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      Historic Victory for Cuba!
      Victory for the Oppressed of the World!

      As the Cuban flag is raised above the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C., we reflect on the last 54 years of U.S. - Cuba relations and look ahead to future challenges...

      By Tamara Hansen

      On July 20, 2015 the Cuban flag, with its single star was risen proudly over the newly reestablished Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC. Hundreds gathered outside the building to watch and participate in the ceremonial event which represented an important victory for the Cuban people and their revolution after 54 years of broken relations between the U.S. and Cuba. According to the Guardian online, “Chants of ‘Viva Cuba socialista’ and ‘Cuba libre’ fill the streets outside the Cuban embassy as Cuban foreign minister calls for end to embargo and Guantánamo prison.” The mood was clear, while celebrating, Cuba and its supporters know that the reestablishment of diplomatic relations is only a first step, the U.S. has a long way to go after over 50 years of hostility and sabotage against Cuba.

      Over 50 years of US hostility towards Cuba

      Indeed, for more than 50 years the US government has basically been at war against the revolutionary government of Cuba, which came to power in 1959 when the Cuban people kicked out the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Some have called U.S. policy towards Cuba during this time a “cold war” policy. However, with over 3400 Cubans killed due to U.S.-sponsored sabotage and the U.S. government’s criminal policy of economic blockade against Cuba – referring to U.S.-Cuba relations since 1959 as a “cold war” seems like a fabrication of history.

      The list of US attacks on Cuba is long: the bombing of La Coubre ship by the CIA in 1960 which killed 101 people; the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961; the violence of Operation Mongoose in 1961 & 1962; the bombing of a Cubana airliner which killed all 73 people on-board in 1976; biological attacks carried out in Cuba by Cuban exile groups living with impunity in Miami; over 600 attempts to kill the leader of Cuba’s revolution Fidel Castro; hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars invested in “freedom funds” and “democracy building” projects to overthrow Cuba’s revolutionary socialist government.

      These attacks are paired with the most vicious ongoing campaign by the U.S. against Cuba, the U.S. blockade. The July 2014 report by Cuba on resolution 68/8 of the United Nations General Assembly, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” published by the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Cuba (MINREX) explains the viciousness of this aspect of the U.S. government’s policy toward Cuba. “Cuba and the United States are not at war. Cuba has never launched any military aggression against the United States nor has it promoted acts of terrorism against the American people. It is unsustainable to justify the measures being taken under this ordinance. As stated before, the blockade qualifies as an act of genocide by virtue of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 and as an act of economic warfare according to the declaration regarding the laws of naval war adopted by the Naval Conference of London of 1909. The blockade inflicts important adverse effects on the material, psychological and spiritual well-being of the Cuban people and it imposes serious obstacles on its economic, cultural and social development.” This detailed report outlines the impact of the US blockade on the right to health, education and food in Cuba, as well as impeding many developments in sports and culture. The blockade also impacts foreign trade and investment not only from the US, but also from other countries due to the extraterritorial reach of these US laws. Cuba also reminds the US and UN General Assembly (UNGA) that this policy of blockade against Cuba has been internationally condemned at the UNGA for the last 22 years in a row. In fact in October 2014, for the 23rd time, the UNGA voted to condemn the US blockade on Cuba with 188 countries voting against the blockade and only two in favour (the US and Israel).

      So what has been the goal of all of this hostility? Is it just a “cold war mentality” as many have suggested? A problem of capitalism versus communism? If that is so, why does the US have longstanding diplomatic relations with China and Vietnam? The reality is that the US is afraid of the Cuban revolutionary example. The US government sees Latin America as its backyard and in many ways its own personal playground. For more than a century the US government and many US corporations have been supporting dictators and oligarchs across Latin America and lining their own pockets with the profits. Having governments in Latin American favourable to this economic exploitation has been an essential part of US foreign policy in the region.

      The Cuban revolution in 1959 threw US corporations out of Cuba and returned the land to the people. Cuba nationalized all industries and invested the money in universal healthcare, education, development and jobs. Cubans became healthier, they became literate, they had access to clean water and electricity and the gap between rich and poor was decisively minimized – all thanks to Cuba’s socialist revolution. The US government was and is afraid that these socialist and communist ideas and methods would spread throughout Latin America. This is why since the triumph of the revolution 56 years ago, the US government has attempted to sabotage the growth of the revolution both within and outside of Cuba.

      1961 to today: What has changed?

      In January 1961, the US government pulled its diplomatic staff out of Havana and soon after imposed a travel ban on Americans wishing to travel to Cuba. At that time, it was two years that Cuba’s revolutionary government had been in power, and two years of US government covert attacks and sabotage against the revolution. However, the US never completely left Cuba, they maintained their military presence in Guantanamo Bay, which has been occupied by a US naval base since 1903. It is also important to mention that in 1977 the US established an “Interests Section” in Havana hosted by the Swiss Embassy (Cuba also had an Interests Section in Washington, DC).

      Nevertheless after 54 years without formal US-Cuba diplomatic relations, the US and Cuba have opened Embassies in each other’s countries. However, Cuba is still communist, and is maintaining its independence and defending its revolutionary socialist example. The US is still capitalist and imperialist and is still afraid and shaken by the Cuban example. So the big question is, what has changed?

