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Subject: Cuban Speaks on Embargo
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Title: Cuban poet denounces embargo
Houston `Chronicle' reports on tour of Norberto Codina
Cuban poet denounces embargo: Houston `Chronicle' reports on tour of Norberto Codina
By Jo Ann Zuñga, in the Militant, Vol. 59, no. 41
6 November 1995
The editor of Cuba's leading literary magazine predicted
that strong criticism by a summit of Latin American leaders
to the U.S. trade embargo against his country would fall on
deaf ears in Congress.
Norberto Codina, the editor of La Gaceta, who is
visiting Houston this week to lecture at the University of
Houston and Rice University as part of a cultural exchange
program, said that Latin American leaders do not speak with
"But no matter how strongly the countries would have
demanded a stop to the blockade, it would not have affected
U.S. policy," he said.
"The United States does not listen to its own people, to
its academics who oppose the embargo, to the majority of
U.S. citizens who follow Latin American policy.
"Is that democracy?"
In a communique' issued at the end of a two-day summit
Tuesday in Bariloche, Argentina, leaders of 21 Latin
American countries as well as Spain and Portugal expressed
their sharp opposition to a bill in Congress that would
tighten the trade embargo.
Congress is debating a proposal by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-
N.C., and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., that would tighten the
34-year-old embargo against Cuba by penalizing foreign
firms that trade with Havana.
Codina, an award-winning poet, came here as part of a
cultural exchange program between University of Houston
student organizations and groups at the University of
Despite the embargo, which bans most travel from Cuba to
the United States, Codina received a visa from the U.S.
State Department on an educational waiver that allows
academics and journalists to travel between the two
Most U.S. citizens are banned from traveling to Cuba, 90
miles from the Florida coast, yet they can visit other
countries such as China that are ruled by communist
governments, said Codina, a Venezuelan native who has lived
in Cuba since 1959, the year Fidel Castro took control of
the government. Codina was 8 years old then.
The recent growth of private enterprises and open
markets has helped the Cuban economy, Codina said. But the
blockade continues to strangle the country, denying it the
opportunity to purchase even basic supplies such as food.
"The situation continues to be difficult, but it's an
improvement from a year ago. It's less tense, but it
remains harder for the average Cuban," Codina said.
Food rationing will continue to protect the poor, who
are unable to afford high prices for such staples as rice
and beans, he said.
But he said that Cuba continues to record the lowest
infant mortality rate of any Latin American country and has
an average life expectancy of 76 years.
Witnessing media coverage of the Million-Man March on
Washington, Codina said blacks in communist Cuba receive
more educational opportunities and face less racial
polarization than in the United States.
"The mere fact that there was such a march and the
different reactions to the O.J. Simpson trial show a level
of racial polarization that we do not have in Cuba," he
Although blacks were originally taken to the island as
slaves on sugar plantations, they have reached an equal
social standing in the years since the Cuban revolution
brought Castro to power, Codina said.
"The best access to civil rights is the ability to read
and write," he said. "Cuba is the most literate of all
Latin American countries and has one of the highest sales
Yet human rights remain a sore point, with Cuba having
been accused of jailing political prisoners, and kidnapping
and killing opponents of the government.
But writers and artists are given the freedom of
expression, he said. While having many fine literary
talents, Cuba has never kept away cultural influence from
the United States and Europe.
"We have a much greater freedom and more plural society
than what is thought of from the outside," he said.
As historic proof, he told of how Cuba's revolutionary
hero, Jose' Marti', translated Walt Whitman into Spanish
for all of Latin America.
Ernest Hemingway, who maintained residences in Cuba and
used the islands as a backdrop for some of his works, is
still considered one of Cuba's most important writers,
La Gaceta magazine also "breaks the borders" with some
of its articles actually published from Cuban writers in
Miami, he said, adding:
"We do not concentrate on revolutionary themes, but
focus more on existential themes.
"Love and death," he said, "are always with us."
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