Fla. marine scientists blocked from Cuba research
Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, at 10:09 a.m
TAMPA, Fla. — Marine biologists who study the Gulf of Mexico have a joke: The FBI, the DEA, the CIA — none of them have anything on scientists when it comes to tracking the flow of secretive traffic between Cuba and the United States.
“They have not gotten the memo,” quipped David Vaughan, with Sarasota-based Mote Marine Laboratory, whose international criminals are not spies but spiny lobsters — as well as sharks and dolphins. “They are constantly breaking the travel embargo.”
But one group of scientists isn’t laughing any more, instead watching helplessly as they become the next punch line in marine biology.
Like all employees of Florida’s public universities, scientists are prohibited by a law passed in 2006 from using state money for travel to Cuba.
More than most scientists, though, marine biologists see access to the communist island nation just 90 miles off Florida’s shores as the difference between success and failure in their field.
Now, they’re being left further behind as researchers from other states and from private institutions in Florida scramble to take advantage of new signs that Cuba relations are improving: an easing of travel restrictions by the White House, an agreement to cooperate in oil spills, even a tour by the University of Tampa baseball team.
Scientists already have begun collaborating with their counterparts in Cuba on research that could reverse the deterioration of coral reefs, prevent overfishing, and lead to better understanding of the Gulf ecosystem.
They’re doing work that could benefit Florida. They’re just not from USF, the University of Florida or Florida State University.
“We are connected,” said Donald Behringer, an assistant professor at UF’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation & Emerging Pathogens Institute. “In order to understand our own ecosystem we also have to understand Cuba’s.
“Unfortunately, it is more difficult for us in Florida than any other state in the United States to work with Cuba.”
Senate Bill 2434, titled “Travel To Terrorist State,” forbids money that flows through a state university — including grants from private foundations — to be used for travel to a nation on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba is on the list.
Sponsored by former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, the bill was passed in 2006 without a single no vote in either the Florida House or Senate then signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush.
Florida is the only state in the country with such a prohibition.
Professors can use their own money to travel to Cuba for research, but only on personal time. And it’s an expensive trip.
“I’ve been able to cobble together money for a plane ticket and go to Cuba a few times,” said Behringer, “but it’s hard. Faculty members from other states can use research money to pay their way. This puts Florida schools at a disadvantage.”
An American who worked on a new oil spill cleanup protocol involving five gulf nations, including the U.S. and Cuba, said he is confident this agreement will pave the way for future collaboration on environmental issues between the U.S. and Cuba.
When that day comes, said Dan Whittle of the Environmental Defense Fund, protocols will be based on research projects already under way.
The oil spill agreement, brokered and advanced through meetings in Tampa, awaits publication by the Coast Guard before it becomes official.
“There is so much expertise at public universities in Florida,” said Whittle, who directs the fund’s work on marine and coastal ecosystems in Cuba. “It’s a shame their hands are so tied.”
Researcher Vaughan, director of tropical research with the private Mote Marine Laboratory, said new agreements and protocols will be an opportunity for U.S. scientists to make contributions to the environment they once thought impossible because of politics. Vaughan specializes in coral reefs and works with Cuban scientists.
Shut out of these new opportunities, Florida’s public school professors fear losing out on more than a role in new discoveries. Florida may also lose out on attracting the brightest marine biology students.
The University of North Carolina, for example, has an annual student summer expedition to Cuba to study the coral reefs off its shores. The University of Tampa has a marine biology department and though it has no plans to visit Cuba, other departments at the private school and the baseball team have.
“Obtaining knowledge is always important,” said Frank Muller-Karger, a professor at the USF College of Marine Science. “Sure, we can learn what another researcher discovered in Cuba. But top students want to develop knowledge.”
Proponents of the 2006 act said at the time that any travel to Cuba financially supports an oppressive regime.
Gov. Rick Scott, asked about the lingering impact on Florida universities, echoed that sentiment in a statement to the Tribune last week.
“Governor Scott is committed to growing opportunities so Florida families can succeed and live the American Dream,” said John Tupps, Scott’s deputy press secretary, “and he is firmly opposed to the Castro regime that works to oppress such opportunity and freedom.”
State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat whose district includes the University of South Florida, was part of the unanimous vote in 2006 but says now that times have changed.
“It’s a different world today,” Joyner said. “We need to acknowledge that.”
There are no signs today of efforts to overturn the law, even at the university level.
USF issued this statement to The Tampa Tribune last week: “The University of South Florida stands for the core values of academic freedom and the open exchange of knowledge and ideas in the least restrictive environment possible. The current restrictions were enacted in the political process and we recognize that is where they will be resolved.”
Of the six marine biology professors from state universities who were asked for comment on the issue, all agreed the law hurts their institutions, but only Behringer from UF and USF’s Muller-Karger would speak on the record against it.
The others said they were concerned about getting involved in politics.
