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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Bohmer Havana, April 16, 2001