Cubans fear the bromance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin could result in a U.S. invasion of the communist island.
A day after American voters elected Donald Trump, President RaÃºl Castro placed the Cuban military on high alert and announced military exercises. Then, to mark the revolution’s anniversary on New Year’s Day, Cuba’s military marched through downtown Havana in a show of force.
It may appear unreasonable to most Americans that Cuba expects Trump to invade the island, yet many Cubans believe this is a possibility.
Cubans are fearful, dreading the worse.
“Trump’s policies are very aggressive,” Pedro Machado, a retired engineer, told Britian’s Independent. “We’ll have to see what he actually does. But it certainly looks like bad news for Latin America and for Cuba in particular.… The United States has acted as an empire, and that’s what Trump represents. Given what he has said, the future is not looking great.”
That sentiment is widely shared. Joaquin Villanueva, who moonlights as a taxi driver in front of the Hotel Inglaterra, worries about a possible invasion: “We’ve always been told to prepare for an invasion, but with Trump it looks more likely.”
On Monday, when Cuba commemorated the 58th anniversary of the revolution, the Cuban people were told to prepare for the worst from the incoming Trump administration. “We are braced for conflict with the USA; we always have been,” Marcial GarcÃa, 70, told reporters. “But I hope Trump will instead follow the path ... towards normalization.”
It is a fear fueled both by historical precedent and paranoia.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev bypassed Fidel Castro and negotiated with John F. Kennedy directly. Gilberto Bosques, the Mexican ambassador to Havana, was charged with keeping Fidel Castro in the dark while Khrushchev and Kennedy ended the crisis.
Now, RaÃºl Castro fears a quid pro quo will result in Trump and Putin negotiating a deal in which Cuba is sacrificed, in order to cement relations between Washington and Moscow.
The idea of invading Cuba may have a certain appeal to some of Trump’s advisers. After all, it would be a grand gesture that serves the can-do image the incoming administration is cultivating.
During the New Year’s party at Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida estate Mar-a-Lago, cocktail chatter among some guests noted that America’s military is best when it invades countries in Latin America, a person in attendance reported. Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in October 1983 was “easy,” remembered as “a lovely little war” and George H.W. Bush’s invasion of Panama in December 1989, named “Operation Just Cause,” is fondly remembered as a success, some guests reportedly reminisced.
Now a few advisers to Trump believe “liberating” Cuba is a “just cause” long overdue that would be a way for Trump to signal to the world that American military power is great again.
Proponents argue a military operation against Castro would truly “open up” Cuba in a way Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations has failed to do. Indeed, in the year and a half since the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations, apart from U.S. airlines commencing regular service and Starwood announcing a contract to manage one hotel, nothing has been achieved.
Cubans are exasperated. A measure of their discontent can be seen in one startling fact: the number of Cuban refugees following the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. In 2014, for instance, fewer than 25,000 Cubans sought political asylum. In 2016, that number had almost doubled to more than 45,000. Critics point to this mass exodus as proof of the failure of Obama’s overtures to the island nation. And in an unthinkable act, Fidel Castro’s tomb was vandalized just over a week after El Comandante was laid to rest.
A week after Fidel Castro's funeral, his tomb was vandalized with the words, "Abajo Fidel" (Down with Fidel).
Meanwhile, the Cuban regime is lashing out at critics and opponents: more than 10,000 Cubans have been arrested by security forces since diplomatic ties were restored.
Some in Trump’s transition team see the mass exodus of Cubans, the crackdown on political dissent and the brazen acts of defiance as a signal that a swift military action can be a quick affair. There are strong domestic and foreign reasons coalescing around this idea.
Trump’s estate in Palm Beach is less than 300 miles from Havana; the White House is 860 miles away. Last week there was talk of the convergence of interests: “Liberating” Cuba would reward the Cuban exile community in South Florida whose votes put Florida in Trump’s column. It would cement Trump’s credentials among conservatives, finally delivering on a promise that has not been kept since Kennedy’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion. It would ensure that the two Cuban-American senators in Washington, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, would support Trump’s agenda for years to come. And it would allow Cuban Americans, among the most educated and wealthiest Hispanic constituency in the United States, to put their capitalist skills to work in Cuba.
There are also powerful foreign policy incentives at play. Russian leader Vladimir Putin loathes RaÃºl Castro. Putin is still furious that Russia had to write off $32 billion in Cuban debt he inherited from Soviet Union. Trump advisers bet the Russian leader wants revenge. Why? Putin, like Trump, holds grudges and loves to dole out payback.
