Manolo De Los Santos

Manolo De Los Santos is the co-executive director of the People’s Forum and is a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He co-edited, most recently, Viviremos: Venezuela vs. Hybrid War (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2020) and Comrade of the Revolution: Selected Speeches of Fidel Castro (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2021). He is a co-coordinator of the People’s Summit for Democracy.

Peru’s Oligarchy Overthrows President Castillo

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June 6, 2021, was a day which shocked many in Peru’s oligarchy. Pedro Castillo Terrones, a rural schoolteacher who had never before been elected to office, won the second round of the presidential election with just over 50.13% of the vote. More than 8.8 million people voted for Castillo’s program of profound social reforms and the promise of a new constitution against the far-right’s candidate, Keiko Fujimori. In a dramatic turn of events, the historical agenda of neoliberalism and repression, passed down by former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori to his daughter Keiko, was rejected at the polls.

From that day on, still in disbelief, the Peruvian oligarchy declared war on Castillo. They made the next 18 months for the new president a period of great hostility as they sought to destabilize his government with a multi-pronged attack that included significant use of lawfare. With a call to “throw out communism,” plans were made by the oligarchy’s leading business group, the National Society of Industries, to make the country ungovernable under Castillo.

In October 2021, recordings were released that revealed that since June 2021, this group of industrialists, along with other members of Peru’s elite and leaders of the right-wing opposition parties, had been planning a series of actions including financing protests and strikes. Groups of former military personnel, allied with far-right politicians like Fujimori, began to openly call for the violent overthrow of Castillo, threatening government officials and left-leaning journalists.

The right-wing in Congress also joined in these plans and attempted to impeach Castillo on two occasions during his first year in office. “Since my inauguration as president, the political sector has not accepted the electoral victory that the Peruvian people gave us,” Castillo said in March 2022. “I understand the power of Congress to exercise oversight and political control, however, these mechanisms cannot be exercised by mediating the abuse of the right, proscribed in the constitution, ignoring the popular will expressed at the polls,” he stressed. It turns out that several of these lawmakers, with support from a right-wing German foundation, had also been meeting regarding how to modify the constitution to quickly remove Castillo from office.

The oligarchic rulers of Peru could never accept that a rural schoolteacher and peasant leader could be brought into office by millions of poor, Black, and Indigenous people who saw their hope for a better future in Castillo. However, in the face of these attacks, Castillo became more and more distanced from his political base. Castillo formed four different cabinets to appease the business sectors, each time conceding to right-wing demands to remove leftist ministers who challenged the status quo. He broke with his party Peru Libre when openly challenged by its leaders. He sought help from the already discredited Organization of American States in looking for political solutions instead of mobilizing the country’s major peasant and Indigenous movements. By the end, Castillo was fighting alone, without support from the masses or the Peruvian left parties.

The final crisis for Castillo broke out on December 7, 2022. Weakened by months of corruption allegations, left infighting, and multiple attempts to criminalize him, Castillo was finally overthrown and imprisoned. He was replaced by his vice president, Dina Boluarte, who was sworn in after Congress impeached Castillo with 101 votes in favor, six against, and ten abstentions.

The vote came hours after he announced on television to the country that Castillo was dissolving Congress. He did so preemptively, three hours before the start of the congressional session in which a motion to dismiss him for “permanent moral incapacity” was to be debated and voted on due to allegations of corruption that are under investigation. Castillo also announced the start of an “exceptional emergency government” and the convening of a Constituent Assembly within nine months. He said that until the Constituent Assembly was installed, he would rule by decree. In his last message as president, he also decreed a curfew to begin at 10 o’clock that night. The curfew, as well as his other measures, was never applied. Hours later, Castillo was overthrown.

Boluarte was sworn in by Congress as Castillo was detained at a police station. A few demonstrations broke out in the capital Lima, but nowhere near large enough to reverse the coup which was nearly a year and a half in the making, the latest in Latin America’s long history of violence against radical transformations.

The coup against Pedro Castillo is a major setback for the current wave of progressive governments in Latin America and the people’s movements that elected them. This coup and the arrest of Castillo are stark reminders that the ruling elites of Latin America will not concede any power without a bitter fight to the end. And now that the dust has settled, the only winners are the Peruvian oligarchy and their friends in Washington.

