Interview: Manuel Yepe talks to London Progressive Journal

January 2, 2009 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

AS: The 1996 Helms-Burton Act under Bill Clinton, and eight years of the Bush Administration has seen the US embargo against Cuba tightened- there have been restrictions on educational exchanges, the import of medicine and so-called ‘dual-use’ materials. What immediate action, if any, do you hope to see Obama’s administration taking?

MY: We Cubans have reason to expect that a president-elect who has promised change, himself an expression of change in the correlation of political forces right on the powerful neighbour’s ground, will pave the way for a new stage in the relationship between Havana and Washington.

However, we are aware that in order to keep the promise he made to the popular movements and middle-class families who gave him their vote, Obama would have to stand up to the same US reactionary attitudes that have hindered the development of the Cuban Revolution for half a century.

If we follow that logic, this means a spectacular shift in the state of affairs between Cuba and the US as we have known them throughout the 20th century and the first years of the 21st.

For such things to become real in the Caribbean region, the US must give up not only its age-old ambition to have a say in the island’s fate, but also its thirst for global dominance. This is because Cuba cannot turn its back on longstanding commitments made to the Third World and the poor from rich nations whose solidarity has been in the final analysis its principal means of support to fight and resist for the last 50 years.

Many hope, as Obama has promised, that the US will engage with the international community, comply with international law and human rights obligations, and cease to act unilaterally. Are you optimistic that this will include a softening towards Cuba?

We Cubans, of course, did not have a right to vote in the US election, but the fact that we have been victims of the same cruel policies of the American people makes it clear to us that this victory could give rise to a period of goodwill, peace and neighbourly gestures in the region and fuel democratization in international relations.

It has been repeatedly said that Cuba’s support to Obama’s candidacy stemmed from a wish to see the end of the economic blockade or the release of the five heroic Cuban antiterrorists who were passed unjust prison sentences in the US more than ten years ago. Or perhaps from hopes that a different administration could put a stop to the attacks on and threats to the island and make it possible to devote all human and material resources to the Cuban people’s economic and social development. Or to spread to the full the profoundly democratic character of the Cuban socialist project, without any hostile, powerful neighbour interfering in its domestic and foreign affairs.

Valid though they may be, all these reasons fit into a single hope: that by express wish of the American people a US government be elected that respects Cuba’s independence.

What stance do you see the Cuban government making towards the US-will they engage with Obama and under what conditions?

Cuba only seeks from Washington respect for its independence when the new government takes over on January 20, 2009. I am sure that Cuba will not put forward, nor accept, any conditions to engage in conversations with President Barack Obama.

What misgivings, if any, do you have about an Obama presidency?

I do have many worries and uncertainties considering the great number of pressures that the new president will be submitted to, but I sincerely hope that he will be able to fulfill his electoral campaign commitments and promises for the benefit of the American people.

How has the reaction within Cuba been to Obama’s election?

Cuba was no exception to the worldwide reactions to the election. Cubans applauded, first and foremost, the defeat of the most unpopular president in US history, both internally and internationally.

Obama has shown himself to be a smart, intelligent person and a far cry from his predecessor. Throw in the fact that he’s young and of mixed race, and we have a new president who raises hopes for ethical changes in a society long affected by the rule of racists and conservatives.

In light of the deterioration of the US role in the international arena and with its status as a world leader as good as lost, people all over the world seem to expect the new occupant of the White House to meet their hopes, varied though they may be.

Cuba looks forward to an end of America’s record of worldwide intervention and aggression, and above all else to the withdrawal of US and other troops from wherever they’re currently deployed, convinced that the superpower -under somebody else’s guidance- can bring forth a peaceful world and, for good measure, recover the prestige and bonds of friendship it once had.

The world community hopes that the new White House team marks the beginning of a road that will lead to universal rectification, cooperation and peace by giving up any intention of arm-twisting the world into accepting the US-made international agenda and democracy model and to admit instead that the world economy, including its own, be under international control; embrace policies in favor of global disarmament and ban nuclear weapons everywhere, including the US; welcome the multilateral democratic process needed to strengthen and modernize the United Nations and to recognize the authority of the Non-Aligned Countries, the existence of new regional blocs and China’s role as a world power; stop the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and pull out both its troops and those it coerced its allies into sending to those nations; foster a peace process in the Middle East that includes recognition of and rights for Palestine; relinquish the use of NATO with imperial purposes, admit its obsolescence now that the Cold War is over and to work toward its disintegration; lift the fifty-year-old economic, financial and commercial blockade against the Cuban people and the gruesome naval base in Guantánamo turning back its territory to de Cuban people; renounce its goal of turning Latin America into the proving ground for its imperial purposes and abandon its craving for dominance in other countries of the world.

