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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Cuba: still under siege

On 6 January, the US State Department announced the allocation of an additional $5.6m to ‘democracy development’ programmes in Cuba in 2016 – on top of $30m already allocated. In the unfolding saga of international relations between Cuba and the US, one thing is clear. The objectives of US imperialism in Cuba remain the same: subvert, distort and destroy socialism. James Bell reports.

The US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour (DRL) described its intention thus: ‘DRL programmes in Cuba aim to strengthen the capacity of on-island, independent civil society to further the rights and interests of Cuban citizens’. The main barriers to this, it states, are: ‘the limitations imposed by the Cuban government on citizens’ civil, political, labour and religious rights’. This is hogwash. Cuba has a vibrant system of citizens’ democracy; its trade unions are legally independent and financially autonomous. In 2012, the country updated its labour code only after a draft of the new code was debated in nearly 7,000 local meetings by over two million workers. Article 8 of the Cuban constitution states: ‘The State recognises, respects, and guarantees religious freedom.’ The DRL’s statement is an attempt to bolster the longstanding myth that Cuba is an undemocratic dictatorship. In reality, it is a confirmation that the US will continue attempting to undermine Cuban socialism.

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20 years of solidarity with Cuba

In December 2015, Rock around the Blockade (RATB) celebrates the 20th anniversary of its first solidarity brigade to Cuba. RATB was set up by the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) in 1995 to support socialist Cuba. Active solidarity with Cuba has distinguished the RCG from the majority of the British ‘left’, enabling it to raise ‘socialism’ as a viable alternative to capitalism and imperialism and move beyond idealistic sloganeering, to introduce real questions of relations of production, power and democracy. After five years of austerity and with further savage cuts to benefits and public services on the way the need to present a socialist alternative is greater than ever. Helen Yaffe reports.

The first RATB brigade travelled to Cuba with over 30 brigadistas in December 1995 in the midst of Cuba’s ‘Special Period’. The Special Period began in 1991 with the severe economic crisis following the disintegration of the socialist bloc and consequent collapse in Cuba’s foreign trade. By 1993 Cuba’s international trade and gross investment had fallen by 80% and GDP had plummeted by 35%. Cuba’s crisis was exacerbated by punitive US laws tightening the blockade. The result was critical scarcities of hydrocarbon energy resources, fertilisers, food imports, medicines, cement, equipment and other resources in every sector. Calorific intake decreased by nearly 40%, industries closed and unemployment rose.

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