Senior N. Korean ruling party official departs for Cuba

A senior official of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party departed Tuesday for Cuba, Pyongyang's state media reported without elaborating on the purpose of his trip.

Ri Su-yong, a vice chairman of the ruling party's Central Committee, is leading the North's delegation, the Korean Central News Agency said.

Ri was spotted at an airport in Moscow en route to Cuba. A diplomatic source said that Ri would visit from Thursday to next Monday. Details about his itinerary in Russia were not known.

Ri's trip came after Miguel Diaz-Canel was elected the island nation's new president in April to succeed Raul Castro, who took over the presidency in 2006.

Observers said that Ri's visit appears intended to celebrate the launch of the new Cuban leadership and strengthen party-to-party exchanges.

Shortly after Diaz-Canel's election, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent a congratulatory message to the newly elected leader, who later sent a reply voicing his desire to deepen bilateral ties.

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Fernando Gonzalez: ‘To strengthen the links of friendship around the world, that is our role’

CUBAN Five hero Fernando Gonzalez may have spent 15 years in US prisons, but he wears his sacrifice lightly.

Along with the rest of the Five, Gonzalez was working in Florida monitoring Cuban exile groups planning terrorist attacks on his homeland when he was arrested in 1998. Like them, he spent 17 months “in the hole,” solitary confinement, before being convicted in a trial that drew international condemnation and locked up until February 27 2014.

Miami-based terrorists have killed thousands of Cubans since the 1960s in attacks such as that orchestrated by Luis Posada Carriles that brought down Cubana Flight 455 in 1976, killing 73 people.

Infiltrating such groups was clearly a dangerous mission, but Gonzalez says it “wasn’t hard” to decide to go when he was asked.

Born in 1963 and a proud “child of the revolution,” he served with Cuban troops defending the progressive Angolan government from Unita rebels in 1987-89.

He was with troops moving towards the border with Namibia — then occupied by apartheid South Africa, which was intervening on Unita’s side — at the time of the great battle of Cuito Canavale to the east, a victory credited by Nelson Mandela, among others, with the withdrawal of South African troops from Angola and which played its part in securing Namibian independence and even the final defeat of apartheid itself.

“When I returned to Cuba I was 26. I was asked if I was willing to go to the US and work on anti-terrorist activities.

“I knew about the historic terrorism against Cuba, the lives lost in attacks on our people and our embassies. I said: ‘All right, if you think I can do it, I’m willing’.”

He is not bitter about his arrest, though he notes that the FBI were “not sincere” in dealings with the Cuban government when asking to share information on terrorist cells in high-level exchanges that took place in 1998.

“The attitude of Cuba was to share information, though not, of course, its source,” he says. “But the FBI were already aware of the source. They were not transparent. Two months later we were arrested.”

The 17 months in “the hole” were “an effort to break us,” he acknowledges when I ask what kept him going over 15 years in jail.

“But I had a conviction that what we had done was right, that there was nothing wrong in saving lives or defending people — not just Cubans but people all over the world, because tourists were killed in attacks.

“And I didn’t take it personally. I knew the US had nothing against us personally. It could be Fernando Gonzalez behind bars or anybody else. What was happening was an expression of US hostility to Cuba, not to me.

“That perspective helped me cope — that it wasn’t about me and what happened to me was not the most important thing. Our sacrifice was part of the course of history, part of something much bigger.”

Gonzalez is effusive in his thanks to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and friends in this country who wrote more letters in support of the Five than any other. International solidarity, rather than any serious change in policy by the Barack Obama presidency, was what secured their eventual release, he believes.

“The Obama concessions were simply because Washington concluded that their current policy wasn’t getting them the result they wanted, so they looked at achieving their aim in a different way,” he says.

“In Cuba we were happy to see any improvement. We don’t gain anything from their hostility. We just want to be left alone.

“There was some improved co-operation on law enforcement, fighting drug smuggling, a few changes. But the blockade stayed in place.

“There was more rhetoric about lifting it than any real effort. Now Donald Trump is trying to roll back what advances were made.”

But following the historic meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, could there be hope of a similar easing of tensions with Cuba?

