Archive for October 25th, 2011

Eye Care in Cuba: A Different Approach

October 25, 2011

By Ana Laura Arbesú ( prensalatina )

Care, teaching and research go hand in hand in Cuban ophthalmology, a discipline involving 1,800 professionals and technicians and high technology services.

“We work simultaneously with these guidelines, because each surgical intervention involves a detailed study and follow up,” said Doctor Reinaldo Diaz, medical director of the Ramon Pando Ferrer Ophthalmology Institute of Cuba, the leading ophthalmology center of Cuba, to Prensa Latina.

“Our goal is to apply these results to daily work. All the diseases are managed by a research protocol,” Doctor Diaz said.

A total of 25 centers in the entire island are supplied with qualified personnel for cataract, glaucoma and cornea surgical operations, treatment with different kinds of laser, pediatric surgical operations, the treatment of strabismus and eyelid defects, he added.

With more than three decades of work in the prevention of blindness, the center made a great qualitative and quantitative leap in patient care since it put Operation Miracle (Vision Now) in practice in 2004, a mission carried out by Cuba and Venezuela to give ophthalmologic services.

Diaz pointed out that since then, 2.2 million patients from 34 nations of the world, 17 of them from Latin America,15 from the Caribbean and 2 African countries, have benefited from the program.

Such experiences contributed to the knowledge of ocular diseases in different regions of the world and enhanced the training of Cuban professionals in their work to prevent ocular disabilities in Cuba and other underdeveloped countries, Diaz emphasized.

To this effort to improve the visual capacity of patients in the entire world is added the global scientific community working on programs of care for the most needy. One example is the Vision 2020 Program, dedicated to the elimination of this avoidable pathology in the next decade.

Cuba joined this initiative, together with 40 nations of the world to unite efforts aimed at the elimination of blindness and visual incapacity and the rehabilitation of patients. Cuba also joined the project for World Vision Day, celebrated on the second Thursday of October every year. In 2011, it concentrated on eye health and equal access to care for associated diseases.

In Cuba, the program included conferences and educational interventions to inform people how to access the services from their own communities. “It was done differently here, since medical attention is guaranteed at all levels from infancy,” emphasized Diaz.

“On the other hand, inhabitants from other countries have to wait for that date as the only chance to have access, for example, to a free refraction or perhaps another service given by some organization. A total of 284 million people in the world are living with visual discapacity, and 80 percent of them are curable or preventable,” Diaz added.

Uncorrected refraction errors, including myopias, far sightedness or astigmatism constitute 43 percent of these discapacities, followed by cataracts and glaucoma.

With the accelerated rhythm of aging in the world population, and considering that from the age of 50 most people present some anomaly, such statistics by global institutions are calling attention to the urgency of dealing with an avoidable health problem.

That is the challenge for organizations and governments in their effort to establish the mechanisms to reach good visual health before the second decade of the 21st Century.


End the unjust blockade of Cuba

October 25, 2011

G Anthony HYLTON
Jamaica Observer – Tuesday, October 25, 2011

For the 20th consecutive occasion, today Cuba will submit for the consideration of the UN General Assembly the draft resolution entitled, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”.

Last year, 187 UN member states voted in favour of this resolution, which is irrefutable proof that the battle for the lifting of the blockade has the recognition and support of the vast majority of the members of the international community.

The economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba remains in place and is further intensified despite the repeated and almost unanimous demand by the international community, particularly the United Nations General Assembly, for its elimination. This results from the September 14, 2009 Presidential Order to extend the application against Cuba of the Trading with the Enemy Act, keeping in place the legal framework in which the policy of blockade against Cuba in 1962 is based.

The measures taken by President Obama on the travel and remittances by Cuban émigrés do not change the complex framework of laws, regulations and provisions of the blockade policy against Cuba. Besides, US citizens are still prohibited from travelling to Cuba, with very few exceptions and through very strict regulations.

As a result of the strict and renewed enforcement of these laws and other normative provisions, Cuba continues to be unable to: freely export or import goods and services to or from the United States, use the US dollar (which is the global reserve currency) in its international financial transactions, have bank accounts, in US dollars, in banks from third countries.

The extra-territorial application of the blockade has been extraordinarily reinforced, as proved by the strengthening of the sanctions and prosecution against third countries’ citizens, institutions and companies that establish or intend to establish economic, commercial, financial or scientific and technical relations with Cuba. The US government thereby abrogates the right to decide on matters that are relative to the sovereignty of other States.

Cuba continues to be unable to trade with US companies in third countries. Likewise, entrepreneurs from third nations who are interested in investing in Cuba are threatened and placed on a blacklist.

