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Blowback: Trump’s Sanctions on Yemen Are Already Backfiring

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/01/2021 - 5:30am in

HAJJAH, YEMEN, NEAR THE SAUDI BORDER — “We thought that aid from the U.S. would feed our children, not that American sanctions would see them dying from hunger,” a Yemeni father who wished only to be called J. A. from the border city of Abs near Saudi Arabia told MintPress.

The only income J.A. has to feed the twenty family members under his care is the money transfer that comes in at the end of every month. He receives 500 Saudi riyals from his expatriate son in Saudi Arabia who works in a laundromat. That money, though, will no longer be able to make it to Yemen as exchange companies are canceling foreign remittances to the country amid sanctions imposed by the outgoing Trump administration. ”Either we die by a U.S. bomb or U.S. sanctions, it is the same, is this the America that everyone dreams of?” J. A. asked.

The last-minute decision by the former Trump administration to designate Ansar Allah as a “foreign terrorist organization” has sparked concern from the thousands of Yemeni families that depend on remittances sent home from relatives working abroad, which represent millions of dollars annually. According to J.A, the repercussions of the designation have already started to harm his family, who is powerless as money exchanges and banks in the Saudi city where his son works have refused to transfer money to Yemen, arguing that Abs is under the control of Houthis (Ansar Allah).

Sources in Sana’a, including Houthi officials, charities, banks, and exchange shops, told MintPress that international banks, exchange shops, and firms have already ceased participating in commercial or financial transactions with Yemenis, including those exempted for humanitarian transactions, due to the fear of triggering U.S. sanctions.


Popular resistance

Despite being a staunch opponent of Ansar Allah, J.A. took to the street on the highway road linking Hodeida and Hajjah to protest against the sanctions. There, thousands of residents, including Ansar Allah supporters, sympathizers as well as those at odds with the group, carried banners reading “America is the mother of terrorism!” Protesters shouted “Who is killing the Yemeni people?” while others retorted, “America!”

Like the residents in the border city of Abs, hundreds of thousands of Yemenis took the streets in 17 major cities including Sana’a, Hodeida, Hajjah, and other cities to show support for Ansar Allah and reject the designation of the movement as terrorists. They called on President Biden to end support to the Saudi-led coalition and reverse the decision they say punishes a nation reeling from war and a blockade imposed by Washington’s allies in the region.

The protests drew crowds from across all parties and workers, including engineers, farmers, and civil defense. Doctors and aid workers wore their uniforms and marched side by side with money changers, business owners, civil society organizations, and local relief organizations. Most religious groups in Yemen, including Shafa’is, Zaydis, and others, as well as most major national parties, were also among the protests.

In Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a, hundreds of thousands gathered at Bab al-Yemen carrying Yemeni flags and holding banners. While others gathered in front of the shuttered U.S. Embassy, raising their fists up as they chanted slogans against former U.S. President Donald Trump. Some tore American flags while others trampled on them with their feet.

Yemen Sanctions

A massive crowd of Houthi supporters rally against the United States in Sanaa, January 26, 2021. Khaled Abdullah } Reuters

In Hodeida, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi was the keynote speaker at a rally where he delivered a sermon to hundreds of thousands of protesters. “We are not afraid of Americans, and our nation is standing firmly in the face of threats and aggression,” he said. Al-Houthi called on Biden to impose an embargo on sending weapons, warplanes, and logistical support to Saudi Arabia and its allies instead of designation a political movement fighting against a foreign invasion as terrorists. The Biden administration for its part recently suspended arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE and rolled back some sanctions on the Houthis but did not remove the terrorist designation imposed by the Trump administration.

Yemenis at home were not demonstrating alone. Dozens of rallies were held by Yemeni expatriates and foreign activists in cities like Washington DC and San Francisco, Hamilton in Canada, Britain, Austria, Italy, and other countries. A virtual demonstration was also held by more than 250 organizations around the world. All called for an end to the war, a lifting of the blockade, and the cancellation of U.S. sanctions. To many of the protesters who spoke to MintPress, the designation exposes Washington as a belligerent actor that has knowingly harmed them for the past six years under the pretext of fighting Iranian influence and returning the ousted president Hadi to power, arguments that have been repeated by the Houthis since 2015, when the war began.

Yemen Sanctions

A soldier stands guard over a protest against the US decision to designate the Houthis a terrorist organization in Sanaa, Jan. 25, 2021. Hani Mohammed | AP

The massive demonstrations in Yemen coincided with the international day of action, a day in which more than 230 anti-war and humanitarian organizations from 17 countries across the world including the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Finland, India, Netherlands, Chile, Sweden, Spain, South Korea, Switzerland, and Yemen came together to call for an end to the war.

The organizations demanded in a statement that their governments immediately “stop foreign aggression on Yemen; stop weapons and war support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; lift the blockade on Yemen and open all land and sea ports; and restore and expand humanitarian aid for the people of Yemen.”



Major General Khaled Baras, the Head of the Southern Movement, one of the many groups that participated in the National Dialogue held in 2014, said in the wake of the massive demonstrations that the U.S. decision lacks logic when tens of millions of defenders of their homeland are accused of terrorism. “Ansar Allah are not terrorists. We as southerners reject this decision. The former American administration accused millions of Yemenis of terrorism and with them tens of millions of supporters and defenders of the homeland. This is ridiculous,” he said.

Experts warn that the U.S. designation could not only sabotage the peace in the war-torn country but could seriously imperil the U.S.’s diplomatic credibility and its prospects to play any mediating role in future negotiation talks to end the war or the release of foreign captives, including Americans held on charges of spying or participating in the war. Any realistic settlement would also have to include the Houthis, no matter how irritating that may be to Washington and its Gulf allies.

