PeaceJam Bridges Cultures With Cuba

PeaceJam Bridges Cultures With Cuba

Students, Adults Make Friends, View History on Visit

Kalamazoo Public Schools, Linda Mah 

Kalamazoo, Michigan – The Loy Norrix PeaceJam trip to Cuba may have turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the nine people who traveled to the communist country this summer.

New travel restrictions and a powerful hurricane have changed the geopolitical climate and the literal landscape of the island nation since the PeaceJam trip in June. While President Barack Obama opened travel to the island nation, new restrictions were put in place by the Trump administration in late June. Cuba was hit by Hurricane Irma, a category five storm, in September.

“There were nine of us that went to Cuba — five students and four adults,” said PeaceJam advisor Sveri Stromstra-May, who has also led trips to Peru and South Africa. “Now that we can’t go to Cuba I wish more had gone with us. And, after Hurricane Irma, I worry about the people we met and worked with.”

Prior to the trip, the group met for several potluck dinners to watch documentaries about Cuba, such as “The Buena Vista Social Club,” to read articles and to discuss the culture. It gives travelers some perspective on what they see on their trip and helps build empathy for the people they work next to during their service projects, May said. The group’s first activity after landing in Cuba was to meet with a professor from the University of Havana, who told them about U.S.-Cuba relations in the past and present, and what his expectations were for the future.

The group visited the cities of Havana, Santa Clara, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos.

“What I remember most about my time in Cuba were the people. Everyone welcomed us like we were friends instead of strangers. When they asked questions, they genuinely wanted to know the answers. They took time to talk to us,” said senior Delany Eller.

Each student had their favorite memories. Senior Lilly Gulliver felt the trip to a textbook factory to work on notebooks for students and to learn about old printing presses was worthwhile, while sophomore Matthew Nelson liked meeting with senior citizens who offered dance lessons and stories about the past. Sophomore Carter Miller said he enjoyed giving soccer balls to young Cubans and playing soccer with them.

Other activities included working in an organoponics garden, an organic, urban farming method developed in Cuba, and visiting memorials to the Marxist leaders Che Guevera and Fidel Castro.

“The Che memorial showed us how important the people view their leaders,” Eller said. “It reminded me of a memorial we would give in the United States to some of our fallen leaders.”

May said the trip was eye-opening for the way it shattered stereotypes. “Americans expect to see cigars and old American cars, and Cubans think of Americans as cowboys with horses. People-topeople interactions help to foster change in old stereotypes between our two countries.”

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Venezuela Rejects US Interference in Municipal Elections

A man cast his vote at a polling station during a nationwide election for new mayors, in Caracas, Venezuela December 10, 2017.

A woman casts her vote at a polling station during a nationwide election for new mayors in Caracas, Venezuela December 10, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

The spokeswoman for the US State Department, Heather Nauert, insisted on an alleged “restoration of democracy in Venezuela.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza condemned on Monday statements made by the U.S. government against the democratic system of the South American nation, where municipal elections were held on Sunday, the third elections in the last six months. 

“The ridiculous statements by the spokeswoman of the State Department about the municipal elections denote the impotence and desperation of the supremacist government of Donald Trump before the successive victories of democracy and the Bolivarian people of Venezuela.” Reads the tweet by Venezuela’s foreign minister.

According to official sources, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert spoke out against the decisions of Venezuelans and their government. He also insisted on a supposed “restoration of democracy in Venezuela.”

For its part, the president of the National Constituent Assembly of Venezuela (ANC), Delcy Rodríguez, said that after the result obtained this Sunday the U.S. Government was defeated.

According to the information handled by the Zamora 200 political campaign command, the revolutionary government won 308 of the 335 mayorships in Venezuela, which represents 92 percent of the charges disputed in the municipal elections held this Sunday, December 10.

A total of 9,281,257 people voted, which constitutes a participation of 47.36 percent.

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Cuba Defends Role of Public Finance to Fight Climate Change

Paris, Dec 12 (Prensa Latina) Cuban Minister of Science, Technology and Environment, Elba Rosa Perez, defended today at the One Planet Summit in session here the importance of public finance in fighting climate change.

