The Evening Standard has today (28th December) reported that the Mayor of London intends to hold a festival celebrating Cuban culture in 2009. Its report claims that such an event could cost “up to £2million” and carries an editorial claiming “this is £2 million that could be better spent elsewhere.” The Evening Standard has in fact entirely made up this figure of £2million.
In response to this invention the Greater London Authority has given the following comment to the Standard:
‘The Evening Standard today claims that a possible future event of Cuban culture the run up to the Olympic games would cost “up to £2 million”. This figure is entirely invented by the Evening Standard. It is typical of a pattern of fabrication by the Evening Standard such as a recent claim that bus ridership had fallen when it had risen by nearly two million a day. Any Cuban festival will be part of an invitation to countries participating in the Olympics to stage events in London prior to the Games primarily through sponsorship and their own expense.’
Below is a shortened version of a statement given to the Standard yesterday on the subject of the Mayor’s recent visit to Cuba and their queries about a possible festival of Cuban culture in London.
Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said:
‘Cuba has been subject to a blockade by the US which has been condemned by almost every country in the world for more than 40 years. It also has a US military base, Guantanamo, on its territory which is held clearly contrary to the rights of the Cuban people and on which the US practices detention without trial and torture – this contains not seventy political prisoners as is claimed are held in Cuba, but several hundred. There have been numerous US-sponsored attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and Cuban leaders. In short the US has been waging de facto war against Cuba for more than 40 years.
‘Despite the illegal and almost universally condemned blockade Cuba has achievements which are recognised by virtually the entire world.
‘Life expectancy and infant mortality are at levels comparable to far more economically advanced countries. Cuban bio-science is among the most advanced in the world. All this contrasts to a situation where prior to the revolution of 1959, under political figures supported by the US government, up to 1 in 3 Cuban women was forced into prostitution and Cuba was largely run in the interests of the Mafia.
‘The Cuban revolution of 1959 was therefore an extraordinary event not just for Cuba but for the region as a whole and I have never concealed my support for this fact. This contrasts with the situation in the Soviet Union which I refused to visit until Gorbachev became President.
‘It is notable that because of the health, welfare and social benefits of what has happened in Cuba since 1959 Fidel Castro is one of the most popular leaders around the world whilst George W Bush is one of the most widely despised.
‘I was invited to visit Cuba by Lord Moynihan, a former Conservative sports minister, the Chair of the British Olympic Association, during the World Sport for All Congress. As the host city for the 2012 Games, London is developing close relations with other key Olympic players. Cuba is a significant sporting nation both globally and particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean. Although they only have one–fifth of the population of Britain they win as many medals as we do. We have a lot to learn from this.
‘While in Cuba I took the opportunity to meet other figures. The President of the Havana City Provincial Assembly – Juan Contino Aslan, the mayor of Havana – ensured that we had a number of extremely useful discussions. I was struck by the desire of Cuban representatives to get a full picture of how Cuba is currently seen in Europe and also by the Cubans’ criticisms of the current policy of some European governments which is deeply counterproductive.
‘There were a lot of attacks from some London Assembly members and the press about visiting Cuba, but frankly this is just double standards. There is no reason why Cuba should be singled out for controversy except for people coming at international issues from a very right wing perspective.
‘I have been to Cuba twice in 1995 and 1999, and what stood out for me compared to these two previous visits was the general improvement in the economic situation.
‘I also think that in the initial stages of the development of tourism in Cuba there was an increase in some of the negatives associated with tourism but the Cubans have done a great deal to address this.
‘I was struck by the comments of the Minister of Investments and International Co-operation, Marta Lomas, who spoke very favourably about tourists from Britain. Depending on which figures you take, the second or third largest number of tourists to Cuba are from Britain. Their direct experience of Cuba obviously goes some way to countering the rubbish that we read in the papers, such as the Evening Standard, about the situation there.
‘What really stood out for me was hearing first hand from people working in the medical services just how appalling the US blockade is. When you meet people who are treating eye disorders and blindness on a huge scale and they describe how difficult it is to get the equipment they need except through indirect routes because of the blockade you get a feel for the scale of the injustice that is being imposed on Cuba.
‘Similarly the description of how the blockade works in terms of the embargo on Cuban nickel, where the American authorities go to extraordinary lengths to prevent steel containing Cuban nickel from getting into the USA, it is bizarre and petty.
‘With regard to environmental issues one thing that is very striking is that everywhere you go the Cubans have installed energy saving light bulbs. They have got their energy bills down and they are contributing to reducing the causes of climate change at the same time. There is a lesson here about how we make the case for measures to tackle climate change – we need to show that saving the planet can save people money too. The work they Cubans are doing to get their energy bills down is very notable. This is also in total contrast to the US government of George W Bush which refuses to tackle the problem of climate change or even admit it exists.
‘In the run up to Olympic games in 2012 it is planned to invite countries participating in the games to stage events in London – some will doubtless be very large as with the US or France and some will be small. Cuba, as a leading Olympic country, will naturally be one of the countries asked to participate.’
Greater London Authority