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UE: POL 110-HA: Democracy in Troubled Times

Practical Instruction in Civic Discourse

The Takeaway - What You Need to Know

Vladimir Putin's Russia

Boris Yeltsin & the constitutional crisis of 1993

The Russian constitutional crisis of 1993 began in earnest on September 21, when Russian President Boris Yeltsin dissolved the country's parliament, which was increasingly opposing his moves to consolidate power and embark on unpopular neoliberal reforms. He was not allowed to do this under the then-functioning constitution; after the fact, he ordered a referendum on a new constitution.

The parliament refused to dissolve, declaring Yeltsin's presidency unconstitutional. In open rebellion against Yeltsin, it appointed its own acting president. On September 28, public protests against Yeltsin's government began in earnest in the streets of Moscow, and the first blood was shed. Yeltsin's supporters surrounded the parliament building (the "Russian White House"), where the representatives and their newly-appointed leaders were staying, with barricades. For the next week, protests in the street grew, until a mass uprising erupted in the city on October 2. Russia was on the brink of civil war. At this point the military threw their support behind Yeltsin, besieged the parliament building, and slowly forced the opposing faction out over the next six days. By October 8, the "second October Revolution" had been crushed. The ten-day conflict had seen the most deadly street fighting in Moscow since the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917. 187 had been killed and 437 wounded.


https://pastvu.com/_p/d/2/1/3/2131262d9f289980a8ca06fdd9ab4ce5.jpg

The crisis was a strong example of the problems of executive-legislative balance in Russia's presidential system, and, moreover, the likelihood of conflict of a zero-sum character and the absence of obvious mechanisms to resolve it, In the end, this was a battle of competing legitimacy of the executive and the legislature, won by the side that could muster the support of the ultimate instruments of coercion.

The semi-presidential Constitution of 1993

"Russia needs order," Yeltsin told the Russian people in a television broadcast in November in introducing his new draft of the constitution, which was to be put to a referendum on December 12. The new basic law would concentrate sweeping powers in the hands of the president. The bicameral legislature, to sit for only two years, was restricted in crucial areas. The president could choose the prime minister even if the parliament objected and could appoint the military leadership without parliamentary approval. He would head and appoint the members of a new, more powerful security council. If a vote of no confidence in the government was passed, the president would be enabled to keep it in office for three months and could dissolve the parliament if it repeated the vote. The president could veto any bill passed by a simple majority in the lower house, after which a two-thirds majority would be required for the legislation to be passed. The president could not be impeached for contravening the constitution. The central bank would become independent, but the president would need the approval of the State Duma to appoint the bank's governor, who would thereafter be independent of the parliament. At the time, most political observers regarded the draft constitution as shaped by and for Yeltsin and perhaps unlikely to survive him.

<http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Russian_constitutional_crisis_of_1993> (10/06/13)  ?   


   Vladimir Putin rises to power

Born in Leningrad in 1952, Putin had romantic ideas about the KGB and, already as a young man, wanted to become a member. He graduated form the law school of Leningrad's State University in 1975. Then he entered the KGB. He spent most of his time in Leningrad. Only in 1985 did he get his first job abroad and went to Dresden, East Germany's technological center, one of the few centers of microelectronics in the East. He stayed in Dresden for five years and had to make contacts with Western visitors. Putin denies having been a spy in West Germany too. He may be right, but what is more disturbing is the fact that although he acknowledges that the KGB made mistakes, he does not portray it as an organization of repression that e.g. persecuted dissidents.

In 1990, Putin returned to Leningrad and soon became a councellor to Anatoli Sobchak, his former professor at Leningrad University. The KGB of the 1980s was an organization pushing for reform, since there was no other way not to fall behind the West. Putin's career was first encouraged by the late KGB-chief Yuri Andropov who also encouraged the career of Gorbachov and who became General Secretary for a very short time. Putin declared Andropov his role model.

In 1998, Putin rose rapidly to the top in Moscow's FSB and became a member of the close circle around President Yeltsin, who first appointed him as Prime Minister and then as his successor.
 
On the positive side, Putin is said to speak German with almost no accent. His wife is a German scholar and his daughters went to the German school in Moscow. Therefore, Putin is a Western-orientated man who understands that the Soviet system has no future and that Slavonic and nationalist ideas are no alternative to modernization. But at the same time, Putin had no scruples about starting a "splendid little war" in Chechnya. He is said to be the or at least one of the masterminds behind Yeltsin's decision to engage in Chechnya. There are still rumours that the FSB, the military or the government was/were behind the "terrorist attacks" in Moscow that gave the "legitimization" to attack Chechnya.

review of Vladimir Putin's Russia
<http://www.cosmopolis.ch/english/cosmo5/putin.htm> (10/06/13)  ?   


Putin on democracy in Russia

It is obvious that we have made a decisive choice for democracy and we cannot imagine any other way of development. It is also obvious that certain standards used in some countries are difficult to implement or apply elsewhere. I think it is quite clear. We need to develop tools based on the fundamental principles of democracy that would allow for the vast majority of people in our country to influence domestic and foreign policy. It is the majority that must have such an influence, but the majority should also respect the opinion of the minority and consider it. If our domestic policy and public institutions are fully based on such fundamental principles, then it seems to me, we will be able to talk about the success of democracy in Russia. Nevertheless, it is obviously the path that Russia has chosen, the path that it follows. Just compare the situation in the Soviet Union and in modern Russia in terms of development of economy, political sphere, and all other areas associated with democracy. There is a very significant difference. It took other countries 200, 300, 400 years to achieve this goal. Do you expect us to cover this distance within two decades? Of course, we are gradually taking all the necessary steps. We know our destination, and will not abandon this path.

from Voice of Russia
Read More: <http://voiceofrussia.com/2013_04_05/Russia-made-decisive-choice-for-democracy-Putin> (10/06/13)


Gorbachev Criticizes Putin

The last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said that Russia will face unrest unless society is made more democratic despite President Vladimir Putin's success in cracking down on dissent.

Gorbachev, whose perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) reforms in the 1980s failed to avert the collapse of the Soviet Union, has sympathised with protests, mainly by the rising urban middle class, against alleged ballot fraud and political corruption.

"The authorities have managed to beat down the wave of protest for a while, but the problems have not disappeared. If everything remains as before, they will escalate," Gorbachev was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying in a lecture.  "This means that we face a new attempt by Russian society to move to real democracy and it will be of historic significance."

