June 20, 2017
In an exclusive interview with teleSUR, Netfa Freeman, Cuba policy analyst for the Washington D.C. based Institute for Policy Studies commented on U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of rolling back the normalization of relations with Cuba.
Trump called the U.S. rollback on Cuba, among other things, humanitarian. Can you address this point?
These are people who have no concept of what human rights and freedom for a people mean. And this doesn’t just mean Donald Trump. This applies also to all U.S. political officials who uphold the capitalist, imperialist system. Trump himself is a capitalist who leeches off of the super-exploitation of people and the environment.
We are talking about leaders of a country that has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world and the free labor of those incarcerated is exploited to produce all manner of goods and services for the private profit of the rich. Statistics show that U.S. police kill at least three people each day who are disproportionately people of African descent and Indigenous North Americans.
The U.S. has the worst election system in the industrialized world with voter suppression and all sorts of rigging and disenfranchising improprieties going on that are never addressed by either the Republican or Democratic party.
The U.S. health care system propels people into financial ruin by the thousands. Oddly people don’t understand that Obama’s Affordable Care Act was not health care. It was a concession to insurance companies and HMOs whose only purpose is to appropriate profits from the people.
Student debt for higher education does the same thing. The average graduate in 2016 is now strapped with $37,172 in student loan debt.
Yet, Trump and his class have the immoral audacity to condemn Cuba as denying freedom to its people, a country that provides some of the best quality health care in the world and education up to the university level to all of her citizens completely free of charge. The Cuban people do not have to endure anything like the epidemic of murders by law enforcement like what that takes place in the U.S.
Cuba has an electoral process that sees a participation rate of up to 89-95 percent with Cuban citizens automatically eligible to vote upon reaching 16 years of age. Cubans have the right to national referendums, unheard of in the United States. The Cuban National Assembly has representatives of not only geographic areas but also major sectors of society like women, youth and workers. U.S. people are prevented from even imagining congressional representatives for the interests of women or workers.
It’s a bizarre claim Marco Rubio makes, saying what the Trump administration is doing contrary to the Obama administration is “reaching its hand out to the people of Cuba.” But all data demonstrate that the Cuban people living in Cuba want an end to the U.S. blockade against them and an end to the illegal U.S. occupation of their territory in Guantanamo.
Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez responded strongly to Trump’s rollback today, outlining how it negatively affects both U.S. citizens and the Cuban people. Can you talk about the specifics of that?
Yes, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez’ was keen to refute Trump and Marco Rubio’s claims that the rollback in relations are only to target Cuban military, security service, and intelligence institutions, explaining how it will actually damage the Cuban people that they claim they want to help.
Contrary to what Trump and his people are saying, their moves will impact families, and cause economic damage to cooperatives and self-employed workers. When you ban business transactions under the vague stipulation of being “linked” to the Cuban military you are affecting 60 percent of all Cuban business on the island. And many of those are affiliated with tourism, a major industry for Cuba.
On the U.S. side is a return to the violation of the right of U.S. citizens to travel freely. The new policy prohibits individual people-to-people travel, which was one of the 12 travel categories authorized by former President Barack Obama. Now people have to go in a group with a U.S. tour company that is approved by the Treasury Department. And travel will be audited. So U.S. citizens who travel under one of the remaining categories will have to deal with a tedious audit by the Treasury Department that will complicate and discourage people from traveling there.
Can you tell us if the U.S. blockade on Cuba has support among the people in the U.S. as well as around the world?
It has been common knowledge for years now that a majority of U.S. people would not be in support of the policy direction Trump is reverting toward. Just last December a Pew Research poll revealed that over 73 percent of U.S. people favored “ending the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.” And it must be noted that this is a statistic that holds in spite of the fact that most citizens in the U.S. are grossly misinformed about the human rights situation in Cuba or really have a sufficient concept of human rights. Imagine what that percentage would be if people really knew the truth.
And it is very important to note that Trump, and the small clic of right-wing Cuban exiles he is coalescing with on this, are completely out of touch with the whole world. It is not only the U.S. people who Trump’s Cuba policies go against but they go against the whole world that unanimously condemned the U.S. blockade against Cuba in a unanimous vote at the United Nations General Assembly last October. In that vote, for the first time, the U.S. and Israel abstained. In prior votes, those two counties, with one other country at times, would be the only ones voting to uphold the blockade. This year, with different representatives in play, we can expect the United States to go back to voting against ending the blockade.
Many people are focusing on Trump as if he is somehow removed from U.S. policy. Can you address where you think U.S. policy is heading with Cuba in regards to the bigger regional picture?
Good question. Right now there is a lot of political confusion in the U.S. because of the combination of the flagrant immorality of Donald Trump and the effort of the Democratic party and even some Republicans who don’t support Trump, to make people believe our woes are all about him.
So many things Trump does, that are merely a continuation of Obama administration policies, people condemn as if he started them. For example, the deportation of immigrants and the bombings of other countries. But in Cuba’s case, we have to remember that even Obama’s new direction, which had the blessing of chambers of commerce and other capitalist entities, had the same “regime change” goals, only trying to achieve them in a different way.
To Cuban’s credit, they have always been open to normal and mutually respectful relations but based on their national principles and never compromising their sovereignty. So they opened negotiations with the Obama administration and the only changes they have made were those mandated by the Cuban people and their process.
In terms of where U.S. policy toward Cuba is heading, I honestly don’t think Trump is ready to put any more attention to changing more. I believe this was something he did because he said he would. What he did is far from a complete rollback of the Obama policies. And the business community in the U.S. is ready to do business with Cuba no matter if Cuba is socialist country or not. The decades of regime change efforts have failed and no Trump advisor can come up with something new to do to Cuba that hasn’t already been done.
And as Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said, the thinking behind this move seems childish and “will only reinforce our patriotism, dignity and decision to defend our independence by all means.”
What steps are Cuban solidarity activists in the U.S. taking in light of this new hostile policy?
Everyone should know that the Cuba solidarity movement in the U.S. won’t be deterred by Trump’s move. Travel challenges have been going to Cuba from the U.S. for decades and will continue. There are people ready to go next month. And in fact, the Cuba Subcommittee of the National Lawyers Guild publicly reiterated its longstanding support for the right to travel to Cuba and pledged to continue to provide legal assistance to defend U.S. travelers.
In September the Institute for Policy Studies with the International Committee for Peace Justice and Dignity will hold our third annual Days of Action Against the Blockade in Washington D.C., which will include public awareness forums, a rally, and visits to legislators on Capitol Hill. This is something we were already working on before because the blockade remained in place. It never ended.
This year for the Days of Action we are featuring the remarkable advancements that Cuba has made in the field of medicine and health. We are in contact with a number of U.S. health organizations, unions, faculties and students at medical schools in the Washington area and there is a lot of interest in setting up meetings and events.
The purpose of our activities is to raise awareness about the impact that the U.S. blockade is having on the health of the Cuban people as well as people in the U.S. who are denied access to the advancements that Cuba has made.
So we are looking at this development as an opportunity to expand our struggle to oppose Trump and those like him. We need to bring the reality of Cuba — a country that shows a better world is possible — to new audiences in the U.S. That is our task.