Thursday, 23 June 2011

US media blockade of the Cuban 5

The Latest Example of the Media Blockade of the Cuban 5
Source: International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, 23 June 2011.

We were more than a little surprised when a CNN journalist based in Los Angeles contacted SPARC Gallery interested in covering Gerardo Hernandez’s exhibit “Humor from my Pen” before its opening on June 4. We remained skeptical but after several phone calls back and forth an interview was set up.

On June 3 the CNN journalist arrived early to set up her camera and to go over what she would be covering about the background of Gerardo’s work and the case of the Cuban 5 in general.

She seemed genuinely interested and did a long interview with the organizers from the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 in both Spanish and English. She also interviewed the Executive Director of SPARC, Debra Padilla.

We did not know going into the interview just how much the journalist knew about the case of the Cuban 5 but after more than 3 hours she learned not only about the artistic talents displayed in Gerardo’s cartoons but also about the deep injustice that he and his four brothers have been enduring for 13 years for defending their country, Cuba, against terrorism.

We asked the journalist how long it would take before we would know if the interview was going to be aired and she told us she did not know but mentioned that her editor wanted to find someone with a different “point of view” to “balance” the story.

This other “point of view” is really the only view that the people of the US are fed on a daily basis when it comes to any topic related to Cuba. That view is a steady stream of vilification, distortion and dishonest reporting of the realities of Cuba living under a 50 year blockade. Despite this we were reminded of what one of the Cuban 5 has said to us on many occasions, “It is better to have bad coverage than no coverage at all”

Our surprise about the interview was even greater when we were told that the “balanced” segment was complete and going to be aired on a program of CNN called “Encuentro” on Wednesday June 15 at 2pm PST.

We immediately passed this new information along to many of our friends so they could see with their own eyes that after 13 years of silence we were going to get a little break on coverage of the Cuban 5.

Unfortunately it did not happen.

The best answer we were able to get from the journalist who did the interview was that it was an “executive decision” not to air the segment.

So many times we hear about freedom in the United States with a free media that covers all points of views; but in the end it is those at the top of the media chain of command who will determine what is news and what isn’t.

Perhaps CNN was having trouble glossing over the courage of the Cuban 5 in the war against terrorism, or to show them in a human light. Perhaps they could not find a way to deny that these sons of Cuba were extraordinary men sent to Miami to defend the sovereignty of their country. Or maybe they were nervous about the absolute double standard in the US where an admitted terrorist like Luis Posada Carriles can show his paintings in Miami while the Cuban 5, who were here to prevent terrorism, produce art behind bars.

USAID to spend millions infiltrating Cuban youth

Cuba: USAID planning to spend millions on infiltrating youth
Source: Granma International, 23 June 2011.
by Jean-Guy Allard

• AFTER 10 weeks of negotiations with Senator John Kerry and his staff, who froze its Cuba subversion and destabilization program, the U.S. International Aid for Development (USAID) feels sufficiently confident in a prompt solution to announce new funds for future projects in relation to interference in communications materials, particularly aimed at minors.

This has been revealed by the Cuba Money Project website operated by U.S. Tracey Eaton, a former Havana correspondent with a Texas newspaper, who is making a detailed investigation into how the U.S. government is wasting tens of millions of taxpayer’s dollars on covert and illegal activities in Cuba.

The organization’s new proposals are basically directed toward an attempted expansion of the use of social communication media in Cuba, an increase in access to information which it suits the U.S. Department of State to circulate, wider distribution of laptops and promoting its concept of freedom of expression among young people, in particular the 12-18 years age group.

The budget includes six million dollars for programs aimed at increasing freedom of expression among young people aged 12 to 18 years, six million for expanding the use of Internet to illicit usage, and increasing access to information (and disinformation). Radio & TV Martí, as well as Voice of America, their head office, will make available the informative material which the Department of State deems worthy of circulating.

A further nine million dollars are earmarked for supporting neighbors groups, cooperatives, sports clubs, religious groups and other "civil society" organizations which would consent to become partners of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, with all the risks which that entails, according to USAID officials themselves.

The money would be distributed over the next several years as part of an ambitious and sweeping plan that emphasizes "on-island activities," Eaton notes in the presentation of the material. Applications for the grants are due July 18, which leaves potential bidders little time and opportunity.

The aim of one of the projects, with a budget of six million dollars, is for minors in Cuba to experience freedom of expression in social spaces organized outside of state authority. As simple as that.

The program activities, as the proposal states, should encourage the participation of marginalized and vulnerable populations, defined as Blacks and people of mixed race, and rural youth in city centers, young people with disabilities, orphans and young people at risk (from broken or single-parent families). The program must particularly focus on Cuban young people aged 12-18 and should develop the social and leadership skills necessary for young people to become effective leaders in their communities.

Those who have seen the Cuban Television series Cuba’s Reasons will understand the U.S. concept to be implemented, not only in Cuba but in other countries which refuse to bow down to American interests. Eaton says that USAID will welcome all proposals which clearly explain how so-called independent "physical spaces" will be used; in other words, those which are not government controlled.

On the other hands, the abovementioned website notes that The Miami Herald reported on June 10 that Freedom House, a Washington-based NGO, was returning $1.7 million in funds because USAID asked too many questions about where the money was going.

Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute, a research organization in Arlington, Virginia, said it is unusual for organizations to return money to the federal government.

"It’s pretty remarkable… that a grantee would tell the government that it’s not willing to explain exactly how it uses the money, and it makes it crystal clear that the modus operandi is to send people clandestinely into Cuba," he said.

Peters said it is "certainly understandable" that Freedom House is "extremely concerned" about protecting those people connected to its Cuba program.

"But if you step back from it," he said, the group’s decision to return the money "really reinforces" that it carries out "political operations" in Cuba..."

Freedom House has not responded to a complementary request for information from Eaton related to its decision to return the money. According to observers, the USAID $20 million is soon to be unfrozen after an agreement with Kerry to reduce the total to $15 million. "In any case, the other five will be spent in another way," commented someone informed on the issue.

Conflicts loom for Peru

Three die in Peru as conflicts loom for Humala
Source: Reuters, 22 June 2011.

Three people died when police clashed with students who set fire to government buildings in a remote province, officials said on Wednesday, a sign of social conflict looming for leftist President-elect Ollanta Humala.

The latest deaths added to the more than 90 people who have died in social conflicts in the past three and a half years, according to Peru's human rights agency.

Such conflicts have become more numerous and violent because an economic boom has failed to lift a third of Peruvians out of poverty, sowing frustration. In most cases, conflicts over water, pollution or natural resources have pitted poor towns or indigenous tribes against foreign mining and oil companies.

But this week's protest - in Huancavelica, Peru's poorest province, 276 miles south of Lima - was led by students who set alight government offices in a move intended to preserve funding for their meagerly financed state university.

"They set fire to almost all of the offices of the regional government," Maciste Diaz, president of the region, told Reuters.

"Today this issue is going to be dealt with by the cabinet of President Alan Garcia, to find a harmonious solution."

Garcia, who leaves office July 28, oversaw surging economic growth over the last five years. He has lined up $55 billion in foreign investment for extractive industries for the next decade, Peru's mining and oil industry association says. But many voters complain of being left behind by the boom and what they call Garcia's trickle-down economic model. Peruvians elected Humala, who has pledged to do more to fight poverty, on June 5.

Humala, a former army officer, has more credibility in the provinces than Garcia but will need to act quickly to meet the heightened expectations of the rural poor, analysts say.

Protesters have mobilized this month in six different towns, mostly to oppose mining or hydroelectric projects, and more than 200 towns nationwide have organized to have greater say over whether projects are built near their towns.

"There is a perception in the communities that the growth has not produced tangible improvements in their quality of life," said Rolando Luque of Peru's human rights office.

Peru: students protest university funding laws

Huancavelica universities to have separate funding, protests leave three dead
Source:, 22 June 2011.

Prime Minister Rosario Fernández announced at noon Wednesday that the Autonomous University of Pampas, recently created through a bill passed in Congress, will have its own budget and not take away any financial resources from the National University of Huancavelica.

Speaking to reporters, Fernández hopes that this measure puts an end to the protests that have occurred in this area of ​​the country, but condemned "the attitude and reaction" of the people of Huancavelica, who yesterday sacked and burned regional government headquarters, reports El Comercio.

The students say the creation of a new university in Tayacaja – part of the central region of Huancavelica – will divert resources from the National University of Huancavelica in the regional capital. The government board decided after coordination with the authorities of Huancavelica to provide its own budget to the new university.

"Tayacaja will get its own funding and Huancavelica will too," she added.

The protests in the past few days have left three dead and injured more than 30, reported La Républica.

Three People Killed in Perú University Protest
Source: Hispanically Speaking, 23 June 2011

A minor, a security officer, and another student died on Tuesday when a rally against a new University project turned violent.

