Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Canada's Ties with Cuba Run Deep
Why the death of Fidel Castro won’t change our positive relations

BY JOHN M. KIRK·NOV. 29, 2016  -

Even ninety years old, and clearly in poor physical health, Fidel Castro remained a major international figure until his death on November 26. In recent years he appeared rarely in the media, but political leaders and celebrities who met with him in his modest Havana residence commented regularly on his lucidity. It was rarely mentioned that this frail old man got around by using a walker, was bent over, and was clearly paying the price for his decades-long lifestyle of working long days.

When Justin Trudeau visited Cuba on November 16, 2016, a crowning moment would have been a meeting with Fidel. After all, Canadian-Cuban relations run deep: Pierre Trudeau had developed a longstanding personal relationship with him, starting with the prime minister’s groundbreaking 1976 visit to Cuba. Several personal trips followed, and the Trudeau family’s invitation for Castro to be an honorary pallbearer in 2000 at his funeral, spoke volumes of the strong ties. But Justin Trudeau did not get the chance to meet with the ailing former president—and probably Fidel’s fragile condition was the reason behind this.

My own meetings with Fidel Castro started in January 1989, when I participated in celebrations to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Cuban revolution as an academic observer. In 1994 and 1996 I accompanied Nova Scotia premier John Savage to Cuba as his counsellor-interpreter, for a series of meetings with the Cuban leader and members of his cabinet. In the post-ussr world, Cuba was keen to open up to foreign investment, and badly needed to find new trading partners. Savage brought two large commercial delegations on both trips, which dramatically increased trade between the island and Nova ScotiaCastro joked that, if he were invited to Halifax he would not call for for the province’s independence with “Viva Nova Scotia libre.”

Prior to a reception at the official residence of Canadian Ambassador Mark Entwistle, Savage had asked me about presents that he could bring for Castro. Would some Irish crystal do? Or some books with photos of Nova Scotia? I suggested something rather different that, looking back now, seems rather bizarre—although it proved a big hit. Following a few drinks at the reception, the premier presented the Cuban president with two sets of Nova Scotia licence plates—“Cuba Sí” and “Fidel 1”. Castro thought that these gifts were hilarious, and promised to put the “Fidel 1” plates on his jeep—a moment recorded by Cuban TV. In the following days Cubans would stop the premier and congratulate him on his innovative gift.

At another reception on that 1994 trip, this time at the Palace of the Revolution, Castro began with the good news that he would not give one of his long addresses. Instead he gave a concise speech, explaining the nature of Canada-Cuba relations. He referred to the July 1967 speech on the balcony of Montreal City Hall by Charles de Gaulle, where the French president proclaimed “Vive le Québec libre.” Castro joked that, if he were invited to Halifax, he would not embarrass Savage by addressing the legislature and calling for the province’s independence with “Viva Nova Scotia libre.”

Castro described differences between our two nations, concluding, “Yet despite these differences they have been our best friends—the most firm and loyal, the most independent . . . I have always given Canadian-Cuban relations as an example to follow. What a pity that, instead of having the United States so close by, and Canada so far away, it wasn’t the other way around.”

Castro clearly respected the Canadian position towards Cuba. Canada, along with Mexico, was the only country in the Western hemisphere not to break relations with revolutionary Cuba in the 1960s—despite significant pressure from Washington. The 1976 Trudeau visit was the first by the leader of a nato country—occurring in the midst of the Cold War. It was not without criticism, however, rather similar to that which accompanied Justin Trudeau’s visit to the island.

Today, after a decade under Stephen Harper, who made some rather offensive remarks about the Castro government, Canada-Cuba relations are finally starting to move forward. Not only do we have the largest foreign investment (the Toronto-based mining company Sherritt, for which I worked as a consultant), but we also send the largest contingent of tourists to the island (almost 1.4 million, or 40 percent annually). Cubans share a profound respect for Terry Fox, a hero in Cuba, where every year nearly 2 million Cubans—almost one in five Cubans—participate in their own Marathon of Hope.

