On Visit of US President Obama to Cuba

Ottawa picket, March 17, 2016.

Ottawa picket, March 17, 2016.

  • US announces partial changes to sanctions against Cuba
  • U.S. blockade against Cuba continues contact – Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuban foreign minister
  • Statement by Federation of Cuban Women
  • We will never renounce the unity achieved by our workers – Cuban Workers’ Federation

US announces partial changes to sanctions against Cuba

Prensa Latina informed on March 15 that the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Commerce announced new regulations that modify some aspects of the sanctions against Cuba, while maintaining the main aspects of the economic, commercial and financial blockade.

The new measures came into force on March 16. They allow U.S. citizens to visit the island through people-to-people educational exchange programs, and partially lift the restrictions on the use of the U.S. dollar in Cuban transactions with banks in the U.S.

The existing laws allowed U.S. citizens to make trips to Cuba, but now they will be able to do so as individuals rather than as part of a group. Tourism is still prohibited by the embargo, which only the U.S. Congress can lift.

The Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew said that the new provisions were to continue the steps taken in the last 15 months to break down barriers between the two countries and, he claimed, to empower the Cuban people.

The restrictions on Cuban international financial transactions are a main obstacle to the development of trade links between the two countries. The U.S. government recently imposed a fine of $304,706 on the U.S. company Halliburton, which provides services related to oil extraction, for doing business with Cuba Petróleo.

Since the announcement of the change of policy towards Cuba on December 17, 2014, the U.S. government has imposed similar penalties on five U.S. companies and three other countries to the tune of almost three billion dollars.

Also on March 16, Correos de Cuba, the Cuban postal service, announced the restoration of direct mail between Cuba and the U.S.

Cuban officials receive letters from the first direct mail flight in 50 years from the U.S. to Cuba, March 16, 2016. (J. Vidal)

After successfully coordinating technical, operational and safety details, the maiden flight linking the two countries’ mail routes took place on March 16. The restoration of this service allows direct shipments between Cuba and the United States, including ordinary correspondence, postal parcels, courier services and express deliveries.

On March 14, Cuban telecommunications company ETECSA announced an agreement with U.S. firm Verizon to host direct calls between the two countries.

Cuban officials receive letters from the first direct mail flight in 50 years from the U.S. to Cuba, March 16, 2016. (J. Vidal)

Cuban officials receive letters from the first direct mail flight in 50 years from the U.S. to Cuba, March 16, 2016. (J. Vidal)


U.S. blockade against Cuba continues intact

By Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Foreign Minister of Cuba

Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba on March 2, 2009. Before his appointment, he served as deputy minister. He was Permanent Ambassador of Cuba to the UN from 1995 to 2003.

Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba on March 2, 2009. Before his appointment, he served as deputy minister. He was Permanent Ambassador of Cuba to the UN from 1995 to 2003.

Speaking during a press conference with national and international media in Havana on March 17, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez spoke about the ongoing enforcement of the U.S. blockade against Cuba and referred to the recent amendments announced by the U.S. Departments of the Treasury and Commerce and the upcoming visit by President Barack Obama. We are reprinting his remarks below.
On March 15, the Departments of the Treasury and of Commerce issued new regulations that modify the implementation of some aspects of the U.S. blockade against Cuba.

This is the fourth announcement of this sort made by the Government of the United States since December 17, 2014, when the presidents of both countries made public their decision to re-establish diplomatic relations.

We are currently analyzing their scope and practical effects in order to confirm their feasibility.

After a preliminary consideration of these measures, it can be affirmed that they are positive.

Some of them expand the scope of those which had been adopted before; so is the case for the one now authorizing individual “people-to-people” educational travels. However, it should be recalled that the legal prohibition that prevents U.S. citizens from freely traveling to Cuba is still in force. This prohibition should be lifted by the U.S. Congress.

Cuba’s authorization to use U.S. dollars in its international transactions, a measure which has been included in this new package, concerns an important aspect of the blockade. For this measure to be viable, the U.S. Government is required to issue a political statement as well as clear and precise instructions that would provide legal and political guarantees to banks, in order to halt financial persecution and reverse the intimidating effects generated by the sanctions imposed for years on U.S. and third-countries’ financial institutions for conducting legitimate transactions with Cuba.

2016.03.17.Ottawa-Cuba-5In the coming days we will attempt to make some transfers in U.S. dollars to confirm that these can be done and that the banks have received instructions indicating that they are allowed to engage in financial operations with Cuba without fear of sanctions. Besides, we hope that, from now on, such fines as those given to important banks, namely Commerzbank and Crédit Agricole, just to mention the most recent examples, will not be applied again; and that foreign financial institutions would not refuse to make transactions with our country.

