Robaina: 'Cubans are doing the impossible'


Until recently ROBERTO ROBAINA was the first secretary of the Union of Young Communists. Now, this 39-year-old foreign minister is part of the new generation of Cubans leading socialist Cuba through a process of radical change. Robaina was interviewed for Green Left Weekly by ROBERTO JORQUERA when he visited Australia in late November. Asked about the breadth and depth of the economic changes in Cuba today, Robaina said, "It is important that Cuba adapts to the new conditions, but without renouncing what is sacred to us ... not only what we have been able to achieve in education, health, science and sports, for example, but also the different path we have selected for our country." Blockaded for more than 30 years by the US, and economically isolated following the collapse of their main trading partner, the former Soviet Union, Robaina said that Cuba was left with two alternatives. "One was to not relate to any other countries and perish. The other was to take a road that would let us onto the world economic stage, regardless of political affiliation, and without renouncing our independence or sovereignty." Robaina said that to avoid going backwards economically and to attract the necessary foreign capital, Cuba is "looking towards mixed enterprises in primary products and important raw materials, but not for the capital, markets and technology to exploit them. "Some people ask if that is 50% capitalism and 50% socialism. We answer that the Cuban revolution has not, and will, not renounce its socialist character; we continue to believe in the equal distribution of goods that we currently have in place. While Cuba will not be dominated by foreign investment, it is necessary to introduce elements that will help us survive economically. In the world today, that includes some of the rules of the capitalist market." Robaina addressed concerns about the social impact of these changes: "Of course people have the right to worry about the magnitude of the social impact of the economic changes. If we had other options we would have developed industries other than tourism. We do not like having to offer things to visitors that we cannot offer to Cubans. "Nevertheless, if today we have a healthy and educated population, who has achieved scientific progress, it is partly because of tourism. These economic developments are also helping us to get ready to face the difficulties ahead. This is not an easy task but we are used to difficult tasks." On the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the possibility of the current "perestroika-style" changes in Cuba leading to the restoration of capitalism, Robaina said, "In the ex-socialist countries there was a process of separation between the masses and the leaderships. There was a degree of difference in living standards and perspectives that should be criticised in any system. Things had to change. "But they changed so much that they forgot who they were. Now many people in the former Soviet Union are realising that they got rid of some of the good things along with the bad." Robaina spoke at length about human rights, pointing to the hypocrisy of US government charges against Cuba. "The US' economic blockade of Cuba is a flagrant violation of the human rights of 10 million Cubans", he said. "For deciding on a different path, we are condemned to live in poverty and die of diseases." "We do not agree with the way in which human rights issues are managed in the world", Robaina said. "Human rights is a noble issue. But, it is being manipulated and politicised, and its application is highly discriminatory and selective. If we are going to talk about human rights we should include the large numbers of people around the world that do not have any rights, who do not know they have rights, and who do not even know how to read or write 'human rights'." On the prospects for the Cuban revolution, Robaina emphasised the importance of the country's young people. Almost half of Cuba's population, 5.7 million people, are under 30 years of age. The average age in Cuba is 33 years — the majority of Cubans were born after the 1959 insurrection. "Cuba has a youth that has been taught not to be satisfied or content with what we have, to always search for new things", Robaina said. "Unfortunately, however, this does not mean we always realise what we have achieved and its importance. Like any other country in a similar situation, this means that there are those who are carried away by anti-revolutionary propaganda. But there are also those who, even though they criticise the revolution, are still not prepared to hand the country over." "Solidarity, receiving a shipload of petrol, medical goods or milk, is important for us", Robaina said. "However, no country can live permanently on solidarity. It needs its own resources to develop its own path. But international solidarity has given us something that they do not realise. It has nourished us with a special fuel, an energy to resist. It has fed our souls". Underlining the importance of international solidarity in defence of the Cuban revolution, Robaina concluded: "There is a very popular phrase in Cuba at the moment. 'We have done what is possible, we are doing the impossible, and for the miracle we need more time'."