Free the Cuban Five! International activists rally in Trafalgar Square, London, 9 March 2014

 

 

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 RATB hosts international rally in London - See our facebbook page for more photos

The sun was out in London, as members of Rock around the Blockade (RATB) were joined by activists, writers, musicians and academics from around the world to demand freedom for the Cuban Five and to show solidarity with socialist Cuba. The rally was held in support of the International Committee of Inquiry into the Case of the Cuban Five, which took place in London over the previous two days.

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Havana Summit: building regional solidarity

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

On 28-29 January 2014, Havana hosted the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC in Spanish), with the participation of the heads of states and other representatives of all 33 independent nations in the region. The Summit ended Cuba’s one-year presidency of CELAC, which focused on combating regional poverty, hunger and inequality. Cuba is part of CELAC’s three member troika, along with Chile, which held the presidency in 2012 and Costa Rica, which takes over in 2014. Over 30 documents were drawn up for discussion and analysis, including a Plan of Action, and standards and principles to govern co-operation. The Summit was preceded by two days of discussions by national experts on 25-26 January and a meeting of ministers on 27 January. HELEN YAFFE reports.

CELAC was launched with the Declaration of Caracas in December 2011. It is the first organisation in the 200-years since Latin America’s formal independence to integrate all sovereign nations in the region, without either being convened (or attended) by the United States, or other foreign powers, and without excluding Cuba. Indeed, the insistence on Cuba’s inclusion is a prime motive for CELAC’s foundation. CELAC stands as a rejection of, and alternative to, the Organisation of American States (OAS), set up in 1948 with its headquarters in Washington. In 1962 Cuba was expelled from the OAS because it ‘officially identified itself as a Marxist-Leninist government’ which, the OAS stated, was ‘incompatible with the principles and objectives of the inter-American system’. As Cuban academic Luis Suarez Sálazar pointed out to BBC Mundo: ‘the restoration of relations with all nations of the region and the presence in this gathering of their Heads of State demonstrates clearly that the US failed in its policy of isolating us.’

In 1994, following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, when imperialism stepped up its neo-liberal offensive, the OAS held its first Summit of the Americas. It was a political forum for the US to pursue its economic agenda: the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a neo-liberal treaty that would undermine national sovereignty and facilitate the pillaging and looting of resources by US and international capital. The Spanish acronym for the FTAA was ALCA. Direct opposition to this led then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to propose an alternative: ALBA (which means dawn in Spanish); the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. While the 2005 deadline for the implementation of the FTAA came and went, US imperialism witnessed rebellion in its ‘backyard’. At the last Summit of the Americas in Colombia in 2012, the final declaration draft condemned the US blockade of Cuba and demanded an end to Cuba’s expulsion from the hemispheric events. This was vetoed by US and Canada so no agreement was reached.

CELAC’s other distinguishing characteristics are that it binds the Caribbean with Latin America, realising the vision of independence heroes such as Simon Bolivar and Jose Marti for ‘Our America’, and that it is not constituted as an narrowly economic mechanism for establishing free trade between member states. The general function of CELAC is to promote sustainable development, social and environmental investments, and create a ‘zone of peace’ where differences are resolved through dialogue and diplomacy. Securing the latter would not only benefit the region’s nearly 600 million inhabitants; it would also undermine the ability of imperialist powers to provoke confrontations in their own interests.

Tensions between left, centre and right governments within CELAC are evident and are constantly aggravated by US machinations; for example the recent push to create the Alliance of the Pacific, so far formed of Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru – right-wing governments allied to the US. However, CELAC aims to undermine divisive manipulation through open democratic discussion in which each participant’s views have equal weight. The Havana Declaration issued at the end of the Summit contains 83 progressive action and position points which are irreconcilable with a neo-liberal agenda. The preamble summarises the aims as: ‘To strengthen our democracies and all human rights for everyone; to give greater opportunities to our people; build more inclusive societies; improve our productivity; strengthen our trade; improve our infrastructure and connectivity and the networks necessary to increasingly unite our peoples; work for sustainable development, to address inequalities and for a more equitable distribution of wealth, so that each and everyone feels that democracy brings meaning to their lives.’ The subsequent points expand on these, with special emphasis on eliminating hunger, poverty and social exclusion and on recognising the rights and contribution of indigenous peoples, those of African descent and migrants.

