Cuba an inspiration to the world, says Mayor of London

Campaign News | Monday, 13 November 2006

Ken Livingstone talks to the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde

Interview by Luis Luque Alvarez, published 10 November, 2006

That the mayor of one of the greatest and more modern large cities of the planet does without a car and takes public transport to go to his office every day, is an astonishing thing. That he does it, among other reasons, to assuage the fears of Londoners about the possibility of a terrorist attack against an bus, provokes admiration.

This man is real, and he was in Havana. He is Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, whom his enemies usually nickname “Red Ken”, because his ideas do not agree with those which the establishment defines as “politically correct”.

The nickname: “is certainly not praise. Of course, the attacks come from the right; but I have always been strongly criticized and I am already used to that,” he says.

We talked in the lobby of the National Hotel, his luggage already at his feet, ready to start off for the airport. Even so, with the same calm that he has had to exercise in the political sphere, Ken talks amiably.

This is not his first time in Cuba: “I was already here in 1995 and 1999. Right one sees a very clear recovery of the economy, and in particular I am impressed with Cuba's medical facilities. Compared with those of countries of Europe, really the levels of health and education in Cuba are very high.

“I have a great pleasure in expressing my desire to see the Revolution reach its 50th anniversary. After the USSR disintegrated, the imperialists thought that Cuba would fall. I can say to them that that is not going to happen, because it has been the people, the humble people, who have constructed this process. In addition, your bonds of friendship with other countries are the best example of the support that you receive.”

Year after year, the international community rejects the American blockade against this country, but the White House insists on ignoring that reality. What does he think of such stubbornness? -

“The political distance between US and Cuba is a great challenge. I hope that some time a president with more open policies will arise, although I doubt that it will happen soon.

“I would like to see the US government respect the votes and the verdicts of the UN, but, as it is possible top see, for example, with the case of the aggressions against Palestine, they do not respect anything”.

On his performance as Mayor of London for six years, what can he tell us?

“In this period we have seen a greater social progress in the city. We have carried out improvements, for example, in the public transport. One of the problems that persist is criminal activity. There have been some serious incidents lately, but we have set the Police on it, and they are working in that area. As far as the citizens, although they used to see the Police like enemy, now they appreciate more their work of monitoring and protecting.

“Another task is the environmental work, that takes up a lot of my time. The climatic change and the preservation of environment are one of our greatest concerns, and we have dedicated ourselves to it.

“Indeed for that reason, I have been very impressed with the programme of energy saving that you are implementing, as well as your actions to develop the power sector.

“Also, the work of the Centre of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology has struck me, in its investigation on diverse diseases and the obtaining of vaccines like the one against Hepatitis B, and others. When I return to London, I will talk with biotechnology companies so that they initiate contacts here”. -

Speaking of his city, how is the life of the Londoners after the terrorist attacks of the 7 of 2005 July? -

“Londoners today more are disciplined and they worry more about the social problems. I think that the citizens are more concerned with questions like the war in Iraq, the aggression against occupied Palestine, whose government has been so harassed by Israel; and they realize the difficulty that exists in these countries and that the North Americans must stop their war against the Middle East. The people are taking notice."

On another point, how does he see the British political scene over the next year, when Tony Blair is no longer is Prime minister?

“I think that Tony Blair will go within a period of six months. The Conservative Party and its leader, David Cameron, are looking carefully at the next elections and are exerting pressure. We will be immersed in the political race.

“I feel like optimist that new problematic situations in the future will not arise, since the people have seen how the war in Iraq has gone. And I hope that we are not going to invade to Iran because of its nuclear program”. -

Anything else, now that his visit to our country is ending? -

“To express that we wish to strengthen our cultural bonds with Cuba, and to organize in Great Britain a great the 50th anniversary festival when anniversary of the Revolution is commemorated.

"Cuba is an inspiration for the rest of the world and today we can see the positive results of its relations with nations such as Venezuela and China. When I look back at the 1960s, I see what could be called a regional revolution, but it has now become universal, something that is admired by people because they know what it has achieved on a global scale."

London Mayor praises Cuba achievements

Ken Livingstone receives key to the city of Havana

Havana, Nov 7 (Prensa Latina) Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, praised Cuba?s social achievements and bashed President George Bush for economic war on Cuba and the occupation of Iraq.

According to a report published today by The Independent daily, the Mayor of London also accused President Bush of being elected in a " judicial coup d'état" and attacked the White House for pursuing "economic war" against the Communist state of Cuba.

Livingstone was presented with the key to Havana by his equal, Jose Contino on the first leg of a Latin American tour.