The warning by Gorbachev, active in public life at the age of 82 and co-publisher of the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, came as Putin, who won a third presidential term a year ago, seeks to consolidate power. Rather than engaging in dialogue with opponents, Putin has sought to marginalise them, while ratcheting up foreign policy rhetoric to create an atmosphere of a nation under siege.

Russia's economic growth has more than halved since before the 2008 financial crisis and is now close to stagnating, reflecting its reliance on oil export revenues. Experts call for long-term structural reforms to reducing the state's role in the economy, addressing pressures caused by an ageing population, and cutting red tape and corruption.

Gorbachev said Russia risked stagnation.  "We have come to the point when we have cut off perestoika. Politics is increasingly turning into imitation. We need a new system of the governance of the country." 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/30/mikhail-gorbachev-russia-democracy_n_2985064.html (10/06/13)

 

Freedom House 2013 report on democracies around the world

The report warned that since the re-election of Vladimir Putin as the president of Russia, the country has "ushered in a new period of accelerated repression."

"Putin has moved in a calculated way to stifle independent political and civic activity, pushing through a series of laws meant to restrict public protest, limit the work of NGOs, and inhibit free expression on the Internet.

"With Russia setting the tone, Eurasia (consisting of the countries of the former Soviet Union minus the Baltic states) now rivals the Middle East as one of the most repressive areas on the globe," the report said.

How Putin Undermines Democracy

Russia’s actions to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election and help then-presidential candidate Donald Trump win were similar to its activities to build a network of far-right political parties and movements in Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is using this network to advance his policy objectives at home and abroad.

In this effort, Russia is motivated by both the desire to lead a conservative revival against Western liberal democracies and a flawed interpretation of recent waves of popular uprisings against autocratic rulers that sees an American conspiracy behind them.

Putin has adopted a deliberate strategy to directly challenge the liberal international order led by the United States. That global system helped end the historical pattern of devastating wars among major powers and brought much of the world an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity since the end of World War II.

It has been 25 years since the conclusion of the Cold War, and many Americans have lost touch with the value of the military and political alliances that helped the United States prevail in that conflict. Russia has not.

And even though it remains weak relative to the United States, Putin’s Russia is aggressively pursuing its objective to divide those political alliances to help regain its strategic position in Europe.

The bond between the United States and European democracies, forged during the last 100 years, is built on the shared values of freedom, human rights and the rule of law. Putin’s Russia rejects all of those values.

Putin oppresses or jails his political opponents, sends his assassins to murder dissidents who leave Russia, uses state-run media to suppress dissent and stifle the independent press and mocks the rule of law as he enriches himself and his associates at the expense of the Russian people.

Putin is now trying to export his brand of leadership. He has formed an alliance with many European far-right political parties and their leaders, who have delivered consistent adherence to Russian interests even when it contradicts some of their previous positions.

This backing of Putin is hard to explain unless it is in exchange for Putin’s overt and covert support. These far-right parties are capitalizing on economic and security crises in Europe to build popular support and now operate as a fifth column that is undermining the Western liberal order from within.

President Donald Trump’s unwavering support for Putin and his pursuit of policies that advance Russia’s goals show disturbing similarities to the European far right that are equally difficult to rationalize.

This report examines Russia’s efforts to support far-right parties in Europe; identifies the ideological and strategic motivations for its actions; and provides case studies on seven political parties in six countries that either have held elections recently or will hold them within the next year. The report also includes key findings and recommendations that are summarized below.

Key findings

  • Russia’s covert influence operations are not simply mischief. Rather, they are a deliberate strategy to achieve its domestic and foreign policy objectives through unconventional means that has ideological, political and strategic support from a broad section of leading Russian intellectual, government and military figures.
  • Russia deploys an array of tools to help its designated partners—actions that range from the relatively benign practice of elevating the profile of European far-right leaders to disinformation, propaganda, alleged illicit financing and covert influence operations.
  • Russia, in return, obtains a strikingly consistent level of support from these far-right nationalist leaders, who all praise Putin as a strong leader. They promote Russian policy objectives, even if doing so works against their own national interests, with these parties having no prior history of backing similar actions unrelated to Russia.
  • Trump is following the same playbook as the Russian-backed far-right European leaders, adopting eerily similar language and pursuing the same policies that advance Russia’s objectives, even when they are inconsistent with previous Republican policy positions. Trump or top Trump administration officials even met with four of these far-right European leaders during the presidential campaign or during the transition.

Recommendations

  • Keep in place sanctions imposed on Russia, both for its actions in Crimea and for targeting the U.S. election, if Russian-influence operations continue in Europe.
  • Impose new sanctions on Russia if it interferes in upcoming European elections.
  • Congress should pass legislation imposing sanctions on Russia if the Trump administration is unwilling to act to punish and deter Russia.
  • Congress should require the director of national intelligence to submit an annual report that details Russia’s influence operations targeting democracies.
  • NATO should form a Committee on Democracy to develop strategies to protect the integrity of democratic institutions in member states.
  • Establish a joint U.S.-EU Commission on Protecting Democracy to share information and develop strategies to defend against Russian attacks on democratic institutions.
  • Create a bipartisan, independent commission to thoroughly investigate and issue a public report on Russia’s actions targeting the U.S. presidential election.
  • Appoint a Special Counsel to investigate Trump officials, since the American people can have no confidence the Trump administration can be trusted to investigate itself.

The shared values of Americans and Europeans have again made them a target for those who reject those values. Just as governments and populations on both sides of the Atlantic rallied in mutual defense of our security following terrorist attacks in Paris; San Bernardino, California; Orlando, Florida; and Berlin, we too must rise to meet the common challenge to our democracies.

To be sure, this is not the beginning of a new Cold War with Russia. However, if we fail to take action to protect the core institutions of our democracies, we will weaken ourselves and strengthen our adversaries, making future conflict more rather than less likely.


