Why Castro and Che Guevara Split

 

 

 

Revolutionary Friends

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This is a documentary about Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the 1959 Cuban Revolution. In addition to exploring the revolution’s early history, the filmmakers trace how Cuba came to rely on the Soviet Union for its economic survival – and how the Soviets forced Castro to exile Che from Cuba for political reasons.

After traveling extensively through South America, Che Guevara, deeply affected by the extreme poverty and exploitation he saw, was totally committed to “permanent revolution.”* In contrast Soviet leaders were committed to socialism in one country and “peaceful coexistence with the US.” They opposed Che’s guerilla activities in Africa and Latin America owing to the potential threat they posed to US-Soviet relations.

The most interesting part of the film reveals that the CIA initially supported Castro’s guerillas  with arms, funding and US volunteers because they viewed him as “easy to control.” It contains priceless footage of Castro denouncing communism (in English) to an American audience and calling for Cuban “representative democracy.”

In February 1959, the US initially recognizes Castro as Cuba’s new prime minister. A few months later, he appoints Che (an avowed Marxist) to head the Cuban national bank. The US responds by blocking all credit to Cuban banks. Castro retaliates by nationalizing Cuba’s American businesses. The US government, in turn, blocks all Cuban sugar imports.

Given that 90% of the Cuban economy is based on trade with the US, the country is on the verge of collapse. Castro is left with no choice but to ally himself with the USSR to trade Cuban sugar for oil and financial aid.

Under Soviet direction, Castro ends Che’s governmental role in 1963 and sends him on a series of foreign missions.After several speeches critical of Soviet leaders (for failing to support third world guerilla movements), Che angers them further by cultivating relations with China, just as the USSR and China are becoming estranged.

After an unsuccessful campaign with guerilla fighters in the Congo, Castro sends Che to Bolivia, where he and ten fighters who accompany him are stranded without weapons, food, medicine or support from the Bolivian Communist Party. On October 9, 1976, Che is wounded in a firefight with Bolivian security services. He is subsequently captured and executed.


*As envisioned by Leon Trotsky, this refers to a country’s continuing revolutionary progress being dependent on a continuing process of revolution in other countries.

This film can’t be embedded for copyright reasons. It can be viewed free until April 7 at the Al Jazeera website: Che Guevara Fidel Castro Revolutionary Friends

Coke or Pepsi? History of a Global Sugar Addiction

The Cola Wars Documentary

History Channel 1990

Film Review

Coca Cola was first produced in 1886, when cocaine, morphine and alcohol were common patent medicine ingredients. The immediate predecessor to Coke was a concoction produced by Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton called French Wine Cola, containing cocaine, alcohol and caffeine. When Atlanta outlawed alcohol sales In 1885, Pemberton left the patent medicine business to produce his renamed Coca Cola for the increasingly popular soda fountain trade. His first version combined cocaine with kola nut extract (a stimulant).

Pemberton, a cocaine addict, sold the company to another pharmacist Asa Kandler shortly before his death in 1889. Kandler added more sugar to disguise the medicinal taste and citric acid to disguise the excessive sweetness. In 1916, he began bottling it as well as dispensing syrup to soda foundations.

Pepsi Cola, Coke’s arch rival, was also invented by a pharmacist in Newburn, North Carolina in 1898. It’s name was deliberately deceptive, as it never contained either pepsin (an aid to digestion) nor kola nut extract.

During World War II, Coca Cola gained the upper hand by making an agreement with the US government to be the exclusive soft drink provider to US troops stationed in Europe and the Pacific. The agreement also exempted from the sugar ration, which virtually crippled Pepsi Cola.

In 1985, after Coke made the disastrous misstep of secretly changing the coke formula to make it taste more like Pepsi, the company faced a massive backlash from Coke drinkers, briefly making Pepsi the number one soft drink in the world. Three months later they re-introduced the original formula as “Classic Coke.”

 

The Crusades: Europe’s First Imperialist War of Colonization

The Crusades: An Arab Perspective

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

The Crusades is a fascinating history of a subject that was quite new to me, as Americans rarely study the Crusades in school. Despite the title, the expert commentators represent a balance of French and English historians, as well as Muslim scholars from various Middle Eastern universities. Most of the documentary series consists of historical re-enactment of papal enclaves, battles, sieges, treaty signings and other historical events. The filmmakers use a series of maps to plot the progress of European occupation of Jerusalem and the Levantine* coast, as well the eventual liberation of these territories in the 13th century.