A 14 year old girl, a 21 year old student and a 30 year old government security officer were killed in the central region of Huancavelica during a rally against the creation of the National Autonomous University of Tayacaja. The University of Tayacaja is to be created by law, but it wasn’t given enough government funds, and so by law, the National University of Huancavelica must share its financial income.

Police chief Edward Marín Grandez said more than 5,000 protesters attacked the Huancavelica Regional police department.

Officers used tear gas and pellets to prevent the entry of the protesters to the facilities, but rabid rioters attacked them with homemade explosives, stones and knives and attempted to take away their guns. Protesters tried to take the police headquarters, and the University. They also set ablaze the regional government house and a police truck.

In the meantime, another group of people started protesting, calling for the urgent creation of the university.

Peru Protests Leave 3 Dead

Source: Latin America Herald Tribune, 23 June 2011.

Three people died and at least 20 others were wounded in clashes in the southwestern Peruvian region of Huancavelica during a general strike against the creation of a new university using the facilities of an existing institution.

The regional representative of the National Ombud’s Office, Abel Chiroque, told Efe that hours after a man died Tuesday at the scene of the clashes another man and a 14-year-old boy [girl? - RATB] succumbed to their wounds.

“That’s true and we’ve already reported (those latter two deaths) to our central headquarters,” Chiroque said.

The two additional fatalities were identified as Ivan Ccora Quispe, 30, a security guard at a regional office who died while undergoing an operation for a gunshot wound; and a high school student who passed away in an ambulance en route to Lima.

A 23-year-old university student, Oswaldo Quispe Lazaro, died Tuesday during the clashes after being hit by buckshot. Chiroque said an investigation is underway to determine if the shots that caused the deaths were fired by the police or other individuals. He added that the demonstrations were continuing Wednesday, albeit peacefully, and that negotiations have begun to try to resolve the dispute.

University students, backed by several regional civic organizations, have been on strike since June 14 to protest a law that creates the National Autonomous University of Tayacaja.

The law calls for the new university to use the facilities of a branch of the National University of Huancavelica, which demonstrators say will drain the existing institution’s financial and logistical resources.

After several days of sporadic confrontations between demonstrators and security forces, the clashes grew more intense Tuesday when a group of people hurled stones and burning tires at the offices of Huancavelica’s regional government. Police responded with tear gas and buckshot.

Haiti's elite used police as private army

WikiLeaks Haiti: Country's Elite Used Police as Private Army
Source: The,
by Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives, 22 June 2011.

Haitian business organizations and members of the country's tiny elite used the Haitian police force as their own private army in the wake of the 2004 coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, according to a secret US Embassy cable

Then–US Ambassador to Haiti James Foley warned in the cable "against private delivery of arms" to the Haitian National Police (HNP) after learning from a prominent Haitian businessman that "some business owners have already begun to purchase weapons and ammunition from the street and distribute them to local police officials in exchange for regular patrols."

The May 27, 2005, report was in a trove of 1,918 cables that WikiLeaks made available to the Haitian weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté, which is collaborating with The Nation on a series of reports on US and UN policy toward the Caribbean country.

Haiti's private sector elite has been a key US ally in promoting Washington's agenda in the country, from free trade and privatization of state enterprises to two coups against President Aristide followed by US and UN military occupations.

Fritz Mevs, a member of "one of Haiti's richest families and a well-connected member of the private sector elite" with major business interests in Port-au-Prince's downtown and port, was the principal source for Foley's report.

Mevs told the Embassy that the president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, Reginald Boulos, had "distributed arms to the police and had called on others to do so in order to provide cover to his own actions." Boulos currently sits on the board of former President Bill Clinton's Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), which controls the spending of billions donated to rebuild Haiti after the January 12, 2010, quake.

The May 2005 cable describes the period after the February 29, 2004, coup d'etat, which not only removed Aristide from power but repressed his Fanmi Lavalas party, set up a US-backed de facto government, and ushered in a 9,000-strong UN military occupation known as MINUSTAH (UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti).

De facto Prime Minister Gerard Latortue's interim government of Haiti and his paramilitary allies had difficulty stabilizing their unpopular regime, despite killing an estimated 3,000 people and jailing and purging from government jobs hundreds of Lavalas militants and sympathizers.

The regime had particular trouble suppressing pro-Aristide strongholds like the slum areas of Bel Air and Cite Soleil, which mounted a fierce resistance to the coup and the occupation. The de facto government, US Embassy and Haitian elite called the resistance fighters "bandits" or "gangs," the terminology used in the cable.

Titled "Haitian Private Sector Panicked by Increasing Violence," the cable relays Mevs' report to the Embassy's political officer that Haitian "business leaders are exasperated by the lack of security in the vital port and industrial zone areas of Port-au-Prince and are allegedly arming local police with long-guns and ammunition in an effort to ensure security for their businesses and employees."

Foley wrote that "Mevs says that of the roughly 150 business owners in the area, probably 30 have already provided some kind of direct assistance (including arms, ammunition, or other materiel) to the police, and the rest are looking to do so soon."

Mevs "defended the idea of the private sector arming the police in general, but he lamented the haphazard manner in which many of his colleagues seemed to be handing out weapons with little control," the cable says. Mevs also worried "that funneling the arms secretly would only serve to reinforce rumors that the elite were creating private armies," which in fact was happening.

Mevs asked the Embassy if "the U.S. would oversee [a] program" under which the private sector could legally buy the HNP's guns because "he did not trust either MINUSTAH or the HNP to properly control the issuance of weapons."

The private army "rumor" was corroborated by "contacts of the Econ Counselor [who] report from time to time of discussions among private sector leaders to fund and arm their own private sector armies."

Security for businesses around the capital's industrial, warehouse and port districts reportedly degenerated after the March 30, 2005, death of Thomas Robenson, alias Labaniere, a onetime Lavalas leader in Cite Soleil's Boston neighborhood. He defected to the forces defending the 2004 coup and provided armed protection to nearby commercial zones. Labaniere was killed "allegedly in a plot directed by rival pro-Lavalas gang leader Dread Wilme," Foley wrote.

After that, the UN force had tried to secure the commercial areas but "was proving to be a poor substitute for Labaniere," an adviser to Cite Soleil's mayor told the Embassy, largely because "MINUSTAH troops (who, he said, rarely set foot outside of their vehicles) were unable to identify the bandits from amongst the general populace as Labaniere had done."

The residents of Cite Soleil did not view Emmanuel Wilmer (aka Dred or Dread Wilme) as a "bandit." They saw him as a hero defending them from pro-coup paramilitaries (who in 1994 burned many houses in the rebellious shantytown) and UN occupation troops. Today, one of the main boulevards through Cite Soleil is named after him, and murals of his face adorn many walls.

Wilme told the Lakou New York program on Brooklyn's Radio Pa Nou station in April 2005 that "MINUSTAH has been shooting tear gas on the people. There are children who have died from the gas and some people inside churches have been shot.... The Red Cross is the only one helping us. The MINUSTAH soldiers remain hidden in their tanks and just aim their guns and shoot the people. They shoot people selling in the streets. They shoot people just walking in the streets. They shoot people sitting and selling in the marketplace."

But for Foley and the Haitian elite, the UN military was not doing enough. "According to Mevs, although MINUSTAH has on occasion parked armored vehicles near the Terminal with some success, he said criminals regularly force the tanks to move (by burning tires or fecal matter nearby), and as soon as the vehicles depart, the rampage continues."

Foley asked the "Core Group" of international donors and the UN military for a "swift, aggressive" response to the business sector's call for action against the "criminal elements" from slums like Cite Soleil.

"Ambassador Foley warned the Core Group that MINUSTAH's stand-down in Cite Soleil put the elections at risk, and that the insecurity around the industrial zone risked undermining what is left of the Haitian economy," said the cable.

The UN mission chief Juan Gabriel Valdes "promised a more robust response from MINUSTAH," which sat down with police leaders to develop a plan in "coordination with the private sector," the cable explains.

"In response to embassy and private sector prodding, MINUSTAH is now formulating a plan to protect the area," concluded the cable.

Weeks later, on July 6, 2005, at 3 am, 1,440 Brazilian and Jordanian soldiers, backed by forty-one armored personnel carriers, sealed off Cite Soleil and attacked. UN troops fired more than 22,000 bullets, leaving dozens of civilian casualties, including women and children.

"It remains unclear how aggressive MINUSTAH was, though 22,000 rounds is a large amount of ammunition to have killed only six people" (the UN's official death toll), wrote Foley in a July 26, 2005, Embassy cable obtained by Professor Keith Yearman of the College of DuPage through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The UN claimed it had killed only "gang leader Dred Wilme and five of his associates," the cable says, while noting, "at St. Joseph's hospital near Cite Soleil, Doctors Without Borders reported receiving 26 gunshot victims from Cite Soleil on July 6, of whom 20 were women and at least one was a child."