Putin has tolerated RaÃºl Castro because he had hoped to use Cuba as a listening post to spy on the United States. With Trump, an ally, in the White House, that may no longer be necessary.
More thought provoking is the hypothetical that invading Cuba could be the first Trump-Putin cooperative venture: Russia’s intimate knowledge of Cuba’s military, which it helped build over decades, could be used to expedite any invasion. Trump would get his first foreign policy win, defeating communism on America’s doorstep, opening a virgin market for American goods and rewarding those conservatives and Cuban Americans who supported him. Putin would exact revenge on a deadbeat nation he despises and he would curry Trump’s support for Russia’s own ambitions for the former Soviet republics on its borders.
RaÃºl Castro understands—and fears—his predicament. He is well aware of the seductive quid pro quo in the works: Putin will allow Trump’s “liberation” of Cuba and in return Trump will recognize Putin’s annexation of Crimea.
“Getting rid of Castro would be like finally swatting an annoying mosquito that has been buzzing around for far too long,” said an unnamed source close to the Trump transition team. “And if Putin wants Crimea, well, why shouldn’t he have it?”
Realpolitik comes to Washington.
New York—Fidel Castro, El Comandante of the Cuban Revolution, died Friday, November 25, three days before American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United began to resume regularly scheduled airline service between the two countries, and 17 days after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in a stunning upset.
Perhaps Fidel didn’t want to live to see the changes that now threaten to undo his RevoluciÃ³n.
What can Cuba expect in a matter of months when Donald Trump takes office?
“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” President-elect Trump tweeted on November 28, 2016.
This was more than posturing for negotiations. Before running for office, in technical violation of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, Donald Trump, the businessman, had explored the possibility of investing in Cuba.
Yet, there are stark realities hampering “progress” on Cuban fronts—and for both Havana and Washington.
Cuba demands the return of GuantÃ¡namo Bay to Cuban sovereignty before anything else is negotiated—including direct foreign investment and privatization. The U.S., for its part, insists on a program to compensate American citizens and companies whose assets and properties were nationalized or seized by the revolution.
This is statement that has no resolution. And it is a stalemate further complicated by the U.S. embargo—which was amended by the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996 which requires that both Castro brothers be removed from office before the embargo can be lifted.
It would take an act of Congress to repeal Helms-Burton first before the embargo itself could be lifted. It would be political suicide for RaÃºl Castro to back away from demanding the return of GuantÃ¡namo Bay.
In March 2016, during the primaries, Donald Trump’s campaign reached out to Cuban-Americans, realizing they needed to consolidate the Cuban-American vote in South Florida in order to carry Florida in the general election.
As part of those discussions, it became clear that Trump could easily reverse Barak Obama’s opening to Cuba—which was done by executive order to circumvent a recalcitrant Congress.
What makes reversing Obama’s opening easy is the lack of progress made since July 2015, when diplomatic relations were restored. The embargo is still in place, ordinary tourism by U.S. citizens remains illegal, and there is, apart from half a dozen token deals, no progress in commercial investments.
This week, when U.S. airlines begin to fly to Cuba, they will land, refuel, and depart. The only “investment” is leasing counter space in Cuban airports. The only hotel “deal” is Starwood’s contractto manage a single hotel. Starwood neither owns the property nor has authority to hire employees; it is a minority partner with the Cuban government. The sale of American agricultural products continue under a preexisting protocol designed to unload surplus U.S. agricultural production and prevent a humanitarian crisis in Cuba.
President-elect Trump sees this lack of progress as evidence of everything that is wrong with Washington, where nothing gets done.
He promised the Cuban exile community that the status quo—where Cubans on both sides of the Straits of Florida have been waiting for Godot for six decades—will end with his “can do” administration.
The brash billionaire businessman, as part of the frustration of the “do nothing” politicians in Washington that catapulted him to victory, is determined to “put an end” to the “Washington’s incompetence in dealing with a communist regime on American’s doorstep.”
In other words, the incoming Trump administration is leaning toward confrontation and not accommodation in its dealings with Havana.
“Why can’t Spain or Mexico give RaÃºl Castro political asylum?” a source inside the Trump campaign asked in March 2016, a clue as to where Trump’s advisors are thinking: Cuba without the remaining Castro—and without a one-party government, the Communist Party of Cuba.
