By Tom Griffiths
HAVANA — "You are probably wondering who the foreign minister is ... well I'm it". With these words, Roberto Robaina opened a discussion with a group of some 40 Australians on January 20, the day after the departure of Gareth Evans.
The fact that Robaina found time to talk with a small group of Australian Brigade members and other assorted Australians, late on a Friday afternoon, was another indication that the familiar, non-committal, doublespeak rhetoric we had heard coming from Gareth Evans' mouth the night before on Cuban television, was not on offer here.
After a few humorous opening remarks, Robaina offered to devote the entire session to questions. When asked about his immediate priorities as foreign minister, he cited the lifting of the US blockade; the diversification of Cuba's international economic relations; the presentation of an "objective" view of Cuba to the world (neither the hell nor the paradise that is so often invoked); and the democratisation of the United Nations.
Robaina noted that nothing makes the Third World more insecure than when the misnamed "Security Council" agrees on something. Observing the multiple names it now provides for what are in effect military invasions and wars, the most popular being "operations" to "restore democracy", he added in obvious reference to Haiti that apparently "democracy now arrives in helicopters".
Thus where figures like our own foreign minister propose including a few more industrialised countries as permanent members of the Security Council to advance democracy, Robaina's conception of democracy was clearly something more.
The issue most raised was that of foreign investment in Cuba, an integral aspect of Cuba's attempts to insert itself into the world economy. Robaina asserted that Cuba was not "desperate" in its search for investors, and hence has proceeded very slowly and cautiously with this policy. Cuba's geographical location, real if limited natural resources, and extremely high levels of training, education and specialisation of its labour force, he said, made it an attractive place for investment in specific areas.
The result is that in most cases some selection is possible by Cuba, accepting joint ventures with countries with whom Cuba has maintained relations based on mutual respect (like Mexico, Canada, France) and which respect the conditions set by Cuba for such investment.
Whether and how Cuba can integrate itself into the capitalist world economy without following the prescribed neo-liberal course is the question. Can a settlement be made which manages to retain the commitment to equality and the impressive social wage domestically, and the commitment to the radical restructuring of economic relations internationally, while simultaneously acquiring the necessary capital for ongoing development?
The strategies, contradictions, and outcomes of Cuba's actions are important for socialists worldwide. Cuba will continue maintaining its right to make its own decisions and follow its own path, to judge from the impression left by this young, dynamic, former president of the Union of Young Communists turned foreign minister.