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Volume 52 Number 9, May 1, 2022 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE


Reflections on Cuba

Prof. Hakim Adi *

Prof. Hakim Adi speaking in Cuba on Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939

The visitor to Cuba is rapidly captivated by the friendliness and hospitality of its people and the beauty of the country. But in Havana, especially, one is soon made aware that there is a war against Cuba, a war waged for over sixty years by successive governments of its powerful neighbour, the United States. The vast majority of Cubans have had to live with this war and find ways to cope with its consequences for their entire lives. Today the war is mainly waged by economic, cultural and political means but there have been times when the United States government has engaged in military invasion, terrorist attacks and other violent means to subvert and overthrow the government, as well as the political and economic system which is supported by the overwhelming majority of Cubans. Such support is regularly demonstrated in referendums, on the constitution and on various laws and other important matters.

The war is most obviously waged through economic sanctions, a blockade which not only prevents Cuba trading with the US economy and US-based companies but also with many other countries too. The visitor's friends therefore often extend requests for essential supplies, anything from paracetamol to printer ink, powdered milk to vitamin D tablets - items which are difficult to obtain, or that are rationed for those most needy in Cuba. The economic war is also noticeable from the ubiquitous gatherings of Cubans that can be found in Havana and some other towns and cities when people need to search for certain scarce food items. I found that wholemeal bread and cheese were delicacies that needed considerable efforts to track down. I discovered neither in Havana but did secure some of the latter in Santiago de Cuba, the east of the country. The journey to the east also took me to the city of Holguin, particularly memorable for a delicious meal in a restaurant that provided more fish than I could eat. In Havana economic warfare also means that public transport can also be difficult to find, overcrowded, or expensive. But necessity is the mother of invention and Cubans have become internationally famous for maintaining and restoring those vehicles that do exist in the country. I had the most comfortable journey travelling for over two and a half hours from Santiago to Holguin in a 1959 Chevrolet.

The earliest efforts to overthrow the Cuban government known as "Operation Mongoose" were approved by US President J F Kennedy in 1961. Organised by the CIA they included terrorist attacks and political activities, but these were to be assisted by "economic warfare to induce failure of the Communist regime to supply Cuba's economic needs", and "psychological operations to turn the peoples' resentment increasingly against the regime" [1], the intention being to ferment a revolt to overthrow the Cuban government. That was during the Cold War six decades ago and yet what the US government openly refers to as "economic warfare" is still being waged, despite vigorous objections by most other countries in the world. For 29 years the UN General Assembly has protested against such economic warfare. In 2021, 184 countries voted in Cuba's support. Only the US and Israel took a contrary position. The government of Cuba has recently estimated that this blockade has cost the country over $1 50 billion, or nearly $1 trillion when the depreciation of the dollar against the value of gold is taken into account. That is $12m every day. Bearing in mind the current one-sided ubiquitous coverage of the conflict in Ukraine, it is perhaps to be wondered why the war against Cuba, waged for over six decades, which has blighted so many lives and led to mass migration as well as so many preventable deaths is not more well-known and does not warrant extensive media coverage.

But Cuba survives and in many respects is flourishing. Its health system is also one of the best in the world and entirely free, including dental services. It has taken very effective measures against Covid, and has even sent medical teams to assist other countries, produced several vaccines and fully vaccinated the vast majority of the population. It clearly takes health seriously and everyone still wears a mask in all public areas, including the streets. Its education system is also entirely free at all levels up to and including university and it manages to provide books at prices that appear to be much lower than the production cost. I'm still amazed that my book translated and published in Cuba sells for less than £0.50.

One of the highlights of my trip was a visit to Santiago de Cuba to participate in the 20th International Conference on African and Afroamerican Culture. Santiago is Cuba's second city, the "city of heroes" with an important history relating to the struggle for independence in both the 19th and 20th centuries. A city of great beauty, nestling between mountains and a bay leading to the Caribbean Sea, it contains the house (and now museum) of Major-General Antonio Maceo Grajales, the "Bronze Titan" as he became known, one of the most famous leaders of Cuba's struggle for independence. The centre of the city, the Plaza de la Revolucion, is dominated by an enormous stature in his honour. Maceo's mother, Mariana Grajales Cuello, also born in Santiago, who participated in the struggle for independence and encouraged all her children to follow her example, is just as famous and honoured in Cuba as the "mother" of the nation.

The conference was four days long with sessions devoted to gender, anti-racism and Afro-Cuban identity, including presentations on music, dance, theatre, visual arts, medicine, history, ethnology, literature and linguistics, with the participation of scholars from several Cuban provinces. The conference also focused on relations between Cuba and Africa and devoted several evenings to performances of Afro-Cuban culture, especially traditional music, drumming and dance. Of particular interest were the discussions on the legacy of Cuba's colonial past, the remnants of racism and Eurocentrism, and the efforts of the government and people of Cuba to combat them.

It is impossible not to have great admiration and sympathy for this country, its modest and hard-working people and their struggle for independence and sovereignty, and their great hatred for those who continue to wage war against them.

1. Program Review by the Chief of Operations, Operation Mongoose (Lansdale), Washington, January 18, 1962. Source: US Department of State, Central Files, FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES 1961-1963, Volume X Cuba, 1961-1962.

* Hakim Adi is Professor of the History of Africa and the African Diaspora at the University of Chichester. His book Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939 was published in 2013 by Africa World Press. It has been published in Cuba by Editorial de Ciencias Sociales as Panafricanismo y Comunismo: La International Comunista, Africa y la diaspora (1919-1939).


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