Regardless of the wide popularity of Ansar Allah among Yemenis, reflected in part by the large demonstrations which took place on January 25 due to their outsized role in the resistance against the Saudi war, almost 80% of Yemenis live in areas under Houthi control, including the country’s capital Sana’a and the major port of al-Hodeida. And at least 80% of the population – 24.1 million people – require humanitarian assistance, more than half of them facing starvation. Consequently, the U.S. sanctions will inevitably push more Yemeni civilians closer to famine.

Officials in Sana’a who spoke to MintPress remain defiant and say the sanctions will not affect them. They argue that they already have elements operating in other capitals like Tehran and Muscat and that the designation will only increase their popularity internally and acquaint them to other countries facing U.S. aggression, such as “China and Russia.”

Feature photo | Houthi supporters hold posters as they attend a demonstration against the United States over its decision to designate the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization in Sanaa, Yemen, on Jan. 25, 2021. Hani Mohammed | AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post Blowback: Trump’s Sanctions on Yemen Are Already Backfiring appeared first on MintPress News.

The Trump Administration’s Parting Outrage Against Cuba

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/01/2021 - 3:18am in

On January 11, in his final days before leaving office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added one parting blow to the series of bludgeons his administration has inflicted on Cuba for four years: putting the island on the list of “state sponsors of terror” that includes only Iran, North Korea and Syria. The designation drew swift condemnation from policymakers and humanitarian groups as a decision widely characterized as “politically motivated.” It comes six years after the Obama administration had removed Cuba from the same list as part of his policy of rapprochement. 

In the six years since, Trump’s State Department could not point to a single act of terror sponsored by Cuba. Instead, Secretary Pompeo based his decision on Cuba’s alleged support for the ELN (National Liberation Army – Colombia’s second-largest guerilla group) and the harboring of a handful of U.S. fugitives wanted for crimes committed in the 1970s, including renowned Black revolutionary Assata Shakur. Lacking more specific accusations, the State Department criticized Cuba for its supposed “malign interference in Venezuela and the rest of the Western Hemisphere.”


These claims don’t stand up to scrutiny. Regarding the ELN, the gist of the story is that the Trump administration is punishing Cuba for its role in attempting to bring peace to the long-simmering conflict in Colombia. ELN negotiators arrived in Cuba in 2018 for peace talks with the Colombian government. As part of the protocols for these meetings, ELN negotiators were allowed entry into Cuba and promised safe passage back into Colombia after their conclusion. Guarantor countries, including Cuba and Norway, assumed responsibility for their safe return. The talks collapsed in January 2019 following an ELN car bombing in Bogotá that killed 22 people. Colombia requested the extradition of the negotiators, but Cuba refused because the Colombia government will not honor the previous government’s commitment to guaranteeing the negotiators’ freedom upon returning home.

Regarding Secretary Pompeo’s other arguments, Cuba’s main influence in the Western Hemisphere has been the opposite of “malign”: it has deployed its doctors throughout the region and the world, saving thousands of lives during the Covid-19 pandemic. And when it comes to harboring terrorists, it’s worth noting that for decades the United States harbored Luis Posada Carriles, mastermind of a 1973 bombing that killed 73 people on a Cuban commercial airliner. 

Cubans MAGA

Members of the Cuban Los 3 de La Habana, sing during a MAGA event with Ivanka Trump in Miami, Oct. 27, 2020. Wilfredo Lee | AP

Cuba’s placement on the state sponsors of terror list is meant to be a thorn in any plan by the Biden administration for rapprochement. Taking Cuba off the list will require a review process that could take months, delaying any new initiatives to roll back Trump-era policies. It will also cause further pain to Cuba’s economy, already battered by tightened sanctions and the pandemic that has devastated the island’s tourism industry. The new terrorism label will likely scare off many businesses that import to Cuba, banks that finance transactions with Cuba and foreign investors. 

“Stunning but not surprising.” 

A week before the designation, nine U.S. Senators wrote to Secretary Pompeo and warned that such a step “will politicize our national security.” It has drawn strong condemnation from Senator Patrick Leahy, who said it made a “mockery of what had been a credible, objective measure,” and House Foreign Affairs Chairman, Representative Gregory Meeks who said the hypocrisy from President Trump less than a week after he incited a domestic terror attack was “stunning but not surprising.” 

Faith group Pastors For Peace was one of many organizations to condemn the designation: “We know that this latest act, in the waning days of the Trump administration, is not only an aggressive act against Cuba, but aggression against the incoming administration who have pledged to return to a policy leading to peace and civilized relations with our island neighbor.”

Policy group ACERE (which CODEPINK is a part of) drew a connection between the designation and recent events at home: “Perpetuating the myth that Cuba is a threat to the American people – while minimizing the threat posed by far-right extremists at home – is an embarrassment to our country on the world stage.”

The real motive behind this move is to offer a parting gift to the Cuban exile community and its allies that have been loyal supporters of the Trump administration and helped oust several Democratic members of Congress in the last election. This is par for the course for an administration that has repeatedly used sanctions for political gain with no regard for the Cuban people who, for four years, have borne the brunt of sanctions affecting everything from energy, tourism, medicines, remittances and flights. Just like millions of U.S. citizens, Cubans are counting the days until the Trump administration becomes history and hoping the next administration will offer some relief.

Feature photo | Wearing a face mask amid the new coronavirus pandemic, a woman carries egg cartons in Old Havana, Cuba, Oct. 27, 2020. Ramon Espinosa | AP

The post The Trump Administration’s Parting Outrage Against Cuba appeared first on MintPress News.

As US Sanctions a Starving Yemen, Iran Asks Interpol to Arrest Trump

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/01/2021 - 5:50am in

Outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced yesterday that the United States will be designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels a terrorist organization and increasing sanctions on the already beleaguered nation. 