The implication is that Trump’s advisers do not rule out military intervention—and military occupation—of Cuba to achieve this “opening” and move to “democracy” on the island nation.
This attitude is emboldened by the reality that since the War on Terror was declared following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has become desensitized to wars of invasion and military occupation throughout the world.
As Trump said in a statement over the weekend, “While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”
And, as everyone knows, Havana deserves a Trump hotel.
I only met Fidel Castro once, in 1992, and I asked him only one question: “What will it take for Cuba to reconcile with the U.S.?”
He didn’t hesitate to answer: “When the U.S. agrees to return GuantÃ¡namo Bay to Cuban sovereignty, then that will be proof that the U.S. has overcome its imperialism.”
Decades later, when Havana and Washington were negotiating the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in Canada, the first thing the Cubans wanted was the return of GuantÃ¡namo Bay. That was the first thing the Obama administration swept off the table.
Fidel was no longer in charge, and RaÃºl agreed to press forward nonetheless. But it came as no surprise when Fidel refused to meet Barack Obama in March 2016 when the American president visited Cuba; Fidel Castro was not prepared to shake hands with Obama who, by refusing to return that disputed speck of land to Cuban sovereignty, had proven to be a “false friend.”
“No necesitamos que el imperio nos regale nada,” Fidel said, meaning, “We do not need the Empire to give us anything,” his final rejection of reconciliation with his enemy.
And he was right: GuantÃ¡namo Bay rightfully belongs to Cuba.
It was this adherence to his ideals that stood out, conviction without pragmatism becomes stagnation. And Cuba, under his care, stagnated. Admirers in the United States are quick to point to the public education system and national health care as achievements of his Revolution. These admirers, however, have never been to a Cuban clinic or spent a day at a Cuban high school. Cubans have to wait months for a prescription medication and years for surgery; students are taught to read and write, but are forbidden to read or write what is not sanctioned by the state.
These limitations, of course, Fidel blamed on the embargo: When Michael Moore traveled to Cuba for his documentary, Sicko, the non-Spanish speaking American leftist didn’t’ fully understand that there are two health care systems in Cuba; one for Cubans and one foreigners with hard currency. What he was shown was the health care system for foreigners, not the one for the Cuban people.
And so it goes: On every trip to Cuba, I have prescription medicines for relatives of friends who have been waiting for months, if not years. I have been approached on the streets of Havana by ordinary Cubans who ask me to enter hotels—which they are barred from entering—to purchase sundries in the lobby shops.
And the crony communism and corruption continue: RaÃºl Castro has maneuvered to pass Cuba’s richest assets to a company controlled by his son-in-law; drug trafficking continues to be a source of income for the Cuban state—despite the “outraged” show trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa, who was sentenced to death by firing squad in 1989.
Sixteen years after I met him, I received an invitation to travel to Cuba. No reason was given, but during the week I was there—February 20-27, 2008, it was announced that Fidel Castro was stepping down. I was one of the few journalists in Havana on February 23, 2008, his last full day in power.
Now, eight years later, Fidel Castro has died.
A feeling of ambivalence best characterizes the mood of those I know, Cubans both on and off the island. For the new generation, there is indifference; an old man, distant and aloof, is gone. For Cubans who lived—and suffered through the Revolution—there is catharsis.
It is ambivalence to experience this death, so long expected, so slow in coming; it’s been exactly one decade that Fidel Castro became too ill to continue in power. And this slow decline, demise, eclipsing also characterized the passions surrounding what he did and what he failed to do.
There is, undeniably, exhaustion, a familiar exhaustion to anyone who has seen a relative die, finally, after a prolonged illness, whether it is Alzheimer’s or a protracted, and lost, battle against cancer. Fidel, as one of the principal figures on the world stage for the second half of the twentieth century—only Queen Elizabeth has ruled as sovereign longer than Fidel Castro did— outlived his time, and his own legend.
He left many unanswerable questions.
Can RaÃºl Castro hold it together? Without the forceful personality of Fidel Castro to bind the Revolution to continual national sacrifice to the point of exhaustion, can the government continue to govern—and will RaÃºl Castro be able to ensure that the Cuban Communist Party remain in perpetual power?
What will the incoming Trump administration’s policy toward Cuba be? Will it sever diplomatic relations? Will it let them continue to wither away, the way Obama has not made much of this missed opportunity? Will an indifferent stalemate across the Straits of Florida continue? Or will his Revolution also, along with him, die?
