Cuban women: 'Lift the blockade!'


NIEVES ALEMANY (a member of the national secretariat of the Cuban Women's Federation, the National Assembly of Cuba and the central committee of the Communist Party of Cuba) and EVA SEONE (vice-president of the Cuban Institute for the Friendship with the Peoples) are completing a tour of Australia. They were interviewed in Melbourne on October 30 by Pip Hinman, Peter Boyle and Dave Holmes. Translation was by Ricardo Fredes and Jorge Jorquera.

What were the outcomes of the recent congress of the Communist Party of Cuba?

Nieves Alemany: The most important result was the reaffirmation of our socialist objective. We considered four main resolutions: one on party statutes, another on our program, one on economic development and finally a resolution on perfecting the people's power system of government.

On the statutes, the most important decision was to allow people with religious beliefs to join the Communist Party. Of course, they have to have the aptitude to be a party member, and we are very selective about who can be a party member.

On the program, we made some changes but the foreign media placed most emphasis on the elimination of the peasant market. This was not something that happened at the congress but something that was implemented some time ago, when we found that it was causing more problems than good and it was not going to solve our food problems. It was only enriching the traders and middlemen at the expense of the workers.

The congress also decided to allow workers to sell their skills or products they make after their normal working hours. For instance, if I have three mango trees and I can only eat the fruit from one, I can sell the mangoes from the other trees.

In the economic resolution, the greatest attention was given to reviewing all aspects of sugar production. We also decided to continue developing the extraction of nickel, coffee production, citrus fruits, tobacco and some new branches of agricultural production.

We've been developing tourism for some time, but we are prioritising it because it is an important source of foreign exchange. We will use joint ventures with foreign capital and make any agreements which are to our mutual benefit. We will consider such arrangements for all sections of the economy, but we won't sell off our heritage or our national resources.

We will develop biotechnology; we have already made great achievements in this area, as we have in medicine.

We also made changes to the administrative structures to make them more efficient, and to cut down the paperwork needed for business ventures. The changes are also aimed at improving labour discipline and cutting government expenses. These have also been essential because of the situation Cuba finds itself in in the world today. Most lready got under way in the campaign of rectification that started well before the congress.

The congress introduced direct elections to national, regional and local levels of government. In the past each tier of government was elected by the tier below.

Was there a discussion of Cuba's position and the future of socialism in the so-called New World Order?

Alemany: Now we live in a uni-polar world order, and the centre of that order is our neighbour, the United States of America. So it affects us very much, especially because the US is blockading us.

We have always protested the economic and diplomatic blockade that the US has imposed on us for 30 years. It is the longest blockade in history. Now we have taken it to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

This blockade has meant that all the Latin American countries (except Mexico) have been forced not to have diplomatic relations with Cuba. It meant we had to change all the technology in our factories because we could not import spare parts and raw materials from the US. It meant that food and medicines have been denied us — not even an aspirin!

Other countries have been discouraged from trading with us; we have been excluded from international banking and from international credit.

At the beginning of the blockade we were totally dependent on the US for fuel and food. If not for the help from the Soviet Union and the socialist camp, we would have starved. So although things have changed there, we are still grateful.

But the blockade continues and so the changes in these countries have created great problems for us.

Can Cuba survive if the US blockade continues and Soviet trade and aid are totally cut off?

Eva Seone : We know that with any other system, we would not have what we have in Cuba today. The revolution gave us true freedom, independence and sovereignty. So we can cannot make any concessions to the US. They want to destroy our revolution and to apply the same recipe they have used in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to bring back capitalism.

We have no option but to try our best to survive in the new situation. Even the children in Cuba are prepared to defend our gains. Broad layers of people support the revolution because the new international situation was not something that came as a surprise in 1991. Fidel predicted years ago that eastern Europe would collapse; the only question he said, was when. But he said that what happened in the Soviet Union was not so clear. We had to have a plan for what to do if capitalism was restored in these countries.

We have to resolve the problems we are now facing, and we are fighting hard. We have many possibilities for foreign trade because we have a basis. For example, we have discovered a vaccine against meningitis B, something the capitalists haven't yet invented. We have a medicine to treat high cholesterol levels, without side effects, again something capitalist countries haven't developed.

We carry out operations that cannot be carried out anywhere else in the world. We are the only country which treats a problem of loss of skin pigmentation, and several Australians have been treated for this in Cuba.

So if the blockade was lifted, many countries would trade with us. But the US wants to asphyxiate our revolution. And they are hoping we will give up.

Just yesterday, I heard from our consulate that we have had to cut public transport again because of a shortage of fuel.

What about using ethanol from sugar as fuel?

Seone: It costs too much to convert all our machines and vehicles to use ethanol, and it is also expensive to create the industry to convert sugar to ethanol, so we cannot do this, we have to import oil.

Only last year, the Soviet Union contracted to supply us with a certain amount of fuel, but they cannot deliver the smaller amount promised. So we are forced to cut back. We have had to close down some factories because raw materials haven't come from the Soviet Union.

Now we cannot count on anything, because nobody seems to know what is going on in the Soviet Union. There is chaos. Altogether there are 170 different items we are not receiving that are covered by trade agreements with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. So more and more things have to be rationed.

But while times are hard today, at least we share everything. If there is chicken or pork, everyone has chicken or pork. If there is not enough to go around of some product, we take turns. We used to import milk from East Germany. In return, we sent them animal feed. But that is now gone, and we are short of milk. People have food, but we now have some serious shortages in everyday goods, like detergents and toiletries. It is as though we are at war. This is why the campaign to lift the blockade is of the greatest importance.

When will the question of the blockade come up before the UN General Assembly?

Alemany: We expect the discussion to begin on November 4. We are optimistic because the situation in Latin America is very favourable for Cuba. We realise that we all face tough times if there isn't more integration of our economies. Last week, the heads of government of Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela met with Fidel and had positive discussions. A few months ago, all the Latin American heads of government met, with the monarchs of Spain and Portugal present but for the first time without the US present. That was also very positive.

It is not only Cuba that stands to gain from the lifting of the US blockade; many other Third World countries will gain too. Maybe we will not succeed straight away, but the battle has begun, and e on the UN agenda was a victory in itself.

What about the campaign against the US naval base in Guantanamo in Cuba?

Seone: We have always opposed the US keeping a base on our island. When Mikhail Gorbachev announced earlier, without consulting Cuba, that the Soviet Union would remove the small military training contingent it has in Cuba as a result of an agreement between two sovereign states, we said that if this was going to happen, then surely the US base at Guantanamo should go as well. Since then the Soviet Foreign Ministry has told the Cuban government that high-level talks will be held on this question soon. We want the base to go, but what we are campaigning urgently about is the blockade.