“The Department of State will notify Congress of my intent to designate Ansarallah – sometimes referred to as the Houthis – as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” read an official statement. 

Pompeo acknowledged that “these designations will have an impact on the humanitarian situation” but implied it was a price worth paying in “advancing efforts to achieve a peaceful, sovereign, and united Yemen that is both free from Iranian interference and at peace with its neighbors.” In other words, he was signaling U.S. intent to quash the Houthi rebellion and win the Yemeni Civil War on behalf of Saudi-backed president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. 

The State Department’s decision was immediately condemned by humanitarian organizations. “The Trump administration’s decision to designate the Houthi movement in Yemen as a Foreign Terrorist Organization is both reckless and destructive,” wrote Refugees International. “Coming just days before Trump leaves office, the designation will complicate diplomatic efforts to end the war in Yemen and will disrupt relief efforts for the world’s worst humanitarian crisis…it is difficult to imagine a more irresponsible decision,” they added.


The United States has played an oversized role in the conflict, supplying weapons to the Saudi-led coalition. In 2017, the Trump administration announced that it had signed a deal to sell $350 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia alone. In addition to the weaponry, the U.S. has trained much of the Saudi armed forces, providing essential military infrastructure and logistical support, and even refueling Saudi bombers in the air and supplying targeting guidance on the ground.

The Saudi coalition (which includes other Middle Eastern monarchies such as Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates) has targeted civilian buildings for years, with Oxfam calculating that 200 raids — equivalent to one every ten days for the duration of the war — have been carried out against medical and water infrastructure. 

Pompeo continued: “We have expressed our readiness to work with relevant officials at the United Nations, with international and non-governmental organizations, and other international donors to address these implications,” he wrote. Yet, in reality, the U.S. government spent the whole of last year pressuring international bodies like the United Nations to reduce their aid to Yemen in order to conduct a campaign to starve the Houthis into submission. As a result, international aid to the country fell to just 25 cents per person, per day, only about half of what it was in 2019. 


This is nowhere near enough. The country topped the list of the International Rescue Committee’s most pressing humanitarian crises of 2021. Around 80% of the population is in need of assistance, with 20.5 million people inside Yemen lacking access to clean water and sanitation. 

Among other reasons, Pompeo’s justification for the sanctions (although he had already been considering the idea for months) was the December 30 terrorist attack at Aden International Airport which left at least 27 people dead and dozens more injured. President Hadi and his new government had been returning from Saudi Arabia, where they had been sworn in, only to return to an airport resembling a war zone. Houthi spokespersons denied responsibility for the incident. They also condemned the State Department’s latest move. “The policy of the Trump administration and its behavior is terrorist,” movement leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said. “We reserve the right to respond to any designation issued by the Trump administration or any administration.”


While the Trump administration attempts to punish Yemen, Iran is also trying to appeal to international law to extradite American leaders. Last week, it put out a request to Interpol to arrest Trump and 47 other government officials for their role in the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani in January last year. Unlike the attack in Aden, there is no doubt about the identities of Soleimani’s killers, the Trump administration seemingly proud of its work in “taking out the world’s number one bad guy” as CNBC described him. Interpol immediately denied Iran’s request. 

Another controversial target of Washington’s ire is International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. In retaliation to the Gambian lawyer looking into U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, the Trump administration has levied sanctions against her. “The ICC is corrupt, politicized and incompetent. Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda abused her authority, engaged in corrupt acts for her personal benefit, and wasted millions with malicious prosecution of American personnel,” Pompeo tweeted on Saturday. 

While this response might seem an overreaction, the United States has an active law nicknamed “the Netherlands Invasion Act” which states that if the ICC ever tries to press charges against American officials, the U.S. will invade the Netherlands in retaliation. The legislation was passed by the Bush administration soon after the invasion of Afghanistan to protect himself and his associates from any international legal consequences. 


Back to the present, Pompeo concluded by stating that, “Progress in addressing Yemen’s instability can only be made when those responsible for obstructing peace are held accountable for their actions.” Presumably, he was not referring to his own efforts in prolonging and intensifying the conflict. 

Feature photo | A woman holds her malnourished boy at a feeding center at Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. Hani Mohammed | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post As US Sanctions a Starving Yemen, Iran Asks Interpol to Arrest Trump appeared first on MintPress News.

2020 Ends as It Began: With the Looming Threat of a US War With Iran

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/12/2020 - 4:30am in

Amid increasing hostility towards Tehran, the United States is building up its military presence on Iran’s borders. In the past three weeks alone, the U.S. has flown in a squadron of fighter jets and extra B-52 bombers while deploying the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier (with its strike group) and a large submarine to the Persian Gulf. This comes on top of the 2,500 troops it sent to Saudi Arabia earlier in the year, the first build-up of forces in the country in 17 years. The nuclear powered Nimitz is home to nine squadrons of fighting aircraft and has also long been rumored to carry nuclear weapons.

The military insists that all the new measures are purely “in the name of deterrence.” However, the few journalists who have paid attention to the news appear skeptical. “That’s provocation!” wrote Rania Khalek. “You’re sending this shit thousands of miles away from your border to try to provoke Iran and then playing the victim.”

The move comes in the midst of worsening hostilities between the United States and Iran. Last week, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad (a massive citadel in the center of the city, almost as large as the Vatican) was hit by a rocket strike that the Trump administration blames on Iranian-sponsored groups. On Wednesday, Trump gave “some friendly health advice” to Iran, tweeting that “If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over.”

The U.S. also recently upped its already extensive sanctions on the Islamic Republic, with Trump’s Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, claiming that “Thanks to the success of our sanctions, Iran is looking to come back to the negotiating table to get relief,” even as he imposed new ones.

