There are two complementary angles from which to interpret both this visit and the entire process of attempting to normalize relations: what they mean for assessing the past, and what they mean as we move towards the future.
Looking to the past, it is clear that the recently initiated process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States must be interpreted as a victory, writ large, of the revolutionary and socialist people of Cuba, of their convictions, their capacity for resistance and sacrifice, their culture, their ethical commitment to social justice; and as a victory for Latin American solidarity with Cuba.
There are some things so obvious to us Cubans that sometimes we forget to underscore them.
• This normalization process was started during the lifetimes of the historic leadership of the Revolution, and has been conducted by leaders of that same generation.
• It implied recognition for the institutional legitimacy of Cuba’s revolution, recognition denied to our Liberating Army in 1898, and also to the Rebel Army in 1959 (although, yes, accorded to the dictatorships of Gerardo Machado and Fulgencio Batista).
• It included explicit recognition of the Revolution’s accomplishments, at least in education and health (the two that were mentioned).
• It included explicit recognition of Cuban assistance offered in solidarity to other peoples of the world, and its contribution to such noble causes as global health and the elimination of apartheid in Africa.
• It included explicit acceptance of the fact that decisions about changes and socioeconomic models in Cuba belong exclusively to Cubans, that we have (and have earned) the right to organize our society differently from the way others do.
• It implied a declaration to abandon the military and subversive option, as well as the intent to abandon coercion, as instruments of US policy towards Cuba.
• It expressly acknowledged the failure of policies hostile to Cuba implemented by preceding administrations, which implies (although not declared as such) recognition for the conscious resistance offered by the Cuban people, since hostile policies only fail in the face of tenacious resistance.
• It recognized the suffering the blockade has caused the Cuban people.
• This process did not emerge from concessions by Cuba of a single one of our principles; or from backing off on demands to end the blockade and return the illegally occupied territory in Guantánamo.
• It included public acknowledgment that the United States was isolated in Latin America and the world because of its policy towards Cuba.
I don’t believe that any reasonable, informed person in today’s world could interpret this normalization process as anything but a victory for Cuba in its historic differendum with the United States.
Looking to the past, this is the only possible interpretation.
Now then, looking to the future, things are more complicated, and there are at least two possible and extreme interpretations, as well as their intermediate variations:
• The hypothesis of perverse conspiracy
• The hypothesis of divergent conceptions about human society
Both are being debated on Cuban street corners. Readers should be aware at this point that I don’t plan to argue for one or the other of these two hypotheses, or for any combination of the two. Future developments will put them to the test, and everyone will be able to draw their own conclusions from this “passage into the unknown.”
Those who defend the hypothesis of perverse conspiracy see President Obama’s words as false promises or subtle deception, at the service of a plan conceived for us to open our doors to US capital and the influence of its mass media; allow a privileged economic sector to expand in Cuba, one that with time would be transformed into the social base for the restoration of capitalism and renunciation of national sovereignty. That would be the first step towards returning Cuba to a country of rich and poor, dictators and gangsters— such as we had in the 1950s.
Cubans who think this way have the right to do so: many past deeds in our common history justify such enormous mistrust. These are well known and I don’t need to list them here.
Many people remember the famous phrase attributed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, referring to Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza: “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”
Of course neither President Obama, nor today’s generations of North Americans of good will (and there are many) are to blame, as individuals, for the first stages of this historical journey. But also, undeniably, the history is there and it conditions what they can do and the way we interpret what they do. History’s processes are much longer than a single human lifetime, and events occurring many decades ago influence our options now, because they influence collective attitudes that exist objectively and relatively independent of leaders’ ideas and intentions.
Even distancing President Obama from the aggressive and immoral policies of previous administrations—those that organized invasions, protected terrorists, fomented assassinations of Cuban leaders and implemented intentions to starve the Cuban people into submission—even establishing this distinction, it can’t be forgotten that Obama alone is not the policy-making class in the United States.
In all honesty, I should recognize that the impression given by President Obama here wasn’t as conveyor of a perverse conspiracy, but rather as an intelligent, educated man, who believes in what he says. What happens then is that the things he believes in (with every right) are different from those we believe in (also with every right).
This is the second hypothesis then, the one concerning different conceptions of human society, differences that were quite evident in all that was said and also what was left unsaid, throughout the visit by President Obama and his delegation.
