cuba medics kenya min

By Cassandra Howarth | FRFI

Since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the status and quality of life of Cuban women has improved dramatically with women now constituting almost 60% of all professionals and more than half of scientists. Women are also becoming increasingly represented in government, and in the national parliament 53.2% of members are women. The ministers for Education, Finance and Pricing, Domestic Trade, the Food Industry, Labour and Social Security, Science, Technology and the Environment, and the Minister and President of the Central Bank of Cuba are also all women, as well as the heads of the National Environmental Agency, and eight out of 15 provinces in Cuba are led by women.

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cuba facebook

By Seamus O’ Tuairisc | FRFI

The US has plans to make use of Facebook and other social media in order to generate political dissent in Cuba. The US government has charged the Miami-based network Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) with the task of overseeing the spread of propaganda and disinformation through social media. The OCB is a subsidiary of the state-owned Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an agency which owns and supervises other networks that broadcast pro-US propaganda overseas, including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.

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Cuba solar energy
The Solar Photovoltaic Park of the Central University 'Marta Abreu' in the Las Villas province of Cuba.

By Ben Geraghty | FRFI

Cuba’s new constitution will incorporate articles enshrining Cuba’s commitment to sustainable development and the protection of the environment. This is a long-standing commitment of which the most recent major iteration was an announcement in 2014 that the country aims to source 24% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Currently about 5% of Cuba’s energy is produced by renewable sources, but there is huge potential for renewable energy development due to Cuba’s geography giving it access to a variety of biofuel sources, a windy coastline and generous amounts of sunshine. Luis Hilario Berriz Perez, president of the state enterprise Cubasolar, explains that ‘Cuba’s territory, of about 111,000 square kilometres, receives solar radiation equivalent to the energy produced by 50 million tons of oil, every day. That is, the solar radiation Cuba receives in a single day, is greater – in its energy value – than all the oil consumed in five years.’ However, there are major barriers to energy development; not least the US blockade. Cuba has been forced to look outside of the US’ sphere of influence for solutions to its energy needs.

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diaz canel resized

By Will Harney | FRFI

On 19 April 2018 Cuba inaugurated its new Council of State, including the new President, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez. He is the first leader of Cuba’s government to be born after the revolution of 1959. At this event which concluded the six-month long general election, outgoing leader Raul Castro addressed the National Assembly of People’s Power, expressing optimism about the suitability of the country’s new leadership to continue the programme of economic, social and political reforms, as well as the significant progress made in rejuvenating and diversifying the National Assembly so that it reflects the demographics of the nation it serves. Raul also expressed his hope that Diaz-Canel would succeed him as First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, indicating that the ties between the Party and the government of Cuba will remain strong in the years to come. Will Harney reports.

The transition to the next generation

Raul stepped down this year after two terms in office, in accordance with the term limits agreed in the Communist Party of Cuba’s programme of updates to the socialist model, which were approved at the 6th Congress in 2011 and consolidated at the 7th Congress in 2016. Guidelines for economic, social and political reforms were drafted, modified and agreed in 2010-11, in consultation with the people through a participatory democratic system (FRFI 221). Included in the programme are gradual changes to improve efficiency and productivity in Cuba’s economy, with a greater role for non-state enterprises, introduction of a housing market and incentives for greater foreign investment with the state retaining control over central planning. The guidelines also stipulate that no one over 70 will assume a leadership position in the Party, effectively guaranteeing that the country’s leadership will transition to a new generation.

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cuba constitution

By Helen Yaffe | FRFI 

On 22 July, over 600 delegates in Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power, the country’s highest decision-making body, approved the draft of a new Constitution after two days of debate in which more than 100 delegates made interventions. Now the Constitution will be distributed throughout the island and between mid-August and mid-November the population will debate it in grassroots meetings, in communities and centres of work and study. A second version of the Constitution will then incorporate opinions expressed in the popular consultation. Following approval of this second version by the National Assembly, the new Constitution will be put to a nationwide referendum based on a secret ballot, probably early in 2019. Helen Yaffe reports.

