Society

Society

By: Raúl Medina

Years ago in Cuba one would have witnessed a Yankees, go home spirit in the face of the possibility of an American official visit. These days, the path started on 17D –the name given to the date where negotiations between the two countries were made public– led the President of the United States to Havana. From March 20 to March 22 the word of order in the island’s capital city was welcome.
Barack Obama and his family arrived on Sunday, March 20. At 4:22 PM a cheerful message appeared on the President’s Twitter account: “¿Qué bolá Cuba? I just touched down here, looking forward to meet and interact directly with the Cuban people.” Before that, in a sketch he had prepared with famous Cuban comedian Luis Silva (Pánfilo), he used the same phrase to say hello to his interlocutor.
A tone of détente and a kind face was the image Obama brought to a country that has suffered more than a few aggressions and political intromissions on the part of American administrations, even before the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.
The first African American to occupy the White House was received by interlocutors of increasing rank: from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez, who welcomed him at the airport; to one of the vice-presidents –Salvador Valdés–, who accompanied him to pay tribute to National Hero José Martí few moments before he finally met Raúl Castro for the official exchange.
One of the activities in his tight agenda was to participate, on Monday, in the Cuba-US Business Forum, in which business persons from both countries debated about the possibilities of the Caribbean nation’s market. While there he had the chance to talk to small business owners in the private sector, which is a privileged element in the speeches of the dignitary, even though it is still considerably smaller than the state’s entrepreneurial sector.
In the forum the US President stated he expects that soon the Congress in his nation will lift the blockade that has been in action for more than 50 years.
“The United States wants to be your partner” Obama said. In doing so he emphasizes a policy that, at least publicly, is oriented towards abandoning direct confrontation with the Cuban government. He praised the high level of literacy in the island, and stated it is something that gives it an advantage in today’s business world.
Besides its symbolic importance, this trip intends to reinforce the legacy of the present administration, and to make it more difficult to reverse the new policy towards Cuba in the event that the presidential chair is occupied by someone in a different line. Obama brought his main allies with him: business persons that see that a virgin market still remains near the United States with a qualified man power. Almost everything is still on the level of good intentions; however, there have been many reactions in face of the cooperation climate.
In what concerns the agricultural sector, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture and the United States’ Agriculture Department signed on Monday a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in organic productions, research to promote the recuperation capacity of cultivable lands, and care of vegetables and animals.
The giant of payment services Western Union announced they will expand their money transfer services to Cuba from other parts of the world by the end of the second trimester of this year. This is in light of recent measures passed by the American government that allow the use of dollars in transactions, and the elimination by Cuba of the 10% tax on the United States’ dollar.
CISCO, a global telecommunications technology company, gets in Cuba too, even though so far only by offering program Networking Academy –equipment donations and training in IT– for the students of the University of Informatics (UCI) in Cuba, said on Monday Laura Quintana, vice president for Corporate Affairs in the company. “This group of professionals will produce applications and services that will set the bases to build the computing industry in Cuba,” the official pointed out.
The greater expectations in connection to the visit turned around a speech announced for Tuesday, which was transmitted live from the Great Theater Alicia Alonso. Obama spoke for more than half an hour. He acknowledged the failure of old policies, even the intervention in Cuban affairs before 1959, as well as the right of Cubans to decide sovereignly their own nation’s path. He also invited Cubans to move on and recommended American values and free enterprise. Furthermore, he identified areas in which Cuba and the US can advance with a common agenda. The speech has stirred controversy in the Cuban society. Some consider it a path to follow, others think of it as more of the same failed interventionist policy.
On Tuesday afternoon, Barack Obama and Raúl Castro walked together towards the staircase of Air Force One. It was the farewell to the first American President to set foot on Cuban soil in almost 90 years.
Cuban authorities surely reminded him that still pending is the definitive lifting of the blockade –weakened after four packages of measures but still hindering the island’s development, in part due to the hostility of a republican Congress– as well as the return of the Cuban territory of the Guantanamo Naval Base. Today, there are people out in the streets who sympathize with the image of the American president, which was unthinkable until recently, and others suspect this new friendship can be dangerous.

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  • The Cuban government has begun to pay ahead of schedule the debt which was renegotiated with more than a dozen international creditors, in a first step to settle outstanding accounts that historically has been dragging, reported Reuters. Havana sealed in December 2015 an agreement with the Paris Club countries and managed to get 14 governments to forgive him 8,500 of 11,100 million still pending. The repayment of the remaining amount was structured over 18 years and the first payment of about $ 40 million, was made before October 31. "The Cuban government has paid the first installment and has done soon", said the French Ambassador to Cuba, Jean-Marie Bruno. Under the agreement with the Paris Club the 14 countries had a year to sign restructuring pacts that could include the establishment of local accounts, where a percentage of the money owed would be earmarked for development projects.

  • At the fairgrounds Expocuba more than 75 countries and 4 500 exhibitors have gathered since this Monday to seek business opportunities in the Caribbean largest shopping bag. Until November 4 Cuban entrepreneurs can showcase their results in the production of goods and services and present their interests in the search of foreign investment. Aiming for this, the Ministry of Tourism has arranged a larger exhibition area at the fair, for which presents a portfolio of 127 investment projects, including 25 for the construction of hotels, 97 in the form of hotel management with or without external financing and five dedicated to marine management. United States, Spain, France, Italy and Japan increased their participation, and Venezuela, China and Russia are the partners of the island most represented at the meeting.

  • The Roswell Park Cancer Institute, based in the city of Buffalo, will hold in the United States a clinical trial of a Cuban vaccine against lung cancer. The goal is to test the CimaVax-EGF, a treatment developed by the Molecular Immunology Center in Havana. The institute, one of the most important of its kind in the world, becomes the first American medical institution to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration to test a Cuban medical therapy in that country. The clinical trial is expected to begin in November and to involve roughly 60 - 90 US patients. Although CimaVax-EGF does not provide a cure of the disease, it contributes to slow the growth of tumors and is less toxic than chemotherapy. In this regard, it has already shown promising results in Cuba, and other countries like Peru, Colombia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  • One of the most important groups in the contemporary world scene will tour Cuba. Odin Teatret will carry out from October 30 to November 25 a tour through several provinces. Based in the Danish town of Holstebro, Odin Teatret is led since 1964 by the Italian master Eugenio Barba. During his stay in Cuba they will present eight shows, which include one-person and group shows as well as a program of lectures, workshops, work demonstrations, audiovisual presentations, master classes and other exchanges. The tour will cover the cities of Las Tunas, Sancti Spiritus, Matanzas, Santa Clara, Camagüey, Pinar del Rio, Bayamo, Santiago de Cuba and Havana.

  • 25th edition of International Ballet Festival of Havana Alicia Alonso has started. The event, one of the most prestigious in the world of dance- will take place until November 6. Among the guests are the company Buenos Aires Ballet, under the direction of Federico Fernández; Dance Americanana -group composed of figures of the New York City Ballet and the Miami City Ballet-; Ballet West, also American, and the Canadian company Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. Also integrate the list Vlovajob Pru, led by François Chaignaud & Cecilia Bengolea; Martha Graham Dance Company, founded in 1929 by the celebrated dancer and choreographer Martha Graham; and Irene Rodriguez’s (Cuba). Also attending the Festival are choreographers Daniel Proietto and Demis Volpi, both Argentinian; Colombian-Belgian Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Cuban Alberto Mendez and Ely Regina Hernandez, who created especially for the event, the pas de deux Winter.

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