Toronto SA forum “Cuba’s Victory! Cuba’s Future”

Over forty people braved severe cold to make their way to the Socialist Action public forum on Cuba held at OISE U of Toronto on February 20, featuring Cuba’s Consul General Javier Domokos Ruiz and this writer.
A lively discussion with audience members explored issues of Washington-Havana diplomatic relations, economic reform in Cuba, fair trade, socialist democracy, Canadian foreign policy, the Harper government’s expanded police powers bill, ISIS, and the imperial wars of intervention in the Mid-East and Asia.

Brisk sales at the SA literature table included a new one year subscription to SA newspaper.
One person applied to join Socialist Action.
The text below of my presentation to the forum incorporates a number of paragraphs from the article “Cuban Five are Free – A Victory for Revolutionary Cuba” that appears in the January 2015 edition of Socialist Action newspaper.
– Barry Weisleder
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Cuba’s Victory! Cuba’s Future
I want to see Cuba before everything changes.” That is what some people said following Barack Obama’s December 17 announcement that he would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba — cut by the US in 1961.

I encourage everyone to go Cuba. I visited the island on January 23 to January 30, traveling on a cruise ship out of Montego Bay, Jamaica. It went to the Cuban ports at Cienfuegos, Havana, Holguin (Antilla) and Santiago de Cuba. The excursions I took into the cities and countryside were wonderful, very educational and totally worthwhile.
But those who fear that Cuba will soon be transformed by American tourists, US corporations and commercialism need not rush to book flights.

Hordes of American tourists and a hotel boom to accommodate them may be inevitable, but a US corporate invasion is not. The 1 million Canadians, and the half a million Europeans who go to Cuba annually do not constitute a threat to Cuba’s sovereignty. Fears or hopes that Obama’s new Cuba policy will unleash a US corporate take-over and cultural re-colonisation are unfounded. Such views are based on the dubious assumption that what holds back the tide of capitalist restoration on the Cuban archipelago is, ironically, the US blockade.

If that was true, we would have to credit the US blockade with Cuba’s tenacious independence and dogged commitment to socialism. But that would be absurd: the blockade is a gross violation of Cuba’s right to self-determination.

It has succeeded in undermining, distorting and stunting Cuba’s socialist project. This is why Cuba’s revolutionary government has always demanded the lifting of the blockade.

In reality, what holds back the tide of capitalist restoration is not the US blockade. It is the Cuban Revolution. It is the millions of Cuban workers and farmers who defend it every day with their brain and muscle power.

Obama knows this, which is why he pledged that lifting the blockade — which he admitted has failed to bring US-style “democracy” to Cuba — will be accompanied by US efforts to subjugate Cuba by other, less confrontational means. One such means is coopting the emerging small business sector.

Whether Obama’s new approach to undermining the Cuban Revolution turns out to be more effective than the policy of siege and isolation remains to be seen. As Havana University’s Jesus Arboleya argues, it is far from inevitable that the owner of a pizza shop, a flower stand or a beauty salon will abandon their commitment to Cuban independence, social justice and solidarity for the siren song of US imperialism. They are natural allies of the working class and can make a positive contribution to Cuba’s transitional economy, based as it is on socialist property relations.

What is clear is that restoring US-Cuba diplomatic relations and lifting the blockade will not, in and of itself, allow US corporations to dominate Cuba once again. Nor will it trigger a wave of privatisations, or put an end to Cubans’ constitutional right to health care, child care, and education – at all levels free of charge.

That would require the demolition or degeneration of two institutional pillars of the revolution: the Cuban Communist Party and the workers’ state it leads. This is precisely what the blockade has failed to achieve.

The failure of the blockade to destroy the revolution should be seen for what it is: a triumph of Cuba’s working people against a 54 years-long brutal siege by the mightiest empire in history. Rather than recognise this inconvenient truth, Obama repeated the myth that the blockade has failed to bring about Iraq-style regime change because it has “provid[ed] the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.” Stephen Harper takes a similar view.

