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Judi Lynn

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Member since: 2002
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Why Did US Policy Towards Cuba Change? A View From Havana

Why Did US Policy Towards Cuba Change? A View From Havana
Monday, 02 February 2015 13:32
By Roberto M. Yepe Papastamatin, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

Before December 17, 2014, it was a natural question why the US did not change its isolation policy against Cuba in light of its ostensible failure. That day, President Barack Obama acknowledged this fact, in a demonstration of political courage never achieved by those among his predecessors who had intended to make a significant change in the relationship between the two neighboring countries. Although central components of the policy of economic blockade and political subversion against Cuba remain in place, the announced resumption of diplomatic relations between the two governments is very positive because it will certainly allow a civilized interaction that could lead to new and more comprehensive understandings on key issues of the bilateral agenda, in order to establish a fully normalized relation of mutual respect, despite the predictable hindering actions of certain retrograde and recalcitrant forces.

In a consideration of the chances of success of the normalization process already underway, it becomes especially relevant to assess the US government's possible motivations, since the Cuban one had for many years made clear its interest in improving the bilateral relation, provided that occurred under conditions of full respect for Cuba's sovereignty in conformity with international law. Therefore, the question arises about what led the US government to agree to the resumption of diplomatic relations precisely at this moment, a question which does not admit simple answers, but should lead to reflection about a group of elements.

The most obvious of these is the resilience shown by the Cuban people and the strength of their political leaders for 56 years which have allowed the Caribbean country to develop a principled and global oriented foreign policy, with an internationalist vocation, which has also been intelligently and successfully adjusted to the changing conditions of the international system, achieving very impressive results well above what would have been expected from the simple consideration of the hard power resources available to Cuba - always very limited.

However, this alone does not explain the surprising policy change decided by the Obama administration. Additionally, at least four other conditions were necessary to make it possible. We will consider them concisely, without attempting a comprehensive list.

First, a fundamental shift in the world balance of power has taken place with regard to the old international order that emerged after the end of World War II. According to the latest data from the International Monetary Fund, when measured according to the purchasing power of their respective national currencies, China has already surpassed the US as the country with the biggest economy. This does not mean that the US does not remain the world's sole superpower, since internationally there is still no effective counterweight to its overall superiority resulting from the combination of US military, political, ideological, economic, scientific, technological and cultural resources. However, it is becoming more evident that the US can no longer impose its will in the world as it formerly did. The National Security Strategy published in 2010 very clearly ratified the hegemonic vocation of the US to the extent that, in a 60-page document, the term "leadership" (or derivatives thereof) is euphemistically used 71 times, in reference to the role the US would inevitably and providentially play in the world for the centuries to come (cf. The White House: National Security Strategy, Washington, DC, 2010). However, if the US seriously aspires to preserve any such leadership, it will have to pay increasing attention to its image and the international perceptions resulting from US behavior in the world. The US obsession with imposing "regime change" and with punishing a small, although internationally well recognized neighbor country, combined with the practically unanimous rejection of the policy of economic blockade, repeated every year in the United Nations General Assembly did not create a positive image of the US.


Field notes: What Cuba can teach us about building a culture of health

Field notes: What Cuba can teach us about building a culture of health
Maryjoan Ladden and Susan Mende • January 31, 2015

Ever since President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba, there’s been growing excitement over the potential for new opportunities for tourism, as well as technology and business exchanges. Most people assume that the flow will be one-sided, with the United States providing expertise and investment to help Cuba’s struggling economy and decaying infrastructure.That assumption would be wrong. America can—and already has—learned a lot from Cuba. At RWJF, we supportMEDICC, an organization that strives to use lessons gleaned from Cuba’s health care system to improve outcomes in four medically underserved communities in the United States—South Los Angeles; Oakland, Calif.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and the Bronx, N.Y. Even with very limited resources, Cuba has universal medical and dental care and provides preventive strategies and primary care at the neighborhood level, resulting in enviable health outcomes. Cuba has a low infant mortality rate and the lowest HIV rate in the Americas, for example—with a fraction of the budget spent in the United States.

This past October we traveled to Cuba to see for ourselves how health and well-being are integrated into daily life. We wanted to learn firsthand about best practices that might be adapted to improve the health of residents in our own low-income communities. It’s important to recognize, though, that all is not ideal in Cuba. Poverty is widespread, the government is restrictive and many freedoms and access to information that we take for granted are not available to Cubans.Our trip was focused on the health system, and there was a lot to learn. We visited schools, local health clinics, farms, and senior centers across the Havana area where we spoke with government officials, doctors, nurses, teachers, and Cubans of every age and many occupations. The journey was eye-opening: We saw how concerns about public health are deeply imbued in every aspect of daily life and play a part in every government decision. Staying healthy is considered a national responsibility, a message that consistently comes from the top, originating with Fidel Castro himself. If you keep fit and stay healthy you help your neighbors, your community, and Cuba.