The Declaration calls for special consideration for: ‘subregions of greater vulnerability in economic, social and environmental terms, and we propose to promote trade, investments and projects, and cooperation actions that are complementary and solidarity-based, aimed at overcoming distinct challenges and difficulties associated with their vulnerability.’ (point 23). Here the influence of ALBA is clear. Likewise it commits to action on climate change and its consequences, continued special assistance for Haiti and support for Puerto Rican independence. It calls for debt restructuring, supports Argentina’s demand that Britain returns Las Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) to Argentina, condemns the US blockade of Cuba and rejects Cuba’s inclusion in the US list of states that support terrorism. It supports the peace process in Colombia, democratisation of the United Nations and nuclear disarmament. Point 3 expresses sadness for the death of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez on 5 March 2013: ‘one of the main founders and drivers of CELAC, an inexhaustible humanist and promoter of Latin American and Caribbean union, who struggled against social exclusion, poverty and fostered the integrated development of the region.’

Cuba had focused the Summit on strategies and policies to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger and provide access to free health and education. In this, Cuba is the regional leader par excellence. Its achievements are not just domestic. In Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine thousands of students from the region study for free. Millions of people have benefitted from its ‘Yes I can’ literacy programme. Through Cuba’s Operation Miracle, set up with Venezuela, between 2005 and 2011, two million people in Latin America and the Caribbean had their eye-sight restored in 60 eye hospitals which Cuba had donated to 35 countries.

The importance of the goals set out for the Summit cannot be underestimated. Despite recent progress, Latin America remains the most unequal region in the world. This reality, and the suffering which accompanies it, is especially brutal given the abundance of mineral, forestry, water and agricultural resources. Within CELAC are the world’s greatest supplies of mineral resources: copper (Chile), iron (Brazil), silver (Mexico) tin (Bolivia and Peru). Venezuela has the world’s greatest proven oil reserves, 18% of the total. And the Guarani Aquifer, located beneath the surface of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, is one of the world’s largest aquifer systems and sources of fresh water. Latin America and the Caribbean produce more food than required by their populations, and yet 8% of Latin Americans and 18% of Caribbeans suffer from malnutrition. The question is who controls the resources and in whose interests.

Significantly the CELAC Summit was attended by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, the first holder of that office to visit Havana since Cuba was expelled from the OAS. Also present was UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon, who visited the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) and strolled through Old Havana stopping to get his hair cut in a local barber’s shop. Also during the Summit, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff participated with Cuban President Raul Castro, and other heads of states, in the inauguration of the first stage of the new Mariel Port, which has been enlarged and modernised with Brazilian technical and financial assistance. Raul stated: ‘From this moment, Mariel is part of the Cuban and Latin-American port system’. The Port will have an annual capacity of one million containers and its geo-strategic location will seriously challenge the US blockade of Cuba.

Pressure to end the US blockade of Cuba grows – even in the US / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 236 December 2013/January 2014

On 26 November 2013, the Cuban Interests Section (a substitute for an embassy) in the United States announced that it would immediately halt its consular services – the issuing of visas, passports services and the authentification of documents, except in exceptional or humanitarian cases. Its press release explains that in summer 2013, the New York-based M&T Bank had informed the Cuban Interests Section in Washington and Cuba’s permanent mission at the United Nations in New York that it was withdrawing banking services from foreign missions, and therefore ordering the Cubans to close their accounts. It states: ‘Due to the restrictions still in force, derived from the US policy of economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba, and despite the numerous efforts made with the [US] Department of State and several banks, it has been impossible for the Cuban Interests Section to find a US bank with branches in the US to operate the bank accounts of the Cuban diplomatic missions.’