Muller-Karger had this response: “The reaction you describe shows that people are actually quite worried about how the state may interpret their interest in working these issues, or just worried stiff about speaking about a binding Florida law.”
He added, “This has nothing to do with politics. It is about knowledge, managing our resources and doing what is best for our environment.”
The law forbidding state money from funding trips to Cuba affects other disciplines.
Those studying Latin American art, music, language, politics, geology and history could benefit from visiting the Communist nation. But marine biology stands out as a field where advances in research stand to directly benefit the state of Florida more than any other region on earth.
“So no one else is as affected by what goes on in Cuban waters than Florida” said Muller-Karger.
Marine biologists call it “connectivity.”
For instance, spiny lobsters served in Tampa restaurants could have hatched from eggs laid in Cuba and made their way to Florida in the Gulf’s currents. Much of the snapper and grouper that supports Florida’s fish industry could also originate in or pass through Cuban waters.
To better understand this marine life, scientists track their travels between the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, Florida and Cuba. Learning where each species originates can help in reaching agreements on fishing limits and other protective measures.
Still, coral reefs are the top priority for U.S. marine biologists working with Cuba.
Scientists predict that by 2050, all coral reefs will be in danger from pollution and changes in water temperature and sea levels.
Natural reefs in Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties generate an estimated $3.4 billion in income a year through recreation, education and science.
More importantly, reefs protect coasts by reducing wave energy from storms and hurricanes. And as home to more than 4,000 species of fish and countless species of plants, coral reefs support some 25 percent of all known marine species.
Whether a coral reef is off the shores of Cuba or the U.S., the waters they share suffers from its degradation. In addition, coral larvae from Cuba finds its way to reefs in Florida and vice versa.
So if a reef in Cuba disappears, it has a ripple effect, said John Bruno, a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina.
“If the coral babies in Florida come from Cuba,” Bruno said, “then that would be a big problem for the state.”
Bruno’s students travel annually to Cuba and the reef they seek out most is the pristine “Gardens of the Queen,” or Jardines de la Reina.
Most of Cuba’s reefs are in decline, said Vaughan of Mote Marine, but “la Reina” remains healthy.
He believes U.S. researchers can help other reefs by learning its secret to survival.
Cuba, in turn, can benefit from more advanced U.S. technology, said Whittle with the Environmental Defense Fund.
A forum was established in 2007 to formalize this kind of cooperation — the Tri-National Workshop, attended by top marine biologists from Mexico, Cuba and the U.S.
“We can learn more by working with other country’s scientists,” Whittle said. “We share their knowledge, we share ours, and we work together to find out how we can help one another.”
Mote Marine, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy are private, U.S.-based participants.
Florida’s public universities are not at the table. Neither is U.S., making it the only of the three nations without government involvement.
“We’re working together,” Vaughan said, “to find out answers to things we could not know as individuals.”
This video says about itself:
The Middle Passage CLIP
3 July 2012
The story of an African slave who was sold into slavery by the King of Dahomey, shackled and transported on a journey shared with some six hundred others– a journey barely half would survive.
Soundtrack in English and Spanish with subtitles in English, Spanish and French; closed captioned.
This video says about itself:
The Middle Passage, Documentary by Steven Spielberg
2 Nov 2013
Narrated by Debbie Allen
For weeks, months, sometimes as long as a year, they waited in the dungeons of the slave factories scattered along Africa’s western coast. They had already made the long, difficult journey from Africa’s interior — but just barely. Out of the roughly 20 million who were taken from their homes and sold into slavery, half didn’t complete the journey to the African coast, most of those dying along the way.
And the worst was yet to come.
By Gordon Parsons in Britain:
Books: The Amistad Rebellion
Tuesday 7th January 2013
Contemporary lessons in story of courage and solidarity
The Amistad Rebellion
By Marcus Rediker
Steven Spielberg’s 1997 film, Amistad brought to popular attention a major event in the long continuing struggle against slavery. A three minute viewing of the You Tube clip The Middle Passage – from the film – will convey something of the ghastly journey suffered by the estimated 12 million slaves shipped from Africa to America over four centuries.
This video is called Amistad 28 Movie CLIP The Middle Passage 1997 HD.
Marcus Rediker’s book – subtitled An Atlantic Odyssey Of Slavery And Freedom – does much more than retell the momentous events of the first successful slave revolt in 1839.
When a small group of multi-ethnic Africans, already shipped from the slave “factories” of Sierra Leone to Havana’s concentration camp barracoons and now shipped onward aboard the Amistad – ironically Spanish for friendship – to the hell of Cuba’s sugar plantations, escaped their chains and seized the ship, killing the captain and some others of the crew, they energised the anti-slavery movements in US and Britain.
Picked up by the US navy and interned in New Haven, Connecticut, the Mendi people – self-named after the main tribal group in their homeland – spent three years anxiously waiting for the US courts to decide their fate – doomed chattels to be returned to the slave owners or free men with the opportunity to return to Africa.
