Friday, February 29, 2008

Cuba's revolution continues

Following the announcement by Fidel Castro on February 19 that he would not stand in the election by Cuba's National Assembly (AN) for the position of president, the Western media coverage has ranged from grudging acknowledgement of Cuba's social gains in the face of 50 years of US aggression, to outrageous claims of "dictatorship" and US government plans for a "transition" in Cuba.

The coverage has also been full of speculation that a new president could open the path to restoration of capitalism in Cuba, usually presented as "bringing democracy", via a series of "reforms".

On February 24, the newly elected 614-member AN voted to promote Raul Castro to the position of Cuban president. Fidel, whose image as the quintessential bearded guerrilla came to symbolise Cuba's revolution, led the revolution since the overthrow of the brutal US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Fidel had been president of the Caribbean island since 1976. He remains an elected member of the AN, and first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP). Despite Cuba's long-standing policy of promoting youthful leadership at different level of government, the Western media have responded to the transition from Fidel as president, begun in 2006, like vultures circling.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Germany: Another electoral victory for the left

On February 24, the left-wing party Die Linke extended its recent run of breakthroughs in German regional elections, winning eight seats in the Hamburg state parliament. 

Die Linke's win, with 6.4% of the vote, cements it as the third party in German politics, after the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

It now has seats in 10 out of 16 state parliaments - including four in the former West Germany. It also has a national approval rating of 13%, and is stronger than the SP in the former East Germany.

In Hamburg, the CDU appears likely to retain power, despite dropping 5 percentage points to 42.6%. This is a result of the SPD, which scored 31.4% (its worst result since World War II), have refused to negotiate with Die Linke. Along with the Greens, Die Linke and the SPD have won a majority.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cuba: Fidel declines to stand for president

On the morning of February 19, without fanfare, Cuban media released a statement from President Fidel Castro stating that he would decline to stand for re-election to the presidency.

On February 24, Cuba's newly elected 614-member National Assembly will convene and elect from among its deputies the Council of State, including the president and vice-president. All of these positions are recallable by popular plebiscite.

In declining nomination, the 81-year-old Fidel explained, "it would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer".

Fidel had temporarily handed over power to the first vice-president, his brother Raul Castro, in July 2006 in order to undergo intestinal surgery. Fidel had been president of the small island since 1976, having led the revolution that overthrew US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, subsequently carrying out a socialist revolution that overturned capitalism.

The island had been dominated by US corporations and was the playground of the US rich.

To many in the West, the news marks the end of an era — the exit of the last "Cold Warrior". This obscures another reality — that Cuba remains a symbol of hope for much of the world's poor.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thousands protest NT intervention on 'sovereignty day'

On February 12, almost 2000 people gathered in the rain at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, before marching, in the sunshine, to Parliament House to demand an end to the federal government's racist "intervention" in the Northern Territory.

The protest, organised by the Sydney-based Aboriginal Rights Coalition (ARC) and Aboriginal communities from all over Australia, was the focus of a week of actions and meetings in Canberra, as Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous activists gathered to send a message to the new Labor federal government that saying sorry was just the first step.

On February 10, the new National Aboriginal Alliance (NAA) held its second meeting. The alliance was formed last year in response to the Howard government's NT "intervention".

Sol Bellear was chosen as president and Pat Eatock secretary. The alliance intends to meet four times a year, and aims to build a new national organisation for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.

On February 11, more than 200 people attended workshops on the implications of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and heard first-hand reports from communities in the NT affected by the ongoing intervention.

However, the main focus of the convergence on Canberra was the protest in opposition to the intervention on February 12. 

Friday, February 1, 2008

Germany: Left Party scores major breakthrough

On January 27, Germany's newest and third-largest party, Die Linke (The Left), scored historic victories in two important state elections, as anger grows at the failure of the economic boom to close the gap between rich and poor.

In Hesse, Germany's finance hub, Die Linke scored 5.1% — enough to send 6 members to the state parliament. In Lower Saxony, a generally more conservative state, Die Linke achieved an impressive 7.1%, winning 11 members in the legislature.

The election campaign in Hesse was marked by the racism of incumbent Premier Roland Koch of the right-wing Christian Democratic Union (CDU), whose attacks on "young, foreign criminals" backfired, and the CDU vote plummeted by 12%. 

The centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), on the hand, shifted its rhetoric left-ward in an attempt to undermine the growing support for Die Linke. The lead SPD candidate, Andrea Ypsilanti, combined swipes at the a number of Die Linke's progressive policies while trying to dissociate her party from previous unpopular policies it has introduced.

Despite a fierce anti-communist campaign, Die Linke managed a massive victory, running on a platform of increasing the minimum wage, nationalisations, caps on managerial pay and demilitarisation.