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Fidel Castro – Death of a Titan

Fidel Castro’s death removes from the global scene a political genius who transformed Cuba whilst securing its independence from the US, and who played a key role in bringing about the fall of South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Alexander Mercouris

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The death of Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro has provoked the usual praise of him from some and condemnation of him from others. 

What no one denies is the colossal impact he has had, not just on his own country but on the world.

This fact bears repeating because it is so remarkable.  Cuba – the country which Fidel Castro led – is small (its current population is 11 million) and relatively poor.  It has no great wealth of natural resources, and no great industries.  At the time Fidel Castro came to power its social services were primitive, its school and health systems hugely unbalanced and undeveloped, and much of its population was illiterate. 

By no conceivable stretch of the imagination is Cuba a Great Power, and before Fidel Castro became its leader it occurred to no one to think of it as one.

That the leader of such a small country was able to have such an extraordinary impact on the world stage is little short of astonishing, and says a huge amount about Fidel Castro’s personality as incidentally it does about Cuba and about the revolution he led. 

Suffice to say that by comparison the nations led by Mao Zedong, Ho Chih Minh, Ruhollah Khomenei and Nelson Mandela – the four other great revolutionary leaders of the post Second World War world – China, Vietnam, Iran and South Africa – are by comparison with Cuba all giants (in China’s case a titan) and it is not therefore surprising if their revolutionary leaders were therefore able to command world attention.

It is true but it is also trite to say that one reason why Fidel Castro and Cuba attracted so much attention was because in the 1960s they became the focus of the Cold War, with the USA and USSR almost going to war over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis on 1962.

It is trite because Cuba only became so important in the Cold War because Fidel Castro made it so. 

There have been many other left wing and revolutionary leaders in the Caribbean and Latin America before and after Fidel Castro.  None of them – not even Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez – have ever come close to matching Fidel Castro’s political stature, or managed to make their countries the centre of superpower conflict in the same way.

The reason Fidel Castro succeeded in doing this was because he was prepared to do things in the Caribbean and Latin America – the US’s backyard – that no other Caribbean or Latin American leader has been prepared to do.  Unlike them he carried out in the 1960s a genuine revolutionary transformation of Cuban society, something that no other Caribbean or Latin American leader has ever done.

What that means in practice is that there is no institutional continuity between pre-Castro Cuba and the Cuba of today. 

The army, police, state bureaucracy, media and judiciary, are completely different, the wealth – including the lands and factories – of the old Cuban oligarchy, has been subjected to a comprehensive revolutionary expropriation, and the economy, health and education systems have been entirely taken over and recreated in Fidel Castro’s own image.

To say that this was controversial would be a gigantic understatement.  In fact it remains the main charge and grievance against Fidel Castro of the people he displaced to this day, and explains the relentless quality of their hostility to him.

It is also the reason for the US embargo. 

The revolutionary changes Fidel Castro carried out in Cuba in the 1960s made it impossible for his government and revolution to be reversed internally – the fate of every single other Caribbean and Latin American revolution before and since – because it deprived the US of the usual tools it uses to reverse such revolutions. 

The US – which never tolerates anything that remotely resembles revolutionary change in its Caribbean and Latin American backyard for very long – has been struggling to come up with a response ever since. 

The embargo it imposed on Cuba was one such attempt at a response.  Though it long ago visibly failed, the US’s habitual obstinacy and petulance and the powerful vested interests which support the embargo mean that it has continued ever since.

To say that it was the revolutionary transformation of Cuban society that Fidel Castro carried out in the 1960s that accounts for his survival and success however begs the question of how it was done?

Part of the answer undoubtedly lies within Fidel Castro’s personality.  It is clear that he possessed to the highest degree the clarity of vision, the determination and the unsentimental ruthlessness that no revolutionary leader can succeed without.

It is however important to say that Fidel Castro was able to do it because of the support of Cuban society.  The reason for that is in part because of a peculiar feature of the Cuban revolution, which is bound up with Cuba’s unusual relationship to the US.

I discussed all this two years ago in an article I wrote for Sputnik, and I will set it out here again

“The breakdown in relations between the United States and Cuba was the consequence of the Castro Revolution of 1959. This was a revolution launched from the countryside against a corrupt oligarchic elite based in Havana.

