US Government Must Let Cubans Eat – W.T. Whitney Jr.

Food availability was the top concern of 21 percent of Cubans responding to a recent opinion survey. The U.S. economic blockade has promoted food shortages. In 1960 the idea of a blockade was appealing to the U.S. State Department because it would cause deprivation and suffering.  Those intentions resurfaced in 1992 with the so-called Cuban Democracy Act, which, still in force, restricts foreign partners of U.S. companies from exporting goods to Cuba. It covers exports of food and agricultural supplies. 

Cuba’s food-supply system is presently unstable, due in part to a fragile Cuban economy. How it functions in the future will depend on the government’s management of agriculture and on the impact of the U.S. economic blockade. Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will play a role.

Some problems won’t be fixed soon. Sugarcane monoculture took a toll on soil fertility. The woody marabou plant, useful only for making charcoal and removable only with heavy machinery, has invaded 4.2 million acres of Cuban land – 18 % of the total.  Cuba has recently experienced severe drought conditions interspersed with intense rains and flooding; 60 percent of the land is at risk of desertification. The agricultural sector accounts for 40 percent of hurricane-related financial losses.

According to one report, disempowerment of women in rural areas “impedes progress in the agricultural sector.” Many young people lack incentive to work in agriculture. The burden of feeding urban dwellers has increased. They accounted for 58 percent of the population in 1960, 77 percent in 2018. 

Cuba’s food –supply problem manifests in the perennial need to import 60-80 % of food consumed on the island – at an annual cost of $2 billion.  

Beginning in 2008, Cuba’s government instituted economic changes affecting the entire society, agriculture included. The government and Communist Party alike fashioned ambitious documents that outlined comprehensive reforms. The first was the Party’s 2011 “Guidelines for Economic and Social Policies.” 

In 2008, private individuals and collectives gained long-term usage rights to small tracts of land. Now some 500,000 new, independent farmers work 4.9 million acres of agricultural land. Private farmers in general, new and old, occupy 5.93 million acres, which yield almost 80 percent of Cuba’s food.  

The largest class of farmers, the UBPC cooperatives, heirs of the dismembered state farms, control 8.42 million acres of Cuba’s total of 15.56 million acres of arable land; 1.16 million acres remain idle and unfarmed.

The new private farmers ought to be producing “even more food,” says one observer.  Supplies, equipment, spare parts, fertilizers, and seeds provided by state agencies are often unavailable, delayed, or of low quality. Access to credit and insurance may be limited. 

Cuban farmers face gasoline and diesel fuel shortages, mainly because of drastically reduced shipments from Venezuelan oil producers, paralyzed by U.S. sanctions. The impact on food production in May 2019 led to increased food rationing. 

Food distribution is inefficient. The National Union of [food] Collection, otherwise known as the “Acopio” (“collection” in English) is the Agriculture Ministry entity responsible for distributing food. Problems include delayed payments to producers, inadequate storage facilities, transportation delays, regional variations in service, and “cumbersome” criteria for defining food quality. 

The Acopio operates 400 state agricultural markets and 1200 other food-selling facilities. Consumers experience long wait times, unavailability of desired food products, and variable quality. Vendors setting their own prices often reserve higher-quality food for consumers paying with the convertible currency used by foreign visitors. Cubans relying on rationed food may be left with lower quality food and smaller amounts – and forced to pay high prices for food they still lack.

Some government efforts at bolstering food supplies look like the ecologically-oriented initiatives for feeding urban populations that appeared during the Special Period, after the fall of the Soviet Bloc. They bear names like “Program for Municipal Self-supply;” “the Program of Urban, Suburban, and Family Agriculture” (focused on growing food in small spaces), and the “Program of Local Support for Agricultural Modernization,” for 37 municipalities. 

Speaking in February, President Miguel Díaz-Canel called for local self-sufficiency and for the Acopio to collect farm products promptly and thoroughly. With more food arriving at markets, he suggested, the state could regain control over food sales and prices, and thereby push out speculators and black marketeers.  Later Díaz-Canel spoke approvingly of producers bypassing the Acopio and selling at local markets. There’s discussion of “participation of other state and non-state actors” in the Acopio system.