Eurasianism

The ideological basis for Russian support of the European far right

Russian intellectual Alexander Dugin is the main architect of the neo-Russian imperialism called Eurasianism. In a series of lectures, articles and books, Dugin has sought to “rehabilitate fascism in Russia.” 1 He has borrowed from obscure 19th- and 20th-century political theories, adopted a sympathetic interpretation of Nazism that attempts to separate it from the Holocaust and sought to thwart what he and many Russians believe is a conspiracy led by the United States to contain Russia. 2 Dugin has called for a “Russian spring” and the domination of Europe through Ukraine. 3

Dugin views Russia as leading a Eurasian conservative revival that, according to scholar and political commentator Matthew d’Ancona of Queen Mary University in London, “supports tradition against liberalism, autocracy against democratic institutions [and] stern uniformity against Enlightenment pluralism.” 4 The conservatism that Dugin describes is, in his words, “not the same as the U.S. version, which values a small state. Here, conservatives value undivided political power, with economic power rooted in and subordinate to it.” 5

Eurasianism takes these ideological foundations and overlays them onto a geographic interpretation of political conflict. For Dugin, most of history can be lumped into a conflict between a more liberal maritime alliance, called Atlantis, against the conservative land-based Eurasian societies. 6

This is shockingly similar to the fictional dystopian totalitarian states of Oceania and Eurasia in George Orwell’s 1984. This is no accident, as Orwell and Dugin drew inspiration from similar historical theorists, although Orwell viewed with horror what Dugin seeks to build upon. 7

Dugin’s book The Foundations of Geopolitics, published in 1997, “became a pole star for a broad section of Russian hardliners,” according to Russia scholar Charles Clover. 8  John Dunlop, an expert on the Russian political right at the Hoover Institution, says of Dugin’s book, “There has probably not been another book published in Russia during the post-communist period which has exerted a comparable influence on Russian military, police, and statist foreign policy elites.” 9Dugin’s views are certainly consistent with Russian military action in Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014 and Syria during the past two years. 10

In Dugin’s 2009 book, The Fourth Political Theory, he seeks to create a defining ideology for Eurasianism, which is, in his words, an alliance from “Lisbon to Vladivastok,” which is a “genuine, true, radically revolutionary and consistent, fascist fascism.” 11 It calls for a “global crusade against the United States, the West, globalization, and their political-ideological expression, liberalism,” and ultimately, “the American empire should be destroyed.” 12

Dugin began building a network of contacts among Europe’s far right in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He traveled to France in 1989 and then again in 1992, where he forged connections with at the time still young National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen. 13 Dugin hosted conferences with National Front officials through the 1990s and 2000s, and one official even joined the editorial board of his journal, Elementary14Dugin’s ties to the Italian far right are more extensive, with close links between Italy and Russia during Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s tenure, “enabl[ing] the synergy between Italian and Russian far right groups.” 15

In the United States, however, Dugin is practically a complete unknown, and when he is mentioned, as he was recently byNew York Times columnist David Brooks, he is typically described as “Putin’s ideologist” or something similar. 16 But according to Marlene Laruelle, editor of the recent book Eurasianism and the European Far Right, Westerners must avoid “the trap of assuming that Dugin is Putin’s “guru” and that the relationship is “more a marriage of convenience than one of true love.” 17

Regardless of how deep the bond goes, the reality according to Laurelle is that “in Europe the Kremlin has recently acquired more or less the same allies that Dugin has cultivated for more than two decades.” 18

Putin’s motivations for supporting the European far right

Putin is no radical ideologue. He is a ruthless strongman who, during his first two terms as president, was more defined by pragmatism than recklessness. 19

And it’s not completely gone. Russia simultaneously worked with the United States and other Western powers to secure the Iranian nuclear agreement, while at the same time Putin was involved in a major confrontation with those same powers over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Crimea. This differentiation of approaches with Western powers shows Putin still has a pragmatic streak.

It is clear that something changed in Putin from how he governed through his first two terms ending in 2008, prior to winning a new term as president in March 2012. He has taken a far more aggressive approach in his third term than he had previously. Russia’s brazen move to invade and annex Crimea and to directly intervene in Syria are the prime examples.

There are likely many causes that stretch well back into the history of post–Cold War U.S.-Russia relations, but three events clearly shaped how Putin would see the threats to Russia and what tools he could use to combat them.

The first is the series of popular movements that overthrew autocratic regimes in three former Soviet republics, known as the color revolutions. These all occurred while Putin was president during the first go-round—the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in 2005. 20

The Russians do not view these uprisings as spontaneous events, but rather as part of a conspiracy by the United States and European countries to challenge Russia’s near abroad—the independent states that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union.

In 2014, scholar Anthony Cordesman attended a Russian government security conference at which the Russians presented the view that the color revolutions represented “a new US and European approach to warfare that focuses on creating destabilizing revolutions in other states as a means of serving their security interests at low cost and with minimal casualties.” 21

The second event was the Arab Spring, another wave of popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East that began in Tunisia in late 2010 and spread in 2011 to Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. 22

The Russians, according to Cordesman, hold a view of the origins of these revolts that is similar to their view of the color revolutions. From the same conference, he says, “[k]ey Russian officers and officials presented a view of the US and the West as deliberately destabilizing nations in North Africa, the Middle East, and the rest of the world for their own ends.”23

And finally, in December 2011, there were protests around Russia’s parliamentary elections that witnessed approximately 25,000 people on the streets of Moscow, an unprecedented show of opposition to Putin that had not occurred since he assumed the presidency in late 1999. 24

These protests clearly shook Putin, and he intimated that the United States was behind the uprising and was following the same playbook as it had in the color revolutions and the Arab Spring. He even accused then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of giving opposition leaders “the signal,” who then “with the support of the US State department began active work.” 25

This cemented Putin’s animosity toward Clinton, which was one of the drivers behind his aggressive push to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

As the conference that Cordesman attended made clear, Putin was not alone in his assessment of the United States and the West fomenting popular unrest in countries as another means of warfare.

In 2013, the Russian military chief of the general staff, General Valery Gerasimov, developed a new theory of what he described as nonlinear war based on the belief that the color revolutions and the Arab Spring were a new model being employed by the United States to achieve its foreign policy objectives. 26 Gerasimov wrote that the “role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.” 27

Gerasimov’s analysis, often called the Gerasimov Doctrine, is not really a doctrine and was never intended to be one. 28 Its tenets were certainly deployed to great effect during the invasion and annexation of Crimea and the subsequent fighting in eastern Ukraine. 29 But it is not as if Russia has abandoned more traditional forms of military force, such as the intervention in Syria. 30

All of this came together during a new round of popular unrest in Ukraine that began in November 2013, following its withdrawal from an association agreement with the European Union and ultimately forced the pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country in February 2014. 31

That prompted Putin to go into action, organizing a plan to, in his words, “begin the work to bring [the Ukrainian region of] Crimea back into Russia.” 32 Since then, Russia’s relationship with Europe has not been the same.