That elite in turn had extremely close connections with the United States. These extended back decades to Cuba’s liberation war against Spain in the 1890s. The United States intervened in that war in a manner that achieved for it a dominant position in Cuba right up to the point of Castro’s revolution in 1959. It would not be an exaggeration to say that throughout this period Cuba was essentially a protectorate of the United States. 

It should be clarified that this was a relationship that differed significantly from the one the United States has with nearly all other Latin American countries. The United States has been the dominant political influence — in effect the not so silent partner — in the political system of every Latin American state for most of the last century. However in no other Latin American state or country, save Panama and Puerto Rico, has US political engagement been so direct and open as it was in Cuba.

This form of US domination had important practical significance. Not only did the United States acquire a major military base at Guantánamo Bay (which it retains still) but it achieved total domination of Cuba’s economy and political system in a way that made both in effect appendages of the economy and political system of the United States.

As is well-known Cuba gradually evolved into an important playground for the American rich and not so rich. From the 1920s to the 1950s Havana became a US holiday and gambling centre to rival Miami and later Las Vegas. Moreover, many wealthy Americans had second homes there. These included the writer Ernest Hemingway and the wealthy Dupont family whose former villa Xanadu was one of the inspirations for the palace of that name in the Orson Welles film Citizen Kane. It remains a landmark in the holiday resort of Varadero to this day. 

This was the period when the Tropicana nightclub in Havana achieved its heyday, when the Capitolio building in Havana was built in direct imitation of the Capitol in Washington, when the US Hershey chocolate company built an electric railway to service its sugar plantations and when Havana became a byword for tropical hedonism and vice.

This US political and economic control went together with considerable corruption. Its status as a protectorate was incompatible with democracy and at no time before the Castro Revolution in 1959 was Cuba in any true sense one. At the time of the Revolution Cuba was actually a dictatorship led by a former staff Sergeant Fulgencio Batista. 

Behind the facade of a dictatorship the true power in Cuba actually rested, as it had always done, in an oligarchy of wealthy families (some tracing their origins back to the period of Spanish rule), the military, the US embassy and US businessmen, several of whom were well known gangsters.

The two key figures amongst the latter were the mobsters Meyer Lansky and Santos Trafficante, with the former often regarded as the true ruler of Cuba during this period.

The immediate pre-revolution period in Cuba was one of chronic impoverishment and neglect of the Cuban countryside combined with a frenetic construction boom in Havana itself.

This period when the Tropicana nightclub in Havana achieved its heyday and when Havana became a byword for tropical hedonism and prostitution was also a period of growing inequality and of social unrest. 

In fairness it was also a time of considerable cultural achievement, of the emergence in Havana of a substantial middle class and of the construction of a highway system of a sort unknown at this time in other Latin American states.

These intense connections between Cuba and the United States explain much about the subsequent period of protracted hostility. 

For the Cubans many of their societal problems became explicable by reference to their subordinate position to the United States, which to a proud people was humiliating and exploitative. The Castro Revolution was in a sense Cuba’s declaration of independence from the United States.

(Bold Italics added)

In the same article I discussed the various US attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro and how – precisely because the Cuban revolution was effectively Cuba’s declaration of independence from the US – they actually consolidated support for Fidel Castro and his revolutionary government

“The consequence has been five decades of struggle by the United States to bring Cuba back under its control. This has involved an economic blockade and unrelenting attempts to destabilise and overthrow the Cuban government. 

On occasion this had had its farcical aspects such as the plot to murder Fidel Castro with an exploding seashell or the recent attempt to recruit Cuban hip-hop artists in a plot to overthrow the government. This should not however detract from the enormous material and psychological damage done to Cuba.

The US economic and political war against Cuba has been further extended by the powerful vested interests in its perpetuation.

Anti-Castro groups managed to achieve political control of the Cuban community in the United States in the 1960s and the perpetuation of the US’s undeclared war against Cuba served both to cement their control of that community and their political influence within the United States.  Allied to various political and economic groups in the United States that were also opposed to reconciliation for ideological, economic or political reasons, they formed a powerful political lobby resisting any rapprochement between the two countries. 

However, the conflict between Cuba and the United States also serves as a case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable obstacle. 

Precisely because the Cuban revolution was in a sense Cuba’s declaration of independence from the United States, US political pressure upon Cuba in the end served to consolidate support for the Cuban government rather than undermine it.

