Che: A Graphic Biography

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I’ve never really read much about Che Guevara, but have always been curious about his life and politics. I’ve been interested due both to his iconic status–his image is everywhere–as well as his influence on the so-called “New Left” in the United States in the 1960s. Spain Rodriguez’s Che: A Graphic Biography provides a quick-and-easy introduction to Guevara’s life that gives biographical details, historical context, and political analysis.

Che: A Graphic Biography helps to explain why Guevara has become a world renowned figure. Ultimately, Rodriguez concludes that Guevara’s celebrity status owes to his life becoming a symbol of standing up to U.S. imperialism. Before presenting that conclusion, Rodriguez describes the important chapters of Guevara’s life, discussing his tour of Latin America and the influence it had on his political development, his involvement in the Cuban revolution, his work spreading revolutionary politics in Africa and Latin America following the Cuban revolution, and his death while attempting to organize a revolution in Bolivia. Throughout this history, the book inevitably discusses the tension between Guevara and Cuba’s Marxism and the free-market capitalist ideology of the United States. It does a good job talking about how the United States sought to suppress revolutionary movements in Cuba and Latin America generally while also touching on Cuba’s attempts to forge alliances with Marxist governments around the world. If there is one downfall of the book, it is that Marxism is receives relatively little detailed exploration and that there is only limited critical assessment of Guevara’s politics.

While the book is short at around 100 pages and can’t get into all of the details of Guevara’s life and times, it more than makes up in it for its readability. For someone not terribly well versed in Latin American politics and history, the book successfully presents enough information to give a sense of what was happening while at the same time keeping the narrative flowing. Moreover, the brilliant illustrations present Guevara in a compelling light, making it easy to follow and breaking up the text for less than frequent readers.

The book also contains an essay by Sarah Seidman and Paul Buhle titled “Che Guevara, Image and Reality” that looks at the commodification of Guevara’s influence and his relationship to revolutionary politics. It looks at how Guevara influenced and was used by a variety of anti-imperialist movements while also providing a critical look at how his image has been used outside of its political context on a range of consumer products.

Overall, Che: A Graphic Biography is well worth reading for those curious about why Guevara has become such an iconic figure and for those interested in learning about revolutionary movements.

Spain Rodriguez, Che: A Graphic Biography, (Verso Books, 2008).

Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba

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On January 1, the Cuban revolution celebrated the fifty year anniversary of its toppling of the Batista regime. The US media coverage of that anniversary was limited and when coverage did appear it either presented the revolution as repressive or centered around the personalities of Fidel or Raul Castro.

This kind of US media coverage has been consistent for decades and was reflected in a six-month study that the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy conducted in 2007 on Latin America. This type of media representation of Cuba has contributed greatly to the lack of understanding amongst those living in the US about the reality of life in that Caribbean nation for the past fifty years.

Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba is an important new book that can serve as a counter to the biased US media coverage. Author and journalist, Reese Erlich, provides readers with an excellent overview of US policy towards Cuba since 1959. Erlich has traveled to Cuba numerous times since his initial visit in 1968, when he went as a member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). These visits not only helped the author to develop relationships with Cubans over the past 40 years, it provided him with some insight into the evolution of the revolutionary experiment in Cuba.

Not an Apologist for the Cuban Government

Another important aspect of Dateline Havana is that the author does not act as an apologist for the Cuban government. While Erlich’s investigation of US policy towards Cuba does acknowledge how Washington has punished and marginalized the revolutionary government, he doesn’t shy away from pointing out the many shortcomings. Erlich shares the stories of many Cubans who feel that the Cuban government has not lived up to the stated goals of the revolution, such as providing adequate food, work opportunities, and the right to dissent. Erlich even devotes chapters to the discussion of racism in Cuba, whether or not Cuban women are better off since the revolution, and how the government treats the gay community.

The author’s critique of Cuba is balanced by his ability to present us with information on US policy that will not overwhelm readers. Erlich looks at the harsh realities of US attempts to overthrow the Cuban government, the use of biological warfare, assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, a propaganda war through radio and TV Marti, and the decades long embargo that has attempted to strangle the tiny Caribbean island.

