Rubio Discovers Void, Proposes More of What Created It

In 1992, Brigadier General Simon P. Worden, then serving at the Department of Defense, coined the phrase “self-licking ice cream cones” to describe a curiosity of Washington bureaucratic life.  This is defined as a process that offers few benefits and exists primarily to justify its own existence.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba is a classic example of the self-licking ice cream cone at work.  When champions of the hardline policy identify problems created by the embargo, they argue for increasing the sanctions that triggered the problems in the first place.

Consider Senator Marco Rubio’s essay, “Marco Rubio on the Russian Threat to the Western Hemisphere,” published last week in Power Line.  Russia, like other nations, Rubio explains, has leapt into a “leadership void” in Latin America –

The Obama Administration’s failure to pursue a consistent, meaningful and proactive strategy in Latin America has left a leadership void that not only Russia but also China, Iran, North Korea and others have been able to exploit. In recent years, we’ve seen each of these nations move aggressively to enhance their alliances in the region, and expand their defense and intelligence relationships.

Rubio seems to be living in a world in which the U.S. can control events in our hemisphere, or at least act as gatekeeper, determining which nations can enter Latin America and for what purpose; the kind of Monroe Doctrine world that has been declared deadover and over again.

As we report below, the President of China, Xi Jinping, wrapped up his tour of Latin America this week with three days of activities in Cuba, culminating with his visit to the Moncada Barracks where the Cuban Revolution dates its start, 61 years ago tomorrow.   But Xi, as AFP reports, also “made a point during his tour of reaching out to countries often shunned by US and European investors, including Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela.”

President Xi came to the region with other leaders of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) for a summit, during which they announced the creation of a $50 billion bank for infrastructure projects and a $100 billion crisis reserve fund described as a “mini-IMF.”

German media described the purpose of creating banks to fund public works and credit in the region as offsetting “the clout of western financial institutions” as well as bolstering investment in infrastructure.

This is especially meaningful to Cuba.  The Helms-Burton law, enacted in 1996, requires the United States government to oppose Cuba’s admission to the International Monetary Fund and every other relevant international financial institution – such as the International Development Association and the Inter-American Development Bank – until the Cuban government is replaced.

In the meanwhile, the Obama Administration is aggressively enforcing sanctions on a global basis against financial institutions that do business with Cuba.  Small wonder, then, that “Cuban official media are closely following the creation of a new $100 billion development bank that may offer lower-cost lending alternatives outside the realm of Washington and Wall Street,” as reported by this week.

Helms-Burton also requires the U.S. to oppose and vote against Cuba’s entry into the Organization of American States.  Barring Cuba from the OAS also results in Cuba’s exclusion from meetings of the Summit of the Americas.  This, in turn, has led both to threats by nations in the Hemisphere to boycott the next summit scheduled to take place in Panama in 2015 and to the strengthening of Latin American institutions and initiatives that exclude the U.S. and Canada.  The self-licking ice cream cone licks on.

Paradoxically, the BRICS bank breakthrough led former President Fidel Castro to write about the summit’s concluding statement, the Fortaleza Declaration, in a reflection which praised the leaders because they recognized “the important role which state enterprises play in the economy, as well as small and medium sized companies, as creators of employment and wealth.”

While Fidel Castro was praising the private sector, Rubio was turning red at Russia’s reemergence as a player in Cuba, as we discussed recently here and here.  Rather than conceding the role that U.S. sanctions played in creating the void that the BRICS were filling this month, the Senator from Florida suggested that we double-down instead.  To punish Cuba for welcoming Putin back, Rubio writes:

“[The] U.S. must continue denying the Castro regime access to money it uses to oppress the Cuban people and invest in foreign policy initiatives that actively challenge and undermine U.S. interests. The Obama Administration should roll back the economic benefits it has extended to the Cuban regime, in the form of expanded U.S. travel and remittances…”

By this logic, if hardline policies haven’t freed Alan Gross, haven’t stopped oil development in the Gulf of Mexico, haven’t blocked Cuba from hosting peace talks between Colombia and the FARC, haven’t brought the Cuban economy to its knees, and haven’t rallied Latin American nations to our side, sanctions supporters have just one answer: tighten them more.


Governor of Fla. attacks Charlie Crist for wanting to lift Cuba embargo

Carlos López-Cantera, Florida’s Lieutenant Governor, accused gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist of having a “flippant and shallow attitude” toward U.S. relations with Cuba, reports Sunshine State News. Crist supports lifting the embargo on Cuba and announced plans to travel to the island this summer, though he subsequently postponed those plans until after the election.

López-Cantera, who was born in Spain and is of Cuban descent, said on Wednesday, “While Gov. Scott has been building upon the 600,000 jobs created under his term and sharing his vision to grow ‘Jobs for the Next Generation’ this week, the only jobs plan Charlie Crist has offered is for Florida to do business with Cuba, a state sponsor of terror.”

