August 08, 2021

International Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution

Vijay Prashad and Manolo De Los Santos

WHEN news arrived on July 11, 2021 in Havana, Cuba, of protests in the Cuban town of San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel arrived there by the afternoon, met with the protestors and talked with them about their frustrations. Dissatisfaction is normal in any society, particularly during the uncertainty of the pandemic with the economic problems it has exacerbated. Cuba, since 1962, has faced – in addition – a harsh blockade by the United States government, which has outlasted one US president after another, and which has now entered the third generation of Cuban society.

While the US claims that the blockade does not restrict the purchase of key humanitarian supplies, such as medicines, there are any number of restrictions on the sale and transportation of these items. For example, on food, the US permits Cuba to buy food from the US, but the permissions extend largely to purchases from US firms; these purchases must be made in hard currency (US dollars) and the payments must be made before the goods can be inspected. Furthermore, private shipping companies are wary of carrying goods into Cuba because of the uncertain way in which US secondary sanctions might apply to them. The US blockade prevents goods from entering Cuba, which results in shortages of key goods and therefore increases the frustrations of everyday life.

President Díaz-Canel spoke openly with the people about the long-term problem of the blockade as well as the immediate problem of the pandemic (with Covid-19 cases on the rise) and of the 243 “coercive measures” put in place by former US President Donald Trump and retained by current US President Joe Biden. While President Díaz-Canel was in San Antonio de los Baños, it became clear that both the US government and the right-wing Cuban exiles in the United States had seized upon these protests, defined them as protests against the Cuban Revolution, and encouraged them to escalate into a counter-revolutionary situation. To this end, President Díaz-Canel called upon the Cuban people to take to the streets and stand with the Cuban Revolution. That evening, tens of thousands of people across the country held aloft Cuban flags and banners for the July 26 Movement, which led the 1959 Revolution; they came to stand with the Cuban revolutionary process.

Pressure from the United States did not relent. On July 12, Biden released a statement saying that he was with the Cuban people. However, there was no loosening of the blockade, nor a softening of the tone given the mass demonstrations for the Revolution. Ten days later, the US government personally sanctioned Cuba’s minister of defence, Álvaro López Miera, accusing him of being behind the crackdown against the protests of the morning. Evidence for such a crackdown is missing. There had been arrests of people who attacked public property, but they were released within a day (some of them have been charged and the legal process continues).

On July 23, over four hundred people published an open letter to President Biden in the New York Times. The headline for the letter was ‘Let Cuba Live,’ which became a hashtag for a massive on-line movement of solidarity. ‘We find it unconscionable, especially during a pandemic, to intentionally block remittances and Cuba’s use of global financial institutions, given that access to dollars is necessary for the importation of food and medicine,’ the letter noted. The letter pointed out that in April 2020, seven UN Special Rapporteurs wrote a letter to the US government regarding the sanctions on Cuba. “In the pandemic emergency,” they wrote, “the lack of will of the US government to suspend sanctions may lead to a higher risk of suffering in Cuba.” On June 23, exactly a month before the letter was published, 184 member states of the UN voted, as they have for the past thirty years, to ask the US government to end the blockade.

Across the world, people asked two questions: first, why does the US government continue to suffocate the Cuban people, and second, what can we do about it?

The answer to the first question – why the US government wants to overthrow the Revolution – is simple: the United States government, since 1959, has not tolerated the presence of a socialist government on its doorstep. Cuba’s revolutionaries overthrow a mafia dictatorship to begin a difficult transition to sovereignty and socialism. They put people before profit, building up collective structures of social welfare (in education, medicine, and social security) as well as building up a productive system that would not – in the future – rely upon the sale of raw materials (largely sugarcane). That Cuba had the gall to embark on this experiment was sufficient for the US to begin a sanctions and blockade policy. That policy predated the Cuban alignment with the USSR, and it predated the entry of Soviet warships into Havana harbour; therefore, the sanctions and blockade policy continue despite the 1991 demise of the USSR. The problem with Cuba for the United States elites – and their right-wing Cuban allies – is that the island has decided to reject capitalist values in favour of a socialist experiment.

The answer to the second – what can we do – is much more difficult. In 1992, after the fall of the USSR, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), for instance, raised 10,000 tonnes of wheat and 10,000 tonnes of rice through a massive campaign that went from the fields of Punjab to the dales of Kerala. In December 1992, the Caribbean Princess departed from West Bengal for Cuba. It was received in Havana by CPI(M) leaders Harkishan Singh Surjeet and M A Baby as well as by the Cuban leadership, including Fidel Castro. Castro said that the bread that would come of the wheat would be called ‘the bread of India’.

Right after July 11, such large-scale solidarity came immediately from fraternal countries in Latin America and from Russia as well as China. Before July 11, the Mexican government had already sent an air force supply plane with 800,000 syringes for Cuba. Cuba has developed five vaccine candidates for Covid-19, but it does not have the domestic industrial capacity to manufacture syringes. Ten days after the events of July 11, Mexico’s state-run oil company Pemex sent a ship – José María Morelos II – from Coatzacoalcos (Veracruz) with 100,000 barrels of diesel. This fuel will run the power for Cuba’s hospitals. Meanwhile, El Libertador and El Papaloapan carried medical supplies (face masks, oxygen, syringes) and food (beans, cooking oil, flour, powdered milk, tuna) to Cuba. The Augusto C Sandino left Managua (Nicaragua) loaded with food. Rosarío Murillo, Nicaragua’s vice president, said that the ship is a weapon against ‘these times of a pandemic that also includes the Yankee plague that we are fighting’. She meant the sanctions regime that operates against Nicaragua as well as Venezuela and about 30 other countries. An air flotilla went from Bolivia to Cuba carrying over 20 tonnes of medical and food supplies, while ships carrying 30 food containers and 20 tonnes of rice came to Havana from Venezuela. Meanwhile, two AN-124 cargo planes travelled from Moscow to Havana with 88 tonnes of aid – including canned food and one million masks. Aircraft left China with 30 ventilators and other supplies.

Cuba has, over the past 60 years, upheld its sovereignty through the revolutionary process. It has been able to withstand direct assault by the United States and it has been able to survive the collapse of the USSR. Cuba is – like Venezuela – now in deep danger. Biden might not be able to provoke a military invasion, but he will do everything possible to undermine the government and to create internal problems. That is why international solidarity with Cuba is so imperative. It is time to stand with Cuba. It is time to let Cuba live.

In 2002, Ignacio Ramonet asked Fidel Castro if the revolution could collapse. Yes, Fidel said, ‘the country can self-destruct, can destroy itself. This Revolution can destroy itself’. A country must change, must correct its errors, must defend itself from myopia. ‘That’s why we are acting, we are marching towards a total change in our society’. Fidel had the correct attitude. It was infectious. It spread across the island, whose destiny rests in its creative response to the current crisis.