End the Embargo of Cuba Now – A Forum and Discussion

Ariel Hernandez, first secretary to Cuba’s UN Mission, with Bob Guild and Luis Matos

By Pat Fry

The Metro NY CCDS organized and co-sponsored a panel presentation February 19th at Local1199 SEIU in mid-town Manhattan on the breakthrough in U.S. policy toward Cuba and what it will take to end the five and a half decades-long embargo of Cuba. Co-sponsors were the Local 1199 SEIU Latin American and Caribbean Democracy Committee and the World Organization for the Right of the People
to Health Care (WORPHC).

Long time Cuba solidarity activist, Bob Guild, Vice President of the NJ-based travel agency Marazul that has organized educational trips to Cuba for many years, spoke of the new travel regulations announced by the Obama Administration.

“The changes are significant for the right of the U.S. people to travel to Cuba,” said Guild. He explained that any group can now sponsor a trip to Cuba – unions, neighborhood organizations, the PTA and not have to apply for a license to do so. From the point of view of U.S. State Department, said Guild,they are encouraging travel because they believe it will undermine the Cuban government and its political system. “We are not emissaries of the U.S. State Department,” Guild said.

He spoke of the attacks on many who have advocated against the U.S. ban on travel over many years, including bombings of Marazul Tours and Local 1199’s union hall that injured a maintenance worker, and the 1979assassination of Cuban American Carlos Muniz, a leading solidarity activist with the Antonio Maceo Brigade. The policy change is a victory for the Cuban people because the U.S. was forced to recognize the legitimacy of the Cuban state, he said.

Ariel Hernandez, First Secretary of the Republic of Cuba to the UN Mission, said “The blockade of Cuba continues and the U.S. policy of ‘regime change’ in Cuba has not abated.” One way in which this is playing out is the attempt by the U.S. to ease import/export restrictions for the private sector in Cuba and not for publicly-owned restaurants and hotels. Hernandez said that the private sector in Cuba has some of the strongest pro-government people in the country. “Cuba will never accept any U.S. interference in our internal affairs,” he said.

Negotiations on many issues including telecommunications and internet, will continue the week of February 23, he said. “We are optimistic in the process. We are very strong in our position of sovereignty.”

Luis Matos of the Local 1199 SEIU Latin American and Caribbean Democracy Committee and the World Organization for the Right of the People to Health Care (WORPHC) spoke of the importance of educational trips to Cuba. The WORPHC has been organizing trips to Cuba for 30 years mainly among health care workers and rank and file union members. Matos stressed the importance of educational trips to Cuba in order for people to learn of the Cuban system of health care, Cuban life and society.

Muata Greene, a retired EMT medic in NYC, works with the WORPHC in organizing trips. He said “Cuba is a great example of the right of the people to health care. The people that go to Cuba are taking the message back to the U.S. – single payer health care for the U.S.,” said Greene.

Among the 60 people attending were many activists in Cuba solidarity work, including Leslie Cagan who headed the Cuba Information Project in the 1990s, Gail Walker of Pastors for Peace/IFCO, Ike Naheem and Jaime Mendieta of the July 26th Coalition. Anne Mitchell of CCDS chaired the panel and welcomed everyone on behalf of the three sponsoring organizations.

In discussion of next steps to end the embargo, Pat Fry reported on the lobby efforts in Congress, spearheaded by the Latin American Working Group. The LAWG has an online petition in support of legislation to lift the travel ban (S. 299 and H.R. 664). The identical bills are bi-partisan but the lobby focus is aimed at Republicans before more Democrats sign on. A bill to lift trade restrictions was
also introduced in Congress but with less support at this time.

At the conclusion of the forum, there was consensus on a proposal to build a network to:

1) Share information and build support for “End the Travel Ban” legislation, including circulating the LAWG online petition at http://www.lawg.org/action-center/78-end-the-travel-ban-on-cuba/1407-tell-congress-its-time-to-end-the-embargo

2) Initiate a petition to completely bring an end to the embargo of Cuba and repeal the Helms-Burton law that enforces all aspects of the U.S. embargo.

3) Share information about educational trips to Cuba and build participation to encourage as many as possible to go to Cuba and learn first-hand the Cuban socialist project.

The US is Heading Into a Heavily Militarized Future

By Tom Englehardt
Beaver County Peace Links via TomDispatch

Feb 17, 2015 – I never fail to be amazed — and that’s undoubtedly my failing.  I mean, if you retain a capacity for wonder you can still be awed by a sunset, but should you really be shocked that the sun is once again sinking in the west? Maybe not.