Citing the examples of Vietnam and China – socialist countries that export food – reformers propose using remittances from Cubans living abroad for investing in food production, thus promoting farmer autonomy. Díaz-Canel recently advocated greater involvement of scientists and academicians in food production, just as with the coronavirus pandemic. 

Overall, the official response to food-supply problems seems to lack focus and coherence. If so, maybe it’s because planners are stymied as they deal with a regimen of shortages cemented in place and intractable. 

The imagination sees a specter-like U.S. presence as government officials deliberate and as farmers and consumers complain. It’s in the room as officials look abroad to transfer money, secure credit, import food, and seek investment in agriculture, or when they want to import farm machinery, tools, spare parts, premium seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, purebred livestock. and hydrocarbon fuels. 

U.S. pressures on foreign financial institutions are unrelenting. Foreign suppliers face merciless penalties if they ship agricultural supplies to Cuba, especially if they have associations with U.S. companies or if their goods contain some tiny U.S. component. 

When agricultural projects end up badly in Cuba or when food is short, surely recriminations crop up and perhaps animosities and anti-government ideas also. These would be exactly what the U.S. doctor ordered. 

Fridamania – Valency Hastings

Originally posted on People’s World, July 27, 2007

Across the globe, celebrations and exhibitions are marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907–1954). In recent years, her popularity has soared to that of cult-like status, in part due to the 2002 Hollywood movie about her life, starring Salma Hayek. In contrast with the modesty of her art, the celebrity-style hype about her life has elevated the artist to iconic status — reminiscent of the Mexican religions icons and retablos (altarpieces) that she collected.

Kahlo is best known for her strikingly distinct image — her face framed by her faint mustache and trademark unibrow, her unconventional marriage to legendary Mexican artist Diego Rivera and her embrace of Communism. Critics claim that her art has largely been overshadowed by the work of her husband and her own mythical status. But as times and artistic sensibilities change, her work is being re-evaluated.

In the largest retrospective of Kahlo’s work to date, Mexico marked the centenary of her birth in grand fashion.

At the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, over 354 pieces went on display July 5, featuring many of her most famous self-portraits, but also lesser-known works, including still lifes, sketches, watercolors and sculpture.

At the Casa Azul (Blue House), Kahlo’s family-home-turned-museum, thousands of artifacts that had been locked away are now on display, providing a broad and intimate glimpse into Kahlo’s life, in an exhibit entitled “Treasures of the Blue House, Frida and Diego.”

The hallmark of both Kahlo’s life and her art was great physical and emotional pain. She suffered from polio as a child and later was injured in a streetcar accident that shattered her pelvis and spine, requiring a three-year convalescence and operations throughout her life. Her physical pain was only eclipsed by the torment of her husband’s many infidelities, including with her sister. Kahlo described her life in terms of two great accidents — the streetcar and Rivera, Rivera being the worse of the two. While his murals depicting the people’s struggle gained huge fame in his lifetime, Kahlo’s deeply personal work was largely overlooked — her first solo showing of her work occurred only a year before her death.

As fans take a closer look at Kahlo’s dreamlike images, unexpected details are revealed, as well as lessons about struggle that are very personal, yet highly relatable. While some critics say that Kahlo outmastered even celebrity-obsessed Pablo Picasso at cultivating her own image, one need not dig too deeply into her work to unearth the great conflicts that marked her life and work.

The duality often seen in her paintings mirrored that of her personal life. She often dressed in men’s clothes and embroidered Tehuana Indian dresses, and responded to her husband’s infidelities with many dalliances of her own — with both men and women. And while her image sometimes was glamorous, she led a fairly domestic life, surrounded by a house full of plants, pets and simple pleasures. Perhaps the genesis of her embrace of her inner paradoxes was the duality of her heritage — born to a Hungarian Jewish father of German descent and a Mexican mother.

Her work screams out the pain of abandonment and loss in an age where little is intimate anymore. Her style is instinctual, at times confrontational, yet surprisingly delicate and accessible. New tenderness is revealed in her portraits of children, particularly in the detailed use of color in a portrait of her baby niece, appearing as a servant girl. Frank sexuality and humor is evident in the still life “The Bride Who Is Frightened to See Life Open,” for which Kahlo posed a bride doll with sliced papayas and watermelons upon a table top.

