Archive for August 17th, 2011

Historic Labor Event in Support of the Cuban 5 in LA

August 17, 2011


International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5

Historic Labor Event in Support of the Cuban 5 in Los Angeles

SEIU Meeting in LA

Photos: Bill Hackwell

On August 13 more than 200 workers, labor leaders and community activists came together at the United Service Workers West (SEIU) Hall to participate in an event in solidarity with the Cuban 5. Coincidently that same day Rene Gonzalez one of the five spent another birthday in prison far away from his love ones.

Caricaturas de Gerardo SEIUAs part of the event those attending were able see the travelling exhibit of Gerardo Hernandez’s political cartoons entitled Humor from my Pen. During the event the participants watched a short video of Danny Glover and another video of the campaign of the British unions in support of the Cuban 5.
The significance of this meeting was that it marked the first that a union from the US organized an event solely to inform their rank and file and the leadership about the colossal and ongoing injustice being committed against the Cuban 5. The purpose of the event was to expand the exposure of the case that is boycotted by the media, to the US labor movement and to ask them to join the struggle.

Tony W in LATony Woodley, former president of UNITE, the largest union in England, who travelled all the way to Los Angeles to participate in the event  spoke about the importance of solidarity. “Make no mistake about it this is an historical event,” Woodley told the crowd. “The Cuban 5 enjoy a great deal of support on the international level but that is not the case inside the United States. The solidarity is absolutely crucial in this case and the political struggle will be decisive for the return of the Five to Cuba.” Woodley shared with the audience an emotional meeting he had with the families of the Five on his last visit to Cuba.“The Five and their families are all people with great pride and nothing will break their spirit.”
Workers and union leaders present at the meeting represented a number of unions from Southern California including service workers, transportation workers, teachers, musicians, healthcare workers, electricians and others. Mike Garcia president SEIU-USWW welcomed the audience and reminded them that the struggle is the only tool that the workers have in their fight for justice. “The struggle for the freedom of the Cuban 5 should be part of the struggle of US workers because it is part of the same fight.”

Four Union Leaders
Mike Gracia, Cristina Vazquez, Ernesto Medrano (Teamsters Political Coordinator) and Tony Woodley

Cristina Vazquez from Workers United briefly explained who the Cuban 5 were and went on to say, “Many of you are learning about the Cuban 5 for the first time at this meeting because this story has been kept out of the news media. Every day we fight against injustice and one of our biggest struggles has been the reunification of families and immigration reform. This fight is no different than that; here we have wives, children and parents who have been separated for 13 years. We need to be the voice of the families of the Cuban 5, we need to be the voice here for the people of Cuba who want their 5 heroes back home.” Vazquez encouraged the audience to pick up postcards designed by the union she represents to be sent to President Obama asking for the release of the Five.
Alicia Jrapko from the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 spoke about the different campaigns in the US to spread the word about the case.  Jrapko explained to the audience that this is a case of human rights and basic justice. “These men came to the US unarmed simply to defend their country from terrorist attacks coming from US soil. With a stroke of a pen Obama can free them. Join us in demanding that.”
In recognition of the support from labor, members of the International Committee presented wooden plaques with the symbolic logo on behalf of the Cuban 5 to Tony Woodley, Mike Garcia and Cristina Vazquez.  Another plaque was awarded to Natasha Hickman editor of Cuba Si!, a publication in solidarity with Cuba produced by unions in the UK.
Table at SEIU meetingAn informational table with a display explaining the case of the Cuban 5 received a lot of attention with most people signing up to receive updates of the case and took with them hundreds of post cards to send to Obama.  Many copies of the new documentary Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up were also purchased at the table.
Mike Garcia, referring to the case of the Cuban 5, loudly closed the meeting by asking the audience several times Se Puede? And they responded each time louder; Si Se Puede!


International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5

To learn more about the Cuban 5 visit:    

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Has President Obama Lost Control of Cuba Policy? (part 1)

August 17, 2011

While we wait for President Raul Castro to set an example by releasing Alan Gross for humanitarian reasons, it is worth considering whether President Obama is still capable of the reset of US-Cuba relations that was put on hold while Gross was imprisoned.

Review the Wikileaks publication of a diplomatic cable from Havana to recall the optimistic atmosphere that prevailed on both sides during Bisa Williams’ visit prior to Alan’s arrest.  

Can that atmosphere be restored when the bureaucracy of USAID, backed by closely linked Cuban American hard liners in Congress, seems determined to create further provocation, leading to additional arrests and prosecutions? Under pressure, Senators Kerry and Leahy lifted their hold on $21,000,000 for “democracy” funding, sending good money after bad despite the ostensible preoccupation in Washington to end wasteful government expenditures.. 