One of the most revealing chapters deals with the issue of artistic expression in Cuba with a focus on the international acclaim of the late 1990’s musical phenomenon known as the Buena Vista Social Club. Erlich interviews several musicians who participated in that project, most of whom have been supporters of the Cuban government. However, the interviews also reveal that many of those same musicians were frustrated with how film maker Wim Wenders depicted Cuba in his highly acclaimed film about the Buena Vista Social Club.

A Good Book for Understanding US-Cuba Relations

Dateline Havana concludes with a look into the future of US/Cuban relations in a post-Castro era. The author raises many questions about the resiliency of the five-decades long revolution and whether or not the US will ever be willing to have open relations with the island nation as long as it maintains a commitment to what was started in 1959. Reese Erlich’s book is an important contribution for anyone who cares about understanding US policy and its future with Cuba.

Reese Erlich, Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba, (Polipoint Press, 2008).

The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power

In his third book on Pakistan, Tariq Ali does the monumental job of providing us with an important study of the historical relationship between the US and a country that has only experienced sovereignty since 1948.

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As the US government makes the transition from the Bush to the Obama administration what will this mean for foreign policy? Media pundits have been and will be speculating on this question for months to come, but it is important to seek out independent analysis, particularly the kind of analysis that provides a solid historical context.

In his third book on Pakistan, Tariq Ali does the monumental job of providing us with an important study of the historical relationship between the US and a country that has only experienced sovereignty since 1948.

The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power covers a sixty year period from the birth of a nation to a US ally in the “war on terror.” Ali, with a keen sense of history and a personal commitment to the quest for justice in his home country of Pakistan, has provided us with an important framework for how to understand the role of his country in US foreign policy.

The book begins with the tensions that existed between India and Pakistan after the British turned over rule of the region. As Ali reminds readers throughout the book, the US was very interested in having Pakistan as an ally considering its strategic location. Pakistan borders India, Iran, Afghanistan and China. Pakistan was an important ally in the “Cold War” especially during the Reagan years and the US support for the Afghani resistance to the Soviet occupation of the 1980s.

However, before their role in the first “war on terror,” Pakistan became one of the first nations to develop a highly political vision of Islam. It was during the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq that the reality of Pakistan being a predominantly Islamic state came into fruition. General Zia-ul-Haq promoted a Sharia (Islamic) law and developed the notorious intelligence agency known as the ISI, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. The ISI was notorious for its repression of dissent and played a valuable role in supporting the US financed mujahideens in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

The Duel also provides important insight into the post Zia-ul-Haq years and the legacy of the Bhutto family in Pakistani politics. Despite the US media canonization of Benazir Bhutto after her assassination last year, Bhutto was not a strong advocate for democracy in Pakistan. Her death had more to do with factionalism than her being a champion for democracy. Bhutto’s death opened the door for Pervez Musharraf to take complete control of power in Pakistan, an outcome the US government was quite pleased with.

Musharraf has continued to be an important ally for the US, particularly in the current “war on terror.” Ali underscores that point by devoting the last part of the book to the role that Pakistan has played in the current US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan has played such an important role in the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan that the war has now spilled over into Pakistan. The Duel does not provide great details on the US military incursions into Pakistan, a topic Ali has written on since the book was published, but it does provide an important framework for why Pakistan will be critical in the US/NATO campaign in Afghanistan.

Just before the November, election Tariq Ali made a video plea to Barack Obama, asking him to reconsider his public position in support of increasing US troops in Afghanistan. Continuing in that spirit, The Duel will provide anyone with an important perspective, especially if you want to push the new administration to break with a long history of using Pakistan as a tool to further imperialist policies in that region of the world.

Tariq Ali, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, (Scribner, 2008).

War Without End: The Iraq War in Context

Michael Schwartz’s War Without End is an important book for understanding the motivations of the Iraq War. Unlike the many books that simply blame Bush, Schwartz looks at the underlying role of neoliberalism in driving the war.

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While the US occupation of Iraq became a marginal issue in the months leading up to the US elections, it is still an important issue that Americans need to address. Now that Barack Obama has been elected to the White House it might be even more important for those who have opposed the US War in Iraq to rethink their understanding of the motives for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Michael Schwartz’s new book, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, provides some very timely analysis of the ongoing US occupation of Iraq. Unlike many other books that have focused on the deceptive tactics used by the Bush administration that led to war with Iraq, Schwartz’s book sifts through the policy in order to draw some conclusions about the real motives behind the near six year war.