The recent visit by Justin Trudeau, although brief, followed visits to Canada by Cuba’s foreign minister, and to Cuba by Canada’s minister of tourism. The November visit of a Canadian navy ship, the hmcsFredericton, the first to Cuba in more than fifty years, also illustrates the fresh approach by Ottawa. And this coming February, at the massive International Book Fair (visited by 3 million Cubans) in Havana, Canada is the “invited country”—and will be promoting Canadian culture with a nationally televised gala concert of Canadian talent.

It is about time for these kinds of positive relations—and Canada has the opportunity to be an example of moving forward. Even in death, Castro remains a controversial and polarizing figure, with a legacy of civil and political human rights abuses that can’t be ignored. (While not excusing this realty, it is important to bear in mind the decades of US hostility to bring about the end of the revolutionary government, ranging from assassination attempts against Castro to acts of terrorism that killed over 3,400 Cubans. Indeed Washington still provides funding to opposition groups bent on regime change). That said, Cuba has excellent health care and education systems, and for decades has punched above its weight. It is a small country (population 11.2 million), but its international literacy and medical assistance programs, established by Castro himself, have saved millions of lives across the globe. Havana’s rejection of US policy has been widely supported—and in the last UN General Assembly vote, 191 countries rejected the embargo (the United States and Israel abstained). Cuba is a case where there is much to be gained, both in commercial and diplomatic interests, for Canada.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the United States, which still maintains a punitive embargo against Cuba, and still refuses to allow its citizens to travel freely to Cuba (unless under the auspices of twelve specific categories). Legislation such as the Helms–Burton Act also puts a distinctive chill in any company seeking to invest on the island, and the 1960 embargo remains firmly in place. Donald Trump’s observations on Cuba were, not surprisingly, contradictory, and it is unclear what action he will pursue in the future.

Meanwhile the Cuban population is left to mourn the death of the man who led them for almost five decades. Unlike in Miami, where exiles danced in the streets upon hearing the news of Castro’s death, in Cuba sadness permeates everyday life. Castro is to lie in state on November 28 and 29, with a major rally planned at the Plaza de la Revolución. His remains will be transported slowly across the island, retracing the journey he took in January 1959 after ousting Fulgencio Batista, to be buried in Santiago de Cuba on December 4.
Now that Castro is dead, no one should expect significant change to occur on the island. Since ceding power to his brother in 2006, Fidel gradually distanced himself from control. While less pragmatic (and more conservative in questions of economic reform, such as the increase in the numbers of self-employed and the privatization of many restaurants) than his brother, Fidel had little direct influence on the major reforms currently seen in Cuba. His death might also increase the possibilities for the continuation of a liberal US approach to Cuba, given the fixation of many exiles with his image. And the pending retirement of Raúl Castro in early 2018 will signal the end to the Castro political lineage—and one of the last iconic vestiges of the Cold War. By continuing positive relations with Cuba, Canada can be an example of moving on.

John M. Kirk is professor of Latin American studies at Dalhousie University. He has written or co-edited sixteen books on Cuba.



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau

Prime Minister of Canada
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

November 14, 2016 

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

Re: Canada-Cuba Relations

I am writing to you on behalf of the Canadian Network On Cuba (CNC), which represents more than 20 Canada-Cuba friendship and solidarity organizations from Vancouver to Halifax. One of the CNC’s principal objectives is advocating that Canadian foreign policy regarding Cuba remains based on equality and respect for the island's sovereignty and right of self-determination.  

Prime Minister Trudeau, we welcome your November 15-16, 2016 visit to Cuba, which occurs at an opportune moment given recent political developments in the United States. You have the opportunity to clearly and unequivocally call on the incoming U.S. president to respect Cuba’s right to independence and self-determination, and not to return to the previous policy of open hostility. 

Canadians welcomed and celebrated the change in U.S-Cuba relations initiated on December 17, 2014.  Nevertheless, while Canada, the Americas and the world were encouraged by Washington’s departure from previous flagrant bellicose acts, the new policy and the reopening of embassies do not equate to the normalization of relations between the two countries. Washington’s illegal and immoral economic embargo – tantamount to a blockade - of Cuba continues, as does its ongoing campaign of subversion.  Moreover, the U.S naval base sits on the illegally occupied Cuban territory of Guantanamo Bay. 

