The Contradictions of Cuba’s Foreign Minister

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Bruno Rodriguez address the UN General Assembly.  Photo: cubadebate.cu
Bruno Rodriguez address the UN General Assembly. Photo: cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES — The United Nations has once again gone through the motions of condemning the blockade/embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States.  Though this gesture is very ineffective, I am happy it was repeated, for the blockade/embargo has increasingly become a stumbling block devoid of any evident advantages for anyone.

In addition to being an interventionist measure, the embargo has helped create an exceptional situation which the Cuban government has known how to use to its advantage, polarizing the island’s internal political landscape and manipulating national and international public opinion.

It is the latter I want to focus my analysis on, taking as my point of departure a number of the rhetorical maneuvers from Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez during his publicized speech before the UN General Assembly. I particularly wish to focus on the way in which Rodriguez has relied on euphemisms to give simple economic necessity a humanistic spin.

Ultimately, this leads his arguments to a kind of political dead end, evident in his remarks that describe the blockade as an act of “ignorance”, in a section of his speech which deserves a special place in the history of Cuba’s political schizophrenia.

Rodriguez says: “The blockade is an act of ignorance that prevents the free movement of people, the flow of information, the exchange of ideas and the development of cultural, sport and scientific links between our countries.”

At most, the Cuban leadership would approve of gringos and Cubans exchanging ideas about the best way to cook fried plantains, the amount of mint one should use to prepare a mojito or the advantages of oyster cocktails over Viagra pills, but not much beyond this.

What the stiff Cuban foreign minister means with this, in truth, is that the blockade denies Cuba tourism. Though one can reasonably expect that tourism will lead to the exchange of information and ideas between people, this is precisely the part of the whole affair that terrifies Cuban leaders, for whom the best possible international tourism would be of the kind that takes place at isolated keys, which are as close to paradise as they are distant from the reality of common Cubans.

At most, the Cuban leadership would approve of gringos and Cubans exchanging ideas about the best way to cook fried plantains, the amount of mint one should use to prepare a mojito or the advantages of oyster cocktails over Viagra pills, but not much beyond this.

But, since the blockade/embargo is framed as a humanistic issue, the discourse surrounding it cannot be besmirched with materialistic considerations. This is why Foreign Minister Rodriguez takes globalization at its word and speaks of human rights, the exchange of ideas and the flow of information.

He even bemoans the curtailment of the constitutional rights of US citizens, who are denied the right to travel to Cuba. No matter how hard Rodriguez tries to resemble Thomas Paine, however, we all know he is merely a shopkeeper, and that, behind his spiel hides Cuba’s interest in selling daiquiris, traditional summer shirts and multi-colored maracas to gringos.

Rodriguez’ efforts at sounding convincing stand a chance only within a closed circle of drowsy diplomats. His speech is divested of all sincerity from the start by the very nature of the speaker, the Cuban government, by its authoritarian character and the way in which it manipulates the rights of its quasi-citizens.

His rhetorical euphemisms turn into contradictions as soon as they are voiced, and these contradictions become sheer hypocrisy, for Bruno is one creature on the face of this earth who has no right to invoke the curtailment of rights by others, and this because he represents a State that denies Cubans the possibility of exercising such rights.

First of all, the Cuban government restricts the rights of its citizens to travel freely within Cuba. The internal movements of the population continue to be governed by a medieval decree law.

This government also denies Cuban émigrés the right to freely visit and travel around the country, a right that would be totally in keeping with a society that is already clearly transnational and relies on this condition to a considerable extent.

I believe that a highly significant part of the spiritual and intellectual production of Cubans is kept from society as a result of the repressive policies of the regime, and that this leads to the impoverishment of all, both inside and outside Cuba.

The recent migratory reform did not establish citizen rights. It only made travel legislation more permissive, leaving intact the mechanisms that maintain Cuban émigrés in their condition of exiles who are denied full rights.

Foreign Minister Rodriguez also represents a State that restricts the flow of information by denying the immense majority of its population access to the Internet (to blame this situation on the blockade is a bare-faced lie) and by maintaining strict control over the printed publications to which Cubans have access.

Numerous books, some of them written by Cuban authors whose intellectual merit has earned them international recognition, are kept on inaccessible shelves at Cuba’s National Library, and I know of cases in which whole series of works have been turned into pulp because of their ideological content.

Hundreds of works, containing the very best of intellectual production from around the world, remain out of the reach of Cubans simply because these books are published outside of Cuba, where, by contrast, all of the ideological pamphlets regurgitated by the regime’s followers are enthusiastically published.

