Wednesday, 29 May 2013

“Cuba may not have the wealth of the US, but it has a heart for the poor”

UNISON North West delegation
UNISON North West delegate Ian Sutcliffe reports on his participation in CSC’s May Day Brigade to Cuba 2013

I was over the moon when I got accepted to join the NW UNISON delegation on the Young Trade Unionist May Day Brigade to Cuba. This was the 6th time that the Cuba Solidarity Campaign organised two weeks of solidarity and celebration of the Cuban Revolution.

The campaign seeks an end to the 50 year blockade of Cuba. The United States Government has for 50 years blocked trade with Cuba. It is not just an embargo; America also blocks third countries from trading with Cuba.

We took part in different activities while in Cuba. One of them was farming. We spent a whole day piling up branches into a bonfire and another day moving large stones. It was very exhausting, physically and mentally.

At the end of both days I thought “What is the point, I’m a council gardener and this would take an hour with a John Deere tractor”.  With 30 operatives and no tractor it took all day. If we had a tractor time would fly by very swiftly.

That is just the point, Cuba struggles to make new vehicles or import them because of the blockade. Most cars and lorries are 1950s American vehicles. The Cubans have done very well in maintaining these vehicles for so long. This may be because Cuba has active mines. They have large deposits of nickel and nickel cobalt.

Another major industry is the health care industry. The Cuban health service trains doctors and nurses that go and work all over Latin America. Cuba regularly sends medical aid missions to tropical islands along the Equator and in South America whenever there is a natural disaster.

Cuba has a lot to give. Cuba may not have the oil or wealth of the United States of America but it has a heart for the poor; which is exactly what the capitalist countries elsewhere do not have. What Cuba has, it shares generously.

What became apparent at the May Day rally in Revolution Square is that all of the doctors, consultants, nurses, military forces, local government workers, school teachers and children were marching together. The atmosphere was amazing with all of the music, the banners and the revolutionary cheer.

We attended a play which was performed by the school children. It was about the Spanish-American War right through to the Cuban Revolution.  A few days later we attended a street party with a local Committee for the Defence of the Revolution. From the age of 5 to 75; everyone in Cuba loves to dance. In the street party there was a 5 year old boy who was busting some moves. Everyone was dancing. The President of the local Communist Party addressed the delegation at the end of the night and thanked us all for being there and for showing solidarity with the Cuban people.

If any young members are thinking of going next year don’t go for the food: the food is poor. Take plenty of mosquito spray; take a torch and a rain coat. It rained once while I was in Cuba; at that time we had a thunderstorm and a power cut. Take working boots, gloves and washing powder.

I would recommend going on a Brigade in Cuba to anyone, whatever age you are. There are Brigades for people of any age as well.

Get involved -become an activist!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Book Review: The Economic War Against Cuba by Salim Lamrani

Salim Lamrani - French academic and expert in US-Cuban relations - will be touring the UK in May to discuss his new book The Economic War Against Cuba. Full details of the tour can be found here and you can buy a copy of his excellent academic study ahead of his visit online now.

Salim Lamrani presents a comprehensive and systematic study of the United States’ economic sanctions against Cuba and the harm they cause the Cuban people. Lamrani delicately combines a heart-rending catalogue of human suffering with robust analysis – including the examination of official U.S. government documentation – as he considers the origins, provisions and legality of the blockade. He exposes the farcical nature of blockade legislation, one example being that the export of pianos to Cuba was deemed detriment to the interests and security of the United States.

The introduction expertly shows that the blockade is unique in terms of its length, thoroughness and sophistication. Whilst Washington has normalised relations with China and Vietnam, the blockade has been strengthened and applied retroactively and extra-territorially.

Lamrani exposes the ideological nature of the blockade and demonstrates how it originates from the United States’ historical desire to subjugate Cuba. The blockade’s initial justification was a dispute over compensation following the nationalisation of U.S. multi-national corporations after the triumph of the Revolution. Cuba agreed compensation with France, the UK, Canada and Spain – only the U.S. rejected the compensation process which adhered to all international standards and laws.

Throughout its fifty-year history, the validation for the blockade has changed. Reasons cited include: issues over compensation, Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union, Cuban intervention in African liberation movements and fabricated concerns over democracy and human rights. The chapter on economic sanctions from Eisenhower to Obama – which considers each President’s tenure individually – skilfully shows how the blockade has evolved and multi-layered sanctions have been imposed despite growing international condemnation. 