MERIDA, Mex. – At some point last fall, the one millionth American established residency here in Mexico. That makes Mexico the host nation for the largest American expatriate community in the world. There are now more Americans living in Mexico than there are in the U.K. or Canada.
This trend is accelerating as the U.S. recession deepens and job losses across the United States accelerate. “We’ve seen an increase of almost 40 percent in the number of American citizens making inquiries about the requirements for moving to Mexico,” said an official at the Mexican Consulate in New York. “There are definitely more Americans emigrating to Mexico than this time last year.”
This is confirmed by recruiters and global relocation firms. “Mexico is supposed to be gearing up for a great year right now,” Annie Levy Sandin, of Emerging Globe Group, a recruiting firm.
That Americans are moving to Mexico is nothing new, but the kinds of Americans who are establishing themselves have changed.
“For decades you’ve had three kinds of Americans coming here,” said Ramon Segura, an importer-exporter with decades of experience working with foreign nationals.
“Foremost are the retirees, who can have a higher standard of living in Mexico than they could in the U.S. Then there were the professionals who were sent here by their companies or were here on business. And of course, there were those trying to make a clean break from their pasts – usually men escaping alimony, child support, business failures or the country that sent them to Vietnam.”
But now there are two other kinds of Americans moving to Mexico: those who are starting or raising families and entrepreneurs seeking greater opportunities.
“Top of the list is that the economic benefits of being here allow us both to spend far more time with our son Johnny than we would be allowed if we lived the same style of life back in the New York,” said John Rogers, who moved from New York to Merida. “We would both have to work full time and our child would be raised with home help and daycare. To be able to personally care for him and watch his daily development is a luxury that we fully appreciate, and it seems a more natural and beneficial way to live.”
A generation ago, it would have raised eyebrows for a New York couple to decide to have their child be born in Mexico, but with state-of-the-art medical facilities, bilingual doctors and communities that are structured to support and encourage families, more foreign couples are realizing that in Mexican cities, such as Merida, families with children are welcomed.
“The Mexican people around us here in Merida and the Yucatan peninsula are very family oriented and absolutely love babies,” John Rogers added. It's not unusual to enter a restaurant and have the waiter eagerly ask to hold the guests’ baby and take him for a tour of the kitchen. “The affection is genuine and heartwarming to watch. Same goes for shopkeepers, the ladies at the local market, casual acquaintances.”
The number of new English-speaking mothers is so great that Roberta Graham organized a breastfeeding support group for young mothers. Women from the United States, Canada and Europe socialize as they share their experiences of being new mothers in a community that dotes over babies and children.
Those with young children are also making their way to Mexico. John and Nicole Larson drove from Minnesota to the Yucatan to start new lives with their daughter, a toddler. “We think that the combination of language, culture, people, customs, and traditions here would have an indelible and overwhelmingly positive effect on her,” John Larson said. Although they have not found work with a Mexican company, they are still in the process of settling down. “My wife and I are both self-employed, so while we don’t make as much money as some of our peers, one of our currencies is freedom and the ability to work anywhere,” John Larson explains. “We keep the focus on results with our clients, not where or how the work gets done. Two recurring themes from all the expatriates we meet here are opportunity and reinvention. There is a lot of business opportunity here and many people, on purpose and sometimes by accident, find themselves switching careers and working in a new industry.”
The Larsen's are not alone among American's pursing business opportunities in a more receptive climate. “Merida has welcomed me with open arms, and I could not be happier,” said Vince Gricus, who relocated here after a career with TWA in St. Louis. “I arrived here and I did what I always wanted to do: open a bed and breakfast.”
Describing his experience as “wonderful,” Gricus explains how his neighbors have become like family to him, and how he has been able to transform Casa Santiago into one of the B&Bs that are consistently ranked among the favorites on the online travel referral service TripAdvisor.
The locals have been gracious and surprised by the influx of Americans settling down in their midst. Eugenia Montalvan, editor of the city’s premier cultural magazine, Unas Letras summed up the sentiment in one word: Welcome!
Mesoamerica, a foundation with strong roots in the community, has gone as far as to establish an English-language Literary Salon. Under the direction of Katalina McNulty, who describes herself as an “unrepentant” hippie from Berkeley, the salon assembles each Monday to discuss topics ranging from feminism in the 21st Century to George Orwell to how manners in the modern world have changed. “It’s wonderful to have weekly readings and the opportunity to engage in lively discussions,” she explained.
