Posts Tagged ‘Cuban Revolution’

Lifting the embargo on Cuba: Why we need to act now

June 26, 2015

cuba si

By Scott D. Gilbert

The latest survey results are stunning. According to a poll by USF Sarasota-Manatee, slightly over 91 percent of respondents want the Cuban embargo lifted. The longer the government takes to comply with this decisive mandate, the more Americans, as well as Cubans, will suffer the consequences.

Virtually every U.S.-Cuban policy expert and political analyst knows that sooner or later the embargo will be consigned to history. But the operative words are “sooner or later.” If it’s later, U.S. businesses, both corporations and smaller companies, will continue to miss out on rich investment opportunities that promise significant returns for themselves, their shareholders, their employees, and their communities.

To be sure, it’s not just corporate behemoths that stand to gain from a level playing field. As of this writing, family farmers and ranchers have also joined with those demanding an end to the embargo, especially smaller rural stakeholders that depend on exports to survive. For them, Cuba is an untapped market, made all the more promising as Cuban spending power, projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 4.6 percent through 2020, continues to increase.

Despite U.S. trade missions to the island and somewhat looser constraints on trade, the myopia that keeps the embargo in place is costing everybody money. Everybody, that is, except foreign business interests that, absent American competition, will invest all the more fruitfully, as long as the embargo tilts the competitive odds in their favor. It’s no accident that France’s President François Hollande led a large trade mission to Cuba, while representatives from Japan, Italy, the Netherlands, and Russia have likewise paid visits.

“It’s impossible to deny that diplomatic detente between Washington and Havana has accelerated the process of normalization between Cuba and Europe,” said Salim Lamrani, a Cuba expert at France’s University of La Reunion.

While some in the U.S. nurse old political wounds, these foreign competitors are already planning investments in real estate, infrastructure projects, agriculture, Internet technology, telecom, pharmaceutical, automotive, financial services, and more. Each area represents fertile ground for American interests as well, once the embargo is lifted. And every day that goes by until then reflects increasingly lost opportunities stateside.

Ironically, while the long-overdue thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations has encouraged and even accelerated foreign investment in Cuba, the vast majority of U.S. businesses, still shackled by the embargo, cannot compete in that marketplace.  This is not about leveling the playing field for American companies; it is about just letting them onto the field.

The embargo is a vestige of an archaic foreign policy. Arguably, it was a failed policy from the get-go, accomplishing nothing except to deepen the suffering of average Cubans who themselves had little or no participation in the political activities that rankled the U.S. for six decades.

At this point we should be beyond arguing the historical merits of the embargo.  Indeed, the majority of Cuban Americans – the children and grandchildren of the émigrés who came to the U.S. in the 1960s – support lifting the embargo.

Some memories never fade; some wounds never close. But supporters of the embargo need to consider how little they have to gain, and how much the eleven million people on the island stand to lose, if the embargo drags on.

The U.S. has enough to do to fight today’s battles without needlessly prolonging yesterday’s.

Gilbert, Esq., heads Reneo, a Washington-based legal-strategic consulting firm.  He waged a successful pro bono legal campaign to free Alan Gross, who was imprisoned for five years in Cuba.

The Five on Robben Island: A tribute to Mandela

June 26, 2015


Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René visited the island where Mandela was imprisoned and paid tribute to his example of the triumph of human spirit over adversity.

Deisy Francis Mexidor

The Five toured the prison when Nelson Mandela was held by the apartheid regime for 18 years. Photo: Prensa Latina
ROBBEN ISLAND, South Africa.—A sign in English and Afrikaans announces arrival on Robben Island, situated off the coast of Cape Town, a site which encompasses a painful history, thankfully now past for South Africans.

The island of dry sand and strong winds, surrounded by sharp reefs and the unique sound of the thousands of birds that fly overhead, is today a symbol of freedom.

To get there, you have to board a boat at the Nelson Mandela memorial located in the commercial and tourist district of Waterfront.

The journey is about 12 kilometers, a half hour boat ride, enough to reflect on the triumph of human spirit over adversity encompassed by this historical site.

Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González, the Five Cuban anti-terrorists who themselves were greatly inspired by the spirit of resistance of Prisoner No.46664, Nelson Mandela, during their imprisonment in the U.S., traveled to the island as part of their tour of South Africa.

Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years that the apartheid regime kept him imprisoned on Robben Island.

Accompanied by Ahmed Kathrada, who was also imprisoned alongside Mandela, the Five toured the historical site that was opened as a museum on January 1st, 1997 and declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999.

Certain areas are usually off-limits to tourists, but Kathrada provided the Five with access to Mandela’s cell, a small, damp and unimaginable space.

They studied the iron bars through which only hands could pass, the blanket on the floor that was all Mandela had for a bed, the bench and a small window.

Each of them looked, touched the walls and tried to take an almost photographic image with their own eyes. It was a private moment of reflection. No questions were required.

Then, as they gathered to take a photo, Fernando noted the date: “Today is June 23. In 2001, 14 years ago, the Comandante en Jefe (Fidel Castro) said we would return (to Cuba).” Meanwhile, Gerardo wrote in the guestbook on behalf of the Five: “It has been a great honor to visit this place together with some of the brave compañeros of Nelson Mandela.”