      The White House website explains the reestablishment of US-Cuba relations from the US government’s perspective, explaining on their “Cuba policy” webpage: “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 we see that the US government admits its policy for over 50 years has been to isolate Cuba and that at times, this policy has actually resulted in isolating the United States! While I do not agree with most of the Obama administration’s policy towards Cuba, I can agree that this is the crux of why the US is today so willing to reestablish diplomatic ties with revolutionary Cuba.

      Cuba’s recognition worldwide

      While the US government pushed for so many years to isolate Cuba, the failure of their policy is clear. Cuba, a small country of 11.5 million people, has diplomatic or consular relations with 187 Countries and States.

      Cuba is a leader and founding members of two very important Latin American organizations:

      First, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) founded in December 2004 by Cuba and Venezuela. This organization for regional integration based on a vision of social justice, was built as an alternative to the unjust policies promoted by the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). Today ALBA has 11 member countries.

      Second, was the 2010 establishment of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) which is a regional bloc made up of 33 Latin American and Caribbean member countries. In contrast to the OAS (Organization of American States), the US and Canada have not been invited to join, which has been an important step for the independence of the people of Latin America.

      Cuba also has deep bonds and joint work with CARICOM (Caribbean Community Secretariat), the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) and many UN (United Nations) agencies such as UNICEF and UNESCO.

      It is important to explain that Cuba has not only fought against US imposed isolation with these international treaties and organizations, but also through hands-on people-to-people work. In June 2012 the Toronto Star published an article titled “Cuba-trained doctors making difference around the world” by columnist Catherine Porter. She writes, “Since 2006, Cuban doctors have restored vision to 2.2 million Latin Americans through simple eye surgeries. Today, the tiny country of Cuba, population 11 million, sends more doctors to assist in developing countries than the entire G8 combined, according to Robert Huish, an international development professor at Dalhousie University who has studied ELAM [the Latin American School of Medicine] for eight years. There are 68,600 Cuban doctors now and more than 20 per cent of them — or 15,407 — are on missions in 66 countries. They have saved 4 million lives over the past five decades, they say. ‘We are the army of doctors in the world,’ says Dr. Jorge Juan Delgado Bustillo, the country’s deputy director of medical co-operation, standing in front of a giant map on which almost every country in Africa and Latin America sports a little Cuban flag. ‘We don’t fight with guns. We fight with our knowledge and hands to assist people.’” This is just a small paragraph about some of the work Cuba and Cuba’s health professionals have accomplished around the world. We could also talk about their leading role in fighting Ebola in West Africa, or the thousands of international students that study medicine for free each year just outside Havana at the Latin American School of Medicine.

      These examples are also just about health. We could also find examples about Cuba’s literacy program and its use throughout the world, including here in Canada as the Arrowmight program. We could talk about Cuba’s standing at the Olympics (at the 2014 games Cuba came in 11th out of 74 countries) and Pan Am Games (at the 2015 Pan Am Games Cuba was 4th out of 36 countries). Furthermore, Cuba’s international recognition for their cigars, rum, jazz, salsa, ballet and so many other delights.

      So here one can better understand why the White House in Washington DC says things like, “At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners.” The people of Cuba have not surrendered any of their rights or their principles to reestablish diplomatic ties with the US government. Instead the newly reestablished diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba really mean the US government is admitting the failure of their 54 year attempt to isolate and strangle the Cuban revolution and its gains.

      So today we celebrate the fact that the Cuban flag is proudly waving in Washington DC, only a few blocks from the White House. These new diplomatic ties vindicate Cuba’s firm stance in the face of US slander and accusations. The US was forced to remove Cuba from their list of “state sponsors of terror”; to release the remaining three of the Cuban 5 held in US jails; and to reestablish formal diplomatic ties with Cuba. This is a big win for oppressed people around the world.

      Today & the future of US-Cuba Relations

      The road ahead is very uncertain for the United States and Cuba. While we hail the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba as an important victory, not only for the Cuban people but also for oppressed people around the world, we cannot forget the new challenge that the Cuban people are facing.

      The US government has not agreed to normalize relations to help Cuba, in fact it has normalized relations only because its previous policies were failing and the US government wanted to adopt new policies in an attempt to continue its campaign for “regime change” in Cuba – meaning bringing an end to the Cuban socialist project and revolution. Really, to be honest, the reestablishment of a US Embassy in Havana will greatly aid the US government in its harmful meddling in Cuba’s affairs.

      On April 15, 2015 U.S. President Barack Obama declared, “On Cuba, we are not in the business of regime change. We are in the business of making sure the Cuban people have freedom and the ability to participate and shape their own destiny and their own lives, and supporting civil society.” However, this statement goes against the money trail and leaked reports about the secret (and failed) covert operations of the US government in Cuba.

