On the 2nd Latin American and Caribbean Summit Held in Cuba

Pedro Campos

CELAC Summit in Havana
CELAC Summit in Havana

HAVANA TIMES — The Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held in Havana ended last week. Personally, I welcome the Havana Declaration, particularly its references to human rights and citizen participation.

I hope the statements made in this connection go beyond mere “intentions”, as has been the case with so many documents approved at international conferences, documents which, on many occasions, have merely been used by participants as political instruments.

Of course, this document does not reflect the interests of the broad, democratic and socialist Latin American Left, but we can’t expect that of a summit of this nature.

Next to Raul Castro, the president of the one, remaining vestige of the “socialist bloc” once headed by the Soviet Union, we saw Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, who sought to join NATO, Chavez’ successor, Nicolas Maduro, the current president of Uruguay (a former Tupamaro guerrilla), the president of Paraguay (a capitalist millionaire) and others – social democrats, democrats and the occasional authoritarian president. With the exception of the Cuban leader, all were democratically elected.

Despite the absence of the United States and Canada, the summit afforded us an exhaustive sample of the political spectrum that defines the Americas today.

It was the largest plural gathering that has ever taken place in Cuba, far removed from the meetings of such movements as the Non-Aligned Movement and sectarian and ultra-revolutionary organizations such as the OLAS and OSPAAL, which called for armed struggles in Latin America and Africa as a means of securing independence from colonialism and imperialism (at the risk of falling into the “Soviet” sphere of influence).

Despite the absence of the United States and Canada, the summit afforded us an exhaustive sample of the political spectrum that defines the Americas today. It was the largest plural gathering that has ever taken place in Cuba.

The times were different. Back then, Cuba relied on the generous and multilateral support of the former Soviet Union, the great world power that once arm-wrestled with the United States over control of the planet.

Today, the world has changed and the Cuban government knows it must also change or risk international isolation and all the consequences. Since then, the country has also unquestionably introduced changes to its foreign policy, abandoning all attempts at reproducing Cuba’s armed insurrection in other countries.

The pluralism we catch sight of in Cuba’s current foreign policy, however, isn’t in any way matched by the country’s internal situation, where all dissenting or opposing thought is openly repressed and the government and State continue under the control of the same Party, whose political and military elite makes all of the important decisions in the country, seeking to perpetuate itself in power.

Inside Cuba, there’s more sectarianism than ever before. The ruling elite of the government/Party/State rejects everything which they haven’t decided and determined themselves. It’s all the same to them whether the proposal is made by traditional dissidents or the broad socialist and democratic Left, born of the same revolutionary process and historical circumstances.

For Cuba’s Manichean government, one is either with the government or in favor of imperialism.

That said, I still have hope that the Cuban government will, somehow, honor the commitments it assumed on signing this declaration, particularly its introductory remarks: “Let us work to strengthen our democracies and all human rights for all; let us give our peoples greater opportunities, build more inclusive societies, improve our productivity, broaden commercial relations, improve our infrastructure and connectivity and the networks needed to bring our peoples closer together, work for sustainable development, to overcome inequality and to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth, so that everyone feels that democracy gives their lives meaning.”

Item one of the declaration states: “We reiterate that our Community is grounded (…) in the protection and promotion of all human rights, the rule of national and international law and the broadening of citizen participation and democracy.”

If the Cuban government wishes to gain credibility in this connection, it will need to do more than meet with different foreign representatives and sign a declaration – it will need to show a similar policy at home.

A true pluralistic vocation with sincere external manifestations can only be the product of a pluralistic and (needless to say) democratic domestic policy. True pluralism is born within.

If the Cuban government wishes to gain credibility in this connection, it will need to do more than meet with different foreign representatives and sign a declaration – it will need to show a similar policy at home.

It is worth pointing out that this would be a good opportunity for the Cuban government to ratify the UN human, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights conventions it has signed, in order to encourage additional, subsequent democratic steps in this direction, even if it involves an arduous process, even if this is done “slowly but surely”, as President Raul Castro is wont to say about the changes brought about by his “reform process.”

In what is supposedly his last term in office, Raul Castro could well open this door – if he wants a bright future for the country and wishes to go down in history as something other than his brother’s successor, that is. Let us hope that’s the case.

I welcome the Havana Declaration signed at CELAC and hope it will not become more dead letter.

17 thoughts on “True Pluralism in Cuba Must Come from Within

  • Don’t expect much of a reply. …well perhaps some demagoguery on how computers will rule our lives and we will all be living in a utopian communist society in 15 years or so.

  • Although we often disagree about much, I do have to concur there was indeed quite a bit of hunger and want in Cuba before the revolution. The urban poor often lived in rather shabby tenements, but the rural poor, especially in the eastern end of the island lived in terrible squalor.

