Thank you Alison for her comments really about building Venezuela solidarity. I am going to shift the focus back to Cuba and building the Cuba solidarity movement.
So, for those of you who consider yourselves activists, or progressives, or interested intellectuals in what is happening in the world, people who are questioning what is happening in the world, I think that a lot of us have come to the conclusion that the current direction of humanity on a global scale - whether we are discussing war, human rights, or environmental degradation – is that there is something wrong. Any that we need to do something about it.
So, the question comes down to what. What are we going to do about it? And, what can we do about it?
In Cuba you will often hear the slogan “un mundo mejor es possible” or “a better world is possible”. And, more and more people are adding “y necesario” – which means “and necessary.” This better world is not only possible, it is increasingly necessary, and Cuba can provide, a think, an important inspiration for us in this struggle.
Since the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, Cuba and its revolutionary leadership have embarked on a different path, a path towards self-determination, sustainability, improved health and education, unity, and creativity and these are all important examples we can all learn from.
Under the leadership of Comandante Fidel Castro, the Cuban revolution promised: jobs to the jobless; healthcare and education to those who had never been able to afford it; electrification and proper housing; land for peasant farmers who had always worked the land of rich landowners; nationalization of many industries previously owned by U.S. corporations; the creation of a planned economy; and so much more.
U.S. Aggression and Revolutionary Cuba Response
The U.S. government tried to defend its interests in Cuba by imposing severe economic sanctions as well as mounting a U.S. orchestrated invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April 17 1961, just one day after Fidel Castro declares the socialist character of the Cuban revolution. However, the revolution pushed forward and, in the case of the Bay of Pigs, in 72 hours U.S. imperialism was decisively kicked out of the country. It was the first major defeat of U.S. imperialism in the Americas. Then, a year later in February 1962, a full blockade was imposed against Cuba announced by U.S. Democratic President John F. Kennedy. And now, for over 57 years this unjust and cruel blockade has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy towards Cuba.
Now, when Obama was President and formal diplomatic ties were re-established between Cuba and the United States, just five years ago on December 17, 2014, a lot of people thought that the blockade just vanished. A lot of people thought that, all of the sudden, relations were perfect. The truth is that the blockade never went away. Obama said that he wanted to end the blockade, but he actually didn’t have the votes in order to end it, nor really the political will to push for that change. It was more words and rhetoric than it was a real concrete action towards ending this policy towards Cuba.
Trump Severs the Tides the Belt Around Cuba, A Timeline
Now with the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, at first Cuba seemed to be a little but, in his crosshairs, but basically during his first year in office he took very little action against Cuba. But then, since January 2019, we have seen a concerted effort to tighten and strangle Cuba by increasing the blockade.
I want to go through how this blockade is not just history, this blockade is ongoing, and is strengthening. I am going to go through some of the things that you may or may not have heard have happened since May of this year.
On May 2, the U.S. government tightened its 57-year-old blockade on Cuba by invoking “Title III” of the Helms-Burton Law. This Helms-Burton Law was enacted by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and all following U.S. presidents – including Trump until this May – had decided not to implement “Title III” of the Helms-Burton Law. The Helms-Burton Law is meant to really strengthen the U.S. blockade, but Title II was seen as so gross and over-reaching that they had decided it was a law, but that every six-months a U.S. President had to sign a paper that said that they would not implement Title III.
This year in May, for the first time, Donald Trump decided not to sign that paper and said that they will start enforcing Title III of the Helms-Burton Law.
On June 5, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, also known as OFAC restricted non-family travel to Cuba by removing a previous authorization for “people-to-people educational travel”. So, they have restricted how Americans can travel to Cuba and what kind of travel is allowed under the blockade, and now they are restricting any educational travel. This is meant to stop Americans from visiting Cuba in an educational capacity, for sports, artistic, cultural or other educational exchanges. These measures are meant to isolate Cuba but also ensure that fewer Americans will travel to Cuba and see with their own eyes the important gains of the Cuban revolution.
