by Jose Ricardo G. Bondoc
San Francisco – Congresswoman Barbara Lee asked Fred Jordan, board chairman of the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce, to host a business meeting for Ambassador Lianys Torres Rivera, serving as Cuban ambassador to the United States, to meet with members of the SFAACC and the business community while she visited San Francisco. Vice Chairwoman of the SFAACC board Brigette R. LeBlanc facilitated the meeting due to Chairman Jordan attending the 2022 National Black Chamber of Commerce and Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce conference in East Peoria.
The San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce (SFAACC) is one of California’s most influential minority business organizations, representing and promoting African American business owners in San Francisco. Through advocacy and economic development, SFAACC is creating a firm economic base that supports the self-determination and survival of African American businesses.
Ambassador Lianys Torres Rivera is Cuba’s chargé d’affaires to the United States since 2021. She is the first woman to head Cuba’s mission in Washington. Ambassador Torres Rivera has been a diplomat since 1994. Her previous positions include ambassador to Vietnam and member of the Cuban delegation involved in reestablishing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba via the Embassy of Cuba in Washington, D.C.
Cuba is not an interventionist state – we haven’t invaded any other country or threatened action against neighboring states, but Cuba was labeled a “terrorist state” by the Donald J. Trump administration and John Bolton.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif., issued a statement saying: “I’m also renewing my call for the Biden administration to take urgent action to reverse the misguided and failed policies of the Trump administration, which have only served to hurt the Cuban people. Through decades of failed policy, the United States government has repeatedly missed opportunities to engage with and invest in the Cuban people. While we have many disagreements with the Cuban government, the way to address them is through diplomatic engagement on all the issues – including human rights, trade, travel and the economy.”
On social media, Ambassador Torres Rivera stated, “The U.S. sanctions against Cuba hinder the advance of our economy and are the main obstacle to its development. #UnblockCuba #LetCubaLive!
“Cuba has the most comprehensive sanctions placed upon it, which touch every part of our lives. My daughters were born under the regime of sanctions. I hope that they will not live all of their lives under those sanctions.
“We are not a perfect country, but we could certainly change easier and faster without the sanctions. For those who say that the economic situation in Cuba is based on political policies, I would certainly note that businesses have been hampered by the absence of banks, credit cards and other economic tools to access … Give us five years and you’ll see our lives will become easier without the sanctions.
“Empathy and the ability to listen – one of the definitions of diplomacy is ‘the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and effective way.’ In order to carry out effective diplomacy, one needs to understand countries’ histories, their struggles, their traditions and culture, and the social, economic and political conditions in which diplomacy will be conducted.
“Putting yourself in another’s position helps to comprehend their challenges. You may realize that solutions to the biggest problems affecting humanity might not be associated with lack of high-end technologies, but rather with unmet basic necessities in a disproportionately unequal, unfair international order.
We have even developed a treatment for #Alzheimer’s disease that is currently undergoing Phase 2 of clinical trials.
“Cuba’s conduct globally is guided by principles such as solidarity and cooperation when possible, as well as respect among nations and non-interference in countries’ domestic affairs. Power, even if labeled as soft, refers to the capacity of one country to impose its will over others, which has been the cause of many conflicts historically. There is a need to change this power-focused paradigm and actively pursue a new order centered around human beings for which accessible science is critical.
“Cuba is not an interventionist state. We haven’t invaded any other country or threatened action against neighboring states, but nine days before they left office, Cuba was labeled a “terrorist state” by the Donald J. Trump administration and John Bolton (then the ambassador). …
“According to the Washington Post, a fire set off by a lightning strike at an oil storage facility raged uncontrolled in the Cuban city of Matanzas, Cuba, where four explosions and flames injured 125 people and left 17 firefighters missing. Cuban authorities said an unidentified body had been found late Saturday.
“This was one of the main storage areas for oil and a main supertanker base. Half of it was owned by the government. We desperately need money, technology and oil. It will certainly be difficult to rebuild without money. These are the most urgent things if we want to recover from this tragedy. Fortunately, we have received help from Mexico and Venezuela to help with the fire. We won’t stop. Cuba will continue to work to improve itself,” said Torres Rivera.
In regard to biotechnology, Torres Rivera noted: “We want that! We want to share our vaccines with those who ask for them. We are more than ready to share. We believe the only way out of any pandemic, as seen by the experiences of COVID-19, is to be able to share information and ideas on how to do that.
The same medical options that are available to a white person are available to a Black person.
“During the pandemic, we developed research, including in homeopathic methods, in order to find out how to best treat the virus. We have produced five vaccines. We have vaccinated 90% of the population and have boosted 70% of the population. We have even developed a treatment for #Alzheimer’s disease that is currently undergoing Phase 2 of clinical trials.”
In regard to the issue of abortion and reproductive rights in the aftermath of the #Dobbs decision, Torres Rivera stated: “I’m Cuban and the health system is equal for everyone. It doesn’t distinguish between white or Black. The same medical options that are available to a white person are available to a Black person. The law makes no distinction in terms of the health options.”
On the economy, she said: “Cuba is going through a profound expansion of the private sector. This is one of the most important developments in decades.”
What became abundantly clear was that no subject was off the table and that any question was certainly free to address.
In regards to the future, Torres Rivera stated: “We are asking the White House to end the sanctions. I hope that we will be able to come together for the good of the Cuban and American people. We are neighbors and should be able to relate to each other in such fashion.”
Summing up the significance of the event and of strengthening bonds with Cuba, Jeannette Fisher-Kouadio – also known as Madame JFK – attorney, realtor and real estate broker of San Francisco said, “It’s a wonderful start to establishing economic ties and relations between the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce, the community and Cuba.”
Film director Kevin Epps, best known for “Straight Outta Hunters Point,” and chairman of the board of the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper said, “I am happy I was invited to be a part of this conversation. This is a great pathway for us to connect with young journalists in Cuba who can share their experiences.”
In a message to local community leaders, Torres Rivera stated: “We are far from perfect. We are asking for respect!”
To learn more, contact SFAACC Board Vice Chairwoman Brigette LeBlanc at Together.firstname.lastname@example.org