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Scottish members of Rock Around the Blockade (RATB) and Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) have been bringing the inspiring message of the Cuban Revolution to Glasgow and Dundee with a series of fundraising events. In a year which has seen the release of the Cuban 5, Cuban doctors leading the global fight against Ebola and new victories in the fight against the US blockade, the message is clear...socialism is fighting fit and here to stay!

Raising funds for this year’s RATB solidarity brigade to Cuba, which will be bringing boxing gloves and ballet shoes to the island, over 60 people gathered in Glasgow on 28 January to celebrate the cultural achievements of the revolution. The Rebel Cinema event presented a screening of the first two parts of the legendary 1964 Soviet-Cuban film Soy Cuba (I am Cuba), a snapshot of a country on the edge of rebellion, where parasitic wealth existed side by side with grinding poverty, dominated by US interests.

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paypal us blockade of cubaRock Around the Blockade (RATB) is a campaign of the Revolutionary Communist Group in solidarity with socialist Cuba, which uses its example as part of the struggle for socialism and against imperialism here in Britain and worldwide. This month RATB celebrates its 20th anniversary.

The US blockade has cost the Cuban economy an estimated $1.126 trillion since 1961. For 23 consecutive years the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly to condemn the blockade, with 191 out of 193 nations voting against it this year. On 11 September this year, in contradiction to hypocritical US rhetoric about 'normalising relations', President Obama signed a document to extend Cuba's designation as an 'enemy' under the 'Trading with the Enemy Act' for another year.

RATB uses PayPal to process payments and donations via our website,www.ratb.org.uk The funds raised from merchandise sold go towards our activities in Britain. RATB organises political and educational discussions, film showings, street rallies and cultural celebrations, about Cuban socialism.

Without warning or communication, PayPal has blocked our account, for the second time in two years.

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In late April 2016, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond became the highest-ranking British government minister to visit revolutionary Cuba. He signed four memorandums of understanding for cooperation in higher education, energy, culture and in the financial and professional services sector, including an agreement to restructure Cuba’s debt to Britain. Hammond affirmed that Britain, and the European Union, are in favour of lifting the 55-year old United States blockade of island.

As a sign of just how punitive the blockade remains, earlier that month a group of Cuban musicians based in Britain had their money withheld by Eventbrite, a US website-based company. Cuban pianist Eralys Fernandez, who lives in London, had used the ticket sales website for a classical music concert held in an East London church in mid-March.

The concert, supported by a group called Cubans in the UK was a fundraiser for a project to ‘send a piano to Cuba’, which aims to raise £10,000 to buy a second hand concert piano to send to the Conservatory Amadeo Roldan in Havana. Despite being one of the most prestigious institutions in Cuba, its existing grand pianos are in a poor condition. The Conservatory has struggled to get access to new pianos, largely because of the US blockade, and there are no piano producers or retailers in Cuba. The project has been endorsed by Sting and now has Cuban musicians throughout Europe signed up to support.

After the concert, Eventbrite informed the organisers that ‘we were contacted by our bank to let us know that the payout we initiated on 17 March 2016 for £360 has been temporarily held’. They wanted to know of ‘any direct or indirect benefit to Cuba or a Cuban in this transaction’. The organisers, who have dual British and Cuban citizenship, answered in the affirmative; it was obvious from the name and description of the event that it was fundraising to send a piano to Cuba. A month later, Eventbrite confirmed that the ticket money was withheld ‘pursuant to US Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) regulations and sanctions program’ – in other words the US blockade. ‘In order to have the funds released’, advised Eventbrite, ‘you will need to obtain a license from the US Treasury Department’.

Director of Cubans in the UK, Daniesky Acosta, said they had no intention of applying for an OFAC licence. ‘It would mean legitimising the 55-year old US blockade, which has cost our country over (US) $1 billion and which almost every country in the world opposes in the annual UN General Assembly vote on it.’ They were already seeking legal advice on the matter.

It is extraordinarily intrusive for OFAC to regulate how or where British, Cuban or any other citizens can spend their money. The concert tickets were sold to the British public in pounds sterling, not in US dollars. The organisers did not event know they were using a US company, as the website appeared to be based in Britain. However, under EU regulations, Eventbrite should be mandated to abide by British rules, which include no such sanctions against Cuba. The fact that they are not shows the extraterritorial impact of the US blockade and the weakness of Hammond’s assertion that Britain wants improved relations with Cuba.

