By PATRICIA GROGG
HAVANA TIMES, January 14 (IPS) – In spite of shortcomings, unfulfilled dreams and doubts, one of the unquestioned merits of the Cuban revolution, which has just celebrated its 50th anniversary, is the sense of independence and sovereignty in this small island state, geographically so close to the most powerful nation in the world.
“First, (the revolution) demonstrated that it was possible to escape the orbit of the United States, even in Latin America; then, that a small country could survive after being set adrift, without a protecting power, as happened when the Soviet Union disappeared,” Josefina Paredes, a young Cuban researcher on the theory and practice of theatre, told IPS.
In her view, that is the legacy bequeathed to the next generation by the political process that turned 50 on Jan. 1, whose leaders have lived in confrontation with every U.S. administration since 1959.
Sonia Benavides, a 28-year-old Cuban now studying in the United Kingdom, says she is unwilling to put up with what she finds lacking in the country of her birth. “We lack free will, the possibility of thinking in another color scheme, or of following the ideology of Feng Shui (a traditional Chinese cultural practice) if we want to,” she said.
However, she said that had it not been for the revolution, the island would be “a banana republic where U.S. dollars, U.S. masters and U.S. ideology would be law.” That is why, outside of Cuba, “we feel pride in being different, courageous, recognized for standing up to our northern neighbor,” she said.
In her own experience, the revolution gives young Cubans “the infinite satisfaction of saying, through chattering teeth in the height of an English winter, ‘I’m from Cuba,’ and seeing the looks of amazement, surprise, curiosity and admiration on people’s faces. Yes, admiration!”
“When you’re surrounded by people from everywhere from Tibet to Greenland, this gives you a special sense of uniqueness. It’s a reaction that only Cuba evokes. It puts another revolution before us,” Benavides said by email from London.
Among critics of the government, Manuel Cuesta, spokesman for the moderate dissident group Arco Progresista, says that the “only solid achievement” over the past half century “has to do with the cycle of Cuban independence and sovereignty.”
Cuba was subjected first by Spain and then by the United States as its colonial masters, and even when self-government was achieved in 1906, the U.S. retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and supervise its finances and foreign relations.
In the first half of the 20th century the country underwent several coups, invasions and occupations. “This historic problem was ended by the revolution,” Cuesta told IPS.
In his view, the consensus on Cuban independence and sovereignty is important in order to achieve what “remains to be done” in the country, such as racial integration, democratization, and progress towards “a new social pact,” without which Cuba “will be unable to become reconciled to itself and move on.”
This consensus is also essential given the arrival at the White House next week of the first U.S. president born after 1959 — that is, during Cuba’s revolutionary era — and the prospect of change in the five-decade-old confrontation between Havana and Washington, which has imposed an economic embargo on the island for most of that time.
President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20, spoke of possible “direct diplomacy” with Cuba during his election campaign and promised, apparently in the even more immediate term, to eliminate restrictions on the sending of cash remittances to family members and on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens or residents of Cuban origin.
Cuban authorities apparently perceive that a real and enduring easing of relations with the “ideological enemy” poses a major challenge to a society in which 70 percent of the population was born after the revolution, and many are not entirely convinced of the “evils” of capitalism.
If Obama keeps his promise, “a new stage in the ideological battle between the Cuban Revolution and imperialism will be born, and it will be necessary to design a new theoretical and propagandistic conception of our ideas and their origins,” Armando Hart, a historic figure in the Revolution led by Fidel Castro, wrote in an article in the official newspaper Granma.
Hart said that up to one million Cubans and their descendants living abroad, as well as foreigners, might choose to visit the island, ushering in “the immense challenge of facing a new era in the cultural fight.” He recommended digging deep into the writings of Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx and Cuban independence hero José Martí to strengthen socialist convictions.
Similar concerns seemed to hover over the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, when President Raul Castro asked the island’s future leaders not to succumb to “the enemy’s siren songs,” to remain united with the people and to learn “from history.”
It is incumbent on “the historical leadership of the Revolution to prepare the new generations to take up the enormous responsibility of continuing to carry forward the revolutionary process,” President Castro said in his speech in Santiago de Cuba, on Jan. 1.
The previous day, in an interview on Cuban television, the president reiterated his government’s position on possible dialogue with the new U.S. administration. “We are willing to talk with Mr. Obama, wherever and whenever he decides, but under absolute equality of conditions, as equal to equal,” said Castro, who emphasized that there would be “no unilateral gestures” from Cuba.
As the time for rapprochement with its neighbor nears, the Cuban government made strenuous efforts in 2008 to strengthen its relationships with traditional friends like China and Russia, to diminish tensions with the European Union, and to achieve definitive reintegration with Latin America and the Caribbean by becoming a member of the Rio Group, the main regional political forum.