The minister told Prensa Latina that the Caribbean nation considers raising financing a key issue to face environmental problems in the planet, and public sources are fundamental in this regard.

‘Taking into account Cuba’s experience, we believe developing countries require billions of dollars annually in funds, amount that is neither unreasonable nor exaggerated,’ Perez said.

According to the minister, ‘although global efforts are mobilized so different sources contribute funding; we should not oversize the role of private flows, as they are very unstable and volatile.’

Consequently, public finance should remain the priority, either through global or bilateral mechanisms, with north-south, south-south and triangular cooperation, she said.

According to the minister, if only one percent of the 2016 arms spending were allocated to the Green Climate Fund, more than $12 billion USD would be available, doubling the current amount committed.

Since the signing of the Paris Agreement two years ago, ‘Cuba has made a lot of progress with concrete initiatives such as approving a State Plan to face climate change, called Tarea Vida (Task Life), and set the goal of reaching 24 percent of renewable energy use for 2030,’ she argued.

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El Cobre, town marks beginning of end of slavery in Cuba

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SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Dec. 11 (Xinhua) — El Cobre, a quiet and picturesque town nestled in the foothills of eastern Cuba’s Sierra Maestra Mountains, was the setting for one of the most dramatic episodes in Cuban history: the island’s first slave rebellion in 1731.

It would take another 150 years for the Spanish colonialists to abolish slavery, in 1886, but the uprising highlighted the inhumane conditions imposed on slaves, especially in the local copper-mining industry that gave the town its name.

Located 25 km northwest of the provincial capital Santiago de Cuba, El Cobre (Copper) features a hilltop monument to the runaway slaves who risked everything to gain their emancipation, and whose act of bravery forced the Spanish crown to make the unusual decision of granting them their freedom in 1831.

The moving bronze sculpture of an outstretched hand rising from the earth and reaching for the skies was created by renowned Cuban sculptor Alberto Lescay.

The sculpture is one of many sites of interest that make up the Slave Route, a project by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that aims to raise awareness about the slave trade and its influence on cultures in the Americas.

“This town is important to national culture,” says Narciso Barreras, who traces his ancestry to the slave rebels, almost all of them members of Africa’s Bantu ethnic group.

The top of Cardenillo Hill, where the Monument to the Cimarron stands, offers visitors a panoramic views of the small town of 16,000 residents, including the old copper mine and so-called Blue Lagoon.

The lagoon, about one kilometer long and 60 meters deep, emerged naturally after the mine was abandoned in 2000, and contrasts beautifully with the surrounding green mountains. Continue reading

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Cuba represents golden opportunity for ag

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Dec 12th, 2017 | By South Platte Sentinel | Editorial 

Colorado – If anyone ever drops more lemons in your lap than you think you can handle, call Don Brown; the man has quite the recipe for lemonade.

When not-yet- president Donald Trump announced in late 2016 that he’d pull the U.S. out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation agreement collapsed, throwing the Pacific Rim into trading chaos and, as an unintended consequence, all but slammed the door on U.S. agriculture exports to Asian countries. Hit particularly hard was the beef industry, which saw Japanese tariffs on frozen beef skyrocket when certain quotas were reached.

Those tariffs would have been limited to 9 percent, the same as Australia now enjoys under its separate trade agreement with Japan; instead, U.S. frozen beef gets smacked with a 50 percent tariff and that makes it hard to export Colorado’s largest agricultural product to one of America’s largest trading partners.

But Colorado’s agriculture commissioner refused to see the TPP debacle as a problem; instead, he saw it as an opportunity to explore new markets. And he found one, almost literally, right under our noses.

Brown recently returned from a trade mission to Cuba where he began the laborious process of establishing relationships with the people in Cuba who will make trade possible there, should the U.S. ever actually lift the 60-year- old trade embargo. By the ag commissioner’s account, the place is ripe with opportunity; they’re farming with oxen on about 5 percent of the island’s arable land, their one railroad is rusting in the Caribbean moisture for lack of spare parts, and they’re importing about 80 percent of their food. If that doesn’t spell opportunity for enterprising American businesses, Mickey Mouse doesn’t have ears.

