Is Cuba Made of Cork?

March 9, 2017 | Print Print |

By Fernando Ravsberg

Foto: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — A president in pre-revolutionary times used to say that Cuba is a country made of cork because whatever happens it always remains afloat. And if we look at what has happened over the last half a century, we would be tempted to say that this is true.

When Washington “cut off Cuba’s light and water”, very few people thought that a country which depended so much on the US would be able to survive. And that’s when the Soviet Union appeared to rescue this small island, winning an ally in its enemy’s backyard at the same time.

Cuba paid an extremely high price for changing all of their US technology to Soviet equivalents, which were more backward and inefficient. However, nobody worries too much about the secondary effects of a medicine when the patient is on the brink of death.

The USSR didn’t think twice, there was no price too large for having a “beach stronghold” 90 miles away from the US, and so they supplied the island with whatever it needed to survive and it became Moscow’s priority, it was the logical thing to do during the Cold War.

When the US closed the gate, the Soviets came to Cuba’s rescue, even risking a nuclear war. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

When the Soviet Union’s “disinterested aid” vanished, bets for the Cuban Revolution’s survival turned again. The Cuban economy lost 75% of its foreign trade overnight, including its only oil supply source.

In the ‘90s, the economic crisis left us without light, water, transport, food, milk, food for livestock. Cows used to die of hunger and people suffered from neuritis because they had vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and there seemed to be no way out on the horizon.

However, after a decade of resisting such a critical situation, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela appeared and Cuba could breathe again. “Doctors for oil” was Hugo Chavez’s proposal and he established a South-South cooperation partnership which the island has replicated with other countries.

According to a Venezuelan negotiator, the Cuban government refused to receive payment for healthcare volunteers but Chavez insisted on this being a mutually beneficial agreement. Today, Cuba’s medical services are the greatest source of income for the national economy.

The solidarity that Cuba inspires in much of the world isn’t casual; I doubt that any other country in the world has sent so many doctors to so many different points across the world.

Over the past few years, the island’s allies, who were the strongest economically-speaking in Latin America, have been losing ground in the face of Conservative progress. Argentina and Brazil are already in the hands of the Right and Venezuela is in a critical situation which limits its cooperation with Cuba greatly.

However, almost at the same time as this crisis, a US president decided to change its foreign policy towards Cuba, reestablishing diplomatic relations and criticizing its own country’s embargo against Cuba. The world shook off its fear and hundreds of politicians and business people have since traveled to the island.

The line is never-ending: the French, Russians, Belgians, the Dutch, Mexicans, Japanese, South Koreans, Brazilians, Australians, Italians, Austrians. Even politicians from Spain of the same party that encouraged breaking normal EU-Cuban ties in the mid-1990s, are looking for a piece of the action.

Taking advantage of this interest, Havana is looking to change its fuel dependence, managing to receive investment in wind generations systems, solar panels and biomass-fired power plants to burn sugarcane husk and the cursed marabu bush weed, a nightmare for Cuban farmers.

Only somebody who doesn’t know about Cuba and Africa’s common history can ask why it is that the island is important there.

It really might seem to be a country made of cork but nothing has been by chance. A lot of the solidarity that Cuba has awakened in Africa, for example, is the result of a common history. No African can forget the island’s role in the fall of the Apartheid government.

For decades, Cuba sent free doctors to countries that needed them, whether that was revolutionary Algeria or Pakistan that had no ideological connection whatsoever. The country is reaping the same solidarity it sowed, in some way or another.

Meanwhile, rich countries are renegotiating their debt agreements, which has allowed Cuba to trade with new credits and pay lower interest rates. Thanks to this step, intermediaries have been cut out of the equation who used to increase the values of products quite substantially.

The reforms process has given important benefits to Cubans connected to the private sector and this is now slowly spreading to the rest of the population in steady pay rises and price reduction of some basic products.

Tourism has popped us as a savior to Cuba’s economic problems. An international fever to see Cuba broke out two years ago and has broken all records. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

The country is more real than ever, its powerful neighbor has finally recognized that it couldn’t make it bow down out of force. The new international reality that this creates, allows the country to have relationships with every country without having to enter a formal union with any of them, a healthy balance for a small country.

A few years ago, a US politician said that climate change would be the solution to Cuba’s “problem”, hoping that the island would sink into the sea. Washington has been making mistakes for years; they have never been able to accurately calculate the “floatability” of the island.


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    Fernando has oversimplified the Cuban experience. There are nuances he failed to mention. I would hope that his recent run-ins with the Castro propaganda police have not caused him to shade his journalistic integrity in order to survive. One such nuance is the reason pre-revolutionary Cuba labored under foreign influence is owed in great part to corrupt Cuban leadership. Another nuance Fernando fails to highlight is the pro-Soviet yearnings the Castro boys harbored BEFORE their revolution began. Finally, Fernando is outright lying to suggest that Fidel did not seek remuneration for medical and other professional services in Venezuela and wherever else he could pimp out Cuban professionals. To suggest some pure and wholesome altruism was the only motivation is bullsh*t. I do agree that US policy towards Cuba has been wrong most of the time. The US should have “Crimea-de” Cuba a long time ago in the fashion that Russia overtook eastern Ukraine. Half-measures obviously failed. NOW, a destroyed Cuba would be worthless to the US.

    • N.J. Marti

      Always insightful.