The extraterritorial effects of the blockade have particularly impacted on the monetary and financial sphere. In fact, the increased surveillance of Cuba’s international financial transactions, (including those coming from multilateral organisations for the cooperation with the island) has been one of the distinctive features in the implementation of the blockade policy under the current US administration.

From March 2010 to April 2011, there were significant multimillion-dollar fines imposed on US and foreign banking institutions for engaging in operations connected in one way or the other with deterrence. These kinds of sanctions have had an effect and, in the case of banks in particular, entail breaking relations with Cuba and/or forcing Cuban transactions to be made under more precarious conditions. These include banking arrangements with financial institutions here in Jamaica.

Cuba continues to be unable to have access to bank credits from banks in the United States, their subsidiaries in third countries and from international institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank.

No blockade has ever been as far-reaching, prolonged and impactful against a people as the one being implemented by the United States against Cuba for half a century.

The blockade violates international law and is against the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. It is a transgression of the right of a sovereign State to peace, development and security and, in its essence and objectives, an act of unilateral aggression and a permanent threat against the stability of a country and I dear say to the entire Caribbean region.

The direct economic damage to the Cuban people by the implementation of the economic, commercial and financial blockade of the United States against Cuba is incalculable.

The blockade is a relic of the Cold War era and continues to be an absurd, illegal and morally unsustained policy that has not succeeded and will not likely to succeed in fulfilling the purpose of breaking the political will of the Cuban people to preserve its sovereignty, independence and right to self-determination. However, it causes shortages and needless suffering to the Cuban population, limits and restrains the development of the country and seriously damages the Cuban economy. It is one of the main hindrances to Cuba’s economic and social development.

The People’s National Party has long been of the view that this issue of the blockade against Cuba has long ceased to be a foreign policy matter for the United States. What else can explain the contradiction in the handling of this matter but the activist role of Cuban Americans in South Florida, New Jersey, New York and elsewhere in the US? I have said as much to the previous Secretary of State, Ms Condoleeza Rice, when I indicated in a meeting with her that the difficulty for countries like Jamaica in discussing this matter of Cuba with our partner and friends in the US is that a resolution of this issue is being held hostage to US domestic political interests.

What else would explain the US rapprochement with communist countries such as Vietnam and China (to name a few), and the extension of the blockade policy against Cuba?

The blockade is a unilateral and immoral policy which is rejected both within the United States and by the international community.

We hope that those governments, including our government, committed as we are, to the norms of the multilateral trading system, to the freedom of trade and navigation and to the rejection of the extraterritorial application of national law, will vote today in favour of the draft resolution at the United Nations General Assembly, which demands the lifting of the said US blockade.

G Anthony Hylton is the Jamaican Opposition Spokesman on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
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Evidence against the Cuban Five Found to be Biased

October 25, 2011

(Prensa Latina) The U.S. legal system used information from
biased sources to locate the site where two light airplanes were shot down after
illegally entering Cuban territory on February 24, 1996, the Havana Reporter
weekly reported on Monday.  (, )

According to the Cuban newspaper, the revelation is contained in a book by
Brazilian researcher Fernando Morais, The Last Soldiers of the Cold War, which
recounts the actions of Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, Ramon Labañino,
Rená González and Gerardo Hernández, five Cubans who, until their arrest in
Miami in 1998, were monitoring terrorist actions by anti-Cuban groups based in

Morais devoted pages 373-376 of his book, published in Portuguese in Brazil in
August, to analyze the U.S. version of the events involving the two light
airplanes belonging to the anti-Cuban organization Brothers to the Rescue, which
supposedly were downed in international waters, contrary to what Cuban
authorities say, the English-language weekly edited by Prensa Latina recalled.

During the launch of his book in Brasilia on Sept.15, Morais explained that
while conducting his research, he realized that the lawyers for the Cuban Five
failed to thoroughly investigate the owner and the company that owned the cruise
ship Majesty of the Seas.

The first officer of that ship, Norwegian-American Bjorn Johansen, a witness for
the prosecution against the Five, admitted that he based his testimony about the
site of the shoot-down on a visual observation of the site where his own ship
was – which he wrote down on a piece of paper – and not the electronic register
that marked the ship’s location in the Florida Strait.

That statement by Johansen, who admitted that he talked for hours with FBI
agents, was used to justify a sentence of two life terms in prison plus fifteen
years prison for Gerardo Hernández. However, a key question failed to be asked,
Morais said: who were the owners of the Majesty of the Seas?

On page 375, the writer says that a cursory investigation using the archives of
newspapers and of the Cuban-American National Foundation would have provided
important information.