On October 26, 2016 for the twenty-fifth successive time, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted overwhelming and unanimously by a vote of 191 to 0 (with 2 abstentions, the United States and Israel) to condemn Washington's more than five decade long economic war against Cuba. Representing the largest rebuff by the international community of Washington's efforts to asphyxiate the heroic people of Cuba, the United Nations October 26 vote not only demonstrates the unflinching opposition of the world to the criminal U.S. policy, but also the depth of global support and respect for Cuba. 

We are pleased that Canada was once again counted in the ranks of the world’s nations resoundingly rejecting the coercive, unilateral and extra-territorial U.S. policy.

Such is the isolation of the United States in the world that it was forced to acknowledge and accede to this reality by abstaining. However, while the abstention is a positive development, the principal architecture of the economic blockade remains intact. Washington still continues to zealously pursue and implement the extensive series of economic sanctions arrayed against the island nation, with the objective of negating and extinguishing Cuba’s right to self-determination and independence. 

Prime Minister, with the conclusion of the U.S. Presidential elections and as you set foot on Cuban soil, you have the historic opportunity to insist that this most regrettable page in the relations amongst the nations of the Americas can finally and permanently be turned by asserting that Washington’s relations with Cuba should be based on mutual respect and equality, not on outmoded colonialist ideas and practices. This necessitates ending the economic blockade, ceasing subversive acts against the Cuban government and returning the Guantanamo base to Cuba.

In closing, I wish to note that Canadians have traveled to Cuba in vast numbers (more than 1.4 million in 2015) and witnessed Cuban reality for themselves; they have come away with a profound respect and admiration for the Cuban people and their efforts to build a society centred on independence, justice and human dignity. Irrespective of their political or ideological positions, Canadians stand for the building of genuine friendship with the island nation: relations based on mutual respect, equality and recognition of Cuba’s right to self-determination and sovereignty. 

We wish you a productive and successful visit to Cuba. 

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Isaac Saney,
Co-Chair and National Spokesperson
Canadian Network on Cuba
Cell: 902-449-4967


Counting The Cost Of The Cuban Blockade

Rob Miller,Morning Star, October 1, 2016

Cuba has once again been forced to present its annual motion to the United Nations protesting against the illegal US blockade, which continues unabated despite all the early promise of the restoration of diplomatic links and President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba. ROB MILLER has the story

Cuba has once again presented its annual motion to the United Nations. This will be the 25th year it has been forced to protest against the illegal US blockade against its country.

It’s titled: “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” and sets out in detail the US laws that support the blockade, the limitations of the recent changes in US policies by the Obama administration and a huge list of examples illustrating the full and pernicious impact of the blockade on the lives of the people of Cuba.

Having seen Cuban and US embassies opening and President Barack Obama himself visiting Havana many people across the globe believe that the blockade is now over and all is well between the two countries.

The truth is in fact very different.

The US has just renewed its designation of Cuba as an “enemy” under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917, thus using its foreign policy interests as the foundation for the laws and regulations that underpin the extraterritorial blockade that continues to hinder Cuba’s economic development. In Havana on March 22 2016, Obama called on the US Congress to put an end to the policy of blockade. Yet the economic, commercial and financial blockade remains in force and the restrictions imposed by this policy continue to be applied.

Despite the US announcement that Cuba would finally be allowed to use the dollar in international transactions this has still not taken effect. At the same time US banks have so far refused to provide loans or credits to Cuban importers of US products that have supposedly been authorised by the US government for sale to the island. The biggest obstacle, however, is the long list of multimillion-dollar fines — and the threats of such fines — levied by the US Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) against international banks and financial institutions that are exploring engagement with Cuba. These massive penalties are an insurmountable block on any major institution from even examining the Cuban option.

The motion states that “since this policy began to be applied over 50 years ago, the blockade has caused damages of over US$125,873,000,000 at current prices.” That is over £97 billion.

The report accompanying the motion includes many of the hundreds of examples of the application of blockade policies that have occurred in the last 12 months alone. They range from the malicious to the absurd and cover companies in every corner of the globe including Britain, Spain, Denmark, China, France, Venezuela, China, Australia, Namibia, Turkey, Argentina and the US.