How is this Culture of Health so deeply woven into Cuban society? For starters, the resources for maintaining health are free, universal, and available in every community. The central government views education, housing, public safety, and other national issues all through the lens of health. At a middle school, for example, students learn about nutrition and medicinal herbs along with physics and chemistry. Not far from our hotel in Havana, some streets were unpaved and buildings were in serious disrepair—yet the government had installed new pedestrian and vehicle countdown lights at crossings. When we asked why, we were told that there had been a lot of accidents on the road, so putting a system in place that lets pedestrians know they have 10 seconds left to safely cross the street is considered a good investment in public health.

Cuba’s health care system is not perfect. Medical records are still all paper, medicines are not always easy to come by, and people can wait a long time for dental and other care. But despite having few economic resources, the Cuban government has an effective system in place for offering its residents support at the community level for maintaining and improving their health.


Venezuela: Where the Wealthy Stir Violence While the Poor Build a New Society

Venezuela: Where the Wealthy Stir Violence While the Poor Build a New Society
By Dario Azzellini Berlin, Germany
April 28, 2014

Artist and documentary filmmaker Dario Azzellini argues the protests in Venezuela represent a vicious attack on the country’s social progress under Hugo Chávez, spurred on by anti-Chavista politicians in affluent regions.

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The barrios of Caracas, Venezuela. Film still from Comuna Under Construction (2010), directed by Dario Azzellini and Oliver Ressler.
Before Hugo Chávez became president of Venezuela in 1999, the barrios of Caracas, built provisionally on the hills surrounding the capital, did not even appear on the city map. Officially they did not exist, so neither the city nor the state maintained their infrastructure. The poor inhabitants of these neighborhoods obtained water and electricity by tapping pipes and cables themselves. They lacked access to services such as garbage collection, health care and education altogether.

Today residents of the same barrios are organizing their communities through directly democratic assemblies known as communal councils—of which Venezuela has more than 40,000. Working families have come together to found community spaces and cooperative companies, coordinate social programs and renovate neighborhood houses, grounding their actions in principles of solidarity and collectivity. And their organizing has found government support, especially with the Law of Communal Councils, passed by Chávez in 2006, which has led to the formation of communes that can develop social projects on a larger scale and over the long term.

You will not hear about the self-governing barrios in Western reports of protests spreading across Venezuela. According to the prevailing narrative, students throughout the country are protesting a dire economic situation and high crime rate, only to meet brutal repression from government forces. Yet the street violence that has captured the world’s attention has largely taken place in a few isolated areas—the affluent neighborhoods of cities like Caracas, Maracaibo, Valencia, San Cristóbal and Mérida—and not in the barrios where Venezuela’s poor and working classes live. Despite international media claims, the vast majority of Venezuela’s students are not protesting. Not even a third of all people arrested in connection with the demonstrations since early February are students, even though Venezuela has more than 2.6 million university students (up from roughly 700,000 in 1998), thanks to the tuition-free public university system that Chávez created.

A look at recent arrests reveals that the “protest” leaders are really a mixture of drug traffickers, paramilitaries and private military contractors—in other words, the mercenaries typical of any CIA military destabilization operation. In Barinas, the southern border state with Colombia, two heavily armed barricade organizers were arrested, including Hugo Alberto Nuncira Soto, who has an Interpol arrest warrant for membership in Los Urabeños, a Colombian paramilitary involved in drug trafficking, smuggling, assassinations and massacres. In Caracas, the brothers Richard and Chamel Akl—who own a private military company, Akl Elite Corporation, and represent the Venezuelan branch of the private military contractor Risk Inc.—were arrested while driving an armored vehicle in possession of firearms, explosives and military equipment. Their car had been equipped with pipes to be activated from inside to disperse motor oil and nails on the streets, not to mention tear gas grenades, homemade bombs, pistols, gas masks, bulletproof vests, night-vision devices, gasoline tanks and knives.


Chile's President Bachelet proposes end to total abortion ban

31 January 2015 Last updated at 18:01 ET
Chile's President Bachelet proposes end to total abortion ban

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has announced plans to end a total ban on abortions in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

Ms Bachelet has tabled a bill in Congress to legalise abortion in cases of rape or when there mother's life to the mother's or the baby's life.

Abortion is punishable in Chile by up to five years in jail.

The absolute ban of abortion puts the lives of thousands of Chilean women at risk every year, said Ms Bachelet.

She went on national television to announce the plans.

"Facts have shown that the absolute criminalization of abortion has not stopped the practice," she said.

"This is a difficult situation and we must face it as a mature country."

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