(bold italics added)

It is of course also true – as I also discussed in this article – that Fidel Castro and Cuba could not have won through without the critical support in the 1960s and 1970s of the USSR. 

However saying this, though true, is also trite, because the reason the USSR was willing to commit itself to Cuba in the way it did – and which it never did to any other Caribbean or Latin American revolution – was precisely because of the comprehensive revolutionary change that Fidel Castro carried out in Cuba, which showed to the USSR that Cuba’s revolution would be lasting and was for real.

Fidel Castro’s genius was that he was not only able to secure this Soviet support to carry out revolutionary change within Cuba, but that he was also able to leverage the USSR’s support to carry out revolutionary change in southern Africa.

The importance of Cuba’s involvement in the wars against the apartheid regime in Angola and Namibia has always been recognised by the leadership of the ANC (including by Nelson Mandela himself), though in the West it has gone completely unacknowledged, and is disputed by some people in South Africa itself. 

My opinion, having personally discussed this issue with eyewitnesses of the fighting in Angola and with people involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, is that its importance cannot be overestimated, and that the Cuban victory at Cuito Cuanavale in 1987 was crucial – as Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela and many others have always said it was – in acting as the catalyst for the end of the apartheid regime.

To be clear that regime would sooner or later have fallen anyway.  Fidel Castro’s and Cuba’s intervention were however decisive in causing it to fall when it did.  Given that the apartheid regime’s further perpetuation into the 1990s would have been a total disaster for the people of southern Africa, that is something that they – and the rest of the world – have huge cause to be grateful to Fidel Castro for.

As Fidel Castro on numerous occasions admitted, Cuba’s intervention in the wars in southern Africa could not have happened without the support of the USSR.  It was Fidel Castro’s brilliant skill in obtaining that support, and the outstanding use he made of it, which was however decisive.  Since the USSR was a superpower, it was Fidel Castro’s skill in leveraging its support which for a time made Cuba a Great Power.

In recognising the colossal scale of Fidel Castro’s achievement, it is however also necessary to admit that his revolution has run its course, and that it did so some time ago.

Though the revolution has transformed Cuba – especially its formerly impoverished countryside – and has provided Cuba with what are by any standard exceptional health and education systems, the degree of political and social control Fidel Castro was forced to impose on Cuban society in order to safeguard his revolution has by all accounts been causing increasing frustration within Cuba itself, as an immeasurably better educated, healthier and far more self-confident generation of younger Cubans increasingly feels – whether rightly or wrongly – that the existing system does not give full scope to them to develop their abilities.

Despite perennial Western criticisms of Cuba’s human rights record, Fidel Castro never carried out  the sort of Terror in Cuba that has been such a feature of other revolutions carried out elsewhere, and in a region where political repression continues to be common, and where life is still cheap, life in Cuba under Fidel Castro has been immeasurably safer and more secure for the vast majority of Cuba’s people than it has been in any of Cuba’s neighbours.

Nonetheless the great challenge for Cuba today is to move forward, despite likely continued US hostility, in order to make Cuba a freer and less controlled society – one better adapted to the present needs of its people – whilst preserving its independence, and the massive social gains of Fidel Castro’s revolution. 

That is something that Cuba almost certainly can achieve but which – as Fidel Castro always knew –  given Cuba’s vulnerability and limited resources, it can only achieve with external help. 

The huge changes underway in the international system mean that the potential for such help is now there.  Already in response to Fidel Castro’s death there are signs of a willingness to provide it.

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Major Syrian Army Assault On Southeast Idlib As Sochi Deal Unravels

Though the Syrian war has grown cold in terms of international spotlight and media interest since September, it is likely again going to ramp up dramatically over the next few months. 

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Via Zerohedge


The Syrian Army unleashed a major assault across the southeastern part of Idlib province on Saturday, a military source told Middle East news site Al-Masdar in a breaking report. According to the source, government forces pounded jihadist defenses across the southeast Idlib axis with a plethora of artillery shells and surface-to-surface missiles.

This latest exchange between the Syrian military and jihadist rebels comes as the Sochi Agreement falls apart in northwestern Syria, and in response to a Friday attack by jihadists which killed 22 Syrian soldiers near a planned buffer zone around the country’s last major anti-Assad and al-Qaeda held region. The jihadist strikes resulted in the highest number of casualties for the army since the Sochi Agreement was established on September 17th.