The Trump administration remains as diplomatically inept in this area as in all of its international dealings, declaring before the United Nations in November that the White House will approve of lifting the embargo when Cuba installs a U.S.-style democracy. That will happen when unicorns romp in the Rose Garden.

Ultimately, however, it’s not up to the person in the Oval Office to lift the embargo. That’s Congress’ job, and it’s one we’d like to see them take up very soon in the new year. That’s where the rest of us come in.We need to communicate, loudly and clearly, to the U.S. senators and representatives from Colorado, that Cuba represents a golden opportunity for Colorado agriculture exports. Our potatoes, dry beans and beef are exactly what Cubans want, and we produce plenty of those things.

It’s easy to find the contact information for Colorado’s congressional delegation online. We strongly urge our readers to use that information and tell our senators and representatives that lifting the Cuba trade embargo is a high priority for Colorado agriculture. We’d suggest you do it today.

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Cuba: Families Hurt Due to US Visa Suspension


Cuba’s Foreign Ministry Chief for U.S. Affairs, Josefina Vidal. | Photo: Reuters

“Politics always ends up affecting the poorest, the people,” said Jessica Aguila, a Cuban worker planning to visit her family in the United States.

Dec 12 (teleSur) Cuban officials have told their U.S. counterparts that Washington’s decision to reduce its embassy staff in Havana by more than half and suspend visa processing is “seriously hampering” ties between the two countries, as well as causing distress for family members. Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry Chief for U.S. Affairs, and John Creamer, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, headed the talks, according to PressTV.

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry released a public statement after the meeting which read, in part, that “the Cuban delegation expressed deep concern over the negative impact that the unilateral, unfounded and politically motivated decisions adopted by the US government… have on migration relations between both countries.”

It noted that the decrease in US embassy staff in Cuba, as well as Cuban embassy staff in the United States, had “seriously affected the functioning of the diplomatic mission, particularly the Consulate and the services it offers to Cubans residing in the United States.” Also, visa suspension of official delegations to Cuba had resulted in a “counterproductive effect” on bilateral issues such as migration.

“Politics always ends up affecting the poorest, the people, and not the government,” said Jessica Aguila, an office employee who had been planning to visit her family in the United States during the Christmas holidays, according to Reuters. She added that “in a few months, all the advances between the two countries have been turned to dust.”

Meanwhile, Laura Hernandez, a Cuban student who hoped to relocate with her father in the United States said that the decision to suspend visa processing is “unnecessary and inhuman. With so many families to reunify…why?”

The U.S. government made the unilateral decision to halt visa applications after several of their diplomats fell ill to alleged sonic attacks. However, Coronel Ramiro Ramirez, head of the Cuban security detail responsible for the protection of diplomats on the Caribbean island, explained that such an acoustic weapon, even if employed by a third party as U.S. officials have suggested, would have affected the health of other people in the general area and could not have singled out U.S. diplomats as part of a deliberate attack. Ramirez added that the sound would have undoubtedly attracted public attention.

Mark Hallett, head of the human motor control section of the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, suggested that the ailments experienced by some U.S. diplomats were related to “mass hysteria” prompted by the media, not sonic attacks. However, doctors investigating the incident concluded that U.S. officials underwent a “collective psychogenic disorder” and have linked brain abnormalities to their symptoms related to hearing, vision, balance, and memory.

Speaking at the Fourth Meeting of Cuban Residents in the United States in October, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, said “While the U.S. government shuts down, Cuba opens up,” in response to the U.S. administration’s decision to reduce embassy personnel in Havana and Washington, which directly affected visa processing.

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Chavismo Paves the Way to 2018 Venezuelan Presidential Elections

Caracas, Dec 11 (Prensa Latina) Chavismo forces in Venezuela have paved the way to the 2018 presidential elections with a resounding victory in the municipal elections held Sunday to elect 335 mayors and the governor of the State of Zulia.

A record attendance at polls of 9,139,564 (about 47.32 percent of summoned voters) made clear the Venezuelans’ willingness to decide the fate of the country, despite the refusal of opposition sectors to participate in this elections.

President Nicolas Maduro had already said that this path will not stop with the presidential elections, but also with the referendum for the approval of a new constitutional text that will emerge with the National Constituent Assembly, which expects to complete its duties in 2019.

