Cuban socialism charts dangerous waters

On 30 October, Cuba once again trounced the US at the United Nations, as 184 countries voted against the illegal US blockade of the island. Only three countries – loyal ally Israel and the miniscule and highly dependent Palau and Marshall Islands – stood with US imperialism. Although the US will continue to blatantly ignore the ruling, the vote represents a moral and political victory for Cuba, coming as it did just a week after President Bush launched a new initiative to foment international opposition to the Cuban Revolution.

Economic warfare
‘Every means should be undertaken to weaken the economic life of Cuba to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government’ (declassified State Department document, 1960)

This is the 16th consecutive year that the UN has voted against the blockade – described by Cuba as an act of economic warfare – with a year-on-year increase in support for Cuba, despite behind-the-scenes threats and manoeuvres by the US. Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Roque estimated that the cost to the Cuban economy of what he described as ‘a blatant, massive and systematic violation of the rights of our people’ has been $89bn over the last 46 years – or $222bn in current dollar terms. There is no part of the economy that has not been affected.

Yet with supreme hypocrisy, on 24 October, in his first major speech on Cuba since Fidel Castro stepped down temporarily a year ago, George Bush outlined what he described as the ‘economic misery’ of ‘communism’ suffered by the Cuban people. ‘Cars pre-date the revolution…and some Cubans rely on horse carts for transportation. Housing…is in very poor condition… clinics for ordinary Cubans suffer from chronic shortages in medicine and equipment… There are long lines for basic necessities’. In the same breath, he called for Congress ‘to show our support and solidarity for fundamental change in Cuba by maintaining our embargo on the dictatorship until it changes’.

A new Cold War
Bush’s 24 October speech launched an initiative to set up an international multi-million dollar ‘Freedom Fund for Cuba’ to be given to Cuba once it has adopted what he called ‘fundamental freedoms’ and has ‘made the transition to democracy’– all of which is imperialist-speak for ‘has embraced capitalism’. Felipe Roque described it as ‘an unprecedented escalation in the anti-Cuba policy of more blockade, more subversion and more attempts at isolation’.

The US maintains a twin-track policy against Cuba. On the one hand there is direct aggression, through a blockade designed to starve the country to its knees, and the funding of Miami-based terrorism against Cuba. But more insidious and more dangerous is its policy of political sabotage, through propaganda and the funding of dissident groups and proponents of capitalism within Cuba itself. Bush’s speech marked a significant ratcheting up of this threat, with a call to ‘the Cuban people’ to rise up against ‘the ruling class’ who have created a ‘tropical gulag’ and the seductive promise of millions of dollars worth of aid (‘especially to Cuban entrepreneurs’) if they do so. He used the example of Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia – where imperialism implemented precisely such a strategy – calling pro-US dissidents ‘the leaders of the future’ and – in an illegal bid to incite a coup – appealing to the Cuban police and military to side against the government, offering them a place in a future regime if they did so. He paraded a series of anti-Cuban exiles in a well-worn attack on Cuba’s record on human rights. Most sinister of all, he stressed again and again that the United States was not interested in ‘stability’:

‘Cuba’s transition from a shattered society to a free country may be long and difficult. Things will not always go as hoped. There will be difficult adjustments to make…If Cuba is to enter a new era, it must find a way to reconcile and forgive those who have been part of the system but who do not have blood on their hands’.

Cubans chart their own future
While Bush’s speech is little short of a manifesto for civil war it also gives, as Felipe Roque pointed out ‘an idea of the level of frustration, of desperation and of personal hatred towards Cuba’. An embattled president whose time is running out, George Bush leaves behind an economy in freefall and a country enmeshed in an unwinnable war in Iraq and, like a cornered rat, is lashing out on all fronts. His speech describes an inversion of the real society the Cubans are building. Cuba’s economy is growing and targets for oil production, for example, are being met; the transition of power to the vice-president did not signal the end of socialism but its consolidation. The democratic process of consultation taking place throughout the country to address the very real problems caused by the US blockade and the Special Period are hardly redolent of a breakdown of ‘community and simple trust between human beings’ or ‘a disgraced and dying order’; in the first round of Cuba’s municipal elections in October, turnout was 95%, with just over 3% of ballots spoiled (despite a campaign orchestrated in Miami for a mass spoiling of ballot papers) – giving the lie to Bush’s fantastical image of a people engaged in a final ‘push for freedom’ amid ‘the dying gasps of a failed regime’.

In June, against US opposition, the United Nations withdrew its Special Rapporteur on Human Rights from Cuba as being unnecessary. Despite Bush’s assertion that Cubans might be listening to his speech ‘at great risk’ on the illegal US-funded Radio and TV Marti, in fact it was substantially reprinted in the Cuban state newspaper Granma and 15 minutes of it shown on Cuban television. The Cuban government is not afraid of the lies and twisted propaganda of Bush’s brutal and desperate administration. Bush tells us that ‘The day is coming when the Cuban people will chart their own course for a better life’. The truth is that the Cuban people have been charting that course for the past 49 years, and that course is socialism.

Cat Wiener

Fundamental freedoms: the right to food

In early November UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, spent 11 days in Cuba discussing with officials, farmers, managers and ordinary people queuing for rations, as well as investigating claims of substandard food in Cuban prisons. In his report he stated ‘We haven’t seen even one malnourished person…[in Cuba] the right to being fed is a priority’. He hailed Cuba as a world model in feeding its population.

Cuba is one of 32 countries that include ‘the right to food’ in their constitutions and among the very few who meet that pledge to all, he said. However, he did point out that Cuba urgently needs to reduce its reliance on food imports. In November, Cuba signed a $100m contract for rice with Vietnam, reflecting a drop in rice imports from the US, which no longer offers credit, from 175,000 tonnes in 2005 to 80,000 tonnes last year. However, this year’s efforts at food production in Cuba have been set back by the recent tropical storm that has wrecked crops, homes and infrastructure in the eastern part of the island, causing millions of dollars worth of damage.

FRFI 200 December 2007 / January 2008


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