Though the Syrian war has grown cold in terms of international spotlight and media interest since September, it is likely again going to ramp up dramatically over the next few months.

The Al-Masdar source said the primary targets for the Syrian Army were the trenches and military posts for Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham in the towns of Al-Taman’ah, Khuwayn, Babulin, Haish, Jarjanaz, Um Jalal, and Mashirfah Shmaliyah. In retaliation for the Syrian Army assault, the jihadist rebels began shelling the government towns of Ma’an, Um Hariteen, and ‘Atshan.

Damascus has been critical of the Sochi deal from the start as it’s criticized Turkey’s role in the Russian-brokered ceasefire plan, especially as a proposed ‘de-militarized’ zone has failed due to jihadist insurgents still holding around 70% of the planned buffer area which they were supposed to withdraw from by mid-October. Sporadic clashes have rocked the “buffer zone” since.

Russia itself recently acknowledged the on the ground failure of the Sochi agreement even as parties officially cling to it. During a Thursday press briefing by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova admitted the following:

We have to state that the real disengagement in Idlib has not been achieved despite Turkey’s continuing efforts to live up to its commitments under the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of September 17.

This followed Russia also recently condemning  “sporadic clashes” and “provocations” by the jihadist group HTS (the main al-Qaeda presence) in Idlib.

Likely due to Moscow seeing the writing on the wall that all-out fighting and a full assault by government forces on Idlib will soon resume, Russian naval forces continued a show of force in the Mediterranean this week.

Russian military and naval officials announced Friday that its warships held extensive anti-submarine warfare drills in the Mediterranean. Specifically the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s frigates Admiral Makarov and Admiral Essen conducted the exercise in tandem with deck-based helicopters near Syrian coastal waters.

Notably, according to TASS, the warships central to the drill are “armed with eight launchers of Kalibr-NK cruise missiles that are capable of striking surface, coastal and underwater targets at a distance of up to 2,600 km.”

Since September when what was gearing up to be a major Syrian-Russian assault on Idlib was called off through the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement, possibly in avoidance of the stated threat that American forces would intervene in defense of the al-Qaeda insurgent held province (also claiming to have intelligence of an impending government “chemical attack”), the war has largely taken a back-burner in the media and public consciousness.

But as sporadic fighting between jihadists and Syrian government forces is reignited and fast turning into major offensive operations by government forces, the war could once again be thrust back into the media spotlight as ground zero for a great power confrontation between Moscow and Washington.

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Trump Quietly Orders Elimination of Assange

The destruction of Assange has clearly been arranged for, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, just as the destruction of Jamal Khashoggi was by Saudi Arabia’s Government.

Eric Zuesse

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On June 28th, the Washington Examiner headlined “Pence pressed Ecuadorian president on country’s protection of Julian Assange” and reported that “Vice President Mike Pence discussed the asylum status of Julian Assange during a meeting with Ecuador’s leader on Thursday, following pressure from Senate Democrats who have voiced concerns over the country’s protection of the WikiLeaks founder.” Pence had been given this assignment by U.S. President Donald Trump. The following day, the Examiner bannered “Mike Pence raises Julian Assange case with Ecuadorean president, White House confirms” and reported that the White House had told the newspaper, “They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward.”

On August 24th, a court-filing by Kellen S. Dwyer, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Alexandria Division of the Eastern District of Virginia, stated: “Due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure [than sealing the case, hiding it from the public] is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged. … This motion and the proposed order would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.” That filing was discovered by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. On November 15th, he posted an excerpt of it on Twitter, just hours after the Wall Street Journal had reported on the same day that the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute Assange. However, now that we know “the fact that Assange has been charged” and that the U.S. Government is simply waiting “until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter,” it is clear and public that the arrangements which were secretly made between Trump’s agent Pence and the current President of Ecuador are expected to deliver Assange into U.S. custody for criminal prosecution, if Assange doesn’t die at the Ecuadorean Embassy first.

