Archive for June, 2013

Well-known Personalities Send Letter to President Obama

June 29, 2013

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Personalities Who Participated in the Second “5 Days for the Cuban 5 in Washington DC”, Sign Letter to President Obama

June 5, 2013

President Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

We, the signers of this letter have gathered in Washington DC from May 30th to June 5th. We come from Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada, Quebec and from cities across the United States to raise our voices about a colossal injustice perpetrated against 5 Cuban men.

Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and Rene Gonzalez came to the United States unarmed, for the sole purpose of protecting their country from terrorism. If they had been young Americans you would be bestowing them with medals. Now, except for Rene Gonzalez, who just returned to Cuba after serving his sentence plus more than a year of supervised release in Florida, they are in their 15th year of unjust imprisonment in the U.S.

We are parliamentarians, lawyers, members of labor unions, authors, intellectuals, students, human right activists and organizers. A common cause has brought us together to raise our voices and ask you to allow the Cuban Five to return to their country and be reunited with their families.

President Obama, the time is now, enough is enough!

FREE THE CUBAN FIVE NOW!

Angela Davis, United States
Dolores Huerta, United States
Ramsey Clark, United States
Martin Garbus, United States
Peter Schey, United States
Wayne S. Smith, United States
Jane Franklin, United States
Vance “Head Roc” Levy, United States
May-Alice Waters, United States
Jose Pertierra, Cuba-United States
Andres Gomez, Cuba-United States
Max Lesnik, Cuba-United States
Vanessa Ramos, Puerto Rico-United States
Graciela Rosenblum, Argentina
Beinusz Szmuckler, Argentina
Anthony Gabby Carter, Barbados
Fernando Morais, Brazil
Glauber Braga, Brazil
Stephen Kimber, Canada
Denis Lamelin, Canada
Arnold August, Canada
Alejandro Navarro, Chile
Hugo Gutierrez, Chile
Nacyra Gomez, Cuba
Miguel Barnet, Cuba
Nancy Morejon, Cuba
Armando Aguilar, Ecuador
Damian Alegria, El Salvador
Andy de la Tour, England
Gilbert Brownstone, France
Gianni Vattimo, Italy
Luciano Vasapollo, Italy
Rita Martufi, Italy
Alba Palacios, Nicaragua
Sofia M. Clark D’Escoto, Nicaragua
Ignacio Ramonet, Spain
Rafael Anglada, Puerto Rico

For more information about the Cuban 5 visit: http://www.thecuban5.org

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The Unrelenting Economic War on Cuba

June 28, 2013

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Trying to Destroy The Danger of a Good Example

The Unrelenting Economic War on Cuba
by DANIEL KOVALIK ( counterpunch.org )

If it weren’t bad enough that the U.S. has imposed an illegal embargo against Cuba for over 50 years, it has also tried to prevent those interested in learning about this embargo (more accurately termed ablockade because the U.S. aggressively enforces it against third countries to stop them from trading with the island) from reading Salim Lamrani’s new book, The Economic War Against Cuba. Thus, according to Opera Mundi, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Office Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) – the government agency tasked with enforcing the blockade against Cuba – seized the funds aBritish NGO, the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, attempted to wire to purchase 100 copies of this book from Monthly Review Press. (1) OFAC also demanded that this same NGO describe its relationship with Cuba in detail. This episode is emblematic of the absurd lengths to which the U.S. government will go to stop the world from dealing with Cuba.

As an initial matter, author Salim Lamrani, a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, explains that the U.S. war against post-revolutionary Cuba began on March 17, 1960 – one month before Cuba established relations with Moscow. Lamrani relates that this war, declared by President Eisenhower, was “built on several pillars: the cancellation of the Cuban sugar quota, an end to the deliveries of energy resources such as oil, the continuation of the arms embargo imposed in March 1958, the establishment of a campaign of terrorism and sabotage, and the organization of a paramilitary force designed to invade the island overthrow Fidel Castro.” This war would then be expanded by President Kennedy in 1962 to include the unprecedented economic blockade against Cuba – a blockade which continues to this day, over 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This is important, for it demonstrates what Noam Chomsky has argued numerous times before: that during the Cold War the U.S. intentionally pushed Third World countries guilty of declaring their independence from U.S. hegemony towards the Soviet Union so as to manufacture a convenient pretext for U.S. belligerence. And, the blockade initially imposed by Kennedy did just that. As Lamrani explains, “[o]n September 16, 1962, Kennedy developed a blacklist that included all ships having commercial relations with Cuba, regardless of their country of origin, and banned them from docking in a U.S. port. These measures drastically reduced the links between Cuba and the Western World and increased the island’s dependence upon the USSR.”

Lamrani concludes that the results of this relentless 50-year blockade have cost Cuba more than $751 billion, and has “affected all sectors of Cuban society and all categories of the population, especially the most vulnerable: children, the elderly, and women. Over 70 percent of all Cubans have lived in a climate of permanent economic hostility.”

Indeed, the stated purpose of the blockade all along has been to inflict suffering on the Cuban people to achieve the U.S.’s political objective of regime – the sine a qua non of terrorism. Thus, Lamrani quotes Lester D. Mallory, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, who wrote on August 6, 1960:

The majority of the Cuban people support Castro. There is no effective political opposition. . . . The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection and hardship. . . . every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba . . . a line of action which . . . makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.

According to this plan, which continues to this day, the blockade has caused immense suffering amongst the Cuban civilian population. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of medicine where Cubans are denied critical U.S. pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies – a huge deprivation given that the U.S., according to Lamrani, holds 80% of the patents in the medical sector.

And so, Lamrani sets forth a laundry list of examples in which Cubans have been deprived critical medical aid due to the blockade:

*Cuban children suffering from cancer of the retina cannot receive effective treatment because the surgical microscopes and other equipment needed for this treatment are sold exclusively by the U.S. company, Iris Medical Instruments.

*The National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology in Havana cannot use radioactive isotope plaques for the treatment of retinal cancer as they are sold exclusively by U.S. companies, thereby requiring doctors to remove the affected eyes of children altogether rather than treat and preserve them.

*Nearly 1600 Cubans a year are denied effective diagnosis of cancerous tumors because Cuba cannot obtain the necessary German-made optical coherence tomography – an item prohibited by the embargo because it contains some American-made components.

*Cubans are denied the drug temozolomide (Temodar) necessary for the effective treatment of tumors of the central nervous system.

*Cuban children are denied the benefit of the U.S.-made Amplatzer device which could help them to avoid open heart surgery.

*Cubans were denied $4.1 million for treating AIDS, Tuberulosis and Malaria when these monies were seized by the U.S. from an NGO which had earmarked those monies for Cuba.

*Cubans were denied the funds designated by the United Nations Program for Development for Cuba’s health care system when those monies were seized by the U.S.

*Cubans are denied critical drugs for treating bone cancer and HIV AIDS.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, as cited by Lamrani, “The Cuban and Iraqi instances make it abundantly clear that economic sanctions are, at their core, a war against public health.” And still, as the Journal goes on to explain, Cuba has, against the formidable obstacles set up by the embargo, managed to maintain one of the best health systems in the world. As the Journal notes,

The Cuban health care system . . . is exceptional for a poor country and represents an important political accomplishment of the Castro government. Since 1959, Cuba has invested heavily in health care and now has twice as many physicians per capita as the United States and health indicators on a par with those in most developed nations – despite the U.S. embargo that severely reduces the availability of medications and medical technology.