The message continued, “all of them were a source of inspiration and strength for the Five Cubans to withstand the more than 16 years in U.S. jails.”

Gerardo stressed that this was a legacy that “the Five will honor for the rest of our lives.”


CAPE TOWN.—Members of the African National Congress (ANC) in the South African parliament received the Five during their visit to the legislative capital of the country.

The Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Lechesa Tsenoli, said that the Five are an inspiration across the world.

In exclusive statements to Prensa Latina, Tsenoli highlighted the example of resistance that these men provided whilst in U.S. prisons, where they remained confined for an extended and unjust period of time.

The legislator also stressed the contribution of Cuban solidarity to the African cause, a sentiment that is continuously repeated.

Since their arrival on June 21, when they were welcomed by ANC Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe, the Five have had the chance to talk with the leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

They were also warmly welcomed by members of the Society of Friendship with Cuba in South Africa (FOCUS) and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL), who did so much to secure their release.

The visit by Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René will conclude on July 3 and forms part of the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter.

According to their busy schedule, they will travel this Thursday, June 25, to the province of Gauteng to complete their tour of five of the nine South African provinces.

The Five then continue on to Namibia and conclude their tour of Africa in Angola, where three of them (Gerardo, Fernando and René) served as internationalist fighters.

Cuban Five thank SA for support in securing their release from US prison

June 22, 2015


The so-called Cuban Five have arrived in South Africa on a 13-day visit to thank the nation for campaigning for their release from a US jail where they were held for up to 16 years for spying among other offences.

Also known as the Miami Five‚ the five Cuban intelligence officers – Gerardo Hernandez‚ Ramón Labañino‚ Fernando Gonzalez‚ Antonio Guerrero and René Gonzalez – were arrested in September 1998 and later convicted in Miami of conspiracy to commit espionage‚ conspiracy to commit murder‚ acting as an agent of a foreign government‚ and other illegal activities in the US.

One was released in October 2011 and another in February 2014. At the end of 2014‚ the US swapped the remaining three members for an American intelligence officer held by Cuba.

Welcoming the Cubans to South Africa in a statement on Sunday‚ the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation acknowledged Cuba’s contribution towards a democratic South Africa.

“Cuba has furthermore participated in the reconstruction of South Africa after the demise of apartheid by training‚ inter alia‚ scores of South African youth in medicine in Cuba. Cuba’s ongoing support for the South African government’s main priorities through the implementation of joint programmes in health‚ social development‚ defence‚ housing and infrastructure is significant‚” the department stated.

The department added that the deployment of Cuban doctors‚ engineers and technical experts throughout South Africa was a further demonstration of Cuba’s commitment to work with South Africa to address the infrastructural back-logs inherited from the pre-1994 period.

International relations and cooperation deputy minister Luwellyn Landers will host the Cuban Five in Cape Town from June 22-23 under the theme “Cuban Five Heroes: Tribute to International Solidarity”.

Landers described the visit by the Cuban Five from 21 June to 3 July as an historic event due to the long years of support that South Africa had rendered to the campaign for their release.

“The Cuban Five all served in Angola during the liberation struggle against Apartheid Forces‚” he noted.

On Tuesday‚ the Cubans will meet with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation‚ which said last week there was no better time to enhance Cuba-SA relations than now.

The committee’s chairperson‚ Siphosezwe Masango‚ said the committee had invited the Cuban Five delegation to Parliament so that it could express its appreciation for their “heroic personal involvement” in the crucial Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola in 1987‚ which had “brought the dawn of independence in Namibia‚ the withdrawal of the South African Defence Force from Angola‚ and ultimately freedom in South Africa”.

“The Cuban Five will in return be afforded an opportunity to thank SA’s Parliament for passing resolutions calling upon the United States to release them and to end the economic blockade on Cuba‚” he said.

Masango expressed the hope that the government would enter into bi-national commissions and trade agreements with Cuba that would benefit both countries in the long term.

-RDM News Wire


June 22, 2015


By Manuel E. Yepe
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.,

A different kind of publicity regarding Cuba has begun to reach
U.S. TV viewers, who, for more than half a century, have received
only slanderous criticism about political life on the island.

It is not that the mainstream media have changed their hostile
orientation, but the mere fact that some of them have allowed
–albeit paid– a different kind of publicity than
the one demanded by the US power elite since the triumph of the
popular revolution in 1959, is an encouraging sign for US
citizens and, of course, also for Cubans.

A new bipartisan coalition (Republican and Democrat) called
“Engage Cuba”, constructed of entities interested in developing
ties with Cuba, has emerged in line with the official
announcements of the governments of Washington and Havana in
December 2014. It has launched a campaign in major US media,
criticizing the archaic bans denying US citizens their
constitutional right to travel to and do business with Cuba.

The 30 second ad, produced by the advertising firm Shorr Magnus
Johnson, began airing on Tuesday, June 16, on cable television
services Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC.

The text points out that Americans are free to travel anywhere
in the world –with the exception of Cuba– and that
an estimated 5.9 billion dollars in annual US exports from the
United States are currently blocked by the outdated prohibition
–more in keeping with the Cold War– which prevents
trade with Cuba.

In the words of James Williams, president of the Engage Cuba
coalition,“Public polls show that Americans are saying,
‘We are tired of the Cold War-era policy that won’t
let us trade or travel to Cuba. We want our government to let us
play a role in this significant period of transition.’
That’s why we’re launching Engage Cuba.”