Putin is using this new tool kit to achieve very specific goals. First, he is seeking allies to provide him political cover that can be used both domestically and internationally. This network of “far-right political leaders praise Putin’s aggressive foreign policy in public,” according to Alina Polyakova of the Atlantic Council. 33 Representatives of far-right parties have served as election observers in Crimea, recognized Crimea’s annexation and spoken out against Western governments encroaching on Russia’s interests. 34

The second Putin objective is to use these far-right parties to weaken political consensus in the West and undermine the institutions that support the liberal international order that Russia views as a threat.

As Antonis Klapsis, former visiting fellow at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, writes, “Pro-Russian far-right parties can act as Trojan horses for the Kremlin in its attempts to undermine the internal cohesion of the EU and NATO.” 35

One need look no further than the successful campaign by pro-Russia Nigel Farage and his U.K. Independence Party to get Britain to withdraw from the European Union. This burgeoning fifth column will be examined at length in the next section.

Pro-Russian European far-right political parties

Some of Russia’s activities in support of far-right political parties occur in the open and are typically legitimate forms of international engagement, even if they are pushing policies and messages that are inconsistent with liberal democratic values.

The Kremlin arranges large international conferences, mostly in Russia, to bring together like-minded political leaders from across the continent to share strategies, messages and tactics. It seeks to elevate far-right leaders—and obtain a measure of political cover—by inviting them to high-profile meetings with Russian leaders. It gives far-right politicians airtime on its television networks. And, in some cases, it has even provided indirect financing.

The tool kit does not end there, however, and Russia frequently engages in influence and propaganda operations targeting public debate and the political process. Disinformation campaigns using fake material are also sometimes used. Additionally, there are allegations that several European far-right political parties receive covert funding from Russia, although no public evidence has emerged to prove those charges and the parties involved deny it. 36

What follows in the wake of these activities is a striking alignment among these far-right parties in favor of Russian objectives. There is near-universal praise of Putin as a strong leader. Each of these parties denigrates its domestic political leadership and European institutions in eerily similar language. They all support lifting EU sanctions on Russia even though there is little, if any, evidence that they have opposed other EU sanctions or any clear indication of the benefits for their own countries.

These parties blame the European Union and NATO for precipitating the Ukraine crisis. They back Russia’s actions in Syria and its so-called fight against the Islamic State. Researchers at the Institute for Modern Russia have calculated that members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who belong to the pro-Russian Europe of Nations and Freedoms group vote in favor of Russian interests 93 percent of the time. 37

There is far too much consistency in these positions across these parties for it to simply be the result of ideological convergence or admiration for Putin’s leadership style. When assessed in the context of the Kremlin’s interpretation of the color revolutions and the Arab Spring, it appears there is a strategy unfolding of Russian overt and covert support for far-right parties that then become a fifth column helping advance key Russian objectives from inside Russia’s European adversaries.

The following sections examine seven far-right parties in six countries, each of which had major elections in 2016 or have upcoming elections in 2017 or early 2018. This is not the complete list of countries and parties that the Russians are targeting; rather, this list focuses on countries in Western Europe with recent or upcoming elections. Russian influence operations appear to have targeted, or are targeting, each of these countries around their elections, and far-right parties are gaining ground in each of these nations.

Xi Jinping's China

Brief Economic History of Communist China

The past 60 years of China's Communist history can be divided roughly into two phases.

The first phase, between 1949 and 1978, was this: the Communist bureaucracy had totally destroyed society, the economy and the culture. This was done by a total bureaucratic monopoly over all of nation's wealth, labor, markets, organizations and institutions. Furthermore, it completely destroyed the free press and the law. But this unprecedented bureaucratic domination immediately produced unprecedented man-made disasters in world history, not just China's. The disasters include endless violence and terror, the creation of the state sector and people's communes, the total bureaucratization of media, education, and thought.

In the end, beginning in 1958, the regime wanted to have a total bureaucratic miracle in the so-called Great Leap Forward (1958-60), and record disasters emerged all at once. Record deaths of some 50 million people occurred in the period of 1958-62, killing some 50 million people by an unprecedented famine as well as a record oganized violence.

What is more, these unprecedented miseries turned out to be the very beginning of bureaucratic disasters. Worse than the famine, three bureaucratic wars emerged against society and the people in the period of 1959-78, which ended to destroy countless millions of lives, or even more, by organized violence, not to mention a near total destruction of culture, education, thinking, wealth and all other good things in life.

The second phase took place beginning in 1979 when the reform started. In reality, the regime wants to maintain the traditional bureaucratic supremacy all the way. But things have changed unexpectedly, against the very scheme of the regime over the previous 30 years. Most significantly, three great things have aided the Chinese people to escape their bureaucratic cages:

1. The destruction of Mao's people's commune, which took place by the farmers' own initiative and giant efforts in the period of 1978-84. This act would free 900 million rural people from being trapped in the bureaucratic jungles. For example, farmers have been able to travel freely and work in cities since then, though there are countless man-made barriers still in place today, including a ban on free travel.

2. The unexpected re-rise of the domestic private sector, which has produced well over 50 million private businessmen and street vendors. Their rise means that people want to pursue their own interests and gain prosperity on their own efforts: they are no longer interested in being forced to be servants to the self-appointed bureaucracy.

3. The gradual opening and the rapid ongoing integration of China's economy with the outside world. Today, foreign companies control about 60% of China's international trade, employs over 25 million Chinese and take about one third of China's domestic economy. At the same time, China has risen to become the biggest trader in the world as of this year, in spite of the global financial crisis.

Looking ahead over the next 30 years, the biggest forces will be of these three: entrepreneurship, open society, and global involvement, which would aid China's effort to become a law-based, truly modern society, free from bureaucratic intrusions, though the task remains mighty. For the same self-appointed, inherently self-serving bureaucracy remains in place today. What is more, the political foundations of this political body, the cults and terror, remain to be removed. Otherwise, any talk about a modern China would be empty.

<http://rochester.indymedia.org/node/5340> (10/18/13)


                                     

Singapore -- China's new economic role model

In the 1950's Chairman Mao declared: "The Soviet Union's today is China's tomorrow." Now it would be a counter-revolutionary offense to say that in public. But in 1992, while searching for a country to emulate, Deng Xiaoping, China's 87-year-old senior leader, proposed a partial model, one that in many respects runs counter to China's original revolutionary principles.  That model is Singapore.

