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Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

Who Cares about Cuba Besides Cubans?

February 1, 2014 | Print Print |

Isbel Diaz Torres

Giving a talk on Cuba at the Santos public university.

HAVANA TIMES — The paths of Cuba and the fate of the Cuban revolution are issues of serious concern outside the island. No one had to tell me, nor did I have to read it, I saw it with my own eyes during my recent visit to Brazil in the month of January.

It is known that entrepreneurs from many countries are expectant of the economic reforms that the Cuban government has been implementing in recent years. The business opportunities offered by a partially unexplored territory are extremely attractive.

What’s needed is a little more relaxation of norms, some safeguards for their money and some legislation that should be forthcoming, so that the foreign private sector “touches down with more force.”

But usually those types of investors are not too concerned about the rights of workers on the island, the civil and political liberties of the citizens, the existence of democratic participation and environmental controls, nor the predictable social inequalities, provided their profits are guaranteed.

It is also possible to recognize another group of Brazilians who uncritically totally identify with the institutional processes that evolved and are being developed in the island. Their unwavering support is displayed even in times of layoffs, golf courses, and state budget cuts.

Brazilian socialist revolutionaries.

In order to embellish their own ideologies with their middle class communist dreams and their anti-capitalist posture, these people “keep alive an idyllic image of revolution and justify any contradiction with arguments of the last century, with the US blockade as their faithful shield.

There is, however, another group that seems to be the minority, but in my opinion is much more ethical, serious, and decent. I’m talking about a part of the anti-capitalist left that has managed to balance its support for the gains made in Cuba after 1959 with a critical view towards the often contradictory policies and actions of the Cuban government.

Socialists of various political bents understand the depth of the changes in the Cuban social and political system of the last century, and also recognize the adverse effect of interventionist United States’ policies. However they don’t accept the undemocratic, authoritarian and recently pro-capitalist policies implemented by the Cuban government.

Anti-capitalist youth in Brazil know and study the history of the Cuban revolution. They need to in order to develop their own struggles against social injustices they suffer with the profound economic inequalities in a country that is almost a continent, where in June 2013 more than 10 million people took to the streets.

So where is Cuba heading?

Many came up to me and asked things like: “How is the struggle of trade unions on the island?” “Have women advanced more in obtaining their rights?”  “Tell us about the Cuban educational system.” “Is the Cuban student movement active at the universities?” “What position did the government of Raul Castro take on our popular struggles last June?” “Is it true that health care is free?”

There were hundreds of questions, from people truly wanting to learn from the Cuban revolution from its mistakes and successes, and convinced of the need to stop any attempt at capitalist restoration on the island.

Just the kind of solidarity that Cuba needs, genuinely critical and caring.

In my coming posts I will elaborate on my recent experience on South American soil. For now, this introduction is to send a hug to the Brazilian socialist revolutionaries with my thanks for all the love given, and for a shared faith in the triumph of the humble.


What's your opinion?

  • Informed Consent

    I am so sorry to say this but Cubans and the “revolution” are of little concern outside the islands.

    • John Goodrich

      Then why the continuation of the 54 year old U.S. war on the people of Cuba ?
      The U.S. is the most powerful and the richest country on the planet and IT is very interested in (killing) the Cuban revolution.

      • informed Conseny

        I and many others are also interested in seeing the revolution die. In my humble opinion it would have died some time ago were it not for the counterproductive embargo which ended it’s usefulness some time ago. At the very least it would have removed the last excuse the Castro have for their failures

        • John Goodrich

          Interesting that you, an opponent of the revolution, are opposed to the U.S. embargo which was and is an attempt to overthrow the revolution .
          Of course, smarter people than you at the State Department know that were the U.S. economic war on Cuba to be ended, Cuba’s socialist-style economy would thrive and Cuba would present itself as an alternative to capitalism in the world.
          Why else would they persist for 54 years and counting ?
          It’s interesting that you choose to disagree with those who might as well write your posts for you.

          • Informed Consent

            What evidence have you that the “revolution” would thrive. Has communism worked anywhere else? All evidence to the contrary. Can you point to ANY successful communism model? Even China trashed it. …oh yea, I almost forgot, in your mind “true” communism hasn’t existed yet.

