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12/13/13 - LehighValleyLive.com - GUEST COLUMN: US trade embargo still punishing Cuba

BY VINCENT D. STRAVINO Veterans for Peace

Recently I traveled to Cuba with [1]Veterans for Peace, under a special
license issued by the U.S. State Department. Americans are otherwise
subject to $7,500 fine if they dare to be "tourists." Our government cites
human rights abuses as the reason this blockade is still needed, while we
overlook the well-documented abuses of China, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and
other trading partners.

Our group distributed school supplies in an elementary school and were
surrounded by children anxious to practice their English. At a senior
center we were treated to a standing ovation and songs, handshakes from the
men and an occasional kiss on the cheek from the ladies.

All the Cubans we met were friendly, but the adults hate the American
government's economic blockade and attempts to undermine the well-liked
Castro government with CIA funded "dirty tricks," including the anti-Castro
Miami radio station Radio Marti. If you think this is "commie propaganda,"
learn the facts from disillusioned CIA field agent Phillip Agee after
repenting and writing "Inside the Company: CIA Diary."

Recently we read of efforts to free U.S. citizen and jailed government
subcontractor Alan Gross in Cuba for smuggling illegal satellite internet
equipment in 2009 in exchange for "the Cuban 5." The jailed Cubans, now
only four in number, were arrested in 1998 for "conspiracy to commit
espionage" after they attempted to infiltrate the anti-Castro network in
Miami. Although they never harmed persons or property, they were held in
solitary confinement 17 months and sentenced to double life terms, similar
to serial killers. Their trials and treatment have been criticized by the
Human Rights Commission of the United Nations, Amnesty International, and
the U.S. National Lawyers Guild.

We saw that Cuba is a beautiful but poor nation with crumbling
infrastructure, especially along the Malecon, the beautiful Oceanside drive
in Havana where waves can splash into the street.

A lawyer and economics professor we met in Havana, Manuel E. Yepe Menendez,
told us the original model of communism was a Utopian ideal and never
practical. Today, he said, the preferred government is socialism by which
the state meets the basic needs of all while slowly promoting limited
capitalism to encourage private enterprise but avoid oppressive income

He estimates the American economic blockade has cost a trillion dollars in
lost trade to Cubans since it began in 1960. He acknowledged that
corporations and the wealthy lost money and property as in most
revolutions, but the majority of citizens benefited.

Smaller farms we saw continue to work the land with oxen and horses. A
positive result of Cuban farmers being unable to buy pesticides and
fertilizer is the development of organic farming, which is thriving.

Tourism still thriving

Tourism in Cuba is succeeding even without Americans. Havana was crowded
with European and Asian tourists traveling on new Chinese buses. The only
American vehicles we saw were classic models of fabulous 1950s, serving as

Cubans are all in the same boat with the government providing good health
care, education including college for qualified students, and housing
subsidies. Wages are low and our young tour guide confessed that she
desires more. All college graduates do public service to repay their free

Few weapons exist outside of the small military, the police and farmers.
Computer access is poorly developed because of the economic blockade. The
internet is limited to expensive slow dial-up at hotels, some schools and
private homes. Venezuela provides a connection via underwater cable. No
American businesses, banks, or products of any kind were seen, except cans
of Coca-Cola made in Mexico.

As American veterans, we questioned Cuban war veterans who served in the
people's revolt in Angola in 1980. They said they were proud to have served
and received good care on returning. Unlike our nation, Cubans were asked
to assist by the populist rebel movement in Angola.

The veterans we spoke to said they were not involved in fighting or
killing. Some were firefighters and did damage control. One physician
described his role attending Cuban forces while doing public health service
for civilians. Some veterans also served in Central America including Haiti
following natural disasters.

This year 188 members of the United Nations called upon the U.S. to end its
53-year trade embargo of Cuba. Israel was the only country voting with the
U.S. to continue this relic of the Cold War. I believe our Cuban policy is
based entirely on our government's financial and political interests in
seeking to dominate the world in addition to catering to the aging but
powerful Cuban lobby in Florida.

Vincent D. Stravino of Bethlehem is a retired physician and a member of
Veterans for Peace.


Visible links 1. http://www.veteransforpeace.org/

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