As new fans have been drawn to Kahlo’s work, the celebrations have spanned the globe.

In Havana, Cuba, Frida is being honored with an exhibit titled “Desde la piel de Eva y con los ojos de Adan” (From Eve’s skin, with Adam’s eyes). In November, her centenary and the 50th anniversary of Rivera’s death will be marked with the program, “Frida y Diego, Voces de la tierra” (Frida and Diego, Voices of the earth).

In Chile, Kahlo’s centenary is being marked with a program entitled “Un abrazo para Frida y Diego” (A hug for Frida and Diego).

In the U.S., the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has announced a show that will open in October and travel to Philadelphia and San Francisco, featuring 50 Kahlo paintings. The National Museum of Women in Arts in Washington, D.C., is memorializing her with the display of her painting, “Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky,” painted in 1937 for the Russian revolutionary and as a remembrance of their brief affair, along with a small collection of letters and photographs.

Europe and Asia have also joined in tributes to the artist. In Berlin, the anniversary was marked with “The 100 Years,” a photographic exhibit from the 1950s by artist Gisele Freund, and a series of lectures.

In the Philippines, film screenings, book launchings, dance shows and exhibitions celebrated the artist in a program entitled “We love Frida so much.”

In this age of reality shows and staged intimacy, the personal art of Frida Kahlo has arguably eclipsed that of her famous husband, although his heroic stature still resonates today throughout Mexico and the art world. The key to appreciating her art is the understanding that struggle and great progressive change begin first in our own minds and experiences, creating a ripple effect throughout our lives and the lives of others. In that way, we recognize that we all strive for change and engage in the fight — both within ourselves and in our world.

US Must Return Its Political Prisoner Simón Trinidad to Colombia – W.T. Whitney Jr.

In this Jan. 13, 2002 photo, Commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, (FARC) Simón Trinidad reads a declaration during a press conference in Los Pozos, Colombia. | AP

Murderous violence and oligarchy were at the center of Colombian political life during the 20th century. Colombians by the millions were marginalized, impoverished, and/or displaced from small land holdings. Violence and the failings of liberal democracy turned Simón Trinidad into a revolutionary. Few in the United States and Europe know about him. Colombia’s allies in both places overlook the Colombian terror regime. 

Simón Trinidad matters; his time has come. This leader of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) faced bizarre and unfounded criminal charges in a U.S. court. He’s being held under the cruelest of conditions in a federal prison in Florence, Colorado. He will die there unless he is released. Simón Trinidad will be 70 years old on July 30. 

An international campaign is demanding that the U. S. government return Simón Trinidad to Colombia. What follows is an appeal on behalf of that campaign. Here are some facts: 

Trinidad’s birth name was Ricardo Palmera. His family included lawyers, politicians and landowners and was based in Valledupar, Cesar Department, Colombia. There, Palmera worked as a banker, taught economics in a regional university, and managed his family’s agricultural holdings. Affiliated with the Liberal Party, he favored agrarian reform. Then Palmera joined the left-leaning Patriotic Union, formed in 1985.   

That electoral coalition was immediately smothered in violence and murder. Palmera’s close comrades were being killed. Others departed for exile. On October 11, 1987, assassins killed Patriotic Union presidential candidate Jaime Pardo Leal, someone whom Palmera greatly admired. Discovering that he too was about to be killed, Palmera left Valledupar and joined the FARC. He took the name Simón Trinidad.

With that insurgency, Trinidad was responsible for propaganda and political education. He served as a peace negotiator. In December, 2003, Trinidad was in Ecuador preparing to meet with United Nations official James Lemoyne to discuss FARC plans to liberate hostages. On January 2, 2004, he was arrested there – with CIA help – and within two days had been delivered to Colombia. He remained in custody until December 31, 2004, when the Colombian government extradited him to the United States.

Simón Trinidad faced four jury trials between October, 2006 and April, 2008. The first trial ended in a deadlocked jury, the second one yielded a conviction, and the third and fourth trial each ended with juries deadlocked on a drug-trafficking charge. He was convicted of having conspired with other members of the FARC – terrorists in U. S. government eyes – to capture and hold hostage three U.S. drug-war contractors. 

Trinidad’s first trial judge was replaced after he had illegally interviewed jurors to secure information potentially useful to the prosecutors in his second trial. 