Despite the threats and insurrectional violence promoted by opposition sectors, Chavismo turned the page and entered a new time of victory, President Maduro said on Sunday, which was evidenced in the result.

In the victory of the left-wing forces, led by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), he also highlighted the success achieved in the election of the governor of Zulia, leading state of the so-called Media Luna, where the people elected Omar Prieto to guide their fates.

The election of socialist leader Erika Farias as Mayor of Libertador municipality, where the main powers of the State live, was also substantive, without discounting that the opposition won in San Cristobal municipality, state of Tachira, with Gustavo Delgado, and ratified its strength after winning the governorship there in the last regional elections.

In short, Chavismo won in 21 state capital municipalities and in Libertador municipality, Capital District, against two of the opposition: Libertador Municipality in Merida with the movement Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) and San Cristobal, Tachira, with the Independent Electoral Political Organization Committee (COPEI) party.

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China Strengthens Cooperation with Cuba’s Biopharmacy

Beijing, Dec 11 (Prensa Latina) China has expressed its willingness to strengthen cooperation with Cuba”s biopharmaceutical industry, with growing global recognition due to the scientific results and the achievement of effective products in the treatment of several diseases.

Bi Jingquan, Minister of China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), highlighted the positive progress of relations between the two countries in this area and expressed the will to further strengthen them, a diplomatic note said.

China is working on the reform of the review and assessment system to register drugs, in order to approach international standards in this discipline and speed up the entry of new and better products into the national healthcare system, the senior official said.

He also referred to the challenges of the process and was open to strengthening cooperation with the Cuban regulatory authority and the biopharmaceutical industry, in order to exchange on the main changes the reform will imply, the official note states.

Bi made the statements after receiving the island’s ambassador here, Miguel Angel Ramirez, at the CFDA headquarters.

Among other issues, the two sides highlighted the sustained process of development of the Cuban biotechnology and the consensus reached by the governments from both countries to deepen ties in this area.

Cuba and China founded the Changchun Heber Biological Technology joint venture in 2003 in the northeastern province of Jilin. The main objective is to manufacture biotechnological products.

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Belgian Conductor to Give Concert with Cuban Symphonic Orchestra

Havana, Dec 11 (Prensa Latina) The Belgian conductor Ronald Zollman will perform in Cuba, along with the Symphonic Orchestra of the Cuban Higher Institute of the Arts (ISA), a program that will close the orchestral workshop given every year by the artist, the organizers said.

The ISA musical group, attached to the Mozart Lyceum of Havana, will perform at the San Felipe Neri Oratory, the venue of the Mozart Lyceum, where Zollman will play Symphony No. 8 in G major, Opus 88, by Antonin DvoÅÖák; and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, by Felix Mendelssohn.

Zollman arrived in Havana last week to rehearse with the orchestra, as part of New Year’s musical events. A concert will take place on Saturday, December 16, to celebrate the 77th birthday of the renowned soprano Maria Eugenia Barrios.

There is also a special program by choirs, including the Cuban National Choir, directed by Digna Guerra, who will sing Christmas songs on Thursday, December 21.

Schola Cantorum Coralina, directed by Alina Orraca, will join the festivities on Saturday, December 16, at the San Felipe Neri Oratory, where Ronald Zollman gives workshops on chamber music and orchestra direction every year to ISA music students, who are members of the Orchestra-School, attached to the Mozart Lyceum of Havana.

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Dec 11 ( – The pioneering eco-village of Las Terrazas, created in 1994, in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of the Sierra del Rosario is a model of sustainable rural development based on successful tourism since it was launched 23 years ago. Since the founding of the Las Terrazas Community, tourism has been its livelihood through the Las Terrazas Complex.

It is considered the first Eco-Museum of Cuba, and is a national and international reference point. In addition, the community has a great cultural life, which can be seen in the incessant creative activity of several workshops specializing in painting, serigraphy, ceramics, woodworking and plant fibres.

The Las Terrazas Complex has created 256 new jobs and has managed to consolidate the area as a tourism destination, while also achieving sustained growth of income, which in turn, raised the standard of living and purchasing power of the community.

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