When Deng traveled to southern China in the spirng of that year to squeeze the hard-liners and campaign for faster economic liberalization, he mentioned only three countries by name: Japan, South Korea and Singapore, all cited for their sound development. One of the most illuminating statements he made was this:

"Singapore's social order is rather good. Its leaders exercise strict management. We should learn from their experience, and we should do a better job than they do."

While it may seem odd for a Communist government to take as its model a monument to free enterprise, Deng's comment reflects a fascination with the practical accomplishments of Asia's "four dragons": Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

<http://www.nytimes.com/1992/08/09/weekinreview/the-world-china-sees-singapore-as-a-model-for-progress.html>


Deng Xaioping (China) & Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore)

Deng Xaioping, then Vice Premier of China, and Lee Kuan Yew first met in 1978, when Beijing was seeking support from South-east Asian nations amid strengthening ties between Vietnam and the then Soviet Union. By this time, the two Communist giants had fallen out, and China was afraid that Malaysia,Thailand and Singapore would swing over to the powerful Soviets.

When Deng visited Singapore on Nov 12, 1978, both men were already 'aware of the other's reputation', and made special efforts to bridge the cultural gap. When Deng laid out his fears about the Soviet Union, he was surprised by Lee's frank reply that Asean nations were more worried about the 'China dragon' than the 'Russian bear', as Lee recounts in his own memoirs. Deng recovered quickly and asked what was wanted of China -- a question that 'astonished' Lee, who recalled the meeting in his two-part memoirs, The Singapore Story:

'I had never met a communist leader who was prepared to depart from his brief when confronted with reality,' he wrote, 'much less ask what I wanted him to do.'

Lee too paid tribute to the Chinese reformer: 'He was the most impressive leader I had met. He was a five-footer, but a giant among men. At 74, when he was faced with an unpleasant truth, he was prepared to change his mind.' Indeed, their meetings -- Deng and Lee met again in 1980, 1985 and 1988 -- ultimately led to significant changes in the relationship between China and Singapore.

Up till then, Beijing and its propaganda had refused to recognise Singapore's independence, and condemned Lee as a 'running dog' of the West.  A few weeks after Deng visited Singapore, this description of Singapore disappeared.  Instead, Singapore was described as a place worth studying for its initiatives in environmental preservation, public housing, and tourism.

<http://ifonlysingaporeans.blogspot.com/2011/11/deng-xiaoping-and-transformation-of.html>


Tiananmen Square Massacre: Suppressed Dissent

In the spring of 1989, an audacious generation of students challenged China’s Communist leadership in a series of pro-democracy demonstrations at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that shook the country to its core. Approximately 100,000 students and supporters marched on Beijing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of China's first student movement, while similar demonstrations were held in Shanghai, Nanjing and other cities.The government responded by ordering the army to use tanks and automatic weapons to shoot its way through the crowds and force the students to abandon their cause and the square. The crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on June 4, 1989, killed hundreds, possibly more. The Chinese government has never fully disclosed what happened on that day and branded the protests a "counterrevolutionary riot."


PICTURES: CBS photo-journal account of the days leading up to the Tiananmen Square Massacre

In this now iconic photograph, a Chinese protester blocks a line of tanks heading east on Beijing's Cangan Blvd. in front of the Beijing Hotel, June 5, 1989.  The man, calling for an end to the violence and bloodshed against pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, was pulled away by bystanders, and the tanks continued on their way. 

Kim Jong Un's North Korea

                                                        

 


Government of North Korea

Although the Korean communist party dates from the 1920s, North Korea claims that the KWP was founded by Kim Il Sung in 1945. Since that time, North Korea has been under the one-party rule of the KWP. The party is by far North Korea's most politically significant entity; its preeminence in all spheres of society places it beyond the reach of dissent or disagreement. Party membership is composed of the "advanced fighters" among North Korea's working people: workers, peasants, and working intellectuals who struggle devotedly for the success of the socialist and communist cause. The KWP claimed a membership of "over three million" people in 1988. The ruling elite considers KWP members the major mobilizing and developmental cadres. In principle, every worker, peasant, soldier, and revolutionary element can join the party. Among KWP members, however, the military has a major political role, and all key military leaders have prestigious positions in top party organs.

The political system originally was patterned after the Soviet model. The party is guided by the concept of chuch'e --"national self-reliance" in all activities. The essence of chuch'e is to apply creatively the general principles of Marxism and Leninism in the North Korean way (woorisik-dero salja). Chuch'e is a response to past political economic dependence. As historian DaeSook Suh has noted, chuch'e is "not the philosophical exposition of an abstract idea; rather it is firmly rooted in the North Korean people and Kim Il Sung."

In the decades since the departure of Soviet occupation forces in 1948, and as the party leadership gradually has grown more confident in its management of various problems, the system has been somewhat modified in response to specific domestic circumstances. In April 1992, North Korea promulgated an amended constitution that deleted Marxism and Leninism as principal national ideas and emphasized chuch'e. The constitutional revisions also granted supreme military power to the chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Il Sung.

Another salient feature of the country's political system is glorification of Kim Il Sung's authority and cult of personality. Kim uses the party and the government to consolidate his power. He is addressed by many honorary titles: the "great leader," the son of the nation, national hero, liberator, and the fatherly leader. According to the party, there can be no greater honor or duty than being loyal to him "absolutely and unconditionally." Kim's executive power is not checked by any constitutional provision. The party's principal concern is to ensure strict popular compliance with the policies of Kim Il Sung and the party; such compliance implants an appearance of institutional imprimatur on Kim's highly personalized and absolute rule. Politics as a function of competition for power by aspiring groups and promotion of the interests of special groups is not germane to the North Korean setting.

<http://www.mongabay.com/reference/country_studies/north-korea/GOVERNMENT.html>


Recent sabre-rattling by Kim Il-Un in North Korea

The recent missile and nuclear tests, and the annulment of the 1953 Korean War armistice are raising questions about the young leader.  Is his behavior erratic or staged? Is he competent enough to run a government?

Christopher Hill, a career U.S. diplomat, said the "prolonged, rather intense" flurry of tough talk out of Pyongyang shouldn't be ignored, but it could be directed to the citizenry itself.  "I think there's a big element of domestic North Korean politics, if one can understand that concept, where clearly Kim Jong Un is not being well received," Hill told CNN.  "I think they are trying to kind of boost his status to some sort of wartime leader."

