San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ortega Criticizes U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

President Daniel Ortega is calling on the U.S. administration of Barack Obama to end the blockade against Cuba and to free five Cuban prisoners being held in U.S. custody on espionage charges.

“They should suspend that blockade that has caused so much suffering and harm to Cuban people,” Ortega said during a meeting last week in Managua with Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez.

In between thanking Perez for Cuba’s boost in health and education aid to Nicaragua, Ortega accused the United States of “protecting terrorists” by not responding to Venezuela’s request to extradite Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative who lives in Miami and is accused of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane that left 73 dead.

“When a new United States administration arrives in power, the least we can hope for is that their actions correspond with what they say about fighting terrorism,” Ortega said.

Ortega’s comments came as Venezuela recently renewed its push for the extradition of Posada to stand trial in Venezuala, where he was a former senior official in Venezuela’s secret police.

Meanwhile, Cuban leader Raul Castro recently said he may be willing to free dissidents and political prisoners in Cuba in exchange for the U.S. release of the five alleged Cuban spies.

The alleged spies, who Ortega called “five Cuban heroes who are victims of the empire’s terrorism policy,” await final appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court.

During his visit last week, Perez said Obama’s orders to close the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay isn’t enough, and demanded that the detention camp property be returned to Cuba.

Ortega, who lived Cuba in 1974 after fellow Sandinista commandos negotiated his release after being held hostage, thanked Perez for Cuba’s aid in health, education, energy and hurricane relief.

According to Perez, there are 200 Cuban doctors working in Nicaragua who have performed 2 million check-ups and 5,000 surgeries over the past two years. Cuba, along with Venezuela, helped set up three clinics in Nicaragua that have given free eye surgery to 40,000 Nicaraguans.

Cuba has given internships to about 900 Nicaraguan students mostly to study medicine in Cuba.

Cuba also gave “thousands” of TVs and other materials for the Ortega government’s “Yo Si Puedo” literacy campaign. The island nation has also helped build schools and churches as part of post-Hurricane Felix reconstruction in the north Caribbean, and sent engineers to help install Venezuelan thermal plants that helped end Nicaragua’s energy-rationing blackouts last year.

“Cuban cooperation is invaluable,” Ortega said.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution and the 30th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, the only two Latin American revolutions to come to power in the 20th Century.

Perez invited Ortega to visit with Cuban leader Fidel Castro this year at an unspecified date. Since returning to office in 2007, Ortega has not been received by the convalescing Cuban leader.

–Blake Schmidt


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