They made it very clear that the main direction US relations with Cuba will take will be economic, and within the economic arena, the main strategy will be to engage with and support the non-state sector.
That was very clear, in the speeches and symbolic messages, taking distance from the socialist state-sector economy, as if “state” property were the property of some strange entity, not ownership by the whole people, as it is in reality.
We agree that a non-state sector should exist in the Cuban economy. In fact, expanded space for self-employment and cooperatives is part and parcel of implementing the Guidelines that emerged from the 6th [Communist] Party Congress. But we disagree on the role that this non-state sector should have in our economy:
• They see it as the main component of the economy; we see it as a complement to its main component, the socialist state enterprise. As a matter of fact, today the non-state sector, although providing nearly 30% of jobs, contributes less that 12% of the country’s GDP, an indication of its limitations in terms of value added.
• They pose [the non-state sector] as equivalent to “innovation”; we see it as a sector with relatively low value added. Innovation is found in high tech and science, and their links with the socialist state enterprise. Cubans’ innovative spirit has been expressed over these past few years in many other ways, such as the development of biotechnology, its medicines and vaccines; massive training in new information technologies at the University of Informatics Sciences; urban agriculture; the energy revolution; and many other achievements during the Special Period [of dramatic economic crisis], none of which were mentioned in our visitors’ speeches.
• They see private initiative as “empowering the people”; we see it as “empowering one part” of the people, and a relatively small part. The people’s role as protagonists is found in the state enterprises, and in our large publicly-funded sector (including health, education, sports and public safety), where the real work is done for all the people and where most of the wealth is created. We can’t accept the implicit message that the non-state sector is equivalent to “the Cuban people”. This wasn’t stated so brutally, but is quite clearly inferred from the discourse.
• They tacitly separate the concept of “initiative” from state ownership. We see in the state sector our main opportunities for productive initiatives. That’s how I explained it in the Business Forum, using the example of the Molecular Immunology Center where I work, which I described as “a company with 11 million stockholders”.
• They see the non-state sector as a source of social development; we see it as a double-edged sword, also a source of social inequalities (of which we already see evidence in such things as the recent debates on food prices), inequalities that will have to be controlled by fiscal policies that reflect our values.
• They believe in the driving force of competition (although this concept has been questioned even by serious ideologues of capitalist economies). We are familiar with its rapacious nature, eroding social cohesion, and we believe more in the dynamic, the driving force, that emerges from programs that consider the whole nation.
• They believe that the market efficiently distributes investments in response to demand; we believe the market doesn’t respond to real demand, but rather to “demand by those with money in their pockets”, and deepens social inequalities.
• They base their case on the history of corporate development in the United States, a country whose economy took off in the 19th century, under global economic conditions unrepeatable today. We know that underdeveloped nations with dependent economies face different realities, especially in the 21st century; they won’t develop their economies, or their science and technology, based on small private, competitive initiatives, or by trying to reproduce the path of today’s industrialized countries 300 years later. That would be a recipe for perpetuating underdevelopment and dependence, with an economy designed as an appendage and complement to the US economy, something which Cubans already saw in the 19th century when such dependence submerged us in a single-crop economy and closed the door to industrialization. Understanding this comes from looking at history, and thus, history is something we can’t forget.
Taking the road to civilized co-existence “with our differences” means the whole Cuban people need to arrive at a deep understanding of those differences, to keep specific and apparently rational decisions on tactical economic questions from leading to strategic errors; and worse still, allowing others to push us towards such errors, by virtue of what is said and what is left unsaid.
We knew how to avoid such errors at the beginning of the Special Period, when the European socialist camp disappeared and the world was awash in the neoliberal ideology of the nineties. We will know how to do this even better now.
Civilized co-existence certainly distances us from the risk and barbarity of war (both military and economic), but it doesn’t exonerate us from battling in the field of ideas.
We need to win this battle of ideas in order to win the economic battle.
Cuba’s 21st-century economic battle will be fought on three main fronts:
1. The socialist state enterprise’s efficiency and growth capacity, as well as its insertion in the global economy
2. The link between science and the economy, through high-tech companies, with products and services of high value added, that expand our export portfolio
3. Conscious limitation on the extension of social inequalities, through action by the socialist state
On these fronts the Cubans’ 21st century will be decided.
The battle of ideas consists of consolidating our thinking and consensus about where we want to go and in concrete terms, how to get there.
