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“Milwaukeeans Say to Trump: Support our Right to Travel and Respect the Sovereignty of Cuba and Venezuela”

protest picture 06.24.17

Below are my remarks at the rally in MKE on June 24, 2017 supporting our right to travel. All comments are welcome!

A Talk on Two Rights, by Art Heitzer, June 24, 2017

I.   Introduction:

Q1:    Who has traveled to visit Cuba, so far?

Q2:  Who knows someone who has avoided or delayed getting medical treatment because of the cost? And who, besides me, knows someone who died as a result?

I plan to address two interconnected rights: 1) The Right to Travel and 2) The Right to Healthcare.

But first here’s an overview of U.S. policy, from two official sources.

“The embargo on Cuba is the most comprehensive set of American sanctions ever imposed upon a country.” This is according to an official survey by the US Government in 2007 [Source: US GAO, Nov. 2007.]

This “embargo” is not only the most comprehensive, but it is by far the longest program of economic sanctions imposed on any country.   It is older than most of the people present here today.  Here’s what our government leaders wrote secretly about the reason and goal of what many of us call instead the U.S. “economic blockade” of Cuba:

On April 6, 1960, Lester D. Mallory, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs described an internal memorandum, that was withheld for decades, the purpose of economic sanctions:

“The majority of Cubans support Castro. There is no effective political opposition. . . . The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. . . . every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba . . . a line of action which . . . makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

Q:   How many of you have heard the saying from the Bible, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free?” (John 8:32)

In contrast, the U.S. govt. message to the Cuban people has been in practice, that “you will know hunger, and hunger will make you free.” Well, the Cuban people didn’t buy it.

II.   Despite these decades of economic warfare, Cuba has with all of its challenges, provided basic social & economic rights for all its people, including:

– Free education at all levels.
– Free & universal healthcare.

Specifically, under the Revolution, life expectancy has been raised to equal or above U.S. levels.

Regarding infant mortality, its achievements utilizing community-based preventive medicine and support, has been remarkable. In Milwaukee, the overall rate of babies dying before their first birthday in 2016 was 9.0 per 1,000 live births; and we have a massive disparity based on race: for whites it was 5.0 and for African-Americans there were 13.6 deaths per 1,000 live births that same year. Whereas Cuba, with an Afro-Hispanic population, has reduced its overall infant mortality to only 4.3 per 1,000, less than half the rate for Milwaukeeans, and lower than for any reported part of our population. At the time of the Revolution, in 1959, more than 60 Cuban children died of every 1,000 born. And that is still close to the figure in Cuba’s neighbors such as Haiti, and the infant death rate today is seven times higher in the Dominican Republic than in Cuba.

There are many other examples how Cuba, this small, poor & embargoed island nation, has prioritized health and social progress, and not just limited to its own people.

One is ELAM, the Latin American School of Medicine. Cuba closed a navy base to create what has been described as the largest medical school in the world. It is unique in that it provides free medical school to students from 100 nations and ethnic groups around the world, in return for their promise to return home and work as doctors in an underserved community. One of two young ELAM students from Wisconsin has just returned home after completing her second year of medical school. She couldn’t be here today, but will share her impressions at our Coalition meeting on Tuesday, July 11th, 7pm at Central United Methodist Church, at 25th & Wisconsin Ave. in Milwaukee, and the public is invited.

Another example is Mick Phillips in West Bend, WI. Mick was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer in the fall of 2009, and his doctor says it is a miracle that he’s survived much since then. But he has reportedly been doing pretty well, not because his cancer has been eliminated, but thanks to treatment and medicine from Cuba. It does not kill the cancer, nor have terrible side effects that cancer patients here often suffer, but it does prevent the cancer from growing. While this Cuban medicine is used in many countries, it is finally now being tested in the U.S. But Mr. Phillips should not have to die in the meantime. And he should not have to travel to Cuba illegally to get his life saving medicine.

III.   Most people in the U.S. favor engagement, including a total repeal of the travel ban, and of the economic blockade of Cuba. So why is it still in place?

Repeated polls show that most Republicans, most Democrats and most independents; most Anglos, most Latinos & Latinas; and also most Cuban Americans, all favor engagement, including a total repeal of the travel ban and of the economic blockade of Cuba. In fact, just among Cuban Americans, the latest polls show that 74% favor full freedom to travel to Cuba.

So why are these restrictions still in place?

Well, especially for those of you who think that healthcare is a human right, I have a story for you about how Washington works.

Ironically the very effort to reverse the limited healthcare gains under Obama appears to be the basis for trying to tighten the noose around Cuba, which provides healthcare as a basic right.

When Trump attempted to get the House of Representatives to finally vote on repeal of the American Healthcare Act (ACA), or Obamacare, he and the House leadership needed every vote. It barely passed on a party-line vote of 217-213, with 20 Republicans voting against. Trump needed and got the two votes from the hard-liners from Miami, including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who all but admitted to trading his vote in return for a Trump promise to roll back engagement with Cuba.

In the Senate, Marco Rubio went further. Rubio had previously called Trump a “con man” and promised to become the “checks-and-balances” Senator. Rubio has a key role on the Senate Intelligence Committee which has been investigating the Trump/Russia scandal. When the former head of the FBI, James Comey testified, Rubio acted as “Trump’s defense attorney,” while also becoming a leading architect of Trump’s punitive policy towards Cuba. A Miami Herald column also concluded that Rubio’s “[t]rading the integrity of this country for a political shift on Cuba policy is disgraceful.” [http://www.miamiherald.com/…/fabiola-…/article155176484.html]

IV.   What is the status of travel to Cuba?

First, in response to Trump’s announcement that travel restrictions would be tightened and enforced, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) re-affirmed its commitment to defend our right to travel, as the Guild has done for over five decades. https://wicuba.wordpress.com/2017/06/28/nlg-cuba-subcommittee-pledges-to-provide-legal-assistance-to-u-s-travelers-to-cuba-in-support-of-their-right-to-travel-june-16-2017/

Second, the announced Trump restrictions will make travel to Cuba much more expensive. Most people, unless they have special status, such as relatives in Cuba or the basis for professional research, and who plan to follow the promised new rules, will have to go in an organized group, with a U.S. “minder” to make sure that they comply with the set agenda. But since Trump says that he will ban people from staying in government run hotels, it may become almost impossible to organize such group trips for people staying in many private homes, so they can follow a group agenda which the “minders” will try to enforce and the travelers will be forced to pay for.

While there is much to learn from an organized tour, it is also vital that you get off the beaten path, and mix it up with Cubans from anywhere, so that you can compare your impressions and experiences, and draw your own conclusions.

V.   In sum we have much to learn from the Cuban people, as well as to share with them.

Opponents of the Cuban Revolution do not want U.S. people to freely interact with Cubans, most of whom support the revolution, and are very friendly to people from the U.S. This is despite still being targets for the last 57 years of a continuing U.S. policy to impose hardship and hunger upon them. I urge you to exercise your right to travel, and to treat our neighbors in Cuba like we should treat all our neighbors.

For addl. sources, email artheitzer@gmail.com.
See also Addendum: 6 CUBA TRAVEL FACTS, from National Lawyers Guild Cuba Subcommittee, June 22, 2017, at https://wicuba.wordpress.com/…/6-cuba-travel-facts-june-21…/

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