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      Reestablishing & Normalizing US/Cuba Relations:
      The Necessity of Lifting the US Blockade on Cuba

      By Nino Pagliccia

      Transcribed by Janine Solanki,
      Fire This Time editorial board
      Final edit by Nino Pagliccia

      On Thursday, September 17, 2015 Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) organized a public community forum & discussion titled, “Reestablishing U.S./Cuba Relations & the Necessity of Lifting the U.S. Blockade on Cuba”. This forum was held exactly 9 months after the December 17, 2014 announcement by US president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro that the US and Cuba would be reestablishing diplomatic ties after 54 years of broken relations. The community forum also took place during an international period of action where groups across Canada, the US and around the world were campaigning to bring an end to the continued U.S. blockade against Cuba, September 15-19, 2015.

      Below are excerpts from a talk by Nino Pagliccia, one of the speakers at the forum. Nino is a long time Cuba solidarity activist in Canada and editor of the new book “Cuba Solidarity in Canada: 5 Decades of People-to-People Foreign Relations” (Friesen Press, 2014).

      It’s a Cruel Situation that the Blockade is still Here and Has Been Here for 54 Years!

      Thank you everyone for being here. I feel really honored to be invited to speak about Cuba. I’m always happy to talk about Cuba as much as I can, as much as I know. was also happy to be today at the picket in front of the U.S. consulate and I was thinking that if this new group, Friends of Cuba Against the U.S. Blockade of Cuba, is as successful as the previous Free the Cuban 5 Committee, that has freed the Cuban 5, or at least contributed, I think soon the blockade will end.

      The blockade is 54 years old. That’s how old it is, much older than many of you in here probably. About half of the time, or the last half of those 54 years, Cuba has introduced resolutions at the UN assembly, asking for a vote on the need to end the U.S. blockade of Cuba. Twenty three times, the majority of the countries of the world at the UN assembly have voted against the U.S. blockade. So I think it’s kind of a cruel situation where you have most of the countries agree that something is not right, and yet the blockade is still there and has been there for 54 years. Now this year, 2015, Cuba will introduce again a resolution to the UN on the need to end the blockade of Cuba. [...] But this time, it’s particularly interesting because it’s the first year that this resolution is going to be introduced by Cuba after December 17, 2014. That is, after the reestablishment of diplomatic relationships between the U.S. and Cuba. [...]

      ...the blockade is not a sexy topic, so I think we’ll have to bear with it. But as I said before, I think it’s important to be informed. [...]

      The whole report has five parts, but the most important part is the first part, because that is titled,“Continuity of the Blockade Policy. That's the part we want to talk about tonight. Now the first thing that I want to mention is the complexity of the blockade against Cuba. It is extremely complex because it is not one single piece of legislation that the U.S. government has put out saying, ok now we have a blockade, this is what it means and that's it. I think that it's much more complex than that, and in fact, 10 different pieces of legislation that deal with different aspects of the blockade against Cuba in increasing progression. And that's important to know. Some of the legislation goes back to 1961, some of which you've seen in [previous] video clips, and then 1963 again, and then it goes to the Torricelli Act of 1992. We're more familiar with that, I think we've heard that several times, that's a strong one. The Helms-Burton Act of 1996, signed by Hillary's husband. And there is one that is quite interesting; it's called Trading with the Enemy Act. Now this is a legislation from 1917, this is way before the blockade of Cuba as we know it. But it's important to mention that because that is also part of contributing to what we know nowadays as the blockade against Cuba. [...]

      The other aspect that we need to be aware of that's covered here in the resolution is, what Obama has done since December 17, 2014. Ok, nine months have gone by, what has happened that is new? Ok, the US government has relaxed some travel restrictions to Cuba. But this is only for some, moving it from 12 different cases, so to speak, to a general license, but people still need to get a license, in order to travel to Cuba. Also, this relaxation on travel does not cover tourism. So U.S. tourists still cannot travel to Cuba. [...]