And indeed, Cuba, despite the blockade, continues to give unprecedented assistance to other poor nations through its medical internationalism, sending doctors to 70 different countries throughout the world, including to Haiti where, according to The New York Times, it has been on the forefront in the fight against cholera since the 2010 earthquake. In addition, for the past 21 years, Cuba has been treating 26,000 Ukrainian citizens, mostly children, affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident at its Tarara international medical center in Havana.

Imagine then, what Cuba could do if the U.S. blockade were lifted. It is clear that the rulers of the U.S. have imagined this, and with terror in their hearts.

Indeed, Lamrani quotes former Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Perez Roque, as quite rightly asserting:

Why does the U.S. government not lift the blockade against Cuba? I will answer: because it is afraid. It fears our example. It knows that if the blockade were lifted, Cuba’s economic and social development would be dizzying. It knows that we would demonstrate even more so than now, the possibilities of Cuban socialism, all the potential not yet fully deployed of a country without discrimination of any kind, with social justice and human rights for all citizens, and not just for the few. It is the government of a great and powerful empire, but it fears the example of this small insurgent island.

The next critical question is how can those of good will help and support the good example of Cuba in the face of the U.S. blockade. Obviously, the first answer is to organize and agitate for an end the blockade. As a young Senator, Barack Obama said that the blockade was obsolete and should end, and yet, while loosening the screws just a bit, President Obama has continued to aggressively enforce the blockade. He must be called to task on this. In addition, Congress must be lobbied to end the legal regime which keeps the embargo in place.

In addition, we must support Venezuela and its new President, Nicolas Maduro, as Venezuela has been quite critical in supporting Cuba in its international medical mission. And indeed, one of the first things President Maduro did once elected in April was to travel to Cuba to reaffirm his support for these efforts. It should be noted that Maduro’s electoral rival, Henrique Capriles – who led an attack against the Cuban Embassy in Caracas during the 2002 coup — vowed to end support for, and joint work, with Cuba.

Furthermore, to help Cuba and its domestic and international medical programs, one can donate to Global Links (www.globallinks.org) which provides medical supplies which benefit both of these programs.

Finally, order a copy of The Economic War Against Cuba from Monthly Review.

Daniel Kovalik is a labor and human rights attorney, and teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Notes.
(1) http://operamundi.uol.com.br/conteudo/opiniao/29149/ong+britanica+e+vitima+das+sancoes+economicas+dos+estados+unidos+contra+cuba.shtml

Large scale network war against Cuba

June 26, 2013

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By Norelys Morales Aguilera

On March 17, 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a covert action program for Cuba. The clear objective was to destroy the Revolution. Among the better funded projects are found internal subversion programs implemented through organizations supposedly engaged in developmental aid.

USAID – US Agency for International development (John F. Kennedy, 1961) – is an agency of the US Federal Government and an instrument for covert operations by the North American government. Its 1990 – 2012 expenditure on actions against Cuba was $150 million.

In 2011, USAID allocated $6 million for free access to information for dissident groups, $6 million for organizing among youth, $9 million for manipulating members of rural communities concerning their “civic duties,” $20 million for Radio and TV Marti, and $21 million for freedom of information and expression for counter-revolutionaries.

The $62 million total used to gain social, political, and media influence in Cuba represented a $34 percent increase over 2010 (It included $250,000 for celebrating a possible Nobel Peace Prize granted Cuban counter-revolutionaries Oswaldo Paya and Oscar Elias Biscet.) The 2012 U.S. federal budget allocated $15 million for USAID Cuba activities.

The Office of Cuba Broadcasting has presented its new communication strategies to the U.S. Congress

The Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) operated by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has presented its new strategies for Cuba communications to the U. S. Congress. Its functionaries have come looking for more than a million cell phones for Cuba. They are seeking consent and funding from the U. S. Congress.

According to websites employed by Washington for subversion against the island, numerous text messages are being sent into Cuban cyberspace through a computerized system developed by mass marketing specialists in order to reach great quantities of people from different telephone numbers, both in the United States and Spain.

It’s said that among the initiatives put forth is the use of flash memories made of paper used to send out news and radio reports. But the crown jewel of the aggressive new project is a recently created social networking system called “Piramideo, which allows participants to create groups and sub-groups and send text messages by cell phone to large numbers of people simultaneously.

Under the apparently innocent slogan “Connect, announce, and enjoy yourself,” the system’s web site describes its business as “a social network that allows you to be connected with your own people. From your cell or from our web page…Piramideo helps you to share what is happening at any instant with all your friends, families, clients, employees, etc.”

But the real question is about Martínoticias.com, Radio Martí, and Televisión Martí. They are all media designed for ideological war and discredited on the island. Since 1985 they have exerted a very doubtful influence in Cuban political affairs. The intention is to have them recycled now through aggressive outreach in order to continue making use of U. S. government funds derived from the North American taxpayer.

We know that the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) is an agency of the U.S. federal government that is supposed to produce radio and television programs of a political character directed at audiences in foreign countries. It was created in 1994, the year when the federal government also formed the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and charged it with monitoring all non – military radio and television transmissions.

The federally financed IBB comprises these services and their respective web sites: Voice of America, Worldnet Television and Film Services, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, in charge of Radio Marti (1985) and TV Marti (1990).

For its part, the BBG has encouraged efforts for “promoting internet freedom” and reaching Cubans through mobile telephones and social networks. The government of Barack Obama began publically in 2011 to transfer millions of dollars for internet freedom programs from the State department to the BBG.

Just as bidding was being approved on a U. S. government contract aimed at creating a system capable of sending tens of thousands of text messages to cell phone users in Cuba, a possible contractor, manifesting concern, asked whether or not this text messaging campaign was legal.

The contract, eventually awarded to the Maryland – based company Washington Software, calls for information and news to be relayed through Radio and TV Marti. But the only explanation offered by the IBB, the entity responsible for Radio and TV Marti, was the need to get around “Cuban censorship.”

“The program against censorship ultimately has to guarantee to Internet users in the beneficiary countries access to news and other programs broadcast by the U.S. government. A variety of tools are used in order to counteract Internet controls sponsored by foreign governments for the purpose of censorship.” We don’t speak here of censorship the North American government exercises over its own nationals.

The Office of Cuba Broadcasting that operates Radio and TV Marti had a $23.5 million budget for fiscal year 2013. With its new communication strategies for attacking Cuba in place, it has already initiated veritable warfare through its social networking operations.

The illegality and provocation these projects and plans represent leave no room for doubt: what is advertised by the OCB as a communication strategy is another aggression. The aim is precisely to inundate Cuban cyberspace with information and audio-visual products with decidedly subversive and interventionist political content. We can interpret this as a new large – scale anti – Cuba operation of the U.S. Congress.