During that time, under the leadership of the charismatic Joseph Cinque and with the help of abolitionists, they educated and organised themselves playing a major part in the popular cultural explosion that spawned massive interest through not only the trials but the concomitant journalistic and artistic coverage, including theatrical reproductions of the rebellion.
In the process the public at large were themselves educated into recognising slavery with a human face not as a soulless economic problem.
This recognition resulted in the US legal system, never the most progressive entity, freeing the Mendi people in 1841 to return to Africa in triumph – a significant victory for them and for the antislavery movement.
Essentially, however, the author establishes that the survival of the group through both the vicissitudes of their transportation and subsequent imprisonment was largely owing to having come from societies “in which the common good of the group almost always came before individual preference.”
This unity was ironically welded by the efforts to Christianise the Africans into “new people” and through necessarily learning English “a language community became a political community.”
This video from the USA says about itself:
The Right Wing Vs Nelson Mandela
6 Dec 2013
“The world is celebrating Nelson Mandela as a selfless visionary who led his country out of the grips of apartheid into democracy and freedom. But some of the very people lavishing praise on South Africa’s first black president worked tirelessly to undermine his cause and portray the African National Congress he lead as pawns of the Soviet Union.
In fact, American conservatives have long been willing to overlook South Africa’s racist apartheid government in service of fighting communism abroad…”.* The timeline of efforts and propaganda against Mandela is broken down by Cenk Uygur, Ana Kasparian, John Iadarola (host, TYT University and Common Room) and comedian Jimmy Dore on The Young Turks.
*Read more here.
Though the rain poured down mercilessly, ten thousands of people in the stadium kept singing and dancing to celebrate the life of, and to honour this deceased freedom fighter.
There were various speeches by politicians. Namibia was the only African country apart from South Africa with its own speaker.
One of the speeches was by Barack Obama, president of the United States. Before speaking, he shook hands with Raul Castro, president of Cuba; also an orator today, announced as “a speaker from a tiny island which helped to liberate us”.
This video, recorded in Soweto today, is called Raul Castro Speech at Nelson Mandela Memorial.
The Secret History of How Cuba Helped End Apartheid in South Africa: here.
Oops – John McCain Blasts Obama-Raul Castro Handshake, Forgets He Met With Al-Qaeda Fighters: here.
John McCain admits Castro-Hitler comparison was “gross exaggeration”: here.
This video, recorded in South Africa, says about itself:
Obama’s Complete Nelson Mandela Memorial Speech
10 Dec 2013
Let us take a closer look at the eulogy for Mandela by Obama. We know he is a very good orator. Now, from form to content. What were the strong points and the weak points in his speech? What did he say; what did he not say?
A strong point was comparing Nelson Mandela to other famous freedom fighters: Mahatma Gandhi; Dr Martin Luther King; and Abraham Lincoln. Three individuals, when they were still alive, loved by millions all over the world. But also with bitter enemies among powerful privileged people. Three individuals with an extreme Right fringe still hating them today. Like with Mandela.
Obama, deservedly, got much applause when he mentioned Mandela‘s fellow fighters against Apartheid: Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu. People, who, together with Nelson Mandela, had been put on a list of “terrorists” by previous United States governments. Oliver Tambo died in 1993; still on the US government list of “terrorists”. Walter Sisulu died in 2003; still on the US government list of “terrorists”.
Here, Obama might have said: “Nelson Mandela was only removed from the United States list of terrorists in 2011. What a shame that he was ever put on it. And what a shame that Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and others died while still being on that hateful list. I apologize”. Obama did not say that. Maybe, he looked at the stadium bleachers, and saw George W Bush sitting there. And Obama did not want to dissociate himself too much from his predecessor’s policies. What a pity.
Dutch NOS TV, reporting on the Mandela farewell ceremony, mentioned briefly that in 1962, the Apartheid regime probably had been able to arrest Mandela because the United States CIA had tipped the racist South African government off.
A point which Raul Castro did mention briefly was Nelson Mandela’s pro-peace views. Obama might have said: “Mandela was a strong opponent of the Iraq war. I opposed that war then as well. So, I have no trouble admitting that Nelson Mandela was right in this”. Obama did not say that. A missed chance. Oh yes, briefly, in passing, Obama mentioned the word “peace”. Without connecting it to any speech or action by Nelson Mandela. Without connecting it to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or elsewhere where United Stsates armed forces recently, or still today, waged or still wage war.
Correctly, Obama implied that some of the politicians now joining in the mourning for Mandela are insincere, as, contrary to the spirit of the African liberation fighter, they oppress their people. However, he did not mention that so many of these hypocritical politicians are close allies of the United States government: like the British Conservatives and the Spanish Partido Popular. And Obama did not mention how often United States government policies; in Guantanamo Bay torture prison, which Obama promised to close but which is still open; in CIA secret prisons in many countries; in drone attacks killing civilians; in NSA spying on billions of people all over the world; are at variance with Mandela’s ideals of democracy.