The announcement is likely to cause a stir, given the number of US citizens and Cuban-Americans needing travel documents for impending trips to Cuba. Around 350,000 Cuban-Americans visit Cuba annually and the increase in special licences for US citizens engaged in educational, cultural, and other exchanges saw 100,000 US citizens visit Cuba in 2012. The Cuban statement points out that the US government is violating its commitments under the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations of 1961 and 1963, ‘which stipulate that the receiving State shall accord full facilities for the performance of the functions of the diplomatic missions and consular offices.’ The US government is also violating the 1977 agreement between Cuba and the US, signed under US President Carter, which established the interests sections in both countries.

The US blockade has cost Cuba $1.14 trillion. It is a policy of collective punishment to promote regime change by creating scarcity and suffering to turn the Cuban people against its revolutionary government. Not even medical equipment is exempt. Because of the blockade, the Frank País Orthopaedic Hospital is unable to replace equipment necessary for the diagnosis of malignant tumours, bone and joint infections, and Cuba cannot import the drugs necessary to help children born with HIV to survive. The Obama administration has tightened the implementation of the blockade. Between January 2009 and September 2013, 30 US and foreign companies have been fined more than $2.45 billion for trading with Cuba and other countries.

The announcement by the Cuban Interests Section comes less than one month after 188 countries voted in favour of a Cuban motion condemning the US blockade in the United Nations General Assembly. Only Israel and the US voted against the motion. The only three countries to abstain were Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands, all recipients of billions of US dollars received under the Compact of Free Association agreement, which makes them ‘associated states’ with the United States. It was the 22nd year in a row that the US policy has been rejected by the UN. Following the vote on 29 October and responding to claims by Ronald Godard, the principal US Advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said: ‘Mr. Godard lies when he says that the United States promotes human rights on the island, because the blockade is a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of these rights and an act which qualifies as genocidal.’

Despite its punitive nature, the US blockade has failed as a tool for overthrowing Cuba’s socialist government. President Obama recognises this. As part of a Democratic Party fundraising tour, on 8 November he visited the home of Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, a right-wing organisation set up by his father Jorge Mas Canosa, who, until his death in 1997, led sectors of the ultra-right in Miami and sponsored confessed terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch. There Obama met with stars of Cuba’s tiny internal opposition, professional hungerstriker Guillermo Farinas and leader of the ‘Ladies in White’, Berta Soler, effectively mercenaries, who urged Obama to strengthen the blockade against their own people.

Interestingly, given the pro-blockade stance of his audience, Obama declared that the blockade of Cuba was not effective and stated that US policy towards Cuba needed updating. ‘[U]ltimately, freedom in Cuba will come because of extraordinary activists and the incredible courage of folks like we see here today. But the United States can help. And we have to be creative. And we have to be thoughtful. And we have to continue to update our policies. Keep in mind that when Castro came to power, I was just born. So the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel doesn’t make sense.’

This came with a promise to continue funding the internal opposition, to increase US investment – around $20 million annually – in order to create political instability. The aim remains the same: to overthrow the internationalist socialist government of the Cuban people and to return Cuba to its neo-colonial status. But Cubans are educated, activated and mobilised, and this policy will fail, just as the US blockade has done.

Helen Yaffe and Victoria Smith

Cuba steps towards monetary unification / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 236 December 2013/January 2014

Among the key aims in the process of ‘updating’ the Cuban economy, approved by the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in 2011, is the reunification of Cuba’s two currencies: the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). In October 2013 it was announced that steps towards this had begun. The CUP has been Cuban currency since 1961. In 1993 during the economic crisis of the Special Period, the US dollar was legalised and ‘dollar shops’ initially opened to sell non-essential or imported items to tourists, as the tourist industry became a growing source of income. The CUC was introduced in around 1993 to substitute the function of the US dollar. It was pegged to the US dollar but printed and controlled by the Cuban Central Bank. Helen Yaffe reports.

In the 1980s, the peso/dollar exchange rate had been 1:1. During the economic crisis, however, the value of the peso fell massively against the dollar in the informal market. Cuban economist Pavel Vidal Alejandro explains that: ‘This [depreciation] was accepted by the government network of exchange houses (Cadeca) created in 1995 to effect operations with Cubans and tourists. However, the new value of the Cuban peso never reached the accounting and exchange operations of the business sector. Institutions continued to operate with the official exchange rate of the 1980s – 1 Cuban peso (CUP): US$1.’ (Cuba Standard) The current exchange rate for individuals is 24 CUP to 1 CUC, but it remains 1:1 in state-owned companies.