    Cuba was developing during the two decades prior, with a growing and affluent urban middle class, and a small and very wealthy elite. Urban working class labourers had independent unions and were relatively well paid. Small farmers were also doing relatively fine, but the bottom of the socio-economic heap, the poorest rural blacks, lived in poverty. It is no wonder this sector were the most enthusiastic supporters of the Revolution. They were not much concerned about the niceties of free elections. They wanted food, running water and basic healthcare. The Revolution gave them that. What they lost in the form of human rights and freedoms they never much had before anyway.

    But I disagree with your conjecture that if Fidel had allowed any legal opposition the Cuban revolution would have been overthrown. There was a large and broad based support for profound democratic socialist reform. The support for the Cuban Communist Party remained very limited throughout 1959. But it was Castro’s intention from the beginning to lead the Revolution down the Marxist-Leninist path, and for that to succeed he could brook no opposition. He needed to make a radical defiance of the US in order to polarize and isolate Cuban society.

  • “…there was no real want or hungr in Cuba before the Revolution.” I beg to disagree. During my very first visit to Cuba, as a 16 year-old youth–mid-June through the end of August, 1959–just after the triumph of the Revolution, but before any of Its many social programs had had a chance to be put into effect, I saw plenty of hunger…small children with distended stomachs…raggedy children begging on the streets…homeless folks and families living in truly terrible hovels cobbled together with packing crates, cardboard, etc. Most days I took a bus (#22?) from near the Capitolio out to La Lisa, where I had to transfer to another bus for Arroyo Arenas; along the way I saw truly terrible, heart-breaking poverty–nothing like the severe poverty of the Deep South which I was used to in the States (“shotgun” shacks, shoeless children in rags). I had snap-shots of this, but they were destroyed in Hurricane Andrew in ’92. No, what I saw in Cuba in 1959 was far worse. Despite all the criticisms of the Revolution, nevertheless, It did eliminate much of this truly abysmal poverty (so typical of the rest of Central and South America ’til quite recently, when, thanks to election of more democratic governments and using the wealth provided by the exploitation of natural wealth to truly benefit most citizens and notjust the 1% and their 5 to 10% retainers, the general living standards have now improved.
    I suspect that if Fidel and the others of the Generation of ’59 who made the Revolution had allowed opposition, they would have wound up like Arbenz in Guatamala, Gaitan in Colombia, Mosadek in Iran, Allende in Chile, or so many others, whose democratically elected regimes were overthown (and are daily being overthrown, like Honduras, recently). No, when democracy does not go the way “we” want it to, then we cause it to be replaced with a junta or dictator to “our” liking.
    Still, now, after 55 years, the Cuban people have developed more democratic skills, and such institutions as the National and Provincial Assemblies, the labor unions, the women’s union and other mass organizations need to have real power, from the bottom up, and not be dictated from the top down by the “responsables.” Only then, when all who have a real stake in social progress have real power, can they feel integrated with, and not increasingly alienated from, The Revolution!

  • John, once again you show how little you actually know about the history of the Cuban revolution. Instead of reciting slogans and myths, read some factual history books.

    Thousands of committed revolutionaries like Huber Matos, Carlos Franqui & Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo fought against Batista and against US imperialism in Cuba. They ended up in prison, in exile or shot because they dared to speak out against the growing tyranny of Fidel Castro.

    Here’s a bit of history you should find interesting: In November 1959, the CTC (Confederation of Cuban Workers) held the last free election in Cuba, to chose delegates for the labor congress. Only 5% of the delegates were from the Communist Party, the rest were independent grass-roots labor activists, a result which outraged Raul Castro, who was a committed Communist. In response to the election, Fidel fired the government Labor Minister and appointed the Communist party member, Augusto Sanchez in his place. His assignment was to destroy the independent Cuban labor movement, at which he succeeded.

    Now John, based on your oft repeated comments in support of “true socialism” and against the totalitarian Marxist-Leninist tendency, I would think you would be on the side of the independent Cuban labor unions and opposed to the consolidation of all power by the Cuban Communist Party. So either you are ignorant of the true history of the Cuban Revolution, or you are a liar. Which is it?

    I have never told the Cuban people what kind of political or economic system they should have. I merely call for the Cuban people to have the right to chose their own way, freely and without repression.

    I have pointed out, with reams of documented evidence, that Fidel Castro dictated to the Cuban people what kind of system HE was going to give them. You endorse & support his record. Therefore you are every bit a totalitarian Marxist as he is.

  • No John, that was not what he said.

    The Cuban people, my father among them, supported Castro because he presented himself as one thing, and then, unfortunately for Cuba, became another. Castro said”I am not a communist” ….unfortunately that was a lie.

    The Cuban people have not had the opportunity to decide what kind of government they want because the Castro brothers have kept their boot on the throats of the Cuban people for over half a century! As for support? Cubans flee the island in droves, sometimes risking their very lives attempting to float to freedom on rickety rafts in shark infested waters! Heck of a support. Just recently in these very pages there was a rumor of a ship anchord at the 12 mile territorial limit waiting to take any Cubans who reached it to the US. There was a stampede of supporters looking to reach the boat LOL

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