When President Obama denounced world leaders who praised Nelson Mandela while crushing dissent and resisting reform in their own countries, he should have had a look in the mirror: here.
Mandela’s fight against nuclear weapons – by @VincentIntondi: here.
Nelson Mandela, Feminist: here.
The Nelson Mandela of the 21st century is right here, right now. We just can’t see it. We’re too busy spitting on him and calling him a terrorist: here.
- President Barack Hussein Obama Eulogizes President Nelson Madiba Mandela In South Africa (theobamacrat.com)
- Barack Obama and Raúl Castro among speakers at Nelson Mandela memorial (theguardian.com)
- Historic handshake at Nelson Mandela memorial between Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro (mirror.co.uk)
From Andy Worthington’s blog:
Award-Winning Soul Singer Esperanza Spalding Calls for Closure of Guantánamo in New Song, “We Are America”
In the long and ignoble history of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, those who have fought to secure its closure have generally labored without the kind of celebrity endorsement that tends to secure mass appeal for political causes. This year, however, celebrities began to take notice when the majority of the 164 prisoners still held embarked on a hunger strike to draw the world’s attention to their ongoing plight, and to remind people that over half of them — 84 men in total — had been cleared for release by an inter-agency task force that President Obama established shortly after taking office In January 2009.
The fact that these men were still held — and that justice appeared to have gone AWOL in the cases of the majority other prisoners still held — encouraged the best-selling novelist John Grisham to write an op-ed about Guantánamo for the New York Times on August (which I wrote about here), focusing on the case of Nabil Hadjarab, an Algerian national, who, Grisham discovered, had been prevented from reading his books. Nabil was freed soon after, although sadly the decision by the British singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey to record a song about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, did not lead to his release, although nearly 100,000 people have listened to the song.
The latest celebrity to call for the closure of Guantánamo is Esperanza Spalding, a singer, songwriter and bassist who won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011. Her song, “We Are America,” with its accompanying video that features cameos by Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte and Janelle Monáe, is posted below, and is excellent — a soulful call for justice that ought to be rallying cry for all Americans who believe in the law, and who ought to be appalled that men are being held indefinitely without charge or trial at Guantánamo.
This is the chorus of “We Are America”:
I am America
And my America
It don’t stand for this
We are America
In our America
We take a stand for this
In addition, noticeable amongst the lyrics is Esperanza’s call, “Let them out,” which refers to the 84 prisoners cleared for release but still held, and her call for “justice for the men who should be free.” Also featured in the video are quotes from significant figures — including President Obama and Sen. John McCain, speaking about the need for Guantánamo to be closed.
I do hope you have time to watch the video, and that you will share it as widely as possible.
The video is accompanied by the following message, urging US listeners to tell their Senators to support the version of the National Defense Authorization Act that the Senate is voting on this week, which will help President Obama to close Guantánamo, and which I wrote about in detail here:
Take a stand. Call the US Capitol Switchboard (1-202-224-3121) to connect you to your two US Senators and your Congressional Representative. Tell them:
- I am your constituent and I want you to support closing Guantánamo.
- Indefinite detention and unfair trials are illegal, un-American and unnecessary.
I was also pleased to note that the Wall Street Journal covered the story, in which Esperanza said (by phone from Spain, where she was on tour), “I don’t have any prison experience, but it’s really hard to fathom being imprisoned in a place against your will and not to be charged with anything, not to have the ability to defend yourself, and to be there indefinitely. It’s hard to wrap your mind around it.”
She also said, “My wish is that the information in the video will pique people’s interest enough to go, ‘Hmm, I didn’t know all that,’” and, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “prompt them to learn more.”
I was also interested in the response to the song from the authorities at Guantánamo, as reported in the Miami Herald. Although Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale called it “an evocative performance,” he added, “the artists involved in this particular song and video leave out this crucially important piece of information: Until Congress changes the law regarding the transfer requirements for detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, the department will continue to humanely safeguard those in its charge there.”
Whilst it was predictable that “humane” treatment of the prisoners was stressed — despite medical professionals agreeing that force-feeding is abusive and unacceptable — it was interesting that Lt. Col. Breasseale specifically blamed Congress for the fact that Guantánamo is still open, even though the blame also lies with President Obama, who has largely lacked the political will to challenge lawmakers, or to use a veto in the existing legislation to bypass them completely. However, it was also interesting to see that Lt. Col. Breasseale also followed the White House line about why the prison’s continued existence is unacceptable, when he said, “To be completely clear: We agree with the President. The facility is wildly expensive, it lessens cooperation with our allies, and keeping it open is outside of America’s best interests as it serves as a continued recruiting tool for extremists.”
