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Cuba Today


Bohmer

Forty

years ago on April 16th , 2001, in the Vedado section of Havana, Fidel Castro

announced to the Cuban people and beyond that the Cuban revolution had become a

socialist revolution. On April 16th, 2001 in the same place, Fidel reaffirmed

Cuba’s commitment to socialism to an enthusiastic gathering of a reported half a

million people.

Fidel

spoke for slightly over an hour on a hot and sunny day in the late afternoon.

For the first 25 minutes, he recounted the historic days of April 15th to 19th,

1961. Forty years ago on April 15th, pilots from the U.S. and Cuban exiles tried

to destroy the Cuban airforce by intense bombing. They destroyed some but not

most of the Cuban military planes. This was the beginning of the Bay of Pigs

invasion, an illegal U.S. organized effort to overthrow the legitimate and

popular Cuban revolutionary government. Over 1200 Cuban exiles trained and paid

by the CIA and heavily armed, landed in Playa Giron (or the Bay of Pigs) in

central Cuba, early on April 17th, 1961. They hoped to establish themselves

there and then call for U.S. military support. The Cuban armed forces, aided by

hundreds of thousands of Cubans who had mobilized in militias, quickly defeated

the counterrevolutionary Cubans who surrendered unconditionally two days later.

Fidel, in his speech today, honored the Cubans who died in these attacks. He and

many of the speakers at this huge rally, called the Bay of Pigs the first defeat

of U.S. imperialism in the Americas. On Cuban TV and in towns and cities

throughout Cuba, the defeat of the U.S. sponsored invasion of 40 years ago is

being celebrated. The survival of a non-capitalist Cuba 90 miles from the U.S.

against continued U.S. aggression is inspiring .and deserves to be honored. Part

of the purpose of these gatherings is to reinvigorate the revolutionary spirit

of the Cuban people in a period of continuing economic hardship for most.

The

bulk of Fidel’s speech was devoted to the theme that the advances of the Cuban

people are because of the socialist nature of the Cuban revolution. In a

rhythmic manner, he told the attentive audience that without socialism, Cuba

would not have free education from primary school through the university, free

health care for all, an infant mortality rate of 7 per 1000, full entry of women

into all aspects of society and low rates of drug addiction and violence. Castro

also told the audience that without socialism, Cuba would not be the society it

is today—an independent country that actively promotes internationalism and

international solidarity, a sharp alternative to neoliberalism, a society that

supports the equality and dignity of all people. The word socialism was used

repeatedly in Fidel’s speech and there were billboards all around promoting

socialism This was very fitting on the day that celebrated the 40th anniversary

of Cuban socialism. A recurring theme was that the Cuban revolution was by the

humble, with the humble and for the humble. He also strongly attacked the

structural adjustment policies of the International Monetary Fund, and said Cuba

had no interest in joining the IMF. However, missing in his speech and in Cuban

discourse in general is a discussion or an analysis of what socialism is. This

is particularly important given the collapse of the Soviet Union and the growing

amount of production in Cuba that is for profit.

Fidel

mentioned the difficulties faced by the Cuban people during the Special Period,

the period that began in 1989 and continues today. The collapse of the Soviet

Union and its Eastern European allies meant a 75% contraction of Cuban foreign

trade and the end of Cuba’s ability to buy oil cheaply and sell sugar at decent

prices. Output and income fell by almost 40% from 1989-1994, greater than the

decline of production in the worst years of the great depression in the United

States. Beginning in late 1994, there has been a slow but steady economic

recovery, but per capita output is still substantially below the level of 1989,

approximately 20% lower. Income inequality has grown substantially in the 1990′s

as the dollar is increasingly used for buying and selling goods and services.

The main divide today is between those who have access to dollars, roughly half

the population and those who don’t have access to dollars. The main source of

dollars is money sent to Cuban citizens from family members in the U.S. and

other countries. Another large source of dollars is working or being connected

to the tourist industry. A cab driver transporting tourists makes more in a few

days than a doctor can make in a month. Tourism has become the dominant industry

in Cuba, the Cuban government is committed to expanding it. It is both a source

of important income and foreign exchange but also brings in some very

non-socialist values. Those who do not have dollars do not starve but have

almost no income left over to buy anything but food. Most Cubans today are poor

although there is not the misery, hunger, homelessness that marks the rest of

Latin America and most of the Caribbean. I wish that Fidel had spent more time

in this or other speeches analyzing how the Cuban government and Communist Party

hoped to address the growing inequality in Cuba, poverty and the growth of

individualism.

Fidel

spoke strongly about the illegality of the continuing U.S. blockade against

Cuba. Part of the attempted strangulation of Cuba is the U.S. government’s

attempt to limit travel of U.S. residents to Cuba. The growing number of

non-leftist U.S. tourists to Cuba is striking, qualitatively more than in my

earlier visits to Cuba in the early 1990′s. The U.S. blockade/embargo has almost

no support internationally. In addition, by visiting Cuba the people of the U.S.

are increasingly voting with their feet against the travel ban and against U.S.

policy.

Fidel

Castro concluded with a call to the Cuban people to be ready to defend

themselves against the militaristic President of the United States, George W.

Bush. It was clear that almost everyone at the rally was willing to defend Cuba,

no matter what the risks. It is our responsibility to work to end the U.S.

blockade and other war like acts by the U.S. against Cuba. Venceremos.

Peter

Bohmer Havana, April 16, 2001

 

 

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