With that and with other funds appropriated for attacking the island, the supposed communications strategies are projects by which the United States is doing everything possible so that Cuban virtual space becomes a true extension of U.S. geography, which is intolerable for an independent nation. And Cubans know it. That’s the bad news for those who today brandish technologies as a means to obtain what they have not been able to gain through blockade and uninterrupted ideological war over decades, among other outrages.

Source: http://www.cubahora.cu/politica/operacion-a-gran-escala-de-guerra-en-red-contra-cuba-infografia#.UcZ6ZM5hPjG

Translated by Tom Whitney

Gangsterismo: The United States, Cuba and the Mafia: 1933 to 1966

June 26, 2013

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Written by Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

By Jack Colhoun, OR Books, New York, 2013, 361 pages, £17.

Paperback ISBN 978-1-935928-89-8. Ebook ISBN 978-1-935928-90-4

http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/Gangsterismo/

Jack Colhoun is a journalist and archive researcher with a distinguished record of investigating US foreign policy in Vietnam, Cambodia and the Middle East and publicising the impact of special interest lobbies on domestic politics like the Obama Healthcare legislation. He was the leader of the draft and military resistance registers exiled in Canada during the Vietnam War.

The author laboured for nineteen years over source material, primarily the US intelligence documents on Cuba from the John F. Kennedy Assassination Collection (JFKAC) at National Archives II in Maryland. This archive collection was created by the President Kennedy Act of 1992, which mandated the declassification of documents with possible relevance to Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963.i The declassified documents offer new insights into US policy making: from Eisenhower’s decision to seek the overthrow of the Cuban revolution in November 1959; to the CIA’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961; to Kennedy’s provocative Operation Mongoose in 1962; to the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962; to Kennedy’s covert funding of ‘autonomous’ Cuban exile commando operations in 1963; to back-channel discussions between the Kennedy Administration and Castro in the weeks before President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963; and President Lyndon Johnson’s de-escalation of US policy in Cuba .

The great achievement of this book is to frame the information from more than five million pages of documentation into a cohesive account of the military offensives launched against Cuba in the first years after the Revolution. Fidel Castro was later to sum up this period of economic and political warfare in his interview with Ignacio Ramonet: ‘From November 1961, after Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs) to January 1963, that is in fourteen months, there were a total of 5,780 terrorist actions against Cuba, and of those 717 were serious attacks against our industrial facilities. As a result of this activity more than 234 people in Cuba died’ (My Life, Allen Lane, 2006, p252). Gangsterismo provides a detailed account of the forces that were acting against the young revolution.

In 1929 a conference in Atlanta City established the ‘National Syndicate’ of the North American Mafia dividing up the ‘Godfathers’’ spheres of influence from New York to Philadelphia, New Jersey, Chicago and Miami. This arrangement was designed to end years of murderous feuding between rival ‘Cosa Nostra’ families. Meyer Lansky was the key figure in this settlement as chief accountant and banker of the Syndicate. He was regarded as the brains of the Mafia because he always looked out for new territory and ways and means to expand business.

A big opportunity opened up when President Roosevelt repealed the Volstead Act in 1933. Better known as the Prohibition Act it had outlawed the general production and consumption of ‘intoxicating liquors ‘since 1920. Battling for control of the illegal alcohol drinks market had been the main Mafia business for over ten years making gangsters like Al Capone extremely rich. Lansky moved fast to corner the new legal trade and that year he met Fulgencia Batista, the Cuban Army Sergeant who seized power and ruled over Cuba between 1933 and 1944, and again after a military coup from 1952-1959. Together the two men came to an agreement that the Syndicate would take control of the Cuban molasses industry, this sugar product being an essential ingredient for the production of rum, which was Cuba’s only manufactured export at that time.

This was the deal that brought ‘gansterismo’ into the heart of Cuban social and economic life. From that time contracts between North American Mafia and Cuban elites dominated the island’s economy until the Revolution of January 1959. Fidel Castro’s government closed down brothels, casinos, drug trading, smuggling, prostitution rings and other gangster activities to the great joy of the people. The Syndicate was prepared to use any and every means to regain its influence in the Cuban military and police force and run its protection rackets and businesses on the island.

Other commentators have attempted to unlock the interlinking stories of the Mafia, the CIA, the FBI, the Kennedy Administration and the Cuban counter-revolutionaries based in Miami. The Channel Four documentary 638 Ways to Kill Fidel Castro (2006) and Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK both inculcate the Mafia in Cuban affairs. But it is this book Gangsterismo that conclusively documents the central role of the Mafia both as the tool of capitalist interests in general and for their own specific interests in efforts to overthrow the Cuban revolution.

Gangsterismo carries a strong message for those who think that it is possible to criticise the Cuban Revolution from a ‘left’ or ‘democratic’ view point. The historical record shows that there was no way that the Cuban people could have sustained national sovereignty without the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party. Each and every exile movement that challenged the Castro leadership, the Junta Revolucionario Cubano (JURE) the Consejo Revolucionario Cuban (CRC) the Directorio Revolucionario Estudentil (DRE) the Frente Revolucionario Democratio (FRD) the Junta de Gobierno de Cuba en el Exilo, the Movimiento de Recuperacion Revolucionario (MRR) the Segundo Frente National del Escambray (SDECE) was in the pay of the CIA and/or Mafia. Furthermore the documentation proves clearly that the leaders of these radical sounding groups agreed and were bound, without exception, to reinstate the interests of the Mafiosi should they seize power in Cuba. Additionally the records also show that regular attempts to generate an internal opposition to the Revolution failed because the overwhelming majority of the Cuban people supported their government. Heavily armed invaders and rearguard guerilla groups in the Escambray Mountains repeatedly found themselves isolated then arrested and detained by local campesinos despite counter-revolutionary bribery, kidnapping and threats. The records show that anti-Castro figures like Rolando Cubela, Manuel Ray and Carlos Prio Socarras were viewed with contempt by their CIA partners as degenerate, corrupt and disliked by warring sections of the Cuban exile community.

Agents, double agents, assassination plots and millions of dollars in US and Swiss bank accounts are all closely monitored in this book. Despite the mass of documentation mined for information by Jack Colhoun, mysteries do remain. One is the role of Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged killer of President Kennedy who was Chair of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, but who was rumoured to be an extreme right-winger. The other is Jack Ruby (Rubenstein) the Dallas strip club owner and arms dealer who, watched by millions on live television, shot Oswald dead on November 24 1963. Ruby was associated with Donald Edward Browder, a weapons dealer linked to the Mafia who sold guns to all sides in Cuba in the 1950s and 1960s. Ruby was an informant for the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) during the period of his Cuba-related activities. FBI Special Agent Charles Flynn met with Ruby eight times between March and October 1959. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said that Ruby ‘had knowledge of the criminal elements in Dallas.’

The politics of subversion, regime change, misinformation and the arms trade are all present today, from Afghanistan to Syria. Finally banished from Cuba, the Mafia intensified activities in the US expanding the heroin trade, gambling and prostitution radiating out from Miami. The best-connected Mafiosi in Florida, Santo Trafficante, expanded business with his pals Sam Giancana, Johnny Rosselli and hired Cuban gangster associates Evarista Garcia Vidal, and Raul Gonzalez Jerez to spread death and destruction throughout North America.

