Bolivian President Evo Morales left for Ecuador Wednesday, where he will visit Manta and other areas affected by the devastating 7.8.-magnitude earthquake that rocked the country on April 16. Continue reading “In Solidarity, Evo Morales Departs for Earthquake-Hit Ecuador”
A 5.0 magnitude earthquake jolted the Argentine city of San Juan at 2:16 am on Wednesday morning while a lesser 4.5 tremor occured just off the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, also in the early hours. Continue reading “Earthquakes Strike Argentina and Nicaragua”
FROM the 1980s onward, Havana residents witnessed the building of various scientific facilities to the west of the city, including the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), founded on July 1, 1986, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, modern productive capacities, and specialized personnel.
Biotechnology is one of the novel fields of the day, combining methods and techniques in the study of the biological relationships of living things, especially unicellular organisms, based on the fusion of microbiology, chemical engineering and biochemistry, and providing insight into microbial mechanics.
While Hungarian engineer Károly Ereki coined the term “biotechnology” in 1919, during the second half of the twentieth century, more extensive research to solve problems in agriculture, pharmacy, food science, the environmental, power generation (biofuels) and medicine, began.
Precisely to substitute pharmaceutical imports and improve the quality of life of the population, in the late 1980s, the Cuban government, and in particular leader Fidel Castro, took an interest in these studies and formed a group of experts to seek further information in the United States and Finland, mainly. Scientist and physician Dr. Eduardo Pentón Arias, speaking to Granma International, explained that in 1981 a group of scientists living in the Havana suburb of Cubanacan (occupying residences abandoned by the bourgeoisie following the triumph of the Revolution), came together and later created the Center for Biological Research.
Zamora These researchers studied interferons, proteins naturally produced by the immune system of most animals as a response to pathogens, which can be harvested from blood. With these, they produced a prototype drug, effective in treating cancer and infections. The head researcher explained that obtaining this first Cuban product helped combat epidemics in the country such as dengue hemorrhagic fever and intense viral conjunctivitis, raising the need to increase production of the drug, while the possibility of obtaining molecules through in vitro recombination was studied.
This required new facilities, specialized laboratories, cutting edge technology and dedicated scientific staff, for which the CIGB was built to the west of the capital. The institution acquired a dynamism which allowed for the highest level research, development, production and marketing of biological products, obtained through modern biotechnology methods, the scientist noted. CIGB products have been evaluated in various countries, which have authorized their commercial registration, and have also received endorsements from international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization, verifying their quality.
Since its inception and until about 2008, this scientific entity was subordinated to the Council of State. It was then transferred to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment and is currently among the 32 enterprises of the BioCubaFarma Group, responsible for producing 592 of the 888 required basic medicines in the country. The CIGB has a workforce of almost 1,600, produces over 70 products of its own invention, and is currently undertaking more than 50 research and development projects, covering human and veterinary vaccines, recombinant proteins for therapeutic use, synthetic peptides, monoclonal antibodies, and diagnostic systems.
The Center also undertakes projects involving proteomics and bioinformatics, and plant biotechnology, including functional foods and aquaculture. Today, its leading product is Heberprot-P, a unique drug for the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers, reducing the risk of amputations. The Center also produces important medicines for the treatment of 26 diseases including hepatitis B and C, meningitis, leukemia, myeloma, melanoma, skin carcinomas, cutaneous lymphomas, kidney and bladder cancer, infantile hemangiomas, neutropenia and anemia. “The scientist puts the latest technology at the service of society,” Pentón Arias stated, adding “first with the commitment to discover elements of nature, later studying their application, in order to then demonstrate their productive effectiveness.
This is very rewarding. One enters the world of science and it becomes an addiction, where time is scarce and the work schedule is devoted to this activity.” Young biochemistry graduate Brizaida Oliva Argüelles agreed, “It’s very appealing to conduct experiments, look at the inside of cells, examine DNA, RNA, lipids and proteins. One always has the desire to dig deeper. When the first results are obtained, we seek others, and coming to work becomes a passion.” Argüelles, who has been linked to the Center since her undergraduate studies, has worked on new pharmaceuticals to discover vaccines against meningitis and is currently investigating synthetic peptides for cancer therapies, a topic she addressed in her master’s thesis.