Engage Cuba had a role in negotiating the landmark deal that has
enabled the Cuban Interests Section and the future embassy of
Cuba in Washington to receive indispensable banking services for
the current process of normalization.

The coalition supports draft legislation known as Freedom to
Travel to Cuba Act (S. 299), submitted by Senators Jeff Flake and
John Boozman (Arizona Republicans) and Patrick Leahy (a Vermont
Democrat), which already has forty co-sponsors in the Senate.

Engage Cuba’s membership includes organizations and enterprises
in all sectors and major business groups like the National
Foreign Trade Council, the National Association of Manufacturers,
the Consumer Electronics Association, the Council of the
Americas, and the American Society of Travel Agents.

Also members of Engage Cuba are civil society organizations like
Third Way, CubaNow, Cuba Study Group and the Center for Democracy
in the Americas.

In addition, Engage Cuba is working directly with leading
companies sharing the goal of removing the travel and trade ban
on Cuba, such as Procter & Gamble, Cargill, Caterpillar, Choice
Hotels, and the Havana Group, among others.

“There is a growing number of bipartisan agreements, more than in
the previous 54 years of the policy of isolation, which has hurt
our own businesses and farmers,” said Steven Law, who was head of
the office of former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell/ A
aside from being the chair of the American Crossroads, McConnell
now serves as Senior Advisor to Engage Cuba. “The future of a
commitment with Cuba has come, and it’s time for Congress to help
manage the transition of that policy.”

“One of these days, our legislative branch of government
is going to have to start functioning,” says Luke Albee, a
senior adviser to Engage Cuba who served as chief of staff to
U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Patrick Leahy. “There is no
better way to help make this happen than to change our archaic
Cuba policy. It is in our national interest. And it is fair for
the United States and for the Cuban people.”

It is unquestionable that US citizens are among the most misled
and misinformed in the world. Their right to know the truth has
been systematically blocked and manipulated.

Sens. Moran and King Introduce Bill to Restore Trade with Cuba

June 13, 2015


WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) on Thursday introduced legislation to restore trade with Cuba. The Cuba Trade Act of 2015 (S. 1543) would grant the private sector the freedom to export U.S. goods and services to Cuba while protecting U.S. taxpayers from any risk or exposure associated with such trade.

“I am proud to have my colleague Senator King join me in introducing the Cuba Trade Act of 2015,” Sen. Moran said. “Cuba is only 90 miles from our border, making it a natural market for our nation’s farmers and ranchers. By lifting the embargo and opening up the market for U.S. agricultural commodities, we will not only boost the U.S. economy but also help bring about reforms in the repressive Cuban government. I am hopeful that increasing the standard of living among Cuban citizens will enable them to make greater demands on their own government to increase individual and political rights.”

“For far too long, the Cuban people and American businesses have suffered at the hands of an antiquated trade embargo,” Sen. King said. “Like the Cold War that created it, the embargo should be put in the history books. The Cuba Trade Act would finally end our outdated embargo policy and establish a new economic relationship with Cuba that will support increased trade for American businesses and help the Cuban economy and its people to flourish. It’s past time we take this step forward, and I hope Congress will act to help bring our relationship with Cuba into the 21st century.”

S. 1543 would:

Lift the Cuba trade embargo to allow farmers, ranchers, small businesses and other private sector industries to freely conduct business with the island nation;
Grant U.S. financial institutions the freedom to extend credit to Cuba, while ensuring there is no financial risk to federal taxpayers; and
Maintain the current restrictions on federal taxpayer funds being used for trade promotion or market development in Cuba, while explicitly allowing private funds – including producer-funded checkoff programs – to be used for such purposes.
Nearly 150 U.S. organizations have voiced their strong support for commonsense reforms related to U.S.-Cuba relations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Foreign Trade Council, the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Farmers Union.

“The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba strongly supports the Cuba Trade Act because ending the embargo will foster new opportunities for agriculture in both our nations,” said U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba Spokeswoman Dianne Byrum. “We appreciate the commitment shown by Sen. Moran and Sen. King to develop this common-sense, bipartisan measure. We hope to see quick passage of this bill in the U.S. Senate, and an end to the embargo with Cuba as soon as possible.”

Sen. Moran has long fought for commonsense changes to U.S. trade policy with Cuba, which must import the vast majority of its food, to open up more markets for American farmers and ranchers. In July 2000, an amendment (H.Amdt.1031 to H.R.4871) offered by then Rep. Moran prohibiting funds from being used to enforce sanctions for food, medicine and agriculture products in a sale to Cuba passed the House of Representatives (301-116). The adoption of this amendment opened another needed market to farmers throughout the country. Unfortunately, changes in regulations by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2005 once again severely restricted this market for U.S. agriculture producers. Since that time, Sen. Moran has continued to fight to enable farmers and ranchers to compete on a level playing field with foreign competitors when trading with Cuba.

Sens. Moran and King are also sponsors of The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 (S. 299), which would loosen travel restrictions to Cuba and remove restrictions on banking transactions incidental to travel that have long been unfairly imposed on American citizens.

