• Cuba will host the upcoming Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit, continuing a long-standing history of defending justice and sovereignty internationally
By Sergio Alejandro Gómez (Granma International)
Cuba is a small country, with limited economic resources, but has maintained, over the last 55 years, a foreign policy of global scope and influence based on revolutionary values and principles.
This opinion is shared by its few – though powerful – adversaries, who have not been able to prevent the expansion and diversification of the relations Cuba has forged with governments and peoples around the world.
Within the country’s very essence, within its nature as an island and its multi-ethnic composition, lie several of the keys to understanding Cuba’s active interest in maintaining international relations throughout its history.
Strategically located in the Caribbean Sea, a region Dominican Juan Bosch described as an imperial border, the country has long been subject to attempted domination by great powers, from Spain and Great Britain, to the United States.
Under these circumstances, the country’s principal concern, beyond specific conjunctural issues, has been, and is, to guarantee our national sovereignty, independence and self-determination.
The triumph of the Cuban Revolution, January 1, 1959, made possible the realization of these objectives, deferred for years by the neo-colonial republic’s dependence on the United States. The decision to undertake the construction of socialism, just 90 miles from the shores of the world’s most powerful capitalist country, has made the consolidation of an effective foreign policy a question of life or death.
ANTI-IMPERIALISM, INTERNATIONALISM, ANTI-COLONIALISM
The United States could not tolerate the example Cuba represented for Latin America, the Caribbean, and countries throughout the Third World. Its aggressive policy was directed toward eliminating the new government by any means available.
In Punta del Este, Uruguay, in 1962, the United States convened member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) to impose its policy of isolating the Cuban Revolution. There, the majority of Latin American governments led by national oligarchies surrendered to U.S. interests.
“The OAS was revealed as what it is; a ministry of yankee colonies,” Fidel said, delivering the Second Declaration of Havana to the thousands gathered February 4, 1962, in the city’s Plaza de la Revolución.
“We are going to have on our side the solidarity of all liberated peoples of the world, and we are going to have on our side the solidarity of all honorable men and women of the world,” he affirmed.
Cuba was obliged to look thousands of kilometers to the east to find allies in the construction of a new, more just type of society, based on solidarity, a project which had as its starting point an underdeveloped, single-crop economy.
For political, economic and security reasons, Cuba’s relations with the socialist camp, principally the Soviet Union, came to play a central role in the country’s foreign policy.
Nevertheless, efforts to improve relations with Latin American and Caribbean countries – an even the United States – were never abandoned. In fact, over the following decades, as military dictatorships and right-wing governments committed to U.S. interests gave way to less reactionary forces, the Revolution was able to create important opportunities for dialogue within this natural geographic context.
Neither did Cuba turn its back on the rest of the Third World, playing an important role as a founding member of the Non Aligned Movement, serving as the organization’s president from 1979 through 1983, at the height of the Cold War.
Cuban combatants and collaborators, from the very beginning, offered their disinterested support to several nations struggling for independence, principally in Africa and Latin America, as clear evidence of the Revolution’s anti-imperialist and anti-colonial principles. Tens of thousands of doctors, teachers and civilian advisors of various types collaborated on social and economic development projects in countries of the South.
The independence of Angola and Namibia, the beginning of the end of apartheid in South Africa, the training of thousands of professionals who educated, saved lives and constructed these new countries, are but a few of the successes of this period.
Cuba’s foreign policy, just like the Revolution itself, was guided by ideals. This reality was recognized, albeit much later, even within enemy ranks.
Henry Kissinger, U.S. secretary of state under Nixon, described Fidel in his memoirs as perhaps the most genuine revolutionary leader in power at that time.
BREAKING THE SIEGE
During the early 1990’s, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the socialist camp was a heavy blow to Cuba, which lost its principal market and supply of essential products overnight. Thinking that the Cuban Revolution’s final days were at hand, the most extreme anti-Cuban forces in the U.S. tightened the blockade, approving the Torricelli Act in 1992, and the Helms Burton in 1996, while at the same time, appropriating millions of dollars more to subversion and the attempt to create an internal ‘dissident’ movement.