“Well,” he muses. “It’s very positive that Trump and Kim have met. It’s good for peace. It’s good for the Korean peninsula and the region.

“But it’s ironic when combined with increased aggression in Latin America. I hope it teaches the US that, if they are willing to negotiate with another country, why not Cuba where the issues are much less complex?”

But the present reality is almost the opposite. “The left has been losing ground in Latin America, that’s obvious,” he says, noting the congressional coups that removed left-wing presidents in Paraguay and Brazil, the right’s victory in Argentina, the current unrest orchestrated against the Nicaraguan authorities and the repeated bids to overturn the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

“When these countries were moving left, the US didn’t sit and wait. They began to develop a counter-offensive.

“What we’re seeing now is an offensive by the centres of imperialism, most important of which is Washington.

“They always find local actors, sectors of society who for reasons of self-interest are willing to work with the US, but the strategy comes from the centre.

“This didn’t start with Trump. As you say, his rhetoric is more hostile — openly talking of military action against Venezuela, for example. But the reality is the same.”

Gonzalez’s role as president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship and Solidarity sees him work with 2,000-odd organisations in 155 countries that promote solidarity with the socialist country as well as co-ordinate Cuba’s own solidarity to other countries, as expressed in medical missions, emergency responses and the many other acts of humanity that make this Caribbean island loom so large on the world stage. He was also elected to Cuba’s parliament in March.

“To strengthen those links of friendship around the world, that is our role,” he says, “as well as to campaign on political causes — a free Palestine, an independent Puerto Rico.”

This work is so important to him because of the role solidarity played in their release.

“The Cuba Solidarity Campaign played a key role and today” (I met him at the CSC AGM) “showed the organisation and planning that goes into this important work on ending the blockade, putting pressure on the US to end its occupation of Guantanamo.

“It is well organised and strong. You fought hard for us and in part that is why we were released — a victory for you as well as us.

“I include the Morning Star in that for publishing information about our case other papers wouldn’t touch. Reading it in prison showed us we were not alone and, when we passed the paper on, many inmates would come back to us and say: ‘Oh, we didn’t know that about Cuba.’ It played a very positive role.

“I want to thank the trade unions too for showing us such support – Unison, Unite, RMT, the National Union of Teachers and others.”

As George Galloway later tells the Cuba rally following the AGM, it feels odd to be thanked by a man whose sacrifice puts most of us to shame.

The Cuban revolution remains a beacon to socialists and opponents of imperialism everywhere, a living example that another world is possible. Gonzalez and the rest of the Five paid a terrible price for their work to protect their people and their revolution. It’s we who should be thanking them.

Fernando Gonzalez addresses the Solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela: No to Trump fringe meeting at Unison conference on Tuesday. Meet in Auditorium 2, Brighton Centre at 5.15pm.

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ROMANIA-CUBA: DIALOGUE OF FRIENDSHIP AND COOPERATION

On June 14, 2018 the presentation and cooperation meeting between Professor Dr. Anton Caragea, President Director-General of Institute of International Relations and Economic Cooperation and H.E. Roberto César Hamilton MAGAÑA-Ambassador of Cuba has taken place.
The bilateral discussion, has marked the debut of mandate for H.E. Roberto César Hamilton MAGAÑA and H.E. Professor Dr. Anton Caragea, has officially presented the congratulations for the start of mandate of the new ambassador noting the Romanian side hopes for a fruitful cooperation and also has marked the official congratulations for the new Head of State of The Republic of Cuba: H.E. Miguel Díaz-Canel — President of Council of State and Council of Ministers.

The election of the new Cuban leader is a testimony of the desire of Cuba to continue on the path of revolution and to foster new development ways while maintaining the legacy and conquest of the Revolution, underlined Professor Dr. Anton Caragea.

Our desires for bilateral cooperation and consolidated relations expressed in our official message from 2017 addressed to Comrade Raul Castro are still present and representing our vision in the bilateral relations stated the President Director-General of Institute of International Relations and Economic Cooperation.