By August 1, Foley was praising the Brazilians in another cable (obtained by Yearman's FOIA requests), titled "Brazil Shows Backbone in Bel Air." According to Foley, "the security situation in the capital has clearly improved thanks to aggressive incursions in Bel Air and the July 6 raid against Dread Wilme in Cite Soleil.... Post has congratulated MINUSTAH and the Brazilian Battalion for the remarkable success achieved in recent weeks."

Argentina reaffirms Malvinas sovereignty

Argentina reaffirms Malvinas sovereignty rights; invites UK to “good faith” negotiations
Source:, 21 June 2011.

Foreign Affairs minister Hector Timerman addressing the United Nations Decolonisation Committee reiterated Argentina’s “unrenounceable and imprescriptible” sovereignty rights over the Malvinas Islands and extended a “formal invitation” to the British government “to sit to a table and resume, in good faith, negotiations” to solve the long standing dispute.

Timerman made his Tuesday presentation before the C24 together with a committee of lawmakers from the ruling coalition and the opposition and invited the UK “to sit with us to a table and resume in good faith negotiations to solve the sovereignty dispute so as to put an end, at this time of the XXI century, the incompressible and unacceptable colonial situation”.

“The UK remains dauntless to the calls from the international community”, said Timerman pointing out that this attitude “is even more worrying if we take account of the fact it comes from a member of the UN Security Council, whose main purpose is the preservation of international peace and security”.

“We Argentines insist in calling for peaceful negotiations because it is history which teaches that the sole expression of the powerful is not enough to justify a territorial occupation born out of an act of force, since be it not so, several of the nations that today are members of this committee would continue to be colonial enclaves”.

Furthermore the Argentine minister denounced before the C24 “the criminal attitude from fanatics who death threatened” the British descendent born in the Malvinas Islands, James Peck, “if he dared return to the Islands”.

Given the facts, “we make British authorities that illegally occupy the Islands responsible for the safety of the Argentine citizen, Señor James Peck, if he wishes to exercise his Argentine rights to return to the occupied Islands”, underlined Timerman.

James Peck, 42, is a successful artist who was married with an Argentine woman with whom he had two children. In an interview this week with The Times, Peck said he had not given up his British citizenship and wanted to live next to his children. Holding a British passport in Argentina exposed him to “hostility and bureaucratic difficulties”.

“I’m not going to leave my children because of the dispute of two governments over the Falklands/Malvinas” Peck told The Times.

See Minister Hector Timerman statement here (pdf/espanol).

James Peck becomes Argentine, receives death threats

Son of British vet of Falkland Islands war becomes a citizen of Argentina
Source: LA Times, June 21, 2011

The son of a British veteran of the 1982 Falkland Islands war has become a citizen of Argentina, stoking tensions in the two nations' still-smoldering political dispute over the islands in the South Atlantic.

Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, personally handed newly minted citizen James Peck his Argentine identification card in a public ceremony on June 14, the 29th anniversary of the end of the Falkland war.

Peck, born on the islands, is the first Falklander to receive Argentine citizenship, reports BBC News. He said his decision to become a naturalized argentino was not politically motivated but rather a move meant to make it easier for him to see his Argentine-born children, which he discovered was difficult for him because of his British passport, reports said.

The 42-year-old artist lives in Buenos Aires and had recently separated from the mother of his children.

Peck's father fought for the British in the 10-week war that left hundreds dead on both sides after Argentina invaded the territory on April 2, 1982, under order of the then-ruling military dictatorship. Argentina still claims sovereignty over the islands, which are known as the Malvinas in Spanish.

Peck's story has played somewhat sourly in the British media, particularly since Kirchner bluntly criticized British Prime Minister David Cameron late last week.

Kirchner said Britian is "a crude colonial power in decline" and that Cameron's recent comments that the Falkland Islands should remain a British territory are an expression "of mediocrity, and almost of stupidity."

In an interview published Monday, Peck said he was unprepared for insults and the charges of treason he's received from some islanders. "I've had messages saying that if I go back I'll be shot," he said.

(L-R) the parents of Roberto Mario Fiorito (a soldier who died in combat in the Falklands War), Argentinean President, Cristina Fernandez and James Peck, 43, painter and son of a British soldier who fought in the Falklands War, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 14 June 2011.

Falklander who took Argentinian citizenship speaks out
Source: AFP– 20 June 2011.

The first Falkand Islander to accept Argentine citizenship has told a British newspaper he is shocked at the storm he has created. James Peck has been hailed a national hero by Argentina, received death threats from enraged islanders and found himself at the centre of a bitter dispute between Britain and Argentina over the islands in the South Atlantic.

"I imagined something, but it's been like I killed somebody," Peck said from his home in Buenos Aires, in an interview with The Times published on Monday.

"The whole thing has been mad."

Argentina claims sovereignty over the British-held islands and invaded them in 1982, but a British task force retook control of the archipelago after a brief war.

President Cristina Kirchner handed Peck an Argentinian national identity card on June 14 at a ceremony to mark the 29th anniversary of the conflict. Some Falkland Islanders have interpreted Peck's move as treason.

"I've had messages saying that if I go back I'll be shot," Peck said, but insisted he was not trying to make a political statement.

The 42-year-old artist said his decision was purely a practical one. He separated from his Argentine wife 18 months ago and wanted to live near his children but found that was complicated because he held a British passport. However, contrary to reports he said he had not renounced his British passport -- "unless it has been annulled in my absence", he told The Times. Peck said he had not meant to cause offence to the British soldiers who died in the conflict -- it's "not meant to insult anybody, it's not meant to insult British soldiers", he said.

"I just think that we should not be fighting and arguing any more. We're too close, we're only several hundred miles off the coast here, and I just don't think there should still be so much animosity."

Prime Minister David Cameron last week insisted there would be no negotiations with Argentina on the sovereignty of the Falklands "full stop". Cameron's comments drew an angry response from Kirchner, who described them as a "gesture of mediocrity" and "almost of stupidity".

Chavez, Colombia and the Zelaya Deal

Paul Jay of Real News interviews Greg Wilipert, founder of Venezuela Analysis. 21 June 2011.

More at The Real News

Haiti's rigged election

Source: The, 16 Jun 2011
by Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives

The United States, the European Union and the United Nations decided to support Haiti’s recent presidential and parliamentary elections even though they believed the country’s electoral body, “almost certainly in conjunction with President Preval,” had “emasculated the opposition” by unwisely and unjustly excluding the country’s largest party, according to a secret US Embassy cable.

The cable was obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to the Haitian newspaper Haïti Liberté, which is collaborating with The Nation on a series of reports on US and UN policy toward the country.

At a December 1, 2009, meeting, a group of international election donors, including ambassadors from Brazil, Canada, Spain and the United States, concluded that “the international community has too much invested in Haiti’s democracy to walk away from the upcoming elections, despite its imperfections,” in the words of the EU representative, according to US Ambassador Kenneth Merten’s cable that month.

Haiti’s electoral body, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), banned the left-leaning Fanmi Lavalas from participating in the polls on a technicality. Lavalas is the party of then-exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown on February 29, 2004, and flown to Africa as part of a coup d’état supported by France, Canada and the United States.

This history made Canadian Ambassador Gilles Rivard worry at the December donor meeting that “support for the elections as they now stand would be interpreted by many in Haiti as support for Preval and the CEP’s decision against Lavalas.” He said that the CEP had reneged on a pledge to “reconsider their exclusion of Lavalas.”

“If this is the kind of partnership we have with the CEP going into the elections, what kind of transparency can we expect from them as the process unfolds?” Rivard asked.

Despite the Lavalas exclusion, the EU and Canada proposed that donors “help level the playing field” -- they could, for instance, “purchase radio air time for opposition politicians to plug their candidacies.” They were presumably referring to “opposition candidates” who would come from parties other than Lavalas.

That plan was nixed by the UN, but when the election finally did take place, on November 28, 2010, followed by a runoff on March 20, Washington and the international donor community played an influential role in determining its outcome.

When the first-round results were disputed, international donors arranged for an evaluation by the Organization of American States, which pronounced that pro-coup candidate Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a former konpa musician, should face another neo-Duvalierist candidate, Mirlande Manigat, in the final round. Martelly emerged as the victor in the runoff.

Less than 23 percent of Haiti’s registered voters had their vote counted in either of the two presidential rounds, the lowest electoral participation rate in the hemisphere since 1945, according to the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Furthermore, the second round was illegal because the eight-member CEP could never muster the five votes necessary to ratify the first-round results.

The December donor meeting took place just over a month before the January 12, 2010, earthquake, which derailed the elections originally planned for February 28, 2010.

When the polling was rescheduled, there was even more at stake, primarily how billions of dollars in pledged earthquake aid would be spent and the future of the 11,500-strong UN military force that has occupied Haiti since the 2004 coup.