Authorizing Cuba to use U.S. dollars does not mean that banking relations between Cuba and the United States have normalized. Cuban banks are still not allowed to open correspondent accounts in U.S. banks, and therefore our operations will necessarily continue to be done through third parties, which increases operational costs as well as the amount of related procedures.

None of the other measures entered into force modify the implementation of fundamental aspects of the blockade. For example:

  • Investments other than those approved in our country’s telecom sector are not allowed.
  • The U.S. ban on Cuban imports is still in force, and these include pharmaceuticals and biotech products. Thus, the limited authorized bilateral trade continues to be essentially a one-way trade. Only the absurd prohibition preventing U.S. citizens from consuming and receiving Cuban products and services in third countries was modified.
  • Current restrictions on U.S. exports to Cuba, which are limited and exclude key sectors of the Cuban economy, have not been modified.
  • Ships carrying goods to Cuba are still not allowed to touch U.S. ports for a period of 180 days, thus increasing freight charges. The only measure adopted in this area was not meant to benefit Cuba, but rather to make U.S. shipping companies’ operations profitable.
  • Cuban as well as other countries’ individuals and companies are still arbitrarily listed as “specially designated nationals”, and for that reason they are prevented from doing transactions with U.S. entities or their subsidiaries.

All of these restrictions could be eliminated by means of executive decisions.

The truth is that the blockade is still in force. Jack Lew, the Secretary of the Treasury, has himself recognized, [March 15], that the blockade still restricts, in a very, very significant way, the volume of transactions between Cuba and the United States.

The blockade also has dissuasive as well as punitive components. Here there are some examples:

  • U.S. and foreign companies have been fined recently for providing services and equipment of U.S. origin to Cuba.
  • Foreign companies trading in Cuban nickel and rum have seen their lines of credit cancelled and their bank transfers rejected, even if they were denominated in currencies other than the U.S. dollar.
  • Foreign banks have closed down the bank accounts in currencies other than the U.S. dollar maintained by the Cuban medical staff offering their cooperation in African countries.
  • U.S. subsidiaries based in third countries have refused to provide their services to Cuban diplomatic missions and entities abroad.

The blockade is the most important obstacle to Cuba’s economic development and causes hardships to the Cuban people.

Therefore, lifting the blockade will be essential for normalizing relations between our two countries.

Senior officials of the U.S. have stated that the purpose of the approved measures is “to empower” the Cuban people. If the U.S. Government is really interested in helping the Cuban people, then the blockade should be lifted.

2010.05.22.TorontoCubaSolidarity-11cropWe recognize the position adopted by President Obama against the blockade and his repeated appeals to Congress urging it to lift it.

We expect the U.S. Congress to act accordingly in the face of an almost unanimous claim of the international community and ever broader sectors of the U.S. society and public opinion.

Cuba has engaged in the construction of a new relation with the United States, in the full exercise of its sovereignty and committed to its ideals of social justice and solidarity.

No one should expect that, in order to achieve that, Cuba will renounce any one of its principles or its foreign policy, which is committed to just causes all over the world and the defence of peoples’ self-determination.

Within a few days we will be welcoming the U.S. President with our distinctive hospitality as well as with the respect and consideration he deserves in his position as Head of State.

It will be an opportunity for him to know about our reality and meet a noble, proud and patriotic people struggling for a better future against all odds.

The U.S. President will be able to see a nation that is involved in its economic and social development and the improvement of the well-being of its citizens, who enjoy rights and are able to show some achievements that are still a chimera for many countries of the world, despite our condition as a blockaded and underdeveloped country.

It will also be an important occasion to identify what new steps could be taken in the next few months to contribute to the process of improvement of relations, on the basis of respect and equality, for the benefit of both countries and peoples.


We will never renounce the unity achieved by our workers

Cuban Workers’ Federation

“We are united in the construction of socialism” – Cuban workers celebrate May Day 2015 in Havana.

“We are united in the construction of socialism” – Cuban workers celebrate May Day 2015 in Havana.

The more than three million members of unions affiliated with the Cuban Workers’ Federation (CTC), as part of Cuban civil society, will welcome the President of the United States with hospitality and respect. We appreciate his decision to travel to our country, as an important step in efforts to advance toward the normalization of relations between the two countries.

He will discover a nation where workers have been able, at great sacrifice, to push ahead in the most diverse sectors of the economy and services, despite the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on us for more than half a century by successive U.S. administrations, and which is still in place, constituting the main obstacle to our development.