In some ways, War Without End is a detailed investigation of US policy in Iraq that builds on the analysis of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine. Like Klein, Schwartz argues that the real motivation for the US occupation of Iraq is that it fits into a larger neo-liberal agenda of political and economic control of the region. The author argues that the US military occupation is primarily about: 1) restructuring of Iraq’s economy so that Iraqi resources, particularly oil, are privatized and that foreign investment can flourish, and 2) creating an Iraqi government that would be favorable to this economic restructuring.

Schwartz devotes several chapters to what was accomplished during the two years that US envoy Paul L. Bremer was in charge of the neo-liberal project in Iraq. Bremer was able to get the Iraqi Constitution rewritten to make it more adaptable to foreign investment and to subject Iraq to World Bank development loans and IMF structural adjustment policies. These policies would primarily include the privatization of services that were previously funded publicly, such as health care, education and some utilities.

An early manifestation of this economic restructuring was the so-called “reconstruction projects” that were done by companies like Halliburton. Much of the analysis of this reconstruction process has tended to focus on the cronyism between corporations benefiting from these projects and the Bush administration. Schwartz, on the other hand, challenges readers to see the reconstruction projects as a first step in the neo-liberal project. For the author, the reconstruction not only gave money to US-based companies–it often used foreign laborers as a way of breaking Iraqi unions, and it promoted projects that would create economic dependency for Iraq. One example would be the “health centers” that were built by the multinational Parsons Corporation. These “health centers” were built throughout the country in order to undermine the Iraqi public hospital system and were equipped with high tech medical equipment. This is part of an effort to move Iraq into a for profit-health care model.

In addition to Schwartz’s investigation into the economic restructuring of Iraq’s economy, the book also takes a close look at the US plan to create a political climate that will be favorable to long-term US interests. The author argues that Iraqi sovereignty has been undermined by the US Occupation. Schwartz looks at how the US has tried to employ a variety of tactics that have been applied differently in response to the ethnic regions of the country. The Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities have all been confronted by attempts to win them over and get them to support long-term US interests.

However, there has been significant opposition and resistance to the US neo-liberal plan. Here again, Schwartz points out that it is not just the brutality of the US military occupation that has led people to join the Iraqi resistance movements, it is the growing opposition to the economic restructuring of the country. Iraqi engineers are joining the resistance because the reconstruction contracts are given to US companies who don’t hire Iraqi’s who are well equipped to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. This is an important point that the author makes since it challenges readers to view the Iraqi resistance as more than a group of people who are motivated exclusively by religious or political ideology.

War Without End is an important book for those in the US who are now faced with the challenge of getting people who previously opposed the US war in Iraq to continue this opposition, despite the election of Barack Obama. Michael Schwartz’s book not only is a great resource to motivate ongoing opposition to the war, but provide us with an important analysis that can inform our actions.

Michael Schwartz, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, (Haymarket Books, 2008).

Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War

In Savage Mules, author Dennis Perrin provides a critical look at the Democratic Party and its support for a militarist foreign policy, despite its image to the contrary.

“We’re not inflicting pain on these fuckers. When people kill us, they should be killed in greater numbers. I believe in killing people who try to hurt you. And I can’t believe we’re being pushed around by these two-bit pricks.”

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This statement comes from former President Bill Clinton when referring to the United States’ invasion of Somalia in 1993 and is the opening paragraph in Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War–an excellent and timely book by Dennis Perrin.

Many people in liberal or progressive circles tend to equate the Democratic Party with an anti-war platform. Even the news media will often frame Democratic candidates as anti-war or political “doves.” However, Perrin’s basic thesis is that Democratic presidents have always endorsed war and are not “anti-war.” Savage Mules is not a scholarly book, but rather is a populist reading of the historical positions that Democratic presidents have taken in regards to war.

