Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pass fair and sensible Illinois budget, protestors say

By Pepe Lozano

CHICAGO – On July 1 over one million people across Illinois will lose access to social services as state lawmakers here scramble to approve a “doomsday” budget, which contains major cuts up to 50 percent that critics are calling unacceptable.

Nearly 1,000 people rallied here at the James R. Thompson Center June 30 to demand state lawmakers pass a fair and sensible budget that will keep intact social services for children, seniors and working families.

Julie Dworkin, with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said up to $11 million may be slashed from programs and services provided for the homeless throughout the state. “We’re living in one of the worst recessions in recent history and people now more than ever are in jeopardy of becoming homeless,” she said. Dworkin said on average there are 73,000 homeless in Chicago per year. “The cost of housing is not in par with people’s wages these days,” she said. “And the home foreclosure crisis is increasingly victimizing families.”

Wayne Richard, also with Dworkin’s group, addressed the crowd saying, “Our communities are receiving up to 50 percent cuts to our much needed services and it’s not fair, and we’re here to tell our legislators we’re not going to stand for it.”

Action Now Executive Director Denise Dixon said cuts to programs and services that provide assistance to seniors is careless. “My husband is a senior and what touches him touches me,” she said. “We want our legislators to work for us. Who are the biggest voting block in Illinois?” she asked. “Seniors,” she said.

“They vote and they don’t forget and together we all will not forget and we won’t vote for those lawmakers who want to cut our services.” Dixon continued, “We need state leaders on our side and we will start tomorrow to do voter registration and remind people how badly working families are being treated.”

Karina Lopez, 20, a leader with Chicago Area Project, grew up as a child in the Department of Children and Family Services foster care system. Lopez said she was taken away from her abusive and alcoholic mother as a child. Public programs, including therapy, helped her cope with her difficult situation growing up. It’s these services that must not be cut for children across the state, she said.

“These are kids who are sleeping in agencies who have no place to go,” said Lopez. “They are confused and have a lot of hate and anger. They have nothing left to lose and should not be left on the streets where they are primary targets for gangs to recruit.”

Children in the system need services and are in search of a decent home and legislators should think about how these budget cuts are going to affect these innocent kids, said Lopez. “The only way I got ahead in life was being able to fall back on these services growing up,” she remarked.

Bobbie Walsh is a leader with the Illinois Hunger Coalition. “I work with struggling parents everyday who have to decide weather to feed their families or pay gas, electric or water bills,” she said. Walsh said every month 2,700 families come to her family food shelter. “One in four Illinois children go hungry every night and one in nine parents are receiving food stamps,” explained Walsh. Closing DHS offices at a time when demand for food stamps is skyrocketing is unthinkable, added Walsh.

Walsh continued, “Lawmakers say we can do more with less but not during this economic crisis.” Domestic violence will continue to rise because people feel hopeless, said Walsh. “What is it going to take for our elected officials to understand the pain and suffering of these children and their families,” she asked. “We are calling on our state leaders to speak up and tell the general assembly to put people first and to pass a humane sensible budget. We are counting on them to do what is right,” she said.

Speakers at the rally are furious that state lawmakers believe they have solved the budget problem by borrowing $2.2 billion. They charge the budget requires long-term, new revenue in order to maintain the programs that are more critical than ever, not a quick fix, or a month-to-month budget.

Families, adults, seniors and children will lose their housing, their employment, their substance abuse treatment and kids will lose their foster homes, their childcare, their health care, their psychiatric services, critics of the budget claim.

As many as 200,000 people in the Human Services field and as many as 10,000 state employees will be laid off in the middle of a terrible recession where people already need more services and assistance, not less, they say. Only a balanced, fair, equitable, humane and sensible budget that will increase revenue is needed, they charge.

Peggy Lipschutz documentary wins Golden Eagle Award

From Producer Jerri Zbiral:

The filmmakers of Never Turning Back, The World of Peggy Lipschutz wish to announce that we have won the prestigious CINE Golden Eagle Award. We are really thrilled with this award as it is recognized internationally as a symbol of the highest production standard in film and television production. (their words, sounds good doesn't it?) If you would like more information about CINE, go to: http://www.cine.org/about-us.php.

If you are interested in seeing the list of the Spring 2009 competition, please go to:
http://www.cine.org/golden-eagle-award.php. We are listed under the
Independent (Unaffiliated) Division, Documentary Short category.

