Cuba strides ahead with renewable energy ambitions

The Solar Photovoltaic Park of the Central University 'Marta Abreu' in the Las Villas province of Cuba.

Cuba’s new constitution will incorporate articles enshrining Cuba’s commitment to sustainable development and the protection of the environment. This is a long-standing commitment of which the most recent major iteration was an announcement in 2014 that the country aims to source 24% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Currently about 5% of Cuba’s energy is produced by renewable sources, but there is huge potential for renewable energy development due to Cuba’s geography giving it access to a variety of biofuel sources, a windy coastline and generous amounts of sunshine. Luis Hilario Berriz Perez, president of the state enterprise Cubasolar, explains that ‘Cuba’s territory, of about 111,000 square kilometres, receives solar radiation equivalent to the energy produced by 50 million tons of oil, every day. That is, the solar radiation Cuba receives in a single day, is greater – in its energy value – than all the oil consumed in five years.’ However, there are major barriers to energy development; not least the US blockade. Cuba has been forced to look outside of the US’ sphere of influence for solutions to its energy needs.

 

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Cuba debates new Constitution

Delegates to Cuba's National Assembly review the proposed constitutional changes

On 22 July, over 600 delegates in Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power, the country’s highest decision-making body, approved the draft of a new Constitution after two days of debate in which more than 100 delegates made interventions. Now the Constitution will be distributed throughout the island and between mid-August and mid-November the population will debate it in grassroots meetings, in communities and centres of work and study. A second version of the Constitution will then incorporate opinions expressed in the popular consultation. Following approval of this second version by the National Assembly, the new Constitution will be put to a nationwide referendum based on a secret ballot, probably early in 2019. HELEN YAFFE reports.

 

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The revolution renewed

President Diaz-Canel meets with voters

On 19 April 2018 Cuba inaugurated its new Council of State, including the new President, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez. He is the first leader of Cuba’s government to be born after the revolution of 1959. At this event which concluded the six-month long general election, outgoing leader Raul Castro addressed the National Assembly of People’s Power, expressing optimism about the suitability of the country’s new leadership to continue the programme of economic, social and political reforms, as well as the significant progress made in rejuvenating and diversifying the National Assembly so that it reflects the demographics of the nation it serves. Raul also expressed his hope that Diaz-Canel would succeed him as First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, indicating that the ties between the Party and the government of Cuba will remain strong in the years to come. Will Harney reports.

 

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Death of Luis Posada Carriles, CIA terrorist

A protest for justice for the families of flight 455 victims

The self-confessed terrorist bomber and CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles died a free man on 23 May in Miami, Florida where he had been sheltered by the US government since 2005. He was a counter-revolutionary responsible for the deaths of innocent people throughout Latin America.

 

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As Cuba goes online, the US plans subversion

Undersea fibre-optic cables surround Cuba but only the ALBA-1 cable is accessible to Cubans due to the US blockade.

‘The internet appears to have been made for revolutionaries’ – Fidel Castro

Far from seeing the internet as a danger to be controlled or censored, the Cuban government recognises its potential for empowering oppressed peoples in the revolution against global capitalism (Granma 16 February 2018). The new Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel urged in his maiden speech to the National Assembly of People’s Power on 19 April that Cubans must be ‘more creative with spreading our truths’ and start using new technologies to publicise life in socialist Cuba, to counter the lies and misinformation spread by their enemies. This is why development of Cuba’s internet infrastructure has continued apace despite its primary obstacle: the US-imposed economic blockade of Cuba. Meanwhile, US President Trump has ordered the creation of a task force to explore the potential of using the internet to undermine the Cuban revolution. Will Harney and Conan Underhill report.

 

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Cuba carries the banner – Interview with Carlos Tablada

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.99 February/March 1981

carlos tablada

The Cuban economist CARLOS TABLADA addressed a packed Conway Hall in London on 30 November. Pathfinder Books, publishers of Tablada’s major work on Che Guevara: Economics and Politics in the Transition to Socialism, organised the meeting. We had the rare and inspiring opportunity to hear a committed communist tackle the problems faced by humanity today. Tablada examined the crisis of socialism, explained the vital contribution of Cuba’s experiences and discussed the global balance of class forces and socialism’s future. The following day FRFI had the opportunity of talking to Carlos Tablada personally. Below we print extracts from the interview.