Crist responded to the accusation in an interview with the Nuevo Herald, saying, “That is obviously political propaganda on his part to inflame passions among Cubans in Florida. … The idea of not having the embargo is actually aimed to help the people on the island.”

López-Cantera was appointed by Governor Rick Scott to his post in January 2014 following the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll who left office over an ethics controversy.  Scott and López-Cantera face former Governor Crist and his running mate, Annette Taddeo, in the November election.

Cuba’s first CGI animated film to be shown in U.S.

The first Cuban film to use computer-generated imagery (CGI) animation premiered in Cuba last Sunday, and will be shown in twelve countries, including the United States, report Cubadebate and Havana Times.

The film, called “Meñique,” or, in English, “Pinky,” was directed and written by Ernesto Padrón and produced by the Animation Studios of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), with the help of the Spanish company Fiction Productions. Meñique is based on Jose Martí’s adaptation of the French story “Thumb,” which Martí published in his children’s magazine “La Edad de Oro,” or “The Golden Age.”

Cuban Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel said that the film teaches important values, adding: “I feel very proud that we have made this movie. It is a special present to children on their day.” Children’s Day is observed in Cuba on the third Sunday of July. A trailer for the film is available here.

Twenty U.S. students graduate from ELAM

According to MEDICC, 20 U.S. students graduated from the Latin American Medical School (ELAM) in Havana, Cuba on July 23. Among the 1,382 graduates, 879 are from nations outside of Cuba, and 29% of those are Peruvian (the largest international constituency). Celebrating the end of their six-year scholarships, the 20 U.S. students participated in a ceremony attended by Cuban Vice President Ramón Machado Ventura and Minister of Health Roberto Morales.

Students say they plan to implement what they have learned by going into rural areas to replicate the work of other Cuban doctors, and serving underrepresented and marginalized groups, while others say they plan to enter family medicine and pediatrics. Since 2005, ELAM has graduated 23,000 students from all over the world.


China’s President Xi Jinping visits Cuba, signs 29 cooperation agreements

At the conclusion of his visit to Latin America, President Xi Jinping of China came to Cuba this week for meetings that focused on economic opportunities between the two countries, reports Reuters. On Tuesday, President Xi met with former President Fidel Castro (seen in this video) and with President Raúl Castro. In a statement, Xi praised the economic reforms that have taken place under Raúl Castro, saying, “Both China and Cuba are at a key stage in their respective development….Cuba is now updating, in an integrated manner, its economic model,” reports the Associated Press.

During the trip, Cuba and China signed 29 bilateral accords addressing economic, cultural, and educational cooperation, and agreed to collaborate in the fields of biotechnology and renewable energy, reports CCTV. China also granted several interest-free loans to Cuba, one of which will go toward building a port terminal in Santiago de Cuba, reports Havana Times.

Terra reports China and Cuba are currently discussing additional investment opportunities, including in the pharmaceutical industry and in car assembly. The article notes that President Xi’s Cuba visit coincided with a Chinese business delegation exploring investment opportunities. Cuba’s new foreign investment law went into effect in June.

During the trip, President Xi attended the opening of a plant that produces blood glucose test strips, built with the help of technology transfers from China’s Changsha SINOCARE Inc., reports Xinhua. Production is projected to start by the end of this year, and the plant is expected to help both the growing number of diabetes patients in Cuba as well as increase the country’s export capacities.

This was President Xi’s second visit to Cuba. During his first, in 2011 as Vice President of China, he signed ten bilateral agreements. China is Cuba’s second largest trading partner, after Venezuela. As of August 2013, trade between China and Cuba amounted to some $1.4 billion, a 25% increase over the same period in 2012.

President Xi began his visit to Latin America last week, when he attended the BRICS Summit in Brazil and pledged $35 billion to fund projects in the region. He also made stops in Argentina and Venezuela, pledging billions more for the countries’ transportation and extractive industries.

Fidel Castro penned an article published in Cuban state newspaper Granma that describes the agreements reached during the BRICS Summit and emphasizing the importance of Cuba’s ties to China and Russia. “The contribution[s] that Russia and China can make to science, technology, and economic development in South America and the Caribbean [are] decisive.”

Bolivia will pay for training of doctors in Cuba

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales announced this week that his government will pay for specialized medical education for Bolivian students in Cuba, in order for those students to return to Bolivia and run new, specialized hospitals, reports EFE. Bolivia says it will begin building these hospitals immediately in the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz. President Morales stated that the new hospitals will specialize in surgery of the brain, kidneys, and heart, and added that the hospital in Cochabamba will provide free cancer treatment.

