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Easing of U.S. embargo on Cuba is a triumph for the Cuban people and for the 'Cuban Five'

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Updated--On Dec. 17, U.S. President Barak Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced that the United States will relax its economic and diplomatic embargo against Cuba. The two countries will establish full diplomatic relations. U.S. residents and citizens of Cuban origin will have greater freedom to travel to Cuba, including transfer of funds. Although the economic embargo remains formally in place, including on the sale of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals to Cuba, and U.S. residents of non-Cuban origin still cannot travel freely to Cuba, U.S. activist and former California senator Tom Haydyn writes, "With or without congressional action to lift the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, the embargo is being dissolved".

Obama’s announcement is a presidential order that can be reversed by a future president. Only Congress can end the travel ban and the economic embargo. A detailed list of what has changed is listed here in the New York Times.

A very significant part of the U.S. decision is the release the three remaining ‘Cuban Five’ political prisoners imprisoned in Florida. All five are national heros in Cuba.

President Raul Castro announced on national television the news of the political agreement with the U.S. Cubans erupted into celebration in the streets, particularly over the news of the release of the last of the Five.

Democracy Now devotes its one-hour edition of Dec 18 to the story, including that of the Cuban Five. Marjorie Cohen writes in Counterpunch: ‘Cuban Five at heart of U.S./Cuban deal’. And The Real News Network speaks to Michael Ratner on the case. He is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The Cuban Five were intelligence agents who accepted voluntary assignments from the Cuban government in the early 1990s to surveil and report on the activities of right-wing terrorists of Cuban origin in the United States, especailly in Florida. Cuban-American terrorists have a long record of carrying out murderous attacks, including the most infamous of all--the bombing of Cuban Airlines Flight 455 on Oct 11, 1976 while en route from Barbados to Cuba. All 73 people on board died. The plane crashed into the Caribbean Sea.

The Five were arrested in 1998. You can read their story here. In his announcement yesterday, Obama defended their original arrest.

Of note in the U.S. decision is the degree to which its utter hostility to Cuba has for years been rejected by Latin American opinion across the political spectrum. U.S. extremism is causing harm to its strategic interests as evidenced by the deliberate exclusion of the U.S. and Canada from the new political and economic alliances that have arisen in Latin America during the past decade or so. Panama brought this to a head in October when, in its capacity as host country of the Summit of the Americas next April, it decided that Cuba would be invited as a full participant. At past summits, host governments bowed to U.S. pressure to exclude Cuba.

In its television coverage of the U.S./Cuba announcement, CBC News scrubbed out mention of the Cuban Five, referring only to a “prisoner exchange” between the U.S. and Cuba.

CBC’s coverage of the story refers to Cuba as a “dictatorship”. A Toronto Star editorial on Dec. 18 calls Cuba a “repressive police state”. A Globe and Mail editorial says the government is a “dictatorship” that “keeps its people trapped in the past”.

Even Margaret Trudeau has gotten into the Cuba-bashing act. She told Postmedia that she has fond memories of her visit to Cuba in 1976 as part of the state visit of her then-husband, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. But she says she welcomes the U.S. decision because it will help the Cuban people "evolve as they need to". As if the ongoing U.S embargo is something that Cuba is responsible for or deserved, and as if the torture and spy state apparatus centered in Washington DC, with branches in the 'Five Eyes' spying alliance, has anything to teach to Cuba about democracy. Trudeau says the Cuban government is "extraordinarily repressive".

The fact that Cuba’s government is an elected one is censored out of mainstream media. What irks the CBC, the Star and the Globe is that unlike in Canada and the U.S., corporate funding cannot buy the electoral process there. As well, Cuba’s mass organizations--trade unions, women’s and students’ organizations, neighbourhood organizations--play a very important role in government decision-making. By contrast in North America, the equivalent organizations are ignored as much as possible. Their potential social and political power is tightly constrained or repressed.

In the present ebola crisis in Africa, Cuba is playing an outstanding role in leading the fight to quell the disease and its spread. Unlike Canada and the U.S., Cuba quickly sent hundreds of medical personnel and other resources to the infection zone. They will stay as long as it takes. There are more volunteer medical personnel from Cuba serving in poor countries in the world than from all the other countries in the world combined. By comparison, the miserly role of wealthy Canada in not aiding with public health in poor countries--in Haiti, for example--is tragic and shameful. Here is a recent article that says it all about Cuba and the ebola crisis, written by a socialist and union leader in New Zealand, Mike Treen of the Unite Union: ‘The ebola crisis, capitalism and the Cuban medical revolution’.

An ominous footnote to the U.S. decision on Cuba is the approval by the U.S. Congress last week of sanctions proposed by President Obama against some officials of the government of Venezuela. Venezuelan president Nicholas Maduro has denounced the measure and Venezuelans have taken to the streets to protest.

A veteran activist of the movement against the war in Vietnam, former California senator and longtime friend of Cuba, Tom Haydn, penned an important article in The Nation on Dec. 17: Why the U.S.-Cuba deal really is a victory for the Cuban Revolution.

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