Johansen worked for Royal Caribbean Cruises, the group that owned the ship, and
in February 1996 his second-in-command was Peter G. Whelpton of the United
States, who introduced himself as a member of the Cuban-American National
Foundation and director of the Blue Ribbon Commission for the Economic
Reconstruction of Cuba, both opposed to the Cuban government.

In his book, Morais also revealed that a series of articles published by The New
York Times in 1995, the president of the CANF at the time, Francisco “Pepe”
Hernandez, included Royal Caribbean Cruises among the 40 firms that contributed
$25,000 create his organization. Mysteriously and inexplicably, however,
Whelpton’s involvement with these Cuban counterrevolutionary forces was not
verified or used in the court case.

This information comes in addition to the refusal by the United States
government to hand over information from its radars about the exact site where
the anti-Cuban organization’s two light planes were downed, despite Havana’s
insistence demand for that information, given that it holds the two planes were
shot down over Cuban waters.

To write his book, Morais carried out field research for two years and
interviewed 40 people, including 17 in Cuba, 22 in the United States and one in

The harsh sentence of two life terms plus 15 years handed down to Hernández is
based on evidence that he informed Havana that the two Brothers to the Rescue
aircraft would be flying over the Cuban capital on February 24, 1996. In that
regard, Morais recalled that the two light aircraft were downed after years of
provocations and violations of Cuban airspace by exile groups in Florida.

Based on his investigation, Morais said, that information was completely public.

Also, U.S. State Department documents contained information showing that the
U.S. Undersecretary for Hemispheric Affairs warned U.S. aviation authorities
about the actions of Brothers to the Rescue and the possibility that the Cuban
government would lose its patience and shoot down their planes, Morais said.

Therefore, it is untenable to accuse Gerardo of having passed information that
was public, he said.

State of Siege: New Book by Salim Lamrani

October 25, 2011

État de siège; les sanctions économiques des États-Unis contre Cuba (State of Siege; The United States’ economic sanctions against Cuba). a new book by Salim Lamrani. Prologue by Wayne S. Smith, preface by Paul Estrade. Paris, Editions Estrella, 2011. 14 euros. Available at

CSF: You’ve just published a new book under the title État de siège? What exactly do you cover in it?

SL: As the book’s subtitle suggests, it covers the unilateral economic sanctions that the United States first imposed upon Cuba at the height of the Cold War. The goal of these sanctions has been the overthrow of the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro, the social and economic reforms of which did not sit well with the Eisenhower administration of the period. More than a half century later the Soviet Union has disappeared and the Cold War is only a fading memory, still the United States persists in maintaining an economic state of siege that is suffocating for all levels of the Cuban population, although it  primarily effects the most vulnerable sectors: women, the elderly and children.

It is important to note that the diplomatic rhetoric used by the United States to justify its hostility towards Cuba has changed from period to period. Early on, it focused on nationalizations and their compensation. Later, Washington invoked the alliance with the Soviet Union as the principal obstacle to the normalization of relations between the two countries. Then, during the 1970s and 1980s, it cited Cuban intervention in Africa–more precisely in Angola and Namibia. Those interventions, designed to aid the national liberation movements fighting to obtain independence and to support of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, were cited as justification for the maintenance of economic sanctions. Finally, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Washington brandished democracy and human rights as an argument for maintaining its stranglehold on the Cuban nation.

CSF: What exactly is the impact of these sanctions on the Cuban population?

SL: The economic sanctions against Cuba constitute the principal obstacle to the development of the country and all sectors of the society are affected by it. It is important to note that the United States, for evident historical and geographic reasons, has always been Cuba’s natural market. The distance separating the two countries is less than 150 km. In 1959, 73% of all Cuban exports were destined for the U.S. market and 70% of its imports came from the States. There was, therefore, a significant dependence upon Cuba’s northern neighbor. Between 1960 and 1991, relations with the USSR had softened the sanctions, but this is no longer the case.

Thus practically, Cuba is unable to sell anything to the United States, which remains the world’s primary market. Nor can it buy anything from it other than, and since 2000 only, a few primary agricultural products that it is forced to purchase under severe restrictions, for example, Cuba is required to pay in advance in a currency other than the U.S. dollar–something that forces Cuba to shoulder the additional costs engendered by the exchange rates–all of this without the possibility of contracting a loan. This limits enormously the island’s commercial possibilities, forcing it to pay a much higher price to a third country.

CSF: You also emphasize the effects of the extraterritorial economic sanctions.

SL: Indeed, since 1992 and the adoption of the Torricelli Act, these sanctions apply equally to third countries that might wish to trade with Cuba. This constitutes a serious violation of international law which prohibits any national legislation from being extraterritorial, that is to say, from being applied outside of national boundaries. For example, French law cannot be applied in Spain and Italian law cannot be applied in France. Nonetheless, United States economic sanctions remain applicable to all countries that trade with Cuba.

