PHILADELPHIA – Dagoberto Rodrigues, chief of the Cuban Interest Section in the U.S., spoke here at the University of Pennsylvania, Oct. 7. Rodrigues is a former journalist with an extensive career in foreign service. He spoke about the advances Cuba has made since 1959 in education and health care. “Our infant mortality rate was 6.2 per 1,000 live births in 2001 and 800,000 Cubans have college degrees,” said Rodrigues. He also described the hardships Cuba endured in the 1990s when the USSR and other European socialist countries collapsed and Cuba lost 80 percent of its trade.

The U.S. government expected Cuba to collapse and a U.S. document called for the intensification of the blockade and sanctions to hurt Cuba’s economy and bring starvation to its people in order to overthrow the government by any means. “If the Cold War is over, then why does the U.S. continue the blockade and sanctions?” asked Rodrigues. “The U.S. blames Cuba for nationalizing U.S. companies. Cuba says end the blockade and we can discuss it. Other countries have received compensation and 167 countries oppose the blockade,” said Rodrigues. He also said that Cuba has proposed agreements for U.S. cooperation in fighting drug trafficking, illegal immigration and terrorism but the Bush administration has not responded.

When information on terrorist groups in Miami was given to the FBI, the informants were jailed and charged as spies while the terrorist groups remain free. The jury of the “Cuban Five” was threatened, and the request to change the venue was denied.

“We only want Cuba’s independence, sovereignty and dignity to be respected,” said Rodrigues. Because relations with Cuba are not normalized, Rodrigues was limited by the State Department on the time he can spend at meetings. The remainder of the meeting was devoted to a question-and-answer session, which included the following questions:

Question: Has Castro changed his ideas? Is he setting up a peaceful transition to end the blockade? Could the Roman Catholic Church help settle the conflict?

Rodriques: Cuba has been in transition since 1959. It is the U.S. that has the power to end the blockade, not Cuba. Cuba is much more than President Castro. Many young, educated, skilled people are the power of Cuba. Cuba’s goal is and has been economic and social equality. We want to develop a new kind of human being.

Question: Latin American banks are in crisis. What guidance does Cuba have for young people?

Rodrigues: The 13th Congress of the Continental Organization of Latin American and Caribbean Students will take place Nov. 29-Dec. 3 in Guadalajara, Mexico. Cuba is sending a 600-person delegation of writers, poets and cultural figures.

Rodrigues told the crowd that he looks forward to the day when the United States and Cuba will have normal relationships.

Steve Eckardt, coordinator of the Philadelphia Cuba Solidarity Coalition said, “The U.S. still refuses to recognize Cuba and it hurts us here in Philadelphia. Chuchu Valdez, the great jazz artist, was scheduled to play a concert here but at the last minute his entrance to the U.S. was denied.”

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