He will learn of a labour reality characterized by the right to employment without discrimination of any kind, equal pay for women and men performing the same job, social security which includes among other benefits the protection of working mothers and pensioners, and a unique system of labour justice that includes the broad participation of workers when settling disputes.

Even in the most complex economic circumstances, these rights have been preserved and shock therapy has never been resorted to, as is common in other nations seeking a solution to crises. Drawn upon instead has been the intelligence and capacity to respond of the hard-working masses, who have made available their experiences and resources, their creativity and innovative thinking, to overcome the difficulties and ensure compliance with the plans of their respective collectives.

We work with resolve to perfect our economic and social model in the pursuit of a prosperous and sustainable socialism. With this purpose the increasing number of non-state sector workers, who are consciously joining the ranks of trade unions, and along with workers in the state sector, are convinced they are an important element in the construction of the present and the future of our social project, based on collective welfare. They are also protected by our Labour Code.

On this visit, the President will be accompanied by a broad representation of businesspeople, which could open the way to stable economic ties with U.S. companies. On eliminating restrictions on Cuba, they could find space in a nation that is deeply engaged in its economic development, which has already embraced businesspeople from other countries, who have found here the civic order to guarantee their investments and highly qualified human capital, the result of the educational policy of the Revolution which began with the epic literacy campaign, this year celebrating its 55th anniversary, and the access, provided by the state, absolutely free of charge, to the technical or professional training that each citizen is capable of, according to their abilities.

Cuban workers are proud of our tradition of struggle against exploitation and for social justice that valuable union leaders, such as Jesús Menéndez who fought for the interests of sugar workers and the Cuban nation against U.S. monopolies and representatives of the government of that country, have defended at the cost of their own lives. We are also followers of the legacy of the rightfully termed “Captain” of the Cuban working class, Lázaro Peña, who always advocated unity and stressed that the union must include everyone.

On this occasion, we reaffirm that we will never renounce the unity achieved by our workers, or our revolutionary, anti-imperialist and social justice ideals, nor our spirit of solidarity with the world’s just causes. We hope that the process initiated between the two countries moves ahead on an equal basis, without conditions and with respect for our independence and sovereignty.

(March 18, 2016)


Statement by Federation of Cuban Women

FMC_flyerCubanWomen

With the hospitality and dignity that characterizes us Cuban women, just as all of our people, we will receive the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and his wife Michelle. We are aware that this visit is part of the complex process to normalize relations between our two governments. It will, therefore, be an opportunity to demonstrate what we have achieved in terms of gender equality and the leading role that women occupy in the political, economic, cultural and social life of our country.

During their visit, they will note that we receive equal pay for equal work, that local governments in nine of the fifteen Cuban provinces are headed by women, [and] that the administration of justice is also mostly in female hands. In each place they tour they will discover the selfless efforts of women of all generations.

They will witness just how much we love our free and independent country, which we have defended from attacks of all kinds. With creativity and dedication, we have resisted more than half a century of economic, financial and commercial blockade, and we have built a society where human beings are the most important factor. We have educated our children in these values of solidarity, anti-imperialism and national sovereignty. We will never renounce such values.

Gathered together in the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), a non-governmental civil society organization – with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – which today brings together more than four million Cuban women, about 90 per cent of women over 14 years of age, we carry out specific programs to develop an entire culture of equality and social inclusion in our country. Many of the objectives outlined in Goal 5 of the [UN’s] recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, dedicated to achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, are a reality in our country.

We know that Michelle Obama is carrying out a major initiative called “Let Girls Learn,” with the aim of providing access to education to 62 million girls around the world. We offer our humble experience in this field, since one hundred per cent of our girls attend school regardless of where they live, the colour of their skin, whether they have a disability or are hospitalized. A Cuban, Leonela Relys Díaz, created the “Yes, I Can” method, with which millions of people worldwide have learned to read and write.

Similarly, it will also be an opportunity to reiterate our demand to cease the inhuman policy of blockade against our country, which has led to multiple deprivations, and prevented us from further development.

The Federation of Cuban Women also supports the statements of our government, which demands an end to the occupation of the territory of the Guantánamo naval base, the Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet-foot-dry-foot” policy, and the elimination of interventionist programs aimed at provoking internal destabilization. These policies threaten the security and tranquility of our families.

During the coming days, the words of the eternal President of our organization, Vilma Espín, are more relevant than ever for all FMC members: “Socialism for Cuban women means freedom, independence, sovereignty, dignity, social justice, security for the education and development of their children, the right to equality, to life, to decide their own destiny, to work for the future dreamed of and defended with all forces.”

(March 15, 2016)

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