The examples include:

In October 2015, the French bank, Credit Agricole agreed to pay a fine of $1.1bn for violating the US regulations against Cuba. The bank had purely processed transactions between international accounts and the Cuban government or its nationals. Over a four-year period the bank had transferred a total of around $97 million of transactions yet was forced to pay a fine over 10 times bigger.

In November of 2015, PayPal blocked the account of the German ticket agency Proticket, which had been used by customers to pay for tickets for the musical comedy Soy Cubano and a concert by the Cuban singer Addys Mercedes.

In January 2016, OFAC levied a fine of $140,400 on the UK subsidiary of design company WATG Holdings which had worked on the design of a proposed hotel project in Cuba.

In February 2016, a branch of the British Standard Chartered Bank in Uganda informed Cuban doctors working at Mbarara University that they had to withdraw their money due to the fact that as Cubans they were not able to continue holding accounts in said bank. The university suggested that the Cubans open accounts in the British bank Barclays. After they did so, the bank advised them that they would not be able to make any transactions to or from Cuba.

The report highlights the real effects of the blockade on the Cuban people themselves in health, education and social provision.

In January 2016, Cuba received a delegation from the US corporation Medtronic, which supplies cerebral stimulators for the treatment of neurological diseases. While the Cuban Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery went ahead to purchase the much-needed specialist equipment, the US company has not been authorised to make the sales. Consequently Cuban patients suffering from Parkinson’s and various neurological disorders cannot receive a treatment that could improve their quality of life.

In education effects are widespread. One small example given was the extra $56,000 Cuba was forced to spend on string instruments for the 414 elementary level students enrolled last year. Cuba guarantees an instrument for every music student at this level yet they were forced to buy the instruments from countries other than the US, where they were charged premium rates for their efforts to circumvent the blockade. Such extra costs place a huge burden on the state when trying to provide the necessary equipment for all students.

The report estimates that because of the higher costs of buying products from countries other than the US, the Ministry of Education suffered losses of $1.2m in the last 12 months alone.

The report shows how the blockade can also negatively affect people in other countries.

The Cuban Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology developed Heberprot-P, a new medicine that is unique in the treatment of severe ulcers of the diabetic foot which can lead to amputations. This therapy has benefited over 230,000 patients throughout the world and has 21 health registrations and over 30 patents worldwide. Yet it cannot be sold in the US where diabetes affects some 29 million people and an estimated 200,000 could benefit directly from Heberprot-P. 

As well as medical products Cuba is unable to realise the value of likely exports to the US of many of its products including rum, tobacco, nickel and foodstuffs. The Asda supermarket chain based in Britain is owned by the US Walmart Group and it has been instructed to remove from sale all Cuban products — this includes rum and tobacco products which are now no longer available in Asda stores.

The Cuban report to the UN even includes the example of the impact of the blockade on our own work of solidarity.

In November 2015 the bank accounts of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (CSC) in Britain were forcibly closed by the Co-op Bank. In March 2016, the bank confirmed that said closure was due to the risks derived from sanctions applied by OFAC.

Virtually every international body from the UN to the Union of South American Nations, the African Union and even the Vatican have called for an end to the blockade — yet it is still kept in place by the United States.

The report shows once again that the blockade is not merely a bilateral matter between the US and Cuba — it is extraterritorial, affects third countries and is applied with ruthless and total impunity in open violation of international law. As the report makes clear: “It is the most unfair, severe and prolonged system of unilateral sanctions ever applied against any country.”

There has been much said over the past two years about “normalisation.” Yet there is a very long way to go before the welcome “restoration” of diplomatic relations will bring anything like a normalisation of relations.

The report concludes by reiterating that: “The US blockade constitutes the greatest obstacle for the development of all the potential of the economy and the wellbeing of the Cuban people, as well as for the economic, commercial and financial relations of Cuba with the United States and the rest of the world.” While the illegal blockade continues the struggle against it and for the rights of the Cuban people to develop their society free from such aggression must be fought for by us all.

Rob Miller is director of the Cuba Solidary Campaign in Great Britain.



