Cuban Foreign Minister, Workers’ Federation on Obama’s Visit

The blockade continues intact, assures Bruno Rodríguez

Reprinted from Cubadebate
Mar 17th, 2016

On March 15, the Departments of the Treasury and of Commerce issued new regulations that modify the implementation of some aspects of the US 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 authorizing now individual “people-to-people” educational travels. However, it should be recalled that the legal prohibition that prevents US citizens from freely traveling to Cuba is still in force. This prohibition should be lifted by the US Congress.

Cuba’s authorization to use US 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 US 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 US and third-countries financial institutions for conducting legitimate transactions with Cuba.

In the coming days we will attempt to make some transfers in US 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 Credit 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 US citizens from consuming and receiving Cuban products and services in third countries was modified.

• Current restrictions on US 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 US 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 US 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 US 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, two days ago, 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:

• US and foreign companies have been fined recently for providing services and equipment of US origin to Cuba.

• Foreign companies trading with 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 US dollar.

• Foreign banks have closed down the bank accounts in currencies other than the US dollar maintained by the Cuban medical staff offering their cooperation in African countries.

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

We recognize the position adopted by President Obama against the blockade and his repeated appeals to Congress urging it to lift it.

We expect the US Congress to act accordingly in the face of an almost unanimous claim of the international community and ever broader sectors of the US 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 anyone of its principles or its foreign policy, which is committed to the just causes all over the world and the defense of peoples’ self-determination.

Within a few days we will be welcoming the US President with our distinctive hospitality as well as with the respect and consideration he deserves in his condition 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 US 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

Statement by the Cuban Workers’ Federation(CTC) on the occasion of the visit of the President of the United States of America Barack Obama to Cuba

Reprinted from Granma
March 18, 2016

The more than three million members of unions affiliated with the Cuban Workers’ Federation, 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 labor 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 labor 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 Labor 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 free 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.

Statement by the Federation of Cuban Women

Reprinted from Granma
March 15, 2016

fmcThe Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) will receive the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and his wife Michelle, conscious that this visit is part of the complex process to normalize relations between the two governments

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, 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, a non-governmental civil society organization – with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) -, which today brings together more than 4 million Cuban women, about 90% 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 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 percent of our girls attend school regardless of where they live, the color 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.”