The number of Americans and Canadians relocating to Mexico is resulting is peculiar developments. In Merida, for instance, there are enough newcomers to justify an English-language lending library -- The Merida English Language Library, is affectionately known as “MELL,” and is also a member of the American Library Association. “The biggest event is our annual chili cook-off,” explained Regniald Deneau, MELL’s administrator. “This is a wonderful place.”
Merida city government cooperates by granting permits to close off streets for this fundraising event. Gricus, of Casa Santiago, echoes that sentiment. “Civic involvement is open to anyone, and there are many opportunities to become involved.” For his part, he helped start the Merida Bed & Breakfast Association to help visitors find the perfect accommodations when visiting.
Rogers, a movie executive, has become the unofficial spokesman for the American expatriate community in Merida. Featured in the Los Angeles Times, he is quick to point out the distorted image the American media paints of the violence in Mexico.
“Although the mainstream media would have you believe that all of Mexico is on the verge of a violent drug-fueled meltdown, the areas affected by those unfortunate problems are far from where we live, and are mostly restricted to those in the drug trade, or those directly combating them,” he said. “To get swept up in any of the problems it seems you'd have to go out of your way to get involved, or to travel into the cities that are afflicted - not likely if you have any common sense.”
Gricus expressed the new sentiment of the Americans making their home to Mexico this way: “I never would have thought that to live out the American Dream I’d have to move to Mexico, but there it is!”
When the Census Bureau announced in 2003 that Hispanics had surpassed African Americans as the nation's largest minority, it was more than a mere demographic fact: it was a formal declaration that the United States had become a bilingual nation.
For most of its history, America has had a no-nonsense social contract with the immigrant: you are welcome, provided you become "American." To enter the mainstream of American life, one had to speak English, lest he or she be marginalized in a "Little Italy," a "Chinatown" or any other working class ethnic ghetto. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, millions of immigrants signed on, some even changing their names upon arriving at Ellis Island to something that sounded more "American," and insisting that their American-born children speak only English.
By the second half of the 20th century, through sheer numbers, Hispanics had changed the terms of this contract, undermining the myth of the "melting pot." For the first time, there was a permanent resident population that, however proficient in English, refused to surrender its native language. In 1970, the Census Bureau created a new category to track this Spanish-speaking population: Hispanic.
Some critics decried "Hispanic" as an artificial construct. Others, most notably African Americans, saw something sinister: a deliberate attempt by white America to create divisions among blacks. There are today, after all, four major "black" Americans: African Americans, Hispanics of color (such as baseball great Sammy Sosa and the late diva Celia Cruz), West Indians (who reject an African American label), and immigrants from Africa, who may call themselves by their country name (Nigerian American, for example) to avoid confusion with American-born African Americans. There are emerging identities: some dark-skinned Dominican and Puerto Rican youth in New York City have taken the term "Blatinos."
But forcing a political reading on Hispanic ascendancy ignores the role of the capitalist system in transforming the United States into a bilingual consumer market. Whereas in Canada, political legislation mandates that everything be in English and French, in the United States, it is American business that is largely responsible for the proliferation of Spanish.
For decades, American corporate executives have watched with awe the explosion in the Hispanic consumer market. Hispanics today control more than $600 billion in purchasing power; by 2010, this will reach $1 trillion. The rise in the economic power of Hispanics in the United States, and the way they identify themselves – by culture and language, not race – have created a consumer market that coexists alongside the larger "Anglophone" one.
These parallel economies have alarmed some English-speaking Americans. Joan Didion's description of the linguistic "problem" in her book "Miami" is familiar. "An entrepreneur who spoke no English could still, in Miami, buy, sell, negotiate, leverage assets, float bonds, and, if he were so inclined, attend galas twice a week, in black tie." Among Anglos, she writes, "there remained considerable uneasiness on the matter of language, perhaps because the inability or the disinclination to speak English tended to undermine their conviction that assimilation was an ideal universally shared by those who were to be assimilated."
Hispanics, without apology, refuse to "assimilate," if that means giving up their culture and language. When it comes to breakfast cereal, Hispanics collectively indicated their choice would be determined by which one advertises in Spanish: Post Raisin Bran or Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Corporate America listened.
Proof? Pick up the phone and call any customer service number and you are likely to hear, "Press one to continue in English," followed by "Oprima dos para español."
Welcome to the United States de América!
The lesson is obvious: the spread of Spanish throughout the United States, in fact, is consistent with Adam Smith's "invisible hand." Said Smith, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities, but of their advantages."