She assures, “We have the resources needed for research, our laboratories are well equipped, and we undertake constant scientific exchanges among researchers, even those from abroad.” Meanwhile, her colleague Dr. Manuel Raíces Pérez-Castañeda highlighted that the CIGB responds to the various programs implemented by the Ministry of Public Health, focused on maternal and infant care, the elderly, oncology, chronic non-communicable diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diagnosis of congenital diseases and others.
He explained that from 1981-1990, the Center produced three products, while in the next decade it produced 18, and since 2001 the figure has risen to over 40, as such, “This has been a growth industry, generating net income for the country and able to serve large markets abroad.” In addition, the scientist emphasized that the Center is open to alliances with international institutions, aimed at accelerating the progress and commercial implementation of projects, and entering more sophisticated markets. The efforts of the CIGB today benefit all Cubans alike, and the results have meant a leap toward stable and sustained development for Cuban socialism, the result of a robust political will to solve the problems facing human beings.
Ecuador’s high court on Monday ruled that through a referendum the country’s citizens can vote on repealing the constitutional law that bars presidents from being nominated for a third term and which if approved, would pave the way for Rafael Correa to run again in the 2017 general elections.
The country’s Constitutional Court released their ruling Monday after an appeal to the court in March by the organization “Rafael Contigo Siempre,” or “Always With You Rafael,” asking for Correa’s reelection to be enabled.
In December, the National Assembly approved various constitutional reforms, including one that allows indefinite reelection of politicians to electoral posts.
However, the lawmakers introduced an amendment that would allow reelection indefinitely beginning May 2017, which banned Correa from running on a third occasion because in August, electoral authorities will close down the registration period of political organizations ahead of the February 2017 elections.
Correa, a 57-year-old economist who enjoys a very high level of popularity thanks to many social programs implemented by his government, last year said he would retire from politics “for a little while at least.”
But the Rafael Contigo Siempre collective was not happy to hear this and presented their petition early in March, to which the court resolved that their appeal must be processed through a constitutional reform.
“The proposed reform is to be processed through a constitutional amendment,” the high court said at a time that the whole country is in mourning after the April 17, 7.8 magnitude quake that killed almost 700 and injured at least 15,000.
According to the court, amendments can be put to vote through a referendum which can be called on by the president or the citizenship with the signatures of at least 8 percent of registered voters.
The next step is for the court to analyze and approve the question to be asked in the referendum, and once this step is completed, the National Electoral Council will issue the paperwork for signature gathering, which has to be fulfilled within 180 days.
By: Arnold August
Despite thawing relations, Cubans are still resisting the Obama administration’s subversive policy towards the island
Before leaving Montreal for Havana in March 2016 to cover Obama’s trip to Havana, I wrote an article on Cuba–US relations. Referring to the cultural war to include, in the broad sense of the term, ideological and political aggression, I asked: “The question is, will Obama’s visit to Cuba provide Cubans the opportunity to make headway against the cultural war, or will it allow the US to make inroads? Or are both these scenarios on the horizon?”
My intention at that time was to deal with this question immediately upon my return from Cuba. However, one feature became clear during my stay in Havana and immediately following it. Both in and outside of Cuba, the repercussions of the visit not only continued but were being ramped up. In fact, at the time of writing, a month after the trip, the ideological and political controversies are carrying on. This situation is at present further being fostered by Raúl Castro’s April 16, 2016 Central Report to the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (CPC). He devoted important sections of the Report to the issue of Cuba–US relations.
Disinformation from within Cuba
The Obama visit and its accompanying international media entourage targeted the US, Canada and much of the West. It was characterized to a large extent by pointing, explicitly or implicitly, to what the US President calls the lack of democracy in Cuba. Consequently, the argument follows, there is a lack of respect for human rights, of which civil/political rights take centre stage. This is nothing new, except for one game-changing feature. For the first time since the 1959 Revolution, the US has had the opportunity to carry out this disinformation not from outside Cuba, but rather from within the island.