Starting with the founder of the Party, Andrew Jackson, the author presents an overview of every Democratic president and which wars they have started or continued. Jackson, of course, engaged in several brutal military campaigns against Native Americas, most notably the Trail of Tears. The Mexican-American War took place during James Polk’s rule of the White House and Woodrow Wilson not only got the US involved in World War I, but his administration invaded and occupied Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

FDR was a Democrat that went to war against Japan, Italy, and Germany and his Democratic successor Harry Truman not only dropped A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but he prosecuted the war in Korea. JFK, the attractive, youthful president was the first president to send troops to Southeast Asia and after his assassination, the Democrat Lyndon Johnson escalated that war on the poor people of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Kennedy was also responsible for the initial creation of death squads throughout Latin America with his program, the Alliance for Progress.

Carter supported the Indonesian War against East Timor, backed the Shah of Iran, backed the military regime in South Korea, and backed the Afghan militia that provoked the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan. Clinton was by no means a pacifist, with his invasion of Somalia, the bombing of Kosovo, and the constant bombing of Iraq throughout the 1990s that accompanied brutal economic sanctions that led to the deaths of an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children.

Recently, there has been much discussion about the failure of the Democratic controlled Congress to stop the ongoing US occupation of Iraq. However, for anyone that reads Savage Mules, it would come as no surprise that the US has not changed its position since the 2006 elections.

Perrin ends the book with a brief discussion on the idea of pragmatism, war, and the Obama campaign. It is the weakest chapter in the book and perhaps he would have been better off by ending with the Democrats’ continued backing of the war in Iraq, but beyond this chapter, the book is an important contribution to the discussion of partisan politics and war.

Dennis Perrin, Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War, (Verso, 2008).

The Cold War and the New Imperialism

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If one is trying to wrap their mind around all of the current global conflicts in the world, particularly where the United States is involved, you can go to several go websites for a good analysis. If you are interested in finding out what the US policy towards Venezuela is you’ll find great information at Venezuela Analysis. For those who are looking for current information on Israel/Palestine that doesn’t give you a governmental perspective, then visit to Electronic Intifada. If you are trying to get the perspective of those who live in Afghanistan regarding their endurance of the 7-year US occupation, a great source is the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan (RAWA). For those interested in a broader understanding of US foreign policy, an excellent source is Foreign Policy in Focus. However, in order to come to terms with current US foreign policy one needs to have some historical context. The Cold War and the New Imperialism: A Global History, 1945-2005 is a good place to start for those wanting to put current policy into perspective.

Henry Heller, a professor of history at the University of Manitoba, has written an excellent overview of US foreign policy since World War II with an emphasis on the Cold War. This book is broken up into eight sections, beginning with the end of World War II and its aftermath. Heller makes a compelling argument that the US position after WWII was one of containment, particularly of left and Communist elements. This position of containment would explain why the US in many cases throughout Europe assisted in putting fascist groups back into power, particularly at the local level. The author does a wonderful job of demonstrating how this policy of containment is what led to the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union.

The second and third section of the book takes a close look at the period of de-colonization globally and how the US made a concerted effort to enlarge its sphere of influence. The US directly intervened in places such as Guatemala and Iran by overthrowing democratically elected governments, while seeking to position themselves in Africa and Southeast Asia as countries moved toward liberation from European rule. At the same time the USSR was dealing with a post-Stalin era and trying to reform its government and expand its global influence as well. Heller demonstrates that the only real confrontation between the two super-powers was how they competed for building global allies, particularly in developing countries.

In the fourth chapter of the book, the author takes a look at liberation movements globally, particularly in Latin America with the influence that the Cuban revolution had on the entire region. The Cuban revolution is what really drove the Kennedy administration’s desire to shift tactics in Latin America with the introduction of policies and agencies like the Agency for International Development (USAID), the Peace Corps, and the Alliance for Progress. These policies were not terribly successful by themselves, but when used in conjunction with military campaigns such as the use of proxy forces or direct intervention, the policies which began under Kennedy have continued to influence US policy makers ever since.

On the other side of the globe, US tactics were much more traditional with direct intervention in Southeast Asia during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Eisenhower administrations. What is generally referred to as the Vietnam War, was actually a US war against Southeast Asia since it included the US bombing of Cambodia and military operations which were being conducted out of Laos. Heller does a good job of framing this regional war within the larger Cold War context. As the US was becoming mired in Southeast Asia, revolutionary movements were emerging in other developing countries and to some extent in Europe and the US as more and more people were challenging traditional power structures. However, in this portion of the text the author does not give enough credit to Third World movements for their influence on the left in Europe and the United States.

