January 27, 2006

Modern-day David and Goliath

The facts and figures were by themselves quite impressive and made it easier for participants to the 3rd Asia Pacific Regional Conference on Solidarity with Cuba to transcend political and ideological differences and unite behind the call to end the 46-year United States embargo against the small, socialist island state.

I was fortunate enough to be one of 194 delegates from over a hundred organizations from 17 countries meeting in Chennai, India over the weekend to hear about Cuba’s astounding achievements.

According to Mr. Sergio Corrieri-Hernandez , president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, economic growth was 11.8% in 2005 compared with an average for Latin America of barely 4%.

Over half of industrial sectors experienced significant growth: nickel exports benefited from buoyant international prices while tourism was up by 12%. In the pharmaceuticals sector, production of medicines rose by over 26%.

We were appraised by the Sri Lankan Minister for Science and technology that Cuba had successfully developed a vaccine against dengue hemorrhagic fever and had been free of outbreaks for the last two years. Cuba’s remarkable advances in biotechnology had also resulted in vaccines for head and neck cancer for which foreign, including US multinational drug companies, were negotiating production agreements.

Wage rates and retirement pensions were increased substantially, a fact that would be the envy of workers and ordinary employees in the Philippines.

Hundreds of schools and health centers have been renovated with over 140 social programs in public health education, culture and welfare successfully implemented.

For example, 21 district intensive-therapy units, equipped to modern standards, were completed; restructuring and extension works were carried out at 52 national hospitals, equipped with the world’s best technology.

If Cuban doctors and other health professionals are going abroad in the thousands, it is not to seek greener pastures and more professionally rewarding working conditions like their Filipino counterparts. To date 27,000 are selflessly serving in 60 countries across the world, particularly in Latin America and Africa. 2,345 of them are in Pakistan, working in difficult and hazardous situations in far-flung areas, to respond to the humanitarian crisis recently wrought by a devastating earthquake.

At the same time, dozens of thousands of international students are being trained in Cuba, of whom 12,000 are studying medicine.

The process of making higher education universally accessible has benefited 500,000 students. Thus Cuba is becoming what some observers call a “university nation” where higher education for all is no longer mere rhetoric but a concrete reality.

These solid achievements are all the more astounding considering what Cuba has been up against since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s. It involved the loss of 85% of Cuba’s markets for its main exports like sugar, 80% of imports and a 35 percentage-point nosedive in its GNP.

Mr. Hernandez matter-of-factly pointed out that not many governments could have withstood such a blow. Argentina, for example, lost only 12% GNP in its own crisis and subsequently had three presidents in just two years.

But since the victory of the Cuban Revolution against the Batista dictatorship in January 1959, the US and its allies have not stopped attempts to destroy and overthrow the first socialist state in the western part of the hemisphere.

An economic, commercial and financial embargo has been imposed on Cuba by the US, which is still in place after 46 years, making it one of the most enduring embargoes in modern history. It is estimated that the embargo has so far caused Cuba the direct economic impact of US $82 billion with ongoing annual loss of around $2 billion.

The economic blockade that has been legally reinforced in the last decade with other laws that ban Cuba from importing goods of US origin from third countries, impose penalties on foreign companies doing business in Cuba, permit U.S. citizens to sue foreign investors who make use of American-owned property seized by the Cuban government, and deny entry into the U.S. to such foreign investors.

Now the question begs to be answered. What can justify such a cruel and shameful embargo that is undermining the fundamental right of a sovereign nation to chart its own destiny? What gives the US the legal and moral right to deny the Cuban people their choice of the kind of social system – socialism – that will sustain and develop their collective goals and the kind of government – led by the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro – that will steer the people in their chosen direction.

Furthermore, how can such an embargo stay when, in the past 13 years, more and more countries have been voting in the United Nations General Assembly for the US to lift its irrational and unjustifiable sanctions? In the 2004 vote, there were 179 in favor of the resolution, only 4 against and 1 abstaining.

Clearly, the US embargo against Cuba is violating fundamental principles of international relations and directly subverts the sovereignty and independence of Cuba. The hostility of ten US administrations during the last 46 years has proven itself in every means that the US has utilized to destroy the Cuban revolution, from armed invasion and state-sponsored terrorism, to assassination attempts against Mr. Castro and up to the introduction of plant and animal plagues that will affect civilian populations.

But according to the Cubans, no administration has been as hostile as that of George W. Bush. On May 2004, Mr. Bush approved a 450-page report issued by the “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba” which included measures to tighten the blockade, destroy Cuba’s tourism industry, prohibit foreign investment, restrict Cubans in the US from sending money to their families, etc.

The Cubans have no illusions. They see such a report as a “document of colonization” underscoring heightened US interference meant to force Cuba to undertake “regime change”. They know that Cuba is in the crosshairs of the US so-called “war on terror” along with Syria, Korea and Iran because they have been demonized as “rogue states”. In fact Cuba appears on all the blacklists that the Bush administration has seen fit to draw up: human rights, terrorism, drugs etc.

It is incumbent on all honest and fair men and women who can appreciate the heroic efforts of the Cuban people and its leaders to stand up to US punishment, bullying and outright aggression to stand in solidarity with them.

Only in this way can the Davids of today prevail over the monster Goliath that also goes by the name US imperialism.

Jan. 27-28, 2006


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