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.
Last month Fire This Time Newspaper (Volume 9 Issue 10) published excerpts from the talk of Nino Pagliccia, 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).
This month Fire This Time is publishing excerpts from the second speaker at the forum, Tamara Hansen, the coordinator of Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and author of the book "5 Decades of the Cuban Revolution: The Challenges of an Unwavering Leadership" (Battle of Ideas Press, 2010).
Excerpts from the talk by Tamara Hansen
I think Nino’s talk gave a really good context for tonight. I know from inviting many people to the event tonight that I had a lot of people asking me, ‘why are you having International Days of Action against the U.S. blockade, isn’t that over?’ There is a really common misconception, not only in the general public, but even in the Cuba solidarity movement, that the blockade is officially over.
Nino built the case quite well that, no, while certain aspects of the blockade are being eased, such as the travel ban and other aspects of trade – we know that Obama has not taken all the steps he can, within his power, to ease the blockade on Cuba. Not only that, we also know that most of the blockade is not in Obama’s hands, most of it is in the hands of the U.S. congress which means there is still a huge amount of work to be done to convince the U.S. government and U.S. ruling class that it is in their interest to end this policy, which Cuba calls a genocidal policy against their country. […]
The question I want to look at tonight, is that if we agree that the U.S. government has basically been at war with Cuba for the last 54 years (whether we think it is a cold war or a so-called “hot” war, is not really the biggest issue) the issue is why are they changing their policy now? and how much are they changing their policy now? […]
I think that it is always useful to read the words of the White House, to understand what they are thinking about. A lot of times we think about U.S. politicians as liars and not very honest, but sometimes when you actually read the quotes that they make and you look at them carefully there are some grains of very interesting truth.
So this is from the White House website and their explanation of their new Cuba policy: "Decades of US isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our objective of empowering Cubans to build an open and democratic country. At times, longstanding US policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba. Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, it has had little effect – today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party." So here cloaked in some language like ‘positive change’ and ‘best intentions’ we see that the U.S. government itself admits that its policy towards Cuba over the last 54 years has not led to Cuba’s isolation, in fact it has led to the isolation of the United States itself. Plus, it admits that it has “constrained [the United States] ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere”.
So when we look at this we really start to understand that the United States government is being conviniently honest here. That really rather than their policy of blockading impacting the people of Cuba, impacting their morale, impacting their determination to support their revolution, instead it has had the reverse effect in isolating the U.S. government. As 54 years have gone by, the U.S. government has sure taken its time to learn this lesson and this is partly why the situation is changing today and why the U.S. has decided to chart a new course.
But it is not just because the U.S. is waking up this morning and realizing that Cuba is not isolated, and that Cuba is in fact being embraced by the world. It is also the fact that the U.S. is in a very different situation than it was in 1961. By 1961 every single government in the Western hemisphere, with the exception of Mexico and Canada, had cut diplomatic ties with Cuba. The U.S. had so much control over the governments of the Caribbean and Latin America that they were able to convince those governments to cut ties with Cuba. But through hard work and perseverance, including sending Cuban doctors and educators throughout Latin America, Cuba has now renewed diplomatic ties with every country in the Americas, including now the United States. And, Cuba is not only recognized in the Western hemisphere- Cuba has diplomatic or consular relations with 187 Countries and States around the world. […]
In a lot of ways I think that fighting against the U.S. blockade can be a very fascinating issue. It is something that we can bring a lot of attention to, the way that for example Pastors for Peace has done by really confronting the blockade in a very head on way in the United States. In many ways, I think we are lucky because while working on the campaign to free the Cuban 5 we were talking to the public here in Vancouver who had never heard of the Cuban 5 before, and it required a lot of education and discussion to convince people that this was something they should care about. I feel like our campaign to end the blockade and to end the U.S. occupation of Guantanamo are two issues that people living in Vancouver and across Canada are very familiar with. Everyone who travels to Cuba hears about the U.S. blockade on Cuba and you have to have been living under a rock to have not heard about the atrocities the U.S. government is committing in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
So in a lot of ways, while I feel like our job is more difficult, because I think that the blockade and the occupation of Guantanamo are things the U.S. government is very committed to continuing. I believe this will be an even more long-term struggle – of course, I hope I am wrong – but I also feel that we have a leg up that we did not have during our fight for the Cuban 5 because of the common knowledge that already exists out there in society in Canada and in the U.S. […]
We need to understand why we are celebrating this reestablishment of US-Cuba relations, and why this is a historic victory for Cuba, I believe, because it legitimizes so many things that Cuba has been fighting for so many years. Cuba has been saying: ‘we are not a state sponsor of terrorism’ and finally the U.S. government has had to admit that. Cuba said: ‘the Cuban 5 are innocent and deserve to be free’ and finally the U.S. government had to let them go. Cuba has stood up against the blockade and said: ‘this is a policy that is unjust’ and while the U.S. government won’t fully admit that yet, they have had to reverse course on a lot of their policies towards Cuba because the US understands that the policies are not in their benefit anymore.
Like I said, Cuba is well aware that the United States government, whether Republican or Democrat, is no friend of the Cuban people or their socialist revolution. But Cuba has done the math, and weighed the pros and the cons and they believe that they have more to gain from this reestablishment of U.S.-Cuba relations than to lose, which I agree with.
We also have to understand that having representatives of the Cuban revolution, of the people of Cuba sitting in the heart of the empire, in the Cuban Embassy is pretty special. These are people who are representing oppressed people around the world in the heart of the empire and standing up for a better future and the better world that we believe in. In many ways, that Cuban embassy represents a huge amount of hope.
So it is up to us to make sure that Cuba can keep that embassy there and that embassy isn’t just a hollow promise. But that really the U.S. is put in a position that they have to lift their blockade on Cuba, that they have to end their criminal “regime change” programs and where finally they have to remove their military presence from Guantanamo Bay. Thank you very much.
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