From anti-US Cuba policy to apologist
For people outside of Cuba, especially in the US and Canada, there is no need to detail this misinformation, as it was everywhere (except for a few exceptions) on TV, on the internet and in printed media. However, there is another feature of this ideological/political aggression that is perhaps not noticeable to many, even though it plays a significant role in encouraging the US Cuba policy. In the above-mentioned article that I wrote just before my departure to Havana, I stated:
“Before December 17, 2014, many commentators [outside of Cuba] had been strongly opposed to the US policy on Cuba. There was a gap between them and Washington. Now the situation has changed. Some of them have become the vanguard of Obama–Cuba policy, forgetting that the US has only changed tactics. They have morphed into apologists of the new policy, which serves to finally achieve its strategic goal of undermining – now from within – the Cuban Revolution.”
During the visit to Havana, I was hoping that this position would be weakened as a result of the overtly (to me, anyways, and to many of my Cuban colleagues and people on the street) arrogant attitude of Obama preaching about democracy and human rights to the Cubans. Much to my surprise, the opposite took place. The US-centric view on democracy and human rights became emboldened among some commentators outside of Cuba and thus even further morphed into US-centrism.
The problem of US-centrism and democracy
This narrow-minded thinking appears to be firmly entrenched in the mind-set to such an extent that the internationally respected outstanding thinker Samir Amin in his classic book Eurocentrism perceptively highlighted a major problem. The ideological/political barrier erected over many centuries by Eurocentrism and its offspring, US-centrism, is very complex and ingrained. It operates, as Samir Amin warns,
“‘without anyone noticing it. This is why many specialists, historians and intellectuals can reject particular expressions of the Eurocentric construct without being embarrassed by the incoherence of the overall vision that results.’”1
For example, while some intellectuals outside of Cuba may distance themselves from some of the most grotesque features of Eurocentrism and US-centrism – such as its shallow claims to be the defenders of a superior political and economic model for the world – they may still fall prey to the main ideological/political underpinnings of the US-centric model.
It is not a question of individuals, but rather the ideological/political position that objectively exists in societies. The only manner to advance a serious resistance to a parochial view on the Cuban political/economic/social system is to take into account two factors. One is that Cuba has its own such system, whose tradition dates back to the mid-19th century to date. It is up to the Cubans to improve it, just as they are now striving to do. Second, irrespective of one’s opinion and analysis of the US political/economic/social system, it is theirs. The system has developed out of its own historical conditions and thus has nothing to do with the Cuban path. The dangers on the horizon result from US aggression based on its centuries-old desire for world domination. It is up to the American people to take up the road of fundamental change, not only for their own good but for the very future of the world. This is bound to take place, as the American people – especially African Americans, youth and intellectuals, in whom I have full confidence – are further waking up.
The progressive alternative press outside of Cuba
Outside of Cuba, the highly charged political atmosphere surrounding the Obama trip sparked widespread and heightened political consciousness. Many progressive people and those on the left are sharpening their anti-imperialist consciousness. They are creatively dissecting the Obama incursion into Cuba with sharp political knives while fully supporting the visit and the Cuban Revolution. This is extremely encouraging.
Cubans on the counteroffensive
What is also very inspiring is the number of Cubans who have confronted the US ideological/political war during and since Obama’s visit. This was expected, as this courageous resistance was initiated following the statements by Obama and Raúl Castro on December 17, 2014 on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of embassies.
On that occasion, Obama confirmed once again that the US is dispensing with openly antagonistic tactics, which did not work, in favour of diplomatic tactics that he hopes will function to finally attain the five-decades long goal of snuffing out the Cuban Revolution and undermining the island’s sovereignty. As a by-product of this rapprochement, the White House, through this new incursion, hopes to elevate itself to a better position to influence events in Latin America – read “regimen change” – by conventional or “soft power” warfare.
The Cuban “word warriors”
The counteroffensive to this in Cuba is not that well known to many foreigners, who may be interested but do not read Spanish. This consistent and long-lasting ideological/political struggle is found especially in blogs and some websites. Among the dozens of examples are the blogs of many well-known revolutionary Cuban writers and academics such as Iroel Sánchez, Elier Ramírez and Estéban Morales, which currently consist of a full compendium of critical articles on Cuba–US relations that have accumulated since December 17, 2014.