Cuba Goes on a Diplomatic Tour in an Increasingly Multipolar World

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On November 27 morning, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, walked into a voting station in the Playa neighborhood to vote in Cuba’s municipal elections. He had landed in Havana an hour earlier from an intense tour of Algeria, Russia, Turkey, and China.

The tour, which started on November 16, was both a journey into the past of the nonaligned world that Cuba played an integral role in building and an essential step into the future toward the establishment of a multipolar world. Each stop also served as a reminder of the strong relationships based on cooperation and mutual respect that Cuba has been cultivating since 1959. Undoubtedly, the Cuban Revolution and its internationalism placed Cuba on the map and gave it an outsized role in world politics.

Yet this tour took place against a complex backdrop. The country’s recent economic and financial situation has been characterized by crisis since the intensification of the United States blockade under former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, with the imposition of 243 unilateral sanctions and the inclusion of Cuba on the state sponsors of terrorism list. Add to this the impact of COVID-19 over the past three years, several natural disasters, and a series of unfortunate accidents that have negatively impacted Cuba.

Díaz-Canel also traveled abroad to explore with Cuba’s strategic partners the state of multilateralism and development in a rapidly changing world in the wake of the war in Ukraine, NATO aggression, and the growing fragility of U.S. hegemony. Cuba’s achievements and potential, despite being besieged, served as the basis for discussions during the tour relating to areas of mutual interest such as renewable energy, biotechnology, health care, communications, and industry.

During the tour of these countries, several new agreements were signed that pointed to a desire to help Cuba. From offers of setting up renewable energy power plants to more regular oil shipments and plans to modernize Cuban industries, it’s clear that Algeria, Russia, Turkey, and China do not want Cuba to fall under the weight of Washington’s sanctions regime. “It is obvious that sanctions have an effect on the fact that our relations remain below their true potential,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pointed out during a press conference with his Cuban counterpart in Ankara on November 23.

This 11-day tour ended in China, where perhaps the most challenging yet essential conversations were held. Under the weight of an intensified U.S. blockade and severe limitations to its foreign currency reserves, Cuba has been unable to service its debt with China. “There is enormous sensitivity in the Chinese leadership, particularly in President Xi Jinping,” commented Díaz-Canel afterward. “There is an express will in him, even with indications in official talks, that a solution must be found to all of Cuba’s problems, regardless of the problems with the debt.” Against the United States’ efforts to restrain Cuba, Díaz-Canel asserted how China is “betting on the development of the country based on the cooperation that they can give us.”

How Cuba Is Dealing With the Devastation of Hurricane Ian

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On September 27, 2022, a tropical cyclone—Hurricane Ian—struck Cuba’s western province of Pinar del Río. Sustained winds of around 125 miles per hour lingered over Cuba for more than eight hours, bringing down trees and power lines, and causing damage not seen during previous tropical cyclones. The hurricane then lingered over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, picking up energy before striking the U.S. island of Cayo Costa, Florida, with approximately 155 mph winds. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) called it “one of the worst hurricanes to hit the area in a century.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center said that this year will be the “seventh consecutive above-average hurricane season.” Both Cuba and Florida have faced the wrath of the waters and winds, but beneath this lies the ferocity of the climate catastrophe. “Climate science is increasingly able to show that many of the extreme weather events that we are experiencing have become more likely and more intense due to human-induced climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Prepare and Relieve

Cuba, said the WMO, is one of the “world leaders in terms of hurricane preparedness and disaster management.” This was not always the case. Hurricane Flora hit the eastern coast of the island on October 4, 1963. When news of the approaching hurricane reached Fidel Castro, he immediately ordered the evacuation of the homes of people who lived in the projected path of the storm (in Haiti, former dictator François Duvalier did not call for an evacuation, which led to the death of more than 5,000 people). Castro rushed to Camagüey, almost dying in the Cauto River as his amphibious vehicle was struck by a drifting log. Two years later, in his Socialism and Man in Cuba, Che Guevara wrote the Cuban people showed “exceptional deeds of valor and sacrifice” as they rebuilt the country after the devastation caused by Flora.