Finally, Rodriguez is a member of a political class that curtails and represses all exchanges of ideas which take place outside the government’s restricted premises and the interesting but extremely short-lived spaces for authorized critique.

An intense production of ideas of the most varied nature is taking place within Cuba – the island and the diaspora of our transnational society, that is – and these ideas cannot be circulated or exchanged on the island.

I believe that a highly significant part of the spiritual and intellectual production of Cubans is kept from society as a result of the repressive policies of the regime, and that this leads to the impoverishment of all, both inside and outside Cuba.

To return to my previous comments, before aiming to have US tourists exchange small talk with a local waitress, I believe it would be far more productive to have a world-renown expert on social security issues (such as Carmelo Mesa Lago) converse with Cuban officials and share his ideas about the future of Cuba’s system.

Or to allow Pedro Campos to address the whole of Cuban society, so that he may explain his ideas regarding democratic socialism; or to grant this right to Siro del Castillo, so that he may speak of Christian Democratic values and their significance for Cuban society; or have a sociologist as knowledgeable about the intricacies of Latin American social development as Francisco Leon give a lecture at the university; or allow Yoani Sanchez to do the same in connection with the use of social networks and their importance to democracy, and Cuesta Morua on the many issues which he addresses so positively, among many others. Not because they are the opposition and critical of the government, but because they are Cuban intellectuals.

That this should not happen has evidently nothing to do with the blockade/embargo, but with the existence of the authoritarian and exclusivist political regime that Bruno Rodriguez represents – a government that, day after day, and against the best interests of the nation, conspires, and I quote, “against the free movement of individuals, the flow of information and the exchange of ideas.”
—–
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.


18 thoughts on “The Contradictions of Cuba’s Foreign Minister

  • January 4, 2014 at 4:06 am
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    Not even one single cuban citizen voted to be represented internationally by this guy, only Raul Castro.

    The embargo is against the government that had nationalized all business and forbidden cubans citizens to do any type of business. I am a cuban myself and I have been forbidden of so many things by my own government that the Embargo itself.

    Why are here so many foreigners that love the socialist-communist-paradise-cuban-castro-propaganda that want the embargo to be lifted, so the business monopoly (Cuban Castro Government) can get credits from Capitalist countries?
    Why do you guys want CIMEX or ETECSA to import iPhones from Apple and sell them to cubans who can hardly make $20CUC a month?

    Cuba has great relations with China, Brazil and Canada. Why doesn’t my government do business with these countries (they already are) and stop expecting to get credit and free market from the same country they once took their business and said that we were (Cuba) going to pay any debts to the Imperialist?

    Como dice el refran callejero cubano “Que rico es ser yuma” jajaja de pinga esto asere.

  • November 10, 2013 at 2:14 pm
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    Me harta leer criticas que no toman en consideracion lo positivo de los cambios en Cuba, mire en Puerto Rico hay asesinatosa granel, drogas, cada Boricua debe $19,000 de la deuda publica y algo similar en deudas privadas, 300,000 se han ido de Borinquen en los últimos 6 años…..

  • November 8, 2013 at 12:59 pm
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    I don’t think I’m the one that needs some additional reading. Quoting from his article:

    “I believe that a highly significant part of the spiritual and intellectual production of Cubans is kept from society as a result of the repressive policies of the regime, and that this leads to the impoverishment of all, both inside and outside Cuba.

    To return to my previous comments, before aiming to have US tourists exchange small talk with a local waitress, I believe it would be far more productive to have a world-renown expert on social security issues (such as Carmelo Mesa Lago) converse with Cuban officials and share his ideas about the future of Cuba’s system.

    Or to allow Pedro Campos to address the whole of Cuban society, so that he may explain his ideas regarding democratic socialism; or to grant this right to Siro del Castillo, so that he may speak of Christian Democratic values and their significance for Cuban society; or have a sociologist as knowledgeable about the intricacies of Latin American social development as Francisco Leon give a lecture at the university; or allow Yoani Sanchez to do the same in connection with the use of social networks and their importance to democracy, and Cuesta Morua on the many issues which he addresses so positively, among many others. Not because they are the opposition and critical of the government, but because they are Cuban intellectuals.”

