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You’ve heard about Fidel, Che, and the Bay of Pigs. But what about the Red Bull-sponsored skating demos and parks dedicated to British rock stars?

Cross post by Chris Lewis,

Competitive skateboarding–and the bravado that goes along with it–are one of the many things Cuban young people have in common with American counterparts. (Chris Lewis)

Arriving in Cuba, I was caught off guard by all the young people. It may sound a bit silly, but for some reason, it never occurred to me that this nation would be full of citizens the same age as me. Perhaps it’s because Cuba is a country more often associated with history than modernity. Fidel’s only getting older, and his beard greyer. The streets are peppered with 1950s-era cars (“Like a museum that moves,” one Cuban said to me). Many buildings are flaking large chunks of their paint and much of the architecture dates back to the years before the Revolution. What’s more, the images are compounded by rhetoric that presents the country’s sociopolitical system as living dead, a Cold War-era zombie further disintegrating by the minute.

Yet despite all that, not only is there a vibrant youth culture in Cuba, it’s one that deserves your attention. Because while most people know of Cuba’s storied history, as with every nation, its uncertain future lies in its youth.

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With the December 6 news that it plans to build twenty new uranium enrichment facilities, Iran has dealt a serious blow to hopes of peacefully resolving its nuclear standoff with the West. After months of courtship by the international community, Iran’s announcement appears to be both a rejection of the West’s advances and a signal of its intent to step up its pursuit of a nuclear program. With the US running out of cards to play, many fear that the two countries are on a collision course to military confrontation.

Much like North Korea, the consequences of an Iranian possession of nuclear bomb are dire. The Obama administration has sought to right the wrong of American Cold War policy, when the US provided its then-ally Iran with nuclear reactors in an attempt to curry favor. Preventing proliferation is a priority for the Obama administration and confirmation that Iran has a nuclear bomb would trigger an arms race in the Middle East, with heavyweights such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia seeking to counter Iranian domination in the region. An Iranian nuclear bomb would also bring Israel and Iran closer to war. Iran’s anti-Semitic leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicised his hatred of Israel so often that Israeli leaders deem a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat. Just last year an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear sites was narrowly averted after George W. Bush refused to give Ehud Olmert the green light. The Obama administration has since tried to convince the Israelis of the virtues of diplomacy with Iran, but the latest setback means that hawks in Israel and the US will be circling Iran with greater intensity.

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Post by Alex Simon, George Washington University

When Lily first invited me to a discussion on foreign assistance reform on Capitol Hill, I must admit my expectations were low.  Not only had I come to think of government approaches to global development as weakened by their bureaucratic processes and special interests, but looking briefly at the history of attempted foreign aid reform, there hasn’t been a lot of progress.

To my surprise, the meeting, convened by House Foreign Affairs Committee Senior Staffer Diana Ohlbaum last Tuesday, was filled with optimism and a sense that the time to modernize US foreign assistance has finally come.

The topic of discussion:  “Discussion Paper #1: Development Assistance Reforms” released by Chairman Berman’s committee staff on October 6th of this year.  Currently, foreign assistance priorities are driven by Washington, not by the needs of the countries receiving the cash and long-term development success is compromised by annual appropriations and Congressional earmarks.

The paper outlines 10 reforms directed at fixing these bureaucratic barriers and balancing what are often perceived as competing objectives.  According to the paper, the following reforms could

“Provide greater support for country-owned plans while serving U.S. national interests; allow greater input from USAID field missions while advancing policy priorities; offer greater flexibility while demanding greater accountability; respond to areas of greatest need while rewarding good performance and addressing security threats; and achieve a measurable impact that leads to sustained economic growth.”

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CB Trinidad Americas SummitWhile many the world over continue to celebrate the election of an African American to the highest post in U.S. government, participants in the IV People’s Summit  are waiting for more than rhetoric and token reformist changes.

While President Obama may be saying the right things, in the eyes of many, he has yet to confront the systemic oppression that U.S. foreign policy has afflicted on Latin America and the Caribbean for decades, if not centuries.

Easing the travel ban on Cuban Americans is not enough, they want an end to the blockade against Cuba and the state’s readmission to the OAS.  They want a foreign policy for the 21st century, not tired ideological battles of the Cold War.

Half a million in increased foreign aid and increased lines of credit will do little if economic and governmental structures are not changed to incorporate more active participation of the grassroots.  They demand a shift in objective from capital gains to human well-being and self-actualization.

New Energy and Climate Partnerships must be grounded in the lives and needs of everyday working people.  They demand sovereignty and systems that end poverty (not hand outs) over any form of corporate or state-led initiative at security.

Read for yourself. Is President Obama’s foreign policy grounded in structural changes that will prevent further crises, or is he working merely to advance an image of the United States and a failed form of capitalism for fear of exploration of true alternatives?  Or is he merely getting started, working within bureaucratic confines and the real change is yet to come?

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