A UK-based Independent newspaper said Kim is working "to shore up his position."  "Not only must the new 'supreme leader' see off challengers from within North Korea's perhaps skeptical military; he must also prove to his brutalized, often starving, people that threats from 'foreign imperialists' must take precedence over, say, early promises of improved living conditions.  "What better than to conduct a nuclear test, and then use the resulting slap on the wrist from the international community as an excuse to ready the troops, tear up the non-aggression pact with Seoul and release incendiary propaganda about, for example, Barack Obama perishing in a nuclear onslaught?"

David Kang and Victor Cha, writing in Foreign Policy, say the Kim Il-Un is a contrast to his introverted dad, Kim Jong Il. In power for more than a year, Kim is very much an extrovert who loves to appear in public, watch his beloved hoops and deliver speeches. "Much of his behavior may be political theater aimed at convincing his own people that the young general is comfortably in charge, but it is also a contrast with his father's ruling style," the authors say.  "Kim Jong Il paid no attention to the public aspect of ruling, whereas his son's visibility and embrace of popular culture appears to be aimed at convincing North Koreans that changes may actually occur under him."

<http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/27/world/asia/north-korea-kim-why>


Evidence that Kim Il-Un seeks changes

Seoul's Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, as reported by Yonhap news agency, asked 133 defectors to hazard a guess as to Kim's actual approval rating in the country, which at least publicly buys into the absolute cult of personality surrounding its leadership.

Just over 60 percent said they think most of the country is behind him. In a similar survey in 2011, only 55 percent believed Kim's father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, had the support of the majority of the country.

writes:

"Experts put Kim Jong-un's popularity down to efforts improve everyday citizens' lives, with an emphasis on economic growth, light industries and farming in a country where most are believed to be short of food, Yonhap says. There are no opinion polls in the closed communist state, where — outwardly at least — the leader enjoys full and boisterous support. Though not directly comparable, the perceived approval rating outshines those of Western leaders. A recent suggested only 41% of Americans back President Barack Obama's performance, while UK Prime Minister David Cameron scored 38% in a recent poll."

, quoting the poll, says more than 81 percent of the defectors said people were getting three meals a day, up from 75 percent of the previous batch surveyed.

"It points to a successful consolidation of power for the young leader, who took over with the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011. That seemed uncertain a year ago, at least based on the institute's previous report on defector interviews. Speaking then with 122 people who had fled North Korea between January 2011 and May 2012, it found that 58% were unhappy with the choice of the young Mr. Kim as successor. (Of course, people who flee the country may tend to be more dissatisfied with it than people who remain.)

"The new leader seems to be tightening his grip, with 45% saying society is tightly under control, up from 36% in the previous report. Anti-regime leaflets and graffiti are a bit less common (but maybe that's the high approval rating at work): 66% of the latest group said they'd seen such things, down from 73% in the 2012 survey and 70% in 2011. Travel to other parts of the country has become more difficult. The percentage who reported having done so, after rising for five consecutive years—to 70% among the defectors interviewed in 2012, from 56% among those interviewed in 2008 — retreated to 64%."

<http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/08/30/217186480/defectors-think-most-north-koreans-approve-of-kim-jong-un>

The Islamic Republic of Iran

The Origins of Islamic Fundamentalism


http://www.michaeltotten.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Sayyid-Qutb.png

Sayyid Qutb

To anyone who has looked closely enough, Al Qaeda and its sister organizations plainly enjoy yet another strength, arguably the greatest strength of all, something truly imposing -- though in the Western press this final strength has received very little attention. Bin Laden is a Saudi plutocrat with Yemeni ancestors, and most of the suicide warriors of Sept. 11 were likewise Saudis, and the provenance of those people has focused everyone's attention on the Arabian peninsula. But Al Qaeda has broader roots. The organization was created in the late 1980's by an affiliation of three armed factions -- bin Laden's circle of ''Afghan'' Arabs, together with two factions from Egypt, the Islamic Group and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the latter led by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's top theoretician. The Egyptian factions emerged from an older current, a school of thought from within Egypt's fundamentalist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, in the 1950's and 60's. And at the heart of that single school of thought stood, until his execution in 1966, a philosopher named Sayyid Qutb -- the intellectual hero of every one of the groups that eventually went into Al Qaeda, their Karl Marx (to put it that way), their guide.  Qutb (pronounced KUH-tahb) wrote a book called ''Milestones,'' and that book was cited at his trial, which gave it immense publicity, especially after its author was hanged. ''Milestones'' became a classic manifesto of the terrorist wing of Islamic fundamentalism.

Sayyid Qutb's special ability as a writer came from the fact that, as a young boy, he received a traditional Muslim education -- he committed the Koran to memory by the age of 10 -- yet he went on, at a college in Cairo, to receive a modern, secular education. He was born in 1906, and in the 1920's and 30's he took up socialism and literature. He wrote novels, poems and a book that is still said to be well regarded called ''Literary Criticism: Its Principles and Methodology.'' His writings reflected -- here I quote one of his admirers and translators, Hamid Algar of the University of California at Berkeley -- a ''Western-tinged outlook on cultural and literary questions.'' Qutb displayed ''traces of individualism and existentialism.'' He even traveled to the United States in the late 1940's, enrolled at the Colorado State College of Education and earned a master's degree. In some of the accounts of Qutb's life, this trip to America is pictured as a ghastly trauma, mostly because of America's sexual freedoms, which sent him reeling back to Egypt in a mood of hatred and fear.

His book from the 1940's, ''Social Justice and Islam,'' shows that, even before his voyage to America, he was pretty well set in his Islamic fundamentalism. It is true that, after his return to Egypt, he veered into ever more radical directions. But in the early 1950's, everyone in Egypt was veering in radical directions. Gamal Abdel Nasser and a group of nationalist army officers overthrew the old king in 1952 and launched a nationalist revolution on Pan-Arabist grounds. And, as the Pan-Arabists went about promoting their revolution, Sayyid Qutb went about promoting his own, somewhat different revolution. His idea was ''Islamist.'' He wanted to turn Islam into a political movement to create a new society, to be based on ancient Koranic principles. Qutb joined the Muslim Brotherhood, became the editor of its journal and established himself right away as Islamism's principal theoretician in the Arab world.

by Paul Berman <http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/23/magazine/the-philosopher-of-islamic-terror.html?src=pm> (10/03/13)

"It is this belief that is the essence and reality of the battle that the Jews and Christians are inciting against the Muslim jama’ah in every land and in every era. It is the battle of belief that has reared its head, between the camp of Islam and these two camps that occasionally differ and quarrel between each other. They differ in the secondary aspects of the same creed that is common between them, but when it comes to fighting Islam and the Muslims, they are always in complete agreement!