Acosta said: ‘We do not need a license to send money to Cuba from the United Kingdom, We do not have one and we are not going to apply for one in order help our own people. In fact, we are not sending money to Cuba; we are raising money to buy a piano from a UK retailer.’ For these British-based Cuban artists it seems that the US blockade has been tightened for non-US citizens and companies since diplomatic relations were restored between Cuba and the US. They are not alone. The Cuba Solidarity Campaign recently has its Cooperative Bank account closed and the group Rock around the Blockade had its Paypal account shut down, both under OFAC regulations, even while the head of Paypal joined Obama’s 1,200-strong delegation to Havana. Is this part of a US soft-power strategy; to strengthen US engagement with Cuba, while constricting trade and exchange from third countries?

In December 2015, Lord Hutton, chairman of Cuba Initiative, an independent, bi-lateral, non-governmental organisation to promote British-Cuban relations, put a formal question to the British Treasury: ‘To ask Her Majesty’s Government what advice has been given to UK banks regarding business and personal financial transactions between UK individuals or UK-registered companies and Cuban counterparties based in Cuba.’ The answer he received is cited in full below.

Cuba has previously been subject to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)’s on-going Global AML/CFT Compliance Process due to concerns over strategic deficiencies in its systems for anti-money laundering (AML) and combatting terrorist financing (CTF). HM Government notifies the financial sector of FATF’s decision to list countries and the risks associated with transactions with identified countries. In October 2014, the UK welcomed Cuba’s significant progress in improving its controls and noted that Cuba was no longer subject to the FATF’s monitoring process. This was also communicated to industry.

There are no UK, EU or UN sanctions regimes restricting transactions between the UK and Cuba. The US has economic sanctions against Cuba. EU legislation (Council Regulation (EC) No 2271/96) provides protection against and counteracts the effects of the extra-territorial application of US Cuba sanctions within the EU. The Government does not provide advice on sanctions regimes outside UK jurisdiction and does not intervene in the decisions of banks or other financial firms when made on the basis of their internal risk assessments.

Three months later, on 15 March 2016, OFAC announced amendments to controls on financial transactions, including permitting US banks to process Cuba related US dollar denominated transactions where neither the sender not the beneficiary of the transactions are subject to US jurisdiction. Nonetheless, the frequently asked questions related to Cuba section of their website, states clearly that ‘sanctions’ are still imposed on Cuba, despite the restoration of diplomatic relations between the countries.

‘Most transactions between the United States, or persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and Cuba continue to be prohibited, and OFAC continues to enforce the prohibitions of the CACR [Cuban Assets Control Regulations]. The regulatory changes, effective in January, June, and September 2015, as well as in January and March 2016, respectively, are targeted to further engage and empower the Cuban people by facilitating authorized travel to Cuba by persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction; certain authorized commerce and financial transactions; and the flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.’

There are signs that authorities in Europe are starting to hit back against the extraterritorial character of the US blockade. In April 2016, it was reported that a district court in Dortmund, Germany, issued an order against PayPal for applying US laws in the country. Just like the situation with Eventbrite and the piano project in Britain, the German case involved ticket sales through a website-based company PROticket for a musical comedy ‘Soy de Cuba’ (I am from Cuba) and a concert by Cuban signer Addys Mercedes in late 2015. In November, PayPal blockade the PROticket account, citing OFAC regulations. In this case, however, PROticket complained to the German court, which ordered PayPal’s European subsidiary, located in Luxenbourg, to unfreeze the account with immediate effect or pay out 250,000 euros to PROticket if they fail to so. The judges also prohibited PayPal from freezing their clients’ accounts because they use the words ‘Cuba’ or ‘Cuban’.

News about this ruling has not appeared in the British press despite its relevance to similar cases in Britain. The question remains: what will Eventbrite do with the money it has confiscated from Eralys Fernandez, who just wants to help out the music school from which she had the privilege of graduating for free? The next fundraising concert takes place on July 2nd in London. How can the organisers avoid confiscation of their ticket sales money? Let’s hope Philip Hammond honours his declarations in Havana and takes up the case. Only when European authorities take retaliatory action against OFAC regulations will the expropriation of billions of dollars in frozen funds and punitive fines meted out to individuals, groups and businesses around the world for interacting with Cuba be halted. This is, after all, what US President Obama himself has called for.