This is a highly recommend read, the result of many years of committed research, which has made an invaluable contribution to the history and understanding of Cuba. The lesson to be drawn from Jack Colhoun’s study of the forces waging war against the Cuban Revolution must be these: Cuba was attacked because it was on the road to socialism, but Cuba survived because it was marching down that road.

Susan Davidson

i The JFKAC documents were obtained by blue-ribbon commissions and special congressional committees in the 1960s and 1970s: the Warren Commission Inquiry into the assassination of John Kennedy; the President’s Commission on CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) Activities within the United States led by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller; Senator Frank Church’s Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, which investigated CIA-Mafia plots to assassinate Castro; and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which examined Cuban exile groups as part of its investigation of the assassination of John Kennedy.

Mariela Castro : Socialism can not be homophobic

June 22, 2013

LA JIRIBILLA No. 628 – Año XI, Havana, Cuba -18 de mayo al 24 de mayo de 2013
Interview with Mariela Castro
Socialism can not be homophobic
Helen Hernandez Hormilla • Havana, Cuba
Photo: R. A. Hdez
A CubaNews translation by Wallace Sillanpoa.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.

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The movement has gained momentum due to actions undertaken by the National Center for Sexual Education [CENESEX] which, since its creation in the closing years of the 1980s, has done much to promote sexual diversity. Part of the work has assumed concrete form through the creation of National Days of Struggle against Homophobia which, since 2008, have taken place each ear around the 17th of May in recognition of that date in 1990 when the International Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.

With every passing year, the National Days of Struggle Against Homophobia grow in duration and outreach to the extent that major activities now stretch beyond those undertaken in the capital to include the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos and – this year, 2013 – Ciego de Ávila. Both the coverage by the mass media and the driving force of citizen activism marked this sixth edition of the “Day” which began in Havana on May 9th. This was followed by academic exercises, community panel discussions and artistic activities from May 14th to May 19th. As mentioned, similar activities also took place this year at the center’s headquarters in Ciego de Ávila.

With a Master’s degree in Sexual Studies and currently CENESEX Director, Mariela Castro Espín could be found at almost all the above-mentioned activities. Mariela Castro has emerged as the major proponent in Cuba of the demands of LGBT people. To the abbreviation, LGBT, Mariela prefers to add H [heterosexual] given that many heterosexual women and men are involved in this struggle. Moreover, since Mariela remains convinced that socialism is unattainable without a fight against homophobia, as a professional and as a deputy in Cuba’s National Assembly, she consistently champions decisions intended to achieve more equitable public policies by uniting all battles against discrimination.

Seeking to elicit and broaden responses to the question of cultural conditioning which determine many of the aspects of the LGBT community’s concerns on the island, La Jiribilla recently exchanged ideas on these thorny issues with Mariela, the woman primarily responsible for these National Days of Struggle Against Homophobia:

WHAT ARE THE CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL FORCES THAT, IN THE CASE OF CUBA, CONSTITUTE THE UNDERPINNINGS OF HOMOPHOBIA?

As with any form of discrimination, homophobia has much to do with cultural values generated in most known societies rooted in domination. This raging hunger for social power and control earmarking the history of humankind expresses itself through different forms of discrimination since, in order to dominate, it is necessary to formulate supportive arguments and ideologies. This “social imaginary” has congealed over time to constitute prejudices passed on unconsciously. Such prejudices continue to be generated even if people decry them. Above all, the continuation of such prejudices acts to the detriment of those who find themselves in the most disadvantaged of situations.

Different tendencies of thought such as feminism, sociology, gender studies, feminist anthropology, the sociology of sexuality, psychology, and medical science, among others, have contributed elements and evidence describing these instances of discrimination. It is the machinery of power that generates prejudice. The history of misogyny, for example, can be located in the case of European witch-baiting.

Meanwhile, on our continent we are witness to a history of colonial violence. Nevertheless, this very machinery continues to be employed in order to demonize people and rob them of their resources as with Muslims or the First Peoples of the Americas, both branded as heretics.

Reviewing these theoretical and methodological elements together with a re-examination of Marxist thought I garner resources helping us look at situations from within what has been the history of Cuba and the Revolution. This review helps to contribute to our social project that ponders the persistence of certain prejudices.

Apparently, some people used to embrace the illusion that revolutionary Cuba existed almost on another planet, and that in the ’60s and ’70s Cuba wasn’t as homophobic as the rest of the world. It would have been marvelous had that been the case, but such would have been impossible to expect of the Cuban people at large in an era in which medical science continued to pathologize homosexuality and transgendered people, and when many religions continued to demonize homosexuals. Prevailing ideas still tend to devalue these individuals and deny them equal opportunities. Moreover, in today’s world these same people are often the victims of hate crimes at rates so alarming as to warrant an international appeal so that policies might be established address ing this situation.

Homophobia in Cuba and throughout the world is manifested through acts of both physical and psychological violence. Nevertheless, the many years of the Revolution have succeeded in instilling a certain sense of the value of social solidarity and the necessity of a positive reaction when countering injustice. And these factors contributed to our discomfort at initiating the struggle we are looking at here. For, when someone is suffering, when a person is feeling humiliated we do respond even when all the elements necessary for a concerted struggle are not present. We acquire those necessary elements in the very course of struggle.

We went in search of what to say, what to do, how to enter into dialogue with the general public so that homosexual and transgendered people would not be discriminated against and no one would feel superior to another on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Cuban Revolution offers an example of what is possible in achieving a society both recognizing and respecting sexual diversity, be that within capitalism or within socialism . Such recognition and respect is most in keeping with the case of a country engaged in socialist transition. Moreover, when inaugurating the National Days Against Homophobia in 2008, Cuba was likewise signaling its desire to re-visit its history. In effect, such appears to me a most valuable undertaking and marks the first instance in what continues to be a revolution in these areas.

When I was in Philadelphia and San Francisco, two cities of great importance to the North American LGBT movement, I came to realize how much these processes we are discussing here have been intimately connected with other civil rights struggles and the struggles for women’s rights and independence. All these experiences provided vital tools to the LGBT movement.

After the victory of the Revolution, Fidel had in hand the Moncada Program which laid out and identified various problematic social considerations and all those involved began their work on the basis of this program. No question of sexual diversity was to be found in those deliberations, nor was any recognizable international movement favorable to social changes in this area even discernible. Presently, as part of this great new global village, we continue to make awareness of these innovations part of our over-all project.

We have taken care not to just copy modes of operation or initiatives in other countries but rather, to study the manner in which these struggles are carried out so as to adopt those we deem valuable and which may be introduced within our own, actual contexts. When a particular style or tendency is uncritically imported from afar, a movement results that is rather superficial and thus incapable of affecting real social change. We prefer to adapt all innovations to our social realities, grounded in participatory undertakings and calling upon various social institutions in the construction of projects involving all Cubans. This approach has facilitated our dialogue with all entities and with the Communist Party of Cuba.

The six years that have passed since the first National Day bear witness to an ever-increasing level of visibility.