Cuba’s Coming Out Party at the Summit of the Americas

April 13, 2015
Just the Beginning

Cuba’s Coming Out Party at the Summit of the Americas


For the small island of Cuba, the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama marked a kind of “coming out” party. Banned from the for-capitalists-only gatherings from the time they began in 1994, Cuba was not only invited to participate in the Summit this year, it was the belle of the ball (albeit the belle was a shaky, 83-year-old Raul Castro who lacks his brother Fidel’s charisma). Cuba’s presence was heralded in the speeches of every nation’s leader and the handshake between President Obama and Raul Castro was the Summit’s Kodak moment.

In Raul Castro’s long 49-minute speech (he joked that because Cuba had been excluded from six prior Summits, he deserved six times the recommended eight minutes), he gave a history lesson of past US attacks on Cuba—from the Platt Amendment to supporting the dictator Fulgencio Batista to the Bay of Pigs invasion and the opening of the Guantanamo prison. But he was gracious to President Obama, saying he was not to blame for this legacy and calling him an “honest man” of humble origins.

President Obama certainly won praise throughout the Summit for turning this page in the Cold War. Some leaders insisted on clarifying, however, that Cuba was not at the Summit because of Obama’s nice gesture; Cuba was there because the leaders of Latin America insisted that there would not be another Summit without Cuba. Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos, no lefty, recalled his position at the last summit, which he hosted, that Cuba must be invited to the next one. Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and others had threatened to boycott any new gathering without Cuba.

Argentine’s Christina Kirchner Fernandez went a step further in taking credit away from Obama: She said Cuba was at the table because it had fought valiantly and defiantly for over 50 years while suffering under the US blockade. Ecuador’s Rafael Correa said the Obama’s opening was good, but not good enough. He insisted it was time to end the “inhumane and illegal blockade” that had so damaged the Cuban people and to return the “occupied territory” of Guantanamo. Bolivia’s Evo Morales dismissed any notion of the US as a benevolent force now coming to aid poor Cuba; instead, he said, the US should just compensate Cuba for over 50 years of damages to its economy.

There were expectations that President Obama would use the summit to announce that Cuba would be taken off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, a critical step in the normalization of relations. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

It’s hard for many Americans to understand the oversized significance Cuba has in the hemisphere. Colombia’s Santos thanked Cuba for its mediation of peace talks between his government and the FARC rebels. Other governments thanked Cuba for sending doctors to their countries, treating patients in poor areas where their own doctors refused to go, or for setting up medical schools or training their nationals in Cuban schools. There was praise for Cuba sharing its successful literacy program. But what most Americans fail to understand is the pride felt by so many people in Latin America—even people who don’t like Cuba’s policies—that for over 50 years the tiny island has managed to fend off the attempts by the US Goliath to overthrow it.

From the very beginnings of the revolution, the US government has used every means it could conjure up to overthrow Fidel Castro—from poison cigars to funding saboteurs to diplomatic isolation. History is littered with CIA and exile-sponsored dirty tricks, including the October 1976 attack on a Cuban jetliner that killed all 73 people aboard. Even in Panama, where the Summit took place, there was a plot in November 2000 to kill Fidel Castro by blowing up an auditorium where he was scheduled to speak.

So the fact that Cuba has managed to thumb its nose at the US for all these years is seen by many as nothing short of a miracle. “I was in Cuba on vacation,” Gabriela Gomez, a teacher from Panama told me. “I found its economy in tatters, with buildings literally falling apart. And I don’t like the restrictions on free speech and free assembly. But I love the fact that Cuba has managed to survive as a communist nation in the face of so much outside aggression.”

But is the US government really accepting Cuba as a sovereign nation that has chosen a different path? Or is it simply trying to overthrow the Cuban government by different means?

Reverend Raul Suarez who runs the Martin Luther King Center in Havana and in Panama for the Civil Society Forum that preceded the Summit, sees the same old intrigue, interference and manipulations. “Just look at what has happened at the Civil Society Forum,” he said. “The Americans paid for Cuban dissidents who have no following in Cuba to come to Panama and participate as Cuban representatives of civil society. Meanwhile, many of the representatives of Cuba’s mass-based organizations were not allowed in.”

“Half our delegation got here only to find that they couldn’t get the credentials they were promised, and were shut out of the meetings,” said Gretchen Gomez Gonzalez of the Cuban Federation of University Students, “while dissident Cubans who don’t represent anyone but themselves were given credentials to represent Cuban civil society.” Pro-government Cubans confronted the dissidents in the streets and at the meetings, calling them mercenaries for taking US money and carrying photos showing some of them embracing convicted terrorist Jose Posada Carriles. They also say that former CIA operative Felix Rodriguez, blamed for killing revolutionary hero Che Guevara, was at the Summit working with the dissidents.

The dissidents insist they are being attacked by pro-government mobs simply for promoting free speech and free assembly. The U.S. State Department condemned what it said was “harassment” and “use of violence” against participants.

The cordial meeting between Obama and Castro showed the positive face of the opening, while the clashes on the streets of Panama City represent the rocky road ahead for US-Cuba relations. But at least the path forward is a new one, with fresh momentum emanating from the Panama Summit.

Obama said the US opening could lead to more Americans visitors, more commerce, more investment and more resources for the Cuban people. If the US government could do that while leaving it to the Cuban people themselves to push for greater individual freedoms, that would be—to take a page from the Castro brothers—truly revolutionary.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of and author of several books on Cuba, including No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba.