Prof. Dr. Anton Caragea express his amicable fillings and friendly interest towards the recent evolution`s in Cuba, that are consolidating Cuba`s economic development, open society and are creating a sense of perfect unity between the people of Cuba and the government. Cuba`s revolutionary transition under Commander Raul Castro supervision and President Miguel Díaz-Canel guidance and leadership is witnessed with sympathy and interest in Romania, emphasized Professor Dr. Anton Caragea.

H.E. Ambassador Roberto César Hamilton MAGAÑA expressed his gratitude for the good wishes related to his new mandate and presented the latest achievements in bilateral relations :developing cultural relations and building new bridges of understanding between Romania and Cuba.

The parties had appreciated that between Romanian and Cuba there are large area of common interests , designed to forge a good understanding between the two nations .

The Romania- Cuba relationship must be an example for a better relation between Romania and Latin America .

If in the last decade the bilateral dialogue with this area was faltering, now it is a auspicious moment for reconstructing and rebuilding this framework of dialogue and friendship.

Marking the opportunity Professor Dr. Anton Caragea stress the significance for the new Ambassador: Roberto César Hamilton MAGAÑA, to place accent on the cooperation in the fields of hospitality and tourism promotion, taking full advantage of the Romanian Presidency of the European Council on Tourism and Trade, an unique occasion to foster Cuban tourism potential and international image across the continent.

Europe and Cuba can foster an impressive cultural and touristic cooperation pressed Professor Dr. Anton Caragea.

The dialogue had continued on concrete aspects and analyses of economic, political and cultural bilateral relations and on ways of fostering this dialogue on to the future .

The discussion led the foundations of continuing the dialogue and fostering the relations between Romania and Cuba.

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Solidarity Meeting With Cuba Ends in Argentina

Rosario, Argentina, Jun 17 (Prensa Latina) The 16th Meeting of Solidarity with Cuba in Argentina will conclude here today after several days of profound debates marked by the continuation of the struggle promoted by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

The event, which has been full of emotion for being held in Che's native land coinciding with his 90th birthday, will be closed with a panel discussion on the role of the media in these times and the battle of ideas in traditional media as well as in social .

Themes on how to strengthen integration and unite collective forces to defend progressive processes in the region, with Cuba as a guide, marked the days of the meeting which gathered some 150 national delegates and guests from Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela.

The word unity has been one of the most replicated in these days of debate, which included the participation of Cuban hero Antonio Guerrero, the ambassador of that island Orestes Perez, scholars and speakers such as Atilio Boron, among other personalities.

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Cuban Physicians provide Services to Guatemalan People affected by Volcanic Eruption

A group of Cuban doctors provide their services to more than 900 people from the Guatemalan southeastern department of Escuintla, one of the most affected by the eruption of the Fuego volcano, only a week after its most powerful eruption since 1974.

According to Prensa Latina (PL) news agency, the presence of the Cuban physicians there did not start with the emergency; they are part of the 26 health workers of the Cuban Medical Brigade (BMC by its Spanish acronym) that for years have lived with the inhabitants of the area, so they are well acquainted with their customs and needs.

As soon as they heard the news of the high number of victims of the fatal Sunday June 3, immediately went to offer their services voluntarily and continuing to meet their daily work at the hospital in Escuintla and the surrounding areas.

Dr. Relmar Quintana, coordinator of the Escuintla group, says that overcrowding, poor ventilation and availability of sanitary services, generate the early appearance of respiratory and digestive infections, which first manifestations are already appearing.

We are investigating everyone – Quintana explains - in order to have them under control to act quickly in the face of any emergency.

Yessenia Peralta, a volunteer firefighter, told PL that she has had all the time the support of the BMC to control the growing outbreaks of diarrheal, skin and respiratory diseases.

Yuri Batista, BMC National Coordinator in Guatemala, is together with five other collaborators evaluating the epidemiological situation of the place, and they are permanently accompanied by the Cuban ambassador in Guatemala, Carlos de Cespedes Piedra.

From the first moment of the natural catastrophe, Cuba put at the disposal of Guatemalan authorities the experience accumulated by the BMC during almost 20 years of uninterrupted presence.