The socialist character of the Cuban system and the role of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), as the country’s ideological leadership, remain ‘principles set in stone’. However, a clause in the 1976 Constitution about the ultimate aim of building a communist society is omited from the draft. ‘This does not mean we are renouncing our ideas,’ said President of the National Assembly, Esteban Lazo. At the time of the earlier Constitution, one-third of the world’s population lived under socialist regimes. Today Cuba is almost isolated as a country building socialism. Under such circumstances, the idea of a transition from socialism to communism is abstract and remote. ‘We believe in a socialist, sovereign, independent, prosperous and sustainable country’, explained Lazo. State enterprises will remain the mainstay of the economy. There will be limits to the concentration of private ownership. Access to healthcare and education will remain free and universal. New in the Constitution is a defence of the environment, and the need to mitigate climate change. Other articles are rights which the Cuban state will work to make viable, and some require subsequent legislation.

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Cuba undersea cables

‘The internet appears to have been made for revolutionaries’ – Fidel Castro

By Will Harney and Conan Underhill | FRFI

Far from seeing the internet as a danger to be controlled or censored, the Cuban government recognises its potential for empowering oppressed peoples in the revolution against global capitalism (Granma 16 February 2018). The new Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel urged in his maiden speech to the National Assembly of People’s Power on 19 April that Cubans must be ‘more creative with spreading our truths’ and start using new technologies to publicise life in socialist Cuba, to counter the lies and misinformation spread by their enemies. This is why development of Cuba’s internet infrastructure has continued apace despite its primary obstacle: the US-imposed economic blockade of Cuba. Meanwhile, US President Trump has ordered the creation of a task force to explore the potential of using the internet to undermine the Cuban revolution. Will Harney and Conan Underhill report.

Expanding internet access

Cuba is prevented from accessing most of the undersea fibre-optic cables which skirt the island, due to the US blockade which prohibits the majority of service providers, based in the US, from connecting to the island (FRFI 218) – with the exception of the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, connected to Florida by the GTMO-1 cable since 2015. Internet usage has therefore always been expensive in Cuba and has been rationed to provide vital service to medical, research and educational institutions. In 2008, Venezuela launched the Venesat-1 (or ‘Simon Bolivar’) Satellite from a rocket base in China to provide internet, television and telephone connectivity to Latin America, to the benefit of countries which had been forced to depend on US infrastructure. This enabled greater internet access in Cuba but connection via the satellite remained slow compared to a cabled network. Then in 2013 the 1,860km ALBA-1 fibre-optic cable was constructed between Venezuela and Cuba. Public Wi-Fi hotspots have multiplied to more than 500 in the years since.

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carriles justice resized

By Will Harney | FRFI

The self-confessed terrorist bomber and CIA agent Luis Posada Carriles died a free man on 23 May in Miami, Florida where he had been sheltered by the US government since 2005. He was a counter-revolutionary responsible for the deaths of innocent people throughout Latin America.

The right-wing Cuban exile community mourn Posada as a hero: radio station La Poderosa observed a minute’s silence; the Havana Times blog gave tribute to the ‘Hero’ (later amended to ‘Warrior’); while the Miami Herald’s coverage on the day painted him as the James Bond of Latin America. US media headlines were forgiving and almost universally described Posada only as a ‘militant Cuban exile’ (eg Washington Post, 23 May 2018). Echoing this hypocrisy for a British audience, the BBC presented Posada as a ‘Cuba anti-Com­munist activist’ above his smiling portrait.  In the imperialist countries, it was as if a likeable firebrand had passed away, and not a prolific mass murderer.