The documentary leaves absolutely no doubt that the Crusades were an imperialist campaign of colonization – and not religious wars, as is commonly claimed. Whenever European crusaders conquered a specific city or region, they indiscriminately slaughtered most of the inhabitants, whether they were Muslims, Jews or fellow Christians. The entire fourth Crusade (1203) was devoted to sacking the greatest Christian city in the world (Constantinople), whose residents were mainly Byzantine Greeks.

Part 4 is my favorite because it focuses on the role of the Crusades and Muslim influence in facilitating the European Renaissance of the 14th-15th centuries. When the Crusades began in 1085, the vast majority of Europeans (99%) were illiterate, whereas Middle East cities enjoyed an advanced flourishing civilization (as did India, China, Africa and North and South America prior to European colonization). When occupying crusaders were finally defeated and forced to return to Europe in 1291, they took with them advanced knowledge of Arab military tactics and agriculture, sugar cultivation, medicine, algebra, glass manufacturing and Greek philosophers ( whose work had been translated and preserved by Muslim scholars.

Part 1 – covers the role of Pope Gregory and Pope Irwin in instigating the disastrous Peoples Crusade and the first Crusade (1086-1099), resulting in the sacking and occupation of Jerusalem (lasting nearly 200 years).

Part 2 – covers the fragmented Muslim resistance to the expansion of European occupation, hindered by both religious (Sunni vs Shia) conflict and tribal rivalries. It’s during this period (1100-1127) the term hashshashin (origin of the English words assassin and hashish) came into usage, owing to the Shia assassins hired to secretly kill Sunni military commanders. Between 1127-1143 a Muslim revival led to the liberation of numerous crusader strongholds, and the launch of a second crusade by Pope Eugene, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany.

Part 3 – describes the rise of Salah Ad-Din (known in in Europe as Saladin), who unified rival Muslim armies and by 1187 retook all crusader strongholds except Jerusalem. This led to the launch of the third Crusade by Philip II (France), Frederick I (Germany) and Richard the Lion Hearted (England) This was followed by the fourth Crusade, which sacked Constantinople; the failed fifth Crusade (1213); the sixth Crusade in which Frederick II (Germany) retook Jerusalem by treaty and the failed seventh Crusade, led by Louis IX of France (1248). In 1244, Muslim armies retook Jerusalem, which remained under their control until it became part of the British protectorate of Palestine with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.

Part 4 – in addition to outlining the cultural riches Europe gained from the Crusades, Part 4 also explores how Europe’s medieval colonization of the Middle East laid the groundwork for the eventual European colonization of North Africa and the Middle East (in 1917), with the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 representing a major milestone in this re-colonization.


*Levantine – a term describing a region on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea north of the Arabian Peninsula and south of Turkey, usually including the area of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

The Hidden Sugar in Processed Food

That Sugar Film

Directed by Damon Gameau (2014)

Film Review

Last night Maori TV showed the Australian documentary That Sugar Film. So far it’s the best documentary I have seen about the western world’s sugar addiction and the 50 years of fake science (sponsored by the food industry) resulting in the cult of the “low fat diet.” Sadly the low fat diet – the major culprit in our current global epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer – continues to be promoted by many western doctors and public health officials.

The film starts by tracing the original domestication of sugar in New Guinea. From New Guinea sugar cultivation traveled to India, which would be colonized by the British in the 1600s. During the 17th century, sugar was a status symbol for royalty.

Sugar consumption in western society was fairly moderate until 1955, when President Eisenhower’s heart attack highlighted the growing incidence of heart disease. Battle lines were drawn in the scientific community between the American Ancel Keys, who blamed increasing heart disease on fat, and British scientist John Yudkin, who blamed it on sugar. Thanks to a small fortune the food industry spent on studies demonizing fat and lionizing sugar (and major donations they made to US politicians and advocacy groups such as the American Heart Association), by the 1970s Keys had won out and the cult of the low fat diet was institutionalized.

Despite the total absence of independent research, doctors, dieticians and public health officials persuaded millions of patients to eliminate fat from their diets. Owing to shocking levels of sugar in processed foods, the vast majority inadvertently replaced the fat with sugar.

Australian filmmaker Damon Gameau replicates this process through an experiment in which he replaces the fats in his diet with supposedly “healthy” processed foods such as low fat yogurt, muesli (granola), fruit juice and smoothies and beans on toast (a favorite comfort food in Australia and New Zealand). The conditions of his new diet are that he must consume 40 teaspoons of sugar a day without eating any candy, deserts or junk food.

