OPINION: Cuba and Venezuela are not enemies

The Obama administration did the right thing when they ordered the closing of the Guantanemo torture prison, and restored the right of US Cubans to travel and send remittances to their relatives on the island nation.

To those who think Obama is not making important and even historic changes or who contend he’s only slightly different than Bush, you’re not paying attention.

However, the ultra right (Bush’s old base) is paying close attention and they are having a fit over what President Obama is doing.

The president’s recent effort at the 5th Summit of the Americas to extend the hand of friendship and cooperation to all the states in the hemisphere and especially to improve relations with Cuba and Venezuela is causing the Republican right no end of grief.

When Obama shook hands with Hugo Chavez and accepted the classic Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage, Newt Gingrich could hardly contain his anger alleging the president was “bolstering the enemies of America”.

I think that is like charging the president with treason. The same goes for the administration’s lowering the tensions and reaching for a more reasonable policy towards Cuba.

These changes should not be feared or condemned - they should be celebrated. Today, Mr. Gingrich, who thinks he is presidential timber, is way out of step with the US people.

For nearly 50 years our government has been trying to destroy socialist Cuba. It’s a great thing that they have failed. Ending the embargo and normalizing relations between Cuba and the US is to the benefit of both peoples and long overdue.

Over the years, the Cuban people have shown that despite many hardships caused by the embargo, they remain steadfast in their support for their socialist homeland. The Bay of Pigs invasion was supposed to militarily defeat Cuba in a matter of days. It did not. The many assassination plots against Fidel Castro failed. US ships were posed to attack Cuban during the missile crisis but a diplomatic solution was found. The collapse of Soviet aid to Cuba was thought by many people including on the left to mean the collapse of the Cuban socialism. This did not happen.

The many acts of terrorism against the Cubans and foreign tourists were attempts to destroy Cuba’s tourist industry. They failed. The Helms/Burton bill was supposed to isolate Cuba and create economic chaos and collapse - it did not

Thus, the resiliency and commitment to its brand of socialism by Cubans has made it possible for them to overcome incredible obstacles.

President Obama’s call for a “new beginning” to ease tensions and begin dialogue with Cuban leaders is a big change from the past and can open up a new era of constructive and mutually beneficial relations.

Today most Americans agree that it is time to end the hostility and disruption of Cuba and normalize relations.

The American people are ready for change. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll showed that nearly two-thirds favor allowing travel to Cuba and 70 percent want normal diplomatic ties.

Most importantly, Cuban Americans have also grown weary of the intense right-wing, anti communist hysteria that’s been directed at them for a half a century.

A recent Bendixen Poll shows a dramatic shift in the attitudes of Cuban Americans. According to the poll, in 2003 53 percent of Cuban Americans supported the travel ban to Cuba. 41 percent opposed it. Today 67 percent oppose the ban and 29 percent are in favor of it. That’s a big shift. In 2003 61 percent of Cuban Americans supported the embargo against Cuba and only 26 percent opposed it. Today 43 percent oppose the embargo and 42 percent still support it - a dramatic 16-19 point shift away from supporting the blockade. Among 18-49 year old Cuban Americans, only 33 percent support the blockade while 54 percent are now opposed. A whopping 76 percent are for lifting the travel ban while only 22 percent want it to continue.

Obama received 47 percent of the Cuban American vote in Florida last November. Today 67 percent have a favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of his presidency. Even a stanch Republican conservative like Sen. Dick Lugar is for ending the blockade and for trade with Cuba. There are also businesspeople across the country that are pushing for the opening of normal trade relations. There are hundreds of US trade unionists who have traveled to Cuba and have been pushing their unions to open up relations with Cuban trade unions and support the release of the Cuban 5 whose only crime was to blow the whistle on terrorist plots being hatched from US shores against the island

Newt Gingrich is 100 percent wrong: Hugo Chavez is not an enemy of America. Under the guise of that thinking the Bush administration launched an illegal effort to finance the overthrow of Chavez. The coup failed when a million people took to the streets in defense of their democracy and independence. The fact Chavez had been elected by the people in fair elections didn’t matter to the Bush administration, they despised his democratic, socialist and humane policies. They could not live with his use of nationalized Venezuelan oil to help low-income people in the US and elsewhere survive harsh winters.

This is no small matter. Our government went to war in Iraq over oil. They are threatening war with Iran over oil. They support the suppression of Palestinian people by the Israeli ruling class because they are located in the heart the most oil rich region of the world.

Our whole economy is negatively affected by the manipulation and out and out thievery of the oil monopolies and their record profits. Yet Hugo Chavez is the enemy? He is the president of a country that is providing CITCO discounted oil to poor folks, retirees, blacks and Latinos and Native American Indian people so that they can survive our harsh winters and he is the “enemy of America”? That’s outrageous.

The CITGO-Venezuela Heating Program will provide and estimated 112 million gallons of fuel this winter to be distributed to more than 224,000 household and 250 social service providers in 23 US states this year. I doubt those people support Gingrich’s view on Hugo Chavez. I say with so-called “enemies” like Hugo Chavez who needs friends?

I think we need friendship between the US , Cuba and Venezuela. They have a right to pick whatever social economic system they wish, including socialism.

Hands off Venezuela! The travel ban should be lifted and the Cuban 5 should be released. End the Blockade against Cuba and establish normal diplomatic and trade relations with our neighbor and natural trading partner just 90 miles away.



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