The myth that the revolution is propped up by the blockade is common among both liberal critics and admirers of revolutionary Cuba. In reality, the blockade has failed to bring about regime change for two fundamental reasons: 1. millions of ordinary Cubans remain deeply committed to the revolution’s core principles; 2. the high calibre of Cuba’s communist leadership.
Obama and Harper are not about to congratulate their adversaries. Nor should we congratulate the imperialist rulers. For one thing, Washington is morally, if not legally obliged to compensate Cuba for the US$160 billion in damages to the Cuban economy caused by the blockade up to 2014, according to Cuban government estimates. President Raul Castro credits Ottawa with helping to facilitate the secret talks that led to the prisoner swap and the renewal of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana.
But on February 11 we learned that Ottawa, alongside Britain, was involved in a foiled U.S. coup plot to overthrow the government of Venezuela. This is consistent with Harper’s reactionary record in the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa and Haiti. It is also in accord with the record of the Liberal Party. The federal government under Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien sent Canadian troops to Afghanistan, and soldiers to Haiti to back the coup that ousted the last democratically elected Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide.
Why, then, did Obama release the last three of the anti-terrorist Cuban Five? All five heroes, Fernando, René, Gerardo, Antonio and Ramon were arrested in 1998 when they were in the U.S. monitoring groups planning and executing terrorist actions against Cuba. Why did Obama relax some travel restrictions, and open diplomatic relations? He did so in part because it was U.S. policy that isolated the U.S. around the world. Washington is a pariah state in Latin America, except possibly in the eyes of its narco-state ally in Colombia. Meanwhile, Cuba is everyone else’s beloved friend. Cuba is the co-founder of the fair trade group of countries united in ALBA. Have you heard of the Organization of American States? It is a cold war alliance that barred Havana in 1962. The OAS ended the suspension of the Cuban government from its ranks in 2009 – against the wishes of Washington.
The tide turned against the White House, the CIA, Wall Street, the IMF and the World Bank long ago. That’s why it is clear that the freedom of the Five and the opening of diplomatic relations is a monumental victory for the Cuban Revolution. This victory was purchased by the blood and sweat of the Cuban people, and by relentless international working class solidarity with Cuba, to which the modest efforts of the people in this room contributed.
And the struggle continues. The U.S. embargo is still in force. Congress may refuse to lift it. So we are obliged to continue to demand an end to the embargo, to demand reparations for the harm it has caused, to demand the closure of the U.S. military base at Guantanamo and the return of the stolen territory to Cuba, and the removal of Cuba from the odious American list of ‘terrorist’ countries.
Cuba is not on the defensive today. It occupies the high moral ground. It is up-dating its socialist policies, and it remains a beacon to the oppressed worldwide. Washington is on the defensive. Its system is in crisis. It cost millions of Americans their homes. It denies jobs and education to its youth. Its cops shoot unarmed Blacks. Which is why it desperately seeks to change the channel, to blame Muslims and Arabs, and to impose corporate ‘democracy’ by bombing innocent people into the stone age. That is how Capital seeks to prolong the existence of its toxic system – by means of scapegoating, and by wars of mass destructon. Capitalism, which is addicted to growth, accumulation and plunder, is racing towards the temperature tipping point. Beyond that brink is irreversible, catastrophic climate change – the end of civilization as we know it. The spin doctors of Capital prefer to talk about the “collapse of communism”. That misnomer really refers to the collapse of Stalinism, a counterfeit regime imposed on workers by privileged bureaucrats who betrayed revolutions everywhere. But consider the hypocrisy of Capital. It is their system that is on its last legs. It is their system that reeks of waste, decay and brutal repression. Cuba, on the other hand, has the smallest carbon foot print among nations, while at the same time it presents to the world the healthiest, best educated people on the planet. Cuba has the highest literacy level, and the lowest infant mortality rate amongst the less developed countries. It is the most egalitarian society on Earth. Cubans volunteer to be on the front lines of the fight against Ebola disease in Africa. In their thousands they bring medicine and tools to earthquake victims in Pakistan and Haiti. They give sight to the blind in the poorest slums of Latin America. Cuban athletes rank close to the top ten at the Olympics. Imagine what Cuba could do, freed from the stranglehold of the U.S. embargo. Imagine what humanity could do, freed from the ravages of poverty, war and exploitation.
