For over 60 years, the United States has effectively jailed the country of Cuba through illegal political intervention and economic war. And yet, while facing continued economic strangulation and political vilification, the socialist republic has survived. Recently, the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) and Pastors for Peace held a virtual gathering with Alejandro García del Toro, second head of the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington DC, to discuss the ongoing US blockade of Cuba and Cuba’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this episode of Rattling the Bars, we explore key takeaways from the virtual gathering and highlight clips from some of the speeches given by Ambassador García del Toro, Gail Walker (executive director of IFCO), and Samira Addrey (a graduate of the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba).
Clips from virtual gathering provided by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) and Pastors for Peace.
Pre-Production/Studio/Post Production: Cameron Granadino
Eddie Conway: Welcome to this episode of Rattling the Bars. For over 60 years, the United States has effectively jailed Cuba through political intervention and economic warfare. Recently, the Inter-Religious Foundation for Community Organization, that is Pastors for Peace, held a virtual gathering with Cuban official Alejandro Garcia, second head of the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington, DC, concerning the US blockade of Cuba and discussing Cuba’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
[VIDEO CLIPS INTERSPERSED THROUGHOUT]
Gail Walker: Cuba is on the front burner. And our responsibility as Cuba’s friends is to push back against the unjust attacks on the island, to lift up Cuba and its reality, the claims that are out there. Besides the recent social media attacks, the claims that Cuba is a failed state, that it’s denying its people human rights, that it’s treating its doctors as slaves. And of course, the abuse of social media to attack Cuba.
Eddie Conway: Before Trump left office, he placed Cuba back on the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, leading to additional sanctions being applied to Cuba. Since taking office, Biden has failed to lift that sanction. And in fact, he has added additional sanctions against Cuba.
Alejandro Garcia: The combination of more than 243 mergers and sanctions set by the Trump administration, which have not changed one millimeter during the Biden administration. And at the same moment with the COVID-19 pandemic, hurting the Cuban economy, the Cuban tourism, and the Cuban daily life of our people.
Eddie Conway: The executive director of IFCO, Gail Walker, has measured the economic and human cause of the sanctions and blockades against Cuba.
Gail Walker: The shameful truth is that the US policy toward Cuba is not an international issue as many of us know, it’s a domestic issue. Where politicians circulate the same lies so that they can win Cuban American votes in the state of Florida, particularly. Pandering to people like Miami mayor Francis Suarez, who recently called for exploring airstrikes and military intervention against Cuba.
Speaker: Are you suggesting airstrikes in Cuba?
Francis Suarez: What I’m suggesting is that that option is one that has to be explored and cannot be just simply discarded as an option that is not on the table. And there’s a variety of ways a military can do it, but that’s something that needs to be discussed and needs to be looked at as a potential option, in addition to a variety of other options.
Gail Walker: Both the Cuban government and the United Nations have estimated that the blockade has cost 130 billion, with a B, dollars over the past six decades. And it’s worth noting that the US Chamber of Commerce estimates that the blockade costs the US economy billions of dollars each year as well. The human toll is harder to quantify, but it’s clearly been significant. Human rights experts at the United Nations have called on the US to ease its sanctions against COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that such a change would save lives.
Eddie Conway: Despite the blockade, compared to countries like the US, Cuba has been successfully fighting COVID-19, keeping deaths and cases relatively low. Diplomat Garcia explained that this healthcare system that’s saving lives now came out of the Cuban revolution.
Alejandro Garcia: We have been capable of obtaining or creating three different vaccines and two vaccine candidates under this condition. And that has been possible because of the effort that was made by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro almost 40 years ago creating the biotechnology industry in Cuba. Despite the blockade of the US, the Cuban scientists and the Cuban doctors have been capable of obtaining those three vaccines. And at the same time, are continuing to work on two other candidates for the disease, and even to obtain many different treatments and many different pills and other procedures to combat and try to decrease the level of the death rate of the COVID-19 in our country.
Eddie Conway: Another panelist, Samira Addrey, organizer for IFCO, spoke on the United States’ abandonment during times of natural disasters and other social crises, like the current COVID-19 pandemic, and the many times that Cuba has stepped in to provide medical assistance and basic necessities to impacted populations.
Samira Addrey: When Haiti was struck with an earthquake, Cuba was there and never left. When Katrina happened here, Cuba was ready, but our own government refused its help. And we continue to see the negligence of leaders entrusted with the protection of our people.