Batista emphasizes that in total there are 431 Cuban health workers, 245 doctors and 136 nurses, deployed by 16 of the 22 departments of the country, and that they cover dissimilar specialties.

That figure also includes 39 members of the Henry Reeve Brigade, specialized in disaster situations and created on September 19, 2005 by the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro.

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Cuban official reiterates support for Syria during meeting with Information Minister

Head of the Department of International Relations at the Cuban Communist Party’s Central Committee Jose Ramon Balaguer reiterated his country’s support for Syria in all fields, foremost in its war against terrorism.

Meeting Information Minister Imad Sara on Wednesday at the Committee’s headquarters in Havana, Balaguer praised the Syrian army’s sacrifices in fighting terrorism and aborting the conspiracy against Syria.

Minister Sara, for his part, said the army’s successive military wins have paved the way for jump-starting the reconstruction process and pushing the political process forward.

Syria’s national media has stood up to a media war waged against the country since the start of the terrorist war against it and managed to frustrate its goals, Sara stated, lauding the support to Syria by friendly media outlets which took it upon themselves to convey the facts about the Syrian situation to international public opinion.

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Why African-American Doctors Are Choosing to Study Medicine in Cuba

In the countryside of western Havana, during the fall, rickety yellow buses carry first-year medical students from the Latin American School of Medicine. Wearing short-sleeved white smocks and stethoscopes, they go door to door, doing rounds, often speaking to their patients in broken Spanish. “Even people whose houses I wasn’t visiting sometimes would ask me to take their blood pressure, because they just saw me in the street,” Nimeka Phillip, an American who graduated from the school in 2015, told me.

The Latin American School of Medicine, or E.L.A.M., was established by the Cuban government, in 1999, after a series of natural disasters, including Hurricane Mitch, left vulnerable populations in Central America and the Caribbean in dire need of health care. This year, in the aftermath of hurricane season, hundreds of Cuban health workers, many of them E.L.A.M. graduates, will travel to some of the hardest-hit areas of the Atlantic to treat the injured and sick. All of the students who attend E.L.A.M. are international. Many come from Asia, Africa, and the United States. The school’s mission is to recruit students from low-income and marginalized communities, where they are encouraged to return, after they graduate, to practice medicine.

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In the U.S., black and Latino students represent approximately six per cent of medical-school graduates each year. By contrast, nearly half of E.L.A.M.’s American graduates are black, and a third are Latino. “You would never see those numbers” in the U.S., Melissa Barber, another American E.L.A.M. graduate, told me.

Barber is a program coördinator at the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, in Harlem, which recruits American students for E.L.A.M. Applicants with college-level science backgrounds and the requisite G.P.A. go through an interview process with the organization. Those who make the cut are then recommended to E.L.A.M. The school accepted its first American applicants in 2001, a year after a delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus, whose leadership included Representatives Bennie Thompson and Barbara Lee, travelled to Cuba and held talks with the Ministry of Education about the need for doctors in rural black communities, and the financial obstacles that make it difficult for low-income and minority students to enroll in American medical schools. While some nations pay for their students to attend E.L.A.M., Fidel Castro decided that Americans, like Haitians and students from poor African countries, should attend for free.

Since 1987, no more than six per cent of medical students in the U.S. each year have come from families with poverty-level incomes. Meanwhile, the cost of medical school has skyrocketed; the median student debt for the class of 2016 was a hundred and ninety thousand dollars. Phillip, a first-generation college graduate, worked multiple jobs and took out loans to pay for her undergraduate degrees in public health and integrative biology, at the University of California, Berkeley. She hoped to study “stress- and poverty-related illness” in medical school, she told me, but the cost of tuition, along with the pressure that would come from being one of the few minority students in her class, discouraged her from applying.

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After she graduated, she came across an online listing for an I.F.C.O. event in San Jose, while researching alternatives to medical school. At the event, there were a number of E.L.A.M. graduates who offered testimonials, but she remembered being moved by Luther Castillo’s story in particular. After graduating from E.L.A.M., Castillo returned to his Afro-indigenous village, in Honduras, and built the area’s first free, community-run hospital. Phillip was impressed by his story, and by E.L.A.M.’s philosophy of offering a free education for students who pledged to practice medicine in low-income, medically underserved areas. After she applied and was accepted, she braced herself for her six-year odyssey in Cuba.

