CUBA enters 2020 with six decades experience of building and defending its revolution through thick and thin, emerging triumphant against nearly all odds, standing relentlessly firm in its conviction to remain a sovereign and independent state, and determined never to be defeated by its relentlessly aggressive northern neighbor.
After the Cuban Revolution triumphed on January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro and other members of the vanguard brigade of the July 26 Movement arrived in Havana on January 8, when and where the leader delivered a speech at the Columbia military barracks, during which, as he spoke, a white dove landed on his shoulder.
To many Cubans – to this day — that dove had identified Fidel as a Chosen One.
But their beloved leader warned in that address that the immense happiness that came with the revolution’s triumph would be followed by a future sure to be quite difficult and its ultimate success would only be guaranteed with and by the support of all the Cuban people, altogether.
Fidel Castro would lead Cuba’s communist party, socialist state and the revolutionary army for five decades, stepping down in 2008 and the party choosing his younger brother Raul as the new leader.
Raul, only four years younger than Fidel, was always the long-acknowledged second-in-command at all levels over time, but his own role in the long revolutionary struggle has also long been largely and unfairly told in second-fiddle terms vis-à-vis that of his larger-than-life brother.
After two five-year terms as President, Raul would then give way to current President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez on April 19, 2018, the anniversary of the repulsion by Cuba of an invading US-backed mercenary force at Playa Giron in 1961 – and one day before his 60th birthday.
With 2020 just days away, President Diaz-Canel, who pledged ‘continuity’ after taking over, in mid-December announced the appointment of veteran tourism minister Manuel Marrero Cruz as Cuba’s first Prime Minister in 43 years – a position last held by Fidel before it was abolished in December 1976.
With sugar no longer sweetening the Cuban economy and tourism as the new main national income earner, the minister credited with positively turning the island’s tourism around for the past 15 years is now also tasked with heading the Cabinet of Ministers.
With nickel, tobacco, rum, coal, sugar and telecommunications now the main exports, new lines of production will be needed and the increasing number of highly-skilled university graduates will have to be deployed accordingly in the reconfiguration of deployment of the country’s rich human resources – at home and abroad.
Born on April 20, 1960 Diaz-Canel is leading Cuba into the second decade of the 21st Century at a most challenging time.
The island of just over 11 million people remains under the added pressure piled on it by the Trump administration, which has undertaken 244 direct measures since January 2017 aimed at reversing all progress in Cuba-US ties achieved during the presidency of Barack Obama.
Trump’s measures reduced the increasing flow of American tourists to Cuba, outlawed private sector engagement with Cuba’s hotel industry, punished Havana for supporting Venezuela, strengthened the anti-Cuba Helms-Burton Act — and tightened long-standing measures as well to prevent Cuba from doing business on the world market with US dollars – including purchasing medicines and food supplies.
As part of its continuing effort to reverse the progressive political tides in Latin America and the Caribbean following related successes in Ecuador and Bolivia in 2019, Washington is using increased sanctions as the main trump card in its direct and proxy wars against Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
In the process, it’s been harming Cuba’s energy sector (that’s depended heavily on Venezuelan oil), creating artificial potential food and medicine crises and adding to the biting pressures of the sustained, decades-old US trade, economic, commercial and financial embargo.
But Cuba continues receiving international support to strengthen its own oil exploration and production processes and a recent agreement on collaboration in medical and food exchanges with the new government of Argentina will certainly help rebuff such efforts to starve the island into submission.
Cordial and Respectful
Cuba has for over four decades enjoyed cordial and respectful ties with its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) neighbors after Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago defied Washington’s diplomatic blockade by jointly establishing ties with Havana back in 1976.
For over three decades, the Cuba-CARICOM treaty has seen collaboration with the Caribbean at levels of education and health, tourism and cultural exchanges and otherwise building bridges of friendship and solidarity, including post-hurricane assistance to islands annually bashed by the more frequent hurricanes of the last decade.
It was also in 1976 that a Cubana Airline plane exploded after takeoff from Barbados, due to a terrorist bombing that left 57 Cubans, Guyanese and North Koreans dead, but also sealed a greater level of popular Caribbean support for Cuba after that first terrorist act of its kind to visit the CARICOM region.
OAS vs Cuba
Cuba has remained outside the Organization of American States (OAS) since it voluntarily exited in 1962 and Venezuela followed suit in 2019 for the same stated reason – use of the regional entity as a tool for American aggression against states constructing socialism.
Havana is again being targeted for direct negative political action by the OAS, this time through current Secretary General Luis Almagro.
The OAS closed 2019 sponsoring a December 18 discussion in Washington that tried to paint a negative image of Cuba’s popular and effective Medical Missions that take free medical care to nations and people worldwide, including most OAS member-states and all CARICOM nations.
The forum, dubbed ‘The Dark Reality Behind Cuba’s Medical Missions’, was organized by the USAID and the ‘Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’.
The truth is that over 100,000 trained Cuban doctors provide free medical care worldwide every year, whose work have saved thousands and touched millions, so the Fake News being fed by the OAS, under Almagro’s watch, is another timely reminder that, far from over, the attacks on Cuba are firmly back on the OAS agenda.