A Response From Evenbrite, Inc.

As a US company, Eventbrite and its subsidiaries are subject to OFAC. Under OFAC, Cuba remains a restricted country, which means we cannot facilitate any transactions that provide any direct or indirect benefit to Cuba.

We continually monitor and screen our listings to ensure compliance with our legal obligations. If issues arise, we work directly with the organizer.

The Eventbrite Merchant Agreement states that merchants must comply with US law related to restricted countries.

Amanda Livingood
Corporate Communications, Eventbrite

 

 

Helen Yaffe is an Economic History Fellow at the London School of Economics and the author of Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Between 2011 and 2014, she was a Research Associate at Leicester University on a project investigating the history of the anti-apartheid movement in Britain. Her recent commentaries for BBC and Sky News on US President Obama and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s visits to Cuba can be seen at: http://palgrave.typepad.com/yaffe/

 

RATB breaks the blockade of CubaOn Tuesday 14 February 2012, the year of the London Olympics, the Rock around the Blockade brigadistas visited a Cuban Institute for Sport and Recreation (INDER) project at Ho Chi Mihn Park, Havana and presented the project with £650 of material aid including footballs, volleyballs, basketballs, football nets, bibs and gloves. This was to assist an INDER run 'Project for Life', which involves physical activity in all communities, in the open air, countrywide. The project offers activities for everyone, from babies to elderly people. It has specialist sections and classes for pregnant women and post-birth women, as well as for children with disabilities, among many more. The project takes advantage of the natural environment and works with the people of the community to run the park. It works with other organisations in the community including schools, older person’s homes and the Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC). The project runs every weekday with classes including Tai Chi, aerobics, baby massage and team games. Some teachers are paid, but lots of people volunteer with their time and specialist skills, leading different classes. In addition, INDER pays teachers to organise optional activities in the park at weekends for children, this includes football, basketball and other sports.

 

The following day on Wednesday 15 February, the brigadistas visited the Institute of Oncology and Radiology (INOR) in a hospital in central Havana. The brigade presented a donation of £150 worth children’s toys and art materials to the children’s cancer ward which has a specialist school and play room for its 19 child patients. The impact of the inhumane US blockade is strongly felt. Dr Reno, the head paediatrician explained to Rock Around the Blockade ‘When the socialist bloc fell the US policy was crueller – there were 10 years where children’s healthcare deteriorated in Cuba in the special period. There was an increase in mortality rate especially in children under 4 years old. Now the US is further tightening the blockade and is systematically buying up companies which supply Cuba including Dabur (an Indian Pharmaceutical company) and others in Europe. These in particular affect access to medical equipment and surgical materials in Cuba. Elizabeth Alvarez Velasquez, the International Department representative explained ‘we need anything and everything; we even have shortages of Lumbar Puncture needles. Basic equipment shortages are still a problem so we have to make do’. Dr Reno reflected that the impact of the blockade has had its positives as it has forced Cuba to develop research. 'We are strong politically and we are glad we are not alone. You are always welcome here'. 'Cuba demonstrates from a human political point of view that we are a country that, despite a limit on our resources, we help people everywhere'.

 

PCCThe Revolutionary Communist Group, which founded Rock Around the Blockade in 1995, is delighted to recieve this message:

Dear Comrades,
 
Many thanks for your letter of congratulation from The Revolutionary Communist Group in support of The Cuban Revolution. I take this opportunity to convey to all of you in the Party this message from our Cuban Communist Party.
 
In Comradership, Jorge Luis, Cuban Embassy

MESSAGE TO PARTIES AND POLITICAL AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS AND FORCES IN THE WORLD

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guardianFollowing the news of the release of the Cuban 5 and renewed diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, Owen Jones published a 'Comment is Free' piece in the Guardian on 18 December 2014. Entitled 'The US embargo is disappearing, so too, must Cuba's dictatorship' Jones launches a virulent attack on Cuba. Rock Around the Blockade replies:

...............................

What free press should socialist Cuba aspire to Mr Jones? The 'free press' that dictated the outcome of the Scottish referendum here. 38 national newspapers agin us...and yet we still voted in our million and a half plus for independence.