Even without taking into consideration the impact of the National Day Against Homophobia, our research confirms our perception that substantial change has occurred. Previously, there was little discussion of these matters and when discussion did occur, it was only to dismiss, indeed, exclude LGBT people. But today Cuban society is engaged in discussing and and exposing many points of view, doubts and contradictions. Even the opposition our project generates is very beneficial to an extension of the discussion.

Many people have come to recognize what homophobia is and they are searching for new approaches. So many families as well as the general population come to us seeking assistance.

In addition, today you can see a change in the policies of mass media in regard to these issues. We have noted that this year more journalists and the media in general have expanded their coverage so as to initiate a greater social diffusion of many of our messages. For example, insofar as the opening within CENESEX of greater space calling attention to judicial issues around discrimination, more and more people are coming to us in search of assistance.

WHAT CONTRIBUTION DO YOU THINK THE CUBAN LGBT MOVEMENT OFFERS TO CIVIL SOCIETY?

A strong dose of spontaneity infused the start of this movement. It emerged from the lesbian group, THE ISABELS, in Santiago de Cuba who, in 2002, sought help from CENESEX around issues of sexual and reproductive health. From this undertaking a group formed in Havana, then one of transgendered people and thereafter, little by little, new ideas and initiatives emerged whose purpose was to form a network of homosexual men and youth. The interesting thing is that these newly formed groups turned to CENESEX for assistance. This social, communitarian network is meanwhile beginning to expand thanks to ever-growing participation in the provinces. All those prepared as activists presently engage energetically according to their own criteria and suggestions in what could be called the Cuban LGBTHI Movement.

ON VARIOUS OCCASIONS YOU HAVE SAID THAT YOU CAN’T CONCEIVE OF A SOCIALISM WITH HOMOPHOBIA.

Right, I can’t imagine it. For this reason, when we were conducting the street parade last year in Cienfuegos the slogan was: “Socialism Yes! Homophobia No!” The fact remains that the very experimentation that is Socialism can tolerte no discrimination of any kind.

HOW THEN ARE WE TO READ GESTURES LIKE THE INCLUSION OF THESE ISSUES IN THE CONFERENCE PROGRAM OF THE CUBAN COMMUNIST PARTY, OR THE PARTICIPATION OF CUBAN VICE-PRESIDENT, MIGUEL DIAZ-CANEL, AT THE GALA EVENING AGAINST HOMOPHOBIA HELD AT THE KARL MARX THEATER?

The country’s leadership is cognizant of the fact that these realities have to be part of our policies and our ideological perspectives. Our job consists in transforming ways of thinking that have to be then passed on through education and with the support of all people and institutions.

THE CUBAN ARTS COMMUNITY HAS ALWAYS BEEN IN THE FOREFRONT OF THIS CAUSE.

In all ages, the arts are ahead of the sciences in communicating these realities or social concerns. This happened likewise in Cuba, and these contradictions – in one way or another, depending on the artists’ points of view – were always reflected in works of art and literature.

My formation is in pedagogy and I always found in art a resource for educating and for communicating much more interesting than simple talk. For this reason, in our work at CENESEX, we muster the help of artists since such assistance is much more effective in communicating our message and often with greater impact.

To launch the National Day against Homophobia we went to the Ministry of Culture, UNEAC [the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists] and the Association of Saíz Brothers [AHS] to solicit support. In order that our project succeed, we needed a coming together of all those people who had in any way taken up similar initiatives. In order to struggle for full respect for all sexual diversity we have to unite as a country, a nation and a society. Isolated, we get nowhere. And the Cuban arts communities are at work full force in this struggle for social transformation.

MUCH HAS BEEN DONE TO PROMOTE THE NEED FOR A NEW FAMILY CODE WHICH ENCOMPASSES CONSENSUAL UNIONS BETWEEN PERSONS OF THE SAME SEX. HOWEVER, ONCE SUCH A MEASURE IS APPROVED, WHAT MIGHT BE OTHER LEGAL DEMANDS?

Much remains to be done, and for this I say that the new Code is not the end point, but rather one of our activities which is going to facilitate in advancing LGBT rights. But, again, it is not the only one. Laws by themselves do not guarantee human rights. The latter must be reinforced through other expressions of political will.

We have also prepared the rough draft of a proposal for a Decree Law in regard to gender identity and we are reviewing forms of legislation from other countries so as to include in our proposals those elements most in keeping with our own situation and in accordance with struggles against all forms of discrimination. The Penal Code is also going to change as will the Labor Code. And at the moment when the Constitution comes up again for revision, we shall have already looked ahead for inclusion of provisions that will facilitate broad coverage in the area of LGBT rights.

!mariela dice give me five

Cuban Hero René Gonzàlez Pays Tribute to Che Guevara

June 19, 2013

rene ante el nicho del Che-2013-6-17

Cuban hero René Gonzàlez paid homage on Monday to Cuban-Argentinean guerrilla fighter Ernesto Che Guevara at the memorial that treasures his mortal remains in the central city of Santa Clara.
Gonzàlez is one of the five Cuban anti-terrorist fighters, who were arrested in 1998 and given unfair and extremely long sentences in the United States after they monitored Florida-based ultra-right organizations that planned terrorist actions against the island.
He returned to Cuba after having met his 13 year-prison sentence and following the approval by US authorities to modify his supervised freedom conditions in exchange for the renouncing of his US citizenship.
At the mausoleum, Gonzàlez and his family paid honors to Che and his compatriots killed in Bolivia.
Paying tribute to the Heroic Guerrilla is a compromise with his legacy, said Gonzàlez.
Yudi Rodriguez, member of the Communist Party Central Committee and Jorgelina Pestana, president of the provincial government welcomed the Gonzàlez family as they arrived at the Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara Revolution Square, a complex that includes the mausoleum.
During the ceremony in front of the niche that treasure Che’s remains, Gonzalez said that Guevara will always live as far as there are people like the Cubans who, Che and his four compatriots still held in US jails belong with.
Gerardo Hernández, Fernando González, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino are the four anti-terrorists who, along Gonzàlez, are internationally known as the Cuban Five.
The hero recalled that he had the chance to shake Che’s hand when he was still a child, an event that left an imprint as strong as the news about his death in Bolivia.
Che is the reason for daily renewal, and in this historic stage, he continues to be a crucial example, said René meaning that Cubans must resort to Che’s critical thinking and ask themselves if what has been done can still be improved.
The saddest thing is that my four brothers are still in jail; every single day in prison is a crime committed against them, because there is no reason for people like them to be under such conditions, he pointed out.
Following a tour of the museum that treasures documents, photos and other belongings of Che Guevara, Gonzalez held a moving encounter with leaders of the Young Communist League and the University Student Federation. ( acn )

René en mausoleo Che

video: http://youtu.be/AfnECvqgX_Y,

photos: Tania Ramos and Arelys María Echavarría

Cuban-trained American doctor helps save lives in Haiti

June 19, 2013

Cuba+

by: Chasiti Falls

As an Indiana working-class native, I was deeply moved after Haiti’s devastating earthquake of 2010.  I was in Cuba at that time in my forth year of medical school at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).

The school sought out a group of Americans from the 2010 graduating class to incorporate into the “Brigada Medica Cubana.”  This is a famous brigade that rushes to the aide of neighboring and developing countries after a disaster.