In chapter six, the author looks at the shift from revolution to Neo-liberalism, particularly during the Reagan and Thatcher years. This shift was in part due to an increase in military spending but also because of a greater emphasis on pushing economic policies which drove many countries into debt. It was during the 1980s that the influence of international lending institutions and foreign investors began to push for structural adjustment policies designed to open Third World markets and impose a policy of privatization in countries that had just a decade early flirted with revolution. Nicaragua was a good example of where the Sandinista revolution of 1979 was squashed by a US proxy war and its economy devastated by an embargo and diversion of resources from development to military spending. The Sandinistas lost the election in 1990 and the new government, which was backed by the US, embraced the Neo-liberal plan imposed by Washington. Nicaragua went from being a country of hope to a country of child prostitution and poverty.

The book concludes by looking at the disintegration of the Soviet Union and what factors contributed to it and how that set the stage for US global dominance. Heller provides a good overview of the Clinton years and how they set the stage for the Bush administration and its policies. This is important in that the Clinton years are usually overlooked as the first full administration in the post Cold War era and why the US government could get away with military campaigns in Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and boost military spending overall, with major arms sales to countries such as Turkey and Colombia. The Cold War and the New Imperialism is a very useful resource for those who are not only trying to have some context for US policy abroad, but can also be a useful guide in determining which direction the policy might take with the next administration.

Henry Heller, The Cold War and the New Imperialism: A Global History, 1945-2005, (Monthly Review Press, 2006).

Conversations with Tariq Ali: Speaking of Empire and Resistance

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Since the 1960s when he was exiled from Pakistan for his activism against the country’s military dictatorship, Tariq Ali has been one of the most outspoken critics of imperialism and religious fundamentalism for the past thirty years. In Speaking of Empire and Resistance: Conversations with Tariq Ali, Ali is given a chance to expand on the aforementioned topics and provide important insight into the United States imperialism.

In his interviews, Ali makes the case that the United States is an imperial power and that the “war on terror” is an imperialist war. Ali notes that while some may argue that the United States was once an imperial power (destroying the Native American population, taking parts of Mexico, controlling Central America) and that it no longer is, such arguments are worthless now that the United States has entered into the “war on terror” and boldly declared its imperialist intentions. Citing President George W. Bush’s 2002 national security doctrine, Ali describes how the United States has declared that it will go to war to protect free trade and access to resources, a hallmark of the classical empires. Moreover, while the United States frequently attempts to hide its imperial role behind client dictators and indirect control, it has abandoned this effort with the invasion of Iraq and continued posturing towards Iran and Syria. Of course, the United States government did not undertake this imperial policy on its own—Ali argues that there are a network of “enablers” that help the United States including Great Britain, the corporate media, Pakistan, and academia. Ali sees hope in the movements against United States imperialism and draws connections between the Iraqi resistance, the antiwar movement in the United States and England, and those resisting the occupation of Palestine, all of which are part of a global struggle against US imperialism.

Unfortunately, readers already familiar with Ali and the larger antiwar movement will find few “new” ideas in this book. For readers that already have a good understanding of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, the war on Iraq, the “war on terror,” the most intriguing parts of the book likely will be the interview on Pakistan. The unpublished interview from November 2003 provides valuable insights into Pakistan’s internal politics, its religious fundamentalism, and its role as one of the United States’ allies in the “war on terror.” Beyond his comments on Pakistan, his interpretation of the economic collapse of Argentina in 2001 is also interesting; with Ali arguing that the popular movements in Argentina failed because they could move the country towards “socialism.” Ali argues that while once a country held up as the model of the success that can be gained when adopting International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other neoliberal programs and policies, the left in Argentina was unable to effectively gain from the country’s collapse because it did not have an alternative model of non-capitalist economy. In Argentina, Ali sees not just the failure of capitalism but also the failure of alternatives to gain mass appeal. While Ali praises the popular assemblies that organically grew out of Argentina’s collapse, he argues that they were largely symbolic since there was no larger political alternative and no plan to gain state power. The seizure of state power, while defined in the sense of “socialism” rather than the “Socialism” of the Soviet Union, is essential if people want to change the world, and according to Ali, it is naïve to talk of changing the world without taking state power.