His doctor monitors him very closely throughout the experiment. In less than a month he has put on significant weight (without increasing his caloric intake) and is showing signs of liver damage. He is also experiencing major mood swings and bursts of hyperactivity similar to children with ADHD.

Available on the Maori TV website for the next two weeks: That Sugar Film

1493 and the Hidden History of Industrial Capitalism

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C Mann

Vintage Books (2012)

Book Review

1493 is a fascinating book tracing a totally neglected aspect of the rise of capitalism and industrial civilization – namely the transfer of new crops, livestock, trees, diseases, guano (nitrogen-rich bird poop, silver and diverse ethnic groups to every continent except Antarctica. Based on his detailed investigations, Mann cites numerous examples of major historical events and movements that can be directly traced to this “Columbian Exchange.”

Mann begins by tracing the history of tobacco, which was first transferred from the lower Amazon to Jamestown Virginia, and from there to China. An immensely popular drug of addiction, it provided the cash England needed to support colonization of the South-eastern US.

He next focuses on the potato, which was transferred from the Andes in South America to Northern Europe, where it replaced wheat as the staple crop in Ireland, northern Germany, Belgium and Russia (potatoes flourish in colder climates and on more marginal land than wheat and are four times more productive). Thanks to the introduction of the potato, Europe was finally able to end the famines that occurred every ten years. At a time, when China, India and various African and South American civilizations were far more advanced than Europe, the main factor holding back European development was its inability to feed its population.

Next Mann covers the important of sugar (originally domesticated in New Guinea) to the West Indies and the importation of coffee and bananas (to South America) from Africa.

African Slaves Resistant to Malaria

He devotes a whole section to the transfer of diseases, which played a significant role in wiping out America’s indigenous population, to the New World. I was previously aware that new settlers also brought malaria with them. This often fatal illness was endemic to England in the 1500s – thanks to misguided schemes to reclaim wetlands for agriculture. The high prevalence of malaria meant that 8 out of 10 settlers in Jamestown and other southern colonies could be expected to die in the first 18 months. Mann makes a case that the natural resistance present in slaves from West and Central Africa** was a main factor in England (a historically antislavery nation) turning to slaves in their desperation to establish a labor force to work the tobacco fields.

Silver, Sweet Potatoes and the Downfall of China

The chapter on the role of the Columbian Exchange in the downfall of China as the most prosperous, politically developed and culturally sophisticated country in the world is also extremely enlightening. I was totally unaware that between 1/3 and 1/2 of all the silver mined in 16th century Peru was transported to China via the Philippines for use in their monetary system. Nor the importance of sweet potatoes and maize (which, like potatoes, thrive on marginal land) in feeding poor farmers displaced by China’s dynastic wars. China is still the number one world producer of sweet potatoes.

Why the US was the Last to Free Their Slaves

For me, the most interesting section was the one on slavery, particularly the chapter on the “maroon”*** revolts and guerilla warfare that forced Central and South America to abolish slavery long before the US did. Except for Florida, escaped slaves in the US tended not to form rebellious maroon enclaves. The reason, according to Mann, was their difficulty surviving on their own in a colder climate and the opportunity for legal freedom if they fled to the North.

In Florida, escaped slaves formed alliances with the Seminole Indians. Their guerilla bands conducted continual attacks (with covert British support) on Georgia – until 1839 when Florida maroons were granted their freedom if they agreed to resettle of the Mississippi.


*The Columbian Exchange was the widespread transfer of plants, animals, culture, human populations, technology, and ideas between the Americas and the Old World in the 15th and 16th centuries, related to European colonization and trade after Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage.

**Approximately 97% of people indigenous to West and Central Africa are resistant to malaria owing to the presence of the Duffy Negative Antigen.

***Maroon is a term applied to fugitive black slaves.

How the Sugar Industry Blocks Health Research: A Thirty Year Scandal

The Case Against Sugar

Gary Taubes (2017)

Taubes is an investigative journalist whose main focus is the deplorable state of public health research in the US.

During the 1990s, Taubes cut his teeth debunking the shoddy studies leading to public health recommendations that salt in the diet leads to high blood pressure and heart disease (which turn out to be totally groundless). He followed this with a series of exposes on the biased studies erroneously linking saturated (animal) fat to obesity, heart disease and cancer. These studies, and the infamous “low fat diet” western doctors have been pushing for nearly fifty years have been a major culprit in our current global epidemic of obesity, diabetes, cancer and tooth decay (see The Role of Western Medicine in the Epidemic of Obesity, Diabetes, Heart Disease and Tooth Decay).