The sanctions have indeed caused serious hardship on Iran, sending the prices of consumer goods soaring and the value of its currency, the rial, in the opposite direction. Like in Venezuela, oil production has slowed, as Tehran can find few buyers for its principal national export. The price of food has also become a serious issue for many. “The sanctions deliberately target ordinary Iranians, women, and children,” Seyed Mohammad Marandi, Professor of English Literature at the University of Tehran told MintPress earlier this year. “They are designed to kill hospital patients and to create poverty. They have had partial success.”

Iran was one of the earliest hit countries by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the U.S. government used it as an opportunity to try to overthrow the government, hindering its attempts to import medical equipment and personal protective equipment, a move condemned by human rights groups. Hawkish media and senior politicians alike appeared to be relishing the prospect of an insurrection in Tehran. “With aging rulers and a weak health system, could the coronavirus lead to a regime change in Iran?” asked former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. Eventually, the World Health Organization stepped in directly, donating large quantities of supplies — one reason why the Trump administration decided to leave the organization.

2020 started with the U.S. assassination of Iranian statesman Qassem Soleimani as he was in Iraq attending a peace conference at the invitation of Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Also present were representatives from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies with antagonistic relationships with Tehran. The move sparked uproar in Iraq, especially after Abdul-Mahdi revealed he had sought and received Trump’s blessing to invite Soleimani. The result was an enormous march of up to 2.5 million Iraqis parading through Baghdad insisting that the U.S. leave the country for good. Instead, the U.S. announced it was building three new military bases, all of them on the Iranian border.

Throughout 2020, the Trump administration has worked hard to build a united front against Iran amongst its client regimes in the region, with experts suggesting to MintPress that the Abraham Accords (the Israel-UAE-Bahrain agreement) were far more about war with Tehran than peace, as they were sold to the public. 2020 also ended with another high profile assassination; that of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a crime Iran suggested Israel or the United States must have committed.

The incoming Biden administration has signaled its intent to return to the nuclear deal that Trump and his team abandoned, with the 2020 Democratic National Platform categorically stating that,

Democrats will call off the Trump Administration’s race to war with Iran and prioritize nuclear diplomacy, de-escalation, and regional dialogue. Democrats believe the United States should not impose regime change on other countries and reject that as the goal of U.S. policy toward Iran.”

However, with the U.S. showing its ability to rapidly change political direction and break its own treaties, it is not clear whether Iran will see any American agreement as credible in the long term. Nevertheless, with the threat of a hot conflict increasing, any de-escalatory actions cannot come soon enough.

Feature photo | Guided-missile submarine USS Georgia, front, with the guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal, transit the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, Dec. 21, 2020. Indra Beaufort | U.S. Navy via AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post 2020 Ends as It Began: With the Looming Threat of a US War With Iran appeared first on MintPress News.

Trump Enacts Sweeping New Sanctions on China, Iran, Venezuela. Biden Promises More To Come

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/12/2020 - 6:13am in

On its way out the door, the Trump administration is ramping up another round of aggressive, punishing sanctions against a host of countries. On Friday, the State Department announced new sanctions against Iran, the People’s Republic of China, and Venezuela. And today, it tightened the grip of the decades-long blockade on Cuba and increased sanctions on Nicaragua.

In the case of Iran, the measures were aimed at its oil industry and went so far as to sanction Vietnamese companies helping with the international supply of Iranian hydrocarbons. “Today, thanks to the success of our sanctions, Iran is looking to come back to the negotiating table to get relief,” Trump’s Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, asserted, adding (falsely) that the Iranian nuclear program remains focused on weaponry, not civilian usage.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also announced that 59 Chinese entities that were “undermining our national security and foreign policy interests” have been targeted. In the case of Venezuela, the action came as retaliation after it held an election the United States deemed to be fraudulent.

The Trump administration has ramped up the use of sanctions, issuing around 3,800 new ones, compared to 2,350 in President Obama’s second term. Sanctions are an act of war, and, when applied unilaterally, are often seen as illegal. The UN has formally denounced many of the U.S. sanctions, noting that they “disproportionately affect the poor and most vulnerable classes,” and not the leaders of foreign governments as is sometimes argued.

The effect on Iran has been to essentially tank its economy and cause untold hardship on its people. Oil production has sputtered. The Iranian rial has lost the majority of its worth. Food and consumer goods have become scarce and far more expensive, and international travel is now much harder. Throughout 2020, the U.S. has hindered the import of humanitarian aid and personal protective equipment, adding to the COVID-19 epidemic inside the country. The National Iranian American Council (no lovers of the current administration in Tehran) described U.S. actions as “heartless and sadistic.” Seyed Mohammad Marandi, Professor of English Literature at the University of Tehran agreed, telling MintPress in October that, “The sanctions deliberately target ordinary Iranians, women, and children…They are designed to kill hospital patients and to create poverty. They have had partial success.”

The effect on Venezuela has been if anything, more acute. An estimated 100,000 people have been killed by American sanctions (a fact barely reported in the West), as vital medical equipment and lifesaving drugs have been blocked from entering the country. Alfred de Zayas, an (American) UN Special Rapporteur visited Venezuela, comparing life there to living under a Medieval siege, and declaring the United States as guilty of “crimes against humanity.”

There appears little hope for a major change in tactics with the incoming administration. A Biden-linked Washington think-tank recently released a report calling for more “innovative” use of what it called “coercive economic statecraft,” (i.e. sanctions). The Center for a New American Security was founded by Michelle Flournoy, Biden’s original pick for Defense Secretary, and is full of Obama-era officials like Victoria Nuland. “The use of economic power, backed up by all of the available legal tools, plays to America’s strengths as the dominant global economic power and promises a continued stream of benefits,” they argue, concluding that, “Although there are inevitably going to be costs, and possibly increasing ones, associated with the use of coercive economic tools, the benefits are also going to increase over time.”