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Published 15 Febuary 2018 by Revolutionary communist Group

Cuba’s Gay Revolution: normalising sexual diversity through a health-based approach

Emily J Kirk, Lexington Books, 2017, 167pp, £60

In 1992, Fidel Castro was one of the first heads of state to openly support LGBT liberation, declaring: ‘I am absolutely opposed to any form of repression, contempt, scorn or discrimination with regard to homosexuals.’ He later expressed personal regret for historic persecution of homosexuals in the country: ‘Yes, there were great injustices... if someone is responsible, it’s me... We had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death. In those moments, I was not able to deal with the matter. I found myself immersed, principally, in the Crisis of October, in the war, in policy questions.’1

Internationally, the history of LGBT politics in Cuba has received little in the way of serious attention which often takes the form of generalisations or thinly veiled attacks upon Cuban socialism. Emily J Kirk’s book, therefore, is hugely significant. Drawing from the archives of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) and interviews with its staff, she sets out an objective and insightful analysis of how LGBT rights have developed through the history of the Cuban revolution.

Underpinning Kirk’s approach is a sincere appreciation of how change works in Cuba. Kirk adopts what she calls the ‘negotiative process framework’. This argues an essential truth: the Cuban revolution is a complex, continually adapting process of negotiation and debate. Kirk is equally understanding of the country’s own framing of both LGBT oppression and liberation. This is highlighted by her use of the term ‘sexual diversity’ as opposed to the more commonly understood term LGBT which rarely appears in Cuban literature.

Homophobia in pre-revolutionary Cuba

Kirk begins her analysis by looking at the history of sexual diversity in pre-revolutionary Cuba. The Spanish colonisation of Cuba resulted in the concept of machismo, a combination of the attitudes of Spanish colonisers, indigenous Cubans and African slaves toward gender and sexuality. Machismo sees the idealised man as aggressive, sexually dominant and unfaithful. The ideal woman was understood as the opposite: submissive, without sexuality and faithful.

US imperialism has also been fundamental in shaping Cuban homophobia. By the late 1950s, tourism had become Cuba’s second largest earner of foreign currency and sex work had grown to an enormous scale. The country housed around 270 brothels, some employees as young as 12. This industry was controlled by the Cuban elite and US-based crime syndicates. Preferential hiring treatment was given to homosexual men in the tourist sector to provide young men to satisfy US military personnel and tourists. As such, homosexuality was initially understood as a symptom of imperialist intervention and capitalist decadence after the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959.

Socialism and homophobia: the 1960s and 1970s

Homophobia continued among officials and socially after the revolution. What separates Kirk’s analysis is her acknowledgement that this is by no means unique to Cuban socialism. That the World Health Organisation did not remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses until 1990 illustrates the universality of homophobia across modern human society.

Nevertheless, the early years of the revolution are significant. The Penal Code maintained homophobic legislation throughout the 1960s and 1970s, using laws dating back to the 1938 Cuban Social Defense Code. Article 490 gave a prison sentence of up to six months to anyone who ‘habitually engaged in homosexual acts’, propositioned someone or created a ‘display’. These attitudes deepened during the 1960s. The influence of western scientific orthodoxy, which equated homosexuality with mental illness, and the emigration of middle class homosexuals to the US contributed to an understanding of sexual diversity as dangerous. By 1965 sexual diversity was viewed as synonymous with counter-revolution in Cuba.

The result was homophobic persecution. A 1965 report from the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) concluded that homosexuality was learned and could be ‘corrected’. Later that year, Cuba formed Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPs) – labour camps in the province of Camagüey which were set up for those who could not, or would not, participate in military service. Homosexuals were amongst the people sent to these camps as they were not permitted to openly serve in the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces until 1993. Little research has been carried out on UMAPs, but it is estimated that around 60,000 people worked in them. The UMAPs were closed within three years after widespread criticism within the country and an undercover investigation by the Cuban government.