We have also been accepted into the SSG Summer Shorts Film Festival in Beverly Hills, CA. The film will be screened on Sat. July 25th at 8PM. For more information about the festival, go to: http://www.ssgsummershortsfest.com/. So for those of you in the L.A. area, here's your chance.

We are also waiting to hear from other film festivals and will keep you posted. Hope you are all having a pleasant summer.

All the best,

Jerri Zbiral
Producer / Director
Never Turning Back, The World of Peggy Lipschutz

Monday, June 29, 2009

Hartmarx workers declare victory

By Pepe Lozano

DES PLAINES, Ill. — In an unprecedented display of hope, struggle and unity, more than 600 workers at the Hart Schaffner & Marx factory here joined with union leaders and elected officials in a rally June 29 to celebrate a major victory that will save nearly 4,000 jobs nationwide and keep the Chicago-based company open for business.

“I feel great,” said Ruby Sims, president of Local 39 of Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, which represents the Hartmarx workers. Sims has worked at Hartmarx for 32 years. “We finally got a buyer approved by a judge and now we will be able to work and keep our jobs,” she said.

“Now we can hold our heads high because there is a light at the end of the tunnel, especially for people who have been working here for decades,” she said. “This factory is like home away from home to many of us. Workers everywhere need to be organized and during times like these it’s good to know your brothers and sisters in the union got your back.”

Joe Scalise, originally from Italy, is president of Workers United Local 61 and has been employed at Hartmarx for 42 years. “The last six months have been very scary for many of us here,” he said. “Everybody was worried about losing their jobs, but now we are all very happy and excited.” Scalise continued, “Now we can go back to our members and let them know that our jobs are secure. When we stick together and stand behind our union and fight, we know we can achieve victory.”

Hartmarx Corp. is a major Chicago men’s suit manufacturer that has been in business since 1872. The company has plants here and in Rock Island, Ill., as well as a warehouse in Indiana. Hartmarx also employs more than 450 at the Hickey-Freeman factory in Rochester, N.Y.

The company is the largest maker of men’s tailored clothing and one of, if not the only, men’s topcoat manufacturer in North America. The business has become known for making suits worn by President Barack Obama. Obama wore one of the company’s tuxedos at his inauguration.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January after its main creditor, Wells Fargo, a $25 billion recipient of federal bailout money, reduced credit to the business. The bank preferred to liquidate Hartmarx rather than restructure and continue operations.

The workers in Des Plaines and Rochester voted unanimously in May to occupy their factories if the bank sold the company to new owners who wanted to shut it down.

Now, Hartmarx Corp. will stay open as a result of an agreement through bankruptcy court that will allow an acquisition by British equity firm Emiresque Brands and its partner SKNL North America. The new owners will finalize the deal July 7 and plan to keep the business operating.

“It’s a great day when I can look at the workers here whose faces have changed from despair to hope,” said Jorge Ramirez, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor. “This is not only a victory for the workers but also a victory for the entire community,” he said. “These hard working men and women were not looking for a bailout, they just wanted to keep their jobs. Their victory is a beacon of hope and a model for future union battles.”

Noel Beasley, manager of the Chicago-Midwest Regional Joint Board and executive vice president of Workers United told the crowd, “We have gone from ‘yes we can’ to ‘yes we did!” Beasley said the Hartmarx struggle was in large part due to the example of the Republic Windows and Doors workers who occupied their Chicago factory last winter and won a major victory. “The workers at Hartmarx picked up the gauntlet and stood up to Wells Fargo and promised to sit in if they didn’t back off,” said Beasley.

Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias congratulated the Hartmarx workers, saying, “We are sending a strong message that saving our economy is a two-way street. The hard working people here at Hartmarx are a testament to the American spirit.”

“You are my heroes,” he said.

Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Phil Hare, both Illinois Democrats, addressed the workers.

Hare spent 13 years cutting linings for men’s suits at the Rock Island plant and said the suit he was wearing was made at Hartmarx. One of the proudest moments of his tenure in Congress is coming here and knowing the good, decent men and women and their families are going to have their jobs and their health care, he said. “I can’t thank you enough for your courage and your strength.”

Schakowsky said that when her great aunt migrated from Russia decades ago she worked at Hartmarx. Her aunt was one of the women who walked out on the job back then for her basic rights and helped formed the union there.

“Clearly many of you today have come from all parts of the world to work hard and support your families,” Schakowsky said. “My heart is overflowing with pride and gratitude. You have sent a positive message of victory to workers all over the country that when you stand together, you win. And you won.”

plozano @ pww.org

Protest the coup in Honduras!