USAID’s planned programs almost sound innocent, except that they are designed to carry out the regime change agenda of the Helms Burton law and are part and parcel of fifty years of  unremitting economic warfare, as reported by Tracey Eaton in his invaluable Cuba Money Project blog

  • $6 million for programs aimed at increasing free expression among youth ages 12 to 24.
  • $6 million to expand Internet use and increase access to information.
  • $9 million to support neighborhood groups, cooperatives, sports clubs, church groups and other civil society organizations.

Imagine how Americans would feel if an overtly hostile country undertook similar unauthorized projects in our country despite explicit US laws to the contrary.  Wouldn’t we be morally outraged at targeting children as young as 12?

The key person driving USAID’s Cuba work is Mark Lopes, the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Latin America Caribbean Bureau.  His official biography reveals his closeness to the hard line Senator from New Jersey, Bob Menendez:

He was formerly the Senior Foreign Policy Advisor/Staff Director for the Chairman of the International Development and Foreign Assistance subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The ascribed title is a little misleading.  Because Senate sub-committees do not have their own personnel, Lopes was not a Foreign Relations Committee staff member but actually a PRM, the personal representative of a member, Sen. Menendez.

Lopez sought to paint lipstick on a pig, telling the Miami Herald in May:

“The core of the USAID Cuba program remains in providing humanitarian support, building civil society and democratic space, facilitating the information flow in, out, and within the island…These programs are comparable to what we and other donors do to support democracy and human rights in repressive societies all over the world.”

Is the Cuba program really comparable to programs undertaken by USAID in China or Saudi Arabia?  Or does he mean only to societies from which the US withholds diplomatic recognition? Is it even the same as with Burma or Iran? In Cuba the US strategy since the Bush Administration has been to recruit and create an opposition, not to support a real existing political or social force.  Then our policy is guided by the echo chamber of US funded political viewpoints. The process has been uniquely corrupted by the dominance in US politics of the agenda of exiles that use the US government to advance their sectarian self-interests and fantasies of counter-revolution.  The closest analogy is the way Iraqi exiles disastrously shaped the policy of the Bush Administration, to their own and Iran’s ends.

The norm of other democratic countries that send aid to Cuba, as well as of USAID around the world, is to vet any assistance to a population with its government. That is what it means to respect national sovereignty.  The descriptive language of programs in various countries may be similar on the surface, but the fundamental reality is not when they implement a US public goal of overturning an existing socio-economic system.  

Rather than providers of publicly defensible assistance designed to strengthen positive tendencies in a society, USAID becomes a nest for amateur covert action endangering both its contractors and its beneficiaries.  Projects are funded not to solve problems but to foster domestic conflict.

Organizations considering people-to-people programs with Cuba report that USAID has offered to fund them. Such a reckless action will compromise the whole effort, enhancing Cuban suspicion of licensed travelers and putting participants at risk who may unknowingly be the beneficiaries of US funds.

How could President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton reprise Bush policy by appointing a partisan operative to a sensitive aid position?  Are they prepared to replace or neutralize Lopes when Gross is free?

Otherwise they cannot be serious about improving US-Cuba relations.

John McAuliff

Fund for Reconciliation and Development



Links and Resources

While the US dithers, other countries are moving to take advantage of opportunities to invest in Cuba’s new economy.  Here is a Canadian example of a golf resort with a particularly interesting source of capital (and some lovely photos).


From the Guardian “Time to Get Closer to Cuba” (click on the “key areas” link to see the text of the agreement)

Last month Cuba and the United Kingdom signed a formal declaration to strengthen bilateral co-operation. The agreement champions “closer dialogue and economic, scientific, technical, educational, cultural and sporting links between the two countries” and highlights key areas for collaboration including environmental issues, biotechnology, trade and investment, regional security, child protection and disaster preparedness. 

( source : thehavananote )

Washington Fines French Shipping Company for Services to Cuba

August 17, 2011

(acn) The United States punished CCA, a subsidiary in
Norfolk, Virginia of French CMA CGM Shipping Company, with a $374,400 fine
for facilitating services to Cuba, the Office for Foreign Assets Control
(OFAC) announced today.

PL news agency said a report by OFAC, an entity that belongs to the U.S.
Department of the Treasury, accused the French company of violating U.S.
regulations on Cuba.

The measure taken against CMA CGM, ranking third worldwide in container
shipping, responds to the economic, commercial and financial blockade
imposed by Washington on Cuba for over five decades now.

According to OFAC, the U.S. administration filed suit against CCA after
the company accepted payments for shipping services provided by its parent
company to facilitate shipments to Cuba through third countries. The
entity was also accused of violating regulations of the U.S. Treasury on
Iran and Sudan.

The OFAC release mentioned as well that some of the cargo shipped to Cuba
and Iran by the French company could include agricultural products and

Washington has maintained an economic blockade against Cuba that has
caused the island a loss that surpasses $751 billion, according to the
most recent estimates.


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