Corporate America cannot be faulted for attempting to secure a competitive edge by reaching out to customers in their language of choice. In a market economy, the seller speaks the language of the buyer, whether the buyer seeks a seat on an airplane for a cross-country flight, or life insurance.
We are, in fact, in the midst of a linguistic "crisis," as Spanish spreads and English remains in denial. (Consider this tantalizing fact: More New Yorkers get their news in Spanish from Jorge Ramos on "Noticiero Univision" than in English from Dan Rather on "The CBS Evening News.") From New York to Los Angeles, from Miami to Seattle, government is struggling to provide civil servants who speak Spanish – from police officers to social workers, from librarians to motor vehicle department clerks.
The last time language challenged America this way was in the 18th century. At that time, the Founding Fathers debated whether to make English or German the "official" language and, unable to decide, declined to make a choice, thus passing the buck onto us.
Yet, there comes a point when politics has to ratify economics. Until then, corporate America will continue to address, and seek to profit from, the greatest domestic reality of the 21st century: America the Bilingual.
If JosÃ© Miguel Pizarro has his way, he will recruit 30,000 Chileans as mercenaries to protect American companies under Pentagon contract to rebuild Iraq. And undoubtedly, within those ranks will be former members of death squads that tortured and murdered civilians when dictatorships ruled in Latin America.
"There is no comparison with what they can earn in the active military or working in civilian jobs, and what we offer," JosÃ© Miguel Pizarro, Chile's leading recruiter for international security firms, says. "This is an opportunity that few in Chile can afford to pass up."
Pizarro's firm, Servicios Integrales, was contracted by Blackwater USA to recruit the first batch of Chileans in November 2003. By May 2004 he had placed 5,200 men who, after one week of training in Santiago, head to North Carolina for orientation with Blackwater, the private security firm that made headlines when four of its employees where killed in Falluja, their bodies mutilated and hung from a bridge. After training, Blackwater flies the men to Kuwait City to await their assignments in Iraq.
As democratic governments were voted into office throughout Latin America in the 1990s, Latin militaries were downsized. Thousands of military officers lost their jobs. "This is a way of continuing our military careers," Carlos Wamgnet, 30, explained in a phone interview from Kuwait while awaiting his assignment in Iraq. "In civilian life in Chile I was making $1,800 a month. Here I can earn a year's pay in six weeks. It's worth the risks."
At 30, Wamgnet is too young to have participated in any crime of the Pinochet regime. But not all the Chileans in Iraq are guiltless. Newspapers in Chile have estimated that approximately 37 Chileans in Iraq are seasoned veterans of the Pinochet era. Government officials in Santiago are alarmed that men who enjoy amnesty in Chile -- provided they remain in "retirement" from their past military activities -- are now in Iraq.
In an interview with the Santiago-based daily newspaper La Tercera, Chilean Minister of Defense Dr. Michelle Bachelet stated that Chilean "mercenaries for American firms doing business in Iraq" may be subject to "arrest or detention in third countries," a reference to recent arrests in Spain and Mexico of South Americans with war-crimes pasts. South American media report that Chileans have requested travel from Chile to the United States and then directly to the Middle East, to bypass Mexico and the European Union. The thousands of Chileans in Iraq have been nicknamed "the penguins" by American and South African soldiers for hire, a reference both to Chile's proximity to the South Pole and the fact that many Chilean mercenaries are of mixed race.
Not everyone in Chile is opposed to the presence in Iraq of former Chilean army members. "It is true that the majority [of Chilean recruits] see this as an opportunity to earn money," La Tercera columnist Mauricio Aguirre wrote."But it is also an opportunity for our soldiers to prove themselves on the ground, and to put to use the skills for which they trained in the Armed Forces over the years."
"Blackwater USA has sent recruiters to Chile, Peru, Argentina, Colombia and Guatemala for one specific reason alone," said an intelligence officer in Kuwait who requested anonymity. "All these countries experienced dirty warsâ and they have military men well-trained in dealing with internal subversives. They are well-versed in extracting confessions from prisoners."
As the security situation in Iraq deteriorated in the spring of 2004, more "dedicated recruiting" began.
Though Chile is in vigorous debate about the role of military servicemen becoming hired guns in Iraq, in Argentina there is virtual silence. Several Argentine mercenaries have made their way to the United States to meet with American security firms before heading to Iraq. "No one wants to discuss what is becoming clear," says Mario PodestÃ¡, 51, an independent Argentine journalist. "I know of seven military officers responsible for disappearing opponents of the dictatorship" who are now in Iraq. During Argentina's "dirty wars," opponents of the military regime were "disappeared" (abducted), tortured and then killed.