!Protesta en contra del golpe de estado en Honduras -Solidaridad con el pueblo!
Protest the military coup in Honduras- Stand with the Honduran people!
Wednesday - July 1 de Julio 5pm
4439 West Fullerton, Chicago

La Voz de los de Abajo

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pressure grows to resolve Illinois state budget crisis

By John Bachtell
Chicago – With the clock ticking toward a “doomsday budget” that would devastate state services and cause massive layoffs, six thousand union members, seniors, children, social service agency workers and their clients flooded the Illinois statehouse in Springfield June 23 to demand action by state legislators.

The protest was so massive the statehouse was forced to close its doors. Demonstrators demanded a progressive tax increase to close the estimated $9.2 billion budget gap and avoid a 50% cut in vital social services affecting residents across the state. The deficit is the result of a $67 billion “lights on” budget compromise passed by the state assembly without enough revenues.

Gov. Pat Quinn has sent mixed signals whether or not he will veto the budget. “I’m not going to preside over a dismantling of that fundamental human safety net,” Quinn has said, who spoke at the June 23 rally. “I just can’t believe that legislators of both parties will accept that kind of dire outcome.” Ninety-seven percent of the state budget funds education and health care.

Quinn originally proposed a temporary tax hike on individuals and corporations. Individual income tax rates would increase from 3% to 4.5% and corporate taxes would increase from 4.8% to 7.2%.

Illinois has a constitutionally mandated flat tax. This has led to an under funding of state services for years. To get around this, Quinn proposed tripling the individual exemption from the income tax, to $6,000 per person. Quinn said it would cut taxes for about five million of 13 million residents, despite the individual tax increase.

A somewhat modified version of this approach introduced by Sen. James Meeks to increase the individual and corporate taxes from 3 to 5% and increase the earned income tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 passed the Senate in May. However, the bill, which could serve as a blueprint, never made it onto the full House floor.

The state legislature with both houses controlled by Democrats is in a real fix. Because of divisions in Democratic ranks no budget was passed by a May 31 deadline. A super majority is now required to pass a budget giving Republicans greater influence over whatever legislation is adopted.

Republicans are demanding $800 million in cuts to social programs as a condition for any support. The legislature voted to issue notes for refinancing of pension payments, which would free up savings to allocate for social programs. However the state would still be $1 billion short.

Pressure from the Republicans and corporations have forced some concessions by Quinn. He has called for 2,200 layoffs of state workers in addition to 12 furlough days a year. AFSCME which represents many state workers has rejected this idea. Additionally he is now proposing to reduce the corporate tax increase which would effectively continue the state's regressive tax structure.

In a telephone conference call with scores of advocates and service providers convened by Illinois Voices for Children, Policy Director Kelley Talbot called for stepping up the pressure on the Governor and legislators. She urged those present to demand Gov. Quinn veto the “doomsday budget,” keep legislators in Springfield until a balanced budget solution is reached including new revenue sources, and approve an interim state budget if needed to avoid the devastating cuts.

Protests and lobbying of legislators is continuing across the state. Vigils are being planned across the state for Monday, June 29, including one at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago from 8:30-10:30 pm. Another massive rally is being called for Tuesday, June 30 also at the Thompson Center at 11 am.

Voices for Illinois Children website has immediate action steps and information how your senator and representative voted: http://www.voices4kids.org/getinvolved/callforkids.html

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Illinois doomsday budget means life or death

Reprinted from People's Weekly World

'Doomsday' budget cuts that hurt society's most vulnerable leads one Illinois worker to question if the "system" is worth preserving.

By Lori Luxenberg

Today I came home from work with another headache, jaw sore from clenching my teeth, drained emotionally and physically. I spent the whole day with people whose lives are being ripped apart. Hours spent trying to answer questions that had no answers, offer encouragement where none was merited, and ultimately knowing I failed on every level.

I work for a not-for-profit that provides support for disabled adults. The majority of people I work with have mild mental retardation and have several major medical issues. They work, if they are able to find work, with the aid of a job coach and a lot of support. They run out of food stamps before the end of the month. They cannot drive and rely on staff support to get them to appointments, count out and keep track of their medication, help them with grocery shopping and meal planning, remind them to do laundry, keep their apartments clean, and provide them with a means to take part in community activities.

