Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque delivered a blistering speech to the United Nation General Assembly Nov. 4 calling for the end of the U.S.-imposed embargo against the socialist nation. He received an ovation from the delegates, who then voted 179-3, with two abstentions, in favor of ending the embargo of Cuba.

The vote was further proof of the failure of the Bush administration’s foreign policies, which have resulted in international isolation and distrust.

Roque rebutted the Bush administration’s arguments in support of the blockade point-by-point, branding it as an act of war that is genocidal in its intention of inflicting hunger and privation on the 11 million people of Cuba.

“The economic, financial and commercial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba must be lifted. The blockade against Cuba qualifies, in conformity with the 1948 Geneva Convention, as a crime of genocide,” he said.

Roque continued, “The blockade … violates the United Nations Charter. It prevents international trade and curtails free navigation. It gets to the point of penalizing the businesspeople from other countries who invest in Cuba.”

Roque challenged the arrogant tone of the speech by U.S. representative Sichan Siv, who trotted out Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator line. Siv had earlier said, “Cuba’s best day is when the Cuban people have terminated Castro’s evil Communist dictatorial regime and said to him, ‘Hasta la vista, baby.’”

Roque replied, “Never have such disrespectful words been heard in this Assembly. Cuba accepts that there may be differences of opinion, different viewpoints, different ideologies; but it believes that there must be a minimum of respect towards the delegates and the countries represented here.” Roque added, “It is the people of Cuba, with the support of the international community, who will say, ‘Hasta la vista, blockade; hasta la vista, genocide.’”

Roque accused the U.S. representative of uttering 15 lies in his speech, among them that the blockade was in response to Cuba nationalizing industries without compensation. “Lies! The Cuban nationalization laws established compensation, and, in fact, this compensation was accepted by all foreign owners in Cuba, including Europeans, Canadians and Latin Americans, everyone except for citizens of the United States, whose government prohibited them from accepting compensation.”

He charged that the embargo causes the Cuban economy to lose $1.6 billion a year. In addition, Cuba faces destabilization through aggression, invasion and assassination plots. Roque said the blockade is the “greatest obstacle” to Cuban socio-economic development.

Roque said although Cuba is a poor country, it pays its debts. It also provides medical care to each Cuban citizen, “unlike the United States, where there are 44 million people who have no right to health care services.”

He pointed out that despite U.S. claims of allowing its citizens to visit Cuba, “A large number of them had to violate the laws of the United States itself to [travel].” He then asked, “[I]f the U.S. government is not afraid of them coming [to Cuba], then why doesn’t it allow them to travel? Why are there more than 2,000 U.S. citizens currently facing legal proceedings for this very reason?” He told the story of a 74-year-old grandmother, Joan Slote, who was fined $8,500 for traveling to Cuba.

Roque called the blockade detrimental “to the rights of the American people, the rights of the Cubans who live in the United States and the rights of those nationals from other countries who wish to trade with and invest freely in Cuba.” The blockade serves the narrow interests of a far-right alliance of forces, he said.

“I am not saying a single word here against the people of the United States; we consider them our friends. … We believe that the people of the United States are also victims, like us, of their government’s cruel and senseless policy. I do not blame the people, I blame their government, which subordinates its policy towards Cuba to the corrupt interests of a minority of Cuban-born mobsters living in the city of Miami,” he said.

Even among the Cuban emigres in the U.S., Roque said, “a growing mass – increasingly less silent and more active – objects to this policy that curtails normal relations with their families and with Cuba.” Roque called on the U.S. to repeal the Helms-Burton and Torricelli Acts, which penalize other countries that trade with Cuba and undermine Cuban sovereignty. Roque also called for freedom for Cuba to export its products to the U.S., including seafood, vaccines and biotech items, and to allow Cuba to import U.S. products, “with the exception of weapons – in which we are not interested.”

Roque called for the “free exchange of ideas” between the U.S. and Cuba. The Bush administration has refused visas to Cuban scientists, athletes and artists, including Cuban musicians who won Grammy awards.

He called on the U.S. to allow the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to grant credits to Cuba, and to allow U.S. banks to make loans to the island.

Roque also called on the U.S. government to stop supporting the Bacardi company in the trademark and patent conflict with Cuba and called on it to prevent the theft of the Havana Club rum brand name. He also called for a return of Cuban money currently frozen in U.S. banks; returning the territory held by the Guantanamo Naval Base; repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act; and cooperation to eliminate human smuggling.

Lastly, Roque called for the release of the “five young Cubans who are unjustly imprisoned” in U.S. prisons for working to block right-wing terrorism emanating from Miami, and prosecution of those guilty of committing terrorist acts against the island.

“In brief, the United States must cease its aggression against Cuba. It must recognize Cuba’s right to its self-determination. It must allow the Cubans to live in peace. It must recognize that … Cuba is a free and independent country.”

Quoting George W. Bush who said, “Cuba is not going to change by its own choice,” Roque said, “He is mistaken. Cuba changes every day. There is no more profound and permanent change than a Revolution. It will change, yes, but increasingly towards more Revolution and Socialism. Towards more equality, more justice, more freedom and more solidarity.”