      On November 9, 2014, the New York Times Editorial Board published an article titled, “In Cuba, Misadventures in Regime Change.” This article explains some of the recent history of the US government in Cuba. “In 1996, spurred by an appetite for revenge, American lawmakers passed a bill spelling out a strategy to overthrow the government in Havana and ‘assist the Cuban people in regaining their freedom.’ The Helms-Burton Act, signed into law by US President Bill Clinton shortly after Cuba shot down two small subversive American planes, has served as the foundation for the $264 million the United States has spent in the last 18 years trying to instigate democratic reforms on the island.”

      From the article, here are some of the “largely counterproductive” initiatives these millions of US tax-payer dollars were spent on in Cuba:

      - a “legally questionable global lobbying effort to persuade foreign governments to support America’s unpopular embargo”

      - “loads of comic books [sent] to the American diplomatic mission in Havana, bewildering officials there”

      - “a gas chain saw, computer gaming equipment and software (including Nintendo Game Boys and Sony PlayStations), a mountain bike, leather coats, cashmere sweaters, crab meat and Godiva chocolates”

      - “to expand Internet access in Cuba [which] had disastrous repercussions for the Obama administration”

      - “a rudimentary text messaging system similar to Twitter, known as ZunZuneo [...]. It was supposed to provide Cubans with a platform to share messages with a mass audience, and ultimately be used to assemble ‘smart mobs.’”

      - “sending young Latin Americans to Cuba to identify ‘potential social change actors,’ under the pretext of organizing gatherings like an H.I.V. prevention workshop. The contractors [...] received quick pointers on how to evade Cuban intelligence and were paid as little as $5.41 an hour for work that could have easily landed them in prison.”

      This money is still working its way to Cuba through US organizations like USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy. However, these wasteful and sinister programs are not the only difficulty in the road ahead, now that the United States government will have an Embassy in Havana. The US government also has to answer for its continued policy of blockading Cuba and its occupation of Guantanamo Bay.

      The US Blockade on Cuba continues

      The December 17, 2014 announcement by US President Barack Obama that Cuba and the US would be reestablishing diplomatic relations does not mean an end to the US blockade on Cuba. In fact, Obama himself stated, “The embargo that’s been imposed for decades is now codified in legislation. As these changes unfold, I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.” This makes it sound like Congress is the only thing standing in Obama’s way. However, if we return to the White House website on their “Cuba policy” page, the Obama administration doesn’t even mention congress or Obama’s proposed “debate about lifting the embargo.” Instead the policy website explains that the Obama administration is authorizing, “expanded sales and exports of certain goods and services from the US to Cuba.” Why only certain goods and services? Because this expansion is not towards ending the blockade. Instead it is towards ‘empowering’, the “nascent Cuban private sector and make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.”

      The US occupation of Guantanamo Bay

      Of course when Barack Obama was campaigning for his first term as US president, he made many promises about closing the notorious US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Huffington Post explains, “The prison, which has been operating at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base since 2002, is being used to detain unlawful combatants from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries who were captured in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The U.S. has come under international scrutiny for holding prisoners there who haven’t been charged, for torturing prisoners and for denying Geneva Convention protections. As of January 2015, 122 prisoners were still there -- down from a total of 779.” Even in March 2015 Obama called the existence of the Guantanamo bay prison, “a sad chapter in America history.” What he fails to remember is this is a sad chapter in America’s present political policy, which he is in charge of directing!

      It should also be noted that closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay does not mean the US government would close their Naval military base and leave Guantanamo for good. Getting the American naval base out of Cuba continues to be one of the main priorities of the Cuban people and their government.

      So why are we celebrating?

      If the US is continuing with its nefarious plans to put an end to the Cuban revolution, not planning to end the blockade against Cuba and keeping their military base in Guantanamo Bay, why are we celebrating the establishment of formal diplomatic relations as a historic victory?

      First, Cuba is keenly aware of the new legitimacy the reestablishment of formal diplomatic ties could give the US for its campaign to force its version of ‘democracy’ down the throats of the Cuban people. Cuba has done the math and believes they have more to gain than lose from this historic process.

      As Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuba’s minister of Foreign Affairs, said at the ceremony to re-open the Cuban Embassy in the US: “Only the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade which has caused so much harm and suffering to our people; the return of the occupied territory in Guantánamo and the respect for Cuba’s sovereignty will lend some meaning to the historic event that we are witnessing today. [...] We reaffirm Cuba’s willingness to move towards the normalization of relations with the United States in a constructive spirit, but without any prejudice whatsoever to our independence or any interference in the affairs that fall under the exclusive sovereignty of Cubans.” With these words Cuba is affirming that it is not bowing to the US government and that in these newly reestablished US-Cuba diplomatic relations Cuba also has its own goals and objectives.

      Secondly, the Cuban flag and its single star flying over the Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC is a flag that belongs to all oppressed people. This is the flag of a revolutionary people and government, who are fighting in the heart of the empire to defend themselves against US aggression and continued sabotage. At the same time, that flag also represents hope – that a better world is possible and that when we oppressed people defend our dignity and rights, as Fidel Castro said, history will absolve us! This flag is the flag of revolutionary internationalist Cuba, whose internationalism is founded in the words of the great Cuban revolutionary writer Jose Marti, “Humanity is my Homeland.” We welcome and celebrate this undeniable advancement for working and oppressed people around the world against the empire.

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