The 1971 Declaration of the First National Congress on Education and Culture shows how homophobic attitudes continued into the next decade. Whilst promoting the need for a comprehensive programme for sexual health, the Congress banned sexually diverse people from participating. It went on to recommend the exclusion of homosexuals from the teaching profession. Law 1267 formalised this in 1974. Reminiscent of the UK’s notorious ‘Section 28’ law which, from 1988 to 2003, prohibited local authority-maintained schools in Britain from ‘promoting the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’, homosexuals in Cuba were prohibited from working in any position in which they could influence children. A shift away from these circumstances was signalled by the decriminalisation of homosexuality, with an equal age of consent for homosexuals and heterosexuals, in Cuba in 1979.

The FMC and the discrimination-health link

The foundational step in normalising sexual diversity in Cuba came from the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), founded on 30 August 1960. The organisation’s first National Congress, held in 1962, highlighted the need to improve the country’s public health service, with a focus on sexual health. The founding of Mujeres, a bi-monthly magazine for women, in 1961 was equally important. A regular section titled ‘Debates on Health’ contained contributions from various specialists explaining the female body. This provided a platform for discussion on sexual health.

Perhaps more significant was the legalisation of abortion in Cuba. Abortions remained illegal during the initial years of the revolution. In the same period, around half of Cuba’s 6,000 physicians emigrated. Many women self-administered abortions. For example, women regularly used sulphuric acid to kill unwanted foetuses. This ‘treatment’ invariably resulted in death for the mother. The problem was addressed in 1965, with early-term abortions both legalised and provided by the state free and on demand (two years before abortion was legalised in Britain). In 1979 abortions in the second and third trimester were allowed with approval from a hospital’s director.

At first, legalisation did not stop self-administered abortions. Cuban women could still face social stigma if they took help from a medical professional to end their pregnancy. This became known as the discrimination-health link: if a group faces discrimination, it is detrimental to their health. The FMC incorporated this into their work, with a programme to improve attitudes toward abortion, framing it as a medical necessity.

1980s: the National Group for Work on Sexual Education (GNTES)

GNTES was founded in 1972 by Vilma Espín, then head of the FMC, and Álvarez Lajonchere, as a body to research sexual health. It recruited an East German translator named Monika Krause, providing access to literature on sexual health and sexual diversity (decriminalised in socialist East Germany in 1968). Following an increase in emphasis on sexual education in the late 1970s, GNTES was recognised as a state body in 1977. The organisation’s purpose was to develop a National Sexual Education Programme (ProNes). It was through ProNes that GNTES began combatting discrimination against sexual diversity.

Through the 1980s GNTES ran courses on sexual health at FMC meetings, community centres and schools which discussed sexual diversity alongside sexual education training courses for doctors, teachers, psychologists, health officials and specialists. From 1979 GNTES also led the National Commission on Sexual Orientation and Therapy, set up to care for transgender Cubans, and was central to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in the late 1980s.

HIV/AIDS

Kirk identifies the HIV/AIDS epidemic as another factor in the normalisation of sexual diversity in Cuba. Following the first diagnosis in North America in 1983, Cuba founded the National AIDS Commission. The Commission quickly set up a system to survey the disease, spearheaded scientific research and established a national sanatorium system. Between 1986 and 1993 HIV/AIDS patients were required to stay in the sanatoriums for treatment.2 Although strong-armed, the Cuban campaign was a success and the nation’s HIV/AIDS rate, at around 0.07%, is one of the lowest in the world (the infection rate in the US is estimated to be 0.35%) despite being in a region with exceptionally high infection rates.

The impact of HIV/AIDS on Cuban attitudes to sexual diversity are contradictory. Initially, the condition was viewed as a ‘gay disease’. A 1988 study illustrated that this wasn’t true, with gay or bisexual men accounting for 25% of HIV/AIDS cases and straight men accounting for 50%. The discrimination-health link was further emphasised, with discrimination now seen as harmful both to those discriminated against and those engaged in discrimination.