Further chapters consider the impact of sanctions on Cuban healthcare – which documents how the blockade causes the deaths of thousands of Cubans every year – and the extra-territorial application of the blockade. Lamrani references numerous examples of foreign banks and businesses being fined by the U.S. for trading with Cuba and showcases the various cases where U.S. law has superseded domestic law which makes it illegal to discrimination on grounds of race and nationality.

The extra-territorial nature of the blockade means an American tourist that smokes a Cuban cigar or drinks Havana Club anywhere in the world, “could be fined a million dollars and sentenced to ten years in prison” whilst a Cuban living abroad “cannot, theoretically, eat … at McDonald’s”. 

Finally, Lamrani highlights the growing American opposition to the blockade – whilst recognising the continuing influence of the vitriolic Cuba-American lobby – and considers the Cuban claim that the blockade is a “genocidel policy” with reference to supporting Articles from the Geneva Convention.

Lamrani’s book presents the concealed reality of an economic blockade which has cost the Cuban economy more than $751 billion and which particularly affects the most vulnerable people in Cuba. Over 70% of Cubans have lived in a climate of permanent economic hostility and the blockade remains “the main obstacle to Cuba’s national development as well as contrary to the UN Charter and international law”. 

At just under 100 pages, Lamrani’s study is accessible and engaging, however its relevance and erudition make it a timeless reference book and compulsory read for all activists. Lamrani expertly demonstrates that sanctions have totally failed in their objective, which is nothing less than the overthrow of the Cuban government.

Buy the book online now for just £12:45  (inc. p&p)

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Work for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign

Two vacancies for Campaigns Officer and Admin/Finance Officer

Don’t miss a great opportunity to work for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and join the campaign against the US blockade

Campaigns Officer, full time (4 or 5 days), £21,000 - £25,000 pro rata.
You will need sound administrative and written communication skills to organise participation at trade union conferences, build on strong union and parliamentary relations, write briefings, press releases, journal articles and manage contact databases.

Administrative and Finance Officer full or part time (4 or 5 days), £21,000 - £25,000 pro rata.
The Administration and Finance posts could be two part time posts, one job share, or one full time post.

Administrative - You will need good administrative skills and experience, computer literacy and the ability to work under pressure and on your own initiative. Interest in project management and marketing skills desirable.

Finance - You will need accurate book keeping skills and be able to use computerised financial packages.

Please use the Job Application Form (below). If you need a Word Document version so you can type into it, please request it immediately from

If you would like a hard copy, send a SAE to CSC, c/o Unite the Union, Woodberry, 218 Green Lanes, London N4 2HB

For further information contact: or 0208 800 0155

The deadline for CSC to receive applications is midday Thursday 6th June 2013. We accept applications by email.

Economic sanctions against Cuba under the Obama administration

The coming to power of President Obama in the United States in 2008 marked a departure in style from the previous Bush administration toward Cuba. However, with the exception of the lifting of some restrictions on travel, economic sanctions continue to apply, including those of an extraterritorial nature. French academic Salim Lamrani gives some recent examples ahead of a nationwide speaking tour this month.

During his election campaign in 2007, then-candidate Barack Obama made a lucid observation on the outdated US policy toward Cuba. Once elected, he declared his willingness to seek "a new beginning with Cuba".

"I think we can take the relationship between the US and Cuba in a new direction and launch a new chapter of engagement that will continue during my tenure, " he said.

Obama had denounced his predecessor's policy toward Cuba, which had severely restricted the travel of the Cuban community in the United States. "This is both a strategic and humanitarian issue. This decision [...] has had a profoundly negative impact on the welfare of the Cuban people. I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island," he pledged.

Obama kept his word. In April 2009, he announced the lifting of some restrictions affecting those Cubans who lived in the United States and who had relatives on the island, which came into force on 3 September 2009. Since then, Cuban-Americans can travel to their home country without any hindrance (instead of for just fourteen days every three years) and send unlimited remittances to their families (instead of USD $100 per month).  