According to the December 4, 2009, cable, US officials pushed hard for the election. Ambassador Merten urged a minimal donor reaction to Lavalas’s exclusion, saying they should just “hold a joint press conference to announce donor support for the elections and to call publicly for transparency,” because “without donor support, the electoral timetable risks slipping dangerously, threatening a timely presidential succession.”

His cable was classified “Confidential” and “NOFORN,” meaning “not for release to foreign nationals.”

The US State Department declined to comment on the disclosures in this article, citing a policy against commenting on releases of documents that purport to contain classified information.

Merten explained in the cable that he had opposed Lavalas’s exclusion because the party would come out looking “like a martyr and Haitians will believe (correctly) that Preval is manipulating the election.”

The election’s low turnout has been ascribed to Haitians’ sense of futility in the choice between two unappealing candidates, to a grassroots boycott campaign and primarily to popular dismay over the exclusion of Lavalas, the very issue that gave rise to the December 2009 meeting.

Former President Aristide, who returned to Haiti from exile on March 18, two days before the second round, drove the point home when he declared on his arrival, “The problem is exclusion; the solution is inclusion.”

Dan Coughlin covered Haiti for Inter Press Service from the UN and Port-au-Prince between 1992 and 1996. He was formerly the news director and executive director of Pacifica Radio. He is currently executive director of Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Kim Ives is an editor with Haïti Liberté.

Venezuela responds to energy shortages

Source: Correo del Orinoco International, No. 68, 17 June 2011.

Conservation, cutting back electricity bills and using energyefficient appliances are some of the measures announced this week by the government to resolve problems caused by excessive use of electrical energy

Responding to a series of power outages in Western areas of the country provoked by excessive demand and some instances of sabotage, Vice President Elias Jaua alongside Energy Minister Ali Rodriguez announced a package of measures last Monday designed to accelerate energy efficiency in the nation and prevent further blackouts.

The measures, which intend to curb the irresponsible consumption of subsidized energy by residential, commercial, and government users, were made known during a press conference held at the headquarters of the state energy company Corpoelec in the capital of Caracas.
“These are not measures intended to limit the right to electricity, but rather to avoid the inadequate and excessive use of energy in order to guarantee a safe and stable supply”, Vice President Jaua said to journalists gathered for the event on Monday. “Government institutions and agencies will set the example first by reducing energy use in buildings”, he added.

As part of the initiative, rate increases of ten percent will now be handed out to large energy users who fail to reduce their consumptionlevel to those consistent with rates of use in 2009. In the case of noncompliance, the rate hikes will be increased by five percent every month. While this measure applies to the biggest consumers such as shopping malls and industrial firms, individual households that show heightened energy use will also be required to display reductions or face similar sanctions. Entities that work with essential human services such as hospitals, law enforcement agenciesand suppliers of potable waterare exempt from the new regulations.

Greater incomes combined with population and economic growth have elevated Venezuela’s energy consumption from 10,800 Megawatts a year in 1999, when President Hugo Chavez took power, to its current level of 17 thousand. Venezuela is now the second highest electricity consumer in all of Latin America, next to Argentina, and has seen a jump of two thousand megawatts in its consumption levels in the first half of 2011.

Last year, a prolonged drought crippled production at the nation’s largest hydroelectric dam, forcing the government to implement rolling blackouts and apply energy-savings measures to households and businesses. Those measures were lifted as the crisis subsided and while government officials have cited he existence of sabotage as a major reason for recent outages, Jaua recognized on Monday that production increases are necessary to complement a lowering of demand. As such, the government has announced a plan to incorporate a further nine thousand megawatts of electricity to be added to the power grid by the end of 2012. The increases will be made through the construction of new power plants and the renovation of older stations.

But the government insists that excessive demand must be reduced and in addition to price hikes, cost incentives are also being provided to consumers who are able to curtail usage. For those able to reduce their electricity consumption by between 10 and 19.9 percent, a discount of 25 percent will accompany their monthly bill while those able to lower their usage by more than 20 percent will see a 50 percent slash in costs. Electricity is already heavily subsidized by the state, yet Jaua announced that no rate increases were planned in the near future. He did, however, emphasize that consumers are more apt to waste electricity due to the low prices. “If users had to pay unsubsidized rates for electricity, consumption would go down”, said Jaua, “but for now we are not going to increase rates”.

“We are sure that we’re going to win this new battle. With the consciousness of our people we’ll be able to stabilize our electric system for the well-being of the Venezuelan people”, Jaua assured. A government decree ordered state institutions to rely on individual energy plants during the hours of 11am-4pm and 6-10pm until restrictions are lifted. Jaua also called on people to reduce usage of high-consuming appliances, such as air conditioners and electronics. A massive public awareness campaign regarding energy conservation has already been in full swing since last year’s difficulties.

Public television regularly broadcasts short commercials encouraging households to shut off lights when leaving rooms and “unplug appliances not in use”. Neon signs and billboards are also regulated under the new decree, which limits their usage between the hours of 7pm to midnight.

Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) Today

Source: Monthly Review, 2011, Volume 62, Issue 10 (March)
by Don Fitz.

“We are one people who share a common history of struggle.” —Cassandra Cusack Curbelo, second-year ELAM student

A revolution can only be successful when the new generation takes over from the old. When thousands of students come together because of their dedication to helping others at a school that was built to allow them to fulfill their goals, the ground is fertile for students to continue the struggle.

Students are assuming defining roles at the Latin American School of Medicine (Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina or ELAM), the twelve-year-old medical school in Santa Fe, Playa, a ninety-minute bus ride from Havana, Cuba. With their educational costs covered by the Cuban government, students learn new social relationships in medical practice that they will use in underserved communities in their countries.

International Medicine: A Revolutionary Dream

In his article, “The Cuban Revolutionary Doctor,” Steve Brouwer describes a vision that Che Guevara had in 1960, the year after the Cuban Revolution. After observing that many graduating doctors did not want to serve in rural areas, Che imagined training campesinos to become doctors so they could hurry “immediately and with unreserved enthusiasm to help their brothers.”[1] That year, Cuba sent medical teams to Chile to help after a major earthquake.[2] Cuba’s first health contract resulted in its sending a medical brigade to Algeria in 1963.[3] In 1998, when Hurricanes Mitch and Georges devastated the Caribbean Islands and Central America, Cuba sent doctors and paramedics. Fidel Castro then proposed expanding Cuba’s new Comprehensive Health Program (Programa Integral de Salud) by creating ELAM, which began in 1999.

Castro’s ability to inspire changes should not be underestimated. I met Exa Gonzalez, a sixth-year ELAM student, on a plane to Havana in December 2009. She had studied art and film in high school in Baja California, Mexico. As a teenager, she made two trips to Cuba with her parents, members of the Workers Party (Partido de Trabajo, or PT). During her second trip, in 2001, Fidel described ELAM to the PT delegation, and inspired Exa to change her studies to medicine. She entered ELAM in 2002, when she was nineteen years old, and spent her first year in pre-med, studying biology, chemistry, and physics.[4]

Cuba’s Programa Integral de Salud expanded dramatically in 2003, when the Venezuelan Medical Federation attempted to obstruct efforts by President Hugo Chávez to provide health care to underserved communities. Collaboration between Cuba and Venezuela resulted in the Inside the Community (Barrio Adentro) program, bringing ten thousand Cuban doctors to the latter country in less than a year.[5]

When Katrina slammed New Orleans in August 2005, Castro mobilized hundreds of ELAM graduates and Cuban doctors to help. U.S. President George W. Bush refused even to consider the gesture of goodwill. A friend told me that it must have been a publicity stunt by Castro, since he knew that Bush would not accept. I replied that, given the breadth and depth of Cuban medical aid to countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa, Cuba would have considered it an insult to ignore the plight of a U.S. city near its shores. The high number of primary care doctors in Cuba makes it possible to move quickly after disasters like Katrina.

The U.S. media’s slighting of Cuban medical solidarity continued through the 2009 earthquake in Haiti. As corporate news reports overemphasized U.S. aid, they seriously underreported Cuba’s efforts, to the point of misidentifying a Cuban doctor as “Spanish.”[6] In fact, ever since Hurricane Georges in 1998, Cuba has assigned hundreds of doctors to neighboring Haiti. Cuba has also been training Haitian doctors since the doors of ELAM first opened. The only requirement is that, when they graduate, Haitians agree to return home to take the place of Cuban doctors (rather than defecting to plush jobs in the United States or Europe).