On November 3rd (which, of course, preceded the disclosures on November 15th), Julian Assange’s mother, Christine Ann Hawkins, described in detail what has happened to her son since the time of Pence’s meeting with Ecuador’s President. She said:

He is, right now, alone, sick, in pain, silenced in solitary confinement, cut off from all contact, and being tortured in the heart of London. … He has been detained nearly eight years, without trial, without charge. For the past six years, the UK Government has refused his requests to exit for basic health needs, … [even for] vitamin D. … As a result, his health has seriously deteriorated. … A slow and cruel assassination is taking place before our very eyes. … They will stop at nothing. … When U.S. Vice President Mike Pence recently visited Ecuador, a deal was done to hand Julian over to the U.S. He said that because the political cost of expelling Julian from the Embassy was too high, the plan was to break him down mentally…   to such a point that he will break and be forced to leave. … The extradition warrant is held in secret, four prosecutors but no defense, and no judge, … without a prima-facie case. [Under the U.S. system, the result nonetheless can be] indefinite detention without trial. Julian could be held in Guantanamo Bay and tortured, sentenced to 45 years in a maximum security prison, or face the death penalty,” for “espionage,” in such secret proceedings.

Her phrase, “because the political cost of expelling Julian from the Embassy was too high” refers to the worry that this new President of Ecuador has, of his cooperating with the U.S. regime’s demands and thereby basically ceding sovereignty to those foreigners (the rulers of the U.S.), regarding the Ecuadorian citizen, Assange.

This conservative new President of Ecuador, who has replaced the progressive President who had granted Assange protection, is obviously doing all that he can to comply with U.S. President Trump and the U.S. Congress’s demand for Assange either to die soon inside the Embassy or else be transferred to the U.S. and basically just disappear, at Guantanamo or elsewhere. Ecuador’s President wants to do this in such a way that Ecuador’s voters won’t blame him for it, and that he’ll thus be able to be re-elected. This is the type of deal he apparently has reached with Trump’s agent, Pence. It’s all secret, but the evidence on this much of what was secretly agreed-to seems clear. There are likely other details of the agreement that cannot, as yet, be conclusively inferred from the subsequent events, but this much can.

Basically, Trump has arranged for Assange to be eliminated either by illness that’s imposed by his Ecuadorean agent, or else by Assange’s own suicide resulting from that “torture,” or else by America’s own criminal-justice system. If this elimination happens inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, then that would be optimal for America’s President and Congress; but, if it instead happens on U.S. soil, then that would be optimal for Ecuador’s President. Apparently, America’s President thinks that his subjects, the American people, will become sufficiently hostile toward Assange so that even if Assange disappears or is executed inside the United States, this President will be able to retain his supporters. Trump, of course, needs his supporters, but this is a gamble that he has now clearly taken. This much is clear, even though the rest of the secret agreement that was reached between Pence and Ecuador’s President is not.

Scooter Libby, who had arranged for the smearing of Valerie Plame who had tried to prevent the illegal and deceit-based 2003 invasion of Iraq, was sentenced to 30 months but never spent even a day in prison, and U.S. President Trump finally went so far as to grant him a complete pardon, on 13 April 2018. (The carefully researched docudrama “Fair Game” covered well the Plame-incident.) Libby had overseen the career-destruction of a courageous CIA agent, Plame, who had done the right thing and gotten fired for it; and Trump pardoned Libby, thus retroactively endorsing the lie-based invasion of Iraq in 2003. By contrast, Trump is determined to get Julian Assange killed or otherwise eliminated, and even Democrats in Congress are pushing for him to get that done. The new President of Ecuador is doing their bidding. Without pressure from the U.S. Government, Assange would already be a free man. Thus, either Assange will die (be murdered) soon inside the Embassy, or else he will disappear and be smeared in the press under U.S. control. And, of course, this is being done in such a way that no one will be prosecuted for the murder or false-imprisonment. Trump had promised to “clean the swamp,” but as soon as he was elected, he abandoned that pretense; and, as President, he has been bipartisan on that matter, to hide the crimes of the bipartisan U.S. Government, and he is remarkably similar in policy to his immediate predecessors, whom he had severely criticized while he was running for the Presidency.

In any event, the destruction of Assange has clearly been arranged for, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, just as the destruction of Jamal Khashoggi was by Saudi Arabia’s Government; and, just like in Khashoggi’s case, the nation’s ruler controls the prosecutors and can therefore do whatever he chooses to do that the rest of the nation’s aristocracy consider to be acceptable.