The Cuban Opportunity

April 7, 2015
Why Obama Should Remove Cuba From the Terror List

The Cuban Opportunity


After the announcement of a framework to a “deal” with Iran concerning their nuclear program, President Obama turns his attention to the Summit of the Americas transpiring April 9-11 in Panama. The fortuitous timing of this announcement allows Obama to address the Summit without the distraction of ongoing negotiations. Coincidentally, poll results published the day before the Iran announcement should give Obama even more swagger because his decision to reestablish diplomatic ties and move towards normalization with Cuba is playing very well with Cuban Americans everywhere.

Indeed, the upcoming Summit had been threatened by boycott from a majority of the thirty-five Heads of State if the United States did not allow Cuba to participate. The position was clear: no Cuba, no Summit. Obama learned in the last Summit in 2012 that the rest of the hemisphere was not going to let this slide anymore and, to his credit, Obama has listened and moved on this.

The historic announcements on December 17th, 2014 that put in motion an opening between the two estranged nations have been well received throughout the international community and across a wide spectrum of American society including business leaders, NGOs, and curious Americans who have flocked to Cuba since the traveling licenses were streamlined.

According to a poll by Bendixen & Amandi International released Wednesday, April 1st during a summit of business leaders and Cuba experts in New York the idea of normalizing relations with Cuba is gaining steam with Cuban Americans both residing in Miami and throughout the U.S. A reported 51% supported Obama’s moves as opposed to 44% in December when he announced. As has been the trend with Cuban American polls the generation and geographical gaps are glaring and growing. 69% of people 18 to 29 years old are in favor of normalizing whereas 38% of people aged 65 and over support normalization. 41% of Cuban Americans living in Florida agree, 49% disagree, and 10% don’t know (Don’t know?!? ) while those living throughout the U.S. are 69% in favor of the measures. 66% of Cuban Americans born in the U.S. agree with Obama’s actions. Of those Cuban American citizens who were born in Cuba 45% agree, 46% don’t, and again 8% either don’t know or won’t answer. Those who arrived before 1980 are 32% in agreement and 60% disagree while, inversely, those who have arrived after 1980 have 56% in agreement and 35% who aren’t in favor of normalizing relations.

When asked about the embargo the evidence would demonstrate that even though some within the community are reluctant to come out against the archaic policy the overriding sentiment is that it is time to end it.

When posed with the question of whether the embargo should continue 47% say it should not, 36% say it should, and a whopping 17% did not answer. But, when pressed about specifics the results belie fundamental disagreement with the embargo. When asked if “companies owned by Cuban Americans in the United States should be able to sell their products in Cuba?” 58% say Yes. The same goes for services provided by Cuban Americans on the island. When asked if “Cubans living should be able to provide funding to help their friends and family members living in Cuba to open and operate their own business?” 66% say Yes. 55% say Yes, they do “think any individual or company in the United States should be able to provide funding to Cubans living in Cuba to open and operate their own business?” And, when confronted by this statement: “Currently, U.S. companies like Coca-Cola, Nike and Apple sell their products in communist countries like China and Vietnam. Do you think U.S. companies should be able to sell their products in Cuba?” 62% percent said yes. In other words, most Cuban Americans want an end to the embargo even if some of them can’t bring themselves to admitting that fact outright.

The official title of the poll is Cuban Americans’ Viewpoint on the Cuba Opportunity and Obama too should seize the “Cuba Opportunity” and take this moment to continue to make bold steps towards normalization.

Will the Real Terrorist Stand Up?

Both Iran and Cuba are on the U.S. State Department’s “list” of nations that are designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism. Cuba has been on the list since 1982 and Iran since 1984. Iran should be there. Cuba should not.

In a 2014 Miami Conference about changes in the Cuban American Community and the Obama Administration sponsored by Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE), an anti-embargo group of which I am a founding member, Antonio Zamora, a former attorney for the Cuban American National Foundation, explained that Cuba’s appearance on the list was a “bone” for the Cuban American political class who had helped the Reagan administration with dealing with Central America. Revolutionary support sent to Angola to fight apartheid and Nicaragua to help the Sandinistas by Cuba could never be defined as terrorism under international standards but the dubious designation has been held up through the years. The State Department’s own annual report gets skimpier and lamer every year. The State Sponsors of Terrorism Overview’s section on Cuba is by far the smallest of the four countries on the “list”; Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria.

The evidence stated is paltry and laughable in the latest iteration from 2013. The members of Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) have been held in cooperation with the Spanish governments. The members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been participating in talks hosted by the Cuban government to begin brokering a peace deal with the help of Colombia, Venezuela, Norway, and the Red Cross. Then comes one sentence that very clearly states: “There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.”

How can Cuba be compared to Iran? Or Syria? Or Sudan? It can’t. Or at least it shouldn’t.

Iran was charged with continued supply and aid to Hizballah (sic) and Palestinian terrorist groups along with sending “sophisticated” weaponry to “oppositionists” in Yemen and Bahrain. All the while, having Syria, another country on the “list” serve as the main “causeway” for such “terrorist-related activity”.