Defying all predictions, Cuba was not only able to resist, but emerged stronger on several fronts.
Relations with countries of the South, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and Africa took a turn for the better. Cuba’s ideals and efforts in international organizations were reinforced and the search for peace, regional integration and collaboration prioritized.
The aggressive, extraterritorial policies of the U.S. were so arrogant that their rejection was almost unanimous on an international level. Expressions of solidarity with Cuba reached new proportions, even within countries traditionally allied with the United States.
This was evidenced by the increasing support Cuba received in the United Nations General Assembly in votes against the U.S. blockade. In 1992, 59 countries voted to approve the resolution calling for an end to the blockade, three against, and 71 abstained. In 1997, one year after approval of the Helms-Burton Act, 143 voted in favor, three against and 17 abstained.
Despite economic difficulties, Cuba’s international solidarity was expanded. During the most trying years of the Special Period, Cuba did not hesitate to make its human capital, and its meager resources, available to the world’s peoples. Medical help was offered to several Central American countries devastated by Hurricanes George and Mitch in 1998. The country’s schools remained open not only for Cubans, but for thousands of foreign students who shared the hard times, to become engineers, teachers and professionals in many other fields.
NEW SUCCESSES & CONTINUED THREATS
The first decade of the 21st century began with an event which shook the country: the struggle for the return of Elián González, a small boy illegally held in the United States. This time the Cuban people took foreign policy into the streets, with massive demonstrations which did not cease until Juan Miguel González, landed on Cuban soil with his son in his arms.
The decade brought new threats, as well. For eight years, the world was obliged to endure the Republican administration of George W. Bush, who initiated one of the darkest periods of U.S. foreign policy.
Preventative wars, collateral damage, secret prisons, torture of prisoners became common during Bush’s mandate. The attack on the World Trade Center in New York was used to unleash a paranoid war against a new, elusive enemy: terrorism.
The war policy implemented was a direct threat, given that Cuba was added to the list of more than 60 countries which constituted the ‘dark corners’ of the world, accused of sponsoring terrorism and, therefore, open to attack as part of a preventative war.
The argument was ludicrous. More than 50 years of aggression against the Cuban Revolution were evidence enough to demonstrate that the United States systematically practiced state terrorism in the pursuit of its objectives.
Moreover, self-proclaimed terrorist organizations were sheltered and protected on U.S. territory, along with criminals who caused death and destruction in Cuba, such as Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosh, among many others.
Rather than arresting and prosecuting these terrorists, U.S. authorities imprisoned a group of Cubans seeking to gather information on these criminal activities which threatened the security of U.S citizens, as well as Cuba.
Since that time, Cuba has waged a battle for the release of five national heroes, the Cuban Five, a battle which has become central to the historic conflict between the two countries and a priority on Cuba’s international policy agenda.
The international campaign to free these anti-terrorists, ongoing for more than 15 years now, has garnered expressions of solidarity from around the world, including the United States.
On another front, Cuba’s leadership among Third World countries was reaffirmed when the country again assumed the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement in 2006.
Throughout the 1990’s the country achieved important successes internationally, including overwhelming opposition to the U.S. blockade as evidenced by repeated United Nations General Assembly votes.
After the elimination of the Human Rights Commission, Cuba was elected to the new Human Rights Council, on which the United States does not have a seat, revealing the vacuous nature of arguments used to justify the country’s aggressive, subversive policy toward Cuba and the real objectives of U.S. interest in human rights.
AN END TO THE LONG NIGHT OF NEOLIBERALISM
During the first ten years of the 21st century, Latin America and the Caribbean experienced a radical transformation in the relationship of forces, dominated until that time by the right and neoliberalism.
Over this time period, as Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has said, an end was put to “the long night of neoliberalism” which had condemned the great majority to poverty, while a few privileged layers accumulated more wealth.
The election of Hugo Chávez as President of Venezuela in 1999, and the subsequent government victories of progressive movements in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Nicaragua, among others, created a new environment of cooperation and dialogue between countries in the region.
In November 2005, in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata, an event took place, very indicative of this new environment. At a meeting of the OAS there, the free trade agreement proposed by the U.S. to be implemented across the continent was defeated.