Cuba’s “Operación Milagro” (Operation Miracle) turns ten

Operación Milagro, a Cuban initiative founded in 2004 to offer free eye care to poor and geographically inaccessible communities around the world, celebrated its tenth year this month, reports Cubasí. People in 31 countries throughout Latin America, Asia and Africa have received ophthalmological care from Cuban doctors. By treating cataracts, as well as glaucoma, strabismus, and retina problems, Operación Milagro has “improved or restored” vision to over 3.4 million people since it began ten years ago.


Contrary to news reports, Mariela Castro says she is alive and not aboard downed plane

After original reports that Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raúl Castro, was on Air Algerie Flight AH5017, which crashed in bad weather en route to Algeria early Thursday morning, Ms. Castro reported to TeleSur that she is alive and well. The report, which spread through the mainstream press on Thursday, was based on a Facebook post by Burkina Faso’s Ouagadougou Airport.  The MD-83 passenger plane was carrying 110 passengers and an 8-member crew.

Family of dissident Oswaldo Payá renews plebiscite effort

The family of Oswaldo Payá, the Cuban dissident leader who died two years ago in a car accident, has announced a new campaign for a plebiscite on allowing free, multi-party elections on the island, reports the Miami Herald.

In 2002, Payá’s Varela Project presented Cuba’s National Assembly with over 10,000 signatures for a petition which called for a change in the country’s constitution to allow multiple political parties, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, among other requests. The response to this was the passage of an amendment to the constitution, declaring socialism as the permanent system of Cuba’s government.

According to Rosa María Payá, Payá’s daughter, the initiative by the Christian Liberation Movement will include “one single question: Do you want to participate in free and multi-party elections?”

Cuban LGBT rights group meets with government officials to discuss Labor Code

Members of Proyecto Arcoíris, an LGBT activist group in Cuba, met with Cuban lawmakers last week, regarding the National Assembly’s decision to omit language from Cuba’s new Labor Code barring discrimination against transgender people or those with HIV/AIDS, reports IPS.  The meeting followed up on a letter to the president of Cuba’s National Assembly sent last month protesting the decision.  The Assembly was represented by government officials led by José Luis Toledo Santander, president of the Parliamentary Commission of Constitutional and Legal Affairs, which was responsible for creating the final draft of the Labor Code.

Toledo Santander told journalist Francisco Rodríguez, who attended the meeting, that the “Style Commission” within the National Assembly had the last say on the language of the law, and chose not to include language about transgender people or those who are HIV/AIDS positive. During the meeting, Rodríguez says he took the opportunity to emphasize “the need for state leaders and the government to study these topics more [sexual orientation and gender identity] and to listen more to those who are specialists in these subjects and also to exert political leadership on scientific grounds.”

As we reported in June, the Labor Code did outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender, disability, religious beliefs, or region of origin.

IPS reports that members of the government and the activists agreed during the meeting on the importance of passing a law that deals specifically with sexual orientation and focuses on protecting the rights of transgender people.

Recommended Reading

Tampa delegation sees ways to help during Cuba visit, Paul Guzzo, Tampa Tribune

Though Charlie Crist decided not to go to Cuba this summer, the rest of the delegation he had planned to travel with visited the island last week. Guzzo reports on their experience, saying that the travelers took away two goals: to help restore a monument of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Havana and to make the city more handicap accessible.

Cuba Looks to Mangroves to Fend Off Rising Seas, Andrea Rodríguez, Associated Press

Rodríguez reports on the impact of climate change and rising seawater levels on Cuba’s coastal regions, and on efforts to preserve the island’s extensive mangrove forests. The mangrove thickets play an important role in the coastal ecosystem, and will play a key role in mitigating the effects of rising sea levels.

Education in Cuba: A reform on the way?, José Jasán Nieves and Alejandro Ulloa, Progreso Weekly

Nieves and Ulloa offer details on education reforms in Cuba that the Ministry of Education announced two weeks ago. While it was already announced that teachers would be better trained, this article explains that teachers will now have eight rather than two hours per week of “pedagogical improvement studies.” Seven thousand new teachers will be added to combat the teacher shortage, and the university entrance exams will also be modified to protect against fraud, a common problem in recent years.

Dali exhibition to be shown in Cuba for 1st time, EFE

EFE reports that a “Memories of Surrealism” exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana will open on July 24 and feature 95 of Salvador Dali’s works. This will be the first time Dali’s works have been shown in Cuba. Dali kept a home in the Catalan village of Cadaqués, from which an estimated 1,200 inhabitants migrated to Cuba.

In Conversation: Roberto Fabelo on Fabelo’s Anatomy, Susan Delson, Cuban Art News

Susan Delson interviews Cuban artist Roberto Fabelo about his first solo exhibition in the U.S. Much of the exhibition displays ink drawings by Fabelo, laid over the pages of old anatomical textbooks. The article features a number of Fabelo’s images.

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