            The regime is a failure with or without the embargo, unable to even meet Fidel’s boast of a glass of milk on every table (or something like that)

          • Moses Patterson

            You continue to beat the drum that the US somehow “fears” that the Castro revolution would thrive economically if the embargo were lifted and that it would serve as a model for other poor third world countries to follow. Is that about right? You could not be farther from the truth. The embargo is simply good politics. Florida, until the last Obama election, was a solid red state. Republicans from Florida wanting to maintain the status quo sought to satisfy the powerful conservative Cuban voting bloc by maintaining an otherwise innocuous embargo policy. It is politically easy to maintain an embargo on a poor Latin American communist country whose world famous leaders regularly engage in anti-US vitriol. If Sweden were to suddenly go ‘commie’, no such embargo would even be considered unless a sizable and well-financed voting bloc in Minnesota threatened to vote for the ‘other’ party. Unless and until Cubans in Florida become irrelevant to national elections, their particular interest in punishing the Castro regime will persist.

          • Griffin

            The political support for the embargo crosses the aisle. Democrats like Menendez and Wasserman-Shultz support the embargo just as much as Republicans like Rubio or Cruz.

            Also, Florida has not been solidly Republican for a long time. It’s been a swing state since Clinton’s first run in 1992. That’s why it’s become such a battleground.

            That said, your point stands: the continuing support for the embargo remains politically important for either party’s success in Florida.

    • Ken Hiebert

      I cannot claim to speak for a majority, but I can say that there are many who do feel strongly about Cuba. Even on Vancouver Island, thousands of kilometres from Cuba, i know people who are active in solidarity with Cuba. Some of them feel so strongly that it is difficult for them to consider any criticisms of Cuba.
      I join them in their solidarity, but I can also look critically at Cuba.

      • Griffin

        To provide active solidarity with the Castro regime is to support the brutal dictatorship which oppresses the Cuban people. Do the people of Vancouver Island want the Canadian government to ban all but one political party, to ban fee elections, to ban freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and to ban the right of Canadian workers to form independent unions?

        Because the Castro regime does that and more to the Cuban people.

        • Ken Hiebert

          People on Vancouver Island hold many different opinions on political questions. Among those who are in solidarity with Cuba I have never heard anyone advocating a one party system. What they value is the widely recognized gains in education and health, as well as Cuba’s capacity to send aid to stricken countries around the world. They admire as well the independence that Cuba was able to establish from the US.
          The absence of rights is not the reason for US hostility to Cuba. If it were, we shouldn’t expect them to embrace the Saudi monarchy as they do.

          • Griffin

            Your friends do indeed advocate a one party system: for the people of Cuba at least. And lets be frank: I live in Toronto & am quite familiar with the discourse of Canada’s radical Left. They do advocate a one party system for Canada, too. Their own party, of course.

            A quick aside about Cuban education & healthcare:
            They made respectable advances in the first two decades, while they lived off the stolen wealth of the island and the massive Soviet subsidies. But when those USSR collapsed, the Cuban social programmes also decayed. The statistics you have read about their marvellous healthcare system come straight from the Cuban government. They have never allowed an independent study of their system. It is illegal for any Cuban doctor or nurse to talk freely with non-Cuban journalists or researchers about the Cuban healthcare system. In short: the image you have is false. Go ahead and google the truth about Cuban healthcare. You can find some photos that will horrify you. You can also find yet more party propaganda regurgitated by the useful idiots too. In Cuba today, there is a very nice healthcare system for the regime elite and the gullible Western tourists. And then there’s the healthcare system 95% of the population see: filthy wards, no medicines, no supplies and far too few doctors.

            You are quite right, the US embargo was not installed because of the lack of human rights in Cuba. It was first implemented in response to the Cuban government seizing the property of US corporations and citizens without fair compensation. Shortly after that, the Cuban government seized the property of Cuban owned corporations and businesses, spurring on the exile of hundreds of thousands of innocent Cuban citizens. Some of these, such as the Bacardi family, had actually supported Castro’s fight against Batista. His thanks to them was to steal their property. Ask yourself this: would you agree to do business with the thief who robbed you of your home and business?

            Subsequent to all that, the US congress did pass a law which makes the restoration of democracy & human rights in Cuba a precondition for lifting the embargo.

            And while it is true the US has been hostile toward Cuba for many years (although much less so now), Fidel Castro has in his own way been very hostile toward the USA. Never forget that during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Fidel wrote a letter to the Soviet Premier Khrushchev demanding that the USSR start a nuclear war with America. You can’t get much more hostile than that, now can you?

          • Ken Hiebert

            You say that the Cuban government seized the “…property of US corporations and citizens without fair compensation.” It is my understanding that compensation was offered. And the offers were based on the value of the corporations that these corporations had themselves declared when they paid Cuban taxes.
            If these corporations had been lying about the true value of their property, why should we feel any sympathy for them?

