Tales from the Trail

Is Venezuela the new Cuba?

CUBA VENEZUELAIt takes a brave man to mention the word Cuba among certain company in Venezuela.

 For detractors of President Hugo Chavez, the island is synonymous with all they dislike in their country– the swing to socialism in the last decade; Chavez’s alliance with Fidel Castro; the stifling of private industry; and an increasingly authoritarian political system.  So it is impossible in Caracas opposition circles to have any sort of rational conversation about Cuba — everything is seen through the perspective of Chavez.  You like anything about Cuba, you think there’s any merit in anything on the island like its health or education services, then you’re ’comunista’.

For diehard “Chavistas”, it’s precisely the opposite. Cuba’s free health and school services, its record on sending volunteers around the world, and its thousands of workers in Venezuela, are to them a model of south-south cooperation. You think Fidel Castro failed to carry through the ideals of his revolution, turned the island into a dictatorship? You’re obviously a Yankee agent.

Yet one also gets the impression that many in the Chavista rank-and-file, while loyal to their man, are slightly embarrassed by the Cuba connection. Certainly the applause is getting lighter every time Chavez stops a speech to salute Fidel and the Cuban revolution. They love Chavez, but they don’t want Venezuela to turn into Cuba.

Chavez famously said in the past Venezuela was heading towards the same “sea of happiness” as Cuba, and President Raul Castro said this month that the two nations were now “the same thing”, united forever.  

from Global News Journal:

How Ill is Kim Jong-il?

Photo:A compilation by Reuters of pool photographs and images provided by North Korea's KCNA news agency showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from 2004 to 2009. The photograph in the lower right was released this week by KCNA

By Jon Herskovitz

The image the world once had of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, with a trademark paunch, platform shoes and a bouffant hair-do, is gone and may never come back. He has now become a gaunt figure with thinning hair who has trouble walking in normal shoes, let alone ones with heels 8-10 centimetres (3-4 inches) high like he used to wear.

A look at photographs the North’s official media has released of Kim over the past few months indicate he is not a healthy man. There has been an enormous amount of speculation about what is wrong with Kim, 67, including a report from South Korean TV network YTN this week that he has life-threatening pancreatic cancer.