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(See related story and Detroit City Council resolution below)

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Detroit City Council calls for normal relations with Cuba

The following resolution was unanimously passed Nov. 7 by the Detroit City Council. It was introduced by JoAnn Watson and Maryann Mahaffey at the initiative of the U.S/Cuba Labor Exchange, Justice for Cuba Coalition and the National Network on Cuba.

Whereas, The Bush administration is attempting to thwart the vote of the House and Senate to stop the funding for the enforcement of the travel ban,

Whereas, Cuba has developed important medicines and vaccines, which would be of great benefit to our citizens,

Whereas, Secretary of State Colin Powell has publicly recognized the significant accomplishments Cuba has made in the areas of public health and education,

Whereas, In this time of global terrorism, the Cuban government has offered assistance in combating terrorism against American citizens,

Whereas, The United States Department of Defense has confirmed that Cuba does not pose a threat to the United States,

Whereas, The United States government has, without evidence, accused Cuba of collaborating with rogue states to develop weapons of biological warfare,

Whereas, America’s closest allies, such as the United Kingdom, Canada and France, have indicated that Cuba does not belong on a list of states that support international terrorism,

Whereas, Cuba imports upwards of $1 billion worth of food every year, including tons of products that could be furnished by Michigan’s farm industry which could help regenerate Michigan’s economic situation,

Whereas, Cuba could be an important market for the U.S. auto industry, which would benefit Detroit’s auto companies,

Whereas, the Michigan travel industry, including travel agencies in Detroit, are suffering from a severe recession in their industry while tourism opportunities in Cuba remain unreachable to most Detroit travel professionals and citizens,

Then, Therefore be it Resolved, That the Detroit City Council urges the United States Congress to repeal all travel restrictions to Cuba as well as restrictions of trade and commerce with Cuba,

And be it further Resolved, That the Detroit City Council urges the President of the United States to carefully review the inclusion of Cuba on the list of terrorist countries, based on actual evidence and not on political factors,

And be it further Resolved, That the City Clerk shall forward copies of this resolution to the President of the United States and members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation.

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Trade with Cuba: a win-win

While proclaiming itself in favor of so-called “free trade,” the Bush administration is fanatically opposed to trade with a nation only 90 miles off of Florida – Cuba.

However, farmers and agribusiness, from the Midwest heartland to the Western states, from the South, and the east and west coasts, see Cuba as a viable trading partner. And unlike trade under the proposed FTAA – which, incidentally, Cuba has strongly spoken out against – equitable trade with Cuba promises to create more U.S. jobs.

Trade delegations that have included senators, congressional representatives and governors from Illinois and Minnesota, have traveled to Cuba over the last few years to promote trade relations and help the ailing U.S. agricultural economy. The NAACP led a delegation that included Black farmers to discuss boosting trade.

On Sept. 14, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) signed a $10 million deal to sell Montana farm products such as wheat, cattle and dry beans to Cuba. Representing a widespread sentiment among the different sections of the agriculture economy, Baucus said in a press release, “This is an historic agreement that will help boost Montana’s ag economy and create jobs.”

Seventy-one American firms from 18 states recently traveled to Havana for a trade show, showing off their wares and hoping for some deals. Turkey farmers from North Carolina, Arkansas rice producers and citrus growers from Florida had booths there. U.S. travel industry executives met last month with Cuba’s tourism leaders to discuss prospects for increasing travel to the island, despite Bush’s announced crackdown on U.S. citizens visiting there.

“The ban is going to be lifted and when it is, the flood gates will open,” Bob Whitely, president of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, said. “The pent-up demand is huge,” said Matt Grayson, vice president of the National Tour Association.

A bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate recently defied the White House and voted against funding the enforcement of the Cuban travel ban. In the Republican-controlled Congress, the Senate voted 59-36 and the House 227-118 in favor of defunding such enforcement. Bush has threatened to veto the measure.

So why does the Bush administration stand virtually alone in its shrillness against Cuba, when many of its fellow capitalists are eager to normalize relations? Perhaps William F. Buckley gave the answer when he wrote, “Policies toward China and Vietnam evolved, but not policies toward Cuba. … Why? Do those policies have something to do with ‘an electoral stink?’ Well, yes.”

The Bush administration is actively courting a tiny, yet powerful minority of organized crime elements and fanatical anti-Communists in the U.S. Cuban community who are embedded in the politics and economy of South Florida. This is, as Buckley said, the “electoral stink” that heavily influences Florida’s electoral votes.

The struggle against FTAA and the struggle to end the blockade against Cuba are profoundly linked in the historic movement for peace, economic justice and democracy. Many in the anti-FTAA fight say that trade agreements with Cuba would be different than NAFTA or the FTAA, because Cuba fights for equality.

Oxfam, in a statement from their website, said, “Cubans join others in the region who demand an alternative model of trade for the region with an agenda that puts people over corporations.”

The struggle against the Free Trade Area of the Americas has an important ally in the Cuban people and their government. And to have “fair trade” in the Americas, the blockade against Cuba must end.

– Terrie Albano