Not to mention, “Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody.  Iran allowed AQ facilitators Muhsin al-Fadhli and Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and also to Syria.  Al-Fadhli is a veteran AQ operative who has been active for years.  Al-Fadhli began working with the Iran-based AQ facilitation network in 2009 and was later arrested by Iranian authorities.  He was released in 2011 and assumed leadership of the Iran-based AQ facilitation network.”

There’s also a quip at the end about Iran being a “proliferation concern.” It is yet to be seen whether or not Obama’s outline to a deal is simply “kicking the can” of inevitable armament down the road.

Still yet, in the Western Hemisphere Overview the first nation mentioned as a “concern” is Iran. Not Cuba, the only nation on the “list” in said hemisphere and only 90 miles away from the United States. In fact, Cuba isn’t even mentioned in the entire chapter. Iran comes before other truly concerning regions throughout the Americas. Iran is supposedly more of a threat than Colombia, which witnessed the most amounts of terrorist attacks. It is mentioned as a threat to national security before neighboring Mexico, with its ruthless cartels dealing in narcotics, human trafficking, and paramilitary-like activities and a political class that enjoys impunity while thousands of its citizens are disappeared. Iran is more of a concern than Venezuela, with Nicolas Maduro and its oil reserves, connections to Iran and its unwillingness to go after drug kingpins. Cuba, despite being designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, is not perceived in any way as a threat within the Western Hemisphere. How can this inconsistency endure at the State Department? The truth is that John Kerry, and the Cuba desk know that the island hasn’t posed a threat via terrorism or any other form of hostility for a long time. They could take Cuba off the “list” tomorrow and they know it.

An emboldened Obama could seize this opportunity and instruct the State Department to take Cuba off the “list”. His legacy is being shaped by Cuba and Iran and he has proven that diplomacy can achieve favorable results. Announcing this before or during the Summit of the Americas in Panama would give him considerable diplomatic capital and would show that he is serious about actually moving forward from reestablishing ties towards full normalization with Cuba.

Benjamin Willis is a musician and political organizer living in Queens. He is a founding member of Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) and serves as Secretary and Event Coordinator for this community organization.

Cubans’ ‘revolutionary ethics’ lead to advances against Ebola

April 6, 2015


The Militant

Vol. 79/No. 13      April 13, 2015

With only one new case of Ebola in Liberia in the last few weeks and a steep drop in new infections in Sierra Leone, Cuban volunteers, who have been at the forefront of combating the epidemic in those two countries, are returning home. The 38 internationalist volunteers in Guinea-Conakry, where the epidemic is not yet under control, continue to fight the virus.

At the outset of the epidemic, Cuba’s revolutionary government organized the largest delegation from anywhere in the world of medical personnel, all volunteers, to fight the disease.

“The Cuban doctors didn’t care about the risk, they said they were brothers from across the ocean and they came to help us as brothers,” Liberian Foreign Affairs Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan told Cuban reporters in late March.

Juventud Rebelde reported that 150 Cuban doctors and nurses who have been fighting Ebola for the last six months in Liberia and Sierra Leone returned home March 23. The 66 volunteers remaining in Sierra Leone will return April 1. All will spend 21 days in quarantine to ensure that the disease is not introduced onto the island.

Dr. Leandro Castellanos Vivancos described his experience in Sierra Leone in an article on the Cubadebate website. Castellanos was stationed in the Port Loko district, a rural area 35 miles from the capital Freetown.

“We first arrived at a small camp very similar to what in Cuba are known as rural schools, with the difference that we had air conditioning for 12 hours a day,” Castellanos wrote.

“We could see all along the road some of the customs of the people, for example, the long treks of women, with huge logs on their heads and an ax in their hands,” he said. “Yes, here the women do the hard work and sometimes the men accompany them as if to raise their spirits.”

“The patients were not used to being in beds and we would find them on the floor. Some of them feared us, they didn’t have even a little bit of faith in the ‘astronaut’ they had in front of them,” Castellanos said, referring to the protective clothing doctors and nurses have to wear.

“Little by little we did what was necessary, it wasn’t easy,” he said. “Sometimes we had to communicate with gestures, crazy antics, since just a few of them spoke English.”

Brought down death rate

The Cubans worked out of a field hospital with volunteers from other countries, including the United States, and with local personnel, succeeding in bringing the death rate down from 70 percent to 30 percent, Castellanos said.

“We’ve done our duty, with revolutionary ethics, with medical ethics,” Dr. Leonardo Fernández, one of the Cuban brigadistas in Liberia, told Granma in an interview published in the March 20 issue.

Fernández said that the training they received at Cuba’s Institute of Tropical Medicine was excellent. “We left knowing what we faced, knowing the dangers, and prepared psychologically and technically,” he said. “During the first week we started out with a tremendous fear, but as time went by we had to slow down some of the volunteers, because they wanted to do more than what we had been asked to do.”

“We saw entire families die, children who were alone, their mom, their dad, three little brothers who died, it was terrible,” Fernández said. “But we also saw how Ebola survivors picked up and adopted orphan children. There isn’t any better pay for us than seeing this solidarity among the Liberians themselves.”

Fernández noted that when the brigade first arrived in Liberia the streets were deserted because of fear of contracting the disease. “Now, what a difference,” he said. “People on the street greet us, whenever we go out to eat or buy anything, they treat us with tremendous affection.”

Like other volunteers, Fernández has been on previous internationalist missions, including in Pakistan after an earthquake, in Nicaragua, East Timor and in Haiti.