One of these new doctors and 2010 ELAM graduate, Dr. Gregory Wilkinson, still works as a general practitioner in Haiti, servicing the dilapidated communities from tents.  He is completing a family practice residency program.

Wilkinson comes from Oakland, Calif., studied at Merritt Community College, and then sociology at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. With Jamaican roots, Wilkinson said he is proud and eager to complete the medical school’s scholarship requirement of…

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Rene Gonzalez: I didn’t Go to US to Fight People

June 18, 2013

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interview by Enrique Ojito Linares and Arelys García Acosta

After making his probably most risky flight on December 8th, 1990, René González Sehwerert, the first of the Five to return to his homeland, got infiltrated into Florida-based terrorist organizations such as Hermanos al Rescate, Movimiento Democracia, Partido Unido Nacional Democrático y la Fundación Nacional Cubano-Americana. In exclusive interview with Escambray newspaper and Radio Sancti Spiritus, the Cuban anti-terrorist fighter recalls his life as Cuban State Security agent, without putting aside his own personal life.
“If you say it could be tonight, I will figure out how to go to Havana”, I anxiously said when I made the telephone call to request an interview with René González Sehwerert. “Call us within 10 days”, he answered himself. Taking into consideration his legal condition at the moment, it was the appropriate thing to do.
The interview was scheduled to take place at the headquarters of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People (ICAP, in Spanish), where he would later on said that returning to Cuba without his fellow comrades –Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González– was the nightmare of his imprisonment.
After having served a fifteen-year sentence on October 7th, 2011, Rene was required to complete 3 more years of supervised release. But this decision was modified last May 3rd by Judge Joan Lenard, who accepted his permanent stay in Cuba if he renounced to his US citizenship. On May 9th, Gonzalez received the US citizenship renouncement certification.

— I —

It is a cloudy afternoon. The noises of the street can be heard from the large ICAP hall, where Rene Gonzalez arrives accompanied by his wife Olga Salanueva. She attentively looks and his eyes and watches his hands, which he constantly crosses while recalling the few years he lived in Chicago, where he was born on August 13th, 1956.
It is just fragments of memories, he says. The family lived near Michigan Lake. He remembers the wooden pier on the lake, and the trip made to Cuba on board the Guadalupe.
It happened after the mercenary invasion to Playa Giron.
– “Yes. My parents were members of the Pro justo trato a Cuba committee, so they demonstrated against the invasion. Thus, they faced retaliations, and were even victims of aggressions by right wing-people. After that they decided to come to Cuba. We came here in October 1961.
Rene Gonzalez, better known as “Beaver” within the State Security bodies -according to Brazilian Fernando Morais’s Los últimos soldados de la guerra fría (The last soldiers of the cold war)- returned to US on December 8th, 1990, after highjacking a plane in San Nicolas de Bari, in the present Cuban western province of Mayabeque.

Before departing, you left Olga some money and the lyrics of a song by Pablito Milanes inside a magazine. Was it a coded message?
– It is a difficult thing to leave without letting your family knows what you’re going to do. During all these years, I fulfilled the most difficult tasks in Cuba, both of them in San Nicolas de Bari: saying no to the Cuban Communist Party membership process, and highjacking the aircraft. There are things not are not assignments, but where feelings are involved, leaving the family behind is one of them. It is a very hard thing to do. I left Olga the money I had saved, and the song inside a Bohemia magazine.

How many times did you revise the plan to highjack the aircraft that took you to Boca Chica, where you arrived almost without fuel?
– It was not possible for me to check anything. I had to wait for the right moment and take advantage of it. And I did so, even when I knew the fuel was barely enough to get there. It was probably the most dangerous and risky flight I’ve ever made.
Upon arrival in Miami, you made a statement to the so-called Radio Marti radio station saying that after seeing Florida Keys, you felt like a real Cristobal Colon. How did you manage to play the traitor character, and convince public opinion?
I asked myself the question since the very moment I was assigned the mission. I don’t think anyone could be trained for that. Besides, I was all the opposite; I have never been a hypocrite person. Then, the key to play such role is the sense of duty, the satisfaction of deceiving someone who wants to inflict harm on my people.
I remember when I first met Félix Rodríguez, the Cat; it was the same day in which Hermanos al Rescate group was created. I had been invited by the head a group called CUPA (Cuban Pilots Association) to attend a press conference in Miami airport in which the group will be announced.
As soon as I arrived in the airport hall, I was introduced to Félix Rodríguez. I remembered some said: “This is the the man who killed Che”. I don’t know what I really felt. I shook hands with him and said: you are the one. I got amazed to myself, how could I have said that? When I left the place I knew I was ready for the task.

Being an intelligence agent might lead to the assumption that you had a comfortable life. How did you survive during the first months from the economic point of view?
– I had the help of the many relatives I had there. I didn’t have any extra money, but I had where to live. I was welcomed by my grandmother. I began to work as soon as I arrived there, but it was my purpose to get closer to aviation people.
Sometime after, I managed to get involved in Hermanos al Rescate group. I had to spend a lot on licence applications, which is very expensive. So, I had to do several different jobs. I had a modest life, and moving forward as a pilot was always my major goal.

You joined Hermanos al Rescate in 1991. You flew over Havana with Basulto, and threw pamphlets. How could you have the calm to share the plane cabin with that terrorist?
– I didn’t go the United States to fight people; I went there to fight against activities against Cuba. I went there to warn the country against such activities. In such circumstances, one cannot pay to much attention to personal situations, because you get dissociated.

You transported journalists from TV channels like Univisión who built campaigns against Cuba.
– In the beginning, Hermanos al Rescate was probably one of the best psychological war operations ever organized. It used the boat people (“balseros”) situation, which was a complicated and easy-to-manipulate issue. The organization was founded by Basulto and some Bay of Pigs veterans. They had been trained by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) in the 1960s.
At the same time, a sort of euphoria was created in Miami around Cuba’s real and unreal problems. In such a context, Hermanos al Rescate was a very strong tool. Several elements got together that allowed them to organize a very strong psychological war operation.
As long as the so-called special period got worse in Cuba, their hope of a burst in the island rose. What happened around Havana’s Malecón on August 94 was an impulse for them. Within this framework, they began to organize violent actions.
When the United States and Cuba signed the migration agreements in 1994 and 1995, the Hermanos al Rescate’s business broke, because those who dared to go into the sea would be intercepted by the Coast Guard and returned to the island. It was then when provocations grew bigger, and they tried to create a conflict between Cuba and US.

What concrete missions did you have?
– I joined several organizations. Hermanos al Rescate was the first I got linked to. It was my duty to keep Cuba informed on all what was being done concerning the fleets. Later on, Basulto was involved in the acquisition of a Russian fighter plane (Mig 23), to use it in a violent action. He also wanted to buy a Czechoslovak military training aircraft.
I was also linked to Partido Unido Nacional Democrático (PUND), which was responsible for the 1992 and 1993 intrusions in the north coast of the island, mainly in Varadero and Cayo Coco territories. Someone was killed by a PUND commando in Caibarien. I was involved in the infiltration activities organized. Comando de Liberación Unido was also linked to these activities.
I had to fulfill location tasks as well. Once I had to locate certain means owned by a FNCA (Fundacion Nacional Cubano-Americana) paramilitary group. In the 1990s, I knew about Posada Carriles’s location thanks to someone’s indiscretion. That was the kind of activities I performed.