 

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Cuba Elections: the revolution prepares for a new chapter

President Raul Castro (left) and First Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel (right)

Cuba’s 60-year-old revolutionary democracy is at a historic milestone as it prepares to elect a leader on 19 April who will be part of a new generation taking over from those who originally took part in the 1959 revolution. For the people of socialist Cuba, the careful process of electing a new President and Vice President began back in September with nominations for the 168 Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power. These basic components of Cuba’s participatory democratic system are composed, not of career politicians, but of ordinary Cubans who are put forward by their neighbours and communities. On this broad base the parliament is built, in a political system rooted in a long revolutionary tradition and designed above all to empower the working class. Cubans’ choice of new leadership will be crucial in meeting the challenges that lie ahead. Will Harney reports.

 

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Cuba’s gay revolution: normalising sexual diversity - book review

cuba mariela cartro gay revolution
Mariela Castro, head of CENESEX, on a LGBT parade in Havana

Cuba’s Gay Revolution: normalising sexual diversity through a health-based approach

Emily J Kirk, Lexington Books, 2017, 167pp, £60

In 1992, Fidel Castro was one of the first heads of state to openly support LGBT liberation, declaring: ‘I am absolutely opposed to any form of repression, contempt, scorn or discrimination with regard to homosexuals.’ He later expressed personal regret for historic persecution of homosexuals in the country: ‘Yes, there were great injustices... if someone is responsible, it’s me... We had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death. In those moments, I was not able to deal with the matter. I found myself immersed, principally, in the Crisis of October, in the war, in policy questions.’1

Internationally, the history of LGBT politics in Cuba has received little in the way of serious attention which often takes the form of generalisations or thinly veiled attacks upon Cuban socialism. Emily J Kirk’s book, therefore, is hugely significant. Drawing from the archives of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) and interviews with its staff, she sets out an objective and insightful analysis of how LGBT rights have developed through the history of the Cuban revolution.

 

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Acoustic illusion: pretext for renewed US hostility to Cuba

sonicattack cuba

On 8 November 2017, the United States government launched new sanctions against Cuba, releasing an updated list of Cuban entities – from hotels to agricultural suppliers and from soft drinks to retail stores – which US businesses and citizens are banned from engaging with. What do they have in common? The US Department of State list states that they are all ‘entities and subentities under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit such services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba’. Jack Lukacs reports.

It is an untenable proposition to distinguish between civilians and the military in a revolutionary state under siege. By attempting to starve the Cuban government of revenue from travel, remittances and trade, these measures hurt all Cubans on the island. Trump appears to be dancing to the tune of his key electoral allies in Florida, Miami. Extreme right-wing Cuban-American Senators Marco Rubio and Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart are the architects of the ban on transactions with military-linked enterprises. But they are not easy to please. Following the publication of the State Department’s list, they complained that it was too short because US ‘bureaucrats’ were ‘refusing’ to carry out Trump’s policy.

 

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Close Guantanamo! Free or put on trial the final prisoners

close guantanamo

Nine years after President Obama promised to close the US torture camp in illegally occupied Guantanamo Bay in eastern Cuba, 41 prisoners continue to be held there. At least four are on hunger strike and, as we go to press, the campaigning charity Reprieve is warning that they are ‘edging close to death’.

The camp is situated within a US naval station at Guantanamo Bay, which dates back to the US-Spanish War of 1898. The Cuban people have always opposed this blatantly imperialist occupation and, since the Revolution, Cuba has demanded an end to the US presence. Lease payments have been sent annually from the US but since 1959 the Cuban government has not cashed any of the cheques.

 

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Cuba puts the US to shame as hurricanes wreak destruction

The succession of hurricanes which hit the Caribbean Americas in August and September were some of the most immense and devastating on record. Climate scientists warned that warming ocean surfaces are exacerbating the conditions that produce such extreme weather events. After the storms had passed it was clear that within the region only Cuba, thanks to its socialist central planning, had been equipped to adequately prepare and protect its people, putting even the US to shame. Barnaby Philips reports.

When it was announced that Hurricane Irma was going to be a Category 5 storm, Marien, a Cuban who has been living in Miami for four years, decided to take her family back to her home country for a week even though they wouldn’t escape Irma’s path there: ‘We know we’re going to be safer.’