Verily, it is the battle of beliefs, in its essence and reality. However, the two camps that are in enmity towards Islam and the Muslims apply various names to this battle, and they raise above it various banners – all out of evil and deceit. They experienced the zeal of the Muslims towards their religion and belief when they faced them under the banner of ‘aqeedah. As a result, the stubborn enemies changed the banner of the fight. They no longer announce it as a battle in the name of belief – which is what it really is – out of fear of the surging zeal that would be evoked if they did so. Rather, they announce it in the name of land, economics, politics, military bases, etc., and they throw into the minds of the heedless ones among us that the issue of belief has become a thing of the past, having no relevance today, and that it we should not raise a banner and fight in its name! This is the characteristic of these idiotic blind followers.

They do all of this to protect themselves from the surging zeal that would be unleased for the sake of this belief, even though – between themselves – the international Zionists, Crusaders, and Communists all plot this battle first and foremost to destroy this solid boulder that they have been nudging for a long time, and which will destroy them all in the end!

Verily, it is a battle of beliefs. It is not a battle over land, crops, military bases, or any of these other empty banners. They impose these concepts on us out of an alterior motive: in order to deceive and distract us from the reality and nature of the battle.

<https://muwahhidmedia.wordpress.com/category/sayyid-qutb> (10/06/13)


The Iranian Revolution

Ayatollah Khomeini. Reproduced by permission of Getty Images.  

Ayatollah Khomeini

Influenced by a strict, religious interpretation of Shia Islam and fearful that the Shah of Iran's policies blunted the influence of Islam and turned Iran into an American protectorate, Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini launched his fight against the shah's regime (the king's rule) in 1962, which led to the eruption of a religious and political rebellion on June 5, 1963. This date (fifteenth of Khurdad in the Iranian solar calendar) is regarded by the revolutionists as the turning point in the history of the Islamic movement in Iran. The shah's bloody crushing of the uprising was followed by the exile (forced removal) of Khomeini in 1964, first to Iraq then to France.

Khomeini returned to Iran from exile in France on February 1, 1979, after Muhammad Reza Shah had been forced to step down two weeks earlier. On February 11 revolutionary forces loyal to Khomeini seized power in Iran, and Khomeini emerged as the founder and the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

From the perspective of Khomeini and his followers, the Iranian Revolution went through several "revolutionary" phases. The first phase began with Khomeini's appointment of Mehdi Bazargan as the head of the "provisional government" on February 5, 1979, and ended with his fall on November 6, two days after the capture of the U.S. embassy (the U.S. headquarters in Iran).

The second revolution was marked by the elimination of mainly nationalist forces, or forces devoted to the interests of a culture. As early as August 20, 1979, twenty-two newspapers that clashed with Khomeini's views were ordered closed. In terms of foreign policy, the landmarks of the second revolution were the destruction of U.S.-Iran relations and the admission of the shah to the United States on October 22, 1979. Two weeks later, Khomeini instructed Iranian students to "expand with all their might their attacks against the United States" in order to force the extradition (legal surrender) of the shah. The seizure of the American embassy on November 4 led to 444 days of agonizing dispute between the United States and Iran until the release of the hostages on January 21, 1981.

The so-called third revolution began with Khomeini's dismissal of President Abul Hassan Bani-Sadr on June 22, 1981. Bani-Sadr's fate was a result of Khomeini's determination to eliminate from power any individual or group that could stand in the way of the ideal Islamic Republic of Iran. This government, however, had yet to be molded thoroughly according to his interpretation of Islam. In terms of foreign policy, the main characteristics of the third revolution were the continuation of the Iraq-Iran war, expanded efforts to export the "Islamic revolution," and increasing relations with the Soviet Union, a once-powerful nation that was made up of Russia and several other smaller nations.


9/11 and The Patriot Act

In September 11, 2001, nineteen al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial U.S. Jetliners, deliberately crashing two of the planes into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center and a third plane into the Pentagon. After learning of the other attacks, passengers and crew member on the fourth plane attempted to commandeer control, and the plane was crashed into an empty field in Western Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed on that day, the single largest loss of life from a foreign attack on American soil.

 

<http://timeline.national911memorial.org>


USA PATRIOT is an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. Generally referred to as the Patriot Act, it was signed into law with little debate or congress review only 43 days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In the wake of the tragedy, it seemed to only make sense for sweeping policy changes to be put into effect to help fight the War on Terror. The American public felt that we were at risk, and our primary concern was feeling safe. In the years that followed, however, we began to question whether the Patriot Act provided too much government interference with too few checks and balances.

The Patriot Act is divided into 10 separate sections known as “titles.” Each title contains numerous Sections that further clarify the provisions of the title. The titles and sections delineate new powers that are provided to the federal government in order to facilitate investigation of terrorist activities, along with the relevant checks and balances that are designed to prevent abuse of power. The provisions of the Patriot Act were carefully designed in response to the events that led up to the September 11 attacks. It was believed that bureaucratic red tape prevented vital surveillance activities and information transmissions that could potentially have thwarted the attacks.
 
At its heart, the Patriot Act streamlines communication between varying agencies that can work together to investigate terrorist activities. It also provides for easier and less cumbersome means of investigation and surveillance.

Disadvantages of the Patriot Act

The Patriot Act has been widely criticized for being, in effect, too thorough. The Act provides sweeping power to government agencies to monitor the personal habits of not only those who have been identified as suspected terrorists, but anyone residing in the United States as well as United States citizens residing abroad.

The time immediately following the passage of the Act was a scary time to be an American. The detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay was opened in 2002, housing a then-undisclosed number of people from multiple nations who were imprisoned without traditional legal protections for often unknown reasons.

Little was known about how the government intended to use its new Patriot Act powers. One of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act was Title II, which allowed unprecedented monitoring of semi-public records such as library records.
 

Many began to fear that their choice of reading material could lead to an accusation of terrorism and subsequent detention at Guantanamo Bay.


"You're Either With Us or Against Us"

President Bush’s regular television addresses were peppered with calls to action, as in the now famous line “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror,” from his November 6, 2001 speech.  Although the line was part of a speech beseeching the UN to back military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, many Americans felt the implication on a more personal level.  Freedom of speech began to erode as many worried that the most innocuous of statements, particularly those made publicly, could lead to persecution. Others argued that heightened surveillance activities and a lack of accountability for the invasion of privacy were against the basic principles of freedom espoused by the United States and protected by the Constitution.