His most recent book, The Case Against Sugar, focuses on a successful 30-year effort by the sugar industry to shut down independent research into sugar as a major causative agent in these chronic illnesses.

He maintains a big part of the problem was the demise of German and Austrian research into obesity after World War II. This European research, informed by the developing fields of genetics, metabolism and endocrinology, supported a hormonal regulatory defect as the primary cause of obesity. Lacking this background in genetics, metabolism and endocrinology, US researchers were blinded by their puritanical bias that lack of willpower causes obesity. With the discovery of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance (both aggravated by high sugar and carbohydrate diets), it turns out the European researchers had it right all along

For me, the most interesting part of this talk is Taubes’ discussion of sugar’s role as an addictive drug. I had no idea the tobacco industry began adding sugar to their cigarettes in 1954 to make them more addictive. I also like the point he makes about sugar, along with rum, chocolate and tobacco, being important New World discoveries to cheaply dull the pain of oppressed workers under industrial capitalism.

The Care and Feeding of Gut Bacteria

diet myth

The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat

by Tim Spector

Weidenfeld and Nicholson (2015)

Book Review

The Diet Myth is all about looking after our intestinal bacteria – which are ultimately responsible for the proper functioning of our digestive, immune, endocrine and nervous system. As Professor Tim Spector explains, all mammals co-evolved over millions of years with the bacteria that inhabit their intestines. Because these bacteria produce a number of vital biochemicals that our bodies are genetically incapable of producing, without them the species homo sapiens would not exist. This relatively recent discovery has led many scientists to classify the microbiome (the collective name given to gut bacteria) as a vital organ like the brain, liver or kidneys.

Civilization hasn’t been kind to our intestinal bacteria. For various reasons (overuse of antibiotics, processed foods and pesticides like Roundup), urban life has caused us to lose half of the septillions of gut bacteria we started out with. Nearly all the chronic illnesses that plague modern society (obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disease, depression, autism, schizophrenia and possibly drug addiction and alcoholism) can be traced to loss or malfunction of intestinal bacteria.

For this book, Spector has chosen to focus on dietary research into foods that improve the health and diversity of our remaining gut bacteria. He blames the myriad of contradictory diet fads on the reality that each human being has their own distinct collection of bacteria. This means the foods that keep them healthy depend on the preferences of their particular bacteria.

Fortunately he’s able to make a few general recommendations that seem to apply to most people.

According to Spector, people with the most diverse profile of gut bacteria are the healthiest. The best way to promote this diversity is through a diverse fiber-rich diet that includes:

  • At least 20 different food types per week
  • A daily serving of 5 vegetables and 2 fruits
  • Daily servings of probiotic foods (fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut and miso, raw milk and unpasteurized cheeses) that contain beneficial bacteria.*
  • Daily servings of prebiotic foods rich in polyphenols that gut bacteria love**
  • A strict limitation on red meat,*** sugar, refined carbohydrates, transfats (hydrogenated fats found in vegetable oils, margarine and Crisco) and processed foods

Research also indicates that lifestyle factors such as exercise (athletes have the most diverse microbiomes) also promote bacterial diversity (and good health). As does episodic fasting.****


*These mainly provide different strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria that crowd out harmful inflammatory gut bacteria.

**Foods rich in polyphenols include dark chocolate, coffee, green tea, turmeric, red wine, onions, garlic, (uncooked) extra-virgin olive oil, roasted nuts, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, leeks, asparagus, broccoli, bananas, wheat bran and fermented fruits and vegetables.

***Citing numerous studies, Spector totally debunks the claim that red meat is harmful due to its fat content. He maintains the risk associated with red meat is the conversion (by gut microbes) of L-carnitine to trimethylamine oxide, which causes plaque build-up in arteries (in Europeans – this effect appears to be absent in other ethnic groups). He recommends that Europeans limit their intake of red meat to ½ serving or less per day. Those who eat more than this have a 10% increase in mortality. Those who eat one daily serving or more of processed meat (sausages, ham, salami, etc) have a 40% increase in mortality.

****When people fast, a gut organism caused Akkermansia cleans up gut inflammation by feeding off the intestinal lining. Research reveals specific benefit from the 5/2 diet in which people fast two days a week and eat normally the other five.