By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — Not too long ago, I read an article in Granma newspaper that said that over a a billion USD are spent every day on weapons. That the United States and Western powers are the largest exporters, responsible for over 80% of exports.
However, they (coincidentally?) forgot to mention Russia and China. I learned from another source that these two countries figure among the top 10 producers on the market and in Russia’s case, arms are its primary export, followed by hydrocarbons.
Knowing this, it isn’t strange to see world powers “helping out” to settle conflicts and apparently “wasting lives and resources” on foreign problems. How much do their economies depend on this business? Is it alruism or a mere business strategy? Clearly, there isn’t any money to be made without wars.
This led me to reflect again on Cuba’s military expenditure and the size of our Armed Forces as well as our need for them. Checking sources here and there, I could confirm how much military arsenal we have accumulated here (I don’t really know exact figures).
It’s been said that we have approximately a thousand different kinds of missiles, not less than 350 different planes, at least 100 helicopters, a thousand anti-aircraft guns, over 2000 tanks, thousands of vehicles, thousands of artillery pieces, millions of small and heavy firearms; and much more.
As well as huge reserves of projectiles, fuel, food and spare parts, billions of pesos in salaries, expenses and resources which were necessary to develop them. Dozens of factories, workshops and infrastructure. Our military expenditure is gigantic. Not only is the world wrong in this regard, we also are as a country and we should be thinking about this.
And why do we need this army in today’s context?
Quite simply, for nothing. Or maybe we do, to have enemies. Whoever has an army can be considered a threat to “someone”, or “someone” can justify an attack or a simple hostile action, due to the presence of so many weapons. Today, you earn more respect from the international community if you have a neutral and functioning democracy than if you have a powerful army.
I’m not saying that it wasn’t necessary in previous decades, but today, the most intelligent and productive thing to do is to disarm. We are an island that has no territorial conflicts with anyone and our borders are well-defined. The US is the only power we have close by and if it didn’t manage to convert us into a state or associated state between 1899-1902, today it’s basically impossible. Only a stupid person or a manipulating opportunist could argue such a threat.
Our dispute with this powerful neighbor of ours lies with their military base in Guantanamo and there doesn’t seem to be an agreement in sight. A military solution? Definitely not. But, do you want to know something interesting? This agreement would be perfectly negotiable if Cuba were to potentially disarm.
A Special Development Zone could be developed in this great bay, with attractive privileges for US companies as an incentive and leverage for this country. Furthermore, we would be an example to the world for both of these achievements: closing down the controversial military base and deciding not to have an army, that is to say, to be neutral. We would be much safer without arms that we are with them.
A Cuba willing to change, not because anyone is forcing us to but because the country is calling for this change and urgently needs it, could also void the US blockade or embargo in a few months. It’s the shortest, most convenient and most productive path forward. And it depends on us more than it depends on them.
We need to urgently rebuild our country, starting with our people who are polarized politically-speaking and progressively leaving. A new Constitution would be crucial, which guarantees peace, social balance and progress; without sterile vengeance and external pressure. But, always consulting the people wherever they are, outside or in Cuba, and respecting the wishes of the majority.
Learning to live in a democracy and not imposing our “truth” on those who don’t want it. It’s a message which would help everyone on both extremes of the political spectrum, because intolerance isn’t just a Communist flaw: many detractors also end up imitating them.
In such a context, disbanding the Army would be an act of great economic, political and strategic importance. With the end of the blockade and our exile community’s contributions (remittances, investments and expertise), it would be a key factor in us moving towards progress. Selling or using all of this military arsenal as a raw material would mean an additional source of resources. Not even selling it as weapons, so that our message is one of complete peace.
The military planes and helicopters could be reused, adapted for civilian and financial uses. They could even strengthen our police force. Many vehicles would be better made use of, we would stop spending billions of pesos in maintaining them, and this money is critical for our financial development. Not to mention the thousands of young people doing their military service and soldiers who would stop being an expense and would then be gradually incorporated into economic sectors which benefit the people more. In this sense, it needs to be a gradual process.
However, it’s a shame that this proposal becoming a reality is just a dream! It would be such a wonderful step towards peace and our true goals as a Nation, but those who govern us need weapons and they will never value such a proposal. To them, we need to carry on spending billions of pesos and dollars which weigh like an iron weight tied to the ankle of our weak and stagnant economy.