Halifax Premiere of the film:

Fidel Es Fidel (Fidel is Fidel)

Photo Exhibit & Panel Discussion

6:30 pm, Thursday, August 11th, 2016 
At: Halifax Central Library 
Room: 301
5440 Spring Garden Road

Come and celebrate Fidel Castro's 90th Birthday.
More than one hundred countries around the world have joined forces to celebrate the life of one of the most influential leaders of all times.

Sponsored by the Nova Scotia Cuba Association and Canadian Network On Cuba

¡Fidel 90 y más!: A Revolutionary Legacy
- Isaac Saney, National Spokesperson, Canadian Network on Cuba -

"There are men who struggle for a day and they are good. There are men who struggle for a year and they are better. There are men who struggle many years, and they are better still. But there are those who struggle all their lives: These are the indispensable ones." -- Bertolt Brecht

"Fidel! Fidel! Que tiene Fidel que los americanos no pueden con él!"
(Fidel! Fidel! What is it that he has, that the U.S. imperialists can't defeat him!) -- Cuban Revolutionary chant

On August 13 Fidel Castro, the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, turns 90. Progressive, anti-war and social justice forces across the world will join in the celebration of the life of one of the world's most influential and significant leaders. It is especially worthwhile and necessary to mark and valorize the life and times of a man whose heart, without missing a beat, has withstood more than 600 assassination attempts by U.S imperialism.

Fidel's life and legacy loom large in world history and development. Fidel is part and parcel of the wave of the anti-colonial, national liberation and social emancipation struggles that swept Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in the second half of the 20th century. Fidel is integral to the Cuban-born and international revolutionary and anti-imperialist tradition, theory and practice, stretching through the Taino cacique, Hatuey, Toussaint L'Overture, Simon Bolivar, José Martí, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, among others.

Fidel does not transcend Cuba and history, as some have opined, but, instead, is ineluctably and organically bound to the deepest aspirations of the Cuban people and the demands of the times. Fidel belongs to the world. He does not stand above or outside life. Flesh and blood, brain and bone, he exemplifies the finest traditions of humanity.

His life encapsulates the struggle of the exploited and oppressed, epitomizing, as articulated by U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, "their historic power to transform our dull realities."

The significance of Fidel extends beyond the geographical boundaries of Cuba. Since its inception, the Cuban Revolution has made an invaluable contribution to the global struggle for justice, social development and human dignity. Under Fidel's leadership Cuba has established an unparalleled legacy of internationalism and humanitarianism, embodying the immortal words of José Martí: "Homeland is Humanity. Humanity is Homeland." In southern Africa, for example, more than 2,000 Cubans gave their lives to defeat the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. Mandela never forgot. After he was released from prison, one of the first countries outside of Africa and the first country in Latin America that he chose to visit was Cuba.

Today this commitment to humanity is mirrored in the tens of thousands of Cuban medical personnel and educators who have served and continue to serve around the world. This service sees them battling in the trenches against disease and illiteracy, running the gamut from combating the Ebola outbreaks in west Africa to beating back other challenges to public health in southern Africa. No less important is the training inside Cuba of medical cadres from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean as well as North America (including African-American communities from the largest U.S. cities).

Fidel was only 26 when on July 26, 1953 he led a group of courageous young men and women in the attack on the Moncada Barracks in the city of Santiago de Cuba, and the Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Barracks in Bayamo, an unsuccessful but valiant effort to overthrow the U.S.-supported puppet dictator Fulgencio Batista. Moncada was a catalyst for the revolutionary struggle to free Cuba from U.S. tutelage and establish authentic independence. Fidel has epitomized the unbending commitment to justice, dignity and independence that has characterized Cuba since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959, leading Cuban resistance against the unjust and genocidal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on the island by Washington.

No words can adequately convey the singular meaning of Fidel. By holding aloft the banners of Socialism, Justice, Peace, Internationalism and Human Dignity, the Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel, demonstrates that a better world is possible. On October 16, 1953 at his trial following the Moncada attack, Fidel laid out his vision of national independence and social justice, declaring, "Condemn me, it does not matter, history will absolve me." Since those historic words and the subsequent unfolding of events, in a world fraught with intense challenges and dangers, history has not only absolved Fidel but also vindicated the meaning and legacy of his life.

¡Viva Fidel!¡Fidel 90 y más!