Cuba has already trained 550 Haitian doctors, and there are 567 Haitian students in ELAM. As a result of Cuban efforts, Haiti saw a greater than 50 percent decrease in infant mortality, maternal mortality, and child mortality, and, between 1999 and 2007, an increase in life expectancy from fifty-four to sixty-one years of age. As Haitian President René Préval said, “You did not have to wait for an earthquake to help us.”[7]

During the first three days after the earthquake, Cuban doctors provided more medical care than any other country. In addition to ELAM graduates already in Haiti, 184 Haitian students from ELAM (along with U.S. ELAM graduates) came to help. “Cuba was soon responsible for over 1,500 medical personnel in Haiti.”[8] This compared to 550 medical personnel from the United States at the same time. And, while the United States had treated 871 patients, Cuban-trained staff had treated 227,143. Of course, Haiti was out of the headlines after a few weeks, and most nonmilitary Americans departed. But, just as they were present before the disaster, Cubans stayed afterwards, not just to treat patients but also to continue to build a new health care system.

Haiti is merely the most recent example of the enormity of Cuba’s international medical work. According to ELAM’s Web site, there are fifty-two thousand Cuban medical workers currently offering their services in ninety-two countries.[9] This means that Cuba has more doctors working overseas than either the World Health Organization or the combined efforts of the G-8 nations. Thus, “by 2008, Cuban medical staff were caring for over 70 million people in the world.” Additionally, almost two million people outside of Cuba owe their “lives to the availability of Cuban medical services.”[10] The spirit of international solidarity is the core to the teaching curriculum at ELAM. As its Web site announces: “The work that ELAM graduates carry out today in all countries of the world constitutes an example of internationalism and human solidarity. It is a symbol of love for life and social justice that is without precedence in history.”[11]

Student Health Brigades

After the third class graduation at ELAM, the Student Congress proposed creating the opportunity to work on specific projects during summer vacation months. The faculty approved, and students began designing projects designated as Student Health Brigades (Brigadas Estudiantiles por la Salud or BES) that would take them to clinics in impoverished urban and rural communities of South and Central America as well as throughout the rest of the world, including the United States.

The Yaa Asantewaa Brigade (YAB), whose key organizers include Omavi Bailey and Ketia Brown, is illustrative of how BES projects function.[12] YAB is the group that will carry out the “African Medical Corp—Ghana Project.” It was designed by the Organization of African Doctors (OAD), a group of African and African-American medical students. Founded in 2009 on the ELAM campus, OAD adopted the mission of developing “programs, projects and institutions with the objective of producing an organized, politically conscious and socially-responsible medical body able to meet the needs of African people suffering from health related issues throughout the African world. OAD is composed of 160 students, interns, and residents trained in Cuba currently representing over thirty-five countries.”[13]

Currently, the “brain drain” of African doctors getting jobs in Europe or the United States leaves Ghana with just one doctor for every forty-five thousand residents. Similarly, there are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago than in Ethiopia.[14] OAD aims to confront this problem head on by strengthening the directive at ELAM that African (and all other) medical students return to serve impoverished communities in their homelands.

The 2010 phase of the Ghana Proposal began with ELAM students traveling to Ghana to meet with Cuban-trained doctors already there. In the communities they visit, ELAM students intend to

1. Perform an access assessment of the sources of health care that residents already have;

2. Set up health groups of medical students who do physical exams and learn Ghanaian traditional medicine; and

3. Hold community meetings to strengthen ties with Ghana residents by finding out what health care they want.

Depending on the results, YAB hopes to create an internship so that sixth-year ELAM students can complete their medical training in Ghana. ELAM students in Ghana will have experiences that differ vastly from those of medical students in the United States. Unlike the overdeveloped countries, where the major causes of death are “lifestyle” diseases such as strokes and heart attacks, “The 10 principle causes of death in Ghana are all due to preventable infectious diseases.”[15] It is no accident that YAB aims to look at Ghanaian access to services, beliefs about health care, and desires for change, rather than jumping in to provide predetermined services that may or may not fit the life of an African village. Training at ELAM places heavy emphasis on the evolving social context of medicine, a model that applies particularly well to tight-knit communities.

Even though traditional and natural medicine are often ridiculed in the West, they have “remained the primary mode of prevention and treatment for 85% of African people.”[16] Thus, the Cuban model of General Integral Medicine (Medicina General Integral or MGI), which “approaches health care holistically, considering its biological, psychological, cultural and spiritual components,” prepares students to be doctors-as-listeners as much as a doctors-as-teachers.[17]

Growth of ELAM

The ability of Cuban-trained doctors to listen to people and work with them, rather than impose on them a Western model, is one factor that increases the eagerness of countries to send students to ELAM. Progressive Americans who yearn for health care systems like those in Canada and Western Europe seem unaware of the tremendous prestige that Cuban-style medicine holds for impoverished countries. The Cuban health care system proves that “expensive medical technology is not necessary for effective community-based preventive care.” It “has eradicated polio, controlled malaria and dengue, and reduced child and maternal mortality rates to equal or lower than those of much richer and more developed countries like the United States.”[18]

ELAM offers the hope that other countries can accomplish similar goals. It opened in 1999 with students from twenty-four countries: nineteen Latin American, four African, and the United States.[19] A six-year program, it graduated its first class in 2005. By 2007 ELAM had students from twenty-seven countries.[20] By 2008 the number of countries with students at ELAM had grown to forty.[21]

The ELAM Director of International Relations told me of expansion to campuses throughout Cuba. As of April 2010, the campuses totaled 21,018 students, from one hundred countries. Virtually all of Latin America is represented. Even Colombia, with its notorious right-wing government, has 385 students. Students come from thirty-six African countries, plus many from the Middle East, Asian, Pacific Islands, and the Caribbean.[22]

When I asked the Secretary General of the ELAM Project if there were students from England and Australia, she said, “No, developed countries usually provide medical care and ELAM is designed to help poor countries.”[23] However, this could be interpreted as meaning that ELAM does not reach out to the overdeveloped countries. If students are truly dedicated to working in underserved communities, they might be admitted if they apply through the Cuban embassy in their country. This is suggested by the 2010 matriculation table, which lists students from Germany, Canada, Israel, and Korea.

The internationalism of ELAM reflects the internationalism that runs throughout Cuban medicine. ELAM professors tell their students of participating in relief efforts after disasters in Guatemala, Honduras, and Haiti. Students also hear from other students of solidarity work in various African countries, Haiti, and Venezuela.

When students do rotations at neighborhood consultorios (family care centers) or community polyclinics, they work with medical staff who have global experience. While visiting Havana’s Policlínico Universitario, its Vice Rector Teresa Frías told me that she had worked in Angola, Tanzania, Brazil, and Bolivia. As her coworker, also named Teresa, provided a tour of the polyclinic, she mentioned that she had worked in Ghana, Venezuela, and Brazil.

Any gathering of medical staff in Cuba is likely to include people who offer stories from distant parts of the world. Internationalism is not merely a slogan or ideology in Cuban medicine—it is a core component of a medical culture that pervades the teaching and practice of medicine.

Doctors as Teachers

Like many ELAM students, going to medical school would have been impossible for Ivan Angulo Torres of Lima, Peru. The cost would have been prohibitive and only one hundred students per year enter medical school in Lima. When he first heard of ELAM in 2002, Ivan was studying hotel administration. Two years later, he was in Havana. Four of his relatives attended his July 2010 graduation as the first doctor in his family.[24]

The course of study differs a bit, depending on whether students have sufficient pre-med background in biology, chemistry, and physics; whether they are from Cuba, Latin America, or a non-Latin culture; and whether they are fluent in Spanish. Rather than starting his school year in September, Ivan began his studies in March 2004 because he needed a half-year of science courses.

The first two years of medical school included basic classroom subjects such as anatomy, physiology, histology, biochemistry, genetics, organ systems, psychology, pathology, and the Cuban medical model, with its emphasis on public health. Ivan had contact with a neighborhood consultorio his first year and learned how to give physical exams his second year. During his third year, he began working with hospitalized patients as a practicum from 8:00 to 10:00 in the morning. He made rounds with doctors from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and took courses such as symptomology, internal medicine, X-rays, and English in the afternoon.

His fourth and fifth years saw extensive training in the Cuban MGI model of medicine, which emphasizes people as bio-psycho-social beings, whose context of life must be understood in order to treat them. The MGI model teaches doctors how to teach patients to care for themselves, largely by changing the social context of their lives, including their communities. During those two years, Ivan studied public health and did two-month hospital rotations in areas such as MGI, ear/nose/throat, ophthalmology, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, surgery, orthopedics, urology, dermatology, and psychiatry. During his sixth year as an intern, he was responsible for patients in a consultorio every day and for polyclinic patients one day per week. He also completed all his major rotations begun during his third through sixth years.

From the beginning of their training, ELAM students learn that the essence of public health is the neighborhood clinic, or consultorio. The medical system aims to deal with 80 percent of health problems in the consultorio, each of which serves about one hundred fifty families.[25] The consultorio is often described as a neighborhood doctor’s office, with patients seen on the first floor, the doctor living on the second floor, and the nurse living on the third floor. This is the ideal Cuban model, but it does not capture the wide variation or the close connection between medical students and the consultorio.

