Cuba is first to earn WHO seal for ending mother-baby HIV transmission.

Cuba is first to earn WHO seal for ending mother-baby HIV transmission

A woman has HIV. She becomes pregnant. What are the chances that she can deliver a baby who is not infected?

In some countries, like Yemen, for example, only 11 percent of pregnant women with HIV receive treatment to prevent their babies from being infected. For women who aren’t part of that fortunate group, the chance of passing HIV to their infant is as high as 45 percent.

But in Cuba, the chances are now practically nil. On June 30, Cuba became the first country to receive what can be seen as a global seal of approval — the World Health Organization validation — for essentially eliminating transmission of AIDS from a mother to her baby. (Cuba has eliminated transmission of syphilis as well.)

That doesn’t mean Cuba is on a pedestal all by itself. By 2014, more than 40 countries were testing and treating more than 95 percent of pregnant women; some places, including Anguilla, Barbados, Canada, Montserrat, Puerto Rico and the United States, have likely hit the mark as well. But Cuba is the first to go through the WHO monitoring program, which requires data on transmission for at least two years and an on-site visit by WHO members examining care in all parts of the country, including remote, impoverished and underserved areas.

Here’s how Cuba did it.


Cruise giant Carnival Corp. to launch sailings to Cuba

Carnival will sail to Cuba soon in a new deal announced today. Robert Deutsch, Michael Monday, USA Today

Add cruise giant Carnival Corp. to the list of travel companies starting up trips to Cuba.

The parent company of Carnival, Princess and eight other cruise brands says it’ll launch seven-night “people-to-people” tours to the island via ship beginning in May 2016, contingent on approval by Cuban authorities.

The cruises will be operated bi-weekly out of Miami by the company’s new social impact-focused fathom brand, which will debut in April 2016 with volunteer vacations to the Dominican Republic.

“All of our research suggests there is huge pent-up demand for the Cuba experience,” Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald tells USA TODAY, noting that it’s been decades since cruise ships sailed from the USA to the island.

The announcement comes in the wake of the Obama administration’s recent moves to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba and loosen rules for U.S. travel to the island nation.

While leisure travel to Cuba including traditional cruises still is banned under the USA’s five-decade-old embargo, U.S. travelers who fall under one of 12 approved categories now can legally visit the country without needing a license in advance. The categories include traveling for educational activities such as people-to-people exchanges.


Consequences of the renewal of U.S.-Cuba relations

• July 2, 2015

Consequences of the renewal of U.S.-Cuba relations

HAVANA — Six months after the political decision to re-establish diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, Havana and Washington have announced the concretization of the agreement to formalize them and will proceed to the opening of their respective embassies.

By itself, what has happened does not eliminate the existing contradictions or guarantee their solution, much less while the economic blockade against Cuba persists, something that the Cuban government considers an impediment to the full normalization of relations.

Obama has recognized this reality and again has asked Congress to repeal the laws that sustain this policy, an objective that will be very hard to achieve in the remainder of his administration.

Even so, what has been achieved constitutes a historic landmark and sets up a new scenario in the face of the two countries’ future relations. The implications are not only symbolic but also practical in the management of their respective policies.

In the case of Cuba, it implies the recognition by the United States of the legitimacy of the Cuban government and, consequently, of the legality of its international policy, which has important consequences for the development of future negotiations.

To cite only a few examples, there remain issues such as

*** the definition of “trafficking in confiscated property,” a term utilized to ignore Cuba’s right to nationalization and its relations with third parties;

*** the non-applicability of the doctrine of “act of State,” for the protection of Cuban interests in the United States; and

*** the refusal to acknowledge Cuba’s intellectual rights and trademarks in the U.S. markets.

All of these practices, heretofore established in U.S. policy toward Cuba, constitute legally untenable acts in the context of the current diplomatic relations, so at some point they will have to be revised by the American side.

The new development also implies an essential transformation of the environment in which Cuba conducts its international relations and Cuba’s insertion in the world market, notwithstanding the delay in lifting the U.S. economic blockade.

The new situation will resound inside Cuban society, particularly in the area of economics but also in other spheres of national life, which is already engaged in its own transformation.