The assault against truth isn’t only against Assange, but it is instead also closing down many of the best, most courageous, independent news sites, such as washingtonsblog. However, in Assange’s case, the penalty for having a firm commitment to truth has been especially excruciating and will almost certainly end in his premature death. This is simply the reality. Because of the system under which we live, a 100% commitment to truth is now a clear pathway to oblivion. Assange is experiencing this reality to the fullest. That’s what’s happening here.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Libya’s Peace Process Dies in Palermo

The best the Palermo negotiators could come up with at the end was a bland statement declaring their hope that sometime in the future all the Libyan forces will meet to sort out their differences.

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Authored by Richard Galustian for the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity:


“Resounding flop” was the verdict of Italy’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi on this week’s Libya peace conference held in Palermo. He’s not wrong. The conference hosted by Italy’s new government achieved the remarkable feat of making Libya’s tensions worse, not better. Acrimony broke out between the parties, and Turkey’s delegation walked out, its vice president Fuat Oktay accusing unnamed States of trying to “hijack the process.”

Some sources in Palermo suggested, yet to be verified, that the US thought the Conference was not too bad: a joke if true.

Moreover the mystery we might ask is what “process” is there to hijack? Because the truth is, the peace plan the conference was supporting is already dead.

That plan was the brainchild of the United Nations, launched more than a year ago with the aim of ending Libya’s split between warring Eastern and Western governments with elections in December.

Even before the first delegates set foot in the pleasant Sicilian city of Palermo this week, the UN admitted the election date of December 10 they had decided to scrap.

The eastern government, led by the parliament in Tobruk, had made moves in the summer to organize a referendum on a new constitution which would govern the elections. But no referendum was held, and most Libyans agree it would be pointless because Tripoli, home to a third of the country’s population, is under the iron grip of multiple warring militias who have the firepower to defy any new elected government. Hours after the delegates left Palermo, those militias began a new bout of fighting in the Tripoli suburbs.

The best the Palermo negotiators could come up with at the end of the talks was a bland statement declaring their hope that sometime in the future all the Libyan forces will meet in a grand conference to sort out their differences – and this after four years of civil war. To say that chances of this are slim is an understatement.

Dominating the Palermo talks, and indeed Libya’s political landscape, was and is Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army, the country’s most powerful formation. In four years, the LNA has secured Libya’s key oil fields and Benghazi, its second city, ridding most of the east Libya of Islamist militias.

Haftar met reluctantly negotiators in Palermo, but insisted he was not part of the talks process. The Italian government press office said Haftar was not having dinner with the other participants nor joining them for talks. Haftar specifically opposed the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood champion, Qatar, at the event along with Turkey.

Haftar clearly only attended because he had a few days before visiting Moscow – which sent to Sicily Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev – and because also of Egyptian President Sisi’s presence along with his allies.

Possibly Haftar was simply fed up. Twice in the past two years he has attended previous peace talks, hosted each time in Paris, giving the nod to declarations that Libya’s militias would dissolve. Yet the militias remain as strong as ever in Tripoli.

Haftar is detested by the militias and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) but supported by a large segment of the population – 68 percent, according to an opinion poll by America’s USAID. His popularity is based on a single policy – his demand that security be in the hands of regular police and military, not the militias.

Not everyone is happy, certainly not Turkey, which is backing Islamist, MB and Misratan forces in western Libya who detest Haftar. Yet Turkey’s greatest statesman, the great Kamal Ataturk, was a champion of secularism: After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War One Turkey faced the prospect of utter disintegration, and it was Attaturk who rose to the challenge, defending the country’s borders, while ordering that the mullahs, while responsible for spiritual welfare, have no political power.

Political Islam is not popular in Libya either. Libya is a Muslim country, its people know their faith, and most want government to be decided through the ballot box.

The problem for Libya is what happens next with the peace process broken. Haftar has in the past threatened to move on Tripoli and rid the militias by force if they refuse to dissolve, and it may come to that – a fierce escalation of the civil war.

The second possibility is that Libya will split. The east is, thanks to the LNA, militarily secure. It also controls two thirds of the country’s oil and operates as a separate entity, down to it banknotes, which are printed in Russia while the Tripoli government’s are printed in Britain. A formal split would be an economic boon for the lightly populated east, but a disaster for Tripolitania, its population losing most of the oil, its only source of export income.

Yet with the failure of peace talks, and no sign of Tripoli militias dissolving, military escalation or breakup seem more likely than ever.

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