By MARK UGOLINI
To coincide with Barack Obama’s March 20-22 trip to Cuba, 30 Chicago activists participated in a “Public Speak-Out and Discussion” at Roosevelt University’s downtown campus on March 19, demanding “End the U.S. Blockade and Travel Ban on Cuba, Return Guantánamo!”
The meeting was sponsored by the Chicago Cuba Coalition, which described the central theme of the meeting: “Washington’s diplomatic recognition of Cuba and freeing of the Cuban Five are real victories reflecting the continuing strength of the Cuba Revolution. Yet the U.S. remains entirely committed to its overthrow. And the ‘good news’ of ‘normalization’ and Obama’s visit deliberately covers both that fundamentally-hostile commitment, Washington’s legally-enshrined economic blockade and travel ban, and its illegal occupation of Guantánamo.”
Speakers included Dr. Felix Masud, a Cuban faculty member at DePaul University; Gisela López, life-long Cuban-American activist; and public-health physician Howard Ehrman, MD, MPH.
Just back from a one-month trip to Cuba, Dr. Ehrman spoke about aspects of the boycott that the Obama administration has refused to implement, despite having full governmental authority to do so: “Questions of how the blockade affects medicines and supplies to the Cuban people and the Cuban government is still a question mark, but definitely this part of the blockade is still in effect. What does this mean for the Cuban people? It means death. Every year dozens of Cubans are dying of cancer because even though the Cubans are very advanced biotechnologically, they need certain anti-cancer chemotherapy that only exists in the U.S.”
Ehrman spoke of contradictory U.S. actions with regard to Latin America. “It’s contradictory for the president this afternoon after he sees Tampa Bay play the Cuban National [baseball] team to get on Air Force One and go to Argentina on the 40th anniversary of [a] massacre.” Ehrman was referring to the March 24, 1976, ultra-right coup that overthrew Isabel Perón, in which nearly 25,000 Argentine trade unionists, political activists, and cultural figures were murdered.
“It’s even more contradictory to declare Venezuela a terrorist nation and to do everything he can to bring down the government [of President Nicolás Maduro], which was legally elected.”
The coalition also sponsored a press conference on March 22 at Chicago’s Venezuelan Consulate, which was well attended by local media and hosted by Jesus Rodriguez, Venezuelan consul general. Rodriguez opened the meeting by congratulating the “Cuban people, the U.S. Solidarity Movement with Cuba, and the Cuban Foreign Service and Cuban government for this victory.” He expressed the hope that openings seen for Cuba would translate into better relations between the U.S. and governments in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
“We celebrate what’s been accomplished,” said Steve Eckardt, co-coordinator of the Chicago Cuba Coalition, “even if Obama specifically says the reason of U.S. policy changes are because the old ones ‘weren’t working.’ Meanwhile, much of the travel ban and blockade remain enshrined in U.S. law. And Guantánamo—the one place in Cuba where human rights are routinely violated—remains occupied by the United States in violation of international law. That’s what we’re here to oppose. What’s more, Washington remains entirely, and openly committed to regime change in Cuba. … The [United States] government seeks not a New Day but a New Way to overthrow the Cuban revolution.”
Photo: Dr. Felix Masud, faculty member at De Paul University, speaking at March 19 forum. By Mark Ugolini / Socialist Action