News agency Reuters also recently released a report based on conversations with people close to the 78-year-old former vice-president, noting that sanctions will “remain a central instrument of U.S. power” under his administration, suggesting that he will likely ramp up sanctions against Russia. Far from dropping the practice, Biden’s major challenge, according to those cited, will be “to sort out which sanctions to keep, which to undo and which to expand.” It appears it will continue to be full steam ahead for America’s sanctions regime in 2021.

Feature photo | A cervical cancer patient sits on her bed at the Luis Razetti hospital in Caracas, Venezuela, Sept 2, 2020. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Trump Enacts Sweeping New Sanctions on China, Iran, Venezuela. Biden Promises More To Come appeared first on MintPress News.

Stablecoins as a route into Venezuela?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/11/2020 - 9:57pm in

Over the last decade, few nations have experienced as much monetary and payments chaos as Venezuela has. Fans of bitcoin, Dash, and other cryptocurrencies have all tried to help by introducing Venezuelans to their preferred coin. But even with Venezuela's bolivar currency entering hyperinflation stage, cryptocurrency adoption never happened

Circle, a U.S.-based company that issues the stablecoin USDC, is the latest to join the Venezuelan crusade. Last week it belatedly announced that it had partnered with the opposition Guaidó government  to deliver financial aid to Venezuelan health care workers. Here is Circle's CEO, Jeremy Allaire:

In its blog post, Circle says it helped to get million of dollars to Venezuelans by leveraging "the power of bypass the controls imposed by Maduro over the domestic financial system." Allaire suggests that in his tweet that stablecoins have now become a "tool of US foreign policy."

Did stablecoins play a vital role? I'm skeptical. If you pick through the transaction chain carefully, USDC's role was trivial. Nor does the wider claim made in Circle's post, that stablecoins have somehow arrived on the world stage as a foundational infrastructure in the future of the international monetary system, hold much water. 

For those who don't know, stablecoins are sort of like bank accounts with U.S. dollars in them, the difference being that they are hosted on a blockchain like Ethereum. Yes, they are a new and rapidly growing segment of the payments ecosystem. But if any payments instrument has helped Venezuela over the last few years, it's not stablecoins. Rather, it's the twin combination of old fashioned U.S. paper money and regular U.S. dollar bank accounts. More on that later.

A bit of background. The U.S. has declared the Maduro-led government to be illegitimate and thrown its support behind the Venezuelan opposition government led by Juan Guaidó. In 2019, U.S. officials cut off Maduro's access to Venezuela's U.S.-based bank accounts and put Guaidó in control. To give credence to the Guaidó opposition, an idea was hatched to take $19 million from these U.S. bank accounts and somehow airdrop it into the pockets of poorly paid Venezuelan health care workers. Each health care worker was to get $100 a month for three months.

Airtm, a money services business that offers U.S. dollar accounts, was recruited by the U.S. government to be the distribution agent for this $19 million airdrop. Airtm is a traditional e-wallet, much like PayPal or Skrill. People can get an Airtm account after going through a know-your-customer process, submitting ID and such. Having been approved, they can then transfer funds between their bank account or other wallets like Neteller. The money can also be spent using a virtual MasterCard debit card.

The first step in the Venezuelan campaign: move Guaidó's $19 million from his U.S. bank account to Airtm's U.S. bank account so that Airtm could distribute the funds. 

This is an easy step, right? It's just a US-to-US transfer, after all. Guaidó's bank simply initiates a wire transfer via Fedwire, the Federal Reserve's large value payment system, upon which the $19 million arrives in Airtm's U.S. bank account. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes. With that step out of the way, Airtm can now create $19 million in Airtm deposits for distribution to Venezuelan health care workers.

Instead, USDC stablecoins were substituted (either fully or partially) for Fedwire. Guaidó's bank bought $19 million in USDC stablecoin tokens (or maybe just a portion of that), and then sent these tokens to Airtm. Now Airtm could create $19 million in Airtm deposits for distribution.

By inserting itself into the US-leg of a transaction, Circle gets to make the claim that it was part of a stirring effort to bypass "censorship by the Maduro regime." But really, all it did was take the place of a very plain vanilla Federal Reserve transaction, one that never faced any obstacle anyways. The tough part isn't state-side, it's getting the fund to Venezuelans, In effect, USDC's role in this chain of transactions is superfluous (a point that Cas Piancey also makes here). Mind you, it certainly does make for good marketing.

Once Airtm had received the $19 million (via Fedwire or USDC), it could now embark on the tricky Venezuelan leg of the campaign. This involved signing up Venezuelan health care workers for Airtm accounts and then crediting their new account with U.S. dollar balances. (Nope, it didn't credit the workers with USDC. Airtm created internal database entries representing U.S. dollars for distribution to health care workers). From the sounds of it, this process didn't always go smoothly. The Maduro regime blocked Airtm's website, which meant that Venezuelans would have to use a VPN to connect. After talking to a number of medical workers, José Rafael Peña Gholam described the payouts as "somewhat chaotic."

I suspect this is why PayPal, which has much wider usage in Venezuela, probably opted out of the airdrop and let Airtm conduct it. PayPal didn't want to put its existing business at risk of being sanctioned or blocked by the Maduro government.  

If Airtm is to be the deployment vehicle for future Guaidó airdrops, it will have to refine its process. This isn't Airtm's first attempt to airdrop funds into Venezuela. Leigh Cuen chronicled an earlier attempt by Airtm to airdrop cryptocurrencies to Venezuelans for charity purposes. Only 57% of recipients ever engaged with the funds.

Now for my second criticism. The Circle press release describes Airtm's U.S. dollar accounts, or AirUSD, as a stablecoin-backed dollar token. And thus it can boldly claim that thanks to the combination of AirUSD and USDC, the world has just witnessed a "global first with use of stablecoins for foreign aid."

