Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Cuba celebrates strength and looks ahead

Havana, Cuba
On July 26, the Cuban people celebrated the 52nd anniversary of the failed attack on Moncada Barracks, an attack led by a 26-year-old lawyer named Fidel Castro.

The 1953 attack was designed to inspire Cubans to rise up against the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, and restore the 1940 constitution, which guaranteed land, education, democracy and hope to the Cuban people.

Neither the failure of the attack, nor the subsequent torture and imprisonment of those involved, broke the spirit of the mostly young rebels, who remained dedicated to liberating their people from the terror of Batista's regime. In January 1959, as a general strike broke out, Batista fled, and the Cuban Revolution triumphed, much to the chagrin of the US and its clients.

Washington has never stopped trying to roll back the Cuban Revolution, through assassination, invasion, terrorism, chemical and biological warfare, and by waging a constant propaganda war against the small Caribbean island.

On July 25 and 26, 2005, the 11 million inhabitants of Cuba again celebrated their freedom, with parties and small rallies across the country on the night of the 25th, and music blaring until well into the morning.

The celebrations came at a hard time for Cuba. Between July 7 and 9, the island nation was lashed by Hurricane Dennis. While the Cubans' much-praised evacuation and high-level emergency provisions minimised the damage, 16 Cubans were killed, thousands of homes were destroyed, electricity infrastructure was badly damaged and some crops were lost.

On July 26, foregoing the traditional mass rally, Cuban President Fidel Castro addressed a crowd of about 5000 assembled guests at a formal ceremony in Havana's Karl Marx Theatre, and outlined both the challenges facing the Cuban Revolution, and the gains that it has made so far this year.

Packed to the ceiling, with some people standing, Cubans joined with members of international solidarity brigades and delegations, as well as a large contingent from the Pastors for Peace US Friendshipment, an organisation that deliberately breaks the US trade and travel ban to Cuba to bring in donations of medicine, computers and other items scarce in Cuba.

The mood of solidarity and hope permeated the event, vividly illustrating Castro's comment: 

"No other revolutionary process has been able to count on as much consensus and overwhelming support as the Cuban Revolution has."

At the end, the singing of the "Internationale" brought tears to many eyes, as the importance of this country — run by the majority, in the interests of the majority — was brought home.
Castro began his four-hour speech by making a piercing attack on those who have taken money from the US Interests Section in Havana, to fund a campaign aimed at destablising the government. 

Pointing out that access to convertible pesos, in a country where education and health care are free, and housing, medicine, recreation and "a significant portion of food" is extremely cheap, access to convertible pesos gave these "mercenaries" a much more comfortable standard of living.

Castro also condemned the US administration, which uses Guantanamo naval base, illegally on Cuban territory, to torture people it kidnaps from around the world in the name of the "war on terror".

In an indirect answer to those who have accused the Cuban government of persecuting Washingon's agents in the country, Castro detailed how Washington's propaganda war on the nation has been stepped up. US Congress recently requested US$37 million for anti-Castro television and radio transmissions into Cuba. 

This contrasts with the $50,000 Washington offered in (strings-attached) aid to Cuba in the wake of Hurricane Dennis. Cuba survives a total 2425 hours and 24 minutes per week of radio and television interference, Castro added.

Castro saved particularly harsh words for Juan Posada Carriles, the Cuban-born terrorist who destroyed a Cubana airliner in 1976, killing 73 people. Mass demonstrations in Cuba in May brought to the world's attention that Posada was in Miami, and, after a worldwide outcry, he was eventually arrested — but only on an immigration charge.

Castro also condemned US intervention in Latin America, singling out the US naval base at Manta in Ecuador — the Pentagon's key military post in the region, used to implement the horrific Plan Colombia, which involves spraying defoliant over the crops and houses of poor Colombian peasants, killing their crops, and often their children.

Castro also made special mention of the US military exercises taking place in Paraguay. Four-hundred US troops are now posted just hours away from gas-rich Bolivia, which has just overthrown a president for offering too many concessions to US multinational companies. Pointing to Washington's "interventionist mentality", Castro said he would not rule out the possibility of US intervention in Brazil, governed by the left-wing Workers Party, from Paraguay.

However, most of Castro's speech emphasised the good news. After 15 years of economic struggle, the Cuban economy grew at a rate of 7.3% in the first half of 2005, and is expected to reach 9% by the end of the year. Castro pointed out that claims that the revolution is in a terminal economic crisis have never been less true. 

This result comes despite an historic drought that has caused $1.2 billion in damage, electrical shortages that have plagued the country, and a 46-year economic blockade by the US, which includes prosecuting companies that trade with Cuba.

Another highlight was the 1.9 million tonnes of crude oil and gas production — quadruple what Cuba produced in the early '90s. Down 4% earlier this year, electricity production is now expected to reach more than a million kilowatts within a year, and more than double by the end of 2006. Further, Cuba has made significant progress in exploring for oil and gas, with new finds off the coast in the past year.

This, combined with cheap oil from Venezuela, is expected to help solve the energy crisis on the island. At the heart of this is the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's plan, centrally supported by Castro, to further integrate Latin American economies as a way of providing an alternative to Washington's drive for bi- and multi-lateral trade deals in the region, which simply further the economic dependence of these Third World economies.

Other increases in income include nickel, of which Cuba is a major exporter, and tourism, which increased 11.5%, with an expected record 2.3 million foreign visitors to Cuba by the end of the year. Other areas, such as the pharmaceutical industry and soy, chocolate, coffee, pasta and eggs production, have also experienced substantial increases, and look set to continue to grow.

Castro pointed out that proof of Cuba's economic strength was the recent round of wage rises, and increases to pensions. The minimum wage was doubled, and: "In July wages rose in the health care and education sectors, which benefited 857,400 workers, at an annual cost of more than 523 million Cuban pesos.

"In the social security sector the pensions of 1,468,000 people went up, just over 97% of the total number of pensioners.

"In the area of social assistance, 476,512 people benefited from an increase of 50 pesos monthly. Both measures annually cost 1.19 billion Cuban pesos.

"These actions have benefited 4.4 million people, which accounts for 30.9% of the population, at an annual cost of 2.78 billion Cuban pesos. Wages continue to increase gradually in other sectors."

A record 100,000 new homes are scheduled to be built in 2006.

Castro peppered his speech with positive references to Venezuela, and that government's support for Cuba. He pointed out that one of the reasons for Washington's recent increase in propaganda into Cuba was to counter the development of Telesur, the Venezuela-initiated Latin America-wide television broadcast.

Castro made it clear that Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution has reinvigorated socialism within the continent, and made a better future for all more possible. He emphasised the importance of the two nations' collaboration: 

"The agreement between the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the Republic of Cuba, signed in accordance with the principles of ALBA, means a considerable step forward on the way to unity and the true integration of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.

"The Petrocaribe agreement is another extraordinary advancement and a true example of fraternal solidarity among peoples. The commercial exchange between Venezuela and Cuba has already risen this year to no less than $3 billion. Both countries will undoubtedly be the two that experience the most economic growth in the hemisphere this year.

"Because of these noble, constructive and peaceful efforts, the imperialist government is accusing Venezuela and Cuba, Chavez and Castro, of destabilising and subverting other countries in the region.

"Faced with such accusations against Venezuela and Cuba, and if President Chavez agreed, a day like today would be most opportune to reply: Condemn us, it doesn't matter, history will absolve us!"

First published in Green Left Weekly, August 3, 2005.

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