Another of these “word warriors” is Luis Toledo Sande. His blog, while not fully devoted to Cuba–US relations since December 17, 2014, has the merit of dealing with controversial issues in the realm of culture. One example is the appearance of American flags in public places in Havana over the last few years and as clothing apparel in a carnival-type fashion. In one of my articles, his analysis of this manifestation of cultural incursion allowed me to expose the complexities of the current situation on the island in the face of the new US policy. Jesús Arboleya is another such writer and academic. His articles on the Cuba–US theme are reproduced in the above-mentioned blogs as well as on the popular website CubaDebate.
CubaDebate, for its part, has been carrying critical articles on the new chapter on Cuba–US relations and – in keeping with its name – provoking debate among its readers. Hundreds of comments from the public are often published in reaction to just a single article. Since December 17, 2014, CubaDebate had featured a section fully devoted to the new Cuba–US relations and has been updated virtually daily, while dealing with other national and international themes. The same applies to Iroel Sánchez’s La pupila insomne, a hotbed for controversial articles.
Confronting the US-centric barrier
Aside from a few exceptions, what they all have in common is to publish articles with a clear opposition to US-centric views on democracy and human rights, even though not all of the pieces deal with this directly. What’s important, in my opinion, is the ideological outlook as the base from which views on specific political issues flow. I would venture to say that the above-mentioned intellectuals and many others are immune to any US influence on their thinking, action or outlook. There is no way that this cancer can infect these writers and the revolutionaries at the grass-roots and thus eat away at the Cuban political culture from within, as would be the case if it were allowed to flourish.
These intellectuals and many others who are lesser known, even in Cuba, are at the base of this resistance, and they are far from being alone. As the commentators on the blogs themselves often divulge, the comments from the public that are published in response to posts or articles reflect what is being discussed, as they say, “on the street.”
Furthermore, Fidel Castro’s article “Brother Obama”, released on March 29, 2016, provides sustenance and encouragement to all those fighting in the same trench against US unilateral views on democracy, human rights and its own selective and opportunist view of history. The same effect is now resulting from Raúl Castro’s April 16, 2016 Main Report to the 7th CPC Congress. Raúl cautioned that Cuba is not naive about the goal to subvert the Cuban Revolution. To top it off, on April 19, Fidel Castro attended and addressed the closing session of the Congress. His presence further galvanized the militants and the people who later watched it on TV.
This opposition to being gullible is not only present among the leaders. On April 18, it was inspiring to watch some of the proceedings of the CPC Congress on Cuban television. One of the features that characterized the many interventions by the delegates and invited guests was a clear rejection of the Obama administration’s subversive policy toward Cuba. In fact, self-employed workers who were elected delegates also joined this opposition. If Obama had seen these proceedings, his perennial smile would have turned to a severe frown, as it was this very “private sector” that he had hoped to win over as a Trojan horse within Cuba.
It is clear that the CPC, from top down and bottom up, is a bulwark against the US ideological/political offensive. However, the Cubans’ defiance against the US assault in the realm of ideas is not over. For example, not all self-employed workers have the same outlook as expressed by the delegates in the Party congress. The situation among sections of the youth also represents a challenge.
Cuban opposition is gaining ground against the US war on Cuban socialist culture
Thus, what is the evaluation of the query in my article written before the visit: “The question is, will Obama’s visit to Cuba provide Cubans the opportunity to make headway against the cultural war, or will it allow the US to make inroads? Or are both these scenarios on the horizon?”
My tentative conclusion is that both these frameworks are presently being played out, with Cuban indigenous thinking making the most headway against the US conceptual encroachment.
It would be naive perhaps to deny that Obamamania made some inroads. This is very noticeable in some of the comments left on various posts and articles and from reactions from the street. On the other hand, Obama’s narrative had a boomerang effect. The unexpected result is a very vigorous political debate at the grass roots and among many intellectuals against US preconceived notions that Obama tried to force onto the Cuban socialist political culture.
The depth and breadth of this movement is stronger than anything I have witnessed since I began investigating the Cuban political system in the 1990s. Thus, in Cuba, both these scenarios are being played out. One is the barely veiled naive perspective regarding Obama. The second is the staunch resistance to the US ideological/political war being waged against Cuba. I firmly believe that the balance of forces is in favour of the outlook that is combating the infiltration of US prejudices within Cuban society. They are, however, both evolving within the Revolution, which requires unity based on a dynamic exchange of different opinions. The unwavering resistance to the US war on Cuban thinking is already winning or has even come out victorious.