President Obama made clear on December 19 that “the whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government.” That “influence” includes U.S. corporate intentions to penetrate Cuban markets with a flow of cheap commodities aimed at undermining Cuban government enterprises.
Imperialist relations with Cuba, and with all poor nations, always include economic penetration based on imperialism’s capacity to set prices for vital resources far cheaper than their actual value. U.S. imperialism, for example, was able to reduce the world market price of nickel, previously an important source of income for Cuba, by 50 percent.
This kind of economic robbery is inherent in the capitalist system. The country that employs the highest levels of technology in the production of any commodity effectively devalues competing products produced with considerably more labor input. U.S. agri-business, utilizing the most advanced technologies in the world and very few workers, regularly produces rice more cheaply than any nation on earth. In every instance, the threat or actual export of rice in significant quantities has the effect of undermining the national rice markets worldwide.
In recent years, and following a massive consultation process with the Cuban people, Cuba has implemented a series of reforms. These occur in the context of upholding its socialist ideals, and are aimed at improving the efficiency of the Cuban economy. The reforms include granting licenses for the operation of small businesses that involve just a few employees, usually family members. In 2013, these enterprises employed some 400,000 Cubans.
Last fall, the government announced 246 projects that will be added to the number of industries that are open to foreign investment. This effort focuses on the special development zone around the expanded Port of Mariel. The new zone offers the possibility of 100 percent private ownership, although enterprises will be subject to strict labor, environmental, and other regulations.
In addition, modest parcels of state land have been distributed on a renewable-lease basis to Cuban workers and agricultural laborers. Here again, the objective is to improve efficiency and avoid bureaucratic abuse. The latter has been publically condemned by the Cuban leadership, especially with regard to the state agriculture system, where theft and corruption have been rampant. In cases of imperialist-imposed and massive shortages of basic necessities, bureaucratic abuse is well known. Combating this abuse was been a critical part of the legacy of the Castro team.
Socialist Action-U.S. documented Cuba’s economic reforms in the 2012 booklet titled, “The Politics of Revolutionary Socialism.” It notes that unlike the process of capitalist restoration that has been completed in Russia and China, no significant portion of Cuba’s economy has been granted to any section of the Cuban leadership or to international corporations. Indeed, before implementation, the proposed economic reforms were presented for discussion, debate, and modification to well-organized and massive assemblies of workers and farmers that involved millions of Cubans.
While Cuba still lacks formal institutions of workers’ democracy, such as the soviet (council) system under the revolutionary leadership of Lenin and Trotsky in the early period of the Russian Revolution, the present Cuban leadership has not developed into a hardened caste, or into a privileged elite which uses repression to preserve itself. To the contrary, despite the incredible hardships imposed on Cuba by U.S. and world imperialism, the Castro team has struggled valiantly to maintain the social gains of the 1959 revolution and to foster social equality to a greater extent than anywhere on earth.
On the same day that Obama announced his new Cuba policy, Raul Castro reiterated that Cuba has always been open to “respectful dialogue” with the U.S., but only on the basis of “sovereign equality” and complete respect for Cuban self-determination. He noted that as president, Fidel Castro had conveyed to the U.S. on numerous occasions Cuba’s “willingness to discuss and resolve our differences without renouncing any of our principles.”