In 2004 Cuba ‘de-dollarised’; the US greenback was removed as legal tender. The elimination of the US dollar from domestic commerce became imperative following renewed attacks by President Bush’s administration to prevent Cuba from accumulating or trading in hard currency – a Cuban Assets Targeting Group was set up to stop dollar flows into and out of Cuba.

Cuban salaries continued to be paid, for the most part, in CUP, while many consumer goods are retailed in CUC. The average monthly Cuban salary in 2012 was 466 CUP, equivalent to nearly 20 CUC. Cubans may receive hard currency or CUC via remittances sent from abroad, tips in the tourism sector, or if they have a salary component paid in CUC (usually in joint ventures with foreign companies). Those without access have an extremely limited capacity to purchase goods sold in CUC. As Raul Castro himself recognised in 2007: ‘wages today are clearly insufficient to satisfy all needs and have thus ceased to play a role in ensuring the socialist principle that each should contribute according to their capacity and receive according to their work.’ In 2005, Fidel Castro referred to ‘the dream of everyone being able to live on their salary or on their adequate pension’. However, it is important to recognise that many essential costs, and those that consume the largest portion of family incomes in most countries: rent, utility bills, transport, education and healthcare costs, are negligible or non-existent in Cuba. The Cuban salary does not determine Cuban consumption in a broad sense.

Not only is the currency differential a source of irritation and inconvenience but it has also created serious economic distortions. For example, after receiving free education and training to the highest levels, many qualified Cubans leave their area of expertise to find employment that brings them access to CUCs and a higher level of consumption. Inequalities in access to CUC exacerbate pre-revolutionary socio-economic inequalities, undermining the impressive progress made by the socialist revolution. On the whole, wealthy, white Cubans – the first to leave Cuba after the Revolution – have done better in exile, where they are integrated into racist, class structures, and therefore send back more remittances to families remaining on the island.

The 1:1 exchange rate in state enterprises is particularly problematic. It means that for accounting purposes it makes no difference to those companies if they sell their produce internally for Cuban CUP, or if they export it for Cuban CUC, even though the monetary value to the Cuban government is significantly different. This obscures economic losses and surpluses in their accounts. For example, if a cigar factory sells 100 cigars for 5 CUP each within Cuba, it earns 500 CUP or 20 CUC ($18). However, if it exports 100 cigars for 5 CUC each, it earns 500 CUC ($480). This is a simplified example, but the point is that the process of updating the Cuban economy aims to increase productivity and efficiency, and the dual currency has become an obstacle. It obstructs evaluation of economic performance and removes incentives to increase productivity and exports.

On 22 October 2013, the government announced that it had initiated the process of monetary unification: ‘monetary and currency exchange unification is not a measure which will, in itself, resolve all of the economy’s current problems, but its implementation is indispensable to re-establishing the value of the Cuban peso and its function as money; that is to say, as a unit of accounting, payment and savings.’ The first stage will affect the Cuban state-entities, ‘with the purpose developing the conditions which will lead to increased efficiency, more accurate measurement of economic activity and incentives for those sectors which produce goods and services for export and to replace imports.’

The Cuban government’s methodology usually involves patient and careful testing of new policy initiatives. In this case since December 2011, the government established a special exchange rate of 7 CUP:$1 for direct transactions between state hotels and restaurants and agricultural cooperatives. In 2013 this exchange rate was raised to 10 CUP:$1 – effectively a 900% devaluation of the Cuban peso. There is still a long way to go before the enterprise exchange rate and that used by individuals – both Cubans and tourists – is equal, and Cuba returns to having one currency.