A well read lad like yersel'- and a proclaimed socialist- should know there is no such thing in any capitalist society- the media are run by rich white men, to paraphrase Michael Moore. But then of course your employer is amongst them. So stop yer liberal sooking and as Fidel has explained to friends of Cuba, try and imagine the difficulties the socialist revolution has faced in its short history...then judge. Cuba in the absence of the corrupt influence of the millionaire media is more free, not less!

Michael MacGregor

Dundee Rock Around the Blockade

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Published on 17 December 2014 by www.revolutionarycommunist.org

free the five with flag f cadena agramonte

After 16 unjust years of imprisonment, on 17 December 2014, Ramón Labañino, Gerardo Hernández and Antonio Guerrero, the three remaining members of the Cuban 5, returned to Cuba following their release from US gaols. This is a defeat for the corrupt US justice system and massive victory for Cuba, particularly for anti-terrorist Gerardo Hernandez who was serving two life sentences plus 15 years.

The five Cuban heroes were arrested in 1998 and tried in Miami in 2001, in the midst of a hostile media storm whipped up by journalists in the pay of the US government. Denied a fair trial, they were found guilty of charges ranging from spying to conspiracy to commit murder and endangering the security of the United States. These men had been working to foil the persistent attempts by right-wing counter-revolutionary groups in the United States to commit acts of sabotage and terrorism against Socialist Cuba. These attacks included 78 bombings, 61 hijackings of planes and boats, biological attacks of dengue and swine fever, and 58 attacks from the sea, killing at least 3,478 people in total. The Cuban 5 were guilty of nothing more than peacefully trying to protect their country against terrorism. Their case Illustrates the hypocrisy of the US ‘War on Terror’.

Wednesday 17 December will be recognised for decades to come as a crucial date for Cuban history when, following years of campaigning, the Cuban 5 were finally free. Ramon, Gerardo and Antonio now join Rene Gonzalez and Fernando Hernandez, who served their full sentences and were released in 2011 and 2014 respectively.

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raul alocuAt 1pm on 17 December 2014, Cuba President Raul Castro announced the release of the remaining Cuban 5 in return for an unnamed US agent and the humanitarian release of USAID contractor Alan Gross. Below is the transcript of this historic announcement:

From Prensa Latina:

Fellow countrymen, 

Since my election as President of the State Council and Council of Ministers I have reiterated in many occasions our willingness to hold a respectful dialogue with the United States on the basis of sovereign equality, in order to deal reciprocally with a wide variety of topics without detriment to the national independence and self-determination of our people.

This stance was conveyed to the US Government both publicly and privately by Comrade Fidel on several occasions during our long standing struggle, stating the willingness to discuss and solve our differences without renouncing any of our principles.

The heroic Cuban people, in the wake of serious dangers, aggressions, adversities and sacrifices has proven to be faithful and will continue to be faithful to our ideals of independence and social justice. Strongly united throughout these 56 years of Revolution, we have kept our unswerving loyalty to those who died in defense of our principles since the beginning of our independence wars in 1868.

Today, despite the difficulties, we have embarked on the task of updating our economic model in order to build a prosperous and sustainable Socialism.

As a result of a dialogue at the highest level, which included a phone conversation I had yesterday with President Obama, we have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual interest for both nations.

As Fidel promised on June 2001, when he said: "They shall return!" Gerardo, Ramon, and Antonio have arrived today to our homeland.

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Free the Cuban 5 rally Trafalgar sqThe sun was out in London as members of Rock around the Blockade (RATB) were joined by activists, writers, musicians and academics from around the world to demand freedom for the Cuban Five and to show solidarity with socialist Cuba. The rally was held in support of the International Committee of Inquiry into the Case of the Cuban Five, which took place in London over the previous two days.

Supporting organisations included the US National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, Free the Cuban 5 Committee - Vancouver, The Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP),  London Guantánamo Campaign, Cubainformación TV, Marcha Patriotica (Colombia), Cuba Solidarity (Barcelona, Dublin, and Copenhagen), Revolutionary Communist Group, Hands Off Venezuela, Cubanos en UK, Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), MERU Verdadero, Communist League, Movimento Micaela Bastidas (UK), Coordinadora de Cubanos Residentes en Francia, Colectivo entre Amigos (Francia).

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