Like many other social service agencies, the place I work at was informed that due to the inability of the Illinois General Assembly to pass a tax increase desired by the governor, deep cuts would have to be made and funding for many programs would be eliminated altogether or reduced so drastically as to be unworkable. These cuts mean that the 25 adults I work with as a direct support giver will be without any assistance beyond whatever the federal programs offer, such as Social Security disability.

Imagine being told that you will lose your means to get to work, your home, your means to grocery shop and all the people that make up your daily life. Imagine being told this and being unable to read, unable to do your own banking, unable to take care of yourself in the ways most of us take for granted. You can't just move home with mom and dad -- you are 40, 50, or 60 years old and your parents, if they are alive, are in no position to take care of you. You have questions, you have terrible fears, and none of the people you have relied on and trusted to help you have any answers.

So the past two weeks have been extremely difficult for all of us. Every single person I work with is facing the loss of all the structures and components that make up their life. They are all terrified. They all feel helpless, and angry. These are people who have spent a lifetime struggling to cope with a society that tells them daily that they are less than "normal," not worthy of much. Yet for the most part they remain polite, and friendly and optimistic. But this has gutted them.

Today I went to visit a 43-year-old man named Will. Will looks ten years younger than his actual age. Unlike many of the people I work with, he is in good shape - he is careful to work out regularly and eat as well as he can on his budget. He works at a discount store and does a good job, taking the train to work and back. He smiles a lot, and makes an effort to be friendly, even to strangers. This takes some extraordinary optimism on his part because strangers have not always been kind to Will. He does not look "disabled." But he cannot really read or write. He cannot drive or pay his own bills or -- most significantly for him right now -- handle the complexities of his medical treatment for stage IV melanoma. All of those tasks are currently handled by the staff that supports him. All of those services will end July 1.

Will does not understand why. When we spoke, he told me that he felt it was not fair. He didn't want to lose the staff help. He didn't know what he would do without the help, how he would live (neither do I). He has tried to do the right thing, he said, followed the rules, worked hard, been nice to people. Why was this happening?

His cancer, he understood, was just one of those things that was probably beyond anyone's control and no one's fault. But this – this was deliberate. The funding cuts were a decision quite within the control of those in power. And then he went silent for a bit. I stared out the window.

"No one asked us," he suddenly said, quite forcefully for him (he's very soft spoken normally). "No one asked us if it was okay to do this. No one asked us ANYTHING and we're the ones who are hurt by it. It's not right. No one asked us."

No, they sure as hell did not. In this nation, when changes in public policy are made, who gets asked? The rich and the powerful. Those least affected are carefully consulted and their best interests put front and center. But as Scarlett O'Hara succinctly put it, it's a sight easier to steal from the poor and weak than from the rich and strong.

A society that requires charity to care for the vulnerable is a sick society. Caring for those who cannot care for themselves should be a part of the social contract and a function of the collective – the government. Where are the pro-lifers when it comes to Will? Unfortunately for him, he has needs that extended for a period that exceeded the nine months of gestation.

The U.S. has made many sick choices regarding our priorities. There are thousands of examples like Will's, examples of those with the least getting hit the hardest.

But here's what I'm feeling right now: Any system that allows this – over and over again – is simply not worth preserving. We demand far too little and tolerate far too much. We will get nothing we don't take.

I don't know how long Will has to live. It's likely somewhere in the 9-18 month range, given his current medical status. Should he have to spend the last year of his life dealing with this? Is keeping our state taxes "low" worth that?

Yes, says every Republican member of the General Assembly, it is.

They have chosen sides. It's time we do the same – whatever the cost.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rally at Wells Fargo: save jobs and homes now!

By Pepe Lozano

CHICAGO – Dozens of people rallied at the downtown Wells Fargo bank here June 11, including a caravan of Quad City Die Casting workers demanding the bank restore credit to their Moline, Ill. factory, which is scheduled to close July 12. Over 100 jobs could be lost, and 80 of the workers there are members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1174.

Quad City Die Casting is a 60-year-old family owned business that manufactures precision metal parts. Wells Fargo received $25 billion in federal bank bailout money and now they should invest in small businesses and good American jobs, says the union.

Housing rights advocates and labor leaders with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), Jobs with Justice and the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) joined the Quad City workers, calling on the bank to stop foreclosures, create jobs and rebuild communities. Wells Fargo is on track to foreclose on 330 families this year in just four Southside Chicago zip codes, they said. The bank needs to preemptively modify their loans and keep families in their homes, critics charge.

“Wells Fargo needs to extend us their credit so we can keep our jobs,” said Deb Johann who has worked for Quad City Die Casting for 31 years. “People are going to lose their homes,” she noted. “It’s time that they bail us out.”

