‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Rock Around the Blockade sends our deepest condolences to the familes of those who died in the tragic plane crash in Havana on Friday 18 May. Over 100 people died, despite the quick reaction of emergency services and local authorities. We send solidarity to the Cuban people who are in mourning this weekend.
Published on 12 December 2017 by Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!
On 8 November 2017, the United States government launched new sanctions against Cuba, releasing an updated list of Cuban entities – from hotels to agricultural suppliers and from soft drinks to retail stores – which US businesses and citizens are banned from engaging with. What do they have in common? The US Department of State list states that they are all ‘entities and subentities under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit such services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba’. Jack Lukacs reports.
It is an untenable proposition to distinguish between civilians and the military in a revolutionary state under siege. By attempting to starve the Cuban government of revenue from travel, remittances and trade, these measures hurt all Cubans on the island. Trump appears to be dancing to the tune of his key electoral allies in Florida, Miami. Extreme right-wing Cuban-American Senators Marco Rubio and Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart are the architects of the ban on transactions with military-linked enterprises. But they are not easy to please. Following the publication of the State Department’s list, they complained that it was too short because US ‘bureaucrats’ were ‘refusing’ to carry out Trump’s policy.
Published on 5th May 2017 by Medicc.org
May 5, 2017, Havana – Cuba’s National Sex Education Center (CENESEX), in collaboration with the Ministry of Education (MINED), kicked off a year-long anti-bullying initiative that will focus on teacher training, support materials, and methodology to prevent homo- and transphobia bullying in the nation’s schools. Announced as the central theme of Cuba’s 10th International Days Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT), CENESEX Director Mariela Castro says “Cuba is dedicated to non-violence and social justice. Our children spend most of their time at school, so the schools need to be safe spaces, where the rights of all children are protected – no matter where they fall on the sexual diversity spectrum.” Cuba’s observation of IDAHOT began on May 3 and runs through May 20 with a robust program of cultural events, including a film festival, conferences by specialists, presentation of academic findings, and marches by LGBTI Cubans and their allies.
The 2017 anti-bullying campaign is called ‘Me IncluYO por Escuelas sin Homofobia ni Transfobia’ (Count Me In for Homophobia- and Transphobia-Free Schools) and was developed by specialists from CENESEX and MINED to “include sexual rights and education in individual and social development, while promoting equality, respect, access to resources and objective information,” according to May 3 press release. Under no circumstances and nowhere, indicated the release, will violence be tolerated based on gender, race, sexual identity or orientation, including in schools. MINED defines bullying as using offensive nicknames, slapping and punching, making derogatory jokes, and directing any disrespectful language at classmates. Children found bullying will be held accountable and receive counseling. A 2014 resolution also makes teachers responsible for enforcing anti-bullying measures and ensuring no physical, mental or emotional harm comes to their students. Failure to do so make them subject to charges of negligence and if found warranted, disciplinary action.
Part of the year-long, national strategy involves raising awareness about bullying based on gender identity and sexual orientation. One of the challenges highlighted by specialists is the invisibility of the problem and the need to educate and inform across all sectors. To achieve this, coordinated cooperation is necessary among media outlets, schools, families, civil society and institutions, as well as health institutions. Included in the scheduled IDAHOT activities are several panels on themes such as “Health and Sexual Rights in Schools” and “Reproductive Rights and Sexual Diversity.” UNESCO is providing knowledge-transfer and methodological guides during the year-long campaign, while CENESEX Publishers will release Mariela Castro’s doctoral dissertation on the Cuban transsexual experience.
Published 13 October 2017 by Granma
Cuba publishes annual report on blockade damages
The report to the United Nations General Assembly on Resolution 71/5 entitled “The Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial, and Financial Blockade Imposed by the United States on Cuba” was recently released, exposing the extensive damages suffered by the island
Almost 60 years after its implementation, the United States blockade policy against the Cuban people is intensifying, in a context of heightened tensions impacting on the progress achieved by the two countries in the diplomatic sphere.