‘I always volunteer for missions’

“Whenever they ask for volunteers I raise my hand and then I ask later what I’m volunteering for,” he said.

All the Cuban volunteers agreed to serve for at least six months. Only one of the Cuban volunteers, Félix Báez, contracted Ebola. He survived and returned to complete his assignment in Sierra Leone. Two Cuban volunteers were infected with malaria and died during the mission.

Fernández said he didn’t see what they did in Liberia as heroic. Thousands of Cuban internationalists have carried out missions around the world, he said, pointing to medical brigades deep in the jungle in Brazil, in indigenous communities in Venezuela and in villages in other parts of Africa. “The only difference is that this international mission is well known in the media,” he said. You had to be brave, “but it was just another assignment.”

“We don’t need any monetary compensation,” Fernández said. “I am recognized as a complete revolutionary, firm in my principles. That’s enough.”

“The first thing you feel is satisfaction at having carried out our assignment,” Dr. Ronald Hernández, who was part of the Liberia brigade, told Cubadebate. “Having helped those peoples is one of the best things I have personally ever done.”

“The people of Africa deserve a better destiny,” Hernández said. “I have seen social problems in my previous missions, but in Africa everything is more complicated. They need a few Fidels over there.”

What Lies Across the Water: the real story of the Cuban Five by Stephen Kimber

February 15, 2014


I (Helen Yaffe) wrote this book review of Stephen Kimber’s ‘real story of the Cuban Five’ for Science & Society. It is not due to be published until October 2014 (Vol. 78, No.4), but they have kindly given me permission to post it on my blog prior to publication. I wanted to post the review early to draw attention to an important event which takes place in London next month: the International Commission of Inquiry into the Case of the Cuban Five, on 7 and 8 March. The Commission website can be found here:,
The following day, Sunday 9 March, there will be a rally to demand justice for the Five in Trafalgar Square from 2pm. Details here:,

Stephen Kimber, What Lies Across the Water: the real story of the Cuban Five, Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2014. 296 pages. $29.95 CAD. ISBN: 9781552665428

Review by Helen Yaffe*

According to the author, this book owes its existence to serendipity. In 2009 Stephen Kimber was in Havana researching for a love story he planned to write when, he explains, he ‘got sideswiped by the truth-is-stranger-but-way-more-interesting story of the Cuban Five.’ (1) Thanks to serendipity, Kimber has produced the first full-length book in English about the case of the Cuban Five. During his research, the Canadian writer, broadcaster and professor of journalism read 20,000-pages of court transcripts, and a mass of books, media reports and documents. He conducted interviews and established correspondence with the Five in prison. The book is organized chronologically into sections which are sub-divided by diary-like entries providing updates on the entire ‘cast of characters’. This work is meticulously researched, factual without being dull and written with sensitivity and honesty – warts and all. It is as gripping as an action-packed movie and deeply moving.

Most important, it contextualizes the story of the Cuban Five within the shocking history of Miami-based Cuban exile attacks against the Cuban Revolution and the turning-a-blind-eye, or often complicity, of US authorities. Since 1959, 3,478 Cubans have died and 2,099 been injured as a result of terrorist attacks or aggression against Cuba. Kimber’s account covers the 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet bloc heralded the end of the Cold War and Cuba took an economic battering following the loss of 80% of its trade and investment, resulting in a GDP collapse of 34%. The US government (intensifying the blockade) and right-wing exiles (increasing terrorist attacks) hoped to exploit Cuba’s vulnerability and undermine its efforts to end political isolation and economic crisis, partly by developing its tourist industry.

At the centre of this exile opposition is the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), ‘ostensibly the single most powerful American lobby group working for peaceful, democratic regime change in Cuba. CANF has helped elect – and influenced the Cuba policy of – every American president since Ronald Reagan.’ (7) However, Kimber explains, members of CANF, ‘were also organizing and financing their own secret paramilitary wing whose purpose was to overthrow the Cuban government by force, and, if possible, murder Fidel Castro.’ (7) At least 638 assassination attempts have been documented by Cuban authorities.

The US government created the monster, Kimber explains. Shortly after the Cuban Revolution of January 1959: ‘the CIA set up shop on the south campus of the University of Miami, doling out $50 million to hire a permanent staff of 300 to oversee the insurrectionist work of more than 6,000 Cuban exile agents.’ (15) The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 catalyzed the campaign of sabotage and terrorism. Among the young exile recruits who received training in bomb-making and sabotage from the CIA were Felix Rodriguez, the CIA’s operative behind the execution of Che Guevara, Jorge Mas Canosa, founder of CANF, and, ‘the founding fathers of anti-Castro terrorism’(7): Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch Avila. Most infamous among their joint criminal enterprises is the blowing up of a civilian Cubana Airlines flight in 1976, killing all 73 people on board.

This book demonstrates that terrorist attacks against Cuba have never ceased and were actually escalated in the 1990s. A hotel bombing campaign in Havana left an Italian tourist dead in 1997. Posada’s plan to bomb the popular tourist night club, Tropicana, was thwarted by a Cuban intelligence agent whom he entrusted with the task. The agent had been promised $10,000 per bomb. Another plan uncovered by Cuban agents involved bombing civilian airlines carrying tourists to and from Cuba. This was three years before the terrible airborne terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the so-called ‘war on terrorism’.