The Florida Straits’ waters shouldn’t be the scenario for war, and it’s very good for everyone that this be so. But for a long time, those waters will continue to separate two different conceptions of how human beings should live together, of the way people organize themselves to work and live in society, and of the distribution of the fruits of their labor. And it’s also very good that this be so. Our ideal for human society is rooted in our historical experience and in the collective soul of Cubans, brilliantly synthesized in José Martí’s thinking. He studied and understood US society better than anyone of his time, and said: “our life has no resemblance to it, nor should it at too many points.”
Capitalism’s essential belief, even among those who sincerely think so, is that material prosperity is constructed on the basis of private property and competition. Ours is that creativity is motivated by ideals of social equity and solidarity among people, including future generations. Our concept of society represents the future…even if the future takes some time in coming, conditioned objectively by the present. It still represents the future for which we have to struggle.
Private property and competition represent the past, and although this past still necessarily exists within the present, it continues to be the past.
You always have to see the concepts behind the words spoken, and the reasons why other words are left unspoken.
The battle for our ideal of how human beings should live together will be in the hands of today’s generations of young Cubans, who in their time will confront challenges different from the ones faced by 20th-century revolutionaries, but all the same great, transcendental and also more complex.
Analyzing the these challenges’ complexities, I have to confess I’d like to enlist once again in the Union of Communist Youth, whose membership card (No. 7784 of 1963) sits on the desk in front of me. I’m still a communist, but I’ve had to accept that I’m no longer “young.” Yet what I can do is share with young people an analysis of what is being said today and what has been left unsaid, and together with them construct the intellectual tools we need for the battles ahead.
José Martí wrote in April, 1895: “The biggest war unleashed against us will be in the realm of ideas: so we will win it with ideas.”
Published on 4 April 2016 by Granma
To visit the Solidaridad con Panamá (Solidarity with Panama) School, where 180 children and young people with physical and intellectual disabilities or cerebrovascular diseases study, is a moment to rid oneself of sorrows, and be inspired by the determination to overcome any difficulties that lie ahead.
Students at the school are motivated by the staff who work closely with them every day, some 110 workers in total, including 64 teachers, and over 40 assistants, physical therapists and other professionals. Some of whom have also provided educational services in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and other countries.
The school, located in the Fontanar neighborhood in the municipality of Boyeros, Havana, is a site without architectural barriers to mobility, characterized for its cleanliness, order, discipline, lighting in every corner and use of color to invoke peace and happiness.
The Solidaridad con Panamá School was inaugurated by the leader of the Cuban Revolution Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz on 31 December 1989, in the context of U.S. military aggression against Panama. The school teaches at three levels: primary, secondary, and for children with intellectual and developmental difficulties. The school also participates in the “Educate Your Child” program, which offers tools for parents with disabled children.
Walking around the site, one comes across children with no hands eating with their feet; a child who has difficulty walking pushing the wheelchair of another; or another holding a pencil between his teeth to write during class. They all play the normal games for their age, particularly enjoy art classes and get up to mischief now and again. There is no sense here of pity for these children, solely because they have certain limitations.
What stands out is the joy expressed on each of their faces. They all are eager to be photographed and open to talk to anyone. Teachers, workers and students clearly recall key moments in the 25 year history of the school.
Published on 8 April by Granma
Cuban leader Fidel Castro attended an event honoring revolutionary heroine Vilma Espín, on April 7.
He visited the Vilma Espín educational center located in the Havana municipality of Playa, where, along with preschool and elementary students and teachers, he participated in a tribute to the founder of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), held on the 86th anniversary of Vilma’s birth.
“I am sure that on a day like today, Vilma would be very happy,” the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution said.
“She would be seeing why she sacrificed her life, why those who die struggling for the Revolution leave energy along the way, leave strength, and struggle for this,” he added
Fidel, who will celebrate his 90th birthday in August, could be seen in the television broadcast spiritedly greeting the children and teachers, and discussing issues related to education, health and nutrition.
“Those of us who are here consider being in this school today a privilege, since this type of school is getting close to a kind of dream. I was trying to remember if I had known of a place where a school like this one existed. Such a place doesn’t appear,” Fidel said.
Boris Fuentes, the Cuban television journalist covering the event, reported that Fidel emphasized the school’s experience and its utility for rural areas.