The London mayor said: "What's amazing here is you've got a country that's suffered an illegal economic blockade by the United States for almost half a century and yet it's been able to give its people the best standard of health care, brilliant education. To do this in the teeth of an almost economic war I think is a tribute to Fidel Castro and his government."

Referring to Cuban sports achievements, Livingstone said "though Cuba's only got a fifth of the population of Britain, it gets as many medals in the Olympics as we do. So clearly they're doing something right here about engaging their young people in sport, and that's what I'm really interested in finding out about."

Livingstone attended the World Congress of Sports for All held in Havana last week and had a chance to attend a cricket match in the Cuban capital.

The Mayor of London left Havana on Sunday after canceling his visit to Venezuela due to Chavez?s election campaign commitments. Both Venezuelan official sources and Livinstone?s office in London explained the agreement on petroleum to be signed by the Mayor and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was still standing.

London Mayor says UK could learn from Cuba

The UK can learn from Cuba's Olympic achievements, Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has said.

Mr Livingstone, who on a tour of a Latin America, said he wanted to find out how the Caribbean island "engaged their young people in sport".

"Though Cuba's only got a fifth of the population of Britain, it gets as many medals in the Olympics as we do," he told a sports congress in Havana.

He also attended a cricket match as part of a drive to develop the sport.

'Engaging people'

In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Britain and Cuba came in tenth and eleventh place respectively, both with nine gold medals.

Mr Livingstone said he wanted to learn more about Cuba's successful sports programmes ahead of London hosting the Games in 2012.

"Clearly they're doing something right here about engaging their young people in sport, and that's what I'm really interested in finding out about."

He said he was not expecting to meet Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who has been recovering from intestinal surgery.

"I'd be honoured," he said. "But I'd much rather he got well, and got back into being in charge," he said.

He is due to fly on to Venezuela to meet President Hugo Chavez on Monday.

London Mayor praises Cuban revolution

London's mayor today praised the Cuban revolution and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in his first stop on a visit to Latin America.

Ken Livingstone called Fidel Castro's communist revolution "one of the high points of the 20th century", and said he came to Cuba to learn more about its successful programmes, particularly athletic ones.

Cubans "created the best education and health care system anywhere in the Third World ... and they've done that in the face of an incredible blockade - quite an illegal blockade - by America," he told journalists, referring to the US's decades-old trade embargo against Cuba.

"And though Cuba's only got a fifth of the population of Britain, it gets as many medals in the Olympics as we do," Livingstone said after the closing event of a sports congress in Havana. "So clearly they're doing something right here about engaging their young people in sport, and that's what I'm really interested in finding out about."

London hosts the 2012 Olympics. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Britain and Cuba came in 10th and 11th place, respectively, both with nine gold medals.

The mayor arrived to Cuba last night. He is to attend a cricket match and meet sports officials and the mayor of Havana before leaving on Sunday for Venezuela, where he plans to visit Chavez.

"President Chavez and myself have agreed on an oil deal, which will enable us to help poorer people in London," he said, adding that he would also offer help to Caracas in its struggles.

"And I might do a bit of electioneering for Mr Chavez," he said, referring to presidential elections next month. "I think he's been a very good president - he deserves a second term."

Livingstone did not request a meeting with Castro, who is recovering from intestinal surgery. "I'd be honoured ... but I'd much rather he got well, and got back into being in charge," he said.

Castro temporarily ceded power to his younger brother Raul in July. Cuban officials say he may be back at the helm by December.

The London mayor expressed admiration for the Cuban leader, while still encouraging democratic openings on the island.

"But it's very difficult to lecture the Cubans on human rights when on the other end of this island in the American base of Guantanamo there are hundreds of people who've been illegally seized, brought here illegally, and tortured," he said.

London Mayor in Havana

Ken Livingstone makes unannounced visit

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has made an unannounced visit to Cuba.

Mr Livingstone, who is scheduled to visit President Chavez in Venezuela next week, is expected to hold talks with Cuban officials on policies to tackle climate change. This report from Stephen Gibbs:

Ken Livingstone is keeping his visit to Cuba low key. His itinerary has not been released and British diplomats in Havana admit they have been largely kept in the dark as to his plans.

It is likely that the mayor will attend the capital's Sport for All conference which has brought together international experts to discuss how sport can be a key part of a healthy lifestyle. It's less certain whether the mayor will be granted an audience with President Fidel Castro.

Mr Castro, who is currently recuperating from an unspecified gastric illness, has received only a handful of foreign dignitaries over the last three months. But if they do meet, the two should find they have some ideas in common. Ken Livingstone has recently been stressing that the world should do more to tackle climate change. He said that if only he could he would ban all light bulbs which are not energy saving. Earlier this year Cuba did just that.

Stephen Gibbs, BBC News, Havana

| top | back | home |
Share on FacebookTweet this