The new judge sentenced Simón Trinidad to 60 years in prison, 20 years for each of the three U.S. contractors being held hostage by the FARC. Trinidad was 57 years old.

He is serving his sentence at a U.S. “supermax” federal prison. Trinidad remained in solitary confinement from the time of his arrival in the United States until 2018. Now he may eat a midday meal in a dining hall. He is not allowed to receive letters, emails, or periodicals. Phone calls are limited.  Visitors are rare and very few, apart from his U.S. lawyers. 

Peace negotiations between the FARC and Colombian government took place in Havana from 2012 until 2016. The FARC delegation sought Simón Trinidad’s presence there as spokesperson and negotiator. Colombia’s government never requested authorities in Washington to release him for that purpose. There’s no indication that the latter would have done so. 

The eventual Peace Agreement provided for a “Special Jurisdiction for Peace.” There, former combatants on both sides of the conflict have the opportunity, if they choose, to speak the truth about crimes they may have committed and have the court decide upon pardon or punishment. Simón Trinidad chose to participate. To do so he needs to be in Colombia.

Making the case

As someone who sought justice for the oppressed and was faithful to his principles, Trinidad now is asking for justice for himself. Some solidarity activists may justify their support for him on the basis of only one or two aspects of his political life. Actually, there’s a full menu of good reasons for demanding that the U.S. government return Simón Trinidad to Colombia. 

1. The U.S. government must allow Simón Trinidad to appear before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. It would thereby show respect for the Peace Agreement between the FARC and Colombian government.

2. The U.S. government has violated Trinidad’s basic legal and human rights. Trinidad was extradited as a drug-trafficker, which he was not. He was guilty of rebellion, which is a political crime. Extradition treaties and international human-rights law prohibit extradition for political crimes. The U.S. government subjected Trinidad to irregular court proceedings. His judge applied a wildly excessive sentence to a crime he didn’t commit. His prison conditions are inhumane. 

3. U.S. intervention in Colombia occasioned Simón Trinidad’s mistreatment at U.S. hands. His rescue would have anti-imperialist overtones. The U.S. government has long provided Colombia with military assistance, notably through its Plan Colombia, in effect after 2000. While ostensibly targeting drug-traffickers, Plan Colombia laid siege to the FARC. As a highly visible FARC peace negotiator in talks with the Colombian government in Caguán (1999-2001), Simón Trinidad became a trophy prisoner.  Plan Colombia set the stage, having already helped torpedo the peace talks. 

On display with Trinidad’s capture and extradition was the top-down nature of imperialist relations with client nations. Perhaps to please its boss, Colombia’s government almost immediately signaled its intention to extradite Trinidad to the United States, doing so even before a criminal charge had been announced. And Colombia’s political opposition regularly claims that national sovereignty is diminished every time prisoners like Simón Trinidad are referred to the United States for prosecution and punishment.

4. Solidarity activists in many countries have long admired those working and marginalized peoples in Colombia who have stood up to a ruling class intent upon plunder and oppression. They did so by joining indigenous and Afro-Colombian resistance movements, labor unions, leftist political parties, the FARC and other insurgencies. Simón Trinidad was in that fight. On that basis too he is worthy of support in his campaign to return to Colombia.   

5. Simón Trinidad was and is a revolutionary. The job description of progressives everywhere is to fight oppression and injustice. But now many of them are learning the truth about capitalism. They see climate change on the horizon and pandemic and economic collapse already here. Many of those who now embrace the revolutionary option have good reason to be at Simón Trinidad’s side. 

As a member of the FARC, Simón Trinidad saw violence against the Patriotic Union turn into massacre. Many of the estimated 5000 murder victims were former FARC members who were participating in electoral politics. Murderous violence and war between rich and poor are still at the center of Colombian politics. Following the signing of the Peace Agreement, assassins have killed more than 200 ex-FARC combatants and hundreds of community and political leaders, mainly in rural areas. The U.S. government, allied to the partisans of violence in Colombia, is complicit. 

That kind of violence helped to put Simón Trinidad on the revolutionary path. One good way to demonstrate abhorrence of U.S. promotion of violence in Colombia, we think, is to join the fight for Simón Trinidad’s return now to Colombia. 