Overall, Ali’s book offers some unique insights, but for the most part, it will reaffirm what its readers like already know. The fact that it is grounded in anti-imperialism makes it a great introductory text to understanding the “war on terror” and the need to develop a movement against it, as an understanding of the “war on terror” (and the war on Iraq) is inadequate if it does not incorporate an anti-imperialist analysis. Moreover, as Ali argues throughout his book, an anti-imperialist analysis in the antiwar movement will help focus activists on the need to stop the war rather than electing candidates from the Democratic Party who will just give imperialism a more benign façade but will continue to pursue the same imperial policies.

Tariq Ali and David Barsamin, Speaking of Empire and Resistance: Conversations with Tariq Ali, (New Press, 2005)

Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World

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In the latest collection of the Chomsky/Barsamian interviews the reader is once again treated to clear analysis of the current policies and practices of the US government and their implications abroad. Chomsky continues to hammer home the point that while their are nuances in the Bush regime, the current policy is consistent with the decades long strategies that the US has engaged in around the globe. In the very first interview Barsamian asks Chomsky if the Bush administration is substantively different from previous ones? Chomsky quickly points out that the liberal Kennedy administration architect Dean Acheson said that “no legal issue arises if the US responds to any challenge to its power, position, and prestige.”

Another amazing thing about the analysis that Chomsky brings to the table is that it is not dispassionate. For example, when talking about the US military attacks on Falluja where the hospital was bombed and then occupied, Chomsky points out that this is a violation of the Geneva Convention. Then he says “the entire political leadership (of the US) should face the death penalty under US law for these actions. They’re all eligible for the death penalty, according to the War Crimes Act passed by the 1996 Republican Congress.” Much of Chomsky’s discourse and analysis leads readers to the conclusion that the US government isn’t just making mistakes like Vietnam or Iraq, rather that it is the intention, the policy, of US administrations to engage in criminal behavior in service to empire.

Another element in the interviews by Barsamian, host of the radio program Alternative Radio, is that Chomsky shares the differences between US audiences and those around the global when he speaks. A common response from audiences in the US during the Q & A is “What should I do?” Chomsky says that this is not a question he gets asked abroad. He says “when I go to Turkey or Colombia, or Brazil, they don’t ask you ‘What should I do?’ They tell you what they’re doing….It is only the highly privileged cultures like ours that people ask this question.” Chomsky tells readers that people in the US need to come to terms with the fact that we are not a beacon to the world and that what we have in the US are failed democratic institutions. These institutions look nice on paper but they are essentially ineffective when it comes to meaningful change. The last Presidential Elections are just the most recent example of that in Chomsky’s mind. People put a tremendous amount of energy into attempting to elect a candidate (Kerry) that didn’t really represent the interests of those who voted for him. Chomsky believes we have to look beyond the quick fix solutions of elections and demonstrations to building social movements that not only challenge power structures, but construct alternative realities. A good book to get you to see how are actions are influenced by our analysis.

Noam Chomsky with David Barsamian, Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World, (Metropolitan Books, 2005).

Superpower Principles: U.S. Terrorism Against Cuba

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So which country has endured more years of state terrorism than any other since WWII? The answer might surprise most, since the country in question in on the current US government list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The answer is Cuba. According to this new collection of essays edited by Salim Lamrani, the US government has engaged in over 40 years of terrorism against the island of Cuba and its people.

The book is divided into two sections, beginning with a series of essays that provide an overview of US policy since the first Cuban revolution at the end of the 19th century. The bulk of the terrorism against Cuba however, has been committed since the 1959 revolution. Several articles detail the kinds of terrorism employed by the US and its proxy forces; tactics like assassination, bombings, kidnapping, chemical and biological warfare. The US government has attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro, financed the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976 killing Cuban athletes and infecting livestock with swine fever resulting in the slaughter of 500,000 pigs unsuitable for human consumption. Despite this well documented legacy of state terrorism you won’t find it much in official history or in current media discourse on the War on Terrorism. The fact that this history is little known in the US demonstrates how the media in this country has become little more than a cheerleader for the government.