Indeed, according to the Centre for International Policy, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, ‘a person is 15 times as likely to be killed by a hurricane in the United States as in Cuba’.

 

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Supporting working mothers: Cuba’s achievements bring new challenges

mothers in cuba

Earlier this year, two new laws concerning Female Workers’ Maternity and Special Social Security Regimes were enacted in Cuba. They aim to address the demographic challenges Cuba faces through its ageing population and strengthen support for working mothers who are central to discussions about the workforce, fertility and productivity. Haydee Franco Leal, director of Policies and Projections at the National Institute of Social Security, outlined the objectives as: encouraging Cuban women to have more children in order to replace the ageing population; ensuring the active participation, in all aspects of society, of the growing population of those aged over 60; and encouraging the employment of all those able to work, including women with children.

The changes are accompanied by a rise in the social security budget to 6bn Cuban pesos, which is set to double by 2030. They include: increasing and extending maternity benefits; allowing other carers to share these benefits; new and reduced charges for childcare centres, and ensuring benefits for mothers employed outside the state sector.

 

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Trump’s Cuba dilemma

trump cuba
Cuban celebrating National Rebellion Day on 26 July

On 16 June US President Donald Trump announced his intention to roll back the Obama administration’s policy toward Cuba in order to ‘seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and the United States of America’. His speech, delivered to an ensemble of reactionary Cubans in Miami, promised to enforce greater restrictions on travel and trade. Trump denounced Cuban socialism as the ‘Cuban people’s oppressor’ and praised previous US interventions on the island. However, he stopped far short of reversing Obama’s Cuba policy or of breaking off diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States re-established in 2015. James Bell reports.

President Trump faces the same problem that Obama confronted in 2014. Put bluntly, the strategy of economically and politically isolating socialist Cuba in order to destroy it, adopted by US imperialism since 1961, has not worked.

 

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Conceptualising Cuban socialism

Cuba's National Assembly of People's Power

On 1 June 2017, an extraordinary session of Cuba’s National Assembly of Peoples’ Power approved important documents which define the character, objectives and strategy of Cuban socialism into the post-Castro era. Since 2011, a programme of ‘updating’ the Cuban economic and social system has been underway, and these documents aim to establish the parameters within which those developments will take place. Helen Yaffe reports.

Such measures are imperative given the greater space being opened up for market relations: private ownership and business, self-employment and foreign investment. Establishing social welfare and national development priorities will be essential to prevent market forces asserting a capitalist logic over Cuban development. Raul Castro will step down as President of the Council of State in February 2018,1 and the Cuban leadership is working to strengthen the institutional basis of socialism to help safeguard its future when Cuba is no longer led by the ‘historic generation’ who carried out the Revolution.

 

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Socialist Cuba: old obstacles and new challenges

mariel port
Cuba's Mariel port

On 25 and 26 March the first National Cuba Conference to be held in the United States since 1979 took place at Fordham Law School in New York. The conference demanded the full normalisation of US-Cuba relations; the elimination of the US blockade, the return of US-occupied territory in Guantanamo and an end to US regime change programmes. These are essential demands for the international movement in solidarity with socialist Cuba at this complex juncture; with the possibility of renewed aggression from the new Trump administration, and with the challenges faced both in its process of economic restructuring and the pending transition to a post-Castro era. Helen Yaffe reports.

 

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Cuban socialism not up for negotiation in the post-Fidel, Trump era

KeniaSerrano PhotoVirgilioPonce
Kenia Serrano, Photo by Virgilio Ponce

Interview with Kenia Serrano, President of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), by Helen Yaffe, Havana, 4 January 2017

Helen Yaffe: Why has the United States changed its strategic focus towards Cuba?

Kenia Serrano: The United States came under international pressure from different states, including Latin American and Caribbean countries. Fundamentally those countries recognised Cuba’s contribution to the development of their people; training human resources in different sectors; medical education; engineers; teachers; or developing literacy campaigns. Cuba does this without seeking anything in exchange, based on principles, our commitment to internationalism. This has made an important contribution in those countries, which don’t have political, economic or social systems similar to Cuba’s socialist system. From within those countries a strong consensus has grown in favour of Cuba’s reincorporation into the structure of the Americas.