But Airtm's so-called stablecoins are not stablecoins. That is, U.S. dollars held at Airtm are not U.S. dollars held on a blockchain. Rather, they are very much like U.S. dollars held at PayPal or Skrill or Neteller. You know, good ol' fashioned centralized money. So for each Venezuelan that did succeed in connecting to Airtm to claim their dollars, they were getting non-blockchainy stuff.

So much for a "historic moment" in which "economic and political leaders have turned to stablecoins." USDC played a bit role, and AirUSD aren't stablecoins. 

That being said, stablecoins like USDC could be part of future relief programs. We'll have to see. One problem with using stablecoins for these sorts of airdrops is the massive customer due diligence requirements. The airdrop required vetting 60,000 Venezuelans to determine that each one was indeed who they claimed to be. But compared to e-wallets like PayPal and Airtm, stablecoins issuers have incredibly lax know-your-customer standards. Circle probably just doesn't have the staff to pull a carefully targeted airdrop off.

For now, no payments product has been more helpful for Venezuelans than classic U.S. paper dollars. So much U.S. currency has flooded into the country that it has effectively dollarized. An honourable mention goes to Arizona-based Zelle, a network that allows for instant transfers between U.S. bank accounts. Venezuelan retailers have adopted Zelle as an electronic payments method, although this surely goes against Zelle's terms of service:

I've written about Zelle usage in Venezuela before. Just as there is nothing blockchainy about paper dollars, there is nothing blockchainy about Zelle either.

Cuba Could be on the Brink of a Revolutionary COVID Vaccine, But US Sanctions Are Slowing It Down

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/11/2020 - 6:04am in

Cuba has announced positive and promising results for a number of separate COVID-19 vaccines it is currently developing, but U.S. sanctions against the small island nation are hampering the development and rollout of the potentially life-saving treatments.

Two candidates, named Sovereign 1 and Sovereign 2, have generated antibodies blocking infection in animals and are showing similarly encouraging signs on tests on human subjects. Meanwhile, a separate vaccine, based on a protein from the hepatitis B virus, is unique in that it is delivered through the nasal tract and does not require a needle to administer.

Should any of these efforts ultimately succeed, the Caribbean nation — already a medical powerhouse that has developed a lung cancer vaccine and methods to stop mother-to-baby HIV and syphilis transmission— will likely become an important supplier to other Latin American and developing countries who have been effectively shut out from purchasing COVID vaccines from Western companies, as rich nations have already begun hoarding coronavirus medicines.

Dr. Helen Yaffe of Glasgow University, author of “We Are Cuba!: How a Revolutionary People Have Survived in a Post-Soviet World,” was impressed and heartened by the news, telling MintPress:

Cuba now has four COVID-specific vaccine candidates under clinical trial. The fact that a small Caribbean island can achieve such a remarkable feat is testimony to its state-owned biotech sector, which is directed towards public health demands and integrated into its healthcare and education systems. After years of being told that only the market can lead to efficiency and innovation, Cuba’s socialist planned economy demonstrates what is possible when there is political will, good coordination, organization and the priority of social welfare.”

However, Cuban immunization developments are being seriously hamstrung by the actions of the U.S. government, primarily due to the decades-long blockade on the island, something which the Cuban government estimates has cost it over 750 billion U.S. dollars.

As Reuters reported, cash-strapped Cuba cannot afford to buy the raw materials necessary to upscale its vaccine development to help other countries. Hospitals face huge obstacles importing lifesaving equipment from abroad due to the blockade, while the sanctions force the country, which imports the large majority of its staples, to spend far more on food than other nations. As a result, almost one third of young children suffer from anemia due to the monotonous and sub-par nutrition available, according to the World Food Program.

The blockade also forces Cuba to continually repair its crumbling infrastructure and halt the importation of vehicles, even leading to a return of horse-drawn carriages on the island. Food production is hampered; with little petroleum available for agriculture, the country instead went back to relying on human or animal labor. The blockade also led to the forced development of a domestic pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector, which has grown to become among the most advanced in the world.

Last November, the United Nations voted 187-3 in favor of ending the blockade (with the U.S., Israel, and Brazil voting “no”). Almost two-thirds of Americans support an end to the action as well. Despite this, the Trump administration has, in fact, intensified the pressure on Cuba, as Yaffe explained:

Cuba has been subject to an additional 46 sanctions and new measures to tighten the blockade, to scare off foreign investors, to create scarcity, to create difficulty for Cuba to access raw materials, including for its biotech sector and for its pharmaceutical industry.”

One example of this, Yaffe notes in her new documentary, “Cuba and COVID-19: Public Health, Science and Solidarity” is that the island can no longer purchase ventilators or parts for existing machines because the Swiss company it dealt with was purchased by an American one and fearing potential reprisals, it halted any contact with Havana.

A more positive, but nevertheless difficult, challenge the Cuban government faces in testing its new vaccines is the lack of COVID-19 patients on the island, which has the highest proportion of medical professionals per capita anywhere in the world. To date, the country has recorded only 7,639 cases and 131 deaths. U.S.-backed conservative neighbors such as Brazil, Ecuador, and (until last week) Bolivia, that had expelled Cuban doctors working inside their borders, have fared far worse.

Under Trump, the U.S. also led the world in the theft of medical equipment and personal protective gear, confiscating shipments, and diverting supplies away from other countries to keep for itself. And at the height of the outbreak in Iran, the government was unable to buy or import lifesaving gear due to American sanctions, as no nation was willing to risk the wrath of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who threatened harsh sanctions on anyone willing to do business with Iran. Finally, the World Health Organization directly intervened, gifting Iran supplies, sparking the Trump administration to leave the WHO among other reasons.