Cuba’s national hero José Martí wrote in 1895: “War is being waged on us to dominate our thinking, let us fight it by the power of thinking.”
In Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, Cuba‘s assistance in alleviating the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear accident was recognized on Friday, 30 years after that catastrophe.
Solidarity with Cuba activists who gathered to thank Cuba for its assistance spoke highly of the island’s contribution with medical attention to Chernobyl children and youngsters, who traveled to the Havana for recovery.
More than 24,000 Ukrainians, of them over 20,000 children, were treated in Cuba, where special facilities were set up. The Cuban Chernobyl Children Medical Program was free of charge for the victims and extended over 21 years.
Yulia Palamarchuk, president of a non-governmental organization that follows the case of children affected by that nuclear accident, described Cuba’s treatment program for the Chernobyl children as a true show of friendship and disinterested help.
Renowned US singer Usher went back home on Thursday after having toured several places in Havana as part of the Presidential Committee for the Arts and Humanities.
The famous American rapper sang at the Factory of Cuban Arts –a new arts center known the world over- along with David Mathews and producer Smokey Robinson. The singer thanked the Cuban people for their warmth and said he was impressed at the welcome he received in the town of Regla, which he visited that day.
As part of the US delegation’s program, Usher Raymond, shared with children at Havana’s Miguel Fernández Roig primary school on Wednesday morning. Also part of the group were musician and producer Smokey Robinson, actor Kalpen Suresh Modi, Broadway producer, Margo Lion, violinist Joshua Bell, singer and actor John Lloyd Young, and others. Usher sang “La Guantanamera” and “Cuba que linda es Cuba” along with the primary school children, who were visibly excited about the exchange with the American musicians, actors and producers. Usher also played and joked with the pupils. The artists entered the classrooms to have a direct dialogue with the students and professors and take a first-hand look at the island’s education systems. Joshua Bell, considered one of the most talented violists of times and the owner of a Stradivarius from 1713, played excerpts from a piece by famous German composer, Johan Sebastian Bash.
Following their visit to the school, the delegation went to Finca Vigía Museum, the old resident of Nobel Prize Winner, US writer Ernest Hemingway. The delegation also visited the Fine Arts Museum and had an exchange with officials from the National Music Institute. They also visited the Cuban Music Institute where they exchanged views with Cuban musicians and also visited the Cuban Film Institute sharing with their Cuban colleagues.
The Presidential Committee for the Arts and Humanities made up of White House aides wound up its visit to Cuba to strengthen cultural relations between the two countries.
The most eloquent example of the complexity of the process of implementation of the Socio-Economic Guidelines lies in the monetary and exchange duality, asserted on Saturday Army General Raul Castro, First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).
While reading the main report of the Seventh Congress of the organization, in session at Havana’s Convention Center, the President of the councils of State and Ministers said that this is a matter on which work has not stopped in recent years and the solution of which “will not be postponed indefinitely.”
He said that although the unification of the two currencies is not the magic solution to all structural distortions in the economy, it will represent a major boost to progress in the rest of the tasks with a view to the update of the national model.
In the presence of delegates and guests to the PCC meeting, Raul confirmed the decision to guarantee bank deposits in foreign currency, convertible Cuban pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (CUP) as well as cash in the hands of the population and national and foreign legal entities.
He stressed that work on the monetary system will favor the creation of conditions required to overcome the harmful effects of egalitarianism, and to make the socialist principle of each according to his ability and to each according to his work come true, and rectify the phenomenon of the so-called inverted pyramid.
He considered that in the dual scenario, the state company, main actor of the economy, is in a disadvantageous position as compared to the growing non-state sector, which benefits from working in a monetary system based on the exchange rate of one CUC for 25 CUP, while entities are governed by the parity of the two pesos.
The Cuban president stated that such distortion must be solved as soon as possible, because this anomaly, added to the discrete performance of the economy, has not allowed substantial progress in the implementation of guidelines linked to the gradual elimination of undue gratuitousness and excessive subsidies.