Thus, any foreign ship that docks in a Cuban port finds itself forbidden to enter U.S. ports for a period of six months. Cuba, being an island, is heavily dependent upon maritime transport. Of the commercial fleets that operate in the Florida Straits, most conduct the bulk of their activities with a clear understanding of the importance of this market and do not run the risk of transporting merchandise to Cuba. When they do, however, they demand a higher tariff than that applied to neighboring countries, such as Haiti or the Dominican Republic, this in order to make up for the shortfall that results from being banned from U.S. ports for having done so. Therefore, if the standard price for transporting merchandise to the Dominican Republic is 100, this figure that can rise to 600 or 700 for Cuba.

CSF: You also comment on the retroactive nature of the economic sanctions.

SL: Since the adoption of the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, all foreign enterprises that wish to invest in Cuban property that had been nationalized in 1959, risk prosecution in the United States and seeing its U.S. investments frozen. This law is a judicial aberration because it is both extraterritorial and retroactive–in other words, it applies to events that occurred before the law was adopted, something that is contrary to international law. Take the case of the anti-tobacco law in France. This law was promulgated on January 1, 2008. But if you smoked in a restaurant on December 31, 2007, you would not be prosecuted, because the law cannot be applied retroactively. The Helms-Burton Act applies to events that occurred during the 1960s, something that is clearly illegal.

CSF: The United States maintains that the economic sanctions are a simple bilateral question that does not concern the rest of the world.

SL: The example that I have already cited demonstrate the exact opposite. I’ll give you another. In order to sell on the U.S. market, a German, Korean, or Japanese automobile manufacturer–in reality the nationality matters little–is obliged to demonstrate to the U.S. Treasury Department that its products do not contain a single gram of Cuban nickel. It is the same for all of the agribusiness enterprises that wish to invest in the U.S. market. Danone, for example, must demonstrate that its products contain absolutely no Cuban raw materials. Cuba cannot sell its natural resources and its products to the United States, but in these exact cases, neither can it sell them to Germany, Korea or Japan. These measures deprive the Cuban economy of much needed capital and Cuban exports of many markets around the world.

CSF: The economic sanctions have also had an impact on healthcare.

SL: Indeed, nearly 80% of all patents applied for in the medical sector belong to U.S. based multinational pharmaceutical companies and their subsidiaries, which puts them in the position of being a quasi-monopoly. It should be noted that international humanitarian law forbids all restrictions on the freedom of movement of foodstuffs and medicines, even during wartime. And officially, the United States is not at war with Cuba.

Here is a clear example: Cuban children could benefit from the Amplatzer septal occluder, a cardiac plug manufactured in the United States, that allows one to bypass open heart surgery. Dozens of children are waiting for this operation. In 2010 alone, four were added to this list: Maria Fernanda Vidal, five years old; Cyntia Soto Aponte, three years old; Mayuli Pérez Ulboa, eight years old, and Lianet D. Alvarez, five years old.

Are these children responsible for the differences that exist between Havana and Washington? No! But they are paying the price.

CSF: In your book, you also talk about the irrational nature of certain restrictions.

SL: Indeed, it should be noted that since 2004 and the strict application of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) rules, any American tourist that smoked a Cuban cigar or consumed a glass of Havana Club rum during a trip abroad risks a fine of a million dollars and ten in years in prison. Another example: a Cuban living in France theoretically cannot eat a hamburger at a McDonald’s. Of course, these measures are irrational because they are unenforceable. The United States does not have the material and human resources to put a U.S. agent on the trail of each tourist. Nonetheless, it illustrates the United States’ obsessive desire to economically strangle the Cubans.

CSF: Your book contains a prolog by Wayne S. Smith and a preface by Paul Estrade, both well known Cuban specialists, but no doubt without a large audience. Remind us of who they are.

SL: Wayne S. Smith is a former U.S. diplomat and currently a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC. He was the last American diplomat with the rank of ambassador to be posted in Cuba, this between 1979 and 1982. Under the government of Jimmy Carter, he distinguished himself through his politics of dialog and rapprochement with Havana. He is a partisan of normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States and his preface takes stock of the anachronistic, cruel and ineffectual nature of these economic sanctions.

As for Paul Estrade, he is a professor emeritus at the University of Paris VIII and, without a doubt, the best Cuban specialist in France. His works on Cuban issues are standard references in the academic world. In his preface, he points to the way in which the state of siege against Cuba is voluntarily obscured by the medias when they report on the economic difficulties of this country.
Translated for CubaNews from the French
by Larry R. Oberg, Québec City, Québec,
October 23, 2011. Edited by Walter Lippmann.

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