The occasion for such reflections: machine guns in my hometown. To be specific, several weeks ago, New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announced the formation of a new 350-officer Special Response Group (SRG). Keep in mind that New York City already has a police force of more than 34,000 — bigger, that is, than the active militaries of Austria, Bulgaria, Chad, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kenya, Laos, Switzerland, or Zimbabwe — as well as its own “navy,” including six submersible drones. 

Just another drop in an ocean of blue, the SRG will nonetheless be a squad for our times, trained in what Bratton referred to as “advanced disorder control and counterterror.”  It will also, he announced, be equipped with “extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns — unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.” And here’s where he created a little controversy in my hometown.  The squad would, Bratton added, be “designed for dealing with events like our recent protests or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris.”

Now, that was an embarrassment in liberal New York.  By mixing the recent demonstrations over the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others into the same sentence with the assault on Mumbai and the Charlie Hebdo affair in France, he seemed to be equating civil protest in the Big Apple with acts of terrorism.  Perhaps you won’t be surprised then that the very next day the police department started walking back the idea that the unit would be toting its machine guns not just to possible terror incidents but to local protests.  A day later, Bratton himself walked his comments back even further. (“I may have in my remarks or in your interpretation of my remarks confused you or confused the issue.”)  Now, it seems there will be two separate units, the SRG for counterterror patrols and a different, assumedly machine-gun-less crew for protests.

Here was what, like the sun going down in the west, shouldn’t have shocked me but did: no one thought there was any need to walk back the arming of the New York Police Department with machine guns for whatever reasons.  The retention of such weaponry should, of course, have been the last thing to shock any American in 2015.  After all, the up-armoring and militarization of the police has been an ongoing phenomenon since 9/11, even if it only received real media attention after the police, looking like an army of occupation, rolled onto the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in response to protests over the killing of Michael Brown.

In fact, the Pentagon (and the Department of Homeland Security) had already shunted $5.1 billion worth of military equipment, much of it directly from the country’s distant battlefields — assault rifles, land-mine detectors, grenade launchers, and 94,000 of those machine guns — to local police departments around the country.  Take, for example, the various tank-like, heavily armored vehicles that have now become commonplace for police departments to possess.  (Ferguson, for instance, had a “Bearcat,” widely featured in coverage of protests there.)

Since 2013, the Pentagon has transferred for free more than 600 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, worth at least half a million dollars each and previously used in U.S. war zones, to various “qualified law enforcement agencies.” Police departments in rural areas like Walsh County, North Dakota (pop. 11,000) now have their own MRAPs, as does the campus police department at Ohio State University.  It hardly matters that these monster vehicles have few uses in a country where neither ambushes nor roadside bombs are a part of everyday life. (Continued)

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After 13 Years, US-Led Afghanistan War is Officially Over but Nightmare Goes On

The war in Afghanistan claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and about 3,500 foreign troops

By Deirdre Fulton
Common Dreams

Dec. 28, 2014 – With little fanfare, the United States and NATO formally ended the longest war in U.S. history with a ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday, leaving observers to wonder what—if anything—was achieved.

Over 13 years, U.S.-led war in Afghanistan claimed the lives of about 3,500 foreign troops (at least 2,224 of them American soldiers) and an estimated 21,000 Afghan civilians; most experts agree that the country is as violent as ever and that the death toll will continue to rise. Many say the war is over in name only.

"Afghanistan’s war is as hot as it has been since the U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks overthrew the Taliban," Lynne O’Donnell writes for the Associated Press. Some 5,000 members of Afghanistan’s security forces—army, police and armed rural defense units—have died this year fighting the Taliban, according to Karl Ake Roghe, the outgoing head of EUPOL, the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan.

And while the ceremony marked the end of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a new flag for the international mission "Resolute Support" was immediately unfurled.

In late September, the U.S. and Afghanistan signed a controversial Bilateral Security Agreement that allows for U.S. training, funding, and arming of the Afghan military; establishes long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan with access to numerous bases and installations in the country; and extends immunity to U.S. service members under Afghan law.

Stars and Stripes set the scene in Kabul: "During an hour-long ceremony in a drab gymnasium at the headquarters of the military coalition that has battled against insurgents for 13 years, generals hailed the end of a mission, while struggling to explain the parameters of what will still be a substantial military operation in Afghanistan."

There will still be roughly 11,000 American troops in Afghanistan next year as part of the Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghanistan’s roughly 350,000 security forces. ISAF spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Belcher told Stars and Stripes that there would be a total of roughly 17,500 foreign troops in Afghanistan next year, which the publication notes is "far more than the 12,000-13,000 U.S. and NATO officials have been saying would be part of Resolute Support. Belcher could not say where those additional troops would be coming from nor when or why the decision was made to increase their number."

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