Kenia Serrano, president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) and a member of Cuba's National Assembly, attended the recent national consultation of the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society. Green Left Weekly's Denis Rogatyuk spoke with her about recent developments of the Cuban Revolution.
Cuba has just been removed from the list of state-sponsors of terrorism. How do you think this will affect Cuba’s relations with the United States?
First of all, there is no reason to have Cuba on such a list. We should have never been there. However, the US decided to do this back in 1992. On May 29, the removal was approved.
We consider this a very positive step in eliminating the different obstacles to forging stable bilateral relations with the US.
And of course, it is a victory for Cuba and it is a victory for international solidarity, because the world knows that Cuba is not a terrorist state. The world knows that Cuba has been a victim of state terrorism exercised by the US against Cuba, with more than 5000 Cuban victims as a result.
Even today, there are real terrorists who still freely walk on the US’s streets.
The Cuban Five were five Cuban patriots jailed in the US in 1998 for infiltrating and collecting information on terrorist groups in Florida in order to stop attacks on Cuba. Now that the Cuban Five are free and back in their home country, what sort of role are they planning on playing?
Well, first of all, the Cuban Five are happy to be back with their families and the Cuban people. They are very active in the everyday activities of Cuban life.
One of them, Fernando Gonzalez, is the deputy president of ICAP. He is in charge of relations with the solidarity movements from North America and Latin America.
It means that Fernando is now meeting with groups and individuals from a number of countries in the region — from the US, Canada, Puerto Rico among others. And the other members are quite active as well.
They themselves have said that they wish to do something new in order to really deserve their label as “Five Heroes”. They say they understand that what they have done is a very important contribution to the Cuban Revolution, but they do not wish to live the remainder of their lives simply being “The Cuban Five”.
I believe they are expressing a true character of revolutionaries and I think they are well prepared for exercising many responsibilities and tasks.
I remember the day when Fidel Castro received them and they spent over five hours together. Fidel asked them, at the end of the meeting, to use the high moral authority that they have to do great things for the world.
Now that the five have returned, we feel that the international solidarity movement itself has been strengthened five times. We wish to use this strength to continue fighting against the economic blockade, for the liberation of the political prisoners in the imperialist countries, and of course, for the defence of Cuban sovereignty and the right of Cuba to freely choose its own economic and political system.
With regards to the current negotiations between Cuba and the US, what do you think are some of the concrete things that have been achieved so far?
I would like to highlight the most important factor of these negotiations — the current US administration is seated at the table with the representatives of revolutionary Cuba.
The announcements of December 17, and conversations and meetings between Obama and Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas are quite significant. Until now, no other US administration has had the capacity to recognise Cuba as an equal partner.
Many previous US leaders have stated that if a Castro was still leader of Cuba, they would not recognise the political system or government. Now, however, Cuba and the US are communicating in a civilised manner. We have had the chance to demonstrate to them the reality of Cuba and why they should respect our country.
The most important development has been building the conditions for new relations between Cuba and the US. The major point regarding this is the opening of embassies.
We believe this needs to take place despite the continuation of the US blockade [in place since 1960], despite the US's continuous occupation of Guantanamo Bay, despite constant US accusations of Cuba breaching human rights.
How do you see the role of ICAP with these new developments?
ICAP still has the same responsibilities when it was founded — almost 55 years ago. Since the very start of the Cuban Revolution, we have been receiving people from all over the world.
In fact, last year we received delegations and brigades from 82 countries. Now there is also a rise in the number of US citizens coming to visit Cuba — not only through ICAP, but also through other institutions.
Cuba is updating its economic model, but every institution like ICAP should also be undergoing a similar process. In that aspect, we are looking for more efficiency for everything that we do — particularly in terms of new communication technology.
Since December 17 and the release of the five, we have been reorienting our priorities to focus on ending the economic the blockade and continuing the battle of ideas to inform our population about all the aspects of the changes.
One of the biggest existing dangers to Cuba and the Cuban Revolution is the US funding of NGOs and counter-revolutionary groups to undermine and spread false information about the Cuban revolution.
How significant do you consider this danger to be?
The US government has adopted a more positive rhetoric towards Cuba, but they have also changed the old methods of undermining the Cuban government for new ones.
This type of non-conventional warfare is also being partially assisted by their negotiation tactics. Obama has also given priority to lessening the blockade around the telecommunications sector — an area where the US will be able to receive economic benefits and be able to influence Cuban society.
We know that is a powerful weapon in their hands. But we are also prepared to deal with that. Our people are highly literate and greatly adaptable to new technologies.
This kind of warfare is not like the Bay of Pigs or the other invasions from the past. This is a different type of ideological attack and ideological warfare.
In the end, we believe that any type of regime change programs should stop in order to truly enter a new epoch of Cuba-US relations and for the US to recognise it has entered into a new era of relationship with Latin America as a whole.
One of the best known campaigns around the world is “Yo si puede” (“Yes We Can”). This campaign provides literacy skills to the poor in nations around the world, including Indigenous communities in Australia. Do you think it will be expanded even further with the end of the blockade?
Unfortunately, illiteracy is still a phenomenon that affects the world's poor. Wherever illiteracy exists, Cuba will always offer its method to solve that problem.
What is also evident is the absence of political will by some governments to accept that Cuba is not looking for any ideological or political influence in their society. We believe in is that literacy is a basic human right — one that needs to be preserved.
It helps to empower the whole population and change the fundamental relations between a person and society as a whole. Cuba is ready to share its experience with as many countries as possible. So far, 27 countries have taken part in this program.
Could you tell us about the medical missions that Cuba has conducted more recently in Nepal and West Africa?
Cuba answered the call of those countries, and the World Health Organisation, pledging to commit our highly qualified doctors and nurses to help those nations.
It was a great challenge, particularly with regards to Ebola. We asked our doctors to recognise the risk of death in the process of facing the disease. They were ready to do that.
In fact, when one of our doctors contracted the disease, thousands of others volunteered to take his place and travel to West Africa. Upon his return for treatment in Cuba, that same doctor also asked the Ministry of Health to allow him to return to his post once he was cured. That is most inspiring.
We learned many lessons from that — most importantly, the value of internationalism and the commitment to save lives, sometimes even at the risk of your own.
All the Cuban people are educated in these values. We will always be ready to help our sister nations from across the world to fight against diseases like Ebola.