For more information about the campaign to return Simón Trinidad to Colombia, go to Contact with questions or with your offer to join the campaign.  

Biden backs strikers at Bath Iron Works-Mark Gruenberg

Originally posted on People’s World on June 29, 2020 10:52 AM by Mark Gruenberg

Shipbuilders picket outside an entrance to Bath Iron Works, in Bath, Maine. | AP

BATH, Maine—Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and a parade of other prominent politicians are supporting the 4,300 Machinists Local S6 workers forced to strike by their bosses at the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine.

“A job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about dignity. I urge Bath Iron Works to come back to the table and make a fair offer to the hardworking men and women of IAM Local S6,”  Biden declared on June 25.

The former vice president thus joins Maine’s entire congressional delegation and top state officials in urging the shipyard’s president, and his corporate chieftains at General Dynamics, to bargain in good faith and reach a contract with the local, which represents 64% of all the yard’s workers.

The Maine AFL-CIO is also circulating an on-line petition to Lesko, demanding he bargain in good faith and reach a contract with the workers. Supporters can sign it at

Company demands for extensive out-of-state subcontracting of their work to the lowest bidders, unlimited shift changes that would destroy seniority, and health care cost hikes that would wipe out proposed 3% annual raises, forced the workers to walk at 12:01 am on June 21.

The S6 members first rejected the company’s “last, best and final” offer by an overwhelming margin. Then 84% of those voting OKed the strike.

Relations between the union and company management are so bad that even two probationary workers, who had started their jobs only on June 15, and who could not vote, tweeted that they were proud of their colleagues. It’s the local’s first strike at the yard in 20 years.

The BIW workers, all skilled machinists, are building seven destroyers for the U.S. Navy. A spokesman for the yard’s parent firm, General Dynamics, said it “was prepared” to keep construction going, though it didn’t say how. A Navy spokesman e-mailed a defense-oriented paper the service hopes the two sides settle their differences peacefully.

Postings from Local S6 leaders on their Facebook page reveal company intransigence. The rejected pact was for three years. And IAM President Bob Martinez backed them up in a strong letter to Bath Iron Works’s CEO, Dirk Lesko, and a public statement.

“Don’t Buy The Company’s Lies and Spin,” one Local S6 Facebook posting was headlined, covering BIW’s health care proposals.

“Average premium costs from 2017 to 2020 only went up by a total of 8.4% for BIW yet they want a 5% annual increase in premiums (15% total) plus higher out-of-pocket costs. There is no justification for higher out-of-pocket costs.”

“BIW is just trying to push everyone into the high deductible plan. The increases in prescription drug copays, deductibles and annual maximums…will hurt those that need to use their health care the most, many of whom have sacrificed their health by working in the physically demanding jobs in a shipyard or have complications related to a pregnancy.”

Left unsaid in that posting is the BIW members are “essential” workers forced to toil through the coronavirus pandemic, often in close quarters without social distancing. Martinez made that point.

“This strike is about more than wages and benefits,” he said. “It is about working people having a voice in their futures and taking a stand for their families and the state of Maine.”

“Despite our repeated warnings to the management of Bath Iron Works, this employer has continued to take taxpayer dollars and outsource good Maine jobs to out-of-state contractors.”

“The company is engaged in flat-out union-busting, and is exploiting the current pandemic to attempt to outsource work from its dedicated employees, who are risking their health to build ships that protect our national security.”

“For generations, our members at Local S6 in Bath proudly built the military ships that keep our servicemen and women safe. They are the reason why ‘Bath Built is Best Built.’ We simply ask management recognize the sacrifices our members have made, and work with us to find a solution that promotes the well-being of our membership, their families and the entire state of Maine.”

The Maine AFL-CIO threw its weight behind Local S6, too. The strike vote “should send a crystal clear message to BIW management: Respect your workers, go back to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair contract,” state fed President Cynthia Phinney tweeted.

“The union has struggled and bargained over decades to make these safe, quality jobs that Maine workers can survive in over a long career and earn a decent living. BIW proposals roll back job quality, worker protections and safety,” she added. “All over this state and country the essential people are rising up to demand respect, justice and a fair share of the wealth we create. The broader labor movement stands with the workers at BIW in their struggle for a fair contract.”