The U.S., along with other wealthy nations, has also been quietly buying up the majority of any future supply of vaccines, cornering the market, and leaving little hope for developing nations to secure their own supply of vaccines. The for-profit corporations conducting the research have made it clear that they intend to withhold production secrets in order to cash in. Furthermore, they do not have the capacity to immunize the entire world. U.S./German company Pfizer, for example, predicts that it could supply enough for only around 650 million people by the end of 2021. This is why the development of treatments outside the for-profit model is so important.

Today, Pfizer announced that its own trial, featuring over 43,000 people in six countries was a success, with a 90% immunization rate and only 94 people contracting the virus from the vaccine. Massachusetts-based Moderna claims that its vaccine is even more effective, with a 94% immunization rate, and does not have to be stored at -80°C temperature like Pfizer’s offering.

The first country to announce a potential vaccine was Russia, however, the government sharing the news in September, with researchers claiming “Sputnik V” was 90% effective and that Russia could produce 500 million doses annually. The Russian and American offerings appear to be based upon the same scientific logic and have produced broadly similar results. However, the Russian vaccine has been near-universally panned in the Western press, while the American ones heralded as a historic achievement. Thus, Sky News’ headline described Pfizer’s breakthrough as a “great day for science and humanity” while casting doubt on the validity of Sputnik V, claiming the Russian’s secretive approach is a throwback to “its spirit in the Cold War.”

Regardless if any or all of the treatments work, the world will need a sustained and coordinated international effort to immunize itself against COVID-19, as no one company can possibly supply the entire planet. By continuing the blockade against Cuba, the U.S. government might be condemning much of the world to living months longer under a deadly pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 1.32 million people.

Feature photo | A Cuban health worker collects a sample for a COVID-19 test from a baby who arrived in a flight from Mexico at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, Nov. 15, 2020. Ramon Espinosa | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Cuba Could be on the Brink of a Revolutionary COVID Vaccine, But US Sanctions Are Slowing It Down appeared first on MintPress News.

Critics Say New Iran Sanctions Designed To “Choke off Humanitarian Exports” Amid Pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/10/2020 - 5:36am in

Yesterday the State Department announced the beginnings of yet more sanctions on Iran, this time targeting the country’s financial industry. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the move was necessary to “further deprive the Islamic Republic of Iran of funds to carry out its support for terrorist activities and nuclear extortion that threatens the world,” adding that his actions were part of a “maximum economic pressure campaign” that will continue until Iran ceases its “malign behavior.”

Pompeo insisted that the sanctions “do not affect existing authorizations and exceptions for humanitarian exports to Iran, which remain in full force and effect.” Yet existing sanctions have already wreaked havoc on the Islamic Republic, killing thousands. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch condemned the Trump administration for “drastically constraining the ability of the country to finance humanitarian imports, including medicines and medical equipment,” its executive director Kenneth Roth describing Washington as “compounding Iranians’ misery by depriving them of access to the critical medical resources they urgently need.”

Iran was one of the first countries to be hit badly by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the U.S. used the opportunity to cause maximum devastation by intimidating other nations into refusing to sell or donate them medical supplies, lest they be hit with secondary sanctions. As a result, Iran was woefully under equipped to deal with the problem. In the end, the World Health Organization stepped in, sending supplies themselves — part of the reason the Trump administration was so keen to leave the organization. Washington insiders openly discussed using the pandemic to force the Iranian government out of office and implement a regime more suited to their needs.

While the government claims that the sanctions are “directed at the regime and its corrupt officials that have used the wealth of the Iranian people to fuel a radical, revolutionary cause that has brought untold suffering across the Middle East and beyond,” it is widely understood that the attack on the banking center will affect Iran’s ability to function and even purchase basics like food from abroad.

The National Iranian American Council (no lovers of the current administration in Tehran) condemned the action as “heartless and sadistic,” claiming the sanctions were explicitly designed to “choke off humanitarian exports to Iran” and displayed the cruelty of the Trump administration. “It is critical that the American people and our elected representatives put an end to this cruel, inhumane, and strategically catastrophic suffering and humiliation that is being imposed on innocent Iranians in our names,” they concluded.

“I don’t know how many times I have to read a headline about #Iran that breaks my heart. Why are the lives of Iranians disposable? Do we not have compassion for the hurt, the pains, the struggles of the people of Iran? Why must we be so callous?” asked Leila Gharagozlou, a producer at MSNBC.

“Contrary to the US claims, humanitarian goods and services are affected by the cruel sanctions. Financial institutions fear the US vengeance, which is why the financial channels created to facilitate transactions for humanitarian commodities, have had no tangible results,” said Mohammad Zareyian, an Iranian representative at the United Nations General Assembly.

The sanctions have already caused serious hardship on Iran, sending the prices of consumer goods soaring and the value of its currency, the rial, plummeting. Like in Venezuela, oil production has sputtered, as the Islamic Republic can find few buyers for its main national export. The price of food has also become a serious issue for many. “The sanctions deliberately target ordinary Iranians, women and children,” Seyed Mohammad Marandi, Professor of English Literature at the University of Tehran told MintPress last week. “They are designed to kill hospital patients and to create poverty. They have had partial success.”

The U.S. has dreamed of a change of government in Tehran since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 overthrew the American-backed Shah and installed Ayatollah Khomeini as leader. To that end, it has propped up dictators like Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, fomented protest movements, supported virtual shadow governments like the MEK, and imposed suffocating sanctions on the nation.

Earlier this year, Trump assassinated top general Qassem Soleimani as he was attending regional peace talks in Baghdad. In the summer it imposed new “snapback” sanctions on Iran for its refusal to comply with the nuclear deal, despite the fact that the U.S. had already walked away from the same deal. In August, Trump appointed disgraced Iran-Contra hawk and regime change specialist Elliott Abrams as his chief advisor on Iran, a signal to all those paying attention that increased hostilities were in the offing.

