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

  • 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.

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