Some months later, another landmark event promoting the unity of Latin American peoples occurred. In December 2004, President Hugo Chávez and the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, issued a Joint Statement to create the Bolivarian Alternative for the People’s of Our America, ALBA, and the organization’s first summit was held in Havana.
Shortly thereafter, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and Honduras joined the alliance. This last country left the group in 2009, after constitutional President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown by a coup d’etat.
“We affirm that the cardinal principle which must guide ALBA is broad solidarity among the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, based on the thinking of Bolívar, Martí, Sucre, O’Higgins, San Martín, Hidalgo, Petión, Morazán, Sandino, and many other forerunners, without narrow nationalisms which reject the objective of building a Greater Homeland in Latin America, as the heroes of our liberation struggles dreamed,” the founding document stated.
SOLIDARITY: PRINCIPLE AND GOAL
In this new environment and after leaving behind the most serious economic difficulties, the scope of Cuba’s internationalist cooperation became an example of what can be accomplished when a country is guided by the principle of justice.
The Comprehensive Health Program emerged, in an effort to extend medical care to some 100 countries, fundamentally in Africa and Latin America. The project included the training and development of human resources in the countries where Cuban medical professionals worked, as well as within Cuba. During the 1999-2000 academic year, the Latin American School of Medicine had an enrollment of 3,000 students from 23 countries, redoubling its commitment to train youth from humble backgrounds to become doctors in their own communities.
In 2005, the serious flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in the United States, motivated Cuba to organize the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade, given this name by Fidel in honor of a New York doctor who participated in Cuba’s war of independence.
The brigade, rejected by U.S. authorities, was deployed shortly thereafter to Pakistan, devastated by a powerful earthquake, the worst natural disaster ever experienced in that country which caused 80,000 deaths and affected a total of three million persons.
The Henry Reeve Brigade has undertaken more than a dozen missions to support the victims of earthquakes, floods and other disasters in Guatemala, Pakistan, Bolivia, Indonesia, Belize, Peru, Mexico, Ecuador, China, Haiti, El Salvador and Chile.
If in fact medical care has been the flagship of Cuba’s international cooperation, in other areas such as education, the country’s contribution has been equally important. More than a million adults around the world have learned to read and write through Cuba’s literacy instruction program Yo sí puedo (Yes, I can), developed by the country’s pedagogical experts.
Additionally, as ALBA member countries, Cuba and Venezuela have worked jointly on several international missions, including Operation Miracle which has proposed performing six million surgeries over a ten year period, to address a variety of ophthalmological problems and return or improve vision. The plan was first implemented in Venezuela and has gone on to treat patients in some 30 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa.
Cuban health professionals also contributed to missions in Venezuela which have changed the face of that country, such as Barrio Adentro, a community medicine program which makes health care available to millions of previously underserved citizens.
Without abandoning the principles of solidarity which have always guided Cuba’s international cooperation, the country’s work is being transformed to become part of a system of collaboration between countries of the South which is mutually beneficial to all.
AN HISTORIC SUMMIT
The second summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), set to take place January 28-29 in Havana, will be an historic event. Coming to an end will be Cuba’s one-year pro tempore presidency of this organization which includes the 33 independent nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, without the tutelage of any external power.
In 2008, in response to a call made by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the countries which are now CELAC members met in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil.
There they decided to include Cuba as a member in the Río Group and agreed to create a unifying organization for Latin America and the Caribbean, without the United States.
Cuba actively participated in the discussions leading to the creation of what we now know as CELAC, which had its founding summit in Caracas, in December of 2011.
Its establishment was described by Fidel Castro as the most important institutional event of the last 100 years, indicative of the region’s readiness to achieve a new paradigm of integration based on social inclusion, not commercial interests. The fact that Cuba was the second country chosen to assume the presidency is no accident, but rather recognition of the validity and relevance of the principles, values and objectives of Cuba’s foreign policy, as it has been implemented for over 50 years.
It also constitutes a clear message of unity within the region, a rejection of the U.S. aggression Cuba has faced. It is the United States which has been left totally isolated, as a result of its policies of blockade and subversion.