The United States was isolated from the world, not only from Latin America and the Caribbean which it has always considered its ‘back yard’, but also in its policy of the blockade, its policy of terrorism, its policy of pressure which, as well as the blockade, was expressed by the precondition that Cuba should change its political system before the United States would re-establish relations. This is something that characterised the US approach for more than 50 years. As a country suffering directly the impact of the global crisis of the economic system, the United States needed to renew its influence in Latin America and the Caribbean. It had lost space and influence with the victory of different progressive processes in the region. This was after a stage of savage neoliberalism that favoured the United States but then created the conditions for important progressive changes that occurred in Venezuela, in Brazil, in the ALBA countries – Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, also in Argentina.

 

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Defending Cuban culture, defending Cuban socialism

(Alfredo Guevara, Director General of the ICAIC with Che)

Review: To Defend the Revolution is to Defend Culture: The Cultural Policy of the Cuban Revolution

Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt

PM Press, 2015, 398pp, £17.99

This book assesses what Gordon-Nesbitt calls revolutionary Cuba’s ‘Marxist-humanist’ cultural policy, ‘the most ambitious reconciliation of art and society to have taken place [in the world] to date’. She describes the conscious democratisation and radical rethinking of the role of the arts by revolutionary Cubans from the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 onwards, without idealising her subject matter.

Its publication coincides with the escalation of further US attempts to foster regime change in socialist Cuba by a combination of increasing cultural influence and financial investment, having failed to bring this about via its 56-year economic blockade. The US State Department agrees some $30m to be spent every year on ‘democracy development’ programmes, in Cuba, such as those developed by USAID and NED (see FRFI 239 and 241).

 

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Fidel Castro: 1926-2016

Fidel pointing

‘I am a Marxist-Leninist and I shall be a Marxist-Leninist until the day I die.’ – Fidel Castro after the defeat of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

On 25 November, Fidel Castro Ruz, Commander in Chief of the Cuban Revolution, died aged 90. The Revolutionary Communist Group pays tribute to this great revolutionary communist and sends condolences to his family, the Cuban people and those millions of people from every region of the world who claimed Fidel as their own.

The news comes three months after Fidel’s 90th birthday was celebrated in Cuba and internationally. As we said at that time: ‘His longevity is a source of comfort and pride.’ Fidel risked his life on the front line in Cuba’s revolutionary armed struggle against the Batista dictatorship in the 1950s, he faced hundreds of assassination attempts and acts of terrorism over the subsequent 50 years, and he pulled through a grave illness which took him to death’s door in 2006. And yet, he died a natural death in peace in Havana, having seen off nine hostile US Presidents. Cuba faces many challenges today, with economic changes underway and the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States, but the revolutionary society built under Fidel’s leadership remains solid, as does the political commitment to the path of socialist development he led it down following the Revolution of 1959.

 

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Cuban revolutionary scientific advances continue

cim researcher holding vaccine super

Despite the US blockade and other attempts to undermine the socialist revolution, Cuba has continued its phenomenal scientific and medical progress. ELAM, Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine, is now the world’s biggest medical school and has graduated over 25,000 doctors from low-income backgrounds, from 84 countries mainly in Latin America, Asia and Africa, to serve in disadvantaged, neglected communities. Cuba continues to develop innovative biotechnology products to improve the quality of life of Cubans and other people around the world. Cuban biotechnology products are exported to more than 50 countries and earn Cuba over $300 million annually. Charles Chinweizu reports.

Cuban biotech

By 2012, Cuba had produced 33 different vaccines, 33 anti-cancer drugs, 18 products to treat cardiovascular disease and seven to treat other diseases (Baden, Davis, Wilkinson, 2015, http://bit.ly/1OpOfLh). In December 2012 Cuba’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries were merged into a single 100% state-owned entity BioCubaFarma, to combine and focus efforts to improve Cuban health and generate exportable good and services. Cuba has developed a raft of innovative unique drugs. It is the first country to develop two therapeutic vaccines against lung cancer, a disease that causes 1.3 million deaths globally each year: CimavaxEGF and Racotumomab (Vaxira) were developed at the Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) in Havana in 2008 and 2013 respectively. 5,000 patients worldwide have been treated with CimaVaxEGF which has no known side effects and costs the Cuban government $1 per shot to manufacture. It is for those in advanced stages who’ve already been treated with chemotherapy. CimaVaxEGF prolongs life for up to five years, something almost unthinkable for those in advanced stages of lung cancer, whose normal survival rate does not exceed 18 months. Heberferon for the treatment of skin cancer, is another scientific breakthrough developed by the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in Havana. In Cuba skin cancer is on the rise. In April 2015, the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) awarded a Gold Medal for Cuba’s Itolizumab, a monoclonal antibody for the treatment of psoriasis, a chronic inflammatory skin disease affecting 125 million people globally. It was Cuba’s tenth WIPO Gold Medal.

