Cubans are united, with or without the US’s blockade. We were fortunate to be in Cuba when the UN General Assembly voted on 7 November on a call to end the US’s trade embargo against the country. The Cuban-sponsored resolution got the support of 187 countries – with only the US and two other countries voting against it. Despite this, the US maintains the embargo – a stance that only further unifies Cubans.
We spent a week at the Nico Lopez Political School and were struck – both by our experiences in the lecture hall and on the streets of Havana – by how theory met practice in real terms. Often detractors dismiss political and revolutionary theory as being outdated, and yet the professors lecturing us in these subjects had also fought alongside MK and MPLA forces in Angola against the SADF in the 1980s.
What we were taught in the lecture room was witnessed on the streets of Havana and in our interaction with ordinary Cuban people. Cubans know where they come from, they understand their current predicament and are resolved to continue on their revolutionary path. They are able to do this because every Cuban is steeped in the work and thought of José Marti, Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. As a result, a high level of political consciousness exists within the populace.
Cuban determination to remain true to the gains of the 1959 revolution and, therefore, fight any country that wishes to impose its ideological imperialism, such as the US, is sustained through the nation’s high quality of education and healthcare. From the onset of revolution up until the present, education and health were high priorities for the Cuban government. Yet the Cuban system also proves that free education and healthcare does not mean that these services are of a low quality. Quality and free are not exclusive in Cuba.
The investment in free but quality education and healthcare builds up human and social capital. Ordinary Cubans remain loyal to the revolution even if they are not members of the Communist Party or politically active. The level of consciousness and how they understand their history and what the revolution is about is what informs their sentiment to defend their country and the revolution against US aggression.
One cannot speak ill of Cuba and even the private sector that does exist, albeit regulated and in partnership with the state, defends the country against the blockade and US aggression. While key sectors of the economy are nationalised, for example petroleum and banks, one sees the effects of the US blockade. Food, toilet paper, foreign currency coming into Cuba and the internet are all rare commodities. Yet, again, this is more because of the blockade than the socialist economy.
As the UN General Assembly heard, in the year 2018 to 2019, the embargo caused Cuba foreign trade losses of US$2-billion and an estimated loss of $700-million in financial assets.
The blockade has been in place for more than 60 years and the Cubans have yet to buckle. In fact, they must be admired and commended for their resilience. Ordinary people say they have sun, rain, the sea, health and education. They celebrate their family and comrades. A luta continua!
Despite the restraints of the embargo, Cubans, given this strong resilience and determination, are imaginative. They have been able to make inroads in the tobacco industry and have a growing tourist industry as well. They grow their own food to mitigate the shortages.
Yet, because of their grounded education, people understand the sacrifices.
South Africans must be encouraged to visit Cuba and Cubans are grateful for the support of South Africa.
Cubans remain dedicated to a better world and a better Latin America. While they wish not to export their revolution, they do wish to share the principles of the revolution and appreciate where South Africa and the rest of the African continent is at this critical stage of their history. Even the young people appreciate the relationship and historical links between South Africa and Cuba.
The youth are dedicated to their country and are organised. They are busy building that second layer of leadership, the first being that of Guevara and the Castro brothers. Cuban young people are like ours and do what young people do for entertainment, yet they are also very focused – on issues of health and education, with brand names not a priority. Ensuring a better life for fellow citizens and the continent is placed above crass materialism.
Cubans are suggesting that Africans, and South Africans in particular, must be focused to get rid of the remnants of colonialism and reject imperialist thinking as propagated by institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. If anything, Cubans are entreating us to make sure that the economy is in the hands of the people and that we must push for radical economic transformation that will deliver an inclusive economy.
Many fear the word “revolution”. Yet what the short Cuban experience has certainly taught is that this process, which we call the revolution, is not something static but fluid. The Cuban people are warm, kind, healthy, educated and practice what they teach.
Yet above all, they are truly free! DM
The Hindenburg had a smoking room.