On 29 May Teresita Trujillo, representing the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, spoke at a meeting in the University of London Union chaired by Jonathan Silberman and sponsored by many individuals and organisations including the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
Comrade Teresita after briefly summarising how socialist Cuba had handled problems during the very difficult times in the last four decades, powerfully countered distortions made by the bourgeois media in their reports of recent developments in Cuba, and inspired all present to do their utmost to campaign against the blockade of Cuba and in support of the Cuban Five. We reproduce below an abridged version of her speech.
The Cuban revolution is in a new historic period in the 21st century, in a different political environment in Latin America. At the same time the mainstream media internationally are running a campaign to distort what is happening in Cuba.
As we have done throughout the history of the Cuban revolution we have called for debate. A debate took place last year in September/October that would raise the level of awareness of people in all sectors of society on the necessary efforts we needed to make so that the country was made more productive and to prove to the world that socialism is a viable system and to get the feelings of the people as to what would be acceptable or not at this time.
In this process of debate, over 4.5 million Cubans took part. We gathered over 1 million remarks: some criticisms, some statements in support, some proposals for solving problems. The remarks were recorded without names, and through the party structures we began a process of analysing and passing them on to the relevant authorities. Some major issues that could not be solved by individual ministries needed to be submitted to a debate concerning a change of policy by the government. Now the Central Committee is checking with all the relevant areas on how many of the remarks have been dealt with. At the beginning we had received back information that 95% percent of the remarks had been dealt with – we said NO, impossible, so we double checked because the credibility of the party and the government was at stake.
The elections came just after that process, and were an indicator of the support we enjoyed and of the level of understanding of our people of the historical moment we are living in. In October it was the local elections and in January we had the provincial and parliamentary elections. In Cuba voting is not compulsory, however the turn-out was 97% and 91% of those who voted supported the revolution.
Fidel declines re-election
On 24 February the new Parliament was inaugurated and had the task of electing the members of the Council of State, the President and the First Vice-President and five other Vice-Presidents. This is not a new structure; this has always been the structure of the Council of State which is always elected, not directly, but by the Parliament. Raúl Castro was elected. In early February Fidel announced that he was not accepting being nominated to the Council of State which we emphasise is different from resigning. A new President had to be elected. For Fidel, who has fought for many years, it is hard to hear the media say that he has “resigned”. Something that Fidel never did was “resigning”, he always stayed at his post.
Raúl, in his acceptance speech after being elected by the Parliament, referred to the fundamental issues that had been analysed by the previous parliament and the drive of the people concerning the things that needed to be addressed. Nobody had a magic wand. The solution to the problems depended mainly on two things: on the availability of resources and the contribution that the people would make to the development of the country towards increasing production and increasing efficiency.
During all the difficult years in the 1990s and up to now, the Cuban economy has been growing in a chaotic way because we were lacking resources, lacking fuel, lacking electricity. During these times people got used to doing what they could and not what they should.
Now is the time to bring back discipline and renew our efforts. The solution is very clear – it can only come from our own selves being more productive and efficient so that we have more to share between all of us.
Last September was the 19th Congress of the Trade Unions and they have a big role of play. In Cuba the overwhelming majority of the population is working class. To do anything in Cuba you must have the full support of the working class and the trade union movement. It is important to explain to workers the priorities and the tasks set by the leadership and also bring back to the leadership of the country and the Party the feelings and proposals of the working class.
Sometimes because of shortages imposed by the blockade and other times because of the difficult conditions in which we lived since the 1990s the Cuban population has been under a lot of hardships. In our society we believe that we have to reintroduce the socialist principle of distribution and some people will get more than others according to the contribution that they make to the society.
New measures in agriculture and industry
One of the major challenges we have at the moment is in agriculture, not only because of recurring ‘food crises’. When Raúl spoke on 26 July last year, on the 54th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Barracks, he was already mentioning some biological experiments we were introducing in order to increase the level of agricultural production in certain products – mainly milk and meat.