Below is Esperanza Spalding’s op-ed and the interview:
Music to shine a light on Guantánamo Bay
By Esperanza Spalding, Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2013
I finally read all of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” this spring while I was on tour for my album “Radio Music Society.” At about the same time, the hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay detention center hit the headlines. Soon, scores of men were being force-fed. The more I learned about what was going on at Guantánamo, the more I realized that the truths King expressed in his famous letter were back in our faces: “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
I vowed to do something. When I got home, I called my representative and senators and expressed my support for a just closure of Guantánamo. Then I called my friends and asked them to do the same. But that wasn’t enough: 84 men cleared for release by our national security agencies years ago were still sitting at Guantánamo. I left to go back on tour, but the burning question remained: What else can I do?
At a “Radio Music Society” band dinner, we talked about Guantánamo and realized we shared a deep concern about the issues it raises. Those talks inspired a song, and then a music video — “We Are America” — that we hope will mobilize support for closing the facility. As the project crystallized, I reached out to more friends — some who happen to be quite well known — and they agreed to support our effort by making cameo appearances in the video.
Throughout the process, and after consulting with the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch, our resolve kept growing. We believe that the blatant injustice of detention without charge at Guantánamo violates not just U.S. human rights obligations but also our basic values and principles.
Of the 779 men who have been held at the facility since it was opened in 2002, only seven have ever been convicted of any charges in military tribunals. Two of those convictions have been overturned on appeal. Another six men are on trial now, and the government says it will only prosecute seven more. That means that of the 164 men being held (many of whom have been there for almost 12 years), about 150 are being held without charges, and they will never be charged.
King’s Birmingham letter emphasizes that concern for justice and equality is not enough to remedy the systematic violation of human rights: “[I am] compelled to carry the gospel of freedom far beyond my own home town…,” he wrote. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
With the release of “We Are America,” we hope to shine a light for our fellow Americans on these nitty-gritty facts:
The Obama administration has the ability to transfer the 84 detainees who have already been cleared for release out of Guantánamo, and other detainees could soon be cleared by newly established review boards. However, current law needlessly places obstacles in the way of accomplishing that.
Now, the Senate has begun to change that. Provisions in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act passed out of the Senate Arms Services Committee will break down some of these obstacles and give the president more flexibility to make transfers out of the detention facility. The full Senate will begin debate on the act, and those provisions, in the coming days.
Specifically, Sections 1031 to 1034 of the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act would permit the transfer of “detainees who have been ordered released by a competent U.S. court” and “would permit transfers for the purpose of detention and trial.” Since 9/11, federal courts have prosecuted hundreds of terrorism cases, and those convicted are currently serving long sentences in high-security federal prisons.
If the Senate and the House of Representatives agree to the Guantánamo provisions in the defense act, the few prisoners in the detention center who face charges could be prosecuted where it makes the most sense, in federal courts.
Radio Music Society (and friends) made “We Are America” because we believe that, while not all of us are called to the front lines like Martin Luther King Jr., we can all support our elected officials in doing the right thing.
Why did Esperanza Spalding record a song about Guantánamo?
By Josefina Salomon, Amnesty International, November 18, 2013
Q: What motivated you to start this whole project to begin with, what was the spark?
Esperanza Spalding: It was the first time I heard about the hunger strike. I was touring in Europe and I was appalled and embarrassed about what was happening. I remember I started researching online to see what I could do about it and I saw that I could download this action pack. With that you had some important info to use to call your representative. And I did, I did call my representative and Senators. In fact, I got a letter back from one Senator who basically said that she was not going to proactively deal with it but that they would ‘keep my comments in mind’, or something like that. But I really wanted to do more. And my band actually came to me first and said they wanted to do something too.
Q: And why do you think this particular issue is important to you — I mean there are a lot of causes you could latch on to — why this one?
Esperanza Spalding: Well, I guess from seeing my mom stick her neck out for other people many times over the years. She is someone who can’t stand injustice anytime. I think her example has affected me, but I’m usually not as brave as her to speak up. At some point in our lives, we’ve all been a silent witness to someone getting screwed over and it can be really confusing and scary to stand up for them. Particularly when they may be part of an unpopular or stigmatized group. I guess in this particular case, I was thinking of the man who has been picked up in his country or a country he was visiting, minding his own business, thrown into this detention center where he is degraded and humiliated; his holy book, his holy text that he sees as sacred, is desecrated, is disrespected; he doesn’t even have access to a fair opportunity to defend his own innocence. I see that and I think: “Oh my god!” He needs a champion.
Q: And what exactly do you mean by champion — what kind of champion are you talking about?
Esperanza Spalding: Well, I know that he has a champion in his lawyer. He has a champion in his family. He has a champion in the human rights community, in these organizations who are working tirelessly for his freedom. But I think he needs a public champion. They need a public champion that helps make it clear that, it’s not about him as an individual, it’s about him as a representative of humanity. That you, him and I have equal rights on this planet. That we’re entitled to those rights just by being a member of our collective humanity and that while I may not identify with or relate to or agree with someone — I could even hate someone — that person is still equally entitled to their own God-given, whoever-given, whatever force-given rights. Intrinsic basic human rights which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that my country ratified, protects.