Podesta spoke to this reporter in early April. He was in Jordan preparing to travel by road to Baghdad, along with Mariana VerÃ³nica Cabrera, 28, an Argentine camerawoman. "I want to find these men," he said of the Argentine 'dirty war' criminals he had identified as being mercenaries in Iraq. It was not to be.
PodestÃ¡ and Cabrera were killed, along with their Iraqi driver, in an automobile accident before reaching Baghdad.
When a suicide bomber parked a van disguised as an ambulance in front of the Shaheen Hotel in the Karadah neighborhood of Baghdad on Jan. 28 and blew himself up, he killed four people and wounded scores of others.
He also blew the lid off a dirty little secret of the Coalition Provisional Authority: Due to its "outsourcing" of privatized security services, the CPA has put terrorists, mercenaries and war criminals on the payrolls of companies contracted by the Pentagon.
After the Shaheen Hotel blast, departmental spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa at South Africa's Foreign Ministry confirmed that one of the Westerners killed was South African Frans Strydom. Four of the wounded were also South African nationals, including Deon Gouws, who sustained serious injuries.
News that Strydom and Gouws were in Iraq sent shockwaves throughout South Africa: In front of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, both men were granted amnesty after confessing to killing blacks and terrorizing anti-apartheid activists, acts that can only be called crimes against humanity.
In Iraq, Strydom and Gouws were employed by Erinys International, a security firm based in the United Kingdom. Erinys Iraq, the subsidiary of Erinys International, was awarded a two-year, $80 million contract in August 2003 to protect 140 Iraqi oil installations. Erinys has been awarded subcontracts to protect American construction contractors, including Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root.
"It is just a horrible thought that such people are working for the Americans," said Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, speaking to European reporters last month.
Strydom was a member in the Koevoet, Afrikaner for "Crowbar," an outlaw group that paid bounty for the bodies of blacks seeking independence during the 1980s. The Koevoet terrorized blacks in Namibia and northern South Africa for more than a decade. Hundreds of deaths are attributed to its members.
More notorious is Gouws' past. A former police officer, Gouws was a member of the notorious Vlakplaas death squad that terrorized blacks under apartheid. Only after South Africa established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Col. Eugene de Kock, a former death-squad leader who supervised Gouws, applied for amnesty, did the activities of the Vlakplaas come to light. Gouws faced a choice: repent by confessing, or be charged with crimes. He applied for amnesty, confessing on his application for absolution to killing 15 blacks and firebombing the homes of "between 40 and 60 anti-apartheid activists."
There are an estimated 1,500 South Africans employed by security contractors in Iraq, according to the South African foreign ministry. Many used their backgrounds as mercenaries during Apartheid to bolster their credentials.
After being pardoned but ostracized in South Africa, "Where are these men expected to go?" asked Judge Goldstone.
Erinys International refused to comment on the matter.
The role of civilians contracted to work in Iraq was relatively unknown to most in the United States until four American security contractors met grisly deaths in Fallujah in March. While the vast majority of individuals contracted for security work may be honest, hardworking professionals, the desperate search for manpower is allowing criminals to join their ranks.
"At what point do we start scraping the barrel?" Simon Faulkner, the CEO of Hart, a respected British security company, asked recently in the New York Times. "Where are these guys coming from?"
Not only apartheid-era terrorists are finding opportunities in Iraq. Prior to the U.S.-led war, Saddam Hussein hired over a dozen Serb air-defense specialists -- at the reported cost of $100,000 a month -- to devise a mobile radar system that would protect Iraq's air defenses from attack. Many were wanted for their paramilitary activities during the Balkan Wars in Europe.
Upon the American takeover of Iraq, some of these Serbs remained behind, selling their services to the highest bidders, including security firms under contract to provide protection for employees of Blackwater USA and Titan Corporation of San Diego. They have now been joined by some of their compatriots, who had been working for the Pentagon for several years in Afghanistan. "The Bush administration is so eager to avoid responsibility for order in Afghanistan that they've outsourced to mercenaries the work of protecting Afghan President Hamid Karzai," Dave Marash reported in the Washington Monthly in March 2003.
Karl Alberts, a South African pilot, recently prepared to travel to Iraq. Before he left he was arrested and charged with mercenary activities in Ivory Coast in 2002 and 2003.