In December 2009, doctor Alejandro Fadragas Fernández and nurse Maité Perdomo showed me their consultorio, which serves about five hundred families and eighteen hundred patients, making it larger than is typical in Cuba.[26] On the wall is a poster Mural Docente, listing the “teaching staff” of two doctors, four nurses, two first-year ELAM or Cuban students, one fourth-year student, one fifth-year student, and an intern.

The poster tells us many things. First, medical students are integrated into neighborhood health care, beginning with their first year of medical school. Second, Cuban residents are accustomed to international students being part of their treatment. Third, since there may be multiple doctors and nurses working at a consultorio, they do not all live in the same building. They live in the neighborhood or close to it, and the degree of integration into the community is complex. Fourth, medical teaching is not limited to ELAM but is integrated throughout the practice of neighborhood medicine in Cuba—doctors expect to help train medical students as part of their practice. This is so much the case that medical students often use the words profesor and médico (doctor) interchangeably.

The Meaning of ELAM for ELAM Students

Why do students from across the world come to ELAM? For Exa Gonzalez of Mexico, a speech by Fidel Castro changed her life. For Ketia Brown from California, ELAM’s unique blend of traditional medicine with modern practice caught her eye.[27] For Cuban-American Cassandra Cusack Curbelo, a second-year student, it was an opportunity to share the dream of helping others by returning to the land where her grandparents had been revolutionaries.[28] But for many, it is a combination of being able to afford to go to medical school and participate in a vision. Ivan Angulo was not the only student who could never have afforded a traditional medical school.

Anmnol Colindres of El Paraíso, Honduras had long wanted to be a doctor, but his father, who had been a forestry worker until the coup of June 28, 2009, could not afford to pay his way.[29] Amanda Louis, from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, feels that she has an opportunity at ELAM that she never would have had, based on the salaries of her father, a taxi driver, and her mother, a street vendor.[30] Dennis Pratt, originally from Sierra Leone before his family moved to Jonesboro, Georgia, did not want to spend years paying medical school loans and immediately applied when he learned of ELAM.[31]

Like other students from the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, Jonalisa Livi Tapumanaia is excited that ELAM will make it possible for there to be a doctor on each of the ten major islands of her home, which is already suffering the rising waters of global warming. Her government can only afford to pay for her to fly home once every three years—her father, who runs a gas station, and her mother, who works in an island court, cannot cover the cost.[32]

It is also costly for Lorine Auma to visit her family in Kenya. She will see them only once during her six years of study. Her father, an accountant, and her mother, an occasional printer, could not afford the expensive Kenyan medical school.[33] Keitumetse Joyce Letsiela reported that there is no medical school in her native Lesotho, and her mother, a teacher, did not have funds to send her to an expensive medical school in neighboring South Africa.[34]

Clearly, a huge number, probably a majority of ELAM students, could not attend medical school were it not for its free tuition. One part of their education is learning that the improvement of medical care in Cuba has meant focusing on preventive family care. U.S. medical practice is so over-specialized that only 11 percent of doctors are family physicians. In contrast, almost two-thirds of Cuban doctors practice family medicine. While the ratio of family physicians per population is about 1:3,200 in the United States, it is about 1:600 in Cuba, the highest such ratio in the world.[35]

Many ELAM students I spoke with intend to practice family medicine. But several others feel that the need for affordable specialists in their countries compels them to continue their studies after ELAM. Ivan Angulo from Peru plans to specialize in orthopedics. Dennis Pratt hopes to practice pediatrics and internal medicine in Sierra Leone. Ivan Gomez de Assis would like to practice orthopedics in Brazil.[36] Walter Titz, also from Brazil, would like to practice general medicine for a few years and then study psychiatry.[37]

Amanda Louis reports that her Caribbean home of St. Lucia has only has one oncologist and one ear, nose, and throat doctor, but feels there are enough general practitioners and ob/gyn doctors. She would like to specialize in nephrology (kidney) disorders. Yell Eric thinks that there are many general practitioners in his African island country of Sao Tomo Principe, and is not sure if he wants to specialize or not.[38] When Lorine Auma returns to Kenya, she would like to focus on orthopedics or psychiatry. Perhaps most typical of ELAM students is Joyce Letsiela who is devoted to helping underserved communities in Lesotho and feels that there is a serious shortage of both general practitioners and specialists.


While ELAM has five hundred positions slotted for U.S. students, only 117 were filled as of April 2010. The Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO), which screens U.S. applicants to ELAM, strongly encourages low-income people of color to apply. But the fundamental requirement is that students demonstrate a commitment to working in distressed communities.[39]

Many young people from the United States who think about going to ELAM find ways to contact U.S. students already there. An even better route is to contact IFCO and consider visiting the school. While on campus, it is easy to talk to U.S. students already there, as well as students from other countries who speak English.

There are several ways to view a medical school:

1. Physical appearance. Compared to the luxury of U.S. medical schools, ELAM has a few things to be desired. Its running water is available only at certain hours, and toilets have to be flushed with a bucket. Cuba often has to sacrifice superficialities in order to ensure that everyone has necessities.

2. Quality of training. Although ELAM provides books in Spanish, other books may be difficult to get. U.S. schools provide training geared directly to U.S. medical board exams, but ELAM students get more hands-on experience earlier.

3. Dedication to creating a new medicine. It is in this dimension that ELAM surpasses every other medical school in the world (though Venezuela may soon have comparable schools). This should be the reason that students apply.

The evening before I departed from my latest trip to Havana, I had an extensive conversation about the ELAM experience with my daughter, Rebecca Fitz, now a third-year student, and her partner, Ivan Angulo, who just finished his sixth year.[40] They detailed many things that ELAM provides at no cost: (1) classes and textbooks; (2) dorm room; (3) meals (three per day); (4) medical services, including emergency and elective surgery (Many ELAM students receive corrective procedures such as eye surgery and braces.); (5) items such as two student uniforms, stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, mosquito net, shoes, socks, sheets, blanket, winter coat, and silverware; (6) rations, including soap, toilet paper (Do not go anywhere in Cuba without your own toilet paper!), laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant, and school supplies; and (7) stipend of one hundred pesos per month (I got an ice cream on campus for one peso. A beer costs about ten pesos; so students can chill out from studying by having a beer every three days.).

Conversely, ELAM presents challenges to students accustomed to life in the United States. The first requirement for acceptance is being able to document a history of commitment to social justice. ELAM does not exist to give people a free ride through medical school. Students are expected to show that they will give as much to their communities as ELAM gives them.

Though ELAM covers basic expenses while attending school, students must be able to obtain transportation to and from Cuba. This is not an issue for most U.S. students; but many students do not have funds to return home during the summer. IFCO encourages U.S. students to complete college level courses in biology, chemistry, and physics prior to attending ELAM, advising that they can concentrate on Spanish after arriving. Students from most other countries can begin medical school immediately after graduating high school, and can take any needed science courses during an additional first year of pre-med.

Students must be able to live in a land without excess luxury. Most do not find this too difficult, since they are aware that Cuba maintains a life expectancy equal to the United States by devoting its resources to making sure everyone has what is critical. The U.S. economic embargo makes sure that there is not a whole lot more. Students should be prepared to bathe from a bucket and live with hurricanes but without air conditioning. Do not expect to use a U.S. credit card in Cuba.

The cafeteria serves institutional food that lacks the variety that many prefer. It is not unusual to experience difficulty in adjusting to the absence of individual comfort needs, such as brownies, hot running water, or private personal space. There is a norm of being political, which is wonderful for many, but can be a surprise for some. For example, students are expected (but not required) to participate in activities of the delegation of their country, and class discussions may include the role of their country in imperialism.

ELAM is designed for students who leave their country for the first time, sometimes at the age of sixteen, to attend medical school. Americans, who tend to be older, may be surprised by requirements such as taking physical education courses or spending nights on campus Monday through Friday.

Finally, a large majority of students come from countries that are eager to send students to ELAM to become Cuban-trained doctors. This is not the case with Brazil and the United States. The Brazilian medical association, Colégio Médico, has policies distinct from the Lula government and does not recognize degrees from ELAM. U.S. students do not have this problem, but they must take the same exams as does anyone receiving a non-U.S. degree, and they need to study extensively for questions based on a U.S. rather than a Cuban medical model.

U.S. students cannot expect any support from the U.S. Interests Section, a substitute for an embassy (a U.S. embassy does not exist, due to lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries). Though it is legal to travel to Cuba for educational purposes (such as medical school), the U.S. government employs more hostile restrictions on travel to Cuba than on any other country, and does nothing to support students at ELAM.