In 1966, the Cuban government created the Civil Defense System to prepare for not only extreme weather events such as hurricanes but also the outbreak of epidemics. Using science as the foundation for its hurricane preparedness, the Cuban government was able to evacuate 2 million people as Hurricane Ivan moved toward the island in 2004. As part of disaster management, the entire Cuban population participates in drills, and the Cuban mass organizations (the Federation of Cuban Women and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) work in an integrated manner to mobilize the population to respond to disasters.

The day before Hurricane Ian hit Cuba, 50,000 people were evacuated and taken to 55 shelters. No private vehicles or public transportation was visible on the streets. Work brigades were mobilized to work on the resumption of electricity supply after the storm had passed. In Artemisa, for instance, the Provincial Defense Council met to discuss how to react to the inevitable flooding. Despite the best efforts made by Cubans, three people died because of the hurricane, and the electrical grid suffered significant damage.

Damage

The entire island—including Havana—had no power for more than three days. The electrical grid, which was already suffering from a lack of major repairs, collapsed. Without power, Cubans had to throw away food that needed to be refrigerated and faced difficulty in preparing meals, among other hardships. By October 1, less than five days after landfall, 82 percent of the residents of Havana had their power restored with work ongoing for the western part of the island (the amount of time without power in Puerto Rico, which was hit by Hurricane Fiona on September 18, is longer—a quarter of a million people remain without power more than two weeks later).

The long-term impact of Hurricane Ian is yet to be assessed, although some believe the cost of damages will surpass $1 billion. More than 8,500 hectares of cropland have been hit by the flooding, with the banana crop most impacted. The most dramatic problem will be faced by Cuba’s tobacco industry since Pinar del Río—where 5,000 farms were destroyed—is its heartland (with 65 percent of the country’s tobacco production). Hirochi Robaina, a tobacco farmer in Pinar del Río, wrote, “It was apocalyptic. A real disaster.”

Blockade

Mexico and Venezuela immediately pledged to send materials to assist in the reconstruction of the electrical grid on the island.

All eyes turned to Washington—not only to see whether it would send aid, which would be welcome, but also if it would remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list and end sanctions imposed by the United States. These measures cause banks in both the United States and elsewhere to be reluctant to process any financial transactions, including humanitarian donations. The U.S. has a mixed record regarding humanitarian aid to Cuba. After Hurricane Michelle (2001), Hurricane Charley (2004), and Hurricane Wilma (2005), the U.S. did offer assistance, but would not even temporarily lift the blockade. After the fire at a Matanzas oil storage facility in August 2022, the U.S. did offer to join Mexico and Venezuela to help the Cubans put out the fire. Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossio offered “profound gratitude” for the gesture, but the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden did not follow through.

Rather than lift the sanctions even for a limited period, the U.S. government sat back and watched as mysterious forces from Miami unleashed a torrent of Facebook and WhatsApp messages to drive desperate Cubans onto the street. Not a moment is wasted by Washington to use even a natural disaster to try to destabilize the situation in Cuba (a history that goes back to 1963, when the Central Intelligence Agency reflected on how to leverage natural disasters for political gains). “Most people don’t shout out freedom,” a person who observed one of these protests told us. “They ask for power and food.”

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Sanctions Fuel the Fire at Cuba’s Matanzas Oil Storage

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On August 5, a major oil storage facility in Matanzas, Cuba, 65 miles east of Havana, was hit by lightning. A tank that contained 25,000 cubic meters of crude oil caught fire after being struck. Since then, an enormous fire has been raging in Matanzas. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Ávalos Jorge, deputy head of Cuba’s fire department, said that it was impossible to estimate when the fire would be completely extinguished. This tremendous explosion and hard-to-control fire has led to several people being reported missing (including firefighters), many others injured with severe burns, and hundreds more evacuated from their homes. Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, rushed to Matanzas on August 6, interacted with the local officials who were trying to get the fire under control, met residents of the town, and the next day, interacted with the press and spoke about the heroic work done by the firefighters and the solidarity of the Cuban people. “We are going to overcome this adversity,” he said.