On June 20 of this year, Cuba was added to the "lowest tier" on the U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Giuvel talked about this more yesterday morning. The U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo explained that Cuba was being put on this list because of Cuba’s internationalist medical missions. They are being accused of trafficking human beings because they are sending doctors to treat people for free in other countries. The U.S. government is trying to paint this program as human trafficking, saying that Cuban doctors and other educational professionals are being coerced by the Cuban government into participating in this program.
This is a huge lander against the incredible work that these doctors are doing all over the world, saving tens of thousands of lives, and providing basic healthcare, in rural communities in many cases, for people that have never had doctors before.
With this, the U.S government is attacking a world-renowned program that receives awards consistently from the World Health Organization, UNESCO, and other United Nations institutions. They are trying to undermine these live-saving programs by accusing the Cuban government of threatening or coercing its doctors into participating in the medical missions.
On September 6, the U.S. Department of the Treasury released a statement that was also strengthening its sanctions on Cuba. The changes that they made on September 6 further restrict Cubans living in the U.S. from sending remittances, that is sending money back to their family members in Cuba. They have also halted all what they call U-turn transactions, which is when a company that is based in Canada uses a Canadian bank, but that Canadian bank runs their money through a U.S. bank. So, even though it is paid in Canada, and the bank that receives it is in Canada, it is a U-turn transaction because it does a “U” through the United States. Some different credit card or different types of banking do this. The U.S. government, on September 6, announced that it was halting these U-turn transactions as well.
It seems that there was some of this happening earlier, because, I think some of you may have heard of the case of a Cuban coffee truck in Toronto that was selling Cuban coffee all summer. They were using a Square, a technology for quick payments on credit cards, and boasts that even if you are a tiny business you can use this cheap method to be able to accept credit cards. Well, all of the sudden the Cuban coffee truck company said that they were getting receipts that said that there was $20,000 in their account, but that they went to the account and the money wasn’t there. It turned out that this Square company uses, I believe, Wells Fargo in the United States, and all of the money was being held by Wells Fargo, who wouldn’t send it back to their Canadian bank account.
So, this small food truck that has been selling Cuban coffee all summer is now out tens of thousands of dollars because the Square company wasn’t honest about what was happening, and how they were implementing part of the U.S. blockade against Cuba. This got some national headlines in September.
Then at the end of September, On September 24, U.S President Donald Trump spoke at the United Nations General Assembly and he stated, “The dictator Maduro is a Cuban puppet, protected by Cuban bodyguards, hiding from his own people, while Cubans plunder Venezuela’s oil wealth to sustain its own corrupt communist rule.” So, so many lies that Donald Trump is able to say on the world stage with very few questioning him. And, again, like many of Trump’s statements, this is verifiably false. Maduro’s bodyguards are not Cuban, they are Venezuelan.
Of course, when President Trump talks about Cuba “plundering Venezuela’s oil wealth,” it is one of these things where he has projected his desires on the government of Cuba. What he is referring to are international contracts that Cuba and Venezuela have together. It is not about plunder of one country of another, these are international accords where Venezuela sends cheap fuel to Cuba in exchange for healthcare professionals. related to exchanging cheaper oil for Cuban doctors and medical professionals, educational professionals who are working throughout Venezuela. This is a very dignified method of fair and respectful trade, where two countries are working together, to put their resources, whether they are human resources or natural resources, to use in cooperation with each other.
Then on September 26, just a month ago, the Trump administration imposed new sanctions again. This time on former Cuban President and leader of Cuba's Communist Party, Raúl Castro and all of his children. This is, again, largely symbolic. Raúl Castro is not asking to travel to the United States, possibly in the future to go to the United Nations, but the new U.S. measures are not going to have any direct impact on Raúl Castro’s life. These are just to symbolize that the U.S. government wants to keep Cuba on its toes and wants to put Cuba in a position where it is on the defensive, and in a very difficult situation to do international transactions and international trade.