For the United States, the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba constitutes a doctrinal precedent in its foreign policy that cannot be ignored, inasmuch as it shows an intelligent adjustment to not only its policy toward Cuba but also to the changes that are happening in the rest of the world, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, as intimated by President Obama in his latest statements and at other stages in this process.

Perhaps most important, the reopening of embassies constitutes a practically irreversible step in the relations between the two countries, regardless of the result of the presidential election in 2016.

In addition, it facilitates and raises to the highest level all communication between the two governments; it consolidates the climate of negotiation for the solution of conflicts, and gives credibility to the process of normalization of relations, stimulating the forces that support it in the U.S. and Cuba, beyond the differences and mistrust that still remain.

It is also a signal to the world. Despite the asymmetry of power between the two countries, they have been able to solve a complex problem in their historic dispute, within a framework of equality and respect for each other’s sovereignty. This can be interpreted as an example of what international coexistence should be, a relationship where the U.S. plays a determining role.

That explains the support that the July 1 announcement has had worldwide and the hopes it has generated.

Statement by the Revolutionary Government

ON July 1, 2015, the President of the Councils of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, and the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, exchanged letters through which they confirmed the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between the two countries and open permanent diplomatic missions in their respective capitals, from July 20, 2015.

That same day, the official opening ceremony of the Embassy of Cuba in Washington will be held, in the presence of a Cuban delegation led by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla and composed of distinguished representatives of Cuban society.

By formalizing this step, Cuba and the United States ratified the intention to develop respectful and cooperative relations between both peoples and governments, based on the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and International Law, in particular the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations.

The Government of Cuba has decided to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States in full exercise of its sovereignty, invariably committed to the ideals of independence and social justice, and in solidarity with the just causes of the world, and reaffirming each of the principles for which our people have shed their blood and ran all risks, led by the historic leader of the Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz.


Cuban Minister of Foreign Relations to receive head of U.S. Interests Section

According to a press release by the Ministry of Foreign Relations (Minrex), today, July 1, Cuba’s Interim Minister of Foreign Relations, Marcelino Medi­na González, will receive the head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who will act as the official spokesperson to present a letter by President Barack Obama to Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers regarding the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and opening of embassies in both countries.

U.S. publication Asso­ciated Press, quoting a U.S. government official, reported yesterday that President Obama will today announce that Cuba and the United States have arrived at an agreement regarding the opening full of diplomatic missions in Havana and Washington.

The White House confirmed that Obama would make a statement regarding Cuba on Wednesday morning. AP also reported that U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, currently in Vienna participating in nuclear negotiations with Iran, is also scheduled to speak on the issue.

Since January 2015, Cuban and U.S. diplomats have been working toward fulfilling that announced by the respective presidents on December 17, 2014, regarding reestablishing diplomatic ties which were severed in January 1961.

To date, three rounds of conversations have taken place in both capitals, in addition to other meetings to address specific issues.
According to both Cuban and U.S. authorities, having full diplomatic missions in Havana and Washington is only one step in a much longer and more complex process: the normalization of diplomatic relations.

The new Irakere

RECENTLY hopes were raised regarding efforts to reunite the original members of the Cuban band Irakere, 42 years after their debut. Many of the founders have passed away while others are located in distant countries.

In view of all these vicissitudes, Dionisio Jesús Valdés Rodríguez, better known as Chucho Valdés, has decided to record an album of emblematic Irakere tracks, with a small big band, offering up an explosive mixture of jazz, rock, classical and a wide range of traditional Cuban music, including instruments and rhythms of Afro-Cuban religious ritual music, in a gesture of reverence to these musicians who made history, from 1973 onwards.

Thus the Havana pianist brings Irakere into the 21st century. It is an idea that was well received last year, during the jazz festival held in Barcelona, Spain, where novice musicians played well-known numbers by the band.

The album will be recorded by young musicians during a concert in France, and should be ready for release by July, Chucho Valdés revealed from Colombia, where he performed at the Jorge Eliecer Gaitan theater in Bogota.

Chucho believes it could prove to be a novel initiative, since young musicians wish to play their own versions of the singles which were hits across the world.