An Affirmation

Perhaps the extreme antagonism by the most violent country on the planet is an affirmation of the power of ELAM. The Cuban public health model seeks to understand medical problems by studying the wholeness and completeness of the human context of those problems. ELAM is central to Cuba’s efforts to integrate its medical system with the needs of underserved people throughout the world. The Cuban model is based on a belief that illnesses of humanity cannot be seriously addressed without addressing the society that creates the basis for those illnesses.

This model has attracted well over twenty thousand international students. Cassandra Cusack Curbelo believes that “There is no experience like thousands coming together with the same idea of medicine. It feels like we are not separated into two continents, but we are one people who share a common history of struggle. This is what ELAM opens our eyes to.”

According to Ketia Brown, a third-year medical student, “ELAM is the revolution realized. We must attempt to have a revolutionary project in a capitalist world.” ELAM is such a project. It is a struggle for a new medical consciousness as a part of the struggle to improve global health.

Don Fitz ( is editor of Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought. He is Co-Coordinator of the Green Party of St. Louis and produces Green Time in conjunction with KDHX-TV.


The author would like to thank ELAM Rector Juan Carrizo, Director of International Relations, Nancy Remón Sánchez, General Secretary of Project ELAM, Wuilmaris Pérez Torres, and Assistant Professor of MGI, Dr. Raul Jorge Miranda, for their information and assistance on this article.


1. Steve Brouwer, “The Cuban Revolutionary Doctor: The Ultimate Weapon of Solidarity,” Monthly Review 60 no. 8 (January 2009): 28-42.
2. John M. Kirk and Michael H. Erisman, Cuban Medical Internationalism: Origins, Evolution and Goals (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
3. Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM), (retrieved July 8, 2010).
4. Interview with Exa Gonzales, in flight over the Gulf of Mexico, December 28, 2009.
5. Brouwer, “The Cuban Revolutionary Doctor,” 28-42.
6. All information on Haiti is from Emily J. Kirk and John M. Kirk, “Cuban Medical Aid to Haiti: One of the World’s Best Kept Secrets,” Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought No. 53 (Fall 2010).
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM),
10. Kirk and Erisman, Cuban Medical Internationalism, 3, 169, 112.
11. Ana Fernández Assán, Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM), (retrieved July 8, 2010).
12. Information on YAB was obtained from the interview with Ketia Brown and the document provided by Omavi Bailey: Yaa Asantewaa Brigade, August 15-September 5, 2010. African Medical Corps—Ghana Proposal. Latin American School of Medicine, Carretera Panamericana 3 ½ KM, Santa Fe, Playa, La Habana, Cuba CP 19142. For information on the Organization of African Doctors, see Though Cuba provides support to the Ghana Project, it needs additional funding. Donations can be made at
13. Ibid., 2.
14. Cliff DuRand, “Humanitarianism and Solidarity Cuban-Style,” Z Magazine, November 2007, 44-47.
15. Interview with Ketia Brown and the document provided by Omavi Bailey: Yaa Asantewaa Brigade, 6.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid., 7.
18. Linda M. Whiteford, and Laurence G. Branch, Primary Health Care in Cuba: The Other Revolution (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008), 2.
19. Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM).
20. Emily J. Kirk and John M. Kirk, “Cuban Medical Aid to Haiti.”
21. Brouwer, “The Cuban Revolutionary Doctor.”
22. Interview with Nancy Remón Sánchez, ELAM, May 30, 2010.
23. Interview with Wuilmaris Pérez Torres, May 30, 2010.
24. Interview with Ivan Angulo Torres, Havana Cuba, May 31, 2010.
25. On the role of the consultorio in the Cuban health system, see Lee T. Dresang, Laurie Brebick, Danielle Murray, Ann Shallue, and Lisa Sullivan-Vedder, “Family medicine in Cuba: Community-Oriented Primary Care and Complementary and Alternative Medicine,” Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 18 no. 4 (July-August, 2005): 297-303.
26. Interview with Dr. Alejandro Fadragas Fernández and Maité Perdomo, Consultorio No. 5, Havana, Cuba, December 30, 2009.
27. Interview with Ketia Brown, ELAM, May 31, 2010.
28. Interview with Cassandra Cusack Curbelo, ELAM, January 23, 2010.
29. Interview with Anmnol Colindres, ELAM, May 26, 2010.
30. Interview with Amanda Louis, ELAM, May 28, 2010.
31. Interview with Dennis Pratt, ELAM, May 26, 2010.
32. Interview with Jonalisa Livi Tapumanaia, ELAM, May 28, 2010.
33. Interview with Lorine Auma, ELAM, June 2, 2010.
34. Interview with Keitumetse Joyce Letsiela, ELAM, June 2, 2010.
35. Lee T. Dresang et al., “Family Medicine in Cuba.”
36. Interview with Ivan Gomez de Assis, ELAM, May 27, 2010.
37. Interview with Walter Titz, ELAM, June 2, 2010.
38. Interview with Yell Eric, ELAM, June 2, 2010.
39. For detailed information on ELAM, current curriculum for U.S. students, and an application, see
40. Interview with Rebecca Fitz and Ivan Angulo Torres, Havana, Cuba, June 3, 2010.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

US senators pressure Spain to block Cuba oil drilling

Nelson seeking pressure to stop drilling off Cuba
Source:, 27 May 2011.

The impending arrival of a huge semi-submersible oil rig just 50 miles from Key West this summer has lawmakers scrambling to find 11th-hour solutions to stop the Cuban-sponsored drilling operation, which could begin by September.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has been trying unsuccessfully through legislation and the lobbying of two presidential administrations to stop Spanish oil and gas company Repsol from drilling more than 6,500 feet below the surface of the Straits of Florida since the project's plans were made public more than three years ago.

Florida's senior senator now hopes the U.S. State Department can convince the Spanish government to put enough pressure on Repsol that the company abandons its plans in the Northwest Cuban Basin.

He's even asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to express concerns to Spain that the United States has about a foreign oil-drilling operation so close to its shores.

In a letter he sent Clinton on Thursday, May 19, Nelson wrote, I am asking that you raise this crucial issue with your counterparts in the current Spanish government and impress upon them the urgency of this situation. Oil drilling is coming at the behest of Cuba s communist regime, eager to benefit from any offshore oil resources. And by partnering with Cuba, Repsol is acting contrary to U.S. interests in the hemisphere.

The goal of the letter is to delay drilling until early next year, when Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government may be taken over by the country s center-right Popular Party, which is less sympathetic to Cuba's Communist regime. Nelson spokesman Bryan Gulley said the senator hopes a conservative government may not allow Repsol to do business with Cuba. We re looking to Hillary Clinton to apply enough pressure on the Spanish government to allow us to buy some time, Gulley said.

Nelson isn't the only Florida lawmaker taking action as the drilling operation looks to be an inevitability. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose constituency includes the Keys, said this week she will reintroduce legislation this session aimed at preventing the Cuban regime from becoming the oil tycoons of the Caribbean.

Nelson and Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami-Dade Republican, are specifically responding to reports that construction of the large Chinese-made oil rig is almost complete and will be leaving a Singapore shipyard by June. The rig, named the Scarabeo 9, will likely begin drilling for oil by late summer or early fall. It will be positioned about 40 to 50 miles from Key West.

Another Florida congressman, Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, introduced a bill a month ago that would punish oil companies doing business with Cuba by directing the U.S. Interior secretary to deny them American oil permits.

Nelson introduced a similar bill in 2008. He also urged the Bush and Obama administrations not to renew an accord that must be agreed to every two years that involves maritime boundaries within the 90 miles of water separating the United States and Cuba unless the island nation gives up its oil drilling plans. Neither administration was willing to go that route, Gulley said.

House Foreign Affairs chair seeks to block Cuban oil development
Source: The, 27 May 2011.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) introduced legislation this week aimed at making it more difficult for Cuba to develop its petroleum industry. It would do so by imposing new sanctions against entities that invest in Cuba's oil sector.

Ros-Lehtinen's bill comes in the midst of a debate within the U.S. about whether and how the U.S. should develop its own petroleum resources, one that has seen Republicans call for increased drilling in the outer continental shelf.

Her bill, H.R. 2047, is called the Caribbean Coral Reef Protection Act, and Ros-Lehtinen pointed out that Cuban offshore oil exploration could occur in waters that are "dangerously close to the Florida Keys." But Ros-Lehtinen made it clear this week that the primary purpose of the bill is to ensure that the Castro regime cannot turn its offshore oil resources into a financial resource via outside investors.

"Desperate for new channels of funding, the Cuban tyranny will say and do anything to persuade others to invest in its oil sector in order to stay afloat," she said. "We cannot allow the Castro regime to become the oil tycoons of the Caribbean. I will continue to work with my congressional colleagues to prevent oil drilling by the Cuban regime, which poses a national security and environmental threat to the United States."

The bill would deny U.S. entry visas to any foreign officer, principal or controlling shareholder of a company that invests $1 million in Cuba's petroleum industry. This sanction would apply for any investments made on or after January 10, 2005. It would also direct the president to impose sanctions on people who invest in Cuba's petroleum sector, and make it illegal for any U.S. national to help Cuba develop its offshore oil resources.

