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Vol. 80/No. 24       June 20, 2016

(front page)

Cuban leader at NY conference: End US embargo, return Guantánamo!

NEW YORK — The restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuban governments was a victory won thanks to the steadfastness of Cuba’s revolutionary leadership “and the resistance and dignity of the Cuban people,” said Josefina Vidal, the Cuban foreign ministry’s director general for U.S. affairs.

She was speaking together with José Ramón Cabañas, Cuban ambassador to the U.S., and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, U.S. chargé d’affaires in Havana, at a featured workshop during this year’s conference of the Latin American Studies Association. Their counterposed remarks underscored Washington’s continuing efforts to undermine Cuba’s socialist revolution, as well as the Cuban leadership’s determination to defend it.

More than 6,000 professors, graduate students, publishers, writers and others attended some portion of the conference, held here May 27-30, which featured some 1,400 panel discussions and other events. The large majority were from the United States, Canada and Latin America, along with others from Europe and Asia.

A notable feature this year was the largest participation from Cuba ever. According to leaders of the delegation, 260 Cubans were granted visas to attend, while 50 were denied by the U.S. State Department.

Several dozen panels took up Cuba-related topics, including U.S.-Cuba relations since December 17, 2014, when Washington and Havana publicly announced steps that led to the reestablishment last year of diplomatic ties. The U.S. government unilaterally broke relations with Cuba’s revolutionary government more than five decades ago.

‘End embargo, leave Guantánamo’

In her presentation, Vidal outlined several areas in which Cuban authorities were making or seeking progress in relations with Washington, including direct mail service between the two countries, cooperation in combating drug trafficking and migration talks. Nonetheless, she stressed, Washington continues its decades-long trade embargo against Cuba, its occupation of Guantánamo against the will of the Cuban people and its policy of granting expedited U.S. residency to Cubans who reach the United States outside legal channels. The U.S. government continues to pursue its “goal of bringing about internal changes within Cuba,” she said, in violation of the Cuban people’s right to decide their own affairs.

DeLaurentis, the ranking diplomat at the U.S. embassy in Cuba (the Obama administration has made no nomination to fill the post of ambassador), spoke glowingly about Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba in March. He reiterated Washington’s “support for the private sector” in Cuba and its unhappiness that, among other things, Cuban laws do not allow U.S. companies that might operate on the island to freely hire and fire workers.

Questioned by audience members about the U.S. occupation of Cuban sovereign territory at Guantánamo, DeLaurentis curtly replied, “Gitmo is not on the table.” Vidal reiterated that the only resolution of that issue is “the unconditional return of Guantánamo.”

Asked by John Kirk, a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, about the U.S. government’s Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, DeLaurentis made it clear Washington has no intention of ending that policy, which encourages Cuban medical personnel serving abroad to desert and move to the United States.

Ambassador Cabañas urged supporters of Cuba to lobby Congressional representatives and educate them and others about the need to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

Many other panels at the LASA conference discussed a broad range of topics, especially the growing economic, social and political crises in Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Puerto Rico and other countries.

Hundreds of participants at the conference opening session gave an enthusiastic welcome to a large group from Brazil wearing “No to the coup” T-shirts, in opposition to current impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff. Delegates expressed approval for an emergency resolution denouncing the impeachment process in Brazil as “antidemocratic.”

Other panels took up subjects such as U.S. immigration policy, gender studies, contemporary literature, Black rights, Chinese investment in the region, prison reform, agricultural policy and the fight for women’s right to choose abortion. In most Latin American countries, abortion remains severely restricted or even banned; only in Cuba is it available to women as a basic health matter and free of charge.

One center of informal exchange was the large book exhibit area. At the Pathfinder Press booth, titles explaining the world capitalist economic crisis were among the most sought-after, as were books about the Cuban Revolution.

A well-attended book launch at the exhibit hall featured Pathfinder’s most recent book, “It’s the Poor Who Face the Savagery of the US ‘Justice’ System”: The Cuban Five Talk About Their Lives Within the US Working Class. Speaking were American University professor Phil Brenner, a prominent figure in Cuban studies; Raúl Rodríguez, director of the University of Havana’s Center for Hemispheric and U.S. Affairs; and Mary-Alice Waters, Pathfinder president and the book’s editor.

During the conference, New York and New Jersey groups in solidarity with Cuba hosted a reception and dinner for the Cuban delegation, attended by more than 150 people, including Ambassador Cabañas, Vidal, and Rodolfo Reyes, Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations.

That gathering heard much-appreciated remarks from Miguel Barnet, president of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba and a member of Cuba’s Council of State; well-known poet Nancy Morejón; and economist Antonio Romero of the University of Havana. Romero explained the challenges the Cuban government is today confronting in the context of the world economic crisis and Washington’s intensified efforts to undermine Cuba’s socialist revolution.

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