So, in manifesting that belief, somebody’s got to be a public champion for these men. And I always thought that if I ever got well known in music, that I would want to use my “celebrity” to be a champion for people. So with this particular issue, I noticed the lack of a public champion, a well-known figure anyway. For example, when you think environmental degradation, you think of Leonardo DiCaprio or Matt Damon who have been very vocal about it. Or when you think of child malnutrition or poverty, you may think of Angelina Jolie. But when you think about the human rights violations happening at Guantánamo , you think of people in orange jumpsuits tying themselves to the fence in DC — they are the most public figures connected to Guantánamo . And I thought that’s not fair. So I thought if … if my star is bright enough, I can be their champion for this — I want to be that.
Q: And you mentioned your mother just a bit ago — what about her or your background do you think has had an impact on your motivations with this project?
Esperanza Spalding: I remember in elementary school, there was this little bratty, annoying and destructive little boy in my class that the teacher had a hard time with because he was such a pain in the butt! He was acting out and really just behaving terribly. He didn’t do homework, and would never behave. I remember distinctly my mom seeing past all of that and one day noticing he was squinting in the direction of the teacher. My mother asked him if he could see the chalkboard. I don’t know how she had the insight to do that. He didn’t really answer. She just had a feeling, so she convinced the school nurse to give him an eye exam, and it turned out he was nearly blind. This kid was nearly blind. And he was in a home situation where his parents didn’t really care that he was nearly blind, and so she, my mother, became his surrogate advocate at school. She made sure this kid got glasses. Not that it changed his behavior immediately because there were much deeper issues happening. But, what she was championing for was his ability to participate in education.
Q: So she recognized that there might be something else behind what was going on there?
Esperanza Spalding: Right! And she was his champion even though it wasn’t her “duty” — she just proactively did it. That was not out of character for her, but once I could grasp that he was suffering, on some level, I felt embarrassed because I had always joined in with the general dislike of this kid. Then, there goes my mom patiently talking to him, the only one who thought of taking this kid to get his eyes checked. That really had an impact on me — on my mind. And now I think, “Wow, go Mom … that was great!” you know? So, something in that experience is related to my concern for this issue. We have to see past all of the stereotypes, all the negativity, the stigma, the culture of resistance and fear, and go straight to the basic intrinsic rights of all people and fight for that. So that it’s not for any individual person, it’s about the basic human rights of all people.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
- Let em go, Esperanza Spalding sings in Guantánamo protest video (miamiherald.com)
- A musical appeal to close Gitmo, by Esperanza Spalding (blogs.ottawacitizen.com)
- Esperanza Spalding Wants Gitmo Closed (storify.com)
- Bill offers chance for Guantanamo progress (msnbc.com)
- Esperanza Spaulding Protests ‘Guantanamo Injustice’ In New Video (colorlines.com)
- Last UK Guantanamo inmate speaks out (bbc.co.uk)
- Last British resident in Guantánamo Bay: we are treated like animals (theguardian.com)
- Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding to perform “Gaia” with DSO (themorningsun.com)
This video is about Bayamo in Cuba.
From Prensa Latina news agency:
Cuban Village Celebrates 500th Anniversary
Bayamo, Cuba, Nov 5. The eastern Bayamo, first National Monument City in Cuba, celebrates today its 500th anniversary, and recalls important events in history, such as the liberation struggles against the Spanish colonial domination.
Named originally San Salvador, this was the second village built by Spanish colonizer Diego Velasquez on November 5, 1513, and is now the capital of Granma province, located in the island’s southeast region. Its first settlement is not known exactly, but soon changed its location to the aboriginal community of Bayamo, and adopted its current name.
In this province, where the modern and colonial architecture converge, the Cubans for the first time rose up in arms against the Spanish power on October 10, 1868.
Bayamo survived the flames of a fire caused by its own inhabitants, who preferred to burn the city down rather than surrendering it to colonial authorities.
Caribbean history: here.
This music video is called PJ Harvey-Shaker Aamer.
From daily The Morning Star in Britain:
Harvey puts out song for last Briton in Guantanamo
Sunday 04 August 2013
The singer-songwriter, whose latest award-winning album Let England Shake is anti-war commentary, recorded the new song called Shaker Aamer in protest against his detention at the US prison – despite having been cleared for release by both ex-president George Bush and Barack Obama.
Reprieve‘s director and lawyer for Mr Aamer Clive Stafford Smith said: “We hope that people listen to this song and think about Shaker’s plight – detained for 11 long years at Guantanamo, without charge or trial.
“PJ Harvey has written a wonderful song.
“I know Shaker will be deeply moved by it and I only hope that, with the support of the public, he will one day be able to listen to it in freedom.”
The song Shaker Aamer is available as a free download and audio stream at www.soundcloud.com/reprieve.
The lyrics of the song are here.
See also here.