Chucho’s projects for the rest of 2015 include organizing several tours of Europe and the United States.

The musician, now over 70, has released almost 100 albums and features on a long list of Grammy nominations and Awards.

The Afro-Cuban Latin jazz icon has prepared himself both mentally and physically for these changing times.

Chucho belongs to that distinguished group of musicians who were huge stars in instrumentation, composition, musical arrangements and conducting.

In this list we can include Pérez Prado (The King of Mambo), Bebo Valdés (The King of Batanga), Antonio María Romeu (The King of Danzón) and Israel “Cachao” and Orestes López (The Kings of New Rhythm).

Taking stock of these memories, that first phase of Irakere faced all kinds of misunderstandings, they were criticized for the use of drums of African heritage in the new jazz, but they were always resolute and their success soon proved them right.

I remember, how could I forget, when they first travelled to the Polish Jazz Festival in 1970. On my return, I met Chucho, at the Festival of Popular Song of Varadero 1970, and there I saw them full of joy over their success in the presence of Dave Brubeck, a U.S. pianist and jazz composer and one of Chucho Valdés’ musical idols.

“Before Brubeck, we played Misa negra, our emblematic work, we played with everything we had, it was our big chance. The crowd cheered like crazy, stamping on the ground. All this euphoria scared us. People asked us to play another and another. In the end Brubeck hugged us and told us we were doing something new, different, and that this would open up a path for us into Latin jazz. We all began to cry.”

Chucho and Irakere were predestined to reach the peak of international success. The band was demonstrating the contributions of the new school of Cuban music that was beginning to bear fruit.

Then came that decisive year for Irakere, 1977, with the arrival of the Daphne cruise ship in Havana, bringing Dizzy Gillespie and a cohort of established jazz musicians: Stan Getz, Earl “Fatha” Hines, David Amram, Ray Mantilla, Anne Brackeen, Billy Hart, Rudy Rutherford, John Orr, Eddie Graham and the singers Marva Josie and Ry Cooder. The tour ended with a concert at the Mella theater.

Then came the big break, the big moment for Irakere, with the non-stop contracts to appear at the 1978 Newport Festival and Carnegie Hall, before McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans and Mary Lou William. This was followed by the Festival of Montreux (Switzerland). CBS released an album of five tracks by the group, including Misa negra (17 minutes) taken from their performances in Newport and Montreux.

This first LP entitled Irakere (CBS-EGREM) won the Grammy Award for Best Latin Recording in 1979.

The band’s successes accumulated into a long list of Grammy nominations and Awards, apart from those that Irakere musicians won as soloists. Leonardo Acosta deserves a special mention for his theoretical support, album notes and recording of the history of the band over the years.

Chucho Valdés and all the musicians who over these past 42 years have contributed to Irakeredeserve our recognition. Let’s hope they continue to bring glory to Cuban music.

U.S. Senators Visit Cuba

HAVANA – A delegation of U.S. senators headed by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy is on a visit to Cuba, where its members plan to meet with government officials and religious leaders, among others.

The group, which besides Leahy includes fellow Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Nevada Republican Dean Heller, arrived Thursday night and will remain on the island for most of the weekend, a note from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana said.

Their program calls for visits to the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Havana, where they will give a press conference on Saturday, and will have meetings with officials of the Cuban government, representatives of the private sector, local religious leaders, ambassadors of other nations and more.

The delegation said in a note that it is focused on continuing progress toward normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba.

In recent months, visits of politicians, business owners and executives to Cuba have become habitual as part of the process of renewing relations that was announced last Dec. 17 by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro.

Leahy, who in recent years traveled several times to the island to mediate the release of jailed U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross (freed last December), led the first visit of a group of American lawmakers to Cuba last January after the thawing of diplomatic relations.

That mission took place just days before the official start in Havana of talks to normalize relations.

The first achievement of that process is expected to be the opening of embassies in Washington and Havana, still waiting for the date to be set even though the two countries have been in negotiations for five months.

The last delegation of U.S. congressmen traveled to Cuba on June 12, made up of Republican Senators Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Pat Roberts, and was received by Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

Latin American Herald Tribune, June 27, 2015