Cuba: a Matter of Principle

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People carry a banner reading “Union, Commitment and Victory” during a May Day rally in Havana, Cuba May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

by ROSE MIRIAM ELIZALDE | January 27, 2020

Think tanks in the United States and Cuban researchers agree on one thing: the policy of more sanctions and the extension of the U.S. blockade will not change the socialist course of Cuba. In the case of the island, punishment produces the exact opposite of weakness. It has been that way for more than 60 years and nothing indicates that it will change, just because Donald Trump wants to win Florida in 2020 and satisfy the Cuban-American right by raising his fist against the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel.

The resumption by the Trump administration of the hegemonic presumption that contemplates punishment and hostile policies will not change Cuban policy. On the contrary, it will again polarize foreign relations with other countries, both inside and outside the Western Hemisphere, while negatively affecting jobs in both the United States and Cuba, concludes a study just published by U.S. lawyer Bruce Zagaris for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, where he addresses the excessive use of sanctions by the U.S. government and how they produce unintended consequences.

One of the most informed analysts on relations between the two countries, Cuban Jesús Arboleya, acknowledges that successive administrations in the White House have not succeeded in making the Cuban revolution yield or betray its principles, and will not do so now in the face of Washington’s decision to insist on conditions for Cuba’s relationship with Venezuela.

In spite of the deployment of forces carried out,” Arboleya states, “neither the intelligent power of Obama nor the ‘counter-intelligence’ of Trump have achieved the purpose of altering Cuba’s alliance with Venezuela and, much less, defeating their respective revolutionary processes. This calls into question the real capacity of the United States to do so.”

It would add an additional reason exposed by Arboleya. The U.S. government has already gone through similar situations of blackmail and conditioning of the island, and it failed miserably. For example, the government of Gerald Ford put an end to clandestine talks with Fidel Castro’s envoys to normalize relations, when it became known that Cuban troops were confronting the racist South Africans, then allies of the United States. Nelson Mandela would remember learning of the Cuban victory in Angola while he was imprisoned on Robben Island, “I was in prison when I first heard of the massive aid that Cuban internationalist forces were giving to the people of Angola. …We in Africa are used to being victims of other countries that want to tear apart our territory or subvert our sovereignty. In African history, there is no other case of a people that has risen up in defense of one of our own.”

In 1980, the Democrat government of Jimmy Carter also proposed lifting the blockade if Cuba withdrew its fighters from Angola, as documented by Johns Hopkins University researcher Piero Gleijeses. Cuba did not give in and history rewarded the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Cuban soldiers who returned victorious and with no reward other than the remains of their comrades who had fallen in combat.

The presence of Cuban troops in Africa not only guaranteed the independence of Angola and Namibia, but, in Mandela’s words, “destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor and inspired the fighting people of South Africa… The battle fought by the Cubans in Cuito Cuanavale (Angola) marked the turning point in the struggle to rid the continent and our country of the scourge of apartheid.”

For decades, day-to-day life in the Caribbean has begun with one consistent premise; Cuba remains determined not to change its system, not because of stubbornness, but because this boldness has been and continues to be the driving force that makes the nation’s existence viable in the face of the obsessive hostility of its powerful northern neighbor. Modifications are being introduced, such as those that were recently made to the Constitution, but they are those that Cubans want to give themselves freely, in the exercise of their culture, their interests, their dreams, their projects and their sovereignty.

For the ordinary citizen, the blockade means that you can spend an hour and a half in line to buy detergent or to get on public transport, but socialism guarantees the right to receive an education and an organ transplant free of charge that only a millionaire could afford anywhere else in the world. Everyday life on the island makes it clear that it is hard to break out of the capitalist mold–that it is hard to put a new system in place when you are 90 miles off the coast of the United States. We are not forgiven for being a country that has tried to build an ideal, which may be the one that the U.S. government does not want, but it is our ideal, President Díaz-Canel said as much in this week in dialogue with the foreign press accredited in Cuba during a tour of the island’s east.

When I was standing in line this Wednesday for detergent at a small shop in front of the port of Havana, I was struck by a woman who was standing very tall while carrying a bulky backpack, with things she had bought elsewhere. In the hour and a half she waited, she never laid her luggage down, as if it were a matter of principle. I ended up asking her why. The answer was brutally simple and it comes to the point: You don’t let go of what you have if you have the strength to hold it.

This column originally appeared in La Jornada.

Translation, Resumen Latinoamericano North America bureau.

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