovanni da Verrazzano met an end unbefitting any proper national hero, having been eaten by Carib Indians in 1526.

Columbus had flaws as well. Until his death, he publicly insisted that he had in fact landed in East Asia as he originally intended. He was neither an especially talented mariner nor a success at founding a colony in the New World. Other than to allow him to begin bouncing around the Caribbean doing capricious and cruel things to its inhabitants, his famous voyage accomplished little.

Yet almost nothing was known about Columbus in the American colonies at the dawn of the Revolution, and this worked in his favor. The few written records of his voyages, including a biography by his son Ferdinand and a 16th-century history by Bartolome de Las Casas, were unavailable in the New World and were not translated into English until much later. The only detailed history of Columbus and his voyages widely available in colonial libraries was written by a Scotsman, James Robertson, in 1777. The author took a racist, ethnocentric tone, depicting Columbus as an explorer of noble intent bringing civilization to the savages. Importantly, Robertson also historicized Columbus as a man stifled by the rigid ways of the Old World and yearning to set his own course. The metaphor was not subtle, and revolutionary America embraced it.

Columbus-mania swept the nation beginning with the war, because he became, with the help of Robertson’s history and the flood of epic poems and odes to him, a symbol for the go-it-alone, trailblazing spirit of the American people. Adopting “Columbia” as an informal name for the budding nation implied that, like Columbus, the colonies were shedding the yoke of the Old World. Historical accuracy was irrelevant.

Towns and streets beyond counting, including state capitals in South Carolina (1786) and Ohio (1812), were named for him. In 1784, King’s College in New York City restyled itself Columbia University. Many publications—Columbian Magazine (1786), Columbian Museum (1791), the Columbian Register, the Columbian Weekly Register—appropriated his name. The political organization that eventually became the powerful Tammany Hall political machine in New York was founded in 1786 as the Columbian Order. In 1791, the Territory (later District) of Columbia was established as the national capital. A year later, Robert Gray, sailing the Columbia, scouted the Pacific Northwest, christened the Columbia River, and named the entire region Columbia (which survives north of the border today as British Columbia). And in 1798, Joseph Hopkinson wrote the original national anthem, “Hail Columbia.”

Two events conspired to ensure that the American affection for Columbus was no passing fad. First, Americans turned the tricentenary of Columbus’s 1492 voyage into a massive celebration. Statues and monuments began appearing around the country. New York, Boston, and Philadelphia all held parades led by costumed actors portraying Columbia and Christopher Columbus. Who better to lead the nation’s first opportunity to celebrate a history that was not connected to Britain and had not happened within living memory?

Rather than fade, the mythologization of Columbus only intensified. Joel Barlow’s epic (and nearly unreadable) poem The Columbiad (1807), for example, was narrated by an angel. Judging by the popularity of the poem, few at the time thought attributing divine guidance to Columbus (read: America) was overwrought.

The second key turning point in weaving Columbus into the fabric of American identity was the publication in 1828 of Washington Irving’s The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. This stunningly inaccurate book purported to be a history and codified the version of Columbus who “sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety-two” taught to generations of American children. Exemplary of Irving’s mythmaking was the mangling of Columbus’s motivation for the voyage of 1492. The real Columbus studied Portuguese sailors’ maps, concluded that Southeast Asia lay just beyond the map edges, and set out to prove it. Irving’s Columbus sailed to prove that the world was round, thumbing his nose at European elites who insisted it was flat. Throughout the book, Columbus is valiant, intrepid, and eager to shed Old Europe—not coincidentally, exactly the qualities the United States saw in itself.

But even compared to the late 18th century, nothing can match the Columbus Fever achieved in 1892–93 as the country celebrated the 400th anniversary of his voyage with the Chicago World’s Fair, the “Columbian Exposition.” No monument was too grand, no speech too florid or obsequious, and no projection of the nation’s desire to assert itself too obvious for the America of 1893. Francis Bellamy’s program for schools was, if anything, restrained by the standards of that year.

Eventually, time chipped away at this hero Columbus. Irving’s fables of 1828 remained in history books, oral traditions, and school curricula throughout the 20th century. But the legend began to share space with a growing, if still insufficient, recognition of the atrocities that Columbus inflicted upon the population of the Americas during the so-called Age of Exploration. His landing in 1492 was downgraded (appropriately) from a “discovery” to the more prosaic “encounter” or “exchange,” as Americans slowly admitted that the word “discovery” is a poor description of a man landing on an island where other people already lived.

More importantly, as more Americans have grown (slightly) more comfortable with confronting the darker aspects of history, discussion of Columbus’s enslaving, summarily killing, and dispossessing the populations he encountered rose above a whisper for the first time during the much-subdued 500th anniversary in 1992. Historians and cultural critics persuasively asserted that glorification is unbefitting a man who wrote, “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold,” as he rounded up 1,500 Arawak inhabitants of the Lesser Antilles to sell them in Spain. Bartolome de Las Casas, in his 1561 account based on accounts from Columbus’s crew, depicted Columbus as a man for whom casual killing was a leisure activity. Once again Columbus was a surrogate, this time for an America making a clumsy and overdue effort to grapple with a shameful part of history.

Colonial Americans adopted Columbus as a cultural icon because of the practical need to construct a national historical identity that excluded Britain. Celebrating Columbus, for much of American history, has been an exercise in projecting onto him the virtues we would like to see in ourselves and our country.

Today, in an America learning to accept the Columbus legend as a hagiography, using Columbus as a national metaphor feels dated and naive. Only willful ignorance of the historical record can preserve him today as the enlightened voyager who discovered and brought blessings upon an unknown land.

But the real Columbus—not the constructed myth—should resonate in contemporary America. Columbus set off to find Asia, landed in the Caribbean, and, until his death, insisted in the face of overwhelming evidence that it really was Asia. Rather than celebrate what he did achieve, admit that fortune had something to do with his success, or recognize the horrors he wrought, he unapologetically defended himself and blamed any suggestion of failure or incompetence on others. Americans of the 18th century rescued the then-obscure Columbus from the history of European imperial conquest for political reasons unique to that era. They could not have known how perfect a cautionary tale the real Columbus would be for the United States of 2017.

Edward BurmilaEdward Burmila is an assistant professor at Bradley University. He lives in Chicago and blogs politics at Gin and Tacos.

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