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 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.
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.
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.
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.