Today, the trending topic is vaccines. While for over three decades, Cuba has been fortifying its bio-technological sector to be able to produce eight of the 11 vaccines used in the national vaccination program. Cuba is surging forward in production of vaccines against COVID-19 to save its population, as well as other countries who have been grossly overlooked in the race to own the vaccine and to make profits from it. Today, Cuba is the first country in the world, as you’ve heard, to vaccinate children from ages two to 18, to secure a safe educational environment before resuming in-person classes. Children and parents willingly consent to these vaccines because there is a culture of scientific acceptance and guidance in Cuba. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is plagued with questions about our children’s health and safety, with already having returned to in-person instruction.
Eddie Conway: One of the myths that the US state department circulates is labeling the Cuban medical internationalism as an effort to enslave and influence other countries and engage in human trafficking. However, this claim is disputed by doctors who are part of the program.
Francis Suarez: The US and its friends, its allies, would call the Cuban work of medical workers in the world enslavement. Doctora [inaudible] eloquently stated, “We Cuban medical graduates take on an international commitment that remains and goes with us wherever we are needed. After all, a doctor is only a slave to his or her calling as a humanist.”
Eddie Conway: During the question and answer session, diplomat Garcia spoke of Cubist culture, acceptance, and normalization of the vaccine mandate.
Alejandro Garcia: When you all assess the Cuban reality, you’ll see that there is a high level of culture in Cuba. There is a high level of culture, even for health issues. People are well prepared for all these efforts about the state goal to vaccinate people, to vaccinate kids just after the delivery by the mothers. You are taking three, four, five different shots for different vaccines in your next six months, in your next 11 months. So there is a culture about getting vaccinations in Cuba. There might be a few people that will not take the vaccination of COVID or any other vaccines, but it’s connected more to some belief on some religious basis, but not a general or a public feeling of denying the vaccination. And that’s very important because it helps the state a lot to control any disease, including COVID-19 now.
Alejandro Garcia: We are starting to see some decline in the amount of deaths in the population. And we hope that in the next four and six weeks, we could be seeing more decreases in the numbers, cases, about COVID-19. The death information campaign about Cuba is not limited to the charge of medicine or foods. It’s not limited to amplifying the protest on 11 July. Even in the issue of the vaccinations and vaccines, two weeks ago we heard a misinformation effort by a very big media company here in the US about the non-validation of the Cuban vaccines by the [inaudible] organization. And that happened in the midst of a very big spread of good news about the Cuban vaccines.
Eddie Conway: One of the restrictions of the US blockade of Cuba has been limitation of travel from the US to Cuba. This gives a narrow vision of what life is like on the island, how the government provides housing for its people, or the many success stories of its healthcare system. Still, the main reason why the US has not lifted the blockade is that the Communist Revolution symbolizes a threat to its capitalist economy.
Alejandro Garcia: It’s clear that the real intention of the US is to destroy the revolution. And for that reason, people… I think the [extreme right] groups don’t want to reinstate the travel rights of Americans to go to Cuba, because they know that if millions of Americans go to Cuba, they will see the reality. And the reality is much, much different than what they picture in the US media. So you can see, and those folks have never gone to Cuba. Marco Rubio has never gone to Cuba. Ted Cruz, Bob Menendez, they know nothing about the current reality. But their goal is to keep the American citizens far away from visiting Cuba and from more connection with Cuba.
Eddie Conway: The panelists discuss Guantanamo Bay prison, a prison that’s notorious for its horrific conditions and human rights abuses. The Biden administration has gone on record stating that it would close the prison by the end of his term. And the issue has been gaining more and more publicity.
Speaker 2: I don’t have a timeline for you. As you know, there’s a process. There are different layers of the process, but that remains our goal. And we are considering all available avenues to responsibly transfer detainees, and of course close Guantanamo Bay.
Eddie Conway: There are currently 39 prisoners incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay. It costs us 13 million dollars for each prisoner.
Samira Addrey: Every year since ’92, the UN General Assembly has voted on the resolution to end the US blockade. And we’ve had under the leadership of counselor Bruno Rodriguez, saying year after year, stating the hypocrisy of these policies and citing one of these prime examples being Guantanamo Bay prison and its torture tactics utilized to this day. So it’s a question that’s very important. And it’s a question that should bring to the forefront of our minds that unfortunately what our government chooses to deal in says a lot to its own terrorist activities.
Eddie Conway: We will continue to bring you further updates regarding the relations of the US to Cuba. Thank you for joining this episode of Rattling the Bars.