At the time that the Patriot Act was drafted, it charted unknown territory. Although critics of the Act have later compared it to the Sedition Act of 1918 and even the Reichstag Fire Decree and Enabling Act, which ultimately gave Hitler the opportunity to seize Germany, the Patriot Act was truly the first of its kind. As such, the Act was written with sunset provisions

 

The Sunset Provisions

Sunset provisions are sections of law that automatically expire after a certain period of time unless extended through additional legislation. 

Many of the Patriot Act’s provisions, particularly in the area of surveillance, were drafted as sunset provisions. These sections of law were set to expire on December 31, 2005. This provided four years for the law to be used in real-world conditions and then decided upon.

The expiring provisions were extended until March 10, 2006. Controversy reigned as Congress debated whether or not to make the Patriot Act permanent. By this time, a number of legal challenges had been raised, although most continued to languish within the court system.

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) was heavily involved, and several misuses of power had come to light. Numerous cities refused to honor sections of the Act that were, in the opinion of city government, unconstitutional.

Public opinion was divided, with April 2005 Gallup Poll statistics showing that 45% believe that the Act goes too far and 49% believe that it does not.

On June 10, 2005 things came to a head at a congressional hearing on whether to renew the Patriot Act. Congressional Democrats used the issue as a springboard to air grievances concerning conditions at Guantanamo Bay and other aspects of the War on Terror.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who had authored the Act, brought the meeting to an abrupt close and walked out after stating that the two issues were unrelated. The Democrats continued to present their case to the still-rolling C-SPAN cameras.

On July 21, Sensenbrenner introduced a new Reauthorization Act that would remove the provisions in question entirely.Eventually a compromise bill was negotiated and passed through both the House and the Senate. It was signed into law on March 9, 2006. Many in Congress claim that the new bill sufficiently limits governmental powers while retaining the essence of the original Act’s goals.

However, the ACLU continues to challenge the new version, claiming that essential American freedoms are still at risk.

 

Patriot Act II
The compromise bill addressed certain issues that were raised about the Patriot Act, providing clearer guidelines as to the circumstances under which surveillance activities may take place. However, the most sweeping change to the Act is in the area of notification.

Under the new law, agencies that invoke the powers of the Act are now required to disclose how many people are affected. They retain the ability to keep secret the identities of those who are under surveillance, but there are specific criteria that must be met in order to avoid disclosing the fact that an individual is under surveillance to that individual.

Many, including the ACLU, feel that the new version of the Patriot Act is a step in the right direction but does not yet go far enough in protecting civil liberties.

Although it is not clear what the future status of the Act under a Democrat-controlled Congress and a possible future Democratic president may be, for now it appears that the true powers and power restrictions will be decided by the courts.

Several cases are currently making their way through the court system and are expected to eventually reach the Supreme Court.

Until that time, the Patriot Act continues to be a controversial topic. Offering valuable new tools in the War on Terror, but at the expense of curtailing certain liberties, the Patriot Act may ultimately be one of the biggest legacies of the early 21st century.
 
<http://www.lifescript.com/soul/self/growth/usa_patriot_act_pros_and_cons.aspx?gclid=CPeN7Kjs-7kCFejm7AodyQsAbw&trans=1&du=1&ef_id=UY6-bQAAASx5jTmn:20131003234443:s&_page=1>
 

TEXT: A Negative Review of the Patriot Act by Epic.com

Castro's Cuba

 

 

History of Cuba

Arawak (or Taino) Indians inhabiting Cuba when Columbus landed on the island in 1492 died from diseases brought by sailors and settlers. By 1511, Spaniards under Diego Velásquez had established settlements. Havana's superb harbor made it a common transit point to and from Spain.

In the early 1800s, Cuba's sugarcane industry boomed, requiring massive numbers of black slaves. A simmering independence movement turned into open warfare from 1867 to 1878. Slavery was abolished in 1886. In 1895, the poet José Marti led the struggle that finally ended Spanish rule, thanks largely to U.S. intervention in 1898 after the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor.

An 1899 treaty made Cuba an independent republic under U.S. protection. The U.S. occupation, which ended in 1902, suppressed yellow fever and brought large American investments. The 1901 Platt Amendment allowed the U.S. to intervene in Cuba's affairs, which it did four times from 1906 to 1920. Cuba terminated the amendment in 1934.

In 1933, a group of army officers, including army sergeant Fulgencio Batista, overthrew President Gerardo Machado. Batista became president in 1940, running a corrupt police state.

In 1956, Fidel Castro Ruz launched a revolution from his camp in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Castro's brother Raul and Ernesto (Ché) Guevara, an Argentine physician, were his top lieutenants. Many anti-Batista landowners supported the rebels. The U.S. ended military aid to Cuba in 1958, and on New Year's Day 1959, Batista fled into exile and Castro took over the government.


Read More:  <http://www.infoplease.com/country/cuba.html#ixzz2iH8Tp9Yn>

Government of Cuba

Cuba is a totalitarian communist state headed by General Raul Castro and a cadre of party loyalists. Raul Castro replaced his brother Fidel Castro as chief of state, president of Cuba, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces on February 24, 2008. Fidel Castro had served as President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers and his brother Raul had served as First Vice President of both bodies as well as Minister of Defense.

On 24 February 2013, the so-called "historical generation" began the transition of leadership to a new generation. Jose Ramon Machado Ventura made available to his post as first Vice President, and he himself proposed Miguel Díaz-Canel to occupy it. Raul Castro said this was a step in "defining in shaping the future direction of the country through the gradual and orderly transfer to the new generation..."

Read More about the Cuban government: <http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/cuba/government.htm>

Cuba's authoritarian regime assumed power by force in 1959 and has severely restricted fundamental freedoms, repressed political opponents, and violated human rights. The United States imposed an embargo on Cuba in 1960 and broke diplomatic relations in 1961, following the Cuban Government's expropriation of U.S. properties and its move toward adoption of a one-party communist system.

U.S. policy toward Cuba is focused on encouraging democratic and economic reforms and increased respect for human rights on the part of the Cuban Government. The U.S. Government has taken steps to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country’s future. Although Cuba is subject to U.S. trade sanctions, the United States remains Cuba’s largest supplier of food. The United States is committed to supporting safe, orderly, and legal migration from Cuba through the effective implementation of the 1994-95 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords.

-- U.S. State Department <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2886.htm> (10/20/13)