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      Seattle Cuba Solidarity Conference a Great Success!!
      Miguel Fraga, First Secretary of the Cuban Embassy in
      Washington D.C. tours the U.S. West Coast

      By Azza Rojbi

      On the morning of December 17, 2014 the governments of Cuba and the United States announced the re-establishing of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Since then a number of steps have been taken towards “normalizing” relations. The Cuban flag flies proudly at the newly re-opened Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. and we witnessed the loosening of some trade and travel restrictions between the two countries.

      Miguel Fraga, the First Secretary of the newly re-established Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. has been traveling throughout the U.S. Speaking about Cuba's achievements and the future of U.S./Cuba relations. From March 2nd to 6th, 2016, Miguel Fraga spoke at nine different events during his four-day visit in Seattle. This was the first time a Cuban diplomat visited Seattle since the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial meeting in 1999. The Seattle tour was organized by the Seattle Cuba Friendship Committee.

      Secretary Fraga's began his tour on Thursday March 3rd with a community reception and presentation at Pinchot University on the topic of business and trade with Cuba. The following day he spoke at a packed room of 200 students and staff at the Seattle Central College.

      Later that evening 120 people joined together in El Centro de la Raza for the opening of the photographic exhibit entitled, “The Cuban 5 Return: An Entire Country Celebrates.” Organizers with Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba (VCSC) and Friends of Cuba Against the U.S. Blockade-Vancouver (FCAB-Van) drove across the border earlier that day to join friends and co-fighters in Seattle on this important celebration of the freedom of the Cuban Five. Participants heard moving words from first Secretary Fraga and exhibition curator Bill Hackwell about the importance of this historic victory and the return of the Cuban Five Heroes to Cuba. The Cuban five were anti-terrorists fighters sent to Florida to investigate terrorist activities against Cuba and unjustly held in U.S. jails for 16 years. They were released on December 17th, 2014 as part of the thaw in U.S/Cuba relations. The exhibition showcased a compilation of 53 photographs of the Cuban Five with the people of Cuba and their families upon their return to the island. The beautiful evening ended with people gathering for a potluck and enjoying informal conversations while viewing the photos.

      An all day conference on Cuba in Seattle University

      The VCSC and FCAB-Vancouver delegation to Seattle grow strong when two car loads of Cuba supporters from Vancouver drove up to Seattle on the following day to participate in the all day conference titled, “Imagining New Paths for U.S. Cuba Relations”.

      The conference took place at the Seattle University Law School and was sponsored by the Seattle/Cuba Friendship Committee, US Women and Cuba Collaboration, National Lawyers Guild, Vancouver Communities in Solidarity with Cuba, Legacy of Equality, Leadership and Organizing, and the Seattle University departments of Latin American Studies, Global African Studies, School of Law, Center for Global Justice, Women and Gender Studies, and Center for the Study of Justice in Society.

      The conference was opened and welcomed by Dr. Victoria Kill, a faculty member at Seattle University. Soon after, panelists took to the front of the room for the first workshop of the day titled, “A Taste of What the Cuban Revolution can Offer the U.S.” Presenters included Tamara Hansen – Coordinator of VCSC and author of the book, “5 Decades of the Cuban Revolution: The Challenges of an Unwavering Leadership “and editor of the book “Cuba’s Health Care System. Where Humanity Comes First” published by Battle of Ideas Press, Carlos Dominguez – International Community Health Services Holly Park Medical & Dental Clinic Manager, and Angela Gilliam – professor emeritus at Evergreen State College.

      Following the first workshop participants were treated to beautiful poetry by Seattle University professor and poet Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs. The energetic crowd soon joined Gabriella in singing the chorus of the famous Cuban song, “Guantanamera”.

      It is with this powerful and passionate poetry and words that the crowd welcomed to the stage Miguel Fraga, the First Secretary of the Cuban Embassy, for the keynote address of the day.

      Miguel gave a very comprehensive presentation on the history of Cuba/U.S. relations and the amazing gains and achievements of Cuba despite the 55-years-long unjust U.S. blockade on the island.