Another massacre in Aguán, Honduras

Bloody Sunday in Bajo Aguán, Honduras (espanol)
Source: Honduras Human Rights blog, 06 June 2011.

José Recinos Aguilar, Joel Santamaría y Genaro Cuesta, all members of the San Esteban peasant cooperative were murdered [on Sunday, June 5 ] while driving a Nissan vehicle a few meters from the settlement. There are yet no details of how the attack occurred, read a statement by FIAN-Honduras.

The report said the military, police, and security guards were guarding the place where the corpses lay preventing their fellow farmers to reach them. The bodies will be transferred to La Ceiba for autopsies, as reported by the district attorney’s office in Trujillo.

Almost simultaneously, farmers who had occupied San Isidro farm were evicted by Miguel Facussé’s security guards. They then entered the premises of the National Agrarian Institute (INA) in Sinaloa, in what is known as “golden house”, and opened fire on farmers who had taken refuge there since last winter. Peasant Doris Pérez Vásquez was hit in the abdomen and seriously injured, and had to be rushed to a hospital in the city of La Ceiba.

All those interviewed by FIAN Honduras about the violence in the Lower Aguán region agree that the repression has never been this bad, suffered presently by those who make up farmer organizations claiming for their rights. No one trusts the authorities and everyone is afraid for his/her life.

Farmers are disappointed by the failure of the agreement between the Unified Peasant Movement of Aguán (MUCA) and the regime, and the oversight of promises made to the Movimiento Autentico Reivindicador de Campesinos Del Aguán (MARCA) and Movimiento Campesino del Aguán (MCA) by the INA. The reasons for the agrarian conflict remain unchanged since April 13, 2010, with the aggravating circumstance that now there are more deaths, injuries and victims of other violations.

The feeling among farmers is that of total defenseless. FIAN Honduras has reiterated that while the agrarian dispute is not settled, violence will continue in the region and that the police, often along with the army, only serve to scare people and raise preliminary information on the violence without making public their investigation results as it’s required.

Cuban mercenaries whine in Spain

Cuban political prisoners in Spain threaten hunger strike
Source: Sacramento Bee, 28 May 2011.

Three former Cuban political prisoners and 15 relatives living in northern Spain are threatening a hunger strike unless authorities resolve the "chaotic" conditions of their exile, complaining that they fall short of the welcome promised by the Spanish government.

"They are treating us like simple immigrants," said Erick Caballero, one of the more than 100 political prisoners freed by Cuba during the past year after they agreed to go directly from jail to the Havana airport and flights to Madrid.

Spain's Socialist government promised a broad range of benefits to the former prisoners and nearly 900 of their relatives, but many have complained that they were all but abandoned once they landed in Madrid. The latest complaints came from Caballero, who arrived April 8 along with two other former political prisoners, 15 other adults and six children. He said they were sent to a Spanish Red Cross migrant reception center in Torrelavega, in the northern province of Cantabria.

Caballero said he and the 17 other adults will launch a hunger strike if authorities cannot resolve their complaints. "Their care for us has been chaotic," he said by telephone. He said health care has been difficult - a woman who was treated for cancer in Cuba and now has pains could not get a doctor's appointment until next year - and some of the new arrivals have not been able to attend job seminars because there's no money for transportation. The promised pocket money of 49 Euros a month, about $70, was not delivered until last week, Caballero said. The 177 Euros promised for clothing has been delivered to only some of the newly arrived Cubans.

The food at the refugee center, a converted maternity hospital, has been awful and its activities are highly regimented, he said. "I came out of a high-security prison, and here they have a schedule for everything - bathe, eat, go out, watch television," Caballero said.

McClatchy Newspapers' efforts to speak with the director of the refugee center were unsuccessful, but Spanish government officials have previously acknowledged delays and other problems with benefits for the Cuban arrivals, and blamed the issues on the country's economic crisis. The unemployment rate stands at more than 20 percent.

Caballero was arrested in 2005 and sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison on charges of "enemy propaganda" and damaging state property. He left Cuba on the chartered airplane that flew the last of the freed political prisoners and their relatives - about 200 people in all - to Spain.

The release was part of an agreement by the Raul Castro government, announced by the Cuban Catholic Church last summer, to free a large number of political prisoners. The Spanish government agreed to take in any prisoners and relatives who wanted to leave the island. Caballero said Spanish authorities in Cuba gave each of the former prisoners and relatives a long document titled Process for Receiving and Socially Integrating Persons Seeking International Protection, which laid out the government's promises and the exiles' duties.

Each family was then assigned to one of three non-government organizations that provide benefits to refugees - the Spanish Red Cross, the Spanish Catholic Association Commission for Migration and the Spanish Commission for Help to Refugees. But the head of the Red Cross migrant center in Torrelavega did not know about the government benefits, Caballero said, until he showed her the document. Her center does not have the resources to meet the needs, he

Complaints from previous Cuban arrivals had become so prevalent that when Caballero's jetliner landed in Madrid, his group was kept away from waiting reporters and put on buses that took them to refugee reception centers, most of them far from the Spanish capital. Former political prisoner Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina said he wound up in a Red Cross shelter on the outskirts of Malaga. He said he ran out of toothpaste and deodorant last week and that he's been given no money for a haircut since his arrival.

Rodriguez said he thanked the Spanish government for taking him and his family out of Cuba and did not want to appear ungrateful, but added that since arriving he has faced "bureaucratic hell."

"If the Spanish government did not have the conditions, because it faces an economic crisis, I don't understand why it made a deal with the Cuban dictatorship to send 1,000 persons to a place where there are no jobs," he said.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The PetroCaribe Files

WikiLeaks Haiti: The PetroCaribe Files
Source: The Nation, 01 June 2011.
by Dan Coughlin and Kim Ives

When René Préval took the oath of Haiti’s presidential office in a ceremony at Haiti’s National Palace on May 14, 2006, he was anxious to allay fears in Washington that he would not be a reliable partner. “He wants to bury once and for all the suspicion in Haiti that the United States is wary of him,” said US Ambassador Janet Sanderson in a March 26, 2006, cable. “He is seeking to enhance his status domestically and internationally with a successful visit to the United States.”

This was so important that Préval “declined invitations to visit France, Cuba, and Venezuela in order to visit Washington first,” Sanderson noted. “Preval has close personal ties to Cuba, having received prostate cancer treatment there, but has stressed to the Embassy that he will manage relations with Cuba and Venezuela solely for the benefit of the Haitian people, and not based on any ideological affinity toward those governments.”

Soon, however, it became clear that managing relations with those US adversaries “solely for the benefit to the Haitian people” would be enough to put Préval in Washington’s bad graces—especially when it came to the sensitive matter of oil.

Immediately after his inauguration ceremony, Préval summoned the press to a room in the National Palace, where he inked a deal with Venezuelan Vice President José Vicente Rangel to join Caracas’s Caribbean oil alliance, PetroCaribe. Under the terms of the deal, Haiti would buy oil from Venezuela, paying only 60 percent up front with the remainder payable over twenty-five years at 1 percent interest.

As the press conference rolled on, just a mile away from the National Palace, in the bay of Port-au-Prince, sat a tanker from Venezuela carrying 100,000 barrels of PetroCaribe diesel and unleaded fuel.

Préval’s dramatic inauguration day oil deal won high marks from many Haitians, who had demonstrated against high oil prices and the lack of electricity. But it ushered in a multiyear geopolitical battle among Caracas, Havana and Washington over how oil would be delivered to Haiti and who would benefit.

The revelations come in a trove of 1,918 cables made available to the Haitian weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté by the transparency group WikiLeaks. As part of a collaboration with Haïti Liberté, The Nation is publishing English-language articles based on those cables [1].

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on the disclosures in this article.

RATB Reports: Fernando Jacomino in Newcastle, UK

On Tuesday 17 May 2011, Fernando León Jacomino gave a public meeting for Rock Around the Blockade (RATB) in Newcastle upon Tyne. Fernando Leon Jacomino is the former Vice-President (and interim President in 2010) of the Instituto Cubano del Libro (Cuban Book institute). For a good part of the 2000s, Jacomino was involved as a cultural policymaker and worked closely with the Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas (UJC, Union of Young Communists) the Asociación Hermanos Saíz and, more generally, the Ministerio de Cultura (Ministry of Culture). However, he is also a published poet and a researcher, specialising in Cuban theatre, especially street theatre and film adaptations of theatre. Although Fernando was in the UK when the 6th

Congress of the Communist Party took place in April 2011, he has been involved in the debates and discussions leading up to the congress and gave an insight into the principle debates of the congress and the economic and political situation in Cuba currently. Below is a transcript of his translated speech and questions he answered at the meeting.