1990s and 2000s: CENESEX

CENESEX was established in 1989 under the direction of MINSAP. The main reasons for this were high STI and abortion rates. Although GNTES was fundamental in launching ProNes and incorporating sexual diversity into national debate, a more comprehensive approach to sexual health was required. This resulted in the body being transferred to MINSAP and reformed as CENESEX.

There is little information on CENESEX in the 1990s. This is due to a lack of research and the economic pressures placed upon publishing following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Kirk’s review of what publications exist in the centre’s archives gives an idea of the work carried out over this period. Research into gender and sexuality was expanded and postgraduate courses in sexuality were developed. Additionally, the centre began to carry out community development projects, incorporating these into its objectives in 1994. In the same year the centre’s journal, Sexology and Society, was founded. The centre began to focus on discrimination, using the discrimination-health link to promote acceptance of sexual diversity in Cuba.

By 2000 this approach had become more visible. CENESEX began to involve itself in projects to combat homophobia and discrimination across all spheres of Cuban society. The work undertaken by the centre is vast. Kirk provides a sample:

● 2004: CENESEX begins to implement its own campaigns around sexual health. For example, the 2006 campaign, “How Do I Show That I Love You?” promoted HIV/AIDS prevention through condom use.

● 2007: CENESEX participates in celebrations of the International Day Against Homophobia.

● 2008: Establishment of Club Cine Diferente, a joint effort between CENESEX and the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industry, hosting monthly discussions on sexual diversity in cinema.

● 2011: Establishment of CENESEX networks, spaces for discussion of sexual diversity. There are now five networks providing space for men, women, youth and the trans community. Heterosexual friends and family are encouraged to attend to help them view sexual diversity as normal.

Today, CENESEX stands at the centre of Cuba’s provision for sexually diverse people. It continues to run campaigns against homophobia, including month-long celebrations for the International Day Against Homophobia, networks and sexual health education programmes.

Socialism and LGBT liberation

Kirk’s book is a thorough, useful and insightful account of how attitudes toward sexual diversity in Cuba have shifted in the development of socialist health care. Whilst the volume is not comprehensive, its fundamental contribution is invaluable. In Cuba, LGBT liberation is not viewed through the prism of human rights, but as a concrete, medical necessity. The discrimination-health link demonstrates that homophobia is fundamentally at odds with socialist health care provision. This opens important questions on the nature of identity and socialism, which Kirk’s work provides a window to understanding.

James Bell

1. La Jornada, 31 August 2010.

2. This approach was influenced by Cuba’s extensive experience of ‘infectology’ led by the Institute of Tropical Medicine, which recommended isolating and diagnosing a patient in the first instance to prevent the spread of infection. It was initially unclear how the disease was transmitted.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 262 February/March 2018

cuba x1x.jpg 1403812711

Published 12 March 2018 on TelesurTV.net

With voter turnout for Cuba's legislative election Sunday at almost 80 percent, the island completed the second stage of its general elections that will culminate in the election of a new executive in April.

According to the National Electoral Commission (CEN), about 78.5 percent of voters - almost seven million people - participated in the election.

More than eight million Cubans were eligible to vote for the 605 deputies to the National Assembly of People's Power and the 1,265 delegates to the 15 Provincial Assemblies of People's Power.

On April 16, the incoming National Assembly will elect a new Council of State, who will then determine the body's president.

Current president Raul Castro announced in 2017 that he would not be seeking reelection.

Under Cuba's 1992 election law, those registered could cast their ballot in "a free, equal and secret vote" in some 24,470 polling stations across the country's 168 municipalities.

According to official, no incidents were reported although heavy rainfall complicated voting in some areas.

The provinces that reported highest voter turnout were Mayabeque, Pinar del Rio and Granma.

Scrutiny of the vote and tally took place in the presence of more than 200,000 electoral authorities, as well as any community members who desired to observe the count, as permitted under Cuban law.