      There has been some exports [to Cuba] in the area of telecommunications that have been relaxed by the U.S. government. Now, it's interesting because everything related to telecommunications has been quite comprehensive, in fact it covers products, telecommunications services, and supplies for infrastructure, buildings and what not, that are related to telecommunications that is allowed. So there has been a relaxation for that. But of course we need to ask, why is there such a particular interest by the U.S. to be so open about telecommunications but not about other things? Well, I'm not trying to answer that question but I think it becomes quite obvious that there is a particular interest in being able to engage, and I think that is the word the U.S. government uses, “engaging Cubans”. And what an easy way to do it, especially engaging young people, by freeing some of the telecommunications, internet, and what not in Cuba. So, that's another thing that has been sort of opened.

      In terms of commerce, it's very interesting because commerce and finances are not totally open. The relaxation of commerce has been done only, notice only, for non- state entities. [...] The U.S. will only import products from non-state entities in Cuba. The U.S. government, basically what it is saying is, we don't want anything to do with the Cuban state. And yet they open diplomatic relations, which are state to state kind of interactions, relationships. But they don't want anything to do with the Cuban state. Now, this is very crucial [because the U.S.] cannot import Cuban tobacco and rum, nickel, biotechnology products and medical services. These are very important sectors. Cuba relies on these sectors. [...]

      Now, quickly, I want to cover two more things. What the US president can do and cannot do now. Ok, now that is very important, because that will tell us two things, well one thing mainly. That the U.S. president, Obama specifically, still has some power, that's what we're saying, that's why he signed the legislation, against trading with the enemy act; because that gives him power to change things. So let's see, what is it that he could change? But not quite yet. For instance, Obama can authorize the use of U.S. dollars in Cuba's international transactions. Cuba still cannot use U.S. dollars. It's forbidden from using, it's not recognized as being able to trade with U.S. dollars internationally. Obama can change that, he has not done it yet, and we don't know when he's going to do it. Obama can consent that these transactions be carried out through the U.S. banking system. Well as I said before, Cuba still doesn't have access to the U.S. banking system, so Obama could change that.

      Yes, I think in that case Cuba could open accounts in the U.S. Cuba does not have access to grants or loans from international banks or from U.S. banks. Now Obama could relax that part of the blockade. If Cuba could have access to loans they could do quite a bit in terms of trade and commerce. And Cuba needs to do that, but cannot do it. Other things, authorize Cuban aircraft and ships to transport travelers and whatnot, to authorize direct exports of U.S. products to Cuba, to allow imports into the U.S. of Cuban services or products, which as I mentioned before Cuba cannot do. Whereas Obama could relax that part of the legislation. To authorize U.S. firms to make investments in Cuba, and so on and so forth, and there are a few more. So these are things, and there is a list of 13 different items, where Obama has a direct way of changing that. He has the powers to do that. But of course he has not done it. On the other hand, what is it that Obama cannot do, and this is also important to know. Obama cannot undo aspects of the Torricelli law, such as allow U.S. subsidiaries in third countries from trading products with Cuba. That's under the Torricelli law, so that cannot be done. Aspects of the Helms-Burton law, the extra-territorial aspect of the Helms- Burton law, Obama cannot change that, that's up to the congress. Now what is the likelihood of a republican congress to change that? Let’s keep that in the back of our minds, but let’s not get discouraged by that.

      The last point that I want to make, is that in spite of what we know about the blockade, in spite of the changes and the diplomatic relationships, in spite of what Obama can do, there is still elements or issues about the blockade that have happened just since last December. Since last December there have been problems that Cuba has identified that stem directly from the blockade. And I'm going to mention some of them. [...]

      There is one aspect that actually relates to Canada. A couple of Canadians traveled to Cuba and they paid their expenses through Paypal. Well, that was frozen, so basically the U.S. firm Paypal has frozen the account and the payment that these two Canadians had made about their trip to Cuba. [...] This is ridiculous. In Japan the Costco membership of a Cuban diplomat was terminated. Because this was a Cuban citizen, Costco took it upon themselves to say, oh no, he cannot be a member of Costco, and terminated their membership. This has happened just last June.

      So anyway, I think with that, I will end, but I will end with a question. Now given all of this, and given that this is now as a resolution that in fact will be presented at the UN and will be voted on at the UN on the 27th of October. How is the U.S. going to vote? We know that for 23 years they have been voting against and against and against. Or in favor of the blockade let’s say. Now, how will they vote this year? I will end with that question, I don’t have the answer. It’s quite a dilemma for them to decide now which way to go. And I think that is when we will probably get a good hint of their good intentions or their real intentions.

      Thank you.

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