NIKON: snapshot of the blockade

Campaign News | Friday, 20 October 2006

By humiliating a Cuban child, the Japanese company has demonstrated how euphemistic it is to call the Yankee blockade of the island an “embargo.”

At a ceremony for winning an international art prize given under the auspices of the United Nations, a Cuban boy was denied the camera that he won because by doing so Nikon feared it would have breached the US blockade.

The incident is explained by Jorge Jorge González - head of the “Coloring my Barrio” Community Cultural Workshop - to a journalist from the Japanese agency JIJIPRESS.

Juventud Rebelde reprinted excerpts from their conversation:

Ana Auki: Could you describe exactly what happened?

On June 5, World Environment Day, the award ceremony took place for the winners of the 15th International Children’s Painting Competition on the environment, considered the most important contest of its kind in the world. The event was held at the Palace of Nations in Algiers, and in the morning session Algerian President Mr. Abdelazid Bouteflika was present at the proceedings and to have his photo taken with the winners and those accompanying them.

In the afternoon, high-ranking representatives from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) presented plaques to the Overall Winner, the Regional Winners (including Cuban Raysel Sosa Rojas for Latin America and the Caribbean) and another three children who received special awards. It was at this moment, in which representatives from Bayer, Nikon (including the firm’s president), and the Japanese Foundation for Global Peace and Environment, presented, aside from the plaques, other gifts to the winners: a T-shirt with the winning design by each girl and boy, top-quality art materials, and a digital camera from the Japanese company Nikon.

“With the exception of the Cuban boy, they presented the cameras to all the other girls and boys, as they do every year at this ceremony; however, neither before or afterwards, in a spontaneous way, not one of the competition organizers approached us to explain to us what was going to happen; only when the event was over and I had a look at the things that they had given Raysel, I noticed that there was no camera, just a beige-colored case from Nikon, containing some top-quality art materials with British, Japanese trademarks, etc.

“But at no time did they even consult with me, as the boy’s legal representative at the award ceremony, or Mr. Roberto Blanco, the Cuban ambassador in Algeria and representative of my country’s government - and I’m almost sure that they didn’t consult with Mr. Ricardo Sánchez, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, either - in relation to changes to the prizewinners’ gifts.

“I can’t say what model the camera was, as I never held it; we just saw it in the hands of the other winners and, in any case, it wasn’t an appropriate moment to waste time on such a thing, demanding respect for the dignity of child who is innocent of such despicable political acts and international intrigue, undeniably in agreement with the U.S. government which, in some direct way, had to have been part of this outrageous incident.

“With the help of the Cuban embassy’s translator/interpreter, we immediately asked the Algerian authorities - who had looked after us tremendously well throughout our stay and who also demonstrated their solidarity with us at all times - if they could try and find a satisfactory solution for the little boy at this sad moment in his short life, a life that for him has been tremendously eventful given his fight against hemophilia, a hereditary and, to date, incurable disease.

It is a fact that, in order to make the journey, the government of my country - making a tremendous effort -gave me a batch of medicines, the cost of which was in excess of $4,500 USD - much more than the value of the prize they were to present him with and the cost of his stay in Algeria - completely free of charge, because in my country, we still believe that the most important facets of a nation are its human resources and, in particular, children, who will become the artists, scientists and teachers, etc. of the future, and will make the country a more prosperous place.

“We also received the immediate solidarity of parents, companions and the other boys and girls who were prizewinners, including the mother of the little boy from the United States who was the prizewinner for his region; the winners from Europe and Africa, everyone who could not understand how an event dedicated to love could be transformed into one of hatred and sadness.

“Our child is not a terrorist; he does not plant bombs, and nor do any of the people who live and work in my country toward the magnanimity of humanity, taking healthcare and well-being to millions of human beings around the planet; our child still does not know about the evil that abounds in this world - well, now, in one single blow, he has come to know one part of that - because, since he was born, he has been surrounded only by love in his school, in the hospitals that he frequently visits and in his neighborhood, where he runs around without the fear of drugs, of kidnappers of children to remove their internal organs, or in fear of his life because a common criminal could murder him. Nobody is frightened of that because in his country these things are not an everyday occurrence, like in the United States, the government of which is incapable of controlling these evils on its own doorstep and tries to give lessons to the whole universe, when it is the main promoter of terrorism, of the mass murder of innocent children and of all that is bad on this marvelous planet, marvelous in spite of all these things.