Cuba’s positive ties with neighboring CARICOM nations are also being negatively affected by the anti-Cuba sanctions, including airline flights now being curtailed by an increasing number of carriers fearing possible White House reprisals.
Diaz-Canel assumed his new role with all the inherited old problems.
Private sector activity increased under Raul and many liberal policies were adopted that facilitated new approaches to old problems.
But many old problems also remained.
Sugar, tobacco and rum are no longer the top income earners they were for decades and new economic development models have to replace the old approaches.
Baptism of Fire
Fidel submitted to the mortality of man in 2008 after the leader whose stallion stamina earned him the nickname ‘The Horse’ accepted the ultimate signs of the frailty of advanced human life. Raul also stepped aside in 2019 to allow for a new leader to take Cuba into 2020 — and beyond.
Diaz-Canel starts the new decade as President of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers, having survived the sustained Baptism of Fire that’s coincided with the Trump Presidency.
Advanced planning and preparation, sometimes driven by Che’s maxim of ‘Constant Vigilance and Mistrust’ are among the main reasons for Cuba’s survival for six decades living in the shadow of the beast without ending-up in its belly.
The world is a very changed place today, but with the same historical contradictions dividing nations and people.
The USSR is no more, but China is mightier than ever, Russia is on the rebound and there’s enough international support of all kinds for Cuba to rest assured of global solidarity at all necessary levels against any kind of external intervention.
But just as Caribbean support for Cuba was crucial 43 years ago, so is it still needed — and may be even more necessary now after four decades of durable development shared by the socialist state with its valuable Caribbean neighbors.
Cooperation in health and education has seen hundreds of Cuban doctors providing medical services in all CARICOM nations and thousands of Caribbean students graduating in necessary professional disciplines through free scholarships at Cuban universities.
With total respect for the political and ideological stances of CARICOM states, Cuba has developed four decades of mutually respectful ties with its Caribbean neighbors, all of which have positive stories to tell about ties with Havana.
With Venezuela’s support while both Fidel and Hugo Chavez were alive, tens of thousands of Caribbean citizens also benefited from the Operation Milagro (Miracle) eye programme hosted in Cuba and implemented by Cuban opticians across CARICOM.
Lines of Fire
CARICOM is entering 2020 while also coming into greater play at regional and international levels, providing balance at the OAS and joining the 187 nations in the 2019 UN General Assembly vote against the US blockade against Cuba.
On December 18, 2019 the Caribbean group at the OAS presented and won support for a resolution condemning the atrocious treatment of the indigenous people of Bolivia after the October coup that ousted elected President Evo Morales.
Last July, CARICOM jointly opposed military intervention in Venezuela and in November the Caribbean group stood-up firmly in Dominica’s defense and rejected Almagro’s undisguised efforts to force OAS intervention in the country’s recent elections.
Continuing efforts to re-train OAS guns on Cuba (like against Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua) under Almagro’s watch will also present a challenge for Cuba’s Caribbean friends at the OAS in 2020.
The group will however also surely come into the direct line of fire of those bent on vengeance for CARICOM (as a unit) appearing to challenge Washington’s traditional ruling of the OAS roost.
Elections are also due in St Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname in 2020, where the matter of US and OAS involvement will also emerge, especially as those two nations, with Dominica, are the three Caribbean countries that voted against US-backed OAS resolutions supporting external interference and intervention in Venezuela.
The Caribbean group has already fielded an alternative candidate from Central America to hopefully replace Almagro as General Secretary when the post comes up for election in March 2020.
Maria Fernanda Espinosa, a respected Salvadoran woman candidate who once served as President of the UN General Assembly, has accepted the nomination and the Caribbean group will need only five more votes to change the OAS Line of March next March to a better beat from Latin America and Caribbean’s own drums.
But given current trends, it’s possible that even before that, the CARICOM group may also be given more reasons to consider to what extent the OAS should again be used as an instrument for pursuit of US policy against Cuba.
Cuba will in 2020 also continue to count on the demonstrated solidarity and support of Saint Vincent & The Grenadines, which will also next year become the smallest nation to become a Non-Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council.
President Diaz-Canel and Prime Minister Marrero will together start at least a new decade of new developments that will continue to insulate and at the same time protect the 61-year-old revolution in new and innovative ways in the new global dispensation.
New approaches may depart or divert from traditional stereotypical or propaganda-shaped ‘norms’, but without betraying the essence of the revolution’s ultimate aim of building a Cuba free of imperial diktat, able to sustain itself and defend its gains, with equal opportunity to freely conduct business on the world stage like every other nation, to choose its paths and pursue its chosen courses, without external interference and/or intervention.
But as Fidel said in that prophetic speech with the white dove on his shoulder, notwithstanding the assured solidarity and support of the rest of the world, it will be the continued unity of the Cuban people and their continuing will to support the revolution that will guarantee its continued longevity into the rest of the 2020s — and the 21st Century.
So it was in the beginning and so it will be to the end.