Why did you cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in dismantling drug operations?
– I dismantled two drug operations. In the first place, everyone knows Cuba’s position in relation with drugs. But there, drugs play a double role, and the money made out of them was use to finance PUND and the Comando de Liberación Unido. Cutting off financial sources was like eliminating operations against Cuba.
It is difficult to assess how many operations were not fulfilled. I remembered that once we sent Tony (the Fat One) to prison. He was the one who financed PNUND.

Given your intelligence job, how could you handle the feeling of being watched?
– There are certain intelligence-related behaviours that one has to adopt, being always alert. A balance must be found between being on alert and taking care of yourself, otherwise one might be seriously affected.

Amidst that situation, you were determined to reunite with Olga and Irmita. How much did do for that purpose? It is said that you even went to the Capitol.
– Several considerations were taken into account. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen didn’t have the capacity to take Olguita there. It was part of the whole scheme. Obviously, it was always my priority to reunite with them. We were apart during six years, but they could finally go there in December, 1996.

You went to welcome them in Miami airport dressed in a suit, and even carrying some flowers.
– The re-encounter had two opposite angles. Unfortunately, I had to go there with some element who was not very … (Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of Movimiento Democracia). The re-encounter was as if Olguita and I got married again. We had been married since 1983. So, after six years apart, it was beautiful and difficult at the same time, due to the adaptation Irmita had to go through. But our feeling was stronger, and help us succeed.

Ivette was born from that love. How much Gerardo Hernandez, without a child of his own, enjoyed Ivette’s birth?
– Gerardo was always sensitive about everything related to family. Before Ivette was born, he was waiting for Irmita’s nascence. He was really attentive with Olguita. We were a family; actually, in those circumstances that’s the only family you have, the only people you can tell everything. Gerardo assumed that role in a very humane way, with an immeasurable capacity to love; he was indeed happy with Ivette.

In what context took place your arrest on September 12th, 1998?
– An apprehension in the United States of America is a euphemism for assault. They got into your house with violence in an attempt to paralyze you; that’s the first step to soften yourself. They (the FBI) start beating down our door; in other cases they used a battering ram. We lived in a very narrow hall with an iron door so it was impossible for them to bring it down. When I opened, they entered with guns, dropped me in the floor while threatening me and cuffed me immediately. When Olguita came out of the bedroom they threw her against the walls. After that, they put me on my feet, asked me if I was Rene Gonzalez, and if I belong to Hermanos al Rescate. They got me out of home that Saturday and took me to prison.

How would you describe the first days in jail?
– The first days are terrible. Besides, our case was different from the common practice in which they take you to an admission area, give you cloth, explain how prison works and provide you a telephone call. We were given a special treatment; in military terms this is known as golpe y estupor (hit and stupor), that means you are violently apprehended, then, they take you to the FBI to see if you declare guilty or not, or if you cooperate. After that, they put you in the “hole” so you start thinking about what comes. Those are days in which you can’t get to sleep; they didn’t even give us a sheet.
At that time, your future is decided. If you choose not to chicken out, then you won’t do it later. We decided right there we were not pulling out.
Those were difficult days until Monday. It is all well staged: they have you alone with your thoughts on Saturday and Sunday, without shaving, without brushing your teeth; on Monday they dress you as a clown and take you to Court. They walk you down the corridor, and you see all the people, full of hatred, watching you chained, bearded, with a cadaveric look, and, then also, there is the concern for your family, all the time in your head.
I was lucky; when I was downed from the elevator and they face me to the room full of people, and I was looking for my family, I suddenly heard someone shouting out: “Daddy!!!”, so I watch and see Irmita giving me a thumbs up. From that moment on I breathed again and said to myself: this air will fill me till this ends, and it still lasts.

What do you hold on to for not betraying, as some other members of the Cuban network did?
– I hold on to the most basic thing ever: human dignity; I believe in the value of human dignity. The process showed there are some people who don’t believe in that. We all proclaim it, but in conditions like those, you get to know who is really attached to that quality. The Five believe on human values. If these exist, I don’t see why a person must give in to violence.
There’s no value in yielding when being locked or subjected to cruel treatment. I was convinced of the cause I was fighting for. I was quite aware of what my mission was, knowing I was defending human life, and that I was dealt with unfairly.
You add all that, and also their behavior. You see them lying to the judge, blackmailing witnesses, trick the Court and mock the main authority’s orders, and then you ask yourself: to what extent can they lower themselves?, and then you realize you can’t just give in to them.

You were incarcerated in Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Florida. How did you manage to get respected in such a hostile environment?
– In the case of the US penitentiary system, going to trial gives you a lot of respect; almost no one goes to trial. People are afraid of the process; the system is organized in a way that all who goes finally lose. Lawyers talk you out of going, and encourage you to cooperate with the district attorney, and by cooperate they mean that you betray someone. When you face trial, you stood up against the government.
People respect you very much for that; besides, they assume you won’t turn them in. Your attitude is also key; if you treat people well, they generally pay you back. You need to relate to persons with positive and constructive characters, avoid games, debts and getting involved with gangs.
Letters help pretty much also. The people notice you get many letters from different countries and they come and ask you for stamps. The Cuban stamps emission was great; they would say: “look, this guy is on a stamp”. Even guards asked me to sign them on the sly.

Did you have any special cellmate?
– I had a lot of cellmates. I remembered one rapper who was with me (in Marianna, Florida) who got so involved with the case that one day he got a t-shirt, and painted, along with Rody (Rodolfo Rodríguez), the symbol of the Five. He even sang a rap on us and things got messy there.
Rody is an unique example: a Cuban with a long delictive compendium since he was a kid, which included even violence; however, when he met me he began to change his ideas about Cuba, the Revolution and Fidel; he ended up being more communist than me.
There was also a white supermax prisoner, with a past of violence, a disfunctional childhood, who even ended up with the skinhead, and assaulting banks. He had been reconsidering when he was lucky to be my cellmate along the process; he approached me, reflected with me and got politicized. So, I can say that generally most of the inmates respected each other.
Olga became the center of the family, being mother and father at the same time; nevertheless, you did not lose control on the house.
I have to be honest; Olguita had the control of the house. I don’t like leading people from the distance. I trusted Olguita; my role was to do it fine where I was. It always felt important to let them know I was ok, as it was for me to know they were doing good. Olguita knew what she had to do, and she did it great, for instance when being with the girls, giving them advice. They have always had an open relationship with me. I’m not a grumpy dad. I think I’m a good father, a good friend.

What did Rene do to let go the depression that affects all human beings, especially when being locked?
– That didn’t got me. I coined a phrase that people used to laugh about; when I was asked in the morning: “How are you?”, I’d say: “I’m always ok”, so people approached me and said “I know you are ok”. I don’t know how to explain it; you have to fight the bad feelings. There are some days in which the anxiety is bigger, and you need to get to know it and cool off a bit.
I devoted myself to physical excersise, reading, styding. For me it was crucial not to be aware of time; time won’t kill me, I said to myself, and it worked: I never got depressed.