 

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Cuba vs the US blockade

cuba blockade

In mid-September 2016, US President Obama extended the Trading With the Enemy Act, the principal law that sustains the unilateral blockade against Cuba. Almost two years since announcing the intention to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and ‘normalise’ relations, Obama’s fine words about ending an ‘updated and failed policy’ ring hollow. His administration has taken only small, strategic steps to dismantle the apparatus of hostility against Cuba. The objective of US policy remains regime change. A vote in the US Congress is necessary to lift the blockade, but Obama could use his executive powers decisively to virtually dismantle the blockade.

 

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Cuban workers in the Revolution

A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution

A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory

Steve Cushion

Monthly Review Press, 2016, 272pp, £18.99

This important work highlights the essential role played by the Cuban working class in the insurrectionary war against the Batista dictatorship in 1950s Cuba. From shop stewards and trade union officials to clandestine networks of militants organised into revolutionary workers’ sections by the Movement of the 26th July (M-26-7), Cushion demonstrates that without the contribution of working-class forms of struggle the Cuban Revolution would not have succeeded. He shows how workers organised despite threats of unemployment and violent repression through solidarity strikes in industries including sugar, textiles, transport, banking and electricity. Sugar workers burned fields; telephone workers cut wires as they walked out on strike; and telephone operators listened in on police conversations to support the armed struggle.

 

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History has absolved Fidel Castro - Happy 90th birthday!

Fidel Castro

On 13 August, Cuba will celebrate Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday; his longevity is a source of comfort and pride. The Revolutionary Communist Group pays tribute to this great revolutionary communist. Fidel’s genius has been his ability to meet the need for tactical steps, responding to the day’s urgencies, without losing sight of the strategic direction – the revolutionary principles – that have driven the revolution. Equally important has been the ‘wonderful quality’ that Che Guevara noted: his capacity to establish direct contact with the masses, always communicating, explaining, motivating and responding to the Cuban people.

As a young anti-corruption lawyer, Fidel understood that the brutal military coup that returned Batista to power in Cuba in 1952 signalled the impossibility of a peaceful constitutional path to reform in Cuba. Together with his brother Raul and others, he launched the 26 July Movement, named after the day of simultaneous attacks on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago and the Bayamo Barracks in Oriente by 160 young militants.

 

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Cuban Communists in Congress: Change within a socialist framework

Since diplomatic relations were re-established with the United States, Havana has become the place to be for pop stars, politicians, film makers and the fashion industry. President Obama visited Cuba, followed swiftly by British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond, and French President François Hollande. The US blockade is being chipped away, with the first licence granted for a US company – a small tractor manufacturer – to set up in Cuba. Major developments are underway: the Mariel Special Development Zone and the new Investment Law are channelling foreign capital into Cuba; tens of thousands of workers have transferred from state to private or co-operative sector employment; Cubans are permitted to sell their homes and cars on an open market; and the economic and social Guidelines approved in 2011 and updated in 2016 have reduced state control of the economy. In this dynamic context, in April 2016, the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) held its 7th Congress. Its focus was to consolidate the process of changes formalised by the ‘Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy’ approved in the CCP’s 6th Party Congress in 2011. Helen Yaffe reports.

Guidelines for ‘updating the economy’

In the months preceding the 6th Party Congress, nearly nine million Cubans participated in grassroots debates about the draft Guidelines. This formidable democratic process legitimised the Guidelines, which serve as the template for ‘updating the Cuban model’; to improve economic efficiency and productive capacity within a socialist framework. Numerous measures have been introduced in the last five years. These include: 2012 New Labour Code (debated in 7,000 workplace meetings by two million workers); establishing non-agricultural co-operatives (now around 400 with 20,000 workers); permitting market exchanges of privately-owned houses and cars (for Cuban citizens only); permitting direct commercial relations between the non-state sector and state sector entities; opening the Mariel ‘super port’ and Special Development Zone (FRFI 238); 2014 New Investment Law to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) (FRFI 240).