    Short redneck version:

    1. Cuba government is evil
    2. US people-to-people will not open Cuba society, so there is no need to lift the ban
    3. Rather than more contact with US citizens, a dialogue with random opposition is preferable for some unstated reason

    because of the above:

    4. US is not at fault for the travel ban on their citizens, the ball is in the Cuban government court

    plus from elsewhere in the article

    5. The Cuban government is lying, they only want more tourism
    6. Increasing US tourism is good for Cuba

    conclusion:

    7. Cuban government not stepping down is “against the interest of the nation”

    Thats his convoluted argument in a nutshell.

    And you are again conflating different issues: freedom of speech do not mean to allow everyone to say whatever they want whenever they feel. It simply means the political right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas to anyone who is willing to receive them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech

    It does NOT mean automatic access to the media, the education system of public forums (although that would be preferable), it means that you can say whatever you want without the fear of repercussions on your person, thats all.

    As for your last point, you are wrong as well, that may or may not be the final result but it does not mean that I support the status quo, I’m simply against stupidity. I’ve said it before, when you are going against someone stronger than you are, you only choice is to be smart and pick your fights very carefully.

    In this particular case (as with most opposition groups), the only visible “strategy” is to ask the Cuban government to change by itself and of course that is doomed to failure from inception. They are not going to empower the opposition for the goodness of their heart, they need a good reason to change and the current climate of open hostility with the US doesn’t help at all.

    And THAT is what keeps the status quo, not the opinion of some random guy in Internet.

  • November 8, 2013 at 10:00 am
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    You need to re-read Haraldo’s essay. He did not demand the government sit down and talk to these people, and these people alone. He called for the government to allow these people to address the whole of Cuban society. In other words, he’s calling for freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

    Contrary to your bizarre assertion to the contrary, this has everything to do with the rights and freedoms of the Cuban people. Your discourse supports the continuing denial of those rights and freedoms and the maintenance in power of a corrupt, dictatorial oligarchy.

  • November 7, 2013 at 12:58 pm
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    Of course, but at point one of the two laws has to be repealed because they contradict each other. Either the US government grants their citizens the right to travel everywhere except countries in open warfare or the US government reserves to itself the right to deny travel to any arbitrary country for whatever reason.

    Either way, the question deserves a constitutional consultation, but we both know it won’t happen because you know very well that the American people dislike the arbitrary limitation of their rights for political games and there is too much political capital invested in the Cuban issue.

  • November 7, 2013 at 12:42 pm
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    Read again what my exact words:

    “Yes, it would be good if they consider alternatives to the direction the country is going, but there is no particular reason of why the people you mention are relevant to the discussion (specially since some of them are not even valid interlocutors and calling them intellectuals is a bit of stretch).”

    Even granting your points regarding the Cuban government as valid for the sake of the argument, there is still NO REASON whatsoever for them talk with that particular list of people and the author don’t even bother explaining WHY they should.

    That has nothing to do with rights and freedoms of the Cuban people, what the author proposes (and you second) is equivalent to demand your president to pay attention to the ramblings of every citizen and thats absurd.

    You are right regarding the status quo, but the only way to politically pressure the Cuban government (or any government for that matter) from within is to negotiate in similar terms and there is a HUGE imbalance of power between the government and the opposition. There is no point demanding negotiation in those terms, the Cuban government will simply ignore them because there will be no consequence whatsoever if they do so.

  • November 7, 2013 at 11:43 am
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    The crude reality, Mr Parodi, is that Cuban Government apply a hard blockade agaisnt its own society. Both, american and cuban blockades, combine perfectly

  • November 7, 2013 at 9:49 am
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    ac wrote, “as a citizen you have a right to voice your opinions but there is no such thing as the right to be taken seriously by your government. And thats precisely what defines a valid interlocutor in a conversation.”

    In the context of Cuba, you dismissed a list of intellectuals as “not even valid interlocutors”. The Cuban government is a non-elected military dominated oligarchy. They only thing they take seriously is how to maintain their grip on power. They will never take seriously anybody, no matter how intellectual or valid they are. By your definition, the only valid interlocutors in Cuba are the top party officials and army officers, as they are the only people who’s opinions the government takes seriously.

    Your entire line of argument is arrogantly dismissive of the democratic rights and freedoms of the Cuban people and endorses the status quo.

  • November 7, 2013 at 8:32 am
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    Schizophrenic policy? Obviously Haroldo Dillia Alfonso comments ignore most of Cuba’s reality and the significant pressure form the US that it has to withstand. The blockade has vast repercussions on the Cuban people and its government which leads to the apparent contradictions. What would you call the policies of the US against Cuba? What can a country do to withstand such pressures. You analyze Cuba as it were on a vacuum ignoring the realities. Where would your touted, paid by the millions of USAID dollars, Cubans be? How free to choose and move would the Cuban artist, intellectuals, athletes be without the restrictions of the global embargo on Cuba? Once the anti-Cuban policies of the USA are removed in its entirety then a fair analysis of Cuba and its governmental policies may be conducted. Talk about a schizophrenic policy analyze the USA.