When did you most think about your parents?
– One thinks of the family everyday; I had a small mural with family pictures. For example, I remember the day of the allegations. When I stood in front of the judge and pierced her with my eyes to state some facts, I took my belt from behind and lift it, as if saying, here I go. My old man immediatly came to mind; it was one of his gestures, one I inheritted. (…)At that age you don’t think: mum and dad are doing this. I’m already toughen up; but what they taught you, that you take it with you everyday, every hour, and it helps you surviving.

Could you sleep the night of October 6th to 7th, 2011, when you came out of Marianna prison?
– Yes, I could. In jail you can’t allow that they take your sleep away from you. That night they bothered me a little; they put me in the hole, not because I did something wrong, but because we had already arranged that I got out earlier to avoid media; they knew there were some security considerations. They took me out of the blue from my cell and led me to the hole. I couldn’t say good bye to the people. My plans were to get up early, shave, dress nicely; anyway, I did sleep.

— II —

“Rene Back to Homeland”, read some of the most important headlines in Cuba on March 30th, 2012. He was in the island on a family and private visit: his brother Roberto, member of the Five defense team, was seriously ill. “My brother for life”, said Rene in a letter dating February which closes with a moving phrase: Breathe, brother, breathe!!
The supervised release ordered his return to Florida. “Having to go back was tough; I had to adapt myself again”, Rene would say later.
As if it was not enough, he lost his father on April 1st. The pain bring the son again to Cuba where he negotiated his renunciation to the American citizenship.
The time of a Hero dictates limits to this reporter, whose eyes follow, discreetly, Rene’s hand searching for his wife’s warm arm.
By the way, when are you taking Olga to the movies? The day you skyjacked you promised her that gift for the night.
“It’s true; today we were talking about that; but I won’t tell to media (KNOWING SMILE). If so….”.
The evening in Havana fills with clouds and lightnings. After turning my recorder off, heavy rains cover the Vedado. “It will be difficult that he gets her to see any film today”, I told myself when I was on the street.

What Will It Take to Normalize Relations between the United States and Cuba ?

June 17, 2013

cuba-florida

Recently, Elaine Scheye, CEO of The Scheye Group, Ltd., organized and participated in a panel discussion at LASA 2013. The topic was, “What Will It Take to Normalize Relations between the United States and Cuba.” Among the other panelists were His Excellency, Ambassador José Cabañas, Wayne Smith and Carlos Alzugaray.

Below is a summary of Ms. Scheye’s remarks in which she suggests scientific exchanges between American and Cuban physicians and scientists is a valuable step toward achieving normalization of relations.

In the early 80’s, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the organization that has become the CIGB enjoyed cordial relations. Cubans and Americans were working closely on several projects jointly particularly on Interferon. Rather than this becoming a model for future cooperation, the embargo (bloqueo) was strengthened through enactment into law of the Helms-Burton Act. This has severely restricted American companies’ ability to freely trade with Cuba due to the Act’s extraterritorial reach.

Foreign companies, after being acquired by American, have opted to avoid dealing with Cuba rather than face severe economic sanctions that can include prison sentences. Transactions are further complicated by onerous end-use reporting requirements of the Commerce Department.

In a world where almost all transactions have a global component, the refusal of many companies to sell medicines, health care devices and diagnostic equipment/supplies essentially bars Cuba from obtaining these crucial items in a cost effective manner despite the world’s leading health care producer being only 90 miles away.

These sanctions are fraught with tragic consequences. Certain diagnostic tests are solely produced in the United States. The inability to acquire medical products impacts the lives of innocent Cubans.

Examples include heart valves, advanced pediatric surgical anesthesia,equipment for diagnosing and treating cancers of the retina and a device to help prevent organ rejection in transplants are just a few examples.

Over and above individual tragedies, these sanctions have reduced Cuba’s ability to diagnose and effectively treat many cases and inhibits Cuba’s ability to generate accurate and useful morbidity/mortality data for use in its public health programs.

Adding insult to injury, obstacles are put in the way of scientific exchanges. This is a loss for both Cubans and Americans. Cuban physicians and scientists working on cures for cancer, diabetes and infectious diseases, are often either denied visas outright or only receive them too late to attend meetings. At the same time, the rest of the world benefits from their knowledge and insights at international conferences.

This not only harms Cuba, it also denies American audiences the benefit of their knowledge. An unnoticed but important consideration is denying entry to these respected and renowned individuals, many of whom have won international awards, harms the image of the United States as a center of open scientific inquiry.

It should not be forgotten that American physicians and scientists are also impacted by these restrictive policies. For instance, American scientists are prohibited from co-authorship with Cubans considered members of “excluded class” (members of the Council of State and the Asamblea are two examples).

To even attend conferences in Cuba, Americans must qualify under a General License. This license will only be granted by the American government for conferences organized by an established international organization. If such an organization has merely endorsed the conference, an Americans must apply for a Specific License which is decided on a case-by-case basis.

American policies are inconsistent. Ironically, this inconsistency allows rays of light and creates hope for a more open future. One very successful scientific exchange program is at Harvard University with the Instituto Pedro Kouri (IPK) which specializes in infectious diseases.

Further, Cuba holds approximately 95 patents in biotechnology alone with the U. S. Patent Office. This is a result of President Kennedy’s 1962 exemption for intellectual property.Nevertheless, Cuba is the only country in the world that must first apply to OFAC approval prior to applying for FDA approval to begin clinical trials.

This process adds several million dollars of cost to an already expensive process, hurts American patients and those from other countries who come to the United States seeking life-extending/life-saving treatment, who in each case, could be benefiting from Cuban scientific and medical advances.

Other rays of light exist as well. Pedro Valdes, a physician and scientist who is Co-Director of CNEURO in Cuba, has become the first Cuban citizen elected to the Executive Council of the Minneapolis-based, Organization For Human Brain Mapping. What makes this all the more significant is the Organization’s role in helping to implement the several hundred million dollar brain mapping project initiated by President Obama. Finally, the Cuban developed drug,

Nimotuzumab, used for treating inoperable potine gliomas is the first drug of Cuban origin since the beginning of the embargo to be tested in clinical trials at major American medical centers.

For normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States to occur, the discussion needs to move from partisan politics. Scientific diplomacy must become an integral part of American foreign policy. Scientific exchanges should be utilized as a conduit for broader diplomatic discussions.

However, other diplomatic and political issues should not override the scientific, medical, moral and ethical implications of inhibiting and, indeed, nearly destroying Cuban-American cooperation on the scientific and medical fronts.

El futuro de Cuba hay que hacerlo hoy

June 15, 2013

Visión desde Cuba

Por Luis Ernesto Ruiz Martínez. El Congreso de los jóvenes estudiantes universitarios concluyó en La Habana luego de 3 días de debates y proyecciones. La mejor parte está por llegar. Se trata de unir, convocar y atraer a los jóvenes que están cursando sus carreras en la Cuba de hoy para hacer del país un escenario próspero y con un futuro que les resulte posible. Es necesario discutir y trazar caminos, pero como ellos mismos afirmaron HAY QUE HACER.

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