 

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Eventbrite confiscates funds to send a piano to Cuba

On 12 March 2016, British-based Cuban pianist Eralys Fernández held a classical music benefit concert, with support from our association Cubans in the UK, as part of a fundraising project to donate a piano to a music school in Havana. The concert title was: A piano for CubaFundraising Classical Music Concert. To sell tickets we opened an account with www.eventbrite.co.uk, selling 36 tickets at £10 each. While Eventbrite is a US company this website is based in the UK, so its status is not clear to its customers.

Following the concert, Eventbrite informed us that:  ‘We were contacted by our bank to let us know that the pay-out we initiated on 17 March 2016 for £360 has been temporarily held’. They wanted to know of ‘any direct or indirect benefit to Cuba or a Cuban in this transaction’. This is blatant discrimination against Cuban people living in Britain, to be denied access to services or products based on our ethnicity or national origin. A month later, Eventbrite confirmed that the ticket money was withheld ‘pursuant to US Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) regulations and sanctions program’ – in other words the US blockade. ‘In order to have the funds released’, advised Eventbrite, ‘you will need to obtain a license from the US Treasury Department’. Why should we, as British citizens of Cuban origin, apply for a licence from a US institution? There are no sanctions against Cuba in Britain.

 

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Free Ana Belen Montes!

Ana Belen Montes

With the Cuban Five safely reunited on Cuban soil (see FRFI 243), the international Cuba solidarity movement is now campaigning for the freedom of Ana Belen Montes, another political prisoner incarcerated in the US for defending Cuba from US attack.

Formerly a senior analyst at the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Montes was arrested by the FBI in September 2001, three years after the Cuban Five’s arrest, on charges of spying for the Cuban intelligence services, and imprisoned the following year. After pleading guilty, her death sentence for ‘high treason’ was commuted to a 25-year prison sentence without parole in a maximum security prison, to be followed by five years’ probation. She has served nearly 15 years and is currently being held at a Federal Medical Centre, on the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, despite not being ill.

Montes is the daughter of a US army doctor and has two siblings working for the FBI. She rose to be the DIA’s top Cuba analyst, having joined the agency in 1985. She attended meetings of the US National Security Council, met with top politicians in the US and abroad and was awarded a Certificate of Distinction from then-CIA director George Tenet before it was discovered that she had been voluntarily informing the Cuban state of planned US aggression against Cuba and other countries for several years. She did this because of her own conscience and for the benefit of the Cuban people. She received no payment from the Cuban state for doing so.

 

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President Obama visits Cuba

On 20 March 2016, US President Barack Obama arrived in Havana seeking to consolidate his legacy following the historic announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba 15 months earlier. Cuba says it has conceded nothing in return for this rapprochement, but it does stand to gain significantly through the gradual dismantling of the US blockade. The US administration hopes to exploit this opportunity to drown Cuban socialism in a flood of capital and capitalist ideology. As Gerardo Hernandez of the Cuban Five warns: ‘They want to destroy us with their bear hug.’ The Cubans are no fools; they do not trust imperialism. James Bell and Helen Yaffe report.

Obama was the first US President to visit the island since Calvin Coolidge went in 1928 to offer his support for Cuban dictator General Gerardo Machado. A few months later, the Great Crash of 1929 brought US capitalism to its knees. The subsequent collapse in the Cuban sugar industry and resistance to Machado’s increasing repression led to Cuba’s democratic revolution of 1933. Why did Obama visit Cuba? Not to promote ‘human rights’, for which he has shown disdain throughout his mandate. It was to recoup lost economic opportunities for US capital, to assuage political pressure from Latin American states that reject failed US policies to isolate Cuba, and because he believes that ‘engagement’ offers a better strategy to undermine Cuban socialism than the isolation of the past half century (see FRFI 243).

 

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Cuba: still under siege

On 6 January, the US State Department announced the allocation of an additional $5.6m to ‘democracy development’ programmes in Cuba in 2016 – on top of $30m already allocated. In the unfolding saga of international relations between Cuba and the US, one thing is clear. The objectives of US imperialism in Cuba remain the same: subvert, distort and destroy socialism. James Bell reports.