          • Griffin

            There is considerable disagreement over the value of the properties & the value of the compensation offered. The excuse that the corporations were based on falsified tax returns was propaganda intended to diminish or delegitimize the claims for just compensation.

            The Castro government expropriated all foreign-owned private companies after the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Most of these companies were owned by U.S. corporations and individuals. Bonds at 4.5% interest over twenty years were offered to U.S. companies, but the offer was rejected by U.S. ambassador Philip Bonsal, who requested the compensation up front. Only a minor amount, $1.3 million, was paid to U.S. interests before deteriorating relations ended all cooperation between the two governments. The United States established a registry of claims against the Cuban government, ultimately developing files on 5,911 specific companies. The Cuban government has refused to discuss the effective and adequate compensation of U.S. claims. The United States government continues to insist on compensation for U.S. companies.

            No compensation was offered to large Cuban business owners, whose property was seized beginning in 1960. All property of Cubans who left the island was deemed the property of the Cuban government. For example, the property of the Bacardi company (seized in October, 1960) and that of the José Arechabala company (original owners of the Havana Club brand) were confiscated without compensation of any kind.

            In 1966-68, the Castro government nationalized all remaining privately owned business entities in Cuba, down to the level of street vendors. The people were never compensated.

      • Moses Patterson

        I can just see it now. A meeting is called for all those Vancouver Island Castro apologists in the 5,000 sq. ft. home of some retired businessman turned environmentalist. As his street fills with Volvos, the clamor of Birkenstock sandals fills the air. The aroma of a dark-roasted Ethiopian blend coffee and fresh-baked cookies gives a homey-feel to this serious conclave of left-leaners. After 15 minutes of US-bashing, people break into small groups where stories of how easy it is to meet Cuban girls is whispered about. How am I doing so far? How many in your Vancouver group have left BC to live in Cuba? Without the use of their pensions or bank accounts but instead to live as Castro has forced Cubans to live? How many in that group?

        • Griffin

          Pretty close, but you missed the pungent scent of BC bud wafting over the motley assembly of white dread-locked hippies.

          While walking along the Malecon in early January 2013, I ran into a Canadian tourist right by the USS Maine monument. He asked me to take a photo of him and his “girlfriend”, with his camera. He was easily over 65, she was black, maybe 25, and distinctly uncomfortable having her picture taken with this grey ponytailed yuma. The Canuck mentioned he was from Port Alberni, on Vancouver Island, BC. I believe he posts comments here from time to time.

          There is a radical leftist group in Vancouver, known for their militant support of Che & Castro. This groups has also been active in a series of vandalism and arson attacks against so-called yuppie developments in Gastown & the downtown Eastside neighbourhoods. Typically, most of the members of this group are trust-funded brats from affluent North Vancouver.

        • Ken Hiebert

          I have run into men who have gone to Cuba as sex tourists. They did not whisper. They spoke openly about this. But these were men I ran into at my workplace (only a handful among the thousands I worked with). I have no reason to believe that any of them ever attended a Cuba solidarity event. Why would they?
          I have attended a few Cuba solidarity events, but never in a 5,000 sq ft. house. In Nanaimo one event was at the public art gallery and another in the back yard of what seemed to me to be an ordinary house. An event that I did not attend was in a housing co-op. If any men there were talking about how to connect with Cuban girls, they did not include me in those conversations. Nor did I overhear any such conversations.
          One friend of mine does have a Volvo, but it is many years old (they are quite durable).
          I have had some good coffee at these events. It may have been from Ethiopia, but more likely it was from Nicaragua or Cuba.

  • Walter Teague

    Isbel, I will be interested in seeing your further reporting, and I do hope you and many others find a way to productively channel your activism.

    If written in Spanish, it may be the translation, but where you write “in my
    opinion [other groups are]”’ much more ethical, serious, and decent…” I would suggest you consider detailing just what is unethical, un-serious and not decent about the groups you disagree with. Just labeling doesn’t communicate or persuade very well, and it can sound a bit sectarian and or even mean spirited. On the other had, if you explain, the readers are more likely to understand and even agree with your perspective. Takes a bit more work, but worth it I believe.

    There
    is, however, another group that seems to be the minority, but in my
    opinion is much more ethical, serious, and decen – See more at:
    http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=101601#sthash.ABjGi4kG.dpuf

    • Isbel Diaz

      Walter Teague

      You are absolutely right. But there is no space enough to be more explicit.
      I’ll try to give you some examples.

      In my opinion, the decision of foreign investors to employ Cuban workers,
      disregarding their lack of rights to have real Union organization, is
      unethical, is not decent. With that posture, they stand at the same position
      with the Cuban government. Of course, that’s the way capitalism works. Powerful
      capitalist countries develop formal human rights inside their borders, and go
      to the South to freely exploit the poor workers.