Extraterritorial application of economic sanctions against Cuba

However, Washington has not hesitated to apply economic sanctions, including extraterritorial, seriously violating international law. Indeed, extraterritorial blockade laws provide that national legislation can be offshore, i.e. outside the country applied. Thus, Brazilian law does not apply in Argentina. Similarly, Venezuelan law can not be applied in Colombia. But the US law of economic sanctions against Cuba is applied in all countries of the world.

Indeed, in June 2012, the Dutch bank ING had the largest penalty ever handed down since the beginning of economic siege against Cuba in 1960. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Treasury Department sanctioned the financial institution with a fine of 619 million dollars for making dollar transactions made with Cuba through the US financial system between 2002 and 2007.

The Treasury Department also forced the Dutch bank to sever its commercial relations with Cuba and announced that “ING assured the Office of Foreign Assets Control, that it had put an end to practices that led to today's settlement." So, Washington effectively banned a European bank from having any commercial transactions with Cuba.

The Cuban government denounced this new extraterritorial application of economic sanctions, which, besides preventing all trade with the United States (except limited raw food products), constitutes the main obstacle to the development of trade relations between Cuba and the rest of the world.

"The US government unilaterally fined ING bank for handling, in conjunction with its subsidiaries in France, Belgium, Netherlands and Curacao, financial and commercial transactions with Cuban entities, prohibited by the criminal policy of blockade against Cuba," said an official statement.

Szunin Adam, Director of OFAC, used the occasion to warn foreign firms about trade with Cuba. This penalty "should serve as a clear warning to anyone considering taking advantage of evading US sanctions," he said, reaffirming that Washington would continue to implement its extraterritorial measures.

Other foreign firms were also sanctioned for trade relations with Cuba. Thus, the Swedish multinational Ericsson, specialising in the field of telecommunications, had to pay a fine of $1.75 million for repairing, through its subsidiary based in Panama, Cuban equipment worth $320,000 in United States. Three employees involved in the case were also dismissed.

On 10 July 2012, the Treasury Department imposed a fine of $1.35 million on the US firm Great Western Malting Co. for selling barley to Cuba, through its foreign subsidiaries between August 2006 and March 2009. However, international humanitarian law prohibits any embargo on food commodities and drugs, even in wartime. Now, officially, Cuba and the United States have never been in conflict.

In France, Mano Giardini and Valérie Adilly, two directors of the US travel agency Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), were fired for selling tour packages to Cuba. The company runs the risk of receiving a fine of $38,000 per trip sold, angering some employees who could not understand the situation. "Why did Carlson not withdraw the Cuba tours from our reservation system if we had no right to sell them," asked an employee.

CWT directors commented on the matter: "Under these conditions, we must apply the US rule that prohibits journeys to Cuba, even for subsidiaries." Thus, a US subsidiary based in France is required to abide by US law on economic sanctions against Cuba, ridiculing the national legislation in force.  

Google censored and a budget of $20 million for the "digital democracy"

More unusual economic sanctions prohibit Cubans from using some functions of Google search engine, such as Google Analytics (that calculates the number of visits to a website and its origin), Google Earth, Google Desktop Search, Google Toolbar, Google Code Search, Google AdSense and Google AdWords, depriving Cuba of access to these new technologies and many downloadable products. The US company provided an explanation by his representative Christine Chen: "We had it written in our terms and conditions. Google Analytics can not be used in countries subject to embargoes ".

Meanwhile, at the same time that Washington imposes restrictions on the use of Google’s digital services in Cuba and prohibits Havana from connecting to its fibre optic cable for Internet, the State Department announced that it would spend, via the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the sum of $20 million on "human rights activists, independent journalists and independent libraries on the island", for the purpose of disseminating "digital democracy".

The Obama administration, far from adopting "a new beginning with Cuba", continues to impose economic sanctions affecting all categories starting with those most vulnerable, women, children and the elderly. It does not hesitate to punish foreign companies violating international law by applying extraterritorial measures. It also refuses to hear the unanimous demand of the international community, which condemned in 2013 for the twenty-first consecutive year, the imposition of an anachronistic, cruel and ineffective state of siege which is the main obstacle to the development of the nation.

For full details of Salim Lamrani’s speaking tour, please visit the Cuba Solidarity Campaign website.

You can also order Lamrani’s book The Economic War Against Cuba