What is Blockade?
So then, we have to ask the question, why does this blockade exist in the first place? Has it “worked”? For 57 years has imposed this blockade, have they achieved their goals?
Since the triumph of the Cuban revolution, the U.S. government has been searching for ways to destroy the Cuban government and, with it, Cuba’s independence. The U.S. government cannot afford to have governments’ independent of its hegemonic and imperialist agenda anywhere in the world, which is building again on what Alison said about Venezuela, and much less can they afford to have an independent island only 90 miles off their shores.
Cuba is also the threat of a good example of what Americans, and also the world can learn about from the gains of the Cuban revolution. When I say the threat of the good example, I mean the good example of free healthcare, of free education, and many other areas. Americans might start to ask why those gains have not been made in their country, the wealthiest country on planet earth. Why is the U.S. government unable to provide these services for free, when a small natural-resource-poor so-called third-world nation to the south is providing them for their people? And not only are they providing them free to Cubans, but to people in countries all around the world.
The blockade is meant to divide people in the United States and Cuba, but it is also meant to create shortages and poverty within Cuba so that the Cuban people become disillusioned with their own socialist revolutionary project. It is meant to create desperation and misery so that the Cuban people and government give up on their socialist vision for the future.
In over 57 years this policy has been unsuccessful, and rather than isolating Cuba, this policy has isolated the U.S., which President Obama admitted in 2014. However, the U.S. government seems intent today, under Donald Trump, to double-down on this policy of blockade, which means deepening hardship for the people of Cuba.
On November 6-7 of this year, in just a few days, the United Nations General Assembly will hold its 28th annual debate and vote on the “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” Last year the world community stood together with 189 countries voting in favour of ending the U.S. blockade on Cuba.
Once again, last year, the United States and Israel stood on the wrong side of history as the only two countries who stood in favour of the blockade.
However, it is not only this annual vote at the United Nations. Around the word in letters, petitions, on social media, giving interviews across all continents and participating in regular actions to condemn the U.S. blockade on Cuba.
In Canada on the 17th of every month, here in Vancouver Friends of Cuba Against the U.S. Blockade organizes a picket, but also friends in Montreal, Table de concertation et de solidarité Québec – Cuba have their monthly protest, and in Ottawa, Ottawa Cuba Connections are in front of the United States Embassy, raising their voices against the U.S. blockade. Also know that it is not only in Canada, we have friends in Kiev, Ukraine who gather in front of the U.S. Embassy in Kiev every month, on the 17th, also raising their voices against the U.S. blockade.
Of course, the strongest and most steadfast opposition to the blockade for over 57 years has come from the people of Cuba and their revolutionary socialist government who have stood together and protested the impacts of the blockade on their society, their economy and their daily lives.
It is up to us now to think about what we can do and how we can build stronger unity and solidarity. Cuba is an important reminder of the truth of the words of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who our conference is named after, when he said, “We are realists, we dream the impossible.”
Cuba has not only dreamed the impossible, it has also done the impossible.
In a period of increasing U.S. attacks on Cuba we have a human responsibility, a revolutionary responsibility to work to defend Cuba’s independence, self-determination and socialist revolution. We also have an opportunity to talk with people about the incredible gains made by the Cuban revolution to inspire them to defend Cuba. But even more interestingly, by explaining the gains of the Cuban socialist revolution, we can challenge people on what is possible right here in Canada.
So today Alison and I have worked together to build the case for WHY – our perspective on why we need a Cuba and Venezuela solidarity movement. Now we hope to have a chance, if you agree, to discuss the HOW – our tasks. What can we do to build a stronger more united solidarity movement? How can we strengthen the work already being done? What new approaches can we take? I look forward to our discussion. Thank you.
Follow Tamara on Twitter: @THans01
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