  • November 7, 2013 at 7:07 am
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    AC, while the argument was often made previously that the US embargo against Cuba was fundamentally illegal because its legal basis was grounded in the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 which you correctly stated that requires that the “Enemy” be defined as a country at war with the US, since the passage of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 which codified the embargo into federal law, that argument is no longer valid.

  • November 7, 2013 at 6:42 am
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    Sure thing, that would be the case in ancient Greece but there is no such thing as democracy as form of government today, the closest thing is Swiss that has semi-direct democracy.

    Every other so called democratic state is purely representative and as such, individual citizens are not valid interlocutors to their government. If as an individual you have a concern, you voice it to your representative and he or she *may* put it to the consideration of what is formally called the government.

    In other words, as a citizen you have a right to voice your opinions but there is no such thing as the right to be taken seriously by your government. And thats precisely what defines a valid interlocutor in a conversation.

    As for your last sentence, you are simply wrong. I did not deny any right to anyone, not in this forum much less in real life. Every Cuban has (or should have) the right to think whatever they want and express himself or herself freely, but having a different opinion about how to do things by itself is not a good enough reason to sit and talk with a government in equal terms.

  • November 7, 2013 at 5:43 am
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    When I read comments like this by AC I am convinced that with such friends the Cuban people do not need enemies.

  • November 6, 2013 at 10:06 pm
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    You really jumped the shark with your whining complaints there, ac.

    So much of what you wrote I s wrong, hyperdefensive or trite, but I must point out one huge hypocrisy. Sure the fundamental point of democracy is that every citizen is a legitimate interlocutor, whether or not they are considered intellectuals.

    Only a hypocrit would consider himself justified to post here on what he thinks is best for Cuba, while denying actual Cubans the right to do so.

  • November 6, 2013 at 7:11 pm
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    Nope, read again what he wrote:

    “His rhetorical euphemisms turn into contradictions as soon as they are voiced, and these contradictions become sheer hypocrisy, for Bruno is one creature on the face of this earth who has no right to invoke the curtailment of rights by others, and this because he represents a State that denies Cubans the possibility of exercising such rights.”

    Hypocrisy is not the same as contradiction; Bruno may very well be a big hypocrite (as every politician under the sun), but that do not affect the veracity of the specific arguments discussed by the author.

    This is particularly damning because this flawed argument (technically a non-sequitur) is the core of the article, so whatever point the author tried to make is logically invalid and my hypothetical alignment has nothing to do with it.

  • November 6, 2013 at 6:51 pm
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    Sorry, but that is my opinion and I did refute his points with actual facts that you can check for yourself. And if an article has this many factual and logical errors, is beyond poor writing; is simply propaganda and I have no use for it.

    As for respecting other people’s opinion, you are wrong: I respect the person, not the opinion and I attack the arguments, not the person that present the argument (as evidenced in my reply). There is a little detail regarding freedom of expression that lots of people miss: everyone has the right to express himself or herself freely, but that does mean that the person has any right to be taken seriously; thats something that has to be earned.

    Also read again what I wrote and you will notice that nowhere I said that the Cuban government allows ALL emigrees to visit unconditionally,.I was VERY careful in the specific wording of my argument. Quoting myself:

    “Factually incorrect, they DO allow MOST of the emigrees to visit freely the country anytime they want and once there they are free to go virtually ANYWHERE. They DO impose certain restrictions to WHO is allowed to visit, but those are targeted and they usually have a valid rationale for it as well.”

    Notice that I’m implying that his claim is true for SOME emigrees (as opposed to the blanket expression the author use in the article) and I’m simply stating a basic fact about his two claims, I’m not even expressing my personal opinion on the matter (hint: I disagree with most of the excuses the government uses in that situation; in my opinion if a person has legal issues pending, grab them as soon as they enter the country and throw them into jail, otherwise they should be free to enter at any time)

    Also, you don’t have a ** clue about who I am or whether I’m an intellectual or a redneck, so use your own advice when commenting about other people.

    As for your last argument, you are correct, my analysis usually apply to the current situation (except when we specifically discuss history) and I’m assuming that the author of the article is also discussing current events (as in events close in time to the publication).

