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Cuba in transition?

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It has now been formalised. 76-year-old Raul has replaced his elder brother Fidel as the new president of Cuba. The change seemed to have had little impact in Cuba whose people had been expecting such a move after Fidel’s failure to appear in public for the last year and a half and after his recent resignation. The American administration must have been somewhat struck by the calmness with which this has happened.{{more}} A bad signal, however, has been sent to the younger generation by the appointment of 78 year old Machado Ventura as Deputy Leader. There is no doubt that despite this and the fact that Fidel will still be behind the scene giving guidance to his brother where and when necessary, Cuba will be in a period of transition with a younger crew of people waiting in the wings. With the Democrats poised to take over the White House, despite the cautious remarks, especially of Obama, US outworn policy toward Cuba will have to change. The rest of the world, apart from Israel and two little known countries in the Pacific, has been critical of US policy toward Cuba and has made this known through its votes at the United Nations. There is even pressure from the American farming communities and some business interests who are aware that investors from other parts of the world have been moving into Cuba. Cuba will not change its system to accommodate the United States. It has withstood forty years of US sanctions, efforts by the CIA to topple the regime and to kill Castro and their immense propaganda machinery. Cuba, like China will, however, have to make some accommodation if it intends to engage the rest of the world. I have no doubt that change will come and I have always been of the view that the US hard line and foolish approach have restricted change in Cuba whose administration had been forced to draw into itself and defend its sovereignty.

While many of us claim to despise the nature of the political system in Cuba, we have to realise that that is Cuba’s business and they will have to deal with it. We can help them not by encouraging terrorism, which we say we abhor, but by engaging them in a climate where we acknowledge their sovereignty. The hypocrisy where this is concerned stinks, for America has had friendly relations with dictators all over the world. While even cultural links are cut off with Cuba, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra is in North Korea, part of George Bush’s axis of evil. America is a major trading partner of Communist China. The American establishment really cannot easily accept the fact that Castro and the Castro regime have defied them for so long, yes that ‘upstart regime’ just 90 miles away. Many Caribbean people have over the years been swallowing hook, line and sinker the intense American propaganda against Cuba. They accuse Cuba of everything, even of sending troops to Angola to assist in the struggle for Angolan independence and in the struggle against apartheid South Africa, something for which Nelson Mandela personally thanked Fidel. Of course it is okay for the US to assist the Contras in Central America and to send troops any where they want to. That is their God given right. Theirs and theirs alone! Quite often like the Americans we fail to appreciate the fact that Cuba is a small developing or underdeveloped country, if you prefer to see it that way. But it has been praised widely for its excellent health and education systems. Its sportsmen have made a name for themselves everywhere. It has been assisting countries in the Caribbean, Africa and throughout the world in the areas of education and health. Their life expectancy and low infant mortality rates match and even surpass some developed countries. Caricom has excellent relations with Cuba dating back to 1972 when the countries of Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and Barbados defied the United States and established diplomatic relations with that country in the heart of the Cold War. This was not to accept the Cuban system but to recognise the fact that Cuba was a Caribbean country and to respect its sovereignty. The smaller countries which now form part of Caricom were of course not as yet independent. There was even a major issue, rather embarrassment, here some years ago when the father of the great Cuban boxer Theophilus Stevenson wanted to visit St.Vincent and was prevented from coming here. His father, apparently, was of Vincentian descent and wanted to visit St.Vincent but we had to play the American game.

Despite US propaganda and despite the enormous problems and difficulties in Cuba, Fidel Castro would be regarded as one of the great leaders of the 20th century. He did not practise the kind of democracy that we seem to pride ourselves on. He has been accused of being brutal and dictatorial and of having political prisoners, but he commands the respect of the overwhelming majority of his people who undoubtedly would want to have a better way of life and to see changes brought to Cuba. While most other Communist countries have collapsed and have been forced to change their systems, Castro has remained adamant and defiant. He was able to withstand the collapse of the Soviet Union that had contributed so much to the economy of Cuba. He is widely respected throughout the region, even by those countries that maintain strong relations with the United States of America. The big question is what would have happened if America had tried to engage Cuba in terms which respected its sovereignty. The United States embargo created immense difficulties for the Cuban economy and is to a large extent responsible for many of the difficulties that Cuba faces. The American policy is largely influenced by its domestic politics, by the anti-Cuban lobby and by the American exiles in Florida waiting to fleece on the body of Cuba. The American government has even set up departments to engineer and plan for transition in Cuba as if Cuba belongs to it. As with Iraq they hope to move into Cuba and to see American flags flying and Cubans lining the streets greeting them as liberators.

The death of Castro is unlikely to see the collapse of the system which has become institutionalised and not dependent on him. It is still common to knock Castro and Cuba despite their contribution to our part of the world. To hail Castro is not to accept all his shortcomings and the plight of the people of Cuba today. When one acknowledges the problems Cuba has faced over the years the very fact of survival and the gains made in certain areas are testament to the vigour of the Cuban people and its leadership. What is needed at this period is constructive engagement. Cuba has a population of a little over 11 million people. It is a small country with enormous potential. The Cubans are no threat to us. They are our friends. They are not telling us to accept their system. We need meanwhile to look more closely at ourselves for under the guise of our Westminster ‘democracies’ we tolerate quite a lot. Instead of constantly criticising Cuba we must hold a mirror to our society and deal with our deficiencies and poor governance. This post Fidel period will undoubtedly be one of transition. The question is transition to what. It depends ultimately on the process and climate of engagement with the rest of the world. If America rids itself of its arrogance it can help to guide not control the process.

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