Currently attending the Vilma Espín School are preschool and elementary children, while a middle school program is to be initiated next September.
The educational center was inaugurated April 9, 2013, with two classroom buildings, a library, as well as computer lab, and is staffed by a total of 43 individuals including teachers, assistants and service workers.
Link to video in Spanish can be found here
Published on 28 March 2016 by teleSUR.
Cuba's Fidel Castro has responded to U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to his country last week in an opinion piece for the website Cuba Debate.
In the article, published Monday, the iconic revolutionary figure explained that "Cuba doesn't need the empire to give us anything," adding that "nobody should be under the illusion that the people of this noble and selfless country will surrender their rights and spiritual wealth that they have won with the development of education, science and culture,” under the Cuban Revolution.
He added that Cuba can "produce the food and material wealth we need through effort and intelligence of our people."
Published on 30 March 2016 by Granma.
Much more is revealed by what Obama didn’t say in Havana, than the little he did, no matter how choice his words. This is the same Obama who could do much more given his Presidential powers and yet has not. Dario Machado reports.
Like many others, I followed the visit by Barack Obama to our country and experienced mixed feelings: on the one hand, the healthy patriotic and revolutionary pride of witnessing a U.S. president rectifying the policy toward Cuba and repeating on our own soil that the blockade must be ended, reaffirming respect for our sovereignty and independence, which we Cubans have earned with our sacrifice, our sweat, our blood, our history; and on the other hand, the danger posed by those who believe that with these lukewarm changes, the contradiction between the interests of U.S. imperialism and the Cuban nation has disappeared. But it was only after listening to his speech that Tuesday morning that I decided to write this, because, as Fidel warned over half a century ago, from now on everything will be more difficult.
Who could doubt the enormous complexity of U.S. society, where black and white analysis is of little value?
Published on 18 March 2016 by teleSUR.
Cuba has awarded Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro one of the Caribbean country’s highest honors, the Maximum National Order.
"Jose Marti was the biggest Bolivariano of the 19th century, a loyal interpreter of the genuine spirit of the Liberator."
Maduro was in Cuba on Friday to accept the award, named after Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti.
“Our union comes from love, brotherhood, identity, from two peoples with heroic histories,” Maduro said on receiving the award. This award is truly for the heroic people of Venezuela, who have battled, and who do not give in.”
Cuba and Venezuela have a long history of solidarity, with joint projects like Miracle Mission, to cure blindness, and Mission Barrio Adentro, bringing thousands of Cuban doctors to Venezuela.
Published on 22 March by Granma.
The President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, set off from Havana’s José Martí International Airport aboard the Air Force One plane this Tuesday afternoon, bringing his official visit to Cuba, which began on Sunday March 20, to an end.
He was accompanied and bid farewell at the airport by the President of the Councils of State and Ministers Raúl Castro Ruz.
Obama will now travel to Argentina to meet with his counterpart Mauricio Macri.
During his visit to the island, the U.S. President, together with his accompanying delegation, toured sites in Old Havana including the Plaza de Armas, the Captain Generals' Palace and the Cathedral of Havana, accompanied by City Historian Eusebio Leal Spengler.
On the morning of Monday, March 21, Barack Obama paid tribute to Cuba’s national hero, José Martí, laying a floral wreath to the monument in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, and held official talks with the President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz. Following the talks, both presidents offered statements to the press, which received wide international media coverage.
Published on 22/03/16 by teleSUR.
Below we look at how the United States government has provided “assistance” in order to sow dissent within Cuban society.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with U.S.-backed opposition organizations on Tuesday in Cuba as part of his visit to the island.
Leading up to his meeting, teleSUR takes a look at the historic ties between Cuban dissidents and the U.S. government.
Despite the thawing of diplomatic relations, the U.S. government continues to provide financial “assistance” to individuals and groups dedicated to "regime change" in Cuba.
Published on 17 March 2016 by teleSUR.
In the context of developing Cuba-U.S. relations, on March 2, 2016 in Geneva, the Deputy secretary of State of the U.S. State Department, Antony J. Blinken, issued the National Statement at the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. In this statement he indicated that Obama during his visit to Cuba in March “will emphasize that the Cuban people are best served by an environment where people are free to choose their political parties and their leaders ...”
Let us concentrate for the moment on the theme of “choosing their leaders.”