September 23, 2008
Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura, the highest ranking Cuban official to visit New York since Fidel Castro's trip to the city eight years ago, was greeted by ovations.
The No. 2 man in Cuba was welcomed in Upper Manhattan with three standing ovations Monday, where a cheering crowd praised Cuban Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura before he even uttered a word.
Machado, 77, first vice president of Cuba's council of state, appeared at a Harlem church Monday, the first Cuban delegation to visit the United States since Fidel Castro permanently turned over power to his brother seven months ago.
He's the highest ranking official to visit here since Castro's last trip to New York eight years ago.
Before an adoring crowd of anti-embargo activists, Machado denounced U.S. policy in Latin America, saying it's no longer enough for people like Bolivia's Evo Morales and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez to have been elected democratically.
''Now they have to govern democratically,'' Machado said. 'That's the new term they use. When they speak of `govern' democratically, it means they don't govern the way we want them to.''
Washington is finding it harder and harder to spread its ''imperialism'' as more and more countries throughout Latin America elect leftist leaders, he said.
Machado Ventura is an old army war medic, a doctor who spent years at Raúl Castro's side on the battlefield and then decades in politics. A trusted member of the old guard, he has become the visible face of the government since the country was hit by two devastating storms in the past three weeks.
While Raúl Castro works the phones, Machado Ventura has been working the cameras. After several weeks of visiting the regions most affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, Machado is representing Havana this week at the United Nations.
His Harlem speech touched on the five Cuban intelligence agents jailed in federal prisons, the U.S. embargo against Cuba, and praised his government for evacuating millions of people before two storms. Cuba, he said, suffered seven fatalities while more than 50 died when Ike struck U.S. shores.
''The question everyone was asking up until about a year ago was: What will happen when Fidel Castro stepped aside? Will the country fall apart? Will there a revolution or dancing in the street?'' said Rev. Lucius Walker, the Pastors for Peace minister who introduced Machado. ``By your years of service to the revolution, you answered that question.''
Machado is a former minister of health who has been a member of the Council of State and National Assembly for 30 years.