By Reneva Fourie
On July 26 in 1953, Fidel Castro and his comrades laid siege to the Moncada Barracks marking the start of the Cuban revolution, which ultimately overthrew the Batista regime six years later, This laid the basis for the implementation of a more egalitarian social and economic system, called socialism. The full potential of this developmental path has however been significantly undermined by constant interference from the United States of America.
The bond between the majority of South Africans and the people of Cuba, as best expressed by the relationship between the late Presidents Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro, was forged in blood.
Cuba fought in military battles in Angola against the apartheid government’s Defence Force from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s.
These battles included operations Savannah, Carlota, Reindeer, Protea and Askari, and the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, which ultimately resulted in the liberation of Namibia and contributed to the beginning of the end of apartheid.
The support provided by Cuba during our struggle against colonialism and apartheid is an expression of the principle of international solidarity that is fundamentally embedded in socialism.
From hurricane crises in Asia and the Americas, to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, and now in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, the people of Cuba have always been and remain on the frontlines of the battles against these disasters.
Cuba’s internationalist practises, championed by humanitarian ‘combatants’, are present wherever humanity needs them.
Caring and sharing is viewed by the Cuban government and its people as an essential human responsibility.
Cuba is however paying a heavy price for choosing a development path that does not allow one person to have food in abundance while the other is starving; or one person living in a palace while the other is living on the street.
The USA, which backed the Batista regime, drove a structured campaign of economic and diplomatic isolation along with destabilisation since the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959.
In October 1960, the USA imposed a trade embargo and thereafter plotted an unsuccessful invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 after which relations between the two countries were severed. So determined was the USA government to destroy the Cuban revolution, that their failure at the Bay of Pigs counter-revolution was followed by several hundred failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Pressure on Cuba eased slightly in the 1970’s as the USA directed its energies towards Vietnam – another country that resolutely fought for its own development path – but in 1980 the Reagan administration, as part of its Latin American policy, once more identified Cuba as a priority.
A political and ideological offensive, which included radio broadcasts advocating insurgency, and the setting up of right-wing Cuban-American organisations, was intensified.
The collapse of the Cold War, which severely impacted the Cuban economy, was used to justify increasing destabilisation efforts.
Most significant in this regard was the introduction of the Cuban Democracy Act or Torricelli Law, which was passed by the USA Congress in 1992. This law was aimed at strangling the Cuban economy through the tightening of sanctions, amongst others.
The Cuban Democratic Solidarity and Liberty Bill, passed in 1995, further tightened the economic blockade and allowed for the more rigorous application of the Torricelli Law’s extraterritorial clauses.
In 2009, USA President Barack Obama undertook to improve USA-Cuba relations as part of his electoral commitments. On December 17, 2014, following the funeral of Nelson Mandela, Presidents Obama and Castro announced the intent to restore diplomatic relations and facilitate easier movement between the USA and Cuba.
As a gesture of good faith, the countries exchanged prisoners. Cuba released an aid worker, Alan Gross, as well as a US intelligence operative, Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, and the USA released the remaining three members of the Cuban Five. Later Cuba released another 53 political dissidents.
Negotiations moved very slowly after that, with enhanced levels of cooperation between border patrols and coast guards in responding to illegal emigration and the interception of drug traffickers; as well as discussions on cooperation in relation to possible oil spills and on search and rescue operations related to aircraft or marine accidents.
Progress towards normalisation of relations were however reversed when Donald Trump came to power.
Despite all attempts to remove the Communist Party of Cuba from governance, the USA was unable to distance the people of Cuba from its leadership. They retained a deep sense of patriotism and national pride. This was because Cuba places its people at the centre of development, drawing on their full capacities.
Accordingly, it was able to achieve phenomenal successes in the fields of education, health, sciences, gender and racial equality, housing, and employment among other aspects of human development.
Cuba managed to diversify its economy by focusing on green energy, popular organic farming, pharmaceutical and biomedical technology, and other niches that are today the envy of many.
Through unity and resilience Cuba not only managed to defeat ongoing attacks by the USA, it also managed to mobilise the whole world into condemning the US aggression.
In this regard, Madiba stated the following: ‘From its earliest days, the Cuban Revolution has also been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of the vicious imperialist-orchestrated campaign to destroy the impressive gains made in the Cuban Revolution. ...Long live the Cuban Revolution. Long live comrade Fidel Castro.’
Cuba possesses the capacity to achieve and contribute so much more. The brutal, illegal, economic, commercial, and financial blockade by the USA is stifling its developmental potential. Companies who dare defy the illegal sanctions are fined and threatened with being cut off from the international banking system. The USA also still occupies Guantanamo Bay and continues its illegal broadcasting of destabilising messages into Cuba.
The people of Cuba deserve to maintain a system that has served them well. There is no global hegemon who has the moral right to undermine the sovereignty of a nation-state and impose its will on any country’s people.
The people of Cuba have the right to follow the developmental path of their choice and South Africa, given our historic ties with Cuba, should be at the forefront of defending that right.
Every year at the UN General Assembly, all member states except the USA and Israel, and now Brazil, vote against the USA blockade on Cuba. We need to move beyond governments. The people of the world should object to the ongoing poverty and death that the USA bears upon those countries who either refuse to follow its ideological and religious paths, or who deny it of opportunities to loot resources.
Like Cuba, countries such as Venezuela and Syria too are victims of the USA’s cruelty.
Covid-19 constantly reminds us of the vulnerability of life and enjoins us to promote a more peaceful way of living; and to be kinder to our people and our planet.
* Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.