The 22 October statement reassured Cubans that no one with legally held CUCs would see their value fall in the process of monetary unification, as the current exchange rate would be used to calculate the value of CUCs in CUPs. From 2014: ‘Experimentally, in selected sites, CUP payments will be accepted in cash for the equivalent, based on the current Cadeca exchange rate of 25 CUP to 1 CUC.’ In Cuba the news was greeted positively. The process of monetary unification could take three or more years, but it is an important step in the process underway – improving the Cuban economy and defending the gains of socialism.

RATB challenges PayPal’s block on its account due to US Blockade

**Rock around the Blockade(RATB) is a campaign of the Revolutionary Communist Group. It defends socialist Cuba and uses its example as part of the struggle for socialism here in Britain. Here we re-post an important article from the website www.ratb.org.uk about a recent block on RATB’s PayPal account as a result of the US blockade of Cuba.**

Rock around the Blockade has fought off an attempt to use the US blockade to obstruct our work in solidarity with socialist Cuba. Without consultation or warning, the US-based company PayPal blocked our website payment account citing ‘possible trade with Cuba’.

RATB uses PayPal to process payments and donations via our website, www.ratb.org.uk. The money goes towards our activities in Britain (political meetings, educational discussions, film showings, street rallies, cultural celebrations and so on). We do not use PayPal to make financial transactions to Cuba (which is anyway impossible because of the US blockade) and the merchandise we sell is not sourced there.

On 26 May 2013 we received an email stating, ‘PayPal’s Compliance Department has reviewed your account and identified activity that may be in violation of United States regulations administered by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)’.

After numerous emails and telephone calls we were able to confirm that this meant there was a ‘potential violation regarding possible trade with Cuba, a country that is sanctioned’. We were told that ‘PayPal can't benefit a sanctioned country or anyone in it.’

Eventually, by providing details of our ‘business model’, the recipients of PayPal accrued funds and a list of our products and services offered via PayPal we were able to get the block on our account lifted.

The fact that the account of RATB, a small not-for-profit solidarity campaign, was blocked before any questions were asked shows how strictly the blockade is enforced and how scared US companies are of violating it. PayPal has recently been clamping down on any activity related to Cuba, for example, in August 2011, shutting down the PayPal account of a British foundation that accepts donations to support students to study medicine in Cuba.(http://www.theguardian.com/money/2011/mar/12/paypal-cuban-connection)

Indeed, PayPal has good reason to be scared. Over the past few weeks OFAC has intensified enforcement of the blockade. On June 28, Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo S.p.A, was fined nearly $3 million USD for processing 53 transactions with Cuba between 2004 and 2008.

On July 22, OFAC issued a fine of $5,.2 million to American Express Travel Related Services Company– the fifth and largest fine so far this year. OFAC asserts that the company’s foreign subsidiaries and offices abroad sold 14,487 airline tickets to travel to Cuba from countries other than the US. Both these examples illustrate the extra-territorial nature of the blockade: regulations are routinely applied to prevent Cuba trading with countries around the world, not just the US; in violation of the sovereignty of the rest of the world.

Since 1960 the blockade has cost the Cuban economy an estimated $1 trillion USD. For 21 consecutive years the General assembly of the UN has voted overwhelmingly to condemn the blockade. In the 2012 vote, 188 countries voted for the lifting of the Blockade, with just three(the US,Israel and Palau) voting against and two (the Marshall Islands and Micronesia) abstaining. It is time to end this unjust and overwhelmingly unpopular economic bullying. The Cuban people have the right to chose socialism and to live without fear of the US government punishing them for doing so.

See: US blockade ‘attempted genocide’ from the current issue of FRFI for more details about the history and scope of the US blockade.


Now that our PayPal is up an running, please donate and help RATB continue it’s work

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  1. RATB challenges PayPal’s block on its account due to US Blockade
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  3. Hypocritical outcry over Cuban arms to North Korea/FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013
  4. US blockade ‘attempted genocide’/FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013
  5. FAO congratulates Fidel/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013
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  7. Cuban elections: triumph of democracy /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013
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  13. After Hurricane Sandy, Cuba and ALBA countries respond with socialist solidarity
  14. Media lies at death of Oswaldo Paya / FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012
  15. Free the Cuban Five /FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012
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