Lawyers for hunger-striking Guantanamo detainees said today they have filed an appeal with the Federal Court of Appeal in Washington DC against ongoing force-feeding.
Today is Guantánamo’s 12th anniversary, and there’s no end in sight. Out of 779 detainees, only seven have been convicted and sentenced. The US must end this costly disgrace: here.
- PJ Harvey releases Guantánamo song (theguardian.com)
- PJ Harvey Records New Song For Shaker Aamer, Last Remaining British Resident in Gitmo (notthesingularity.com)
- PJ Harvey – “Shaker Aamer” (stereogum.com)
- PJ Harvey Releases New Track About Guantanamo Bay Detainee (contactmusic.com)
- UK singer backs Guantanamo detainee (bigpondnews.com)
- Harvey backs Guantanamo detainee (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)
- Comic Frankie Boyle goes on hunger strike in support of Shaker Aamer – the last British detainee in Guantánamo Bay (independent.co.uk)
- PJ Harvey’s Harrowing & Brilliant Protest Song in Support of Guantanamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer (dissenter.firedoglake.com)
- Hear PJ Harvey’s new song for Guantánamo prisoner Shaker Aamer (dangerousminds.net)
- P.J. Harvey Gets Unmistakably Political (inthesetimes.com)
In 24 hours, President Obama could end more than a decade of injustice by finally closing Guantanamo — the world’s most notorious prison camp. While he preps for a major speech to respond to hunger-striking detainees, let’s send him a massive message: no more excuses — the world demands he close this American gulag down. Sign now:
In 24 hours, President Obama could finally move to close Guantanamo — the most notorious prison camp on earth.
With inmates on a 100-day hunger strike and the UN denouncing their force feeding as torture, Obama has been pushed to respond with a major speech about the prison. If enough of us demand a plan — he could free the prisoners already cleared for release, and appoint a White House official with one mission: close Guantanamo down!
We’re at a tipping point. Sign up to demand Obama close this shameful gulag down, and share the shocking facts below so others join this urgent call:
The facts speak for themselves:
- Detainees in Guantanamo now: 166
- Detainees facing active charges: 6
- Detainees cleared for immediate release, but stuck in the camp: 86
- Guantanamo inmates on hunger strike: 103
- Hunger strikers strapped down and force fed: 30
- Prisoners who have died in custody: 9
- Children the US has held at Guantanamo: 21
- Detainees tried in civilian court: 1
- “Unreleasable” detainees who can’t be tried for lack of evidence or torture: 50
- Prisoners released by the Bush administration: 500+
- Prisoners released by the Obama administration: 72
- Current annual cost to US taxpayers: $150 million
- Days since Obama first pledged to close Gitmo: 1579
- Days since first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo: 11 years, 4 months, 11 days
For years, Obama has blamed the US Congress for the failure to close Guantanamo. But since Congress granted the Defense Department waiver authority that allows prisoners who have been cleared to be transferred out, Obama himself can free these 86 men. And while he will need Congressional cooperation to close the prison completely, if he truly wants to shut it down, he can task someone at the White House right now to show it is a priority and make it happen.
Sign now to demand Obama announce a plan to close Guantanamo, and share this with everyone — let’s build an urgent global call to end this shame.
When he first campaigned to become US president, Obama promised to close Guantanamo down. This illegal and repulsive prison has led to far too much suffering and fuelled great divisions and hate in our world. Enough is enough. Let’s get Obama to act and close this painful scar on humanity.
With hope and determination,
Dalia, Joseph, Allison, Bissan, Nick, Alice, Ricken and the whole Avaaz team
PS – Many Avaaz campaigns are started by members of our community! Start yours now and win on any issue – local, national or global: http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/start_a_petition/?bgMYedb&v=25040
Obama to address Guantánamo and drones in major defence speech (The Guardian)
Guantanamo by the numbers (ACLU)
Gitmo is killing me (The New York Times)
How Gitmo imprisoned Obama (Newsweek)
Stop force-feeding inmates and close Gitmo (CNN. Op-Ed)
Guantanamo hunger strike enters 100th day (Aljazeera English)
Three Guantanamo Bay prisoners who’ve been on hunger strike for 100 days (VICE)
Yemen wants it’s detainees out of Guantanamo (UPI)
Why We Have Cautious Optimism Regarding President Obama’s Plans for Guantánamo: here.
A former Guantanamo Bay inmate called on the US to close the notorious concentration camp at the weekend as the number of hunger strikers rose to 104 of 166 prisoners: here.
A Medical Ethics-free Zone? Guantánamo Doctors Urged to Stop Force-Feeding Hunger-Striking Prisoners: here.
Veterans Arrested At White House Guantanamo Protest. Vietnam Veteran Diane Wilson Goes Over White House Fence: here.
The US government defended the force-feeding of hunger strikers at the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp on Wednesday: here.