Four of the eight tanks at the storage facility have been impacted by these fires. By August 8, Matanzas Governor Mario Sabines Lorenzo also confirmed that three tanks had been compromised. Clouds of dust now hover over the island. Elba Rosa Pérez Montoya, Cuba’s minister of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA), said that scientists from various backgrounds were monitoring the situation to see if the smoke resulting from the fire will lead to any negative health effects for the residents of the surrounding areas. As of that point, she said, “We have no evidence that there are effects on human health.” Nonetheless, strange substances have been detected in the water supplies in Yumurí Valley, Matanzas. Diosdado Vera, an 89-year-old farmer, showed journalist Arnaldo Mirabal Hernández the unusual color and odor of the water in an old bathtub that serves as the water source for her cows. “There are approximately 3,200 particles in the air right now,” said CITMA Minister Pérez Montoya. “The clouds have sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, among other substances that are falling on Matanzas, Mayabeque, and Havana.” Meanwhile, Pérez Montoya said that a team of scientists is investigating the strange substances found in the Yumurí Valley.

This tragedy has also had immediate repercussions for the entire population in the province of Matanzas and the whole island of Cuba since it affects their electricity supply and access to health care, which already are strained under the weight of the U.S. blockade, due to lack of availability of spare parts and scarcity of medicines in Cuba, respectively.

The fire has already led to the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant in Matanzas being out of service due to a shortage of water and the contamination of the water cycle. This will likely lead to severe electricity outages amid record heat waves this summer. Ricardo Ronquillo Bello, president of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC), tweeted that this tragedy will be “another test for Cuban journalism that will know how to honor with its humanism and social responsibility.” Ronquillo was referring to the onslaught of fake news that swept through social media, leading to a sense of alarm during an already difficult period.

In this dire crisis, the people of Cuba and their government have responded immediately, and this has resulted in on-site efforts to contain the fire, prevent a major environmental disaster, and keep the population safe. It has also led to a call for international aid and solidarity. The governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina, Chile and several others have promptly offered material aid, and some countries like Mexico and Venezuela have also sent experts and firefighters to confront this complex situation. Cuba’s Credit and Commerce Bank (Bandec) has set up an account so that people in the country can donate money to the people of Matanzas.

“Cuba is Matanzas,” said President Díaz-Canel, in the context of both the impact of the fire on the entire island and the solidarity that is visible across Cuba.

Sanctions

The U.S. blockade of Cuba fuels the fire that rages on in the country, despite denials by authorities in the United States. The U.S. government has both been stiffening up the blockade of Cuba and denying that sanctions have any impact on the functioning of the country (in fact, in 2021, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki had said that the problems in Cuba are not due to the U.S. sanctions but rather are due to “the Cuban government’s economic mismanagement”). The U.S. Embassy in Havana has made assurances that the blockade authorizes U.S. entities and organizations to provide disaster relief and response. But organizations tell us that this is not the case, with the 243 sanctions imposed on Cuba working as a stranglehold against pursuing any activity in the country. Many of these organizations say that the process to send aid to Cuba is lengthy, with a licensing regime in place that requires expensive lawyers. Cuba’s inclusion in the state sponsors of terrorism list means that banks in both the United States and abroad are reluctant to process humanitarian donations.

While Washington says one thing and does another, the firefighters in Matanzas—aided by the reinforcements from Mexico and Venezuela—have been spraying foam on the fire to prevent it from spreading further, and helicopters have been pouring water on the other oil tanks to stop them from combusting. Even after the fire settles and the ashes remain, Cuba will struggle to rebuild these tanks and to solve its energy crisis. These are not merely domestic problems but rather are problems created and exaggerated by the harmful U.S.-imposed blockade that has been in existence for the past six decades.

Not long after the lightning strike, users on social media shared the hashtag #FuerzaMatanzas (be strong, Matanzas) on various platforms. Within 24 hours, the hashtag was shared by nearly a billion users, according to Dayron Avello, social media manager at Clínica Internacional Camilo Cienfuegos. A billion people have signaled their support for Cuba, a solidarity the U.S. blockade is unable to prevent.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.