At the beginning of 2008 we started to introduce some other measures to encourage people to work the land. In Cuba we have two types of agricultural cooperatives and also state farms. With the increasing level of education our people do not want to work the land for the salary that they would receive. So we had to make changes in order to improve the level of production of agricultural products. We have been working very closely with the farmers’ organisation which has always played a very important role in Cuba ever since the time that they did not have any land before the triumph of the revolution. We remind them that the first law passed by the revolutionary Cuban Government in 1959 was to give the nationalised land to the farmers. Sometimes it is necessary to bring back these facts to the minds of the farmers and workers in order to keep them close to the goals of our struggle and not let them become a group alienated from the revolution.
There have been major investments in the last few years in social projects dealing with health and education; and more recently in infrastructure investments such as transport, construction and development of new enterprises.
For instance, the oil refinery at Cienfuegos in the south centre of the island, which had been paralysed at the beginning of the ‘Special Period’ in the 1990s, has been reconstructed in a joint venture with Venezuela. We have modern technology now and there will be a petrochemical complex associated with the refinery which will provide jobs and improve conditions in a province which, up to the 90s, had been one of the most industrialised in Cuba.
European Union Sanctions
A major political challenge at the moment is the difficult process of normalising our relationship with the European Union (EU). This concerns the removal of the sanctions that the EU introduced in 2003. At the moment we are closer to achieving this than ever before. An overwhelming majority of the EU member states are in favour of the removal of the sanctions and entering into a broad dialogue to normalise relations with Cuba [Applause]. But do not applaud yet, one of the major obstacles is that the decision in the EU has to be reached by consensus and there are still three countries that are not in the consensus. One of these countries is the UK. The General Council of the EU meets to decide on 16-17 June, so we have two weeks to continue the debate/discussions.
Last year the EU Council, in its general conclusion issued after the situation of Cuba was debated, pointed out that they were interested in opening up close dialogue with Cuban authorities which would include all areas of interest such as political, human rights, scientific, cultural, business, etc. on a non-discriminatory basis. This final bit of the paragraph is precisely what we emphasise. If Cuba is under sanctions from the EU we cannot hold a dialogue on a non-discriminatory basis. That is why we have made it clear to the EU that until the sanctions are completely removed (they have been temporarily suspended) official dialogue cannot take place. Now it is like being on probation – every six months or every year they check whether you have behaved or misbehaved before they decide if they will continue the suspension of the sanctions. A change in Britain’s position would also help other countries of the EU which are in a way held hostage by Britain, because they would like to change their relations with Cuba, but are unable to do so because of Britain not joining the consensus. [For update, see end note]
Not necessarily politically, but for reasons of business, scientific research, etc, the European Commission is interested in triangular cooperation projects with Cuba. For example through our work in the third world, we have 38,000 volunteers (mainly medical staff) in 79 countries in the world. Last Monday [26 May] the European Parliament hosted a conference on Cuba precisely dealing with this issue because of the experience of the Cuban Overseas Development Programme in the Third World, organised by various parliamentary groups and attended by Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development, who has been loudly calling for the lifting of sanctions so that the portfolio he holds can benefit from triangular cooperation with Cuba.
The Cuban Five: 10 years in US jails
On 12 September the Cuban Five will have been unjustly held in prison in the US for 10 years. Two of the wives of the prisoners have not been allowed to visit them ever. In the case of other relatives, the time for granting visas has been from 17 months to 24 months, so sometimes it can be two years without the possibility of visits from their relatives.
We are calling for international co-ordinated action to try and make more noise and, in particular, to try to reach US public opinion because this is where we think we can win the battle.
We are pursuing the legal path because we have to do it. We are on a second appeal already, but we know that may lead nowhere. The defence lawyers who are very experienced, like Leonard Weinglass, who defended Angela Davis, say that political and international pressure are needed to win the case. We are far from the level of pressure that is required, so we ask all of you to put together all of your efforts on this issue in the coming months.
In this connection Britain is a very important country because of its relations with the US. We ask you to step up your campaigning for the Cuban Five. It is a challenge for all of us to make sure they are freed.
On 19 June in Brussels the 27 foreign ministers of the EU agreed to the formal lifting of sanctions against Cuba. This now needs to be approved officially, most likely during an EU Council Agricultural Ministers meeting in Luxemburg at the end of June.