It has also led to the impossibility to generalize the increase of the income of workers and ensure the stable supply of certain goods, he added.
At another point in his speech he referred to the high rate of aging of the Cuban population, which migrates from the countryside to the cities, concentrates and raises its qualification level, which represents a strategic problem.
In order to address this situation, he commented that a policy was developed which includes 76 measures and 252 actions, the implementation of which will be gradual, depending on the performance of the economy.
As another result of the last five-year period, Raul referred to the approval of the Foreign Investment Law, recognized as an important source for the country’s progress, which preserves national sovereignty, environmental protection and rational use of natural resources.
He highlighted the establishment of the Special Development Area of Mariel with additional advantages, and the ensuring of a legal framework and infrastructure for the development of projects that generate exports, promote the replacement of imports, the transfer of technologies and become a source of employment and of long-term financing.
In this regard, he stressed that although the implementation of the U.S. blockade has a bearing on that road, it is necessary to leave behind archaic prejudices concerning the importance of foreign investment.
Although considerable tension remains in supplies, he said that improvisation and superficiality and lack of a comprehensive way still persist in investment processes, leading to lengthy execution deadlines and affecting quality.
Raul also addressed the changes that are being made with the purpose of strengthening socialist state enterprises, and asserted that today directors have greater powers; however, it is a route that is not covered in one day, which will mature in the medium and long term.
He stressed that the experiment is currently in the implementation phase for subsequent materialization in Artemisa and Mayabeque, regarding the separation of functions in the Assemblies of the People’s Power and the Administration Councils.
The implementation of the new model has led to a notable reduction in positions without generating instability in performance, favoring authority, he added.
However, he acknowledged that there have been deficiencies in the carrying out and control of approved policies, such as in the training of different levels of management; “There has been lack of the sense of urgency, contrary to the spirit of approved measures,” he pointed out.
As an example he cited the behavior of prices of agricultural products, and the emergence of the phenomenon of hoarding to the detriment of the population, and stressed that in this situation production is key and objective and subjective factors have an influence on it.
We can not sit with our arms crossed in the presence of the unscrupulous management of prices by individuals who seek to enrich themselves more and more, he stated, insisting that the recognition of market in the performance of the economy does not imply that the Party, the Government and mass organizations no longer play their role of facing the unjust problems affecting the population.
In this regard, he described as positive the current experiences aimed at achieving greater state control in marketing to influence price reduction, an issue that requires monitoring.
“The country is going through its worse tragedy in the past 67 years, the Ecuadorean president said.
After visiting the affected areas after the earthquake for four days, President Rafael Correa said that the necessary massive reconstruction efforts will require five new tax measures in order to fund them – as allowed by the Constitution in a State of Exception.
“We have experienced the greatest tragedy in the last 67 years,” said Correa, adding that reconstruction will take years and cost billions of dollars.
His government will soon introduce the following measures to the country’s National Assembly:
- Ecuadoreans will be taxed one day of salary if they earn up to a thousand dollars per month for one month, they will be taxed two months when they earn two thousand dollars per month, and so one – up to five months, on the principle of progressive taxation.
Sales tax will be raised by 2 points for one year, meaning from 12 percent to 14 percent.
Anyone who earns more than US$1 million will be taxed one time 0.9 percent per person.
A 3 percent tax will be imposed on company profits.
Some of the assets resulting from the recent public investment will be sold.
“The pain of one, is the pain of everyone,” he concluded, praising the collective effort made so far by individuals, state agencies, international organizations, and the private sector.
According to initial estimates, 90 percent of Jama and 95 percent of Canoa have been destroyed, reported teleSUR’s correspondent Lucho Granadas Cejas.
“Canoa, for example, lives mostly from tourism, and the damage will mean a drop of visitors, so residents will require immense help from the government,” Granadas Cejas said. In the province of Manabi, authorities estimate that 8,000 stores out of 18,000 have bee destroyed.
Ecuador has access to 600 million in lines of credit from various regional organizations, but the recovery costs are estimated to reach about 3 percent of GDP, approximately US$3 billion.
Taxes on income and profits accounts for just 4.1 percent of Ecuador’s GDP, compared to an average of 11.4 percent in OECD nations.