      In the left wing happens the same: they strongly criticize their realities, but
      when it comes to Cuba, they suddenly look the other way, even forgetting their
      own fights.

      Analyses about Cuba need to consider both inner and external forces, which
      determine our present: The USA blockade has determined the relationship between
      Cuba and exUSSR, the development of an authoritarian society, and the
      economical crises we have lived. But also the wrong decisions of Cuban leaders
      and political organizations such as PCC, had a critical influence in our actual
      status.

      That’s what I meant with such expression. Thanks for comments.

      • Griffin

        The US embargo did not force Cuba into a relationship with the USSR. Fidel & Raul were already courting the Soviets before the US government imposed the embargo. It was Fidel’s long term strategy to force a confrontational break with the US. The path he chose included all of the antagonistic actions which lead inevitably to the US imposing the embargo. The embargo was his goal because it would cut Cuba off from what he saw as the pernicious influence of the United States.

        For their part, the reactions by the United States government (the embargo, the Bay of Pigs) helped drive the Cuban people to accept Castro’s plan for them. In the end, Fidel played the US, and the Cuban people, like a violin. Love him or hate him, he was a brilliant strategist.

        • dani

          The US started plotting for regime change as soon as the new government took power (within the first month). Cuba offered compensation for nationalized property on terms better than the US did in Japan after the second world war. No other country with property in Cuba complained in the slightest. Even if you were the president at the time you would have been faced with a stark choice of either capitulating to US unreasonable demands or leading the country into the eastern block.

          • Griffin

            I am not arguing that the US policy toward Cuba was smart or just. I am pointing out that Fidel Castro had intended to lead the Cuban revolution to Marxist-Leninism from the very beginning and that he planned to the USSR to help him do it. Fidel’s actions in seizing US property and inviting in the Soviets were intended to to provoke US anger and to isolate the Cuban people.

            Eisenhower knew that Fidel was bringing Communists into the new revolutionary government, even while declaring he was a democrat. The US gov’t also knew that Fidel was in contact with the Soviets from the very beginning. His turn toward the Russians came first, the US response came second. All during 1959, Castro was maneuvering to install Communists in key positions in the new government, while neutering the non-communist revolutionarily leaders and eliminating any potential rivals. Don’t think the CIA wasn’t paying attention to the power struggle inside the revolution.

            If the Cuban revolution was truly democratic as Fidel had publicly declared, then the US would not have tried to interfere. Although the US would always squawk about nationalized property, they would have negotiated compensation if they didn’t see the Soviets arriving in their place. However, Fidel believed that as long as Cuba had any sort of relationship with the US, they would never be independent. Perhaps he was correct. So Fidel was determined to rupture the US-Cuban relationship as thoroughly as possible. In that light, the embargo served Castro’s purpose well. And the Bay of Pigs fiasco was perfectly timed for Castro to make the final break, while humiliating the Yankee imperialists and taking the opportunity to round up the last of the anti-communist Cuban opposition.

  • Barry Healy

    Hey, Informed Consent, if Cubans and their revolution are of no interest to anybody outside of the island how come the USA has organised the economic blockade for so many decades? That looks like a lot of interest to me, and certainly not friendly interest.

    • Moses Patterson

      The most difficult type of legislation to get through Congress is legislation which repeals existing law. Especially when there are members of Congress who voted for the original legislation still serving. That said, it is easy for the US to maintain the embargo. The continued existence of this federal law supports the low level of interest in changes currently taking place in Cuba. Moreover, the goal of the embargo is regime change. To the exile community in Miami, the dissident community in Cuba and all other Cubans worldwide who would like to see political reforms in Cuba, this policy is very “friendly”. S’pose it depends upon perspective…

  • Griffin

    Isbel wrote, …”…pro-capitalist policies implemented by the Cuban government.”

    Raul’s economic reforms are in now way “pro-capitalist”. The opening for self-employment should not be confused with free enterprise” as the government still regulates, controls, dictates and exorbitantly taxes the self-employed. Cuba does not have a stock market and has the lowest rate of capital formation in Latin America. Cuba has among the worst property protection laws in the world.

    It’s a testament to the limited scope of economic & political education in Cuba if an educated & intelligent Cuban thinks the recent changes represent capitalism.

  • Ken Hiebert

    For another report on this gathering in Brazil go to InternationalViewpoint dot org and look for Our North is the South …. Anti-capitalist Youth of Brazil by
    Marco Alvarez