The child-mortality rate in Cuba is lower than it is in the U.S., and life expectancy in both countries is about the same, even though per-capita health-care spending in the United States is the highest in the world. In a certain way, Cuba has America to thank for this. The U.S.-imposed embargo and the dissolution of the Soviet Union led to an increase in the cost of medical supplies; facing a crisis, the Cuban government turned its attention to preventative care, seeking to eliminate much of the need for surgeries and expensive procedures by early detection.

The vast majority of Cuba’s medical students go into primary care. Many of them take up posts in consultorios—doctor-and-nurse teams that live in the neighborhoods in which they practice. In the United States, more and more graduates are choosing specialties—cardiology, radiology, urology—over primary care, which pays less. Besides driving up the cost of medical education, this has also exacerbated physician shortages in rural parts of the country. Today, sixty-four million Americans live in areas where there is only one primary-care physician for every three thousand people. By 2030, according to a study commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States will be short at least forty thousand doctors, and perhaps as many as a hundred thousand.

Medicare and Medicaid programs support residency trainings, and the National Health Service Corps awards grants and loans to medical students in exchange for service in needier regions. But, in 2016, only two hundred and thirteen students received an N.H.S.C. scholarship. According to Congresswoman Karen Bass, of California, a supporter of E.L.A.M., funding is the main problem—particularly under the current Presidential Administration. Trump’s budget for the 2019 fiscal year will cut funding for graduate medical education by forty-eight billion dollars. It is “embarrassing,” Bass said, that “Cuba educates our students for free.”

E.L.A.M. offered Phillip a chance to pursue medicine without incurring catastrophic debt. As she put it, she would graduate with the equivalent of car payments, while her peers in the United States would be saddled with the equivalent of mortgages. Although the school was lacking in creature comforts—the students slept in bunk beds; the hot water and electricity were unreliable; there was little access to the Internet or the phone—Phillip powered through. With help from family, friends, and an organization called Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba—which helps American students in Cuba prepare for their homecoming with scholarships, tutoring for U.S. exams, and connections to American medical networks—she returned home each summer, gaining experience at hospitals in Minneapolis, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.

In March of 2014, Phillip passed the U.S. medical-licensing exam, with one year of Cuban medical school left. In 2016, she was accepted to a residency program in family medicine at a hospital in Hendersonville, North Carolina. “It’s one thing to recruit people that have high skills,” Bryan Hodge, the director of the Hendersonville program, told me. “More unique is when you find people that really have the passion and heart for taking care of underserved patient populations. These are the people needed to close the health-disparities gap.” As Peter McConarty, a veteran family doctor who advises E.L.A.M. students, put it, “A medical student in Cuba would have to actively resist the idea that they were agents of public health and social justice. In the United States, you have to actively seek it out.”

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Cuban Medical Brigade with Guatemala in National Emergency

Staff of the Cuban Medical Brigade in Guatemala (BMC) remains at the disposal of the health authorities of the southern department of Escuintla, one of the three most affected by the eruption of the Volcan de Fuego.

In statements to Prensa Latina, Yuri Batista, head of the BMC, stated that until midnight four doctors and the same number of nurses supported the work to help the victims in one of the evacuation centers in Escuintla.

Today the 27 Cuban employees who work in the area are well and remain giving health coverage in their communities and hospitals, but alert to assume any help requested by the Guatemalan Ministry of Health.

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The Embassy of Cuba here reiterated its deepest condolences to the people, government and relatives of the victims, and made clear the commitment of its doctors to stay close to the neediest in this difficult moment as it has shown over 20 years of presence uninterrupted in this Central American country.

Although Escuintla was the place most affected by the fury of the Volcano of Fire, the damages were also registered in Chimaltenango and Sacatepéquez, which remain in a state of public calamity.

So far, the official death toll remains at 25, but rescue work continues and more victims appear as rescuers manage to enter villages near the volcano that are cut off by lava, ash and sand.

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