Obama was successful in securing support from Hispanic voters-and managed to turn Florida into a ‘blue’ state. How do you see Cuban Americans fitting in here? Are the demographics changing, for example in Florida where new generations of American-born Cubans are voting differently from their parents and grandparents, who are traditionally Republican? Do you see a shift in the Florida’s Cuban population’s attitude towards Cuba?

The truth is that Florida’s Cuban population’s attitude towards Cuba is not at all the one that a small powerful group has been presenting as such.

In 1959, the triumph of the Revolution shook the entire political, economic and social structure of the country. The first group of Cuban migrants to the United States was made up by the closest collaborators of (overthrown) Jose Batista. They were fleeing revolutionary justice which would make them answer for their crimes and outrages which cost the lives of about 20,000 Cubans. Basically, they were high-ranking police officials and agents involved in torture, disappearances and the assassination of political prisoners, as well as officials of the armed forces who had committed or ordered crimes against the peasants during battles with the guerrilla forces of the rebel army. There were also corrupt politicians, swindlers who fled with the millions stolen from the national treasury.

During the next six years of the revolution, these were followed mostly by the rich of different spheres of Cuban society who, for their own reasons, decided to abandon the country. Their interests had been affected by laws of social justice such as the agrarian reform, urban reform and the nationalization of foreign companies.

Part of this social group included many professionals of several sectors recruited by their emigrated old bosses or were seduced by campaigns and cunning arguments in order to leave the new revolutionary project without doctors, professors, engineers, artists and other intellectuals needed for the programs of social and economic development and to wear down popular support for the process.

This early period which social scientists identify as the first wave of Cuban emigration, lasted until 1965 when, in the face of actions to promote a disorganized emigration for publicity purposes, the Cuban government authorized the departure of persons-without any regulations. That caused an uncontrolled arrival of illegal immigrants to the United States and forced that government to sit, for the first time, at a negotiating table to discuss the migratory issue with Cuba.

Again, in 1980, the Cuban government had to answer manipulations of the United States government regarding the migratory issue after the killing of a guard during an attempt to forcefully enter a diplomatic building in Havana by a group of persons stimulated by the policy of giving a hero’s welcome to persons responsible for violent actions to emigrate to the United States. The Cuban Government, once more, authorized the uncontrolled departure of persons through the port of Mariel, west of Havana.

But most emigration after these first years of the revolution was of an economic character due to material hardships imposed by the economic and trade blockade (euphemistically called “embargo”). However, the world media identified these emigrants who arrived at the United States as political exiles, dissidents fleeing communism or fighters for freedom and democracy.

The most massive wave of Cuban emigration was in 1994. This migration known as the rafter’s crisis was characterized by thousands of Cubans who took to the seas on board any kind of vessel capable of taking them to the shores of the United States. Emigration was authorized by the Cuban government without any regulations due to the insistence of United States policy to use illegal Cubans who arrive for publicity purposes while, at the same time, blocking legal immigration into that country.

The rafter’s crisis occurred during what was called “the Special Period” or the “crisis of the 90s” due to the serious effects on the economy and standard of living of Cubans after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist system of countries in Europe that lead to a sudden reduction of foreign markets for Cuban exports and sources of supply of merchandize to the country. Consequently, the migration also had its basis on economic reasons due to the difficulties facing the population at the time.

New Cuban-United States migratory agreements were reached in 1994, in answer to the migratory crisis. For this reason the United States was obliged to return every Cuban intercepted in high seas by the authorities to discourage those who considered emigrating illegally by sea.

But this purpose was soon violated by the double standard and hypocrisy Washington applied in Cuba’s case. It denies visas, stimulating frustrated citizens to make the crossing on rafts, risking their lives, applying the Cuban Adjustment Act to the new illegal migrants decreed in 1966 to adjust the status of those who were already in the United States. Complemented by the policy of “wet-foot, dry-foot” the Cuban Adjustment Act turned it into a macabre game for propaganda purposes – the manner of defining those who could receive and those who could not receive the privilege of permanent residence in that country.

Every defamatory campaign against Cuba attributes Cuban migration to the north as a rejection of the socialist system or other political motives. But the cold official figures reveal that the number of Cuban immigrants, in relation to the total number of inhabitants in Cuba is comparatively lower when compared to most of the neighbouring countries with different political realities and without an economic blockade.

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This post was written by Alexa Van Sickle

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