Ted Wysocki, board chair of NCRC, said the rally in Chicago was one of 50 around the country targeting Wells Fargo to stop layoffs and foreclosures. “We’re finding that banks that are not extending credit is generating a new wave of home foreclosures,” he said. “We have to rebuild our communities, and people need to be living in their homes. If we as taxpayers extended credit to the big banks then they should invest in good paying American jobs like the workers in Moline.”

David McDowell with SWOP agreed, adding that in the first quarter alone this year Wells Fargo has foreclosed on 88 homes on Chicago’s Southwest side. “Our children have to pass by five, ten or 20 abandoned homes on their way to and from school everyday,” he said. “This is dangerous and puts our children at risk when it comes to predators, gang violence or drug dealers.” Much of this is the fault of big banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America who got bailed out and are now selling out working families. “So we’re here today to say we will fight and we will win.”

McDowell pointed out it takes five weeks to get an appointment with the bank when it comes to resolving foreclosed homes. The bank's attempt to correct the situation one at a time is erroneous and the process takes months, he said.

Fran Tobin, board chair with Northside Action for Justice, said, “We’re here to challenge Wells Fargo and the corporate greed of them and their friends.” Big banks continue to get rich while more and more people are becoming homeless due to bad sub prime loans and home foreclosures, he said. “This is not right and it’s about time to have a financial system that represents the interests of working people. It’s time for a moratorium on foreclosures, and we need them to stop now.”

UE Western Region President Carl Rosen said, “Wells Fargo got money to keep the economy going but right now they are a roadblock to our recovery.”

UE drew national attention last year when hundreds of workers occupied the Republic Windows and Doors factory after Bank of America cut credit to the Chicago business. The workers eventually won a settlement with the bank, and the factory was sold to a buyer that plans to re-open the plant and re-hire the former Republic workers.

Several of the Republic workers were at the rally to show their solidarity with the Quad City workers and to pass the torch.

“We must hold Wells Fargo accountable for their lending practices,” said Melvin Maclin, vice-president of UE Local 1110 from Republic Windows. “Now, when we most need it, they should provide the financing needed to keep small businesses open and people working. That’s what we gave them the TARP money for,” he said.

During the rally people picketed in front of the bank, holding signs and shouting, “No justice, no peace, stop foreclosures and keep our plants open.”

At the end they urged Wells Fargo to do the right thing.

Or else, “We’ll be back!” they chanted.

Hundreds rally to stop Illinois budget cuts

By Pepe Lozano

CHICAGO – Hundreds representing dozens of local community groups here rallied in front of the downtown James R. Thompson Center June 4 against the “doomsday” budget cuts that were approved by the Illinois General Assembly late last month.

If the new budget gets approved many important services for children, seniors and working families will be slashed. A minimum of 50 percent cuts to most state funded programs, including the loss of homecare workers for 40,000 seniors and persons with disabilities, and the loss of more than 100,000 jobs are all in jeopardy.

Leaders at the midday rally point out that 80,000 low-income working mothers will lose childcare. Vital community programs such as rape crisis, drug rehabilitation, and violence prevention programs are all on the chopping block. Given the current economic crisis, losing these badly needed services would be absolutely devastating, they charge.

Inside the Thompson Center Governor Pat Quinn and legislative leaders met over lunch as rally leaders testified outside carrying signs and banners, chanting, “No more cuts.”

“Our leaders have failed us and we’re facing a disaster for all of our working families,” said Christina Obregon, organizer with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “These cuts are going to hurt working families in need including children, senior citizens and providing summer jobs for teenagers,” she said. “It’s not fair. We have to make our failed legislative leaders feel our pain.”

Ana Sandoval with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights said, “We expect our legislators to pass policies necessary to protect our safety net, and they failed.” She continued, “This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about people. There is no excuse.”

Katie Brown, an 83-year old leader with Action Now asked, “Why should people like me have to go to a nursing home?” She added, “If they take away my home care worker I’ll be forced to go. I could be in my own home eating what I want and taking naps when I want. Seniors should have the dignity to stay in our own homes,” said Brown.

Services for youth such as college aid, juvenile delinquency prevention and teen pregnancy prevention programs could also be lost.

Maria Degillo, 18, a Filipina youth leader with the Albany Park Neighborhood Council said when she came to the U.S. at age nine, she learned English through a state funded program.