- Guantanamo ends now. (theglobaloyster.wordpress.com)
- Guantanamo hunger strike enters 100th day (aljazeera.com)
- Barack Obama under pressure as Guantanamo hunger strike passes 100th day (abc.net.au)
- Gitmo hunger strike passes 100-day mark (guantanamobayinfo.wordpress.com)
- ‘Political football’: Gitmo detainees ‘abandoned’ by US government (guantanamobayinfo.wordpress.com)
- RT: ‘Guantanamo guards shot my client 5 times for no reason’ (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
- American Gulag: Guantanamo hunger strike enters 100th day (sott.net)
- Anonymous: Solidarity with Guantanamo Hunger Strike (bsnorrell.blogspot.com)
- White House: Drones have killed 4 Americans – Philly.com (philly.com)
- US steps up efforts to break Guantánamo hunger strike (givemeliberty01.com)
This video is the first part of the film Wan Pipel.
From Prensa Latina news agency:
Tribute to Surinamese Filmmaker in Cuba
Paramaribo, May 14 – Surinamese filmmaker Pim de la Parra will be honored during the 4th annual Dutch Film Week, scheduled from May 17 to 25 in Havana, where he will travel on Thursday, according to reports in this capital.
On this occasion, the Cuban audience will appreciate the film Wan Pipel (One People, 1976), the first film shot in Suriname after its independence, restored and digitized in 2010.
The film, considered an absolute classic film of that Caribbean nation, will be shown by its director Pim de la Parra in what will be its Cuban premiere.
De la Parra told the local newspaper Ware Tijd that he is excited about screening Wan Pipel in the Spanish speaking region, 37 years after it was made.
- Murdered Surinamese workers remembered musically (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- Ernest Hemingway in Cuba and the USA (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- Cuba Hosts CELAC Coordination Meeting (youthandeldersja.wordpress.com)
- Surinamese hummingbirds in Dutch zoo (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- Cuban painter Adigio Benitez dies (dearkitty1.wordpress.com)
- Surinamese Food (adventurousglasses.wordpress.com)
- Uncle Ho’s prison diary introduced in Cuba (vietnamnews.vn)
From Prensa Latina news agency:
Hemingway Writings Preserved in Cuba Sent to US
Havana, May 10 – A total of 2,000 unpublished documents written by US author Ernest Hemingway were preserved by Cuban and US specialists as part of a bilateral agreement signed in 2002.
The lot of documents by Hemingway was sent to the US and will be exhibited soon at the Kennedy Library, Boston, Massachusetts, being the second sending from Cuba to the US cultural institution.
Ada Rosa Alfonso, director of the museum, told Prensa Latina that it is an extension of the working agreement for more than 10 years, with the objective that both nations possess a digital copy of the documents.
Specialists from the Andover, Massachusetts North Eastern Center for Document Preservation are working together with Cuban colleagues, she said.
Among the documents there is a letter written to Swedish-born actress Ingrid Bergman talking about Hemingway’s wish she were the starring actress in the famous film “For Whom the Bell Tolls” inspired by the novel with the same name written by Hemingway.
Another significant document is the group of letters addressed to his wife Mary Welsh, shopping lists, travelling itineraries and several of his weather considerations about the hurricanes going through the island between 1939 and 1960.
In the first part of the project, among the preserved documents there were manuscripts on his novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and a sample of the script for the film “The Old Man and the Sea”, also based on a novel written by the famous US writer.
Recently restored and with more than 9.88 acres, the house and farm in which Hemingway lived in Cuba, called Finca Vigia, in San Francisco de Paula, near the Cuban capital, was bought by Hemingway in December 1940.
His yacht, called “Pilar”, was restored with its original colors, registration information and other elements, to recreate the environment that surrounded Hemingway in Cuba.
- Ernest Hemingway’s Cuba Home Items Go To JFK Library (huffingtonpost.com)
- US gets items from Hemingway’s Cuba home (aljazeera.com)
- Ernest Hemingway’s Cuba papers join collection in Boston (cbc.ca)
- Opening a New Window Into Hemingway’s Life, and U.S.-Cuba Ties (chronicle.com)
- With Cuban Help, Kennedy Library Gets Hemingway Papers (repeatingislands.com)
From Prensa Latina news agency:
Cuba Mourns Death of Painter Adigio Benitez
The … designer, illustrator and artist died yesterday, and according to his wishes, his body was cremated and the urn containing his ashes will remain on temporary display at a funeral parlor located in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.
Born in 1924, Benitez felt an interest in the arts starting in his childhood, joining the renowned San Alejandro Academy in 1949.
At that time he already worked with the press on a Socialist Youth magazine of the period.
- Brazil Will Finance Upgrade of Cuban Airports (hispanicallyspeakingnews.com)
- Negotiations to Hire 6,000 Cuban Doctors Being Made Between Brazil And Havana (medindia.net)
- Legendary Cuban Composer Cesar Portillo Dies, Age 90 (hispanicallyspeakingnews.com)
- Cuban bolero giant César Portillo de la Luz dies at 90 (miamiherald.com)