    • Nick

      Mr P, occasionally your comments border on the rational.
      This is not one of those occasions.
      Now you are suggesting that your country should have forcibly annexed lil ol Cuba.
      Arrogant US supremacist nonsense.
      Have you any idea what a bloodbath would have ensued if this had been attempted.
      Wouldn’t,t have been your blood though would it.
      But the blood of others.
      Shame on you.

      • Moses Patterson

        Mmmm, that’s not really what I was suggesting. Allow me to clarify: Like our military struggle in Vietnam, the leadership in the US at the time of the break in US/Cuban relations decided to use “half-measures” in their attempt to topple the burgeoning Castro regime. These efforts were obviously doomed from inception. The larger question regarding whether or not the US had any business trying to topple a hostile government 90 miles from the US is a different issue altogether. I am only suggesting that if the US is going to get involved in this sort of thing, we should go at it 100%. I don’t think it would have been a bloodbath. US military might, then like now, would be so overwhelming that the Castros would have folded like napkins.

        • Nick

          More arrogance.
          The Vietnamese kicked the U.S. out of their yard as they had previously kicked out the Japanese and the French.
          One advantage the Vietnamese had was the growing horror in the USA as the more reasonable of your compatriots started to realise the extent of the horror and brutality of that failed imperialist adventure.
          The true extent of the butchery, torture, raping and pillaging is yet to be officially acknowledged.
          Sure the USA had and has a huge military advantage over Cuba.
          But defending their homes, Cubans would have fought.
          And any attempt at annexation or military occupation would have been met with a continuous insurgency.
          A crucial difference in Crimea is the high percentage of ethnic Russians who make up the Crimean population.
          Events this very century show the fallacy of believing that superior US military might results in swift victory.
          It doesn’t (not even when they are backed up by British forces – Lions led by Donkeys).
          History shows these attempts at swift military victor[es result in long drawn out bloodbaths.

          • Moses Patterson

            Don’t confuse military victory with military occupation. US military might guarantees a quick victory. Military occupation and nation-building is a different issue altogether.

          • Nick

            This erroneous belief regarding swift military victories is simply not backed up by history.
            This arrogant attitude is actually dangerous when held by those in power who themselves do not get anywhere near to the blood-letting..
            This type of Superiority Complex has ensured the deaths of countless U.S servicemen across decades.
            It has also left many more countless civilian victims across continents.
            There are two totally different things here:
            No 1: Reality
            No 2: The myth of a ‘quick victory’ that you seem to fantasise about.

          • Moses Patterson

            We can debate the larger issue in a different venue. With regards to CUBA, a swift military victory would be assured.

          • Nick

            Anyone who has travelled around Cuba and has chatted to the local people will have some idea of the defensive capacity.
            Hundreds of miles of tunnels and underground installations all over the island.
            These defences have been developed over the past 60 odd years precisely to counteract any arrogant attack from the northern neighbours.
            Your guys would not be able to take control without getting bogged down in a very long and drawn out ground war.
            The body bags full up of the cadavers of your compatriots would be stacked high.
            Public opinion would sour quicker than milk on a hot summers day.
            Warfare is bloody. It should not be entered into lightly.
            The reality would be tragic and the very opposite of swift.
            Not for the first time, your simplistic and overtly nationalistic superiority complex leads you into the realms of fantasy.

          • Moses Patterson

            Again you confuse military victory with occupation. Victory would come quickly through the destruction of water, power, and transportation lines for supplies. Cubans armed with old rifles burrowed underground would not last very long in the dark without food, water or bullets. Furthermore, Cuban leadership would be eliminated immediately. The Iraqi army, remember them? Saddam Hussein promised “the mother of all wars”. They lasted 3 weeks. Military victory was swift. Cuba, maybe a week. Military occupation in Iraq however has been a disaster. I don’t disagree that occupying Cuba after after a military victory would likely be just as problematic.

          • Nick

            We could go back and forth interminably.
            Such an action would cost many lives in the militaries of both countries as well as huge amounts of civilian casualties.
            Cuba has an awful lot of contingencies in place to ensure such a conflict (however unlikely to occur) would fill up enough US body bags and would be drawn out sufficiently for public opinion in the USA to force the prevailing US administration into a ceasefire.
            The military professionals in your country don’t seem to share your point of view regarding swiftness of victory.
            But if you wanna stick with your own personal nationalistic fervour rather than be influenced by the views of experts, then that’s cool by me.

          • Moses Patterson

            Personal nationalistic fervor? Hardly personal and not nearly a fervor. But I do agree that we should agree to disagree.

        • dani

          The US estimated that 18,500 American lives would be lost in an invasion attempt in the first 10 days http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB397/. And that was if the conflict didn’t go nuclear and the Soviets didn’t intervene. With most of the Cuban population armed It would be very difficult for the US to keep the country even if the Castros were toppled, though the Cuban death toll would be immense. It’s telling that the Pentagon didn’t even consider that fact.

          Congratulations for finally coming out and showing your true colours.

          • Moses Patterson

            We should be grateful this military option never came to pass.

  • Donald Thureau

    Interesting comments by MP and Nick. What would have been better…an annexed Cuba to the US like Puerto Rico or a Cuba ruled by the Castros? Sadly, there is no choice.

    • Moses Patterson

      Difficult to say. I’m convinced however that a third option, a free and independent Cuba, would have been and one day will be the best option of all.