“Those ESL classes helped me do well in this country,” she said. “What will happen to other young people if the funding for ESL classes is gone? Youth need access to these programs, and to summer jobs.” Degillo added, “Building our neighborhood starts with engaging youth, not leaving them isolated and on the streets.”

Degillo lives with her father and brother and said their monthly bills total $5,100, not including food.

“My dad is very sick and the doctor told him he needed to stop working or he could die,” she said. “I work two jobs, along with my brother so we can help pay the bills. But it’s still not enough.” Degillo said if state lawmakers pass these budget cuts, millions of families like hers will continue to suffer in a vicious cycle of poverty.

Diane Doherty is the executive director with the Illinois Hunger Coalition. She recently went on a five-day hunger strike with nine others against the budget cuts in Springfield Ill.

“Half a million kids go hungry in this state,” said Doherty. “It’s disastrous to know how many people lose their jobs here and how many people are left with no safety net whatsoever. And for Ill. lawmakers who are now making more people go hungry and more without any protections, it’s just outrageous.”

Doherty said between January and April an additional 100,000 went on food stamps throughout the state. “If this proposed budget holds up as suggested with the cuts, 40 percent who work in state funded services will see the pink slip,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to end hunger if we don’t get much needed services funded by the state.” Doherty said state lawmakers ought to put people’s needs first and stop playing politics. “The loss of human capital due to this is hard to measure.”

Ultimately there needs to be a tax increase that will not affect the unemployed or small businesses, said Doherty. The wealthy and major corporations that make record profits should have to pay them, she said.

Maria Elena Sifuentes is in the process of getting her teaching degree through the Grow Your Own Teachers program, which educates talented community members to become teachers in hard-to-staff schools. The program is expected to lose all of its funding.

“I’ve sacrificed for years to work for my degree, so that I can teach the children in my community,” said Sifuentes. “If our elected officials fail to raise more revenue, they will kill the dreams of not only the 500 of us teachers in training, but thousands of children as well. This is bad for our kids and bad for our state.”

Anne Hallett is the director with the Grow Your Own teachers program. She said 80 percent of the teacher candidates in the program are women and 85 percent are people of color.

“These are people who work full time and go to college and most of them get loans from the state,” said Hallett. “These cuts leave them high and dry.”

Hallett said programs like hers and others are too important to lose.

“But we’re going to fight to the bitter end to save them,” she said.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Weightlifters help warm US-Cuba relations

By John Bachtell

Chicago – In another sign that relations are changing between the United States and Cuba, 10 Cuban weightlifters participated in the Pan American and Ibero-American Weightlifting championships here June 4-7. The team consisted of 8 men, 2 women and a coach.

The event also tripled as the US Weightlifting championships and is a qualifying event for the Pan American Games of Guadalajara, Mexico in 2011.

“Cuba is a very important player in international competition,” said Lazaro Lopez, a 23 weightlifter from Havana in the 105-kilo (230 lb) class. “The International Weightlifting Federation made every effort to get us here. They told the US government it was absolutely necessary for us to get the visas. Even though we got them, they still denied entry to two of our coaches.”

When asked how the Cuban weightlifters did in the competition, Lopez smiled broadly and said proudly, “magnificent!” He turned to some of his teammates and they quickly counted up 16 gold medals, 5 silver and 1 bronze medal. Lopez himself won three gold medals. “The competition was wonderful. We have some great rivals,” he said.

“Our stay here has gone very well, said coach Rafael Gonzalez. “The events have been very well organized.”

“We were treated very well,” said Lopez. “Chicago is a beautiful city.”
“Because of the intensity of the competition the team had little opportunity to do much sightseeing. The weather was a little cold for them,” said Raphael Ravelo, a Cuban American living in Chicago who assisted the delegation during their stay. “They made many friends and loved everything about their experience.”

Meanwhile a group of 13 US track and field athletes were competing in Havana, Cuba May 30-31 for the first time since 1992 in an event that featured 240 athletes from 15 countries.

Doug Logan, chief executive of USA Track & Field, which governs the sport in the United States, was quoted by Reuters as saying, "As an organization, we had an obligation to re-establish friendships in the Caribbean and re-establish the people-to-people tradition we had with the Cuban people".
Logan was also quoted as saying talks had begun with the aim of increasing track and field events between the two countries.

"We're in a different season, with the new president that we have, and I believe that there is a new opportunity with sports," he said.
Perhaps these modest steps taken in sports competitions will lead to greater breakthroughs in ending the 50 year-old US economic blockade and travel ban for tourists from the US.