The need to keep abreast of these plots, and the abject failure of the US authorities to prevent or punish the perpetrators, led Cuban intelligence to create the Wasp Network (La Red Avispa) to infiltrate Miami exile-groups and gather information. The agents who stepped into this murky labyrinth of conspiracy and intrigue were Gerardo Hernández, Rene González, Fernando González, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero. In fact, Kimber explains, ten Cuban agents were arrested in 1998, but five of them struck deals with the US authorities; lesser sentences in exchange for testifying against their compatriots. That’s not all. According to Kimber: ‘Adding up all those names and code names, I arrived at a total of 22 members of La Red Avispa.’ (9)

The agent’s preparations involved affecting growing disillusionment with the Revolution before ‘abandoning’ the country. In December 1990, Rene González ‘escaped’ to the US on a hijacked Cuban aircraft. That night, Rene was wined and dined by the Cuban-American president of Key West’s Latin American Chamber of Commerce. He joined exile-group Brothers to the Rescue, led by CIA-trained José Basulto, which ran hostile flights over Cuban airspace.

Kimber describes the personal anguish and sacrifice involved for the Cuban agents. With trepidation we read that the FBI began surveillance of the agents in 1996. In June 1998, an unprecedented meeting took place in Havana between Cuba’s Interior Ministry, the FBI and other US agencies. This followed Fidel’s warnings, delivered via Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez directly to President Bill Clinton, about CANF plans to ‘set up bombs in planes from Cuba or any other country’s airline carrying tourists to, or from, Cuba to Latin American countries.’ (185) Kimber explains: ‘the Cubans presented the Americans with a blizzard of material: photos, audio and video tapes, confessions, wiretap transcripts, bomb-making paraphernalia…’ (199) and three documents: a 65-page Report on Terrorist Activities Against Cuba, a 61-page who’s-who of 40 exiles the Cubans had identified as terrorists, and a 52-page Operational Appendices with intricate details of operations. Unaware that Wasp Network was under FBI surveillance, the Cubans were determined to hide the identities of their agents. The FBI took the information away to ‘evaluate’. Then they arrested the Wasp Network.

The court case took place in Miami; a fair trial was impossible. The Cuban 5 were convicted of false identification, conspiracy to commit espionage and, in Gerardo Hernández’s case, conspiracy to commit murder. He was blamed for the shoot-down of Brothers to the Rescue aircraft in 1996. They received sentences ranging from 15 years to life. In 2005, a US court conceded that the Cuban Five did not receive a fair trial and ordered a retrial in a new location. The US Attorney General overturned this decision and the convictions were upheld. Evidence since obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveals that the US government paid millions of dollars to Miami-area journalists to prejudice the public against the Cuban Five before and during their trial.

The Five have received ‘cruel and unusual’ treatment, including long stretches in isolation and being denied access to lawyers or family-visits. In late 2011, Rene González (15 years) was granted ‘supervised release’ on a three-year term, initially under life-threatening conditions; to remain in Miami alongside the terrorists he monitored. In spring 2013 he returned permanently to Cuba. In late February 2014, Fernando González (18 years) will be released into detention by US immigration authorities, prior to his return to Cuba. Antonio Guerrero (22 years) and Ramón Labañino (30 years) face many more years of incarceration. Gerardo Hernandez (two consecutive life sentences) will never leave prison, except through political intervention.

All of this has been tracked and opposed by an international campaign to demand the freedom of the Cuban Five. Campaign committees are active in many countries and especially active in the US. Some progress has been made in engaging international ‘dignitaries’, from actors to politicians, in raising the campaign’s profile. However, as mainstream media censorship has prevailed public knowledge of the case is limited. Kimber makes a vital contribution to addressing that by revealing the real story of the Cuban Five.

*Dr Helen Yaffe, completed her doctorate in Cuban economic history at the London School of Economics. She is the author of Che Guevara: the economics of Revolution, first published by Palgrave MacMillan in English in 2009. (,)

International Journal of Cuban Studies Book Review of Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion by Arnold August

January 23, 2014

Review by David Grantham
‘It is my intention through this book’, author Arnold August writes, ‘to provide readers with some tools for following the future situation independently, without the blinders of preconceived notions’ (p. 232). For August, the future situation is a rejuvenated Cuban Revolution, and the preconceived notions involve the supposed superiority of United States democracy, which has jaded, even blinded, its citizens against alternative versions of democracy. August aims to remove those blinders through a systemic, comparative analysis of political practices carried out in Cuba and other surrounding countries. However, comparing governing strategies is no novel idea. Where August sets himself apart is in reimagining the practice of democracy. In so doing, August redefines Cuban politics as a form of democracy. Part political science, part history, Democracy in Motion is an intimate unveiling of Cuba’s political process designed to explore the island nation’s ‘approach to democracy’ (p. xiii).
For full three-page Book Review:,

About David Grantham:
He is a PhD Candidate in Modern Latin American History with supporting fields in Modern Middle East History and Modern U.S. Diplomacy at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. He specializes in Latin American and Middle East diplomacy, politics, and cultural exchange, and has published work on oil diplomacy and Cold War foreign relations. Before coming to academia, David held positions as an area specialist and international security advisor for the United States Air Force.,

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