  • November 6, 2013 at 2:57 pm
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    I can’t be more disagree with AC, the quality of an article is a very subjective
    topic and to say that is “this bad”, please a least show a little respect for other’s opinion. That many emigriees can’t come back home or have been sent back from cuban airports to their departure points ITS A REAL FACT, TRUELY PAINFUL AND ABUSIVE!!!…and that those people he (HDA) mentioned for you are not intellectual is another subject that is not only in your hand to be decided…so learn to listen and respect if you want to be listened and respected…also in your comments you talk and defend present situations in the island that give the idea that you are ignoring how was the recent past of this issues in question in the article

  • November 6, 2013 at 1:52 pm
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    Dear AC: Dilla has written what is absolutely true, no exaggeration, let alone a falsehood. He does not claim that restrictions to American citizens are fair. Only that the allegations of the chancellor are hypocrites. Your arguments are all biased by a clear alignment with the Cuban government. Congratulations.

  • November 6, 2013 at 12:10 pm
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    Its been a long time since an article this bad had been posted here, so I’m not sure where to start.

    Regardless of what the author opinion, what the Cuban foreign minister said is true, and the truthfulness of the statement won’t change regardless of the nefarious intentions from the Cuban government the author claims to know or whether the Cuban government is a worse offender in the same issues.

    For instance:

    “He even bemoans the curtailment of the constitutional rights of US citizens, who are denied the right to travel to Cuba. No matter how hard Rodriguez tries to resemble Thomas Paine, however, we all know he is merely a shopkeeper, and that, behind his spiel hides Cuba’s interest in selling daiquiris, traditional summer shirts and multi-colored maracas to gringos. ”

    According to US laws, the US government can restrict traveling to their citizens to another country only when the US is in open warfare with it. And since they never declared war on Cuba, this specific clause of the US embargo is illegal under US own laws. Notice that the Cuban government has absolutely nothing to do with the legality of this ban.

    “First of all, the Cuban government restricts the rights of its citizens to travel freely within Cuba. The internal movements of the population continue to be governed by a medieval decree law. ”

    As I mentioned before, this has nothing to do with the illegality of the ban on US citizens to travel to Cuba, but this statement only serves to highlight your own ignorance on the subject. The Cuban government DOES NOT restrict the right of their citizens to travel freely within Cuba, the ONLY restriction is on SETTLING in certain parts of Cuba (like Havana City) and they have a VALID rationale for it, basically they require that your new residence complies to certain minimum space restriction per habitant to avoid overcrowding.

    “This government also denies Cuban émigrés the right to freely visit and travel around the country, a right that would be totally in keeping with a society that is already clearly transnational and relies on this condition to a considerable extent. ”

    Factually incorrect, they DO allow MOST of the emigrees to visit freely the country anytime they want and once there they are free to go virtually ANYWHERE. They DO impose certain restrictions to WHO is allowed to visit, but those are targeted and they usually have a valid rationale for it as well.

    Of course they still have a lot to work to completely normalize the relationships with their emigration, but the worst restrictions are already gone and the rest should be gradually removed.

    “I believe that a highly significant part of the spiritual and intellectual production of Cubans is kept from society as a result of the repressive policies of the regime, and that this leads to the impoverishment of all, both inside and outside Cuba. ”

    Wrong, with enough funds EVERY Cuban can access internet (yes, access is expensive) and a significant percent access it from his or her workplace for free. There are some restrictions in place, but most of them are technical in nature (i.e. no Youtube, Skype, messengers, gaming etc. because of bandwidth limitations) while there are some restrictions political in nature (like blocking access to some sites), but those are minimal and relatively easy to counter.

    There is no specific repressive policy regarding internet access, the Cuban government CLAIMS that access is restricted exclusively by technical issues and as far as we can tell that claim is valid and is going to be valid for some time (they need a *lot* of money to update their infrastructure until they can get decent connectivity).

    Your final comments are frankly stupid. Yes, it would be good if they consider alternatives to the direction the country is going, but there is no particular reason of why the people you mention are relevant to the discussion (specially since some of them are not even valid interlocutors and calling them intellectuals is a bit of stretch).

    But thats besides the point. the bottom line is that your premise is wrong, you may be justified to call the guy hypocrite if you want, but what he said is technically true and just because some things his government does are wrong, that does not change the fact that the blockade is wrong as well. After all, two wrongs don’t make a right (or as Gandhi said: an eye for an eye ends making the while world blind)

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