In the end, we received no response at the Palace of Nations. So, back at the hotel in the evening, we got in touch with our ambassador, who immediately went to the venue and asked for an interview with the UNEP representatives responsible for the events in Algiers, and it was Ms. Sorba who responded on behalf of that organization, firstly stating that a Japanese camera could not enter Cuba “because of the embargo.” We Cubans call it by its real name: BLOCKADE.

“I told her that that was untrue, because I have always entered and left Cuba with my SONY video and photographic cameras, which are also Japanese, and nobody has ever told me that I couldn’t take them into my country. It was then that they called Mr. Ideo Fujica, who seemed to be the Nikon representative in Algeria, although it also appeared that he belonged to the Foundation for World Peace, co-sponsor of the competition, who told us that “due to the embargo, they were unable to present the camera to a Cuban child because it contained components manufactured in the United States.”

“Both His Excellency the Ambassador and myself, stated that this was an example of the extraterritorial application of the laws of one state in another, given that it is the United States that maintains the blockade of Cuba, and not Japan. For this reason, the Nikon company is acting as an accomplice in this act of violation to which the people of my country have been subjected to for more than 45 years, and is now punishing an innocent child for something that he will never be able to understand. Finally, Mr. Fujica promised us that he personally, with his own money, would buy a digital camera for the boy and ensure that it arrived through the UNEP regional office in Mexico.

Could you tell me what was Raysel’s reaction when he failed to receive his camera?

I have only one word: HELPLESSNESS. He said to me: “Profe (teacher), and my camera? Why did all the other children get a camera, but they didn’t give me one? Isn’t my prize the same as all the others? Don’t I get to have a camera as well?” I tried to explain to him what was happening, but he couldn’t understand it, and neither could I, because they were humiliating him. They were making him pay a very dear price for the sole crime of being a Cuban child. It seemed that they just could not allow him to enjoy his moment of glory for the simple act of painting a picture on protecting the environment.

“The little boy cried a lot in his room and I cried with him, not with sadness, but with anger, because that was something inconceivable. I believe that UNEP should have anticipated a situation such as this and searched for an immediate solution, which might have involved changing the manufacturer and presenting the child with a camera: the art materials they gave him may well be the most expensive in the world, but for him, they don’t mean much as a concept, because he saw the other children playing with their new cameras and, as a child, he was not able to save memories of his time in Algiers through his photos. I believe that no one has the right to deny him that pleasure that will never happen again.”

Who explained the situation to Raysel?

Of course, at that moment in time, I wasn’t just his teacher, but also his father, his whole family, his friend, the only person in whom he could confide, because I never lied to him once and I knew that I was capable of fighting for his rights. Also, our ambassador in Algeria tried to explain it to him but he didn’t really ever understand why there is a law in the United States that can prohibit him from having a camera.

What do you think about the position adopted by the company?

I think it is deplorable from every point of view. How is it possible that such a powerful and prestigious firm, the pride of Japan for the indisputable quality of its products - I myself, have had an excellent Nikon FA camera for many years - and which is also one of the official sponsors of the UNEP World Contest, could give in to U.S. government maneuvers against the Cuban people and rob an innocent child of his right to smile, of his right to feel on a par with the rest of the winners? In that way, Nikon humiliated Raysel in an atrocious way, and stripped him of his dreams and the hope of living in a better world, one that is possible and which we all desire.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

I would like to say many things, but I’ll just mention the Workshop where Raysel realized his dreams, which was an enormous garbage dump two and a half years ago. He was not the only winner of the regional prize at the workshop; there were another five winners who won different prizes in the same competition?which makes us feel truly proud to know that in any place, in whatever humble spot, it is possible to find talent; we just have to discover it in time and encourage those children every day so that they do not lose their innate gifts.

“In this short time, our workshop has won a total of 189 prizes and mentions in national and international competitions, and at other levels, almost all of them related to the environment, nature and human beings; issues to which we devote all our energy, and we are also hoping to create a specialized community library on these issues.”

For Cuba's full report on the effects of the blockade:

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