Cuba will continue to uphold these principles. Meanwhile, the US and Cuba “must learn the art of coexisting with our differences in a civilized manner”. In a speech to Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power on December 20, Raul Castro noted that Cuba has “strong convictions and many concerns regarding what happens in the US with respect to democracy and human rights” and would like to discuss these concerns with the US. Maybe this would help to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier and other prolitical prisoners held in U.S. jails.

Castro stressed that Cuba would not, in order to improve relations with the US, “renounce the ideas for which it has struggled for more than a century, for which its people have shed much blood and run the greatest of risks. In the same way that we have never proposed that the United States change its political system, we will demand respect for ours.” To thunderous applause, he continued: “It is necessary [for the US] to understand that Cuba is a sovereign state whose people, voting freely in a [1976] referendum to approve the Constitution, decided on its socialist course and political, economic and social system.”
Cuba’s planned economy, which employs 80% of the work force, remains devoted to meeting human needs.  This commitment is not in question. At the same time, to advance economically, Cuba needs to increase productivity, to increase the generation of value. To modernize and diversify production, it needs to increase trade and foreign investment. To retain its power to plan to meet human needs, the government strictly regulates foreign investment.
Small enterprises are absorbing unproductive, surplus labour from the public sector, and providing a range of consumer services.
In agriculture, rising production by small private farms and cooperatives will reduce the need for food imports. Increased remittances from Cubans abroad, and revenue earned by small enterprises will not be evenly distributed, and thus will tend to increase social inequality marginally, but pose no threat to the key social guarantees. Rising tensions due to inequality will be balanced by declining tensions from reduced shortages and the diminished effects of the U.S. embargo.
On the street and in the countryside, how do things look? I can describe what I saw.
Cubans appear to be healthy, well dressed, confident and positive.
Public transportation is low priced and very crowded. Make-shift vehicles, trucks transformed into buses, continue to ply the roads. There is a great reliance on animal traction in rural areas. The world-famous classic cars, some 50,000 in number, many over 60 years old, are a wonder of Cuban ingenuity. They are also a strident form of defiance of the embargo. Of course there are many more cars of a modern make, like KIAs, that can be seen everywhere.
Cuba relies on fossil fuels. Only 4% of its energy is green sourced. But Cuba aims to go solar. Leading the way is Granma province where the target is to be 24% solar by 2030.
Wages in Cuba are low, but the most important services and material amenities are very cheap or free. Health services continue to expand. Here’s an example. Cuba’s response to its low birth rate is to open a network of fertilization clinics for couples experiencing difficulty having children.
There is no homelessness. The housing stock ranges from modest and simple to comfortable and beautiful. Cuba is still building housing to replace homes damaged in October 2012 by hurricane Sandy.
In Jamaica it is common to see a family of 6 or 7 reside in a one room shack and get their water from a village stand-pipe. Many people cannot afford electricity, so they steal it from the nearest street light poles. Living conditions in Cuba are quite different.
In Cuba, there are no people in ragged clothes, no one begging in the streets. Our tours did encounter, at different stops, women in folkloric costumes asking to be in a photo for a fee, or asking for soap from abroad for personal use, or to trade for other items.
Cuba has a very low level of violent crime. It is possibly the safest place on Earth. That’s due to its social equality. Compare it to nearby Jamaica, a very unequal society, with widespread grinding poverty. The big headline in the Jamaican press when I arrived in December was that the murder rate went down. That is, only 1,500 people had been murdered in Jamaica in 2014. The population of Jamaica is less than Toronto’s. In 2014, Toronto had 57 homicides. In Jamaica the murder rate is 26 times that. The Cuban rate is much closer to that in Toronto than to Jamaica’s.
Despite the loss of 80% of its trade when the USSR dissolved, Cuba did not close a single school, hospital or childcare centre.
Recently, Canada spent well over $122 million to bomb Iraq. Bill C-51, the so-called anti-terrorism law, seeks to unleash a new force of police spies, detain so-called anti-petroleum terrorists without trial, and criminalize dissent. Ottawa spends billions on the super-secret Canadian Security Establishment and CSIS. And instead of making schools and community centres more accessible, currently, the Toronto District School Board is considering which of 60 elementary and secondary schools to close. In terms of health care, over one third of workers in Canada have no dental or drug service coverage.
Socialist Action, and our predecessor party the League for Socialist Action, have a long history of solidarity with Cuba. It goes back to the early years of the Revolution, well described in the book by Ernie Tate “Revolutionary Activism in the 1950s and 60s”, chapter 15. By 1960-61, our leaders realized that fundamental change was taking place – that the working class had come to power in Cuba, and that socialist transformation of that society was on the agenda. The LSA, following the lead of the American SWP, helped to launch Fair Play for Cuba Committees. We got unions and NDP bodies to support the revolution, and send delegations to the island. The LSA organized tours, especially involving large groups of university students, to visit Cuba. The tours were very successful. Sadly, a component of the newly unified revolutionary party in Cuba, the element that came out of the Stalinist PSP, the Popular Socialist Party, was not happy to see Trotskyists earning credit for bringing scores of students to Cuba, so it cut off support for the tours. That was a set back for solidarity, but our efforts continued in other ways over the years.
Unfortunately, sectarian obstacles still arise from time to time. The Canadian Network on Cuba is an alliance of solidarity groups, though not a very active body. Nearly two years ago Socialist Action applied to join the CNC, but the Communist Party of Canada and organizations under its influence voted to block our membership bid. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers and a number of local pro-Cuba groups across Canada support our application. They are very upset about the blocking manouver. Fortunately, no network or party has a monopoly on solidarity with Cuba. Our work in support of revolutionary Cuba continues, as you can see tonight.
What does the future hold? Cuba’s future depends very much on developments outside of that country.
It depends on completion of the socialist revolution in Venezuela and Bolivia. The expropriation of the big banks, big landlords, and industry would open the road to an alliance of planned economies on a continental scale. Likewise, a shift from left populism to socialism, to workers’ rule, in Ecuador, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, would change the relationship of class forces across the Western Hemisphere.
Cuba’s future likewise is linked to Greece defying the European Union bankers and the EU corporate rulers. If Greece breaks with capitalist austerity, that would inspire workers across Spain, Portugal and Italy to do the same. Such a rupture, leading to a socialist revolution in Europe, would significantly weaken world imperialism and all the neo-colonial regimes under the thumb of Capital. It would isolate fortress America. It would cause North American workers to radically reconsider their situation, and begin to settle accounts with our rulers here.
In the meantime, defending revolutionary Cuba keeps hope alive, in ways large and small. It helps us in Canada to defend and improve our health care system, to defend public education, to maintain home mail delivery. Why? Because if a small Caribbean country that suffered over 400 years of colonial exploitation, until it freed itself, can do these things and more, why can’t rich and vast Canada?
Cuba is our inspiration, and our call to duty. And what is our duty?
Che Guevara put it this way: “The duty of every revolutionary is to make the revolution.” Well, that’s what Socialist Action is all about, and that’s why you should join us.
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