Cuba/US: Relations thaw but no end to embargo

When I blogged a few days ago about the Cuban solidarity movement in Britain I may have jumped the gun in suggesting that the restrictions placed on the Cuba by the United States showed no signs of being lifted under the new Obama administration.

Truth is that relations, or the lack of, between the two countries are thawing but crucially the issue of ending the trade blockade, rightly or wrongly, is not on the agenda according to the US.

Being honest, I really don’t feel educated enough to comment on whether the blockade serves any real purpose but common consensus appears to be that it has done more harm than good.  At the Rock Around The Blockade meeting, I was constantly being told that Cuba is surviving even with the restrictions. But obviously even they feel that life would be easier for many Cubans without the blockade.

In lifting some travel restrictions and allowing Cuban-Americans with relatives on the island to send them more money, the Obama administration has offered a hand. It will now be up to the Cubans to reciprocate and according to president Raul Castro, the country is willing to discuss everything.

And that bodes well for the future of this most intriguing of Caribbean islands.

La Revolución lives on in Cuba

A while back I went to a Cuban solidarity rally in Liverpool purely because the idea of socialism has always intrigued me. The evidence suggests that while in theory it works, in practice it does not.

However in Cuba socialism lives on even as Fidel Castro‘s influence diminishes and the American trade blockade is maintained with no signs of it being lifted under the Obama administration.

Socialism is something that hasn’t exactly come into fashion but is certainly more talked about now then when times were good economically two years ago. With governments and banks failing the people, naturally they turn to alternatives. Socialism is one alternative, absolutely. In my view it is not the right one but there were plenty of people at this gathering that though otherwise.

Below is an article I wrote about the Cuba, the British solidarity movement and their meeting in Liverpool. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on this.

In January, Cuba celebrated the 50th anniversary of the socialist revolution that many believe will end with the death of its leader Fidel Castro.

In January 1959 Castro and his revolutionaries, amongst them a certain Che Guevara, seized power from an unpopular, US backed government. Castro held power for 49 years before handing over to his brother Raul last year in what many saw as the beginning of the end of socialist Cuba.

 The country has struggled with a 46-year-old American blockade and faced international criticism for human rights violations. But its health system is world-renowned, it’s a popular tourist destination and their infant death rate is lower than that of the US.

“What we see happening in Cuba demonstrates that with few resources but with proper social organisation you can achieve enormous human development,” says Robert Claridge, a passionate socialist and organizer of Rock around the Blockade, a UK wide Cuban solidarity movement seeking to highlight the success of socialist Cuba.

A recent meeting in Liverpool attracted an eclectic mix of people, young and old. Many are drawn to the subject of Cuba through the worldwide familiarity of Che Guevara, Castro’s most trusted revolutionary ally, whose image has become immortalised on everything from t-shirts to belt buckles. Four decades on from his death he remains an important political and popular cultural icon.

Helen Yaffe, Latin American history teacher at the University College London, is author of Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution which looks at Guevara’s little acknowledged economic successes as a member of the post revolution Cuban government.

 She believes that Guevara’s economic model, still used in Cuba, works better than capitalist systems in the likes of Britain and the US and believes that  “sensationalist headlines in bourgeois, mainstream media” of 82-year-old Castro and Cuba’s decline are misplaced.

Claridge agrees: “The example of Cuba is going to be infectious. The movements in Latin America, they look to Cuba as an example and an inspiration because it has stood up for the last 50 years to the United States blockade.”

Indeed Latin American admiration for Cuba is strong. Diego Almeida, a politics student from Ecuador and member of the Movement of Ecuadoreans in the UK (MERU), says: “Cuba for us is the light at the end of the tunnel. We share common bonds with them, language, history and the same struggles in resistance. We are inspired by them.”

While many will continue to argue that Cuba is destined for failure, Rafael Sardinas, from the Cuban embassy in London points out: “We’ve survived ten American presidents, eleven is Barack Obama and we’re still here.”