This is reflected in the Report to the United Nations General Assembly on Resolution 71/5 entitled “Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial, and Financial Blockade Imposed by the United States of America on Cuba,” whic
h outlines the extensive damages suffered by the island.
The document, which analyzes the period between April 2016 and June 2017, estimated
These figures relate to restrictions that affect the island’s economic and social development
, despite the enormous efforts of the Cuban government to mitigate the obsolete and illegal policy.
Education, health, sports, culture, industrial development, tourism, food and information and communications technology continue to be some of the sectors most affected by the coercive measures of the current U.S. administration.
the total actual damages to the island to be in the order of $4,305,400,000 dollars.
The report, published on the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s website, and available to download in English here: http://www.cubavsbloqueo.cu/sites/default/files/InformeBloqueo2017/informe_de_cuba_sobre_bloqueo_2017_ingles.pdf outlines the extraterritorial nature of the blockade, impacting on cooperation and in open violation of international law, with the express purpose of punishing a sovereign and independent people.
President Donald Trump’s signing of the National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba, backed by a minority in Miami, is the latest example of the escalating aggression against the island.
This Report, presented by Cuba every year as a prelude to the UN vote on the resolution, also exposes the widespread condemnation of the blockade within U.S. society and the international community, and the Cuban people’s demand for an immediate end to the failed policy.
After 57 years of fallacious rhetoric and failed attempts to undermine our sovereignty and social project, the Report reiterates that the economic, commercial and financial blockade constitutes the biggest obstacle to the implementation of the country’s National Economic and Social Development Plan, the wellbeing of the Cuban people, and the normalization of relations with the United States.
More than an official report, the presentation of this document is yet another clear sign that the Cuban people will not give up their efforts to put an end to the blockade. The truth, respect and peaceful coexistence will once again be the most solid arguments in defense of our cause.
As the Report notes: “The damages caused by the implementation of the blockade throughout almost six decades have been estimated at 822,280,000,000 dollars, taking into account the devaluation of the U.S. dollar vis-à-vis the price of gold in the world market.”
Published 2 August 2017 by Granma
Since the first graduation in 2005, to date, over 28,500 medical students from 103 countries have studied and graduated, completely free of charge, from ELAM
The Latin American School of Medicine. Photo: Cubadebate
One hundred and seventy medical students from the U.S. have graduated in Cuba, thanks to the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), an initiative launched by Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro.
Speaking exclusively to the Cuban News Agency (ACN) Zenia Díaz Catalá, director of the ELAM project general secretariat, noted that since the first graduation in 2005, to date, over 28,500 medical students from 103 countries have studied and graduated, completely free of charge, from ELAM.
Dr. David Floyd from the U.S. graduated from the school in 2017, and expressed his gratitude to the Cuban government, people, and teachers and workers affiliated with this noble project, which also stands as an example of how integration among communities from around the world can contribute to creating a more humane world.
It’s been an incredible experience for me. I’m impressed by the link between theoretical and practical study, which is different from the U.S. system and that of other countries, noted the young doctor.
In Cuba you learn by touching the patient, and solidarity is really important. In my country, students don’t help each other, here both the students and professors support one another and are extremely professional, stated Floyd, an African American man who studied on the island for six years, including pre-med courses.
The young doctor completed his degree at the Salvador Allende Faculty of Havana’s University of Medical Sciences, which saw a total of 52 international students graduate this year - 25 from the United States, according to the institution's dean, Dr. Suiberto Echavarría, speaking with ACN.
David Floyd senior, father of the recent medical graduate, expressed his joy, pride and eternal gratitude for the opportunity his son has been given to study medicine in Cuba, where the training system is centered on humanist ethics and principles.
Meanwhile, Díaz Catalá noted that the ELAM program currently includes 4,690 students from 112 nations enrolled in 21 of the country’s medical sciences universities, 83 of whom are from the United States. (Excerpts from ACN)