But for every Alberts who fails to make it to Baghdad, others succeed. Though their numbers are relatively few, the harm these men can do to an occupation government desperately seeking support from the Iraqi people is enormous.
Louis E.V. Nevaer is an author and economist whose most recent book, 'NAFTA'S Second Decade' (South-Western Educational Publishing, 2004), examines the political economy of the international development and trade.
Having lost its money, Argentina is now losing its minds.
Jorge Negrete is one such mind. The 44-year-old doctor wants to find a lovely young woman to marry -- provided she is a U.S. citizen. Negrete, who spent years dividing his time between Washington, D.C., and Buenos Aires, longs to live permanently in the United States.
"What I would give to be in Georgetown. Living in this country has become unbearable," he says over lunch in Recoleta, an upscale neighborhood in the Argentine capital. Negrete considered moving to Brazil to live with his brother, but says he doesn't speak Portuguese.
Six months into Argentina's worst financial crisis in a generation, one that has crippled South America's second largest economy, Negrete's dreams of escape are shared by professionals and students nationwide. Many have already left.
"We in Argentina are confronting the worst brain drain in our history," said Luis Quesada, a biologist and research scientist. "It will take a generation for the country to recover from this catastrophe."
Every morning, lines form at the Spanish, Italian and Israeli embassies here. Argentines with a parent, grandparent or immediate family member living in Spain or Italy can obtain visas to emigrate there. And under Israel's "law of return," any Argentine Jew is automatically entitled to Israeli citizenship.
It is the flight of Argentine Jews, in fact, that dramatizes the choices facing many Argentines.
According to the Argentine daily newspaper Clarin, in the first two months of this year, 1,260 Argentine Jews moved to Israel -- an explosive increase compared with 2001, when 1,300 Argentine Jews emigrated to Israel over the entire year.
The first Jews came to Argentina in the late 1800s, mostly from Russia, and many became gauchos -- Argentine cowboys. By 1920, more than 150,000 Jews were living in the country. But the country's relatively tolerant attitude toward its Jewish population changed in the 1970s. During the "dirty war," military juntas killed thousands of leftists, communists and Jews. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, right-wing terrorist attacks on Jewish embassies and community centers killed hundreds of Jews in Argentina.
Many here resent the new Jewish exodus. With the Israeli government paying $25,000 per family to help Argentine Jews settle in Israel, some Argentines accuse their Jewish compatriots of disloyalty and opportunism.
"At a time when we are confronting a grave situation, why is Israel bribing Argentines to turn their backs on their nation?" asked Rafael Buenavista, a diner at the trendy Gran Bar Danzon. "Jews are better educated than the population at large, and they are better able to help the nation. They should stay."
Whether Jewish professionals are leaving because the economy has crashed or because they sense the anti-Semitism of past decades is on the rise -- or for both reasons -- their flight is consistent with what is taking place among all sectors of Argentine society.
Cliff Williams manages Transpack Argentina, a shipping company. "For every inbound move we make, there are now seven outbound moves," he says. In the early and mid-1990s, Williams' firm profited from relocating executives working for foreign multinationals to Argentina. As those companies scale down their presence in Argentina, Transpack continues to move executives -- this time in the other direction. And now, Williams says, he is relocating more and more low-level managers out of the country.
Quesada, the biologist, fears for an Argentina without its professional middle class. "We are the only country in this hemisphere that can boast of three Nobel laureates in the sciences: Bernardo Houssay, Luis Federico Leloir and César Milstein," he says. "But I fear that the infrastructure we built over half a century may be ruined."
Recently, Argentina issued a desperate plea to the World Bank for an extension on $800 million loan. Calls by labor unions for a nationwide strike are a blow to President Eduardo Duhalde, since the unions are aligned with his own Peronist party.
"We're now back to square one," said economic minister Roberto Lavagna recently in a nationally televised speech, a stunning admission that the government has yet to find a way out of the country's labyrinth of despair.
Jorge Negrete, the frustrated doctor, would like nothing more than to join his many compatriots who have become "ex-pats." "If I were Jewish, I'd be on my way to Israel," he mused. "It can't be worse there than it is here, can it?" The question was posed on an evening when CNN was broadcasting graphic images of a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.
Louis Nevaer (email@example.com) is an economist and author of "The Dot Com Debacle and the Return to Reason" (Greenwood Press, 2002) and "Into -- and Out of -- the Gap," a corporate history of the Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy. (Quorum Books, 2001).