History has absolved Fidel Castro - Happy 90th birthday!

Fidel Castro

On 13 August, Cuba will celebrate Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday; his longevity is a source of comfort and pride. The Revolutionary Communist Group pays tribute to this great revolutionary communist. Fidel’s genius has been his ability to meet the need for tactical steps, responding to the day’s urgencies, without losing sight of the strategic direction – the revolutionary principles – that have driven the revolution. Equally important has been the ‘wonderful quality’ that Che Guevara noted: his capacity to establish direct contact with the masses, always communicating, explaining, motivating and responding to the Cuban people.

As a young anti-corruption lawyer, Fidel understood that the brutal military coup that returned Batista to power in Cuba in 1952 signalled the impossibility of a peaceful constitutional path to reform in Cuba. Together with his brother Raul and others, he launched the 26 July Movement, named after the day of simultaneous attacks on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago and the Bayamo Barracks in Oriente by 160 young militants.

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Cuban Communists in Congress: Change within a socialist framework

Since diplomatic relations were re-established with the United States, Havana has become the place to be for pop stars, politicians, film makers and the fashion industry. President Obama visited Cuba, followed swiftly by British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond, and French President François Hollande. The US blockade is being chipped away, with the first licence granted for a US company – a small tractor manufacturer – to set up in Cuba. Major developments are underway: the Mariel Special Development Zone and the new Investment Law are channelling foreign capital into Cuba; tens of thousands of workers have transferred from state to private or co-operative sector employment; Cubans are permitted to sell their homes and cars on an open market; and the economic and social Guidelines approved in 2011 and updated in 2016 have reduced state control of the economy. In this dynamic context, in April 2016, the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) held its 7th Congress. Its focus was to consolidate the process of changes formalised by the ‘Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy’ approved in the CCP’s 6th Party Congress in 2011. Helen Yaffe reports.

Guidelines for ‘updating the economy’

In the months preceding the 6th Party Congress, nearly nine million Cubans participated in grassroots debates about the draft Guidelines. This formidable democratic process legitimised the Guidelines, which serve as the template for ‘updating the Cuban model’; to improve economic efficiency and productive capacity within a socialist framework. Numerous measures have been introduced in the last five years. These include: 2012 New Labour Code (debated in 7,000 workplace meetings by two million workers); establishing non-agricultural co-operatives (now around 400 with 20,000 workers); permitting market exchanges of privately-owned houses and cars (for Cuban citizens only); permitting direct commercial relations between the non-state sector and state sector entities; opening the Mariel ‘super port’ and Special Development Zone (FRFI 238); 2014 New Investment Law to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) (FRFI 240).

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Eventbrite confiscates funds to send a piano to Cuba

On 12 March 2016, British-based Cuban pianist Eralys Fernández held a classical music benefit concert, with support from our association Cubans in the UK, as part of a fundraising project to donate a piano to a music school in Havana. The concert title was: A piano for CubaFundraising Classical Music Concert. To sell tickets we opened an account with www.eventbrite.co.uk, selling 36 tickets at £10 each. While Eventbrite is a US company this website is based in the UK, so its status is not clear to its customers.

Following the concert, Eventbrite informed us that:  ‘We were contacted by our bank to let us know that the pay-out we initiated on 17 March 2016 for £360 has been temporarily held’. They wanted to know of ‘any direct or indirect benefit to Cuba or a Cuban in this transaction’. This is blatant discrimination against Cuban people living in Britain, to be denied access to services or products based on our ethnicity or national origin. A month later, Eventbrite confirmed that the ticket money was withheld ‘pursuant to US Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) regulations and sanctions program’ – in other words the US blockade. ‘In order to have the funds released’, advised Eventbrite, ‘you will need to obtain a license from the US Treasury Department’. Why should we, as British citizens of Cuban origin, apply for a licence from a US institution? There are no sanctions against Cuba in Britain.

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Free Ana Belen Montes!

Ana Belen Montes

With the Cuban Five safely reunited on Cuban soil (see FRFI 243), the international Cuba solidarity movement is now campaigning for the freedom of Ana Belen Montes, another political prisoner incarcerated in the US for defending Cuba from US attack.

Formerly a senior analyst at the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Montes was arrested by the FBI in September 2001, three years after the Cuban Five’s arrest, on charges of spying for the Cuban intelligence services, and imprisoned the following year. After pleading guilty, her death sentence for ‘high treason’ was commuted to a 25-year prison sentence without parole in a maximum security prison, to be followed by five years’ probation. She has served nearly 15 years and is currently being held at a Federal Medical Centre, on the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, despite not being ill.

Montes is the daughter of a US army doctor and has two siblings working for the FBI. She rose to be the DIA’s top Cuba analyst, having joined the agency in 1985. She attended meetings of the US National Security Council, met with top politicians in the US and abroad and was awarded a Certificate of Distinction from then-CIA director George Tenet before it was discovered that she had been voluntarily informing the Cuban state of planned US aggression against Cuba and other countries for several years. She did this because of her own conscience and for the benefit of the Cuban people. She received no payment from the Cuban state for doing so.

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President Obama visits Cuba

On 20 March 2016, US President Barack Obama arrived in Havana seeking to consolidate his legacy following the historic announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba 15 months earlier. Cuba says it has conceded nothing in return for this rapprochement, but it does stand to gain significantly through the gradual dismantling of the US blockade. The US administration hopes to exploit this opportunity to drown Cuban socialism in a flood of capital and capitalist ideology. As Gerardo Hernandez of the Cuban Five warns: ‘They want to destroy us with their bear hug.’ The Cubans are no fools; they do not trust imperialism. James Bell and Helen Yaffe report.

Obama was the first US President to visit the island since Calvin Coolidge went in 1928 to offer his support for Cuban dictator General Gerardo Machado. A few months later, the Great Crash of 1929 brought US capitalism to its knees. The subsequent collapse in the Cuban sugar industry and resistance to Machado’s increasing repression led to Cuba’s democratic revolution of 1933. Why did Obama visit Cuba? Not to promote ‘human rights’, for which he has shown disdain throughout his mandate. It was to recoup lost economic opportunities for US capital, to assuage political pressure from Latin American states that reject failed US policies to isolate Cuba, and because he believes that ‘engagement’ offers a better strategy to undermine Cuban socialism than the isolation of the past half century (see FRFI 243).

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