There is speculation that Trump will attempt to increase hostilities with Iran before the election, provoking an international incident. If that is the case, these sanctions are merely a prelude to something bigger.

Feature photo | A member of the Iranian army walks past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for coronavirus patients set up by the army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran, March 26, 2020. Ebrahim Noroozi | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Critics Say New Iran Sanctions Designed To “Choke off Humanitarian Exports” Amid Pandemic appeared first on MintPress News.

Hoping to Force an Outcome, US Sanctions Opposition Parties in Venezuela Ahead of Elections

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 4:43am in

Elections for Venezuela’s National Assembly are fast approaching. But the United States does not want them to go ahead at all. Sanctions on Venezuela are nothing new. But yesterday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the unusual step of sanctioning leaders of local opposition parties in an attempt to pressure them to pull out of the contest in December.

Remarkably, considering the well-documented flaws with the same problems in the U.S., Pompeo’s statement dubiously claimed that Venezuelan voting machines are unreliable, that millions of voters remain unregistered, and that the country’s supreme electoral council is politicized and hand-picked by the executive branch.

That many parties are contesting the upcoming December elections to the National Assembly (that the opposition already controls) seems to undermine Pompeo’s claim that Nicolas Maduro is a “desperate and illegitimate dictator.” The 56-year-old former CIA Director, however, explained that they are merely “puppet parties” participating in an “electoral charade.” The National Assembly is roughly akin to the French Assemblée Nationale or the U.S. House of Representatives.

Last week Pompeo toured Venezuela’s neighbors to discuss regime change. “Maduro has to go,” Pompeo said while in Guyana. “We know that the Maduro regime has decimated the people of Venezuela and that Maduro himself is an indicted narcotics trafficker. That means he has to leave.” The United States and Guyana announced that they would subsequently be carrying out joint military border patrols along the country’s sparsely populated bur disputed frontier with Venezuela.

The Venezuela-Guyana border dispute is an extremely old one, going back to unresolved disagreements between the Spanish and British empires, long before either’s establishment as a state. The large, heavily forested region claimed by both countries is largely untouched and thought to be home to uncontacted tribes. Because of this, the dispute has never spilled over into a serious conflict. Pompeo claimed that the operation is purely an anti-drugs operation, but in the same speech described as a “narco-trafficker,” muddying the waters further.

Earlier this month an American ex-C.I.A. agent was arrested outside the country’s largest oil refinery complex in possession of C4 explosives, a grenade launcher, and other weapons.

The United States already tried the tactic of sanctioning Maduro’s opponents during the 2018 presidential elections, when it demanded opposition leader Henri Falcon drop out, threatening him with sanctions. Falcon remained in to contest the election, but with many of his coalition heeding American advice and boycotting it, he was resoundingly beaten. In the end, Maduro won with 68 percent of the vote. The process was watched over by 150 international observers and foreign dignitaries, who attested to its veracity. Maduro has asked teams from the United Nations and European Union to oversee the December vote, something the U.S. does not want to happen.

Since coming to power in 2013, Maduro has presided over an increasingly dysfunctional economy and falling standards of living. Inflation has racked the country, there have been acute shortages of certain goods, oil production has collapsed, and many have left the country as a result. Much of the mayhem, however, is due to the impact of American sanctions, formally condemned by the U.N., and estimated to have killed at least 100,000 people. Earlier this week, the State Department announced sweeping new “humanitarian support” for Venezuelans, although, given its history in the country, it is highly likely to be politicized. Much of it is actually earmarked for the neighboring countries Pompeo visited.

Maduro’s public approval rating is very low. Yet his party still stands a decent chance in the National Assembly elections. This is partly due to the equally unpopular opposition coalition, which is fractured and unsure what to do. Some favor a boycott of the vote like in 2018, others to compete and win.

Historically, when eschewing violence and pursuing purely electoral means, the opposition has fared relatively well at the ballot box, winning the National Assembly in 2015. Two years earlier, their candidate Henrique Capriles received 49 percent of the vote for the presidency. However, they are beset with infighting, with the United States propping up self-declared president Juan Guaidó as the legitimate ruler of the country, even though he wields no power. Earlier this month Capriles called on him to stop “playing at government on the internet.”

Guaidó rose to prominence in January 2019 when, as it was his party’s turn to lead the institution, he was appointed head of the National Assembly for one year. He immediately declared himself president, however, shocking the world, and would go on to launch five unsuccessful coup attempts since, all with U.S. backing.

While Guaidó enjoys virtually unanimous support among Democrats and Republicans (he was a guest of honor at Trump’s State of the Union, where he was given a standing ovation by both parties), a number of embarrassing financial and alcohol-related scandals have made him a deeply unpopular figure inside the country. Recent polls put his public support at three percent. In January he “resigned” from his party, meaning he has no formal political office at all.

Despite this, the U.S. continues to bankroll his stunts, even supplying him with money it stole from the Venezuelan government so he could give a large stipend to the country’s 62,000 health workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trying to explain Latin America to an international audience, the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano described his region as an “upside down world,” where everything is turned on its head. Thus, Venezuela is an autocracy with upcoming elections, presided over by a dictator who was elected twice, with a larger share of the electorate than Trump in 2016 or Obama in 2012, holding sham votes watched over by impressed international observers. The land of the free, however, attacks anyone who participates in elections or the 97 percent who do not support their own self-declared president, a man who has never even run for the office he claims he holds. The U.S. helps forces for democracy launch coup d’etats, assassination attempts, or terror plots in order to bring about relief from the suffering it is causing through its own actions. No wonder so many people are confused.

Feature photo | A man passes a mural of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, July 22, 2020. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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