      Fraga spoke on the importance of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. and how both nations would benefit from normalizing relations and restoring trade between the two countries.

      He emphasized that in order to move forward with normalization it is essential that the U.S. lift its blockade on Cuba, return the territory of Guantanamo Bay to Cuba and stop intervening in the internal affairs of Cuba. Miguel said that between 1996 and 2014, the U.S. spent $264 million to fund “democracy efforts,” in Cuba. These programs continues today as $20 million is allocated for “democracy planning for Cuba” in the Department of State and USAID 2016 Budget.

      Miguel also spoke about Cuba’s friendly relationships with other countries around the world. He referred to the United Nations General Assembly vote on October 27, 2015 condemning the U.S. blockade on Cuba, where 192 countries voted in favour and only 2 opposed (the U.S. and Israel).

      “We are proud of our foreign policy.” Miguel said. He also added that today Cuba has more than 50,000 healthcare workers completing missions in 68 countries, half of whom are doctors. Over the years, more than 325,000 healthcare workers have completed 580,000 international missions including in Africa, Haiti, Pakistan and other Latin American countries.

      At the end of his presentation, Miguel Fraga received a standing ovation. Before breaking for lunch, attendees had the opportunity to participate in a discussion period with Miguel moderated by Garry Owens of LELO.

      The next workshop was, “The Law of the US Embargo of Cuba, and the Potential for Changing it”. The workshop was presented by 3 panelists; Martha Schmidt from the National Lawyers Guild, Bill Hackwell from the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity, and 7th District Congressman Jim McDermott.

      The final workshop of the day was, “Building Local Links and Solidarity with Cuba”. Participants had the opportunity to hear from John Waller – Secretary of the Seattle/Cuba Friendship Committee, Cindy Domingo – Chair of U.S. Women and Cuba Collaboration and Azza Rojbi – young Tunisian social justice activist and coordinator of Friends of Cuba Against the U.S. Blockade-Vancouver, Canada. Panelists spoke on their experiences working in the Cuba solidarity movement in the U.S. and Canada and the importance to build on Miguel’s visit to continue educating and organising against the U.S. blockade and for the return of Guantanamo Bay. Azza also emphasized on the importance of working in unity to build a strong U.S./Canada cross border solidarity campaign with Cuba.

      Throughout the day, more than 100 people participated in the conference, with diversity of ages and ethnic background. Some came to learn about Cuba for the first time, while others were long time supporters of Cuba.

      On Sunday March 6th, Miguel wrapped up his successful Seattle speaking tour with an event at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church where he spoke on the new U.S./Cuba relations and the possibilities of agriculture trade and cooperation between the two countries.

      First Secretary of the Cuban Embassy in D.C. visits Northern California

      Miguel Fraga carried his positive message about revolutionary Cuba to a speaking tour in Northern California. Throughout his tour Miguel spoke about U.S./Cuba relations to eager audiences at different community and university events. He also visited the California State Senate in Sacramento and met State lawmakers as well as other elected officials. This represented the first time in more than 50 years that a Cuban diplomat visited the California State Senate. The San Francisco Bay Area tour was organised by the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity.

      Before heading back to Washington D.C., First Secretary Fraga spoke on March 12th, at a packed room in San Francisco’s Mission District. The event was organized by ANSWER Coalition, Cuba and Venezuela Solidarity Committee and Bay Area Latin American Solidarity Coalition. At the event San Francisco Board of Supervisors representative John Avalos presented Secretary Fraga with a Proclamation signed by all 11 Supervisors in support of normalizing relations with Cuba, an end to the U.S. blockade, and lifting the ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba.

      This successful West Coast tour by Miguel Fraga brought together community organizations, colleges, university, labour organizations and elected officials to learn more about Cuba and unite in demanding an end to the unjust U.S. blockade on Cuba! Let’s make these connections a bridge to building a strong West Coast solidarity campaign with Cuba between the U.S. and Canada. We are fighting alongside our Cuban co-fighters and the Cuban 5 heroes in our new battle to defend Cuba’s right for self determination and sovereignty.

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