The US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour (DRL) described its intention thus: ‘DRL programmes in Cuba aim to strengthen the capacity of on-island, independent civil society to further the rights and interests of Cuban citizens’. The main barriers to this, it states, are: ‘the limitations imposed by the Cuban government on citizens’ civil, political, labour and religious rights’. This is hogwash. Cuba has a vibrant system of citizens’ democracy; its trade unions are legally independent and financially autonomous. In 2012, the country updated its labour code only after a draft of the new code was debated in nearly 7,000 local meetings by over two million workers. Article 8 of the Cuban constitution states: ‘The State recognises, respects, and guarantees religious freedom.’ The DRL’s statement is an attempt to bolster the longstanding myth that Cuba is an undemocratic dictatorship. In reality, it is a confirmation that the US will continue attempting to undermine Cuban socialism.

 

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20 years of solidarity with Cuba

In December 2015, Rock around the Blockade (RATB) celebrates the 20th anniversary of its first solidarity brigade to Cuba. RATB was set up by the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) in 1995 to support socialist Cuba. Active solidarity with Cuba has distinguished the RCG from the majority of the British ‘left’, enabling it to raise ‘socialism’ as a viable alternative to capitalism and imperialism and move beyond idealistic sloganeering, to introduce real questions of relations of production, power and democracy. After five years of austerity and with further savage cuts to benefits and public services on the way the need to present a socialist alternative is greater than ever. Helen Yaffe reports.

The first RATB brigade travelled to Cuba with over 30 brigadistas in December 1995 in the midst of Cuba’s ‘Special Period’. The Special Period began in 1991 with the severe economic crisis following the disintegration of the socialist bloc and consequent collapse in Cuba’s foreign trade. By 1993 Cuba’s international trade and gross investment had fallen by 80% and GDP had plummeted by 35%. Cuba’s crisis was exacerbated by punitive US laws tightening the blockade. The result was critical scarcities of hydrocarbon energy resources, fertilisers, food imports, medicines, cement, equipment and other resources in every sector. Calorific intake decreased by nearly 40%, industries closed and unemployment rose.

 

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PayPal blocks RATB's account (again) - Smash the US blockade of Cuba!

paypal us blockade of cuba

Rock Around the Blockade (RATB) is a campaign of the Revolutionary Communist Group in solidarity with socialist Cuba, which uses its example as part of the struggle for socialism and against imperialism here in Britain and worldwide. This month RATB celebrates its 20th anniversary.

The US blockade has cost the Cuban economy an estimated $1.126 trillion since 1961. For 23 consecutive years the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn the blockade, with 191 out of 193 nations voting against it this year. On 11 September this year, in contradiction to hypocritical US rhetoric about 'normalising relations', President Obama signed a document to extend Cuba's designation as an 'enemy' under the 'Trading with the Enemy Act' for another year.

RATB uses PayPal to process payments and donations via our website, www.ratb.org.uk The funds raised from merchandise sold go towards our activities in Britain. RATB organises political and educational discussions, film showings, street rallies and cultural celebrations, about Cuban socialism.

Without warning or communication, PayPal has blocked our account, for the second time in two years.

 

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Cuba dictates terms for normalisation, as US loosens trade restrictions

We are beginning a new, long and complex stage on the way to the normalisation of ties, which will require finding solutions to problems that have been accumulated over five decades

Raul Castro, July 2014

Two contradictory steps taken by the US administration on 11 September exposed the hypocrisy and cynicism of its new position on Cuba. First, a US government delegation sat down with its Cuban counterparts in Havana for the first ‘bilateral commission’ to advance the process of rapprochement between the two countries. Second, President Obama signed a document to extend Cuba’s designation as an enemy under the Trading with the Enemy Act for another year. The Act dates back to the First World War (1917), and Cuba was initially included by President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. An ‘enemy’ is defined as a country at war with the US. Cuba is the only country listed since North Korea was removed from the list in 2008. Andrew George reports.

 

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Pope Francis visits Cuba

On 19 September, Pope Francis arrived in Cuba for a four-day, three-city tour. The visit marks the third papal visit to Cuba in just 17 years, ‘a remarkable record for any country, much less one with such a small observantly Catholic community’ (Washington Post, 19 September). It is particularly significant given Pope Francis’ role since 2013 in facilitating secret negotiations between Cuba and the US which led to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. During 18-months of secret talks, the Pope sent personal letters to Obama and Castro and hosted high-level meetings at the Vatican.

 

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