The last half of the book looks at a more recent aspect of US terrorism against Cuba, the arrest and bogus trial of what have become known as the Cuban Five. Arrested for conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism against the US in 2001, these Cubans were actually gathering intelligence in order to alert their government of future US efforts to undermine their country. Some of those charged have a long history of heroism, particularly fighting in many of the liberation wars in Africa in the 1970’s and 1980’s. As of this writing the Cuban Five have been granted a new trial, but you are not likely to hear about it from the corporate media. Unfortunately these Cuban patriots are not Michael Jackson or Martha Stewart. To get the background on their case the last few essays include comments from the lawyers defending them and perspectives from international journalists who have been following the proceedings. A great resource for debunking the US government myth that our foreign policy is committed to preventing acts of terrorism.

Salim Lamrani, ed., Superpower Principles: U.S. Terrorism Against Cuba, (Common Courage Press, 2005).

The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas

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For those involved in Latin American solidarity work over the past 20 years, the School of the Americas has been a common enemy in the struggle for justice. This new investigation by Leslie Gill not only provides some new information, but raises serious questions for the movement that has been attempting to close this US-based terrorist training camp.

Gill begins with some new information on what forces were behind the school’s move to Georgia in the early 80’s. A successful lobby campaign was spearheaded by local business people, particularly Sal Diaz-Verzon Jr. and his sister, Elena Amos. Gill describes them as extremely anti-Castro immigrants who made a fortune in the insurance industry.”Elena was married to the founder of the insurance giant AFLAC and Sal Jr. was the company president from 1978-92. Working with the local Chamber of Commerce and several Georgia legislators, the AFLAC fortune had a great deal to do with the school relocating to Georgia. In many ways it makes sense that Anti-Castro Cubans who were incensed with the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua and the other insurgent campaigns of the early 80s would want to support an institution like the School of the Americas. So the next time you see that ridiculous AFLAC duck commercial, you have another reason to

turn the channel.

The book’s strength has to do with Gill’s ability to weave a great deal of interview material throughout the text. These interviews were conducted in recent years with former students, instructors and the current based commander. The commentary by many of the former students is instructive, in that it provides an insight into the mind of those who have continued to participate in the US-backed counter insurgency campaigns in Latin America. In many ways the interviews are the best element of Gill’s book and similar to the revealing commentary provided in Jennifer Schirmer’s book the Guatemalan Military Project.

Gill reveals that part of the indoctrination process at the School was to win over Latin American soldiers to the “idea” of the US. After experiencing the US through the lens of the School, students would act as recruiters to their fellow army members back home. A comment from Colombian General Alberto Gonzalez also reveals the 2-way benefits of students attending the School; “They learn many things, but that is really of second importance. The relations that they establish with others are at bottom the most important. The School also permits the US to have the future leaders of the Latin American armed forces in its hands.”

The book also deals with how the School has responded to the SOA Watch campaign to shut it down. The author spent a great deal of time with the base commander Glen Weidner. Weidner has taken an aggressive Public Relations approach to changing the School’s image and challenging the integrity of the SOA Watch campaign led by Fr. Roy Bourgois. Weidner’s position is very convincing and it raises some interesting points about the the SOA Watch campaign. One of those questions is if the School was not teaching torture techniques would the anti-School campaign still be opposed to its existence?” Here Gill does not pursue a larger issue which is, what is the real function of this School in the larger foreign policy agenda of the US. The author does acknowledge that some in the Anti-School effort do think that the School has “just made some mistakes.” It would have been more instructive to get at the heart of this question, since even if this School in Georgia was closed, it would have little impact on the overall military policy in the region.

The other area that this book falls short on has to do with the last chapter, which looks at the evolution of the SOA Watch movement itself. Gill does acknowledge that the movement has had to deal with the challenges of being a pre-dominantly faith based entity, which in recent years has seen more participation from student, labor and anarchist groups. SOA Watch has, according to the author, begun to allow affinity groups to plan their own actions outside of the official actions, but the author doesn’t really pursue it any further than that. There is no serious discussion about tactics, strategy, nor the campaign’s effectiveness. This would serve the movement greatly, since the military has been responding with their own tactics to the predominantly symbolic nature of the actions that take place every November in Georgia. These shortcomings aside, The School of the Americas is an important contribution to the struggle for justice in the Americas and could be an essential catalyst for new approaches to challenging US military hegemony in the region.

Leslie Gill, The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas, (Duke University Press, 2004).