What People Are We Talking About? / Dimas Castellanos

Havana (El Nuevo Herald)

Dimas Castellanos, 18 January 2016 — A commentary on five foreign policy issues raised by the Cuban president, Raul Castro, on December 29, 2015 during the closing session of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

1. Since 2015 there have been benefits from mutually advantageous, cooperative relationships with various countries, particularly the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

True, but these benefits are the result of a relationship that does not follow the normal laws of commerce. The reduction or total loss of Venezuelan petroleum subsidies and its impact on Cuba would be a repeat of what happened with subsidies from the former Soviet Union. Both examples illustrate the impossibility of sustaining an economy that is not self-supporting and the government’s inability to learn from past lessons. The cold, hard fact is that events in Venezuela help explain the real cause of the reported decline in GDP in 2015.

2. At the close of the last regular session of the National Assembly, I noted that an imperialist and oligarchic offensive has been launched against progressive Latin American revolutionary undertakings, which our people will challenge with determination.

We are sure that new victories will come to the Bolivarian and Chavez Revolution under the leadership of Comrade Maduro against the constant, destabilizing onslaught from the right, encouraged and supported by outside forces.

We rely on the commitment of the Venezuela’s revolutionaries and its people, overwhelmingly Bolivarian and Chavista, to follow the legacy of the unforgettable President Hugo Chavez.

We are convinced that the Venezuelan people, as they did in 2002, and the civil-military alliance will not allow the achievements of the Revolution to be dismantled and will know how to turn this setback into victory.

Cuba will always stand beside the Fatherland of Simon Bolivar and call for an international mobilization to defend the sovereignty and independence of Venezuela, and for acts of interference in its internal affairs to cease.

To claim that what has occurred in Venezuela is the result of an imperialist offensive is to sidestep the incompetency demonstrated by the Chavez regime. The use of a substantial portion of the bonanza generated by the high price of petroleum in order to export Bolivarian populism to the region instead of using it to diversify an economy entirely dependent on the production of oil only proves this point. The obsession for expansion over diversification has had a greater negative impact than any “imperialist offensive” in creating the disastrous situation in which this South American country finds itself.

To say that events there will be confronted by “our people” is to deny that the majority of Venezuelans, after supporting Chavez for years, cast a protest vote. Given this situation, one must ask the following questions. What people are we talking about? Do the millions of Venezuelans who voted for the opposition candidates not also make up the people? Who and what criteria define who the people are? When were “our people” asked to challenge the decision by those categorized as non-people?

Suggesting that new victories will come to the Bolivarian revolution led by Maduro, evoking commitments by revolutionaries to the legacy of Chavez and ignoring the popular will as expressed at the polls is a manifestation of interference in the internal affairs of another country, something that the government of Cuba has always accused the United States of doing.

All indications are that what occurred there could occur here if truly democratic elections were held. It seems, however, that the takeaway lesson is to postpone once again any step that could lead to democratization. The great danger is that without democratization there will be no solution to the numerous and serious problems facing Cuban society. Nevertheless, the process underway is unstoppable, especially given the change in mentality that is occurring among Cubans since diplomatic relations have been restored with our neighbor to the north. Democratization will come one way or another, but it will come. Trying to stop it is a march against history, against the winds of change sweeping through the region, against the destiny of the Cuban nation. And therefore it will fail in the end.

3. The proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace by all the heads of state at the second CELAC summit, which took place in Havana in January 2014, is a solid basis for developing relations between our countries and internationally. 

At this conclave the Cuban president stated, “For years our region has been a zone free of nuclear arms… but we believe that is not enough. We believe it is necessary for the region’s heads of state and heads of government to formally agree that any difference, any conflict, shall always be resolved through the dialogue of negotiation and that it will never end in threats or the use of force.”

Contrary to these emotional words, the decision to challenge the results of democratic elections in Venezuela could lead to civil war. Then the declaration of Latin American and Caribbean countries as a zone of peace would be nothing more than an empty slogan if these nations do not renounce the domestic use of violence. It would reveal a lack of political will to achieve it whenever peace is threatened by revolutionary populism.

4. As indicated in the Declaration of the Revolutionary Government, published on December 1, the “wet foot dry foot” policy, the Parole Program for Cuban doctors and the Cuban Adjustment Act remain the principal incentives driving the abnormally high level of emigration from Cuba to the United States.

The principal incentives are not US policies. For one action to be the cause of another, it has to precede it. The massive and continuous exodus that has turned Cuba from a country to which people immigrated to one from which people emigrated began in 1959, before these policies even existed. The real cause is the nature of the totalitarian system itself, which — while depriving Cubans of their civil liberties — has been unable to develop a viable economy capable of satisfying the basic needs of its citizens.

Beyond the impact that the prolonged conflict between the two governments might have had, it is only logical that there would be migration from a country with a poor economy to one with the most advanced economy in the world.

Given this reality, the only thing that could halt the exodus would be a structural transformation capable of guaranteeing Cubans’ basic needs, something that ideological entrenchment prevents.

The best proof of this is the increasing emigration from other parts of the world to destination countries which have not adopted anything even resembling the Cuban Adjustment Act. People simply move from areas where conditions are bad to where they are better, something that even certain species of animals do, including migratory birds, who do not relocate because of some “wet wing–dry wing” policy.

Also, the United States is not the principal country to which doctors are fleeing. They have to be recertified there, which involves paying for licensing exams and getting by until they are granted permission to practice medicine.

The only doctors going to the United States are those willing to work at anything or the few cases in which family members assume the costs of recertification. A bigger factor in the exodus of doctors is the fifty thousand physicians rented out to other parts of the world, a situation in which the level of exploitation is not difficult for them to understand.

5. We have reiterated that, in order to normalize bilateral relations, the government of the United States must lift the embargo and the seizure of territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval Base without insisting that Cuba abandon the cause of independence or renounce the principles and ideals for which several generations of Cubans have fought for a century and a half.

As stated, these demands are not feasible. Once bilateral relations have been reestablished, solutions must be sought through bilateral negotiation. If the Cuban government does not want to make concessions to a foreign government, it must make concessions to its people, who are denied means of expression, institutions, rights and freedoms.

If it acts in this way, it would strengthen the position of the US president, who has demonstrated a willingness to move towards full normalization of relations with Cuba, weaken the position of the members of Congress opposed to lifting the embargo and advance the goal much more quickly than by levelling accusations and condemnations through the United Nations. More than ever, the solution ultimately depends on the course of conduct the government of Cuba decides to follow.

Originally published in Diario de Cuba